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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Al-Baghdadi Connects GW Bush to Trump

The Daily Escape:

Witches paddle boarding on the Willamette River, Portland, OR. The event was the Stand Up Paddleboard Witch Paddle, that brings 100’s to paddle board on the river. Useful to remember that drowning was one of the recommended witch removal methods in ye olden days. Happy Halloween!

Speaking of Halloween, it looks like rain all day in our corner of Connecticut, so those parents with little ones, are casting about for ideas on how to avoid getting little Megan’s mask of Melania soaked through in the first minute.

On the flight back to the States from London, Wrongo watched the film “Vice”, a film history of the life and political career of Dick Cheney. It brought back how the GW Bush administration executed its pivot from a limited war in Afghanistan to a full-scale invasion of Iraq.

Cheney is portrayed as the prime mover behind getting the Bush folks to craft false intelligence “facts” to support, and then sustain, our war in Iraq. Cheney did this by creating a separate intelligence apparatus, since the existing intelligence agencies would not produce analysis supporting Iraq’s culpability in the 9/11 attacks.

One thing the movie points out was the effort by Cheney and Rumsfeld to find a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. They settled on a minor Iraqi anti-Shiite cleric named Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as the person that could be plausibly presented as having a tie between Saddam and bin Laden. This turned al-Baghdadi into one of the cool dudes of Islamic terrorism. He became a regional celebrity, the head of ISIS. We’ve all had to live with the consequences of Cheney’s “fake news”: Many died, and we’re still paying the price for Cheney’s rogue operation that sucked us deeply in the Middle East.

Now a different Republican president has taken out al-Baghdadi in a stealth raid in Syria this week. It was similar to Obama’s killing of bin Laden in May, 2011 in Afghanistan. We should be pleased that al-Baghdadi no longer controls ISIS, and we should give Trump full props for doing the deed.

We should remember that when Obama got bin Laden, the NYT reported the following from Republicans at the time:

“Former Vice President Dick Cheney declared, “The administration clearly deserves credit for the success of the operation.” New York’s former mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said, “I admire the courage of the president.” And Donald J. Trump declared, “I want to personally congratulate President Obama.”

But killing bin Laden didn’t kill al Qaeda, and killing al-Baghdadi won’t kill ISIS.

It’s good that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. But never forget that there is a straight line between Bush and Cheney’s elevation of al-Baghdadi to justify their invasion of Iraq, and al-Baghdadi driving ISIS to take over a swath of Iraq and Syria that was larger than the UK.

There’s a straight line connecting Bush/Cheney, and Obama’s willingness to bend our constitutional freedoms to extend the Global War on Terror for the better part of two decades.

There’s a straight line connecting Bush/Cheney and what Trump is doing in the Middle East today.

Still, killing al-Baghdadi is a good thing, and Trump’s pulling 1,000 troops out of Syria is not as serious an issue as most people in DC are saying it is.

But gloating over an enemy’s death? That isn’t something American presidents should be doing. When we celebrate the death of a foe, it shows weakness.

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September 11, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Has it been 17 years already?

A quote from Edward R. Murrow: “No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices”, describes where America is today.

As we remember the 17th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the US, we should realize that most of the geo-political problems we face today can trace their root causes to the attacks on 9/11.

And 17 years later, it appears that we have become the accomplices of terror. We can’t let the Muslim world alone. We’ve continued to keep troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve beefed up our presence in Africa. The enemy has morphed from al-Qaeda only, to ISIS and al-Qaeda, with branches all across the world.

Just yesterday, Wrongo wrote about our current misadventures in Syria, where we have several thousand troops who were not invited in by the Syrian government. We said that US Syrian policy seems to be teetering on conflict with the other regional powers, Iran and Russia, because we are insisting that Iran exit Syria.

We continue to spend blood and treasure in the Middle East because of 9/11. We were meddling in the ME before 2001, and those efforts helped make bin Laden’s point that the US was responsible both for the suffering the US was causing directly through its sanctions, and the suffering we caused indirectly, by keeping Middle Eastern dictators in power.

To that, bin Laden added a decisive idea: Attack the US to end its power over the Middle East.

