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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 15, 2018

Friday night, the US, UK and France launched what now looks like a symbolic attack on Syria. They took great pains to avoid hurting the Syrian government, its people or its allies. So far, there is no report of civilian casualties. Despite Trump saying the bombings were because Syria again stepped over a red line on chemical warfare, we haven’t seen solid evidence: a) that it was a gas attack, and b) that it was caused by the Assad regime. It seems illogical to Wrongo, but the UK and France joined in the exercise, and other western heads of state, like Trudeau in Canada said it was the right thing to do.

What did the bombings accomplish? The WaPo reports that:

Syria, Russia and Iran shrugged off strikes on Saturday by the United States and its allies against three Syrian chemical weapons facilities, which drew angry condemnations but no indication that there would be a wider escalation.

Here on Sunday, it looks like the only purpose of the attack was to “do something”. This is called the “Politician’s Syllogism”, a logical fallacy, taking this form:
1. We have to do something
2. This is something
3. Therefore, we have to do this.

Do we have any strategy at all in Syria? Two weeks ago, Trump said we were leaving. Today, we’re hip deep in the place. And does this bombing set a precedent? Will Trump send cruise missiles into Syria every time there is a gas attack? What if the gas attack is by the rebels, or the jihadis?

Remember that these bombings are happening while Trump’s travel ban prevents Syrian refugees from entering the US. And France and the UK are placing strict limits on refugees as well. Syria is in the middle of the worst refugee crisis in recent history, but, since a few of those who are fleeing might be terrorists, America’s door is closed. On to cartoons.

The war room worked late into the night on Trump’s priorities:

There are times when the dog must be wagged:

It’s a bit awkward to see that Trump can’t learn from history:

Trump had other priorities this week besides Syria:

Paul Ryan, man of action, bolts:

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Why Can’t an Anti-War Candidate Be an Anti-War President?

The Daily Escape:

Mural in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, near Durban, South Africa – April 2018 photo by Ottho Heldring

Since today is Friday the 13th, let’s talk about Donald Trump’s confusing strategy in Syria, which could turn out to be the unluckiest strategy of all for America.

Trump got elected in part because he was vocally against foreign quagmires. He was against involvement in Syria as a candidate, and as recently as two weeks ago, said he wanted to get out of Syria as fast as possible.

Now, he’s tweeting that the Syrian government has again used chemical weapons on its people. The gas attack led to what so far is a “war of words” between the US and Russia both at the UN, and in the Twittersphere. For his part, Trump tweeted that “missiles will be coming” at Syria. “Get ready Russia,” he taunted, “because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart.’”

We know that on April 7, antigovernment groups in the town of Douma in Syria claimed that dozens of people were killed in a chemical weapons attack. The rebels blamed the government, while the government denied responsibility.

Douma was the last battleground in Eastern Ghouta. It had been an enclave for militants fighting against the Syrian government. Douma was controlled by the Jaysh al-Islam, a jihadi group that was accused of using chemical weapons in Aleppo in 2016. Jaysh al-Islam said that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack that killed more than 70 people.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, (OPCW), sent a special fact-finding mission to Douma to verify reports of the alleged use of chemical weapons. Although they are now on the ground in Douma, the OPCW mission was not what the UN or the US wanted. They called for an independent investigation. That US resolution by Nikki Haley was vetoed by Russia with China abstaining. A resolution calling for OPCW to investigate was offered by Russia. It failed as well.

Now, we’ll see what the OPCW comes up with. But, we need to be open to a finding that it wasn’t gas. We need to be open to a finding that Assad didn’t do it. In fact, Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, said on Thursday that:

I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence….As each day goes by — as you know, it is a non-persistent gas — so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it…

The Secretary of Defense can’t confirm it’s gas, much less who did it, but we’re gonna let the missiles fly?

Why isn’t anyone in the mainstream media asking, “Who did this”? Why aren’t they asking why Assad would do this when he’s just about to succeed after a six-year fight against those who wanted him out of power?

Why isn’t anyone asking why this occurred just after Trump said on April 3rd that he wanted to get out of Syria? Wouldn’t it be wise to see what the OPCW finds in Ghouta first before going all gung-ho with missiles and air attacks?

From Andrew Bacevich:

The purpose of all wars, is peace. So observed St. Augustine early in the first millennium A.D….but his crisply formulated aphorism just might require a bit of updating….I might suggest the following amendment to Augustine’s dictum: Any war failing to yield peace is purposeless and, if purposeless, both wrong and stupid.

