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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – February 2, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hoggar National Park, Algeria – 2015 photo by Amri Mohammed

The blog Political Violence @ a Glance posted an article, “Three Lessons from the History of Foreign-Imposed Regime Change” by Melissa Willard-Foster, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Vermont.

She puts the Trump Administration’s support of Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, in perspective. Despite the fact that while Trump was running for president, he promised to “stop racing to topple foreign regimes,” he’s now saying Venezuela’s president Maduro must go.

According to Willard-Foster, there is a long tradition by American presidents of attempting Foreign-Imposed Regime Change, or FIRC. She lays out three FIRC lessons from our history:

Lesson #1

The more fragile a leader’s political power is, the less likely that leader will cave in to foreign pressure. Weak leaders are difficult to coerce. If a foreign power demands change, the more the incumbent fears an attack by domestic enemies. The incumbent becomes very difficult to coerce.

But politically weak leaders often seem relatively easy to overthrow, and their domestic enemies are more than happy to help the foreign power take them out. Willard-Foster’s research shows that the probability of FIRC rises by 112% for leaders with at least two predecessors taken out by a coup, or rebellion in the past ten years.

Lesson #2

America’s overthrow of Panama’s Manuel Noriega demonstrates what happens when the domestic politics in the foreign power’s country make it politically feasible for the foreign power to take military action. Like Maduro in Venezuela, Noriega railed against US imperialism and broke off relations with the US. When crises escalate, a single incident can lead to military action, and that happened in Panama. When a US service member died in December 1989 after an encounter with Noriega’s forces, the Bush administration had the domestic political cover it needed. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell, made the case for intervention. He argued: (brackets by Wrongo)

“There will be a few dozen casualties if we go [in]…If we don’t go, there will be a few dozen casualties over the next few weeks, and we’ll still have Noriega.”

The US decided that coercing Noriega wasn’t changing anything, but regime change by force could.

The risk of a US military escalation may explain why Maduro offered to negotiate with the opposition—he wants to avoid giving Trump justification for military force.

Lesson #3

The third lesson from the history of FIRC is that no matter how disastrous the last FIRC attempt was, policymakers still believe it will work this time. From Willard-Foster:

Whatever approach failed last is usually what policymakers avoid the next time. When George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton’s indirect approach to toppling Saddam Hussein failed, George W. Bush capitalized on the post 9/11 public mood for war to launch an invasion. The lesson Obama drew from the costly Iraq occupation was to avoid using troops to oust Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. The fallout in Libya then convinced Obama to avoid using military force in Syria, where he reluctantly funded the Syrian opposition.

Trump’s current Venezuelan approach is an indirect strategy, relying on economic and diplomatic pressure. Whether Maduro stays in power largely depends on the Venezuelan military. If Russia and China can blunt Trump’s economic pressure, Maduro may keep the military’s loyalty.

If China and Russia succeed in propping up Venezuela’s economy, Trump will have two options: Continue calling for regime change, while doing nothing about it, (as he’s doing with Iran) or employ military force. If protests grow, this will suggest Maduro’s position is weakening, which could cause Maduro to lash out, and possibly provide political cover for Trump choosing military force.

In supporting Guaidó, it’s unclear what path Trump will take. If, like Noriega, Maduro believes caving in to US demands will imperil his political (and personal survival), he’ll dig in.

But, a weakened Maduro appears, and still digs in further, the more likely it becomes that Trump will continue the tradition of forcibly toppling foreign regimes.

Time to move on from another week of “All Trump, all the time” to the anticipation of gorging ourselves during the halftime show of Sunday’s Super Bowl. You need to prepare for the chili, nachos, dips, chips and alcohol by relaxing today with a Saturday Soother.

Start by brewing up a strong cup of Honduras Las Flores Parainema ($22/12oz.). It is sourced by the Brooklyn NY-based Café Grumpy, an aptly-named vendor for our times.

Now settle back in a comfy chair, and take a few minutes to listen to Sarah Chang play Elgar’s888 composition, “Salut d’Amour, Op.12”, accompanied by Andrew von Oeyen, on piano. Chang is American, born in US, and raised in New Jersey:

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

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Intelligence Chiefs Contradict Trump

The Daily Escape:

Edworthy Falls, Elbow Pass, Kananaskis, Alberta, CN – 2018 photo by sluis0717

Just when Wrongo was beginning to think we would make it to 2020 alive and in one piece, testimony by the US Intelligence Chiefs had quite a bit to say about how the world could still blow up. This from Booman: (Brackets by Wrongo)

“In a written report and [subsequent] congressional testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, the senior members of the United States intelligence community had some interesting things to say. The most important arguments they made directly contradicted their boss, the president.”

