Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 6, 2021

On Saturday, the NYT editorial board wrote about voting and vote counting. Read it if you have the time. The Times concludes that the House bill HR1 which will be taken up by the Senate later in June, is:

“…poorly matched to the moment…The legislation attempts to accomplish more than is currently feasible, while failing to address some of the clearest threats to democracy, especially the prospect that state officials will seek to overturn the will of voters.”

More: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Because there is little chance the bill will pass in its current form, Democrats face a clear choice. They can wage what might be a symbolic (and likely doomed) fight for all the changes they would like. Or they can confront the acute crisis at hand by crafting a more focused bill, perhaps more palatable for more senators, that aims squarely at ensuring that Americans can cast votes and that those votes are counted.”

The bill should also establish uniform rules for vote counting, vote certification, and challenges. It should also clarify Congress’s role in certifying the results of presidential elections to prevent the possibility that a future Congress would overturn a state’s popular vote. That would prevent another Jan. 6. HR-1 doesn’t address these issues.

The present situation has been years in the making with bad actions on both the part of states, and the US Supreme Court. Ultimately, SCOTUS will have the last word on voting rights laws. Democrats need to craft legislation that they believe passes the strictest Constitutional muster. On to cartoons:

The GOP is all about the air quotes:

Jan. 6 looms over America:

Bipartisan negotiation with Biden continues:

Biden ends drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge:

Why do Americans need incentives for vaccines?

They tossed Bibi overboard. He’s still confident:

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Should America Still Be 100% Behind Israel?

The Daily Escape:

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cambridge MD – photo by abitslippy

America has supported Israel since it became a country. That support has largely been through foreign and military aid, as well as diplomatically, against threats from its Arab neighbors. Throughout this period, most Americans have supported that policy. Biden supports it today.

But things may be changing, considering what’s happened in Israel and Gaza for the past two weeks. It may be time to reassess our unqualified support.

A major flash point was the campaign led by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. There was also an Israeli police raid on the Al Aqsa Mosque on the first night of Ramadan, not to prevent violence, but to cut off its loudspeakers preventing Muslim prayers from drowning out a nearby speech by Israel’s president.

The violence surprised those who believed that the 2020 Abraham Accords and subsequent agreements to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan would somehow move the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians to the backburner. In fact, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner who was dubbed the architect of the Abraham Accords, said this in March in the WSJ:

“We are witnessing the last vestiges of what has been known as the Arab-Israeli conflict,”

But he was wrong. The reason nothing changed is that the “Arab-Israeli conflict” has always been about the Israelis and the Palestinians. Kushner was even more wrong when he said:

“The Abraham Accords exposed the conflict as nothing more than a real-estate dispute between Israelis and Palestinians…”

Aren’t most wars real estate disputes?

No matter how many treaties Israel signs with Arab states, nothing will change until they make a peace deal with the Palestinians. And that peace deal will require justice for the Palestinians. From the NYT’s Michelle Goldberg:

“Palestinians fear, not without reason, that Israel is trying to push them out of Jerusalem altogether. That, in turn, has let Hamas position itself as Jerusalem’s protector. And Israel seems to consider its right to defend itself from Hamas justification for causing obscene numbers of civilian casualties.”

The Palestinian current anger stems from the ongoing moves by Netanyahu’s government to locate more settlers in East Jerusalem. This is seen in Palestine as straightforward ethnic cleansing, further encouraged by the far-Right Jewish parties that Netanyahu now must depend on to retain power.

Let’s remember what defines “Ethnic Cleansing”: It refers to the expulsion of a group from a certain area. Other than that, it hasn’t been defined, and isn’t recognized as a crime under international law. The lines between ethnic cleansing and genocide can be blurry. As James Silk, of Yale Law says:

“Your motivation may be that you want the people out, but if in doing that you intend to destroy the group, then it’s also genocide…”

OTOH, by targeting Israeli civilian areas with unguided rockets, Hamas is certainly committing a war crime. It may also be true that Israel is committing war crimes by its bombing of Gaza. Despite Israel’s claims that its strikes are against military targets, the vast majority of those killed and injured in Gaza are civilians.

The core of Israel’s justification for expelling Palestinians is that they are bad actors who can’t be trusted. And Israel is justified in launching attacks to defend itself. That’s partially true, but you can’t defend yourself in a court of law by saying that the other guy is even worse than you are, so you shouldn’t be in court at all.

