Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 19, 2017

Ship Rudderless After Trump Drops Its Pilot

The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” Bannon said Friday, shortly after confirming his departure. “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over.”

Bannon was the "Make America Great Again" guy in the White House. The strategist who had the populist ideas that brought the votes for Trump. Jobs, jobs, jobs,  infrastructure investments, immigration limits, taxing globalists were his issue.


Dropping the pilot - Punch 1890

Trump is no young German Emperor and Bannon is no chancellor Bismark. (Both would probably have liked those roles.) But with Bannon leaving, the Trump presidency is losing its chief strategist, the one person which set priorities and could set an alternative course for the ship of state under Trump's command.

The racist Huffington Post headline implies that Bannon prioritized the wrong country.

Haaretz notes that his ouster was hailed by U.S. Jewish groups.

The reason is not that Bannon is anti-semite or a Nazi - he is neither. (It was the Obama administration, not Trump, which voted against the UN anti-Nazi resolution.) Bannon was anti-Islamist and anti-Iran which fitted the Zionist program. But he was also against the waste of U.S. assets and capabilities for the welfare of other countries. He was anti-empire and anti-war. Only yesterday a NYT portrait of him noted:

General McMaster has become Mr. Bannon’s nemesis in the West Wing, the leader of what Mr. Bannon has described to colleagues as the “globalist empire project” — a bipartisan foreign policy consensus that emphasizes active American engagement around the world.

Mr. Bannon flatly rejects that philosophy.
...
Once Mr. Trump was in office, Mr. Bannon opposed the missile strike on Syria after President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people. He has expressed doubts about sending more troops to Syria or Iraq. He is skeptical of American military intervention in strife-torn Venezuela, a prospect raised last week by Mr. Trump, who surprised administration officials by speaking of a “military option” there.

Bannon was also against the imperial projects in Afghanistan, North Korea and elsewhere. Then the empire stroke back at him.

The White House is now under command of military hawks and interventionists. A triumvirate of war-losing Generals, Kelly, Mattis and McMaster, is in control of U.S.  policy. That policy will likely be similar to the one we expected under a Hillary Clinton administration. The neocons, pushing for a dangerous crisis, are winning and the liberals are loving it.

It is not clear at all who will now set the overall political calendar for the Trump presidency. When will what policy initiative be launched? Will it collide with other initiatives? Who will coordinated this with Congress? What priorities must be given to this or that? The four star general Chief of Staff and the three National Security Advisor are neither trained nor capable to evaluate or take such political decisions. Who, after Bannon, is thinking about these issues?

Interestingly Bannon was one of the few untouched by the Russia investigations. Trump would not have been elected without him. He himself is now the only one in the White House who somewhat holds the policy views that got him the necessary votes. It is doubtful that he will be able to translate those into politics. He is (like Bannon) too inexperienced in handling the Washington ship of state to survive by himself. He is incompetent in selecting staff and disloyal to his subordinates. Only the fear of the religious craziness of Vice President Pence prevents, for now, his impeachment. Trump is not happy with his situation.


Source: White House - bigger

Bannon came in to drain the swamp but the swamp drowned him. He will now go back to Breitbart.com and will "go to war for Trump". It is the website where he, as executive chairman, first promoted his right-wing nationalist views. Bannon will surely continue to make waves. But I doubt that it will be able to help Trump to implement what Bannon and Trump himself intended to do. As a well known public person once observed:

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

It's almost like the United States has no President - we are a rudderless ship heading for a major disaster. Good luck everyone!

Posted by b on August 19, 2017 at 04:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (123)

August 18, 2017

Syria Summary - Crossing The Euphrates At Deir Ezzor

The last three weeks in Syria were marked by further consolidation of the Syrian government positions. While this will likely continue, a new front of contention with the U.S. occupation force in north-east Syria is building up over Deir Ezzor city and the oil-rich rural areas east of it.


Map by Weekend Warrior - bigger

Last week the Syrian army liberated Sukhnah east of Palmyra from the Islamic State occupation. The fighting was less severe than anticipated. After nearly surrounding the city and the killing of the local ISIS commander the enemy forces mostly fled towards the Euphrates and Deir Ezzor.

Two large ISIS held pockets are forming in the east-Hama area. The 3,000 square-kilometer western encirclement is by now complete and remaining ISIS forces within the pocket are hunted down by Russian helicopters and Syrian army commandos. This will eliminate any danger for the narrow supply route to Aleppo city. The second pocket will soon close too. Within the next week the Syrian army will have consolidated the whole area. Troops currently concerned with surrounding the pockets will be freed for the push further east towards Deir Ezzor. There will be no more danger of large surprise attacks in the back of advancing forces.

One such attack recently overran a desert outpost and killed 18 fighters from an Iran-supported group on the Syrian government side. These lost units were replaced by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The injection of IRGC units is a new phenomenon. So far IRGC involvement was restricted to commanders of irregular units recruited from Iraq or Afghanistan or as advisors to Syrian army units, While Iran adds forces to the Syrian government side the Lebanese Hizbullah has reportedly reduced its involvement from a peak 20,000 forces to about 5,000. This was possible after several "rebel" held areas in west-Syria and near the Lebanese border were pacified and consolidated. The only area in the western part of Syria with active fighting is now the east-Ghouta enclave to the east of Damascus. A mix of fighters from al-Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra) and Salafists of the Faylaq Al-Rahman continued to reject ceasefire offers. After increasing losses over the past weeks and a difficult supply situation Faylaq Al-Rahman today gave up its resistance. It is only a question of time until the al-Qaeda elements will also agree to give up their fight and accept offers for an evacuation to Idleb province.

After the total defeat of Ahrar al-Sham Salafist groups Idleb has become the al-Qaeda refuge and stronghold in Syria. Turkey has limited supplies to the area to humanitarian goods and infighting between various local groups and al-Qaeda is causing daily carnage. For now no party - Syria, Turkey or the U.S. and its Kurdish proxies - is interested in the costly venture of liberating the area. It will be left to rot until spring.

Strategically the U.S. has lost the war it waged against Syria. All that is left is to defeat ISIS at Raqqa and to leave. But the imperial U.S. military, the neoconservatives and the liberal interventionists will not be happy with that outcome. They attempt to resist the inevitable.

The U.S. occupation force in the north east of Syria and its Kurdish proxy forces make slow progress in their assault on Raqqa. ISIS resistance continues to be strong and the city is being "destroyed to save it". The Kurdish forces assume that a prolonged fighting might be to their advantage in accumulating more U.S. support and equipment.

The U.S. has set up 12 smaller and bigger bases in the Kurdish held north-east Syria. The Kurds, under control of the authoritarian, anarcho-marxist YPG group, hope for a long lasting support and a permanent stationing of U.S. forces. But the U.S. is an unreliable partner and its strategic interest is determined by its relations to Turkey which vehemently opposes any Kurdish control over any parts of Syria.

The U.S. military has plans to move from Raqqa along the Euphrates towards Deir Ezzor and further east to the border city of Abu Kamal. A second front would move from the north towards the Euphrates and capture the al-Omar oil fields. That would consolidate the significant oil reserves north of the Euphrates and currently under ISIS control into the U.S. occupied zone. It seems unlikely that these U.S plans will succeed. The (assumed) Syrian plan (below) currently looks more viable.


Map by Fabrice Balanche - bigger (with legend)

In these plans the Syrian army will approach Deir Ezzor from the north-west along the southern bank of the Euphrates and from the south-west through the Syrian semi-desert. After liberating Deir Ezzor the Syrian army would cross the Euphrates and continue on both banks of the river up to the Iraqi border until it has liberated all areas under ISIS control. The crossing of the Euphrates would require significant Russian support.

The U.S. does not have enough proxy forces to move towards the east and south and to attack Deir Ezzor. The areas are Arab and U.S. recruiting of Arab proxy forces there has proven abysmal. A few hundred more or less reliable fighters is insufficient for any larger endeavor. Attempts to move tribal proxy fighters from the Jordanian border area towards the northern Kurdish held areas have mostly failed. Everyone anticipates the U.S. engagement in east-Syria, surrounded by countries which reject a Kurdish controlled entity in Syria, will be temporary. The long term interests of the Arab tribes lie with the Syrian government.

Israel is pressing for further U.S. engagement. A full reestablishment of Syrian government control over Syria is seen as a "nightmare scenario". The preferred outcome is a balkanized Syria in which Israel can play off various sectarian or ethnic groups against each other. While its optimal outcome is now unlikely to be achievable Israel will continue to press for an autonomous Kurdish area under U.S. control. To be economical viable that area needs the oil fields north of the Euphrates. We can therefore expect some resistance from the U.S. military and Israel influenced experts against a Syrian army move across the Euphrates and to capture the oil fields.

