Not Evil, Just Stupid

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And in an age of near universal literacy and information access in the developed world, stupid is an evil all its own. Perhaps the greatest of all evils. This is now abundantly clear with the poorly disguised attempt to smear a veteran and sitting congresswoman as a traitorous Manchurian candidate and its hilarious response.

Despite the feverish conspiracy theories of the right, it has long been my position that Hillary Clinton, and the people who religiously tend to identify with her, are not in fact these brilliant puppet masters. As fun as it is to joke about these people being reptillian baby eaters, the truth of the matter is that while indeed the Clintons (just like the Bushes and Trumps) are monstrously corrupt, they are also remarkably stupid. Hillary in particular, who lacks the charisma and trend-reading ability to her husband, is a living embodiment not of evil but of incompetence. The network she can call out to speak on her behalf is more a patronage network of fellow incompetents than it is anything else, though that network surely does exist as we can see clearly this week,

My evidence is Mrs. Clinton’s entire record in policy. Let’s break it down.

-As First Lady she was given the opportunity to reform America’s healthcare system. Her attempts went down in history for being so undiplomatic that they failed before they even began. She also faked a southern accent during this time despite not actually being a southerner.

-Her tenure as a senator from the State of New York consisted of trying and failing to censor video games in a second wind of the prior decade’s Tipper Gore war on music. This was concurrent with her attempt to ban flag burning, which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional, and her support for Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq, the biggest foreign policy blunder quite possibly in all of American history.

-She then ran her first presidential campaign in 2008. Her record specifically on Iraq doomed both her and her Republican analog, John McCain, both of whom lost to a previously unknown upstart senator who ran against that war and the people who made it. During this campaign, Hillary Clinton engaged in endless race-baiting attacks on her opponent implying something nebulously foreign about him in a precursor to Trump’s birtherism and insisting that ‘the real America’ of the midwest and south would never vote for him….for *some* reason. She then refused to concede her clear loss in the primary and hung around for a strangely long period of time. Far longer than, say, Bernie Sanders did against her in 2016. She did this, most likely, as a negotiating tactic to be Obama’s declared successor and Secretary of State.

-Upon becoming Secretary of State she quickly went on to show what a mistake the first of Obama’s corrupt bargains would end up being for any hopes of reversing Bush’s ruinous administration. She was the decisive force for convincing an undecided Obama to intervene in Libya. Now, Libya is a failed state fought over warlords that incubates terrorism, Islamic extremism, and has a burgeoning chattel slavery industry. Despite this enormous failure, Hillary pushed again for greater levels of intervention in Syria, this time on the side of outright and undisguised jihadists. Her very own emails, which her fans often deride as ‘but her emails’ to deflect from their actual contents, show that she was aware of this and still supported ‘Operation Timber Sycamore’ (which you can look up yourself as the documentation is truly enormous) anyway.

-In the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton then went on to run the most well-funded campaign in history into the ground. Everyone save Matt Taibbi preemptively called the election for Clinton. Her staff’s one original idea aside from riding celebrity accolades was to signal boost Trump over his republican challengers using their media contacts in something called ‘The Pied Piper Strategy‘, thinking he would be the easiest candidate to beat. Most likely, Hillary would have beaten nonentities like Rubio and Jeb!, but someone like Trump was always going to be more of a challenge to the ultimate insiders of the Clintons. Then, in the general election, Hillary Clinton ran what could only be described as a Romney-style campaign based on insulting voters who weren’t already in her camp, failing to campaign in the right locations, and generally ignoring the strong ground game. Plus, she had a close run with a previously little known self-described socialist from Vermont. A challenger that, despite all the post-election rhetoric from all sides, went on to deliver a greater percentage of his base to Hillary than Hillary ever did for Obama after losing to him 8 years before. Hillary then went on to promise her priorities after her inevitable coronation as ‘the removal of Assad from power’ (mentioned in literally every 2016 presidential debate in the general) and even more of the same policies of offshoring and deindustrialization that everyone outside of finance hates. Oh but don’t worry, she had some great one-liners.

