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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump’s Dangerous Game: Regime Change in Iran

The Daily Escape:

Engelberg, Switzerland – photo by miracolei

Politico reports that the Trump administration is thinking about regime change in Iran:

As the White House formulates its official policy on Iran, senior officials and key allies of President Donald Trump are calling for the new administration to take steps to topple Tehran’s militant clerical government.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said just that in testimony to Congress about the State Department’s budget:

Our policy towards Iran is to push back on [its regional] hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work towards support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.

As a member of Congress, Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo last year called for congressional action to:

Change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime…

All of this may have gone unnoticed in Washington, but it was heard in Iran. Iran’s ambassador to the UN filed a formal protest over Tillerson’s statement, saying it revealed:

A brazen interventionist plan that runs counter to every norm and principle of international law…

Critics of regime change say that political meddling in Iran, where memories of a 1953 CIA-backed coup that overthrew a democratically-elected Prime Minister Mossadegh remain vivid, risks a popular backlash that would only empower hard-liners. That’s why President Obama assured Iranians, in a 2013 speech at the UN, that “we are not seeking regime change.”

Then there is the Iran nuclear deal. The Obama administration worked with the international community to put in place a program that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. It’s important that this program work not just because Iran is an adversary, but it’s also key for preventing other countries in the region from developing their own nuclear weapons.

We can debate how rational the Iranian regime is, and whether or not their religious beliefs might make them less prone to act responsibly with a nuclear arsenal. The safer course is not to get distracted by regime change arguments, but instead, hold to a policy based on anti-proliferation and avoidance of a regional nuclear arms race.

But the Iran hawks want to change the status quo, because they say America can’t be safe this way.

They are blind to the fact that Iran is changing. It has now twice elected a (relatively) progressive president. Their young people are progressive. Obama understood that, and that it was likely that within the ten year life of the Nuclear Deal, progressivism and the desire of Iran’s young people to be part of the outside secular would prevail.

We can agree that Iran’s government poses some risk to the US, but we should also be clear that this has been true for decades, and it has been manageable. We have suffered more from the terroristic Sunni-based ideology exported by Saudi Arabia. Nothing comparable can be said about Iran. In fact, Iran’s primary effort at destabilization has been their support for Palestine vs. Israel.

So, our regional “allies” are working to make us less safe than is Iran.

We can’t disentangle ourselves from the region, but we should refuse to take actions that are sure to inflame things. From Booman:

It would seem our only compelling national interests in the middle east are nonproliferation, and humanitarian conflict-reduction both for its own sake and to reduce the attendant population flows and contagious violence.

Wikipedia lists 19 US efforts at regime change just since WWII. If there is one thing we should all know by now, it is that whatever takes the place of a toppled regime is frequently no better and often even worse than the government that has been overthrown. Let’s learn from history!

An attempt to overthrow the government in Iran is sure to fail, and the political fallout could be catastrophic. Iran’s current theocratic government exists because we overthrew their last democratically elected government, replacing it with the Shah. That sowed the seeds for the Iranian Revolution.

Calling for regime change in Iran is a fundamental error in strategy that endangers us, inflames the region, and will be catastrophic if we act on it.

Here’s a tune for Tuesday, Sam Cooke 1960’s hit “What a Wonderful World”, with a line that expresses Republican thought about Iran: “Don’t know much about history”:

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

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Are We Using The Special Forces Too Much?

The Daily Escape:

Tuscany – photo by satorifoto

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.

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A Hundred-Year War

The Daily Escape:

Gouldian Finch, native to Australia – photo by Melinda Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why will this keep us safe?

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

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

What happens then?

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

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

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

Takeaway Lyric:

He’s coming down the escalator

With a girl from east of here

He wants to make the country greater

We got nothing left to fear

 

Because the man in the tin foil hat

Is sitting on the throne tonight

It kinda feels like a coup d’état

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

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Wake Up Call – Memorial Day 2017

The Daily Escape:

NYC’s Grand Central Station – 1943

On Memorial Day we commemorate those who died in the military service of our country. In 1974, a sci-fi novel called “The Forever War” was released. It is military science fiction, telling the story of soldiers fighting an interstellar war. The protagonist, named Mandella, is sent across the galaxy to fight a poorly understood, apparently undefeatable foe.

