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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump Loses Syria, America Wins

The Daily Escape:

Lake of the Clouds, Michigan – October 2019 photo by kawl

The accepted view in DC is that Trump’s decision to green light Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring against the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria benefits US adversaries, including Iran, Russia and Syria.

There are collateral effects. The withdrawal of US forces and its behavior with the Kurds after many years of battles against ISIS helps to confirm Russia’s credibility and commitment towards its Middle East allies. By comparison, Trump’s actions paint the US as an untrustworthy partner.

The US foreign policy establishment and the mainstream American media keep making these arguments. American Neocons are openly complaining. They will blame Trump for “losing Syria.”

Are they correct, and does it matter?

When Trump announced over the weekend that all US troops are pulling out of northern Syria, it immediately led to the Kurds (the group we just abandoned) making a deal with Syria. Various outlets are reporting that the Kurds have made an agreement with Syria, and that Russia will be the guarantor.

This means that the Kurds will become part of the Syrian security forces. The Syrian Army has agreed to take control of all ISIS prisoners, families and those on the run.

According to free-lance Syrian analyst Danny Makki ‏ (@Dannymakkisyria) in a Twitter thread, here are the main points of agreement between the Kurds (SDF) and the Syrian government: (brackets by Wrongo)

1/ The abolishment of the SDF…with all the current Kurdish forces and military groups joining the 5th Corps (Assault Legion) under Russian control 3:12 AM – 14 Oct 2019
2/ A solid guarantee of full Kurdish rights in the new Syrian constitution with autonomy which will be agreed upon by Kurdish leadership & Syrian state.
3/ Joint coordinated effort by Syrian/Kurdish forces to remove Turkish presence in northern Syria including Afrin…
4/ Manbij & Kobani were agreed upon for SAA [Syrian Arab Army] to enter quickly, whilst Hasakeh has seen a wide scale deployment of Syrian troops, this will continue in Qamishli and other joint areas
5/ With Syrian forces now on the border area with Turkey it’s clear that this starts a new phase in the 8-year-long war where some sort of endgame is now taking shape – all border areas and administrational centers will be taken over by the Syrian government
6/ Within one month Kurdish leadership with start to take up some official roles within the current Syrian government to ease the transition period of N. #Syria until an new constitution/government is formed in the future

/snip/

12/ The agreement thus far is effectively a military one, based on self-defense and mutual interest with a number of set aims. The governance/land delegation/ISIS prisoners part will follow later
13/ Syrian forces will deployed on the entirety of the border with Turkey, this is the first time in 6 years that the Syrian army will have a serious presence in N. East Syria
14/ Although Manbij is one of the cities that the Syrian army would take according to the agreement, the situation there is still tense and it is unclear exactly who will control it.

Russia has been working hard to reach a comprehensive agreement with Turkey and Syria to halt the military operations including for Manbij, as soon as possible.

Syria is now on the way to regaining control over all of its territory, thanks to Russia and to a lesser extent, to Donald Trump. There’s no other way to put it. It appears that all that was needed was an announcement of the US withdrawal to fast track an end of the war in Syria.

It seems like every party is getting what it needed: Trump gets US forces out of Syria. Turkey feared a well-armed and powerful YPG, which was previously supplied and protected by the US. Now that the US is pulling out, Syria won’t allow any YPG attack against Turkey from northeast Syria.

Russia sees the end to their hot war in Syria, and a huge boost in their credibility and reputation in the Middle East. The Kurds won’t get their semi-autonomous Rojava territory, but they will be alive, living in their ancestral lands, and under Damascus’ governance.

But take it from Wrongo, (who has absolutely no respect for him), Trump did the right thing. Maybe its a Republican thing: Reagan got out of Lebanon. Nixon went to China.

Trump’s seeming willingness to work with Putin will ultimately make Syria a better place. Most Syrian refugees could wind up repatriated to a peaceful country.

Putin could not have orchestrated this without Trump’s willingness to buck the US foreign policy elites, the military, and our politicians.

Trump may have done the right thing for the wrong reasons, or he may not have even been aware of this predictable outcome. But we should chalk it up as a victory for the American people.

