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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Why Can’t an Anti-War Candidate Be an Anti-War President?

The Daily Escape:

Mural in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, near Durban, South Africa – April 2018 photo by Ottho Heldring

Since today is Friday the 13th, let’s talk about Donald Trump’s confusing strategy in Syria, which could turn out to be the unluckiest strategy of all for America.

Trump got elected in part because he was vocally against foreign quagmires. He was against involvement in Syria as a candidate, and as recently as two weeks ago, said he wanted to get out of Syria as fast as possible.

Now, he’s tweeting that the Syrian government has again used chemical weapons on its people. The gas attack led to what so far is a “war of words” between the US and Russia both at the UN, and in the Twittersphere. For his part, Trump tweeted that “missiles will be coming” at Syria. “Get ready Russia,” he taunted, “because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart.’”

We know that on April 7, antigovernment groups in the town of Douma in Syria claimed that dozens of people were killed in a chemical weapons attack. The rebels blamed the government, while the government denied responsibility.

Douma was the last battleground in Eastern Ghouta. It had been an enclave for militants fighting against the Syrian government. Douma was controlled by the Jaysh al-Islam, a jihadi group that was accused of using chemical weapons in Aleppo in 2016. Jaysh al-Islam said that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack that killed more than 70 people.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, (OPCW), sent a special fact-finding mission to Douma to verify reports of the alleged use of chemical weapons. Although they are now on the ground in Douma, the OPCW mission was not what the UN or the US wanted. They called for an independent investigation. That US resolution by Nikki Haley was vetoed by Russia with China abstaining. A resolution calling for OPCW to investigate was offered by Russia. It failed as well.

Now, we’ll see what the OPCW comes up with. But, we need to be open to a finding that it wasn’t gas. We need to be open to a finding that Assad didn’t do it. In fact, Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, said on Thursday that:

I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence….As each day goes by — as you know, it is a non-persistent gas — so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it…

The Secretary of Defense can’t confirm it’s gas, much less who did it, but we’re gonna let the missiles fly?

Why isn’t anyone in the mainstream media asking, “Who did this”? Why aren’t they asking why Assad would do this when he’s just about to succeed after a six-year fight against those who wanted him out of power?

Why isn’t anyone asking why this occurred just after Trump said on April 3rd that he wanted to get out of Syria? Wouldn’t it be wise to see what the OPCW finds in Ghouta first before going all gung-ho with missiles and air attacks?

From Andrew Bacevich:

The purpose of all wars, is peace. So observed St. Augustine early in the first millennium A.D….but his crisply formulated aphorism just might require a bit of updating….I might suggest the following amendment to Augustine’s dictum: Any war failing to yield peace is purposeless and, if purposeless, both wrong and stupid.

We are in a purposeless fight in Syria. There is no threat to us, regardless of the outcome of the Syrian civil war. And the selective outrage about kids dying in Syria is mind boggling. There is no discussion about the dead children of Yemen, dying in a war by our ally, Saudi Arabia, with our active support.

Here’s where we are: Either Bomber Bolton will get another President to go hip deep into another Middle East war, you know, the kind of war where we’ll again be greeted as liberators.

Or, we can have the guts to say “enough” in Syria.

Trump should take a stand now on what remains of his principles. Engaging in possible war with Russia and Iran over Syria isn’t going to save our democracy, or his presidency. Is he man enough to say “enough”?

Wrongo is convinced that the time is right for a true anti-war candidate. That space was ceded to Trump in 2016, but the flyover states may be willing to vote that way again. They’re the ones whose kids are being sent off to die in the wars organized by the defense contractors, neocons and DC insiders, wars that we never win.

And then, their kids come home with PTSD. They move into crappy jobs, and some are lost to drugs and death caused by despair.

Who will step up and say “enough” in Syria?

