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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake-Up Call – October 20, 2014

Happy Monday! Here is your thought for the week:

“People react to fear, not love. They don’t teach that in Sunday school, but it’s true” − Richard M. Nixon

Not a complete surprise that Nixon was wrong. They DO teach fear in Sunday school:

COW Fear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Liberia, only 43% of the adult population are literate, so radio, not the written word, is the best way to inform people about the disease. There are 16 local languages in Liberia, in addition to English. People rarely have access to the Internet or television.

Songs about Ebola are popular in West Africa. One of the most popular is “Ebola in Town” by Samuel “Shadow” Morgan and Edwin “D-12” Tweh, along with Kuzzy, of 2Kings. The song sounds like American hip-hop, but the style is called “Hip Co”, a form of colloquial English that appeals to young Liberians (about 50% of the population is under 18).

Here is an audio file of the song. There are YouTube videos out there, but they have extremely graphic depictions of Ebola victims, and may not be suitable for viewing at work or at home, if kids are in the room:

A sample of the lyrics:
Something happen
Something in town

Oh yeah the news

I said something in town
Ebola
Ebola in town

[Snip]

If you like the monkey

Don’t eat the meat
If you like the baboon
I said don’t eat the meat
If you like the bat-o
Don’t eat the meat
Ebola in town.

Songs can’t do all that much in a nation with the second-fewest doctors per person in the world.

Here are today’s hot links for your breakfast buffet:

Ebola got you stressed? Try textual healing. A new breed of online-therapy services offers flat-rate plans that allow you to text-chat with a licensed, accredited therapist as much as you like (need).

At least 30 states are still providing less funding per student for the 2014-15 school year than they did before the recession hit.

Researchers have created what they call Alzheimer’s in a Dish — a petri dish with human brain cells that develop the telltale structures of Alzheimer’s disease.

And we were doing so well in Pakistan: Six senior members of the Pakistani Taliban vowed allegiance to the Islamic State.

Go ahead, take your time getting to the party: Study shows that the median arrival time of 803 guests was 58 minutes after the party’s start time.

Of course we love our allies: Saudis to behead, then crucify a cleric who spoke out against the King. Did you know that Saudi Arabia doesn’t have a constitution?

We will never learn: John Allen, the general in charge of the US-led coalition’s response to ISIS says the US will create “a home-grown, moderate counterweight to the Islamic State”. Didn’t work in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq. Why would it work this time?

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Oil: Our Latest Middle East Bombing Run?

Oil has now become another front in the competition between America’s friends and enemies in the Middle East. On October 1st Saudi Arabia, the OPEC cartel’s dominant producer, pumping around a third of OPEC’s oil, or about 9.7 million barrels a day, unilaterally cut its official prices. The Economist reports on the surprising price of oil:

Since June the price of a barrel of Brent crude oil—the global benchmark—has slumped from $115 to $92, a decline of 20%, and the lowest for more than two years.

Here is the Economist’s  graph of Brent crude prices:

Brent Crude Price

They report that the drop is partly due to economic weakness. Growth is slowing, particularly in China and the Euro zone, bringing with it a reduction of oil consumption. The WaPo reports that prices have fallen in the US as well: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Crude oil prices are…down to the lowest level in 17 months in the US. Gasoline prices have [also] been sliding.

Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia told the oil market it would be comfortable with prices as low as $80/barrel for a period of up to two years. Reuters says the following about the Saudi strategy: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The Saudis appear to be betting lower prices – which could strain the finances of some members of OPEC – will be necessary to pave the way for higher revenue in the medium term, by curbing new investment and further increases in supply from places like the US shale patch

This drop in prices will give a short-term boost to the US economy and US consumers, who will view cheaper gas prices like an increase in take-home pay. But it could put a dent in revenues in countries such as Russia, and Iran, where oil exports play an enormously important role in supporting economic growth and government finances. Russia’s Finance Minister has already announced that lower oil revenues could force the curtailment of its military spending:

Between 2004 and 2014, Russia doubled its military spending and according to the newly adopted budget, it will further increase it from 17.6 percent of all budget spending this year to 20.8 percent, or 3.36 trillion rubles ($84.19 billion), in 2017.