Sound familiar? Today the forever war is not simply fiction. Our all-volunteer military has been fighting in the Middle East for the past 16 years in the longest war in American history. And there is little reason to hope that we will not be fighting there 16 years from now. Brian Castner, a former explosive ordnance disposal officer who served three tours in Iraq, observes:

Our country has created a self-selected and battle-hardened cohort of frequent fliers, one that is almost entirely separate from mainstream civilian culture, because service in the Forever War, as many of us call it, isn’t so much about going as returning. According to data provided by the Center for a New American Security, of the 2.7 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, half have done multiple tours. More telling, 223,000 have gone at least four times, and 51,000 have done six or more deployments.

We can’t get our fill of war. In fact, since 1943, the year the picture above was taken in New York City, the US has been at peace for just five years: 1976, 1977, 1978, 1997 and 2000 were the only years with no major war.

So today, we gather to celebrate those who have died in service of our global ambitions. We watch a parade, we shop at the mall, and we attend a cookout. Perhaps we should be required to spend more time thinking about how America can increase the number of years when we are not at war.

Wrongo can’t escape the idea that if we re-instituted a military draft, and required military service of all young Americans, it would soon become impossible for the politicians and generals to justify the forever war.

So, wake up America! Instead of observing Memorial Day with another burger, get involved in a plan to re-institute the draft. It won’t stop our involvement in war, but it will unite American mothers and fathers to bring about the end of this forever war, and any future “forever war”.

To help you wake up, we also remember the death of Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. Here is “Blue Sky” from their “Eat a Peach” album. Wrongo loves the guitar interplay between the long-gone Duane Allman and Dickey Betts on this tune:

Dickey Betts wrote this about his Native American girlfriend, Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig.

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

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Saturday Soother – April 15, 2017

Bombs Away! Another week of American Trumpceptionalism is in the books. Dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat left 36 ISIS fighters dead in a tunnel complex in Afghanistan. The so-called Massive Ordinance Air Blast bomb (MOAB) used 11 tons of explosives in one shot. One MOAB costs about $16 million, and 20 have been produced. $16 million for 36 ISIS fighters.

That’s $444.4k per dead fighter if you are keeping score.

The MOAB looks mostly like another “boys and their toys” deal. It is hard to see this kind of weapon doing much against the Taliban or ISIS in Afghanistan. It seems more likely that our military has run out of better ideas.

We are in the final countdown to Tax Day on April 18th. Tax preparation at the Mansion of Wrong is the reason for the skimpy column production this week. By the way: about 22% of taxpayers wait until the last two weeks before the deadline to file.

So you and Wrongo need a Soother today at least as much as we did last week, and today’s Soother is a feel good story from Croatia, where a pair of Storks have become a national obsession. From the Daily Mail:

A stork has melted hearts in Croatia by flying to the same rooftop every year for 14 years – to be reunited with its crippled partner. The faithful bird, called Klepetan, has returned once again to the village of Slavonski Brod in east Croatia after a 5,000 mile migration. He spends his winters alone in South Africa because his disabled partner Malena cannot fly properly after being shot by a hunter in 1993. Malena had been found lying by the side the road by schoolteacher Stjepan Vokic, who fixed her wing and kept her in his home for years before helping her to build a nest on his roof. After placing her there, she was spotted by Klepetan 14 years ago. And now every year they are reunited in the spring. Klepetan keeps a very strict timetable, usually arriving back at the same time on the same day in March to be welcomed by locals.

Here is Klepetan’s flight plan:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Klepetan didn’t arrive on time this year, but things worked out for the love birds:

But this year he was running six days late, causing panic among local media and fans of the stork couple. Such is the popularity of the pair that there is even a live feed on the main square in the capital Zagreb showing the two storks. There was huge excitement when stork-watchers saw what they thought was Klepetan circling over the nest, and then coming in to land. But the new arrival turned out to be a different stork that was attempting to woo Malena. She quickly attacked him and drove him off and continued to wait for Klepetan. Stjepan Vokic, whose roof the couple nest on, said: ‘She was pretty clear about the message, I doubt he will be back again.’ Vokic has taken care of Malena since she was first injured by hunters and says that she – like her partner – is now part of the family.

