Monday Wake Up Call – September 13, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde NP, CO – September 2021 photo by David Milley Johnson

Daniel Byman of Georgetown University has the cover article in the WSJ’s Weekend Review: “Why There Hasn’t Been Another 9/11”. He says that while jihadism remains strong globally, the US has been spared a repeat of 9/11:

“Twenty years ago, the 9/11 attacks killed almost 3,000 Americans. Since then, the US homeland hasn’t suffered any comparable terrorist assault, nor even one a tenth of the size. The total death toll from jihadist attacks inside the US over these last two decades stands at 107…”

Byman’s point is that despite losing in Afghanistan, the US has become skilled at limited interventions: a drone strike to kill a terrorist leader here, a raid by special operations forces there, including the killing of Osama bin Laden and ISIS head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, among others. This has forced the terrorist leaders to hide constantly and has eliminated their ability to run large terrorist training facilities.

Our abilities to intercept terrorist phone and internet communications, monitor activity from the skies and coordinate in real time with our allies, allows us to be on top of most large-scale attacks that might be planned against us. From Byman:

“A jihadist arrested in Morocco may have made phone calls to an operative in France, who received money from a funder in Kuwait, who is tied to cells in Indonesia and Kenya and operates under the instructions of a leader in Pakistan…”

All of this is tracked. And the US then assembles this giant jigsaw puzzle, encouraging the arrests of suspects, while using drone strikes where arrests are difficult. Byman implies that we’re being kept safe because of our investment in anti-terrorist assets and technology.

He’s planting a stake in the ground for additional funding for America’s successor to the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

Adam Tooze reminds us that US military spending was driven to new heights by the GWOT. Overall spending peaked in 2010 at $840 billion. You might expect that America’s defense budget would have decreased when we got out of full-scale Iraq and Afghanistan operations, and it did. Tooze says that overall DOD spending fell to $629 billion in 2015.

With Trump in charge, the Pentagon’s budget was pushed back over $700 billion. So far, Biden is staying the course. Our withdrawal from Afghanistan in no way signals a retreat from global ambition, as the budgetary request for National Defense in 2022 is $752 billion, a 7.4% increase.

And the amazing part is that the military doesn’t seem to have an articulated strategy to combat future threats. That may explain why it took 20 years, four presidents and $ trillions for America to replace the Taliban with the Taliban in Afghanistan. As the think tank CSIS points out:

“It has been about 15 years since DoD explained, even roughly, how it calculated the force levels that it was proposing….”

Tooze says: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In other words, America’s grand strategists formulate goals, the Pentagon draws up lists of things it wants…but it is unclear how each of these decisions relates to the other.”

The US military is a giant professional organization run by leaders with postgraduate degrees. Like most large organizations, it is hierarchical and thrives on amassing internal power. The battle for resources between the branches of the military is intense.

The National Defense Strategy of 2018 redefined America’s future security challenge as great-power competition with China, not counterterrorism. The main arena isn’t the Middle East, but the Indo-Pacific. And Biden is doubling down on this strategic blueprint.

This requires transformative technologies: AI, robotics, cyber weapons, and new space technology. The technology will come from Silicon Valley, even though they have somewhat conflicting technological partnerships with China.

We’re no longer training military in Afghan villages in California, we’re planning on building robot submarines. All of this shows that the withdrawal from Afghanistan in no way signals a retreat from our military’s global ambitions, despite our historically mediocre military leadership.

Time to wake up America! The war hawks in each Party along with the defense contractors have no intention of taking their collective feet off the gas pedal of military spending. What animates the alliance between them are buzzwords and money.

Despite what you think, social programs will always need to be paid for by new revenue, while defense spending is always “on the house”.

To help you wake up, listen to “New York Minute” by Don Henley. While it has some deep relevance to 9/11, it was recorded in 1989 for Henley’s solo album, “The End of the Innocence”. It was one of the songs radio stations in NYC played frequently in the weeks after 9/11. The track features Toto members David Paich on piano and Jeff Porcaro on drums:

Lyrics:
Harry got up
Dressed all in black
Went down to the station
And he never came back
They found his clothing
Scattered somewhere down the track
And he won’t be down on Wall Street in the morning

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 12, 2021

When Wrongo was a kid living in CT, he got a 3-speed English bike, a Humber. One day while riding on the road in front of our house, a truck forced me onto the road’s sandy shoulder. The sand immediately grabbed the bike’s front wheel, stopping it dead in its tracks. Wrongo went headfirst over the handlebars and got up with a displaced fracture of his left wrist.

