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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 10, 2017

(There will not be a Monday Wake Up Call this week. Blogging will resume on Tuesday 12/12)

Jerusalem, Roy Moore, Franken, Bears Ears. Quite the week, but let’s start with this: Walmart pulls controversial t-shirt that encourages violence toward journalists:

The t-shirt’s message is: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED”. Walmart has now pulled it from its website. The shirt was also sold in the online store of a company called Teespring, who was the third-party seller for Walmart. The shirt was circulating well before that, though, as Jezebel found a tweet referencing the shirt from April of 2009.

Teespring allows users to design their own t-shirts and other merchandise. They sold a shirt with the words “Black women are trash”, and one that said “Eat Sleep Rape Repeat”. Wrongo fears that there will be no recovery from our slide to the lower reaches of hell.

Trump gave the Middle East a sign. Now he wrongly expects peace will break out:

Trump has success getting the world to change the subject:

Franken’s out. In with the new (giant) asshole:

The logical outcome of the religious freedom argument:

Waiting for the trickle down is like waiting for Godot:

 

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You Say You Want a Revolution

The Daily Escape:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai Hawaii

Wrongo has suggested many times that America needs a revolution. He thinks that the US political process has been so captured by large corporations and the very rich that the average person no longer can have any impact on policy. In many states, the average person isn’t even totally confident that he/she will be permitted to vote the next time they go to their local precinct.

We are in the midst of a political crisis: The people have lost faith in systems which they feel don’t respond to real people and in representatives that won’t represent us, or the society at large. Rather than debate issues thoughtfully, we are whipsawed by the appeals to emotion launched daily into the ether by the tweeter-in-chief.

Two current issues demonstrate the danger. First, Jerusalem. It turns out that Tillerson and Mattis opposed the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, and move our embassy there. You know from the headlines that Trump wouldn’t listen to anyone who told him this would be a very bad idea. The State Department’s response was to issue a worldwide travel alert for those Americans who think they’re still welcome around the world. The WaPo reported that a Trump confidant said:

It’s insane. We’re all resistant…He doesn’t realize what all he could trigger by doing this.

Second, North Korea. Maybe you read this headline: North Korea says war is inevitable as allies continue war games.

Martin Longman asks the pertinent question:

The so-called adults in the room utterly failed on the Jerusalem issue, so are we supposed to put our trust in them to steer a sane course on the Korean peninsula?

What are we talking about here? Can we wait out Trump, and just work like hell to replace him with a better president in 2020? Would nuclear war get him re-elected?

What about the GOP’s control of both houses of Congress? On Thursday, Speaker Ryan told us what we face next year: the GOP will tackle the budget deficit and national debt by cutting Medicare and possibly Social Security, now that the GOP’s donor class has their tax cuts.

Things have to change, and there are only two options, neither very good. First, we can try and excise the moneyed influence via the ballot box. That is the “democratic revolution” that Bernie championed in 2016. The definition of democratic revolution is:

A revolution in which a democracy is instituted, replacing a previous non-democratic government, or in which revolutionary change is brought about through democratic means, usually without violence.

Since we no longer have a functioning democracy, a “democratic revolution” to bring it back is what we require. Is it the only way to right the American ship of state?

The second option is a coup of some kind.

  • It could be via impeachment, assuming there were high crimes and misdemeanors that Trump had committed, and assuming a Republican House would impeach him, and a Republican Senate would convict him.
  • It could come via a 25th Amendment action, which might be marginally more acceptable to Republicans, but is as unlikely as impeachment.
  • Least desirable, and least likely would be a true coup, where the “adults in the room” (in the oval office, or the Pentagon) get leverage over the Commander-in-Chief. Could a real coup stay bloodless? That seems highly doubtful, and Wrongo would rather trust Trump than a junta.

Removing Trump won’t fix what’s wrong with the Republican Party. We need to prioritize and triage this situation, focusing first on taking back the House and Senate before 2020.

Who can we count on to right the ship?

Not today’s Democrats. They are led by Chuck Schumer who approves of Trump’s Jerusalem decision. The Democrats must fire Pelosi and Schumer, or die.

What about America’s largest voting bloc, Millennials? Can they step up to the challenge?

