Streetwise Professor

January 25, 2016

The Wages of Incoherence: The Policy Feedback Loop From Hell

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 11:12 pm

Policies can be misguided, but coherent: that characterizes the Bush II Middle East policy for the most part. Then there are policies that are so bizarre and contradictory so as to be utterly incoherent. That’s the Obama Middle East policy.

On the one hand, for the past several years the administration has bent over backwards to make deals with Iran. In the months since the deal was sealed, it has made concession after concession to the mullahs, including obsequiously thanking the Iranians for releasing sailors whom they illegally seized and mistreated, and arguably paying $1.7 billion in ransom to secure the release of Americans held by Iran. The obsequious attitude to Iran is driving the Saudis into paroxysms of paranoia, which stokes proxy wars throughout the region, most notably in Yemen, Iraq . . . and Syria.

But in Syria, the US is on the side of the Saudis fighting Iran’s allies. Indeed, in Syria the Saudis pay for US covert support of anti-Assad forces fighting Iran’s puppet, the Assad regime. Just today John Kerry–who always has one more cheek to turn to the next Iranian insult–said: “The position of the United States is and hasn’t changed; that we are still supporting the [Syrian] opposition politically, financially and militarily.” You know, the opposition that is fighting Iranian forces on the ground in Syria.

But the US being on the side of the opposition may be old news. Now the rumors are rife that the US has backed away from its previous stance that Assad must step aside during the transition to a new government. This is setting off yet even more paroxysms of paranoia among the Gulf Sunni oil tick states. He said this, by the way, in the context of trying to arrange peace talks between the warring sides. How can you be a peace broker when you are “supporting the opposition politically, financially, and militarily”? That’s incoherence!

So maybe in its dying days the administration is groping for coherence, by going the full Monty on Iran. But I’m betting on continued incoherence.

More incoherence. Obama has been adamant about “no boots on the ground” (a phrases that triggers severe teeth-gnashing by yours truly) in the anti-ISIS campaign. Yet in the past few weeks Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has been going around saying yes, there will be American boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS. Which is it? (Annoyingly, as of yet I have not heard anyone demand an explanation from Obama for this glaring contradiction. Is Carter off the reservation? Or is Obama merely dodging responsibility, and the press is eagerly enabling? Don’t bother answering. Rhetorical question.)

Then there’s US policy towards the Kurds, where Biden simultaneously supports the Turks in their war against the PKK and supports the PKK’s Syrian offshoot, the YPG, which the Turks hate as much as the PKK.

Yet more incoherence. We frantically support peace efforts in the region (most of them futile) but attempt to appease Saudi and Qatari anger at our concessions to Iran by showering them with weapons . . . which the Saudis turn around and use to bomb the crap out of Iranian proxies in Yemen, which angers the Iranians. And around and around it goes.

In the region, this playing both sides is viewed with deep suspicion. Paranoia is part of the Middle Eastern DNA, and the slightest inconsistency is perceived as double dealing and backstabbing. As a result, we undo our attempts to mollify one element (e.g., the Iranians) by doing something to mollify their enemies (e.g., the Saudis) who are angry at our attempts to mollify the first element.

It’s a policy feedback loop from hell.

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January 13, 2016

Breaking the Code: A Dark Day for the US Navy

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 9:20 pm

Somewhat to my surprise, the Iranians released the 10 American sailors whose boats they had seized yesterday. This immediately set of a coordinated spasm of self-congratulation in the administration, and among its media enablers. The party line was laid down by Kerry, who gushed with gratitude for Iran’s gesture and generosity, and with self-praise, stating that the quick end to the situation was proof positive of the benefits of the Iran deal which he and Obama had so brilliantly brought to fruition. Without the deal, it wouldn’t have ended so quickly or smoothly, according to Kerry.

Excuse me, but if the Iran deal was so great, this incident would not have happened in the first place. If the Iran deal was so great, it would not have happened the way it did, with the US personnel being held at gunpoint, and photographed kneeling with their hands behind their heads while the IRGC went pawing through their equipment. If the Iran deal had been so great, they would not have been taken prisoner by the Iranians, and at one time held blindfolded (and again photographed): even if they were in Iranian waters, they would have been warned away and left to proceed. If the Iran deal was so great, the photographs of the humiliation of the American crews would not have been plastered all over the Internet and Iranian television.

But Kerry did not utter one peep of protest about the seizure of the vessels. He did not question whether the seizure was justified, or necessary. He did not slam the releasing of photographs and videos of American servicemen in submissive positions, a direct contravention of international law (of which Kerry claims to be so fond).

If anything Joe Biden (yeah, the guy Obama has tasked to cure cancer–wrap your head around that one) was even worse, saying that it is “standard nautical practice” to help boats in distress at sea.

I can tell you this: it is not standard nautical practice to assist distressed vessels by forcing their crews to kneel like drug runners on a cigarette boat chased down by the USCG.

