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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Turkey Reclaims Museum as a Mosque

Happy Saturday, fellow disease vectors! The Saturday Soother is on break this week. So today, we’re moving far afield from the horrors of the Trump administration and COVID to talk Turkey.

From the WaPo:

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Friday that Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia would become a mosque once again, brushing aside a legacy of Turkey’s secularizing modern founder, who converted the site to a museum more than eight decades ago.”

The Sophia represents the intersection of two of the world’s religions. The Sophia was built by the Romans in 360. The dome visible in the photo below was added in 537. Constantine made it the home of the Roman church (and named the city, Constantinople). It was an Eastern Orthodox Church for a short period. And from 1453 to 1931, it was a mosque. Here is a photo of the Hagia Sophia taken by Wrongo in 2013:

 

Since 1935, the Sophia has been a museum, neither a church nor a mosque. This was the solution devised by Kemal Ataturk, one of the 20th century’s great statesmen, to resolve competing claims by the Muslim and Christian communities in Turkey and neighboring countries.

The Sophia shows both additions and subtractions as its religion changed from Christian to Islam. Following the building’s conversion into a mosque in 1453, the minarets were added. Many of its Christian mosaics were whitewashed, due to Islam’s ban on representational imagery. The images were partially rescued by a team of archeologists from Edinburgh University between 1958 and 1962. Since then, there has been a continuing effort to restore and maintain some of the Christian provenance of the building:

2013 photo by Wrongo

Since Islam does not permit Christian-style depictions, it remains unclear whether this uncovered iconography will now be hidden once again. Here is a photo taken inside the Sophia that demonstrates the multi-cultural history of the building:

2013 photo by Wrongo

The medallion on the right above represents Allah, while the medallion on the left is for Mohammad. Behind the medallions is the nave of the original church, with the middle window pointing towards Jerusalem. The lighted arch in the nave was added when the building became a mosque. It points toward Mecca.

The Sophia was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985, and receivers 3+million annual visitors. It has been an example of tolerance and pluralism in a world that is rapidly moving away from these concepts.

There is no shortage of mosques in Istanbul. From Reuters: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“For those who don’t know, really near to Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Turks built the Blue Mosque, which is newer and big enough for all the Muslims in the area (and then some). Erdogan is just trying to provoke Christians and show to Muslims worldwide he is their leader.”

Until a few years ago, Turkey was held up as an example that Islam is perfectly compatible with multi-party democracy, a pro-Western foreign policy, and healthy economic growth.

Most of that has been weakened under Erdogan, and re-converting the Sophia to a mosque should make many Western countries rethink their alliances with Turkey.

The timing of the conversion is clearly political. Erdogan’s popularity has been sagging under the weight of a damaged economy. His AKP party lost control of Istanbul and Ankara to the opposition in the last elections. Their prospects for the upcoming elections are not very good either, so this current gambit is an attempt to strengthen Erdogan’s chances.

Some Turkish clerics are saying they are ready to whitewash the faces of the Seraphim that surround the dome. Here’s what they look like now:

2013 photo by Wrongo

It was a massive amount of work to uncover them, and it would be a tragedy if they are again covered up.

First prayers at the Hagia Sophia mosque are planned for July 24. This date is highly symbolic, as that is also the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, when Turkey gave up all claims to the remainder of the Ottoman Empire.

The artwork, now over 1500 years old, will most likely be lost again. Once more religious triumphalism will rear its ugly head. Once again, one group can rub another group’s face in the dirt.

The Sophia should keep all of its artwork, and remain open to all.

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 13, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Many Glacier, Glacier NP, MT – 2019 photo by MDodd

Let’s clear the air about Iran and their use of terror. Wrongo isn’t an apologist for Iran, although he thought that the Nuclear Deal was a positive step forward. We need to look carefully at the data supporting what our government and the US media say about Iran’s terrorist activities.

