Wrongo served in the US Army during the Vietnam era, although not in-country. Wrongo’s dad served in the Army in France and Germany in WWII. Wrongo’s Grandfather served in the Navy in WWI, captaining a small boat on the east coast of the US. It is not clear exactly how he earned the nickname “Captain Sandbar”, that story is lost to history.
So today, let’s remember all of those who have served in the military.
And here’s a wish that those who are in positions of political power, those chicken hawks who get to decide where and when Americans serve, become much better at making those decisions.
Our military is worn down after more than 16 years of multiple deployments, fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq — and to a lesser extent, in Syria. They are spread thin, providing defense for our allies in Europe and Asia, along with being stationed in about 800 locations around the world.
The problem isn’t that the US military is too small. Our politicians keep asking the military to do too much. And worse, they ask it to do things it shouldn’t do, like regime change and nation-building.
Let’s hope that our political leaders stop thinking of the military as a shiny toy that they can take out and play with whenever some tin-pot mocks General Tiny Hands.
Here is some beautiful (and meditative) music for your Saturday, the Adagio in G Minor attributed to Tomaso Albinoni, but actually composed by 20th-century musicologist and Albinoni biographer Remo Giazotto, purportedly based on the discovery of a manuscript fragment by Albinoni. Albinoni died in 1751, and Giazotto obtained a copyright for the Adagio in 1958.
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
The CIA is expanding its covert operations in Afghanistan, sending small teams of highly experienced officers and contractors alongside Afghan forces to hunt and kill Taliban militants across the country, according to two senior American officials, the latest sign of the agency’s increasingly integral role in President Trump’s counterterrorism strategy.
This new effort will be led by small units known as counterterrorism pursuit teams. They are managed by CIA officers from the agency’s Special Activities Division and operatives from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence arm. It will include elite American troops from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). But most of the troops will be current members of the Afghan militia.
The NYT quotes Ken Stiles, a former CIA counterterrorism officer:
The American people don’t mind if there are CIA teams waging a covert war there…They mind if there’s 50,000 U.S. troops there.
Well, Mr. Stiles, Wrongo minds quite a bit. And if Americans really don’t mind a covert war over there, then we shouldn’t wonder “why they hate us.”
But as with most Trump administration initiatives, it gets worse: The NYT article says that contractors will have a significant role. In August, the former head of Blackwater, Eric Prince, lobbied the Trump administration for a contractor-led effort to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. This might be his payday for that marketing effort. Let’s assume until we learn otherwise, that Prince and his contractors will be involved in the CIA’s new campaign.
It is possible that this campaign will be a boon for the Taliban. It will certainly kill a few of them, but it will also alienate quite a few Afghans. Think about it: Most Taliban fighters are locals. Killing them creates new local recruits for the insurgency.
The worst part of this is that we’ve been here before. During the Vietnam War, we stood up something called Operation Phoenix:
[Phoenix] was designed to identify and “neutralize” (via infiltration, capture, counter-terrorism, interrogation, and assassination) the infrastructure of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF or Viet Cong). The CIA described it as “a set of programs that sought to attack and destroy the political infrastructure of the Viet Cong”.
There were two components of the program. Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs) and regional interrogation centers. PRUs would kill or capture suspected NLF members, as well as civilians who were thought to have information on NLF activities. Many of those captured were then taken to interrogation centers where some were allegedly tortured in an attempt to gain intelligence on VC activities in the area.
Phoenix operated from 1965 to 1972. By 1972, Phoenix had neutralized 81,740 suspected NLF operatives, informants and supporters, of whom between 26,000 and 41,000 were killed. We had the body count,but the passive support for the Viet Cong in South Vietnam increased because of Phoenix.
And of course, we went on to win lose the war.
So, we are starting down a road that we shouldn’t, because we haven’t learned from our past experience. Perhaps CIA Director Mike Pompeo could open a book, and learn something about the CIA’s history before he jumps at the latest shiny idea.