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Saturday Soother – October 12, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Crawford Notch, White Mountains NP, NH – October 2019 photo by mattmacphersonphoto

Wrongo wants to get away from US politics. Lately, it’s nearly impossible to judge what is real, and what’s not. A few things to consider:

First, regarding Turkey’s move into Syria: At the UN on Thursday, a resolution was offered in the Security Council condemning Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria. The resolution’s principal sponsor was the EU. But, the resolution was blocked by the US and Russia. Think about it: America just joined with Russia to veto a UN resolution that would have condemned the slaughter of the Kurds who helped the West defeat ISIS in Syria.

How often do you think that the US and Russia have been on the same side in UN vetoes?

Second, on Friday night, Trump went to Minneapolis to another of his campaign rallies. He spoke for 102 minutes. Among other things, he repeated a debunked right–wing blogger’s claim that Rep. Ilhan Omar married her brother to enter the US. Trump then widened his attack to target Somali refugees in Minnesota:

“As you know, for many years, leaders in Washington brought large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers….You should be able to decide what is best for your own cities and for your own neighborhoods, and that’s what you have the right to do right now, and believe me, no other president would be doing that.”

In September, the Trump administration issued an executive order giving state and local governments more freedom to reject refugees.

Trump removed any doubt, that this is going to be the worst, most racist presidential campaign we’ve ever seen. Is America ready for this?

Trump went on to say that Joe Biden only got to be vice president because he knew how to “kiss Barack Obama’s ass.” Don’t you wonder if Mike Pence feels the heat from Biden? This causes Wrongo to ask the question: “What’s the difference between an ass-kisser and a brown noser?”

Answer: “Depth perception”.

Third, the Ukraine story has many more levels than we have imagined. We learned on Wednesday that two of Rudy Giuliani’s “associates” were arrested for funneling foreign money to Republican politicians. It seems that both had also been helping Giuliani investigate Joe Biden. Despite the Trump administration’s contention that the two “associates”had nothing to do with the White House, the WaPo reported: (brackets by Wrongo)

“John Dowd, a lawyer for [both men and former Trump lawyer] told Congress in a statement earlier this week that they had been assisting Giuliani in his work on behalf of the president. The two also claimed in interviews and social media posts to have attended an eight-person session with Trump in Washington in May 2018 to discuss the upcoming midterm elections.”

According to the indictment, they funneled money from an unnamed Russian businessman to various US political candidates.

Is everything we are hearing about Ukraine connected? Giuliani’s fingers seem to be all over the US/Ukraine relationship. Think Paul Manafort. We know that Rudy Giuliani was consulting with Manafort as he pursued his schemes. And Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing, who was coordinating with Rudy, represented the two “associates” in their court appearance yesterday.

It’s beginning to look like we’re headed for a Constitutional crisis.

Anyway, it’s the weekend, and we’ve got to rest and recuperate so that we can face whatever Trump has in store for us next week. It’s time for a Saturday Soother.

Let’s start by brewing up a mug of Sumatra single source coffee ($9.99/12 oz.) from Topsham, Maine’s coffee roaster Wicked Joe. The roaster says its full bodied and earthy, with notes of dense chocolate and spices.

Now, settle into a comfy chair and listen to “A Small Measure Of Peace” from the soundtrack from the 2003 film, The Last Samurai, composed by Hans Zimmer:

The film closes with: “As for the American Captain, no one knows what became of him. Some say that he died of his wounds. Others that he returned to his own country. But I like to think he may have at last found some small measure of peace, that we all seek, and few of us ever find… “

A small measure of peace is Wrongo’s wish for all of us.

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

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Trump’s “Great and Unmatched Wisdom”

The Daily Escape:

Bear Lake, from the Superior trail, MN – October 2019 photo by lifesazoo

Maybe you saw this announcement from the White House on Sunday night saying the US was pulling back from where it was patrolling in northeast Syria, allowing the Turks to move deeper into Syrian territory:

Then, the AP reported on Monday that US troops had already begun pulling out of positions in northern Syria. Here’s what the situation on the ground looks like:

In agreeing with Turkey’s desire to further intervene in Syria, Trump overrode the objections of the Pentagon and State Department, which wanted to maintain a small American troop presence in northeastern Syria. Our presence provides a buffer between the Kurds and Turkey, which considers the Kurds to be terrorists.

Trump’s decision came after a telephone call with Turkey’s President Erdogan. The Kurdish forces in the area have been the most reliable American ally against ISIS for years, but Turkey has continually lobbied the US to stop supporting them.

