Conflict update: February 23 2017


I think somebody needs to brief Dumbo again:

“I am the first one that would like to see … nobody have nukes, but we’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country, we’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power.

“It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack,” Trump said.

Russia has 7,300 warheads and the United States, 6,970, according to the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-nuclear group.

“The history of the Cold War shows us that no one comes out ‘on the top of the pack’ of an arms race and nuclear brinkmanship,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the independent Arms Control Association non-profit group.

“Russia and the United States have far more weapons than is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by another nuclear-armed country,’ he said.


Continue reading

Philippine President Dexter

Here’s a fun story. Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, is a bit of a controversial character. One particular reason why he’s controversial is because he has this little policy about drug users, which is that he feels it’s OK for people to just kill them, whatever, no big deal. Last week, Duterte said something really interesting:

On Monday, Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, bragged about killing people. He said that when he was a city mayor, he used to hunt suspects on his motorcycle, shooting people on the spot. The goal, he said, was to encourage police officers to do the same.

“In Davao, I used to do it personally. Just to show to the [police] that if I can do it, why can’t you?” he said.

“I [would] go around in Davao with a motorcycle … and I would just patrol the streets and looking for trouble also. I was really looking for an encounter to kill,” he said.

Ah, hey, OK. He was just a big city mayor, riding around on his motorcycle, looking for people to kill. As you’ll do. Duterte’s handlers, who are underpaid no matter how much they’re making, scrambled to argue that he was “exaggerating” (maybe he only wounded the people he shot?), but, I mean, this is kind of a big admission. The former mayor of Davao and current President of the Philippines says he’s a serial killer, that’s going to raise some eyebrows.

One eyebrow that has been raised belongs to Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, who thinks, maybe, that somebody should investigate Duterte’s claims. Duterte’s response?

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines called the United Nations’ human rights chief an “idiot” on Thursday, days after the diplomat suggested that Mr. Duterte be investigated for murder.

You there in the United Nations, you do not know diplomacy,” Mr. Duterte said. “You do not know how to behave, to be an employee of the United Nations. You do not talk to me like that, you son of a bitch.”

Yes, clearly anybody who suggests that a confessed murderer should be investigated for murder is an idiot. Duterte also said he would “burn down the United Nations” if he goes there, and, hey, why not add arson to the list?

Duterte’s new kick is his plan to ban online gambling in the Philippines, so if you’re a Filipino who likes to play online poker or whatever you might want to get your affairs in order. You’d hate to be sitting in an internet cafe holding a full house, see your president come through the door packing an AR-15, and realize you never bothered to draw up a will.

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We are so screwed

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on September 11, 2001:

CBS News has learned that barely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq — even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks.

That’s according to notes taken by aides who were with Rumsfeld in the National Military Command Center on Sept. 11 – notes that show exactly where the road toward war with Iraq began, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.

New National Security Advisor-designate Michael Flynn shortly after September 11, 2012:

Days after Islamist militants stormed the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn reached a conclusion that stunned some of his subordinates at the Defense Intelligence Agency: Iran had a role in the attack, he told them.

Now, he added, it was their job to prove it — and, by implication, to show that the White House was wrong about what had led to the attack.

In Rumsfeld’s case, his assertion was never proven, but he got the war he wanted anyway and half the planet is still grappling with the consequences. In Flynn’s case, his assertion was never proven, and the war is TBD. I know we’re living in a post-fact world, but it should be terrifying to pretty much everybody that the people setting national security policy for Donald Trump practice the same “here’s my conclusion, now go find facts to support it” method that Bush 43’s team used to such great effect.

That whole profile on Flynn is frankly frightening, but I thought this bit deserved particular highlighting.