For years, the primary job of the CIA in Afghanistan has been training the local Afghan militias. It also used members of the militias to develop informant networks and collect intelligence. This means the CIA has few independent sources of intelligence in the country. It will have to depend on the people it has trained in the militias, each of which are local, and have their own agendas. Success in this campaign depends on reliable intelligence. Who in this or that hamlet is a member of the Taliban? Without trusted local sources, the militia, whether under CIA or contractor command, will likely use torture to get answers they need.
It is predictable that this campaign will end up with big body counts just like Operation Phoenix, and without having made Afghanistan secure for its people.
Lake Waramaug, Litchfield County CT. It is the second largest natural lake in the state.
Our problems with North Korea (NK), and the impossible negotiating position we have with them, brings to mind Israel’s relationship with Palestine. Both NK and Palestine:
Had their borders drawn by other powers after WWII
Had been invaded many times by their neighbors
And they have fought wars with them ever since
Are anti-US, and anti-Israel
Have a large benefactor that props them up economically. Iran in the case of the Palestinians, and China in the case of NK
And both countries appear unwilling to negotiate with their sworn enemies towards a peaceful solution. We officially ended the Korean War in 1953. The parties to the Armistice tried to negotiate a withdrawal of foreign forces from the peninsula and settle the question of who would rule a reunited Korea. Talks took place in 1954, but broke down over how to hold fair elections for a unified government.
The Armistice specified that no new weapons would be introduced on the peninsula, but in 1957, the US informed NK that it would no longer abide by that part of the Armistice agreement. In January 1958, the US deployed nuclear missiles capable of reaching Moscow and Beijing, in South Korea.
We kept them there until 1991, and tried to reintroduce them in 2013, but South Korea refused. NK conducted its first underground nuclear test in 2006.
NK has very close relationships with many Arab countries. From the Diplomat:
North Korea…actively supported Arab countries in their military operations against Israel. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War…North Korean pilots staffed Egyptian MIG-21s…During the 1980s, North Korea shifted [to] arms…sales to Israel’s enemies in the Middle East. The DPRK exported missiles to Iran, Syria, and Libya and assisted both Syria and Iran in their attempts to develop nuclear weapon capabilities.
NK’s relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) began in 1966. NK today recognizes the sovereignty of Palestine over all territory held by Israel, except the Golan Heights, which NK considers Syrian Territory. The Diplomat says that NK helped Hezbollah build underground tunnels in Lebanon.
Al-monitor reports that NK also cooperates closely with Iran. Israel believes that Iranian scientists were present at most of NK’s nuclear tests. Iran’s Shahab missiles were developed with the assistance of NK, and are based on the NK Nodong missile.
There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it…Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.
We are stuck in the moment, and we can’t get out of it, just like Israel and Palestine.
Our history with NK tells them that we are not trustworthy. Barack Obama replaced direct engagement with pressure tactics, called “strategic patience.” He also rejected negotiation with NK without a prior commitment to denuclearization.
And here we are. We won’t talk to them unless they give up the bomb. They already have the bomb, so they won’t be giving it up. We can’t move against them without huge damage to Japan and South Korea. Would we sacrifice either country to save the US homeland from a NK nuclear-tipped missile?
What should we do now? Will we accept the fact that NK is a nuclear power? Will we continue to rely on sanctions?
Would we commit to a no-first-strike policy that might reduce tensions with NK?
Would we agree to stop the provocative war games?
What will the Trump administration do to avoid nuclear war?
Nobody knows. Here is U2, live in Boston in 2001 with their Grammy-winning “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” from their 2000 album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”:
As you sing along, remember the song was written to persuade someone that suicide wasn’t the answer.
You’ve got to get yourself together You’ve got stuck in a moment And now you can’t get out of it Don’t say that later will be better…
Now you’re stuck in a moment And you can’t get out of it
Near Rocky Creek Bridge, Big Sur CA – 2017 photo by Charlene Renslow
We didn’t attempt to shoot down the Hwasong-12 North Korean (NK) missile on Tuesday. The official reason was that it was clear that the missile wouldn’t hit American soil. Based on the US reasoning, there are at least two things to consider:
We have the capability to shoot down NK medium-range missiles, but do not want to give NK and China any free intelligence on our capabilities.
We do not have the capability to shoot down NK medium-range (or greater) missiles.
