Posts tagged ‘Syria’

Fireworks as a Distraction

When I came back from my tour in Southeast Asia, fireworks made me nervous. Those last night in Syria appear to be a show for PR and nothing else. I don’t think it made anyone nervous. I know something of air warfare, at least back in the day, and the first thing you do is take out their defenses, you know Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) and Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA). Then you have the freedom to hit targets and do real damage. I don’t think we hit one defense system. What does that tell you? Damage this morning was noted as minimal and some analysts in the Middle East say that we actually handed a win to Assad, the Russians, and the Iranians. See, America is all about smoke and mirrors.

So what was the point? What did we accomplish? Well, for the weak-minded President DFF’s base, we keep our word about red lines. See, he is tough. But did we just make things worse? And the answer to that question is what is a viable strategy for Syria. I hate Assad right up there with the best of them, but we have to have a plan of what comes after if we really want to up the ante as apparently John Bolton wanted to do. Note we have no Secretary of State or major ambassadors in most of the countries over there, so all we got is a hammer. Remember shock and awe in Iraq that got us here?

So if I am going to criticize, what would I offer as what should our strategy be? That depends. I would start strategy meetings about what should be our policy and what is the blow-back with people who know the area (and some of our allies). Should we confront Russia now or can we hope that, a la Afghanistan, they get worn out? How about Iran? If we don’t want a larger conflagration, what does our appeasement (pin pricks for show) get us? So there has to be a larger strategy here than if you use chemicals, we will hit you, but if you kill millions using conventional weapons, then okey dokey. Oh, and we care about all the innocent children killed, but we don’t accept immigrants from your area. So sad…

I think we need a strategy that makes sense, sell it to Congress to get authorization, and then have contingency plans in place so we can react immediately if that is what our plan requires. If we think Assad will eventually fall, and Russia will be drawn into warfare between the Sunnis and Shiites (that is still what this is about), maybe we do nothing but try to provide humanitarian assistance as the most efficacious way forward. If we think Russia and Iran might use Syria as a launching point to support weakening Saudi Arabia and the Sunnis, which could then result in an all out war, then maybe it is time now to confront both. Russia just seems to be emboldened with our failure to take any action.

Whatever the policy is, it needs to be an informed one that we share with the American people so they are not lulled to sleep by a fireworks display that does nothing. But of course, expecting a rational policy with real costs and benefits out of this administration is a pipe dream. This administration is all about the PR game, not the best interest of the country. So President DFF looked tough and talked tough, and maybe made things a lot worse, but who cares if his base is molified and it distracted from his domestic problems? That was really what all that was about last night.

Compromise, Eqivocating, and All That Jazz

What Me Worry?

Trump took two major national security decisions in the past few weeks. One was to strike Syria for using poison gas. Trump summoned his national security team, asked for options on Syria, chose the cruise-missile strike — which was right — and won praise for acting “presidential.”

The other decision you didn’t see. It was Trump dismantling budgets and regulations undergirding U.S. climate and environmental protection policies — in his nutty effort to revive U.S. coal-fired energy — while quietly announcing plans to withhold a promised $32.5 million U.S. contribution for the U.N. Population Fund, which supports family planning and maternal health.

Unlike the Syria decision, Trump made the second move without seeking a comprehensive briefing from experts — he controls the world’s greatest collection of climate scientists at NASA, NOAA, the E.P.A., the Pentagon and the C.I.A. — and without ever asking for an intelligence briefing on how the combination of climate change, environmental degradation, drought and population explosions helped trigger the civil war in Syria, spawn terrorist groups like Boko Haram around Africa’s central Lake Chad (which has lost 90 percent of its water mass since 1963) and become the main force pushing tens of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa into Europe each year, and from Central America up to the U.S.

I promise you that Trump will spend the rest of his presidency dealing with the disruptions caused by this cocktail of population explosion and climate/environmental degradation — and his generals know it. But in today’s politics, bombing is considered presidential and ignoring science and defunding family planning, when populations are exploding and droughts expanding, are ho-hum back-page news.  Thomas Friedman

So lobbing bombs with no real strategic policy is presidential and being an idiot on science and not making the hard choices about our future is just ignored? Yep that is it.  People, even media types don’t like complexity.  It is why the North Korean problem is being played as the bully in the school yard. You just have to stand up to him.  Right?