Seventeen years later, we are stuck in a Middle East quagmire. We cannot win militarily, but we never lose decisively. On this 17th anniversary, let’s address a few questions to our political and military leaders:

  • Isn’t it improbable that the US military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century?
  • Was it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “Caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself from Libya to Mali, from Nigeria to Afghanistan?

If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted where we are today, no one would have thought you were credible.

Since 9/11 our presidents have all tried hard to act tough on terror, as have our Senators and Congresspersons. They have all said that our young soldiers are available to go wherever the next Islamist problem arises. So, in the past 17 years, we’ve spent over a trillion dollars to protect the homeland, and while to some degree, we are undoubtedly safer, we haven’t defeated the Islamists.

The current crop of Republicans in the White House are trying more of the same: To convince us that the challenges we face in the world are simple, that we must be realists, aggressively going after what we want. They say it all comes down to “good vs evil.”

Sadly, we really live in an extremely complex world, and ignorance of its complexity is dangerous. Remember in 2006, there were reports that George W. Bush was unaware of the difference between Shia and Sunni as late as two months before the Iraq invasion. Combine that with the ongoing support for the neo-con’s Exceptionalist ideology, and we’ve all paid, and continue to pay, a huge price for their simplistic worldview.

The reality is that when tough talk is divorced from knowledge, you do dumb things, like start wars that diminish our standing in the world, that cost us terribly in lives and money, and that produce zero in the way of political results.

Trump seems ready to place a bet that his tough guy stance on Syria will cause Iran and Russia to back down. Those of us who pay taxes and send our kids off to war, should make it very clear that the American presidency is no place for bullies.

And rather than signifying weakness, traits like thoughtfulness and collaboration are exactly what we want from the Leader of the Free World.

Anyone can say “lock and load, we’re gonna fight!

We need to re-learn how not to fight, and how to exist in an ambiguous world without withdrawing, or being ineffectual. Since 9/11, when things get tough, our politicians strut around with chins out. They prefer form over substance and in the end, they’re just praying that it all works out, but it hasn’t.

Remember the 9/11 heroes and its victims.

But let’s stop listening to those who pander to our fears, and vote them out of office.

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ISIS Gives Up Social Media

The Daily Escape:

Agoshima Island – Japan

An important part of ISIS’s rise to power was its use of social media tools to distribute propaganda and recruit new members. The group’s well-documented social media skills attracted tens of thousands of foreign fighters to join their fight.

What hasn’t been covered in the MSM is that in May, ISIS banned its fighters from using social media. It threatens those who disobey with punishment. The very useful Combatting Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy covers the story about why ISIS is going this route in its article “The Islamic State’s Internal Rifts and Social Media Ban”:

…the group has issued an official ban on social media for all of its soldiers. In a document (see below) produced by the Islamic State’s Delegated Committee a few weeks ago and disseminated via Islamic State distribution channels more recently, the group’s order to all of its soldiers stated: “effective from the date of this notification, using social networking sites is entirely and completely forbidden. Whoever violates this exposes himself to questioning and accountability.” The order was published by the group in both Arabic and English.

The ban emphasizes the security reasons for staying off social media. More from the CTC:

There are several documented cases in which Islamic State soldiers have jeopardized the operational security of the group. In one infamous case two years ago in June 2015, an Islamic State foot-soldier posted a selfie in front of his headquarters building. The social media post, complete with geolocation data, enabled U.S. intelligence officials to quickly target and destroy the facility in an airstrike.

Apparently, the problems with social media are not restricted to giving away locations. The CTC report says that there has been much dissension in the ranks among ISIS followers, some of which may have been sown by current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and other ISIS competitors. The idea was to create doubt about the group online on Twitter and Telegram. It entailed a two-phase approach, initially sparking an online debate about the authenticity and reliability of ISIS’s media ministry, and it’s very popular magazine, and then challenging the authority of the top leadership of the Islamic State.

With ISIS now gone from Twitter, it will be more difficult for our cyber warriors to wage messaging warfare against them. Who knows, we may even have been involved in al-Qaeda’s little game as well.

