The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – July 10, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Mosul – Old City, July 3, 2017 – photo by Felipe Dana

Mosul is now back in Iraqi control. The strategy for Mosul was “clear, hold, and build”. America used a similar tactic in Vietnam; “clear and hold”, without lasting success.

The “clear, hold and build” approach involves clearing contested territory through military operations and then holding that territory, isolating and defending it from insurgent influence. The build phase involves economic, developmental or governance-related activity intended to increase the legitimacy of the counterinsurgents and the government they represent. It has not been successful in Afghanistan, where clear and hold have been difficult or impossible, to achieve.

So far in Iraq, clear, hold and build has more or less worked in Ramadi and Tikrit, but the corrosive Sunni-Shia rivalry may have negative impacts going forward. The defeat of ISIS will offer Baghdad a fresh state-building opportunity to correct the mistakes made following the ouster of the Saddam Hussein in 2003. And there is some reason for optimism, as the Cairo Review states:

Post-Saddam Iraq has managed to write a new constitution, and has witnessed four national electoral cycles, four peaceful transfers of power, and three constitutional governments in which Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds have been consistently represented. Iraq today can claim a flourishing civil society, a thriving media, and expanded civil and political liberties. By the standards of the Middle East, these are no small achievements.

So, what’s next? Widespread corruption persists, as does the continuing struggle for power among Iraq’s Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish communities. This has been a feature of Iraqi politics since Iraq’s independence from Ottoman rule in 1920. The post-Saddam era has allowed Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds to pursue their own interests. In part, the Shia effort to strip Sunnis of power after Saddam brought about the ISIS ascendancy. The Kurds have used the ISIS insurgency to consolidate all territory in northern Iraq that is Kurdish-speaking, including oil-rich Kirkuk. The Iraqi Kurds are planning a referendum on independence in September, and Turkey, Iraq and Iran have all announced their opposition.

The majority Shiites are divided. Elites run the government, and hold economic power. But, the vast majority of Shiites have not done well since the start of the Iraq war. The prominence and successes of Shiite militias gives Shiites great influence in their struggle for power in post-ISIS Iraq. Some of the militia leaders have become so popular they may win positions in the 2018 national elections.

Shiites and Kurds must recognize that it is in their interest to see that Sunnis are stable and thriving. Sunnis, humbled by the disaster they helped bring to the country by the ISIS insurgency, should now be eager to secure their place in a new political reality.

Post-ISIS, will the country break into a federation of three distinct areas? The Kurds are hoping for that outcome. US policy has been to encourage a united Iraq. Iran favors that as well, but the situation on the ground is volatile. Let’s give Cairo Monitor the last word:

Perhaps the best hope is that Prime Minister Al-Abadi and his eventual successor will push for incremental measures toward securing Sunni communities and settling Shiite disputes with the Kurds.

Time for the Iraqi groups contesting for power to wake up and support something bigger than themselves. Violence over the past 14 years has taken the lives of some 268,000 Iraqis, including nearly 200,000 civilians, with perhaps, many more to come.

To help them wake up, here is Big Country with their 1983 tune “In a Big Country”. The song is anthemic, a rallying cry to get up off the floor and grab for the things you want. Here is a live video from 1983 recorded in London at the Hammersmith Odeon:

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

Takeaway Lyric:

Cry out for everything you ever might have wanted
I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
But you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered, see ya


I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert
But I can live and breathe
And see the sun in wintertime

In a big country dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive


Time to Dump Our Frenemy, Saudi Arabia

Our Middle East strategy is a failure. We want to blame someone for the failures in Iraq, Afghanistan and now, in Syria. Many will point the finger at Mr. Obama, and he is complicit in our failure, but so are all American presidents since Carter.

One constant in our ME efforts has been our ally, Saudi Arabia. They have been our confidante and along with Israel, they have provided intellectual leadership to our presidents and our military.

Since the 1930’s when we first recognized Saudi Arabia, we have tried to straddle the fence with our choice of allies in the ME. Turkey (NATO member) is Sunni. So is Saudi Arabia. Our “enemy” AL-Qaeda is Sunni. Our “enemy” Iran is Shia. Our “ally” Iraq is Shia. Our “enemy” Syria is Shia. Our “enemy” ISIS is Sunni.

Now, we need to reconsider our alliance with the Saudis.

