Streetwise Professor

November 19, 2016

I’ve Learned My Lesson, But Far Too Many Have Not

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:40 pm

Tim Newman has written numerous excellent posts of late, but the one that resonated most with me was this one from about a month ago, which in response to a reader’s question about what he admitted changing his mind about, he admitted to having misjudged the outcome in Iraq:

I supported the Iraq War for several reasons, one of which was I thought the Iraqis deserved the chance to be free of Saddam Hussein and run their country without him.  I genuinely thought they would seize the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Arabic people are not incompatible with democracy and, so thankful that Saddam Hussein is gone, they would make a pretty decent effort to make things work.

Instead they tore each other apart and did everything they could to demonstrate that those who dismissed them as savages that needed a strongman to keep them in line were right all along.  I think this was probably the most depressing aspect of the whole shambolic affair.

. . . .

But the one issue I changed my mind on was that the US (or British) military should no longer be brought to bear for altruistic or humanitarian reasons.  It is rather depressing, but I am now a firm believer in the premise that a population generally deserves the government it gets.  No longer would I support a war that is not prosecuted for clear strategic reasons that are indisputably in the national interest.  So all those suffering under the jackboot of oppression?  Sorry, you’re on your own.  We tried our best and look where it got us.

I couldn’t agree more, for I have undergone a similar conversion. I too succumbed to Western universalism, and believed that freed from the oppressions of a sadistic dictator, Iraq had the potential to become a passably free, democratic country that could become a role model for a benighted region. I believed that the problem was misrule from the top, rather than dysfunction at the bottom.

I was wrong.

What Iraq has taught me–reminded me, actually, in a rather forceful way–that although political and economic freedom are highly desirable, the preconditions that make this possible are the exception, rather than the rule. Further, the preconditions are highly culturally and historically contingent. The experience brought home forcefully the relevance of civilization (as Huntington emphasized): not everyone yearns to be like Americans; in fact, to many Western/American beliefs and mores are an anathema; Western institutions and behaviors can’t be grafted onto fundamentally different civilizations and cultures, and they certainly won’t arise spontaneously in the aftermath of the overthrow of a repressive regime, especially one that has deliberately crushed civil society for decades (and I could say something similar of the FSU); the tragic view of history has much more predictive power than the progressive view.

I should have remembered the experience of the Reconstruction in the United States, or Napoleon’s experience in Spain, or myriad other historical examples of the futility of attempting to impose a social and political revolution on a hostile alien culture.

Iraq, and subsequently Libya, pushed me back to my Jacksonian roots. Reforming foreigners isn’t our business. What they do amongst themselves is up to them, as long as they don’t harm Americans or American interests in a serious way. If they do that, deal with them forcefully and quickly, with no dreamy ideas of “nation building” in the aftermath. A view summarized by one of my heroes, USMC General James Mattis, who while in Iraq said: “I come in peace. I did not bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes, if you fuck with me, I will kill you all.” Translated: we’ll leave you alone, unless you don’t leave us alone. In which case, watch out.

It’s one thing to make a mistake, to misjudge. It’s another thing to make a mistake and then learn nothing from it. We are seeing that right now, in regards to Syria. To judge by the words of many on both sides of the current political divide, Iraq (and Libya) never happened. Why do I say that? Because figures on both the right and left are advocating direct American involvement in the Syrian civil war, even though it makes Iraq look like Sunday school.

The catalyst for this waving of the bloody shirt is the carnage in Aleppo. John McCain in particular is beating the war drum, claiming that the US is now complicit in genocide in Syria. From the left, Samantha Power (she of Responsibility to Protect, which went so swell in Libya) obsesses about Syrian and Russian atrocities there.

Then there are the journalist/wonk pilot fish like Charles Lister and the execrable Michael Weiss, who churn out war propaganda in the best yellow journalism tradition, all the while doing their best to hide their connections with malign medieval regimes in the Gulf.

I will stipulate that what is occurring in Aleppo is horrific (although I would also note that the opposition is waging a transparent propaganda campaign  in an attempt to manipulate the US into intervening–a campaign in which Weiss, Lister, and their ilk are avid participants).

That said, what can the United States do about it? Would intervention lead to a less horrific result? What would be the likely outcome? Would the US be able to achieve its intended outcomes? What would the unintended consequences be?

Anyone who thinks about these questions without considering the sobering lessons of Iraq is a menace. But it’s worse than that, I don’t think that McCain, Power, Weiss, Lister, et al, think about these questions at all. It’s like Iraq never happened. The amnesia is rather astounding.

Here are my answers. There are no good guys in Syria, and even if with US assistance Assad was overthrown, it would not end the civil war, which would just devolve even further into a multi-sided hell that makes Libya and Iraq look like a picnic; it would empower jihadists who will slaughter as many or more as Assad has; the flow of refugees will not stop, although the composition of the refugees might change (with Alawites and Christians replacing Sunnis); if the opposition gets control of Syria, it will be the jihadists who control the opposition, and Syria will become a base for anti-American and anti-Western terrorism.

Syria is even more broken, complex, divided and fissiparous than Iraq was/is. It is rooted in the same political and religious culture, and the same civilization. Minority-based Baathism has had 13+ more years of power in Syria. So what has happened in Iraq in the last 13+ years is probably the best scenario in Syria. And I would consider even that happy prospect to be among the least likely.

And one more thing. An American intervention in Syria would risk a superpower confrontation. Even a unicorns and rainbows outcome in Syria would not make such a risk worthwhile, and as noted above unicorns and rainbows would not be the result–a dystopian, sectarian war of all against all would be. And the US should be in the middle of that why, exactly?

Some, notably Weiss and even more respectable journalists like Edward Lucas, link Syria to a broader conflict with Putin’s Russia. Syria, Lucas tells us, is Putin’s first step in rebuilding the USSR.

Seriously? That sounds like the ravings of someone playing Risk on LSD.

Pray tell, where does Putin go from Syria? The road to the Elbe runs through Aleppo? Who knew?!? Even if Putin succeeds in propping up His Man in a shattered country that has no natural or human resources to speak of, what then? Does that change Putin’s calculus of exercising power or force in the Baltic, or the European plain? Does that change Russia’s fundamental strategic weakness (most notably a decrepit economy that is utterly incapable of supporting an extended confrontation with the US)? No to all. Hell no, actually. Syria is a diversion of Russian effort and strength in one of the least consequential countries in the Middle East.

