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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

A Hundred-Year War

The Daily Escape:

Gouldian Finch, native to Australia – photo by Melinda Moore

(This post is an expansion of the ideas in Wrongo’s Memorial Day column)

Ms. Oh So Right suggested while we were in Europe that we stop calling it the “War on Terror” and begin calling it the “Hundred Year War.” Why? Because it seems that the Middle East has an unbreakable hold on us. Tom Friedman offers this take on the Trump doctrine:

The Trump doctrine is very simple: There are just four threats in the world: terrorists who will kill us, immigrants who will rape us or take our jobs, importers and exporters who will take our industries — and North Korea.

Last week, Trump took the decision to insert the US into what promises to be a never-ending war between the Sunni and the Shia for control of the ME. Rather than try to keep a balanced political position between these two religions, Trump has tilted America towards the Sunnis. This from Paul Mulshine:

The pivotal moment on his foreign trip came when Trump cuddled up to Saudi Arabia, a country he accused of “paying ISIS” back when he was campaigning for the presidency.

ISIS is of course, a Sunni group. So is al Qaeda. And Saudi Arabia is at the center of the Sunni universe.

There was a peaceful and democratic change of power in the ME while Trump was away. It was the re-election of Hassan Rouhani in Iran. In that contest, 41.2 million voters, or 73% of the Iranian electorate, turned out to vote. So who did Trump lash out at during his speech in Riyadh? Not Saudi Arabia, but Iran:

From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region…

This ignores the fact that Saudi Arabia funds more terror than does Iran, and it isn’t a democracy. This despite the fact that we share with the Iranians the goal of ousting ISIS from Syria. Yet, on May 18, US planes attacked a convoy of Syrian Army forces that included Iranian militias, and probably a few Russian advisers.

Back when Trump appointed Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, there was some hope that we might become more calculated in our involvement in the region. But both individuals seem to be hot to go to war with Iran. The fear is that the Trump administration will adopt the “on to Tehran” strategy the people around George W. Bush endorsed back when it seemed that Bush’s Iraq invasion had succeeded.

This is where we start getting into “Hundred Years’ War” territory. (The Hundred Years’ War was a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Plantagenet, rulers of England, against the House of Valois, rulers of France, over the succession of the French throne.)

This is why Wrongo thinks we must re-instate the draft. Let America debate about why Trump and the neo-cons think a war with Iran is a good idea. Let them explain to draft-age kids and their parents why American should get involved in a civil war between the Shia and the Sunni.

Why will this keep us safe?

Trump is embarking on a hard-line anti-Iranian journey, precisely when Iranians re-elected a moderate to lead their country. Trump risks making a mistake that would be similar to GW Bush’s. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein permitted the Iranian Shia majority to link up with the Iraqi Shia majority, thus giving the Iranians the first step towards creating the “Shia Crescent.”

If Trump takes an aggressive attitude toward Tehran, he’ll be playing into the hands of the Iranian hard-liners. Trump campaigned at least in part, on not repeating Bush’s ME mistakes. But now he is aligning himself with the Sunnis, who plan to keep the Syrian civil war going for at least another generation (25 years).

What happens then?

We’ll still have 58 years to figure it out.

Let’s close with a tune. Here are Todd Rundgren and Donald Fagan doing “Tin Foil Hat” from Todd’s new album “White Knight”. It’s a song about Donald Trump:

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

Takeaway Lyric:

He’s coming down the escalator

With a girl from east of here

He wants to make the country greater

We got nothing left to fear

 

Because the man in the tin foil hat

Is sitting on the throne tonight

It kinda feels like a coup d’état

But it’s gonna be great, tremendous, amazing and all that

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Saturday Soother – May 27, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Baltimore Oriole

Trump returns from his international visits having moved the US into siding with the Sunnis in the Middle East. In this, he has also sided with his generals. This also puts him on the side of al Qaeda, a Sunni terror organization that did you-know-what.

Significantly, it is clear that the entire Trump foreign policy is anti-terrorism. That is one approach, but Trump’s take is mystifying: He calls Iran an enemy because they are a sponsor of terror, which is true. But he embraces Saudi Arabia, the largest sponsor of terrorism by far in the ME, and has attempted to make them his ally in the War on Terror.