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15 Years Later, Bush and Cheney Can’t Be Forgiven

The Daily Escape:

Shock and Awe – Baghdad, Iraq 2003

In March 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq to forcibly remove Saddam Hussein from power. A quick victory ensued, but while the campaign had been carefully planned, what was to happen after winning had not. That led to a series of blunders and ill-conceived decisions, and a chain of events that ensures the Middle East and North Africa will be unstable for generations to come.

The NYT has an article by Sinan Antoon, an Iraqi-American novelist on the 15th anniversary of the Iraq invasion. He closes his piece with this:

No one knows for certain how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion 15 years ago. Some credible estimates put the number at more than one million. You can read that sentence again. The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a “blunder,” or even a “colossal mistake.” It was a crime. Those who perpetrated it are still at large. Some of them have even been rehabilitated thanks to the horrors of Trumpism and a mostly amnesiac citizenry. (A year ago, I watched Mr. Bush on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” dancing and talking about his paintings.) The pundits and “experts” who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam’s reign, but that is what America’s war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis.

What was supposed to be a quick operation, limited in time to remove a dictator from power, has snowballed into an out of control global nightmare.

Fifteen years later, the consequences have given us an uncertain future, but back in 2003, it didn’t have to be that way.

Wrongo had dinner back then with Gen. Jay Garner, who GW Bush had just tapped to lead the post-war reconstruction efforts in Iraq. We were at a company offsite meeting, just before he left for Iraq. Garner said that he believed the establishment of a new government could be accomplished quickly, and that the country could be back on its (sort of democratic) feet within a year.

Garner’s plan was to choose the new government officials who would lead the country from the former Iraqi regime. He later said:

…as in any totalitarian regime, there were many people who needed to join the Baath Party in order to get ahead in their careers. We don’t have a problem with most of them. But we do have a problem with those who were part of the thug mechanism under Saddam. Once the US identifies those in the second group, we will get rid of them.

Garner was replaced by the noxious Paul Bremer in May, 2003. Garner wanted early elections, and for Iraqis to decide how to run the country. But Bush, Cheney and Wolfowitz wanted to purge all Baathists. They cashiered the Iraqi military. They then selected Iyad Allawi to lead the Iraqi interim authority. Allawi was a Shiite who had worked with the CIA.

You know the rest of the story. The continuing catastrophe in Iraq led to the continuing catastrophe in Syria. That has caused the destabilizing flood of refugees into Europe. And it led to the European right-wing anti-immigrant movements that have ascended in most of the Eurozone.

Europeans must find it unbelievable that Trump claims they aren’t paying their way. They’re paying a huge daily tab in the form of destabilized politics and costly social programs for immigrants that reside in their towns and cities due to America’s adventurism in the Middle East.

In its wake, Iran allied with Russia and Iraq. Assad has won in Syria. Turkey’s relationship with NATO is frayed. Those birds will keep coming home to roost for generations.

Without the lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and the sheer incompetence of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer in Iraq, ISIS might not have expanded throughout Iraq and Syria. The refugee crisis might never happened.

And for what? A neo-con wet dream come to reality? Some real money made by their buddies via no-bid contracts?

The human toll, as Antoon says, was about one million Iraqis, and untold Syrians on top of that. It was never worth it.

Americans aren’t accustomed to calling their foreign adventures blunders. Antoon says it was a crime. We had a moment after Obama was elected to call the Iraq war’s perpetrators criminals, but Obama and Pelosi agreed that they wanted to look forward.

Now, the American public seems to want to let GW Bush off the hook for his blunders.

We can never allow that.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The Three Sisters, viewed from Canmore, Canada – photo by DiscInPc

Strategy must be lost on the Trump administration. We revisit Afghanistan. Pepe Escobar reports that for the past two months, Beijing and Kabul have been discussing the possibility of setting up a joint military base on Afghanistan’s border with China. Escobar quotes Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense:

We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has committed to help financially, provide equipment and train Afghan soldiers…

Escobar says that the military base will be built in the Wakhan Corridor, a mountainous and narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China, and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. He also reports that, according to local Kyrgyz nomads, joint Afghan-Chinese patrols are already active there.

