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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 12, 2018

Stop feeding the troll:

Alex Jones was banned for posting “fake news”. Clay Jones, (no relation) the cartoonist who drew the above, asks how conservatives can say that private businesses like Facebook or Apple shouldn’t be able to deny Alex Jones from stating his opinions. But, conservatives also argue that the NFL must stop football players from kneeling during the National Anthem. Is holding both positions acceptable?

Just a few parallels:

As bad as Nixon was, he doesn’t hold a candle to Trump’s self-serving deceit!

First the gates, then the fort. What else protects Trump?

How will the Trumpets square these ideas with the “final frontier”?

Trump tries explaining how the fires in CA were caused:

Trump’s secret sanctions plan will bring Iran to its knees:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 29, 2018

They found water on Mars. It appears to be salt water. Maybe we’ll build a giant desalinization device, and a few survivors of this hell on earth can give a fresh start to humanity on Mars. Also, Russian scientists found nematodes in Siberia that have been frozen for nearly 42,000 years. With climate change, they were visible to scientists. A few came back to life in the lab:

After being defrosted, the nematodes showed signs of life, said a report today from Yakutia, the area where the worms were found. ‘They started moving and eating.’ One worm came from an ancient squirrel burrow in a permafrost wall of the Duvanny Yar outcrop in the lower reaches of the Kolyma River….Another was found in permafrost near Alazeya River in 2015, and is around 41,700 years old….They are both believed to be female.

Both of those news items are more believable than much of what we hear from Washington, DC these days. For example, Trump’s speech to the Veterans this week included his caution about believing the news media. That led to this cartoon by Darin Bell:

And consider the gloating about “historic growth” in GDP by Trump. John Harwood schools us on the data:

If you think that’s fake news, check out the data.

Trump went off on Iran. What could be behind President Rouhani’s provocations?

Michael Cohen stayed in the news again this week. He’s gonna get a TV series:

Tariffs are always a tax on consumers. Donny is here to collect:

Americans no longer have unlimited voting rights, or election security in the US. This is believable:

Establishment Democrats always react the same way:

Wrongo isn’t on board with the democratic socialism platform, but he believes that corporations should be subjected to tighter regulations. They should pay more in taxes. They should be forced to reimburse the people for the deleterious impacts of their activities, like cleaning up factory sites that have polluted the land.

And every American should have access to healthcare, childcare, and some form of employment. We could make the choice to provide a free education to every American if it were a higher priority than new bombers, or aircraft carriers. ICE should be reformed, not abolished.

Establishment Democrats are trying to scare voters away from candidates who support the democratic socialism agenda. They should relax, democratic socialism isn’t about taking everything what you have away, and making it government-owned.

When you consider the perils and benefits of democratic socialism, you should think about Europe. Five of the top 10 happiest nations in the world (according to the UN) are Scandinavian: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Sweden. And they are all democracies.

Ever since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset the 4th ranking House Democrat by running on a democratic socialist platform, Dems worry that what worked in the Bronx won’t work in Kansas. They’re right, it won’t work in Kansas. That’s why candidates need to run on issues that are important to their districts. A voter in Kansas is probably more concerned over the price of wheat than he is about gay marriage.

But, running on the economy and jobs works everywhere.

Ocasio-Cortez campaigned with Bernie Sanders in Kansas. James Thompson, a centrist Democrat running for Congress in Kansas, said she might as well come out, because the local Republicans were going to call him a socialist anyway.

Democrats were called socialists in 1992 when Bill Clinton won. They shouldn’t panic – they should own the accusation.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 13, 2018

We just finished a week in which the Iran Deal died, Michael Cohen proved he was capable of fleecing major corporations, and Gina Haspel showed that she left her moral compass in a drawer at home. Here are a few cartoons to help you laugh off these events.

What are the unintended consequences from killing the deal?