While Wrongo saw the accident coming, he couldn’t do anything to avoid the sand.

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, is America being pushed onto the sandy shoulder of our road? We can still avoid a crash, but we’re facing quite a few threats that might push us off the road and into the gutter:

  • Losing our social cohesion
  • Continuing income inequality
  • Continuing racism
  • Increasing threats to the right to vote

Twenty years on, America is more at war with itself than with foreign terrorists. Our society and our democracy are threatened from within in a way that Osama bin Laden could never have managed.

Think about the Delta variant. One Party thinks that people should be free to acquire and transmit to others a deadly and extremely communicable virus. They also think it’s morally wrong for the government to engage in even the mildest coercion to push people to get vaccinated, because that coercion interferes with an individual’s liberty.

They think personal liberty is the highest social value in all circumstances except abortion. On to cartoons.

Our continuing learning disability:

9/11 aftermath:

Texas has only one star in its flag. That’s also its Yelp review:

New rodeo event in Texas:

America’s right wing is constantly sore about everything:

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A Not-So-Soothing Saturday – September 11, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Remembrance of an Idealized WTC. (This is a 2015 screen grab from The Economist)

On this 20th anniversary of the 9/11 disaster, let’s take a short look back, and a longer look forward.

Wrongo and Ms. Right lived 2 blocks from the WTC in the early 1980s. We were urban pioneers, living and working in the Wall Street area. That part of town didn’t have supermarkets, and few stores were open after 5pm.

Occasionally, we would have dinner at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the North Tower. In fact, one of our children had her sweet-sixteen dinner there, with all of New York at her feet. Back then, I visited the Towers often, seeing friends and colleagues who worked there.

On 9/11/2001, Wrongo was in Maine, visiting a company he had just acquired. Like in Manhattan, we watched a beautiful blue sky as the terrible breaking news turned into harsh reality. We spent the next week vainly trying to work, while mostly sitting in a nearby restaurant with a huge TV wall that was tuned in to all terrorism, all the time.

We had a grandson born in New Jersey on 9/14. I drove to the hospital from Augusta, Maine, while Ms. Right drove east from State College, PA. He’s turning 20.

Today, it gets progressively harder to remember what the US used to be like before 9/11. We forget what it was like to be able to arrive at the airport 20 minutes before a flight. What it was like to walk into a building without going through a metal detector.

Most important, it’s hard to remember what it was like to believe that the US’s version of democracy would remain ascendant for all time. Some context for our 20-year War on Terror comes from Spencer Ackerman’s 2021 book, “Reign of Terror”:

“In response to 9/11, America had invaded and occupied two countries, bombed four others for years, killed at least 801,000 people — a full total may never be known — terrified millions more, tortured hundreds, detained thousands, reserved unto itself the right to create a global surveillance dragnet, disposed of its veterans with cruel indifference, called an entire global religion criminal or treated it that way, made migration into a crime and declared most of its actions to be either legal or constitutional. It created at least 21 million refugees and spent as much as $6 trillion on its operations.”

Quite the achievement, no? We responded in a primitive, unthinking way and unearthed a weakness in our national character that continues to haunt us today. Among 9/11’s legacies are not just mass surveillance and drone strikes, but also the rise of right-wing extremism. More from Ackerman:

“When terrorism was white….America sympathized with principled objections against unleashing the coercive, punitive, and violent powers of the state….When terrorism was white, the prospect of criminalizing a large swath of Americans was unthinkable…”

He’s thinking about the Oklahoma City bombing. Then things changed:

“The result…was a vague definition of an enemy that consisted of thousands of Muslims, perhaps millions, but not all Muslims — though definitely, exclusively, Muslims.”