Yes. Syria is a humanitarian catastrophe. But as Tim Newman said, the US (or British) military should not be dispatched to intervene in such places for humanitarian or altruistic reasons. Because regardless of how altruistic the intentions, the outcome will be grim, and policy should be based on what is possible not what is desirable. If the desirable isn’t possible, leave it be.

I would go further. Even if you believe–especially if you believe–that Russia and China pose grave threats to US interests, Syria is not the place to fight. It will be another ulcer that will drain American morale, produce debilitating internecine political conflict, kill and maim American service men and women, and sap its military. Better to devote resources to recapitalizing the American military than to pour them into a lost cause like Syria–or pretty much anywhere else in the Middle East.

One of the most encouraging outcomes of the election is that the likelihood of American intervention in Syria has gone down as a result: Hillary was clearly much more favorably disposed to intervention (e.g., she spoke favorably of the idiotic idea of no fly zones, a McCain hobby horse) than Trump. If Trump truly is Jacksonian, or defers to his Jacksonian base, he will not get involved. Indeed, methinks this is exactly why McCain has become particularly unhinged in the past days. He realizes the prospects for intervention have plunged, and in his impotence he is raging.

Obama’s instincts were actually sounder than Hillary’s here. Would that he had the courage of his convictions and eschewed any involvement whatsoever. Instead, he gave mixed signals (“Assad must go”, the “red line”), and authorized a CIA effort to support the (jihadist-dominated) opposition–an effort that succeeded in getting 3 Green Berets killed a few weeks ago. (The CIA is an institution that I have also had a serious change of views about.)

Historical parallels are never exact. But it is difficult to find one as close as between Iraq and Syria–temporally, culturally, or civilizationally. Given the historical precedent, it is beyond reckless even to contemplate seriously US involvement in the Syrian civil war. But too much of our political class are latter-day Bourbons, having forgotten nothing and learned nothing. One of the benefits of the rejection of the political class on November 8th is that there is a very good prospect that we will also reject some of their worst ideas, of which intervention in Syria on humanitarian or geopolitical grounds is probably the worst of all.

 

 

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October 27, 2016

Michael Morrel, One of Hillary’s Camp Followers Slouching Towards Washington

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:19 pm

Back in the 1970s there was an entire genre in popular fiction, film, and television in which the CIA was the arch-villain, engaged in vast conspiracies to subvert free government at home or abroad. The stock personal villain in these works was invariably a tightly wrapped, bloodless, controlling, manipulative and often psychopathic CIA official.

At the time, I was not a big fan of these dramas. They were formulaic and seemed overwrought. But I am reconsidering that after the recent rise to public prominence of one Michael Morrel, the ex-deputy director of the CIA. Morrel is straight out of 1970s central casting–tightly wrapped, bloodless, controlling, manipulative and arguably psychopathic.

Morrel is hell-bent on getting the US involved neck-deep into the wars in Syria and Yemen, including doing things that would run the risk of a war with Russia. In August, he advocated killing Russians and Iranians in Syria, “to make them pay a price”:

“The Iranians were making us pay a price. We need to make the Iranians pay a price in Syria. We need to make the Russians pay a price.”

He went on to explain making them “pay the price” would mean killing Russians and Iranians, and said he wants to make Syrian president Bashar al-Assad uncomfortable.

“I want to go after those things that Assad sees as his personal power base. I want to scare Assad.”

This is all but an open call for the US to engage in assassinations of Russians, Iranians, and Syrians in Syria. Perhaps Mr. Morrel missed the part about this being illegal since the 1970s.

Today he advocated intervening on the Saudi side in the war with the Houthis in Yemen, including boarding Iranian vessels. So apparently Mr. Morrel is totally on board with the US being Saudi mercenaries.

This is what America has come to. From fighting against Hessian hirelings to achieve independence, to advocating serving as hirelings for terror funding oil ticks engaged in a pointless war that does not involve American interests in the slightest–and which also risks bringing the US into a broader regional conflict that could easily escalate.

Morrel has also been out front of the attack on Trump’s national security credentials, including making the allegation (based on his ipse dixit alone, of course) that Putin recruited Trump as an “unwitting agent” of Russia.

Just like the stock 70s CIA villain, Morrel obviously burns with ambition. He clearly wants to be Hillary’s CIA director and is willing to say anything to achieve that ambition. Of course, she already owes him, for Morrel was deeply involved in altering the Benghazi talking points in order to support her false version of events.

The thought of someone like Morrel as head of CIA is deeply disturbing. The thought that he likely reflects Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy instincts is doubly so. For getting involved deeply in Syria to overthrow Assad (and confronting the Russians to do so) and in Yemen to advance the Saudi proxy war against Iran are decidedly not in American interests, and would likely result in the waste of great amounts of American blood and treasure, for no strategic purpose whatsoever.

I have long said that you don’t have to worry just about the candidate that is elected to the presidency: you have to pay close attention to her or his camp followers who upon her/his election would be ensconced throughout the vast government bureaucracy, where they can do untold damage with little prospect of being held to account. Michael Morrel epitomizes these dangers. He is a soulless, power-obsessed little man who cavalierly muses about embroiling America in pointless wars, and risking superpower confrontation to do so. He is one of Hillary’s most prominent camp followers. Think of what other ones are currently slouching their way towards Jerusalem on the Potomac in her train.

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October 11, 2016

Why Waste US Special Operators in Battles That Make Game of Thrones Look Simple and Civilized?

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 9:43 pm

A week ago, a US Special Forces soldier was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. In its disgusting fashion, the administration denied that this truly fine soldier had perished in combat, but said he was in a “combat situation.” This post-modern word weaseling for political purposes is an insult to those who are putting their lives on the line.

I have long been deeply disturbed by the overuse of special operations troops, for no apparent strategic purpose. To Obama, they are the human equivalent of drones, a way of employing military power in the shadows.