They said that North Korea is unlikely to give up their nuclear program, and that Iran is not currently pursuing their nuclear program. Trump is holding a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late February. Last week, Trump said that the two sides are making progress in efforts to fully denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

The Intelligence Chiefs assess that Russia will continue to interfere in our politics and our elections. They think that ISIS is far from defeated. They reiterated what a report released to Congress last week by the Pentagon said, that climate change is a national security threat.

Now, the intelligence community doesn’t always get it right, but Trump is on the opposite side of each of these assertions. More from Booman:

“We’re supposed to have a chief executive and commander in chief who is a customer for this kind of intelligence. Our president is supposed to be the primary customer for these types of assessments.  But that’s not the situation we have in this country right now. At the moment, our president has taken public positions contrary to every one of the assessments…and he’s simply not interested in contrary evidence. He is certainly not interested in being contradicted.”

It’s a huge problem when Trump, who makes the final decisions on what we’re doing geopolitically, is fact-free when it comes to threats to our security. Fortunately, the Intelligence Chiefs seem willing to provide honest threat assessments, and testify about them before Congress.

But, there are people within the administration who support whatever Trump wants. Some are even willing to slant the information they provide to the press and to Congress if it supports the president’s stated position. Trump’s position has been that disruption is at the heart of his geopolitics.

In just the past few weeks, we’ve gotten quite a few things wrong. (h/t Arms Control Wonk)

  • On December 6th, the United Nations General Assembly rejected a US resolution to condemn the Islamic militant group Hamas for violence against Israel. The embarrassing vote, which required a two-thirds majority, was 87 in favor to 58 opposed, with 32 abstentions.
  • On December 12th, Secretary of State Pompeo blasted Iran at the UN Security Council and received no support from US allies for walking away from the nuclear deal. In fact, US allies Britain, France and Germany praised Iran for holding up its end of the bargain.
  • On December 21st, the US barely rounded up more votes than Russia on a Russian resolution at the UN calling for the preservation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The vote was 46 against to 43 in favor, with 78 abstentions.
  • On January 10th, Pompeo, speaking in Cairo, declared, “Let me be clear, America will not retreat until the terror fight is over.” The next day, the front-page headline in the New York Times was “U.S. Begins Syria Withdrawal, Amid Uncertainty Over Strategy.”
  • On January 14th, en route to Saudi Arabia, Pompeo declared he was “confident” and “optimistic” that he was nearing a deal with Turkey on a mutually agreeable exit plan from Syria. Later, Trump tweeted that he would “devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds.”

On January 22nd Pompeo spoke to the assembled billionaires at Davos:

“Is this pattern of disruption a force for good or not? I’d argue this disruption is a positive development.”

Most of us would say that’s crazy talk.

The Intelligence Chiefs have done everything except sound an air raid siren about this administration’s foreign policy bungling. There’s no indication that the Senate Republicans have mustered the gumption to act on their alarm.

And now, John Bolton tells everybody that Trump wants to send 5,000 troops to Columbia as part of its failing Venezuela strategy.

In another ominous sign, Pompeo added Elliott Abrams, a neocon who was an actor in the Iran-Contra mess, as a Trump administration special envoy overseeing policy toward Venezuela. Maybe you remember that Abrams was pardoned for his Iran-Contra role.

Just two more neocons, completely lacking in principle, but flush with Trump’s authority to disrupt another part of the world.

Read the report, and then think about how it squares with Trump’s policy.

You’ll agree that this will all end perfectly.

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Bolton Hijacks US Middle East Policy

The Daily Escape:

Spice market, Grand Bazaar, Istanbul – 2013 photo by Wrongo

The struggle between the neocons and Trump over control of foreign policy has become ridiculous. The WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum reported on Sunday that John Bolton asked the Pentagon to provide military options to strike Iran:

The request, which hasn’t been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the US Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells—launched by a group aligned with Iran—landed in an open lot and harmed no one.

Bolton’s team held a series of meetings to discuss a forceful American response. Their request triggered alarm. The WSJ reported:

People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.

More:

The Pentagon complied with the National Security Council’s request to develop options for striking Iran, the officials said. But it isn’t clear….whether Mr. Trump knew of the request or whether serious plans for a US strike against Iran took shape at that time.