It’s important to remember that GW Bush insisted that Muslims weren’t the enemy at one moment and then described the War on Terror as a “crusade” the next.

Many authors say there’s a direct line between 9/11 and the rise of right-wing extremism in the US. For example, the Ground Zero Mosque enraged Republicans. The buildings, a few blocks from the WTC, were damaged on 9/11. In 2009, the NYT reported on plans to replace some of the buildings with a mosque and Islamic cultural center. Republicans were still angry enough to complain that the new building was a “victory mosque”.

It is one thing to oppose radical Islamist terrorism. But when Republican politicians redefined the enemy not as violent jihadists but Muslims in general, they also redefined their Party as one welcoming xenophobic rhetoric and candidates.

From Cynthia Miller-Idress:

“…al Qaeda terrorists and their ilk seemed to have stepped out of a far-right fever dream. Almost overnight, the US…abounded with precisely the fears that the far right had been trying to stoke for decades…far-right groups saw an opportunity and grabbed it, quickly and easily adapting their messages to the new landscape. A well-resourced Islamophobia industry sprang into action, using a variety of scare tactics to generate hysteria about the looming threat.”

Will Saletan of Slate connects this to our botched Covid response:

“When al-Qaida struck America on 9/11, Republicans completely reoriented our government to confront terrorism….Republicans instituted new measures to track and halt the spread of terrorism at home. They upgraded domestic surveillance and tightened screening at airports and other public places.

Today, in the face of a far more deadly enemy, Republicans have done the opposite. They’ve belittled the coronavirus pandemic, scorned vigilance, defended reckless individualism, and obstructed efforts to protect the public.”

Their campaign of obstruction and propaganda has contributed to millions of unnecessary infections.

In this respect, Covid was a test of that Party’s character. It challenged Republicans to decide whether they’ve moved from being a party of national security, to a party of grievance and animosity. We now know the answer to that question.

Elliot Ackerman (no relation) in Foreign Affairs observes:

“From Caesar’s Rome to Napoleon’s France, history shows that when a republic couples a large standing military with dysfunctional domestic politics, democracy doesn’t last long. The US today meets both conditions.”

Let’s close with a 9/11 tune. The October 20, 2001 “Concert for New York” can’t be beat. It was a highly visible and early part of NYC’s healing process.

One of the many highlights of that 4+hour show was Billy Joel’s medley of “Miami 2017 (seen the lights go out on Broadway)” and his “New York State of Mind”. Joel wrote “Miami 2017” in 1975, at the height of the NYC fiscal crisis. It describes an apocalyptic fantasy of a ruined NY that got a new, emotional second life after he performed it during the Concert for New York: 

The concert brought a sense of human bonding in a time of duress. It isn’t hyperbole to say that the city began its psychological recovery that night in Madison Square Garden. It’s worth your time.

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 13, 2020

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Larry C. Johnson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that in the long term interest of the US?

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Saturday Soother – December 7, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Crater Lake, OR on Thanksgiving, 2019 – photo by hglwvac9. This is the fourth time we’ve featured Crater Lake.

An issue that gets no traction in the US media is what should be done with ISIS fighters who have been captured in the fighting in Syria and Iraq. In November, a federal judge ruled that a New Jersey-born woman who joined the Islamic State five years ago, was no longer an American citizen, and would be denied re-entry into the US. She had burned her US passport in 2014, and declared herself to be a part of the caliphate. She used social media to encourage others to join. She then married an Australian-born ISIS fighter who was killed in 2015, and then married a Tunisian-born fighter who was also killed.

GZero has an article by Willis Sparks that reviews the pros and cons of allowing ISIS members to return to their home country. They come from more than 100 countries, many thousands are held by Turkey, while there are more than 10,000 women and children (mostly family members of ISIS fighters) still living in camps inside Syria.