Trump wanted to leave Syria in 2017, at the beginning of his term, but was talked out of it. Had he carried through on that, the Kurds would have had an incentive to make peace with Syria. It would have left Russia, Iran and Syria in a better position to fight the remaining jihadis, while holding the Turks at bay.

The Kurds should have seen this coming. America has not been the Kurds best friend, despite their assisting us since before the Iraq war. Remember that we had no response when Saddam used chemical weapons against them in the 1980s.

Trump plans on keeping the troops in Syria, just out of the reach of the coming Turkish invasion. It’s the worst of all worlds for everyone, except Erdogan.

The move didn’t go over well with Republicans. Many have castigated Trump, and some are promising to try to sanction Turkey if it follows through with its plans. In a kind of retreat, Trump backed down a little with this tweet:

Any non-Republican reading this tweet will have the same thought as Wrongo, that Trump’s account was hijacked, or that this was satire. No, it was really Trump, and he wasn’t joking. His “great and unmatched wisdom” stands between us and “obliterating” a NATO partner.

And he says he’s done it before. Does he mean the Iranian economy? China’s?

Wrongo hears echoes of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Unlike in “The Wizard of Oz”, the booming, threatening voice of grandiose delusion now comes from a Twitter account. And this story won’t end with Dorothy waking from a dream.

So far, the GOP in DC has not reacted to the tweet, they’re still focused on what they think is a bad decision: walking away from the Kurds. They think Trump is rewarding another dictator in Erdogan. He has defied the US by purchasing Russia’s S-400 air-defense system and by ignoring US sanctions against Iran.

But Trump seems ok with all that, so long as Erdogan takes 2,500 foreign fighters off our hands.

So far, the Republicans are pissed about Trump doing something that is within his right to do as president. But, when he broke the law by asking foreign countries to interfere in our election, they have stayed silent.

So, Trump jeopardizing their Defense Industry PAC contributions is a grave national concern, but law-breaking is OK by them.

Who sets their priorities?

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Rainy morning, Emerald Lake, Yoho NP British Columbia CN – 2019 photo by mrgoomba7

On September 14, explosions rocked the Saudi’s Khurais oilfield as well as the Abqaiq refinery, one of Saudi Arabia’s most vital petrochemical installations. Several hours later, the Houthis claimed that they had targeted both facilities with ten drones. In reality, it now seems that 17 drones or cruise missiles hit the Saudi plants.

There is a continuing debate on who launched the attack. Pompeo tweeted that it was the Iranians:

Perfect positioning by America’s First Diplomat!

While Pompeo says Iran did it, the Arms Control Wonk reports that the Houthis have both the technology and ability. The US, Israel and Iran also have the capability to conduct such an attack.

Saudi Arabia and the US will no doubt eventually figure out who owned the missiles used in the attack, but that won’t resolve the question of guilt, or complicity to everyone’s satisfaction. Some are saying that the Abqaiq oil field is too far from Yemen for them to be the culprit. Yet, the US supplied these photos of the damage, including an arrow helpfully pointing to north (it’s pointing left, while the shadows mean the sun is in the east):

The boxes showing damage mean the missiles came from the west, where Yemen is located. Iran is located to the Northeast, as are Israel and Iraq.

But please wait, and let Washington tell you what to believe.

The most important takeaway is that Saudi Arabia has no real defense against this kind of attack. In mid-June 2019, a cruise missile fired by the Houthis hit the terminal of Abha Airport in Southern Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 passengers.

The Saudis use two US air defense systems, the Patriot, and the Hawk missile systems. Both are deployed in Saudi’s northeast, facing the Persian Gulf. They do not provide defensive cover for the attacked oil refineries if the missile or drone is fired from the south or west:

The Patriots are useful against cruise or ballistic missiles. The Hawks are for aircraft. But no system could protect all of the Saudi’s oil field facilities if 17 missiles are fired at once.

Despite the hopes of DC’s Iran-hating Neocons, it is possible that the attack originated in Yemen. The Saudi war in Yemen was launched in 2015. It costs Saudi Arabia several billion dollars per month. The Saudi budget deficit again increased this year and is expected to reach 7% of its GDP.  They need much higher oil prices to help prosecute the Yemen war.

Also, Saudi Arabia is planning to sell a share of its state owned oil conglomerate, Aramco, which may be worth $2 Trillion. But who would buy a share of Aramco when its major installations are not secure, and has endured crippling attacks?