I expect the Euphrates crossing and the consolidation of the oil-fields to become the next contentious issue between the U.S. and Russia in the Syrian war theater.

Posted by b on August 18, 2017 at 02:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (34)

August 16, 2017

"Grown-ups" Versus "Ideologues"? The Media Narrative of the White House May Be All Wrong

Updated below (Aug 19 2017)

The Democrats and the media love the Pentagon generals in the White House. They are the "grown ups":

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., had words of praise for Donald Trump's new pick for national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster — calling the respected military officer a "certified, card-carrying grown-up,"

According to the main-stream narrative the "grown ups" are opposed by "ideologues" around Trump's senior advisor Steve Bannon. Bannon is even infectious, according to Jeet Heer, as he is Turning Trump Into an Ethno-Nationalist Ideologue. A recent short interview with Bannon dispels that narrative.

Who is really the sane person on, say, North Korea?

The "grown-up" General McMaster, Trump's National Security Advisor, is not one of them. He claims North Korea is not deterrable from doing something insane.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But your predecessor Susan Rice wrote this week that the U.S. could tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea the same way we tolerated nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union far more during the Cold War. Is she right?

MCMASTER: No, she’s not right. And I think the reason she’s not right is that the classical deterrence theory, how does that apply to a regime like the regime in North Korea? A regime that engages in unspeakable brutality against its own people? A regime that poses a continuous threat to the its neighbors in the region and now may pose a threat, direct threat, to the United States with weapons of mass destruction?

McMaster's was spewing nonsense. The same was said about the Soviet Union and China when they became nuclear weapons states. North Korea just became one. Conventional deterrence of both sides has worked with North Korea for decades. Nuclear deterrence with North Korea will work just as well as it did with the Soviet and Chinese communists. If North Korea were really not deterrable the U.S. should have nuked it yesterday to minimize the overall risk and damage. It is the McMaster position that is ideological and not rational or "grown up" at all.

Compare that to Steve Bannon's take on the issue:

“There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

It was indeed the Democratic People's Republic of Korea which "got" the United States and stopped the U.S. escalation game. It is wrong to think that North Korea "backed off" in the recent upheaval about a missile test targeted next to Guam. It was the U.S. that pulled back from threatening behavior.

Since the end of May the U.S. military trained extensively for decapitation and "preemptive" strikes on North Korea:

Two senior military officials — and two senior retired officers — told NBC News that key to the plan would be a B-1B heavy bomber attack originating from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
...
Of the 11 B-1 practice runs since the end of May, four have also involved practice bombing at military ranges in South Korea and Australia.

In response to the B-1B flights North Korea published plans to launch a missile salvo next to the U.S. island of Guam from where those planes started. The announcement included a hidden offer to stop the test if the U.S. would refrain from further B-1B flights. A deal was made during secret negotiations. Since then no more B-1B flights took place and North Korea suspended its Guam test plans. McMaster lost and the sane people, including Steve Bannon, won.

But what about Bannon's "ethno-nationalist" ideology? Isn't he responsible for the right-wing nutters of Charlottesville conflict? Isn't he one of them?

He dismissed the far right as irrelevant and sidestepped his own role in cultivating it: “Ethno-nationalism—it's losers. It's a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”

“These guys are a collection of clowns,” he added.

Bannon sees China as an economic enemy and wants to escalate an economic conflict with it. He is said to be against the nuclear deal with Iran. The generals in Trump's cabinet are all anti-Iran hawks. As Bannon now turns out to be a realist on North Korea, I am not sure what real position on Iran is.

Domestically Bannon is pulling the Democrats into the very trap I had several times warned against:

“The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

This worked well during the presidential election and might continue to work for Trump. As long as the Democrats do not come up with, and fight for, sane economic polices they will continue to lose elections. The people are not interested in LGBT access to this or that bathroom. They are interested in universal healthcare, in personal and economic security. They are unlikely to get such under Bannon and Trump.  But, unlike the Democrats, the current White House crew at least claim to have plans to achieve it.

Update (Aug 19 2017)

UPI reports:

Strategic assets of the U.S. military, including an aircraft carrier and a nuclear-powered submarine, may not be deployed during the upcoming joint exercises on the Korean peninsula.

South Korean television network SBS reported Friday the United States canceled plans to deploy the strategic assets during the drill set to begin next week, and the move is taking place a week after tensions spiked between Washington and Pyongyang.
...
The exercises known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian came under verbal attack from North Korea this week, when Pyongyang warned of a "second Korean War" should Seoul and Washington go ahead with the drills.

After a week of high tensions, Pyongyang also stated leader Kim Jong Un would "monitor" the United States before taking unprecedented measures against Guam, the location of a key U.S. air force base.

The U.S. not only held back the B-1B flights out of Guam but also scaled back on other strategic assets in its yearly training for a war on North Korea. The investment North Korea made with its nuclear and missile weapons is paying off.

Posted by b on August 16, 2017 at 11:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (115)

Smashing Statues, Seeding Strife

In the aftermath of competing protests in Charlottesville a wave of dismantling of Confederate statues is on the rise. Overnight Baltimore took down four Confederate statues. One of these honored Confederate soldiers and sailors, another one Confederate women. Elsewhere statues were toppled or defiled.

The Charlottesville conflict itself was about the intent to dismantle a statue of General Robert E. Lee, a commander of the Confederate forces during the American Civil War. The activist part of the political right protested against the take down, the activist part of the political left protested against those protests. According to a number of witnesses quoted in the LA Times sub-groups on both sides came prepared for and readily engaged in violence.

In 2003 a U.S. military tank pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein on Firdos Square in Baghdad. Narrowly shot TV picture made it look as if a group of Iraqis were doing this. But they were mere actors within a U.S. propaganda show. Pulling down the statue demonstrated a lack of respect towards those who had fought under, worked for or somewhat supported Saddam Hussein. It helped to incite the resistance against the U.S. occupation.

The right-wing nutters who, under U.S. direction, forcefully toppled the legitimate government of Ukraine pulled down hundreds of the remaining Lenin statues in the country. Veterans who fought under the Soviets in the second world war took this as a sign of disrespect. Others saw this as an attack on their fond memories of better times and protected them. The forceful erasement of history further split the country:

“It’s not like if you go east they want Lenin but if you go west they want to destroy him,” Mr. Gobert said. “These differences don’t only go through geography, they go through generations, through social criteria and economic criteria, through the urban and the rural.”

Statues standing in cities and places are much more than veneration of one person or group. They are symbols, landmarks and fragments of personal memories:

“One guy said he didn’t really care about Lenin, but the statue was at the center of the village and it was the place he kissed his wife for the first time,” Mr. Gobert said. “When the statue went down it was part of his personal history that went away.”

(People had better sex under socialism. Does not Lenin deserves statues if only for helping that along?)

Robert Lee was a brutal man who fought for racism and slavery. But there are few historic figures without fail. Did not George Washington "own" slaves? Did not Lyndon B. Johnson lie about the Gulf of Tonkin incident and launched an unjust huge war against non-white people under false pretense? At least some people will think of that when they see their statues. Should those also be taken down?

As time passes the meaning of a monument changes. While it may have been erected with a certain ideology or concept in mind, the view on it will change over time:

[The Charlottesville statue] was unveiled by Lee’s great-granddaughter at a ceremony in May 1924. As was the custom on these occasions it was accompanied by a parade and speeches. In the dedication address, Lee was celebrated as a hero, who embodied “the moral greatness of the Old South”, and as a proponent of reconciliation between the two sections. The war itself was remembered as a conflict between “interpretations of our Constitution” and between “ideals of democracy.”

The white racists who came to "protect" the statue in Charlottesville will hardly have done so in the name of reconciliation. Nor will those who had come to violently oppose them. Lee was a racist. Those who came to "defend" the statue were mostly "white supremacy" racists. I am all for protesting against them.

But the issue here is bigger. We must not forget that statues have multiple meanings and messages. Lee was also the man who wrote:

What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.

That Lee was a racist does not mean that his statue should be taken down. The park in Charlottesville, in which the statue stands, was recently renamed from Lee Park into Emancipation Park. It makes sense to keep the statue there to reflect on the contrast between it and the new park name. 