Turkey says it intends to send most home. Syria won’t keep them either. This creates a policy dilemma: Should these terrorists and/or their families be allowed to return to their native countries? Or should countries refuse to allow them back? Sparks offers the arguments on both sides. First, arguments to bring them home:

  • Repatriated fighters and their families should stand trial as terrorists at home. That’s better than allowing them to remain at large.
  • Some of the women were coerced to join the fight. Yes, many who claim to be victims may be lying, but it’s better to allow a guilty person to return home to stand trial than to leave an innocent person to a potentially terrible fate they don’t deserve.
  • Thousands of children were born into ISIS fighter families in Syria. They’re guilty of nothing. Many are sick and/or at risk of death inside refugee camps, where they can also be radicalized.
  • Governments must abide by their own laws. Many of the fighters and family members are still citizens of the countries they left, and therefore have the rights of citizens. In many countries, like the US, the children of citizens are also citizens, even if they were born elsewhere.

Arguments to reject them:

  • A citizen who declares war on his or her own government and carries out or enables the murder of innocent people should forfeit some rights — especially the right of citizenship.
  • While some of them may have been tricked or coerced to go to war, how are courts expected to separate fact from fiction so far from the battlefield?
  • It is not the responsibility of governments to rescue people from their bad decisions.
  • Government’s responsibility is to protect all its citizens, not just those who chose terrorism. The greater good argues for protecting all against the few.

The debate will become more important in the near future, because the detention of thousands of people in camps in countries that don’t want them can’t be sustained.

Wrongo’s view is that it isn’t our government’s responsibility to rescue people from their bad decisions, but is it right to abandon them? We have a few ethicists and religious among our readers. Hopefully they will weigh in.

But enough! Xmas is just around the corner, and there is work to be done, menus to dream up and for the non-Scrooges among us, presents to buy. We need to turn our attention away from impeachment and Bidenpartisanship to preparation for the onslaught. First, let’s take a few minutes for ourselves in our weekly Saturday Soother. Start by brewing up a fine cup of Panama Esmeralda Geisha Portón Oro Yeast ($69.95/60z. Sure, it’s expensive, treat yourself for the Holidays!) It’s from Klatch Coffee of Los Angeles, CA.

Now settle back in a comfy chair, and listen to the wonderful Anna Netrebko sing “Solveig’s Song” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No.2 accompanied in 2008 by the Prague Philharmonia conducted by Emmanuel Villaume:

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

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Al-Baghdadi Connects GW Bush to Trump

The Daily Escape:

Witches paddle boarding on the Willamette River, Portland, OR. The event was the Stand Up Paddleboard Witch Paddle, that brings 100’s to paddle board on the river. Useful to remember that drowning was one of the recommended witch removal methods in ye olden days. Happy Halloween!

Speaking of Halloween, it looks like rain all day in our corner of Connecticut, so those parents with little ones, are casting about for ideas on how to avoid getting little Megan’s mask of Melania soaked through in the first minute.

On the flight back to the States from London, Wrongo watched the film “Vice”, a film history of the life and political career of Dick Cheney. It brought back how the GW Bush administration executed its pivot from a limited war in Afghanistan to a full-scale invasion of Iraq.

Cheney is portrayed as the prime mover behind getting the Bush folks to craft false intelligence “facts” to support, and then sustain, our war in Iraq. Cheney did this by creating a separate intelligence apparatus, since the existing intelligence agencies would not produce analysis supporting Iraq’s culpability in the 9/11 attacks.

One thing the movie points out was the effort by Cheney and Rumsfeld to find a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. They settled on a minor Iraqi anti-Shiite cleric named Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as the person that could be plausibly presented as having a tie between Saddam and bin Laden. This turned al-Baghdadi into one of the cool dudes of Islamic terrorism. He became a regional celebrity, the head of ISIS. We’ve all had to live with the consequences of Cheney’s “fake news”: Many died, and we’re still paying the price for Cheney’s rogue operation that sucked us deeply in the Middle East.

Now a different Republican president has taken out al-Baghdadi in a stealth raid in Syria this week. It was similar to Obama’s killing of bin Laden in May, 2011 in Afghanistan. We should be pleased that al-Baghdadi no longer controls ISIS, and we should give Trump full props for doing the deed.

We should remember that when Obama got bin Laden, the NYT reported the following from Republicans at the time:

“Former Vice President Dick Cheney declared, “The administration clearly deserves credit for the success of the operation.” New York’s former mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said, “I admire the courage of the president.” And Donald J. Trump declared, “I want to personally congratulate President Obama.”