Assuming this attack isn’t a one-off, the Saudis probably will need a cease-fire or a peace deal with Yemen before it can sell Aramco shares for a decent price. It is likely that the Houthis will demand reparations payments from the Saudis in order to make peace.

The first Saudi attempts to negotiate happened two weeks ago. The Hill reports they asked the Trump administration to work out an agreement with the Houthis:

“The Trump administration is preparing to initiate negotiations with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in an effort to bring the four-year civil war in Yemen to an end….The effort is reportedly aimed at convincing Saudi Arabia to take part in secret talks with the rebels in Oman to help broker a cease-fire in the conflict, which has emerged as a front line in the regional proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran.”

But it hasn’t led to anything.

Back in DC, we’re hearing that the US must have some response to the missile attacks.

Why?

America wasn’t attacked. We’re not even sure who carried out the attack, and there is at least a small probability that it was some disaffected group within Saudi Arabia itself.

We do not have a mutual security agreement with Saudi Arabia, although we are strategic partners.

Now the poor helpless Saudis will want their best friend Trump to attack Iran, much to the delight of Israel and the Neocons. And a refinery attack showing Saudi’s lack of defenses may get Trump off the dime.

How on God’s green earth is this in our national interest?

Trump and Pompeo are trying to position us on the Sunni side of a region-wide sectarian civil war. That would be a disaster for us and for all in the Middle East.

Wake up, America! Most who work in DC in any power capacity have been dreaming of war with Iran for decades. Yet, somehow they haven’t made it happen.

Let’s hope that continues.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 15, 2019

Wrongo says this a lot: Tough week! We keep thinking it can’t get worse, but it always surprises us by getting more terrible than the week before. We had a signal event this week, the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on New York, the Pentagon and the aborted attack that resulted in the plane crash in Shanksville, PA. Wrongo said what he needed to say here.

On to cartoons, and there were waay too many cartoons about John Bolton. Here’s this week’s favorite:

If there’s no deal with the Taliban, it looks like we’ll have trouble leaving Afghanistan:

Rudyard Kipling said it best:

“When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
And go to your God like a soldier”

Clearly, Biden needs a yuuge cup of this:

Vaping will be heavily regulated unless…

Trump decides America can live without clean water:

Nobody knows where Brexit will land:

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9/11/2001: What Have We Learned in Eighteen Years?

The Daily Escape:

Man standing in rubble of the North Tower late on 9/11/2001, calls out in vain to possible WTC survivors – Photo by Doug Kanter

People say that they will never forget 9/11, but what Wrongo remembers is that it was the proximate cause of the war in Afghanistan, starting with our invasion on October 7th, 2001.

And now, we’ve been there for 18 years. The war in Afghanistan has led to the deaths of over 2,400 US soldiers, with another 1,100 coalition troops killed. Over 62,000 Afghan security forces personnel have died. Tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and thousands of Afghan civilians have also died. We’ve spent Trillions of dollars that could have been used here at home to make the lives of Americans better.

Eighteen years after the 9/11 attacks, it is still “wartime” in America. The War on Terror has been the primary driver for our government’s weakening the Bill of Rights. In the panic after 9/11, the GW Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act, along with measures that permit torture, illegal surveillance, and indefinite detention without charges or trial. Our whistle-blower protections were weakened.

If these attacks on the Bill of Rights continue, we’ll have gone full-circle: back to a post-Constitutional America, sharing much with how colonial America was governed by the British King.

With this 9/11 Afghanistan meditation as background, after 18 years of fighting, what are we to make of Trump’s botched Afghan peace talks?

He was right to try. It’s past time that we exit Afghanistan. Much like when we left Vietnam, talks with the Taliban are not about ending the war, they’re about limiting US future military participation in Afghanistan.

In 1973, Nixon tried to create the appearance that we were exiting Vietnam on our own terms. We settled for the flawed “Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.” Under that pact, American prisoners of war were freed by North Vietnam, and the last US combat troops in the south left for home, completing a withdrawal begun several years earlier.

Primary responsibility for defending South Vietnam fell to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam who we knew were incapable of holding the country. Our message to both North and South was: We’re outta here; you guys sort this out. And within two years, the Republic of Vietnam was gone.