The Saudis will now expect that the US will accept that their $110 billion in defense purchases and $40 billion in contributions from the Saudi state’s sovereign wealth fund will buy them enhanced power in Washington and that their demands will be greeted with great receptivity in the future.

That will probably be a difficult pill for Israel to swallow.

Siding with the Sunnis means that the “Shia Crescent” (Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and Syria) will be difficult for the US to maintain as friends, partners, or allies. In fact, it was reported this week that Russia, Syria and Iran have been proclaimed as allies by the Iraqi Interior Minister. For all the money and blood that we spent, for all of the domestic programs that we sacrificed, the US now has little to show for its last 15 years in Iraq except a huge, and under Donald Trump, a growing national debt.

We are obviously and irredeemably ignorant, and apparently determined to remain so. The Shia Crescent will be an Iranian/Shia alliance extending through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the sea, with Russian and Chinese backing to boot.

Whomever heads ME strategy for Trump needs to hear: “You’re fired!

Trump also met with NATO and the EU, and both relationships look less confident than at any time in recent history. In fact, European Council President Donald Tusk has said that Trump and senior European Union officials failed to find common ground on the main issues at their meeting in Brussels.

Consider this: Trump emerges from this trip as closer to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Israel than he is with the democracies of Western Europe. We can now start preparing for US War on Terror Part B; followed by Sunni insurgency 3.0: now with even better weapons and funding.

Do these thoughts make you feel that you need something to help you calm down? Wrongo’s advice is stop watching or reading the news for a few days, as he did while traveling in Europe. Talk to locals in your area. Ask them about why they think as they do.

Then grab a vente cuppa chamomile tea and listen to Janine Jansen play French composer Jules Massenet’s “Meditation from Thaïs”:

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

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Wrongo’s Useless 2017 Predictions

It’s tough to make predictions. Especially about the future.”Yogi Berra

Since you have already plunged a stake into the heart of 2016, it is time for some predictions about 2017, which most likely, won’t happen. We can expect the following:

  1. There will be more global political and social turmoil:
    1. The EU could collapse. France is a Marine LePen government away from pursuing an exit from the EU, so there would be a Frexit to go along with Brexit.
    2. China’s economy is wobbling, and China’s president Xi has leaned into a populist message:

On this New Year, I am most concerned about the difficulties of the masses: how they eat, how they live, whether they can have a good New Year…

  1. The US will continue to lose influence globally despite “Mr. Unpredictable” becoming our Orange Overlord: Trump brags about winning when he negotiates. That has been undeniably true in his real estate and name brand licensing. He will find that when the other side doesn’t need access to his brand in order to succeed, he will have to resort to instilling fear. That may work once, but it will not work consistently.
  2. A corollary: Trump arrives in the Oval Office as an overconfident leader, the man with no plan but with a short attention span, and within six months, he will have his first major policy failure. Getting his hand burned will make him more subdued, more conservative and less populist thereafter.
  3. A second corollary: The triumvirate of Russia/Turkey/Iran will elbow the US firmly out of the Fertile Crescent, and secure friendly regimes in Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran. This will push American influence in the Middle East back to just the Gulf States, a weakened Saudi Arabia, and an increasingly isolated Israel.
  4. Domestically, drug abuse, suicide, and general self-destructive behavior will continue to climb and become impossible to ignore.
  5. The Trump stock market rally has already turned into the Santa Selloff. The Dow peaked on December 20 at 19,975, 25 points away from party-hat time. But since then, Dow 20,000 slipped through our fingers like sand. It closed the year at 19,719, down 281 points from 20k.
  6. Regarding the stock market, many people who want to sell stocks waited until 2017 in order to pay lower capital gains tax. Selling in January could lower prices further.
  7. The growing antibiotic resistance to main stream drugs will impact health in the US.

Meta Prediction: It is certain that few Trump voters will get the results they voted for. Some people who voted for Trump have incompatible outcomes in mind, so it’s a virtual guarantee that a sizable minority are going to feel cheated when they fail to get what they were promised.