Donnie and Bibi gave a party. Attendance was sparse:

Michael Cohen isn’t the prescription for fixing anything:

Reviews are in on Cohen’s fixing skills:

Gina Haspel has more to answer for:

Midterms messaging by both parties is converging:

The political convergence is eerie:

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Saturday Soother – May 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle, Aomori Prefecture Japan. It was built in 1611. Photo by Huffington Post

Spring is in full flower on the fields of Wrong. Our pear, plum, cherry, quince and crab apple trees all bloomed on Monday. By Friday, most began shedding their flowers. While they were in full bloom, honey and bumble bees swarmed the flowers, making each tree sound as if tiny motors were running on every branch. We also had both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles working hard to strip the crab apple trees of their setting fruit. It was a delight to watch and listen while standing under the trees.

But now, the birds and the bees are moving on to more promising targets, just like Trump is doing with his foreign policy. He’s leaving behind the so-called “bad deal” in Iran, for what will almost certainly turn out to be a similar deal with North Korea. Some have started a victory lap on North Korea, saying that only Trump could have brought Kim Jong-Un to the table. Maybe, but declarations of victory are certainly premature. We have been at least this far with North Korea before.

Wrongo doesn’t buy the outrage in Washington about CIA Director-designate Gina Haspel. Few of us who work inside large organizations have the strength to stand up and refuse to take an action simply because it offends our moral sensibility. We balance the thought that it could cost our job, or our next promotion. And besides, the boss is telling me it’s OK to do it.

Wrongo despises the idea of torture, and believes that America must provide the world with leadership that, by our example, shows that torture is wrong. OTOH, at the time, Haspel was part of a large system that said torture was legal. She was faced with a dilemma: to choose between what she was ordered to do, and what she now says she wouldn’t do again. And don’t trot out that “only following orders” is no defense. Often, in a large system, not following orders leads automatically to dismissal.

Try not to have knee-jerk outrage for someone who, like you, hasn’t always been in a position with sufficient power to use their sense of morality as their guide to all actions.

And we can’t let the week end without a comment on Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. The WaPo has internal company records that show Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Three days after President Trump was sworn into office, the telecom giant AT&T turned to his personal attorney Michael Cohen for help on a wide portfolio of issues pending before the federal government — including the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The internal documents reveal for the first time that Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T specified that he would provide advice on the $85 billion merger, which required the approval of federal antitrust regulators.

You may remember that Trump said he opposed the ATT/Time Warner merger, so who better to retain than his personal lawyer?

You might ask, what insight Cohen, a real estate attorney and taxi cab owner could provide AT&T on complex telecom matters? And AT&T has now admitted they messed up by trying to use Cohen as a way to reach Trump.

Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s simply released his own critters into it.

So on this Saturday, relax and see if you can get soothed before starting your yard work, or whatever other spring project awaits. Begin with a strong cup of “Thanks Mom” coffee ($20/12oz) for Mother’s Day from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in La Jolla, CA. They say its decadent flavors of caramel, red cherry and apple blossom will surely create a Mother’s Day to remember.

Your mom’s mileage may vary. She may prefer dinner at a fancy restaurant.

Now, put on your Bluetooth headphones, sit in the sun and listen to “Moorland Elegies: No. 1. Come, Walk With Me” by Estonian composer, Tõnu Kõrvits. The Moorland Elegies is a nine-part cycle for mixed choir and string orchestra. The texts are poems by Emily Bronte. It is a sonic tone painting.

It is performed here by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Risto Joost in Tallinn’s St. John’s Church in October, 2015:

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

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Saturday Soother – March 31, 2018

The Daily Escape:

 

Zion National Park – 2001 photo by Wrongo

From Alastair Crooke:

At the beating heart of Trump’s Presidency lies the notion of the “Art of the Deal”.  It is said that Trump has few convictions, but his notion of how to negotiate – with a big stick, maximum leverage, and with credible, fear-inducing ‘threats’ –  is central to his whole Presidency.

Crooke continues:

This underlying notion of the ‘deal’ is transactional in essence, best practiced as a one-to-one operation, rather than in a multilateral context.  But in the sphere of geo-politics this is not so easy….in May… Trump will put his negotiating theory to the test in a very different ambit to that of New York real estate. The North Korean summit should be held; the verdict on the nuclear agreement with Iran is due to be pronounced then; the US Israeli-Palestinian determination is scheduled to be ‘handed down’ in May; the Sunni states’ Iran containment roles [are] to be set; and any punitive tariffs on China will be decided, and enacted.

May will be an important month for America. We could see success in all, some, or none of these negotiations.