Now, Wrongo has some “expertise” in the missile defense biz. He managed a nuclear missile unit in Germany during the Vietnam era. One mission of the unit was anti-tactical ballistic missile defense. That meant we were supposed to shoot down enemy missiles.
So, when Wrongo hears the US’s reasoning, it makes sense. Why give a potential enemy a free look at your weapons? Why take an aggressive action when we are not threatened? Both are reasonable positions. Shooting down an enemy missile aimed at US territory is logical, but shooting down a missile test aimed at the sea would be considered an act of war by NK. We could adopt a policy to intercept certain types of missiles or those on certain kinds of trajectory. But, we haven’t made that policy choice at this point.
The second possibility is frightening. Since the 1950’s, we have made a huge investment in anti-missile weapons. Today, we have 33 Aegis warships that are designed to hit a mid- or intermediate-range missile like the Hwasong-12. Sixteen of those warships are currently in the Pacific. But, right now we only have eight Japan-based Aegis ships, and two of the eight are out of commission due to the collisions of the Fitzgerald, and the John S. McCain.
But it gets worse. From the NYT: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)
The allies could do little more than track the [NK] missile Tuesday as it arched over Hokkaido and splashed into the northern Pacific. Analysts said Japan could have tried to shoot it down if its Aegis destroyers, which are armed with SM3 Block I interceptor missiles, happened to be in waters between North Korea and Japan. But because the SM3 is slower than the Hwasong-12, they would have had to make the attempt before the missile passed over the ships.
In order to hit the NK missiles, Aegis destroyers would have to be dangerously close to the NK coast to get a chance to strike an ICBM in the “boost” phase, before it gained altitude. If our ships were that close to NK, they would be vulnerable to North Korean submarines.
And the SM-3 anti-missile interceptors on the Aegis ships have a testing record that includes many failures. Between January 2002 and August 2017, the DOD attempted 37 intercepts of a mid-range missile and hit the target 29 times with an SM-3. On Wednesday, we conducted a successful intercept test using a newer generation SM-6 missile against a medium-range ballistic missile target:
The USS John Paul Jones detected and tracked a target missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii with its onboard AN/SPY-1 radar…
This is the second time an SM-6 missile has intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile target.
Our problem is that, while the Obama administration pushed for a ship-based defense against mid-range NK missiles aimed at Japan or Guam, we now know that we have a better chance of hitting missiles that can’t fly so high. From Defense One:
The highest probability of success is to hit the enemy missile closer to the ground, during the so-called boost phase. That’s what America’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is aiming for in the future.
Decoding all this: If we attempt a shoot-down, and it fails, all of those Aegis ships are worthless, and Russia, China and NK will know it.
We also have the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system deployed in South Korea. There have been 15 intercepts in 15 tests for the THAAD system, according to the MDA. Now, there is talk of deploying them in Japan. THAADs are currently also deployed in Guam and Hawaii.
Finally, there is the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System (GMD). GMD, like THAAD, is a hit-to-kill system. Unlike THAAD which intercepts missiles during their terminal phase, GMD is aimed at destroying them in midcourse. It is the only system the US has that could be capable of destroying an ICBMlaunched at the US by NK. There are 40 GMD interceptors deployed in Alaska at Fort Greely, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The GMD has a troubled history, with many failed, or incomplete tests.
The military’s next anti-missile solution won’t even begin testing until 2023.
Until then, every time an NK missile heads toward Japan, Guam, or anywhere else, the president will have to decide whether attempting to shoot it down is worth the costs of probably missing it.
And without a missile defense, our next best alternative is massive nuclear retaliation on the NK homeland.
That’s a ticket for the destruction of South Korea and Japan.
Interior, Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain
But don’t say something if you haven’t seen it.
You have to wonder about what the Trump administration is thinking when it comes to foreign policy. On Monday night, the White House warned that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is preparing another chemical-weapons (CW) attack, and that if Bashar followed through with it, there will be “a heavy price” to pay.
The universal response was surprise, because no evidence was offered as proof of the claim.
And then UN Ambassador Nikki Haley weighed in:
Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.
You’ll notice she said “any” attacks will be blamed on Damascus, thus leaving the door wide open for someone to commit a “false flag” attack. When you long for John Bolton to return as UN Ambassador, you know things are very bad.
