Maybe ISIS has trapped us, but are they also trapping themselves?

Dan Froomkin at The Intercept is asking whether America is just playing into ISIS’s hands by going to war with them:

There are many reasons the U.S. shouldn’t go to war with the Islamic State — and the best one may be because that is exactly what they want us to do.

A growing number of people I consider experts in the field believe that the recent beheadings of two American journalists and a British aid worker were deliberate acts of provocation, and that ISIS is not just hoping for an American overreaction, but depending on it — perhaps even for its own survival.

Froomkin is a smart writer, and he quotes a lot of smart observers of America’s Middle East Follies who all agree that the beheadings that have brought us to this point have been intended to provoke the military response we’re now pursuing. And by “the beheadings that have brought us to this point,” I mean the two Americans and one Brit who were beheaded by ISIS on video. They are, after all, the only ISIS atrocities that really seem to be driving US policy, not the countless number of Iraqis and Syrians they’ve beheaded without cameras present, or, hey, the 8 or so people our close ally Saudi Arabia beheaded last month in the regular course of government business. But I digress.

This is, in my view, the correct interpretation of the beheading videos, or at least, let’s say, half of it. There are many reasons why ISIS chose to publicly murder James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and most recently British aid worker David Haines, but the two most obvious ones are: to bring attention to the group and raise its profile among potential recruits or financial backers, and to provoke a disproportionate American response. They’re trying to get us to run the Iraq War, which after all birthed the organization that would become ISIS, all over again. Nothing would bring more credibility to the “caliphate” than for it to stand up to and ultimately defeat the greatest military power of the time (kind of like the actual caliphate did once upon a time), and nothing would boost ISIS’s support in the Sunni community (the less extremist folks who are likely to reject ISIS’s strict manifestation of Islamic governance over time) than for it to defeat an American army that is seen as working on behalf (even if unwittingly) of a would-be Shiʿa takeover of the heart of the region. Get the Americans to start lobbing ordinance on Sunni civilians in the name of the government in Baghdad and its Iranian pals, and wavering Sunnis are again reminded why they’ve been mostly tolerating ISIS as the lesser of two evils when compared to Baghdad. Draw America into a full scale war that it doesn’t really have the heart to fight, win, and the whole region may open up to your advances. This is the Al Qaeda playbook, and ISIS knows that it works because America hasn’t really figured out how to counter it. Continue reading

Seriously, what the heck is wrong with The New Republic?

This supposedly liberal magazine is so hell bent on salvaging World War III out of what they perceive to be Barack Obama’s insufficient zeal to do war on the Cossack that not a day goes by anymore without some borderline unhinged screed pouring forth from its internet tubes. Today’s screed is courtesy of Adrian Karatnycky:

Obama Can’t Admit That Romney Was Right: Russia Is Our ‘Top Geopolitical Threat’

ROMNEY WAS RIGHT DAMNIT!

*long sniff* Ahhhhhhh, smell that liberalism.

“We do very little trade with Ukraine and, geopolitically … what happens in Ukraine doesn’t pose a direct threat to us,” President Barack Obama declared, almost offhandedly, last Saturday.

His assertion was not made at a major foreign policy forum. It was made in a private home in Baltimore at one in an endless string of political fundraisers, where high income swells pay big money for the novelty of later telling their friends they rubbed shoulders with the president and maybe got to pose a question to the commander-in-chief.

The president’s remark about Ukraine’s place in the geopolitical order was not widely reported. But what he said sent shockwaves through a late-night dinner I attended in Kiev last Saturday, where several hundred European, U.S., and Ukrainian government officials, businessmen, and experts, as well as the EU’s top leaders, were gathered for a major conference on Ukraine’s future.

Whatever shockwaves they may have sent, Obama’s remarks, however impolitic, had the unfortunate virtue of being pretty much true. But you were saying?

Let’s take on the logic of that claim. Is it not in the fundamental interest of the U.S. to interdictwith sanctions and military aid to Ukrainea full-scale Russian invasion and occupation?