-In the post-election hellscape of her failure, Hillary Clinton and her fans who treat her like she is their mother, have greatly exaggerated Russian cyber interference in American discourse in order to absolve themselves and their entire overpaid consultant class from the blame they deserve for blowing the most winnable election in history. This has unleashed a McCarthyite hysteria that has hijacked the Democratic Party, public discourse, and the media and created an opposition to Trump that looks like the republican loyalists to Bush from 2001-2008, where accusations of disloyalty and secret sympathies dog the discourse as a cover for avoiding substantive debate. This is a big reason why the Democrats of this decade became like the Republicans of last decade. Reflexively in support of military intervention, in love with intelligence agencies, and using the same model of going all out religious revival in social issues to distract their supporters from the fact that very few policies they support actually help their base in any real material way.

Into this post-Clintonian apocalypse, only Tulsi Gabbard has had the courage to stand up directly and challenge the odious legacy of this accurately stated ‘Queen of Warmongers’ and symbol of corruption. This is why her candidacy, even more than Bernie’s, is the true anti-bipartisan consensus run. You can see just by the hysterical reactions of the Beltway class to her factually accurate statements about the results of U.S. interventions in the Middle East. Yes, we did support AL Qaeda aligned groups in Syria and Libya. Hillary herself admitted to it in her emails…which is why those emails were always a scandal. Not because of how she handled them, but because of the lack of judgment on matters of policy she showed in them.

Finally, someone stands up against the insanity of our endless war state and against the neoMcCarthyite rhetoric used to defend it from both parties. The same candidate with the spine to call Trump ‘Saudi Arabia’s Bitch’ is the one who can accurately identify Hillary’s miasmic influence on American politics. it is time to throw all of these bums and their acolytes into the trash where they belong.

The fact of the matter is, Hillary Clinton is nothing but an attention-seeking and uncharismatic sociopath with no self-reflection or ability to learn. Everything she has ever touched has turned to ashes and manure. Her ability to create spectacular backfires is a welcome addition to the message-driven Gabbard campaign, as few in this country are loathed as much as Hillary Clinton is-especially by independent and anti-establishment voters. By giving her un-endorsement she has already served an unintentionally useful purpose for those who wish to bring about change. By inspiring all her servile op-ed ghouls to come out in her defense she shows who is willing to make the death rattles on behalf of a dying order and who isn’t. She is not showing her power, but her weakness. A head of a cabal she may be, but rather than pulling the levers of power this cabal spends its time sitting and sulking at a world waking up to their many failures and rank incompetence.

I would say ‘Go away Hillary,’ but I know after crawling back into her spider hole of bitter resentment and abject failure that she will only give us a few months more at most before reappearing yet again with more rot and decay than ever before.

Much Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth for Syria’s Kurds

First let me say that the YPJ/SDF is probably the most sympathetic non-state actor in the entire Syrian Civil War. Second, I will state clearly and definitely that the present Turkish government under Erdogan and the AKP is second only to that of Saudi Arabia as a force for destabilization and horror in the contemporary Middle East. There is no question that at this point Erdogan is the primary villain of Syria’s long unfolding tragedy.

That out of the way, the hysterical response to the ‘western betrayal’ of ‘the Kurds’ is utterly bizarre and hard to fathom…at least for anyone who thinks first in terms of strategy and not in emotional sentimentality. For the following reasons:

  1. Turkey was always the bigger geopolitical prize than ‘the Kurds’ (i.e. the Rojava/SDF-there is no one unified faction of Kurds) and so both the United States and Russia were always going to jockey for influence in Ankara first rather than over a thin strip of unrecognized territory in northern Syria. This has always been the case and should surprise exactly no one.
  2. The United States had better chance holding on to South Vietnam in 1975 than it ever did holding on to to Syria’s northeast. A handful of operators ostensibly helping Kurdish forces battle Islamists was just as much there to prevent Kurdish-Damascus rapprochement as for any other reason. But the Syrian government is in the region to stay and the U.S. never really could be. As it is, prompt withdrawal of American forces increases the odds of Kurdish-Syrian and Syrian government forces being able to coordinate a response to Turkey’s blatant act of invasion at the head of a force of neo-Bashi-Bazouks.
  3. If Russia acts to clip Turkey’s wings in northern Syria (one can hope though that hope is far from likely at this point) it will be easier to do so with U.S. forces gone from the immediate area as the first thing they want gone is American influence there. This is far more likely to happen than the Americans being able to hold back the Turks themselves.
  4. What is the alternative? The far left (most vocal western factions wailing about betrayal) joins forces with the neoconservative right to voice support for some kind Israel-like creation of a Kurdish state that will set off a series of regional wars requiring an endless commitment to arming and equipping Kurdish forces against all their neighbors forever? No doubt Netanyahu and the ghost of Trotsky alike gets wet at the thought.
  5. Worst of all, from my very subjective perspective, all of this has overshadowed the great news that the Saudis might be forced into a corner by the Houthis in Yemen. But the House of Saud teeters perpetually upon the brink of collapse in a way that the AKP in Turkey definitely seems not to. And if anything, taking a ‘strong line’ against a Kurdish bogeyman probably further bolsters Erdogan’s position at home.

States have permanent interests and not permanent friends. The Kurds of the Rojava/SDF themselves should and probably do know this. They would be fools if they did not. But so much of the commentary coming from across the board in the developed world have forgotten this principle. Be not surprised when the ‘betrayal of the Kurds’ is used in future interventionist rhetoric for why we need to be more involved in this war or region at large.

But arguably this sequence of tragic affairs is a direct result of NATO involvement in the Syrian Civil War in the first place. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

‘Decider Issues’: Or in the humanities some opinions are objectively wrong

neoliberal evolution

I pride myself on avoiding echo chambers and groupthink. I believe whether they be big media entrenched interests or small diseased hives of conspiracy theorists or cause loyalists, its not the size but the monotone that dooms ones ability to critically think. But this does not imply that I assume all opinions start equal until proven otherwise. And despite my own repeatedly demonstrated ability to evolve my views when confronted with (superior) evidence for changing them, it would be only natural if every 5-10 years I draw a line or two on issues where compromise is capitulation-because one side is just that objectively wrong.

Keeping away from obvious cases where actual scientific evidence is at play which makes drawing such lines obvious and really an exercise of the sane vs the unhinged (man made pollution’s effect on the climate, the need for evolution in science class, the scourge of anti-vaxxers, etc) and sticking straight to the humanities only, I can think of one issue last decade and one issue in this where compromise cannot and must not be made with the unhinged-lest we simply want to give up and join the postmodernists in their quest to believe any simple uninformed opinion is the final arbiter of reality.

Last decade, this issue was gay rights. It is not something I talk about much on this blog given its foreign policy focus, and it wasn’t my primary or sole issue of concern a decade ago either, but it was what I might call a ‘Decider Issue’. So named for the famous declarative statement of ‘I’m The Decider’, the then chimpanzee-in-chief, George W Bush-himself an example of a presidency that could be considered a great example of a Decider Issue in how it is interpreted.

There was no rational nor logical nor even purely blinkered individual self-interest argument against expanding legal rights for gays. There wasn’t. None. The only arguments were fear of change and utterly brain numbing religious screeds from those too foolish to put aside what should be their private culture for the public good. There were policies that mitigated harm to no demonstrable increase in harm to another-a rare in politics. Any aggreivement of enacting such policies was perceived and self-projection only, not in any way real or material. There was, quite simply, no actual compelling case for opposing gay rights. And even with a solid and successful push on many fronts and gay marriage now legal across the entire nation-the most important fights (housing and employment nondiscrimination) have yet to move beyond the state and federal employee level to the same degree as the more performative (if symbolic) marriage fight did. The fight remains, but most of the cultural side of it appears to be won. This is good. It helped immensely that when the fever seemed to break around 2006-2009 or so that an enormous amount of right wing cultural warriors from senators to ‘public policy experts’ to clergy were exposed as closet cases or with sex lives which deviated from their own stated norms in new and interesting ways. Larry Craig, Ted Haggert, George Reckers, Rick Santorum-ok, I made up that last one (but come on, you at least suspect to the same level one does Pence), the parade of humiliation and hypocrisy was like a conga line of rejects tagging on the back end of a pride parade. Their side was wrong. Debate was legitimizing them, they needed to be mocked, defeated, and crushed. This was an issue to end friendships over (and I almost never advocate doing that for political reasons).