And about that distress thing. I called BS on it yesterday, and today the Pentagon sidled away from that: they kinda had to, given that both boats motored away under their own power.

The entire episode remains cloaked in mystery, but I find the Pentagon’s claims of ignorance to be incredible. They continue to say they lost contact, and don’t know how that could have happened. I am pretty sure that the crews would have radioed the situation in as it was unfolding the only way I can conceive that their messages weren’t heard is if the Iranians jammed their communications, which would put a whole different  spin on things, wouldn’t it?

The Iranians have also claimed that US ships (including the USS Harry S. Truman) and helicopters made “unprofessional moves” for 40 minutes after the boats were captured. This suggests that the US was aware of the capture and made attempts to interfere. That would blow the entire Gilligan’s Island and “lost contact” narrative.

The US should have had more than enough situational awareness to realize something was up immediately. If they didn’t, some people have some explaining to do. If they did, they have some other kinds of explaining to do.

But it is clear that there will be a concerted effort to draw a curtain over the initiation of the incident in order to celebrate its end, so that little, if any ‘splaining will be going on.

Not. Good. Enough. There are serious issues here, and a full and public accounting of the episode is necessary.

It is particularly serious precisely because it raises grave issues about the Iran deal that Obama and his long-faced Sancho Panza are desperate to defend in spite of–or is it because of?–repeated Iranian provocations.

It is also serious because it raises issues about whether the military is being compromised in order to protect the deal at all costs.

Obviously a tick-tock detailing the exact sequence of events is imperative. But there are other questions (which a supine press has apparently not thought of, or has refused to ask).

For instance, what were the Rules of Engagement? Were the crews given the option of fight or flee, or were they expected to capitulate if confronted by the Iranians?

Did US units in the area find out about the seizure? How? How did they respond? Were they ordered to stand down?

I have to believe there is fury throughout the Navy at this episode. The sight of American sailors kneeling as prisoners on their own combatant vessel must rankle deeply.

Those feelings must be even worse because one of the sailors was shown on Iranian TV apologizing to, and thanking, his captors:

“It was a mistake that was our fault and we apologize for our mistake,” said the U.S sailor, who was identified by Iran’s Press TV as the commander. “It was a misunderstanding. We did not mean to go into Iranian territorial water. The Iranian behavior was fantastic while we were here. We thank you very much for your hospitality and your assistance.”

Not acceptable. At all.

I had the Code of Conduct of the United States Armed Forces drilled into my skull plebe year at Navy, and it has remained embedded ever since. And I can tell you that this behavior is clearly contrary to the Code.

One part of the Code is that you will not do anything that gives aid and comfort to the enemy in exchange for better treatment. It is clear that this statement benefited the Iranians: they are using this entire episode for propaganda value, but more importantly, to demonstrate their mastery over Obama: don’t believe for a moment that this isn’t having major repercussions throughout the region. Further, the only reasonable inference is that making such a statement was a precondition for release.

The sailor should not have made this statement. His only possible excuse is that he had been ordered to in order to seal the deal for the release, a possibility which I cannot discount. If anything, that possibility would be even worse, for it would mean that command authority would be ordering the violation of the Code, which was adopted to solve very serious problems with collaboration by POWs during the Korean War that (a) sapped morale, and (b) was used to wage a propaganda war against the US around the world.

This entire episode is disgraceful. A full and searching inquiry is necessary. But that is unlikely to happen: this event is destined for consignment to the memory hole. And that may be the biggest disgrace of all, not least because it will require the complicity of the military. In the past months have noted with dismay repeated examples of military dissembling and outright lying in order to protect Obama. This is contagious, and corrosive. It is also inimical to the effectiveness of the armed forces. This could be one of Obama’s most malign legacies, and that is saying something.

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January 12, 2016

Lily Tomlin Didn’t Know the Half of It: In the Age of Obama, It’s Impossible to Keep Up on Your Cynicism

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 7:18 pm

Lily Tomlin once said “We try to be cynical, but it’s hard to keep up.” She didn’t know the half of it, because she said this before the age of Obama.

Tonight Obama gives his last (thank God!) State of the Union Address. To guilt us all about the widespread reluctance to admit tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, Obama is trotting out a poor boy who lost his family–and his arms–to an bomb strike in Syria.

This is the most rank emotional manipulation I have ever seen in politics, and that is saying a lot. It is cynical beyond belief.

For one thing, as tragic as his story is, this boy is not representative of the refugees that will attempt to get in the US. It is well known that the refugees in Europe are disproportionately young adult males, not women and young wounded waifs.

You could get a more representative example of would-be refugees in front of the Cologne Cathedral on New Year’s Eve.