Meet General Ripper, our next National Security Advisor

The role of National Security Advisor is a funny one, insofar as it has no constitutionally-defined duties so it can be, more or less, whatever a particular president wants it to be. Sometimes the National Security Advisor can be more bureaucratic, helping a president centralize national security policy with the National Security Committee in the White House rather than delegating it out to cabinet agencies–it’s pretty well-established that the Bush administration cut Colin Powell out of the loop in favor of Condoleezza Rice in his first term, and a long succession of frustrated former Defense Secretaries testifies to the degree to which Barack Obama has cut the Pentagon out in favor of relying on the NSC. The National Security Advisor can also be the number one influence on a president’s foreign and military policy, simply by virtue of the fact that the National Security Advisor is there in the White House, with the president, every day, while cabinet secretaries, top military brass, etc. are all, to some extent, coming and going. Henry Kissinger is the archetype here, but McGeorge Bundy, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and others have served prominent roles in their administrations.

In the case of a president who, by all outward signs, exhibits no knowledge of, nor curiosity about, foreign policy and national security issues, the National Security Advisor can play a massive, formative role in setting policy. And so we come to President-elect Donald Trump, who just named retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, as his National Security Advisor. On the plus side, um, Flynn’s personal hygiene seems to be above reproach. On the minus side, he’s a war-mongering, Islam-hating lunatic whose appointment all but confirms your worst fears about how Donald Trump’s administration is going to handle threats.

Here, for example, is Michael Flynn calling Islam–not “radical Islam,” you’ll note–“a malignant cancer” while denying that it’s a religion: Continue reading

You broke it, you own it

I’m still processing what happened last night and I think I’ll be processing it for a few days, so if blogging isn’t what it normally is please bear with me. I know it’s bad form to wield your child in political discussions, and I totally understand why, but I am genuinely worried about her growing up in a country governed by a mix of white male resentment, Ayn Randian dystopianism, all-consuming fear of the Other, conspiracy insanity, and hostility to factual reality.

I’ve written one piece on one small part of the Trump effect, the danger he poses to the Iran nuclear deal, for LobeLog, but I think that’s all I’ve got by way of analysis right now. If you’re looking for some needed takes today, I recommend Jim Newell’s eulogy for the Democratic Party (it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch) and Alex Pareene’s eulogy for all of us (ditto).

One thing I will say, as the title of this post suggests: we all own what happens next. We all allowed this vapid gasbag of grievance and unearned victimhood to gain a foothold in our politics and to spread his toxic message to the places it was best received. Some of us may bear more responsibility for it than others (Hi CNN! What a fucking catastrophe you turned out to be! Hi, Hillary Clinton! How’d all that outreach to The Good Republicans go?), but whatever damage this man, and the depraved Congress he’ll have to work with, do–to women, to immigrants, to minorities, to Muslims, to healthcare, to the economy, to the human race–is on all of us. And so is the responsibility to resist him in every way, at every turn, in every time and place, until he and his grotesque followers are excised from American politics like the tumor they are.

But that same message also applies to President-Elect Trump. Congratulations, Donald, you’re going to be the next President of a United States that is divided at home and is now being looked upon with disbelief abroad. And here you are, having won a long, grueling presidential campaign and still yet to articulate a single coherent thought about what you might do in office. Good luck with that. You broke it, you own it.


The craziest thing you’ll read, well, maybe ever

Apologies for the late content; it’s been a busy day culminating in a vet visit for our dog–she needed to get pre-op blood work done before she gets…fixed (don’t tell her). In lieu of anything new and exciting from me, I’m going to steer you to what is honestly one of the nuttiest stories I’ve read in a long time. Here’s a little background: the President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, is embroiled in a major political scandal at the moment. People are protesting in the streets, cabinet ministers are resigning, and today, in an effort to get control of things, Park fired her prime minister. I know virtually nothing about South Korean politics, but I guess a more popular prime minister might help…a little. It’s hard to see how it could help that much, though, because this scandal is all about President Park.


Park Geun-hye (Wikimedia |

The story revolves around a woman named Choi Soon-sil, who is apparently a long-time…something of President Park. I guess “confidante” might be the right word, except that there’s a growing amount of troubling evidence to suggest that a better word might be “guru,” only it seems unfair to decent gurus to use that word in this context. Or “Rasputin,” which is what she’s being called by some in the press. Back in the 1970s, Park became a devotee of what sure looks to be a cult headed by Choi’s father, and he used that connection to her (Park is the daughter of former South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee) to make himself quite wealthy. When he died, Choi assumed both the cult and her father’s power over Park, only when Choi started leveraging her influence over President Park in order to enrich herself, it stopped being a weird cult thing and became a potential state crime.