It is an amazing world we live in today where rational thought just seems to have drifted away. I watched the Senator from Iowa, Joni Ernst give a town hall meeting where she was challenged head on with questions like how she can support a man who treats women so poorly and watched her equivocate away. While she finds some of his behavior “wrong”, she supports his conservative ideas, except of course the Wall and his stand on NAFTA because Iowa needs to export corn to Mexico.  What is it in her little conservative brain that says it’s okay to legitimize Cheeto-Head with her support even though many of his policies will hurt Iowans?

Meanwhile in the White House the President calls Turkey’s President to congratulate him on…?  He had just passed a referendum to turn the democracy into a dictatorship.  Did the Trump White House even know this?  Speaking of did they know anything, where oh where is the “armada” sailing to North Korea?  Involved in a training exercise in Australia.  We either got a lie or total obliviousness from the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security advisor.  Oh and let’s not forget their puppet, Sean Spicer.  Is it incompetence or is it,,,?

In media land I listened to Kate Snow, who wants to be everybody’s friend, not respond to an outrageous claim by a Republican spinner about how Republican Congressmen where being challenge about Cheeto-Head’s taxes in town hall meetings and it was just stupid because there was nothing they could do.  Really Kate?  You believe that garbage?  There was a bill in the House to make all Presidents show their tax returns and it got nowhere because Republicans were not going to have it.  Do you even know what is going on in the world?  Maybe there will be a place for you at the White House after Spicer self-destructs.

Then there is always those appeals for compromise.  Why can’t the two sides just work together?  Well take global warming.  If one side doesn’t believe it exists, there is no problem, ergo, no need for a fix.  Take health care.  One side doesn’t believe government has any place in providing health care and the other thinks universal health care is a right.  Obamacare was the great compromise.  Now what?  How do you compromise with dismantling it?  Take tax cuts.  There was the perfect mindless op-ed in the NYT about how Republicans just need to keep it simple* and reduce the corporate rate down to 15%.  Anybody know what the Fortune 500 actually pay in taxes?  No where near as high as 15%.  But they go on and on based on the belief that if the rich had more money, we would all benefit.  Corporate profits are greater now than they have ever been and do you see jobs? So where would you compromise on that one?

Does anybody have their brain engaged anymore?  We have an incompetent and ignorant White House.  We have a President who has the vocabulary of a 4th grader (probably because he does not read). We have a Republican controlled Congress that is pushing policies that further enable the rich and fail miserably for the rest of us.  We have a media that ignores facts and pretends this is all just partisan differences.  And the Holy Grail is compromise?  WTF?  We are with Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole and we are pretending up is down and down is up.  I simply can’t watch it anymore.

*You really ought to read the op-ed and the comments.  You know who you are dealing with when they make this statement:

One sure lesson from the health care setback is the old admonition “Keep it simple, stupid.” The Republicans tried to fix the trillion-dollar health insurance market instead of keeping the focus on repealing Obamacare.

Okay, you get it.  The people who wrote this don’t give a damn about all the people who would die once they lost Obamacare.  They also don’t care about jobs because if they did they would know that corporations are not creating them.


Reality Dawns

I wonder how Tumpets are dealing with Cheeto-Heads about faces? Guess what?  Healthcare is complicated. Cuts in Medicare. Wow. Maybe we don’t need to cancel all those trade agreements, but adjust them a bit. He was going to drain the swamp and then filled his cabinet with Wall Street cajillionairs.  The wall is going to be really big, but is out of the budget picture for anytime in the near future.  Then came the isolationist’s attack on Syria. That divided the flock for sure. But guess what?  There was blow back.  Russia, his great friend who he admires, he now believes knew in advance of the chemical attack.  Putin is now pouting.  A base in Syria which Americans were stationed at was then attacked possibly by emboldened ISIS warriors.