For another, Obama’s policies in Syria have been cynical beyond belief, and have dramatically worsened the humanitarian crisis in the country. As is his wont in such matters, he chose the worst option. He did not intervene decisively early in the crisis, thereby allowing it to spin out of control. That is defensible. But he also has supported the arming (via the CIA) of opposition groups in Syria, including Islamist groups. This has increased the intensity of, and extended, the war.

Don’t take my word for it. Walter Russell Mead, a very middle-of-the-road guy who started with high hopes for Obama, wrote a scathing article about Obama’s Syria cynicism back in November.

It hasn’t gotten better. Indeed, tonight’s farce shows that it’s gotten even worse.

All of this takes place against the background of the Iranian seizure of two US riverine patrol craft, two Swedish-built CB90 boats.

There is zero doubt-zero-that the Iranians did this to troll Obama’s SOTU. But the show must go on! So rather than make an issue out of this that might detract attention from Obama’s swan song star turn, the administration, with the appalling assistance of the Pentagon, is saying “no big deal! Just an accident!”

Here is one story puked up by the Pentagon:

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told The Associated Press that the boats were moving between Kuwait and Bahrain when the U.S. lost contact with them.

“We have been in contact with Iran and have received assurances that the crew and the vessels will be returned promptly,” Cook said.

U.S. officials said that the incident happened near Farsi Island, situated in the middle of the Persian Gulf. They say it stemmed from some type of mechanical trouble with one of the boats, causing them to run aground. The troops were picked up by Iran.

I have only two words in reply. Bull. Shit.

First, there is no way both boats had mechanical issues. If only one had problems, the other could tow it.

Second–and more outrageously–these are bleeping riverine boats intended to operate in very shallow waters. They draw .8 meters. That’s less than 3 feet, boys and girls. They wouldn’t go aground in your back yard after a heavy rain.

Third, in these days of GPS, a navigation error can be ruled out.

My conclusion: they were seized. Without a fight. Which tells you something about the Rules of Engagement vis a vis Iran that we operate under in the Gulf.

Josh Earnest actually had the audacity to say that it is incidents like this that make the Iran deal worthwhile.

I’d explain what he means, but I’m hopelessly trapped by archaic Western concepts like “logic,” so I can’t.

How many cheeks does Obama have to turn to domestic critics? Zero. How many to Iran? I can’t count that high.

Of course this will only stoke the Sunni freaks in the Gulf into even greater frenzies of paranoia about Obama’s Shia sympathies, thereby intensifying an already fraught situation.

So what’s the State of the Union? I’ll let you know when I get caught up on my cynicism. This may take a while.

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January 7, 2016

Be Ready For Praying Mantis II: Other Than That, Stay the Hell Out

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:35 pm

There is no good guy and no bad guy in the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia (and its GCC allies). In its essentials, it is a struggle for regional dominance between two benighted and malign powers.

The theater of the conflict is Iraq and Syria. Iran has some advantages, most notably, it is allied with the government of Syria (now supported by Russia), and for sectarian and geographical reasons has advantages in Iraq. In Syria, Saudi Arabia and its allies must resort to funding and arming the opposition. Its options in Iraq are more limited, but it is likely objectively pro-ISIS.

Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia can pose a conventional military threat to the other. Iran’s air force is a collection of museum pieces (F-4s, F-14s and F-5s!) seized from the Shah and kept together with bubble gum an duct tape, and some Russian aircraft gifted to them by a desperate Saddam 25 years ago. Iran’s ground forces have no power projection capability. Its units have struggled in Syria and Iraq, and were noted during the Iran-Iraq war mainly for their ability to absorb appalling casualties. Iran’s navy also lacks any power projection capability. Logistics would also render impossible any Iranian attack on KSA.

Saudi Arabia has a very well-equipped air force, with 70 F-15E strike aircraft, 86 F-15C and D air superiority fighters, 72 Eurofighter Typhoon multirole aircraft, and 80 Tornado ground attack planes. This is more than adequate to defend KSA against anything that Iran could throw against it on air, sea, and land. But KSA’s ground forces are, like most Arab armies, woefully ineffective, and mainly intended for regime protection. The Saudis are bogged down in neighboring Yemen, and could not hope to project any force into Iraq, let alone Iran.

Even if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, it will have little effect on the balance of power. The Saudis will almost certainly obtain one as well, and a nuclear weapon is more of a regime protection weapon than an instrument of power projection.

Iran’s main weapon is subversion, but this is difficult to employ against a police state like KSA. Indeed, the execution of Nimr Nimr that precipitated the latest crisis was no doubt a signal to Iran that the Saudis were willing to use extreme measures to crush any uprising in the Shia population in the eastern provinces. Also look at the brutal crackdown in Bahrain to see how the KSA and its allies deal with Iran-fomented Shia internal dissent.

So there will be an intensified shadow war between KSA and Iran, fought mainly in Syria and Iraq. Things have intensified now because the Iran deal and the Russian intervention in Syria disturbed the previous equilibrium in the region: this was one of the main reasons the Iran deal, and the administration’s subsequently fecklessness in responding to Iranian provocations, was so ill-advised. The most likely outcome is an intensified struggle resulting in a renewed stalemate.