Things are likely to get worse. Special operators are on the ground in northern Syria. (Do they wear boots? Or do they levitate? Obama promised no boots on the ground, after all.) For their troubles, they are routinely insulted by Turkish-backed Salafist rebels, who call them Christian pigs and Crusaders.

But it will likely get even worse. After months of glacial preparation, an attack on Mosul appears if not imminent, on the verge of being imminent. Why do I say worse? Not just because the battle for Mosul is likely to be something akin to Fallujah I and Fallujah II, but because even if ISIS is defeated the aftermath is likely to be extremely messy, and the conditions will likely create fertile conditions for the emergence of another radical Sunni group.

Things were already complicated, with the Kurds and the Shia-dominated Iraqi government sharing the goal of ejecting ISIS, but having incompatible purposes once that happens. But things are getting even more convoluted and conflicted, with Turkey’s Erdogan asserting that his nation will participate in the campaign. Erdogan doesn’t want to see the Kurds in control. He also wants to gain power in northern Iraq, which is oil rich. He also has sectarian motives.

So glad that Obama thought that Erdo was one of his five best friends among world leaders. With friends such as these . . . . Another example of Obama’s incredibly flawed judgment.

Erdogan’s agenda is an anathema to the government of Iraq, so there is now a war of words going on between Erdogan and the Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Adabi.

All this means that post-“victory” Mosul will be a seething cockpit of competing forces, each one worse than the other (with the Kurds being the best of the lot, but thoroughly hated by all the rest). Kurds fighting Turks fighting Iraqi government forces and Shia militias. The Iranians will get involved, likely through their intelligence forces working hand-in-glove with the militias. Local Sunnis will be abused by the Iraqis and will fight back. The situation will make Game of Thrones look simple, ordered, and civilized.

The US will be everyone’s enemy, but every one of these factions will attempt to manipulate the US to do its bidding. And who will be at the center of this mess? US special operations forces. Who will have to keep their heads on a swivel. They will inevitably be targeted by everyone, and will not be able to do anything more than furiously spin the hamster wheel from hell. It will be Afghanistan, only worse. They will exhibit exceptional heroism and unmatched operational skill, and kill a lot of horrible people, but the ultimate result will be indecisive.

What could be our objective? What outcomes are even possible, and what would it cost in lives and treasure to achieve them? I find it hard to conceive of any outcome that would be worth the cost.

And US special operations troops would bear the brunt of those costs. They are too special, in many senses of the word, to fritter away in incipient fiascos like Mosul promises to be.

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October 6, 2016

We Are Not Saudi Arabia’s Mercenaries

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 6:57 pm

The Middle East has become the Mother of All FUBARs. Yet there are many in the United States, on both sides of the partisan divide, advocating deeper American involvement.

The focus is on Syria. Yes, the war there is horrific. Yes, the Syrians and Russians have dramatically ratcheted up the intensity of their brutal air campaign in Aleppo, even during an alleged cease fire. But what could the US accomplish by getting more deeply involved? Perpetuating a stalemate?

Or let’s say that somehow magically the US is able to support the toppling of Assad without sparking a war with Russia. What would be the outcome? It would be the victory of Sunni jihadis who would inevitably wreak a vengeance on Alawis, Shias, and Christians that would rival if not exceed anything Assad has done. Further, Sunni jihadis are America’s enemies, and have killed far more Americans than the Assads ever did, even when they were neck deep in supporting terrorism. Indeed, the worst that Assad has done to the US in the past decades is support the rat line that supplied Al Qaeda in Iraq (ISIS’ predecessor). After an Assad defeat, Syria would become a base for anti-American jihadis.

Which helps us how, exactly?

Many of those advocating deeper American involvement in Syria point to the fact that Putin is winning there. So what? To think that a Putin victory axiomatically spells an American defeat are engaged in precisely the type of zero sum thinking that leads Putin to exaggerate Syria’s importance. The more we fret about his “winning” in Syria, the more we feed his ambitions there and elsewhere in the region, and convince him that he’s on the right track.

Speaking of Russia, John Kerry has expressed outrage that Russia deceived him, and ramped up its military operations in Aleppo immediately after he thought they had agreed to a cease fire. Have we ever had such a credulous oaf in such a high position? Kerry needs to acquaint himself with The Farmer and the Viper (or the Frog and the Scorpion). The entire idea of a deal between Russia and the US is farcical, as long as the US insists that Assad must go. Russia is all in for Assad, and will not go for any deal that threatens him. The US claims it will not go for any deal that strengthens him. These positions are utterly incompatible.

Truth be told, it is the Saudis and the Qataris and others in the GCC who have a strong interest in Syria. They view it as a front in their Muslim Civil War with Shia Iran and express grave fear of a Shia Crescent running from Iran through Iraq to the Mediterranean. They exert tremendous influence in DC. Those who fall for their line, and parrot their line, are not acting in American interests.

The Saudis’ attempts to influence US policy are not limited to Syria. They are bogged down in a war in Yemen that is also a front in their conflict with Iran, and are importuning the United States to support them in that conflict as well.

The US has even less of an interest in Yemen than it does in Syria.

In fact, the US has very little interest in the Muslim Civil War, other than that neither side win. Militarily, neither the Iranians or the GCC have the ability to conquer the other, so we have zero reason to get in the middle. If they want to fritter away treasure and lives in peripheral conflicts, so be it.

We are not Saudi Arabia’s mercenaries. Let them fight their own battles.

It is highly unlikely we could achieve a good military outcome in either Syria or Yemen.  The latter has a lot in common with Afghanistan, the former with Iraq and Libya, and look how swimmingly THOSE are going. And even if we could create some simulacrum of peace, at what would be a heavy price in lives and money, how would the US gain? I am not seeing it.

These are sideshows. We should be more focused on peer competitors like China and Russia. After 15 years of grinding conflict and budgetary stringency, the US urgently needs to recapitalize its military. In these circumstances, risking a confrontation with Russia to fight Saudi Arabia’s battles is beyond insane. To hell with them and the camel they rode in on.

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September 23, 2016

With Friends Like the Saudis, America Needs No Enemies

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:34 pm

Today Obama vetoed a bill that would permit families of those who perished on 911 to sue the Saudi Arabian government for supporting the hijacker/murderers. Earlier this week, the Senate defeated an effort led by Rand Paul to halt arms sales to the kingdom because of its ongoing war in Yemen.