A new such issue has arisen this decade. It is in foreign policy-something increasingly relegated to the back-burner since the anti-war movement got sidelined in the Obama years by the  visage of a respectable technocrat apparently taking it over from the frat boys of the Bush years. Because of this sidelining, this issue isn’t as clearly an obvious choice to most people-but it should be. That issue is NATO intervention in Syria. So, in a weird abstracted kind of way, Syria is the gay rights issue of today. A debate where one must draw the line of people who have a legitimate point on one side, and people who quite honestly should shut the hell up and go away on the other. I had a useful professional contact and acquaintance who was both pro rebel and said ‘if you sympathize with the Damascus government or the Turkish coup plot, defriend me now.’ Well, I did exactly that. I have no regrets. No one can learn from people so involved with their own ideology no matter its actual effects.

When I have spoken of Syria before on this blog I have largely done it by appraising the interests of each actor and how I believe that the best realistic solution (and this I have held as a consistent view since 2012 when I first got engaged with the issue) is government victory. I have never pretended to be happy agreeing so heartily with Russia (see gay rights positions, above) on an issue, and I have never used it as a generic ‘NATO is bad’ argument, which is tiresome and usually moralistic. This is geopolitics, there is no good and bad. But there is stupid and smart though. Rebel victory, (most likely just a total sectarian Balkanization of the country in effect with some kind of caliphate as the strongest faction) would be demonstrably bad for Syria and most Syrians for sure. But even speaking from the purely American standpoint-it is bad for NATO too. Already, by jumping on the regime change bandwagon but backing different mutually hostile factions, Washington and Ankara-the two biggest NATO contributors-are ready to tear their alliance apart. And for what? As it is the prolonging of the war (thanks to American arms and allies) has increased the refugee crisis which in turn increases the far right (the real threat to most trans-atlantic alliances and Russian containment in Europe). Idlib is possibly the greatest outdoor zoo of Al Qaeda the world has seen, and Iran-that great bogeyman of the west-is stronger than before.

Much like with opposition to gay rights before, a strange cavalcade of unqualified theorists and gibbering loons is swarming over the media, hoping to make a quick buck or get a signal boost from playing on the famously vulnerable heartstrings of a public addicted to quick fix media and knee jerk moralism. Samantha Power and Anne Marie Slaughter, the appropriately named duo, wax poetic about the dangers of not setting moral lines across the globe, as if the UN will collapse if we don’t scold Assad on using weapons I honestly would rather be killed by than many conventional munitions. These are simply cranks of a dying order, saying their piece before irrelevancy takes them. They are supported by legions of journalists who really are nothing but establishment cheerleaders and who imply anyone who denies America’s role as Global Ruler-Bearing Nun-Cop is either a foreign agent or dangerously unhinged.

The philosopher John Gray, writing in one of his more recent books of antihumanism, noted that one of the reasons Mesoamerican human sacrifice is so interesting is because they were societies that were really very honest about the performance of blood ritual in the maintenance of power and hierarchy. Most other societies invent elaborate charades like ‘just war theory’ or messianic prophecy and other dances around issues of ‘having to do something’ to cover up their naked thrusts for power-no matter how misguided and even self-destructive such policies can be. The worst ones even believe this rhetoric is truth, and these both humanitarian charity workers and defense contractors alike enjoy the services of the best. Seen in this context, the recent American airstrikes in Syria are a type of ritualistic bloodletting, the ceremonial reminder of international hierarchy for audiences both and home and abroad. Though I increasingly suspect their effectiveness is waning-but more abroad than at home. Much as the historical record in Mesoamerica shows that as the states began to come off their height of power, their sacrifices for public spectacle only increased until they couldn’t anymore. No one needs more reassurance that the hierarchy stands than those in decline. One fears for the future if present trends continue. Even if you change the government, the Democrats too have shown their propensity to love virtue signalling by cruise missile.

