Middle East conflict update: March 30-31 2017

If you’re looking for bad news from the rest of the world, you’ll find it here.

IRAQ

Battle_of_Mosul_(2016–2017)

Mosul through March 30 (Wikimedia | Kami888)

The main progress in Mosul continues to be to the west of the Old City, where Iraqi counter-terrorism forces are pushing north in an effort to eventually surround the Old City and attack it from two sides. War Is Boring posted an eyewitness account from a reporter who was embedded with Iraqi federal policy, whose job right now is to hold ISIS’s attention while the counter-terrorism units complete their maneuver around the Old City. Unsurprisingly, it’s fear of even greater civilian casualties that has the Iraqis treading cautiously–an excessively violent campaign threatens to upend any hope of desperately-needed national reconciliation after Mosul has been liberated. As it is, as this first-hand Foreign Policy piece shows, the campaign has been plenty violent anyway. Speaking of, the Pentagon and the Iraqi military are strongly pushing the argument that ISIS has been sneaking civilians into buildings and then trying to bait the US-led coalition, unaware that there are civilians inside, to strike those buildings. This is what they’re saying happened in the case of the Jadidah bombing on March 17.

Niqash published a piece a couple of days ago about the civilian death toll in Mosul and why it’s been so high. Part of the reason is obviously because Mosul is a very large city whose civilians were told by Iraqi authorities (who were worried about coping with large numbers of displaced people, which they’re having to do anyway) to shelter in place rather than try to flee the fighting. But another factor is that here, unlike in previous urban campaigns like Ramadi and Fallujah, the Iraqis haven’t given ISIS a way out of the city. A surrounded enemy can be expected to resist harder than one that has a way to escape when the odds are not in its favor, and in this case ISIS’s continued resistance has added to the civilian body count. It seems quite likely that the Iraqis could have left ISIS an escape route and then killed all or most of the fighters who escaped later, in some much less populated area.

SYRIA

Another round of Geneva peace talks is in the books, and, folks, I think we really made some progress this time around:

Opposition negotiator Nasr al-Hariri said the “terrorist regime” of President Bashar al-Assad had refused to discuss political transition during the talks and said Assad was a war criminal who must step down in the name of peace.

“They are solely discussing their empty rhetoric about countering terrorism,” Hariri told reporters, vowing there could be “no peace without justice.”

“War crimes and crimes against humanity must not be an option for negotiations. From now, venues must be found for transitional justice to ensure holding the perpetrators accountable,” he said.

Hariri said he was looking for a negotiating partner who put the interests of the Syrian people first, while his opposite number, the government’s chief negotiator, Bashar al Ja’afari, said he only wanted to negotiate with someone “patriotic”.

Ja’afari mocked the opposition delegation as “adolescents” who thought they were appearing on a television talent show such as “Arab Idol” or “The Voice”, and were under the illusion that government would simply hand over the keys to the country.

“In fact they are tools, they are mercenaries in the hands of their lords, their operators, and it seems they have not received instructions from them, except instructions to continue supporting terrorism and to create havoc in these rounds.”

Oh, wait, my bad, that’s what the Syrians themselves said after the talks ended. Jeez, those are some lame insults. Anyway, here’s what UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said: Continue reading

Conflict update: March 30-31 2017

Skipping yesterday was probably a bad idea. There’s plenty here for a two-parter, so as I’ve done before I’m going to put all the Middle Eastern stuff in a separate post.

320 MILLION FOOLS AND OUR MONEY

The F-35 is the most expensive weapon (well, it’s intended to be a weapon, anyway) ever manufactured, with an estimated total cost upwards of $1.5 trillion over the next half-century. For that expense, much of which has already been paid–and could have been put toward healthcare, schools, aid to the poorest of the poor, repairing infrastructure, improving cyber defenses, or any of countless other things that are more important than the F-35–what we’ve purchased is an aircraft that is supposed to do a lot of different things and in reality is terrible at almost all of them:

The F-35 still has a long way to go before it will be ready for combat. That was the parting message of Michael Gilmore, the now-retired Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, in his last annual report.

The Joint Strike Fighter Program has already consumed more than $100 billion and nearly 25 years. Just to finish the basic development phase will require at least an extra $1 billion and two more years. Even with this massive investment of time and money, Gilmore told Congress, the Pentagon and the public, “the operational suitability of all variants continues to be less than desired by the Services.”