Today’s Republicans are 100% behind any Israeli government, no matter what actions they take. And right on cue, 44 Republican Senators used the conflict with Gaza as a pretext to demand that Biden break off talks with Iran regarding restoring the Nuclear Deal.

On the Democrat’s side, there seems to be a growing divergence, with people under 50 saying they are disenchanted with the decades of bad behavior by Israel. Older Democrats agree generally with the Republican position. In fact, the Biden administration approved the sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel two weeks ago.

We should remember that Israel is the regional superpower. It possesses nuclear weapons. Its GDP is 26 times that of the Palestinians. While it styles itself as the only regional democracy, it practices elements of apartheid and ethnic cleansing with the Palestinians.

Where do we go from here? Wrongo’s guess is that it will be more of the same, only more intense, and brazen.

The West really doesn’t care enough about the Palestinians to attempt bringing Israel to heel. Despite lukewarm calls by Biden for a cease fire, the US blocked a proposed UN Security Council statement aimed at reducing the escalating violence.

Every member of the UN Security Council except the US unanimously supported the statement, which had no force of law.

If our government is content to protect successive Likud (or Likud-like) governments at the UN, no serious diplomatic pressure will be possible. Someday, a US Administration will abstain from some Israel related vote at the Security Council.

Then you might see some accommodation of the Palestinians by the Israeli government.

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Iran: Trump Is All Gambit, No Plan

The Daily Escape:

The Mitten Buttes, Monument Valley, UT – photo by Nathan Fitzgerald

Here we go, a new gambit on Iran. The Trump administration moved on Monday to isolate Tehran economically and undercut its power across the Middle East by not extending the waivers of sanctions against countries purchasing Iranian oil.

Secretary of State Pompeo announced that the waivers which allowed eight countries to import Iranian crude oil without being subject to US sanctions will expire on May 2nd. The eight countries included are China, India, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Greece, Italy and Taiwan. From the NYT:

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in announcing that current sanctions waivers…would expire on May 2, clearing the way for American economic penalties against all companies or financial institutions that continue to take part in transactions linked to buying Iranian oil.”

This decision to stop Iran’s biggest customers (China, who buys half of Iran’s oil exports) along with Japan, South Korea, India and Turkey, is a strike at Tehran’s lifeline. They export one million barrels of oil daily, and it accounts for 40% of their GDP.

Immediately, there were repercussions. Bloomberg reported that Iran threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz, a choke point in the Persian Gulf, while the Washington Examiner reported that the US has positioned a second aircraft carrier in the region.

What Trump seems intent upon is regime change. He campaigned against further wars in the Middle East, but now is catering to Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of whom, along with National Security Advisor John Bolton, are intent upon toppling the Iranian regime.

Trump’s Iran obsession makes us look terrible. Taking pages from the Iraq War playbook, Trump and Pompeo paint a picture of a rogue, outlaw, terrorist regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and whose “malign activities” are the cause of all the chaos in the Middle East.

This is straight from the neocon playbook: The one they’ve used before. They are building a case for war. America wants Iran out of Syria. We condemn their support for Hezbollah. We say that Iran supports the Houthis in Yemen, against our great friends, the Saudis.

This latest move is called the doctrine of “Maximum Pressure”. The goal is to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero. Will this gambit force the capitulation, or collapse, of the regime? That seems difficult to believe, but Trump and Bolton may have teed up a war.

Think about this: America is now decreeing to the rest of the world that only we decide which countries get to trade with whom. We’re telling China, the second largest economy in the world, that it lacks the sovereign authority to buy oil from Iran if it so desires.

Which do you think China will do? Both Iran and China appear to hold a better hand than the US. We can’t invade Iran and win. We can’t force China to do anything they refuse to do.

The rest of the world will have trouble understanding what Trump thinks the US can gain from this gambit, because there is no plan behind it. If Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz, will we bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran?

If China, Turkey, India and Japan continue to purchase Iranian oil, will we freeze their dollar-denominated assets in the US? If this leads to the creation of a non-dollar global payments system, what happens to the dollar as the global reserve currency? Has anyone in the Trump administration thought about that?

Once, the US used its reserve currency status and clout (largely) for good. Now, it’s just more bullying by Trump. In the end, the Trump administration may achieve a new level of worldwide cooperation against a common enemy: the USA.