In terms of oil, the most likely outcome is that the Saudis will figure that Iran suffers from lower oil prices more than they do, so they will not cut output. The Iranians have every incentive to produce as much as they can.

There are loud calls from some quarters that we intervene on behalf of our Saudi “allies.” With allies like this, we need no enemies, given lavish Saudi support for Islamism (and terrorist groups) around the world: indeed, I consider the Iranians’ in-your-face chants of “Death to America” more palatable than the Saudis’ two-faced duplicity. The relationship between the US and KSA is transactional, at best, and is unfortunately suborned by Saudi money which greases far too many palms in DC and Europe.

Stalemate is probably a good outcome from the US perspective. Getting in the middle means we will get it from both sides.

Our main interest is continued flow of oil through the Persian/Arab Gulf. A policy similar to that adopted by the Reagan Administration during the Iran-Iraq War, which largely took a hands-off approach to the conflict on the ground, and focused on assuring the free navigation of the Gulf, is a prudent one. If either side tries to escalate by attacking shipping or laying mines, like during the Tanker War, the US can intervene and smack them down as it did in Operation Praying Mantis.

We have no interest in a civilizational and sectarian war, and probably couldn’t intervene effectively even if we decided to. Neither country is capable of achieving a decisive victory over the other. The main stakes are who gets to rule (albeit indirectly) over a ruined Syria and a dysfunctional Iraq. So limit our involvement to keeping the oil flowing and deterring and preventing terrorist spillover. And definitely don’t take the side of Wahhabi freaks, or think that they are allies worthy of the name.

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December 29, 2015

Helluva Way to Run a War: The Pentagon & Obama Go to the Mattresses

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 1:24 pm

I have long hypothesized that an intense war between the White House and the Pentagon has been raging for years.

Exhibit 1 in support of this hypothesis is the simple fact that Obama is on his fourth defense secretary, whereas no other major department has had more than two. The most recently defenestrated SecDef, Chuck “Hapless” Hagel, recently blasted the administration, savaging it for micromanaging, and entrusting the micromanaging to certifiable idiots like Susan Rice, whose major qualification, of course, is her willingness to say anything–anything–in defense of the administration, no matter how ludicrous.

Hagel’s complaints about micromanagement merely echo those of his predecessors, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta. And of course, there are many other stories (some discussed here) that provide further support.

Hagel also claims that the White House tried to “destroy” him with a slanderous leak campaign. The White House no doubt did this pour encourager les autres: no independent thought will be tolerated! This apparently had the desired effect. One candidate,  Michele Flournoy, withdrew her name from consideration precisely because of her concerns about micromanagement by The Incompetent One.

All of this of course should make you look askance at anyone who would take the job.

Today brought another story of the Pentagon-White House War: Reuters reports that the Defense Department has been doing everything in its power, and pulling every bureaucratic trick imaginable, to impede Obama’s obsession with emptying Gitmo.

The most lurid war story came out some days ago, when Seymour Hersh wrote a long piece in the London Review of Books claiming that the Defense Department actively opposed administration policy in Syria. One must always take Hersh stories with a large grain of salt, but this one has a high degree of verisimilitude. The Pentagon was aghast at Obama’s support for jihadi groups fighting Assad, and for its deference to Turkey which was supporting every jihadist in sight–including ISIS.

The strongest piece of evidence in favor of the Hersh claims is the failed Pentagon program to arm allegedly moderate opposition groups. The Pentagon knows how to arm, equip, and train insurgent forces: indeed, this was the original purpose of Special Forces. The only possible reason that the Pentagon could have fucked it up as badly as it did in Syria is that it wanted to fuck it up.

Another piece of evidence in favor of Hersh is that he writes that ex-DIA head Michael Flynn was the most aggressive opponent of Obama’s Syria policy (with Dempsey playing a more devious Yes Minister role). Flynn has been very outspoken recently, including this recent interview.

So there you have it folks. The Defense Department and Obama and his thugs have gone to the mattresses. Helluva way to run a war. Or wars.

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December 16, 2015

Barack “The Bourbon” Obama: Learning Nothing, Forgetting Nothing

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 9:53 am

The linchpin of Obama’s recalibration of his anti-ISIS campaign (for it is little more than that) is the deployment of US special operations forces in direct actions targeted on ISIS leadership. This represents further proof of Obama’s intellectual rigidity, and his utter inability to learn from experience–or to admit error.