Although many in the non-mainstream media have consistently pointed out that Saudi Arabia has been a key financier of ISIS, (see here, here, and here) we continue to spend our resources to defeat ISIS in both Syria and Iraq while our ally funds them. And they also export and promote a very similar brand of Islam to that of ISIS. The Progressive reported on the views of Cal State Professor Asad AbuKhalil:

The ideology of the Saudi regime is that of ISIS even if the foreign policies differ…Mainstream Islam frowns upon the views, excesses, practices and interpretations of ISIS…But Wahhabi Islam [the official ideology of the Saudi monarchy] is fully in sync with ISIS.

Still, there has been little mainstream media acknowledgement of the Saudi role until an article on 11/20 in the NYT by Algerian writer Kamel Daoud:

Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater, but does the same things.

His white Daesh is Saudi Arabia. Here is how Daoud ends his piece: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Daesh [ISIS] has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books.

Daoud makes this point about our relationship with Saudi Arabia:

In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is…denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.

Wahhabism is Saudi Arabia’s dominant faith. It is an austere form of Islam that insists on a literal interpretation of the Koran. Strict Wahhabis believe that all those who don’t practice their form of Islam are heathens and enemies. It hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina.

Saudi Wahhabis have spent $ billions to export Wahhabism throughout the ME. They have been able to greatly influence the politics and religion in Muslim countries, and the teaching of Islam in educational establishments.

It has changed these countries, and has led to the conversion of some Muslims to Wahhabism. This conversion of relatively small numbers of Muslims has had a large impact, because these converts have provided much of the leadership of the various jihadi movements that have sprung up in the ME.

The reality of Saudi support for ISIS is studiously ignored in America, probably because of their financial clout, their supply of oil, and our long-standing alliance with them. And there’s the trap. Denial creates an illusion that the Saudis are our partners.

Once again, desert Arabs are stoking a war designed to control the Fertile Crescent. But they are not alone. Turkey wants a rebirth of the Ottoman Empire. Israel prefers Muslims to fight each other, and not them. Russia wants to keep its Syrian base in order to project power elsewhere in the ME. The West wants secure access to oil and to enrich its military contractors by engaging there.

The Saudis also invaded Yemen, and we supported them. They attacked their neighbor under the pretense of reinstalling the deposed government. Now, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the local ISIS affiliate have flourished there. They are fomenting war throughout the ME.

So why would we rely on the Saudis in our war against ISIS?


Why Are Neocons So Afraid of Russia?

Russia moved rapidly to prop up the Assad regime. They bombed the so-called “moderates” who were waging a war of attrition against Assad’s army. With air support from Russia, Assad’s army is trying to retake territory seized this year in Idlib and Hama Provinces by insurgent groups that include the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, and American-backed units.

So, we countered, saying that Russia was killing our guys on the ground:

‘Our guys are fighting for their lives’ said the official, estimating up to 150 CIA-trained moderate rebels have been killed by the Russians.

“Our guys”? The unnamed DC official is referring to the CIA mercenaries who are fighting under al-Qaeda’s command. If the CIA is so concerned about the fate of its “assets”, then all it has to do is to order these moderate head chopper clowns to withdraw back to Turkey or Jordan.

The predominantly neo-con US Foreign Policy elite sees the reemergence of Russia along with the emergence of China, to the status of superpowers as a zero sum game. Therefore, specific, event-limited multi-polar cooperation with these global competitors is considered impossible.

What irritates Washington more than anything else is a display of Russian military prowess that we thought was relegated to 20th century history. Moreover, Russia showed up and started shooting with impressive speed and efficiency. Note that Russia didn’t require that the local military undergo multiple years (and $ Billions) of military training in order to get busy. In addition, they created an active coalition with Iranian and Hezbollah forces who coordinate action on the ground in real time with the Russians and the Syrians.

Russia has given Syria an air force, which we couldn’t do effectively in Afghanistan or Iraq, because their armies, despite all of our training, are weaker than Syria’s.

All of this has enraged the neo-cons and the media. They cannot believe Russia’s temerity, or that Mr. Obama has allowed the US to look weak and feckless. But weakness should be understood, since the US strategy has no clear goals, and is increasingly incoherent. We have a hodgepodge of “allies”, all with competing and often diametrically opposed agendas.

It is not so much a question of which US ally is the most dependable, but which is the least duplicitous.

While we mount a PR campaign to denigrate Russia’s motives, we are simultaneously taking steps to impede their efforts in Syria by arming Assad’s enemies, setting up a likely proxy war with possibly, more than one adversary.