Now comes the evil Chinese who he blamed for everything and he needs them:

Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, Mr. Trump said. ‘After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,’ Mr. Trump recounted.” (Vox)

Then comes his backtracking on the evil China who was manipulating currency which he ran on vilifying them for and was a proven lie.  Well, his promise was to put them on the currency manipulator list and confront President Xi.  Well now he admits the truth, China is not a currency manipulator (and hasn’t been for years).  And now he has come to the realization that the dollar is too strong (Republicans tout a strong dollar).  It hurts our exports, but keeps prices low here (imports) and discourages tourism from around the world.  If you care about jobs, you want a less strong dollar. He finally got it.

Now comes his revelation that NATO “is not obsolete”.  What? Why the change?  Because he is finding out about the limits of power without engaging our allies.  Are Trumpets turning over in their graves (that would be their mental graves because they buried their ability for rational reasoned thought years ago).

So what is next, global warming?  I hope so.  On the foreign front reality is dawning,  Could it happen on the domestic front?  When implementing Republican ideas for creating jobs and they fail miserably, could there be change there too?  Let’s not get too hopeful as his incompetent cabinet is out there with a bulldozer.  Sessions wants to spend valuble prosecution resources on minor immigration infractions.  Forget the smugglers and major crimes, let’s get those immigrants who actually help our economy.  Meanwhile Betsy DeVos just cancelled rules to keep the institutions that manage education loans from upping their profits and screwing kids.  Meanwhile all the tax cuts and cut in regulations are not going to create jobs and will hurt the very people who voted for him.

Now we have three of Cheeto-Head’s campaign officials called out as agents of foreign governments (Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn).  Do we not think there is a story here?  Cheeto-Head gets all of this wrong because he was surrounded by these folks who told him , NATO not Obsoletewhat he wanted to hear.  Russians joked that Carter Page was an idiot while he had no idea he was becoming an agent of a foreign country.  One has to wonder if Cheeto-Head is in the same boat.  Eventually we will know.

So what do we have? Incoherence and chaos based upon ignorance of the world.  We all knew the stuff he is stumbling on, but we are elites and read those left wing liberal papers that don’t bend the truth.  Can he come around enough? No.  We are just seeing the glimmers of the obvious and because the bar is so low, we are hopeful and don’t see the damage he is causing.  Said another way, there is too much china in the China shop and the bull is loose.  It is not going to be pretty.

Clueless in Washington

President Trump warned on Wednesday that he would not tolerate the “heinous” chemical weapons attack in Syria, opening the door to a greater American role in protecting the population in a vicious civil war that he has always said the United States should avoid. The president declined to offer any details about potential action. But he said his horror at the images of “innocent children, innocent babies” choked by poison gas in a rebel-held area of Syria had caused him to reassess his approach. Only days after the White House declared it would be “silly” to persist in trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Mr. Trump said, “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.” NYT

So what exactly has changed?  Have there not been chemical attacks before?  Are there not people dying by the thousands? Oh wait.  He saw it on TV, maybe Fox News, so now it is real.  This, like trade and healthcare reform, may be a whole lot more complicated than he thought.  That is what happens when you haven’t thought very much about anything.  Some of the more savvy pundits were pointing out that Cheeto-Head does not have a foreign policy, similar to not having any real plans for healthcare* or trade.  Rex Tillerson looks like a ship without a rudder when it comes to North Korea or Syria.  We are just not going to say anything more about North Korea and I guess they will go away.  Isn’t it great to have businessmen in charge of the country?

I don’t know what Americans were thinking (or not thinking) when they elected someone who had no way forward, no plan, no underpinning ideology or vision other than it is really going to be great, really really big, and we will hire the best people.  On that last one, most are inexperienced, incompetent, and fools.  What we are witnessing is the ignorance of the man and his voters.  You know the type, they have an easy answer for everything and everyone else is incompetent or lazy or corrupt.  It means they haven’t looked at the details.  Just cancel all trade deals?  Not if you don’t want to savage the American economy and start trade wars.  Just repeal and replace healthcare, simple right?  Just build a wall, except there is no money if we want to rebuild our infrastructure and it does not address the real problem, our dysfunctional immigration system. Now we are faced with Syria and North Korea and guess what?  All the choices are bad.