Beijing is trying to prevent Uyghur Islamic fighters, who are exiled in Afghanistan, from crossing the Wakhan Corridor and conducting terror operations in China’s Xinjiang territory. Xinjiang is an autonomous territory in northwest China that has seen years of unrest, primarily from Muslims.

China’s concerns are backed by solid evidence. In 2013, al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri supported jihad against China in Xinjiang. In July 2014, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, supported a move against Xinjiang.

China doesn’t want its Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road, which will connect China with Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe to be compromised by terrorists. And one of its links, the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), could be hurt if terror threats abound in Central and South Asia. It could also affect China’s investments in Afghanistan’s mineral mining industry.

The Chinese are smart. Their new ambassador, Liu Jinsong, was raised in Xinjiang and was a director of the Belt and Road Initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund from 2012 to 2015. He understands how the local problems could hurt the New Silk Road. The plan is to prevent terrorists from having access to Chinese territory, and work to broker a deal between Kabul and some factions of the Taliban. If this sounds familiar, it is also Russia’s strategy, and Iran’s, and India’s as well.

Compare this joint approach with Washington’s strategy. Trump’s plan for Afghanistan involves defeating the Taliban, and then forcing them to negotiate. Since the Taliban control key areas of Afghanistan, the US strategy requires a new mini-surge.

This pits the US “coalition” against all of the great powers of the region. Think we are likely to succeed?

Let’s link this up with another Trump idea, his parade. Danny Sjursen, an Army major who served in Afghanistan wrote in an article in the American Conservative, “Parade of Defeat: Trump Prefers Spectacle Over Strategy:

Remember when military parades actually celebrated victories? Those were the days, or, better yet, the day—June 8, 1991…after the US military’s 100-hour lightning ground war ejected Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, some 8,800 soldiers marched down Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC…The White House called it the National Victory Celebration.

Sjursen adds: (brackets by Wrongo)

So, one cannot help but wonder what it [Trump’s Parade] is…celebrating. Nearly 17 years of indecisive quagmire?

He goes for the kill: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Trump…has turned the petty political appropriation of the troops into an art form. Soldiers are a pawn in the game, a very old game, in which the hawkish interventionists inspire the base and depict the opposition as dovish traitors. This is…meant to disguise what amounts to paltry policy in foreign affairs; it’s spectacle not strategy.

Linking our non-strategy in Afghanistan, which all of the region’s powers hope to solve with trade and diplomacy, to Trump’s parade, a good question is: How are our wars doing? The short answer: Badly. But haven’t we “beaten” ISIS?  Not really. ISIS has leaped across the borders of Syrian and Iraq to Africa and Asia. That’s why China is building a base in Afghanistan.

For all the talk of new strategies about “turning corners” and “breaking stalemates,” more fighting in Afghanistan will just waste more of our resources. Today, a record number of Afghan provinces and districts are under the control of, or contested by, the Taliban. Short-term success isn’t sustainable.

Trump has no exit strategy. But no worries, he has a parade strategy.

So, time to wake Trump the (family blog) up. He’s got to get focused on closing a deal with his Russian and Chinese friends. To help The Donald wake up, here is the “Unity JAM” by Tony Succar, a percussionist and arranger:

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

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Tillerson: We’re Staying In Syria

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a powder keg waiting to go off.

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

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How Wrong Were Wrongo’s 2017 Predictions?

