Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Farce

Jeremy Scahill has aptly named our new Syria operation:

We’ve already entered the period when strategy, such as it is, falls away, and our leaders feel strangely helpless before the drip, drip, drip of failure and the unbearable urge for further escalation. At this point, in fact, the hysteria in Washington over the Islamic State seems a pitch or two higher than anything experienced in the Vietnam years. A fiercely sectarian force in the Middle East has captured the moment and riveted attention, even though its limits in a region full of potential enemies seem obvious and its “existential threat” to the U.S. consists of the possibility that some stray American jihadi might indeed try to harm a few of us. Call it emotional escalation in a Washington that seems remarkably unhinged.

It took Osama bin Laden $400,000 to $500,000, 19 hijackers, and much planning to produce the fallen towers of 9/11 and the ensuing hysteria in this country that launched the disastrous, never-ending Global War on Terror. It took the leaders of the Islamic State maybe a few hundred bucks and two grim videos, featuring three men on a featureless plain in Syria, to create utter, blind hysteria here. Think of this as confirmation of Karl Marx’s famous comment that the first time is tragedy, but the second is farce.


Only with Congress did a certain clarity prevail. Nothing it did really mattered. Whatever Congress decided or refused to decide when it came to going to war would be fine and dandy, because the White House was going to do “it” anyway. “It,” of course, was the Clintonesque “is” of present-day Middle Eastern policy. Who knew what it was, but here was what it wasn’t and would never be: “boots on the ground.” Admittedly, the president has already dispatched 1,600 booted troops to Iraq’s ground (with more to come), but they evidently didn’t qualify as boots on the ground because, whatever they were doing, they would not be going into “combat” (which is evidently the only place where military boots officially hit the ground). The president has been utterly clear on this. There would be no American “combat mission” in Iraq. Unfortunately, “combat” turns out to be another of those dicey terms, since those non-boots had barely landed in Iraq when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey started to raise the possibility that some of them, armed, might one day be forward deployed with Iraqi troops as advisers and spotters for U.S. air power in future battles for Iraq’s northern cities. This, the White House now seems intent on defining as not being a “combat mission.”

  Tom Dispatch
As author Robert Bolt gave Sir Thomas Moore to say in his brilliant play, "A Man for All Seasons", "Let us hope that when your head has stopped spinning, your face is to the front again.”

...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Iraq's Too Hard; Let's Try Syria

The strikes in Syria begin after six weeks of U.S. airstrikes have failed to significantly alter the landscape in Iraq, where the Islamic State has claimed vast swaths of territory. On Monday, reports emerged that dozens and potentially hundreds of Iraqi soldiers had been killed after militants overran a base north of Fallujah. An Iraqi lawmaker told The New York Times more than 300 soldiers died after the loss of Camp Saqlawiya.

  Democracy Now!
Reminds me of the old joke about looking for something lost in a place remote from the area where it was lost because it’s dark there and there’s light where the search is being conducted. Although, joke aside, are we counting on Assad’s army being the difference between success and similar Iraqi-style failure in Syria?

...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

P.S.  Falluja still exists.


I'm afraid to say whether Iran is our continuing arch enemy or our soon-to-be coalition ally.
David Cameron is to hold the first bilateral talks between a British prime minister and an Iranian president since the 1979 revolution when he has a face to face meeting with President Hassan Rouhani in the next two days in New York.

The meeting, a significant thaw in diplomatic relations between the countries, is designed to explore the support the Iranians can give to the fight against Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq and Syria.

The Iranians were not allowed to attend the recent Paris talks on building an international coalition against Isis, and have also been excluded from all talks about dislodging President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, including the two conferences in Geneva.


No 10 sources said: “We are under no illusion about the dangers of Iran’s nuclear programme and our approach on that is not changing. However, if Iran is willing to join the international community to defeat Isis then we will work with them on that."


No 10 said Cameron will also hold talks with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el Sisi on Tuesday. He will say the UK wants to work with Egypt in the region, but can only do so when there are inclusive governments, strong institutions, safeguards for minorities and respect for human rights.

Does anybody anywhere buy this shit any more?

...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

Smoke 'em If You've Got 'em

I used to think a scorecard was what I needed. Now I know that won't even help me.
The Syrian foreign ministry said on Tuesday that the United States informed Damascus’ envoy to the United Nations before launching airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria.

The ministry issued a brief statement, carried by Syrian state media, saying that “the American side informed Syria’s permanent envoy to the U.N. that strikes will be launched against the Daesh terrorist organization in Raqqa.”

  Global News
How very thoughtful.
The airstrikes hit targets in and around the Syrian city of Raqqa and the province with the same name, activists said, adding that there were casualties among Islamic State militants on the ground. U.S. officials said the airstrikes began around 8:30 p.m. EDT (0030 GMT), and were conducted by the U.S., Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
THIS is our coalition of the willing these days. Our partners.  (Human Rights Watch and CIA summaries below.)

I work with a woman who says she thinks Obama is secretly part of a terrorist organization. With confederates like this coalition, one can begin to see why the yahoos might think that.
Without their consent, Syrian officials have said such airstrikes would be an act of aggression against Syria and a breach of the country’s sovereignty.