OTOH, when Trump fails, most of his base will blame anyone but the Donald. The question is, when disillusionment sets in, will the reaction be a turning away, or a doubling down on the anger?

Wrongo thinks anger will win out.

The coming Trump administration will seem like a fractious family outing: Just under half of the family (the “landslide” segment) wanted to go out, but now, the whole family has to go. Those who wanted to stay home will sulk in the back seat while Daddy tells them to stop bitching.

Meanwhile, once we are out of the driveway, it dawns on everyone that Daddy hasn’t decided yet where to go. Everyone pipes up with suggestions, but Daddy again tells everyone to shut up, because it’s his decision alone. There will be the usual “are we there yet?” complaining, some motion sickness and incessant fighting over who is touching whom.

Daddy won’t reveal the destination, but insists everyone will love it once they get there, even those who wanted to stay home, those who wanted to go the beach, and those who wanted to head over the cliff like Thelma and Louise.

Time for our Monday Wake Up Call, “Wake Up Everybody”, originally by Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes, featuring Teddy Pendergrass. Teddy left the group for his solo career after this album.

But, today we will hear and watch John Legend’s cover of the tune, backed by the Roots Band along with Melanie Fiona, and Common. The song is as strong as it was 42 years ago when it was released:

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

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Trump’s Nuclear and Israel Policies

2016 is ending on a somber note: We elected Donald Trump. We have confirmed his modus operandi, his lack of tweeting impulse control. We’ve seen his appointments to senior positions.

2017 will be an abrupt shift from the policies and guiding principles of the post-Reagan era. This will be true for the social safety net, tax policy, and several other primarily domestic policies, some which had their genesis in FDR’s New Deal. Then there is the Supreme Court.

It is doubtful that Trump can undo the Iran nuclear deal, but two other international policies will change.

First, America’s nuclear weapons policy: Donald Trump has recently tweeted that the US needs to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” We have had a 50-year period of nuclear arms control with Russia, mostly delivered by Republican presidents. It tamed and then downsized the nuclear arms race. But Trump’s national security appointees and Republicans in Congress now want to throw away their inheritance. They will try their best to bankrupt Moscow again. They will seek to chip away, if not walk away, from the New START and INF treaties. They will try to remove the CTBT from the Senate’s calendar and reduce funding for that Treaty’s global monitoring system.

Trump has shown little interest in intelligence briefings. This is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s first term. Recently declassified documents from the Reagan presidency show how slowly Reagan was brought up to speed on national security issues. Reagan took office in 1981, and was not fully up to speed by 1983, preferring to let his national security team handle those details. This is from the National Security Archive: (Emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Sharper understanding at high levels of the grave danger of nuclear war was one consequence of a Defense Department nuclear war game that occurred in mid-1983. In the “Proud Prophet” game…the lead players were JCS Chairman John W. Vessey and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger… during the game Vessey and Weinberger followed standard policies constructed for crises; as a U.S.-Soviet conflict escalated, their actions initiated a major nuclear war. “The result was a catastrophe” in which “a half billion human beings were killed in the initial exchanges and at least that many more would have died from radiation and starvation.”…Proud Prophet had a chastening and moderating impact on the Reagan administration’s rhetoric and thinking about nuclear war….but…The Proud Prophet report remains massively excised and it is unknown even if or when Weinberger briefed Reagan on it.

(h/t Booman)

This history shows that the (unelected) national security apparatus thinks it prudent to keep newly elected presidents in the dark for a long time after they are elected. In the case of Harry Truman, he didn’t even know we had nuclear weapons until he was asked for permission to use them!

Our only hope with nuclear is that Trump seems to want to forge a working alliance with Russia. We know that a renewed nuclear arms race is not in either country’s interest. It’s possible that Trump will surprise us by doing deals with Vladimir Putin, who cannot afford an arms race.