Now, our military wants to shift its focus to China and Russia. So, here we go again, looking for a pretext that makes it seem that we’re leaving on our own terms, only this time, from Afghanistan.

Enter the Taliban talks. Trump’s “deal” relied on paper-thin assurances by the Taliban that there would be no haven for the terrorists, despite ISIS already being there in significant numbers. Al Qaeda is still active there, and is coordinating with the Taliban.

In return, the US would withdraw 5,000 of our 14,000 troops. We had no assurance that the Afghan government would agree to the deal, since the Taliban had refused to negotiate with them. Trump now says the deal is dead. Republicans think Trump’s move is an opportunity to reset the terms of the peace deal, which faced bipartisan criticism here, along with rejection by the Afghans.

Maybe.

Was much lost by walking away? Trump had planned on making a splashy announcement about bringing troops home on 9/11. He must have been channeling Camp David, where Jimmy Carter negotiated a peace agreement with Egypt and Israel in 1978, and where Bill Clinton did the same with the PLO and Israel in 2000. So, Trump’s lost something.

But he realized the meeting wasn’t going to happen. The Taliban wasn’t going to visit the US unless the deal was signed, but Trump wanted more deal-making, followed by a signing at Camp David. The Taliban aren’t fools. Getting on a plane without a signed deal could have landed them in Guantanamo, not in Washington DC.

Peace isn’t obtained by photo-op. It requires sound planning, the participation of all parties, and exacting negotiations. Offering to host the Taliban during 9/11 also shows tone-deafness. These are the very people who gave cover to Osama Bin Laden!

However and whenever the US leaves, much like in Vietnam, the Taliban will become the government of Afghanistan, despite our 18-year effort. We now seem unwilling to say: “you guys sort this out”, so our longest war will continue. It will be accompanied by more death, and more money flushed down the rat hole.

We should also expect most Republicans and quite a few Democrats will remain silent.

Have all of these lives lost, and the trillions of dollars spent, taught us anything?

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Another Take on Memorial Day

The Daily Escape:

Dunn’s River Falls, near Ocho Rios, Jamaica – 2019 photo by Ashleigh Reutzel

There were many excellent Memorial Day columns posted over the weekend, and Wrongo wants to draw your attention to Andrew Bacevich, who wrote about visiting Marseilles, Illinois, which curiously, has our only monument honoring those who died in our wars in the Middle East: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Marseilles retains one modest claim to fame. It’s the site of the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial, dedicated in June 2004….The memorial, created and supported by a conglomeration of civic-minded Illinois bikers, many of them Vietnam veterans, is the only one in the nation that commemorates those who have died during the course of the various campaigns…that have involved U.S. forces in various quarters of the Greater Middle East over the past several decades.

That tells you quite a bit about how Americans value the American sacrifice in these wars. More from Bacevich: (more emphasis by Wrongo)

Any American wanting to pay personal tribute to those who fought and died for our country in World War II or Korea or Vietnam knows where to go — to the Mall in Washington D.C….Nowhere else in this vast nation of ours has anyone invested in…the effort to remember more than a generation’s worth of less-than-triumphant American war making. Marseilles has a lock on the franchise.

We’ve been at war in the Middle East since Desert Storm. It’s hard to believe that a “Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial” isn’t on the National Mall. But, the Vietnam vets had to fight to have their monument built, over resistance from Washington.

Bacevich is originally from a nearby Illinois town, and sadly, his son is among the Middle East dead listed on the monument: (emphasis by Wrongo)

…I find myself uneasy with any reference to American soldiers having died for freedom in the Greater Middle East. Our pronounced penchant for using that term in connection with virtually any American military action strikes me as a dodge. It serves as an excuse for not thinking too deeply about the commitments, policies, and decisions that led to all those names being etched in stone, with more to come next month and probably for many years thereafter.

He closes with this:

Just as there are all-but-mandatory venues in Iowa and New Hampshire where candidates are expected to appear, why not make Marseilles, Illinois, one as well. Let all of the candidates competing to oust Donald Trump from the White House…schedule at least one campaign stop at the Middle East Conflicts Wall, press entourage suitably in tow.

One of the catch phrases of our cheap American patriotism is: “Thank you for your service,” which many (well-meaning) people say when they meet an active duty or veteran military person. As a former Army officer, Wrongo has always tempered his appreciation on hearing that with the idea that the unspoken part of that phrase is: “better you than me.”

