Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Manbij - OPSEC fail, or just "forget it, Jake, it's Syria"..?

Lots of bloviation about the bomb assassination of a bunch of Kurdish "Manbij Military Council" militiamen and four of the U.S. liaison team meeting with them at a kebab shop in the Kurdish-held Syrian town, most of it pearl-clutching about whether "...this means the Islamic State isn't really defeated!!!"

That's not my question. No, duh, the IS isn't "defeated". They're pissed-off Sunni tribesmen. So long as the governments in Baghdad and Damascus are Shiite in some form the zero-sum politics of the Fertile Crescent means that pissed-off Sunni tribesmen are going to be killing people. You can't "defeat" that without killing ALL the Sunni tribesmen, or giving the Sunni tribesmen alternatives to killing people, and that fucking ship has sailed.

No. My question is; how the hell does some Islamic State bomb squad get the intel on where and when this meeting is being held in time to get their fall guy there in time to blow everybody to hell? Is there some sort of IS pizza-delivery bomb taxi squad sitting by the phones, vests on, ready to burn rubber to where one of their spies has just called in a big meet between the YPG and the gringos? Is Manbij that porous, that IS guys can drift in and set up bomb-making and bomb-delivery units just where-ever, and that their guys can spot juicy targets and hit them at a moment's notice?

Or is the MMC OPSEC so damn poor that the IS guys knew about this a couple of days in advance?

Frankly, IMO all this does is make the case for grabbing a hat. If the only people in Syria trusted enough to embed GIs with can't do a better job of securing their own territory then it can't be done. We got the hell out of Iraq for the simple reason that we couldn't get the place down to civil levels of violence without Roman methods. This suggests that the northeastern corner of Syria is likely to be just as impossible.

No, boys. The Islamic State is never going to "be defeated" if by that you mean that they will be unable to kill people. If that's your endstate the U.S. might as well make Syria the fifty-first goddamn state, because we're going to be there forever.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Fools and their fooling?

Buried under the flaming dumpster that is the Trump Shutdown was a pretty remarkable bit of policymaking that took place in Cairo the other day. SecState Pompeo delivered a little oration that was remarkable either for its' 1) mendacity, or 2) delusion. What fascinates me is that I'm honestly not sure which it represents.

You can read the full text of the remarks at the link, but the gist of Pompeo's remarks was that:

1. The U.S. is, and always has been, a "force for good" in the Middle East,
2. That Iran, OTOH, is massively evil and stinky and bad.
3. That Obama was almost as bad and stinky as Iran because he tippy-toed around in the Middle East while "apologizing" for bad U.S. behavior,
4. Unlike Trump, who is a real Man and loves him some muscular Christian war against eeeeevil Islamist terrorism and Iran,
5. That Real Muslims like y'all love, too!

Fred Kaplan sums up the problems with this nonsense better than I can, so I can't do better than quote him:
“America is a force for good in the Middle East,” Pompeo said at the start of his speech. But to the extent he defined good, it was solely in terms of helping certain allies (mainly Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) while hurting certain enemies (ISIS, terrorists, and especially Iran). There was no recognition of complexity: Nothing was said about the Saudi bombing of Yemen (only Iran was painted as a force for bad, contrary to human-rights organizations); nothing was said about Trump’s divisions with Europe over Iran; nothing was said (one way or the other) about the role of Russia or Turkey in the Syrian conflict, or the Saudi murder of a U.S.-based journalist.

Obama may have been naïve in hoping that the pursuit of common ground and mutual interests might soothe the ancient tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims or upend the chessboard of Great Game geopolitics that have played on those tensions for centuries. But Pompeo’s speech makes clearer than ever that Trump has no interest in trying to soothe anything: He wants to take sides in the conflict, join the war—but even here, he has no idea how to do so with authority or effectiveness. He is indulging in partisan mythologies that bear little relation to the actual past and shed little insight on a fruitful way forward."
My question, though, is this - is this really "indulging in partisan mythologies"?

Or does this joker - and, by inference, his Orange Master - truly believe this nonsense?

I think the difference makes a difference, and that, in turn, goes back to the issue Andy raised in the comments several posts back about the difference between Trump and the Trumpkins words, and deeds.

If this Pompeo word salad is simply an attempt to blow more smoke up the Arab world's backside, that's one thing. Propaganda and blather can be simply the bodyguard of lies that can be re-arranged, or abandoned, as needed. A realistic Middle Eastern policy can be crafted with one hand whilst the other performs silly magic tricks to distract the rubes Arab "street".

But the precedent here is the Bushies. I truly believe that the bulk of the Bush cabal really, truly believed their neo-conservative nonsense about smoking guns and mushroom clouds and letting freedom reign. The cynics, the Cheneys, were the minority. I think the bulk of the Bush coterie were captured by their own rhetorical disinformation and air-castle fantasies.

The trouble with sussing out the difference is the long history of piss-poor U.S. geopolitical strategic thinking. It's damn deadly difficult to determine whether the mistakes are deliberate and caused by a boneheaded idee fixee' driven into the policymakers heads by some political philosophy (whether Ayn Randian free market fantasies or "liberal interventionist" fantasies really makes no nevermind...), or whether they were simply mistakes driven by poor intelligence analyses and craptacular institutional structures of the U.S. geopolitical decisionmaking apparatus.

I think it makes a big difference whether these people are the fools, or the fooled.

But I'm damned if I can figure out which.