We are in a purposeless fight in Syria. There is no threat to us, regardless of the outcome of the Syrian civil war. And the selective outrage about kids dying in Syria is mind boggling. There is no discussion about the dead children of Yemen, dying in a war by our ally, Saudi Arabia, with our active support.

Here’s where we are: Either Bomber Bolton will get another President to go hip deep into another Middle East war, you know, the kind of war where we’ll again be greeted as liberators.

Or, we can have the guts to say “enough” in Syria.

Trump should take a stand now on what remains of his principles. Engaging in possible war with Russia and Iran over Syria isn’t going to save our democracy, or his presidency. Is he man enough to say “enough”?

Wrongo is convinced that the time is right for a true anti-war candidate. That space was ceded to Trump in 2016, but the flyover states may be willing to vote that way again. They’re the ones whose kids are being sent off to die in the wars organized by the defense contractors, neocons and DC insiders, wars that we never win.

And then, their kids come home with PTSD. They move into crappy jobs, and some are lost to drugs and death caused by despair.

Who will step up and say “enough” in Syria?

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Saturday Soother – April 7, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry Blossoms, Tokyo Japan – March 29 photo by Eugene Hoshiko

Maybe Wrongo has Spring Fever, but how could he, when it snowed again yesterday? He promises to put the snow shovel in the garage for its three-season nap on Monday, no matter what.

The delay of spring’s arrival got Wrongo thinking about change. We like to think that little changes in our environments, either natural, or socio-cultural, but change they do, every day. And except for a few details, Wrongo is certain that this blog’s readers are all on the same page: Change is in the air, and nothing stays the same. And we’re not just talking about the weather.

Yesterday is gone
Tomorrow is already here.

Wrongo has been writing this blog since March, 2010. Over the past eight years, he has explained how our political/social/economic systems operate, and why/how they can easily fail. And how we do not seem to have a rational, coherent plan to avoid that failure. Yet, each year we seem to inch closer to failure.

Are we doing anything more than Don Quixote was doing? Wrongo, by writing and you, by reading this blog? But Wrongo persists. He’s here, you are here, and once again, as in 1968, change is in the air.

Millions of people are on the move, leaving their ancestral homes, fleeing conflict and poverty. They are trying to find a place to survive, while others who were left behind are dying in the millions. With the increased efforts by migrants to survive, both Europe and the US are closing the gates, hoping to keep the immigrant mob on the outside. But at home, we already have achieved conflict, poverty and death that isn’t caused by immigrants. It is, to paraphrase Jimmy Buffet, “Our own damn fault”.

On Monday in our little corner of Connecticut, we will have a very New England form of direct democracy, a special town meeting. Those citizens who show up will get to vote on whether the Town issues bonds to finance the repair of our roads, which have suffered 20+ years of deferred maintenance. Maybe 100 people will show up, (out of 8,000 voters) maybe less. Those who do show up will decide if we fix our roads, or not. They will decide if lower taxes are better than safe roads.

So Wrongo and Ms. Right spent today stuffing envelopes into mailboxes. This vote is the culmination of a two-year effort to get our town to address how poor our roads have become. We will see if our efforts today help to break voters from their Golden Slumbers, and participate.

If they fail to show up, it will be their own damn fault if the vote goes against whatever their viewpoint is on the bonds.

Wrongo believes that political change is in the air, but that change locally and nationally depends primarily on voter turnout. Turnout depends on people being motivated enough to waddle on down to their polling place and vote, even if the weather is bad, the candidate isn’t perfect, and their one vote doesn’t seem to matter.

But today’s Saturday, and it’s time to settle back, relax, and get soothed. Or work on your taxes, if you have procrastinated. To help you relax, brew up a cup of Gedeb Lot 83 Ethiopia Natural coffee ($18.95/12oz) from JBC Coffee Roasters in Madison, WI. It has a sweetly tart structure with a rich umami undercurrent and satiny mouthfeel.

Now settle back in your favorite chair and listen to “Spring Waltz” supposedly by Frédéric Chopin.

However, it isn’t really called that, it isn’t a waltz, and it isn’t by Chopin. It is actually “Mariage d’Amour” composed by Paul de Senneville in 1987. It was wrongly titled and became wildly popular, so the various YouTube channels that feature it won’t correct its name. Still it is very beautiful, and of the season:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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15 Years Later, Bush and Cheney Can’t Be Forgiven

The Daily Escape:

Shock and Awe – Baghdad, Iraq 2003

In March 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq to forcibly remove Saddam Hussein from power. A quick victory ensued, but while the campaign had been carefully planned, what was to happen after winning had not. That led to a series of blunders and ill-conceived decisions, and a chain of events that ensures the Middle East and North Africa will be unstable for generations to come.