But the new Russian budget, which envisages a deficit of 0.6% of GDP over the next three years, is based on oil prices of $100+ per barrel, not the high-$80’s seen this week. On Monday, President Putin signed a law that would allow the government to tap one of the country’s oil windfall revenue funds, the Reserve Fund, for the first time since the aftermath of the 2007-8 global financial crisis. The Fund contains $90 billion. While it is doubtful that this will change Russia’s stance on Ukraine, it might influence Russia’s position on Syria.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Iran has a higher per barrel break-even price than other Middle East oil producers. Here is the oil per barrel price required to balance each country’s budget:

OPEC Breakeven prices

 

Iran, faced with lower oil revenues and the highest break-even price, could be forced to limit its nuclear program, or even its support for Iraq’s battle against ISIS.

But before we have a party and celebrate, lower prices also affect oil production in the US. The Economist quotes David Vaucher, an analyst at IHS, who says that to achieve a realistic internal rate of return on investment of 10%, a typical new shale-oil project in America requires an oil price of $57 a barrel, but some still require between $75 and $110.

The Obama administration held detailed discussions in September with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. While it was clear that one outcome was an agreement by the Saudis to participate in air attacks on ISIS, it is clearly possible that the plan to use oil prices as a tool in the fight was also on the table. It wouldn’t be the first time that oil price (or availability) has been used as a weapon. Oil was first used as a weapon by the US to stop Israel, Britain, and France from retaking the Suez Canal in 1956.

And as Michael Klare says at Oilprice.com, the “oil weapon” was used in 1973 against the US. We hated OPEC’s war on our economy back then. Skip ahead four decades, and it’s smart, it’s effective, and it’s the American way. We of course, used that very same old oil weapon when we embargoed oil sales by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Oil is again the centerpiece of our Middle East strategy.

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Monday Wake-up Call – October 13, 2014

Happy Columbus Day! We start a new weekly feature today, the Monday Wake-up Call, with a music video to get your body and mind up and going on Monday, along with links to a few of last week’s articles that you probably missed, and the Wrongologist found interesting.

Here we go: The Monday Wake-up video is “Life in Wartime” by the Talking Heads. This version is from their movie, “Stop Making Sense”. Get up and dance:

Now, a breakfast buffet of links to underreported news:

There have been a tsunami of TV ads for the Senate campaigns. Candidates, political parties and outside advocacy groups have aired 991,835 Senate campaign spots from January through October 6th 2014.

Got Drones? Here is a list of everyone authorized to fly drones in the US.

It costs the US $500,000 to take out an ISIS Toyota truck. War has always been about inflicting greater costs on the enemy than the costs that you take, but the new business model is way more efficient. The US Military-Industrial Complex (USMIC) now controls the entire deal. They supply the arms to the insurgents, and to the allies, some of whom give them to the insurgents. Then we destroy them. The costs may be higher, but the USMIC makes way more profit.

There is a huge methane hotspot in the 4 Corners: Satellite imagery has revealed a methane hotspot that is leaking methane (a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide but not as long lasting) into the atmosphere near the “Four Corners” area where the borders of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet.

Why the Ebola fight can’t be won in Africa. Ian Welsh links Western efforts to fund/finance development in Africa over the past 50 years to the current public health crisis.

Research shows the Ebola virus can be found in survivors’ semen for months after recovery. So, it’s not enough to survive the disease, men can be infectious for up to 90 days after their symptoms are gone. Not Typhoid Mary, its Ebola Eddie…Yikes!

Edward Snowden’s girlfriend is living with him in Moscow. Apparently, she moved in with him in July, but the US media didn’t think you needed to know, since we were told that his life in Russia was grim, and that was the price he paid for being a whistle-blowing turncoat. The joke is that Snowden has not only profoundly changed how the world thinks about government spying on its citizens, as well as its allies and enemies, he has built a happy life for himself.