Friday, January 11, 2019

the wall

"If U.S. President Donald Trump declares a national emergency as a way to divert military funding to pay for his long-promised border wall without lawmakers’ consent, the Pentagon will be prepared with roughly $3 billion in ready funds, a U.S. defense official told Foreign Policy Thursday."

https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/01/10/us-military-readies-to-pay-for-trump-border-wall-pentagon/

I don't have much to say that has not already been said, other than the fact that Jerciho's Walls did not work, and neither did Hadrian's nor did China's Great Wall.  And I believe the cost of building, and maintaining, those walls helped to bring economic ruin on the states that built them. 

While it may discourage some, it will not daunt others.  I guess the idiot in chief never heard of tunnels and ladders? 

And lastly:  cui bono?  What connections are there between the bidders and the greedy shit hogs in the halls of congress?

IIRC the FM on Defensive Operations says that fortifications must be covered by fire or they are otherwise worthless. Or words to that effect.  


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Your Daily Crazy, Middle East Edition

This is a portion of the transcript of a press conference given by President Trump on January 2, 2019.

I want you to keep this in mind as you read this; keep in mind who this is who is speaking.

This is not your drunken FOX-addled uncle spewing off after too much turkey and football at Thanksgiving dinner. This is not some random park ranter in the piss-smelling pants. This is the man who is legally in sole charge of the armed forces of the United States as well as the executive capacities of the largest economic and military power on the planet.

We begin with a reporter asking a question about the recent announcement of U.S. ground forces being pulled out of Syria and Afghanistan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I appreciate it, Mr. President. Maybe the military has an angle here or a possible --
TRUMP: They have no angle. I know every angle. No, they have no angle.

We don’t have to wait long for the cray-cray, do we? “I know every angle” – and keep in mind this question was specifically about military affairs. The guy whose closest encounter with any military activity was terror-driven flight from potential Vietnam service “knows every angle”? Really?
The military under past leadership, including for many years was taken advantage of by other countries. Allies and not allies, they were taken advantage of. Our country has to be respected. We're not respected when we do that.
While this may not be overtly nuts – I mean, it IS nuts - the U.S. has undertaken military actions “for many years” but not because it was taken advantage of but primarily to pursue its own interests. This whole “taken advantage of” thing is one of Trump’s more consistent bizarre mental kinks, a seemingly overriding need to be seen as the grifter rather than the chump. It also dovetails with his obsession with alliances and pacts as a sort of protection racket where if the U.S. isn’t making bank it’s being chumped.

But the main point here is to recognize this as a signifier of Trump’s way of thinking, which is virtually indistinguishable from the gutter punks and gangster wannabes I went to high school with. “Respect” was their Holy Thing. The one sure driver of violence for these goombas was the perception that they weren’t being “respected”. It made them dangerously unstable to be around, because you never knew what they’d interpret as “disrespect”. That is this guy’s mindset. Think about that for a moment, and let’s move on.
When horrible things are happening on trade where we have barriers put up, where we have tariffs put on and we open our country up, we just open it up, where cars are sent into our country with virtually no tax, no nothing and yet they won't accept our cars, when cars are sent in and they pay no tax but we're expected to pay 25, 40, 50 percent and we pay nothing, I'll be honest with you, it's just not in my DNA.
This is economic gibberish, but it’s at least consistent with Trump’s obsession with “respect” and the idea that everyone else in cheating “us”.
I don't know how people allowed that in my position, allowed these things to happen. And we're not allowing it to happen anymore. I could be the most popular person in Europe. I could run for any office if I wanted to but I don't want to.
Here’s the first real “WTF” moment. Popular? Run for office? Of…what, “imperial poo-bah”? You’re an object of derision and contempt all over the non-fascist parts of Europe. You don’t know that? Obviously not, and yes, this is just Trump giving himself his usual tongue-bath. But it's the utterly random way this pops in here that is such fine flavor of pure whackadoodle senile-Grampy crazy.
I want people to treat us fairly and they're not. And it's not -- there's no angles. There's no angles.
Back to the “angles” again as senile Grampy suddenly remembers the original point (such as it was…) he was trying to make.
There's nothing -- you know, when a country sends us 200 soldiers to Iraq or sends us a hundred soldiers from a big country to Syria or to Afghanistan and then they tell me a hundred times, oh, we sent you soldiers, we sent you soldiers. And that's 1/100th of the money they take advantage of, they're just doing it to make me happy. I've heard past Presidents say they've involved in the Afghanistan war because they sent us a hundred soldiers.
Presumably this is about the other NATO nations. It’s nonsense. A bunch of other NATO countries pushed upwards of five figures of bodies into Afghanistan; the British, certainly, as well as France and Germany. Almost all the NATO members sent some contingent, the size of which was determined by the capacities of the contributor and the needs of the multinational force commanders.

Yes, some of them were company-sized or smaller. But that was because the force was set up by the needs of the theater commander and the capabilities of the units sent, not as a grifting scheme.

And, yes; if Andorra sends a quartermaster company they ARE “involved in the Afghanistan war”. Those people are. This points out the fundamentally unserious nature of Trump’s understanding of war; he sees it like a game, a con game, and the less money you make (or lose) the smaller and less important the con.

