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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump Encourages War in the Middle East

The Daily Escape:

Nile River, Cairo, April 2017 photo by Amr Nabil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This doesn’t look like it will end well.

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

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

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

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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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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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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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Paris: A Time for Bed-wetting, or Leadership?

From Krugman:

So what was Friday’s attack about? Killing random people in restaurants and at concerts is a strategy that reflects its perpetrators’ fundamental weakness. It isn’t going to establish a caliphate in Paris. What it can do, however, is inspire fear — which is why we call it terrorism, and shouldn’t dignify it with the name of war.

It is always better to wait a day before reacting to something like the Paris attacks. It’s easy to say “We have to do something”, that our response must be vicious and overwhelming. Let’s call that “bed-wetting.” As used here, bed-wetting isn’t a physical or psychological term, it is describing the emotional response to fear that causes us say “do something!” So put French President Hollande into the “bed-wetting” category. He said that France would engage in “pitiless war”, as if some wars involve pity.

Really? A “war” on terrorists? Does that sound familiar to anyone? We know how that ends.

It is bed-wetting when several US state governors respond to Paris by announcing the ban of Syrian immigrants.

Other “bed-wetting” examples are Republicans ratcheting up the rhetoric, intimating that what’s being done by President Obama has failed to keep the country safe. Some are calling for an increased US footprint in the Middle East, including “boots on the ground,” and an increased role for the NSA in surveillance and intelligence-gathering capabilities.

So, can we see beyond bed-wetting to leadership? This is certainly a time for leadership. But what are the chances? Mr. Obama is in Turkey for the G20 meetings. He has conferred with Putin. Did they talk concretely about cooperating in Syria?

Obama is also meeting with Erdogan, the Saudi king and the Emir of Qatar about how to combat ISIS, despite the fact that all of them are ISIS sponsors. Will anything come from those meetings?

Bed-wetting says terror is about Islam, and leadership is about the bold use of our military. The roughly one billion Muslims who aren’t currently engaged in killing us (or each other) must be made part of the solution through leadership. Yet, bed-wetting demonizes all of them.

So, what should we do?

We need to stop pussyfooting around what we know to be true.

1. We should declare war on ISIS and Al Qaeda. A declaration of war forces us to get beyond posturing and political finger-pointing.
2. It is high time we tell Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to stop funding the head choppers and suicide bombers. We have to say, “One more dollar to the jihadists, and we no longer buy your oil”, regardless of the consequences. The friend of my enemy is my enemy.
3. We must recruit Russia and Iran as allies in this fight. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. This means we must stop demonizing Putin about Crimea and Ukraine, at least for the time being.
4. Europe must re-establish strict border controls.
5. Erdogan’s facilitating of a Muslim invasion of Europe must end.
6. The West must accept that Syria’s Assad is going to stay in power for a while.
7. We must accept the cooperation of all who fight ISIS, including Hezbollah, despite what Israel might say.

Now, none of the above points will be supported by the bed-wetters. Their dependence on the politics of fear prevents them from thinking outside of the neocon box. As Charlie Pierce said:

A 242-ship Navy will not stop one motivated murderous fanatic from emptying the clip of an AK-47 into the windows of a crowded restaurant. The F-35 fighter plane will not stop a group of motivated murderous fanatics from detonating bombs at a soccer match. A missile-defense shield in Poland will not stop a platoon of motivated murderous fanatics from opening up in a jammed concert hall, or taking hostages, or taking themselves out with suicide belts when the police break down the doors.

Posturing about Russia and Iran fall into the same category.

We must accept that there will be Paris-type attacks inside the US homeland. Despite our huge anti-terror funding of the police, the possibility of jihadi success here is real. The Paris model of mostly local French and Belgian jihadis born of Muslim immigrants is also a viable model for attacks in the US.

It’s very human to fall for the ‘we’ vs ‘them’ meme. Because it feels good, and you can be sure it makes those around you feel good too. But that is only an illusion in times of fear and insecurity, when we don’t have a simple answer.