An idea to frame your week:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process, he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you

(Friedrich Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future”)

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 12, 2014

Be afraid. Be very afraid.” In 20 letters, it’s the platform and program of the GOP:

COW Ebola Imports

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Complete version: Be afraid of Africans, Hispanics, Democrats, Liberals, Muslims, Atheists, Foreigners, Gays, etc. If fact, be afraid of just about everyone except the GOP. Because those OTHERS will take your money, take your job, take your gun, infect you with diseases, break into you house, rape your women folk, strengthen and enlarge your government, spend your taxes, use your resources, raise your prices, insult your God, hurt your feelings (saying ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’), corrupt your children, impoverish your descendants, enlarge your government, make life in your suburb or your condo no better than that of a slave on a plantation… and did we say enlarge your government?

If the above makes sense to you, then vote the Republican ticket in November. The GOP won’t accomplish anything, but they will validate your paranoia, and that will feel so good!

Stock Market gives back all of the year’s gain in one week:

 

COW Bad Week on Wall Street

The Supremes non-decision causes a wedding:

COW Shotgun Wedding

Malala winning the Nobel makes many parents jealous:

COW Slacker

ISIS recruiting steals American Slogan, “E Pluribus Unum”:

COW Out of many One

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Turkey’s Role in ISIS Oil Smuggling

The US and its allies aim to degrade the power and influence of ISIS, and that means reducing its flow of oil money. According to a New York Times article, US diplomats are pressuring Turkey to cut off the stream of oil smuggled across its border.

ISIS is producing between 25,000 and 40,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) in Iraq. Since they cannot sell this oil legitimately, they sell it on the black market. The Times quotes energy analysts who think ISIS is pocketing between $1.2 and $2 million per day. Luay al-Khatteeb, a fellow at the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center, told the Times:

The key gateway through that black market is the southern corridor of Turkey…Turkey is becoming part of this black economy.

Oil Price reports that smuggled oil could be a pivotal issue for the US and its coalition as it seeks to destroy ISIS. The militant group sells oil at a reduced price – around $25 per barrel. Initially, it sold the oil to middlemen, who moved the oil to Iran, Syria, Jordan and Turkey. From Oil Price:

But as ISIS’ operations grew, they forced out the middlemen, beat back other militant groups, and are now providing security to their own convoys of oil tanker trucks heading out of their territory to market.

This raises the question of Turkey’s role in the oil smuggling. They apparently do not condone it, but have done little to stop it. Al-Monitor reports that smuggling is a well-established tradition across Turkey’s southeastern borders with Iraq and Syria. Oil is expensive in most of Turkey, but cheap in the south. This has created an illegal, but widespread south-north trade route. The smuggling economy is not just about oil, however. It also includes other popular items and commodities, such as tea. Al-Monitor:

If one orders tea in southeastern Turkey, the servers often ask, ‘Do you want normal tea or smuggled tea’?

Overall, cutting off this source of revenue has as much strategic value as the effort to take out weapons systems (tanks and artillery) that ISIS seized in the move against Mosul. Turkey can be of help to this effort through better control of its borders.

This raises a more basic question: Where exactly does Turkey stand on ISIS?

This is a matter of controversy between Turkey and the West. The Turkish government has been criticized on three main points: that it has not done enough to close its borders to the flow of foreign fighters joining ISIS; that it has not done enough to curb radical groups at home that recruit for ISIS; and that ISIS makes much of its money by selling oil via Turkey.

These criticisms were not openly discussed before the Sept. 20 release of 49 Turks held by ISIS, who were taken hostage in June when ISIS captured Mosul. The Turkish paper Daily Hurriyet reported that there was a swap with ISIS: The Syrian rebel group Liwa al-Tawhid, another offshoot of the al-Nusra Front, released 50 members of ISIS, including the family of a slain ISIS leader.