The MOST bizarre part here, though is that “they’re doing it to make me happy” thing. Why the hell would “they” do that? “You” aren’t that important in the Afghan picture; you’ve been the U.S. CINC for only 2/17ths of the entire Umpteenth Afghan War. "They" have no real reason to make you happy.
Yet it's costing us billions of billions of dollars. I get along with India and the prime minister and he's constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan. You know what that is? That's like five hours of what we spend. And he tells it is and he's very smart and we're supposed to say oh, thank you for the library.
Okay. Remember this whole India thing. The little library story is freakishly weird, but it’s not the stupidest part of Trump’s notions about India and Afghanistan.

Wait for it; we’ll get to la-la land in a bit.
I don't know who's using it in Afghanistan but one of those things. Well, I don't like --It's the end of the world and we're subsidizing their military by billions and billions and billions of dollars many, many, many times what those soldiers cost their country.
Here’s one bit of this whackaloonity that I actually have to sorta give him. Yes, “we” have been sinking a crap-ton of blood and treasure into this bottomless pit. Mind you, it has largely been for our own, admittedly by my reckoning strategically clueless, reasons. But, yes. “Billions and billions” (here’s where I hear Carl Sagan rather than Trump’s reedy whine, but, whatever…) have gone down the Afghan rathole.

I’m all in for Trump taking U.S. GIs out of this mess. But the glimpse this presser gives of what goes on – or doesn’t – inside the gomer’s head doesn’t make me feel confident that he won’t just get them stuck into something even MORE fucked up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President --

TRUMP: Go ahead, Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Afghanistan, you have (one?) ISIS and the (Taliban?) is gaining ground. And India…

TRUMP: I think India should be involved in Afghanistan.

Holy.

Fucking.

Shit.

Okay, let’s just sit here a moment and ponder the epically, monumentally, heroically, pure-D, stomp-down, clueless boneheaded geopolitical stupidity of that single offhand sentence.

“I think India should be involved in Afghanistan.”

I have no idea what the fuck his military handlers have tried to tell this gomer. I know he’s functionally illiterate. I know he’s a bumptious rube, a walking Dunning-Kruger who thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room on whatever subject comes us.

But…”I think India should be involved in Afghanistan.”

I’m not saying that the Chief Executive needs to be a foreign policy wonk. I don’t expect him to know about the political situation in the subcontinent and the history of the region that still echoes decisions and actions taken as far back as the Mughals. Or that the entire focus of Pakistani Afghan policy is to ensure that the Afghan state provides strategic depth for Pakistan in the event of war with India. Or that the main driver of friction between the current Kabul government and Karachi has been the warming of relations between Afghanistan and India since the U.S. invasion and the fall of the Taliban.

But I’d expect at the bare minimum that their foreign policy advisors would have briefed him – and that he would have understood – on the tense relationship of Pakistan and India.

That they would have hammered at least a working understanding of why the triangle India-Pakistan-Afghanistan is as potentially explosive as nitroglycerine into this dumb fucker’s head. The fact that this moron could just toss this off is possibly as monstrously stupid as getting involved in a land war in Asia, except we’re talking about our involvement in a land war in Asia, so I’ll just say that this is monstrously stupid, even for Trump, and let’s move on.
I gave our generals all the money they wanted. They didn't do such a great job in Afghanistan. They've been fighting in Afghanistan for 19 years. General Mattis thanked me profusely for getting him several hundred billion and thanked me more the following year when I got him $716 billion. He couldn't believe it because our military was depleted. Now we're rebuilding our military. Pat was very responsible for a lot of the orders for the new F-35 fighter jets and F-18s including ships and missiles and everything. But General Mattis was so thrilled.
As always with Trump, it’s all about the money. Keep that in mind. He has no concept that there’s such a thing as geopolitics and grand strategy. If you throw money at something, you win. (Which might explain a lot of the whole “going bankrupt repeatedly”, when you think about it…)

Trump doesn’t get the difference between the problems caused by endless imperial wars run on a credit card have on O&M, and procurement. Why should he? It’s all just the money and all about the money, amiright?
But what's he done for me? How has he done in Afghanistan? Not too good. Not too good. I'm not happy with what he's done in Afghanistan and I shouldn't be happy. But he was very thankful when I got him $700 billion and the following year $716 billion. So, I wish him well. I hope he does well. But as you know, President Obama fired him and essentially so did I. I want results.
This, in terms of Afghanistan, is more than bizarre; it’s outright nuts. This would be like FDR going on the radio and ranting about how because of the debacle at Kasserine Pass he was relieving GEN Marshall. As SECDEF Jim Mattis didn’t micromanage in-theatre efforts in Afghanistan and he shouldn’t have been doing so. That Trump seems to think that is…well, it’s either stupid or nutty, but I’m actually going for the Daily Double of both.
We're going to do something that's right. We are talking to the Taliban, we're talking to a lot of different people but here's the thing because you mentioned India. India is there. Russia is there. Russia used to be the Soviet Union.
No shit, Sherlock.
Afghanistan made it Russia because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia.
This is an almost-fifth-grade-level understanding of the breakup of the Soviet Union, except I’ll bet that the smarter fifth graders actually have a more sophisticated understanding of the actual factors involved.
So, you take a look at other countries. Pakistan is there. They should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting. The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt. They went into being called Russia again as opposed to the Soviet Union. A lot of these places you're reading about now are no longer a part of Russia because of Afghanistan. But why isn't Russia there?
Russia? Fighting in Afghanistan? You WANT that? Because you want to re-create “Charlie Wilson’s War” only you want to be allies with the baddies?