Crooke posits that the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranians and the Russians all have read and understand the concepts behind the Art of the Deal. They also know that the US is not really in a position to make good on the bluff, and particularly, not in each negotiation, in each part of the globe.

And despite John Bolton’s best efforts to reinforce Trump’s desire to show America as the strongest, baddest version of LeRoy Brown, all of these competitors and would-be adversaries won’t necessarily blink if Trump threatens them.

There are other problems with Trump’s Art of the Deal strategy. He’s not the only one who knows how to play high-stakes poker:  Putin and Xi did not become the undisputed leaders of Russian and China without knowing a bit about strategy and risk-taking.

And the leaders on the other side of each of these Trump initiatives are being told by their own “hawks” that one option is to out-Trump Trump, and win.

This raises the question of a diplomatic “off-ramp”. When Trump warns North Korea that the alternative to accepting America’s demands is military action, what will Trump do if Kim Jong-Un just says “no”? Or, what if Kim answers “yes, but only if America withdraws its nuclear shield from the Korean Peninsula”, or insists that American forces leave northeast Asia altogether?

What does Trump do then?

Does he go to war? The Donald can go to the well too many times with the Art of the Deal strategy.

Over the past 17 years in the Middle East and elsewhere, America’s military might has been shown to have serious limitations, despite our substantial capabilities.

Will Trump be able to bluff his way through May? And if he can’t, then what?

Relax! The good news is that we have a couple of months to figure this out.

Sounds like we need to enjoy the spring, now that it’s finally arrived. Here, the fields of Wrong have finally given up their snow. The birds are returning, and our thoughts turn to a spring clean-up of the damage brought by winter.

So, let’s procrastinate a bit by brewing up a vente cup of Dragonfly Coffee Roasters Ninety Plus Gesha Estates Panama Limited Batch #238, made with the Jose Alfredo Process. ($165/8oz.) Dragonfly claims that the taste is astounding and original, including deeply arousing notes of caramelized green apple surrounding lavish fruit notes that delicately transition the finish into rich cocoa.

Who writes this stuff?

Now, settle back and contemplate the arrival of spring by watching and listening to a video of a Bobolink, by the great Lang Elliott. The Bobolink is a member of the Blackbird family:

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

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Saturday Soother – March 24, 2018

The Daily Escape:

There are marches today. Get involved if you can.

The Dow looks like it might take a year to recover. But the weekend looks to be a rollicking good time, with marches by high schoolers and their adult supporters, Stormy Daniels on 60 Minutes, and the Sweet Sixteen college basketball tournament.

And don’t forget John Bolton, also known as the “Mustache of War”.

Bolton, as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs from 2001 to 2005, was a prime mover behind the Bush II war on Iraq. As you can read here, Bolton rejected intelligence that conflicted with his desire that the US government use the phony claim that Iraq had WMD to justify the war. In fact, senior British officials accurately showed what was happening in their secret “Downing Street” memo to Tony Blair in July 2002 when they reported that:

The intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.

Throughout that fall, Bolton knew how the administration was misrepresenting the details of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s WMD to the public. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence also documented these distortions in a series of bipartisan reports following the 2003 invasion. Lawfare gives a first-person analysis of Bolton:

First, he’s a masterful bureaucratic tactician. Unlike his predecessors, Michael Flynn and H.R. McMaster, Bolton is a very experienced and adept creature of Washington institutions. Similar to former Vice President Dick Cheney, he knows the levers and knobs of the vast national security and foreign policy machinery: how they work, who works them, and how to exert control over them.

That’s also mixed in with the fact that Trump likes to defer to people who can dominate a room, another formidable trait of Bolton’s:

Third, he’s thorough and methodical. Most senior policymakers simply cannot keep up with the details across so many issues….Expect the same diligent readiness from him on issues like Iran and North Korea, but with the added advantage that he’ll face less pushback than he might otherwise because of the fact that so many senior diplomatic posts remain unfilled. His ability to be meticulous and bombastic will probably serve him very well in this White House.

The key takeaway is that Bolton brings to the president’s national security agenda a competence that this White House has lacked. I generally agree with Benjamin Wittes that some of the president’s worst instincts have often been tempered by sheer ineptitude. What makes Bolton dangerous is his capacity to implement those instincts effectively.