And he had no clue.  He is the poster boy for Republicans with all the easy answers that will not cost anybody anything.  When you look at his whole family, they are people carefully shielded from the real world most of the rest of us live in.  But for Cheeto-Head himself, everyday he shows his lack of knowledge about basic things that make this country work.  Don’t get me wrong.  Healthcare is really really impossible if you want to maintain a free market system.  I will get to North Korea and Syria in a moment.  Trade is tough because they are winners and losers and changing how we make sure those left behind don’t get left behind is not easy (there are no Republican solutions unless you think for example that making coal king again is even doable).

Syria is a mess.  Sure we can jump in and be against Assad, but who are we with.  We certainly don’t want to be empowering another radical islamic faction like we did in Afghanistan when we armed the Taliban to get rid of the Russians (I wonder if Cheeto-Head even is aware of this). And of course we would be going up against the Russians who support Assad, which is why I don’t really think Cheeto-Head will do anything.  I think Hillary and others had the the right solution, and oh darest I say it, we will need another coalition with NATO to form a neutral zone.  Will it be costly, deadly, and difficult?  Absolutely.  But if we are a civilized people who understands we are all in this together, then we have to walk our values.  But Cheeto-Head doesn’t have any and he is like a 12-year old waking up to the complexities of life.  It should scare you to death.

North Korea is a problem that has festered too long.  Kim Jung-un is nuts and indications are he may be losing his grip on power. Remember Henry V.  He had all this squabbling Dukes and Lords so he attack France and united them.  Kim Jung-un may need us to attack him.  Suppose Cheeto-Head has read Shakespeare?  Add to that China’s absolute terror that if North Korea fails they will be overrun with refugees.  So we have choices to make.  Can we wait them out and maybe get China to play a stronger hand?  Will we get anything better.  Should we preemptively strike to take out his nuclear capability and will that cause a total war on the Korean peninsula with the death of millions?  Does that threaten Japan?  If we do nothing, will he stay in power and become a real threat to the continental U.S.  Who knew it was so complicated (Obama, Hillary, maybe even Romney and Bush).

We have elected an ignorant and intellectually challenged man to the most powerful office in the world and he has no sense of history, science, or critical thinking, just gut feelings and fake news.  And like almost half this nation he has no understanding of our way forward or the complexities that challenge us.  We should be very afraid.

*Congress (Republicans) are making noise about another attempt at healthcare reform. It is all smoke and mirrors.  Katy Tur, MSNBC talking head, tells us that the two sides just need to come together and fix healthcare.  Was she talking about Democrats and Republicans, or just the Republicans themselves.  And they have no fix if we define fix as keeping the good stuff and getting rid of the bad.  Their only fix is to dump the problem on the individual and walk away.

Russia is the Problem

We have a problem Houston.  Russia is going down the road of the Cold War again and dangerously down it with maybe a false impression that the West won’t respond to Putin’s aggression.  Now let’s think about it.  He invaded Crimea with no adverse impact.  He is waging war in Ukraine and shot down an airliner and the West did nothing.  He has now embroiled himself in propping up Bashar al-Assad in Syria, bomb hospitals, and is taking part in war crimes with his buddy Assad.  We drew a line and then did not enforce it and recently our response has been to break off peace talks with him.  His military is talking about the use of tactical nukes.  No shit Sherlock and it is like negotiating with the Republicans in Obama’s first term all over again.

Now he has decided to withdraw from a pact he made with the United States to destroy weapon’s grade plutonium.  We should wake up.  He is a thug who is not to be trusted in any endeavor and he will break his word because he sees no consequences.  Think Republicans again back in Obama’s first term.  The only way to reign him is to provide him with some consequences.  I personally think we have waited way too long to confront him and now the choice is much harder.  You do not want to overreact or cause more damage, and yet what we know is the longer we wait the worse it gets.  At this point I have no doubt that if we do confront them, they may well use tactical nukes assuming we will not respond.