Here’s what the US State Department says about Iran and terrorism:

“Iran remains the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. The regime has spent nearly one billion dollars per year to support terrorist groups that serve as its proxies and expand its malign influence across the globe. Tehran has funded international terrorist groups such as Hizballah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

It also has engaged in its own terrorist plotting around the world, particularly in Europe. In January, German authorities investigated 10 suspected Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force operatives. In the summer, authorities in Belgium, France, and Germany thwarted an Iranian plot to bomb a political rally near Paris, France. In October, an Iranian operative was arrested for planning an assassination in Denmark, and in December, Albania expelled two Iranian officials for plotting terrorist attacks.

Furthermore, Tehran continued to allow an AQ facilitation network to operate in Iran, which sends fighters and money to conflict zones in Afghanistan and Syria, and it has extended sanctuary to AQ members residing in the country.”

From Larry C. Johnson:

“You notice what is absent? A list of specific attacks that caused actual casualties. Plans and plots are not the same as actions. If Iran’s malevolent influence was so powerful, we should be able to point to specific attacks and specific casualties. But you will not find those facts in the U.S. State Department report because they do not exist.”

This State Department Annual Terror report details who is really responsible:

  • The Taliban was responsible for 8,509 deaths and 4,943 injuries, about 25 percent of the total casualties attributed to terrorism globally in 2018
  • With 647 terrorist attacks, ISIS was the next-most-active terrorist organization, responsible for 3,585 fatalities and 1,761 injuries
  • Having conducted 535 attacks, al-Shabaab was responsible for 2,062 deaths and 1,278 injuries
  • Boko Haram was fourth among the top-five terrorist perpetrators, with 220 incidents, 1,311 deaths, and 927 injuries

Not a single group linked to Iran or supported by Iran is identified. Here’s a table from the report’s statistical annex that identifies the worst offenders:

Iran doesn’t make the list. The attacks are predominantly from Sunni affiliated groups that have ties to Saudi Arabia, not Iran.

America takes exception to Iran because we have a long and negative history, but with justifiable complaints on both sides. Recently, Iran has thwarted the US’s actions in Syria. We should remember that Iran is a Shia Muslim state. When we removed Saddam Hussein and destroyed Iraq’s government, the Bush Administration installed Iraqi Shias in leadership. No GW Bush administration policymakers expressed any concern that these Iraqi politicians and military personnel had longstanding relationships with Iran, which naturally increased Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Iran also had a longstanding relationship with Syria. Obama decided that by eliminating Syria’s Bashir Assad, Iran would be weakened, but that policy backfired. Iran, along with Russia, came to the aid of Syria. Assad is now secure, and America’s influence in the ME has been weakened.

Time to wake up America! We need to get educated about which terror groups are committing what terror acts. Back in the 1980s, Iran was very active in using terrorism as a weapon to attack US military and diplomatic targets, but not so much lately. Iran was behind the early development of the IEDs used in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many US soldiers died. That technology is now globally ubiquitous.

The real issue we should be asking our government to resolve is whether we can (or should) halt the expansion of Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Administrations since Carter have bet that isolating Iran diplomatically, ratcheting up economic pressure, and using limited military power will somehow energize the Iranian regime’s opposition and lead to the overthrow of the Mullahs.

They forget that we’ve used that exact policy with both Cuba and North Korea. How has that worked out for America?

We shouldn’t mourn Gen. Soleimani; he was a bad actor who tried to build shadow Shia militaries in many ME Countries. But Trump and Pompeo need to stop ranting about Iran and terrorism.

The actual issues driving Iran’s growing influence in the ME aren’t based on acts of terror. Our recent policies and actions towards Iran are now accelerating their cooperation with China and Russia, not diminishing it.

Is that in the long term interest of the US?