Old monuments and statues must not (only) be seen as glorifications within their time. They are reminders of history. With a bit of education they can become valuable occasions of reflection.

George Orwell wrote in his book 1984: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” People do not want to be destroyed. They will fight against attempts to do so. Taking down monuments or statues without a very wide consent will split a society. A large part of the U.S. people voted for Trump. One gets the impression that the current wave of statue take downs is seen as well deserved "punishment" for those who voted wrongly - i.e. not for Hillary Clinton. While many Trump voters will dislike statues of Robert Lee, they will understand that dislike the campaign to take them down even more. 

That may be the intend of some people behind the current quarrel. The radicalization on opposing sides may have a purpose. The Trump camp can use it to cover up its plans to further disenfranchise they people. The fake Clintonian "resistance" needs these cultural disputes to cover for its lack of political resistance to Trump's plans.

Anyone who wants to stoke the fires with this issue should be careful what they wish for.

Posted by b on August 16, 2017 at 12:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (226)

August 14, 2017

Hyping North Korea To Relaunch Reagan's Star Wars?

Since Trump issued "fire and fury" threats against North Korea (the DPRK), sanity has taken over among serious people. The talk of preventive strikes on North Korea within the expert community has largely ended. It was never a seriously possibility. North Korea has many options to retaliate to any strike and all would come with catastrophic damage to South Korea and Japan and thereby to U.S. interests in Asia.

North Korea can be successfully deterred in the same way that all other nuclear weapon states are deterred from using their weapons. Unfortunately the National Security Advisor McMaster has not yet received that message:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But your predecessor Susan Rice wrote this week that the U.S. could tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea the same way we tolerated nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union far more during the Cold War. Is she right?

MCMASTER: No, she’s not right. And I think the reason she’s not right is that the classical deterrence theory, how does that apply to a regime like the regime in North Korea? A regime that engages in unspeakable brutality against its own people? A regime that poses a continuous threat to the its neighbors in the region and now may pose a threat, direct threat, to the United States with weapons of mass destruction? A regime that imprisons and murders anyone who seems to oppose that regime, including members of his own family, using sarin nerve gase (sic) -- gas in a public airport?

Classical deterrence worked against the Soviet Union as well as against Mao's China. (Vice versa it also worked against the United States.) Both were arguably, like North Korea, brutal against internal dissidents, threatening to their neighbors and military opponents of the United States. If they could be deterred than North Korea can also be deterred.

To set the Trump crew straight. China re-issued its guarantee for North Korea's security. The Global Times, a party owned but unofficial mouthpiece, wrote in an editorial:

"China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral," [..].

"If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so."

Any unprovoked war against North Korea would thereby escalate into a war with China and no one is seriously interested in that adventure. The only reasonable course is to negotiate some new level of balance between North Korean and U.S. interests.

The U.S. continues to run large scale maneuver together in South Korea and to fly nuclear capable strategic bombers near the North Korean borders. These actions necessitate that North Korea's military stays in expensive high alert against potential surprises. One aim of North Korea's nuclear armament is to lessen the necessity for such conventional preparedness.

North Korea has offered several times to stop all missile and nuclear testing if the U.S. stops its large maneuvers near its borders. The Trump administration rejected that offer but North Korea increased the pressure with its recent tests.

Last week North Korea again offered to decrease its own actions if the U.S. stops some of its provocations. It announced a possible test of four missiles targeted into the vicinity of the U.S. base on Guam. The strategic U.S. bombers flying near North Korea usually take off from Guam. Few noticed that the announcement was conditional and came with an offer:

Typically, the nuclear strategic bombers from Guam frequent the sky above south Korea to openly stage actual war drills and muscle-flexing in a bid to strike the strategic bases of the DPRK. This grave situation requires the KPA to closely watch Guam, the outpost and beachhead for invading the DPRK, and necessarily take practical actions of significance to neutralize it.

In the morning of August 8 the air pirates of Guam again appeared in the sky above south Korea to stage a mad-cap drill simulating an actual war.
...
[The US] should immediately stop its reckless military provocation against the state of the DPRK so that the latter would not be forced to make an unavoidable military choice.

In other words: Stop the overflights from Guam or we will have to test our missiles by targeting areas near to the island. The U.S. has no reliable defense that could guarantee to destroy four missile simultaneously coming towards Guam. If North Korea would indeed test near Guam the U.S. will lose face. If it tries to defend against the incoming missile and fails it will lose even more face. I am confident that the strategic bomber overflights from Guam will soon end.

Several commentators claimed that the U.S. is giving false alarm over North Korean abilities. That the intelligence confirmation of miniaturized North Korean war-heads is a lie, that the North Korean missiles can not reach the continental U.S. or that the reentry vehicle cap North Korea used in recent tests is not strong enough to protect its nuclear payload. But it was North Korea that showed off a miniaturized war-head in March 2016; the reach of a missile is variable and largely dependent on payload size and burn time, and the discussed RV cap failure was caused by the unusual trajectory North Korea chose for the test. The chance of North Korea being correct when it claims to be able to hit the U.S. is higher than 50%. For any practical consideration one thereby has to accept that North Korea is a nuclear weapon state that can successfully target the continental U.S. with multiple nuclear armed missiles.

The claim that the U.S. intelligence agencies are exaggeration North Korean capabilities is likely false. But it is also reasonable. The Trump administration, the Pentagon and weapon salesmen will of course use the occasion to further their aims.

One missile defense marketing pundit claimed today that the North Korean missile engines used in the recent tests were bought from factories in Ukraine or Russia. The usual propagandist at the New York Times picked up on that to further their anti-Russian theme:

Mr. Elleman was unable to rule out the possibility that a large Russian missile enterprise, Energomash, which has strong ties to the Ukrainian complex, had a role in the transfer of the RD-250 engine technology to North Korea. He said leftover RD-250 engines might also be stored in Russian warehouses.

But the engines in question are of different size and thrust than the alleged R-250 engines and the claimed time-frame does not fit at all. The Ukrainian government denied any transfer of missiles or designs. The story was debunked with in hours by two prominent experts. But implicating Russia, however farfetched, is always good if one wants to sell more weapons.

One Pentagon hobby horse is the THAAD medium range missile defense systems that will now be stationed in South Korea. This even as it is incapable to defend South Korea from short range North Korean missiles. It is obviously targeted at China.

The Reagan wannabe currently ruling in the White House may soon revive Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, aka "Star Wars", which was first launched in 1984. SDI was the expensive but unrealistic dream of lasers in space and other such gimmicks. Within the SDI the U.S. military threw out hundreds of billions for a Global Ballistic Missile Defense which supposedly would defend the continental U.S. from any incoming intercontinental missile. The program was buried in the early 1990s.  One son of Star Wars survived. It is the National Missile Defense with 40 interceptors in Alaska and California. It has never worked well and likely never will. If NMD would function as promised there would be no reason to fear any North Korean ICBMs. Missile defense is largely a fraud to transfers billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers to various weapon producing conglomerates.

I expect that the North Korean "threat" will soon be used to launch "SDI - The Sequel", another attempt to militarize space with billions thrown into futuristic but useless "defense" projects. It will soothe the Pentagon's grief over the success North Korea had despite decades of U.S. attempts to subjugate that state.

Posted by b on August 14, 2017 at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (90)

August 13, 2017

Charlottesville: What You Wish Upon Others, You Wish Upon Yourself

U.S. "liberals" cuddle fascists and right-wing religious extremists in Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela and elsewhere.

But when similar movements appear on their own streets they are outraged.

The person in the center on the above picture drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville killing one and wounding several.

Politicians and media hail such persons when they appear, often hired by the CIA, to overthrow the government of some foreign country. They condemn the same mindset and actions at home. But glorification of right-wing violence elsewhere hands justification to right-wing groups at home.


Above: Fascist torch march in Kiev January 28 2017. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Republican Senator McCain, The New York Times, the Washington Post and many "liberals" supported the above nazis.


Above: Fascist torch march in Charlottesville, August 11 2017. Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Republican Senator McCain, the New York Times, the Washington Post and many "liberals" condemned the above nazis.

You can not have only one of these. 

To claim, as "liberals" do now, that such marches as in Charlottesville, "is not what and who we are", is a lie. Ask people from outside the U.S. how the empire appears and acts towards them.

The U.S. uses fascism, religious extremism, torture, targeted killing and many other vile instruments of power in its quest for global dominance. All of these methods and ideologies, all of them, will one day come home.

Posted by b on August 13, 2017 at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (196)

August 12, 2017

Shireen Al-Adeimi - Has The War In Yemen Become A Spectator Sport?