But he’s back, and on the case! They are raising this year’s brood of little storks:

And what about Malena in the winter? She goes indoors:

During the winter, Vokic keeps her inside the house, and then lets her go to the roof each spring where she patiently waits for her partner. This year, Malena made a rare flight and the couple were reportedly inseparable for hours. She does have the ability to make very short flights but her wing has not healed well enough for her to make the trip to Africa, or even to properly feed herself. Every summer, the pair bring up chicks, with Klepetan leading their flying lessons in preparation for the trip south in summer. The oldest recorded living stork was 39. Locals are hopeful the couple’s long relationship will continue for years to come.

This is proof that some animals live their lives by a higher moral code than some humans.

Hat tip to Raul Ilargi for posting this.

Here is Fleetwood Mac’s “Wish You Were Here”, a 2016 remastered version of the song from 1982, a song the storks might sing, if they could play guitar:

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

Takeaway Lyric:

There’s distance between us
And you’re on my mind
As I lay here in the darkness
I can find no peace inside
I wish you were here holding me tight
If I had you near it would make it alright
I wish you were here
‘Cause I feel like a child tonight

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 10, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, CA. April 2017 photo by Robyn Beck

We still have little hard evidence proving that Syria gassed its own people. Much like Iraq in 2003, we have made a military move that feels great emotionally, but that isn’t built on a solid foundation of fact. That the Syrian government deliberately used chemical weapons to bomb its civilians became absolute truth in US media in less than 24 hours.

And once that tidal wave of American war frenzy starts rolling, questioning the casus belli is not permitted. Wanting conclusive evidence before commencing military action will get you vilified, denounced as a sympathizer with America’s enemies.

When Trump launched the tomahawks, most in the mainstream media suddenly fawned all over him. Margret Sullivan in the WaPo quoted several, starting with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria:

I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night…

And the NYT’s headline:

 On Syria attack, Trump’s heart came first

Sullivan noted that the NYT’s piece failed to even mention that Trump is keeping refugees from the Syrian war, even children, out of the US. Victims of chemical weapons were “beautiful babies” to Trump at his news conference, while the children trying to flee such violence require “extreme vetting” and face an indefinite refugee ban. And this from the WSJ’s Bret Stephens, previously a Trump critic:

 President Trump has done the right thing and I salute him for it…Now destroy the Assad regime for good.

Perhaps the worst was MSNBC’s Brian Williams, who used the word “beautiful” three times when discussing the tomahawk missile launches. He quoted a Leonard Cohen lyric (from First We Take Manhattan): I am guided by the beauty of our weapons — without apparent irony:

We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two US Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean…I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’…They are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them what is a brief flight over to this airfield…

Williams might have focused on: What did they hit? What are the strategic consequences?

Many of these same media pukes were continuously expressing doubts about Trump’s judgment since before his election. But, when he orders the use of force, his judgment needs to be questioned by them more than ever. One reason that the US so easily resorts to the use of force abroad is that the very people that should be the first to question the rationale for a presidential military decision are instead among the first to cheer it and celebrate it.

We see groupthink most of the time when the American news media watches an administration step up to the brink of war. This was true in the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, the start of our longest military disaster.

Journalists and pundits need to keep virtues like skepticism, facts on the ground, and context fixed firmly in their minds. They should not be like Brian Williams, focused on spectacular images in the night sky, without contemplating their deadly effect.

For example, how can the media NOT ask how Trump, a man with little outward empathy, can change in a minute, suddenly becoming a caring individual about beautiful Syrian babies? Or, how in a period of 24 hours, Trump managed to flip-flop 180 degrees on a position about Syria that he’s held for years?

Why is the media leading the cheers on Syria, but keeping silent about Yemen?

Why are there never pictures of “beautiful”dead babies after our drone strikes go awry?

Time for the main stream media to wake up and do their jobs in an old school way. To help them wake up, here is Brian Williams’s favorite lyricist, Leonard Cohen, with “First We Take Manhattan”:

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

Takeaway Lyric:

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

I’m guided by a signal in the heavens
I’m guided by this birthmark on my skin
I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 9, 2017

There are two inescapable conclusions in the aftermath of Trump’s missile strikes in Syria. First, the US can no longer focus only on destroying ISIS. Now, we are in the position of having to also burn calories dealing with the fallout from those strikes with Russia, Syria and Iran.