The NYT has an article by Sinan Antoon, an Iraqi-American novelist on the 15th anniversary of the Iraq invasion. He closes his piece with this:

No one knows for certain how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion 15 years ago. Some credible estimates put the number at more than one million. You can read that sentence again. The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a “blunder,” or even a “colossal mistake.” It was a crime. Those who perpetrated it are still at large. Some of them have even been rehabilitated thanks to the horrors of Trumpism and a mostly amnesiac citizenry. (A year ago, I watched Mr. Bush on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” dancing and talking about his paintings.) The pundits and “experts” who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam’s reign, but that is what America’s war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis.

What was supposed to be a quick operation, limited in time to remove a dictator from power, has snowballed into an out of control global nightmare.

Fifteen years later, the consequences have given us an uncertain future, but back in 2003, it didn’t have to be that way.

Wrongo had dinner back then with Gen. Jay Garner, who GW Bush had just tapped to lead the post-war reconstruction efforts in Iraq. We were at a company offsite meeting, just before he left for Iraq. Garner said that he believed the establishment of a new government could be accomplished quickly, and that the country could be back on its (sort of democratic) feet within a year.

Garner’s plan was to choose the new government officials who would lead the country from the former Iraqi regime. He later said:

…as in any totalitarian regime, there were many people who needed to join the Baath Party in order to get ahead in their careers. We don’t have a problem with most of them. But we do have a problem with those who were part of the thug mechanism under Saddam. Once the US identifies those in the second group, we will get rid of them.

Garner was replaced by the noxious Paul Bremer in May, 2003. Garner wanted early elections, and for Iraqis to decide how to run the country. But Bush, Cheney and Wolfowitz wanted to purge all Baathists. They cashiered the Iraqi military. They then selected Iyad Allawi to lead the Iraqi interim authority. Allawi was a Shiite who had worked with the CIA.

You know the rest of the story. The continuing catastrophe in Iraq led to the continuing catastrophe in Syria. That has caused the destabilizing flood of refugees into Europe. And it led to the European right-wing anti-immigrant movements that have ascended in most of the Eurozone.

Europeans must find it unbelievable that Trump claims they aren’t paying their way. They’re paying a huge daily tab in the form of destabilized politics and costly social programs for immigrants that reside in their towns and cities due to America’s adventurism in the Middle East.

In its wake, Iran allied with Russia and Iraq. Assad has won in Syria. Turkey’s relationship with NATO is frayed. Those birds will keep coming home to roost for generations.

Without the lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and the sheer incompetence of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer in Iraq, ISIS might not have expanded throughout Iraq and Syria. The refugee crisis might never happened.

And for what? A neo-con wet dream come to reality? Some real money made by their buddies via no-bid contracts?

The human toll, as Antoon says, was about one million Iraqis, and untold Syrians on top of that. It was never worth it.

Americans aren’t accustomed to calling their foreign adventures blunders. Antoon says it was a crime. We had a moment after Obama was elected to call the Iraq war’s perpetrators criminals, but Obama and Pelosi agreed that they wanted to look forward.

Now, the American public seems to want to let GW Bush off the hook for his blunders.

We can never allow that.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The Three Sisters, viewed from Canmore, Canada – photo by DiscInPc

Strategy must be lost on the Trump administration. We revisit Afghanistan. Pepe Escobar reports that for the past two months, Beijing and Kabul have been discussing the possibility of setting up a joint military base on Afghanistan’s border with China. Escobar quotes Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense:

We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has committed to help financially, provide equipment and train Afghan soldiers…

Escobar says that the military base will be built in the Wakhan Corridor, a mountainous and narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China, and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. He also reports that, according to local Kyrgyz nomads, joint Afghan-Chinese patrols are already active there.

Beijing is trying to prevent Uyghur Islamic fighters, who are exiled in Afghanistan, from crossing the Wakhan Corridor and conducting terror operations in China’s Xinjiang territory. Xinjiang is an autonomous territory in northwest China that has seen years of unrest, primarily from Muslims.

China’s concerns are backed by solid evidence. In 2013, al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri supported jihad against China in Xinjiang. In July 2014, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, supported a move against Xinjiang.