Seriously? WTF? This may be on the whackadoodle-level as the India comment, only with even less political sense because dopey here clearly remembers that the Soviets were fighting in Afghanistan and it didn’t go well for them.
Why isn't India there in we there and we're 6,000 miles away? But I don't mind. We want to help our people, help other nations. You do have terrorists, mostly Taliban but is. I'll give you an example. So tall ISIS is an enemy. We have an area where Taliban is here, ISIS is here and they're fighting each other. I said why don't you let them fight? Why are we getting in the middle of it? I said let them fight. They're both our enemies, let them fight.
Another hugely stupid idea, as we’ll discuss below.
Sir, we want to do it.
I think this is Trump pretending to be one or more of his military advisors (or the commanders on the ground in Afghanistan)
They go in and end up fighting both of them. It the craziest thing I've ever seen. I think I would have been a good general but who knows.
Fucking hell. Just…fucking hell.
These are two enemies fighting again but what are we doing?
We’re backing the government we installed in Kabul because the winner of the IS-Taliban fight will then go on to bitchslap our Afghan buddies, dummy.

Somehow, fucking Tallyrand here hasn’t managed to absorb that while there are two sets of “enemies” here there’s also an “ally”, the Kabul government, and that the whole idea isn’t to sit back and let the enemies fight each other but enable the third, “allied” party to win legitimate governance so the enemies don’t take the place back when they’re done (or find time to attack the ANA while they’re brawling).
He's done a fantastic job. He's brought the country together.
I have no idea what this refers to. I think there’s something missing from the transcript here, like Trump calling out the current Afghan head of state.
India, Russia, you look at some of the satellite countries that are extremely wealthy with oil, surrounding. I spoke to some of them. They -- I said to a certain country, very rich country, what would you do if the United States pulled out? Oh, we'd be taken over by the Taliban and terrorists.
I can’t figure out if this is just nonsense or an extremely ugly and bizarre congeries of lies.
The implication of his first sentence “satellite countries…wealthy with oil, surrounding” is that he’s talking about 1) a petrostate that is 2) adjacent to or within close proximity to Afghanistan, that 3) is highly vulnerable to takeover by a takifiri guerrilla movement.

But there is literally no such place that satisfies all three of his criteria.

The countries that border Afghanistan are Iran, – which is a petrostate but far too large and too Shiite to be endangered by a bunch of Sunni religious nuts – Pakistan – which might be vulnerable to unrest but isn’t a significant petroleum producer, and three former Soviet states; Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, which have neither a significant petroleum industry, nor, being closely linked to the "Northern Alliance" enemies of the Talib Pashtun, are likely to be at risk of a Pashtun invasion.

The closest polity that even comes close to meeting all the conditions in this gobbledegook is Kazakhstan, which has its own takifiri issues but 1) not with either the Taliban or an Islamic State franchise and 2) is geographically pretty far from the Pashtun regions.

Whatever the reason for this odd anecdote it’s worth reminding us that Trump does this, though. A lot; just pulls stuff out of his ass that is utter nonsense, or so twisted from whatever its genesis was as to be nonsensical.
And to remind us that he’s usually not called on it, which is why he continues to do it, and I think this is what this is. This supposed conversation never happened, or it happened with some representative of Pakistan and Trump just has this vague memory that he bitched out some wog or other (I mean, they’re all just “shithole” countries anyway, amirite?) for…
I said, ah. They b…then why are you charging us when we have to use your country to send product through? Why are you charging us when we send airplanes over your country? We're doing the job for you, why are you charging us? He said to me, very great gentleman, smart. He said to me, well, nobody ever asked me not to. I said I'm asking you not to. He said we will not charge you. And I'm talking about millions and millions of dollars. Flights over his country. But I say to him, what would happen if we weren't here? And he looks at me and he goes we would be overrun. We could not defend ourselves. And yet he charges us. But he doesn't charge us anymore.
…”charging us” – Trump again with the money, and (of course) his self-styled “dealmaking”.
The getting-hit-up-for-supply-and-overflight thing suggests he’s thinking of Pakistan.
But I honestly have no idea what to make of this whole farrago. I think it’s just all lies and make-believe, simply because I can’t see who this “very great gentleman, smart” and his country could be.
OK. Jeff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You use the word slowly when you're describing the withdrawal --

TRUMP: I didn't say --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your timetable?

TRUMP: Somebody said four months. Obama gave up Syria when he didn't violate the red line. I did when I shot 59 missiles in but that was a long time later. And when President Obama decided not to violate his statement that never cross the red line and then they did and he didn't do anything about it, you know, make a threat is OK but you always have to follow through with the threat. You can't make a threat and then do nothing.

Another of Trump’s over-riding foreign policy principles to the degree he has any is his obsession with Obama, in this case contrasting Trump’s Wag The Dog missile barrage back in April of 2017 with Obama’s backing off Assad after the barrel bomb/gas attacks in 2012.
So, Syria was lost long ago. It was lost long ago.
Wait? Whaaaaat? We’re pulling out of Syria because we WON, right? Because the Islamic State was beaten and “we’re not doing nation-building” (as he told the GIs in Iraq just last week). So…instead, now Syria “was lost long ago”?
Then what the fuck were all those GIs doing there for the past two years?
And besides that, I don't want -- we're talking about sand and death.

OMFG I love this SO much. “We’re talking about sand and death.” That’s your poet-president, that's fucking poetry right there.

“Sand and death.” I saw that movie, too. Tyrone Power played the matador. Linda Darnell was his wife.

What a great flick.

Sand and death.