Sadly, in most things President Obama has been dead right about slow but steady.  But he was wrong about who and what the Republican Party was about (his failure), and he wasted years thinking they would do what is best for the country.  In effect he emboldened them.  Now he gets it and they have been pushed back a bit.  We face the same problem with Russia and be assured of this, NATO won’t help us.  It is time to take action in Syria and let the Russians know there really is a line and they crossed it.  If we don’t the next line will be much further back in our own territory.

Nation Building

Things did not work out so well in Iraq.  Might even be called a disaster.  If you read the series the NYT recently ran on Libya* and how that has turned into a failed state, you might think we just need to stay out of nation building.  I would disagree, although recognize our limitations.  The reason I say that is that if you have taken my advice and watch Al Jazeera, you know that the refugee crisis is getting worse.  Why should we care?  Because they will be the disenfranchised of the future that could become members of some terrorist group.

I look at countries like North Korea where life is worse than hell, or Syria where life is impossible and think about why we as a world community allow such travesties to happen.  Well, in North Korea the real reason is because if the North Korean regime failed, everyone would try to get out and the world is not ready for that kind of refugee crisis.  So we let a living hell go on.

Then of course is politics.  We don’t seem to want to confront Russia, and confront them we must.  Probably the best scenario there is to create a neutral zone which would really be a neutral country where refugees could go and get help.  That would require us to take out the Russian air war and to establish real governments that work within those zones.  But I see no other way forward.

Let’s face it.  Many refugees are fleeing the hell of battle, but they are fleeing to countries they do not really understand nor except our Western culture.  And that they must if they want to live here.  The answer is to establish neutral zones that demands minority rights, not just freedom of religion, but freedom for women to have equal rights.  After all, it is really women who will reform the Muslim religion and civilize it for modern society.

So if we must, and we must, what are the lessons.  Well, both Iraq and Libya taught us something important.  Control has to be maintained.  Can’t just hand them a playbook and walk away. Second it has to be a United Nations endeavor. Third, it will take time and be expensive.  But do we have a choice?  Will they sort themselves out or will they become a plague on mankind like jihadists.  The later I think and sooner or later as a world where human values become natural rights can you let a Syria, Libya, Yemen, North Korea, of Somalia go on?  Can we make a difference? Or is it just easier to send “pennies a day” to save some cute kid from a foreign country.

*Republicans like to use this as a hit piece for Hillary and her pushing for intervention.  But I think a fairer reading of this piece showed that it was a choice between two bad alternatives and she picked action instead of inaction.  At least she tried.  Our failure was not anticipating the appropriate follow through necessary to give Libya a chance.

If Everyone has a Gun, Someone is Going to get Shot (Part II)

First this little tidbit to get your morning going:

The United Arab Emirates has secretly dispatched hundreds of Colombian mercenaries to Yemen to fight in that country’s raging conflict, adding a volatile new element in a complex proxy war that has drawn in the United States and Iran.

The arrival in Yemen of 450 Latin American troops — among them are also Panamanian, Salvadoran and Chilean soldiers — adds to the chaotic stew of government armies, armed tribes, terrorist networks and Yemeni militias currently at war in the country. Earlier this year, a coalition of countries led by Saudi Arabia, including the United States, began a military campaign in Yemen against Houthi rebels who have pushed the Yemeni government out of the capital, Sana.

Yep, the whole world is festering with unhappy souls, and we are arming them to the teeth.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Okay, I promised to solve the Middle Eastern crisis in one simple blog.  You know, it is a great responsibility and not easy trying to save the world from my iPad in the morning, usually in one page or less.  But somebody has to do it because our mainstream press asks really important questions like, “Marco, what non-politician would you like to sit down and have a beer with?”  If that weren’t bad enough, he answered Malala who is probably underage and a Muslim (doesn’t drink).  I rest my case on the brain trust that is running for President on the Republican side.