Shireen Al-Adeimi (@shireen818) was born in Aden, south Yemen. She is currently a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The text below was copied from Shireen Al-Adeimi's Twitter thread published on August 11 2017.


bigger

Has the war in Yemen become a spectator sport?

My thread may be long, but I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read it.

The war on Yemen rages, yet, Yemenis' plight is STILL not receiving the attention it deserves - not from the media, nor from politicians. When Yemen's not totally ignored, facts are obscured because confronting our countries' active participation in destroying Yemen is inconvenient. While rich Arab states bombard Yemen with fancy (Western-purchased) weapons and hire mercenaries as ground troops, many are afraid to confront the Saudis and face financial consequences (e.g. the UN) or are themselves implicated and/or profiteering (e.g. the U.S./UK). So United Nations offers "concerns” and UK expresses its desire to "find a political solution" while they fill their pockets at the expense of Yemeni lives. And while citizens are often oblivious to their governments' crimes, many know about #Yemen but are not doing enough with this knowledge.

Has Yemen become a spectator sport? For two and a half years, Yemeni children’s dead or emaciated bodies have been splattered all across our screens. Some shed tears, others donate, few hold politicians accountable, but most just turn away. Is it helplessness or indifference? I can't tell. Yemenis are not knocking on Europe’s door because we are trapped by a land/air/sea blockade. Are we 'out of sight out of mind'? I can’t tell. Someone once told me Yemeni children are not ‘photogenic’ enough to draw emphatic responses. Is racism/discrimination at play? I can’t tell. Or are Yemeni wallets not heavy enough to purchase or at least demand international attention, condemnation, and action? I also can’t tell.

What I can tell is that the world is watching. They watch our kids die of curable diseases like cholera because they have no access clean water. They watch our children die of hunger in a time of immense global wealth because their parents can not afford what little food is available. They watch as our children, women and men are killed by U.S.-supported, Saudi airstrikes that target homes, schools, and hospitals alike. When people are asked to engage with elected officials (even by simply signing a petition like: Save Yemen) only a few engage. Even when we ask for our stories to be shared with wider audiences, we're ignored (I was told that readership on Yemen news is in the tens).

I and other Yemenis not only have our families in mind, but millions who ca not access the most basic of needs: safety, shelter, food, and water. I feel totally and utterly helpless. I struggle with sharing stories of dying Yemeni children when I know that no one will come to their rescue. I cry, from the depths of my soul, for a nation that suffers in silence all the while exemplifying the true meaning of faith and resistance. I mourn the children whose little bodies gave up fighting in the time it took you to read this thread. And I pray for Yemen.

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Earlier Moon of Alabama coverage of Yemen:

Posted by b on August 12, 2017 at 12:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (50)

August 11, 2017

Open Thread 2017-31

News & views ...

Posted by b on August 11, 2017 at 01:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (115)

August 10, 2017

NYT - Russia Wants Innovation, But It’s Arresting Its Fraudsters

Russia is BAD we are told on a daily base. It is hacking U.S. elections it is claimed, even when the evidence says it did not do so. The public is only mildly convinced by the anti-Russian propaganda campaign.

The attempt of the borg to reignite a cold war and to vilify Russia is hampered by that fact that Russia is no longer an ideological enemy of the "west". Russia is no longer communist and there are no soviets ruling it. Today's Russia is indeed capitalist and even neo-liberal.

The new way to vilify Russia must then proceed on a different route. "Yes, Russia is capitalist, but it is capitalist in a bad way." Thus we get this NYT headline and story: Russia Wants Innovation, but It’s Arresting Its Innovators:

AKADEMGORODOK, Russia — Dmitri Trubitsyn is a young physicist-entrepreneur with a patriotic reputation, seen in this part of Siberia as an exemplar of the talents, dedication and enterprise that President Vladimir V. Putin has hailed as vital for Russia’s future economic health.

Yet Mr. Trubitsyn faces up to eight years in jail after a recent raid on his home and office here in Akademgorodok, a Soviet-era sanctuary of scientific research that was supposed to showcase how Mr. Putin’s Russia can harness its abundance of talent to create a modern economy.

A court last Thursday extended Mr. Trubitsyn’s house arrest until at least October, which bars him from leaving his apartment or communicating with anyone other than his immediate family.

Noticed how bad Putin is? How very authoritarian his government thugs are? They even arrest an "entrepreneur with a patriotic reputation"!

But why is the man in front of a court?

Mr. Trubitsyn, 36, whose company, Tion, manufactures high-tech air-purification systems for homes and hospitals, is accused of risking the lives of hospital patients, and trying to lift profits, by upgrading the purifiers so they would consume less electricity.

Most important, he is accused of doing this without state regulators certifying the changes.

"Upgrading" something so "it consumes less electricity" is of course good. We all know this.

Ten paragraphs follow to further convince us that the guy is really on the good side and that Putin led Russia is bad, bad, bad.

Only then do we learn what Trubitsyn's company really did:

[Chief technical officer] Amelkin said the company was approached by the regulatory agency and said that it had changed its design and removed a supplementary filtering device that laboratory tests had shown was redundant and wasted electricity. The company then amended its registration documents and thought the matter was over, Mr. Amelkin said.

So here is what really happened. The company produces licensed medical filter equipment. It eliminated one stage of the expensive filters and sold the degraded equipment without telling anyone about the change.

Yes, the modified equipment does "consume less electricity". It does so because it filters less than it is supposed to do. The degraded and cheaper produced medical product was sold without a valid license. Finally some of the companies competitors noticed this and informed the regulators about the dangerous fraud. The "Innovator" CEO of the company was arrested for fraud and will have to go to jail.

That all seems very normal to me and the way product regulation should work. When some German car manufacturers cheated with diesel emission tests their U.S. competitors complained and the regulator put some company officials to jail. That was lauded, even in the NYT, as good regulation. But when Russia does the very same it is defamed as stifling innovation.

Propaganda works. The author of the NYT piece managed to convince his readers. Of the current 29 "Reader recommended" comments 28 are negative towards Russia. Only one commentator, from Vancouver, points out that the system worked as it is supposed to work everywhere. That the company was penalized for a fraudulent product and the responsible manager punished.

One wonders how the author of the piece, and his Russia bashing readers, would feel about insufficiently filtered air when they lie in intensive care.

Posted by b on August 10, 2017 at 03:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (60)

August 09, 2017

Stop The Bluster - North Korea Is A Nuclear Weapon State

The Washington Post headlined today:  Trump threatens ‘fire and fury’ in response to North Korean threats

Just another Trump bluster, I thought. Such are mo longer a reason to read a story. But what are those "North Korean threats" he "responded" to? I had not seen any of those. Diving into the story I found :

President Trump used his harshest language yet to warn North Korea on Tuesday that it will be “met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” if it does not stop threatening the United States.
...
It was not immediately clear what Trump was responding to.

The Washington Post needs to fire its headline writer. Why assert that Trump responded to "threats" when there were none? Why assert a reason when you have no fucking clue why he did what he did?

A different shabby site claims that the base for Trump's played-up nonsense was a WaPo piece published the day before:

The president was responding to a report in the Washington Post that, according to a confidential U.S. intelligence assessment presented late last month, the North Korean regime has “successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles.”

That report was again just bluster. The DPRK (North Korea) had announced a miniaturized nuclear device in March 2016. It even published pictures of it.

On July 4th the DPRK launched its first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. A second test was successfully launched on July 29 under realistic operational conditions. The DPRK successfully tested nuclear devices at least five times - including a hydrogen device with potentially megatons of explosive power. It has enough nuclear material for some 40-60 weapons. All DPRK claims about progress in its missile and nuke programs have, sooner or later, been proven as truthful. There was and is no reason to doubt its March 2016 assertion.

North Korea is for all practical purposes a nuclear weapon state with the ability to deliver nukes onto the continental United States.

This is not news. Talk about "fire and fury" or an ultimatum to North Korea or of preemptive strikes is all nonsense. Nothing the U.S. can do to North Korea can prevent a response that would nuke and destroy Washington DC or some other U.S. city.

North Korea has good reasons to want nukes and the U.S. missed all chances to remove those reasons. It is way too late to lament about that.

Posted by b on August 9, 2017 at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (113)

August 08, 2017

Equality Or Diversity? - An 'Outrageous' Memo Questions Google

A Google engineer, James Damore, recently wrote an internal memo about "Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber - How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion":

At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership. Of course, men and women experience bias, tech, and the workplace differently and we should be cognizant of this, but it’s far from the whole story. On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:
- ...
- ...

