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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 12, 2020

On Saturday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard acknowledged that it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner while it was taking off from Tehran earlier in the week, killing all 176 people aboard. The admission raised a host of new questions: Who authorized the strike on the plane, and why Iran hadn’t shut down its international airport or airspace if it was expecting a US reprisal for their missile attack?

A few words about missile air defense. Wrongo ran an air defense missile unit in Germany during the Vietnam era. Each day, our unit would calibrate the radars by training them on commercial aircraft take-offs and landings at Frankfurt Main airport, about 80 miles away.

Airports keep a regular space between flights taking off, or landing. Those taking off are traveling at a higher speed than those landing. And in any event, they both are moving far more slowly than an aircraft on an attack run. Also, commercial aircraft look much larger on a radar screen than a fighter/bomber looks.

So, everyone who has air defense responsibilities near a large airport immediately knows the difference between a commercial airliner and a military fighter on their radar screens.

While Wrongo did this back in the dark ages, some rules of engagement are universal. Under normal circumstances, no individual air defense unit is authorized to fire at aircraft unless told to do so by higher command authority. There are exceptions: When communication is lost with command, or in the case of a “general release to engage” by higher authority. That usually would happen if under a verified attack by the enemy.

Iran has said that the air defense forces ringing the capital were at the “highest level of readiness”, and that they were “prepared for an all-out conflict.” While it may mean something different in Iran, for US air defense, that wouldn’t mean fire at will.

And it certainly wouldn’t mean fire at a huge, slow blip on your radar screen. The regime looks like dishonest incompetents to the rest of the world. On to cartoons.

The real reason for engaging Iran: (Graeme Keys, from Ireland)

Speaking of Obama, his rules still apply:

The real reason for the US standing down:

Having a policy means more than he thinks:

The reasoning for the attack keeps changing:

 

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Surprising No One, Trump Blames Iran on Obama

The Daily Escape:

Hanging Lake Valley, CO – 2019 photo by henhooks

Circling back to Trump’s “standing down” speech, it seems like it was an exercise in gas lighting. Trump spoke for less than ten minutes, standing in front of his generals, who remained expressionless as he spoke. Occasionally, he seemed short of breath. Obviously he had a lot on his mind, but he sure didn’t look like someone refreshed from a two-week vacation.

This observation from the indispensable Marcy Wheeler captures the moment:

“Trump just pre-blamed Barack Obama for the failures most experts predict and have correctly predicted will come from Trump’s Iran policy. He suggests, falsely, that the current escalation is the result of Obama’s peace deal, rather than the demonstrable result of his suspension of it.”

Wrongo’s conservative friends repeat the lie that Obama sent planes full of American cash to Iran. They may be conflating the Iran deal with Iraq in 2003, when GW Bush sent them $12 billion in hundred dollar bills. That’s 363 tons of $ hundreds that disappeared almost immediately.

We know that Obama didn’t “pay” Iran $150 billion for the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. The deal, approved by China, France, Germany, Russia, UK, and the US, involved the release of $ billions of Iran’s assets, frozen after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in exchange for the end of Iran’s nuclear weapons development. The NYT reports that, after Iran paid its debts, it had between $32 billion and $50 billion left.

Trump and the GOP always try to shirk responsibility for their actions, and yesterday, they blamed the Democrats. Trump and the GOP:

  • Blamed Obama’s successful nuclear deal for what has happened after Trump’s rejection of it
  • Claimed Trump couldn’t brief Democrats on the Soleimani assassination because the Dems couldn’t be trusted to keep the news a secret
  • Suggested that Democrats’ impeachment of Trump has hurt his ability to respond to the very crisis he created by killing Soleimani

Trump’s blame shifting tactics are particularly toxic because his policies are likely to fail. The only way Trump can sustain support while presiding over these preventable failures is to blame someone else, like the Democrats, and the Iranians in this case.

And the only way for him to continue to follow his failing policies is to pretend he’s not the cause of the failure.

That’s the Republican playbook. They haven’t been the party of personal responsibility for a long time. They just pretend they are. Did Nixon take responsibility for Watergate? Think of Reagan blowing up the debt with his tax cuts and violating the Constitution with his Iran Contra scheme. Or Bush 1st lying about being out of the loop on Iran Contra. Then came Bush 2nd and Cheney who refused to listen to warnings that Bin Laden was going to attack us, and then using that attack as an excuse to go to war with Iraq.