The Saudis are feeling the pressure and are trying desperately to change the subject–to Iran. The gravamen of the Saudi case is that Iran is a major state sponsor of terrorism. There is, of course, something to this. Iran has indeed been a state sponsor of terrorism, and has directed its campaign against the United States and Israel for decades.

But it is more than a little disgusting to hear the Saudis cast aspersions about terrorism. The modalities of Iranian efforts differ from those of Saudi Arabia. But it is indisputable that Saudi Arabia is responsible for more terrorism that has killed more Americans than the Iranians have been.

Indeed, Iran’s methods are in many ways more conventional and less insidious than those emanating in Saudi Arabia. Iranian terrorism (and unconventional warfare) efforts are indeed carried out at the direction of state organs, and often work through quasi-state organizations (such as Hezbollah). In contrast, the archaic nature of the Saudi state, with its immense royal family with numerous wealthy members, means that the concept of “state support” is much more amorphous. Saudi Arabia is not a state in the western sense, or even in the Iranian sense. This makes Iran in some respects a much more conventional adversary than Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s contribution to terrorism around the world has been demonstrably far greater than Iran’s. The funding of Wahhabi mosques and madrassas throughout the Middle East, Southwest Asia, the Balkans, Africa, and the Caucasus–and Europe and the United States–has inculcated the poisonous Islamist ideology that has created terror. Most of this money has not been spent to support explicitly terrorist groups or terrorist acts. But it has created the ideological and religious infrastructure that has been the catalyst for these groups and acts. However bad as Iran has been, objectively speaking Saudi Arabia and other oil tick states of the Gulf have been far worse. With allies like these, we need no enemies.

Furthermore, the diffuse and ideological nature of the Saudi support for terrorism makes it much more difficult to combat than Iran. Not to say that Iran is an easy adversary, but the very fact that it is a fairly conventional (if revolutionary) state makes it a more addressable foe than Saudi Arabia. The Saudi state may not support terrorism in the same way that the Iranian state does (though it might), but that actually greatly complicates the task of the terrorism that emanates from Saudi territory, Saudi citizens, and Saudi money.

One can sense that the Saudis feel that they are facing an existential crisis, fed in large part by Obama administration policy towards Iran. The Iranian nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions has stoked these anxieties. The Saudis are deeply insecure, in part because there is a large and alienated Shia population in the major oil producing provinces. Iran is a larger and more educated country that has dominated its Arab neighbors for centuries. Low oil prices have gutted the Saudi economy and are placing tremendous budgetary strains on the country.

Fear of Iran drives the bloody–and (typically for an Arab army)–inept and indecisive war in Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia has succeeded in using American technology to kill large numbers of Yemenis (including numerous civilians) with no discernible strategic effect. It also drives the strong Saudi support for the opposition in Syria, because the Saudis view Assad as an Iranian vassal who is an important part of an “Shia crescent” that threatens the Sunni countries of the Middle East, of which Saudi Arabia considers itself the leader: it is clearly their paymaster. The Saudis being Saudis, they have no qualms in supporting extreme jihadist elements: indeed, that is their preference.

This demonstrates the drooling incoherence of Obama policy in the Middle East. Empowering Iran through the nuclear deal has fed Saudi fears that lead them to intensify their various proxy wars against Iran, and the administration has responded by supporting the Saudis in these wars, quite robustly in Yemen, more equivocally in Syria. If the Saudis succeed in Syria this will empower Salafist elements that are viciously anti-American. In essence, the Obama administration has succeeded in stoking both sides in the conflict, which helps explain its clear escalation in the past two years.

The Saudis have oil–the largest reserves in the world. That is the American–and world–interest in Saudi Arabia. But (a) the Saudis want to sell their oil, and (b) protecting the Saudi oil fields does not necessitate supporting or even acquiescing to Saudi Arabia’s support for Wahhabist radicalism that is spreading death and destruction from Southeast Asia to Central Africa and pretty much everywhere in between–and even to the shores of the United States.

Indeed, US policy should be aimed at finding how to contain Saudi influence, rather than enable it. But old mindsets and Saudi money have prevented that. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Saudis insinuated themselves as allies of the US, united with us against common enemies: Iran and the Soviet Union. I remember distinctly that in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, and during the Hostage Crisis, the Saudis portrayed themselves as the moderate Muslims, and the Iranians as the radicals. With Americans held in Tehran, and mobs in the streets shouting “Death to America,” that sounded plausible. Nigh on to 40 years of painful experience have shown, however, that Saudi Arabia is anything but the voice of moderate Islam: it is the wellspring of violent radicalism.

Furthermore, the Soviet Union is no more. Whatever geopolitical rationale there was for supporting Saudi funding of Muslim fighters in the 1980s, it has long past, and in retrospect, looks like the benefits that we gained were not worth the decades of terror that came in the bargain.

In sum, indulgence of Saudi radicalism was based on ignorance of their true character which we should now be well past, and on a strategic situation that no longer exists. The time for indulgence is therefore long over.

But Saudi money has bought influence. It has bought politicians, of both parties: it was nauseating, for example, to see Lindsey Graham’s impassioned defense of Saudi Arabia in his speech against the Paul bill, and of course the Saudis have lavished money on ex-presidents from both parties and potential future ones (namely Hillary). It has bought think tanks. It has deeply corrupted American politics. It is therefore highly doubtful that its influence can be easily purged.

That’s why it has been encouraging to see the the Paul bill go as far as it did, and to see the 911 victims bill pass. Yes, I understand that the concerns that the logic of the the bill could be turned against the US. But it should be a wake up call to DC that many Americans understand the nature of the Saudi regime and the threat that it poses far better than the foreign policy establishment. A wise administration would attempt to find an alternative that would address the sovereign immunity concerns but at the same time make Saudi Arabia pay a price for its multifaceted support for Islamic radicalism and Islamic terrorism around the world. Instead, Obama caves to the Saudis and vetoes the bill, and fights against the Paul bill, and enables Saudi efforts in Yemen and Syria.