That's what we're talking about. We're not talking about vast wealth. We're talking about sand and death.
Again with the wealth, but, hey, it’s Trump – you want to know what’s going on under that combover? Follow the money.
Now, the Kurds, it's very interesting, Turkey doesn't like them, other people do.
Some people like anchovies on their pizza. Some don’t. Some people want to butcher Kurds. Some like them. "I don’t really care, do U?"
I didn't like the fact that there selling the small oil they have to Iran.
The fuck..?

This is an outright lie, or some sort of Trumpy-brain nonsense intended to let him off the hook for screwing the Kurds.

The Syrian Kurds have no active oilfields and the Iraqi Kurds sell their Kirkuk oilfield products in Iraq.

Where the hell he gets this I have no idea; maybe Fox and Friends? Anyone heard this nonsense on wingnut websites? It’s not bizarre because it’s wrong – this is Trump – but because it’s so obviously, easily disproveably wrong.
But Kurds are selling oil to Iran. I'm not happy about it at all. At the same time, they fight better when we fight with them. When we send 30 f-18s in front of them, they fight much better than they do when we don't.
Close air support! Wow! Whoodathunkit? Would he have made a Great Captain? Would he? I'm tellin' ya, Napoleon has nothing on this joker.
And you've we want to protect the Kurds. But I don't want to be in serious forever.
So we’ve got your back, Kurds. Except…only until we get bored. Or it costs too much. Or we just stop giving a shit.
Sadly, this IS what you get when you trust Uncle Sammy. I suspect there’s a Vietnamese Montaignard word for it.
It’s sad and the death.
I remember saying stuff like this when I was 19 and stoned out of my gourd.
If we fight ISIS-- you know where else they're going? To Iran, who hates ISIS more than we do. They're going to Russia, who hates ISIS more than we do. Then I read when we pull out, Russia is thrilled. You know why they're not happy? Because this be and we're killing ISIS also for Iran.
I have no idea what the hell this means, and I don’t think he does, either. The Islamic State was born in the wreckage of the Sunni parts of western Iraq and eastern Syria, neither of which have the slightest similarity to any parts of Iran or Russia.

He’s just pulling this stuff…well, you know.

I sort of understand why none of the journos push him on this nonsense; he doesn’t know anything, and if you push it all you get is more gibberish. But, seriously…how can you respect this? How can you treat this like someone who should be doing anything other than tending the fry pit at some Mickey D’s somewhere instead of making geopolitical decisions for the globe’s biggest superpower?
And just while we're on Iran because people don't like to write the facts. Iran is a much different country than it was when I became President. Iran when I became President, I had a meeting at the Pentagon with lots of generals, they were like for a pry, better looking than Tom Cruz and stronger. I've had more I said this is the greatest room I've ever seen. I saw more computer boards than I think that they make today.
WTF? I got nothin’ here. Wow. Even when I was stoned out of my gourd I made more sense than this.
And every part of the Middle East and other places that was under attack was under attack because of Iran. And I said to myself, wow, I mean, you look at Yemen, you look at Syria, you look at every place, Saudi Arabia was under siege, they were all -- I mean, they wanted Yemen because of a long border with Saudi Arabia. That's why they're there, frankly. But every place was under siege.
I realize that this is a critical piece of GOP foreign policy, so it would be unrealistic to expect Trump’s toddler-level comprehension of geopolitics to question the “Iran is the Great Satan” trope. But, as usual, he takes the basic GOP talking point and goes utterly fruit-bat with it. “every part of the Middle East”? Like your pals in Baghdad, who are Iran’s de facto allies?
I actually asked a question. They had plenty of money. President Obama had just given them $150 billion. He gave them $1.8 billion in cash. I'm still trying to figure that one out, plane loads of cash, I...cash from many different countries.
This is easily understood if you recognize Trump as FOX-news-uncle. The “Obama gave Iran cash” thing is a wingnut trope that turns the Obama release of the impounded Iranian assets (which had to be delivered in banknotes because the banking embargos were still in place) into some sort of giveaway/bribe/corruption thing.
You know why from five different countries, Jeff? Because we didn't have enough cash in, they had to use the current at this with all of that being said, I did something called terminate the horrible Iran nuclear deal, which by the way, in eight years gives Iran the legal right to have nuclear weapons. I did it. Iran is no longer the same country. Iran is pulling people out of Syria.
I have no idea where he gets this, either. The IRGC is a Syrian partner and will continue to be so long as the Syrian Arab Army is fighting the civil war. If Trump really believes this – and, again, this is entirely likely to be pure Trumpian nonsense – he is either being really poorly advised or has a criminally low level of understanding of what his own intelligence people are telling him. Either way it argues a dangerously huge lack of geopolitical savvy.
They can do what they want there, frankly, but they're pulling people out, they're pulling people out of Yemen. Iran wants to survive now. Iran was they were going to take they can do what they want there, frankly, but they're pulling people out, they're pulling people out of Yemen. Iran wants to survive now.
To the best of my knowledge there are no significant Iranian assets in Yemen, which makes logistical and geographic sense if you think about it for two seconds; there is no direct land route from Iran to Yemen, and there’s no way for an Iranian freighter to put into a South Yemeni port.