Like Trump, none of them ever took personal responsibility for their lies and incompetence.

Trump’s excuse for not briefing the Gang of Eight is particularly worrisome. They are the leaders of both Parties from both the Senate and House, and the chairs and ranking minority members of both the Senate and House Committees for intelligence. The president is required to brief them on covert operations by law.

Apparently, Trump briefed Sen Lindsay Graham instead.

But Trump doesn’t want advice from people he doesn’t trust, and so he didn’t bother to brief the Gang of Eight before the Soleimani mission.

As we said yesterday, Trump owns this decision, and all of its consequences. That raises the political stakes in the run-up to the 2020 election, and makes it all-important for him to hedge his bet by finding scapegoats. It’s a feedback loop: Democrats, and Iranians can’t be right, they’re just disloyal, or traitors, or terrorists.

His behavior has become more impulsive as his mistakes have grown. His Party also shares full responsibility for them. But today’s GOP is about making up their own reality, blaming others for problems, and saying more tax cuts for the rich and corporations will paper over whatever problems they create. This is totally on the Republicans, and they will never stop of their own accord.

This will persist until the rest of us take action to change the arc of our politics.

It’s also on any Democrats who decide to let them slide, either by excusing their actions, or by not voting in November.

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Let’s Call it Even?

The Daily Escape:

Otter Pond, Middlebury VT – 2020 photo by prolicks

Iran pretty much had to retaliate. The US killed someone in their military, and they retaliated by attacking the US military. That seems proportional, and nearly legitimate, if we ignore that both the US and Iran conducted military operations within the sovereign borders of Iraq.

To Shias in the Middle East, Soleimani was a genuine hero. Pat Lang reports that he reviewed a video in Arabic taken at several Christian churches in Aleppo (northwest Syria). In it, both Soleimani, and the Iraqi also killed in the US drone strike, al-Muhandis, are described from the pulpit as “heroic martyr victims of criminal American state terrorism.”  That’s in Christian churches, folks.

More from Lang:

“Pompeo likes to describe Soleimani as the instigator of “massacre” and “genocide” in Syria.  Strangely (irony) the Syriac, Armenian Uniate and Presbyterian ministers of the Gospel in this tape do not see him and al-Muhandis that way.  They see them as men who helped to defend Aleppo and its minority populations from the wrath of Sunni jihadi Salafists like ISIS and the AQ affiliates in Syria.”

In his fireside chat today, Trump appeared to “take the off-ramp” on further action:

“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a good thing for the world…”

Moon of Alabama says that we even had prior notice:

“The Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents the US, was warned at least one hour before the attack happened.”

If Iran’s “retaliation” is all that happens, it seems that WWIII is far away. Tehran did what Trump did after a supposed chemical weapons attack in Syria: Dump missiles in the desert. It’s arguable, but it appears Iran purposely avoided causing casualties or killing anyone.

Here we have another case where Trump gins up a crisis and then walks it back. The two political questions are: Did this do anything to impeachment? And that answer is an easy no.

Second, has this exchange with Iran helped Trump politically? That can’t be answered so easily. The NYT reports that starting on Monday, Trump was running ads on Facebook touting the hit on General Soleimani:

“All told, the Trump campaign has run nearly 800 distinct ads about the killing of General Soleimani…”

CNN’s Ron Brownstein says that whether Trump wins politically in this national security crisis depends upon whether people see what he did as deliberative, or decisive. This distinction has often been the difference between Democratic and Republican presidents. Reagan and the Bushes were portrayed (by their campaigns) as decisive, while Democrats Carter, Clinton and Obama are seen in the media as deliberative.

How you value those two approaches could govern your choice for our next president.

However, Trump is neither. He’s impulsive. Whether people come to see Trump’s impulsiveness as “decisive” will depend on what happens over the next year with Iran. If we achieve a new level of engagement with Teheran, he will be seen as decisive. But, if we continue bumping along in some permanent state of Middle East chaos, he’ll be seen as having been the impulsive person we know he is.

And to be clear, none of those previous presidents were what you would call impulsive, at least not in the Trumpian sense.

Trump is in a more exposed political position than his possible Democratic opponents are over Soleimani’s death. Most have not been against killing Soleimani. They’ve accused Trump of approving it without fully considering the potential costs. That leaves them enormous flexibility to second-guess Trump if things go further south in the ME.