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

  1. There will be more global political and social turmoil:
    1.  The EU could collapse: That didn’t happen, as Macron soundly defeated LePen. OTOH, Merkel barely survived her election and May lost badly in a wrongly-played attempt to gain a super majority in the UK. Wrongo gets a “D” in this prediction.
    2. China’s economy is wobbling: and it still is, but a command economy can create its own reality. Wrongo gets a “C”.
  2. The US will continue to lose influence globally despite “Mr. Unpredictable” becoming our Orange Overlord: Wrongo gets an “A”. From Western Europe to the Middle East and Asia, there is not a single example of where Trump has put America in a position of greater influence in the past year. Except for Israel: they plan to name a train station after him.  Think about it, what great man only gets a train station?
  3. Trump arrives in the Oval Office as an overconfident leader, the man with no plan but with a short attention span, and within six months he will have his first major policy failure: Was his first policy failure the immigration ban? The North Korea diplomatic fiasco? The multiple attempts to repeal Obamacare? Walking out of the Trade Agreement, giving China a free hand in Asia? Give Wrongo an “A”, except that Wrongo added:

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

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

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

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

A home run for Wrongo, but not for America.

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

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

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

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

Meta Prediction: Some people who voted for Trump have incompatible outcomes in mind, so it’s a virtual guarantee that a sizable minority are going to feel cheated when they fail to get what they were promised: This was hard to get wrong, so give Wrongo a gentleman’s “C”. Wrongo went on to say:

OTOH, when Trump fails, most of his base will blame anyone but the Donald. The question is, when disillusionment sets in, will the reaction be a turning away, or a doubling down on the anger? Wrongo thinks anger will win out.

An easy “A”.

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

The coming Trump administration will seem like a fractious family outing: Just under half of the family (the “landslide” segment) wanted to take a ride, but now, the whole family has to go. Those who wanted to stay home will sulk in the back seat while Daddy tells them to shut up and stop bitching.

Meanwhile, once we are out of the driveway, it dawns on everyone that Daddy hasn’t decided yet where to go. Everyone pipes up with suggestions, but Daddy again tells everyone to shut up, because it’s his decision alone…Daddy won’t reveal the destination, but insists everyone will love it once they get there, even those who wanted to stay home, those who wanted to go to the beach, and those who wanted to head over the cliff like Thelma and Louise.

2018 predictions will come in the New Year.

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Can Anybody Play This Game?

The Daily Escape:

Fall in the Grand Tetons – photo by Jack Bell

The NYT just devoted more space to the auction of a Trump ink drawing of the Empire State Building than it did to news that the Syrian Kurds made a deal with the Russians to give Syria access to gas fields the Kurds had just captured. Why it wasn’t covered in the NYT is worth pondering, but the real question is, who is in charge of the asylum that houses our US Syrian policy?

It’s supposed to be some combo of Brett McGurk, who has the jawbreaker title of: Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis. But the Syrian fighters we back just went rogue. From Oil Price:

In a move that surprised many observers of the ongoing war for Deir Ezzor province, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) handed over one of Syria’s largest gas fields to Russian forces on Thursday, possibly as the result of unprecedented direct talks between high ranking Russian officials and Kurdish leaders in Qamishli in northeastern Syria.

Oil Price quotes Beirut-based al-Masdar News:

The information, disseminated by Syrian military reports, claims that an agreement has been brokered between Russia and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces whereby the Syrian government will be allowed to assume control over the gas field.

It’s pretty clear that the Russians continue to run rings around the US in Syria. Does anybody in DC know what the US strategy is in Syria? If so, can they tell the rest of us?

The Kurds may have decided that their best bet is to make bi-lateral deals with Russia, Iran and Syria to hedge against their possible fight with Iraq and Turkey over independence, particularly if the US plans to watch from the sidelines. The Kurds now know that their hopes that the US would support their drive for independence was in vain, since we sided with Iraq when forced to choose between them.

Maybe the Russian/Syrian deal offers some protection to the Kurd’s desire for self-rule.

The remaining question is: was this deal part of some backdoor agreement between Moscow and Washington?” If not, how could this happen without the US knowing about it?

Oil Price says that on Wednesday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister was spotted in the Kurdish autonomous zone of Rojava meeting with Kurdish and Syrian leaders in the northern city of Qamishli. No one has said what was discussed, but it was probably big, and our man McGurk wasn’t on the guest list.