China doesn’t want its Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road, which will connect China with Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe to be compromised by terrorists. And one of its links, the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), could be hurt if terror threats abound in Central and South Asia. It could also affect China’s investments in Afghanistan’s mineral mining industry.

The Chinese are smart. Their new ambassador, Liu Jinsong, was raised in Xinjiang and was a director of the Belt and Road Initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund from 2012 to 2015. He understands how the local problems could hurt the New Silk Road. The plan is to prevent terrorists from having access to Chinese territory, and work to broker a deal between Kabul and some factions of the Taliban. If this sounds familiar, it is also Russia’s strategy, and Iran’s, and India’s as well.

Compare this joint approach with Washington’s strategy. Trump’s plan for Afghanistan involves defeating the Taliban, and then forcing them to negotiate. Since the Taliban control key areas of Afghanistan, the US strategy requires a new mini-surge.

This pits the US “coalition” against all of the great powers of the region. Think we are likely to succeed?

Let’s link this up with another Trump idea, his parade. Danny Sjursen, an Army major who served in Afghanistan wrote in an article in the American Conservative, “Parade of Defeat: Trump Prefers Spectacle Over Strategy:

Remember when military parades actually celebrated victories? Those were the days, or, better yet, the day—June 8, 1991…after the US military’s 100-hour lightning ground war ejected Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, some 8,800 soldiers marched down Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC…The White House called it the National Victory Celebration.

Sjursen adds: (brackets by Wrongo)

So, one cannot help but wonder what it [Trump’s Parade] is…celebrating. Nearly 17 years of indecisive quagmire?

He goes for the kill: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Trump…has turned the petty political appropriation of the troops into an art form. Soldiers are a pawn in the game, a very old game, in which the hawkish interventionists inspire the base and depict the opposition as dovish traitors. This is…meant to disguise what amounts to paltry policy in foreign affairs; it’s spectacle not strategy.

Linking our non-strategy in Afghanistan, which all of the region’s powers hope to solve with trade and diplomacy, to Trump’s parade, a good question is: How are our wars doing? The short answer: Badly. But haven’t we “beaten” ISIS?  Not really. ISIS has leaped across the borders of Syrian and Iraq to Africa and Asia. That’s why China is building a base in Afghanistan.

For all the talk of new strategies about “turning corners” and “breaking stalemates,” more fighting in Afghanistan will just waste more of our resources. Today, a record number of Afghan provinces and districts are under the control of, or contested by, the Taliban. Short-term success isn’t sustainable.

Trump has no exit strategy. But no worries, he has a parade strategy.

So, time to wake Trump the (family blog) up. He’s got to get focused on closing a deal with his Russian and Chinese friends. To help The Donald wake up, here is the “Unity JAM” by Tony Succar, a percussionist and arranger:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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The Countries Arrayed Against Us in Afghanistan

The Daily Escape:

Gas crater in Turkmenistan. It has been burning since the 1970s when Soviet engineers accidentally collapsed it while exploring for gas. The escaping methane was lit to avoid poisoning nearby villages. It has been burning ever since. Photo by Amos Chapple

Afghanistan has been burning for about as long as that gas crater. We are now ramping up our commitment to the Afghans by shifting military resources from Iraq and Syria back to Afghanistan.

On one hand, our presence makes it very difficult for the Taliban to win. They don’t have an air force, or anti-aircraft weapons. The Afghan Army is better trained than before, and they greatly outnumber their opposition.

On the other hand, the Afghan government can’t win; 40% (or more) of the country’s rural districts are under the Taliban’s control. They are active in other parts of the country. Government corruption remains rampant, and there’s a constitutional crisis in Kabul that’s been going on for three and a half years.

But let’s talk about the countries that are arrayed against Afghanistan. Iran, Pakistan, and Russia, all of which share common borders with Afghanistan, and all of which would be quite happy to see the US fail in its 16-year long war, are working with the Taliban.  According to Carlotta Gall in the NYT:

Iran…is providing local Taliban insurgents with weapons, money and training. It has offered Taliban commanders sanctuary and fuel for their trucks. It has padded Taliban ranks by recruiting among Afghan Sunni refugees in Iran, according to Afghan and Western officials.

Ms. Gall quotes Javed Kohistani, a military analyst based in Kabul:

Having American forces fight long and costly wars that unseated Iran’s primary enemies has served Tehran’s interests just fine. But by now, the Americans and their allies have outlasted their usefulness, and Iran is pursuing a strategy of death by a thousand cuts to drain them and cost them a lot.