For this is exactly what Obama did in Afghanistan starting in 2009:

Each year during the Afghan “surge” that President Barack Obama initiated in 2009, one declassified document shows, the manhunting task force ran many more missions than the year before–about two per night countrywide in August 2009; six per night a year later, when the Norgrove mission went south; and eleven per night a year after that, at the time of the “Extortion 17” tragedy. By 2011, the JSOC task force numbered more than 3,800 personnel — huge in special operations terms, but still just 2.4 percent of the overall U.S.-led force in Afghanistan, as one briefing slide notes.

Accompanying the overall surge was a “Ranger surge” that put more and more platoons of the elite light infantry regiment into the field alongside the SEALs, allowing more targets to be struck. Operators from the Army’s Delta Force were present as well, some of them providing what a JSOC staff officer calls a “very special capability”: the ability to track a moving convoy of cars or trucks by helicopter and raid it on the go, as depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down” and numerous YouTube videos. The documents describe one joint Delta-Ranger team specializing in this task as an “expeditionary targeting force”—the same term defense secretary Carter used this week to describe the new JSOC raid force deploying to Iraq.

 

And this has accomplished what, exactly? The Afghanistan hamster wheel spins and spins and spins, regardless of how many SEAL and Ranger raids are mounted, and how many “high value targets” are killed. The main result of these operations–if “successful”–is to provide promotion opportunities for aspiring guerrillas and terrorists. It certainly has not changed things on the ground.

Actually, the operations have accomplished something: getting highly trained and difficult to replace special operators killed and maimed and just worn out. The details of the operations were only discovered because they were included in FOIA’d reports about two raids that went horribly wrong.

But faced with another difficult situation, this time in Syria and Iraq, rather than contemplating soberly the all pain, no gain lessons of the “Expeditionary Targeting Force” model in Afghanistan, Obama goes to it again.

What Talleyrand said of the Bourbons applies with even greater force to Obama: He has learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.

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Russia’s Shambolic Logistics in Syria

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:39 am

In responding to Micheal Weiss’s idiotic hyperventilating (but I repeat myself) about Russian intervention in Syria, I quoted the old adage: Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics.  I noted that logistics severely constrained Russia’s military capacity in Russia. Look no further than this for evidence of how shambolic Russia’s logistics are:

Earlier this year, an old refrigerator ship called the Georgiy Agafonov, built to transport fruit and vegetables for the Soviet Union, was quietly gathering rust in the Ukrainian port of Izmail where the Danube flows into the Black Sea.

Its owners, a Ukrainian state company, assumed it would never sail again. When a Turkish company offered to buy it for $300,000, they watched as the hulk was towed away, presumably for scrap.

Nine months later the ship is back at sea, renamed Kazan-60, reflagged as part of Russia’s naval auxiliary fleet, and repurposed as an unlikely part of Moscow’s biggest military operation outside the old Soviet boundaries since the Cold War.

. . . .

The need for the extra cargo ships arose because Russia’s warships did not by themselves have enough capacity to supply the mission, said Vasily Kashin, senior research fellow at the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

“Before we had to use amphibious landing ships to carry supplies to Syria. But now they are not sufficient and we are creating a new class of military transports which are part of the navy but in fact are pure cargo ships,” he said.

An icebreaker called the Yauza was also sent to the Mediterranean from the Arctic to beef up Moscow’s logistics. According to publicly available shipping data, it made two trips to Syria in October and November.

Buying old cargo ships gives Moscow more control than contracting out its transport to commercial carriers, said Gerry Northwood, chief operations officer with British maritime security firm MAST.

 

Russia has utilized some flashy weaponry–such as surface and submarine launched cruise missiles–in its Syria campaign. But this is military Potemkinism, a dazzling facade that distracts from the shabby and creaking structure beneath. Especially now, with rumblings about Turkey closing the Bosporus to Russia, those freaking out about Russia’s involvement in Syria need to look beneath the facade, and understand how the realities of logistics, which have doomed far more campaigns than anything that has transpired on battlefields, fundamentally limit what Russia can even hope to achieve.

 

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December 5, 2015

Can You Shave an Islamist’s Beard With Occam’s Razor?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 12:10 pm

Not if the barber is Barack Obama. Two days after it was blindingly obvious that the atrocity of San Bernardino was a terrorist attack carried out by Islamists, Obama clung to the possibility that this was workplace violence (yeah, of the Nidal Hasan variety). He also grudgingly admitted that it was possibly terrorism, but even then he would not speak its name. Rather than name the specific ideology that inspired this brutal act, Obama retreated to his usual circumlocution of “people succumbing to violent extremist ideologies.” Then he descended into the vapidity of calling for more gun control: after all, no crisis should go to waste, right?

Truth be told: gun control will do nothing to impede people like Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who broke numerous state and federal firearms and explosives laws, and who engaged in an attack that they knew would certainly result in their deaths. Such people (and I use that term loosely) are extremely infra marginal demanders of firearms and bombs. The increase in the cost of obtaining these instruments of mass mayhem caused by any even remotely plausible gun laws would still put that cost below their very high willingness to pay, and if they are not deterred by the prospect of violent death, the punishment for violating gun laws is clearly not going to deter them either.