He has the ability to put loyalists in key positions while marginalizing those he distrusts. From Booman:

This is the most dangerous moment for humanity since the Cuban Missile Crisis. There’s nothing Congress or the public can do directly to prevent Bolton from taking his post, but all means for resisting his influence must be employed.

Those who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis know that we barely avoided going nuclear, in part because JFK stood up to General Curtis Lemay, and because tactical commanders on both sides failed to follow their respective militaries’ rules of engagement.

Trump may not act like JFK if a similar issue comes up. He once asked three times (in a national security briefing) why we have nuclear weapons if we can’t use them.

Maybe this isn’t a good time to bring up that many Democrats and independents thought that Hillary Clinton was a greater threat to world peace than the Donald. Kinda makes a person long for some good old Obama-style gridlock.

Enough! We gotta just get away, relax and get soothed. Wrongo says this every week, but this weekend, he really, really means it. The daffodils are poking up through the snow, and it is time to brew up a hot vente cup of something caffeinated. This week, Wrongo recommends Hula Daddy Coffee’s Kona Sweet blend ($94.50/lb.), with its silky mouthfeel, and very sweet taste which suggests subtle milk chocolate, according to the roaster. Don’t worry, the stock market is so bad, you might as well blow what you have left on one cuppa joe.

Now, settle in and listen to a selection from George Winston’s “Winter into Spring”, recorded in 1982. This video adds terrific sights and sounds of spring in northern Idaho to Winston’s soundtrack. Some might think it distorts Winston’s art. You be the judge:

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

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15 Years Later, Bush and Cheney Can’t Be Forgiven

The Daily Escape:

Shock and Awe – Baghdad, Iraq 2003

In March 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq to forcibly remove Saddam Hussein from power. A quick victory ensued, but while the campaign had been carefully planned, what was to happen after winning had not. That led to a series of blunders and ill-conceived decisions, and a chain of events that ensures the Middle East and North Africa will be unstable for generations to come.

The NYT has an article by Sinan Antoon, an Iraqi-American novelist on the 15th anniversary of the Iraq invasion. He closes his piece with this:

No one knows for certain how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion 15 years ago. Some credible estimates put the number at more than one million. You can read that sentence again. The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a “blunder,” or even a “colossal mistake.” It was a crime. Those who perpetrated it are still at large. Some of them have even been rehabilitated thanks to the horrors of Trumpism and a mostly amnesiac citizenry. (A year ago, I watched Mr. Bush on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” dancing and talking about his paintings.) The pundits and “experts” who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam’s reign, but that is what America’s war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis.

What was supposed to be a quick operation, limited in time to remove a dictator from power, has snowballed into an out of control global nightmare.

Fifteen years later, the consequences have given us an uncertain future, but back in 2003, it didn’t have to be that way.

Wrongo had dinner back then with Gen. Jay Garner, who GW Bush had just tapped to lead the post-war reconstruction efforts in Iraq. We were at a company offsite meeting, just before he left for Iraq. Garner said that he believed the establishment of a new government could be accomplished quickly, and that the country could be back on its (sort of democratic) feet within a year.

Garner’s plan was to choose the new government officials who would lead the country from the former Iraqi regime. He later said:

…as in any totalitarian regime, there were many people who needed to join the Baath Party in order to get ahead in their careers. We don’t have a problem with most of them. But we do have a problem with those who were part of the thug mechanism under Saddam. Once the US identifies those in the second group, we will get rid of them.

Garner was replaced by the noxious Paul Bremer in May, 2003. Garner wanted early elections, and for Iraqis to decide how to run the country. But Bush, Cheney and Wolfowitz wanted to purge all Baathists. They cashiered the Iraqi military. They then selected Iyad Allawi to lead the Iraqi interim authority. Allawi was a Shiite who had worked with the CIA.

You know the rest of the story. The continuing catastrophe in Iraq led to the continuing catastrophe in Syria. That has caused the destabilizing flood of refugees into Europe. And it led to the European right-wing anti-immigrant movements that have ascended in most of the Eurozone.