What about America’s women? In 2016, women supported Clinton over Trump by 54% to 42%, while Trump carried non-college educated white women 64% to 35%. The #metoo movement promises to become much more than the outing of bad guys: It could weaken both male privilege, and their power.

Firing a few slime balls isn’t revolutionary, but voting them out of office would be a paradigm shift.

The stock market is in the stratosphere, and consumers are happily clicking on Amazon’s “place order” tab.

Measly tax cuts will trickle down to rubes like us, while the plutocrats will die of laughter.

Can women and millennial voters look beyond the GOP’s messaging that the Muslims are always to blame, and Israelis suffer the most?

Will they care enough about whatever Mueller turns up on Trump to go out and vote?

Revolution is in the air. Why should the right have all the fun?

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Can Anybody Play This Game?

The Daily Escape:

Fall in the Grand Tetons – photo by Jack Bell

The NYT just devoted more space to the auction of a Trump ink drawing of the Empire State Building than it did to news that the Syrian Kurds made a deal with the Russians to give Syria access to gas fields the Kurds had just captured. Why it wasn’t covered in the NYT is worth pondering, but the real question is, who is in charge of the asylum that houses our US Syrian policy?

It’s supposed to be some combo of Brett McGurk, who has the jawbreaker title of: Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis. But the Syrian fighters we back just went rogue. From Oil Price:

In a move that surprised many observers of the ongoing war for Deir Ezzor province, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) handed over one of Syria’s largest gas fields to Russian forces on Thursday, possibly as the result of unprecedented direct talks between high ranking Russian officials and Kurdish leaders in Qamishli in northeastern Syria.

Oil Price quotes Beirut-based al-Masdar News:

The information, disseminated by Syrian military reports, claims that an agreement has been brokered between Russia and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces whereby the Syrian government will be allowed to assume control over the gas field.

It’s pretty clear that the Russians continue to run rings around the US in Syria. Does anybody in DC know what the US strategy is in Syria? If so, can they tell the rest of us?

The Kurds may have decided that their best bet is to make bi-lateral deals with Russia, Iran and Syria to hedge against their possible fight with Iraq and Turkey over independence, particularly if the US plans to watch from the sidelines. The Kurds now know that their hopes that the US would support their drive for independence was in vain, since we sided with Iraq when forced to choose between them.

Maybe the Russian/Syrian deal offers some protection to the Kurd’s desire for self-rule.

The remaining question is: was this deal part of some backdoor agreement between Moscow and Washington?” If not, how could this happen without the US knowing about it?

Oil Price says that on Wednesday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister was spotted in the Kurdish autonomous zone of Rojava meeting with Kurdish and Syrian leaders in the northern city of Qamishli. No one has said what was discussed, but it was probably big, and our man McGurk wasn’t on the guest list.

This follows last month’s secret US-Russia military to military meeting about Syria. The AP reported:

The meeting, however, also suggests an expanded US and Russian effort to coordinate their efforts, raising questions about how the Pentagon is adhering to an American prohibition against military-to-military cooperation with Moscow. Congress enacted that law in the wake of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014.

And the unexpected transfer of the gas field by the SDF to the Syrian government raises the question if additional cooperation between the Syrian Arab Army and Kurdish-led militias to seize control of the much larger Al-Omar Oil Field from ISIS further south will occur. Last week, control of that oil field was thought to be a competition between the two forces.

The US endgame in Syria is the million dollar question. Before, it looked as if the goal was permanent US bases in a Syrian Kurdish federated zone. But if the Kurds are cutting separate deals with Russia and Syria, a US exit from Syria could be happening sooner rather than later.

We know that there are great complexities in these relationships in the Middle East, and that the Administration is hamstrung by its anti-Russia, anti-Iran ideologues.

Unless that goes away, we can just call the Trump administration “Incapable of Agreements,” while the Kurds, the Syrians, the Russians and Iran are all very capable of making them.

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Why Can’t We Quit Poking Iran?