If that isn’t serious enough, the WSJ reported:

Alongside the requests in regards to Iran, the National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with options to respond with strikes in Iraq and Syria as well.

Anyone surprised that someone like Bolton, with his neocon bone fides wants war with Iran? Since Bolton took his post last April, the Trump administration has been more confrontational with Iran. Some will say that the Pentagon already has detailed plans drawn up for a strike against Iran, and that this is completely routine for our military.

That may be true, but a request from the White House is a different matter. Bullies love to taunt the weak, but Iran isn’t weak. The Iranian military wouldn’t be the pushover for us that the Iraq army was. They are much better equipped, motivated and have a healthy stock of air defense missiles.

And where is our strategy? Once you send a few bombs into Iran, you’ve started a war, and you never know where it will go. Suppose the Iranians consider (probably correctly) that it was Israel’s influence on the Trump administration that led to the US attack.

And they launch a few missiles at Israel. What would happen next? Would Hezbollah again move against Israel too? If the US attacks Iran, then there is no reason whatsoever for Iran not to attack the various US military units scattered around the Middle East in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

And who would the Russians side with? If Russia intervenes, is the US prepared to lose an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean?

Finally, how would the conflict end? Iran can’t be occupied by the US, and there isn’t a significant loyal Iranian opposition to back.

Surely even Trump must realize that Bolton’s idea is lunacy squared. It would be a major ME escalation, with Trump’s name all over it. It would sink his 2020 chances. How would he justify his response to a few mortars that landed in a car park? How would he justify the certain loss of American lives?

We have to be thankful that Trump didn’t authorize military strikes against Iran, but it is time to revisit our alliances and policies in the ME.

We back our loyal ally Saudi Arabia, and have made Iran our enemy. But let’s compare these two countries: Would you believe that Iran has a Jewish population that feel safe there, and has no interest in living in Israel?

In Saudi Arabia, if you renounce Islam, it can be a death sentence, as we saw with the Saudi young woman who sought asylum in Canada.

Women have careers in Iran, and can drive cars. In fact, there’s a female owned and operated taxi company in Tehran with 700 female drivers. Women in Saudi Arabia have few freedoms.

Iran has taken in refugees from the recent ME wars. Saudi Arabia has taken virtually none from Syria or Yemen, where they are perpetuating a humanitarian nightmare.

Iran is a multicultural country. Saudi Arabia is a medieval monarchy that has been exporting the most extreme version of Islam (Wahhabism) around the world, fueled by their oil money. Many of the jihadis in the past few decades can be traced to Saudi’s Wahhabi teachings.

If you have a choice, and you will in 2020, which country sounds like a more attractive ally for the US?

When are we going to stop our failed “Assad must go”; “Gadhafi must go”; “Saddam must go”; and “Mubarak must go” foreign policy?

We shouldn’t even be thinking about bombing Iran.

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Saudi Story About Khashoggi Killing Doesn’t Hold Up

The Daily Escape:

Fall in New England – photo by Karen Randall

Saudi Arabia’s denials have been weakened with new reporting by US media. We may never know exactly why it happened, but bringing a bone saw to an “interrogation” greatly increases the likelihood of something going wrong.

An interesting aspect of the botched assassination of Jamal Khashoggi is the insight it gives us into political issues in America’s relations with Saudi Arabia. As blog reader Fred says, “We’re awash in rogue killers”, so, here is the current state of play. Investigative reporting by the NYT finds that Suspects in Khashoggi case had ties to Saudi Crown Prince: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

One of the suspects identified by Turkey in the disappearance of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was a frequent companion of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)— seen disembarking from airplanes with him in Paris and Madrid and photographed standing guard during his visits this year to Houston, Boston and the United Nations.

Despite MBS denying knowing anything about what happened to Khashoggi, the NYT’s work shows that the rogue assassins theory doesn’t hold water. On Monday Trump floated the idea that a “rogue killer” was responsible for the deed in Istanbul:

President Donald Trump on Monday repeatedly highlighted the Saudi King’s denial of involvement in the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, at one point offering up an alternative theory that “rogue killers,” rather than agents of the Saudi regime, were involved.

From Moon of Alabama:

MBS unwittingly did a huge favor to Turkey’s president Erdogan when he sent a crew to abduct or kill Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Erdogan is in a historic geopolitical conflict with Saudi Arabia over supremacy in the Middle East.