Okay, the common perception is that ISIS is the problem.  So the easy answer (see Lindsey Graham) is to send in our troops and wipe them out.  However, we have the vacuum problem.  Who fills the vacuum after we go or do we just stay there forever being the policeman of the world? It’s what we did before. You get the problem.

But there really is a more fundamental problem which many have pointed out has to be dealt with or the problem just keeps raising its ugly head. This problem is the lust for  religious totalitarianism that cannot abide any other beliefs.  It is not just Islam, Christianity has this in its blood stream also, but we have a more tame version where if you don’t believe the “right” way you are just damned to hell.  God will get you in the end and that is good enough. That’s actually a comforting thought for us atheists since we think God is a figment of the imagination anyway.  And I am always reminded of priest and pastors who are “right” thinking, sexually abusing their flock.

The good news, like Christianity, most Muslims are quite happy with live and let live, so part of the solution is to mobilize them against the more crazy Muslims.  When we see shows like The Book of Mormon, being played out as The Book of Mohammed, we know we have arrived.  All kidding aside, just getting the discussion going without death threats within the Muslim world would be a big start. So whatever we do, that has to be part of the solution.

The next thing we have to do is recognize that what we have been doing does not work, period.  And from Libya to Yemen to Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan, our many varied approaches have yielded very little unless of course you manufacture and sell arms or more sadly, if you are in the medical rehabilitation field.  Oh, and it has worked swimmingly if you sell dilapidated boats to refugees.  So we have a region in chaos, millions migrating to Europe, and ISIS and al Qaeda exporting war to our shores.  Not what I would call a success.

So we throw everything we think we know away.  That includes established borders and who are our friends and foes.  Next we have to lay out our goals.  I know this is Project Management 101, but apparently those in charge could use a little.  Here would be my goals:

  1. Destroy ISIS and al Qaeda (and the idea of intolerant religions)
  2. Separate the warring factions and quit trying to get them to hold hands (Iraq)
  3. Stand behind our American principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (did I forget minority rights (Think women here)?)
  4. End the refugee crisis

For Goal 1, we make whatever deals we have to except allowing a war criminal like Assad to remain in power.  If we do let him stay in power, it will be self-defeating and violate Goal 3.  There are going to have to be some Americans involved and NATO has to step up to the plate, along with primarily Arab ground troops.  This includes putting the screws to Pakistan who have nurtured al Qaeda and the Taliban in their territories.

As part of this, we are going to have to establish a no-fly zone and using NATO  forces secure it so the refugees do not have to go to Europe (Goal 4).  This will also require massive humanitarian aid, to build a modern place to be safe while the nuts can fight their wars elsewhere.  Cause trouble and out you go. This could even become a proving ground for a modern Arab government, but tightly managed by NATO to ensure no backsliding.

To make the deals to in fact get an Arab force to fight ISIS and al Qaeda (and maybe Assad), they have to know that they get some of the spoils.  Since we have seen how promising an inclusive government does not work, they get to control the areas they win (Goal 2).  Iraq would probably become three areas (remember Joe Bidden said this years ago), Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish.

Syria could go the same way.  Turkey is in for a rough comeuppance. Since they have facilitated the flow of oil and people into and out of Syria. Russia is not going to like this, but they either play along or get confronted.  Better now than later.  They can either play and have a role in a new Syrian government or they become part of the problem. The whole pack of nations has to clamp down on the flow of money and arms.  Remember this is a world solution to a creeping cancer.

Finally, the big one, Goal 3.  This is really what brings the Middle East into the 21st century and makes us a more civilized world. We help them separate and survive only as long as they promote the values of life, liberty, and happiness.  If they become like Saudi Arabia, they are just a ticking time bomb and will eventually go off, and not peacefully.  If we are going to solve this, we have to recognize that some cultures are not just different, they are destructive to the human spirit.  We have to use our force, influence, and money to become the good guy again.

One last thing.  We are not going to be the policeman of the world.  If it doesn’t work out, we walk away and let them fester in stupidity.  The only time we (NATO) get involved is if like ISIS, they start posing an international problem.  Then we squash them.  See, that was not so hard. Now with this framework in hand, and France now probably fully on board, let’s see if we can make some headway because this is a world problem and only a world solution will work.