Again, this is a dangerously idiotic way to think of the situation in the south Arabian peninsula if you are the U.S. head of state and charged with directing U.S. foreign policy.
Iran was…they were going to take over everything and destroy Israel while they're at it. Iran is a much different country right now. They're having riots every week in every country, bigger than they've had when we do all of the things that we gone pan (done?). Iran is in trouble. I'd love to negotiate with Iran. There but Iran is a much different country right now, Jeff, than it was when I took office. What I took over two years ago, Iran was going to take over the most and they were going to have all the weapons they wanted in a short period of time because of that stupid deal. When I terminated that deal and then did what I had to do, Iran is a much different country today than it was 19 months ago, that I can tell you.
There’s a lot of nonsense to unpack in this one paragraph.

The 2019 situation in Iran is little different than it was in 2016, largely because of the relatively consistent rumble of the low-grade Shia-Sunni Wars of Religion kicked off by Dubya and Dick’s Excellent Middle Eastern Adventure.

The one major difference is that the Trump Administration has made what I consider the major geopolitical mistake of taking sides in this religious war, and even moreso (in my opinion) by siding with the Wahhabi Sunni of Saudi Arabia, a metastable autocracy founded on the idea that petroleum wealth will both last forever and make the rule of a gang of inbreds from the Hause of Saud tolerable to the bulk of ordinary Saudis. I consider both these propositions to be sketchy in the medium term and unsustainable in the long term.

If Trump would “love to negotiate with Iran” there’s nothing stopping him. The probability is high that his idea of ”negotiation” is no different than his other diplomatic encounters with places like North Korea or the EU, which consists of 1) him throwing down his objective and folding his arms – which hasn’t worked with the EU, or 2) giving his counterpart what they want and then claiming it as a win for Trump, as he did with the NORKs. The Iranians, who have no real reason to take whatever one-sided “deal” he’d be offering, have no real reason to negotiate or, given his renege on the original "stupid deal" he and the GOP congresscritters welched on, any reason to trust him to hold with another deal, no matter how favorable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the timetable for withdrawing troops --

TRUMP: It just over a period of time. Oh, we're withdrawing. We're hitting them very hard.

Are you withdrawing, or hitting “them” very hard? Seems impossible to do both at the same time anywhere but inside of Trump’s head.
When I met with the generals in Iraq, I said to a couple of the generals, why didn't you do this before? He said, sir, our commanders were telling us what to do. I said don't you tell them? No, sir, we take orders. And they're great soldiers. They listen. I do it differently. I sat around and after a few minutes they listened up and said this is what we should do.
This little anecdote is baffling not so much because of the point of it – which is the point of almost all Trump anecdotes, highlighting the very stable genius of Trump (who in “a few minutes” grasps the elusively obvious solution that has eluded all these so-called “generals” and “commanders”) compared to the dullards around him – but the actual circumstances.

Who are these “great soldiers” (apparently “generals” but not generals who are “commanders”, since that get told what to do by the latter)? When and how did this meeting occur? Why?

And why, if “they listened up” when Trump told them “what we should do”, hasn’t the geostrategic situation in southwest Asia suddenly improved dramatically? It’s almost as if this was an utter fiction. But, frankly, even a fiction this little story seems ludicrous.

The scene as painted here by Trump is some anonymous GSA-issue conference room somewhere in Iraq, where a group of “generals” sits down with their commander-in-chief. There is some sort of discussion in which 1) the POTUS asks pointedly why these GOs haven’t figured out how to hit “them” hard by withdrawing, 2) the GOs explain that it wasn’t their fault, they were chust vollowink orders, and 3) after a mere “few minutes” suddenly the POTUS expounds, like Christ preaching in the temple as a youth, to the astounded senior officers who, we’re left to suppose are dumbfounded and enlightened by His wisdom.

If it was comedy it’d be fairly brilliant. But it isn’t supposed to be comedy, and as such it’s just ridiculous.

I cannot imagine how the people listening to this stuff don’t start giggling at Trump. It must take a lot of practice.
But we were supposed to be out and that was five years ago and we never left. I see soldiers that are so badly injured and hurt, I don't want that. Why want it. And our military is getting really strong.
Okay, brace yourself, because we get into some deep inside-of-Trump's-brain stuff here.
I can tell you story when I got here about our military that I don't even want to talk about. I don't even want to talk about. One of the NGS, we do these reports on our military. Some I.G. goes over there, and he goes over there and they do a report on every single thing we're fighting wars and they're doing a report and releasing it to the public. The public means the enemy. Those reports should be private reports. Let them do a report but they should be private reports and be locked up and but for these reports, criticizing referring for these reports -- essentially given out to the enemy is insane. And I don't want it to happen anymore, Mr. Secretary. You understand that. Look at the reports. Nobody more critical of, hey, it's not my fault, we're getting out smart.
This is…this is just tinfoil hat looney.

Seriously.

This is completely off-the-trolley gibbering nonsense. I’m not even sure what the hell he’s talking about here, other than it combines all Trump’s usual paranoia and his belief that there is some sort of critical OPSEC problem that he wants to solve by taking information that – at least in theory – the American public needs to know to make informed decisions about aspects of the military operations ostensibly conducted in their name are performed and closing it off to the public.

And the thing to remember is that IG investigations are NOT typically conducted for tactical events. Those are performed either by the local commander or someone above him in the chain of command. I've undergone IG inspections as well as been in units that underwent IG investigations. They were nothing like this lunatic espionage picture that Trump paints here.

The IG looks into things like GI-quality-of-life, maintenance, training, and personnel issues. The IG’s brief is not ”every single thing we’re fighting wars”, and the tactical or strategic value to even the most alert enemy of a typical IG investigation is likely to be extremely low.