Why are we doing this? We can never underestimate the extent to which the neo-con foreign policy elite believes in American Exceptionalism. It sustains a collective and individual need to appear to win today without giving a thought to tomorrow.

So what do we really have to fear from Russia?

• Russia has a GDP smaller than Italy’s. In fact, its GDP is about a tenth that of the US.
• Its population is currently about 143 million, but this is projected to fall to less than 130 million by 2050. That would be less than the 2050 population of any two of: France, Germany, or the UK.

Basically, Russia has a small window through which it can conduct force projection in the ME. Unless things change drastically, that window will effectively close sometime within the next 10-20 years. So, maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid.

But, they seem committed to using smarts, deep understanding of the local situation, and detailed planning to achieve their goals, while the US uses tactical thinking and blunt force.

And the US needs to remember that it was a Sunni force that became al-Qaeda. It was al-Qaeda that attacked the US. The simple fact is that the direct descendants of Al Qaeda (AQ) in Iraq are Al Nusra (AN) and ISIS. These are the people we are backing inside Syria, even as we attempt to fight ISIS in eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

Russia is forming an alliance of Shia nations, including Iraq. They will ultimately tackle ISIS.

The US tries to square the circle, attacking the Sunni ISIS, while considering most Shia nations as enemies.

Sunnis comprise the largest anti-Assad forces in Syria. Therefore, if the Assad government fell, it would fall to Sunni Jihadists. We should understand if that is what our government is wishing for: Russia beaten. The Syrian government shattered. The flags of ISIS, AQ and AN flying over Damascus.

That is a nihilist viewpoint, and a prescription for endless war in the ME. The neo-cons may want that, but the rest of us, not so much.

What has happened to America’s foreign policy is a form of dementia brought about by an almost complete disregard for truth, honor, decency or honesty by the neo-con elite and many others in the political class.

Our wrongheaded Middle East policy is but a symptom, the neo-con dementia extends throughout our society and our economy.


Our ISIS Strategy is Undermined by Our Muslim Allies

Pat Lang, a retired Colonel in Military Intelligence and a specialist in the Middle East who taught Arabic at West Point, says at his blog, Sic Semper Tyrannis: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The present strategy of the US for defeat of ISIS is ultimately dependent on the Turks. Turkey is the main pathway through which ISIS receives recruits…and [is] the main pathway through which ISIS continues to export oil to raise money. Erdogan’s Turkey has until very recently barred the US from the use against ISIS of air bases built and maintained by the US for NATO.

On July 25, The Guardian disclosed that US Special Forces had captured “hundreds of flash drives and documents” when they raided the compound of Islamic State’s financial chief, Abu Sayyaf (May 15-16, 2015). The documents showed there had been widespread collusion by Turkish government officials in the smuggling of oil from ISIS-controlled oil fields in eastern Syria.

Lang goes on to say that Turkey and the US have different expectations and goals: The US wants the bases for the war against ISIS, but the Turks want the downfall of the Assad government in Syria and a buffer against a Kurdish state on their southern border. This aligns Turkey with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni governments in the Gulf. The prospect of a Syria dominated by a Nusra Front-led government does not bother Erdogan. He wants a similar outcome for Turkey if he can get enough seats in parliament to change the Turkish constitution to eliminate its Kemalist secularism.

The Turks also want the US to help them bomb the Kurds (by which Erdogan means all Kurds) into submission. To this end, the Turks will use their own forces and any support they can get from the US and the Europeans. In fact the various Kurdish groups, despite their political and tribal differences are really one people. If the US became complicit in attacks on Kurdish fighters of any kind, it risks the loss of our Kurdish ally in Iraq. From HuffPo:

The US finds itself in a position where a key ally, Turkey, is effectively at war with the one ground force, the Kurds, who, when supported by American air power, have been the most effective in rolling back the Islamic State.

Under these circumstances is it any wonder that the ISIS continues to thrive? The Republican drum beat for more American troops on the ground is not because the jihadis are an existential threat to the US but, rather because they menace civilized life in the Islamic World and potentially, across the rest of the world as well. But without real Turkish cooperation, victory over the ISIS isn’t possible, and the US should not attempt it. More from Col. Lang: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

There will be no Western style Reformation of Islam…Most people reading this do not understand the lack of central religious authority in Islam that leads to this chaos…That lack of central authority, when combined with a mindset that inextricably links religious and political authority creates chaos that can only be resolved by force. We should withdraw from the area and watch in fascinated horror. The Israelis? Well, pilgrims, they have sown the wind…

So, how should our strategy evolve? So long as the US continues to support and play along with our Muslim allies, fighting ISIS is a pointless endeavor. It just digs America deeper into a religious war within Islam without any benefits to us. Once the US is not engaged, we will cease to be manipulated by our erstwhile allies – the Saudis, Turks, Gulf States, and Israelis. At that point, those states will need to concentrate their thinking on matters of their own and regional security.