In such a situation, a firm line must be drawn. I do not simply *disagree* with those who support further or continued intervention in Syria, I despise them. They are my enemy. I wish them ill not only professionally but also personally. They have had seven years to realize the errors of their ways and if they have not done so yet, nor noticed the accurate depictions of those of us who have consistently predicted how the conflict would go, only to be ignored as the same talking heads who championed Iraq and Libya argue for another go on specious intelligence. They have chosen their camp and they are not to be reasoned out of it as they are clearly not motivated by reason. They are incapable of performing any kind of cost/benefit analysis-which is the real key to informed political views- and thus are nothing but ideologues. For any improvement to be made they must be confronted, shown to be the hollow shouters they are, and utterly disrespected at every turn. Those of us opposed to the neocons, Bolton, Kristol, Rubio, and the like, should make their opinions on these issues as loathsome and shameful in the public sphere as once happened to their forebears. This is The Decider Issues at work.

As a notable aside, Rubio is wrong on both of these Decider Issues of mine. In fact, I have generally taken the view that Rubio is always wrong on everything-and that if he has an opinion it must be wrong no matter what it is. Just as once my greatest political moment was seeing Rick Santorum’s kids cry on live tv as he lost his senate re-election, so too do I long for the day when Rubio, Power, and their ilk mope pathetically as they realize their time is over.

P.S. Considering that conservatives have lost the cultural war on gay rights issues (for now), I am far less bothered by temporary alliances with paleocons for mutual foreign policy interests than I am the general Democrat trend of allying with neocons and the Beltway War Lobby but being woke on social issues. Its easy to be ‘woke’, and often politicians do it performatively anyway. It is much harder to strike against the established moneybags of Big Defense and Gulf lobbyists. Hence the picture used for this post which might as well be the new MSNBC logo.

 

 

The Spectacle Presidency and the Spectacle of Opposition

trumpswan

I was a History undergrad (thank the gods) and not a ‘political scientist’ until grad school. And even then, I stuck my political science more towards the real than the ideal. Geography and geology and anthropology were as much my focus as political science and philosophy. Because, at the end of the day, it is all about what really exists, not what we hope. Hope, as apparently Eisenhower and one of my co-workers mothers once said, is not an achievable policy. But the one political science class I took in undergrad was ‘The Presidency’. In it, our professor talked about how Reagan, then (and somehow still now) was lauded as this great president when in fact he was nothing but a milquetoast capable of great shows of spectacle. He used the media to build up issues which he could ‘solve’ in a media friendly way, from invading Grenada to smashing up the traffic control strikers. Everyone loved this. The people cheered, much as they would cheer as the charismatic but empty shell of the Clintons cut away any remainders of meritocracy in this country with a smile and a wave.

We have, unsurprisingly, an erratic administration in the White House. In light of the recent strikes in Syria, conducted without an investigation into an attack which occurred in a war where we know all sides possess chemical weapons, most likely based on the president having an emotional reaction to television, much like his core constituency does. Words, spoken or written, cannot adequately express how utterly horrifying a prospect that is. Grand strategy is now in the hands of serial molester and loofah/falafel shipping fanfic audiobook narrator Bill O’Reilly’s prime time rants.

The conservative movement, which often had pretenses of intellectualism but could find no intellectual with which to cling to aside from William F. Buckley (himself basically the Bill O’Reilly of the 1950s), Ayn Rand, and the clueless ideologue bro-‘wonk’ that is Paul Ryan-a man who opposed Obamacare so much for 8 years he never even came up with an alternative until one week before his epic failure in the House passing something far worse-is basically bereft of brains. In America this has always been so. Vague attempts to cling to the coattails of Edmund Burke usually come up short when faced with the sheer ranting racism and religious fanaticism that makes up the vast majority of American conservatives (and once again, always has). In many ways this makes Trump unremarkable except in one way, he is totally honest. A purely instinct-driven creature, he shuffles from outrage to outrage and poll boosting issue to poll boosting issue as only the most delicate of right wing shrinking violets can. The mask has not only slipped, but fallen into a boiling cauldron of lava and is never to be retrieved again. Trump is barely into his presidency. Sure, he has the potential to be beyond the scope of horror, but in the small time he has yet to even come close to Dubya’s track record of sheer globe spanning incompetence and murder. He also has yet (although his policies promise to do so soon) to come close to Bill Clinton’s record of waging ruthless and brutal warfare against America’s working class. In other words, the spectacle has never been more honest. Its all style and no substance, exactly what an enormous percentage of voters have been content with for a very long time.