Europeans must find it unbelievable that Trump claims they aren’t paying their way. They’re paying a huge daily tab in the form of destabilized politics and costly social programs for immigrants that reside in their towns and cities due to America’s adventurism in the Middle East.

In its wake, Iran allied with Russia and Iraq. Assad has won in Syria. Turkey’s relationship with NATO is frayed. Those birds will keep coming home to roost for generations.

Without the lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and the sheer incompetence of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer in Iraq, ISIS might not have expanded throughout Iraq and Syria. The refugee crisis might never happened.

And for what? A neo-con wet dream come to reality? Some real money made by their buddies via no-bid contracts?

The human toll, as Antoon says, was about one million Iraqis, and untold Syrians on top of that. It was never worth it.

Americans aren’t accustomed to calling their foreign adventures blunders. Antoon says it was a crime. We had a moment after Obama was elected to call the Iraq war’s perpetrators criminals, but Obama and Pelosi agreed that they wanted to look forward.

Now, the American public seems to want to let GW Bush off the hook for his blunders.

We can never allow that.

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Trump’s Cabinet Moves Signal Danger Ahead

The Daily Escape:

Impalas sharing a drink – Via

A few additional thoughts about the falling dominoes in Trump’s cabinet that were triggered by Tillerson’s firing. There are rumors that Gary Cohn will be replaced by Larry Kudlow, and that National Security Advisor HR McMaster may be replaced by John Bolton.

So, think about the new line-up. Kudlow is economic czar. CIA Director Pompeo becomes Secretary of State. Gina Haspel, who oversaw the secret CIA torture prisons in Thailand is promoted to Director of the CIA, and John Bolton turns up as National Security Advisor. These people, along with Nikki Haley at the UN, who this week threatened another cruise missile attack inside Syria, are among the worst possible choices for their respective jobs.

Unless we exhume and reinstate Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Wrongo had direct experience with Kudlow during the Reagan administration, when Kudlow was associate director for economics and planning in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under David Stockman. Wrongo was at the big NY bank, and was lobbying for approval of a new line of business that was a stretch under the Glass-Steagall regulations at the time. In our one meeting, Kudlow was a pompous asshat. He lectured us about “trickle-down” economics, and how the country was in the midst of a conservative cultural revolution led by St. Ronnie.

We couldn’t get away from him fast enough. BTW, we did get the exception to the regulations, without any help from Kudlow. Perhaps it is useful to remember that Kudlow has no training in economics, although he plays one on TV. Also, he was fired from Bear Stearns for his $100,000 per month cocaine habit. And that’s in 1994 dollars. Real economist Brad DeLong says appointing Kudlow is like appointing William Shatner commander of the 7th Fleet.

If all of these moves come to pass, Trump will be surrounded only by true believers. Any Generals that are left, except for Mattis at Defense, may act as if they are true believers, as well.

Think of these moves as the first step in a new neo-con takeover of our national security strategy:

  • There will be no normalization of our relations with Russia
  • There will be a confrontation with Iran
  • The effort to destabilize Syria will continue
  • China will be confronted, first on trade, and second, on their growing regional aspirations
  • Nothing will come from any discussions with North Korea

Trump’s neocon cabinet now will have the means both to support Israel’s ambitions in the Middle East, as well as their own desire for Washington’s military hegemony in the world. They will use the “Russian threat” as a justification of more defense spending and even more militaristic actions abroad.

This is an extremely dangerous agenda. Russia’s new weapons as announced by Putin last week seem to suggest that they may have some military superiority over the US. Certainly, that may embolden China and Iran to move closer to the Russians.

If the administration persists in making charges and threats against Russia, Iran, and China, those nations must eventually react. They may become allied militarily, anticipating a possible war against the current US regime.

If, as Haley has threatened, the US were to again strike Syria, Russia has to choose whether to let it pass (as it did when Trump fired 50 cruise missiles previously), or to respond. If the US misjudges its attack, and Russia responds with actions that kill US military personnel, then the US regime faces the same choice, to let it pass, or not.

Any time we (or the Russians) are forced to consider retaliation, there is a clear cost to not retaliating, as well as a strong inclination to not just turn the other cheek.

Trump’s new cabinet line-up can lead us into a profoundly dangerous situation.