This would be a smarter strategy than our current plan of kicking the can down the road and believing in unicorns. Analysis by Pat Lang:

…the world has changed; the local has become universal, and the burden of existential misery, caused by overpopulation, climate change, misgovernance, war, poverty and loss of hope, has affected large numbers of people worldwide. Local and temporary “solutions”, especially military ones, will no longer work. And, in fact, are likely to worsen the situation.

Overall, our strategy to assist in the defeat of ISIS has not brought about anything positive. From Rosa Brooks in Foreign Policy:

So far, the US-led military campaign…appears to have achieved few positive results…intelligence sources have reportedly concluded that the Islamic State has not been fundamentally weakened. At best, we are probably prolonging the status quo.

It’s very frustrating that we can’t clear an area the size of Kansas with airpower. Either fight the ISIS all the way, or just leave them the hell alone.

The vote here is to get out of the way.


Sectarian Divide Could Destroy Iraq

Yesterday we explained that, although Kurds are Sunnis, they fight ISIS, which is a Sunni movement. Today, we look at an example of how the Sunni-Shia divide elsewhere in Iraq seems deep enough that it might never be resolved.

The Wall Street Journal has a report on the efforts to resettle Sunnis into areas that were held by ISIS and liberated by Shia: (brackets and editing by the Wrongologist)

ISIS was driven out of Mohamad Mutlaq’s hometown in central Iraq six months ago, and since then, he and his family have tried every few days to…go home. But…each time [Sunnis] approach a bridge to cross back into the town of Yathrib, Shiite tribesmen at a checkpoint beat the Sunni refugees, saying: “Don’t even try to come back…”

The WSJ calls Yathrib a failure in Iraq’s efforts to repopulate ISIS-held Sunni areas, and it points to Tikrit as a success. Tikrit was recaptured from ISIS three months ago, and it is now at the center of a government campaign to rebuild and repopulate the area. But, the challenges are huge:

Tikrit and Yathrib, both in Salahudeen province, illustrate the challenges Iraq faces in trying to resettle…nearly three million displaced people in areas recaptured from ISIS.

Most towns and villages retaken from ISIS remain largely unpopulated as the government struggles to build a process that will return residents to their home towns. Security preparations, mine clearing and infrastructure rebuilding contribute to delays. Yathrib has been empty for six months since its 60,000 people fled ISIS. From the WSJ:

Instead, they couldn’t get past the checkpoint run by a Shiite tribe known as Bani Saad. An Iraqi army unit and three Shiite militias are posted inside the town, but there is little sign of any reconstruction.

When WSJ visited, they saw pockmarked walls of empty homes. Acres of grape vineyards have gone unattended for months. The ceilings of most houses leading into Yathrib are completely collapsed, suggesting they were blown up with improvised explosive devices. Yathrib residents and tribal leaders say Shiite militias aided by the town’s Shiite neighbors have blown up some buildings, while members of the Shiite militia stationed in the town say ISIS fighters blew up the buildings before retreating:

Residents of Yathrib and its neighboring Shiite hamlets are descendants of the same tribe, split into Sunni and Shiite branches. Shiite tribal leaders accuse their Sunni brethren of enabling ISIS to stage attacks against them from the town last summer. They have demanded their Sunni neighbors be allowed to return only on certain conditions.

The neighboring Shiite tribes suggest punitive measures for Sunni Yathrib residents. They included blood money payments, buffer zones between the town and its Shiite neighbors, and even a separate water supply. The Sunni and Shiite areas would report to separate local administrations.

Some of Yathrib’s Sunnis acknowledge they supported ISIS but refuse to apologize for it. The Shiite leader whose tribesmen guard one crossing into Yathrib, said his tribe would accept only blood money paid by the Sunni tribes themselves, not the government, saying:

If the government brings back the people of Yathrib without meeting our conditions, we are going to kill them all.

Tikrit is a different story. Last week, there was an orderly return of 1,400 families to Tikrit, a fraction of the 160,000 people originally displaced from the city.