Gilmore detailed a range of remaining and sometimes worsening problems with the program, including hundreds of critical performance deficiencies and maintenance problems. He also raised serious questions about whether the Air Force’s F-35A can succeed in either air-to-air or air-to-ground missions, whether the Marine Corps’ F-35B can conduct even rudimentary close air support, and whether the Navy’s F-35C is suitable to operate from aircraft carriers.

He found, in fact, that “if used in combat, the F-35 aircraft will need support to locate and avoid modern threat ground radars, acquire targets, and engage formations of enemy fighter aircraft due to unresolved performance deficiencies and limited weapons carriage availability.”

On the plus side, it doesn’t suffocate its pilots anymore. Probably.

The F-35, to me, is the sign that we Americans are never going to actually stand up and take action to put our government back in its place. This is a weapon whose value would be questionable if it worked, but it doesn’t even work, at all, and yet we’re shoveling hundreds of billions of dollars at Lockheed-Martin to keep making it. Why? Because Lockheed-Martin knows what levers to pull in Washington. This is money literally being stolen from the vast majority of us and handed to a defense contractor in exchange for something that doesn’t work and most likely never will work because its very design is flawed. If $1.5 trillion flushed down the toilet–while our government tells people who can’t afford health insurance and children who don’t get enough to eat to go fuck themselves–isn’t enough to enrage us, then nothing ever will be.

FLYNN’S IMMUNITY

Michael Flynn, who may be nibbling on a block of Gouda right now for all I know, says he’s ready to rat out Donald Trump testify about Russiaghazigate to Congress but he wants immunity from prosecution beforehand. This suggests that he knows he did something illegal, and the reason I say that is because in 2016 one Michael Flynn told me that anybody who gets immunity probably committed a crime. Unfortunately for Flynn, he’s apparently been shopping this immunity deal around–to the FBI, for example–and so far nobody wants to take him up on it, including (at this point) the Senate. That suggests, and I’m sorry to be Debbie Downer for the Trump-to-Leavenworth folks, that Flynn isn’t really offering anything that investigators want badly enough to forego the chance to prosecute him.

GOOD FOR THE GOOSE

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Sick day

Status

I’m not sure if it’s allergies or a bug but I am feeling mighty crappy today, so I am taking a sick day. I’m editing LobeLog again this week and it was all I could do to get a couple of things posted there, so writing something myself today just isn’t happening. Thanks for your understanding.

Today in European history: the Siege of Thessaloniki ends (1430)

The city of Thessaloniki always struck me as the urban equivalent of the line “always a bridesmaid, but never a bride” (Hare Trimmed was a comedy classic, don’t @ me). It became the most important city in Macedonia…right before the Romans showed up. It’s the second-largest city in Greece. It became an important Roman city…because it was a way point on the main route from Rome to Byzantium. When the Roman Empire was divided into the Tetrarchy in the third century, it became one of the capitals of the Emperor Galerius…right before Constantine ended the Tetrarchy and established a New Rome at Byzantium/Constantinople. It was the “second city” of the Byzantine Empire. Today it’s the second largest city in Greece. You get the idea. Nonetheless, Thessaloniki has been an important city since antiquity, and when the Ottomans began expanding into Europe it was one of their earliest targets.

In fact, the Ottomans took Thessaloniki in 1387, and might have been the growing empire’s main European possession…if the Ottomans hadn’t up and lost almost everything at the Battle of Ankara in 1402. In the Ottoman civil war that followed Ankara, the Byzantines were able to finagle the city back in return for supporting the imperial claims of Süleyman Çelebi (d. 1411). But the temporary Ottoman chaos masked the fact that, even after Timur had taken their empire completely apart, the Ottomans were still stronger than whatever was left of the Byzantine Empire by the early 15th century.

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Conflict update: March 29 2017

I started working on this way earlier than usual because I’ve heard that it’s actually good to sleep a couple of nights each week. Whether I finish any earlier than usual is an open question, but if Donald Trump tweets “More like Justin Tru-BLOW, sorry if this offends” later tonight and you don’t see it mentioned here, I’ve gone to bed.

DO AS WE SAY, NOT AS WE DO

nikki_haley_official_transition_portrait

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley (Wikimedia)

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley gave a big policy address to the Council on Foreign Relations today, and it was certainly…interesting:

The American envoy to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, described the United States on Wednesday as the “moral conscience” of the world, and she dismissed the United Nations Human Rights Council as “so corrupt” without offering evidence.

Ms. Haley said the United States would never close its doors to foreigners who flee persecution, even as she defended the Trump administration’s travel ban, which closed the door to refugees from six war-torn, mainly Muslim nations.