Second, is Israel’s out-of-proportion reaction to the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2334, which passed with the US abstaining, rather than exercising its veto. The resolution condemns Israel’s construction of settlements within the occupied Palestinian territories. Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t take the Resolution well. He vowed revenge on everyone, except Trump. Netanyahu said that Israel will “re-evaluate diplomatic relations” with all 14 countries who voted yes, including permanent Security Council members Russia, the UK, China and France. “Re-evaluation” will have no meaning to them, but for the other nine, who knows? Bibi singled out Senegal and halted Israeli aid. He recalled Israeli ambassadors from some of the countries that voted for the resolution, called for re-evaluation of Israel’s relationship with the UN, including its funding commitment.

Republicans, emboldened by their love of Israel, have made threats to defund the UN, something we haven’t heard since John Bolton was relevant.

Almost certainly, Netanyahu’s strategy is to exploit the UN vote to convince Trump and his team that Israel needs to be compensated in some way for what the UN, and especially the US, has done.

More compensation. How Republican of them. America has given Israel $124 billion in aid, and Obama just authorized another $38 billion over the next ten years.

It’s time to cut Netanyahu adrift. What we have here is a US client state that thinks it’s in charge. The question is how bad do Israel’s policies have to be before it provokes some sort of reassessment by Congress? Or is everything to be swept under the rug of “existential necessity”?

The Trump and the I-love-Israel-more than-life-itself crowd in Congress are on track to do severe damage to the UN and to our ME strategy during the next four years.

Trump’s foreign policy is giving Wrongo the year-end blues.

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Will Erdogan Remain In The Trump Fan Club?

Trump has two towers in Istanbul. In December 2015, his local partner explored legal means to take Trump’s name off the towers after the Orange Overlord called for a ban on Muslims entering the US. In June, Turkish President Erdogan reportedly called for the removal of the Trump name from the towers.

But things have changed. The Economist reports that:

Mr. Erdogan appears to have changed his mind, both about the towers and about the man whose name appears on them. Although polls show that most Turks would have preferred to see Hillary Clinton as America’s new president, Mr. Trump’s election has been greeted in Ankara with a mix of schadenfreude and hope.

In fact, Erdogan has called US protests against Mr. Trump’s election “a disrespect to democracy”. The Economist says that Trump reportedly told Mr. Erdogan over the phone that his daughter, Ivanka, admired him, and flattery works all over the world.

Erdogan thinks that our Orange Overlord may be more amenable to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt in July. Since July, Turkey has pressed the Obama administration to extradite Mr. Gulen. The Turks felt sure that Hillary Clinton would not extradite him, since her campaign accepted donations from his followers.

In November, Trump’s National Security Advisor, former General Michael Flynn, strongly supported Turkish President Erdogan in an op-ed at The Hill, suggesting that Erdogan is under siege by “radical Islam” and desperately needs our help. Flynn said:

The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him safe haven. In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.

Flynn also seemed to dismiss Erdogan’s crackdown on political dissidents and the dubious circumstances of the attempted coup which allowed Erdogan to solidify his power. So let’s review Erdogan’s actions since July:

  1. Turkey now has outstripped China as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. In addition, 150 news outlets have been closed, ranging from TV stations to online enterprises.
  2. Erdogan has suspended or fired 110,000 civil servants, judges, teachers, journalists and soldiers. This has gutted the educated middle class of Turkey.
  3. He has restarted an internal war with Kurds in Eastern Turkey, and has arrested the leadership of the Kurdish minority HDP party, which got more than 10% of seats in the last election.
  4. He has sent the Turkish Army into Syria in what was first described as border defense against ISIS (a group he has long supported), but it has been revealed that his plan is to reach central Syria and depose Bashar Assad.
  5. The EU has suspended negotiations for Turkish membership for civil rights backsliding, but not before they gave Turkey €6 billion to stop sending refugees into the EU.
  6. Erdogan has threatened to reopen the flow of refugees if the EU doesn’t agree to further Turkey’s application to join. Opening the refugee flow is an existential threat to the EU, and thus, to NATO.

Trump is holding a tough hand while playing poker with Turkey. As a NATO member with the largest standing army in Europe, Turkey occupies an important place in NATO’s strategy. Trump has to balance Turkey’s support for the mutual defense of Europe against Turkey’s intentions to go one-on-one against Syria.