Iraq’s government claims the return of Tikrit residents is an example of Sunni cooperation with the Shiite-majority militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Those forces led battles across Salahudeen province, and now are in charge of the repopulation effort. The plans for the orderly return of the population took months to get established, and local Sunni tribes that joined Shiite militias to fight ISIS have helped those militias and local officials set up an elaborate screening process. From the WSJ:

Other tensions remain. Sunni policemen stationed around Tikrit said some Shiite militiamen have refused to withdraw from the city despite government orders. In the city itself, they remain an intimidating presence, where residents complain their homes have been searched aggressively and some stores have been looted.

The Obama administration knows that the resettlement process is a make or break issue. If there isn’t a broader and successful reconciliation in Iraq, efforts to beat back ISIS will fail.

Yugoslavia went through the same thing after Tito’s death. There the conflicts were between Christians and Christians and Muslims.

The result was the creation of new nation-states organized largely around religion.

If it was ok for Yugoslavia, why not for Iraq?


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 31, 2015

Get a cup of coffee and ponder a few things on this Sunday.

First, from the NYT’s Upshot, data-driven news you can use: Clinton vs. Sanders voting record. Top line numbers, they voted the same way 93% of the time. However, the 31 times that Ms. Clinton and Mr. Sanders disagreed happened to be on some the biggest issues of the day, including measures on continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an immigration reform bill and bank bailouts during the Great Recession. Bernie was opposed to all these actions.

Second, recycled neo-con viewpoints from the Washington Post Editorial Board on the Obama administration’s strategy in Iraq and for ISIS: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The Obama administration has been unable to induce [Iraq’s] Abadi government to deliver desperately needed arms…to the Sunni tribes and Kurdish forces. Yet it [the Obama administration] simultaneously refuses to deliver materiel directly to those fighters, on the grounds this might undermine the Abadi government.

Then the Jeff Bezos team trots out Iran bogeyman:

Meanwhile, US officials watch as Iran continues to provide massive direct support to Shiite militias, including forces the US has designated as terrorist organizations.

Finally the neo-con wet dream of more troops on the ground emerges, repeating John McCain’s view:

Mr. Obama should bolster them with more US advisers, including forward air controllers, and more air support. He should insist that Mr. Abadi open a weapons pipeline to Sunni and Kurdish units. Perhaps most important, Mr. Obama should make his priority eliminating the Islamic State — as opposed to limiting US engagement in Iraq.

What we know: Experienced Iraqi army officers, who were largely Sunni, were left jobless when the Iraqi army was disbanded in 2004. Some of them joined ISIS. And Iraq’s current army officers are incompetent and corrupt appointees of an incompetent and corrupt Iraqi government. No matter what equipment we provide to the Iraqi army, all the Iraqi army will be capable of doing is spending our money and losing on the field of battle.

The editors of the WaPo have an agenda that isn’t serious about Iraq. The Iraqis do not lack weapons. We have spent nearly $40 billion on weapons and training. What money can’t buy is the will to fight. The Iraqi army apparently doesn’t have a lot of that.

If what the WaPo and Republicans really are saying is that more American men and women should die in Iraq for a country whose soldiers flee at the first sight of ISIS, then they should say that.

Let’s fight an endless war with money we don’t have. Great idea. Go ahead, you can now have your flashback to Vietnam.

On to a few cartoons.

Obama’s ISIS conundrum in a nutshell:

COW ISIS Bombing

FIFA’s story inspires others:

COW FIFA BustFIFA gets 47 count indictment:

COW Soccer Match

Texas floods delay Texas policy:

COWTexas Floods









One-third of Nigeria’s rescued girls are pregnant:

COW Nigeria Pro-Life



Sec Def Carter Says What Politicians Can’t

After Ramadi fell to ISIS, Mr. Obama said in an interview with the Atlantic, that the fall of Ramadi was a “tactical setback” in the US effort to defeat ISIS but said, “I don’t think we’re losing.” Then, because something real had to be said, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said it:

What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight…They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight. They withdrew from the site, and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.

He captured the essence of the problem:

We can give them training, we can give them equipment — we obviously can’t give them the will to fight…But if we give them training, we give them equipment, and give them support, and give them some time, I hope they will develop the will to fight, because only if they fight can ISIL remain defeated.

This was all too much for the Republicans, who are attacking President Obama’s “failed” strategy for dealing with ISIS. John Bolton said on Fox News Sunday: “We’re losing. There’s no doubt about it.” John McCain, on CBS’s Face the Nation: “We need more troops on the ground. We need forward air controllers”.

