If you had your fill of Trey Gowdy during the Benghazi hearings, you can be excused for vomiting if you watched the FBI’s Peter Strzok’s hearing last week.
In the hearing, the Republicans wanted to make America believe there was an FBI conspiracy to prevent Trump from being elected president. How did the FBI go about it? First, by mounting an investigation of what nearly everyone now acknowledges was a comprehensive effort by Russia to help Trump get elected. But then, the FBI kept that investigation completely secret from the public, to prevent news of it from affecting the outcome of the election.
You also have to set aside the fact that the Director of the FBI may have thrown the election to Trump when he violated FBI protocols, and announced 11 days before the election, that the Bureau was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the FBI engaged in a conspiracy, and the GOP’s claim is contradicted by everything the FBI actually did.
And so far, Republicans have not produced any evidence that Strzok, or anyone else, took any official action that was biased or inappropriate with respect to the Trump campaign.
Fake news, folks. But Gowdy’s committee managed to set a new low during their show trial of Strzok:
This is where we are: The American right have become Trumpers. The head Trumper is free to say and do whatever he likes, and so are his lackeys in Congress.
Today, there is no institutional check on Republicans, except another Republican, Bob Mueller. Ultimately all he can do is provide a report to Congress, which the Trumpers will ignore, regardless of the validity of any accusations it contains. The fate of the nation now hangs on the midterms. And since the electorate failed the country in 2016, we shouldn’t be too hopeful about the odds.
On to cartoons. Strzok tells it like it is:
Trump’s move to remake Supreme Court goes a little too far:
Trump’s new guardian is Judge Kavanaugh:
Trump was poorly received in UK:
Trump took on Germany at the NATO meeting. It wasn’t hard to know why:
Trump’s moving on to his Monday meeting with Putin:
Gas crater in Turkmenistan. It has been burning since the 1970swhenSoviet 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?
It’s supposed to be some combo of Brett McGurk, who has the jawbreaker title of: Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis. But the Syrian fighters we back just went rogue. From Oil Price:
In a move that surprised many observers of the ongoing war for Deir Ezzor province, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) handed over one of Syria’s largest gas fields to Russian forces on Thursday, possibly as the result of unprecedented direct talks between high ranking Russian officials and Kurdish leaders in Qamishli in northeastern Syria.
The information, disseminated by Syrian military reports, claims that an agreement has been brokered between Russia and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces whereby the Syrian government will be allowed to assume control over the gas field.
It’s pretty clear that the Russians continue to run rings around the US in Syria. Does anybody in DC know what the US strategy is in Syria? If so, can they tell the rest of us?
The Kurds may have decided that their best bet is to make bi-lateral deals with Russia, Iran and Syria to hedge against their possible fight with Iraq and Turkey over independence, particularly if the US plans to watch from the sidelines. The Kurds now know that their hopes that the US would support their drive for independence was in vain, since we sided with Iraq when forced to choose between them.
Maybe the Russian/Syrian deal offers some protection to the Kurd’s desire for self-rule.
The remaining question is: was this deal part of some backdoor agreement between Moscow and Washington?” If not, how could this happen without the US knowing about it?
Oil Price says that on Wednesday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister was spotted in the Kurdish autonomous zone of Rojava meeting with Kurdish and Syrian leaders in the northern city of Qamishli. No one has said what was discussed, but it was probably big, and our man McGurk wasn’t on the guest list.
This follows last month’s secret US-Russia military to military meeting about Syria. The AP reported:
The meeting, however, also suggests an expanded US and Russian effort to coordinate their efforts, raising questions about how the Pentagon is adhering to an American prohibition against military-to-military cooperation with Moscow. Congress enacted that law in the wake of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014.
And the unexpected transfer of the gas field by the SDF to the Syrian government raises the question if additional cooperation between the Syrian Arab Army and Kurdish-led militias to seize control of the much larger Al-Omar Oil Field from ISIS further south will occur. Last week, control of that oil field was thought to be a competition between the two forces.
The US endgame in Syria is the million dollar question. Before, it looked as if the goal was permanent US bases in a Syrian Kurdish federated zone. But if the Kurds are cutting separate deals with Russia and Syria, a US exit from Syria could be happening sooner rather than later.
We know that there are great complexities in these relationships in the Middle East, and that the Administration is hamstrung by its anti-Russia, anti-Iran ideologues.