Foreign Policy

I would say from my point of view that most domestic issues have fairly clear-cut policy choices about which we have plenty of data to make the right choices.  Even Hillary and Bernie both agree banks need to be reigned in, Hillary, with a softer touch through more regulation, Bernie through structural changes (break up the big ones).  Now we can argue about which fix would be more effective, but we all agree to the problem and are discussing possible remedies, unlike Republicans who live in an alternate reality where we need to de-regulate them again.

But when it comes to foreign affairs, and these days everything seems to be focused in the Middle East, we have a real quandary.  Is the problem too little intervention or too much?  Roger Cohen has written several thought provoking op-ed pieces in the NYT and the thrust of these is that our reaction to the Bush years and too much intervention has been the Obama years with too little intervention, leaving a power vacuum that has great unintended consequences, like Russia now flying an air war in Syria.

He argues, as many Republicans do, that President Obama’s hesitancy to act for fear of getting involved, has left a vacuum for others to act, with consequences not necessarily beneficial to our best interests.  Our new world view that we only act in concert with others, when others are not going to act, emboldens bad actors.  I think there is some truth to this, although it has to be balanced against not over simplifying extremely complex sectarian, religious, and historical conflicts that will not be resolved with shock and awe.

In the Democratic debates Hillary proposed a no-fly zone in Syria.  The others demurred.  There was an opportunity to do this early on in this war and this would have probably been prudent.  But to establish one now will certainly lead to a direct confrontation with Russia, and I am not sure what the blow back would be.  Will it finally reign in Putin and his adventure in Syria or will it lead to more lethal confrontations later on.  Should we let Putin continue getting more embroiled in the war and like Afghanistan, get sucked dry?  What does that do about the refugee crisis?  What is the cost/benefit calculation?

I would have to agree with Roger that President Obama’s hesitancy in committing the United States has created a problem.  Like his first term where I don’t think the extent of Republican obstructionism had yet dawned on him, he has missed some opportunities that could have forestalled some of the problems we face today.  And like his trying to work with Republicans, his failure to act was born out of trying to compensate for our past over aggressive acts.  The next President is going to have to deal with how we fill this void without the excessive of the Iraq war.

I still, in my own mind, do not have a coherent way forward in the Middle East.  I am still trying to find a path for our foreign policy as I suspect most Americans who think about these things are also trying to do.  My only advice at this point is beware Greeks bearing gifts.  Some see force as the solution to everything, and some want to retract into our shell, to become isolationists.  As we look at the Middle East today, we see that both approaches have failed.  While I have heard a lot of criticism of our past actions, I have yet to hear a coherent debate about our way forward.  Sooner or later this will be front and center in the Presidential debates.  You can bet Congress is not going to touch it with a 10 foot pole. They will be too busy arguing about who gets to hold the 10 foot pole.

Monday, Not So Deep Thoughts

The storm is now being called the once in 1000 year storm in South Carolina.  I wonder if it has anything to do with God being angry because they agreed to lower the Confederate flag?  I wonder if any one is stopping to ask why now, unless we are altering our climate? Hmm.

Hillary has come out with a plan to try to regulate guns by bypassing Congress.  Now the both sides do it crowd may want to step back and see which side is unanimously against doing anything.  And the one thing we know, which is not opinion, but we know, is that fewer guns result in fewer incidents of gun violence.  The issue is how to get there.  That is where the opinions come in.

Russia really has the short-term advantage in Syria.  Their strategy is really quite simple, shore up Assad.  Our strategy is … ?  Well we want Assad to go, and we want to defeat ISIS who opposes Assad, and … ?  See the problem here? I know what the Russians end game is, I have no clue what ours is.

I saw where Matt Damon was under attack for saying the obvious.  If we don’t know an actor’s sexual proclivities, it is easier to suspend our disbelief in any role they might play.  Somehow that got translated into gay actors should stay in the closet.  I actually thought it meant that a person’s sexual choices really should be private and no one else’s business. Watching old Rock Hudson movies knowing now he is gay, makes it much harder to buy into the romance.  That is all he was saying.