Trump only wins politically if there are no unintended consequences, and it’s doubtful that there will be no unintended consequences. It is likely that there will be blowback, and whatever the blowback is, will certainly take the shine off Trump’s contention that he is decisive.

Wagging the dog usually has a short-term gain. He was egged on by a handful of neo-cons who have been itching for a fight with Iran for decades. Trump took the most extreme option available at a time of high personal stress, and now we’re all stuck with the consequences.

So we can’t just call it even if Christian churches in Syria are saying Soleimani was the victim of American state terrorism. Or, when large-scale anti-Iran demonstrations in Iraq disappear in favor of demonstrations against the US. Or, when anti-government demonstrations in Iran turn into huge anti-American demonstrations.

Trump isn’t deliberative or decisive, he’s a menace.

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Monday Wake Up Call — Onward Christian Soldiers Edition

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Tucson Mountains, west of Tucson – January 1, 2020 photo by eleminohp

What’s America doing in Iraq? Everyone with an internet connection knows that Trump authorized a lethal drone strike on Iran’s Gen. Qassam Soleimani, a senior member of the Iranian military who was on his way to a meeting with Iraq’s Prime Minister.

You may not be aware that the meeting was called by Iraq’s PM at the behest of the US, as reported by the normally reliable Elijah J. Magnier:

The information that #Iran Qassem Soleimani had an appointment with the PM in Baghdad and came to #Iraq to meet him the next day with established appointment, following a request of Trump for mediation, has been read to all MPs today by the #Iraq/i PM himself.

It seems that the PM’s request of Soleimani was in writing. Let’s be clear about what America did: We assassinated two key military and political leaders on the sovereign territory of Iraq without the permission of the Iraqi Government. The key Iranian guy was heading to a meeting about calming tensions between the US and Iran. It’s a classic hit that could have been in “The Irishman”.

No one argues that Soleimani wasn’t our enemy. Democrats were caught flat-footed by Trump’s action. Most of the 2020 candidates tried to walk a thin line, glad Soleimani was dead, but deploring the process. Biden said it could leave the US:

 “On the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East.”

Bernie:

“Trump’s dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.”

Warren:

“Trump’s reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict.”

And House Leader Nancy Pelosi:

“American leaders’ highest priority is to protect American lives and interests. But we cannot put the lives of American service members, diplomats and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions.”

Some Dems claim that this is Trump’s “Wag the Dog” play. Plenty of Republicans celebrated Soleimani’s death as a decisive blow against terrorism. Their comments can be summed up as: “Boy, we showed those Iranians who is boss”.

Are we getting the real story? Here’s a series of tweets by Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a ME journalist who says the reports that the Iraqi government voted to expel US troops is not correct:

Continued from Abdul-Hussain: (emphasis by Wrongo)

…to kill Soleimani). What happened is different.

1- Iraqi PM Abdul-Mahdi sent a letter to Parliament in which he argued US troops exist in Iraq, not based on a treaty ratified by Parliament, but on 2 letters from past cabinets to the UN. Hence, Parliament has no role in ejection.

2- Iraqi PM’s trying to trade disarming Shia militias for limiting scope of US troops. He wrote: “Whoever wants to become a political power, has to surrender arms, join armed forces, and forgo any political allegiance (i.e. to Iran) other than to military and commander-in-chief.”

(He’s talking about the militias that attacked the US Embassy)

“3- #Iraq parliament barely had a quorum for session on ejecting US troops. Sunni and Kurdish blocs boycotted the session (thus taking America’s side over Iran), and thus quorum was 170 of 328 (half + 4)…

4-The text Iraqi Parliament voted on was not a legislation, but a non-binding resolution.”

/snip/ (brackets by Wrongo)

“6- In his letter to Parliament, [PM] Abdul-Mahdi clearly states that Iraqi interest is to maintain neutrality between America and Iran, and that if Iraq antagonizes America, it risks losing its international status (and implicitly oil revenue, just like Iran).

7- NYT is, by far, much more pro-Iran than Wash Post. The post reported that “tens of thousands” mourned Soleimani in Ahwaz. NYT made the number of mourners “hundreds of thousands.”

Abdul-Hussain concludes:

“The most probable outcome of #Soleimani‘s killing is more of the same: Low-intensity Iranian warfare against America, Iran never engaging in direct war, but maintaining her proxy war, fighting America to the last Arab. But with Soleimani out, Iranian proxy war will be much weaker.”