Second, we can no longer keep our previous distance vis-à-vis the Syrian civil war separate from our relations with Russia. Before Trump’s Tomahawking, it was possible to argue that Russia’s involvement in Syria was peripheral to our goals in Syria, and certainly not central to overall US/Russian relations. Now, the US has put at risk the limited cooperation we have had with Russian in Syria regarding ISIS.

And for what? Apparently, Trump’s missile strikes didn’t change much on the ground in Syria. In fact, the Syrian air force just used the same air strip that we blasted with 60 tomahawk missiles (at the cost of $1million a copy) to again bomb the same city that suffered the sarin attack.

Doubtless, Trump will call this a “victory” but, if you use $60 million to disable an airbase, shouldn’t it be disabled? Again, the question is: What was Trump trying to accomplish? He has taken a dangerous situation, and seemingly made it more dangerous. To Wrongo, it looks like Trump got nearly nothing from his attack. Does this remind anyone of Trump’s attack on Yemen?

Since the Syrian fly-boys are back in the air, bombing the SAME city, Trump looks like a fool. Want to bet that he will feel the need to correct that impression? On to Cartoons!

Who/What was Trump aiming his tomahawks at?

We tipped off Putin that the tomahawks were coming:

Trump meets with China’s Xi and learns something:

Negotiations with Xi weren’t as easy as Trump thought:

Mitch McConnell, wrecker extraordinaire:

Invoking the nuclear option made things much easier for the GOP:

 

 

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Saturday Soother – April 8, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Mount Etna eruption, March 2017 – photo by Salvatore Allegra

Ready, Fire, Aim! Aren’t you glad we didn’t elect Hillary, the neo con warmonger? From Booman:

Our Bush Era PTSD has been reactivated in a big way. While I offered a limited and cautious and conditional defense of President Trump’s decision to authorize the strikes against Syria, I was at pains to note that it’s very important that the administration provide convincing evidence that the Assad regime is responsible for the sarin attack that served as the predicate for the missile launch.

Russia and Syria have denied that they are behind the Syrian Chemical Weapons (CW) attack. We know there was an attack, and that some kind of chemical was used. The media are saying it was sarin gas.

They also, nearly unanimously, say it is the fault of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Earlier in the week, both US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson and US UN envoy Nikki Haley said removing Assad was no longer a priority in US Middle-East policy.

Now, Assad has to go.

Most news outlets and pundits support Donald Trump’s spanking of the Assad government, but what is Trump’s strategy? Enforcing norms against the use of chemical weapons (CW) is a good thing. But it’s hard to see how Thursday’s all-out reversal of our level of engagement in the Syrian civil war is justified by the use of CW, particularly since it has been used several times before in Syria, and since it brings with it many other risks/issues, like a potential military confrontation with Russia and Iran.

After Thursday’s Tomahawk missile attack, we are now simultaneously confronting the two strongest factions in the Syrian civil war, Assad’s army and ISIS. While Trump and the MSM are going bananas about the horrors of CW, no one was going bananas last week, or in all the prior weeks, about the daily death count of Syrian children who were collateral damage in the country’s civil war.

The attack took place in the midst of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping This was where one of the hottest topics was what to do about North Korea’s continuing long-range missile tests and its work on completing a deliverable nuclear warhead.

Clearly there were implicit messages for both North Korea and China in the Syrian attack. This has something to do with Syria, and a lot to do with the Chinese. Military types would tell us that Trump firing 59 cruise missiles to take out an airfield is overkill.

But, it will not be lost on Xi that 50+cruise missiles could also devastate any of those new atoll airfields cropping up in the South China Sea. Donald Trump just proved to Xi that he is a man with 4,000+ nuclear weapons at this disposal and a military that follows orders. It looks to Wrongo like Xi and Putin now have a giant incentive to become better allies, and invite Iran to the party.

Once again, Wrongo thinks that the best option for the US would be to concentrate on humanitarian efforts and helping refugees. And to work with Russia and Syria’s other allies to end the threat from ISIS in the greater Middle East.