This follows last month’s secret US-Russia military to military meeting about Syria. The AP reported:

The meeting, however, also suggests an expanded US and Russian effort to coordinate their efforts, raising questions about how the Pentagon is adhering to an American prohibition against military-to-military cooperation with Moscow. Congress enacted that law in the wake of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014.

And the unexpected transfer of the gas field by the SDF to the Syrian government raises the question if additional cooperation between the Syrian Arab Army and Kurdish-led militias to seize control of the much larger Al-Omar Oil Field from ISIS further south will occur. Last week, control of that oil field was thought to be a competition between the two forces.

The US endgame in Syria is the million dollar question. Before, it looked as if the goal was permanent US bases in a Syrian Kurdish federated zone. But if the Kurds are cutting separate deals with Russia and Syria, a US exit from Syria could be happening sooner rather than later.

We know that there are great complexities in these relationships in the Middle East, and that the Administration is hamstrung by its anti-Russia, anti-Iran ideologues.

Unless that goes away, we can just call the Trump administration “Incapable of Agreements,” while the Kurds, the Syrians, the Russians and Iran are all very capable of making them.

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Trump Encourages War in the Middle East

The Daily Escape:

Nile River, Cairo, April 2017 photo by Amr Nabil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This doesn’t look like it will end well.

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

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

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 8, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Canada Warbler

Last Thursday, Iran, Russia and Turkey signed a memorandum on the creation of “de-escalation” zones in Syria. This represents the beginning of a new phase in the Syrian civil war. If the agreement and the cease-fires it envisions hold up, it could become a de facto partition of the country into zones of influence, some based on religious sect, and a recognition that at this point, neither the regime nor the rebels can win this conflict.

A glance at the placement of the proposed “de-escalation zones” shows that they are jihadi dominated areas under the protection and support of foreign sponsors; Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, the Gulf States and possibly, the US.

The text of the agreement says the de-escalation zones allow for an improvement of the humanitarian situation and to “create favorable conditions to advance a political settlement of the conflict.” In the zones mapped out under the agreement, the use of weapons, including “aerial assets, shall be ceased.”

The agreement was not signed by the Syrian regime, which is interesting. This means that Iran, Turkey and Russia are the guarantors of the facts on the ground post-agreement, and it shifts the conflict from one between the regime and the various opposition rebel groups, to one between the powerful foreign proxies that have sent weapons and in some cases, their armed forces into the country.

The US was not a direct participant in the negotiations for the agreement, but was present as an observer during the discussions. US Secretary of State Tillerson and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, stayed in touch during the discussions.

The agreement shows the degree to which Russia has outmaneuvered the US and is dictating terms in Syria. This sends a clear message to Trump that while the Americans are putting down roots in northeast Syria with the Kurdish YPG, the US role is not formally recognized by Turkey, Iran or Russia despite the fact that the area is de facto under US protection.

It remains to be seen if this agreement is the beginning of the map for a new Syria or just breathing space before the next round of war.

This is a gift for Donald Trump. He consistently called for safe zones while campaigning, so he can easily support this move. Also, Putin and Trump seem to be tacitly co-operating to keep Turkey out of parts of northern Syria. A question is whether the US will go along with the plan. The US plans to stay in Syria to finish off ISIS, while the other powers prefer to finish off the rebels fighting the Assad regime first.

Despite that, ISIS still controls much of the land mass of Syria, albeit not its population centers.

The answer may depend on how much the White House wants to take at least some of the credit for bringing peace to Syria, and Thursday’s agreement may be the best shot America’s got.

Clearly, Putin is thinking in terms of a “grand strategy”, where the Syria situation is one of a number of critical elements of a possible US-Russia relationship. If the US-Russia relationship can be genuinely reset in a better direction, then it will impact many fronts: Perhaps Putin can get Trump to agree to Putin’s land grab in Crimea and the Donbass region of Ukraine. Perhaps they can work together to end the civil war in Syria, defeating ISIS along the way.

Notably, when Tillerson and Lavrov spoke last week, Syria and North Korea were two topics on their agenda. Maybe Russia could prove to be a more important factor in the North Korea situation than most realize.