Apparently, the Turks had the Saudi consulate bugged. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the Turks know what happened within the consulate, and are using that evidence to squeeze the Saudis.

Despite the trial balloon via Trump, Erdogan leaked pictures of 15 men who had come from Saudi Arabia, and were in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi visited to get his divorce papers.

Later that day, they flew back on the same two private Saudi jets that had brought them to Istanbul.

At least 8 of the 15 men have been identified as Saudi royal military. At least three are bodyguards of the Saudi clown prince MBS. Obviously MBS himself gave the order for the operation. One of the 15 is Dr. Salah Muhammed Al-Tubaigy, the head of forensic evidence at the Saudi General Security Department. Reports are that he dismembered Khashoggi’s body.

The Saudi government has made no serious attempt to explain why these people, including MBS’s personal body guards, flew to Istanbul and were in the consulate when Khashoggi entered it, and left hours later. The WSJ reports in their coverage of Pompeo’s Saudi meetings:

Complicating investigators’ search inside the Saudi consulate: fresh coats of paint, Erdogan says.

Pompeo has now visited the King and MBS in Saudi Arabia. He’s visited Erdogan and his team in Turkey, and is now on his way back to the US.

The message from Pompeo and Trump is: “Let’s not convict Saudi Arabia until all the facts are in”.

Pompeo has tried to negotiate a deal between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that will limit the damage the killing does to the House of Saud, and MBS. But the Saudis stonewalled Pompeo, while Erdogan has certainly played the grisly audio tape for him.

MBS will try to ride out the storm. He can pressure Trump by holding back oil exports, or stopping the pretend purchases of new arms. Forget the moral high ground, show me the money!

Trump desperately wants to get MBS off the hook, but domestic and international pressure may be too great, particularly as Erdogan continues the drip by drip release of sensational evidence.

Trump will have to do something more than sending Pompeo for what amounts to photo opportunities.

We have no Saudi Arabian ambassador. The White House’s connection to the Saudi rulers largely runs through MBS and Jared Kushner. But that connection is temporarily useless. That explains why Pompeo had to visit.

Only the King can remove MBS, but the King is 82 years old, and not in good health. MBS might well be ruthless enough that the King suddenly dies.

Trump has to decide what to do, and act quickly.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Russia Edition

The Daily Escape:

Swan Lake, by Tchaikovsky, performed on September 26, 2018 at the Alexandrinsky Theater, St.Petersburg – iPhone photo by Wrongo. Russians didn’t like the original ending of the ballet, where Sigfried and Odette die, so in their preferred performance, Sigfried and Odette live happily ever after.

A few random thoughts about the US and Russia: We often forget that all countries have their own history, all of which is ongoing in parallel to our own:

  • America’s colonial history was underway while Russian history was being written. For example, Wrongo’s home town was founded in 1709 on the banks of the Housatonic River. By 1720, the town was a rough collection of small farms, churches and commercial buildings, connected by dirt roads to other towns in Connecticut and New York, but it depended upon the Housatonic for connection to the sea, to the old world, and to the rest of the new world colonies.
  • In 1703, Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg on its current site. He built the city with conscripted peasants, starting by reclaiming the marshlands on both sides of the Neva River. Tens of thousands of serfs died while building the city. The Neva was important, because it was Russia’s only ocean port, their connection to the rest of the world. The land around St. Petersburg was ultimately raised by nearly 10’. It became the capital of Russia in 1712.
  • We all know that President Lincoln freed about 4 million slaves in the US in 1863. In 1861, Tsar Alexander II freed 23 million Russian serfs, who also were slaves.
  • Alexander had to pay compensation to the nobles who had lost their supply of free Russian labor. In 1867, he raised the necessary funds by selling Alaska to the US for $14 million.

Now, a few observations about Russia today.

Below is a photo of the Obukhov State Plant in St. Petersburg. It makes surface-to-air (SAM) missile systems, including the world-famous Russian S-300 and S-400 air defense systems that are employed around the world including in Syria and India. The S400 system will soon be in the hands of our somewhat belligerent ally, Turkey. Wrongo was told that it is currently subject to the US sanctions regime, although he couldn’t immediately find it on the US Treasury’s sanctions list. Here is Wrongo’s iPhone photo of the missile plant:

Why does the US place sanctions on a state-owned arms manufacturer in Russia? Russia is #2 to the US in global arms sales, and we can be sure that if Russia sanctioned Honeywell or Northrup, we would be screaming that they had no right to interfere in our commercial relations with other countries.