The Republican 2016 candidates also attacked Obama’s strategy, but said little about what they would do differently. Those who have spoken out, want thousands of US troops back in Iraq.

• Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum want to deploy 10,000 American troops in Iraq as part of a coalition with Arab nations
• Jeb Bush thinks additional American soldiers would have prevented ISIS from gathering strength in recent years. But an American-led force now? “I don’t think that will work,” he said last Friday
• Marco Rubio described his strategy against ISIS with a line from the movie “Taken” — “we will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you”
• Scott Walker and Rick Perry are open to a combat mission
• Rand Paul wants boots on the ground — as long as they are “Arab boots on the ground”

The Republicans offer “more troops” and movie quotes. They seem to say, “It matters not if you win or lose, it’s where you place the blame”. They also want us to believe that the “surge” defeated the Iraqi insurgency back in the day, and that if Obama had just stayed in Iraq, ISIS wouldn’t be there today.

It’s just more Republican delusion about a country we broke and can’t put back together.

Def Sec Carter was correct to rebuke the Iraqis for cutting and running at Ramadi. The Iraqi military and police forces outnumbered the attacking ISIS forces by 10 to 1, and were more heavily armed. Yet they still ran away as fast as their US-provided ground vehicles would carry them. The Iraqi forces have pointed out that they did not have as much air support as they wanted.

Ok, but it is fair to point out the total lack of air support available to ISIS forces. Any army, like the Iraqis who have air support, when facing an enemy who fights without air support, and finds itself unable to overcome that enemy, is probably fighting poorly.

The military situation is that ISIS and the Iraqi Shias are evenly matched in weaponry, and the Iraqi army has superior numbers. ISIS uses their arms and smaller numbers better, and leads their fighters more skillfully. What is keeping the Iraqi army from using the mobile, combined arms operations tactics that ISIS executes routinely? Is it lack of US air support? Lack of Iranian support?

Maybe it is a marked inferiority in leadership. How about a lack of competence in tactics, logistics, maintenance and supply, not to mention nepotism and chronic corruption?

This is not our fight, and it never was. Now that the apple cart is upside down, and the Sunnis and Shias are at each other, there is absolutely no place in this for the US. At the end of the day, we need to have both Sunni and Shia friends in the ME.

Bravo, Secretary Carter!

Keep our politicians real whenever they try to posture about the ME and ISIS.


Monday Wake Up Call – January 5, 2015

Let’s start the first Monday of the New Year with this photo of a hermaphrodite Northern Cardinal:


The half-red, half-white plumage of this northern cardinal is caused by its sex chromosomes not segregating properly after fertilization, so the bird is half-male, half-female. You can read more in New Scientist magazine here.

Last night, Wrongo watched Martin Scorsese’s film, The Last Waltz, which documents the last concert by the roots-rock group, The Band. Late in the movie, Robbie Robertson recounts jamming with the great harmonica player, Sonny Boy Williamson in the early 1960s, and making (never-realized) plans to work together. Obviously, Robertson, Helm, et al. went on to be the band that backed Bob Dylan in the 1970s.

Here is your Monday musical wake-up: Sonny Boy Williamson playing and singing “99”, in which he can’t come up with that last dollar to make the $100 his girlfriend wants:

Here are links that you may have missed:

Drone etiquette is one of several issues covered in the WSJ’s21 Tech Do’s and Don’ts for 2015.” Really, drone etiquette is gonna be a thing in 2015?

Dynamic scoring is not about succeeding in the bar scene, it’s a new Republican way of using the Congressional Budget Office to make tax cuts look good. The Wrongologist wrote about this in December.

Georgia police chief shoots wife (twice) while “moving” his Glock pistol in their bed. Yea, well, more for the “good guy with a gun” file. BTW, Glocks don’t accidentally fire, they have a unique safety mechanism, so you have to pull the trigger to fire it.

California colleges see surge in efforts to unionize adjunct faculty. At nearly a dozen private colleges in California, adjunct professors are holding first-time contract negotiations, or are campaigning to win the right to do so.

Almost one-fifth of the nation’s enclosed malls have vacancy rates considered troubling by real estate experts (10% or greater). Over 3% of malls are considered to be dying, with 40% vacancies or higher. That is up from less than 1% in 2006. Another impact of income inequality: High-end malls are thriving, while malls with anchor stores like Sears, Kmart and J. C. Penney falter.