We are deeply involved in the region. As we wrote here, our “Special Operators” are everywhere, and we are having success in the wars of attrition in Mosul and in Raqqa. Al Jazeera reports that:

A US-backed Syrian coalition of Kurdish and Arab groups has captured a western district of Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) group.

The WaPo reports that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis spoke about the US military’s future operations against ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley as Raqqa falls, saying that it will take “precision” to stave off incidents between the disparate forces operating there:

You have to play this thing very carefully…The closer we get, the more complex it gets.

So, ISIS is on radio silence with Twitter and Facebook, and they could lose Raqqa sometime this summer.

Trump will claim victory for defeating ISIS, but that will not be true. It will be because of the air-strikes started by Obama, along with arming of the Kurds (on Trump’s watch) that contribute most from our side, along with what Russia and Iran have contributed from the western part of Syria, that will be responsible for ISIS’s military defeat at Raqqa.

We should also understand that their defeat may well be temporary. ISIS will lick its wounds, and come back, most likely morphed into a guerilla force. And that will occur sooner rather than later.

Al-Qaeda will become an even bigger threat in Syria than it is today. While ISIS reorganizes and Al Qaeda rises, there will be more revenge attacks in Europe and probably in the US by the lone wolves they inspire.

Some music: Geri Allen, an influential jazz pianist and composer died earlier this week at age 60. Here she is at the height of her powers with the Geri Allen trio in 1998 in Leverkusen, Germany, playing “Dark Prince”:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 8, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Canada Warbler

Last Thursday, Iran, Russia and Turkey signed a memorandum on the creation of “de-escalation” zones in Syria. This represents the beginning of a new phase in the Syrian civil war. If the agreement and the cease-fires it envisions hold up, it could become a de facto partition of the country into zones of influence, some based on religious sect, and a recognition that at this point, neither the regime nor the rebels can win this conflict.

A glance at the placement of the proposed “de-escalation zones” shows that they are jihadi dominated areas under the protection and support of foreign sponsors; Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, the Gulf States and possibly, the US.

The text of the agreement says the de-escalation zones allow for an improvement of the humanitarian situation and to “create favorable conditions to advance a political settlement of the conflict.” In the zones mapped out under the agreement, the use of weapons, including “aerial assets, shall be ceased.”

The agreement was not signed by the Syrian regime, which is interesting. This means that Iran, Turkey and Russia are the guarantors of the facts on the ground post-agreement, and it shifts the conflict from one between the regime and the various opposition rebel groups, to one between the powerful foreign proxies that have sent weapons and in some cases, their armed forces into the country.

The US was not a direct participant in the negotiations for the agreement, but was present as an observer during the discussions. US Secretary of State Tillerson and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, stayed in touch during the discussions.

The agreement shows the degree to which Russia has outmaneuvered the US and is dictating terms in Syria. This sends a clear message to Trump that while the Americans are putting down roots in northeast Syria with the Kurdish YPG, the US role is not formally recognized by Turkey, Iran or Russia despite the fact that the area is de facto under US protection.

It remains to be seen if this agreement is the beginning of the map for a new Syria or just breathing space before the next round of war.

This is a gift for Donald Trump. He consistently called for safe zones while campaigning, so he can easily support this move. Also, Putin and Trump seem to be tacitly co-operating to keep Turkey out of parts of northern Syria. A question is whether the US will go along with the plan. The US plans to stay in Syria to finish off ISIS, while the other powers prefer to finish off the rebels fighting the Assad regime first.

Despite that, ISIS still controls much of the land mass of Syria, albeit not its population centers.

The answer may depend on how much the White House wants to take at least some of the credit for bringing peace to Syria, and Thursday’s agreement may be the best shot America’s got.

Clearly, Putin is thinking in terms of a “grand strategy”, where the Syria situation is one of a number of critical elements of a possible US-Russia relationship. If the US-Russia relationship can be genuinely reset in a better direction, then it will impact many fronts: Perhaps Putin can get Trump to agree to Putin’s land grab in Crimea and the Donbass region of Ukraine. Perhaps they can work together to end the civil war in Syria, defeating ISIS along the way.

Notably, when Tillerson and Lavrov spoke last week, Syria and North Korea were two topics on their agenda. Maybe Russia could prove to be a more important factor in the North Korea situation than most realize.