On June 27, Paul Pillar and Greg Thiemann warned on Defense One that President Trump was “cherry picking” intelligence to justify war on Iran, Syria’s ally, − in a replay of the Bush Administration’s propaganda campaign to justify the March, 2003 Iraq invasion.
Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis proposed that international observers should be posted at Syrian air bases to independently verify which type of munitions is being used by the Syrian Air Force. That is an idea that the US, Russia and Syria should agree with.
Defense Secretary Mattis was quoted by the BBC saying, “They didn’t do it.” Mattis’ face-saving claim was that the Trump warnings to Russia and Syria “worked” and that the Syrians no longer planned a new CW attack from Shayrat air base. Go, Donald!
Let’s unpack this: By acknowledging there are more CW in Syria, the Trump administration admits that intelligence exists to prove that claim. If the CW do exist, that violates the agreement Obama made with Putin after the 2013 attack on the Syrian city of Ghouta.
The deal with Putin was the justification Trump used to justify the Tomahawk strike at the Shayrat airbase in April. The administration said they had received intelligence indicating there were stockpiles of CW at the airbase, even though no actual proof was ever provided that CW were really present.
In fact, Seymour Hersh published a lengthy account in Die Welt this week based on conversations with US officials, debunking the idea that Syria was behind the April CW attack. Hersh warned that the US was setting the stage for another “false flag” attack by the jihadists, to be blamed on the Syrian government. Here are three questions:
What is the Administration’s source of the new Syrian CW intelligence?
What hard evidence has the source given about a Syrian CW stockpile?
Since Trump decided to blurt (via Spicer) that Syria was planning more CW attacks, why didn’t he simply claim that Assad is keeping a stock of chemical weapons in violation to the agreement Putin made with Obama? After all, Mattis has already admitted that much.
Plenty of critics…saw this as a Wag the Dog scenario of made-up intelligence. But…Syria is a dog that can wag its own tail, and ours too if we let it. And if the Trump White House is issuing ultimatums that its own national-security team doesn’t want to take full responsibility for, based on intelligence that is too secret to share with mid-level staff…chances are it’s not fully briefed on how that wagging tail will affect key players like Russia and Iran.
Isn’t it interesting that Trump’s response to the “intelligence” that Russia hacked the election is “show me the proof”. But when he says, “Syria is about to use CW again”, it requires no proof?
That’s beyond cynical.
What is our Syria strategy? If the Administration is thinking about launching another attack on Syria, we have to ask: what are we doing? Most Americans accept that we should fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
But, is the Trump administration doing anything to end our role in Syria that isn’t about transforming it into a war with Russia and Iran?
Some music: Here is Artists for Grenfell, fifty artists, including Nile Rodgers, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Liam Payne, the London Community Gospel Choir, and others, who teamed up to re-make Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as a charity single in memory of the Grenfell Tower fire:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
From TomDispatch: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)
If you want a number, try 194. That’s how many countries there are on planet Earth (give or take one or two). [Here is another]…number that should boggle your mind: at least 137 of those countries, or 70% of them…have something in common…They share the experience of having American Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed to their territory.
TomDispatch’s managing editor, Nick Turse, provides additional perspective:
In the waning days of George W. Bush’s administration, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed to about 60 nations around the world. By 2011, under President Barack Obama, that number had swelled to 120. During this first half-year of the Trump administration, US commandos have already been sent to 137 countries, with elite troops now enmeshed in conflicts from Africa to Asia.
Now, SOF units are not deployed in 137 countries continuously. According to General Raymond Thomas, the chief of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), about 8,000 are deployed overseas at a given time. But, our commitment to SOF has grown from a few thousand troops in the 1980s to about 70,000 at present, a force larger than the armies of several nations.
We use these troops as the tip of the spear, so if a conflict is intensifying anywhere, the SOF will be front and center. We also have adopted a convenient blind spot: The American public does not consider the SOF operating in a foreign country to be “troops on the ground”, so politicians pay no price politically for deploying them.