But to find such a mercurial and unqualified character making an erratic President is hardly a perspective you need me to elucidate. You can find that anywhere. 90% of online content now exists to do exactly this. What I find even more craven, even more bothersome moving forward, is The Loyal Opposition, or what they call themselves with no self-awareness whatsoever, ‘The Resistance.’ They are just as much a fraudulent spectacle as the president they condemn….Condemned that is, until he shot some missiles and CNN got the footage.

Much like how the Democratic Party has been ‘anyone to the left of John McCain’ in definition since at least Carter, so too is The Resistancebasically defined as anyone who hates Trump. That is actually quite a lot of people of various divergent backgrounds. Most don’t have large financial backing and mainstream support anymore, but the ones that do….oh the ones that do. They certainly earned their this week didn’t they?

Nothing like a good act of war to bring out the sheer levels of contortions required for the sad sacks who pass for an opposition. Fareed Zakaria, one of the few neoliberals which I had any respect for, declared the act of President Baby’s hissy fit to be ‘Presidential’, Admiral Stavritis and other wannabees in an alternate universe Clinton cabinet could not stop themselves from using the kinds of words op ed columnists use when reviewing the latest self serving autobiography of a public figure. ‘Bold.’ ‘Decisive.’ ‘Insert Generic Descriptor Here.’

My original thought if Trump took us into the field of basically becoming Jihadist Offshore Support Group 1 was that the mainline democrats and Sensible Serious Center of which I have spoken before would suddenly pull the same move they did when their rosy Iraq predictions turned out to be wrong-suddenly flopping back into Dove mode. The good news is, they defied that low partisan bar. The bad news is they went even lower…by just coming around, at least on this one very important issue, to the very force they claim to oppose.

The day after former Secretary Clinton called for a wholesale attack on the airbases of Syria, something equivalent to if the Pearl Harbor assault had hit the entire West Coast in addition to Hawaii, Trump struck only one (so far) in a demonstration of spectacle which immediately was followed by bipartisan praise. In other words, The Resistance™ came around to Trump. Because he bombed someone. That is just as horrifying as the idea that he ordered the attacks based on his emotional response to the news. It also shows that it is Trump who is becoming much like the DC establishment he ran against, rather than bending it to his will. This blog is focused on foreign policy issues, but there is ample reason to see the same effect on domestic policy as well if one is willing to look for it.

The only thing The Resistance™ is doing is building themselves up as the people who could do the same failed policies, but more politely. With less….acrimony. In the case specifically of Syria most Democrats demand something more hawkish than Trumps irresponsible flirtations with World War III on behalf of sectarian Wahhabi fundamentalists. And what the Thomas Freidmans’ and David Brooks’ of the world want is precisely that, because its safe and polite. It is what they know. America has an excess of military power so it must ‘do something’, and damn the consequences. I mean, otherwise those bombs just might sit around. Why have that when you can use them to provide collective therapy for the neoliberal/neoconservative on the world stage? These people have no actual critique of systemic forces, but only brands. Coke and Pepsi, Marvel and DC, Lockheed Martin and B.A.E. Systems, the Democrats and the Republicans.

Spectacle Presidency, meet Spectacle Opposition.

 

 

Fortunately, occasional lone voices cry out in the wilderness against this double sided madness. One of them has been one heartily endorsed by this blog since before the party primaries. That continues to be a damn good call.

Tulsi triggers liberals

 

 

 

Russian Bombing in Syria

A very brief point I wish to make.