But killing bin Laden didn’t kill al Qaeda, and killing al-Baghdadi won’t kill ISIS.

It’s good that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. But never forget that there is a straight line between Bush and Cheney’s elevation of al-Baghdadi to justify their invasion of Iraq, and al-Baghdadi driving ISIS to take over a swath of Iraq and Syria that was larger than the UK.

There’s a straight line connecting Bush/Cheney, and Obama’s willingness to bend our constitutional freedoms to extend the Global War on Terror for the better part of two decades.

There’s a straight line connecting Bush/Cheney and what Trump is doing in the Middle East today.

Still, killing al-Baghdadi is a good thing, and Trump’s pulling 1,000 troops out of Syria is not as serious an issue as most people in DC are saying it is.

But gloating over an enemy’s death? That isn’t something American presidents should be doing. When we celebrate the death of a foe, it shows weakness.

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9/11/2001: What Have We Learned in Eighteen Years?

The Daily Escape:

Man standing in rubble of the North Tower late on 9/11/2001, calls out in vain to possible WTC survivors – Photo by Doug Kanter

People say that they will never forget 9/11, but what Wrongo remembers is that it was the proximate cause of the war in Afghanistan, starting with our invasion on October 7th, 2001.

And now, we’ve been there for 18 years. The war in Afghanistan has led to the deaths of over 2,400 US soldiers, with another 1,100 coalition troops killed. Over 62,000 Afghan security forces personnel have died. Tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and thousands of Afghan civilians have also died. We’ve spent Trillions of dollars that could have been used here at home to make the lives of Americans better.

Eighteen years after the 9/11 attacks, it is still “wartime” in America. The War on Terror has been the primary driver for our government’s weakening the Bill of Rights. In the panic after 9/11, the GW Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act, along with measures that permit torture, illegal surveillance, and indefinite detention without charges or trial. Our whistle-blower protections were weakened.

If these attacks on the Bill of Rights continue, we’ll have gone full-circle: back to a post-Constitutional America, sharing much with how colonial America was governed by the British King.

With this 9/11 Afghanistan meditation as background, after 18 years of fighting, what are we to make of Trump’s botched Afghan peace talks?

He was right to try. It’s past time that we exit Afghanistan. Much like when we left Vietnam, talks with the Taliban are not about ending the war, they’re about limiting US future military participation in Afghanistan.

In 1973, Nixon tried to create the appearance that we were exiting Vietnam on our own terms. We settled for the flawed “Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.” Under that pact, American prisoners of war were freed by North Vietnam, and the last US combat troops in the south left for home, completing a withdrawal begun several years earlier.

Primary responsibility for defending South Vietnam fell to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam who we knew were incapable of holding the country. Our message to both North and South was: We’re outta here; you guys sort this out. And within two years, the Republic of Vietnam was gone.

Now, our military wants to shift its focus to China and Russia. So, here we go again, looking for a pretext that makes it seem that we’re leaving on our own terms, only this time, from Afghanistan.

Enter the Taliban talks. Trump’s “deal” relied on paper-thin assurances by the Taliban that there would be no haven for the terrorists, despite ISIS already being there in significant numbers. Al Qaeda is still active there, and is coordinating with the Taliban.

In return, the US would withdraw 5,000 of our 14,000 troops. We had no assurance that the Afghan government would agree to the deal, since the Taliban had refused to negotiate with them. Trump now says the deal is dead. Republicans think Trump’s move is an opportunity to reset the terms of the peace deal, which faced bipartisan criticism here, along with rejection by the Afghans.

Maybe.

Was much lost by walking away? Trump had planned on making a splashy announcement about bringing troops home on 9/11. He must have been channeling Camp David, where Jimmy Carter negotiated a peace agreement with Egypt and Israel in 1978, and where Bill Clinton did the same with the PLO and Israel in 2000. So, Trump’s lost something.

But he realized the meeting wasn’t going to happen. The Taliban wasn’t going to visit the US unless the deal was signed, but Trump wanted more deal-making, followed by a signing at Camp David. The Taliban aren’t fools. Getting on a plane without a signed deal could have landed them in Guantanamo, not in Washington DC.