So, Iran is thinking strategically. They have outmaneuvered us in Iraq, and in Syria. And they are siding with the Taliban against us in our biggest bet in the Middle East.

They are not alone. Russia now supports the Taliban. They are backing them in regions where the US is carrying out airstrikes. Their initiative reflects Moscow’s concerns that Afghanistan might become a new staging ground for Central Asian jihadis pushed out of Syria and Iraq after the defeat of ISIS. Moscow thinks that scenario could threaten its own security.

Also, Russia is trying to build an international consensus around direct engagement by major countries with the Taliban. This from the WaPo:

Russian policymakers support engagement with Taliban factions that support a diplomatic settlement in Afghanistan, while eschewing factions that seek to destabilize the war-torn country. Moscow’s selective engagement strategy toward the Taliban contrasts markedly with Washington’s historical resistance to engagement with the Afghan militant group.

Russians are inserting themselves in Afghanistan following their very successful intervention in Syria. Russia’s approach could increase its status as a counterweight to US influence in the Middle East.

Finally, Pakistan has long been recognized as a safe harbor for the Taliban. We have long believed that there is no way we can seal the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, so Taliban troops are free to leave the battle and return to relative safety in Pakistan. Our strategic concern has been to balance the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands, against the chance that our desire to crack down on their safe havens for the Taliban will alienate them.

The Taliban is undefeated mostly because Pakistan gives it support and sanctuary. The Trump administration has told Pakistan that it will no longer tolerate them providing the Taliban with a safe haven, but whether it changes anything on the ground remains to be seen.

We have an array of strong competitors who share borders with Afghanistan, all of whom want us to lose. And Afghanistan is a bad hand for nation-building: Over 50% of the population is under 19, and 39% are impoverished.

That’s a lot of young, impressionable kids with nothing to lose, and every reason to earn a living through illicit means, or by joining an insurgency. And Afghanistan’s population is growing faster than its economy. When the US invaded in 2001, the population was approximately 21 million people; today it is 35 million.

For anyone hoping to disrupt the Taliban’s ability to recruit, this is very bad news. The Taliban’s opium trade accounts for 400,000 jobs alone. That’s more jobs than those that are employed by the Afghan National Army.

Again, we should insist that Trump and the Congress answer these questions:

Why are we there? What end state are we trying to bring about?

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What the Tet Offensive Can Teach Us

The Daily Escape:


Wounded Marines carried on a tank during the fight to recapture Hue in the Tet Offensive in 1968 – photo by John Olson, The LIFE Images Collection. It is one of the most famous photographs from the Vietnam War. The pale figure is Alvin Bert Grantham from Mobile AL, who was shot through the chest. He survived.

Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Tet Offensive. Tet is the Vietnamese holiday that celebrates the lunar New Year. On that day, the North Vietnamese (NVA) and the Vietcong launched a massive military offensive all across South Vietnam. It was largely a surprise attack. The NVA thought their attacks would trigger popular uprisings throughout the country, and that the US military and the South Vietnamese could be beaten in a quick, though bloody battle.

They miscalculated. Within a month, the Tet Offensive was over, and the war continued for another seven years.

In “Hue 1968”, a remarkable book by Mark Bowen, (who wrote “Black Hawk Down”), Bowen faults General William Westmoreland, who days after Tet started, said that the country-wide attacks were a diversion from Khe Sanh, so he initially held back troops from Hue, and other Vietnamese cities.

Khe Sanh was the seat of the district government. US Special Forces built an airstrip there in 1962, and ultimately a fortified base. Westmoreland believed it was a strategic location both for covering the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and to cut off NVA infiltration from Laos. Bowen writes:

Indeed the attack he expected there [Khe Sanh] loomed so large in his mind that he had entertained the use of chemical and even tactical nuclear weapon (p. 314).

A few days later, Westmoreland wrote:

The use of tactical weapons should not be required in the present situation…. [but] I can visualize that either tactical nuclear weapons or chemical agents would be active candidates for employment (p. 315).

Imagine. In 1968, field commanders were willing to recommend using tactical nuclear or chemical weapons in a war that was not an existential threat to the USA. This is the type of nuclear weapon that the Trump administration is currently thinking of adding to our to-be-built nuclear arsenal. Also remember that Trump has delegated tactics to field commanders in the Middle East and Africa, our current Vietnams.

There are a few lessons to be learned from the Tet Offensive. You can say that it was the beginning of the end for our Vietnamese adventure, but it took until 1975 for us to finally leave.

