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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Obama, his rules still apply:

The real reason for the US standing down:

Having a policy means more than he thinks:

The reasoning for the attack keeps changing:

 

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Let’s Call it Even?

The Daily Escape:

Otter Pond, Middlebury VT – 2020 photo by prolicks

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

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

More from Lang:

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

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

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

Moon of Alabama says that we even had prior notice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Daily Escape:

Na Pali Coast, Kauai HI – 2019 photo by Santahickey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – Trump Credibility Edition, June 17, 2019

The Daily (no) Escape:

Did Donald Trump lose all credibility last week? First, more of the “Russia, if you are listening…” in which he solicited election help from foreign governments, before backing down a little bit.

Next, hours after an attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, Trump said he knew who did it:

“Iran did do it and you know they did it,”
Donald Trump on “Fox & Friends”, June 14th.

This was before experts had much evidence, let alone time for analysis. Next, US Central Command released a video which they said showed:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.”

The video is of such poor quality that it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on, where the boat came from, or who’s on board. Trump and Pompeo want us to believe that Iran cruised over to a heavily surveilled tanker in broad daylight to remove a limpet mine, placed several feet above the water line.

Also, it’s hard to believe that military photography technology has again failed just when we needed it. We’re back to blurry Brownie box camera pictures. When Russian artillery was photographed in Ukraine, we saw blurry indistinct B&W photos. When Russia aircraft were photographed in Syria, we saw razor sharp color images. Why can’t the US Navy buy a few iPhones to use in videoing the “Iranians”?

Finally, it’s interesting that America’s Enemy du Jour always does exactly what we want them to do, and just when we want them to do it!

The captain of the Japanese tanker said he was hit from the air, not by a mine. A photo of the Japanese tanker shows two holes well above the waterline. Iran might have done this, or it might have been a false flag operation.

We should remember that in the past 20 years, the US has attacked nations based on similar information to this. There are groups other than Iran that would benefit from the US stepping up its anti-Iran campaign, moving from an economic war to a military one.

But let’s widen out to strategy: While Trump and Pompeo were itching for a fight with Iran, China’s President Xi was completing a three-day visit to Moscow. He hailed China’s strategic ties with Russia. At the same time, Chinese and Russian military commanders met to discuss deepening their strategic partnership.

Then, both Putin and Xi met with Iran’s President Rouhani and expressed their full support for Iran despite the smoking tankers, or the US evidence that Iran was behind the attack. And China afforded its highest diplomatic status to Iran.

A strategically-minded US president would have turned the situation with tankers burning in the Persian Gulf to an advantage. It could have been an opportune time to engage China and Russia in a diplomatic coalition to deal with threats to commerce and free navigation in the Gulf.

Both China and Russia understand the potential impact of a Persian Gulf conflict to their economies. They probably would have listened. Our European allies are waiting for real proof of what happened to those tankers before expressing an opinion, given the state of America’s credibility. Only the UK currently supports Trump.

Another opportunity missed, thus advantage to Iran, while limiting US options.

Trump’s (and Bolton’s) policies of piling on more strategic risk without any gain is driving our allies away, and pushing our peers/competitors closer together.

Trump is increasing our risk of conflict, and the ramifications are global.

The main issue is credibility. We can no longer trust our government. When you can lie without consequence, then there is no value to discussing policy. If Trump wants a war, he’ll have one.

We need to wake up the American voters, who are the only people who can change this.

Their record to date, however, isn’t promising. Hopefully, the world won’t be in tatters before the November 2020 election.

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Iran: Trump Is All Gambit, No Plan

The Daily Escape:

The Mitten Buttes, Monument Valley, UT – photo by Nathan Fitzgerald

Here we go, a new gambit on Iran. The Trump administration moved on Monday to isolate Tehran economically and undercut its power across the Middle East by not extending the waivers of sanctions against countries purchasing Iranian oil.

Secretary of State Pompeo announced that the waivers which allowed eight countries to import Iranian crude oil without being subject to US sanctions will expire on May 2nd. The eight countries included are China, India, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Greece, Italy and Taiwan. From the NYT:

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in announcing that current sanctions waivers…would expire on May 2, clearing the way for American economic penalties against all companies or financial institutions that continue to take part in transactions linked to buying Iranian oil.”

This decision to stop Iran’s biggest customers (China, who buys half of Iran’s oil exports) along with Japan, South Korea, India and Turkey, is a strike at Tehran’s lifeline. They export one million barrels of oil daily, and it accounts for 40% of their GDP.

Immediately, there were repercussions. Bloomberg reported that Iran threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz, a choke point in the Persian Gulf, while the Washington Examiner reported that the US has positioned a second aircraft carrier in the region.

What Trump seems intent upon is regime change. He campaigned against further wars in the Middle East, but now is catering to Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of whom, along with National Security Advisor John Bolton, are intent upon toppling the Iranian regime.

Trump’s Iran obsession makes us look terrible. Taking pages from the Iraq War playbook, Trump and Pompeo paint a picture of a rogue, outlaw, terrorist regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and whose “malign activities” are the cause of all the chaos in the Middle East.

This is straight from the neocon playbook: The one they’ve used before. They are building a case for war. America wants Iran out of Syria. We condemn their support for Hezbollah. We say that Iran supports the Houthis in Yemen, against our great friends, the Saudis.

This latest move is called the doctrine of “Maximum Pressure”. The goal is to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero. Will this gambit force the capitulation, or collapse, of the regime? That seems difficult to believe, but Trump and Bolton may have teed up a war.

Think about this: America is now decreeing to the rest of the world that only we decide which countries get to trade with whom. We’re telling China, the second largest economy in the world, that it lacks the sovereign authority to buy oil from Iran if it so desires.

Which do you think China will do? Both Iran and China appear to hold a better hand than the US. We can’t invade Iran and win. We can’t force China to do anything they refuse to do.

The rest of the world will have trouble understanding what Trump thinks the US can gain from this gambit, because there is no plan behind it. If Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz, will we bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran?

If China, Turkey, India and Japan continue to purchase Iranian oil, will we freeze their dollar-denominated assets in the US? If this leads to the creation of a non-dollar global payments system, what happens to the dollar as the global reserve currency? Has anyone in the Trump administration thought about that?

Once, the US used its reserve currency status and clout (largely) for good. Now, it’s just more bullying by Trump. In the end, the Trump administration may achieve a new level of worldwide cooperation against a common enemy: the USA.

Aren’t Americans sick of this neocon warmongering? Americans don’t want to be drawn into yet another ME action. It isn’t an accident that Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, declared unequivocally in November 2002:

“We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq…”

Is now the chief strategist behind Trump’s drive towards war, with Secretary of State Pompeo, happily riding shotgun.

It doesn’t matter that US intelligence, along with Israeli intelligence and the International Atomic Energy Agency confirm that Iran is complying with the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Or, that the US invasion of Iraq is the principle cause of Middle East chaos today.

Trump officials will cherry-pick information, package it, and amplify it, exactly as the Bush administration did in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

The real question is whether American voters will fall for this again.

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