She insisted that American taxpayers should get value for the money they contribute to the United Nations. She said nothing about whether the United States would help head off a potential humanitarian disaster from famine that the United Nations has warned is looming over 20 million people abroad.

Kudos to the New York Times

She used her address to deliver a pointed attack on the United Nations Human Rights Council, the main international body meant to promote and defend human rights.

“I mean, the Human Rights Council is so corrupt,” she said, adding that it includes “bad actors” who use it to protect themselves.

Several countries with poor human rights records, including China and Saudi Arabia, have indeed won seats on the council. But the United States has itself used its seat to forcefully defend its allies, including Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of abuses in the war in Yemen.

Haley has the burden of trying to explain the foreign policy of an administration that really doesn’t have a coherent foreign policy, but you’d hope she’d be able to articulate her alternative facts with a little more sophistication than this.

RUSSOGHAZI (?) RUSSIAGATE (?)

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr and ranking member Mark Warner announced the big grand opening of their committee’s look into charges of Russian influence in the 2016 campaign by trolling the hell out of rightfully embattled House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes. The Senate committee is already circling two potential witnesses: former National Security Advisor and “pepperoni” “pizza” enthusiast Jack T. Ripper Michael Flynn, and Living Avatar of the Peter Principle Jared Kushner.

IRAQ

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Conflict update: March 28 2017

BREXIT

Theresa May will formally trigger Britain’s exit from the European Union on Wednesday. That will begin the two-year negotiation over the terms of that exit, meaning that the UK will be out of the EU as of March 29, 2019. The European parliament is reportedly preparing a resolution in response to the trigger that will stipulate that Britain is welcome to call the whole thing off at any time over the next two years, but obviously that seems like wishful thinking. Reports out of London say that May’s government is rethinking its blustery rhetoric about crashing out of the EU without some kind of trade deal, recognizing the fact that doing so would be pretty hard on the British economy. Implicit in that kind of talk has always been the threat that the British government might turn the UK into a giant tax haven for EU companies, but, uh, tax havens kind of suck, a lot, and it’s unlikely the British people would be willing to endure the long-term social and political ramifications of something like that.

Brussels is now reportedly prepared to reject any Brexit deal that doesn’t protect the rights of EU citizens who, for some reason, might choose to move to the UK over the next two years. London is likely to insist that, while it will protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, it will only do so for EU citizens who were already in the country when Brexit was triggered. This could be a major sticking point in the upcoming talks.

Meanwhile, the Scottish parliament voted today in favor of holding a second independence referendum sometime before Britain leaves the EU…and Westminster immediately told them to go to hell. It should be a wonderful next couple of years.

CLIMATE

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again–we’re all gonna die, man:

Donald Trump launched an all-out assault on Barack Obama’s climate change legacy on Tuesday with a sweeping executive order that undermines America’s commitment to the Paris agreement.

Watched by coalminers at a ceremony at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, the president signed an order to trigger a review of the clean power plan, Obama’s flagship policy to curb carbon emissions, and rescind a moratorium on the sale of coalmining leases on federal lands.

Trump’s order won’t accomplish its stated goal, reviving the U.S. coal industry, which is well and truly dead. But it does signal that America no longer gives a shit about the environment, which will have domino effects all over the world. The Trump administration is unlikely to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, itself an inadequate attempt to solve the climate problem, but it will seek to redefine its responsibilities under that agreement, which ultimately may not be much better.

IRAQ

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It’s always the cover-up

The investigation into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, and the assorted wiretapping allegations that have accompanied it, have to be turned over to an independent investigator or, at least, a select Congressional committee with equal Republican and Democratic membership. I say this as somebody who remains largely unconvinced that this story is as big a scandal as some Democrats have made out, let alone that it’s going to end with Donald Trump being frog marched off to USP Lewisburg or wherever.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem believing that the Russian government tried through various means to influence the November election, just as I’d have no problem believing that the US was fucking around with May’s Iranian election. There’s plenty of evidence to show that we’ve tried to manipulate other countries’ elections in the past, so why should Russia be any different? But it’s a long way from “Russia tried to influence the election” or even “Russia did influence the election” to “Russia and the Trump campaign colluded to influence the election.” I don’t have any particular problem believing that charge either, but so far nobody’s produced anything other than circumstantial evidence to support it.

Of course, plenty of Congressional investigations have been launched with far less to go on than circumstantial evidence and plausibility, so investigate away as far as I’m concerned. But therein lies the problem. A big chunk of the investigation was supposed to be handled by Devin Nunes’s House Intelligence Committee, and Nunes has now conclusively demonstrated that he can’t be trusted to handle it.

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