Wake up America! We should be asking: “What’s our end game with Iran and Iraq?” That’s the question that Trump should have asked before giving the green light to kill Soleimani. Getting that answer should be a non-partisan request of the Trump administration.

The game remains the same. Republicans say here’s another very bad man who had to go. Democrats are saying he was a very bad man, but have you people thought through the consequences of taking him out?

The question of why, in the minds of Trump and his generals, Soleimani had to die this week is what needs to be explained to the American public.

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Rainy morning, Emerald Lake, Yoho NP British Columbia CN – 2019 photo by mrgoomba7

On September 14, explosions rocked the Saudi’s Khurais oilfield as well as the Abqaiq refinery, one of Saudi Arabia’s most vital petrochemical installations. Several hours later, the Houthis claimed that they had targeted both facilities with ten drones. In reality, it now seems that 17 drones or cruise missiles hit the Saudi plants.

There is a continuing debate on who launched the attack. Pompeo tweeted that it was the Iranians:

Perfect positioning by America’s First Diplomat!

While Pompeo says Iran did it, the Arms Control Wonk reports that the Houthis have both the technology and ability. The US, Israel and Iran also have the capability to conduct such an attack.

Saudi Arabia and the US will no doubt eventually figure out who owned the missiles used in the attack, but that won’t resolve the question of guilt, or complicity to everyone’s satisfaction. Some are saying that the Abqaiq oil field is too far from Yemen for them to be the culprit. Yet, the US supplied these photos of the damage, including an arrow helpfully pointing to north (it’s pointing left, while the shadows mean the sun is in the east):

The boxes showing damage mean the missiles came from the west, where Yemen is located. Iran is located to the Northeast, as are Israel and Iraq.

But please wait, and let Washington tell you what to believe.

The most important takeaway is that Saudi Arabia has no real defense against this kind of attack. In mid-June 2019, a cruise missile fired by the Houthis hit the terminal of Abha Airport in Southern Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 passengers.

The Saudis use two US air defense systems, the Patriot, and the Hawk missile systems. Both are deployed in Saudi’s northeast, facing the Persian Gulf. They do not provide defensive cover for the attacked oil refineries if the missile or drone is fired from the south or west:

The Patriots are useful against cruise or ballistic missiles. The Hawks are for aircraft. But no system could protect all of the Saudi’s oil field facilities if 17 missiles are fired at once.

Despite the hopes of DC’s Iran-hating Neocons, it is possible that the attack originated in Yemen. The Saudi war in Yemen was launched in 2015. It costs Saudi Arabia several billion dollars per month. The Saudi budget deficit again increased this year and is expected to reach 7% of its GDP.  They need much higher oil prices to help prosecute the Yemen war.

Also, Saudi Arabia is planning to sell a share of its state owned oil conglomerate, Aramco, which may be worth $2 Trillion. But who would buy a share of Aramco when its major installations are not secure, and has endured crippling attacks?

Assuming this attack isn’t a one-off, the Saudis probably will need a cease-fire or a peace deal with Yemen before it can sell Aramco shares for a decent price. It is likely that the Houthis will demand reparations payments from the Saudis in order to make peace.

The first Saudi attempts to negotiate happened two weeks ago. The Hill reports they asked the Trump administration to work out an agreement with the Houthis:

“The Trump administration is preparing to initiate negotiations with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in an effort to bring the four-year civil war in Yemen to an end….The effort is reportedly aimed at convincing Saudi Arabia to take part in secret talks with the rebels in Oman to help broker a cease-fire in the conflict, which has emerged as a front line in the regional proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran.”

But it hasn’t led to anything.

Back in DC, we’re hearing that the US must have some response to the missile attacks.

Why?

America wasn’t attacked. We’re not even sure who carried out the attack, and there is at least a small probability that it was some disaffected group within Saudi Arabia itself.

We do not have a mutual security agreement with Saudi Arabia, although we are strategic partners.

Now the poor helpless Saudis will want their best friend Trump to attack Iran, much to the delight of Israel and the Neocons. And a refinery attack showing Saudi’s lack of defenses may get Trump off the dime.

How on God’s green earth is this in our national interest?

Trump and Pompeo are trying to position us on the Sunni side of a region-wide sectarian civil war. That would be a disaster for us and for all in the Middle East.

Wake up, America! Most who work in DC in any power capacity have been dreaming of war with Iran for decades. Yet, somehow they haven’t made it happen.

Let’s hope that continues.

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Random Tuesday Thoughts

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are away until July 9th visiting our CA family. Expect the next column to be posted then.)