Aren’t Americans sick of this neocon warmongering? Americans don’t want to be drawn into yet another ME action. It isn’t an accident that Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, declared unequivocally in November 2002:

“We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq…”

Is now the chief strategist behind Trump’s drive towards war, with Secretary of State Pompeo, happily riding shotgun.

It doesn’t matter that US intelligence, along with Israeli intelligence and the International Atomic Energy Agency confirm that Iran is complying with the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Or, that the US invasion of Iraq is the principle cause of Middle East chaos today.

Trump officials will cherry-pick information, package it, and amplify it, exactly as the Bush administration did in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

The real question is whether American voters will fall for this again.

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 10, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cordillera Huayhuash, Peruvian Andes – photo by mh-travelphotos. The area has very few people, and is a popular trekking destination. It includes six peaks above 6,000 meters.

Whenever Wrongo writes about Syria, the Wrongologist Blog records its fewest reads. Maybe people think that what’s happening in Syria just doesn’t mean much to America. Maybe people think that we’ve already given up on our original goals, and we’re already letting the Russians run the place.

Both of those thoughts would be er, wrong.

The WaPo reported about our new plan: (emphasis by Wrongo)

President Trump, who just five months ago said he wanted “to get out” of Syria and bring U.S. troops home soon, has agreed to a new strategy that indefinitely extends the military effort there and launches a major diplomatic push to achieve American objectives, according to senior State Department officials.

Although the military campaign against the Islamic State has been nearly completed, the administration has redefined its goals to include the exit of all Iranian military and proxy forces from Syria, and establishment of a stable, nonthreatening government acceptable to all Syrians and the international community.

You remember al-Qaeda, the guys who took down the NY World Trade Center? (We’ll remember that tomorrow). Well, the first step in the new US “diplomatic push” is to prevent an imminent Syrian army operation against al-Qaeda aligned groups in Syria’s Idlib province:

While the US agrees that those forces must be wiped out, it rejects “the idea that we have to go in there…to clean out the terrorists, most of the people fighting….they’re not terrorists, but people fighting a civil war against a brutal dictator,” as well as millions of civilians, said US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey. Instead, the US has called for a cooperative approach with other outside actors.

He went on to say that:

The US will not tolerate an attack. Period.

Jeffrey had just visited Turkey to consult with Turkish president Erdogan about the upcoming Idlib attack by Syria, Russia and Iran. The result of the meeting was a plan that Erdogan presented at the Tehran summit that Erdogan attended with President Putin of Russia and President Rohani of Iran.

The parties didn’t agree to the US/Turkish plan, and the attacks on Idlib have already begun.

Jeffery said that the Trump administration’s plan for Syria involves more than the defeat of ISIS. It also was focused on reducing Iranian influence, and preventing Assad from controlling all of Syria’s geography. Jeffery said that Trump supports the strategy, contrary to Trump’s previous statements about withdrawing US troops after defeating ISIS:

…we’re no longer pulling out by the end of the year….That means we are not in a hurry…

America needs to wake up. Those who voted for Trump did so in part because he wasn’t the warmonger that Hillary was. At some point, they’ll have to admit that Trump’s new Syria policy puts us in direct conflict with Russia and Iran on the ground in Syria. That isn’t something that could be implemented without Trump’s agreement, and with less than 60 days to the mid-terms, is this just a political calculation?

It’s difficult to know if Trump truly cares about what happens with Assad, but we know that he has a burning desire to confront Iran. And his new Syria policy is all about Iran. And he’s already tweeted warnings to Assad and Putin to leave Idlib alone.

Does anyone reading this believe that he’s thinking geopolitically? And since Putin, Rohani, and Assad have already defied Trump’s tweeted warnings, Americans should be thinking that there’s liable to be a strike at least against Iran, in the next few weeks.

You know that all the neocons around him, like Bolton and Pompeo, will goad him on. And after that, it could be game on.

Perhaps Trump is bluffing. We have no realistic means to prevent the operations against Idlib by Russia, Iran and Syria. The US military understands that an attack on Syrian and Russian forces would likely escalate into a direct conflict between nuclear powers.

We can’t assume that the “resistance” inside the White House either agrees with the US military, or is capable of averting such a risk.

Wrongo’s solution? Not one more drop of American blood should be wasted in either Iraq or Syria.