Next, everyone knows that the legendary Hermitage, formerly the Winter Palace, has an amazing art collection. The collection was started by Catherine the Great in 1764, when she purchased 255 paintings from the city of Berlin. Today, the Hermitage houses over a million works of art. It is a truly remarkable museum to visit.

So imagine Wrongo’s surprise when he noticed many paintings had been marked with an inventory control number, painted on the visible canvas! Inventory control numbers routinely appear on the back of paintings, but to see numbers, painted in red, on the canvas itself? Here is an example of what Wrongo saw:

Is this desecration of an art work by an overzealous Bolshevik accountant? Did the powers that be eventually discover the error of their ways? Most likely yes, because only relatively few paintings from the 15 and 16th century were marked, but all seemed to be in the same script. Wrongo asked several people if the red numbers interfered with their enjoyment of the painting, and none said it did, but it sure did piss off Wrongo.

Perhaps it’s simply a different way of looking at things. Like how each country views the Syrian president: is he a tyrant, or the savior of his people?

So wrapping up, based upon Wrongo’s observations, we have many similarities with the Russian people, and a few similarities with their government.

Of course, each country has an easy-to-criticize bureaucracy. Ours wouldn’t paint numbers on oil paintings, but it will happily perform other desecrations without being asked.

Geopolitically, we have voluntarily placed ourselves in a competition with the Russian state. We have been directly competing since the 1940’s, and it hasn’t delivered either side a more secure homeland, or world.

Instead, it has positioned us on opposite sides in many third world countries. It has made our defense contractors very rich, while causing the deaths of many young people in America’s military.

Wake Up! It’s way past time for both countries to re-think this competition.

 

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Trump’s Tariffs Unite China and Russia

The Daily Escape:

Detail of the Peacock Gate, the City Palace, Jaipur India – photo by Miya.m – CC BY-SA 3.0

Do you know about the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF)? The EEF was started by Russia in 2015, as part of Moscow’s push to revitalize its ties with Asia after its relations with the West began to sour. The US doesn’t attend, although CA governor Jerry Brown attended in 2017.

Now, it attracts heads of state from around the East Asian region. President Xi of China attended this year for the first time. It was the third time that Xi and Putin have met in 2018, and the outcome of the EEF meetings could have significant implications for the US.

The Diplomat reported that according to Li Hui, China’s ambassador to Russia:

At present, China-Russia relations are at their best in history…the two heads of state attending significant events held by each other are important manifestations of the high-level bilateral relations.

So, why now? What’s behind China’s and Russia’s fast-developing relationship? It seems to be the US tariff war. The Asia Times says:

Xi defines the partnership as the best mechanism to ‘jointly neutralize the external risks and challenges’. For Putin, ‘our relations are crucial, not only for our countries, but for the world as well.’

At the EEF, Putin and Xi agreed to keep increasing bilateral trade payable in yuan and rubles, bypassing the US dollar. Putin also swiped at Trump’s tariff policies:

The world and global economy are coming up against new forms of protectionism today with different kinds of barriers which are increasing….basic principles of trade — competition and mutual economic benefit — are depreciated and unfortunately undermined, they’re becoming hostages of ideological and fleeting political situations, in that we see a serious challenge for all of the global economy, especially for the dynamically-growing Asia-Pacific and its leadership…

Reuters reported that Xi also appeared keen to foster closer relations with Russia:

Together with our Russian colleagues, we will increase fruitful co-operation in international affairs and intensify co-ordination…to oppose the policy of unilateral actions and trade protectionism…

Their relationship will continue to improve, since the Trump administration plans to continue ratcheting up its trade war. Trump recently threatened placing tariffs on all Chinese exports to the US.

And, on the same day as Xi arrived for the EEF, Russia kicked off its Vostok 2018 military exercises, with China taking part for the first time.

All of this is largely a giant signal to the US, since Russia can’t come close to replacing the US as a major trade partner for China. Sino-Russian trade is less than $100 billion per year, while trade between the US and China was more than $630 billion last year.

China’s strategy is to start by reducing its dependence on US agricultural imports. One example is soybeans. Econbrowser reports:

The Chinese plan is — in addition to relying on Brazil and Argentina — to switch to other sources, like palm mill, rapeseed, sunflower seed, and other countries, such as Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, for soybeans. Obviously, the development of other countries’ ability to grow soybeans will take time. But that was also true for Brazil.