Don’t try this at home: In 2015, the European Union is increasing taxes on purchases of digital content like e-books and smartphone applications. The taxes are part of a continuing push to tax the region’s digital economy more heavily. It will raise over $1 billion.

The latest ISIS offensive in Iraq’s Anbar Province may have reversed weeks of progress by Iraq’s government forces. And it only took a few hours. No airstrikes were launched by US coalition forces in time to support the ground troops.

From 07:00 until 11:00, we lost territory that had taken us two weeks to gain. In a few hours, it was gone,” said a senior officer from the Iraqi Army’s 7th Division.



Is ISIS the Khmer Rouge With Prayer Mats?

Does our military history show us anything helpful for dealing with ISIS today? Do we have a former foe that resembles ISIS?

The best analogy to ISIS is the Khmer Rouge (KR). The Khmer Rouge managed to kill 2 million Cambodians (close to 30% of the nation’s population), from 1975 to 1979. Ideology played an important role in the KR genocide. The KR wanted to return Cambodia to its “mythic past”, to stop foreign aid, which they saw as a corrupting influence, and to restore the country to an agrarian society based on Stalinist and Maoist ideals.

The Khmer Rouge worked at it for 4 years until 1979, when, after the US failed to stem the tide with airpower and a brief 1970 boots on the ground adventure (the Cambodian incursion), the army of the Republic of Vietnam ousted the KR and its leader Pol Pot, liberating the Cambodian people. Our response to the KR overthrow was to impose economic sanctions on Cambodia. Their crime was to be liberated by our enemy, who had also defeated us.

Nixon had reached out to China in 1972, and created a few strange political bedfellows. Throughout the 1980s, the US, the European powers and China continued to recognize the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia and blocked moves to place Pol Pot and his colleagues on trial. In fact, Zbigniew Brzezinski has said:

I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot. Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support him, but China could.

It took until 2014 to try the KR on genocide. The case is still working its way through the Cambodian courts.

The KR goal of purifying the nation via aggressive conversion of its people is starkly similar to the goals of ISIS, and in many ways, ISIS are the Khmer Rouge with prayer mats. Both wear (wore) black. Both morphed from destabilization engendered by the West. Both ruthlessly murdered rival factions, aiming to become the sole standard-bearer for fellow travelers in their region.

The parallels are sickly similar: The KR used brutality as a compliance technique − ripping fetuses from living women, smashing babies against trees – as does ISIS, randomly beheading and tweeting the result, burying women and kids alive. The KR were fundamental atheists – promising to tear down every temple, and kill all the monks, which they often did. Just as ISIS are fundamental believers, slaughtering the infidels, the heathens, the Christians, the Shia, or even certain Sunni tribes.

Fast forward to 2014 and there are obvious parallels between Cambodia and the Middle East. Both situations out of which the KR and ISIS emerged, were in part created by the West’s meddling in the geopolitics of the two regions.

The war in Iraq exposed that country’s deep sectarian divide. The Arab Spring toppled the Gaddafi regime. That led directly to Libya’s descent into lawlessness and fragmentation. After Libya came Syria, where ISIS currently constitutes the dominant opposition to Assad. Their faction includes thousands of foreign fighters, all of whom hew to a barbaric methodology that is similar to that of the Khmer Rouge. They have no political center to negotiate with, or anything to offer the region, except more sectarian violence and bloodletting. This is why Mr. Obama said they must be destroyed.

The lens of the KR’s frenzy may be a good way to view ISIS. First there was the KR’s bloodlust, whereby they slaughtered their own, including nominal KR supporters, who were thought to be less than true believers. Then they invaded a more powerful neighbor, Vietnam, leading to their own destruction. Thirteen years after the fall of Pol Pot and the KR, communism itself came tumbling down at the Berlin Wall. It turned out that the KR was the Meta example of extreme communism.

Far from ushering in a global Marxist Utopia, KR brought about its own demise.

That is also similar to the disjuncture between Islam and ISIS. As the KR’s brand of communism was rejected as a perversion by the vast majority of communists in the world, so the ideology of ISIS seems to be at least outwardly rejected by the bulk of the world’s Sunni Muslims, on the same grounds.

Could ISIS represent the final form of radical Islam? We can only hope that is true.

Finally, remember that Syria and Iran are nominal “enemies” of the US who are now confronting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. We have, for the most part, exited Iraq and are bombing ISIS, much like our less-than-successful bombing of the KR in the early 1970s.