Withdraw completely from Syria. Hand over our in-country bases to the Syrians. Encourage and assist the Kurdish insurgents and the Syrian Defense Forces to reintegrate into Syria. Pass the intelligence we have on the jihadis we have assisted over the years to Damascus.

Then we have to hope that Trump moves on to focus completely on more important issues, like Colin Kaepernick’s shoes.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 13, 2018

We just finished a week in which the Iran Deal died, Michael Cohen proved he was capable of fleecing major corporations, and Gina Haspel showed that she left her moral compass in a drawer at home. Here are a few cartoons to help you laugh off these events.

What are the unintended consequences from killing the deal?

Donnie and Bibi gave a party. Attendance was sparse:

Michael Cohen isn’t the prescription for fixing anything:

Reviews are in on Cohen’s fixing skills:

Gina Haspel has more to answer for:

Midterms messaging by both parties is converging:

The political convergence is eerie:

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Donny and Bibi’s Folly

The Daily Escape:

Hyner View State Park, Hyner, PA – photo by Scott Hafer.

Maybe it’s early to have a full perspective on Trump’s decision to leave the Iran Nuclear Accord, but Wrongo is reminded of this quote from Benjamin Netanyahu, on September 12, 2002:

If you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you it will have positive reverberations on the region.

He said this while he was pressing for the US to attack Iraq, who was an Israeli foe in 2002. Naturally, the results were far from positive for the region, and the outcome for the US was catastrophic in both financial and human costs.

Bibi has again been successful in urging another Republican president to start an adventure in the Middle East, this time, by backing out of the Iran deal. Once again, Bibi has set up an opportunity for the US to attack another Israeli foe. This decision is a truly consequential foreign-policy blunder.

Steven Walt in Foreign Policy:

It is important to understand what’s really going on here. Trump’s decision is not based on a desire to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb; if that were the case, it would make much more sense to stay firmly committed to the deal and eventually negotiate to make it permanent.

Walt says that this is what’s really going on:

Abandoning the JCPOA is based on the desire to “keep Iran in the penalty box” and prevent it from establishing normal relations with the outside world. This goal unites Israel, the hard-line wing of the Israel lobby…and hawks including National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and many others.

Walt says that the hawks’ great fear was that the US and its Middle East allies might eventually have to acknowledge Iran as a legitimate regional power.

The preferred strategy to keep Iran from becoming a regional power has been regime change. US neo-cons and others in the Middle East have pursued this for decades. The neo-cons see two possible routes to regime change. The first relies on ramping up economic pressure on Tehran in the hope that popular discontent will grow, and that the clerical regime will simply collapse. This is the same strategy that worked so well failed in Cuba. Since the Nuclear Accord would end the sanctions that were keeping Iran weak, it was reason enough for most Republicans and hawks to be against it.

The second option is to provoke Iran into restarting its nuclear program, which would give Washington the excuse to launch a preventive war. The Israelis and Saudis would be happy to watch the US and Iran fight. The thought is that a war would eliminate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and inspire its people to rise up and overturn their leaders.

This scenario shows how little thought these people give to outcomes: If we bomb Iran, their first reaction will not be one of gratitude. Bibi will again be wrong, there will be no “positive reverberations”. Rather, it would trigger fervent Iranian nationalism and the regime would become more popular.

Leaving the deal is another spectacular “own goal” from the Trumpkinhead. They must be dancing in Moscow and Beijing, the two biggest winners of the Trump withdrawal.

Other winners include the Iranian far-right, who will say that Rouhani and the reformists were naive to trust that the Americans would honor any agreement, and the Iranian public should move to the right in the next parliamentary election.

Bibi and his government will now campaign on how every Israeli should be terrified at the prospect of returning Iran back toward the possibility of becoming a nuclear power, something Bibi has worked hard to bring about.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia get closer to a pretext for the direct military confrontation that they want, purchased with the blood of Americans, blood that the American neo-cons will be happy to spill. With friends like Israel and Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies?

Ultimately, Iran will probably end up getting nukes. But, every other country also wants some atomic insurance. The hawks need to remember that nuclear fission and fusion are 75-year old technologies. Even North Korea, among the poorest countries on earth, has mastered it. The bar just isn’t that high.

So, nuclear proliferation has a natural tailwind, and destroying America’s credibility removes the last wisp of an obstacle to it.