But beyond the misinformed notion of who and what the IGs this is a reminder that, aside from all the looney stuff above, Trump has the “gut” – and remember how much he relies on that capacious organ – of a dictator.

He genuinely believes that 1) the Inspector General is giving away vital military secrets, and 2) that the only way to prevent that is for the IG’s reports to be “locked up” and the American public be kept safely away from even that level of knowledge of what is being done in their names. Think about the implications of that for a bit
But we're getting out very carefully. Yes, ma'am.
Well. THAT’s good to know.

I know that it’s difficult for the press people to do anything about these bizarre streams of verbal diarrhea. But it’s import for We the People not to begin to just overlook them or, worse, begin to accept them as ”just what he does”.

If your grandfather began to talk like this you’d, at the very least, consider taking his car keys away lest he end up in a ditch somewhere in the Poconos. This is not the behavior of someone who still has all his tacos on the combination platter. And yet this is what has the final say over much of our military and foreign policy.

Andy points out in the comments that all this is "shooting fish in a barrel" and, yes, there's certainly nothing newsworthy that a retired artillery sergeant with a geopolitics hobby can pick the nutty out of a Trump interview as easily as you could pick the cashews out of a bowl of mixed nuts.

But...that's kind of the point, isn't it?

The fact that the Chief Executive of the world's hyperpower is goofier than a wilderness of monkeys...shouldn't that be appalling? Shouldn't the people recording this nonsense be sounding the panic alarm? Should we, reading it, be horrified, angry, and - at the very least - committed to both acknowledging that nobody this unhinged, ignorant, and proud of both should be in charge of our lives and be clamoring that our Congresscritters be impeaching and convicting the rascal? Hell, the Emoluments Clause alone is enough to fry the dude.

That's my point here.

Not pointing out the crazy. Pointing out 1) how obvious the crazy IS, and 2) how it's not even being presented as "crazy" but as business as usual.

I don’t know about you.

But the fact that reading stuff like this isn't scaring the hell out of 99.9 percent of John Q. Public scares the living hell out of me.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Making Iraq Great Again

Let me start with this; regardless of the why, the simple fact that the current Chief Executive did a meet-and-greet with his subordinates in Iraq is just fine. It's goes with the job of "commander-in-chief", especially given the standards we've set for our imperial wars. You get the job, you do the work, and that includes some facetime with the people you order into harm's way. If the current idiot had to be shamed into doing it? Well, he's been shamed on a whole bunch of things, like sucking up to Nazis and not, y'know, being a racist, and those haven't worked.

So if he got shamed into going to an airbase in Iraq he's done part of what's the bare minimum for a respectable annual review. So, fine.

Of course, being who he is, he's already getting slammed. The biggest howl appears to be about OPSEC violations, specifically, releasing pictures of Himself with a USN special operations outfit which was on a classified deployment.
IMO, this is the one thing about this junket that can't be laid on the guy. I agree that this was careless (especially for a politician that made a big fat hairy deal about how Obummer was giving the "enemy" all sorts of information about who was going to deploy when and where) but despite his title the POTUS is not an actual serviceman. He's not required to understand OPSEC, neither is he responsible for it personally nor in his entourage.

Nope, the people who should be getting fried for this are the unit and installation commanders. THEY should have known that this was a photo-op and kept the guys whose presence there was supposed to be a deep, dark, secret far away from someone known for using every opportunity to fluff himself and his rep as a bad-ass deal-making shrewdie. Special operations people and Trump? They should have known he was no more likely to have resisted the impulse to show himself hanging with the tough guys than a dog can resist licking his butt.

And the MAGA hats and the Trump banners, turning this into a Trump campaign rally? That's on the commanders, too. They know the rules about using GIs as political props, or letting GIs in uniform, in a military workplace, act as political partisans. The fact that they let this stuff go is entirely on them, and entirely unacceptable. If I were their theater commander I'd be on them like the wrath of God.

Still...this IS Trump, who seems to have a kind of reverse-Midas political touch, so he did manage to turn what should have been a nice little press-the-flesh-with-Our-Troops into a goddamn goat rodeo. Specifically;

1. Somehow he and his entourage (I can't bring myself to call it a "staff", since that implies some sort of planning and organization) couldn't be arsed to check in with, y'know, the "host nation" government about what the Iraqis expected and wanted.

Turns out they expected a visiting head of state to treat the host nation head of state as, well, a head of state. Meaning a face-to-face with the Iraqi PM and all the bog-standard political niceties. Of course Trump, who could give a rat's ass about shithole countries, cut it to a phone call and blew off the locals. This pissed off the Iraqi pols who, while IMO being as much of a fairly-worthless bunch as most Arab pols, are understandably touchy about Americans treating Iraq like a conquered province. The result was an angry shout to vote the Yanquis out. Whether or not that will happen, it was ridiculously needless and a boneheaded oxygen-thief-level fuckup by the POTUS and his groupies.

Trump and his GOP pals love to complain about Iran and the supposed Iranian meddling in the Middle East. But doing dumb shit - unnecessarily dumb shit - like this is how Iran makes bank off of these dodos and gets results from their meddling. Obama's supposed foreign policy mantra was "Don't do stupid shit"; Trump's appears to be "Stupid shit? What's that? Let's do some!"