He has to balance the shaky EU refugee deal with Turkey against Erdogan’s effort to engage militarily against the PKK, a Kurdish group in Iraq and Syria who are allied with the US against ISIS.

Erdogan has made an overture towards Russia and China. A link with them would destabilize NATO even further. Erdogan seems to be testing Trump’s resolve and his commitment to NATO at the same time. Perhaps he sees an opportunity to garner some good old American baksheesh, so he’s putting a foot in the water to see if it’s comfortable enough to dive in.

That may be a poor play, since while Trump may be sympathetic to Turkish concerns about Mr. Gulen, the cleric’s fate rests with America’s courts. Meanwhile, The Economist reports that Trump’s team wants to list the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group, roll back the nuclear deal with Iran, and continue arming the PKK’s Syrian wing against ISIS.

Erdogan opposes all of these measures vehemently.

Some of Trump’s new team are not fans of Erdogan. In a tweet, Trump’s CIA-designate, Mike Pompeo, called Turkey an “Islamist dictatorship”.

Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Trump show certain similarities. Both are busy recasting and ruining their countries at the same time.

Let’s hope it doesn’t last.

 

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The Pant Suit’s Scary Foreign Policy

There may be reasons not to vote for Hillary Clinton, but there are no reasons at all to vote for Donald Trump — except for pure nihilism. For the Trumpets, there is little coherence about why he is their choice. Two threads emerge: First, that Trump will shake things up, that DC is its own bubble that must be burst. The current two party system is fraudulent and corrupt. Second, that rage against Hillary is sufficient reason to vote for the Donald. Neither idea, nor are both ideas, sufficient reason to elect the Pant Load.

So, Hillary has to be the choice for this election. She has a track record, and the only things you have to go by with respect to Trump are his mostly appalling business practices, and his appalling character, neither of which should inspire voter confidence.

However, Clinton’s track record and policies are not without concern. In particular, her foreign policy positions are frightening. It is clear that Clinton proposes to pursue a more militaristic version of the policies that have brought us where we are in the world. She would:

  • Enforce a “no-fly” zone inside Syria, with or without Syrian and Russian agreement
  • Issue an even larger blank check to Israel
  • Treat Russia as a military problem rather than a factor in the European balance to be managed
  • Try to tie China down in East Asia

We have little idea about what would she would do differently in Afghanistan or Iraq. What would she do differently about North Korea, Iran, or Turkey? We don’t know, but this should be frightening:

In the rarefied world of the Washington foreign policy establishment, President Obama’s departure from the White House — and the possible return of a more conventional and hawkish Hillary Clinton — is being met with quiet relief. The Republicans and Democrats who make up the foreign policy elite are laying the groundwork for a more assertive American foreign policy…

And there is more: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The studies, which reflect Clinton’s stated views, break most forcefully with Obama on Syria. Virtually all these efforts…call for stepped-up military action to deter President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russian forces in Syria.

The proposed military measures include…safe zones to protect moderate rebels from Syrian and Russian forces. Most of the studies propose limited American airstrikes with cruise missiles to punish Assad if he continues to attack civilians with barrel bombs…

Obama has staunchly resisted any military action against the Assad regime.

Apparently, the Iraq war was such a success that these policy experts want to repeat it in Syria. But, we are not as popular as we used to be, what with our drones droning all over the Middle East.

It is important to remember that when the Arab Spring erupted in 2010, the total Arab ME population was 348 million (World Bank data); today, it is 400 million. In the past six years, 52 million new Arab citizens were born in the ME, few of whom know a world without war, many who have limited education, schooling and economic prospects.

Should our next president be making new enemies in the ME?

We have a yuuge problem if our so-called foreign policy “elites” think the most “dovish” policy available is Obama’s current foreign policy. If this is the best that our serious policy thinkers can come up with, maybe we should just burn down the Kennedy School and Georgetown.

Wrongo thinks that 2016 is reminiscent of 1964, when LBJ ran against Goldwater. We had an anti-communist foreign policy elite looking for a fight with the USSR, and Goldwater was their man. America chose LBJ, because it was impossible to conceive of Goldwater having his finger on the nuclear button. LBJ was solid on domestic policy, but he listened to the elites, and launched us into Vietnam for no good reason, and with little public enthusiasm.