 

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Bibi’s New News Isn’t News

The Daily Escape:

Spring Flowers in the Tejon Pass, as seen from Rt. 5, CA -2018 photo by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel

On Monday, in a presentation in English, Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu attempted to give Donald Trump high altitude air cover for Trump’s pending decision to end the nuclear agreement with Iran. The basis of Netanyahu’s speech was that Israeli intelligence had gathered new and damaging information about the Iranian nuclear weapons program:

In a special address on Monday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented what he described as shocking, indisputable evidence that Iran had lied about its covert nuclear weapons program in the past and “continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons knowledge for future use” after signing the 2015 deal with six world powers to halt its nuclear activities.

Bibi presented 55,000 pages of documents and 183 CDs. Netanyahu said Iran hid an “atomic archive” of documents on its nuclear program. Reuters said that:

Most of the purported evidence Netanyahu presented dated to the period before the 2015 accord was signed…

Nancy Letourneau offered this: (emphasis by Wrongo)

But if you actually paid attention to the content of Bibi’s presentation two things stood out. First of all, the evidence isn’t so shocking. According to James Acton, the co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, “everyone involved in negotiating the JCPOA assumed that Iran was lying when it said that it had never had a nuclear weapons program and the JCPOA was developed on that basis.” He also pointed out that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) already documented much of what Netanyahu presented.

All Bibi had was old, dated Intel that he presented as new. This was stage-managed so that Trump can announce in 10 days that the US is pulling out of the accord because Iran “lied.”

If you followed the debate about the JCPOA during the Obama administration, you may remember that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) said that any nuclear weapons program Iran had was stopped in 2003, and had not been restarted. That was “re-certified” in the US 2011 NIE, with the same conclusion.

During the development of the 2007 NIE, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) believed all Iran had was a “feasibility study” which was based on the fear that Saddam Hussein might have a nuclear weapons program. But once the US invaded Iraq in 2003, and handed over control of the country to Iran-backed Iraqi political factions, Iran immediately stopped whatever “studies” they had been doing.

A nation’s files about nuclear weapons technology are among the most sensitive documents in their national security archives. They are extremely tightly controlled. Yet, the Israeli story is that they managed to steal 1,000 pounds of files from a Top Secret facility in Iran.

Apparently, unlike Wrongo, Bibi has never moved an office. A thousand pounds would take about 60 “banker’s boxes”. And you would need a truck, or two trips in a car to haul all that away.

From a top-secret Iranian warehouse.

Just try to imagine the actual logistics involved in removing that many documents, and then loading them on a truck. This isn’t a five minute operation.

Leaving the JCPOA may happen on Trump’s watch. He can reinstate US sanctions, but he can’t change UN Security Council resolution 2231. So if Trump reinstates sanctions against Iran, he will not have pulled the plug on the JCPOA accord.

To reinstate UN Security Council sanctions without Russian and Chinese agreement, Trump must state officially that Iran violated resolution 2231. After a formal investigative process, the “rollback” of UN sanctions would come to a vote where five of the eight signatories of the JCPOA would have to agree that Iran violated the deal.

Given that Trump won’t get the Iranian, Russian and Chinese votes, he must get all four European votes. That seems likely to be an uphill climb. France and the UK may buy in, but convincing the Germans and the EU may be difficult.

In effect, walking out of the deal may work to Iran’s advantage in the long run. In the short run, it may simply move Germany and the EU closer to Russia and Iran.

That surely won’t be a happy outcome for Trump, or America.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 26, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Johannapark, Leipzig, Germany – Via

Paul Pillar of Loeblog alerts us that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is offering to pay for the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem:

Such an offer constitutes a sort of bonus to show Adelson’s satisfaction with how his earlier large financial contributions to Trump’s campaign helped to buy the president’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This move was a personal goal of Adelson, based on a personal affinity with Israel that exceeds any affinity he has with the United States. Looked at from the standpoint of U.S. interests rather than private interests, the move was a huge mistake. It isolated the United States and dealt a major blow to any remaining hope for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

You remember Sheldon, worth $40 billion, the 19th-richest person in the world. Adelson is chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands, the largest casino company in America. He was the largest donor, in both the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns. In 2012, Adelson told Forbes magazine that he was:

…against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it.

Adelson wanted the US embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and his financial backing of Trump is thought to be the reason that Trump decided to make the move.