2. And - although this isn't surprising, given the source - the little speech he then blarted out to the assembled joes and mollies was ridiculously inappropriate. Instead of the "Thanks boys and girls you're the awesomest, hooah!" he gave a full-on campaign speech full of political poison about Democratic immigration treason and larded with ridiculous lies. My least-favorite was his whopper about how he, he, the Grinch, carved the 10% pay-raise-roast-beast. Seriously? What, you're now Caesar in an orange skinsuit, giving donatives to your loyal legionaries? I mean, I know the guy pretty much sees the Constitution as an asswipe, but that's ridiculous. Here's the exact quote:

"You haven’t gotten [a raise] in more than ten years. More than ten years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one."

Aside from being, well, an utter lie, Tangerinius Caesar here couldn't "get them a big one"; he doesn't have the "power of the purse". I wouldn't expect GIs to know that - I did, but I'd taken "US Government" and con law in college - so it's utterly vile for him to try and buy loyalty with that lie.

Of course, there was more of the Trumpkin usual, for example, military policy as protection racket:

"If they want us to do the fighting, they also have to pay a price and sometimes that’s also a monetary price so we’re not the suckers of the world. We’re no longer the suckers, folks. And people aren’t looking at us as suckers"

No, dummy. They're looking at you.

They're looking at us as the poor dumb bastards ruled by the sucker.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Soldiering in the Dead Time

One of the odd things that I remember about the Army of the late Eighties was something called the "half-day schedule".

You see, the week between Christmas and the New Year was a dead time for the peacetime Army of that era. Other than the guys posted to places overseas that might genuinely expect some sort of trouble the CONUS outfits typically scheduled nothing for that week. My two units at Fort Bragg and the third at Ft. Kobbe in Panama went to a training schedule that stopped at midday.

So everybody got out for PT in the morning, did some sort of minor housekeeping chores (this was a very popular time for knocking out the bullshit classes required by DoD or DA - accident prevention training, driver training, PMCS...whatever, if it could be done in four hours it was done), and then knocked off in the afternoon. The single guys played football or watched television or just hung out in the barracks, the married guys went home to the Issue Spouse and kiddos.

In a lot of outfits the single guys took all the holiday duties so the married guys could spend time with their families. Here I am at two in the morning pulling HHC CQ during that week. You can tell how thrilled I was to be there and be awake at that moment.


I suspect, like many of the "traditions" of that time the old half-days of Dead Time are long gone. We're a "warrior" Army now and I suspect that warriors are not encouraged to laze about the barracks watching "He-Man" cartoons.

But I'll bet that this week still has that strange, drifting, almost-vacant feeling that we shared during dead time. The sense that the old year had passed away but the new one had not begun; a hollow time, a sort of military Zappadan during which the guys (and girls) have waaaayyyy too much time to think about things done and undone and regret them both.

What made me think of this was coming across the news from Afghanistan and realizing with a nasty start how We the People have allowed our news sources to consign the guys and gals there to Dead Time.

While those of us Stateside civilians enjoy the seasonal largesse of material goods and family coziness they are still soldering on, and sometimes dying, as hidden from our sight as though they were in another world altogether.

Which ones of us know, or care, about the families and beloveds of MAJ Brent Taylor, who won't be calling his home in Salt Lake City this holiday? That received the most awful Christmas present imaginable? Would we care if we knew? Care enough to rouse ourselves from holiday torpor to so much as give their grieving so much as a thought?

How have we come to this, where we are sending young men and women to serve in the hard lands, and, when called upon, to die in our names and without so much as a whisper in our ears to remind us that they have been killed with fire and steel, gladiators for our indifferent spectation?

Last year I posted one of my favorite Heine poems that reminded me of the lonely feel of soldiering during this un-time.

Now much as I love poetry I'm nothing of a poet (if you want to suffer I will dig up some of my old efforts, but, no; some things should be whispered only down a well at midnight) but I think that this poem really needs a translator who once humped a rucksack. So here it is again; my own take on Heine's vision of the Lament of the Tower Guard. The original text is at the link above. It's well worth the read for the poet's words in the original German.

If my work - and Heine's - please you, I hope you will also take a moment to ask yourself; what is being done in your name, and by whom, in this dead time far away from your sight, and do you care enough to stand up and ask; why?


Lost LP/OP (Enfant Perdu)

Forgotten outpost in the Liberation War
I've served here faithfully these thirty years.
I fought without hope that we would win,
knowing inside that I wouldn't get home safe.

I watched both day and night; I could not sleep
like my buddies did in the hootch nearby;
(though the loud snoring of these heroes
made sure I couldn't nod off even had I wanted to).

In the night weariness would grab me,
or fear - for only idiots have no fear -
and I would sing songs and rouse myself
and them, taking my revenge.

So...there I was, my weapon in my hands
when some sneaking bastard showed his head,
and I shot him good and proper and gave his brain
a juicy dose of hot lead.

But war and justice have far different laws,
and worthless acts are often done right well;
The fuckers' shots were better than their cause,
And I was hit and fell bleeding.

The LP is overrun! With my wound draining out
I go down hard and my bros all grab a hat -
So I died, unconquered, my rifle still ready;
Only my heart was broken.

~ Heinrich Heine

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Some damn thing in the Balkans

The Battle of Elli; Greek Navy against Ottomans afloat, and the Superhero Armored Cruiser of Doom.
Possibly one of the strangest military engagements I've ever encountered. Seriously; it's naval war as Chuck Norris flick, where Chuck just tosses all the minions around and stomps them flat.

Your holiday gift from GFT.