Choi was detained by authorities a couple of days ago, and the revelations about her relationship to Park have been coming fast and furious. Choi edited speeches, Choi looked at documents, Choi oversaw parts of Park’s inauguration ceremony, Choi…shook down a bunch of South Korean companies for cash, throwing Park’s name around to do it. That last one is what got her caught, but the revelations about all the other stuff on top of that is what has Koreans in the streets.

I’m just giving you the quick summary here, but for a much deeper and, like I said above, way crazier look at this story, you need to read this description at a blog called “Ask a Korean!” Seriously, it is bonkers: Continue reading

Talk about neo-Ottomanism

I guess Tayyip Erdoğan was feeling especially salty today:

Hopes of defusing the escalating crisis between Turkey and Iraq ahead of a critical battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) were all but shattered after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to “know his place.”

“Iraq had certain requests from us regarding Bashiqa, and now they are telling us to leave, but the Turkish army has not lost so much prestige as to take its orders from you,” he roared. Erdogan was referring to the Bashiqa camp, north of Mosul, where Turkish troops are training several thousand Sunni militia fighters loyal to Atheel al-Nujaifi, former governor of Ninevah province.

This dust-up between Turkey and Iraq is something we’ve covered here before. Iraqi Kurds, who, in contrast to Turkish Kurds, have a great relationship with Ankara, invited some Turkish forces in to northern Iraq a couple of years ago to serve as trainers and advisers to Kurdish and Arab Sunni forces training to resist ISIS and eventually participate in a campaign to take back Mosul. Baghdad was OK with this at the time. But the Turkish presence has since ballooned to a few hundred soldiers plus some heavy armor, and Baghdad has been decidedly less OK with that level of Turkish deployment. Baghdad has complained, and Turkey has, until now, been trying to pacify Abadi verbally while not actually taking any steps to address his concerns. Apparently we’re past even trying to pacify him verbally, though, because…damn:

Turkish media outlets reported Erdogan’s criticism of Abadi, made during a meeting of Islamic leaders in Istanbul Oct. 11. “You are not my interlocutor, you are not at my level, your quality is not at my level,” Erdogan said in the remarks aimed at Abadi. The president went on to say that the Iraqi premier’s “clamoring from Iraq” is not important, warning him to “know your limits.”

This is less like the kind of talk you’d expect to hear between two national leaders and more like the kind of talk you’d expect to hear between an Ottoman emperor and an unruly provincial governor.


Who does Erdoğan think he is? Oh, right: Sultan Recep I.

In the massive cloud of paranoia that constantly hangs over the AKP these days, this dispute with Baghdad has nothing to do with Turkish troops or Iraqi soil or any of that. No, it must be an American-Iranian plot to deprive Turkey of its rightful historical claim on Mosul, or on northern Iraqi oil, or something. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Abadi is just a bag man for Washington and Tehran, not a genuine independent leader of men like Tayyip Erdoğan. Whatever.

Retaking Mosul is already going to be a massive operation fraught with potential complications and beset by competing concerns. Should Iraq’s Shiʿa militias participate in an attack on a city full of mostly Sunnis? Should Kurdish and/or Sunni Arab irregulars participating in the attack place themselves under Baghdad’s authority? How many American boots will be on the ground despite Washington’s repeated insistence that we’re not doing that sort of thing? What level of civilian casualties is everyone prepared to accept, because there will be civilian casualties? Can Mosul be taken without flattening the hell out of it, a la Fallujah and Ramadi? Adding a completely unnecessary fight between Baghdad and Ankara to the mix just complicates things further, to the benefit of nobody but the ISIS fighters still in Mosul. It’s enough to make you wonder whether Turkey’s aims have more to do with pushing Ankara’s weight around the region than with actually dislodging ISIS from one of its last remaining urban centers. But surely Turkey’s commitment to the anti-ISIS cause can’t be questioned. Right?