Unless that goes away, we can just call the Trump administration “Incapable of Agreements,” while the Kurds, the Syrians, the Russians and Iran are all very capable of making them.
Pundits were all over the tube and Twitter after the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Hamburg Germany. They were yelling into the echo chamber, speaking about handshakes, the body language of the principals, and what the deeper meaning of each told us about the meeting.
What did it mean that Trump didn’t body-slam Putin about Crimea or US election meddling? What did it mean when they spoke for two and a quarter hours when the meeting was scheduled for 30 minutes?
Wrongo is glad that these two world leaders took the time, and then some, to talk to each other. He hopes they do so regularly. The world isn’t a better place when they are not talking, despite what pundits or politicians say.
On to cartoons. Trump is unaware of the irony in what he sometimes says:
The GOP is still searching for a health care bill that they can pass:
Hobby Lobby proves their true values aren’t truly Christian:
The Donny/Vlad meeting included chemistry:
The Donny/Vlad meeting included really tough talk:
Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, 2016 – photo by Wrongo
They told Wrongo that if he voted for Hillary, we’d be at war in Syria. He voted for Hillary, and sure enough, looks like we could get into a war with Syria! Particularly after this:
A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet from Carrier Air Wing 8 on board the USS George Bush shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 ground attack aircraft near Raqqa, Syria after the aircraft struck ground troops in Ja-Din, south of Tabqah, near Raqqa.
According to most sources it is the first time a U.S. combat aircraft has shot down a manned enemy aircraft in aerial combat in nine years.
The pro-Assad regime Syrian Su-22 that was downed had attacked Syrian Democratic Forces aligned with the U.S. led coalition and inflicted casualties on the friendly forces as they were driving south of Tabqah before it was intercepted.
Russia was displeased. They announced that they could possibly shoot down any US air craft operating in western Syria:
In the combat mission zones of the Russian aviation in the air space of Syria, all kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.
Treating US and allied planes as “targets” does not mean the Russians will shoot at them. What they’re saying is that they will track the planes as they would track any target, they will send their own planes to observe the targets, and possibly escort the targets out of the area.
This gets tricky: what happens if the “target” refuses to be escorted away? Do the Russians then shoot at the target? They haven’t said. But until they do start shooting, we’re not in a hot war. We’ve just moved a step closer to one possibly occurring soon.
And this would be the most dangerous confrontation between the US and Russia since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Wrongo remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis very well. He was in college. We sat around thinking that DC (where we lived) would be taken out by nuclear missiles launched by the Russkies.
This is one outcome of Trump’s outsourcing full control of military action on the ground to the generals.
One miscalculation, and Trump’s generals are making new foreign policy. Clemenceau was correct when he said that “war is too important to be left to the generals”. Who we decide to fight is one of our most important national decisions. From the American Conservative:
There has never been a Congressional vote authorizing US military operations in Syria against anyone, and there has been scant debate over any of the goals that the US claims to be pursuing there. The US launches attacks inside Syria with no legal authority from the UN or Congress, and it strains credulity that any of these operations have anything to do with individual or collective self-defense.
The US says we are in Syria to fight ISIS and evict them from Raqqa. But we have also been arming the Syrian opposition for at least three years. And we have been a party to the Syrian civil war for at least a year before that. But the underlying assumption, that it is in our interest to be fighting in Syria, has not been seriously questioned by most members of Congress.
Americans are so accustomed to fighting wars on foreign soil that we barely notice that the policy has never really been debated or put to a vote. If this Syrian confrontation leads us into a larger conflict with Russia, will it finally be time to notice what’s happening?
Shooting down a Syrian jet shows the dangers that come from conducting a foreign policy unmoored from both the national interest and representative government.
It was shot down because it was threatening rebels opposed to the Syrian government, and the US supports those rebels, apparently up to and including destroying Syrian regime forces that attack them. We say we are there to fight ISIS. That has sufficient support by the people and the Congress. If we are also fighting to oust Assad, we are doing something that requires a full debate.
Without that debate, when we shoot down a Syrian plane inside its own country, we have committed an act of war against another state.
A bit of music. Here is Paramore with “Hard Times”:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
All that I want Is to wake up fine
Tell me that I’m alright
That I ain’t gonna die
All that I want
Is a hole in the ground
You can tell me when it’s alright
For me to come out
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.
Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, CA. April 2017 photo by Robyn Beck
We still have little hard evidence proving that Syria gassed its own people. Much like Iraq in 2003, we have made a military move that feels great emotionally, but that isn’t built on a solid foundation of fact. That the Syrian government deliberately used chemical weapons to bomb its civilians became absolute truth in US media in less than 24 hours.
And once that tidal wave of American war frenzy starts rolling, questioning the casus belli is not permitted. Wanting conclusive evidence before commencing military action will get you vilified, denounced as a sympathizer with America’s enemies.
When Trump launched the tomahawks, most in the mainstream media suddenly fawned all over him. Margret Sullivan in the WaPo quoted several, starting with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria:
I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night…
Sullivan noted that the NYT’s piece failed to even mention that Trump is keeping refugees from the Syrian war, even children, out of the US. Victims of chemical weapons were “beautiful babies” to Trump at his news conference, while the children trying to flee such violence require “extreme vetting” and face an indefinite refugee ban. And this from the WSJ’s Bret Stephens, previously a Trump critic:
President Trump has done the right thing and I salute him for it…Now destroy the Assad regime for good.
Perhaps the worst was MSNBC’s Brian Williams, who used the word “beautiful” three times when discussing the tomahawk missile launches. He quoted a Leonard Cohen lyric (from First We Take Manhattan): I am guided by the beauty of our weapons — without apparent irony:
We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two US Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean…I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’…They are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them what is a brief flight over to this airfield…
Williams might have focused on: What did they hit? What are the strategic consequences?
Many of these same media pukes were continuously expressing doubts about Trump’s judgment since before his election. But, when he orders the use of force, his judgment needs to be questioned by them more than ever. One reason that the US so easily resorts to the use of force abroad is that the very people that should be the first to question the rationale for a presidential military decision are instead among the first to cheer it and celebrate it.
We see groupthink most of the time when the American news media watches an administration step up to the brink of war. This was true in the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, the start of our longest military disaster.
Journalists and pundits need to keep virtues like skepticism, facts on the ground, and context fixed firmly in their minds. They should not be like Brian Williams, focused on spectacular images in the night sky, without contemplating their deadly effect.
For example, how can the media NOT ask how Trump, a man with little outward empathy, can change in a minute, suddenly becoming a caring individual about beautiful Syrian babies? Or, how in a period of 24 hours, Trump managed to flip-flop 180 degrees on a position about Syria that he’s held for years?
Why is the media leading the cheers on Syria, but keeping silent about Yemen?
Why are there never pictures of “beautiful”dead babies after our drone strikes go awry?
Time for the main stream media to wake up and do their jobs in an old school way. To help them wake up, here is Brian Williams’s favorite lyricist, Leonard Cohen, with “First We Take Manhattan”:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
I’m guided by a signal in the heavens
I’m guided by this birthmark on my skin
I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
There are two inescapable conclusions in the aftermath of Trump’s missile strikes in Syria. First, the US can no longer focus only on destroying ISIS. Now, we are in the position of having to also burn calories dealing with the fallout from those strikes with Russia, Syria and Iran.
Second, we can no longer keep our previous distance vis-à-vis the Syrian civil war separate from our relations with Russia. Before Trump’s Tomahawking, it was possible to argue that Russia’s involvement in Syria was peripheral to our goals in Syria, and certainly not central to overall US/Russian relations. Now, the US has put at risk the limited cooperation we have had with Russian in Syria regarding ISIS.
And for what? Apparently, Trump’s missile strikes didn’t change much on the ground in Syria. In fact, the Syrian air force just used the same air strip that we blasted with 60 tomahawk missiles (at the cost of $1million a copy) to again bomb the same city that suffered the sarin attack.
Doubtless, Trump will call this a “victory” but, if you use $60 million to disable an airbase, shouldn’t it be disabled? Again, the question is: What was Trump trying to accomplish? He has taken a dangerous situation, and seemingly made it more dangerous. To Wrongo, it looks like Trump got nearly nothing from his attack. Does this remind anyone of Trump’s attack on Yemen?
Since the Syrian fly-boys are back in the air, bombing the SAME city, Trump looks like a fool. Want to bet that he will feel the need to correct that impression? On to Cartoons!
Who/What was Trump aiming his tomahawks at?
We tipped off Putin that the tomahawks were coming:
Trump meets with China’s Xi and learns something:
Negotiations with Xi weren’t as easy as Trump thought:
Mitch McConnell, wrecker extraordinaire:
Invoking the nuclear option made things much easier for the GOP:
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.
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.