As an example, one year ago in Syria there were about 50 special operators helping anti-ISIS forces. Now, as our proxies move to take the ISIS “capital” of Raqqa, that number is 500 (or higher).
We used the SOF to great effect in Afghanistan right after 9/11. After their initial tactical success, America didn’t declare victory and go home, but stayed and added regular military forces alongside our special operators. And for the past 16 years, we have been raiding homes, calling in air strikes, training local forces, and waging war against a growing list of terror groups in that country.
For all those efforts, the General in charge in Afghanistan says the war is now a “stalemate.”
Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent and the author of Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State, observes:
Whereas on 9/11 al-Qaeda had a few hundred members, almost all of them based in a single country, today it enjoys multiple safe havens across the world.
In fact, he points out, the terror group has become stronger since bin Laden’s death. Our thinking has been that “if we can take out this warlord, or disrupt this one guerrilla mission, the insurgency will crumble”. That’s why we use the SOF, and yet, the insurgencies just continue.
Think about Obama’s drone war taking out terrorist warlord after terrorist warlord. It has achieved little more than offering upward mobility to the careers of ISIS and al Qaeda’s middle management.
Of course, the SOF does many good and heroic things under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Near Mosul, a US special operations medical unit and its ICU prop up allied proxy forces that have limited medical capabilities. An Air Force Special Operations Surgical Team recently spent eight weeks treating 750 war-injured patients there.
The failure to win these localized proxy wars should be blamed on the White House and Congress, who confuse tactics with strategy. That isn’t the fault of the special operations commanders. They live in a tactical world. Washington has consistently failed to even ask hard questions about the strategic utility of America’s Special Operations forces. Turse concludes:
These deployment levels and a lack of meaningful strategic results from them have not, however, led Washington to raise fundamental questions about the ways the US employs its elite forces, much less about SOCOM’s raison d’être.
General Thomas told members of the House Armed Services Committee last month:
We are a command at war and will remain so for the foreseeable future…
And not one Congressperson asked why, or to what end.
You need a little music. James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” series is always fun. Here he is with Elton John:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, 2016 – photo by Wrongo
They told Wrongo that if he voted for Hillary, we’d be at war in Syria. He voted for Hillary, and sure enough, looks like we could get into a war with Syria! Particularly after this:
A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet from Carrier Air Wing 8 on board the USS George Bush shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 ground attack aircraft near Raqqa, Syria after the aircraft struck ground troops in Ja-Din, south of Tabqah, near Raqqa.
According to most sources it is the first time a U.S. combat aircraft has shot down a manned enemy aircraft in aerial combat in nine years.
The pro-Assad regime Syrian Su-22 that was downed had attacked Syrian Democratic Forces aligned with the U.S. led coalition and inflicted casualties on the friendly forces as they were driving south of Tabqah before it was intercepted.
Russia was displeased. They announced that they could possibly shoot down any US air craft operating in western Syria:
In the combat mission zones of the Russian aviation in the air space of Syria, all kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.
Treating US and allied planes as “targets” does not mean the Russians will shoot at them. What they’re saying is that they will track the planes as they would track any target, they will send their own planes to observe the targets, and possibly escort the targets out of the area.
This gets tricky: what happens if the “target” refuses to be escorted away? Do the Russians then shoot at the target? They haven’t said. But until they do start shooting, we’re not in a hot war. We’ve just moved a step closer to one possibly occurring soon.
And this would be the most dangerous confrontation between the US and Russia since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Wrongo remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis very well. He was in college. We sat around thinking that DC (where we lived) would be taken out by nuclear missiles launched by the Russkies.
This is one outcome of Trump’s outsourcing full control of military action on the ground to the generals.
One miscalculation, and Trump’s generals are making new foreign policy. Clemenceau was correct when he said that “war is too important to be left to the generals”. Who we decide to fight is one of our most important national decisions. From the American Conservative:
There has never been a Congressional vote authorizing US military operations in Syria against anyone, and there has been scant debate over any of the goals that the US claims to be pursuing there. The US launches attacks inside Syria with no legal authority from the UN or Congress, and it strains credulity that any of these operations have anything to do with individual or collective self-defense.