The Daily Escape:

Fall in the Eastern Sierras – photo by Deirdre Harb

You may not remember the tangled history the US has with Iran, but you know that Trump decertified the Iran deal that was developed by the US and 5 other major powers (Russia, China, Germany, England and France). In his decertifying speech, Trump said:

We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout…

Just three countries publicly support Mr. Trump’s decision: Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We all know that Iran calls the US “the great Satan”, but we forget how we earned the title. Here is a quick review from the BBC:

  • In 1953, the US overthrew Iran’s elected government. We (and the UK) were not going to stand by and let their Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq nationalize Iran’s oil industry. The CIA led a military coup, and re-installed the Shah.
  • In 1979, a coup overthrew the Shah, and Ayatollah Khomeini took control of the Iran government. In November 1979, Iran took over the US embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for what was 444 days, until 1981.
  • In 1985-86, the US secretly shipped weapons to Iran in exchange for Tehran’s help in freeing US hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The profits were channeled to rebels in Nicaragua, creating a political crisis for President Reagan.
  • In 1988, a US warship shot down an Iranian Airbus A300 killing all 290 people on board. We said it was a mistake, and Iran apparently forgave us.
  • In 1999, Iran’s new president Katahimi called for “a dialogue with the American people” that went nowhere.
  • In 2002, GW Bush denounced Iran as part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and North Korea.

Now, nothing in the above excuses Iran’s efforts to destabilize parts of the Middle East, or their deep, abiding hatred of Israel. Nothing excuses Iran’s role in developing and introducing the IED’s that were so lethal to US troops in Iraq.

Time has done little to heal the wounds that each country has inflicted on the other. Mutual enmity remains on full display.

But Trump, like Obama and GW Bush, searched for a way to reduce our presence in the Middle East and shift attention to Russia and China. The solution for all three Presidents was to pit Middle Eastern governments against one another creating a balance of power, attempting to prevent any single country from becoming too influential.

If they make war against each other, that’s an acceptable outcome, as long as Israel remains unscathed.

In that context, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was something that the US and its European allies couldn’t allow. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), provided a means of halting the program’s progress without risking the outbreak of war. The deal prevented the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb destabilizing the region.

By attempting to reopen the JCPOA by withdrawing, Trump hopes to either rein in Iran’s regional meddling, or persuade Tehran to broaden the deal to include restrictions on its ballistic missile program, and on its support for militant groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Neither of Trump’s goals are reachable. Iran gains nothing by agreeing to them. And the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agree that there is no evidence to suggest that Iran is not complying with the deal. So, as long as Iran upholds its end of the bargain, the Europeans plus China and Russia, are unlikely to agree with any US attempt to reinstate broad sanctions.

And Trump is making his negotiations with North Korea more difficult. Walking away from the Iran deal justifies North Korea’s belief that negotiation with the US on nuclear issues is futile. Particularly when one president’s agreement can be so easily torn up by his successor.

The American Right has considered Iran one of the “axis of evil” since 9/11. In that context, Trump’s desire to replace diplomacy with sanctions and eventually regime change, is ideologically consistent. The Right is simply using its electoral victory to advance a long-held policy.

We should remember that most of the GOP presidential candidates in 2016 were against the Iran deal, and probably would have acted similarly to Trump.

We are at a crossroads in our relationship with Iran. With the Iran deal, our long-term antipathy could have been moderated, and ultimately replaced by alignment of goals in the Middle East. Peace might have broken out.

But Trump has insured that will now take decades longer than it might have.

 

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Saturday Soother – September 2, 2017

(Wrongo is ceasing labor for Labor Day weekend. Blogging will resume on Tuesday, 9/5. Enjoy the fruits of your labor!)

The Daily Escape:

Harbin Opera House, Harbin, China – 2015 photo by Hufton Crow. Harbin is China’s eighth-most populous city. It is located in the extreme northeast of China.

Feeling anxious? Seeing too much of the devastation in Houston?

Amazing what it takes to push the Trumpet off the front pages for a couple of days. The clean-up and rebuild will take years, the scale of the losses are beyond imagining.

To top that, Lil’ Kim fired a missile across Japan, and onto the front pages. Appropriately, it wasn’t important enough to move Harvey out of our consciousness, but it showed we need to pay more attention to North Korea (NK). You probably think of NK as a backward place, but according to the Economist, its 25 million citizens are surprisingly well-wired:

Perhaps half of all urban households now own a Chinese-made “Notel”, a portable media player. Over 3m have mobile-phone subscriptions, with NK-branded smartphones like the Pyongyang and the Arirang. South Korean NGOs that smuggle foreign films and TV shows into the North on USBs receive text messages from their contacts there with requests for specific titles (South Korean soaps and Hollywood dramas are popular).