The Daily Escape:

White Sands National Monument, NM – 2019 photo by Bernard-F

#1: Wrongo watched the video of Trump walking across the Korean DMZ. While most foreign policy professionals will have a cranky reaction to the event, it represents progress. Both sides had stopped negotiations and in fact, were not even talking, after Trump walked out of the Hanoi meeting.

Whether it is a breakthrough that leads to a deal remains to be seen. OTOH, Trump took his daughter Ivanka and Tucker Carlson to the DMZ, while sending John Bolton (who he called “Mike”), and Mike Pompeo on to other tasks. Anything that drives the GOP neocons crazy can’t be all bad.

The incoherence of Trump’s global strategy shows itself in extending himself to North Korea, a country that has nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them. The US has no agreement with NorKo to contain its weapons of mass destruction. We don’t even have a peace agreement after the War that ended in 1953, but we’re talking.

Contrast that with Trump’s walking away from the signed Iranian nuclear deal, which was negotiated to prevent an exact North Korea-type situation from happening. Inexplicable.

#2: Forbes has a very interesting article on new solar power capacity in California:

“Los Angeles Power and Water officials have struck a deal on the largest and cheapest solar + battery-storage project in the world, with a prestige solar battery supplier, at prices that leave fossil fuels in the dust and may relegate nuclear power to the dustbin.”

Cheaper than fossil fuels, the new plant will be built north of LA, in Kern County. LA officials said that it will be the largest and lowest-cost solar and high-capacity battery storage project in the US. When up and running, it will operate at half the estimated cost of power from a new natural gas plant. The plant is expected to deliver its first megawatt by April 2023.

#3: Reuters reports that Trump’s “deal” with China may not be a deal at all. In their article, China warns of long road ahead for deal with US after ice-breaking talks, Reuters quotes the official China Daily, an English-language daily often used by Beijing to put its message out to the rest of the world. It warned there was no guarantee there would ever be a deal: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Agreement on 90 percent of the issues has proved not to be enough, and with the remaining 10 percent where their fundamental differences reside, it is not going to be easy to reach a 100-percent consensus, since at this point, they remain widely apart even on the conceptual level.”

#4: Next, it’s that time of year again where Americans camp out for days in order to visit with a pop-up rural clinic nurse. Why? Because we have the most expensive “health care” on earth, and a system absolutely designed to keep it that way:

“They were told to arrive early if they wanted to see a doctor, so Lisa and Stevie Crider left their apartment in rural Tennessee almost 24 hours before the temporary medical clinic was scheduled to open. They packed a plastic bag with what had become their daily essentials after 21 years of marriage: An ice pack for his recurring chest pain. Tylenol for her swollen feet. Peroxide for the abscess in his mouth. Gatorade for her low blood sugar and chronic dehydration.”

A view from the volunteers:

“…a clinic volunteer….patrolled the parking lot late at night and handed out numbers to signify each patient’s place in the line. No. 48 went to a woman having panic attacks from adjacent Meigs County, where the last remaining mental-health provider had just moved away to Nashville. No. 207 went to a man with unmanaged heart disease from Polk County, where the only hospital had gone bankrupt and closed in 2017.”

With Republicans doing everything they can to break the Affordable Care Act, and then refusing to fix it, this is what their actions have caused. Rural hospitals are closing, people in rural counties have no health care. And the GOP tells them to blame Democrats. The reality is that Republicans in these states have cut funding for the programs that kept red state rural clinics and hospitals operating.

#5: Columbia University reported that scientists have discovered a gigantic aquifer of relatively fresh water trapped below the Atlantic Ocean. This undersea aquifer stretches from Massachusetts to New Jersey, extending more or less continuously out about 50 miles to the edge of the continental shelf.

The water was trapped in mile-deep ice 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. When the ice melted, sediments formed huge river deltas on top of the shelf, and fresh water got trapped there. It would have to be desalinated for most uses, but the cost would be much less than processing seawater.

See you next week!

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 23, 2019

Iran’s solution to possible war with the US. If this happened, Trump would say he got a love letter from the Ayatollah:

Little-known technology shows Pentagon the best story to use about its reasons for war:

This week, the Trump administration argued in court that detained migrant children do not require basic hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes in order to be held in “safe and sanitary” conditions:

Mitch ain’t willing to discuss reparations:

Reparations are a difficult subject. As the historian Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” He meant that you either abide the status quo, or you oppose it. You either commit yourself to be the best anti-racist you can be, or you don’t. Whichever you choose, you should be honest in how you frame your choice. Saying that reparations are not worth pursuing, or simply doing nothing about them, is an implicit defense of the policies and systems that have created our present-day racial inequities.