We are reverent, but disengaged from our military. We love the troops, but we’d rather not think about them, is our norm. That wasn’t always the case. WWII and Korea were in the forefront of people’s minds while the fighting was underway. Americans were drafted into the military as late as Vietnam, and Nixon learned how difficult it was to keep Vietnam off the minds of the people.

Since we ended the draft in 1973, America hasn’t won a war. Now, less than one percent of the nation is in uniform. What is more alarming, military service has increasingly become a family affair. Coupled with troop-basing in the West and Southeast, we are quickly evolving into a Praetorian military culture, precisely as American culture fragments. Hero worship of our military has created a separate caste of military professionals. Unchecked, this will ultimately fracture our society.

Even well-meaning people don’t want to know what our policies have created, both at home and abroad. The cost of our wars is ruinous, partly because the human dimension is nearly absent from the discussion.

War is bankrupting us during a time of relative peace. We have no discernible threat comparable to our certain costs. And our media doesn’t always help us see the threats clearly.

These wars are all post-Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) wars. There have been no victory parades since the first Gulf War.

And all of these wars contribute to our fractured politics. We continue to use debt to cover the costs of our ever-expanding military, at the sacrifice of domestic needs like infrastructure, education and healthcare. We gotta wake up.

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Monday Wake Up Call – 2019 Memorial Day Edition

The Daily Escape:

Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetery – 2013 photo by William Coyle

 “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” Mark Twain

Today we celebrate the sacrifice of those who died fighting in America’s wars. We mourn those we knew, and we remember those we never knew.

We can’t seem to get our fill of war. In fact, since 1943, the year of Wrongo’s birth, the US has been at peace for just five years: 1976, and 1977, 1978, 1997 and 2000 are America’s only years with no major war.

So today, we celebrate those who have died in service of our global ambitions. Maybe we watch a parade, shop at the mall, and attend the first cookout of the year. Perhaps we should be required to spend more time thinking about how America can increase the number of years when we are not at war.

But today also brings us something else to think about. The Yale School of Forestry published an article about the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, Fifty Years After, A Daunting Cleanup of Vietnam’s Toxic Legacy. Here is a snippet:

“From 1962 to 1971, the American military sprayed vast areas of Vietnam with Agent Orange, leaving dioxin contamination that has severely affected the health of three generations of Vietnamese. Now, the US and Vietnamese governments have joined together in a massive cleanup project.”

During the US Air Force campaign known as Operation Ranch Hand, Agent Orange was used to strip bare the coastal mangroves of the Mekong Delta and the dense triple-canopy forests that concealed enemy fighters and supply lines. One-sixth of South Vietnam was blanketed with 20 million gallons of herbicides, and as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese civilians were exposed to the spraying.

The three remaining hot spots of dioxin contamination were the US airbases at Da Nang, Bien Hoa, and the smaller air base at Phu Cat. These were the sites from where the spraying was launched. The residual levels of dioxin on those sites posed a serious ongoing threat to public health. Of the three, Bien Hoa was by far the worst. During our war in Vietnam, it was said to be the busiest airport in the world.

Phu Cat was cleaned up by the Vietnamese without US assistance. Next came Da Nang, a six-year project that was completed last October. It cost $110 million, of which $100 million came from the US State Department, channeled through USAID.

The sheer volume of soils and sediments that must be remediated is staggering. In Da Nang, it was 90,000 cubic meters; in Bien Hoa it is 495,300. The US has agreed to commit $300 million to the Bien Hoa cleanup over 10 years, but USAID couldn’t bear the entire cost. So, after much debate, the Department of Defense agreed to contribute half of the total.

This has to be done, since dioxin is a deadly chemical. It is both hydrophobic and lipophilic: it hates water and loves fat. It sinks into the sediment at the bottom of bodies of water, it attaches to organic matter and moves up the food chain, from plankton to small aquatic animals and finally to fish. In soil, it ends up in free-range chickens and ducks and their eggs.

It becomes more concentrated at each stage, a process known as bioaccumulation. Eighty-seven percent of dioxin enters the body through ingestion, before migrating into fatty tissue, the liver, and breast milk. And fish and poultry are staples of the Vietnamese diet.

The WHO stipulates a tolerable maximum of 1 to 4 picograms (one trillionth of a gram) per kilogram of body weight per day. The mean amount they found in breastfed infants in the Bien Hoa area was 80 picograms.

