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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – December 7, 2019

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

Arguments to reject them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 22, 2015

JFK was killed 52 years ago today. Most of us only vaguely remember the tragedy, but Wrongo was in class at Georgetown in Washington DC when it happened, so he remembers it well. It seemed that the nation convulsed when Kennedy was killed. We watched Cronkite read the news from the ticker, we saw Oswald shot live on TV, and we watched the procession with John-John’s salute. But was the arc of our history really altered? There are what-ifs by liberals about the Vietnam War, but it continued until the Nixon administration. LBJ, thought of as not worthy to succeed Kennedy, delivered the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid, and the National Endowment for the Arts to the country.

On to cartoons. Paris, immigration and the 2016 presidential election dominated the week’s news.

GOP governors edit Emma Lazarus:

COW No Entry

Why we are fearful:

COW Fear Itself

It is a lot easier to pretend that you’re acting tough by talking about closing mosques and turning away refugees than it is to explain why the risks are worth taking. The appropriate response is to point out that it isn’t tough to cower in fear. We are actually tough when we tolerate a little fear in the interest of doing the right and wise thing.

In time for the Holidays, a “No Vacancy” sign:

COW No Room at the Inn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The safety net is remade by Republicans in His image:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

The immigration debate reminds us of walls through the ages:

COW Tear Down This Wall

Jeb reviews our recent history with France:

COW Jeb France

 

Promise them anything but a balanced budget:

COW Budget Implications

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Paris: A Time for Bed-wetting, or Leadership?

From Krugman:

So what was Friday’s attack about? Killing random people in restaurants and at concerts is a strategy that reflects its perpetrators’ fundamental weakness. It isn’t going to establish a caliphate in Paris. What it can do, however, is inspire fear — which is why we call it terrorism, and shouldn’t dignify it with the name of war.

It is always better to wait a day before reacting to something like the Paris attacks. It’s easy to say “We have to do something”, that our response must be vicious and overwhelming. Let’s call that “bed-wetting.” As used here, bed-wetting isn’t a physical or psychological term, it is describing the emotional response to fear that causes us say “do something!” So put French President Hollande into the “bed-wetting” category. He said that France would engage in “pitiless war”, as if some wars involve pity.

Really? A “war” on terrorists? Does that sound familiar to anyone? We know how that ends.

It is bed-wetting when several US state governors respond to Paris by announcing the ban of Syrian immigrants.

Other “bed-wetting” examples are Republicans ratcheting up the rhetoric, intimating that what’s being done by President Obama has failed to keep the country safe. Some are calling for an increased US footprint in the Middle East, including “boots on the ground,” and an increased role for the NSA in surveillance and intelligence-gathering capabilities.

So, can we see beyond bed-wetting to leadership? This is certainly a time for leadership. But what are the chances? Mr. Obama is in Turkey for the G20 meetings. He has conferred with Putin. Did they talk concretely about cooperating in Syria?

Obama is also meeting with Erdogan, the Saudi king and the Emir of Qatar about how to combat ISIS, despite the fact that all of them are ISIS sponsors. Will anything come from those meetings?

Bed-wetting says terror is about Islam, and leadership is about the bold use of our military. The roughly one billion Muslims who aren’t currently engaged in killing us (or each other) must be made part of the solution through leadership. Yet, bed-wetting demonizes all of them.

So, what should we do?

We need to stop pussyfooting around what we know to be true.

1. We should declare war on ISIS and Al Qaeda. A declaration of war forces us to get beyond posturing and political finger-pointing.
2. It is high time we tell Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to stop funding the head choppers and suicide bombers. We have to say, “One more dollar to the jihadists, and we no longer buy your oil”, regardless of the consequences. The friend of my enemy is my enemy.
3. We must recruit Russia and Iran as allies in this fight. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. This means we must stop demonizing Putin about Crimea and Ukraine, at least for the time being.
4. Europe must re-establish strict border controls.
5. Erdogan’s facilitating of a Muslim invasion of Europe must end.
6. The West must accept that Syria’s Assad is going to stay in power for a while.
7. We must accept the cooperation of all who fight ISIS, including Hezbollah, despite what Israel might say.