Iran is a problem, but it is a nation that can be confronted and contained (if not easily tamed) using conventional American power. Saudi Arabia poses problems that we have yet to find a solution to. And our biggest problem is that we (or at least our “elite”) haven’t even fully acknowledged that it is a problem, in large part because Saudi money has suborned our politics.

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August 17, 2016

Michael Weiss Makes the Case for the Importance of the DIA Document

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 7:23 pm

Michael Weiss essayed a lame (but I repeat myself) attempt of a rebuttal of the DIA document I wrote about over the weekend: Weiss’s response was apparently sparked by the fact that Sputnik (and not me!) gave the document attention. (It came out in June 2015, not last May as I had thought.)

Weiss’ piece is classic in the annals of farcical reasoning and logical fallacies. His complete failure to address the document and its implications betrays just how damning it is to his cause. If this is the best e’s got . . .

Weiss started out his attempted rebuttal with one of his specialities, an ad hominem attack:

At the time, this document was taken up with similar if paradoxical enthusiasm by far-left anti-imperialists (such as the Guardian’s Seumas Milne, now Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s spin-doctor) and anti-Muslim reactionaries (such as Pamela Gellar) as proof of a nefarious conspiracy led by Washington to encourage a takfiri takeover of the Levant.

None of which has anything to do with the substance of the document.

Weiss then quotes the report:

“If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

He fails to mention that this prediction was made in 2012, and it came to pass, almost exactly. That does speak to its credibility, no?

Weiss scorns the idea that the document was “secret”–putting that word in scare quotes. Well, it was classified as . . . SECRET/NOFORN. I guess that kinda makes it officially secret, eh? He also notes the heavy redactions. So what? Does he have any reason to believe the redactions contradict the opinions that are not redacted–which are not qualified in any way? It is far more likely that the redactions include classified information that supports the conclusions that are expressed in the underrated portions.

Weiss then tries to dismiss the report as just one of many reports turned out by the Washington paper machine:

As The Daily Beast’s Jacob Siegel reported when the document was published, appraisals such as these are too numerous count at the Pentagon, much less be read by senior military or policy planners. And few ever rise to the level of adopted policy prescription.

Nor did this one, as anyone who has watched events unfold in Syria over the last four years can easily determine for himself.

This is an inversion of the importance of the document. The reason that the document is damning is precisely that it was ignored by the administration. The DIA writes a hair on fire warning to the security establishment, and the warning is utterly ignored, with the result being that the dire predictions it made came to pass. Whereas Weiss attempts to claim that the fact that the document was ignored means that it is irrelevant, this is precisely what makes it relevant, and damning to the administration. It either ignored its predictions that were borne out in blood, or it was actually complicit in the Salafist-supporting policy that the document describes.

Weiss then plays a shell game with the chronology:

If the United States had sought to rob Iranian clients and proxies of strategic depth in Syria, then it would plainly not be “de-conflicting” at present with the Syrian and Russian air forces, both of which are providing close air support to those same clients and proxies on the ground.

The document was written in 2012. The “de-conflicting” with Syrian and Russian air forces began in 2015. Much water has passed under the bridge in that time, including Obama’s classic walkback from the “redline” on Assad in 2013, the Iran nuclear deal in 2015 (and the negotiations leading up to it in 2014), the farcical collapse of expensive US efforts to train Syrian rebels, and most importantly the spectacular rise of ISIS in 2014-2015 that the DIA document so presciently predicted. The situation is so different now that current administration policy in no way implies that it was not allying with Salafists in 2011-2012 in an attempt to bring down Assad. At that time, the administration was also crowing about its “success” in Libya, and looked to repeat it in Syria. Now it wants to be completely shed of the situation. Four years of failure will do that.

Weiss finishes with another bait-and-switch:

Moreover, given the president’s well-known reluctance—criticized by his ISIS “co-founder” Hillary Clinton—to substantively aid and arm nationalist Free Syrian Army rebels in 2012 (when the document was drafted), one could argue his policy has been the very opposite of what’s in this document.

The bait-and-switch is that the DIA document doesn’t talk about US support for Weiss’ beloved and allegedly moderate, non-sectarian FSA: it talks about the “supporting powers” favoring Salafists, including AQI, the predecessor of ISIS: the FSA is not mentioned. It is well known that the Gulf states pumped large resources into these groups. Turkey is also clearly implicated (as another leaked report, this one from German intelligence, asserts). The US was clearly aligned with these nations in the objective of “Assad must go”, and indeed, the lukewarm support for the FSA actually supports the DIA’s claim that the “supporting powers” (including the US) had put their money on the Salafists, instead of the FSA.

Further, who knows what covert support the CIA was providing, and to whom? Rumors continue to swirl about a weapons pipeline from Libya to Syrian rebels. I have always have found it more credible that the US mission in Benghazi was attempting to intercept weapons on the loose in Libya to prevent them from flowing to Syria, but I am becoming more open to the possibility that the CIA was indeed running weapons from Libya to Syria. The complete silence about what was going on at the CIA Annex there–a silence in which Republicans on the Intelligence Committee like McCain and Graham and Rubio join in–even in the aftermath of September 11, 2012 makes me suspect that the CIA was doing something much more than a gun buyback program intended to help improve the ‘hood.

I also note that Weiss makes no effort to disprove the assertions in the DIA document that Salafists dominated the Syrian opposition from the beginning. This is important because Weiss made a name for himself by playing war tourist in Aleppo, claiming that he was visiting moderate rebels, and because ever since he has been spinning the tale of a moderate opposition that was abandoned by a feckless US. If the revolution was Salafist from the get go, Weiss comes off as a fool and useful idiot at best, and a collaborator with Islamists at worst. His silence on this point in the DIA document speaks volumes.

In short, Michael Weiss makes a great case for the importance of the DIA document by failing so miserably in his lame attempt to make a case against it.

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August 14, 2016

Obama & Hillary Enabled ISIS. Trump? Putin? No–the Defense Intelligence Agency

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 11:26 am

Although it is hyperbole to say that Obama and Hillary Clinton “founded” ISIS, there is little doubt that they certainly enabled its dramatic expansion. Obama’s mishandling of the American withdrawal from Iraq (scathingly documented in “Losing Iraq“, a production of the notoriously right-wing PBS Frontline) and his passivity as ISIS mounted its major drives in late-2013 and early-to-mid-2014 were necessary to ISIS’s dramatic expansion.