The US says we are in Syria to fight ISIS and evict them from Raqqa. But we have also been arming the Syrian opposition for at least three years. And we have been a party to the Syrian civil war for at least a year before that. But the underlying assumption, that it is in our interest to be fighting in Syria, has not been seriously questioned by most members of Congress.
Americans are so accustomed to fighting wars on foreign soil that we barely notice that the policy has never really been debated or put to a vote. If this Syrian confrontation leads us into a larger conflict with Russia, will it finally be time to notice what’s happening?
Shooting down a Syrian jet shows the dangers that come from conducting a foreign policy unmoored from both the national interest and representative government.
It was shot down because it was threatening rebels opposed to the Syrian government, and the US supports those rebels, apparently up to and including destroying Syrian regime forces that attack them. We say we are there to fight ISIS. That has sufficient support by the people and the Congress. If we are also fighting to oust Assad, we are doing something that requires a full debate.
Without that debate, when we shoot down a Syrian plane inside its own country, we have committed an act of war against another state.
A bit of music. Here is Paramore with “Hard Times”:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
All that I want Is to wake up fine
Tell me that I’m alright
That I ain’t gonna die
All that I want
Is a hole in the ground
You can tell me when it’s alright
For me to come out
Lanterns lit last week for Buddha’s Birthday, Samgwangsa Temple, Busan, South Korea – photo by Jason Teale
Yesterday, Wrongo mentioned that Russia might prove helpful to Donald Trump in his efforts to deal with a nuclear-capable North Korea (NK). Today, Stratfor has a column about Russia’s relationship with NK. Rather than quote extensively from a long article, Wrongo has condensed from it, particularly about the history of Russia/North Korean relations.
History gives perspective: The Soviet Union and the US were the actors that split North and South Korea at the end of WWII. In the 1950s, both Koreas became a proxy battleground, pitting the communist North against the US-aligned South. After China and North Korea agreed to an Armistice with the UN and South Korea in 1953, the Soviets helped to build up the military and security forces in NK, ensuring its stability. Some Soviet-era military equipment is still in use today.
The Soviets were a key NK economic partner throughout the Cold War. They accounted for nearly half of NK’s foreign trade in the 1970s and 1980s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, trade dropped off. China now accounts for 90% of NK’s imports, but about a third of that is Russian-sourced.
Putin saw the strategic value of good relations with NK, including how Russia could manipulate its influence in the region to pressure NK, or to put pressure the US and South Korea. Russia has criticized NK’s nuclear weapons tests and ballistic missile programs, and participated in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks along with China, the US, Japan and North Korea and South Korea.
In 2014, Russia joined in levying sanctions against NK, halting supplies of ships, helicopters and minerals in response to its continued nuclear tests. But, neither China nor Russia has cut their economic or military ties with NK. And both governments have opposed expanded sanctions or regime change.
Russia and NK have improved ties since the breakdown in Russia’s relations with the West over Crimea and Ukraine. In 2014, Moscow officially settled NK’s Soviet-era debt of $11 billion, forgiving most of it. NK granted Russian business executives long-term multiple-entry visas for the first time. In addition, Russia has provided millions of dollars’ worth of food aid to NK in recent years, including nearly half of the country’s grain imports.
One way that the two countries have expanded their cooperation is through the employment of temporary NK workers in Russia. Nearly 50,000 North Koreans were granted Russian work permits in 2015. In April, Russia’s parliament passed a bill allowing NK workers to travel visa-free to Vladivostok. Russia estimates that North Korea receives $170 million in remittances from its workers in Russia.
No doubt, Russia sees its relationship with NK as small potatoes. But Russia is not small potatoes for NK. While it will not replace China as NK’s primary partner, Russia has the capacity to play spoiler to the US plans to control NK’s nuclear ambitions. Today, Russia has its hands full with Syria, Crimea and Ukraine. But, its influence on the North Koreans can give it leverage, in the event that America’s Orange Negotiator needs help making a deal on the Korean peninsula.
Putin could add weight to China’s effort to lean on NK, forcing NK to come to the table. In return, His Orangeness might be persuaded to go easy on Putin’s goals in Ukraine or Syria, in addition to whatever he will owe China, if the pressure succeeded.