One thing that changed forever was the US public’s faith in what LBJ and the generals were saying about the war. Both had grossly oversold our progress to the American people, and Tet made that clear. More from Bowen:

For decades…the mainstream press and…the American public believed their leaders…Tet was the first of many blows to that faith in coming years. Americans would never again be so trusting (p. 505).

The publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 sealed the deal. They showed that American leaders had been systematically lying about the scope and progress of the Vietnam War for years.

After Tet, there was no more conjecture in the White House or Pentagon that the war could be won quickly or easily. The debate moved from how to win, to how to leave.

A month later, LBJ decided not to seek reelection. Westmoreland was soon removed as the field commander. And 1968 also brought the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy, and then, the riots. Richard Nixon was elected eight months later, promising not victory, but that he had a “secret plan to bring the war to an honorable end”.

What have America’s presidents and generals learned from the Tet Offensive? We know that the military teaches future commanders about Vietnam to no apparent effect. It is still re-fought by our military. And almost half a century after Tet, they haven’t won it yet.

The Pentagon got the Trump administration to agree to a new “mini-surge” in Afghanistan intended, in disturbingly Vietnam-esque language, to “reverse the decline,” and “end the stalemate”.  The Pentagon convinced Trump that more troops will do the trick.

This is tragedy bordering on farce. And sadly, there is no course in quagmire management for future presidents.

Vietnam was, in truth, a 21-year war, from our first advisors at Dien Bien Phu, where the French were defeated in 1954, to that last helicopter in Saigon in 1975.

Afghanistan is now a 17-year war, with about as realistic hope of ending successfully as Vietnam had at the 17-year mark. And much like in Vietnam, we have no real strategy, and no long-term realistic end state that we can see.

The only thing that keeps Afghanistan going is that very few Americans have a relative in the fight, because we ended universal conscription in 1973.

That was one lesson from Vietnam that our military accepted and put into practice.

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Trump’s Syria Policy Could Threaten NATO

The Daily Escape:

Swaziland street scene – 2012 photo by Wrongo

Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch” against Kurdish militias inside Syria on January 20. Reuters reports that Turkish artillery pounded Kurdish positions, while rockets fired from inside Syria hit two Turkish border towns, wounding dozens. More from Reuters:

Intense Turkish artillery fire and air strikes continued to hit some villages, the YPG said, while fierce battles raged to the north and west of Afrin against Turkish forces and their rebel allies…

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey had informed the Syrian government of its military operation in Afrin with a written statement before the incursion was launched. Apparently, Moscow gave the green light to Ankara to commence Operation Olive Branch, and has moved Russian troops out of harm’s way in Afrin. From Stratfor:

The war in Syria should be ending. The Islamic State has lost all the territory it seized in 2014. The Syrian army, backed by Russia and Iran, has confined other anti-government rebels to besieged pockets in the south, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus and in the northwest. Opposition hopes of removing Syrian President Bashar al Assad have vanished. But the war refuses to die. It just takes new forms.

The new fighting is between Turkey and American surrogates. The US announced a post-Islamic State mission that would keep American advisers and their local surrogates in Syria for years to come. The mission calls for the US to train, arm and advise a 30,000-strong, mostly Kurdish border security force. The border that this force will secure is between Syria and Turkey.

Unsurprisingly, this didn’t sit well with Turkey’s president Erdogan, who pledged “to strangle it before it’s even born.” He moved Turkish military units to the border and launched artillery at Kurdish positions in their Syrian enclave of Afrin. Erdogan is a smart guy. He told members of parliament from his Justice and Development Party:

Hey, NATO! You are obliged to take a stance against those who harass and violate the borders of your members.”

Naturally, it’s Turkey’s borders that Erdogan wants NATO to protect from Kurdish militias. The US border security plan could tear NATO apart. Several European partners are unhappy with this latest move by the Trump administration. Importantly, this may commit the US to a long-term presence within a country that doesn’t want us there, and where we have no real strategic interest.

Erdogan’s incursion has received support from al Assad’s government, Russia, and Iran. They see the US plan as a pretext to keep a military presence in Syria, to deprive Syrian authorities control over large swaths of the country and gain some leverage over the war’s likely victors. Joshua Landis at the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies, wrote:

By controlling half of Syria’s energy resources, the Euphrates dam at Tabqa, as well as much of Syria’s best agricultural land, the US will be able to keep Syria poor and under-resourced…

Russia admonished the Kurds that their decision to put their faith in whatever US Central Command (CENTCOM, the controlling regional Defense Department command for Syria and the ME) has planned for them is a poor decision. And the US has already backtracked on their support for the Kurds in Afrin. CENTCOM has announced through a spokesperson, that the US will not continue to support them.