So wake up Trump administration! Take that baby step forward by supporting the de-escalation agreement. If it fails, the other guys are to blame. If it succeeds in stabilizing the refugee situation while leading to a political solution in Syria, the credit will partially accrue to America. To help them wake up, here are the Rolling Stones with “Start Me Up” from their 1981 album “Tattoo You”:

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

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Saturday Soother – April 8, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Mount Etna eruption, March 2017 – photo by Salvatore Allegra

Ready, Fire, Aim! Aren’t you glad we didn’t elect Hillary, the neo con warmonger? From Booman:

Our Bush Era PTSD has been reactivated in a big way. While I offered a limited and cautious and conditional defense of President Trump’s decision to authorize the strikes against Syria, I was at pains to note that it’s very important that the administration provide convincing evidence that the Assad regime is responsible for the sarin attack that served as the predicate for the missile launch.

Russia and Syria have denied that they are behind the Syrian Chemical Weapons (CW) attack. We know there was an attack, and that some kind of chemical was used. The media are saying it was sarin gas.

They also, nearly unanimously, say it is the fault of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Earlier in the week, both US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson and US UN envoy Nikki Haley said removing Assad was no longer a priority in US Middle-East policy.

Now, Assad has to go.

Most news outlets and pundits support Donald Trump’s spanking of the Assad government, but what is Trump’s strategy? Enforcing norms against the use of chemical weapons (CW) is a good thing. But it’s hard to see how Thursday’s all-out reversal of our level of engagement in the Syrian civil war is justified by the use of CW, particularly since it has been used several times before in Syria, and since it brings with it many other risks/issues, like a potential military confrontation with Russia and Iran.

After Thursday’s Tomahawk missile attack, we are now simultaneously confronting the two strongest factions in the Syrian civil war, Assad’s army and ISIS. While Trump and the MSM are going bananas about the horrors of CW, no one was going bananas last week, or in all the prior weeks, about the daily death count of Syrian children who were collateral damage in the country’s civil war.

The attack took place in the midst of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping This was where one of the hottest topics was what to do about North Korea’s continuing long-range missile tests and its work on completing a deliverable nuclear warhead.

Clearly there were implicit messages for both North Korea and China in the Syrian attack. This has something to do with Syria, and a lot to do with the Chinese. Military types would tell us that Trump firing 59 cruise missiles to take out an airfield is overkill.

But, it will not be lost on Xi that 50+cruise missiles could also devastate any of those new atoll airfields cropping up in the South China Sea. Donald Trump just proved to Xi that he is a man with 4,000+ nuclear weapons at this disposal and a military that follows orders. It looks to Wrongo like Xi and Putin now have a giant incentive to become better allies, and invite Iran to the party.

Once again, Wrongo thinks that the best option for the US would be to concentrate on humanitarian efforts and helping refugees. And to work with Russia and Syria’s other allies to end the threat from ISIS in the greater Middle East.

Unfortunately, that also admits there is a limitation on the US’s ability to control events solely based on its military strength. Despite its flaws, if there’s no reason to believe any strategy will improve results, then the best course is inaction. That was Obama’s approach.

It’s just not true that we “Must Do Something”. People think that if we Do Something, then nothing bad that subsequently happens is really our fault, because AT LEAST WE DID SOMETHING. Whereas if we do nothing, then every bad thing that subsequently happens is our fault.

Thanks, Obama.

We really don’t have to do anything. The problem is that by following the do-nothing strategy, America doesn’t get to be the biggest, baddest ass on the Middle East Street.

Yes, if we do nothing, lots of people will die, but that doesn’t exactly distinguish it from what will happen anyway. Our inaction won’t transfer blame for those deaths onto us, any more than an action to take out Assad will shift it from us.

Who knew running the world’s superpower was so complicated? Certainly, not someone who said “I alone can fix it”.

With all of this Bush-era Déjà Vu, we really need some soothing today. Here is the first movement (Allegro) from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No.5 in F Major, “Spring” Op. 24, for violin/piano, played by Ilya Itin and Igor Graupman from a live performance at the Miami International Piano Festival.

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

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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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