Today our anti-Russian foreign policy elites have Hillary’s ear, and there is a potential that she will mirror LBJ, getting us into another calamitous foreign policy adventure.

Wrongo will vote for her despite these concerns, as there is no alternative.

Bush’s policy should not be the starting point, with Obama’s foreign policy being the end point in terms of Hillary Clinton’s possible foreign policy options. If Bush’s policy was a complete failure, why on earth would she rely on a variant of it as the basis for our foreign policy?

Sadly, we are having this discussion less than two weeks before the election.

We have to hope that Hillary Clinton can be a good listener to options other than what the Neo-Cons are proposing.

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Taking a Break From Domestic Politics

(The next column will appear on Monday 3/14. Starting tomorrow, the Wrongologist and Ms. Oh So Right are attending a wedding in Vermont)

Our preoccupation with the primaries, and dick-measuring has obscured several things that are happening around the world. Let’s take a quick look at three things we have talked about in the past.

US Russia/Middle East policy. Sec. Def. Ash Carter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, and the wacky NATO Commander, Gen. Phillip Breedlove, all seem to be intent precipitating a war with Russia. Last week at a Congressional hearing, Breedlove called Russia “America’s greatest strategic threat.” He went on to accuse Vladimir Putin of “Weaponizing” the flood of ME refugees into Europe as a plan “to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”

We have our disagreements with Russia, we certainly hate what they did in Crimea and what they are doing in Ukraine. The jury is out on whether they are saving or frying our bacon in Syria, but it seems that we are (almost) on the same page there, except for our insistence that Assad must go.

It pays to remember that Russia is armed with several thousand nuclear weapons. Is it really wise for the head of NATO to pick a fight with a country that he knows feels deeply threatened by NATO expansion?

Our policy with Israel. Netanyahu has once again shown his contempt for Obama by spurning an invitation to meet in the Oval Office. When the Iran deal went down over Israel’s strong disagreement, the US agreed to send Israel more equipment and money to shore up their defenses against Iran. But, Netanyahu wants even more money and equipment than Obama is willing to give him, and he thinks that he will get a better “deal” from the next US president. Tom Friedman observed on PBS that Obama has quietly given up on the two-state solution, that it is up to Israel to implement a “one-state” solution: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The idea that they need John Kerry…to come over…It’s got to start with them. I think the most constructive thing President Obama could do [is]…say, we tried. It’s over. There’s going to be a one-state solution.

Friedman says all the Israelis do is pick apart new peace plans, making it more about the US, not about the warring factions in Israel: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The Americans [should say]…nobody’s coming. It’s over. It’s yours. You own it. Now you live with it.

And fix it if you can. But can we expect that from ANY of the current presidential candidates? No, they all say that they are Bibi’s greatest supporters. So we can expect the policy of “whatever Bibi wants, Bibi gets” to continue.

Finally, Turkey: Turkey is a member of NATO. Turkey wants to become a member of the EU. But, President Tayyip Erdogan is moving quickly to make Turkey an illiberal democracy. Turkish elections are democratic and mostly fair, but the government that they elect imprisons journalists, reassigns police in the middle of inconvenient investigations, and most recently, closed the country’s largest newspaper. In fact, 2000 people have been arrested just for insulting President Erdogan.

The EU is considering accelerating Turkey’s negotiations for EU membership. That process, which has been stalled for years, normally requires a candidate country to meet basic standards on pesky items from the independence of its judiciary, to press freedoms, two things missing in today’s Turkey.

The EU is crafting a devil’s bargain. They want Turkey to open up new refugee resettlement camps to hold the Syrians who cross from Turkey to Greece, and on to the rest of Europe. But shopping in the Turkish bazaar is never wise for the novice. The EU learned that lesson this week, when it discovered the refugee deal it believed it had previously sold to Turkish leaders turned out to be just the beginning of the negotiation on Monday. Turkey’s counter offer would have prompted EU negotiators to get up and walk out six months ago. Ankara’s proposal:

• €3 billion in refugee aid in addition to the €3 billion already pledged.
• Liberalized visas for Turkish citizens to visit the EU.
• A pledge by the EU to resettle the same number of Syrian refugees already in Turkish refugee camps, as Turkey takes in when the EU sends them back.
• Accelerated consideration of Turkish EU membership.