However, U.S. officials have ruled out direct co-ordination with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
I’m confused. So all we had to do was “inform” Damascus that we were about to launch air strikes to avoid being seen as an aggressor “in breach of the country’s sovereignty”?

The whole thing smells.  I marvel there is a back room big enough to accommodate all the dealing.
[Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group,] said about 20 air strikes hit Raqqa province, adding there were casualties among jihadi fighters, mostly on checkpoints. He said that in addition to the city of Raqqa, there were strikes on the towns of Tabqa, Ein Issa and the border town of Tel Abyad on the border with Turkey.
Assad has been attacking that area himself, which is said to be an ISIS stronghold.
Government critics, and increasingly some supporters, complain that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces allowed the foreign-led ISIS to gain strength and establish its proto-state over the past year, focusing the army’s attacks more on Syrian-led militant groups whose main aim is to oust the president. ISIS has a broader goal, to remake the Middle East and establish an Islamic caliphate.

In all fairness, I’d think that if he didn’t focus on the groups whose aim is to oust him, he would not be in a position to deal with ISIS. At any rate, he probably can’t come out and say he’s enlisted the help of the US, who has undoubtedly been instrumental in helping ISIS weaken Assad.

We create ‘em so’s we can fight ‘em.

Mark Twain would no doubt by this time have made up his mind whether the world is ruled by smart people putting us on or imbeciles who really mean it. We are all ruled by madmen.
Last week, U.S. officials told CNN that the military had everything in place it needed to strike ISIS inside Syria and was awaiting Obama's go-ahead to do so.

It’s good to be king. No Congressional authority necessary. Oh, wait. He  claims to already have it from back when Bush invaded Iraq. There was a deal HERE, wasn’t there? Congress doesn’t want to be responsible, so they sit back and let Obama go out on his own.  And there is plenty of fear and militarism in this country to back him up (until it goes south big-time).
"This is the punch in the nose to the bully that we talked about on the playground," former Delta Force officer James Reese said. "ISIS is the bully, and we just punched him in the nose."
I don’t suppose there are any grownups around to handle this mess.

 ...but hey, do what you want...you will anyway.

The Coalition  (which looks like a good fit for us):

Bahrain (who would like to continue being able to buy arms from us)

Qatar (with whom apparently the Saudis are in proxy wars in Libya, but never mind)

Saudi Arabia 



Monday, September 22, 2014

You Need a Scorecard

We Don't Need No Steenkeen Badges

In the war against ISIS, a non-state actor operating inside at least two sovereign states, Obama has been relying on the Iraqi government’s invitation as its legal rational for military action. But Baghdad would be hard pressed to extend that invitation to Syria.


“Whenever the United States uses force in foreign territories, international legal principles, including respect for sovereignty and the law of armed conflict, impose important constraints on the ability of the United States to act unilaterally—and on the way in which the United States can use force,” National Security Council Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden told The Daily Beast. “With respect to international law, the specific basis will depend on the particular facts and circumstances related to any specific military actions, but we believe that we will have a basis for taking action [in Syria].”

  The Daily Beast
Or we’ll pull out a lawyer who’ll make one up for us. Can we put John Yoo back on the payroll?
“The President has the authority as Commander-in-Chief under the United States Constitution to take actions to protect our people. And any action we take overseas, of course, we will have an international legal basis for doing so. I don’t have predictions about what that is, given we haven’t announced additional actions yet.”


Sources close to the administration said the White House and its lawyers were still trying to figure out which justification they want to use. Experts are upset the White House doesn’t seem to be upholding the United States’ long held support for the adherence to international law when dealing with war.
Long held? I think they meant to say “long ago held.” We haven’t held international law in any regard since George W. Bush invaded Iraq.
The Bashar al-Assad regime claims that it is willing to work with the American military inside Syria to fight ISIS, although Syrian officials have said in recent days that any U.S. attack inside its borders would be an act of aggression, unless it’s coordinated with the Damascus government. Secretary of State John Kerry ruled out coordinating with Assad inside Syria in a Sunday interview with CBS, although the U.S. will keep the Syrian government informed.
How very thoughtful.

And What Will France Do?

A splinter group that claims links to the militant group Islamic State (Isis) released a video on Monday night of a French tourist abducted on Sunday while on holiday in Algeria. The group has threatened to execute him unless France halts air strikes on Isis positions in Iraq. The French foreign ministry confirmed the authenticity of the video and identified the hostage as 55-year-old Hervé Gourdel.


“Everything is being done to find our compatriot. All our services are being mobilised to that end, and no theory is ruled out. We are in constant contact with the Algerian authorities, who are cooperating and supporting our inquiry,” said the French foreign ministry.

Hours before the kidnapping, Isis called on its supporters to kill civilians, namely Americans, French, and “their allies”.

Since 2005, about 80 Algerians have been kidnapped in Kabylie by groups demanding a ransom. Most of those who were abducted for extortion were later freed by Algerian security forces.


We're a Different Country Now

If there was a Zen prize for whistleblowers, Snowden would win without trying: he checks and labels everything, he thinks out the moral, he cross-references and relates the material to possible future outcomes.