Prior to their release, the Turkish government argued that its hands were tied, that it could not join the US-led coalition against ISIS. Now, with the end of the hostage crisis, Ankara must think more concretely about the threat just across its southern border.

In fact, Turkey has just closed its borders to ISIS militants who want to move into Syria to become fighters, while continuing to allow Syrian Kurd refugees into Turkey. However, it still has a major problem with ISIS recruiting inside Turkey. The Daily Hurriyet has traced ISIS in five Turkish cities. They report that 4,000 Turks have joined ISIS in Syria.

The NYT quotes Juan Zarate, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

Turkey in many ways is a wild card in this coalition equation…It’s a great disappointment: There is a real danger that the effort to degrade and destroy ISIS is at risk. You have a major NATO ally, and it is not clear they are willing and able to cut off flows of funds, fighters and support to ISIS.

Unlike the US, Turkey actually has to live right next door to ISIS and Iraq. The Turkish army is big enough to help cripple ISIS and is close enough to do it. They want to see Syria’s Assad leave power. They know how to deal with terrorists and have done so successfully for decades. Turkey is a NATO member. Strictly speaking, ISIS hasn’t attacked a NATO member, so Turkey can be remain coy about their ultimate involvement with the current coalition.

The success of the effort against ISIS depends as much on Saudi Arabia and Iran as it does on Turkey, but we should expect more than Turkey is currently providing to the coalition.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 22, 2014

Will this be the Military Service Patch for our never-ending involvement in Iraq?

Operation Clusterfuck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Lady from South Carolina (OLFSC), on Fox a week ago: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

This is a war we’re fighting! It is not a counterterrorism operation. This is not Somalia. This is not Yemen. This is a turning point in the war on terror. Our strategy will fail yet again. This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.

He said the same thing a decade ago. Then-freshman Sen. Lindsey Graham (OLFSC) worried that Saddam’s (nonexistent) cache of nerve gas “could kill millions of people”.

 

Some people think Arabs are an existential threat, but climate change is a myth?

COW Climate

 

The Arab Nations really are backing our ISIS effort…Really:

COW Last American

 

We will see if we truly have an exit strategy:

COW Exit Strategy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In other news, independence remains elusive in Scotland:

COW Nessie

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Thinking About the Slurry Wall on 9/11

It’s 13 years since that beautiful sky-blue September day when our world changed.

Consider the parallelism. Today, as we remember the terrorist attack 13 years ago, we begin another “war” against yet other group of Sunni terrorists. Mr. Obama, who was elected in 2008 to get us out of wars in the Middle East, has us on track to lead another “coalition of the willing” into the ME. The purpose of this crusade sounds depressingly familiar: To blunt the threat of another attack on the Homeland, despite little evidence that an attack is possible or imminent. And we do this because the people who face a direct ISIS threat can’t (or won’t) handle it for themselves.

The rise of ISIS is in part a consequence of US policy in the ME. Our war in Iraq and the subsequent 8 years of Iraqi internal political squabble have left many Sunnis in Iraq willing to support any challenge to the Shia central government. And now, 13 years after 9/11, we’re again strapping on our weapons and heading into war.

So today, let’s talk about the slurry wall at the World Trade Center. The Wrongologist took this photo in July, 2014 of the portion of the slurry wall that remains exposed in the Foundation Hall of the National September 11 Memorial Museum:

WTC Slurry Wall

The slurry wall is the outer wall of what WTC engineers called the “Bathtub” in the 1960’s:

The bathtub is the 9-block area of the World Trade Center site that is excavated down to bedrock…and ringed by the slurry wall. The bathtub was created to enable the building of the Twin Towers’ foundations, and was ultimately filled with seven stories of basements housing the parking garage, mall, and building services.

Except that this bathtub kept water out of the 70’ deep basement. The ground water level at the WTC site is just a few feet below the surface, while bedrock is about 70 feet below the surface. Creating the bathtub required first building a 7-story dam below the water level of the adjacent Hudson River – that was the slurry wall.