We had no stake on the ground in Cambodia. We eventually reconciled with Vietnam and with Cambodia. Today, we have a limited stake in Syria and Iraq. Can we, or should we, work with a different set of “strange bedfellows” to blunt the challenge of ISIS in the Middle East?



Is Our Politicians Learning? The Answer is “No.”

Even as the American public, politicians, and pundits speak of putting boots on the ground in the Middle East, yesterday, Counterpunch posted Tariq Ali’s interview with Patrick Cockburn on ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Cockburn speaks about why the Iraqi army failed in Mosul in the face of a few thousand ISIS fighters. The point he makes is that the Iraqi army was set up as a corrupt organization. His reporting showed that when the Americans set up the new Iraqi army, they insisted that supplies should be outsourced: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

So immediately a colonel of a battalion nominally of 600 men would get money for 600 men, [but] in fact there were only 200 men in it, and [he] would pocket the difference, which was spread out among the officers. And this applied to fuel, it applied to ammunition…

At the time of the fall of Mosul, there were supposed to be 30,000 troops there. Cockburn estimates that only one in three were actually physically present. From Cockburn: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Because what you did was: you joined the army, you got your full salary and then you kicked back half that salary to your officer, who spread it among the officers. So I remember about a year ago talking to a senior Iraqi politician, and who said ‘look, the army’s going to collapse if it’s attacked’. I said surely some will fight, he said: ‘no, you don’t understand. These officers are not soldiers, they’re investors’!

Cockburn goes on to say:

They have no interest in fighting anybody; they have interest in making money out of their investment. Of course you had to buy your position. So in 2009, you want to be a colonel in the Iraqi army, it’ll cost you about $20,000, more recently it cost you about $200,000. You want to be divisional commander, and there are 15 divisions, it will cost you about $2 million.

Finally, the conclusion by Cockburn:

Of course, there are other ways of making money. Checkpoints on the roads act as sort of customs barriers and a tariff on each truck going through would be paid. So that’s why they ran away, led by their commanding officer. The three commanding generals got into a helicopter in civilian clothes and fled to Erbil, the Kurdish capital. And that led to the final dissolution of the army.

So, the Iraqi army didn’t become corrupt. It was set up to be corrupt from the start.

If Cockburn knew this, and the Iraqi general he interviewed knew this, then the US authorities in Baghdad knew this as well! It also begs the question of where the money went that we were spending to train the Iraqi military: If it was a fake army, why was Washington spending all this real money?

We need to keep this in mind as the drumbeats build for troops on the ground.

Let’s draw an inconvenient parallel. Robert Farley, Professor at the University of Kentucky Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, observes that the Obama administration has decided to rely on air power in its efforts to limit the power of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and asks whether air power could have won in Vietnam:

Taking a look at the strategic, tactical, and joint aspects of the use of air power in Vietnam, we can get to an answer of “Maybe, but…” with an emphasis on the “but.” The US could have used airpower more effectively in Vietnam than it did, but even the most efficient plans likely could not have saved the Saigon regime.

The South Vietnamese government did not have legitimacy and support of its population. If US airpower had been used in the most ‘effective’ possible way, Vietnam might have survived longer than it did, but a corrupt regime that lacked widespread legitimacy with its own population was not going to survive in the long run.

Iraq is analogous to South Vietnam. It is a corrupt regime that lacks support of a significant minority of its citizens. To the Sunni community, amounting to about 20% of Iraqis, ISIS is a better overlord than the Iraqi army or the Iraqi Shia militias.

However, tactically air power may be more successful in Syriraqistan. It can slow ISIS from taking new territory, but it’s not going to dislodge them from where they sit, without killing a lot of civilians.

The question still comes down to “How many civilians are we willing to kill?”, because the first thing an enemy with no air defense learns is not to hang around in the open where they make easy targets. Indeed, today, the White House acknowledged for the first time that strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from US drone strikes will not apply to US military operations in Syria and Iraq.

Obama’s problem was saying the objective was to “destroy ISIS”. We can’t “win” the war against ISIS. We can keep them bottled up, and that’s where bombing can help. We can destroy ISIS’s fuel, weapons supplies, and vehicles.

If we do that for long enough, ISIS could collapse on its own – it’s a creature of war and expansionism, and its crowd of foreign and local fighters will get restless and start turning on each other if they can’t conquer new areas.

If boots are required, they will have to come from the neighborhood.