Google company policy is in favor of "equal representation" of both genders. As the existing representation in tech jobs is unequal that policy has led to hiring preferences, priority status and special treatment for the underrepresented category, in this case women.

The author says that this policy is based on ideology and not on rationality. It is the wrong way to go, he says. Basic differences, not bias, are (to some extend) responsible for different representations in tech jobs. If the (natural) different representation is "cured" by preferring the underrepresented, the optimal configuration can not be achieved.

The author cites scientific studies which find that men and women (as categories, not as specific persons) are - independent of cultural bias - unequal in several social perspectives. These might be life planning, willingness to work more for a higher status, or social behavior. The differences evolve from the natural biological differences between men and women. A gender preference for specific occupations and positions is to be expected, Cultural bias alone can not explain it. It therefore does not make sense to strive for equal group representation in all occupations.


From James Damore's memo

From there he points to the implementation of Google's policy and concludes:

Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

Google fired the engineer. Its 'Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance' stated:

We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company. [..] Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.

(Translation: "You are welcome to discuss your alternative policy views - unless we disagree with them.")

The current public discussion of the case evolves around "conservative" versus "progressive", "left" versus "right" categories. That misses the point the author makes: Google's policy is based on unfounded ideology, not on sciences.

The (legal) "principle of equality" does not imply that everyone and everything must be handled equally. It rather means that in proportion with its equality the same shall be treated equally, and in proportion with its inequality the different shall be treated unequally.

The author asks: Are men and women different? Do these differences result in personal occupation preferences? He quotes the relevant science and answers these questions with "yes" and "yes". From that follows a third question: What is the purpose of compelled equal representation in occupations when the inherent (natural gender) differences are not in line with such an outcome?

Several scientist in the relevant fields have stated that the author's scientific reasoning is largely correct. The biological differences between men and women do result in observable social and psychological differences which are independent of culture and its biases. It is to be expected that these difference lead to different preferences of occupations.

Moreover: If men and women are inherently equal (in their tech job capabilities) why does Google need to say that "diversity and inclusion are critical to our success"? Equality and diversity are in this extend contradictory. (Why, by the way, is Google selling advertising-space with "male" and "female" as targeting criteria?)

If women and men are not equal, we should, in line with the principle of equality, differentiate accordingly. We then should not insist on or strive for equal gender representation in all occupations but accept a certain "gender gap" as the expression of natural differences.

It is sad that Google and the general society avoid to discuss the questions that the author of the memo has asked. That Google fires him only confirms his claim that Google's policy is not based on science and rationality but on a non-discussible ideology.

Posted by b on August 8, 2017 at 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (164)

August 06, 2017

New Sanctions Against Russia - A Failure Of U.S. Strategy

Recently the U.S. congress legislated sanctions against the Russian Federation over alleged, but completely unproven, interference in the U.S. presidential elections. The vote was nearly unanimous.

President Trump signed these sanctions into law. This was a huge and stupid mistake. He should have vetoed them, even as a veto would likely be overturned. With his signing of the law Trump gave up the ability to stay on somewhat neutral grounds towards Russia. This for no gain to him at all.

Sanctions by Congress are quasi eternal. The 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment restricted trade with the then "Communist block". It was supposed to press for Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union to Israel. But even after the Soviet Union broke down in the early 1990s, after the "communist block" had disappeared and long after any limits on emigrations had been lifted, the law and its economic sanctions stayed in place. It was only lifted in 2012 and only to be immediately replaced by the ludicrous Magnitsky act which immediately established a new set of sanctions against the Russian Federation and its interests.

The new additional sanctions, like the Jackson-Vanik amendment and the Magnitsky act, were shaped by domestic U.S. policy issues. There is nothing Russia could have done to avoid them and there is nothing it can do to have them lifted.

The new U.S. sanctions are not only directed against Russia but against any company and nation that cooperates with Russia over energy. This a little disguised attempt to press European countries into buying expensive U.S. liquefied natural gas instead of cheap Russian gas delivered by pipelines. The immediate target is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany which passes through the Baltic Sea to avoid potential conflict points in east Europe. The sanctions are a threat to an independent German energy policy. (Additional partners in the pipeline are Austria, France and the Netherlands.)  Consequently 35% of Germans name the U.S. as a "major threat to the country". Russia is seen as such by only 33%. This view is consistent with the global perception.

These sanctions will shape U.S.-Russian relation for the next 30 plus years. On August 2 the Russian Prime Minister Medvedev pointed to the weakness of President Trump as the main reason for these sanctions:

The US President's signing of the package of new sanctions against Russia will have a few consequences. First, it ends hopes for improving our relations with the new US administration. Second, it is a declaration of a full-fledged economic war on Russia. Third, the Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way. This changes the power balance in US political circles.

What does it mean for them? The US establishment fully outwitted Trump; the President is not happy about the new sanctions, yet he could not but sign the bill. The issue of new sanctions came about, primarily, as another way to knock Trump down a peg. New steps are to come, and they will ultimately aim to remove him from power. A non-systemic player has to be removed. Meanwhile, the interests of the US business community are all but ignored, with politics chosen over a pragmatic approach. Anti-Russian hysteria has become a key part of both US foreign policy (which has occurred many times) and domestic policy (which is a novelty).
...

Remember that Medvedev as Russian leader was, for a long time, the "hope" of the U.S. establishment. He was perceived as more amenable than the Russian President Putin. Medvedev may well become president again. But no U.S. media except the New York Post took notice of his statement. That in itself is astonishing and frightening. Can no one in the U.S. see where this will lead to? Medvedev predicts:

The sanctions regime has been codified and will remain in effect for decades unless a miracle happens. [...] [R]elations between Russia and the United States are going to be extremely tense regardless of Congress’ makeup and regardless of who is president. Lengthy arguments in international bodies and courts are ahead, as well as rising international tensions and refusal to settle major international issues.

Economically and politically Russia can and will cope with these sanctions, says Medvedev. But can the U.S.?

The supreme global role of the U.S. depends on preventing a Euro-Asian alliance between, mainly, Russia and China. In his latest "grand chessboard" piece Toward a Global Realignment the U.S. strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski - ruthless, amoral and capable - asserts:

[I]t behooves the United States to fashion a policy in which at least one of the two potentially threatening states becomes a partner in the quest for regional and then wider global stability, and thus in containing the least predictable but potentially the most likely rival to overreach. Currently, the more likely to overreach is Russia, but in the longer run it could be China.

The U.S. foreign policy establishment has declared war on Russia. The confrontational position towards China, which was en vogue under Obama, has noticeably changed. The Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama "pivot to Asia" was cancelled. The anti-Chinese Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement has been called off. Military provocations of China in the South Chinese Sea have been reduced and replaced by continuous provocations against Russia in eastern Europe. These steps follow the strategy Brzezinski laid out.

Russia has historically proven to be resourceful in its policies. It is extremely resistant to pressure. With the U.S. in a less hostile position against China, the behemoth will relentlessly press its own advantage. Russia will soon be one of China's main sources of fossil energy and other commodities. There is no major reason for China and Russia to disagree with each other. Under these circumstances the hoped for Russian-Chinese split will not happen. Core European countries will resist pressures that endanger their economies.

The Brzezinski strategy is clouded by a personal hate against Russia. (He is descendant of minor noble Galician-Polish family.) It is flawed as it enables China to establish its primacy. Even under Brzezinski's framework a Russian-European-U.S. alliance against Chinese pursuit of hegemony would have been the more logical way to go.

Hillary Clinton's strategy to blame Russia for her lack of likability and her failure in the election now results in a major failure of U.S. grand strategy. An organized White House policy could have prevented that but there is no such thing (yet) under Trump.

I fail to see how the current strategy, now enshrined by congressional sanctions, could ever end up in an overall advantage for the United States.

Posted by b on August 6, 2017 at 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (137)

August 04, 2017

Michael Brenner - The Linear Mindset In U.S. Foreign Policy

by Michael Brenner

In the reproof of Chance
Lies the true proof of men

William Shakespeare (or, David Petraeus)

O to be self-balanced for contingencies,
To confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs, as the trees and animals do
Walt Whitman (or Barack Obama)

CONTINGENCY is part of the natural order of life. Things happen that we have no control over – or, at least, cannot determine. Things happen that are unexpected – that catch us unawares. It’s one reason why "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley." If your projects are something less than well planned, then you are in even bigger trouble. And if you were flying by the seat of your pants in the first place, then the risks and costs mount. That is what has been occurring to American foreign policy in the Middle East. The phenomenon pre-dates the arrival of the inchoate Trump administration. Barack Obama’s amateurish foreign policy team had its own feckless tendencies. Its Bush predecessor at least knew what they wanted to do but lacked a feasible scheme to reach its dubious goals.