Unfortunately, that also admits there is a limitation on the US’s ability to control events solely based on its military strength. Despite its flaws, if there’s no reason to believe any strategy will improve results, then the best course is inaction. That was Obama’s approach.

It’s just not true that we “Must Do Something”. People think that if we Do Something, then nothing bad that subsequently happens is really our fault, because AT LEAST WE DID SOMETHING. Whereas if we do nothing, then every bad thing that subsequently happens is our fault.

Thanks, Obama.

We really don’t have to do anything. The problem is that by following the do-nothing strategy, America doesn’t get to be the biggest, baddest ass on the Middle East Street.

Yes, if we do nothing, lots of people will die, but that doesn’t exactly distinguish it from what will happen anyway. Our inaction won’t transfer blame for those deaths onto us, any more than an action to take out Assad will shift it from us.

Who knew running the world’s superpower was so complicated? Certainly, not someone who said “I alone can fix it”.

With all of this Bush-era Déjà Vu, we really need some soothing today. Here is the first movement (Allegro) from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No.5 in F Major, “Spring” Op. 24, for violin/piano, played by Ilya Itin and Igor Graupman from a live performance at the Miami International Piano Festival.

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

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Trump’s Syrian Mistake

The Daily Escape

(Aleppo’s Umayyad mosque, photographed before the war, in 2009)

Joshua Landis edits a blog called “Syria Comment”, and his last post was about Trump’s strategy for taking Raqqa from ISIS. He thinks allying with Turkey at the expense of the Kurds is a mistake.

Wrongo’s March 13 post discussed Trump’s Syrian strategy:

We are watching a continuation of the policy that predates the Trump presidency, the balkanization of Syria by alternative means…Trump’s “A Team” of generals seem to have fallen back on the old plan.

Landis thinks that Trump is planning to give the Turks free hand in taking Raqqa and most likely all of the Euphrates Valley. Turkey has proposed taking Raqqa from the north at Tel Abyad. The map below points out the geography:

Tel Abyad is the large black dot near the top of the map. This approach would drive through the middle of the Kurdish region (the purple shaded area above), cutting it in two. This splitting of the Kurdish territory is the main reason Turkey has offered to take Raqqa. From Landis:

Turkey hopes to establish its Arab proxies in a new “Euphrates state” in eastern Syria. This would partition Syria into three states: a western Assad-ruled state; an eastern Turkish and Sunni Arab rebel-ruled state, and a northern Kurdish state.

If the US allows Turkey to do this, it will lose the Kurds as allies in the attack on Raqqa, or in any other part of ISIS territory. Turkey says it is the only way that they can participate, because Assad’s army has already taken territory east of Aleppo, which has cut off Turkey’s access to Raqqa via al-Bab. Landis asks:

Why are the Kurds willing to take Raqqa even though they do not have territorial interests in and around Raqqa? They are investing in their relationship with the US. They assume that it will serve them well over the long run when it comes to their political aspirations.

A major issue with following Turkey’s plan is that they have dangerous Islamic fundamentalist allies. Turkey’s Arab rebel allies include Ahrar al-Sham, (similar to the Taliban, and adamantly opposed to the US). If the Turkey/Ahrar coalition rules the Euphrates post-ISIS, it will become a haven for Salafists and al-Qaida’s coalition.

For the past five years, Turkey has teamed with al-Qaida’s forces in Syria. It allowed them to mass inside Turkey in 2013. Turkey has no problem with them being part of its Arab force, since their strategy is to use the Salafists as proxies in thwarting Kurdish regional ambitions. More from Landis:

These…are the reasons that American generals do not want to work with Turkey. They don’t trust it, both because it wants to attack our Kurdish allies and because it is soft on al-Qaida-like rebel groups.

Our generals don’t fully trust this NATO partner to act in America’s interest!

What’s more, there is a likelihood that Iran, Russia, Syria, and Iraq would move against a Turkey-led Sunni land grab. They will not allow a Sunni rebel enclave in the middle of their spheres of influence. Landis: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The US would [then] be expected to side with Turkey and the Sunni rebels in a long and escalating war against the Shiites. I think this is a swamp waiting to suck the US into its malodorous depths.

For more than 15 years, we have been engaged in a war in the Middle East. Now, the Pentagon is planning to send another 1, 000 troops to Syria in the coming weeks. This is indeed an endless war.