And it will be driven by a tiny minority: A neocon cabinet. Plus the Israelis who ardently desire the US to take on Iran. And elements of the US military/security complex, who feel we must be the biggest, baddest asshats in town.

We are sitting in the middle of the most reckless behavior in modern history.

Where are the voices against this?

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The Countries Arrayed Against Us in Afghanistan

The Daily Escape:

Gas crater in Turkmenistan. It has been burning since the 1970s when Soviet engineers accidentally collapsed it while exploring for gas. The escaping methane was lit to avoid poisoning nearby villages. It has been burning ever since. Photo by Amos Chapple

Afghanistan has been burning for about as long as that gas crater. We are now ramping up our commitment to the Afghans by shifting military resources from Iraq and Syria back to Afghanistan.

On one hand, our presence makes it very difficult for the Taliban to win. They don’t have an air force, or anti-aircraft weapons. The Afghan Army is better trained than before, and they greatly outnumber their opposition.

On the other hand, the Afghan government can’t win; 40% (or more) of the country’s rural districts are under the Taliban’s control. They are active in other parts of the country. Government corruption remains rampant, and there’s a constitutional crisis in Kabul that’s been going on for three and a half years.

But let’s talk about the countries that are arrayed against Afghanistan. Iran, Pakistan, and Russia, all of which share common borders with Afghanistan, and all of which would be quite happy to see the US fail in its 16-year long war, are working with the Taliban.  According to Carlotta Gall in the NYT:

Iran…is providing local Taliban insurgents with weapons, money and training. It has offered Taliban commanders sanctuary and fuel for their trucks. It has padded Taliban ranks by recruiting among Afghan Sunni refugees in Iran, according to Afghan and Western officials.

Ms. Gall quotes Javed Kohistani, a military analyst based in Kabul:

Having American forces fight long and costly wars that unseated Iran’s primary enemies has served Tehran’s interests just fine. But by now, the Americans and their allies have outlasted their usefulness, and Iran is pursuing a strategy of death by a thousand cuts to drain them and cost them a lot.

So, Iran is thinking strategically. They have outmaneuvered us in Iraq, and in Syria. And they are siding with the Taliban against us in our biggest bet in the Middle East.

They are not alone. Russia now supports the Taliban. They are backing them in regions where the US is carrying out airstrikes. Their initiative reflects Moscow’s concerns that Afghanistan might become a new staging ground for Central Asian jihadis pushed out of Syria and Iraq after the defeat of ISIS. Moscow thinks that scenario could threaten its own security.

Also, Russia is trying to build an international consensus around direct engagement by major countries with the Taliban. This from the WaPo:

Russian policymakers support engagement with Taliban factions that support a diplomatic settlement in Afghanistan, while eschewing factions that seek to destabilize the war-torn country. Moscow’s selective engagement strategy toward the Taliban contrasts markedly with Washington’s historical resistance to engagement with the Afghan militant group.

Russians are inserting themselves in Afghanistan following their very successful intervention in Syria. Russia’s approach could increase its status as a counterweight to US influence in the Middle East.

Finally, Pakistan has long been recognized as a safe harbor for the Taliban. We have long believed that there is no way we can seal the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, so Taliban troops are free to leave the battle and return to relative safety in Pakistan. Our strategic concern has been to balance the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands, against the chance that our desire to crack down on their safe havens for the Taliban will alienate them.

The Taliban is undefeated mostly because Pakistan gives it support and sanctuary. The Trump administration has told Pakistan that it will no longer tolerate them providing the Taliban with a safe haven, but whether it changes anything on the ground remains to be seen.

We have an array of strong competitors who share borders with Afghanistan, all of whom want us to lose. And Afghanistan is a bad hand for nation-building: Over 50% of the population is under 19, and 39% are impoverished.

That’s a lot of young, impressionable kids with nothing to lose, and every reason to earn a living through illicit means, or by joining an insurgency. And Afghanistan’s population is growing faster than its economy. When the US invaded in 2001, the population was approximately 21 million people; today it is 35 million.

For anyone hoping to disrupt the Taliban’s ability to recruit, this is very bad news. The Taliban’s opium trade accounts for 400,000 jobs alone. That’s more jobs than those that are employed by the Afghan National Army.