The NK government abetted the communications revolution. In 2008, it developed a 3G network. Today, there are more sanctioned NK mobile phones than illegal Chinese ones. Many use them to conduct business on the black market, by checking prices elsewhere in the country. Notels can be bought for around $50 on the black market, sold in state-run shops.

Since Kim Jong Un came to power, signal jammers for mobile phones have been set up along the border with China. These are powerful enough to ruin cell service for Chinese living on the other side. North Koreans are banned from calling abroad.

Most North Koreans do not have access to the internet, and the few who are allowed to go online are limited to a state-run intranet with 28 mediated websites. The Economist says that NK censorship tools have allowed the regime to automate surveillance. For example, they have the ability to make unsanctioned media files on phones and Notels unreadable. TraceViewer is installed by default on NK phones. It takes random screenshots of users’ devices, so big brother is always watching.

Kim Jong-Un’s calculation is that technology allows it to gain more control than it loses. It dictates what kinds of handsets North Koreans use; it can shut off the mobile network whenever necessary. The appeal to the regime is that it knows it can’t keep all information out, so it is better to monitor it.

Makes Kim seem like a rational actor. Let’s hope so.

And let’s try to forget about this past week for a few hours, as we start the Labor Day weekend. The thought of Labor Day always reminds Wrongo of the lyric from the Jackson Browne tune, “The Loadout”:

They’re the first to come and the last to leave,

Workin’ for that minimum wage

The Loadout” was recorded live in Maryland at a show in August, 1977. Browne had been working on the idea with his band, but they didn’t have an arrangement they liked. When Browne did three encores, they were out of material, but still wanted to play. Russ Kunkel (the drummer) suggested they play the new song and see what happened. The resulting performance was good enough to make the album, “Running on Empty”.

It was the first time the band played the song, and they created a medley with it, segueing into “Stay (Just a Little Bit Longer)”, with Rosemary Butler on vocals along with David Lindley doing the falsetto.

Find a cup of Joyride Coffee’s Cold-brew (sadly, only available in kegs at a barista near you) and listen to “The Loadout”:

Those who read the Wrongologist on the execrable Feedburner can view the video here.

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If You See Something, Say Something

The Daily Escape:

Interior, Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain

But don’t say something if you haven’t seen it.

You have to wonder about what the Trump administration is thinking when it comes to foreign policy. On Monday night, the White House warned that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is preparing another chemical-weapons (CW) attack, and that if Bashar followed through with it, there will be “a heavy price” to pay.

The universal response was surprise, because no evidence was offered as proof of the claim.

And then UN Ambassador Nikki Haley weighed in:

You’ll notice she said “any” attacks will be blamed on Damascus, thus leaving the door wide open for someone to commit a “false flag” attack. When you long for John Bolton to return as UN Ambassador, you know things are very bad.

And initially, nobody had told the Pentagon or the State Department about the “plan” to go after Syria again:

  •  On June 27, Paul Pillar and Greg Thiemann warned on Defense One that President Trump was “cherry picking” intelligence to justify war on Iran, Syria’s ally, − in a replay of the Bush Administration’s propaganda campaign to justify the March, 2003 Iraq invasion.
  • Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis proposed that international observers should be posted at Syrian air bases to independently verify which type of munitions is being used by the Syrian Air Force. That is an idea that the US, Russia and Syria should agree with.

Defense Secretary Mattis was quoted by the BBC saying, “They didn’t do it.” Mattis’ face-saving claim was that the Trump warnings to Russia and Syria “worked” and that the Syrians no longer planned a new CW attack from Shayrat air base. Go, Donald!

Let’s unpack this: By acknowledging there are more CW in Syria, the Trump administration admits that intelligence exists to prove that claim. If the CW do exist, that violates the agreement Obama made with Putin after the 2013 attack on the Syrian city of Ghouta.