According to the Miscellaneous Receipts Act, any money received by the US Government must be placed into the US Treasury General Fund. The 31 USC 3302 was enacted to keep some sort of centralized control over government money, and that includes donations. Generally, unless there is a special act of Congress, a billionaire may not provide earmarked donations to the US Government.

However it may be that the State Department is exempt from needing Congressional approval for the Adelson “donation”. From the Slackexchange:

…the Department of State can accept donations for its use, which are automatically appropriated to the Department.

It would seem that money that helps build a new embassy would be for the State Department’s own use, and as long as Adelson doesn’t get naming rights (!), it is probably legal, and for Adelson, tax-deductible.

The “Sheldon Adelson Israel Embassy of the United States“. Kinda catchy. Some will say, look, this is money that the nation doesn’t have to spend. Just take it, and move on. But, when money buys government policy, you think “third world country”, not the US.

But here we are, in the USA. And Trump is happy to see government policy bought and paid for by private funds.

Why should Sheldon Adelson be allowed to use his money to make foreign policy for the US? Will anybody with a bagful of money be able to bribe the US government to advance their personal interests? Ooh, forgot: Citizens United lets them do just that.

Drain the swamp!

That swamp won’t be drained by Trump. If it is to be drained, we all have to wake up, turn out and vote, starting with the 2018 mid-term elections. To help America wake up, here are Michael Franti & Spearhead doing “We Don’t Stop”, live at Reggae On The River, in 2004:

Sample lyric:

They got a war for oil, a war for gold
A war for money and a war for souls
A war on terror, a war on drugs
A war on kindness and a war on hugs
A war on birds and a war on bees
They gotta a war on hippies tryin’a save the trees
A war with jets and a war with missiles
A war with high-seated government officials
Wall street war on high finance
A war on people who just love to dance
A war on music, a war on speech
A war on teachers and the things they teach
A war for the last five hundred years
War’s just messin’ up the atmosphere

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

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Tillerson: We’re Staying In Syria

The Daily Escape:

Coquina Rock outcropping, early morning, Flager Beach FL – 2017 photo by sir_oki

(By the time you read this, you may know if the US Congress has willfully kicked another own goal by allowing another government shutdown. If it has happened, it will be because Republicans couldn’t keep their factions in line in the House, and that the Democrats wouldn’t help the GOP in the Senate. As Wrongo writes this, there’s no sign that either are in place, but Wrongo thinks they will avert a shutdown.)

Secretary of State Tillerson visited Stanford University, and spoke about our threadbare geopolitical strategy. From the Guardian:

The US intends to maintain an open-ended military presence in Syria, not only to fight Isis and AL-Qaeda but also to provide a bulwark against Iranian influence, ensure the departure of the Assad regime and create conditions for the return of refugees…

This is laughable. Think about the results to date on our Syrian strategy: US-backed jihadis along with the Assad regime have wrecked Syria, and changed the politics in Europe because of massive refugee migration. And the politics on the ground in Syria are unchanged.

Tillerson’s speech was more of the same old, same old about challenges and threats, some of which are unrelated to a grand strategy of US in the Middle East. But the most basic question, why the US remains in Syria, (and in the Middle East in general), were not addressed, much less answered.

It doesn’t take a 6’3” 239-pound geopolitical genius to figure out that the Trump administration’s prime ME directive is the containment and roll back of Iran’s influence in the region. But our partners are unreliable, and in some cases, disagree with this strategy. Wishful thinking is a bad basis for strategy, it is really a recipe for yet another ME disaster.

The hidden hands enabling America’s obsession with Iran, a country that presents zero military threat to us, are Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel wants Iran-friendly Hezbollah neutralized in Syria and Lebanon, and is willing to fight to the last American in pursuit of that objective. The Saudis are fighting Iran for dominance in the region.

By carving out territory in Syria, we are creating a fundamentally weak situation, both militarily and politically. Over the next few months, Assad will prevail, and that will be the end of the Syrian civil war. Then, something entirely new will emerge. The Northeast of Syria, the Kurdish-controlled areas where we are placing our 2,000 ground troops, will become a main focus for Syria, Turkey and Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran.

And here, we enter uncharted political territory. We have no legal right to occupy a portion of Syria, and we must expect that at some point, Syria and Russia will call us on that. What will be our response? Is Trump willing to head-to-head with them, and possibly see US troops killed? For what?

