Trump’s ISIS Strategy

The Daily Escape:

(We are back from 75° weather and as this is written, we are about to see 12″-18″ of snow.)

The NYT had an editorial on Monday that said Donald Trump was a man without a plan on ISIS:

On the campaign trail, no foreign policy issue seized Donald Trump more than the fight against the Islamic State. Once president, he signed an executive order giving his generals 30 days to produce a plan to defeat the terrorist group, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis gave him options on Feb. 27.

The Times says Trump has no plan. But Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis says the plan has already been executed:

James Mattis, in his generalissimo mode of action has, IMO, been given the imperial wave of dismissal and sent forth to destroy IS. “Make it so!”

According to Lang, the signs are clear:

  1. There is greater coordination and “de-confliction” between the US and Russia in air operations against ISIS. Lang points out that the rebel group “hayat tahrir al-sham” has now been designated as a terrorist organization by the US government. This makes them legitimate targets under the AUMF.
  2. The insertion of a Marine artillery battery to provide fire support for operations to retake Raqqa.
  3. Several hundred soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment have been positioned in and around Manbij to referee among the Turks, Assad’s Syrian Arab Army, (SAA), et al, to keep unwanted actors out of the coming battle to take Raqqa.

More from Lang:

I estimate these signs to…indicate that Trump and his generalissimo have decided to roll the iron dice and commit whatever force is necessary to destroy IS in both Syria and Iraq.

Wrongo agrees with Lang that the war to eliminate ISIS is on. We know a bit about the effort to take Mosul in Iraq, but have heard nothing about Syria. Trump said quite plainly that he had no intention of giving any advance notice of his military intentions. That seems prudent and logical to Wrongo.

But, basic contradictions persist:

  • Who will fight house by house to re-take Raqqa? Not Americans, or the Kurds. If Mosul is any indication, Sunnis will die to the last true believer if Jihadi families can’t be bussed out.
  • Who will be the occupiers of Eastern Syria? The SAA has a legitimate right to be in Raqqa. Will Israel and the Gulf Monarchies sit idly by while Iran and Syria complete the Shia Crescent?

Many questions. If the 21st century has shown us anything, it is that neoliberal supranational rule brings only inequality and chaos. If there is ever going to be peace, if the flow of refugees is to be ended, national governments must be rebuilt, and their borders secured.

Only then can supranational alliances work to address the world’s problems.

Assad has called us Syrian invaders. Unlike the Russians, Iranians, and Hezbollah, we were not invited by Syria to attend the “slay a few jihadis” party, nor are the Turks. While the YPG/SDF certainly seem agreeable to our being there, it doesn’t make our entry legal under international law. The AUMF probably provides the cover of our national law to be in Syria, but international law does not.

We seem to have traded John McCain’s beloved Free Syrian Army unicorns for the much more effective YPG/SDF, who will now act as our “Assad must go” surrogates. If that’s Trump’s plan, then we are cooked. Trump shouldn’t be allowed to let that policy stand. He stated before he became POTUS that he thought that any form of larger commitment of combat forces into Syria would be a mistake.

But here we are watching a continuation of the policy that predates the Trump presidency, the balkanization of Syria by alternative means.

Trump’s “A Team” of generals seem to have fallen back on the old plan. Can you smell the mission creep? We shouldn’t be staying in Syria once the ISIS fighters in Raqqa are reduced to corpses on the desert sand.

A musical interlude to take you away from geopolitics. Here is “Jessica”, the classic Allman Brothers tune, re-imagined by Kevin Burke, legendary Celtic violinist and veteran rocker John Brennan, from their album The Pound Ridge Sessions. The title comes from where the album was recorded, Pound Ridge, NY.