The deal with Putin was the justification Trump used to justify the Tomahawk strike at the Shayrat airbase in April. The administration said they had received intelligence indicating there were stockpiles of CW at the airbase, even though no actual proof was ever provided that CW were really present.

In fact, Seymour Hersh published a lengthy account in Die Welt this week based on conversations with US officials, debunking the idea that Syria was behind the April CW attack. Hersh warned that the US was setting the stage for another “false flag” attack by the jihadists, to be blamed on the Syrian government. Here are three questions:

  1. What is the Administration’s source of the new Syrian CW intelligence?
  2. What hard evidence has the source given about a Syrian CW stockpile?
  3. Since Trump decided to blurt (via Spicer) that Syria was planning more CW attacks, why didn’t he simply claim that Assad is keeping a stock of chemical weapons in violation to the agreement Putin made with Obama? After all, Mattis has already admitted that much.

And this, from NY Mag:

Plenty of critics…saw this as a Wag the Dog scenario of made-up intelligence. But…Syria is a dog that can wag its own tail, and ours too if we let it. And if the Trump White House is issuing ultimatums that its own national-security team doesn’t want to take full responsibility for, based on intelligence that is too secret to share with mid-level staff…chances are it’s not fully briefed on how that wagging tail will affect key players like Russia and Iran.

Isn’t it interesting that Trump’s response to the “intelligence” that Russia hacked the election is “show me the proof”. But when he says, “Syria is about to use CW again”, it requires no proof?

That’s beyond cynical.

What is our Syria strategy? If the Administration is thinking about launching another attack on Syria, we have to ask: what are we doing? Most Americans accept that we should fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

But, is the Trump administration doing anything to end our role in Syria that isn’t about transforming it into a war with Russia and Iran?

Some music: Here is Artists for Grenfell, fifty artists, including Nile Rodgers, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Liam Payne, the London Community Gospel Choir, and others, who teamed up to re-make Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as a charity single in memory of the Grenfell Tower fire:

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

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Trump’s Dangerous Game: Regime Change in Iran

The Daily Escape:

Engelberg, Switzerland – photo by miracolei

Politico reports that the Trump administration is thinking about regime change in Iran:

As the White House formulates its official policy on Iran, senior officials and key allies of President Donald Trump are calling for the new administration to take steps to topple Tehran’s militant clerical government.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said just that in testimony to Congress about the State Department’s budget:

Our policy towards Iran is to push back on [its regional] hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work towards support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.

As a member of Congress, Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo last year called for congressional action to:

Change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime…

All of this may have gone unnoticed in Washington, but it was heard in Iran. Iran’s ambassador to the UN filed a formal protest over Tillerson’s statement, saying it revealed:

A brazen interventionist plan that runs counter to every norm and principle of international law…

Critics of regime change say that political meddling in Iran, where memories of a 1953 CIA-backed coup that overthrew a democratically-elected Prime Minister Mossadegh remain vivid, risks a popular backlash that would only empower hard-liners. That’s why President Obama assured Iranians, in a 2013 speech at the UN, that “we are not seeking regime change.”

Then there is the Iran nuclear deal. The Obama administration worked with the international community to put in place a program that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. It’s important that this program work not just because Iran is an adversary, but it’s also key for preventing other countries in the region from developing their own nuclear weapons.

We can debate how rational the Iranian regime is, and whether or not their religious beliefs might make them less prone to act responsibly with a nuclear arsenal. The safer course is not to get distracted by regime change arguments, but instead, hold to a policy based on anti-proliferation and avoidance of a regional nuclear arms race.

But the Iran hawks want to change the status quo, because they say America can’t be safe this way.

They are blind to the fact that Iran is changing. It has now twice elected a (relatively) progressive president. Their young people are progressive. Obama understood that, and that it was likely that within the ten year life of the Nuclear Deal, progressivism and the desire of Iran’s young people to be part of the outside secular would prevail.

We can agree that Iran’s government poses some risk to the US, but we should also be clear that this has been true for decades, and it has been manageable. We have suffered more from the terroristic Sunni-based ideology exported by Saudi Arabia. Nothing comparable can be said about Iran. In fact, Iran’s primary effort at destabilization has been their support for Palestine vs. Israel.

So, our regional “allies” are working to make us less safe than is Iran.