After the 9/11 attack, the concern was that the slurry wall would fail. A breach in the wall and a flooding of the bathtub might have also flooded other adjacent below-grade structures, such as the PATH tunnels that passed through the bathtub. The NY subway, built below the PATH tubes could also have flooded with a breach of the wall.

On 9/11, most of the central portion of the wall’s south side (bordering Liberty Street) had moved inward by more than 10 inches. But, it held. According to the New York Times, George Tamaro, a former staff engineer at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who was closely involved with the construction of the trade center, believes: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

[The slurry wall construction]…may have helped prevent the Hudson River from flooding parts of Lower Manhattan

According to Tamaro’s report on the aftermath of the attack, the PATH tunnels in Jersey City, New Jersey, at the Exchange Place Station, were 5 feet lower in elevation than at the WTC PATH Station. Exchange Place became a sump for fire water, river water, and broken water mains discharging into the bathtub. But the slurry wall held.

Looking up at the exposed portion of the slurry wall in Foundation Hall, one can’t help but be thankful for the work of engineers and construction workers back in the sixties who built the bathtub, and the engineers and firefighters who stabilized the walls after 9/11. Since the attack, that unseen wall is now a symbol of the resilience of both New Yorkers and America.

But the world has spun off its normal axis since September 11, 2001. Isn’t it interesting that 9/11 was supposed to be about America striking back against a foreign enemy of freedom. Yet in the process of attempting to win the “War on Terror”, American citizens have given up a significant part of their personal freedoms. And just this month, we are starting to have a national discussion about how, since 9/11, the US Department of Homeland Security has transformed our local police into a paramilitary force. For example, the Los Angles School District Police got a MRAP (mine resistant vehicle) and 3 grenade launchers.

Schools need grenade launchers now? James Madison said in 1787:

A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home…

Today, Americans own enormous numbers of weapons. Pew Research reports that the number of guns in the US is between 270 and 310 million, or roughly one for each of us. But, estimates are that about 37% of us actually own all the weapons.

So, today on the 13th anniversary of 9/11, we need to ask each other: What are we to make of a country in which:
• Local police are militarizing
• Citizens continue to arm themselves
• The federal government tramples on our Bill of Rights

Let’s think about what has been won and lost so far in the War on Terror. And let’s think about what remains of our social fabric. Is it as strong as that slurry wall? Will it hold when attacked? Do we still have that same problem-solving genius that built a slurry wall that was strong enough to survive attack?

Is America still built to last?

 

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Coalition of the Willing? An Editorial

Why are the media so willing for America to go up against ISIS? Why are the media letting John McCain go on endlessly, and why are they acting as if Lindsay Graham is the second coming of Douglas MacArthur?

Our post-Cold War American politicians can’t do the intellectual heavy lifting that connects policy to strategy. They are incapable of articulating a realistic vision of the political ends that are the desired outcome of a decisive use of military force.

US foreign policy in the Middle East for nearly a century has been based on one simple principle: Maximize the security of the delivery of fossil fuels from the region to the US. The corollary: While we’re doing that, let’s make sure to maximize the profits of the big corporations that benefit from the oil trade, and the corporations that make big profits by getting America to defend the oil companies.

“I listen to the commanders on the ground” isn’t strategy. And strategy shouldn’t be formulated by the military. They have the operational role, but strategy should be based in the hands of our elected officials. Let’s see what Commander-in-Chief Obama says about our strategy for the Middle East on Wednesday. We shouldn’t second-guess the strategy BEFORE it is promulgated, we can wait to do that.

Since the administration and nearly everyone else on Earth agrees that ISIS is a threat to at least some degree, the questions are:
• In what way is ISIS a threat to America’s security? To what extent are they a threat?
• What do we want the political end state to be in the ME if/when the threat of ISIS is contained, diminished or destroyed?
• What is it worth for America to accomplish this outcome in light of our other, competing, American interests, in the region and globally?