Although Obama has seen fit to lecture us in the aftermath of Charleston, Sandy Hook, Ferguson, and even Louis Gates, for Christ’s sake, his statements in the aftermath of San Bernardino were limited primarily to his weekly radio address, recorded before he went to party down at the White House holiday party, with, among others, BLM luminary Deray McKesson. Priorities, you know.

One of the obvious early tells of the Islamist nature of the attack was that mere hours after Farook had been identified, his family members were participating in a press conference with Muslim Brotherhood front organization CAIR. Another tell came yesterday, when the Farook family’s scumbag lawyers gave a press conference that can be summarized as: “Who is the real victim here?” Hint: Farook, Malik and Muslims generally. After all, somebody teased Farook about his beard, and that might have set him off.

The administration picked up the victimhood narrative, with Attorney General Lynch saying that  her “greatest fear” is the “incredibly disturbing rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric” and promising to prosecute speech that “edges towards violence” (whatever the hell that means). So, along with trashing the Second Amendment, the administration has its sights set on the First. No doubt the 5th can be jettisoned too, if guns or politically incorrect speech are involved.

No doubt the administration’s denial of reality and its attempt to suppress speech has many causes. For one, San Bernardino totally contradicts the administration’s narrative on terrorism. For another, it creates serious problems for the administration’s plans to bring in large numbers of Syrian refugees. Within a few hours of her being named, Tafsheen Malik’s numerous family connections to Islamists in her home country of Pakistan and her adopted country of Saudi Arabia were documented. Pakistani intelligence said that the family had well known extremist connections: Now they tell us. Her father was an extremely conservative and rabidly anti-Shia immigrant to Saudi Arabia.

Yet the State Department and the immigration authorities failed to uncover these facts in their investigations of potential terrorism connections before granting her a fiancee visa. So yes, we can’t vet someone who has lived in countries with functioning governments that are (allegedly) our allies, but we can evaluate the risk of tens of thousands of people coming from a country embroiled in a  civil war, for whom it will be impossible to obtain any documentation whatsoever. And so much for the women pose no risk thing.

With Obama’s obduracy, we can expect more of the same. The demonization of domestic opposition, and the turning of a blind eye to real enemies within and without.

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November 29, 2015

Erdogan Actually Does What Putin’s Enemies Implausibly Accuse Him of Doing: Exploiting the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:56 pm

One theme pushed very hard by Putin oppositions, including people like Garry Kasparov and numerous Ukrainian bloggers and tweeters, is that Putin is deliberately creating the refugee crisis in the EU. There is no doubt that he is benefitting, but there is no evidence that he is doing anything to create it. He gets it without having to lift a finger.

The refugee crisis is indeed creating huge political stresses in the EU that are benefiting rightist opposition parties (e.g., the National Front in France) that are sympathetic to (and in some cases, partially funded by) Russia. This redounds to Putin’s benefit, but he didn’t create the problem. The problem is largely due to the Syrian civil war, but not completely: only about one-half of the migrants swarming into Europe are Syrian. The other major contributor is European policy, notably Merkel’s grandiose humanitarian gesture, which served to open the flood gates.

No doubt Putin is pleased, but I cannot identify anything that he has done, that he wouldn’t have done anyways: for him, the refugee fallout is a happy unintended consequence. He has been all in for the Syrian government from the get go, and has supported its ruthless campaign. This has contributed to the refugee flow, but Putin would have done the same regardless.

One country that has definitely leveraged the refugee issue to its advantage is Turkey. Today, with great fanfare, Turkey and the EU announced a grand bargain whereby the EU would pay Turkey €3 billion, grant it visa free travel, and reopen Turkish accession talks. The €3 billion is to be used to improve conditions for Syrian refugees in Turkey. In return, Turkey will slow the flow of refugees to Europe.

In other words, Erdogan successfully blackmailed Europe. Unlike Putin, Erdogan can exercise considerable control over the flow of Syrians to Europe. He has basically exercised no control heretofore, and Europe has been overwhelmed. They have now agreed to pay Turkey to keep them, and also given Turkey other very important concessions to make it worth Erdo’s while.

This is bad news for Putin. Putin has been trying to leverage his role in Syria to get concessions from Europe on other issues, but as I have written before, he really doesn’t have that much leverage. Erdogan has leverage, and has just demonstrated that he can and will use it. He can also use it to make the Europeans think twice about making any concessions to Putin that would compromise Turkish interests in Syria. And since Turkish interests and Russian interests are close to zero sum there, this means that he wins, and Putin loses when he uses that leverage. Erdogan has therefore proved to Putin who has the whip hand in dealing with the Euroweenies.