More broadly, attending the EEF gave Xi another platform from which to attack the US trade war, and pledge to defend rules-based trade. Our partners, the presidents of South Korea and Japan, also are watching closely. South Korea is looking to build a rail connection across Siberia, which requires help from China and Russia. The South China Post reported on Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, who attended the conference, and agreed to a summit with Russia:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Monday on further details of joint economic activities on disputed islands off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido

They also confirmed their close cooperation toward the denuclearization of North Korea ahead of the third summit between North and South Korea, scheduled for September 18.

The message is that the nations of Asia no longer see us as a reliable partner, and are walking toward forging new alliances with both China and Russia.

Our walking away from the Trans Pacific Partnership, which included all Asian countries except China in a free trade zone, seems to have been a geopolitical error. Trump’s tariff war seems to be another.

The US is alienated from Russia over US election interference, cyber warfare, Ukraine, Crimea and Syria. We have responded with sanctions, and truculence.

The US is alienated from China over trade, and the Trump administration’s perception that China isn’t helping our negotiations with North Korea.

We are at risk of being sidelined in Asia, and our allies are watching.

What’s this administration’s plan to succeed on all of these fronts in Asia?

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September 11, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Has it been 17 years already?

A quote from Edward R. Murrow: “No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices”, describes where America is today.

As we remember the 17th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the US, we should realize that most of the geo-political problems we face today can trace their root causes to the attacks on 9/11.

And 17 years later, it appears that we have become the accomplices of terror. We can’t let the Muslim world alone. We’ve continued to keep troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve beefed up our presence in Africa. The enemy has morphed from al-Qaeda only, to ISIS and al-Qaeda, with branches all across the world.

Just yesterday, Wrongo wrote about our current misadventures in Syria, where we have several thousand troops who were not invited in by the Syrian government. We said that US Syrian policy seems to be teetering on conflict with the other regional powers, Iran and Russia, because we are insisting that Iran exit Syria.

We continue to spend blood and treasure in the Middle East because of 9/11. We were meddling in the ME before 2001, and those efforts helped make bin Laden’s point that the US was responsible both for the suffering the US was causing directly through its sanctions, and the suffering we caused indirectly, by keeping Middle Eastern dictators in power.

To that, bin Laden added a decisive idea: Attack the US to end its power over the Middle East.

Seventeen years later, we are stuck in a Middle East quagmire. We cannot win militarily, but we never lose decisively. On this 17th anniversary, let’s address a few questions to our political and military leaders:

  • Isn’t it improbable that the US military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century?
  • Was it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “Caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself from Libya to Mali, from Nigeria to Afghanistan?

If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted where we are today, no one would have thought you were credible.

Since 9/11 our presidents have all tried hard to act tough on terror, as have our Senators and Congresspersons. They have all said that our young soldiers are available to go wherever the next Islamist problem arises. So, in the past 17 years, we’ve spent over a trillion dollars to protect the homeland, and while to some degree, we are undoubtedly safer, we haven’t defeated the Islamists.

The current crop of Republicans in the White House are trying more of the same: To convince us that the challenges we face in the world are simple, that we must be realists, aggressively going after what we want. They say it all comes down to “good vs evil.”

Sadly, we really live in an extremely complex world, and ignorance of its complexity is dangerous. Remember in 2006, there were reports that George W. Bush was unaware of the difference between Shia and Sunni as late as two months before the Iraq invasion. Combine that with the ongoing support for the neo-con’s Exceptionalist ideology, and we’ve all paid, and continue to pay, a huge price for their simplistic worldview.

The reality is that when tough talk is divorced from knowledge, you do dumb things, like start wars that diminish our standing in the world, that cost us terribly in lives and money, and that produce zero in the way of political results.

Trump seems ready to place a bet that his tough guy stance on Syria will cause Iran and Russia to back down. Those of us who pay taxes and send our kids off to war, should make it very clear that the American presidency is no place for bullies.

And rather than signifying weakness, traits like thoughtfulness and collaboration are exactly what we want from the Leader of the Free World.

Anyone can say “lock and load, we’re gonna fight!

We need to re-learn how not to fight, and how to exist in an ambiguous world without withdrawing, or being ineffectual. Since 9/11, when things get tough, our politicians strut around with chins out. They prefer form over substance and in the end, they’re just praying that it all works out, but it hasn’t.