And we shouldn’t forget how haphazardly the VA has dealt with the medical issues of Vietnam Vets who were exposed to Agent Orange. For many years veterans with Agent Orange-related diseases were denied disability compensation by the VA. This only changed with the passage of the Agent Orange Act of 1991. Now, the VA acknowledges certain cancers and other diseases are caused by Agent Orange.

The Vietnam War ended in 1975. The Vietnam vets that survived the war only to suffer from Agent Orange-related diseases had to wait at least 16 years before our government began helping the majority of them. Vietnam waited 50 years before our government acknowledged our culpability in destroying much of their environment.

This is a sad reminder about today’s Memorial Day, all of our past Memorial Days, and the ones to come.

It is good to be reminded again about our dead soldiers, and also to be reminded of what our government ordered them to do.

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Afghanistan: Too Corrupt To Save?

The Daily Escape:

London street art by Bambi  – 2017 photo by Wrongo. Since then, she has done another version, where the bag says: “I love Meghan”.

On October 7, 2001 The US military with British support, began a bombing campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. That mission was called Operation Enduring Freedom. So, what has endured in the 18 years since we started bombing the Taliban? Mostly corruption. The Economist has a damning report: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Last year was the deadliest on record for civilians, according to the United Nations. America’s air force dropped more bombs in 2018 than at any other point in the war. Despite that support, the government is slowly losing ground. It now controls barely half the country’s territory, albeit two-thirds of its people.”

US forces have shifted their strategy to trying to inflict maximum casualties on the Taliban, who now control more territory than at any time since its ouster from power in 2001. This is the same as the “body count” strategy that we tried in Vietnam. But the Taliban are winning, despite America’s best efforts. We’ve backed a corrupt government that the Afghan people do not trust. The Economist illustrates that point:

“A group of middle-aged drivers explain the difference between the Taliban and the government. Both groups take money from drivers on the road, says Muhammad Akram…both are violent. But when the Taliban stop him at a checkpoint, they write him a receipt. Waving a fistful of green papers, he explains how they ensure he won’t be charged twice: after he pays one group of Talibs, his receipt gets him through subsequent stops. Government soldiers, in contrast, rob him over and over.”

We started down a path of nation-building in Afghanistan 18 years ago, but the government in Kabul doesn’t provide basic services. It has a huge security apparatus, and a big bureaucracy, but where it matters, the State, in the words of the US DOJ, is “largely lawless, weak and dysfunctional”.

No place in the country is completely safe. At boozy parties in Kabul, rich Afghans share gallows humor about the impending arrival of the jihadists at their gates.

The Taliban are no prize. Their brutal attacks make them deeply unpopular, especially in Afghan cities. But The Economist says that in rural areas, they are seen as efficient and willing to challenge arbitrary government power. According to a UN study, Afghan land disputes account for 70% of violent crimes. In government-controlled areas, well-connected figures often grab land for themselves. The Taliban, in contrast, have judges who deal with such cases brutally, but with less corruption.

The Taliban expects poppy-farmers to pay taxes on their crop, but they also provide seed capital and other support. In many areas, they help to police water use, managing disputes and limiting the over-exploitation of groundwater. Over the past few years the size of the opium crop has grown remarkably—especially in Taliban-controlled areas.

Another Economist article shows that solar panels are transforming the landscape of southern Afghanistan. Farmers used to run their pumps with diesel generators, but fuel was very expensive. Now they can pump water all day using solar.

Only 12% of the country is suitable for growing permanent crops, but since 2018, 3,600 square kilometers in south-western Afghanistan were reclaimed for cultivation from the desert by using solar power to pump water to the fields. From the Economist:

“As many as 2.5 million people…now live in what used to be desert. The price of desert land has soared, from as little as $35 for a jereb (about 2,000 square meters) to over $1,000 now. That has made landowners rich, not to mention politicians and senior police officers.”

The reclaimed territory is mostly beyond government control: Many of the settlers are hostile to the State.

This has also brought a big cost for the environment. Drinking wells are increasingly contaminated with nitrates from fertilizers, which farmers have spread near the water pumps. Shallow wells have gone completely dry. If the groundwater is exhausted, millions of Afghans will have to move.