So, what’s the strategy? Both Russia and Iran can simply sit back and watch as Erdogan goes about crushing the US’s proxy (Kurdish militias) in northern Syria. And, they have nothing to lose if a nasty spat develops between the US and Turkey. On the other hand, if Turkey succeeds in vanquishing the Kurdish militia, US will have to vacate northern Syria, which would also be to the advantage of Russia and Iran.

It is hard to explain the Trump administration’s decision to keep the US military presence in Syria indefinitely, against the wishes of Damascus, Russia, Iran and Turkey. Tehran knows that if the US is forced to vacate Syria, it would mean the US-Israeli failure to block Iran from establishing the “Shia Crescent”.

Trump has delegated far too much autonomy to the Pentagon. The White House is focused domestically, or otherwise engaged in infighting, and Trump doesn’t have the interest, or expertise to provide leadership in the region.

Despite all Trump’s campaign rhetoric, his ME policy will only lead to further US humiliation in the region. The US needs a Metternich.

Instead, we’ve got Trump & Tillerson, sort of the “Abbott & Costello” of international affairs. Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon have been completely outplayed for the past year or two.

Sometimes you just have to get out of the way, and just take the shame/blame that’s coming to you.

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Tillerson: We’re Staying In Syria

The Daily Escape:

Coquina Rock outcropping, early morning, Flager Beach FL – 2017 photo by sir_oki

(By the time you read this, you may know if the US Congress has willfully kicked another own goal by allowing another government shutdown. If it has happened, it will be because Republicans couldn’t keep their factions in line in the House, and that the Democrats wouldn’t help the GOP in the Senate. As Wrongo writes this, there’s no sign that either are in place, but Wrongo thinks they will avert a shutdown.)

Secretary of State Tillerson visited Stanford University, and spoke about our threadbare geopolitical strategy. From the Guardian:

The US intends to maintain an open-ended military presence in Syria, not only to fight Isis and AL-Qaeda but also to provide a bulwark against Iranian influence, ensure the departure of the Assad regime and create conditions for the return of refugees…

This is laughable. Think about the results to date on our Syrian strategy: US-backed jihadis along with the Assad regime have wrecked Syria, and changed the politics in Europe because of massive refugee migration. And the politics on the ground in Syria are unchanged.

Tillerson’s speech was more of the same old, same old about challenges and threats, some of which are unrelated to a grand strategy of US in the Middle East. But the most basic question, why the US remains in Syria, (and in the Middle East in general), were not addressed, much less answered.

It doesn’t take a 6’3” 239-pound geopolitical genius to figure out that the Trump administration’s prime ME directive is the containment and roll back of Iran’s influence in the region. But our partners are unreliable, and in some cases, disagree with this strategy. Wishful thinking is a bad basis for strategy, it is really a recipe for yet another ME disaster.

The hidden hands enabling America’s obsession with Iran, a country that presents zero military threat to us, are Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel wants Iran-friendly Hezbollah neutralized in Syria and Lebanon, and is willing to fight to the last American in pursuit of that objective. The Saudis are fighting Iran for dominance in the region.

By carving out territory in Syria, we are creating a fundamentally weak situation, both militarily and politically. Over the next few months, Assad will prevail, and that will be the end of the Syrian civil war. Then, something entirely new will emerge. The Northeast of Syria, the Kurdish-controlled areas where we are placing our 2,000 ground troops, will become a main focus for Syria, Turkey and Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran.

And here, we enter uncharted political territory. We have no legal right to occupy a portion of Syria, and we must expect that at some point, Syria and Russia will call us on that. What will be our response? Is Trump willing to head-to-head with them, and possibly see US troops killed? For what?

Tactically, we have aligned with the Syrian Kurds to try and check a regional grouping who will surround our position. Worse, our policy is opposed by our ally, Turkey, who wants us to stop helping (and arming) the Kurds.

We are engaging in more superficial thinking about the ME, once again attempting to reshape the region. And to help us, we are counting on a rapprochement between Saudi-Arabia and Israel. It also requires them to commit military support to American efforts to block the combined interests of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

When you listen to Tillerson, you would think that the US had defeated ISIS, and our troops are there for the mop-up, that the Syrians, Russians and Iranians were hardly involved. Little of that is true.