When it comes to Syria, Erdogan’s policy is deeply problematic, to put it mildly. His policy towards ISIS can most charitably be described as ambivalent. He is certainly not an ardent foe, and is arguably an enabler–or worse. He is far more interested in crushing the Kurds, who happen to be the most reliable anti-ISIS force in the region. In that respect, Erdogan is objectively pro-ISIS. There is a colorable case that he is subjectively pro-ISIS as well. Furthermore, Turkey has been the main supporter of the Islamist forces–including al Qaeda-forces–fighting Assad. Once upon a time, supporting groups like this would have earned a star turn in the Axis of Evil.

Domestically, Erdogan is doing his best Putin imitation of crushing domestic opposition, including the arrest of journalists. Some antigovernment figures have been murdered (e.g., the Kurdish lawyer killed over the weekend), another similarity to Russia.

Thus, there is little to choose from between Erdogan and Putin in Syria. Indeed, as bad as Assad is, the Islamists fighting him are worse, so the nod goes to Putin here.

Unfortunately, the Kasparovs and Ukrainians who are so obsessed with Putin are completely in the grips of the enemy-of-my-enemy mindset that they are going all in for Erdogan and the Islamists for Syria. They are fighting Putin, so they must be great, right?

Wrong. They are dangerous and despicable, and Erdogan does a pretty good Putin doppelgänger impression.

It is possible to oppose Putin and Russia in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe, without embracing his enemies in Syria. It is not only possible, it is necessary. Putin’s actions in Ukraine challenge the entire post-War order in Europe, and are deeply destabilizing. Indeed, they deeply challenge the Westphalian system that Putin and Russia claim to defend in Syria, Libya, the Balkans, and elsewhere, and constantly lecture the world about in the UN and elsewhere. So those actions should be opposed, and Europe and Nato in particular have to raise their games.

But that issue is completely separable from what is going on in Syria. And those whose hatred of Putin leads them to whitewash (and worse) Erdogan and the murderous Islamist anti-Assad forces in Syria are wrong as a matter of policy. This also deeply compromises their moral authority and undercuts their opposition to Putin in Russia and Ukraine.

Enemy-of-my-enemy logic almost always leads to a dead end, or worse. It prevents critical thinking, the ability to discriminate between threats, and between degrees of evil. All of that is particularly true in Syria, because siding with Putin’s enemies means siding with murderous Islamists, and a megalomaniacal would be emperor who is actually doing what Putin is only accused (rather implausibly) of doing: exploiting the refugee crisis in Syria in order to obtain political benefits from Europe.

 

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November 25, 2015

Let’s You and Him Fight

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:28 am

There should be no shock or surprise at Turkey’s destruction of a Russian Su-24. Russia and Turkey have been in a state of undeclared war for a long time. Turkey has long supported rebels, most notably Islamist rebels, fighting to topple Assad. Russia intervened to prop up a tottering Assad, and has directed the bulk of its operations against the rebels Turkey supports. Many of these airstrikes have occurred close to the border, and are directed specifically at rebel ratlines running back into Turkey and at the front lines of the fighters Turkey supports.

This has made Erdogan furious. The shootdown was, as Lavrov said, clearly deliberate. Just as Putin’s intervention was a clear signal that Assad was losing, this incident is a clear signal that Erdogan believes that his forces are now losing. This is his way of hitting back and trying to get Putin to back off.

Russia says that it is striking ISIS. This is largely, though not completely, a lie. But Russia is striking Islamists. Today Putin pointedly criticized Erdogan, saying that he is Islamizing Turkey. Putin is correct.

To see the kind of people Erdogan is supporting, consider the fact that the rebels shot at the Russian air crew as they were parachuting after bailing out, killing one of them. They then gloated over the corpse.

All of this makes it beyond strange that so many on the right in the US are apoplectic about Russian intervention in Syria, and that this apoplexy has only intensified with the destruction of the Su-24. Senator Tom Cotton (and others) claim that we are in a proxy war in Syria, and that Russia has intervened against our “allies” in this war.

Why are we in a proxy war? What compelling US interests exist in Syria? And why are we allying ourselves with Salafists who are just branded affiliates of either Al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood, and who are striving to kill us everywhere else in the world? If “our side” “wins”, what do we get? A Salafist stronghold and safe haven from which to attack us? If “our side” “loses”, what does it cost us? We’ve lived with the Assads  for almost 50 years. They are not going to be much of a threat to anyone, given the wreck the country has become (not that it was ever anything but a typically shambolic Arab dictatorship).

People like Cotton also speak in concerned tones about Turkey as a Nato ally under threat from Russia. This should be turned on its head: we need to reconsider quite seriously whether an Islamist country that provides material support to Islamist groups (including Hamas), and which is led by an increasingly erratic autocrat, is a suitable member of Nato.