The Supremes held 7-2 that a cross located in a war memorial could be displayed on public property (at a traffic circle). They said that some crosses are merely historic icons. Their decision favors one religion over others, and it seems hostile towards religious minorities. And why won’t Christians act like Christians?

How the Capitalism game actually works:

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Saturday Soother – War With Iran Edition, June 22, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Na Pali Coast, Kauai HI – 2019 photo by Santahickey

It’s tough to wake up on a Friday morning and find out that during the previous night, America almost started a war. On Thursday night, Trump allegedly pulled back from a military strike he had earlier authorized against Iran.

The New York Times wrote: “Trump Approves Strikes on Iran, but Then Abruptly Pulls Back”. The NYT says that Trump’s hawks, Bolton, Pompeo, and CIA Director Gina Haspel, had argued for the strike, while the Pentagon was said to have been against it. The NYT report includes this paragraph: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Asked about the plans for a strike and the decision to hold back, the White House declined to comment, as did Pentagon officials. No government officials asked The New York Times to withhold the article.”

It’s curious. If Trump was serious about attacking Iran, what purpose was served by the WH giving this story to the NYT? Not everyone bought the claim that a planned attack was called back. Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar on international conflicts, tweeted:

Jeffrey Lewis @ArmsControlWonk – 3:43 UTC – 21 Jun 2019

I don’t buy this. Trump’s team is trying to have it both ways — acting restrained but talking tough. This is pretty much what Nixon did in 1969, too. Why not just admit that sometimes restraint is smart?

He goes on to link to the 1969 NYT piece referenced above:

The @nytimes ran the same story Nixon in 1969. Nixon was not going to retaliate but he wanted people to think he almost did — and the Gray Lady obliged. —> Aides Say Nixon Weighed Swift Korea Reprisal

On May 6th 1969, the Times carried a story that Nixon decided not to escalate when the NoKo’s shot down a US Navy plane. So, this current storyline of “a strike was ordered, but Trump held back and saved the day” might also have been coordinated by the WH and the NYT.

If the threat of another Middle East war wasn’t bad enough, a new IMF study shows that US $5.2 trillion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017. The latest available country breakdown is for 2015. In that year, the US was the third-largest subsidizer of the fossil fuel industry, providing $649 billion in subsidies. China and Russia ranked first and second, respectively.

You should be outraged that the $649 billion we spent in 2015 is more than 10 times the 2015 federal spending for education. America has to change its priorities. The true costs to America of using fossil fuels has to include these subsidies.

These two stories about fossil fuels show our government’s fealty to the oil industry.

The average person didn’t notice that on the day the American drone was shot down in the Straits of Hormuz, the price of oil jumped 10%. Trump surely was told this, and the risk of higher oil prices caused by his risky foreign policy may have reduced his desire to strike at Iran.

For whatever reason, we’ve finally seen a prudent move by Trump. It’s a face saving gesture: he appears both tough and reasonable simultaneously. Also, it is encouraging that he used the concept of proportionality, saying that the planned strike would have been too harsh a retaliation for losing one drone.

We can expect his neo-con advisors and the FOX fringe to try to undercut his decision. Maybe then he’ll understand it’s time to clean house.

So, on this Saturday, it may be difficult to get soothed, but let’s try our best. Wrongo and Ms. Right are on Cape Cod with daughter Kelly, where rain is dominating the weather. In honor of being here, today we’ll brew up a large cup of Wellfleet’s Beanstock Coffee Roasters’s old reliable Wellfleet Blend ($11.99/12oz.).

Now, settle back and listen to “The Hebrides”, Op. 26 “Fingal’s Cave” by Felix Mendelssohn. It is played by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra, conducted by Scott Sandmeier.

Mendelssohn actually visited the west coast of Scotland in 1829. It was part of Mendelssohn’s three-year Grand Tour, a common excursion taken by young men of wealthy families as a part of gaining cultural literacy. Here is “The Hebrides”:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 10, 2018

The Daily Escape:

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

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

Both of those thoughts would be er, wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

He went on to say that:

The US will not tolerate an attack. Period.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Donny and Bibi’s Folly

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Walt in Foreign Policy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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