Peace isn’t obtained by photo-op. It requires sound planning, the participation of all parties, and exacting negotiations. Offering to host the Taliban during 9/11 also shows tone-deafness. These are the very people who gave cover to Osama Bin Laden!

However and whenever the US leaves, much like in Vietnam, the Taliban will become the government of Afghanistan, despite our 18-year effort. We now seem unwilling to say: “you guys sort this out”, so our longest war will continue. It will be accompanied by more death, and more money flushed down the rat hole.

We should also expect most Republicans and quite a few Democrats will remain silent.

Have all of these lives lost, and the trillions of dollars spent, taught us anything?

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Dems Should Talk Foreign Policy

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 29, 2019

The Daily Escape: (In recognition of Poway, CA)

There’s no escape, we’re staying on the hamster wheel

And this:

All these killers used the same weapon, the AR-15 (or a knock-off of the AR-15). And just how many “lone wolf” killers will it take before America realizes they’re a pack? Do you have any hope that the Congress will rein in assault-type weapons?

Time to wake up, America. This weekend we saw two more acts of domestic terrorism against non-Christians. One by an Islamophobic Christian who mistakenly thought Sikhs are Muslim, and another by an anti-Semitic white supremacist who targeted Jews.

In the first case, a white man drove into a family of Sikhs in Sunnyvale, California, believing they were Muslims. He was allegedly on his way to a Bible study group, and was praising Jesus when authorities caught him.

In the second, another white man, gunned down several people in a synagogue in Poway CA, killing one and injuring three. He apparently wrote an anti-Semitic manifesto. The letter talks about planning for the attack. The letter writer also claims responsibility for an arson fire that blackened the walls of the Islamic Center in Escondido on March 24th, but no one was injured.

The Poway suspect also championed Robert Bowers, who killed 11 people and wounded six others in the Tree of Life synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh six months ago.

None of this is to downplay the ISIS killings of Christians in Sri Lanka. But today, we’re focusing on America, and two converging trends: The ubiquity of guns in America, and the growing and unbridled domestic racism that has returned to daylight.

We can blame Republicans for some of the escalating number of US white terrorist acts against non-Christians and non-whites. We all know that Trump has in many cases, encouraged hate to come out of the closet. This from David Atkins:

“White supremacist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and misogynist rhetoric runs rampant across the entirety of the conservative movement. The transformation of the Republican Party into a vehicle of violent white male grievance has rapidly accelerated its longtime trend under Trump.”

Atkins notes that the weekend attacks came one day after Trump congratulated the white player picked second in the NFL draft while ignoring the black player picked first. In 2016, Trump won both states that the two players played for, so it wasn’t politics. That’s who he is, and he doesn’t care who knows it.

We on the liberal side of the ledger continue to debate whether the “reachable” Trump voters are as racist as the rest of the MAGAs. Some Democratic pols wonder how many of them could be persuaded to vote for a Democrat in 2020. It’s unlikely that the “reachable” Trump voters are more than 4% of the electorate, but that could well swing what shapes up as a very close presidential election.

Can Democrats appeal to their base and to the persuadable Republicans by hammering on the moral repugnance of these white terrorists, while downplaying any program to weaken the Second Amendment?

At the same time, what will Republicans do? We can be sure that Trump will double down, but will the rest of the Party follow him? More, from Atkins:

“…violent acts of terrorism by their own base are much harder to sweep under the rug. Vague statements of general condemnation against violence won’t cut it as these despicable acts continue to increase, and as the Republican Party becomes increasingly associated with them.”

The thing is, the fires of hatred are not a tool you can use only to fire up your voters to do what you want. Once ignited, it’s not your kitchen stove, where you can turn the heat up, down, or off at your choosing. These are wildfires. You can ignite them, and use them to heat things up, but they can take on a life of their own, burning whatever they reach.

We’re told over and over that we have a civility crisis in this country. That the Democrats aren’t being polite enough to the right.

We do have a civility crisis in this country. We are far too civil to bigots. We are far too tolerant of those who would oppress, or kill others.