Once we answer those questions, Mr. Obama can give our military leaders definitive policy guidance. The Generals in turn can then give the administration the best possible advice on how military force could secure our aims, or how to use it in conjunction with other elements of national power, such as diplomacy, economic coercion or covert operations.

Moving forward, as McCain, Graham, Rubio and others want, without answering these questions, is another exercise in flailing about, hoping that using sufficient force opportunistically will cause good geopolitical things to happen.

It is important to see that ISIS is different from Al-Qaeda. ISIS focuses on the near enemy, the Iraqi and the Syrian Governments and their supporters, while Al-Qaeda focuses on the far enemy (think 9/11). That should be a pointer for our strategy. The US only attacked ISIS when the Kurdish oilfields were threatened. The message should be that ISIS can do whatever they want in northern Iraq and Syria − once they step out of their box they will get slapped hard.

We should ask if a militant and backward-looking form of Islam is what the people living in Islamic countries want. They are the ones who have to contend with the Muslims who financed the growth of militant Islam, and the Imams who preach it. The citizens in Muslim countries also have to take responsibility for their actions. They can’t just point at the Russians and Europeans and Americans and say “you made us do this.” There is some culpability among the Western powers, but we didn’t suggest, or encourage, Sunnis and Shiites to kill each other. That was a decision made by Muslims, some of whom are in power because of actions by the US.

Solving the problem presented by ISIS is primarily the job of the countries that have common borders with Syria and Iraq. We have a role, but it isn’t our problem to solve. The US and its European allies do not possess the wisdom, or the will, or the tools to fix whatever it is that ails much of the Islamic world.

This is the principal lesson that the long Iraq war taught us. The direction of our future ME strategy lies in recognizing that fact.

No doubt, ISIS poses a danger. But for the US and Europe, the present danger is negligible. Regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran are both more directly threatened and far better positioned to deal with it. Offering indirect assistance might be helpful, however, the US would be better served simply to butt out. We’ve done enough damage.

Let’s ask some final questions on the way to developing a new ME strategy.

First, if it’s unacceptable to have an antidemocratic Sunni fundamentalist regime that routinely beheads people, denies women basic human rights, and uses oil money to support worldwide terrorism – what are we doing about Saudi Arabia?

Second, nobody’s saying that it’s fine for the ISIS lunatics to form a Sunni caliphate. But the regional powers who should able to and interested in stopping ISIS: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, Iran, and Egypt must do the heavy lifting. Some have even participated in making ISIS what they are today. Let them clean it up.

If ISIS defeats its local opponents, and then truly threatens the world, there’d be sufficient reason to step in.

But so far, it has not.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 24, 2014

Here at Casa Wrong, we see the end of summer coming. It’s a sad time most years, but not now. Today, August HAS TO DIE! Here’s why:

• Foley was beheaded
• Instead of “back to school”, this August it is “back to Iraq”
• Russia invades Ukraine, says it’s for humanitarian reasons
• The Ebola epidemic continues to grow
• The reason why a teen in Ferguson is dead remains unresolved
• Hamas and Israel seem willing to fight to the death
• We still don’t know who shot down the MH17 over Ukraine
• Mitch McConnell says he’s willing to shut down the government again

August brought home that every pillar that has supported international order is tottering, if not yet collapsing. That means the UN, NATO and a strong, unified America. The “what’s wrong” list could be much longer, but what would be the point? August must die. On to humor.

ISIS or IS or ISIL, it’s a cancer:

COW ISIS

James Foley is the most recent in a long line:

COW Foley Death

And in Ferguson news, don’t shoot is everyone’s mantra:

COW Don't Shoot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In domestic warfare policing, mindset should be first, not last:

COW Mindset

 

Mayor Daley, 1968: “The police are here to preserve disorder”:

COW Pew, Pew

 

Don’t you feel safer knowing she’s off the streets?