There are features of how the United States makes and executes foreign policy that help to explain why Washington is repeatedly thrown into confusion by unforeseen developments. Most significant is a certain linearity of thinking and action. It takes literally the proposition that since the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the most efficient approach to getting from where we are now to where we want to go is to set our bearings accordingly. What lies between points A and B will yield to American know-how, ingenuity and force of will. That’s how we fought World War II in Europe. It was close to being a lock-step operation – especially after the Battle of the Bulge when Eisenhower ordered that the allied armies should proceed along an even front lest the Germans exploit geographical discontinuities. We tried to follow a linear battle plan in Vietnam (or as close to one as circumstances permitted) and paid the price for it. Even in Gulf War I, Schwarzkopf’s initial plan called for a “bull rush” to Kuwait City.

Our interventions in the Greater Middle East over the past 15 years exhibit similar patterns.

In AFGHANISTAN, we set ourselves the audacious objective of cleansing the country of all Taliban presence or influence. In 2002 that is close to what happened – but not due mainly to what we did. The Taliban simply melted away as members returned to their towns and villages taking with them only such weapons as were considered ordinary household accoutrements. Only a few leaders took refuge across the border harboring vague hopes of doing something or other down the road – as all forlorn exiles always do.

Neither Central Command nor the civilian holy warriors fully appreciated the gift they were being given. It wasn’t recognized, in part, because it did not fit their conventional notion of how you defeat an enemy and the state he is in once defeated. Linear thinking could not grasp the nature of the Taliban or the nature of Afghan society. And they really did not want to. That required too much imagination and intellectual adjustment. Moreover, we wanted vengeance for 9/11 – that was the driving force then and in everything that we’ve done subsequently. So we set about resurrecting the Taliban: by draconian assault on whomever we vaguely suspected of having been the bad guys (most often based on faulty, planted Intelligence we had no means to winnow); a lot of breaking into compounds; the backing of warlords – big and small, old and new – who wormed their way into the good graces of the Americans nominally in charge; by making deals with heroin bosses like Haji Bashar in Kandahar who financed both Afghan sides in the war; and by recasting the mission as one of transforming Afghanistan into the “good society” which never again would spawn violent jihadis who hated America. This last fell within the mental grasp of policy-makers and public alike since it jived with American idealism and our successes 60 years earlier in Japan and Germany.

In an odd sense, Washington needed a revived Taliban and the Taliban leaders needed the Americans.

In short, none of the significant developments in Afghanistan since 2002 were expected. Therefore, we had no contingency plans. We still don’t. America is following that straight line drawn backwards from where we wanted to go to where we were. Linearity.

The brutal truth is that American leaders – civilian and military – have shown less behavioral adaptation in Afghanistan than one likely would see in a chimpanzee confronting analogous frustrating circumstances. The chimp would either try a divergent course or say the hell with it and go off to eat a banana, i.e. devalue the stakes.

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IRAQ reveals the same pattern. It demonstrates with rare vividness the intrinsic flaw in linear strategy. The design was skewed from the outset by the designation of an array of interlocking objectives whose culmination would be a radical remaking of the Middle East’s entire political space. Each of the intermediate objectives were viewed as milestones on the road to Shangri-La. That vision posited a reconstituted Iraq whose thriving liberal democracy and vibrant economy would be a magnet for neighboring Arab/Islamic societies. The popular yearning to emulate the Iraqis’ bliss would lead to a spread of liberal institutions throughout the region. Discontents would fade away, the appeal of fundamentalist Islam would dry up, its militarism would dissipate, and a Kantian peace would prevail domestically and in inter-state relations. The cherry on the cake was to be resolution of the Palestinian question as Israel would be surrounded by benign neighbors and its own more beneficent sentiments would encourage the Palestinians to reciprocate. Peace on Earth to men of goodwill.

There were a number of steps along the way and a few obstacles to overcome. The plan for dealing with each of them was straightforward.

Militarily, Saddam’s forces were to be crushed and the dictator toppled. Secretary Rumsfeld and a compliant Joint Chiefs came up with a simple strategy to do the job expeditiously. It featured a relatively small force exploiting to the utmost the formidable American arsenal of high-tech weapons. Speed and mobility would be the key. Straight on to Baghdad. An occupation force? Not a problem. The Iraqi people would be overjoyed by our liberating them from a tyrannical yoke and would toss bouquets at any American they saw. Paris 1944.

Renovating the country’s political institutions along democratic lines? All that would be needed was a corps of experts from the United States who would provide tutoring and guidance to a grateful people. Organizations and structures would sprout in a process similar to spontaneous generation. Besides, there were those splendid expatriates like Ahmed Chalabi (the Pentagon’s favorite) and Ayad Alawi (the CIA’s favorite) who were ready to slip into leadership slots and exercise enlightened authority.

To jump-start the economy only three things were needed: privatization of all state assets; a stock market; and liquidity provided by billions of dollars in cash. Lashed to pallets, that were flown in on C-5As and placed in the grasping hands of provisional officials and aspiring entrepreneurs. Naïve? Not at all – this was the same method followed in Russia where shock therapy was self-evidently a signal “success” in the Washington mindset– even as it produced a de facto kleptocracy of the sort now putting down roots in the U.S.A.

The Iraq fiasco highlights two odd features of linear strategy. First, policy failures caused by contingent developments are not recognized as such – neither the negative outcome, nor the disruption of the original plan by unforeseen developments. Hence, nothing is learned. Linear method and such substantive actions as taken in accordance with it survive to fail the next time. The mentality remains intact.

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Consequently, Afghan doesn’t inform strategy in Iraq and the two together do little to attune American policy-makers and analysts to the grave drawbacks of proceeding along linear lines elsewhere.

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SYRIA obviously offers multiple examples of how linearity extracts a high price in unpreparedness for the contingencies that always arise. The most noteworthy is the Russian intervention. It altered everything. The military balance was reversed as the 2014-2015 jihadist offensive was first stymied and then the R+6 alliance gained the decisive upper-hand. The CIA organized campaign to use al-Nusra & Assoc/al-Qaeda as instruments for unseating Assad was broken. As a consequence, the masquerade of depicting the civil war as one between the tyrant Assad and well-disposed ‘moderate’ rebels was exposed for the deceit that it has been from the outset; the subordination of the American interest in combating terrorist groups to other objectives and other interests became clear to whomever had the nerve to look (those other interests being Israel’s aim to cripple any Arab state in the region, and the Saudi/Turkish/Qatari Sunni bloc’s aim to isolate Iran while weakening all Shi’ite political formations); the reentry of Russia as a major diplomatic player in the Middle East; and the embarrassment of being completely outmaneuvered by Putin every step of the way.

Strikingly, the Russian intervention itself came as a total surprise. This game-changing contingency not only was unanticipated, it never was even contemplated. At one level, this was a stunning failure of Intelligence *. A failure that makes a mockery of the fabled capabilities of an Intelligence Community that has spent close to a trillion dollars over the course of the “war on terror.” In another sense, the lack of any contingency planning conforms to the linear mindset. For that mindset operates with restricted vision – and still more restricted imagination. If strategy is predicated on a plan to follow a straight line to reach a predetermined goal, then the identification of possible obstacles concentrates on those lying along the plotted path. For recognizing the possibility of others out of view implicitly call into question the linear approach itself – to which they are addicted.

Washington never really had a plan in Syria. Linearity was there – but it was disjointed and tactical as opposed to strategic. Deliberations under Obama were exclusively on micro questions of how to get from (a) to (b) tomorrow rather than how the pieces might fit together in an intelligent design to achieve a feasible outcome. Even a simple-minded design was lacking. Moreover, each component of the country’s security apparatus had its own priorities and purposes. The CIA was intent on proving how cleverly it could link access to Libyan weapons stores, arms acquisitions on the world’s bazar and clandestine shipments to the rebels via Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon was stressed about getting involved in another expensive, pointless war (that is, under General Martin Dempsey) or, at other times, preoccupied with showing off the omni-competence of Special Forces and laying the foundation for securing permanent bases in Iraq and perhaps Syria. As for the State Department, Hillary Clinton and then John Kerry were fixed on eliminating the Assad regime as an end in itself. They gave little thought that what follows. Once Russia entered the fray, Kerry’s single-minded focus was on producing some achievement, however modest, worthy of his diplomatic skills. It was a futile enterprise given the dedication of the Pentagon and CIA to undercutting his efforts and President Obama’s aloofness.