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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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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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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 23, 2019

Iran’s solution to possible war with the US. If this happened, Trump would say he got a love letter from the Ayatollah:

Little-known technology shows Pentagon the best story to use about its reasons for war:

This week, the Trump administration argued in court that detained migrant children do not require basic hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes in order to be held in “safe and sanitary” conditions:

Mitch ain’t willing to discuss reparations:

Reparations are a difficult subject. As the historian Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” He meant that you either abide the status quo, or you oppose it. You either commit yourself to be the best anti-racist you can be, or you don’t. Whichever you choose, you should be honest in how you frame your choice. Saying that reparations are not worth pursuing, or simply doing nothing about them, is an implicit defense of the policies and systems that have created our present-day racial inequities.

The Supremes held 7-2 that a cross located in a war memorial could be displayed on public property (at a traffic circle). They said that some crosses are merely historic icons. Their decision favors one religion over others, and it seems hostile towards religious minorities. And why won’t Christians act like Christians?

How the Capitalism game actually works:

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Saturday Soother – War With Iran Edition, June 22, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Na Pali Coast, Kauai HI – 2019 photo by Santahickey

It’s tough to wake up on a Friday morning and find out that during the previous night, America almost started a war. On Thursday night, Trump allegedly pulled back from a military strike he had earlier authorized against Iran.

The New York Times wrote: “Trump Approves Strikes on Iran, but Then Abruptly Pulls Back”. The NYT says that Trump’s hawks, Bolton, Pompeo, and CIA Director Gina Haspel, had argued for the strike, while the Pentagon was said to have been against it. The NYT report includes this paragraph: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Asked about the plans for a strike and the decision to hold back, the White House declined to comment, as did Pentagon officials. No government officials asked The New York Times to withhold the article.”

It’s curious. If Trump was serious about attacking Iran, what purpose was served by the WH giving this story to the NYT? Not everyone bought the claim that a planned attack was called back. Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar on international conflicts, tweeted:

Jeffrey Lewis @ArmsControlWonk – 3:43 UTC – 21 Jun 2019

I don’t buy this. Trump’s team is trying to have it both ways — acting restrained but talking tough. This is pretty much what Nixon did in 1969, too. Why not just admit that sometimes restraint is smart?

He goes on to link to the 1969 NYT piece referenced above:

The @nytimes ran the same story Nixon in 1969. Nixon was not going to retaliate but he wanted people to think he almost did — and the Gray Lady obliged. —> Aides Say Nixon Weighed Swift Korea Reprisal

On May 6th 1969, the Times carried a story that Nixon decided not to escalate when the NoKo’s shot down a US Navy plane. So, this current storyline of “a strike was ordered, but Trump held back and saved the day” might also have been coordinated by the WH and the NYT.

If the threat of another Middle East war wasn’t bad enough, a new IMF study shows that US $5.2 trillion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017. The latest available country breakdown is for 2015. In that year, the US was the third-largest subsidizer of the fossil fuel industry, providing $649 billion in subsidies. China and Russia ranked first and second, respectively.

You should be outraged that the $649 billion we spent in 2015 is more than 10 times the 2015 federal spending for education. America has to change its priorities. The true costs to America of using fossil fuels has to include these subsidies.

These two stories about fossil fuels show our government’s fealty to the oil industry.

The average person didn’t notice that on the day the American drone was shot down in the Straits of Hormuz, the price of oil jumped 10%. Trump surely was told this, and the risk of higher oil prices caused by his risky foreign policy may have reduced his desire to strike at Iran.

For whatever reason, we’ve finally seen a prudent move by Trump. It’s a face saving gesture: he appears both tough and reasonable simultaneously. Also, it is encouraging that he used the concept of proportionality, saying that the planned strike would have been too harsh a retaliation for losing one drone.

We can expect his neo-con advisors and the FOX fringe to try to undercut his decision. Maybe then he’ll understand it’s time to clean house.

So, on this Saturday, it may be difficult to get soothed, but let’s try our best. Wrongo and Ms. Right are on Cape Cod with daughter Kelly, where rain is dominating the weather. In honor of being here, today we’ll brew up a large cup of Wellfleet’s Beanstock Coffee Roasters’s old reliable Wellfleet Blend ($11.99/12oz.).