The US and the Taliban have been negotiating directly since October over a possible American withdrawal in exchange for a commitment from the Taliban not to harbor terrorists. The Afghan government has been excluded from these talks, and they are concerned that they may be forced into a coalition government with the Taliban.

The Trump administration wants out of Afghanistan, and may not care much about who in the current government survives. The latest round of talks concluded on May 9th, with what the Taliban described as “some progress”, but the pace is glacial, and may not lead to anything.

Wrongo has been saying for years that we need to leave Afghanistan. Why are we still there? Vietnam proved we could win all the battles, get higher body counts, and still lose the war.

Will we “win” in Afghanistan? No, it’s unwinnable. You can’t win when you’re on the side that’s even more hated and corrupt than our “enemy.”

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Trump and Bolton Screw Up Geopolitics

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Reflection Canyon, Escalante arm of Lake Powell, UT – 2019 photo by Aaryeh95

(Reminding readers that this is the last column until Sunday when cartoons will be back on the menu. We are attending our second college graduation of the spring.)

The Week reports that President Trump is having second thoughts about sending troops to Venezuela. He complained to aides and advisers that:

“he was misled about how easy it would be to replace the socialist strongman, President Nicolás Maduro, with opposition leader Juan Guaidó, The Washington Post reports. ‘The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around National Security Adviser John Bolton and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.’”

“He was misled about how easy it would be to replace the socialist strongman”! Who could’ve seen that coming? Just about everyone but Trump, and the neocons around Trump. The Neocons are batting 1.000, again proving themselves to be miserable failures at geopolitics. They continue to mess up geopolitical foreplay on the way to their real goal: Regime change and war.

By listening to Bolton and Pompeo, Trump has placed Venezuela more directly in the hands of Russia. It seems that Trump’s 90-minute phone call last Friday with Vladimir Putin was meant to talk Trump out of regime change in Venezuela. A secondary benefit for Putin may turn out to be that Trump handed Moscow a permanent Atlantic military presence in South America.

What’s the upshot? It looks like Maduro was pushed into Putin’s arms. Maybe Trump and Putin can cut a deal to sort this out without a crisis.

It looks possible that Maduro got an offer from a smarter, stronger player in the geopolitical game: Vladimir Putin. Republicans are bound to be disappointed. Blowing up Maduro’s regime was high on the Bolton and Republicans’s list.

Of course, regime change is always on their list. They want regime change in North Korea. In Syria. In Venezuela. And in Iran. It would be the perfect distraction from all the talk about Mueller and impeachment. They think war is a great campaign issue for 2020.

Now, Bolton and Pompeo have shifted their focus to Iran.

On Sunday, the National Security Council announced that we were sending another carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Persian Gulf in response to “troubling and escalatory” warnings from Iran. Bolton discussed the intelligence, saying that Iran appeared to be gearing up for war.

Help me. We all know that Russia is also more friendly with Tehran than we are. And Putin has already achieved near-total victory in Ukraine and Syria, and possibly has already bagged Venezuela. We were never going to be buddies with Iran, but will Tehran now move completely into Russia’s orbit?

To date, it looks like the worst thing Donald Trump has done is to hire John Bolton as his National Security Advisor. Of course, Bolton’s track record as a war-monger preceded him, so what’s happening now was predictable. The Neocons, including Bolton, want a war with Iran, to remake the Middle East.

Their project to remake the ME saw America destroy Iraq and Afghanistan. It fueled American regime change aspirations in Syria. It brought about the destruction of Libya. It’s also underway in Yemen.

What the Neocons are doing helps a new alliance to form. Its key members are China and Russia, but Iran is a part of it as well. The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (B&R) is meant to create routes to Europe and a Chinese-led trade zone. It is meant to bypass sending ships through the straits of Malacca (which the US can shut down any time to strangle China’s trade). It looks like the land parts of the B&R will move goods more quickly to Europe, but not as cheaply, as sea transport.

So the question is: Can Bolton talk Trump into war with Iran? Will Trump lead us into a fatal miscalculation? Trump is walking a tightrope without a net.

Even without a war, the US’s continued abuse of its privileged position in the world payments system to sanction countries like Iran and Venezuela implies that China and Russia will develop an alternative payments system. It’s inevitable.

It’s only a matter of time before international payment alternatives become viable enough that major countries will simply ignore US sanctions.

The US looks to be the big loser in the geopolitical game of chicken that Trump is playing.

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