You are going to see a lot of headlines like this in American and European news outlets considering the deterioration of NATO-Russian relations. While I personally am not a fan of the present Russian state, I must re-iterate that they are getting Syria as right as they got the Ukraine wrong.

You see, Daesh in Syria is the scariest faction, but not the only scary faction. Well, technically they are all scary but you know what I mean. But in order to see the logic of Russian airstrikes in Syria you have to look at several maps of Syria. Take a somewhat up to date map of the conflict itself like so:

Syria-3-Jan-2016-static1

(Hope you don’t mind me using your map dude/dudette!)

Now take a look at population (and thus also major city) concentrations, geographically:

syria_pop_1979

Granted, 1979 census (it was the most photogenic) but even much more up to date ones show the same general distribution.

So, let us look at this strategically shall we? The largest and most capable ground force which could do the most damage to Daesh is the Syrian Arab Army. It is integral to any serious victory over the radicals no matter how much NATO wants to still pretend this can be a three-way war. This means the government must be strong and capable of holding most of the countries’ population centers.

What threatens that right now is not Daesh, but the FSA, Al Nusra, and others. Al Nusra, by the way, is a goddamn Al Qaeda affiliate. That’s right, the Pentagon is now complaining that Russian bombs are hitting Al Qaeda and their allies. This is the world we live in now.

So in the long game, we all want Daesh taken out, but the government is going to have to recapture more territory, specifically in the north-west, to do so. America shouldn’t complain that Russia is doing their own work for them for free, while also blocking a chance for the US to admit its Syria policy errors and open up real dialogue with Damascus.

 

Just a brief thought on the Russo-Turkish Fiasco

I’m kind of thinking two things which are not exclusive:

Turkey shoots down Russian plane to sabotage greater Franco-Russian collaboration in Syria, which undermines their little shitshow on the ground with the terrori-I mean rebels.

Russia intentionally violates Turkish airspace in order to force some kind of rupture in the already crumbling NATO over this issue and the fact that Turkey’s popularity in the alliance is plummeting largely over Syria-Iraq issues.

Both could be wrong, but one or both could be right.

The biggest problem is that the most powerful individuals in each of these nations are both clever but also dangerously ambitious and beholden to terrifying domestic (and in Turkey’s case international) constituencies. A crisis which takes a life of its own is the last thing anyone wants even if the cause is simple pilot error. It probably was, but considering the convoluted nature of everything going on there now, let’s keep our eyes open.

One does wonder what the South Caucasus equivalent to Plevna would be…

There’s One Thing I Haven’t Heard Yet About the U.S.-Iran Deal….

US-Iran deal

You can hear the discussions and the debates already: ‘A Major Middle-Eastern Re-Alignment’, ‘The Dawn of a New Era’, ‘From Foes to Friends?’ and on the litany of predictable headlines goes. And it is true, no matter what the future holds this was a big moment in the relations between two countries who have oscillated from low-intensity Cold War to outright hostility and back and back again numerous times since 1979. But now both sides realize the commonalities of interest outweigh the still substantial disagreements and there will at least be an attempt to deal with it. Whether or not it will be successful only time will tell. But hopefully it will be. Both nations share an enemy in combating Sunni extremism, which has much more global appeal and violent credit to its name than any corresponding Shi’a movement. In fact, last month U.S. airstrikes supported Iranian backed Shi’a militia offensives against Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq. Nothing like an even scarier foe to bring to former enemies together.

The question will be if this rapprochement is temporary or long term. Iran also wants more diplomatic options, an end to sanctions, and greater levels of flexibility than to be forced into becoming a junior partner with Russia. The U.S. on the other hand no longer has the will to bluster about constant large scale conventional intervention and also needs more options in the region-particularly if it is going to downplay its presence in order to focus on the far more important (to Washington) Asia-Pacific and possibly even European spheres of interest. It may also be desirable to remind the Saudis and Israelis who is boss in the relationship with Washington, but good luck getting anyone to acknowledge that in any official capacity. Both sides have a lot to gain and even more to lose. Nothing is settled yet but the gamble just might be worth it. After all, look at Yemen. A Saudi led coalition as well as (allegedly by some but unproven so far) an uninvited Israeli guest are stepping up bombing runs on Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels who are making gains at the expense of the government. Now this is a wild card for both parties as it introduces independent action from their allies separate of their own negotiations. It is so convoluted that it actually has captured a fair amount of media attention relating to the talks-as it should.