A Russian occupation of large parts of Ukraine would clearly threaten the stability and security of our NATO allies on Ukraine’s western border. Further, Ukraine is home to three gigantic nuclear power plant complexes, which could become dangerous battlegrounds with unpredictable consequences for nuclear safety. War could disrupt or destroy Ukraine’s energy pipeline network, which is the central mechanism through which more than half of Russia’s exports of gas and oil to Europe travels. Successful Russian expansion into Ukraine would increase the chances of further adventurism in energy-rich Kazakhstan, where an elderly President will soon physically fade from power. And Russia would be emboldened to exert even stronger influence over the policies of energy-rich Turkmenistan. Would these developments not be as significant in impact as the fate of Saudi, Iraqi, and Qatari oil and gas reserves?

Just to sum up: according to this writer for Eventheliberal New Republic, the US should “interdict” what he terms “a full-scale Russian invasion and occupation” with nothing but “sanctions and military aid to Ukraine.” Well, we’re already doing the sanctions, so we’re really talking about military aid. Which, sure, let’s send all our most advanced military equipment to a country whose army likes to fire on civilians, is most likely infiltrated by Russian operatives, and tends to drop everything and run when confronted by Russian opposition. That kind of thinking has never come back to bite us in the ass before.

Hey, what happens when those arms we send over there get used? “War could disrupt or destroy Ukraine’s energy pipeline network,” which is bad, so let’s help escalate the situation until that war happens? And if “[s]uccessful Russian expansion into Ukraine” would embolden Russia’s ambitions in Central Asia, how much more emboldened will Russia be if that expansion comes after winning a full-on shooting war with an American-backed Ukraine, as they most certainly would if it really came to that?

Or, having followed TNR’s advice and turned Ukraine into our client, would America then be responsible for directly involving itself in said war once our client started to lose? It would then immediately become a Russia-US war rather than a Russia-Ukraine war, or, as the layperson might term it, World Goddamn War Holy Shit III FuckFuckFuck. I’m sure that if we ever get to that point, you’ll have somebody at TNR agitating hard for America do just that.

The title of this post is facetious, because nothing has actually happened to TNR. They’ve been like this for a while now. I guess the real question is, why does anybody still pay attention to them?

Oh, Joe Biden, what the hell?

I know our VP has a tendency to run at the mouth, but this is too much:

Addressing the Legal Services Corporation at its 40th anniversary conference, Biden told his audience that his son Beau had informed him of the financial struggles US soldiers face while serving in Iraq, CNN reported.

“[P]eople would come to him and talk about what was happening to them at home in terms of foreclosures, in terms of bad loans that were being…I mean these Shylocks who took advantage of, um, these women and men while overseas,” the vice president said.

I assume people know the origin of the word “Shylock,” from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (although…). The Shylock character is basically an anti-Semitic caricature, though it says something about Shakespeare that he still has that caricature deliver one of his most powerful soliloquies (“Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”), attacking the foundations of anti-Semitism. Still, Shakespeare’s nuanced writing aside, this is one of those terms you just don’t use because it evokes too many awful stereotypes, and there are plenty of other ways to talk about predatory lenders without going where Biden went. Whatever heat Biden is taking over this is well-deserved.

UPDATE: Biden is sorry:

Biden responded in a statement, saying, “Abe Foxman has been a friend and adviser of mine for a long time. He’s correct, it was a poor choice of words, particularly as he said coming from ‘someone as friendly to the Jewish community and open and tolerant an individual as is Vice President Joe Biden.’ He’s right.”