Now, settle back and listen to “The Hebrides”, Op. 26 “Fingal’s Cave” by Felix Mendelssohn. It is played by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra, conducted by Scott Sandmeier.

Mendelssohn actually visited the west coast of Scotland in 1829. It was part of Mendelssohn’s three-year Grand Tour, a common excursion taken by young men of wealthy families as a part of gaining cultural literacy. Here is “The Hebrides”:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – Trump Credibility Edition, June 17, 2019

The Daily (no) Escape:

Did Donald Trump lose all credibility last week? First, more of the “Russia, if you are listening…” in which he solicited election help from foreign governments, before backing down a little bit.

Next, hours after an attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, Trump said he knew who did it:

“Iran did do it and you know they did it,”
Donald Trump on “Fox & Friends”, June 14th.

This was before experts had much evidence, let alone time for analysis. Next, US Central Command released a video which they said showed:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.”

The video is of such poor quality that it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on, where the boat came from, or who’s on board. Trump and Pompeo want us to believe that Iran cruised over to a heavily surveilled tanker in broad daylight to remove a limpet mine, placed several feet above the water line.

Also, it’s hard to believe that military photography technology has again failed just when we needed it. We’re back to blurry Brownie box camera pictures. When Russian artillery was photographed in Ukraine, we saw blurry indistinct B&W photos. When Russia aircraft were photographed in Syria, we saw razor sharp color images. Why can’t the US Navy buy a few iPhones to use in videoing the “Iranians”?

Finally, it’s interesting that America’s Enemy du Jour always does exactly what we want them to do, and just when we want them to do it!

The captain of the Japanese tanker said he was hit from the air, not by a mine. A photo of the Japanese tanker shows two holes well above the waterline. Iran might have done this, or it might have been a false flag operation.

We should remember that in the past 20 years, the US has attacked nations based on similar information to this. There are groups other than Iran that would benefit from the US stepping up its anti-Iran campaign, moving from an economic war to a military one.

But let’s widen out to strategy: While Trump and Pompeo were itching for a fight with Iran, China’s President Xi was completing a three-day visit to Moscow. He hailed China’s strategic ties with Russia. At the same time, Chinese and Russian military commanders met to discuss deepening their strategic partnership.

Then, both Putin and Xi met with Iran’s President Rouhani and expressed their full support for Iran despite the smoking tankers, or the US evidence that Iran was behind the attack. And China afforded its highest diplomatic status to Iran.

A strategically-minded US president would have turned the situation with tankers burning in the Persian Gulf to an advantage. It could have been an opportune time to engage China and Russia in a diplomatic coalition to deal with threats to commerce and free navigation in the Gulf.

Both China and Russia understand the potential impact of a Persian Gulf conflict to their economies. They probably would have listened. Our European allies are waiting for real proof of what happened to those tankers before expressing an opinion, given the state of America’s credibility. Only the UK currently supports Trump.

Another opportunity missed, thus advantage to Iran, while limiting US options.

Trump’s (and Bolton’s) policies of piling on more strategic risk without any gain is driving our allies away, and pushing our peers/competitors closer together.

Trump is increasing our risk of conflict, and the ramifications are global.

The main issue is credibility. We can no longer trust our government. When you can lie without consequence, then there is no value to discussing policy. If Trump wants a war, he’ll have one.

We need to wake up the American voters, who are the only people who can change this.

Their record to date, however, isn’t promising. Hopefully, the world won’t be in tatters before the November 2020 election.

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Dems Should Talk Foreign Policy

The Daily Escape:

Lumen Museum of Mountain Photography, Italy – 2018 photo by Marco Zanta. The glass-enclosed extension is a restaurant.

Every Democratic candidate for the 2020 nomination is discussing domestic policy: Medicare for All, Free College, and all of the other jump shifts in policy, but what about global politics?