I see where the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal has been reached.  Since we have basically already approved it, now maybe they will actually let us read it and see what we are in for.

Well, another Amtrak derailing.  What you expect on a system we refuse to invest in and runs on 50 year old technology.  Kind of a model for our entire infrastructure and the refusal by Republicans to invest in it.

Paul Krugman tells us this morning that Republicans have no energy plan but big oil, and hey, more coal.  Actually if you can tell me if Republicans have any plans except cut taxes, small government, less regulation, or said another way, keeping everything just the way it is, I will eat my hat.  That does not include fantasy plans like walls, mass deportation, or rescinding Obamacare without an alternative.

Finally, here in California, the Governor signed a bill approving brew bikes, which allows you to tour Sacramento breweries on a 15 person brew bike (and imbibe if local government allows) that is pedal propelled.  You know, sometimes you just have to stop and smell the suds.  Happy Monday.

Syria and Russia Part 2

So the Russians gave us a 1-hour notice to get out of the air space and then they started bombing. Surprise! And who are they bombing? The guys we support, not ISIS. Surprise!  The reaction was predictable, the press asking if President Obama was played at the UN (yes, but he really does not trust or like thug Putin in the first place). John McCain is leading the Republican charge of shoulda woulda coulda of being tough, whatever that means, and what we have are a dearth of answers for a way forward.  Ask any Republican and they will tell you about missed opportunities (in a perfect world) and then deflect when it comes to a way forward.

Yesterday in Syria and Russia, I gave you the Thomas Friedman approach.  It is based on the following assumptions which we also heard Ashton Carter, our Secretary of Defense say:

  1. The only solution is a political one
  2. To get a political solution Assad has to go
  3. You can not beat ISIS without reliable boots on the ground
  4. Russians and Iran (supporters of Assad) have to play

The solution is to hold our noses, support Assad in his battle against ISIS, with a transition government in the end that removes Assad and addresses the brutality of the Assad Regime, with an international force placed there to keep things honest.  So we had President Obama talking with Russia at the UN about just such an initiative.  Then Russia starts bombing the good guys and really complicated the mess.

Now the sky is falling and the Russians are walking all over us!  Let’s take a step back and think about this. From the Russian point of view, this is not sustainable. They are hurting economically from the fall of oil prices, and Putin needs to shore up his support at home.  According to reporting I have read, the Russian people don’t give a wit about Syria.  For Putin, Assad was his client and their moving into the fray indicates that Assad is in deep trouble. They haven’t accepted yet that he has to go because they might lose their foothold there. Finally, they seemed to have learned nothing from their Afghanistan incursion, and are going to get bogged down in a lose-lose sectarian war with Muslim jihadists now taking aim at them.  So let’s not panic.

Russia’s attack on our guys is a sign that from their point of view, anyone who attacks Assad is ISIS.  Not really, but they want to prop up their guy and any enemy of him is an enemy of them.  From a logical point of view, if you buy that this is only going to be successful with a political solution, it is a failed strategy because they are basically putting their full weight behind Assad.  So if we did what Donald Trump suggests and just walk away, Russia is in for a long failed war again.  But that does not address the refugee problem and the wanton killing.  So, yes Virginia, we have a dangerous quandary.

Russians moves, have pitted us directly against them.  While the press goes on and on about “de-conflicting” strikes, the real issue is de-conflicting who is the enemy.  Russia’s point of view is that it is anyone resisting Assad so build up Assad, then let him go after ISIS.  Our point of view is that will never happen and Russia will get bogged down in that war unless we can bring about a political solution.  So now we are left with the question, what should be our next move? 

 Do we confront Russia and risk further conflagration, or back off, focus on ISIS and let Russia get bogged down in the mess of their making?  Either choice could have major blow backs. But that is really the choices as I can see them now, especially since we can’t trust anything Russia says, so I am waiting to hear some alternative to my two scenarios that makes any sense.  So far all I hear is shoulda woulda coulda. Why would anyone want this job?