Turkey’s message to Europe is: You need us more than we need you. Their message back should be: we’ll give you the money. That’s it.

In closing, Wrongo just can’t resist a brief return (excuse the pun on briefs) to the US general election. Hillary’s likely reaction to Trump’s exhibitionism: “Somewhat like a penis, only MUCH smaller”.

COW Trump Package

 

 

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 17, 2016

Another jam-packed news week: David Bowie stepped through the door, the Dow fell through the floor, the SOTU had the lowest ratings ever, the Republicans debated, and you didn’t win Powerball.

So, something to cheer you up at the start your week:

COW Foxes

Gonna miss ol’ Ziggy:

COW Bowie2

Wall Street longs for yesterday:

COW Lost Pet

The GOP debate followed the usual script:

COW Big Tent

Republicans are beginning to rationalize about the probable primary winner:

COW Satan for Prez

In this primary season it has become clear that facts don’t matter. How you feel matters. Other people don’t matter. How you relate to your tribe matters. Irresponsible tax policies, silly monetary policies (gold!), destructive foreign policy, no climate policy, no healthcare policy, no infrastructure policy, charter schools as an education policy, these all matter. Except for militarism, do they have any public policy positions?

The Clintons begin to understand the threat:

COW First Word

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If The Saudis Want to Fight Iran, the US Should Stand Back and Watch

According to breaking news, the Saudis severed ties with Iran after protesters in Tehran set fire to the Saudi embassy in riots over the execution by Saudi Arabia of the Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. The Saudis are leaning on the Gulf States to break relations with Iran also.

Remember that Iran is a Shiite nation while the Saudis are majority Sunni, as are the Gulfies.

We don’t know if the Saudi charges and verdict against al-Nimr were trumped-up, or if his execution was a deliberate provocation, but, why didn’t Iran do a better job of guarding the Saudi embassy? Wrongo’s first thoughts went back to the 444 days that the US embassy was held by Iran. Was there a better way for Iran to remind America of that historic black eye?

Was Iran dumb, or simply ready to flex their new, post-sanctions muscles against Saudi Arabia?

And what about the new king in Saudi Arabia? Are these executions more about internal House of Saud politicking rather than a direct message to Iran? Is it more important for the Boy Prince Saud to establish his anti-Shia cred with his opponents in the ruling family? A secondary effect may be to rile the Iranians, since the Boy Prince is currently losing his wars in Yemen and in Syria. Perhaps a provocative execution is just what he needs to shore up public support.

The Saudis have now accused Iran of supporting terrorism. At the same time, some US lawmakers want to move the goalposts and make recent Iranian missile firings an issue, even though those missiles were never were part of the deal between the US and Iran.

Expect to see these two issues – Iranian support of terrorism and the Iranian missiles – to be dominant themes in the GOP primaries in an effort to tarnish Obama and Clinton while hoping to stall implementation of the Iran Nuclear deal. The GOP posturing about the Saudi execution continued with Republican presidential hopefuls failing to condemn the executions, while highlighting the strong alliance between Washington and Riyadh on the Sunday bobble head shows.

The fun then went full Sharia with Ben Carson suggesting that the nuclear deal struck last July between Iran, the US and five other world powers pushed Saudi Arabia to violently repress its Shiite population:

The Saudis have been one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, and I think it’s unfortunate that we put them in the position we have by showing the support to Iran that we have with this foolish deal…There’s no reason for the Saudis to believe that we’re really on their side when we do things like that.

And when you hear a medical doctor making excuses for mass executions, you gotta just change channels. And since you know he is vehemently pro-life, you have to cringe while you do it.

Carly Fiorina dismissed Iran’s reaction to the death of the leading anti-government protester:

I take the Iranian condemnation with a huge grain of salt…This is a regime that tortures citizens routinely, that thinks nothing of executions, that still holds four Americans in jail. Saudi Arabia is our ally, despite the fact that they don’t always behave in a way that we condone…Iran is a real and present threat.