But one thing I am so far not seeing mentioned, except in passing, concerns less about new-found chumminess in Iraq against a common foe or even the dangers of the situation in Yemen, but rather the still ongoing and far more deadly than either of those examples Syrian Civil War.

When the war began there was no question as to whose side Iran would stand on. Syria under the Assad family was a die-hard Iranian ally, all the more important for really being the only one. Naturally, this meant that the United States and its allies jumped on the rebels bandwagon (this was of course those dark and far off days of 2011). Syria also of course had close ties to Russia (The Tartus Naval Base in Syria being Russia’s only external military installation not in a part of the former U.S.S.R.) and a quite obvious minefield of ethnic and sectarian divides. All of this made direct intervention a la Libya not an option. But short of invasion or no-fly zone, the U.S. and Iran went to work on a proxy conflict as the once sealed Syrian state splintered apart.

The problem of course was that so did Saudi Arabia. In fact, nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar were much more gung-ho about such an intervention than even the U.S. seemed to be (neoconservative fantasies of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aside). The extreme form of Islam often championed by elements within these states, coupled with the fact that the Assad regime had long since made alliances against the majority Sunni population of their nation with many of the various other minorities basically guaranteed a particularly nasty division of society. Something that the Iraq War should have given the U.S. foreign policy establishment much more pause when contemplating entering the fray.

Once it became apparent that the Syrian government would not fall quickly-or perhaps at all-radicalization within the rebel movement was pretty much a guarantee. Gradually, the Islamist elements became a larger and larger part of the Syrian opposition, to the point where any hopes of a moderate-only victory became about as likely as a Green Party candidate winning the American presidency.

I remember watching the early stages of the Syria conflict unfold as a doctoral student familiar with Syria’s general demographic makeup. My first thought was ‘if the government doesn’t crumble in a month or two this is going to be nasty on all fronts-how I hope the U.S. doesn’t interfere!’ But so it happened. How much of an effect this had on the war is debatable, but once the war was guaranteed to be long it very much served U.S. interests to hope the regime-yes the Assad one-would be the faction which emerged triumphant. Rebel victory increasingly looked like a scenario where the price of getting rid of one family and their nepotistic gang would demand a terrible price for ethnic and sectarian minorities alike, not to mention the empowerment of religious fanatics who respected no borders. And yet, the American foreign policy establishment still hedged its bets with the rebels who at best could deliver only the most questionable gains in the form of Iran having to spend money and arms on aid to Damascus.

Perhaps the United States realizes its errors on this issue. Perhaps not. But this brings us back to the recent Iran-US talks. Iran and Russia are the only state level external actors that pull weight with the Syrian regime. It would be wise-if the U.S. wishes to take back its Syrian mistakes-to be using those secret talks in order to negotiate something on Syria, namely to agree to stop any indirect support for the rebels in order for something else.

Considering the way things can go in such negotiations, it would hardly surprise me if that ‘something else’ was acknowledging Iranian influence in Syria and maybe even assisting them against Daesh there (where they are even more entrenched in than in Iraq) in exchange for Iran agreeing to make its Shi’a militias in Iraq loyal to the Iraqi government at least once the current conflict is over. Or it could be for Iran to have its proxies hold off from hostility with the Kurds. This is of course speculation, but its the kind of deal I would strike. If it is not that, one suspects Syria still comes up, and that the U.S. could very well be looking for a face-saving way to distance itself from that country or for further collaboration between all parties opposed to Daesh-something Iran could very likely provide.

Simply because this is the one issue being sidelined by the media covering the US-Iran talks makes it by far the most interesting one to me. If indeed this is being actively discussed the ramifications of it could be as big as any nuclear program or shift in alliance networks.

Anyway, have a pretty jumpin’ propaganda song.

 

Edit: 4/13 to clarify that the claims of Israeli involvement in Yemen are so far unsubstantiated.