Now, none of the above points will be supported by the bed-wetters. Their dependence on the politics of fear prevents them from thinking outside of the neocon box. As Charlie Pierce said:

A 242-ship Navy will not stop one motivated murderous fanatic from emptying the clip of an AK-47 into the windows of a crowded restaurant. The F-35 fighter plane will not stop a group of motivated murderous fanatics from detonating bombs at a soccer match. A missile-defense shield in Poland will not stop a platoon of motivated murderous fanatics from opening up in a jammed concert hall, or taking hostages, or taking themselves out with suicide belts when the police break down the doors.

Posturing about Russia and Iran fall into the same category.

We must accept that there will be Paris-type attacks inside the US homeland. Despite our huge anti-terror funding of the police, the possibility of jihadi success here is real. The Paris model of mostly local French and Belgian jihadis born of Muslim immigrants is also a viable model for attacks in the US.

It’s very human to fall for the ‘we’ vs ‘them’ meme. Because it feels good, and you can be sure it makes those around you feel good too. But that is only an illusion in times of fear and insecurity, when we don’t have a simple answer.

Leadership or bed-wetting. You choose.

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What’s The Strategy Mr. Obama?

From The Atlantic:

Defense Secretary Ash Carter says the US will step up its operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, including through ‘direct action on the ground.’

Carter captured the strategic incoherence that is the essence of our current Middle East policy.

And isn’t sending our uniformed military into Syria to support forces in open rebellion against the Syrian government an act of war? What will we say when a non-NATO country invokes this same precedent, say, in the Baltic States, or on Philippine territory?

We seem to be relying on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). The AUMF is our legal excuse to justify any plan for more intervention in the ME. It is a catch-all, because it allows the US to go after whoever we dislike. The relevant passage from the AUMF says that the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

Our new ME policy backs ISIS in Syria, but fights it in Iraq. This is a flawed strategic position. It puts US soldiers at risk of direct confrontation with Russian forces, instead of by proxy, which would be bad enough. From Sic Semper Tyrannis: (Brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

In Syria, the [Def Sec]Carter/[General]Dunford/WH “team” proposes to insert US Green Berets into YPG Kurdish controlled areas northeast of Aleppo as instructors, coordinators, advisers and air controllers. The Turkish Air Force has been busy bombing these same Kurds the last few days to prevent them moving west along the border to seal it against IS transit of the border from Turkey…Question – what will happen when Turkey kills some US soldiers?

We are doing this because we have been outplayed by Russia in Syria. The US (and Obama’s) dilemma has nothing to do with the alleged Obama fecklessness. It has everything to do with the US having to cope with the second order effects of the destruction of Iraq.

Iraq is America’s cardinal sin, and we will suffer its consequences for a very long time.

The US cannot have a coherent ME strategy as long as it remains loyal to its traditional ME allies/clients Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel. Successive administrations have maneuvered the US into a position where we can’t extricate ourselves from the policy goals of these “client states”, even when we know their goals are detrimental to US interests.

These alliances have placed the US in a foreign policy straitjacket. Obama wants to wriggle free. He wants to accept the changes in the regional balance of power that have emerged as a result of the destruction of Iraq, but our allies/clients both resent, and oppose them.

The simple fact is that the US is dependent on the consent of these allies/clients for the use of their overseas bases. The Turks have leveraged that need with the denial of use of Incirlik Air Base until their demands were met. We should expect the Saudis and Qataris play the same card.

The Obama administration understands that the US is losing its grip on the region and its politics. We try to operate against that, despite having allies/clients that have different objectives than we have, allies who have diametrically opposing narratives of recent events and very different policy goals.