Leadership or bed-wetting. You choose.

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Netanyahu: Gimme the Golan Heights

The carve-up of Syria has started. When Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Barak Obama on Monday, he asked for three things:

• That the US raise its aid to Israel from $2 billion US to $5 billion annually to be used against the “new” Iranian threat
• Israel intends to formally annex the Syrian Golan Heights, and Netanyahu wants our recognition of that annexation
• That the US submit the terms of any future deal involving Syria to Israel for their approval in advance of US approval

During the meeting, Netanyahu also clarified Israel’s purported “red lines” with regards to Syria.

We won’t tolerate attacks from Syrian territory, we won’t allow Iran to open a front [against us] on the Golan Heights, and we will disrupt the transfer of deadly weaponry from Syria to Lebanon…

That explains the money part of the requests. Well, we will do #1, we won’t do #3, and that leaves #2, recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan.

Some history: Israel occupied Syria’s Golan Heights after the Six-Day War in 1967, and annexed the Golan in 1981. In the intervening 48 years, neither the UN, nor any country has recognized the Golan annexation. The US could not unilaterally recognize the Golan annexation without upsetting our EU allies. In addition, Russia would not recognize the annexation, and they have an air force in Syria. And Iran could make life difficult for Israel by increasing Iranian aid and weapons to Hezbollah.

Why does Israel want to complicate Obama’s task in the Middle East? Well, he asked for recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, just as new oil reserves were discovered there.

Wait, they found oil in the Golan? Apparently, yes. And it’s potentially billions of barrels. The tangled web of the oil business is at work here: Genie Oil & Gas, a US company, is doing the exploratory drilling in Golan through its subsidiary, Afek Israel Oil and Gas, which holds an exclusive 3 year petroleum exploration license issued by the government of Israel. Genie’s founder and CEO is Howard Jonas, who has been a big financial backer of Netanyahu’s political campaigns. And, look at the advisory board of Genie Oil & Gas:

Michael Steinberg, Board Chair
• Rupert Murdoch
• Jacob Rothschild, the chairman of the J Rothschild group of companies
• ex-CIA director James Woolsey
• Dick Cheney
• Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard
• Bill Richardson, former secretary of energy under Bill Clinton
• Mary Landrieu, former Louisiana Democratic Senator

With “Advisors” like these, it would be foolish to bet against the US recognizing the Israeli annexation of an oil-rich Golan Heights at some point. From Mint Press News:

Israel hopes to quintuple the size of its settlements over the next five years by adding an additional 100,000 settlers to the region.

So, new settlers and new oil.

Perhaps Bibi’s request is really part of a longer game directed at the 2016 US presidential candidates, in which he is laying out his demands: “In return for my political support” go the unspoken, but implied words of Bibi, “I would like you to agree to fill my shopping bag,” including the Golan.

It turns out that Haaretz is now reporting that Mr. Obama has rebuffed Bibi’s bid to have the US recognize Israel’s annexing Golan:

Washington rejects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion to US President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday to discuss the possibility of US recognition of Israeli rule over the Golan Heights, a senior White House official said.

We should have predicted this move by Israel: the Golan occupied, and Syria in fragments due to uprisings and attacks by ISIS creates a vacuum for Israel to fill. But if you buy that the request was really directed at the next president and the next Congress, and not the lame duck Obama, Bibi apparently is betting that his sycophants in the Congress are going to give him what he wants in 2017.

It would be a challenge for America’s politicians to explain to voters in 2016 why we should increase funding of Israel by $3 billion, instead of helping students pay off their college loans, or instead of building better roads.

We need to make sure that this additional reach into our pockets by Israel is a national campaign issue in 2016. Until a few politicians lose an election because they are too hawkish on Israel, we will continue to lavish money on them.

And our politicians will continue to support Israel’s Middle East policies at the expense of our own.