They substitute violins for guitars, and it is a nice version. Here is “Jessica”:

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

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America’s “Fill in the Blanks” Middle East Policy

(There will be no further posting until Monday 10/26, since Wrongo and Ms. Oh So Right are attending a weekend family reunion)

We have been talking about our failed strategy in the Middle East for several days. Here is a great observation by Tom Englehardt that summarizes our all-too-true ME reality:

Sometimes I imagine the last 14 years of American war policy in the Greater Middle East as a set of dismal Mad Libs. An example might be: The United States has spent [your choice of multiple billions of dollars] building up [fill in name of Greater Middle Eastern country]’s army and equipping it with [range of weaponry of your choosing]. That army was recently routed by the [rebel or terrorist group of your choice] and fled, abandoning [list U.S. weaponry and equipment]. Washington has just sent in more [choose from: trainers/weaponry/equipment/all of the above] and [continue the sentence ad infinitum]. Or here’s another: After [number, and make it large] years and a [choose one or more: war, air war, drone assassination campaign, intervention, counterinsurgency program, counterterror effort, occupation] in [Greater Middle Eastern country of your choice] that seems to be [choose from: failing, unraveling, going nowhere, achieving nothing], the [fill in office of top U.S. official of your choice] has just stated that a U.S. withdrawal would be [choose from: counterproductive, self-defeating, inconceivable, politically unpalatable, dangerous to the homeland, mad] because [leave this blank, since no one knows].

Englehardt’s blog, TomDispatch, has an important article by Peter Van Buren, a 24-year veteran of the State Department, who spent a year in Iraq. The article is entitled: What If They Gave a War and Everyone Came? − What Could Possibly Go Wrong (October 2015 Edition)

You should read it all, but here are some extensive quotes:

In March 2003, when the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq, the region, though simmering as ever, looked like this: Libya was stable, ruled by the same strongman for 42 years; in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak had been in power since 1983; Syria had been run by the Assad family since 1971; Saddam Hussein had essentially been in charge of Iraq since 1969, formally becoming president in 1979; the Turks and Kurds had an uneasy but functional ceasefire; and Yemen was quiet enough, other than the terror attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Relations between the U.S. and most of these nations were so warm that Washington was routinely rendering “terrorists” to their dungeons for some outsourced torture.

Soon after March 2003, when U.S. troops invaded Iraq, neighboring Iran faced two American armies at the peak of their strength. To the east, the U.S. military had effectively destroyed the Taliban and significantly weakened al-Qaeda, both enemies of Iran, but had replaced them as an occupying force. To the west, Iran’s decades-old enemy, Saddam, was gone, but similarly replaced by another massive occupying force. From this position of weakness, Iran’s leaders, no doubt terrified that the Americans would pour across its borders, sought real diplomatic rapprochement with Washington for the first time since 1979. The Iranian efforts were rebuffed by the Bush administration.

More:

There hadn’t been such an upset in the balance of power in the Middle East since, well, World War I, when Great Britain and France secretly reached the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which, among other things, divided up most of the Arab lands that had been under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Because the national boundaries created then did not respect on-the-ground tribal, political, ethnic, and religious realities, they could be said to have set the stage for much that was to come.

And more:

What if the U.S. hadn’t invaded Iraq in 2003? Things would undoubtedly be very different in the Middle East today. America’s war in Afghanistan was unlikely to have been a big enough spark to set off the range of changes Iraq let loose. There were only some 10,000 America soldiers in Afghanistan in 2003 (5,200 in 2002) and there had not been any Abu Ghraib-like indiscriminate torture, no equivalent to the scorched earth policy in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, nothing to spark a trans-border Sunni-Shia-Kurd struggle, no room for Iran to meddle. The Americans were killing Muslims in Afghanistan, but they were not killing Arabs, and they were not occupying Arab lands.

And finally: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The invasion of Iraq, however, did happen. Now, some 12 years later, the most troubling thing about the current war in the Middle East, from an American perspective, is that no one here really knows why the country is still fighting. The commonly stated reason — “defeat ISIS” — is hardly either convincing or self-explanatory. Defeat ISIS why?

What are we doing in the ME?

Why are we doing it?

What end state do we want?

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 31, 2015

Today’s wake up is for Turkey. In addition to our geopolitical issues with them, they are waging a sub-rosa battle for water with Syria and Iraq. The Tigris-Euphrates river basin, which feeds Syria and Iraq, is rapidly drying up. It is drying up due to overuse, and because Turkey has dammed both rivers for its own use, both for agricultural irrigation and in some cases, for hydropower. For the geography-impaired, here is a view of the rivers and the countries:

Tigris and Euphrates

The water that now goes to farmers in Turkey used to flow down the Euphrates and Tigris to Syria and Iraq. In Syria, three drought years forced many farmers to leave the land. From Foreign Affairs:

By 2011, drought-related crop failure had pushed up to 1.5 million displaced farmers to abandon their land; the displaced became a wellspring of recruits for the Free Syrian Army and for such groups as the Islamic State (also called ISIS) and al Qaeda.