That means the “allies” resist our plans, while we compromise with them, and work to meet their preconditions. This is precisely because the US has configured our Empire in a way that means these allies aren’t “client states” at all: They are “customers” for our military suppliers, and everyone knows that The Customer Is Always Right.

In the end, even assuming a rational strategy and stellar execution, the regional balance of power in the ME has fundamentally changed, and the US must adjust.

This new move by the Obama administration means that America is on a track to just continue wandering around in the ME. That will continue until we are again bloodied on the ground, and fade away…or stumble into WWIII.

We let the genie is out of the bottle. Now it is time to deal with it.

 

See you on Sunday.

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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.

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Why the Hysteria about Russia and Syria?

Tom Friedman gets it right:

Today’s reigning cliché is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart.

The hysterical neocon viewpoint was amply represented by who else but John McCain, who told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he could confirm that Russia’s initial strikes were:

Against our Free Syrian Army (FSA) or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA, because we have communications with people there.

There was no similar howl of angst when NATO member Turkey started bombing the West’s friends the Kurds, instead of ISIS. So, no hypocrisy here.

And McCain calls them our FSA? We have no FSA, although the CIA trains a few groups. The prevailing neocon fantasy, that we could have prevented the Syrian mess by training and arming a bigger, badder “Free Syrian Army”, continues to pollute the Syrian issue, preventing honest debate. We trained and armed a million soldiers in Vietnam, 300,000+ in Iraq, and tens of thousands in Afghanistan. How did those efforts work out?

And our training of Syrian “moderate rebels” has been a total bust.

But, the Russians’ first foray didn’t hit ISIS, they hit other groups. Word is they hit targets north and west of Homs (al-Rastan, Talbisah and al-Zafaraaneh). This is an area controlled not by ISIS, but other rebel groups. And right on cue, we heard that they hit the Syrian “moderates”.

Imagine, the US couldn’t find “moderate” rebels for 3 years, but the Russians found them in 24 hours!

McCain characterized the Russian air strikes as:

An incredible flouting of any kind of cooperation or effort to conceal what their first — Putin’s priority is. And that is of course to prop up Bashar al-Assad.

It’s time for the US to move on. We need to accept the reality that Assad won’t be dealt with until the Islamist threat in Syria and Iraq is contained. It’s also time to let the Russians have a shot at containing the Islamist threat. Whatever Russia’s entry into Syria does for the confrontation with ISIS, it has clarified our thinking. Our strategy says we can’t work with Assad and Iran to attack ISIS. Putin’s strategy says work with Assad and Iran to attack Assad’s enemies and ISIS simultaneously:

• Putin’s first priority will be to secure the Russian base at Tartus and its air base at Latakia. That is what he has done with his initial strikes, as some insurgents have already tried to hit the Russian air base with rockets.
• After securing western and central Syria, Russia will work to take out ISIS, starting with eliminating a few ISIS groups that threaten Russian territory.

So, what should we be doing? Col. Pat Lang has a few ideas:

1. Obama should act as if Russia and Iran are more than just rivals and adversaries. This will take courage and leadership on his part to explain to the American people.
2. Obama must fully coordinate operations, intelligence analysis sharing and logistics with Russian and Iran.
3. We should forget about positive contributions to the ISIS fight from Turkey. Turkey is a major part of the problem.
4. We should ignore Saudi Arabia’s wishes with regard to Syria, since they support the jihadis.

Friedman describes the big advantage to letting Putin take the lead in Syria:

Let’s say the US did nothing right now, and just let Putin start bombing ISIS and bolstering Assad. How long before every Sunni Muslim in the Middle East, not to mention every jihadist, has Putin’s picture in a bull’s eye on his cellphone?

No one is arguing that Bashar al-Assad is a benevolent leader, but when US media and analysts at some think tanks start describing al-Qaeda as “moderate”, we need to rethink our strategy. Again.

You can’t go into Syria under the pretext of fighting ISIS and simultaneously try to depose Assad, only to gripe when Russia also goes into Syria under the pretext of fighting ISIS and props up Assad.