Tillerson’s Syrian manifesto requires that Assad step down, now by losing an election, because evicting him by force proved impossible. Yet, it seems probable that Assad would win a fair election.

Isn’t Tillerson’s plan just more neo-con regime change? Think about Iraq. The US wanted Saddam out, and thus handed the country to Iran. In Syria, the goal was to oust Assad. Now, Assad is staying, and Russia has an unprecedented footprint in the region.

Under Trump, we have no end-game in Syria, or in Afghanistan. We choose to sit in the middle of a divided region: Arab vs. Persian, Kurds vs. Turks, Sunni vs. Shia, Saudi Arabia vs. Iran, Israel vs. Palestine, and remnants of ISIS vs. everyone else.

It is a powder keg waiting to go off.

Has Tillerson come up with a sound strategy? Definitely not.

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Iran: Our New Enemy in the Forever War

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Hood at sunset as seen from Trillium Lake, OR – photo by Steve Schwindt

We are opening a new front in the Forever War. The WSJ reports:

The Pentagon plans to keep some US forces in Syria indefinitely, even after a war against the Islamic State extremist group formally ends, to take part in what it describes as ongoing counterterrorism operations…

There are approximately 2,000 US troops in Syria, along with an unspecified number of contractors supporting them. Last month, the US withdrew 400 Marines from Syria.

The Pentagon has said the forces will target parts of Syria that aren’t fully governed by either Syrian or rebel forces. US defense officials stressed there would be no large, permanent bases in Syria like we maintain in Germany and South Korea. Instead, troops will be assigned to smaller bases and outposts. These small unit forts are usually called Forward Operating Bases (FOB).

The US will now have FOBs in Syria, just like we have in Afghanistan. Anyone familiar with our Afghani FOBs can tell you that this can be a road to defeat. These bases are usually undermanned and difficult to resupply, or defend. We rely on air support to assist when these bases are attacked. That becomes difficult or impossible in bad weather, and if they are attacked with overwhelming force. Time is of the essence, but our jets and helicopters are at best, usually 10-30+ minutes away.

And our decision to remain in Syria is actually worse than that. Turkey, Iran and Russia are already on the ground in Syria, along with Hezbollah and the Syrian army. According to Reuters, CIA Director Pompeo sent a letter to Major General Soleimani of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards (IRG) warning him not to attack US or Coalition forces in Syria or Iraq. According to Pompeo, Soleimani refused to open the letter.

Elijah J. Magnier, a long-time Middle East analyst, reported that Soleimani replied in a verbal message via Russia to the head of the US forces in Syria, advising him to pull out all US forces, “or the doors of hell will open up”:

My message to the US military command: when the battle against ISIS…will end, no American soldier will be tolerated in Syria. I advise you to leave by your own will or you will be forced to it…

Given that many Arabs in the ME are very angry at Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, our troops might become tempting targets for pro-Syrian forces on the ground near our FOBs.

As they used to say in English Lit, compare and contrast the Trump administration’s message with what Putin is doing in Syria: On Monday, Putin visited Syria to announce that a “significant” number of Russian soldiers are going to be withdrawn.

We are staying indefinitely, and Russia is withdrawing a “significant” portion of their Syrian forces. Everyone knows that Russia will be there indefinitely, but they are staying with the full consent of the Syrian government.

In business, you sign the agreement and put it away. If you have to read it again, generally, you are screwed, and dialing up your lawyers. We had an agreement with the Russians to be in Syria while ISIS was viable. Now, they are largely defeated. We seem to think we can tear up whatever agreement we want, whenever we want to.

We are becoming the party nobody wants to have an agreement with. Here is how our current plan will operate:

  • We keep our troops in a country where they’re not wanted
  • Since they’re not wanted, they will eventually be attacked
  • Once attacked, we will have to reinforce them, to fight the “terrorists”

Trump is hoping that Iran’s reaction to our forces in Syria can be a pretext for an expanded conflict with Iran. Finding common cause with Iran is the key to peace in the Middle East. The US is needlessly fanning the flames of anger and violence. Cooler heads must prevail in Washington to prevent an utter disaster.

We should dismiss General Soleimani’s threats, since the last thing Iran wants is war with the US and Israel. If they attack US forces, they risk just that, and they will drag Syria into a new war.

OTOH, our troops will be attacked, and opinions will differ on who conducted the attack.

The Global War on Terror is a fraud that benefits only a few. A lot of money is changing hands. Hundreds of billions of dollars. One group that benefits are the Republicans.

They want to gut Medicare.

But the sacred defense budget must be expanded.

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