So wake up Trump administration! Take that baby step forward by supporting the de-escalation agreement. If it fails, the other guys are to blame. If it succeeds in stabilizing the refugee situation while leading to a political solution in Syria, the credit will partially accrue to America. To help them wake up, here are the Rolling Stones with “Start Me Up” from their 1981 album “Tattoo You”:

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 ISIS Strategy

The Daily Escape:

(We are back from 75° weather and as this is written, we are about to see 12″-18″ of snow.)

The NYT had an editorial on Monday that said Donald Trump was a man without a plan on ISIS:

On the campaign trail, no foreign policy issue seized Donald Trump more than the fight against the Islamic State. Once president, he signed an executive order giving his generals 30 days to produce a plan to defeat the terrorist group, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis gave him options on Feb. 27.

The Times says Trump has no plan. But Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis says the plan has already been executed:

James Mattis, in his generalissimo mode of action has, IMO, been given the imperial wave of dismissal and sent forth to destroy IS. “Make it so!”

According to Lang, the signs are clear:

  1. There is greater coordination and “de-confliction” between the US and Russia in air operations against ISIS. Lang points out that the rebel group “hayat tahrir al-sham” has now been designated as a terrorist organization by the US government. This makes them legitimate targets under the AUMF.
  2. The insertion of a Marine artillery battery to provide fire support for operations to retake Raqqa.
  3. Several hundred soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment have been positioned in and around Manbij to referee among the Turks, Assad’s Syrian Arab Army, (SAA), et al, to keep unwanted actors out of the coming battle to take Raqqa.

More from Lang:

I estimate these signs to…indicate that Trump and his generalissimo have decided to roll the iron dice and commit whatever force is necessary to destroy IS in both Syria and Iraq.

Wrongo agrees with Lang that the war to eliminate ISIS is on. We know a bit about the effort to take Mosul in Iraq, but have heard nothing about Syria. Trump said quite plainly that he had no intention of giving any advance notice of his military intentions. That seems prudent and logical to Wrongo.

But, basic contradictions persist:

  • Who will fight house by house to re-take Raqqa? Not Americans, or the Kurds. If Mosul is any indication, Sunnis will die to the last true believer if Jihadi families can’t be bussed out.
  • Who will be the occupiers of Eastern Syria? The SAA has a legitimate right to be in Raqqa. Will Israel and the Gulf Monarchies sit idly by while Iran and Syria complete the Shia Crescent?

Many questions. If the 21st century has shown us anything, it is that neoliberal supranational rule brings only inequality and chaos. If there is ever going to be peace, if the flow of refugees is to be ended, national governments must be rebuilt, and their borders secured.

Only then can supranational alliances work to address the world’s problems.

Assad has called us Syrian invaders. Unlike the Russians, Iranians, and Hezbollah, we were not invited by Syria to attend the “slay a few jihadis” party, nor are the Turks. While the YPG/SDF certainly seem agreeable to our being there, it doesn’t make our entry legal under international law. The AUMF probably provides the cover of our national law to be in Syria, but international law does not.

We seem to have traded John McCain’s beloved Free Syrian Army unicorns for the much more effective YPG/SDF, who will now act as our “Assad must go” surrogates. If that’s Trump’s plan, then we are cooked. Trump shouldn’t be allowed to let that policy stand. He stated before he became POTUS that he thought that any form of larger commitment of combat forces into Syria would be a mistake.

But here 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. Can you smell the mission creep? We shouldn’t be staying in Syria once the ISIS fighters in Raqqa are reduced to corpses on the desert sand.

A musical interlude to take you away from geopolitics. Here is “Jessica”, the classic Allman Brothers tune, re-imagined by Kevin Burke, legendary Celtic violinist and veteran rocker John Brennan, from their album The Pound Ridge Sessions. The title comes from where the album was recorded, Pound Ridge, NY.

They substitute violins for guitars, and it is a nice version. Here is “Jessica”:

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

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