That sword cuts both ways.

The bottom line is that the US, and its ME and European allies are going to have to admit that getting rid of Assad is a secondary priority to our absolute requirement to contain and ultimately eliminate the threat from ISIS. They also must admit that none of the groups that the CIA and our ME allies have trained and supported represent a viable alternative to the Assad regime.

The sooner we do, the sooner Syria will cease to be the jihadi chessboard du jour, on which ISIS and a civil war in Syria have left hundreds of thousands of innocent people dead.

We need to turn a corner. Our current thinking has failed.

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Petraeus Wants to Arm al-Qaeda

(This will be the last column until Sept. 8th, as the Wrongologist goes to work preparing the fields of Wrong for fall. Happy Labor Day!)

General David Petraeus, possible VP candidate on the Moar War ticket, wrote an article in which his bright idea is to arm al-Qaeda in Syria in order to fight ISIS. The Daily Beast reports that Petraeus has been quietly urging US officials to consider using so-called “moderate” members of the al-Nusra Front, a spin-off of al-Qaeda, to fight ISIS in Syria.

Sound familiar? Every neocon has preached this idea since 2011.

The idea stems from Petraeus’ experience in Iraq in 2007, when as part of a broader strategy to defeat an Islamist insurgency, the US persuaded Sunni militias to stop fighting with al Qaeda and to work with the American military. That led to the fiction called the surge, which was compounded by the fiction that says the surge “worked”. But as Emptywheel says: (parenthesis and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Al-Qaeda in Iraq was later reborn as ISIS, [which] has become the sworn enemy of its parent organization. Now, Petraeus is returning to his old play, advocating a strategy of co-opting rank-and-file members of al Nusra, (a spin-off of al-Qaeda) particularly those who don’t necessarily share all of core al Qaeda’s Islamist philosophy.

The concept of arming al-Nusra, which purports to be opposed [in some cases] to our latest enemy ISIS, which itself emerged out of a prior enemy (al-Qaeda in Iraq), ensures we will have an environment of continual enemies, and thus, continual warfare. The “arm one of our enemies to fight another of our enemies” is a bad strategy that keeps getting trotted out, usually by neocons, even though it inevitably leads to more enemies to fight down the line.

Perhaps you remember the Taliban? In an article called “McJihad: Islam in the US Global Order”, Timothy Mitchell reports the following: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

On 3 February 1997, a delegation of the Taliban government of Afghanistan visited Washington, D.C. Ten days earlier Taliban forces had won control of the countryside around Kabul, and with the south and east of the country already in their hands they were now making preparations to conquer the north. In Washington the Taliban delegation met with State Department officials and discussed the plans of the California oil company Unocal to build a pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan. A senior U.S. diplomat explained his government’s thinking: “The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did. There will be Aramco, pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that.

The enemy of my enemy strategy didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. The US has always found radical, conservative Islamism preferable to nationalist or communist currents in the Middle East. It has been in bed with Salafi-Wahhabism since the Saudis founded their theocratic, reactionary state. In fact as Tom Friedman said yesterday, current day Wahhabism cannot be understood outside the dynamics of petroleum-based geo-politics.

Perhaps the headline about Gen. Petraeus’s idea should be:

David Petraeus, after overseeing a series of failed training efforts and covert efforts that led to increased radicalization, wants America to try again.

It is one thing to work clandestinely with a few bad guys, and it’s a completely different thing to do so publicly, as Petraeus would like. The Obama administration’s legal backing for fighting ISIS is based on the 2003 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) which holds:

[t]hat the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

The Department of Defense’s term of art is usually “Al-Qaeda and associated forces” or “affiliated forces” when it describes those defined in the AUMF. How then can we legally claim to fight ISIS under the AUMF when an ally in that fight is the only enemy cited in the AUMF?

And what would be DC’s plan if al-Qaeda actually won?