Again, we should insist that Trump and the Congress answer these questions:

Why are we there? What end state are we trying to bring about?

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Trump’s Syria Policy Could Threaten NATO

The Daily Escape:

Swaziland street scene – 2012 photo by Wrongo

Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch” against Kurdish militias inside Syria on January 20. Reuters reports that Turkish artillery pounded Kurdish positions, while rockets fired from inside Syria hit two Turkish border towns, wounding dozens. More from Reuters:

Intense Turkish artillery fire and air strikes continued to hit some villages, the YPG said, while fierce battles raged to the north and west of Afrin against Turkish forces and their rebel allies…

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey had informed the Syrian government of its military operation in Afrin with a written statement before the incursion was launched. Apparently, Moscow gave the green light to Ankara to commence Operation Olive Branch, and has moved Russian troops out of harm’s way in Afrin. From Stratfor:

The war in Syria should be ending. The Islamic State has lost all the territory it seized in 2014. The Syrian army, backed by Russia and Iran, has confined other anti-government rebels to besieged pockets in the south, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus and in the northwest. Opposition hopes of removing Syrian President Bashar al Assad have vanished. But the war refuses to die. It just takes new forms.

The new fighting is between Turkey and American surrogates. The US announced a post-Islamic State mission that would keep American advisers and their local surrogates in Syria for years to come. The mission calls for the US to train, arm and advise a 30,000-strong, mostly Kurdish border security force. The border that this force will secure is between Syria and Turkey.

Unsurprisingly, this didn’t sit well with Turkey’s president Erdogan, who pledged “to strangle it before it’s even born.” He moved Turkish military units to the border and launched artillery at Kurdish positions in their Syrian enclave of Afrin. Erdogan is a smart guy. He told members of parliament from his Justice and Development Party:

Hey, NATO! You are obliged to take a stance against those who harass and violate the borders of your members.”

Naturally, it’s Turkey’s borders that Erdogan wants NATO to protect from Kurdish militias. The US border security plan could tear NATO apart. Several European partners are unhappy with this latest move by the Trump administration. Importantly, this may commit the US to a long-term presence within a country that doesn’t want us there, and where we have no real strategic interest.

Erdogan’s incursion has received support from al Assad’s government, Russia, and Iran. They see the US plan as a pretext to keep a military presence in Syria, to deprive Syrian authorities control over large swaths of the country and gain some leverage over the war’s likely victors. Joshua Landis at the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies, wrote:

By controlling half of Syria’s energy resources, the Euphrates dam at Tabqa, as well as much of Syria’s best agricultural land, the US will be able to keep Syria poor and under-resourced…

Russia admonished the Kurds that their decision to put their faith in whatever US Central Command (CENTCOM, the controlling regional Defense Department command for Syria and the ME) has planned for them is a poor decision. And the US has already backtracked on their support for the Kurds in Afrin. CENTCOM has announced through a spokesperson, that the US will not continue to support them.

So, what’s the strategy? Both Russia and Iran can simply sit back and watch as Erdogan goes about crushing the US’s proxy (Kurdish militias) in northern Syria. And, they have nothing to lose if a nasty spat develops between the US and Turkey. On the other hand, if Turkey succeeds in vanquishing the Kurdish militia, US will have to vacate northern Syria, which would also be to the advantage of Russia and Iran.

It is hard to explain the Trump administration’s decision to keep the US military presence in Syria indefinitely, against the wishes of Damascus, Russia, Iran and Turkey. Tehran knows that if the US is forced to vacate Syria, it would mean the US-Israeli failure to block Iran from establishing the “Shia Crescent”.

Trump has delegated far too much autonomy to the Pentagon. The White House is focused domestically, or otherwise engaged in infighting, and Trump doesn’t have the interest, or expertise to provide leadership in the region.

Despite all Trump’s campaign rhetoric, his ME policy will only lead to further US humiliation in the region. The US needs a Metternich.

Instead, we’ve got Trump & Tillerson, sort of the “Abbott & Costello” of international affairs. Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon have been completely outplayed for the past year or two.

Sometimes you just have to get out of the way, and just take the shame/blame that’s coming to you.

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