Remember the 9/11 heroes and its victims.

But let’s stop listening to those who pander to our fears, and vote them out of office.

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Saturday Soother – August 11, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Near Helena, MT – 2018 photo by u/jacobs64

Today is Wrongo’s and Ms. Right’s wedding anniversary. No worries about cards or gifts, we usually celebrate this day alone, together. Tonight, we’re going to a bespoke dinner at a quirky French restaurant in Litchfield County, CT. There will be great food, champagne, and a couple of very good wines.

We’ve all made it through the 81st week of Trumpfest, and please, let’s not count how many weeks remain.

This week featured a DC judge threatening Jeff Sessions with contempt of court after his people committed another immigration sin, and the continuing saga of the Manafort money laundering and tax evasion trial in Virginia. Devin Nunes proved once again that he should be removed from his seat in Congress. And there was VP Pence’s announcement of the Space Farce.

This week also marked the resignation of Richard Nixon, in 1974.

But as we hit the weekend, Wrongo wants to talk Turkey. This week saw the relationship between Turkey and the Trump administration hit a new low. Here are a few of the developments: Relations with Turkey haven’t been good for years, but the current problems were sparked by Turkey’s detention of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, on espionage charges. We’ve insisted that he be released.

Then, Turkey asked for the US to extradite Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric living in the US in return for Brunson. We weren’t about to do that, so instead, Washington imposed sanctions against two cabinet-level officials in President Erdogan’s administration.

After the sanctions, the Trumpets thought they had made a deal with Turkey, whereby Turkey would release Brunson in exchange for Israel releasing a Turkish woman it had accused of funding Hamas. The Turkish woman was released, but Brunson wasn’t.

Then, the Trump administration doubled existing tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum. The Turkish currency, the Lira, fell by 15% on Friday. But, the escalation continued when Turkish lawyers sued US soldiers at Incirlik Airbase, supposedly because they were working with Fethullah Gulen to overthrow the Turkish government. Incirlik is a place where the US stores nuclear weapons. It is the primary base for our air war in the Middle East. General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, is also named in the complaint.

Turkey is at best, an obstreperous member of NATO, who by holding significant geography, are strategically important to keeping Russia bottled up in the Black Sea. Yet, Turkey just ordered Russia’s latest, greatest air defense missile, the S-400, to consternation in the US. We countered by delaying Turkey’s orders of our latest, greatest jet fighter, the F-35.

Our sorry relationship with Turkey is another example of Trump’s failed “Art of the Deal”: His gut instinct is to escalate the problem, in this case, by imposing more tariffs, instead of stepping in with leadership and diplomacy to help resolve the underlying relationship problems.

Funny how he’s for diplomacy only with Russia and North Korea.

Had enough of this week’s emotional roller coaster? You bet. Time to turn off twitter, email, and network news. It’s time for a Saturday Soother.

We start by brewing up a strong cup of Los Planes coffee ($19/12oz.), from Theodore’s Coffee in Michigan. They import the beans from the Finca Los Planes farm in Honduras. This coffee is unique, because its beans are larger than average coffee beans. Theodore’s says that the coffee has subtle notes of fruit, particularly blackberry and raspberry.

Now, settle back cup in hand, and wearing your best earphones, listen to Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O’Connor perform O’Connor’s composition “Poem for Carlita” in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. Of the performance, O’Connor said:

When I wrote “Poem for Carlita” for Yo-Yo Ma, I hoped he would play this exactly the way he plays it. The experience was riveting. It was one of my most dramatic and romantic instrumental journeys and he was the one to expose every nuance of passion in the music. He saved his best for this performance…tremendous.

Here is “Poem for Carlita”:

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

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Some Thoughts on Trump, Putin and the Summit

The Daily Escape:

The North Window, Monument Valley UT – 2016 photo by Dsdugan, CC BY-SA 4.0

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are heading for the hills, literally. We are spending the next few days in the Berkshires with another sub-set of our kids and grandkids. Blogging will be light. Expect the Monday Wake Up on Tuesday, 7/24.)

It’s time for Republicans to take off their MAGA ball caps. Via the WaPo:

Trump on Monday refused to support the collective conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, saying that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin had given him an “extremely strong and powerful” denial during their private talks here….Trump went on to condemn the expansive federal investigation of Russian interference as “a disaster for our country” and “a total witch hunt,” arguing that the probe, along with “foolish” America policies, had severely impaired relations between the two countries.