We can’t disentangle ourselves from the region, but we should refuse to take actions that are sure to inflame things. From Booman:

It would seem our only compelling national interests in the middle east are nonproliferation, and humanitarian conflict-reduction both for its own sake and to reduce the attendant population flows and contagious violence.

Wikipedia lists 19 US efforts at regime change just since WWII. If there is one thing we should all know by now, it is that whatever takes the place of a toppled regime is frequently no better and often even worse than the government that has been overthrown. Let’s learn from history!

An attempt to overthrow the government in Iran is sure to fail, and the political fallout could be catastrophic. Iran’s current theocratic government exists because we overthrew their last democratically elected government, replacing it with the Shah. That sowed the seeds for the Iranian Revolution.

Calling for regime change in Iran is a fundamental error in strategy that endangers us, inflames the region, and will be catastrophic if we act on it.

Here’s a tune for Tuesday, Sam Cooke 1960’s hit “What a Wonderful World”, with a line that expresses Republican thought about Iran: “Don’t know much about history”:

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

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The US/Russian Confrontation in Syria

The Daily Escape:

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, 2016 – photo by Wrongo

They told Wrongo that if he voted for Hillary, we’d be at war in Syria. He voted for Hillary, and sure enough, looks like we could get into a war with Syria! Particularly after this:

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet from Carrier Air Wing 8 on board the USS George Bush shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 ground attack aircraft near Raqqa, Syria after the aircraft struck ground troops in Ja-Din, south of Tabqah, near Raqqa.

According to most sources it is the first time a U.S. combat aircraft has shot down a manned enemy aircraft in aerial combat in nine years.

The pro-Assad regime Syrian Su-22 that was downed had attacked Syrian Democratic Forces aligned with the U.S. led coalition and inflicted casualties on the friendly forces as they were driving south of Tabqah before it was intercepted.

Russia was displeased. They announced that they could possibly shoot down any US air craft operating in western Syria:

In the combat mission zones of the Russian aviation in the air space of Syria, all kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.

Treating US and allied planes as “targets” does not mean the Russians will shoot at them. What they’re saying is that they will track the planes as they would track any target, they will send their own planes to observe the targets, and possibly escort the targets out of the area.

This gets tricky: what happens if the “target” refuses to be escorted away? Do the Russians then shoot at the target? They haven’t said. But until they do start shooting, we’re not in a hot war. We’ve just moved a step closer to one possibly occurring soon.

And this would be the most dangerous confrontation between the US and Russia since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Wrongo remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis very well. He was in college. We sat around thinking that DC (where we lived) would be taken out by nuclear missiles launched by the Russkies.

This is one outcome of Trump’s outsourcing full control of military action on the ground to the generals.

One miscalculation, and Trump’s generals are making new foreign policy. Clemenceau was correct when he said that “war is too important to be left to the generals”. Who we decide to fight is one of our most important national decisions. From the American Conservative:

There has never been a Congressional vote authorizing US military operations in Syria against anyone, and there has been scant debate over any of the goals that the US claims to be pursuing there. The US launches attacks inside Syria with no legal authority from the UN or Congress, and it strains credulity that any of these operations have anything to do with individual or collective self-defense.

The US says we are in Syria to fight ISIS and evict them from Raqqa. But we have also been arming the Syrian opposition for at least three years. And we have been a party to the Syrian civil war for at least a year before that. But the underlying assumption, that it is in our interest to be fighting in Syria, has not been seriously questioned by most members of Congress.

Americans are so accustomed to fighting wars on foreign soil that we barely notice that the policy has never really been debated or put to a vote. If this Syrian confrontation leads us into a larger conflict with Russia, will it finally be time to notice what’s happening?  

Shooting down a Syrian jet shows the dangers that come from conducting a foreign policy unmoored from both the national interest and representative government.

It was shot down because it was threatening rebels opposed to the Syrian government, and the US supports those rebels, apparently up to and including destroying Syrian regime forces that attack them. We say we are there to fight ISIS. That has sufficient support by the people and the Congress. If we are also fighting to oust Assad, we are doing something that requires a full debate.

Without that debate, when we shoot down a Syrian plane inside its own country, we have committed an act of war against another state.