To what strategic goals were these piecemeal actions directed? What American national interests did they serve? How did they relate to a plethora of other combustible issues in the Middle East? There were no answers – because the question had never been posed – by President Obama or anyone else. Therefore, in perspective, Syria differs from Afghanistan and Iraq insofar as there was no desired end-state from which to reason backwards. So what we have had is the coexistence of tactical linearity with near total strategic incoherence.

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Linearity has side-effects that border on the pathological:

1.
Unforeseen impediments are treated not only as troublesome surprises, but as somehow illegitimate and offensive. Illegitimate as in labeling the Iraq insurrectionists “Anti-Iraqi Forces.” Or Yemen’s Houthis as Iranian pawns (Iran representing unalloyed evil). This from an invading power whose capital city is 6,000 miles distant. Yet, in this mentality, the AIF have no RIGHT to oppose us. Their shooting at Americans amounts to “terrorism;” hence, they shall be treated as terrorists, i.e. irregular combatant. The insult they have given us justifies the most extreme, even indiscriminate measures.

2.
Another reaction is “scape-goating.” Somebody had to have done something wrong for factor ‘X’ to have come out of the blue to gum up OUR plan. Blaming President Obama for the rise of ISIS is a perfect example; blaming him for Iran’s influence in Baghdad accompanies it (even leaving aside the partisan element). Here is an example from last Sunday’s New York Times. Tim Arango writes from Baghdad:

[A]fter the United States’ abrupt withdrawal of troops in 2011, American constancy is still in question here — a broad failure of American foreign policy [ensued].

The implicit assumption is that it was mistaken judgment in Washington that led to the withdrawal – and then that the withdrawal permitted the rise of ISIS and the extension of Iranian political influence among Iraqi elites. In fact, the Iraqi government of al-Maliki threw us out – much to the surprise of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker who had a bead on their objective while totally inattentive to the political surroundings. We did not have the option of staying. That was in December 2008 – three years before our “abrupt” withdrawal – and under President Bush. The entire tale as related by Arango is falsified history compounded of Trumpisms. In other words, nonsense.

3.
Of particular interest is that developments which are entirely natural and logical given the circumstances are pronounced are unnatural and surprising because they disturb the linearity of American thinking. Anyone at all familiar with the situation in Iraq in 2008 realized that Iran would exercise the dominant external presence in the country. That reality, though, did not conform with the American road map composed of straight lines.

The United States’ intervention in Iraq created conditions that made its residual interests hostage to contingency. Would the al-Maliki government continue to sustain the tribal forces that had defeated al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia? Would it take steps to reconcile the Sunnis to Shi’ite rule? Could Maliki keep the Iraqi National Army from becoming just another corruption recycling mill? Who would emerge to exploit the anti-Assad revolt in neighboring Syria? What influence would be exerted by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar? None of this was in Washington’s control. That is the type of situation linear thinking is totally unprepared to cope with - nor is it able to respond to what it spawns when new factors pop up to bedevil us.

Now, Washington declares that it will remedy past errors by keeping a substantial military force in Iraq while establishing a network in of bases in Syria as well as Iraq. No mention is made of the elementary truth that these are sovereign countries that may not wish to have a permanent American military presence. (The internationally recognized Syrian government, which clearly will not be toppled, has said vehemently that the current American presence is illegitimate). In other words, the linear mindset blocks out all non-conforming realities in the present and those contingent elements which might arise in the future. Nor does it pay the slightest attention to how achievement of that objective, or some approximation to it, could provoke reactions that carry new dangers and new threats down the road.

In the same manner, the Iranian training of Shi’ite militia in Iraq who played a critical role in clearing ISIS from Tigris Valley towns is deemed illegitimate. This occurred at the behest of the Baghdad government; still, it is considered pernicious and worrying evidence of disruptive Iranian interference in Iraq affairs. Why? Because it thwarts American plans to make the country an American dependency and curbing Iran’s regional influence. When powerful Shi’ite politicians, supported by these militias, generate serious pressure on the Abadi government to resist American demands, that will come as a surprise, and their likely success a shock.

4.
Yet another tack taken by linear thinkers to avoid confronting the full implications of their limitations is the insistence on “another try.” Fail in Afghanistan? Go back time after time in the hope that persistence will pay off. That persistence has little to do with cool-header determination of the objective’s importance. Nor is it justified on the grounds that the fly in the ointment (monkey wrench in the gears) that doomed previous efforts has been identified and removed. Rather, it is an expression of a primitive belief in the ultimate triumph of the will. That is an attitude that fits well the deeply rooted American “can-do” spirit. And that failure is not an acceptable word in the American lexicon.

We have seen this repeatedly in the Greater Middle East over the past 15 years. Afghanistan is but one example. The pursuit of permanent bases in Iraq (again, for no obvious strategic purpose) is another. We can add the mind-numbing attempt at squaring the circle in Syria where we conjure phantom forces where the only alternatives are Assad or the Salafists. The same might be said about the endless gestures of appeasement toward the Saudi royal family. There, Washington has fixed in its uncritical mind that the Saudis are doing things that encourage and sustain terrorist organizations out of anxiety about America’s commitment to their security – although the postulated source of that threat shifts at their convenience – from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, to the movements unleashed by the Arab Spring, to the Iranians.

The same could be said for American dealings with Israel – in spades.

5.
Segmentation is a valuable assist to the maintenance of linear policies - however self-defeating the consequences. For it narrows the range of concerns that might be affected by the repercussions from the rote strategy one is following - preventing their due consideration. Trump's visit to Riyadh to give fervent blessings to the Sunni powers' declaration of war on Shi'ism and Iran is the perfect illusion. Focusing solely on demonized Iran, Washington 'strategists' set a blinkered course for the U.S. and its allies. Trump was entrapped in a plot by the trio of conspirators' skillful exploitation of his frat boy cravings - for pomp, for secret societies, for amplifying demagoguery. So, like the 3 Magi, General Sisi, the Saudi King Salman and President Trump hovered over the magical orb vowing devotion to the holy cause. None recalled that the Magi were Persians - very likely the soft power advance guard of Parthia.

Isolating of the Riyadh ceremony from other matters of import in the Middle East, the American's overlooked the reaction in Shi'ite ruling circles - the government of Iraq, above all. In Baghdad, an exposed Haider Abadi already in the sights of Shi'ite political rivals felt betrayed. His immediate reaction was to give the green light to the Tehran sponsored Hashed militias to dash to the Syrian border where they linked up with SAA units to block the American move northwards. At stake has been the territorial links from Iran via Iraq to Syria to Lebanon to Hezbullah. So single-minded dedication to placating the Saudis by joining their Sunni anti-Shi'ite crusade wound up strengthening the other side. America's declared interests in Syria (albeit dubious ones) were sabotaged by the fragmented, linear policies of the White House.

6.
The most extreme method utilized by the linear mindset to prevent constructive or ambiguous factors from disturbing their pre-set plans is to negate them – to ignore their existence. The outstanding example concerns Washington’s commitment to ensconcing itself in post-ISIS Iraq (and parts of Syria) militarily and politically. This is despite there being fierce opposition among important elements of the Shi’ite political elite. The outstanding figure is Muqtada al-Sadr. He is the most popular Shi’ite politician who could break Abadi’s governing majority in parliament. For fourteen years a thorn in the side of the Americans, he has declared repeatedly that the United States must leave. (Ayatollah Sistani, too, has voiced the same sentiments). Yet, no mention is made of al-Sadr’s threat to American plans as the Pentagon blithely moves ahead with its scheme for achieving now what it could not in 2008. No contingent plans have been made for the possible eventuality of Baghdad once again telling us: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

A variant of this particularly immature psychological ploy involves the disparaging the importance of unforeseen occurrences. Outstanding, is the Russian intervention. Hardly something that could be denied or ignored outright, it was derided by President Obama as of no consequence. Indeed, he took a condescending tone in taunting Putin that the result would another humiliation of Russia, like Afghanistan, that Russia would leave chastened – it’s tail between its legs:

An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire ..

The Assad regime and its ally Russia cannot slaughter its way to legitimacy. ... The blood for these atrocities are on their hands ..

An attempt by Russia to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won't work ..