This is particularly true given that Erdogan does not have clean hands, by any means, in the fight against ISIS. Erdogan has unleashed his air force against the Kurds, but not against ISIS. ISIS supply lines stretch into Turkey. ISIS members use Turkey as a safe area and a transit zone (including to Europe). He fought mightily to deny aid to the Kurds in Kobani when they were fighting for their lives. Furthermore, there is considerable reason to believe that Erdogan’s family facilitates the sale of ISIS oil. (This last detail raises questions about the US forbearance in attacking ISIS oil convoys, despite the fact that oil revenues are vital to ISIS’s financing. We have given excuses like protecting innocent truck drivers’ lives, or even “environmental concerns“, FFS, to explain the lack of attacks on the oil rat line. The Erdogan connection quite plausibly is a more important reason.)

The main issue for the United States is that this greatly complicates the US air campaign against ISIS, especially in Syria. In response to the downing of its jet, Russia has announced that it is deploying long range S-400 surface-to-air missiles to Syria to protect its aircraft. (Russia denied earlier reports that it had already deployed the missiles. There was some photographic evidence–of the distinctive radars–that they had, so perhaps they are using this as an excuse to announce something they had done before but denied.) Russia does not want to shoot down US planes, but accidents will happen, and the greater the envelope of the missiles, the more scope for accidents, especially given that US aircraft are operating out of Turkish bases.

There are reasons to be concerned about Putin and Russia. But Syria is not among them. Better to devote our efforts to proving a bulwark and deterrent against Putin where it matters to us, than tangling with him in a place where it doesn’t. As I’ve said, if anything, it’s better to have him stuck in Syria than running amok in eastern Europe.

There’s an old joke about “let’s you and him fight.” That seems about right here. Let Putin and Erdogan fight, if that’s what they want. We should want no part of it.

Further thoughts: There has been much blather post-Sharm al Sheik and post-Paris about a “grand alliance” between Russia and the West to fight ISIS. This was always a chimerical hope. First, Russia’s priority has never been ISIS, and even though it did intensify strikes on ISIS post-Metrojet, its efforts were still focused on the non-ISIS groups fighting Assad.

Second, what was the basis for  a bargain? What really can Russia contribute to an anti-ISIS campaign that the US (aided by France and maybe the UK) could not do without its help? The lame Western effort has not been due to lack of capability: it has been due to a lack of will. And if Russia rally desires to strike ISIS (because is it is allegedly in its own interest), why would the West feel obliged to offer it any inducement?  In particular, why would they offer what Putin really wants (concession on Assad, and in particular, elimination of sanctions and a free hand in Ukraine) when Putin really can’t offer anything material in return, especially since these concessions would be humiliating for Obama and the Europeans, and completely undermine Western credibility?

Third, differences over Assad’s fate appear reconcilable. The West–including Hollande, who has been most insistent (and pathetic) importuning Russia for help–has continued its insistence that Assad must go. Russia has been most insistent that he must stay. That gap cannot be bridged.

The downing of the Su-24 and the subsequent escalation (Putin has intensified the bombing of the groups Turkey supports, including the Turkmen) make any deal even less likely. This would involve throwing a Nato member over the side, and although Nato should be looking for ways to reduce commitments to Turkey, to do so under the current circumstances would be disastrous to the alliance, and would likely goad Erdogan (who doesn’t need much goading) into taking more provocative actions in Syria, and against Europe and the US. (For instance, if Europe thinks it is overwhelmed by refugees now, just think of what could happen if Erdogan put his mind to pushing Syrians into Europe.)

This may well be part of Erdogan’s thinking. If his action makes an already unlikely deal impossible, he wins.

Hollande is in Moscow today, looking awkward as Putin blasts Turkey. Putin also blamed the US for providing the intelligence about the aircraft that the Turkish F16s shot down. Especially with accusations like that, there is no way that there is going to be any deal. There may be words and promises, but nothing of substance, and Putin will certainly not be able to leverage the situation to his advantage.

If anything, he is in a weak position. Most of the non-military retaliatory actions he can take (e.g., cutting off food imports from Turkey, and shutting down tourism) are very damaging to an already economically isolated Russia. Cutting off gas sales would hurt Turkey, but at a large cost to Russia and Gazprom, which is already in bad shape. (The cancellation of Turkish Stream would be a potential benefit, as it would prevent Gazprom from wasting $10 billion.)

Militarily, Putin can intensify action against Turkish creatures in Syria, but Turkey can respond by escalating against the Syrian regime. What’s more, Turkey has a trump card: control of the Bosporus and Dardanelles. In the event of conflict between Russia and Turkey, Erdogan could close the Straits and leave Russian forces in Syria high and dry. Putin’s only escalatory option after that would be the unthinkable one.

In sum, I didn’t see much possibility for Putin to leverage Paris into a deal that would give him sanction relief or Western acquiescence on Assad before, and see even less now. Moreover, Putin’s position in the struggle with Turkey is relatively weak. In particular, he does not possess escalation dominance. Within the range of the thinkable, Erdogan does.

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