A declassified Defense Intelligence Agency document, made public by Judicial Watch in May, makes clear that DIA was aware of what was going on, and predicted what transpired with uncanny accuracy. More disturbingly, the document can be read to suggest that the administration willingly supported jihadist elements in Syria–including ISIS–as part of its “strategy” to oust Assad.

Insofar as predictions are concerned, these excerpts from the document (which is heavily redacted) speak for themselves:

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That’s pretty much exactly what happened.

The timing is rather awkward for the administration.

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This is exactly the time, mind you, that Joe Biden was strutting around claiming that Iraq was the administration’s greatest foreign policy achievement.

Please spare us any more such successes. A few more like them and we’ll be ruined.

Note too in particular the arrow of causality here. Supporting the insurgency in Syria blew back into Iraq, and advanced the Sunni uprising that has convulsed the country in the past four years. Meaning that the administration supported actions in Syria that destabilized Iraq precisely when it was cutting US forces there that had been essential to maintaining the country’s tenuous stability.

What is more disturbing about the document is its statements about the relation between the rise of ISIS and US policy regarding the Syrian revolution. First, the memorandum forthrightly documents that from the very beginning, the Syrian revolution was predominately jihadist in nature:

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It is not possible, therefore, to argue that once-upon-a-time there was a non-jihadist, secular, and moderate opposition in Syria that was supplanted by extremist elements only because the West did not push out Assad.

What is even more disturbing is the DIA’s statement that it was US policy, in conjunction with its “allies” in the region like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, to support these jihadist elements. For the very next point states:

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Read “C.” above carefully. “[T]here is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria. . . . this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is consider the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

Recall that the memo specifically identifies “the West” as a supporting power. Further recall that this is the time when “Assad must go” was Obama’s mantra.

This puts an entirely different gloss on Obama’s insouciance towards ISIS during this period. It is clear that the Gulf States and Turkey were all in with Salafist elements. DIA makes the US firmly complicit in this, at the very least via an act of omission (failing to oppose the actions of the regional Sunni powers), and more plausibly as an act of commission.

Understanding the necessity of reading between the lines in an official intergovernmental communication like this, it is clear that DIA is essentially telling the administration (this Secret document was distributed to Hillary and Obama, among others) that it is engaged in a dangerous policy. This is the DIA’s demarche protesting administration Syria policy. One can only imagine what is in the redacted bits.

At the very least, even if you do not believe that the public portions of the document adequately support the charge that Obama and Clinton deliberately supported the rise of ISIS as a matter of policy, it does show that they were forewarned of what was happening and did nothing to stop it. This implies either complicity in the machinations of the policy of the Gulf states and Turkey, or analytical incompetence.

Remember, this is a document prepared by a part of the US intelligence establishment, not the Russians. But it strongly echoes many things that Lavrov and Putin said at the time, and have said since.

There are other interesting aspects of the document that are illuminating. In particular, it gives the lie to claims by Michael Weiss and other anti-Assad, Salafist-supporting Neocons that Assad created ISIS to divide the opposition.

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Paragraph “B.” is of particular relevance. Please take this into account when reading future deep thoughts by Weiss et al about the nature and origins of the anti-Assad opposition, and the necessity of taking down Assad.

This internal US intelligence document clearly lays great responsibility for the rise of ISIS at Obama’s feet. This document is not hindsight brilliance and ass-covering: it is foresight and forewarning.

The document also reveals the utter incoherence of US policy in the region. The ostensible rationale for trying to topple Assad (and this was certainly the motivation of the Gulf states) was that his regime was a supporter of Shia infidels, notably Iran and Hezbollah. And there is a realpolitik logic in attacking Syria as part of a campaign against Iran. But during this time the administration was also working on a rapprochement with Iran. Square that circle for me.

One other thing. This document came out in May. Have you heard of it? Almost certainly not. I hadn’t, until an ex-intel guy on Twitter made me aware of it.

If something analogous had been about the Bush administration circa 2005, and had been released while he was still in office, it would have been the subject of non-stop frenzied–nay, hysterical–coverage. But even while the war on ISIS goes on, and ISIS and ISIS sympathizers launch terror attacks in the US and Europe, and the sectarian war in Syria drags on, this document that places considerable responsibility for ISIS’s rise on the shoulders of the current president, and the Democratic nominee to replace him, gets no coverage whatsoever. This utterly damning document speaks directly to Hillary’s mindset and competence, yet it has been consigned to the memory hole by a media that is intent on ensuring her election.

 

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August 3, 2016

A Twofer: Uncle Sucker’s Air $n€ Service Strengthens Two Rogue Regimes

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 6:35 pm

Yesterday the WSJ broke a story about a strange coincidence: nearly simultaneously with the release of four Americans held prisoner by Iran, the US shipped $400 million to Iran. The administration denies any connection between these two events, claiming that the money is related to resolution of a longstanding dispute dating back to the days of the Shah.

But who you gonna believe, them or your lying’ eyes? And truth be told, the administration–as desperate for a deal with Iran as it was–had to know how bad the optics were. If it had any choice in the matter, it would have insisted on a decent interval between the prisoner release and the flow of the money. If there wasn’t a connection, the Iranians would have likely accommodated. But the fact that they didn’t tells you that it was a deal: money for the bodies. What’s more, bad optics from the American side were good optics to Iran.

But let’s put aside the issue of whether this was a swap. Let’s suspend disbelief and assume that the bodies and money flowed pursuant to totally separate deals negotiated in hermetically sealed rooms separated by 50 Chinese walls preventing a flow of information between those negotiating about the money and those negotiating about the Americans held captive.

Even granting that wildly implausible hypothesis, the deal stinks to high heaven because of the way the money flowed. In cash. Once in Iranian hands, it was basically untraceable and there is no way the US can use its dominance of the banking system to stop the money flowing to illicit uses, or even detect when it does.

The Iranians now have $400 million of USD, EUR, and CHF to direct to terrorist groups. Even worse, you know who wants cash more than Iran because it is unable to use the banking system? North Korea. You know who has been cooperating with Iran on nuclear and missile technology? North Korea. Now the administration has gifted Iran hundreds of millions that it can send without a trace to North Korea in exchange for nuclear and missile technology. What’s even more astounding is that this coincided with a deal that was intended to delay Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. But this Air $n€ flight to Iran is directly contrary to that purpose, because it facilitates Iranian evasion of restrictions on its nuclear program.