You’ve got to hand it to these GOP candidates. It’s nearly impossible to be on the wrong side of nearly every geopolitical issue, but these folks are actually nailing it!

Wahhabism is the state-sponsored form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s export of Wahhabism throughout the Middle East is without question a greater threat to ME peace than Iran’s missiles.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia executed 158 people. They justify the executions as part of its strict interpretation of Sharia law. Punishing government protesters with death while citing Sharia law has led The New York Times editorial board to compare the kingdom’s judicial system to that of ISIS. Yet, unlike ISIS, Saudi Arabia currently sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council and, as both Fiorina and Carson noted, Saudi Arabia is considered a key US ally in the fight against the Assad regime in Syria.

Because of this, even our State Department did not fully condemn the Saudi executions, only voicing “concerns” over the practice. Here is empty suit spokesperson John Kirby:

We have previously expressed our concerns about the legal process in Saudi Arabia and have frequently raised these concerns at high levels of the Saudi Government…

Weasel words from the State Department.

We should see this as a time to re-balance our ME policy, and be less pro-Sunni.

We shouldn’t have a dog in this fight.

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Los Estados Banditos

Today, let’s consider the bombshell dropped by the Wall Street Journal. Apparently the NSA spied on the efforts of the Netanyahu government to purchase win support in Congress when they were considering approval of the Iran Nuclear Deal. A US intelligence official familiar with the intercepts said Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as:

How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?

There’s more. The Hill reported: The NSA helped the White House figure out which Israeli government officials had leaked information from confidential US briefings our government gave to the Israelis:

The NSA’s snooping allegedly found Netanyahu and his aides leaked details of the negotiations gained through Israeli spying, coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal and asked those lawmakers who were undecided on the deal how it could get their vote…

So, the WH knew that the NSA was spying on both Netanyahu and certain Congress critters. Some will say that the Executive Branch was spying on Congress. But there are two other ways to look at this.

• The NSA was spying on an ally, which we have done in the past (Merkel, Hollande).
• And that spying revealed that members of Congress were apparently working with Israel.

Either way, some in DC will be outraged. In fact, Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-CA) has already started an investigation into the allegations in the story. That is hilarious, since that spying is authorized by NSA procedures, procedures that Rep. Nunes has said are more than adequate to protect the privacy of US persons. You know, in his role as Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. From Emptywheel:

If NSA’s minimization procedures are inadequate to protect US persons, the first thing Nunes should do is repeal [the] FISA Amendments Act, which can expose far more people than the tailored…tap placed on Bibi…

However, you could also return to the basic question from last fall: Why are members of Congress working to help a foreign government derail a major foreign-policy initiative of the US? And be outraged yourself.

This is the reason that allowing lawmakers’ communications to be incidentally collected is such a risk — because it inevitably collects details about the legislative process. That can also disclose an untoward quid pro quo by foreign governments to members of Congress. Finding that is within the purview of the Executive branch’s mandate.

Maybe more privacy protections, including for Members of Congress, are needed. But wiretapping the communications with foreign leaders is solidly within the parameters of Congressionally-approved NSA spying, even if it incidentally collects information about members of Congress. Congress itself has deemed these actions may sometimes be important to protect the US.

And didn’t Congress approve all of this spying to catch terrorists? Or, was it just to get intelligence to assist our drone attacks. Or, to assist in the war on drugs, so that we can play catch-and-release a few more times with El Chapo. The problem is, when you build an intelligence gathering system this big and this technologically capable, it will inevitably intrude into domestic politics. Or vacuum up not-so-innocent information that is incidental to its intended target.

As for surveillance of members of Congress, surely everyone in Congress knows how that game works, THEY VOTED TO IMPLEMENT IT!

There’s a substantive difference between direct surveillance of members of Congress, and surveillance of a foreign ambassador’s reporting back to his government about communications with those Members.

If Nunes, et. al were simply trying to hang on to the remnants of our Constitution like the rest of us poor schlub voters, maybe the poutrage would be understandable.

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