[Putin is] constantly interested in being seen as our peer and as working with us, because he’s not completely stupid. He understands that Russia’s overall position in the world is significantly diminished. And the fact that he is…. trying to prop up Assad doesn’t suddenly make him a player. ..

The Russians now have been there for several weeks, over a month, and I think fair-minded reporters who have looked at the situation would say that the situation hasn’t changed significantly. ..

Many others inside the administration, and outside it, imitated Obama in ridiculing the Kremlin’s move. Instead, it proved a striking success that turned the tide while making Russia a far more influential player in the Syrian drama than is the United States.

This childish display demonstrates how powerful are the impulses of the linear thinkers to avoid at all cost deviation from the simple plot lines that suit their temperaments and their minds.

 

*[Intelligence failures great and small have become the norm for America’s inflated and infirm Intelligence agencies. There is something absurd about institutions that can tell us Angela Merkel’s pizza topping preferences when she orders on her cell phone yet miss completely the planning, organization and movement of a multi-dimensional Russian force into a country that is the focus of U.S. attention. The full depth of the systemic problem is revealed by the fact that no-one laughs – no-one cries.

Surely, a paltry billion or so would suffice to entice some Ivan or Inessa to pass the word that his cousin Igor in the navy is thumbing his Arabic phrase-book in anticipation of a return visit to Syria and asking whether we’d like for him to bring back a box of dates – or, her Airforce brother-in-law Sergei can’t make it to dinner Friday because he’ll be working overtime directing the loading of a squadron of fighter planes recently painted in desert camouflage.

Whether more competent Intelligence agencies in Washington’s current strategic environment is a good thing is a separate issue.]

Posted by b on August 4, 2017 at 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (109)

August 03, 2017

Why Petraeus, Obama And Brennan Should Face 5,000 Years In Prison

California CEO Allegedly Smuggled Rifle Scopes to Syria - Daily Beast, August 1 2017

Rasheed Al Jijakli,[the CEO of a check-cashing business who lives in Walnut,] along with three co-conspirators, allegedly transported day and night vision rifle scopes, laser boresighters used to adjust sights on firearms for accuracy when firing, flashlights, radios, a bulletproof vest, and other tactical equipment to Syrian fighters.
...
If Jijakli is found guilty, he could face 50 years in prison. Jijakli’s case is being prosecuted by counterintelligence and Terrorism and Export Crimes Section attorneys. An FBI investigation, in coordination with other agencies, is ongoing.
---

Under Trump, a Hollowed-Out Force in Syria Quickly Lost C.I.A. Backing - NY Times*, August 2, 2017

C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, recommended to President Trump that he shut down a four-year-old effort to arm and train Syrian rebels.
...
Critics in Congress had complained for years about the costs [...] and reports that some of the C.I.A.-supplied weapons had ended up in the hands of a rebel group tied to Al Qaeda
...
In the summer of 2012, David H. Petraeus, who was then C.I.A. director, first proposed a covert program of arming and training rebels
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[Mr. Obama signed] a presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to covertly arm and train small groups of rebels
-...
John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s last C.I.A. director, remained a vigorous defender of the program ...

When will the FBI investigate Messrs Petraeus, Obama and Brennan? Where are the counterintelligence and Terrorism and Export Crimes Section attorneys prosecuting them? Those three men engaged in the exactly same trade as Mr. Jijakil did, but on a much larger scale. They should be punished on an equally larger scale.

 

* Note: The NYT story is largely a whitewash. It claims that the CIA paid "moderate" FSA rebels stormed Idleb governate in 2015. In fact al-Qaeda and Ahrar al Sham were leading the assault. It says that costs of the CIA program was "more than $1 billion over the life of the program" when CIA documents show that it was over $1 billion per year and likely much more than $5 billion in total. The story says that the program started in 2013 while the CIA has been providing arms to the Wahhabi rebels since at least fall 2011.

Posted by b on August 3, 2017 at 05:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (54)

August 01, 2017

Reuters Suggests But Can Not Find "Iran's new route to Yemen"

The Trump administration is filled with people who, for whatever reason, hate Iran. These people are attempting to break the "nuclear deal" with Iran and other powers. Their propaganda accuses Iran of every "evil" in this world. Their position is fully in line with the Israeli-Saudi anti-Iran axis.

Since the U.S., the UK and the Saudis wage war against Yemen they claim that Iran is allied with the Zaydi people of northern Yemen who, together with the Yemeni army, resist the Saudi invasion. Iran is regularly accused of smuggling weapons to them even as no evidence for this has ever been shown.

Reuters jumps into the breach with this fantastic fake-news item: Exclusive: Iran Revolutionary Guards find new route to arm Yemen rebels:

LONDON (Reuters) - Iran's Revolutionary Guards have started using a new route across the Gulf to funnel covert arms shipments to their Houthi allies in Yemen's civil war, sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters.
...
For the last six months the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has begun using waters further up the Gulf between Kuwait and Iran as it looks for new ways to beat an embargo on arms shipments to fellow Shi'ites in the Houthi movement, Western and Iranian sources say.

Using this new route, Iranian ships transfer equipment to smaller vessels at the top of the Gulf, where they face less scrutiny. The transhipments take place in Kuwaiti waters and in nearby international shipping lanes, the sources said.

"Parts of missiles, launchers and drugs are smuggled into Yemen via Kuwaiti waters," said a senior Iranian official. "The route sometimes is used for transferring cash as well."

The writer of that Reuters piece is one Jonathan Saul. Other most recent piece on his Reuters page are: European banks struggle to solve toxic shipping debt problem, Global shipping feels fallout from Maersk cyber attack and Lenders to ramp up pressure on holders of toxic shipping debt - survey. Older stories by Saul have similar headlines. Saul writes from London about the global shipping industry. That surely qualifies him as an expert on Yemen.

But even an expert can err. The Houthi are not Shia in the sense that Iran is predominantly Shia. They are Zaidi and follow the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. They pray in same mosques as Sunni believers do. Using the term Shia for the Zaidi side of the Yemen conflict is a lazy repeat of unfounded Saudi claims which try to set any local conflict in the Middle East into a "Sunni-Shia" frame even when that is completely inappropriate. As the Carnegie Endowment states:

Claims of Iran’s influence over the Houthis have been overblown. While the Houthis do receive some support from Iran, it is mostly political, with minimal financial and military assistance. However, since the Houthis took control of Sanaa, the group has increasingly been portrayed as “Iran-backed” or “Shia,” often suggesting a sectarian relationship with the Islamic Republic. Yet until after the 2011 upheavals, the term “Shia” was not used in the Yemeni public to refer to any Yemeni groups or individuals.

The Reuters piece comes with this rather unhelpful map.

 

While that map (bigger, original link) is headlined "Iran's new route to Yemen" it shows no route at all.

Pushing anonymous rumors of Iranian weapon transfers at high sea the Reuters piece totally fails to explain how these weapons would then be transported INTO Yemen. There is no route shown for that. Saudi Arabia and its al-Qaeda allies on the ground blockade and control all sea and land routes into Yemen. Millions of Yemenis are near starving and a huge Cholera epidemic is ravaging the country with 400,000 infected and hundreds dying each day. Hardly any food and no medicine comes through. How please are Iranian weapons supposed to jump from some Daus into the hands of the Houthi when not even food can be passed along?

The claim of weapon transfers near in the upper Persian Gulf makes no sense at all. It is about 2,000 kilometers from the area to the Yemeni coast. There are many much shorter routes from Iran to Yemen which small ships could use without any higher risk. Deeper down the Reuters piece even admits that and thereby contradicts itself:

"Smaller Iranian ports are being used for the activity as major ports might attract attention," [a second senior Iranian official said.]

Another sign that the Reuters piece is utter bullshit is the claimed sourcing from three(!) anonymous "senior Iranian officials". Are we to believe that multiple "senior Iranian officials" admit to a shipping correspondent in London that Iran is willfully breaching UN resolutions by smuggling weapons into Yemen? Why would they do that? Why would they confirm Saudi anti-Iran propaganda?

The Reuters piece makes a fantastic claim that has no practical logic. The author lacks knowledge of the actual conflict at hand. The sourcing is extremely dubious.  Reuters itself can not find "Iran's new route" on the map it provides.

Reuters is the major British news agency. Britain is heavily involved in the conflict in Yemen and the Saudis and their allies are the biggest customers of British weapon manufacturers. The piece on the ominous "new route" will surely make a splash but it disqualifies Reuters as a reliable source of information.

Posted by b on August 1, 2017 at 02:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (102)

 
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