A 2010 study showed that today’s Syrian rebel strongholds of Aleppo, Deir al-Zour, and Raqqa were among the areas hardest hit by crop failure. In Iraq, the story is the same:

In Karbala, farmers are in despair and are reportedly considering abandoning their land. In Baghdad, the poorest neighborhoods rely on the Red Cross for drinking water. At times, the Red Cross has had to supply over 150,000 liters a day. Further south, Iraq’s central marshes, the Middle East’s largest wetlands, are disappearing again after being re-flooded after Saddam Hussein was ousted.

Syria and Iraq cannot solve the problem on their own. While there are agreements about minimum water flows between Turkey, Syria and Iraq, they are honored in the breach. Between 1975 and 1991, on three occasions, Syria and Iraq threatened Turkey with military action over reduced river flows due to Turkey damming the rivers.

Saudi Arabia and Russia mediated tensions among the three countries in the 1970s, but the challenge today is that no international or regional powers have been willing to force the countries to work together. Foreign Affairs says that 40 memoranda of understanding struck between Iraq and Turkey over water sharing at the height of the drought in 2009 have led to almost no concrete progress. More from Foreign Affairs: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Although current agreements between Syria and Turkey provide for 500 cubic meters per second, 46% of which goes to Iraq…According to Jasim al Asadi, a hydrologist with Nature Iraq, by the time the Euphrates reaches Nasiriyah in Southern Iraq, a minimum of 90 cubic meters per second is required for municipal, industrial, and agricultural use. Sometimes, the flow can be as low as 18 cubic meters per second…Before major dam construction in the 1970s, [in Turkey] the average flow in the Euphrates was about 720 cubic meters per second. Now it is about 260 as it enters Iraq.

Nearly two-third of the water flow Iraq used to get is gone, and there is no way to replace it. Moreover what little water is currently still flowing may soon be gone as well: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Full implementation of [Turkey’s water plans]…could reduce the Euphrates’ flows to Iraq by 80%. Now, consider that Iraq relies on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for over 90% of its freshwater, and you can imagine the potential fallout of the [Turkish] plan on Iraq’s agricultural production.

Turkey has had its own issues with drought, but Turkey is not facing a national-level water emergency like Syria and Iraq. So is there a solution? Not today. Turkey won’t help Syria. There is some hope in Iraq, since relations between the countries is better now than at any point in the past 10 years.

But Turkey controls the headwaters of the Tigris-Euphrates river system. To ignore the imminent water crisis is to ignore another major fault line in the Middle East. Turkey needs to wake up and deal with the countries downstream who desperately need a larger share of water. To help them wake up, here is Jimmy Cliff doing “By the Rivers of Babylon” live in NYC in 2013:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cjcNJRzD8c

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can see the video here.

Monday’s Hot Links:

NRA radio host says calling for new gun laws right after the VA shooting is gross. IT’S TOO SOON!!! Besides, as ANY red-blooded White Christian patriot will tell you, MOR GUNZ!!! The NRA has a radio station?

The Beatles 10 greatest guitar moments. Includes Wrongo’s favorite, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from Abbey Road (1969).

The Onion reports that a gay teen is worried that he might be Christian. His father says, “No son of mine is going to try to get intelligent design into school textbooks.” He added, “I just want my normal gay son back.”

Alabama is trying to make it even harder to get a voter ID. As a budget cutting measure, they are shutting down the vast majority of DMV offices. The proposal to close dozens of DMVs across the state, starting in rural areas, could hurt voters who need an ID to vote.

Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, says the devil overplayed his hand with the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage. Pappy Cruz: “The basis for their decision was the 14th Amendment. That means they’re calling homosexuality a civil right…If they’re calling homosexuality a civil right, that means that the next obvious step is a homosexual may come to your church and demand to be hired.” Sadly, pappy Cruz and his hate-addled, homophobic son line their pockets as a result of this spew.

Quote for the week:
You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother”− (attributed to Albert Einstein)

 

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