Tactically, we have aligned with the Syrian Kurds to try and check a regional grouping who will surround our position. Worse, our policy is opposed by our ally, Turkey, who wants us to stop helping (and arming) the Kurds.

We are engaging in more superficial thinking about the ME, once again attempting to reshape the region. And to help us, we are counting on a rapprochement between Saudi-Arabia and Israel. It also requires them to commit military support to American efforts to block the combined interests of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

When you listen to Tillerson, you would think that the US had defeated ISIS, and our troops are there for the mop-up, that the Syrians, Russians and Iranians were hardly involved. Little of that is true.

Tillerson’s Syrian manifesto requires that Assad step down, now by losing an election, because evicting him by force proved impossible. Yet, it seems probable that Assad would win a fair election.

Isn’t Tillerson’s plan just more neo-con regime change? Think about Iraq. The US wanted Saddam out, and thus handed the country to Iran. In Syria, the goal was to oust Assad. Now, Assad is staying, and Russia has an unprecedented footprint in the region.

Under Trump, we have no end-game in Syria, or in Afghanistan. We choose to sit in the middle of a divided region: Arab vs. Persian, Kurds vs. Turks, Sunni vs. Shia, Saudi Arabia vs. Iran, Israel vs. Palestine, and remnants of ISIS vs. everyone else.

It is a powder keg waiting to go off.

Has Tillerson come up with a sound strategy? Definitely not.

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How Wrong Were Wrongo’s 2017 Predictions?

Wrongo is not a futurist, or a stock-picker with mad skills. On January 2 2017 he made a series of predictions about the year to come. Let’s see how wrong he was:

  1. There will be more global political and social turmoil:
    1.  The EU could collapse: That didn’t happen, as Macron soundly defeated LePen. OTOH, Merkel barely survived her election and May lost badly in a wrongly-played attempt to gain a super majority in the UK. Wrongo gets a “D” in this prediction.
    2. China’s economy is wobbling: and it still is, but a command economy can create its own reality. Wrongo gets a “C”.
  2. The US will continue to lose influence globally despite “Mr. Unpredictable” becoming our Orange Overlord: Wrongo gets an “A”. From Western Europe to the Middle East and Asia, there is not a single example of where Trump has put America in a position of greater influence in the past year. Except for Israel: they plan to name a train station after him.  Think about it, what great man only gets a train station?
  3. 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: Was his first policy failure the immigration ban? The North Korea diplomatic fiasco? The multiple attempts to repeal Obamacare? Walking out of the Trade Agreement, giving China a free hand in Asia? Give Wrongo an “A”, except that Wrongo added:

This will make him more subdued, more conservative and less populist thereafter.

Trump was less subdued, less populist, and clearly more conservative as he played to his base. Give Wrongo a “B”.

4. The triumvirate of Russia/Turkey/Iran will elbow the US firmly out of the Fertile Crescent, and secure friendly regimes in Damascus and Baghdad. An easy “A”. Wrongo went on to say:

This will push American influence in the Middle East back to just the Gulf States, a weakened Saudi Arabia, and an increasingly isolated Israel.

A home run for Wrongo, but not for America.

  1. Domestically, drug abuse, suicide, and general self-destructive behavior will continue to climb and become impossible to ignore: Sadly, another “A”. Trump’s declaration of the opioid crisis as a “Health Emergency” was a public relations exercise with no plan about how to truly deal with the crisis. Wrongo also said:

The growing antibiotic resistance to main stream drugs will impact health in the US.

This is very true here, as well as globally. There is no political push to force drug companies to deal concretely with this issue.

6. The Trump stock market rally has already turned into the Santa Selloff:  Give Wrongo an “F” on this prediction. While the Dow closed 2016 at 19,719, we are looking to close 2017 above 24,000, up nearly 18% in the past year.

Meta Prediction: 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: This was hard to get wrong, so give Wrongo a gentleman’s “C”. Wrongo went on to say:

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.

An easy “A”.

Here is the part of the prediction that was 100% spot on:

The coming Trump administration will seem like a fractious family outing: Just under half of the family (the “landslide” segment) wanted to take a ride, 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 shut up and 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…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 to the beach, and those who wanted to head over the cliff like Thelma and Louise.

2018 predictions will come in the New Year.

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