The right wing needs to pay a price for its toleration and cultivation of bigotry. It has no right to demand civility when it allows some of its base to treat people with contempt just for being who they are.

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DHS Disbanded Its Domestic Terrorism Group

The Daily Escape:

Detail of the Dome at Qasr Al Watan Palace, Abu Dhabi – 2019 photo by Ottho Heldring

(Wrongo apologizes for the lack of articles, as other priorities have intervened. He has responsibilities on his town’s Municipal Road Committee. We are preparing to spend about $10 Million on improving our roads. There are very tight deadlines for finishing our analysis, getting approval of the town council, holding a referendum, and then going to the bond market for the funds. This is a huge time sink. So, for the next 10 days, posting may be intermittent.)

From The Daily Beast: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has disbanded a group of intelligence analysts who focused on domestic terrorism, The Daily Beast has learned. Numerous current and former DHS officials say they find the development concerning, as the threat of homegrown terrorism—including white supremacist terrorism—is growing.”

The group in question was a branch of DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A). They focused on the threat from homegrown extremists and domestic terrorists. Their analysts shared information with state and local law enforcement to help them protect communities from these threats. According to the Daily Beast, the reorganization happened last year, and had not been previously reported.

DHS defended the reorganization. Pressed by The Daily Beast, a senior DHS official pushed back:

 “The same people are working on the issues….We just restructured things to be more responsive to the…customers within DHS and in local communities while reducing overlap with what the FBI does. We actually believe we are far more effective now.”

Ok. But one local community “client” is Los Angeles, and Sgt. Mike Abdeen with the LA County Sheriff’s Department told The Daily Beast:

“It’s been very quiet lately….It’s changed with the new administration. It doesn’t seem to be as robust, as active, as important…it’s not a priority. It doesn’t seem like engagement, outreach, and prevention are seen as a priority as we used to see in the past. There were roundtable meetings in the past…more training, more seminars. Now it seems like it’s gone away.”

Nobody would say that domestic terrorism has been declining, so you have to decide whether this is an unintended consequence of another Trump appointee trying to streamline a government process, or whether it is an intentional effort to bury bad news about elements within Trump’s base of support.

Is Trump’s ability to appoint people who will undermine the efforts of our civil service better, or worse than his use of the judges’ roster provided by the Federalist Society to pack the courts?

Wrongo votes that it’s a tie.

Trump has said repeatedly that he doesn’t consider white nationalist groups to be an actual threat. So out goes the white nationalist task force.

Is this merely DHS accepting the viewpoint that when a disgruntled white male takes an assault rifle and kills people in a school or Synagogue, he isn’t committing an act of terror, he’s merely a troubled person expressing concern about the fragility of the few remaining white people in America?

This is a GOP problem. There’s been a consistent drumbeat to sweep right-wing terrorism under the rug, and it predates Trump. Consider that in 2009, the Obama administration’s DHS released a report warning about Rightwing Extremism. The report warned that “rightwing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues.” It also predicted that the possibility of new gun restrictions and the return of “military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities” might mean “emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.

That report called this convergence of factors the “most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States”. Republicans went ballistic:

“Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said the administration was “awfully willing to paint law-abiding Americans, including war veterans, as ‘extremists.’” Then-Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) — the top Republican on the House Veterans’ Affairs committee at the time — called it “inconceivable” that some veterans could pose a threat.”

John Boehner (Former GOP Speaker of the House) said:

“The Secretary of Homeland Security owes the American people an explanation for why…her own Department is using [“terrorist”] to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation…”

Then-DHS head Janet Napolitano was forced to apologize, and she soon buried the report.

FWIW, Christopher Hasson, the Coast Guard officer who was a “domestic terrorist” and self-described white nationalist was arrested in February. But he’s not Muslim, so no worries, nothing more to see here.

Wrongo is old-school enough to believe that Republicans used to care about all of America. That they had different (and usually wrong-headed) approaches to our priorities and the solutions to problems, but they wanted what’s good for the country in general.

It’s gone. Trump-Republicans only want good things for people in their in-crowd. That excludes the majority of Americans.

Trump doesn’t want to stop domestic terrorism by white nationalists. He wants to harness it.

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