It is a good thing for the US president to speak with the Russian President, they should do it face-to-face at least twice a year. We should get Russia back into the G-7 (it used to be the G-8 until Crimea). Wrongo isn’t one of these hardliners who insist on something impossible before a meeting, say having North Korea disarm before talking, or insisting that Putin return Crimea to Ukraine before inviting him back into the G-8.

Wrongo isn’t yet certain how far the Russians went to swing the election. He’s far from sure that the Trumpets played an active role in the Russians’ efforts. Wrongo doesn’t believe Trump’s actions amount to a treasonable offense, and desperately hopes that Democrats steer clear of saying anything like that.

Wrongo DOES know that the Trump/Putin press conference gave Robert Mueller much more job security.

But, we must demand much, much more from Republicans who observed the shit show of a press conference and say that they can do nothing. Politico Playbook got it just right:

REPUBLICANS TO THE WORLD: WHAT DO YOU WANT US TO DO? There was a general consensus in the Capitol yesterday: PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP thoroughly embarrassed the United States standing next to Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN on the world’s biggest stage.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-ARK.), a reliable Trump ally, criticized the president — albeit not by name. REP. WILL HURD, a Texas Republican who was a covert CIA operative before becoming a politician, told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “I’ve seen Russian intelligence manipulate many people in my career, and I never thought the U.S. president would be one of them.” SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), Trump’s golf buddy, even had choice words.

BUT, PRIVATELY, senior-level Republican aides and lawmakers had a second message: WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT US TO DO?

Republicans saying that they have “no idea what more we should be doing” means that they are cowards who are afraid to make the Redcap partisans in their party angry.

Let’s go back a few years. Obama signed the nuclear deal with Iran, effectively ending their nuclear program. Republicans in Congress disrespected the Democratic president’s foreign policy purview, and sent a letter to Iran, saying Obama didn’t know what he was doing. They added that the GOP Congress would unwind the deal as soon as they got the opportunity.

Now, with the GOP in control of the White House and Congress, Trump sells out America to Putin, yet THESE SAME Republicans have no idea what they can do about it.

None. Because, remember, foreign policy is the president’s purview, not theirs. They’re saying: “We’ve tried nothing, and we’re fresh out of ideas!”

They’d better figure something out. What if Dog forbid, Trump gets worse?

The mainstream news outlets are saying that: “Most Republicans condemned Trump’s press conference with Putin“. Next week, it will seem as if Republicans actually stood up to him on Russia.

Even though they’re really standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him.

What Democrats must continue to do is stay on message with voters that Trump is a clear and present danger, and that the GOP won’t do anything about it.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – Peter Strzok Edition

If you had your fill of Trey Gowdy during the Benghazi hearings, you can be excused for vomiting if you watched the FBI’s Peter Strzok’s hearing last week.

In the hearing, the Republicans wanted to make America believe there was an FBI conspiracy to prevent Trump from being elected president. How did the FBI go about it? First, by mounting an investigation of what nearly everyone now acknowledges was a comprehensive effort by Russia to help Trump get elected. But then, the FBI kept that investigation completely secret from the public, to prevent news of it from affecting the outcome of the election.

You also have to set aside the fact that the Director of the FBI may have thrown the election to Trump when he violated FBI protocols, and announced 11 days before the election, that the Bureau was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the FBI engaged in a conspiracy, and the GOP’s claim is contradicted by everything the FBI actually did.

And so far, Republicans have not produced any evidence that Strzok, or anyone else, took any official action that was biased or inappropriate with respect to the Trump campaign.

Fake news, folks. But Gowdy’s committee managed to set a new low during their show trial of Strzok:

This is where we are: The American right have become Trumpers. The head Trumper is free to say and do whatever he likes, and so are his lackeys in Congress.

Today, there is no institutional check on Republicans, except another Republican, Bob Mueller. Ultimately all he can do is provide a report to Congress, which the Trumpers will ignore, regardless of the validity of any accusations it contains. The fate of the nation now hangs on the midterms. And since the electorate failed the country in 2016, we shouldn’t be too hopeful about the odds.

On to cartoons. Strzok tells it like it is:

Trump’s move to remake Supreme Court goes a little too far:

Trump’s new guardian is Judge Kavanaugh:

Trump was poorly received in UK:

Trump took on Germany at the NATO meeting. It wasn’t hard to know why:

Trump’s moving on to his Monday meeting with Putin:

The first Helsinki meeting will be very private:

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