A bit of music. Here is Paramore with “Hard Times”:

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

Takeaway Lyric:

All that I want Is to wake up fine
Tell me that I’m alright
That I ain’t gonna die
All that I want
Is a hole in the ground
You can tell me when it’s alright
For me to come out

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Trump Encourages War in the Middle East

The Daily Escape:

Nile River, Cairo, April 2017 photo by Amr Nabil

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”  Groucho Marx

How true Groucho, how true. There is a power play underway in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain all cut ties with Qatar:

Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries severed diplomatic and some commercial links with Qatar Monday, a dramatic move that exposed divides among US allies in the Middle East over policy toward Iran and the role of political Islam in the region.

This is a complex situation since the US’s primary air base (al-Udeid) for striking ISIS targets is based in Qatar. We have more than 10,000 people stationed there. When Trump was in Riyadh, he boasted that the US-Qatari relationship was “extremely good” and that he and the Emir would be discussing the purchase of “beautiful military equipment” made in the US.

That was just a few weeks ago. Yesterday, Our Orange Flake tweeted:

Just to be clear, Trump tweeted his support for a blockade of a country that hosts one of US’s largest military bases. He is trying to take credit for an avoidable and potentially dangerous regional crisis that may undermine our current effort to destroy ISIS, and might possibly even put Americans at risk.

It’s worth remembering that the first Gulf War originated in Saddam Hussein’s misinterpreting comments by the GW Bush administration as a green light to go into Kuwait.

Do the Saudi’s think Trump gave them a green light? Maybe. Today, Al Jazeera is reporting that the Saudis issued an ultimatum for Qatar to comply with 10 demands. These are the Saudi demands:

1. Immediately break diplomatic relations with Iran
2. Expel all Hamas members
3. Freeze bank accounts of Hamas members and stop dealing with them
4. Expel all Muslim Brotherhood members from Qatar
5. Expel anti-GCC elements
6. End support of “terrorist organizations”
7. Stop interfering in Egyptian affairs
8. Cease broadcasting the Al Jazeera news channel
9. Apologize to all Gulf governments for ‘abuses’ by Al Jazeera
10. Pledge not to carry out any actions that contradict the policies of the GCC and adhere to its charter.

If the list of demands as published are real, it’s hard to see how the Qatari’s can back down. For starters, Qatar and Iran share the world’s largest natural gas field. It is doubtful that Qatar will break diplomatic relations with their partner.

It looks like the Chinese and Russians are urging Qatar to make some concessions – no doubt they are prepared to do so, but in effect, that list requires unconditional surrender. That will be a bridge too far for Qatar. The pace at which this situation is unraveling is astounding: Turkey is fast-tracking a bill approving troop deployment in Qatar.

Will this situation go hot? If the Qataris don’t back down, then at best, this will lead to a massive disruption of LNG shipments. At worst, it could mean a regional war, aimed at regime change in Qatar.

If it were to go hot, the Qataris have no real military options. Their military is very small, and their outdated French Mirage fighters and older generation tanks are no match for what the Saudis have. Most of the Qatari soldiers are Pakistani mercenaries, who aren’t stupid. They do have very good air defense systems, which means the Saudi’s would most likely shoot from a distance, causing lots of collateral damage.

The biggest question is what will the friends of the Qataris do. The Chinese, Russians and Europeans will be urging compromise, but the Iranians (and the Turks) may be angry enough to try to confront Saudi Arabia.

And the Saudis are probably thinking that they need to take action before foreign troops can make landfall in Qatar. It is difficult to see how the Saudis back down, since they’ve just put everything on the line. And if Trump keeps tweeting support for the Saudis, that will keep emotions high.

This doesn’t look like it will end well.

Perhaps the Saudis are trying to goad Iran into closing the Straits of Hormuz. They (along with the Israelis and the Trump administration) have been spoiling for a fight with Iran, or to be more precise, spoiling for an excuse to drag Iran into a confrontation with the US.

The Saudis may be calculating that with Trump in charge, they finally have a chance to persuade the US to engage, assuming they can engineer the closing of the Straits as an excuse.

This shows how easily our regional clients can influence US policy when the leader of the free world has so few fixed positions.

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