Let’s get ISIS, but we shouldn’t be teaming solely with the Turks in the effort to destroy ISIS. The great Orange negotiator should stand up to the Turks on this.

Now for some Syrian music. Here is Refugees of Rap with their song, “Haram” (“Forbidden” in Arabic):

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

Sample Lyrics (translated):

Came out of the house
I smelled gunpowder
Voices from the minarets

Say go back to your houses
Shells on the neighborhoods come down like rain
I felt more scared, I felt a sense of danger
I completed my way and approaching death to me more and more
Average people say Allahu Akbar
I saw the neighborhood; neighborhood was red in color
The smell of blood and body parts in front of me scatter
I ran to help my friend was injured
Hospitals in dire need of blood donation and mosques shouting
Walls in the streets become white in color

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Trump’s Defense Budget

(The Wrongologist is heading to Florida today. The next column will be Sunday’s Cartoons)

The Daily Escape:

(Water Buffalo at night – Zimanga Private Game Reserve, South Africa)

Wrongo did not watch Donald Trump’s latest reality show. Many are giving him some credit, saying that “it’s the most presidential he’s ever been”. What a low bar.

We should ignore the tone, and focus on the content. Today let’s discuss Trump’s aspirations regarding defense spending, cuts in non-defense discretionary spending and Trump’s tax reduction plans. In his speech, Trump repeated his commitment to increasing defense spending by $54 billion.

The Budget Control Act caps military spending at $549 billion for 2018. Trump’s proposed increase would bring military spending to $603 billion. He indicated that would mean getting rid of the Sequester spending cap agreement. But, he didn’t address how the spending caps would be overturned (it requires 60 Senate votes). And there was also nothing said about the rest of the budget, including the subject of what programs will be cut to fund the defense increase.

The problem is math. Trump’s plans require solving simultaneous equations: It may be impossible to cut discretionary spending by enough to fund the defense increase. It will be difficult to give a big personal and corporate tax cut while spending $1 Trillion on infrastructure. As Bryce Covert at Bloomberg said:

To increase defense spending, cut taxes, spend money on infrastructure and the border, protect entitlements, and balance the budget, almost everything else must go.

Neither Trump nor Congressional Republicans had a better idea about how to accomplish that after the speech than they had before it.

Trump in particular, has no idea. In a Fox interview on Tuesday, Trump argued that his increase in defense spending could be covered not by severe spending cuts elsewhere, but by an increase in economic growth. He said:

I think the money is going to come from a revved up economy…

He promised on TV to grow GDP by 3% or more each year, not something that is all that easy to do. The economic concept behind his thinking is the Laffer curve, which says that an optimal level of taxation will assure high economic growth. It’s a discredited theory.

If Trump and Congress can’t get Sequestration eliminated and they still want to spend the $54 billion, non-defense spending would be 25% below what it used to be, bringing spending on these programs to the lowest level ever recorded. The historical low point of Discretionary non-defense spending was 3.09% of GDP in 1962; Trump’s proposal could bring it below 3%.

Military spending increases are never justified to Americans by what the money will be used for. Instead, we hear vague arguments about how we need to be “stronger”, or laundry lists of the various kinds of new hardware we need to buy, without any focus on the strategic rationale for the new hardware. For example, how do new aircraft carriers help defeat ISIS?

More military spending has an opportunity cost: If we spend on defense, that’s money we can’t spend on education, healthcare, or rudimentary things, like the State Department.

It can’t be enough to say that larger numbers will make us safer.

We need a geopolitical rationale for why additional defense spending is necessary. Trump hasn’t offered that argument. He and the GOP say that President Obama “neglected” the military, but in truth, Obama left our military stronger than it was under Reagan: If we look at total military spending by China, Russia and the US in 2015, the US accounted for 68% of that total, while Russia accounted for 8% and China for 24%

Under Reagan the totals were: US, 62%, Russia, 36% and China 2%. So we are up from 62% to 68% under the Kenyan Muslim.

We should be thinking about cutting defense spending, not increasing it.

Take a break and listen to guitar hero Joe Bonamassa playing “Further on Up the Road” live in 2009 at Royal Albert Hall with his hero, Eric Clapton:

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

 

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