Biden isn’t unique among candidates in saying the 2020 election is about a return to the way things were before Trump, the Economist reports:

“’This too shall pass,’ Joe Biden told America’s allies at the Munich Security Conference in February. ‘We will be back.’ The applause he received reflects a longing to return to a world order that existed before President Donald Trump started swinging his wrecking ball.”

It is problematic to rely on the ideas of a Clinton operative, but the Economist quotes Jake Sullivan, a 2016 Hillary advisor who says that the thrust of the Democrats’ foreign policy approach is simple: reverse much of what Trump has done. Sullivan talks of a “back to basics” approach: Value alliances, stress diplomacy:

“Compared with domestic policy….there is less focus on new ideas.”

All of the Democratic candidates would rejoin the Paris climate agreement. They would rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, possibly with new pre-conditions for lifting sanctions. All would reassure NATO allies of their full commitment to the alliance.

Most Dems agree with Trump’s more confrontational approach to China. However, they would ask America’s allies to work with us on the outcomes.

Biden has a long foreign policy track record. He proposed cutting Iraq into three states for the Sunni, Shia and Kurds. He wanted to arm the Ukrainians against Russia. He opposed the surge in Afghanistan, and the intervention in Libya.

The other candidates have said less, and have no distinctive foreign policy positions.

It would be great if we actually talked about foreign policy in the 2020 primaries. Let’s take a step back and remember 1991. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the world’s other nuclear-armed superpower, we became the sole superpower. Until then, our strategy had been to contain the Soviet Union, but afterwards, lacking a global competitor, neither Party put forth a coherent global strategy.

We blundered into the Middle East with the Gulf War in 1991. After 9/11, we attacked Afghanistan and Iraq. We then hatched the war on terror, and subsequently expanded our globalized military across the world. And when the ledger finally closes on our expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cost will approach $4 trillion.

Had we spent that amount on domestic priorities, we could have shored up Social Security and Medicare for a generation. We could have paid for the repair of our crumbling infrastructure. Instead, we’ve emerged from our Middle East blunder with two global competitors, China and Russia, along with a huge fiscal deficit. Neither had to happen.

America has failed to see the connections between our global strategy and domestic strategy. Providing incentives to our multinational corporations that enabled them to make goods abroad has marooned large swaths of our domestic workers.

A reasonable question to discuss is whether we can continue supporting globalization while building good jobs in the heartland of America.

And there should be a real debate regarding Trump’s foreign policy. He has sided more closely with Israel. He’s walked out of the Iran nuclear deal. He’s threatened Venezuela with possible “military options” that are being seriously discussed at the Pentagon.

Over the weekend, the Israelis told Bolton and Pompeo that the Iranians are preparing to attack the approximately 5000 US military personnel in Iraq. That may or may not be true, but it led to Pompeo visiting Baghdad.

Do American voters want another war in the Middle East? Trump is daring Iran to fully withdraw from the Nuclear Deal. Who will become the fall guy if there is an Iranian closing of the Straits of Hormuz? Trump, or Iran?

Trade talks with China seem stalled. North Korea’s recent missile tests press Trump’s bet on a deal with NK. Surely Kim is carefully watching Trump’s moves in the Middle East.

Then there is Russia. The Dems overreached with Russiagate, but the Russians are working with Syria to eliminate one of the last places in Syria (Idlib) where terrorists still hold sway. Neither Israel nor Bolton seem to want a stable Syria. Will they try to force Trump to obstruct this important operation?

Debate by Democrats may focus on military spending, with some wanting to cut it, and the mainstreamers being more cautious. A new policy towards the Middle East, and Israel in particular, should be discussed.

Regardless, Trump will surely attack Dems as “soft” on national defense.

But Democrats should thoughtfully challenge the Right-wing assumption that America must have a military-first strategy, rather than a diplomacy-first strategy.

We’re stretched thin trying to have a military presence everywhere in the world. It’s worth a real debate.

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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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