Supergenius Vladimir Putin gets everything he wanted in Ukraine, except the things he wanted

We’re back on the “Vladimir Putin is an all-knowing, all-powerful demon-king” beat, I guess. That’s the best takeaway from this piece at The New Republic yesterday:

Putin Just Got Exactly What He Wanted in Eastern Ukraine

Let’s…maybe take a step back here. If you were Vladimir Putin, when the big ball dropped in Times Square (big potato at the Kremlin? Whatever, work with me here) to ring in the year 2014, you had two big hopes for your smaller neighbor to the west, Ukraine:

  1. Your client, Viktor Yanukovych, would be able to weather the Euromaidan protest storm by conceding just enough to the protesters to keep himself in office
  2. Ukraine, under the leadership of Yanukovych or another pro-Russian leader, would become an integral part of your planned Eurasian Economic Union

Instead, Euromaidan toppled your close friend good pal casual acquaintance complete stranger Yanukovych, and your vaunted economic union is just you and, ah, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and, oh, my, I guess that’s the whole crew. Ukraine, meanwhile, may be on a path to joining the EU (well, eventually, maybe). So, I mean, by that definition of “exactly what Putin wanted” with respect to any part of Ukraine, he’s batting 0-for-2. Continue reading

Mission creep, an illusion in three parts

Prologue: The Problem

President Obama and European leaders called Thursday for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign, after months of his violent crackdown on protesters. The rhetorical escalation was backed by new U.S. sanctions designed to undermine Assad’s ability to finance his military operation.

“The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way,” Obama said in a written statement. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

Part I: The Pledge

Just a month before a peace conference that will seek an end to the grinding civil war in Syria, the Obama administration’s decision to suspend the delivery of nonlethal aid to the moderate opposition demonstrated again the frustrations of trying to cultivate a viable alternative to President Bashar al-Assad.

The administration acted after warehouses of American-supplied equipment were seized Friday by the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist fighters who have broken with the moderate, American-backed opposition, but who also battle Al Qaeda.

Part II: The Turn (2 Movements)

President Obama is prepared to use U.S. military airstrikes in Syria as part of an expanded campaign to defeat the Islamic State and does not believe he needs formal congressional approval to take that action, according to people who have spoken with the president in recent days.

Obama discussed his plans at a dinner with a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts this week at the White House and made clear his belief that he has the authority to attack the militant Islamist group on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border to protect U.S national security, multiple people who participated in the discussion said. The move to attack in Syria would represent a remarkable escalation in strategy for Obama, who has sought during his presidency to reduce the U.S. military engagement in the Middle East.

The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad warned against any military strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants in the Syrian side of the border, saying that such action would constitute “an attack on Syria” itself.

Part III: The Prestige

The Obama administration has threatened to destroy the Syrian government’s air defenses if US warplanes flying missions to attack militants in Syria are targeted over the country’s air space.

The public threat is an example of the difficult waters Mr. Obama is wading into with his plan to “destroy” the self-styled Islamic State, which is fighting to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The White House insists that its effort will neither help Mr. Assad nor involve his cooperation, more than three years into Syria’s civil war.

Epilogue: The Tease

America’s top military adviser Martin Dempsey says sending American ground troops to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria isn’t out of the question, especially if President Obama’s plan to combat the terrorist group fails.

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Islamic State] targets, I’ll recommend that to the president,” said Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a hearing held Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

When ad hominem isn’t a fallacy

Look, Campbell Brown shouldn’t have her views on education reform attacked because of her looks, and people who think that she should somehow be prevented from sharing her opinion because of who her husband is or what political party she belongs to are wrong. But when she’s the point person for a “reform” movement that offers considerable financial benefit to her movement’s backers (and, yes, to her husband), then it’s absolutely fair game to question her motives.

When is a ceasefire not a ceasefire?

How about when nobody has actually ceased firing?

Shelling has killed six people and wounded 15 others in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, the city council said, the worst reported violence since a ceasefire between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian troops began on September 5.

Fighting around the eastern city’s government-held airport has left its northern areas in the crossfire.

The city council on Monday said that two northern areas were shelled heavily, leading to the casualties and damaging both homes and offices.

Loud blasts could be heard from the direction of the airport all day Monday, and gunfire intermittently rang out in the city centre in the afternoon.

Kiev is blaming the rebels, the rebels are blaming Kiev, but everybody insists that the ceasefire is “holding,” even if they have to shout to be heard over all the shelling.

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