When ex-generals need to be consulted about foreign policy, our foreign policy has failed.

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A State for the Kurds?

The Kurds are on the verge of creating a homeland of their own, despite Iraq and US efforts to avoid it. If they do, the Middle East may never be the same. The Wall Street Journal had an interesting report about the possibility of an independent Kurdish state:

Amid an imploding Middle East ravaged by religious hatreds, the Kurds are providing a rare bright spot—and their success story is finding fresh support and sympathy in the West. By contrast with the rest of the region, all the main Kurdish movements today are broadly pro-Western and secular.

There are 30 million Kurds in the ME and only 4.5-6 million live in Iraq. Their language, Kurdish, is part of the Indo-European family of languages—close to Persian (Farsi) but unrelated to Arabic or Turkish.

Unlike Iranians, who are mostly Shiite Muslims, most Kurds are Sunnis. Despite that, they are confronting the Sunni ISIS, and the Shiite-supported Syrians.

Here is a map of the potential Kurdish state:

Kurdish Empire

 

In Iraq, the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government, (KRG), was adopted by the new Iraqi constitution after the US invasion. Kurds control their own affairs. This has allowed the Kurds to achieve a boom in investment and construction that has produced new highways, hotels and shopping malls.

The Kurdistan government in northern Iraq maintains its own armed forces, known as the Peshmerga (literally, “those who confront death”), and no Iraqi troops are allowed in the region. The KRG controls its own borders, and Westerners can fly into the region’s capital, Erbil, without a visa. Kurdish is used everywhere as the official language, and few young Iraqi Kurds can speak fluent Arabic.

Yet, political divisions hamper the Kurds’ fight against ISIS, and their prospects for self-rule. Only a minority of Peshmerga brigades on the front lines are under KRG command, while the rest still report directly to one of the two rival political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

From a regional perspective, Iran has a significant Kurdish minority that it has suppressed in the past. Now, it is strengthening ties with the KRG, since Iran views the KRG as an ally in the fight against ISIS.

In Syria, the civil war has enabled Kurds to set up a wide area of self-administration in the northeast of the country, eliminating the border between Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, who now travel back and forth across it without visas.

And in Turkey, decades of outright denial of the existence of Kurds, (they called Kurds “Mountain Turks”) led to a bloody war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The fighting ended only after a cease-fire was proclaimed in March 2013. The PKK was once an ally of the Assad regime, and is still classified as a terrorist group by the US and Turkey.

But, in the just-concluded Turkish elections, Kurds voted for the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, which won 13% of the national vote and gained 86 seats in the Turkish parliament. The Kurds demonstrated they can serve as check against the anti-democratic aspirations of Turkey’s President Erdogan.

But neither the Iraqis nor the US want an independent Kurdistan, despite the possibility that Kurdistan as an independent state would be a buffer against the expansion of ISIS. They act as a “Northern Front” in the war against ISIS, and ISIS will be forced to commit resources to the area, as demonstrated by the Kurds seizing the crucial border crossing, Tal Abyad, cutting ISIS supply lines and uniting Kurdish areas that now stretch from Iraq halfway to the Mediterranean Sea.

Yes, an independent Kurdistan would mean the “fragmenting” of Iraq, which Mr. Obama does not support. But Iraq was never a real country; it was cobbled together after WW1 by European bureaucrats drawing arbitrary lines on a map, with no thought to historical or cultural realities. Like Humpty Dumpty, no one knows how to put those historical anomalies “Syria” and “Iraq” back together again. They’re going to be a mess for a while.

The Kurds are different. They have the makings of a state − an area that enjoys the allegiance of its people, has civil order that allows it to raise taxes and create an effective army. It is doubtful that the US will formally recognize a Kurdish state anytime soon, but the ME is a place where that is irrelevant.

No need to recognize the Kurds as a state, just treat them like one. Buy their oil (as Israel does), and give them weapons and humanitarian aid.