Russia can’t solve our problem with NK, but it might be able to move the dial enough either to play the spoiler, or to be an ally in any American efforts to defuse the Korean problem.
Here is a martial song from North Korea: “Leader, Just Give Us Your Order!” Don’t you just wonder what that order will be?
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
Warning! Don’t scroll through the comments, it weakens the mind. A recent one says:
“Comrade Kim Jong Un, just give us the order to wipe out all imperialists and to reunificate Korea!”
On Saturday, Wrongo scoffed at David Brooks, who said that Donald Trump’s foreign policy moves:
…have been, if anything, kind of normal…
Another part of US foreign policy that is FAR from normal is our effort to square the circle between our NATO ally Turkey, and our Kurdish allies in Syria and Iraq, who are fighting with us to eliminate ISIS as a force in Syria.
Last Tuesday, Turkey triggered a crisis when it launched airstrikes on US-backed YPG Kurdish fighters. The YPG is a Syrian sister organization of the Kurdish PKK Party in Turkey. Turkey believes the YPG and the PKK are terrorist groups whose goal is to destabilize Turkey.
Within Syria, US Special Forces are embedded with the YPG and are coordinating YPG’s moves against ISIS around Raqqa. The Turkish airstrikes killed at least 18 people, destroying the group’s headquarters. The airstrikes triggered heavy artillery and mortar exchanges between Turkish troops and Kurdish forces along the border, raising concerns that Turkey might send its forces into Syria, something the US opposes.
The YPG wants to divert forces from the attack on Raqqa to protect against further Turkish adventures, something the US doesn’t want. Now we learn that the US has placed some of its very limited military resources in Syria between the Turks and the Kurds in an effort to calm the hostilities. From the WSJ:
American forces have started patrolling the Turkey-Syria border to prevent further clashes between Turkish troops and Kurdish fighters, which could undermine the fight against Islamic State, U.S. officials said Friday.
This is the second time we had to break up the fight between the Turks and the Kurds in Syria. We made a similar move last month in Manbij, a northern Syrian town at the epicenter of a fight between Kurdish forces, Syrian government troops and Turkish-backed militants.
We have become our own UN-style peacekeeping force between Turkey and our Kurdish allies in the midst of our very real effort to take Raqqa from ISIS.
So, where are we going with Turkey, the Kurds and Syria? In the ME, the Kurds are one of the few groups the US can trust to perform militarily. They have fought alongside our troops in this region for years. In the past, we have sold them out in favor of Iraqi and Turkish geopolitical desires more than once.
OTOH, Turkey is a NATO ally, one who is the enemy of our Kurdish allies. We have several Airbases in Turkey which help with the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. If the Turks asked us to leave, our military effectiveness in the ME would be seriously weakened.
More than 25 million Kurds live in the region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. They are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the ME, but they do not have a permanent nation-state. The Kurds can see that a state could be created from the NE portion of Syria, and the region they already control in Iraq, if the Turks, along with Syria and its allies would allow it to happen.
Where does the US stand on this? Would we back the Turkish aspiration to control a Syrian buffer area between the Kurds to the East in Syria and in Iraq, and the Kurds in the West in Syria?
Would Russia, Syria, and Iran allow Turkey to succeed at that? What would happen if Russia and Iran moved against Turkey, if the Turks established a foothold in Northern Syria? Would the US come to Turkey’s defense?
Turkish President Erdogan is visiting Trump in DC in mid-May. Last Friday, Mr. Erdogan said he would personally urge Mr. Trump to stop working with the YPG, but Trump plans to directly arm them. What will the US response be to Erdogan, who looks more like a dictator controlling our only Islamic NATO ally?
Time for Trump and the State Department to wake up and solve the complex issues in Syria. Who knew being president would be so hard? This is not a time for shooting from the hip, or for deal-making, but for establishing principles for the end game in Syria with our most difficult NATO partner.
To help Trump and Tillerson wake up, here is the progressive rock band Yes, Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductees. The ceremony was broadcast Saturday night on HBO. The band’s co-founder, Jon Anderson, reunited for a performance of “Roundabout” from 1971. He’s here with bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, guitarist Trevor Rabin and drummer Alan White:
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