You can read about this 90 year old Ferguson demonstrator here

 

 

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Bigger Threat: ISIS or Congress?

What is behind the fear of ISIS in the West? The ISIS crisis in Iraq and its parallel in Syria challenges both governments as well as the status quo in the Middle East. But why would people believe that this band of fighters is an existential treat to the West? Attorney General Eric Holder shared his alarmism yesterday that the threat from ISIS is:

…more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general

ABC News headlined “See the Terrifying ISIS Map Showing Its Five-Year Expansion Plan,” with the black flag of the Caliphate spreading like spilled crude oil across Africa, Central Asia, the Balkans, and Spain.

Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Votel, head of the Joint Special Operations Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week:

There’s risks to allowing things just to try to resolve themselves, particularly when there are interests that could affect our country…

All of this jowl-shaking goes on while the Obama administration is tumbling to the fact that there is no on-the-ground military option for us. According to a classified report leaked to The New York Times, our top brass believe:

That only about half of Iraq’s operational units are capable enough for American commandos to advise them if the White House decides to help roll back the advances made by Sunni militants in northern and western Iraq over the past month

Since Iraq’s political deadlock doesn’t look like it will be broken anytime soon, the US can’t take Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-sectarian side in a war against Iraq’s Sunnis without real repercussions from the billion Sunnis around the world.

But how serious is the ISIS threat? Most estimates say they have a core of perhaps 10,000 soldiers and maybe another 10k of new recruits. They are fighting the Syrian Army, Iranian-backed militias, the YPG, the Peshmerga, Al Nusra Front, the Free Syrian Army, in addition to the “Iraqi army” and Iraqi Shiite militias.

Let’s remember that we couldn’t hold Iraq with 168,000 troops, and the most advanced military equipment on earth. So the chance that ISIS can seize or even temporarily hold portions of Baghdad with some fraction of 10,000 is zero. From Gary Brecher at Pando News:

ISIS is about as scary as your neighbor’s yappy Shih Tzu: all noise and no teeth. Let’s just sober up, for Christ’s sake, and remember we’re talking about a half-assed Sunni militia that couldn’t face up to Assad’s mediocre Syrian Arab Army and still hasn’t found a way to occupy Sunni Iraqi towns that were outright abandoned by the [Iraqi] Army

ISIS is spread quite thin, but the Pentagon’s report says that Iraq’s armed forces and security apparatus are so badly run, so infiltrated with Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen and informers from ISIS, that there isn’t much of an opening for greater US involvement. The report is based on the findings of six teams of American Special Operations forces who were tasked with assessing the Iraqi Army that America trained and equipped at a cost of more than $25 billion.

Yet, in a show of cognitive dissonance, James Dubik, the retired Army Lt. General who oversaw the training of the Iraqi Army in 2007 and 2008, said that Iraq’s security forces could make gains against ISIS even if only half its divisions were effective, but that an advisory effort was very important:

Even if half was whipped into good enough shape, that would be enough to turn the tide

At a July 3rd Pentagon news conference, General Dempsey noted that, while Iraqi security forces were capable of defending Baghdad, they were not capable on their own of launching a counteroffensive and reversing the ISIS gains. So today, the three factions—Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Shia Arabs—are holding their own, consolidating their turf, not trying very hard to occupy the other groups’ territories.

This is an existential crisis for America?

Did we liberate Iraq, or did we destroy it?  If we destroyed Iraq, are we responsible for restoring the infrastructure to its previous capabilities? Taxing ourselves to restore Iraq might teach us that we shouldn’t attack countries that are not threatening us, but we can’t afford to pay that bill.

We have the most advanced military in the world, there is no real second place to us in military might. Yet as a nation, we are failing ourselves. We are down the global ladder when it comes to healthcare, public education, repairing our infrastructure and providing social services. We can’t get out of our own way on policy because of our divided politics. We are the global leader in incarcerating our own citizens.

Why do we look at ISIS and say that they are our existential threat?

Like Pogo said: “we have met the enemy, and he is us”.

 

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