Not to mention that it will also likely bolster another extremely bad actor, North Korea. Funding work on NoKo nuke and missile technology will make two unpredictable and dangerous regional troublemakers stronger.

This makes Operation Fast and Furious look benign and intelligent.  How soon before a US special operations raid on terrorists seizes currency sent to Iran on the night flight from Geneva? How soon before that money pays for an intensification of NoKo and Iranian weapons development?

It gets better. The Iranians, apparently knowing a sucker when they see one, have seized two more Americans. And now that he has reaped most of the financial gains from the nuclear deal, Khamenei is expressing reservations about it and suggesting that Iran will pul out.

For those who have been to the bazaar, you will realize that these are means of extracting even more from Uncle Sucker. And as long as Obama and  his hapless Sancho Panza, John Kerry, are in office, they will almost certainly get their wish.

 

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July 28, 2016

Consigning Another US Syrian “Training” Farce to the Memory Hole

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 7:35 pm

Today there were numerous stories in most major news outlets about a “vast new trove” of intelligence about ISIS, with the NYT (AKA administration mouthpiece and cheerleader) taking the lead in pushing the story.

You had to look a lot harder-and a lot faster-to find another story which casts US intelligence in a much, much worse light. Specifically, ISIS captured a cache of weapons and computer disks from the latest group that the US has been training in Syria, the New Syrian Army. (Coming next: The New New Syrian Army. Or maybe: And Now for a Completely Different Syrian Army.)

ISIS released some of the video contained on the captured disks, complete with English subtitles (because the dialogue is in Arabic) and commentary, and some snazzy editing. The video that got the most play featured a douchy looking American, presumably CIA, who looks like he just wandered away from a kegger at his frat. In one part of the video frat boy gives instruction to a beefy uniformed Syrian. What is the content of the instruction, you ask? Close quarter combat? Demolitions? Combat shooting?

Surely you jest. No, frat boy was giving a lesson in public communications. He was instructing the Syrian on how to deliver a recorded propaganda statement, telling him things like it’s OK to move your hands, but keep your feet still and don’t shift your weight around on your legs. He gave demonstrations of proper body language. He assured the nervous pupil that they had plenty of time to master this.

Years ago, when I joined the UH faculty, the dean had me and several other new senior hires take a course in media relations that included a virtually identical session on how to act on camera.

In another part of the video, the American gives a disquisition on why ISIS propaganda is effective. In a nutshell, it is because actions reinforce the verbal message.

So, apparently, a part of the American training operation is how to win hearts and minds through killer presentation skills. No doubt another part of the training was the art of effective PowerPoint presentations.

Meanwhile ISIS propaganda effectively wins hearts and minds through demonstrating killer killing skills.

The video really has to be seen to be believed. But that’s easier said than done. The videos were posted on Twitter. The CIA guy’s face is plainly visible, and because of this, Twitter yanked tweets embedding the video. I was able to grab it, and was planning to embed it here. I still might, but don’t want to do anything precipitatous, and I understand that there are issues with disclosing the identities of US operatives.

It’s a close call, though, because it is the (presumably) CIA’s  recklessness that created this problem. It was the CIA who allowed its operative to be filmed with his face fully visible. It was the CIA that allowed the video to be stored unencrypted on the drives captured by ISIS. It was the CIA that trained a group that was beaten by ISIS, which resulted in the capture of not just the videos and other electronic information, but weapons. Since this fiasco is completely of the CIA’s making, it is a little rich to invoke the importance of maintaining the secrecy of US operatives when the Agency itself was grossly incompetent in its personal and operational security. Methinks that this CIA CYA was more about protecting the faceless bureaucrats in Langley than protecting the face of the hapless Lawrence wannabe in the Syrian desert.

This is yet another episode in the ongoing farce that is the American effort to train fighters in Syria. Remember the tragicomic Five Guys incident? The hundreds of millions spent to outfit a handful of “fighters” who almost immediately capitulated to Al Qaeda-linked insurgents? That program was eventually terminated, but the ones that have replaced it have been conspicuous only for their utter lack of impact on the battlefield, whether it be against ISIS or against Assad. Of late, the most prominent American action in Syria has been to whinge about the Russians and Assad bombing “our” fighters (and bases used by US and UK special forces to train them–and perhaps to operate in Syria), and to attempt to negotiate some bizarre deal with the Russians to prevent that from happening again.

In fact, the effort has been so woeful that it actually makes more sense that it is intended to fail, than to succeed. Obama is under pressure to do something in Syria, but he doesn’t want to. What better way to split the baby than to fund a farcical effort? If it is intended to fail, at least we can claim a success, for fail it has.

Regardless of the explanation for the farce, there is no denying that it is a farce. One look at the video just adds an exclamation mark to that statement, but there is plenty of documentation in the public record that the effort is a litany of abject failure unblemished by a single success. (Involvement with the Kurds is a different story. I am focusing on training of Arab fighters in Syria.)

And consider this irony: a comical effort to train anti-ISIS Syrians in propaganda resulted in handing a huge propaganda victory to ISIS. Because rest assured, even though you can’t see the video, the audience in the Islamic world that matters to ISIS has or will. What better way to make a laughingstock of the US than to show some communications major lecturing about the effectiveness of ISIS propaganda, and engaging in pitiful efforts to train Syrians in fighting ISIS propaganda?

Which raises the issue: just what is the objective in Syria? Who are we fighting? Why? To achieve what? The administration goes through the motions of supporting the anti-Assad insurgency, but its heart is clearly not in it. I can understand that, and actually agree with it: the US has little strategic interest in who wins the Syrian civil war, and an Assad defeat would almost certainly empower head chopping, terrorist, anti-American Islamists. But if that’s the policy, stop the cynical game of training a few deluded fools and sending them to be killed. This accomplishes nothing strategically, and damages the reputation of the US. It bolsters the Islamist/ISIS narrative that the US is ineffectual, unreliable, and feckless.