Snowden might have taught us to expect to be monitored, but his message, that our freedom is being diluted by a manufactured fear of the evil that surveillance ‘protects’ us from, is not being heard. Louder and clearer to many is the message that comes from the security state mind, a suspicion carried on the air like a germ, that certain kinds of journalism, like certain aspects of citizenship, are basically treacherous and a threat to good management. This germ has infected society to such a degree that people don’t notice, they don’t mind, and a great many think it not only permissible but sensible and natural, in a culture of ‘threat’, to imagine that privacy is merely a luxury of the guilty.


Snowden shone a light into [...] a world where we forgot that it is for governments to be transparent and for individuals to be private. The reversal of these things is the spirit of the age.


There was never any question of Ben Bradlee blocking the efforts of his reporters at the Washington Post at the time of Watergate or destroying notes gleaned from Deep Throat, their best source. James Goodale, the lawyer for the New York Times while it was attempting to publish the Pentagon Papers, made the case most strongly that it was a First Amendment issue, and that the paper had a duty to present the material brought to it by Daniel Ellsberg, believing it would enlighten the public as to what the government was doing. Though an injunction was sought by the US attorney general, it was rejected by the judge, Murray Gurfein, who said, memorably, that ‘a cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.’

  London Review of Books
We’ve come a long way, baby.

Mission Accomplished

The Islamic State jihadist organization has recruited more than 6,000 new fighters since America began targeting the group with air strikes last month, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

At least 1,300 of the new recruits are said to be foreigners, who have joined IS from outside the swathes of Syria and Iraq that it controls.

By opting to support the “moderate” Syrian opposition and running the risk of an open confrontation with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the West appears to be primarily appeasing Arab Persian Gulf allies that have turned the overthrow of Mr. Assad into a policy fetish that runs against any rational calculation of how to defeat Islamist terrorism.

The persistent belief in Western policy circles that there is a “moderate opposition” in Syria — reiterated at the close of a NATO summit meeting in Wales on Sept. 5 — warrants serious scrutiny. The very notion of a “vetted” opposition has an absurd ring to it. It assumes that moderation is an identifiable, fixed element that can be sorted out from other, tainted characteristics.


The most effective forces on the ground today — and for the foreseeable future — are decidedly nonmoderate.


Sunni jihadists have been successful precisely because of their insidious appeal to deep-rooted societal and religious instincts and their ability to evoke symbols that elicit a genuine response across the Sunni world, despite their brutality. Anti-Shiite sectarian sentiment adds to their appeal; they have a substantive ideological overlap with Al Qaeda (which disavowed ISIS in February) and with other Syrian rebel groups, like the Saudi-backed Islamic Front, the gulf-financed Ahrar al-Sham and the Qaeda-associated Nusra Front.

May I just say that disavowing ISIS was a brilliant move on the part of al Qaeda if they have been anticipating US action. We backed them once before, why not again?
Ultimately, this is the same bed that the West made — and in which it slept — in Afghanistan in the 1980s.


The truth is that there are no “armed moderates” (or “moderate terrorists”) in the Arab world — and precious few beyond. The genuine “moderates” won’t take up arms, and those who do are not truly moderates.


Supporting the Syrian “moderates” would make some military sense only if it would make any difference on the ground. But in the absence of any large-scale Western or regional commitment to deploy troops, the only real “boots on the ground” capable of destroying ISIS are the Syrian Army and its local allies, including Hezbollah.

Despite its oppressive and brutal history, Mr. Assad’s regime not only poses no discernible threat to the West or its interests, but is ready and willing to act on the basis of common objectives. It would seem to be the height of strategic folly to initiate a military campaign on Syrian soil that is bound to result in a serious confrontation with Mr. Assad’s forces, and possibly Iran and Russia as well, at a time when the most effective course of action would be to act in concert with him to confront a grave common threat.
Only if that were the real objective.

Ramping Up the Nukes

Let's egg on the Russians, shall we?
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A sprawling new plant here in a former soybean field makes the mechanical guts of America’s atomic warheads. Bigger than the Pentagon, full of futuristic gear and thousands of workers, the plant, dedicated last month, modernizes the aging weapons that the United States can fire from missiles, bombers and submarines.

John Kennedy is rolling in his grave.
It is part of a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.
As we can easily afford it.
This expansion comes under a president who campaigned for “a nuclear-free world” and made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy.
Just one of many 180’s for the Manchurian candidate
Supporters of arms control, as well as some of President Obama’s closest advisers, say their hopes for the president’s vision have turned to baffled disappointment as the modernization of nuclear capabilities has become an end unto itself.

“A lot of it is hard to explain,” said Sam Nunn
Until you "follow the money."
“The most fundamental game changer is Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” said Gary Samore, Mr. Obama’s top nuclear adviser in his first term and now a scholar at Harvard. “That has made any measure to reduce the stockpile unilaterally politically impossible.”
And we thought the grownups were back in control.
That suits hawks just fine. They see the investments as putting the United States in a stronger position if a new arms race breaks out.
Holy Toledo! We’re starting it! .