They may richly repay the investment.

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Are We Now Borg?

On Monday, Reuters reported about the ISIS takeover of Ramadi in Iraq. They quote Secretary of State John Kerry, who said Ramadi was a “target of opportunity,” that could be retaken in a matter of days, and US officials insisted there would be no change in strategy despite a failure to make major advances against ISIS. They also reported that Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior Iranian official, said Tehran was ready to help confront Islamic State, and he was certain the city would be “liberated”.

Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis made a great point about deceptive propaganda that is directed at a country’s own people. He was talking about the US and that John Kerry and our General in Iraq, Gen. Thomas Weidly used exactly the same talking points. Col. Lang makes a case that the US Military’s embrace of “Thought Control†occurred after America lost the Vietnam War. This from Lang: (emphasis and brackets by the Wrongologist)

It came to be an article of faith that “Information Operations,” (propaganda = IO) and “Kinetic Operations” (shooting people as necessary) were equally effective ways to wage war. This belief led to an exaggerated faith in the IO side of COIN [Counterinsurgency Operations]…and [our] repeated attempts to change…the basic beliefs of the many different peoples of the earth who simply do not want to be changed by foreigners.

And we have conclusive evidence it hasn’t worked in the Middle East. Lang continues:

As a result of this kind of thinking we have done all kinds of foolish things. Among them, we situated outposts in totally hostile parts of Afghanistan next to villages from which our men would never be able to defend themselves.

And we were told that if we followed COIN, we would win in Afghanistan and Iraq. But we didn’t win. And now in Iraq, Syria and Yemen our government continues to spin us. The government narrative is that all is well, defeat at Ramadi is nothing but “a momentary setback”. This theme is propagated, while they tout a raid in Syria (see below in Links) as a distraction from what now appears to be a catastrophe in the making in Iraq.

Kerry has emerged as our “Baghdad Bobâ€. Increasingly, it seems that we are in a phase where our government tries to intervene in all aspects of our lives to keep people believing in our geopolitical strategy, whether it is Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Iran or Yemen.

When information operations (IO) came into vogue, truth was buried by the narrative. Somehow, the American public became a legitimate target for national IO. Lang closes by comparing us to the Borg:

When you are part of the Borg you eventually come to believe that the talking points are the only reality and that defeat is evidence of impending victory. Locutas said that resistance is futile.

Talking points won’t protect our Republic, they will hasten its demise.

Today’s Links:

US officials leak information about their ISIS raid that’s more sensitive than anything Snowden ever leaked. Over the weekend, the US government announced that Special Forces soldiers entered Syria to conduct a raid that killed an alleged leader of ISIS, Abu Sayyaf. In the process, anonymous US officials leaked classified information that the New York Times published. As to the “growing network of informants†the Times quotes, maybe the US wants the ISIS to believe they have traitors in their midst….

World’s longest and highest glass-bottom bridge to open in China. The foot bridge spans two cliffs in China’s Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon. It is 1,410 feet long and 20 feet wide, hovering over a 984-foot vertical drop. This may not be for the vertigo-challenged.

NYC police Chief Bill Bratton to assign 450 NYPD cops to fight terrorism that may come from the ISIS. Apparently ISIS is selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island.

Forbes reports on all 50 states ranked by the cost of weed. States where recreational marijuana use is legal are also the states where marijuana is least expensive. This is also the case in Canada, where weed can be bought legally from places like speed greens at an inexpensive price. If you would like to grow your own weed then you may want to check out grow tents for weed. Mr. Market says that’s what was supposed to happen. In four states where pot has been legalized or decriminalized–Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska, the price of an ounce has fallen below $300, compared with the nationwide average of $324. Oregon leads with a price of $204/ounce.

Florida GOP approves winner-take-all presidential primary for March 15, 2016. This makes FLA a BFD, especially for Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. It means the guy who finishes 2nd in Florida will have a hard time winning the Republican presidential nomination from the guy who finishes first.

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