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 24, 2015

There was a curious story in the NYT on Saturday. They quote former Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak in a new biography revealing that Israel came close to striking Iran’s military facilities in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The biographers spoke on Israeli television, saying that despite Barak’s and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s desire to do so, the Israeli military refused.

Recorded interview excerpts between Barak and the biographers were aired by Israel’s Channel 2, which stressed that Mr. Barak had sought to prevent them from being broadcast, but that they had been approved by Israel’s military censor. Mr. Barak later confirmed that the recordings were authentic, but said he had provided the information on background to Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor, whose book, “Barak: The Wars of My Life,” came out this week in Hebrew.

The interviews confirmed a longstanding view that Israel’s security chiefs held back the political leadership, particularly in 2010. In 2012, the timing did not work out because of a joint US-Israel military exercise and visit by Leon Panetta, US defense secretary. Barak said he recalled “demanding” to postpone the joint military exercise. The NYT quotes Barak:

You ask, you demand that America respect your sovereignty to make a decision that you want to do that, even if America is opposed to that and it is against its interests…

The news is that the civilian leadership really wanted to start a war with Iran but first, the military leaders demurred, and then so did the Obama Administration. This confirms that the past 7 years have not been all Israeli bluster intended to play bad cop to our good cop. The bad news is that the administration has known for years that Netanyahu and his administration are off their collective rockers, yet Congress continues to send Israel weapons and billions of dollars every year.

The sad part is that there isn’t anything really new here. It has been well documented previously. Juan Cole reported in 2011 that: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Netanyahu appears to have forced out Meir Dagan, the head of the Israeli spying agency Mossad… Dagan went on to accuse Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, of grossly exaggerating the threat from Iran, calling a [potential] strike on that country “stupid idea that offers no advantage.”

In 2012, apparently Obama stood firm in opposition to an Iran strike, since Israel didn’t have the capability to really damage Iran’s nuclear facilities and needed support from USAF in the form of B-52s and bunker buster bombs. Mr. Obama later compensated Israel for standing down by providing them with the bunker busters.

Here’s a thought worth polishing and spreading: That the unspoken concern of the US and the world is not so much that a nuclear armed Iran might someday attack Israel and further destabilize the ME, but that a nuclear armed Israel is now ready, able, and rehearsing their plans to attack Iran. Imagine for a moment the hysteria in Congress if the headline of this story was reversed: “Khomeini was on the verge of attacking Israel 3 times”.

It’s time to cut Israel loose, to eliminate the undue influence this nation has on American foreign policy.

So, wake up Congress Critters, modeling Netanyahu’s foreign policy behaviors will lead America to failure. To help with the wake-up, here is a photo that shows those in Congress just another example of life in the food chain:

Life in the Food Chain

(H/T Naked Capitalism)

Your Monday Hot Links:

This is how Bernie Sanders could win. OK it’s a long shot, but FiveThirtyEight says that if Hillary implodes, Sanders vs. Biden could be highly competitive. Clinton won’t drop out before the primaries and a Biden run could split the establishment vote, giving Sanders an opening.

Billionaires keep flocking to architect Robert A.M. Stern’s newest limestone creation at 220 Central Park South. Next is billionaire hedge funder Ken Griffin, who we mentioned yesterday. Griffin’s new pad could cost him anywhere between $30 million and $160 million, which is really just chump change for the hedge funder who reportedly nets $2.2 million a day, and that’s after taxes!

In a related story in the Onion, a study finds it is easier than ever for American dollars to join the 1%.

First wolf pack found in California in nearly a century. On Aug. 9, the cameras photographed two separate black-furred wolves, believed to be adults. Five black wolf pups were photographed in the same spot. It was clearly a pack.

Doctors may have found a way to override the body’s evolutionary habit of storing fat with a discovery of a master switch for the body’s metabolism. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School discovered a new genetic pathway that controls human metabolism by prompting fat cells to store or burn away fat.

Grading Carly Fiorina’s tenure at HP. By a Silicon Valley journalist.

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