If the objective is to fight ISIS, well, to paraphrase Napoleon speaking of Vienna–fight ISIS. And do so using proven methods. But the US now proudly boasts that it is not using methods that have worked in the past. SecDef Carter (in whom Obama has finally found a reliable water boy after firing three predecessors who dared defy him) brags that the US is NOT engaged in counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare. Why not? Because it has actually worked before? Because it is linked with the Bush administration and General Petraeus? I can’t think of a reason based on actual military realities.

The press would be savaging a Republican administration for such colossal ineptitude and cynicism. Hell, the press might even savage some Democratic administrations. But Obama is given a free pass, and the utter failure–and patent absurdity–of his Syria policy draws nary a cross word from the panjandrums of the press. Indeed, they trumpet alleged intelligence triumphs while remaining mute about proven intelligence debacles: the timing of the release of the intelligence coup story raises the real possibility that it was intended to counter to intelligence boner story. Twitter goes so far as to clean up after the circus parade to conceal the mess that the CIA made: I presume Google has too, because the video is not to be found on YouTube.

It is a performance worthy of Putin’s press, but worse, actually. It is worse because at least Putin’s press does not pretend to hold him accountable, whereas America’s preens and primps about its vital role in our democracy, and declares that it is a vital check on the skulduggery and incompetence of elected officials and bureaucrats. To the extent that it is, it is extremely selective, and this is even more dangerous in many ways than a lapdog press like Putin’s. Consigning the video of the public comms 101 class to the memory hole is just another sad demonstration of why.

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June 14, 2016

The American Bourbon Talks Terrorism

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 6:49 pm

I have often described Obama as an American Bourbon (as in Louis XVIII, not Old Granddad): he has learned nothing, and forgotten nothing. No single thing exemplifies this more than his stubborn refusal to blame radical Islam for the latest outrage, this one in Orlando.

Obama claims that his rationale is that he does not want to allow ISIS to claim that the US is at war with Islam. Well, that’s the whole point of adding “radical” as a modifier. It is to demonstrate that we do not have an indiscriminate hatred or fear or even dislike of all Muslims. Obama’s refusal to make this distinction suggests that he thinks that Muslims are too stupid to recognize that. Or perhaps he thinks so little of Americans that he doesn’t believe that we are truly capable of making discriminating judgments, and that he really believes were are all closeted–or not so closeted–Islamophobes. He’s insulting either Muslims, or Americans, or more likely both.

Regardless, would that there were a latter-day Talleyrand who would lean over to Obama and say: “But sire, they are most decidedly at war with us.”

Keynes once said  “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” If Obama was his interlocutor, the reply would be: “Nothing. I am never wrong, and no new facts can contradict my original conclusion.” That’s exactly what leads to the Bourbon forget nothing-learn nothing syndrome.

Here’s why Obama’s mulishness is intensely unsettling to most Americans. They believe that his refusal to acknowledge a plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face fact has led to a conscious policy of ignoring threats for fear of offending Muslims. Orlando just provides more grist for that mill.

The shooter, Omar Mateen, flew more red flags than a Soviet May Day parade. The FBI investigated Mateen twice, and interviewed him three times. He had interacted with an American who went to Syria to become a martyr for ISIS. He was involved with Marcus Robertson*, a well-known jihadist and radical cleric who had been a bodyguard for the “Blind Sheikh.” He had attended an extremist mosque. He was well-known at his work for making extremist remarks.

But the FBI said “move along, nothing to see here!”, and the investigations were dropped. In the aftermath of Fort Hood (“workplace violence”), the dismissal of the investigation of the Tsarnaevs, and other episodes of denial and avoidance, people have a clear sense that Obama has made it plain to everyone below him in the chain of command that even the perception of Islamophobia is a far graver sin than letting a potential mass-murderer walk free–and it’s a career killer to boot.

It’s not just the refusal to utter the words “radical Islam” that conveys this message. “We can absorb attacks.” “ISIS is not an existential threat.” “You are more at risk of dying from a fall in your bathtub.” All of these send a message: Obama believes that Americans have an inordinate fear of terrorism.

Easy for a guy who drives around in an armored limousine called “the Beast” to say, isn’t it? Guy in an Orlando night club–not so much.

Yes, the probability of dying from terrorism is small. But people are rationally averse to low probability, extremely adverse events. And the question is whether these events can be prevented or deterred at reasonable cost, and whether it is the government’s responsibility to do so. Most Americans think yes. Obama evidently thinks no, or that the cost of perceived Islamophobia outweighs the benefit of preventing a mass murder or two.

It’s hard to believe, but the refusal to say “radical Islam” was among the least offensive things that Obama said today. He had the temerity to claim that attacks like Orlando are proof that ISIS is losing on the battlefield. As if there what happened in Orlando (or San Bernardino) involved the redeployment of any ISIS resource in Syria or Iraq, or that ISIS has no independent reason to attack the US. (I remind you that in his “ISIS is the jayvee” period, Obama asserted that ISIS had no intention of attacking the West as a reason for his insouciance. Wrong again, Carnac.) Further, he touted the 13,000 air strikes. Bean counting bullshit. How many strikes have been aborted? How many times has LBJ II vetoed a target? What is the operational impact of these airstrikes? Why was the air campaign so desultory for so long? Why has ISIS been given years of breathing room?

Obama has theories about Islam and terrorism. He has long held those theories, and he adamantly refuses even to modify them even in the face of a torrent of evidence. And pace Jefferson Davis, Americans have strong grounds to believe that many of their fellow citizens have died of that theory, including 50 people in a night club in Orlando.

* Robertson was interviewed this evening by Greta van Sustern. Considering it was an interview with a sick bastard who wants us infidels dead, it did have its amusing moments. Among other things, Mr. Robertson gave his weighty opinions on the presidential race. Among his pearls of wisdom was that Hillary would be dangerous as a president because as a woman she might get angry during her menses, and push the button.

Perhaps Mr. Robertson is a little bit shaky on the realities of the female reproductive system (which seems to be the case with most fundamentalist Muslim clerics), but I am pretty sure that Hillary is well past the age when menses, or even menopause, can have the slightest effect on her behavior.

Who wants to break the news to him? It could change his vote!

 

 

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