LEAVE MOHAMED ATTA’S SAUDI HANDLER ALONE

I’ve tried very hard to care that Congress just overwhelmingly overrode a presidential veto and passed a law (the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” or JASTA) allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia. I really have. I’ve read the stories about how angry the White House is because they fear the law will chill Riyadh’s cooperation on counter-terrorism, and I laughed in spite of myself. I read about how Riyadh is “rethinking” its alliance with the United States, and I laughed and said “huh, oh well,” again in spite of myself. Then I remembered the 28 pages from the Congressional 9/11 report, which showed that if the Saudis weren’t part of the problem (Mohamed Atta didn’t really have a Saudi handler) they also sure as hell weren’t part of the solution, and I thought “what fucking alliance?” still in spite of myself. I read how Congressional leaders are already worried about a law they just passed a couple of days ago, and are blaming the White House for not doing more to stop them from overriding the president’s veto, and that I have to admit stunned me, even coming from this, the absolutely worst Congress in American history:

But it still didn’t make me care.

It’s not that I don’t understand the real fear about this bill, that it will open Americans (and, eventually, everybody else) up to lawsuits all over the world–or, at least, in the many parts of it that Americans have helped to destroy. But I’m even having a hard time caring about that, a la Chris Hayes:

Still, on this latter point, if you really forced me to take a position, I would say we’re probably better off if everybody in the world isn’t constantly suing everybody else in the world. I guess I’m a bit conservative about changing international norms (which this bill may ultimately do), because the potential for unforeseen consequences bothers me. And changing international norms with respect to lawsuits does carry the potential for unforeseen consequences, particularly if the threat of lawsuits forces countries to disengage with one another completely. Engagement, on balance, is good, and less of it is usually bad. Disengagement heightens the potential for misunderstandings and increases the possibility that misunderstandings will snowball into crises. So yeah, Congress probably shouldn’t have passed this law or overridden the veto, and they probably should get to work rewriting it ASAP. But I’d feel more strongly about that if literally anybody involved in this story was in the least bit sympathetic.

TIP JAR

To Sirte, With Love

Libyan_Civil_War

A slightly dated (accurate as of June 11) but still basically accurate map of the Libyan Civil War (green = GNA, red = Tobruk/Haftar, gray = ISIS) (Wikimedia | Ali Zifan)

It took a little longer than I probably would have guessed four months ago, but the Libyan Front in the Global War on ISIS is finally open for business–indefinitely, it appears:

US warplanes carried out air strikes on positions of the Islamic State (IS) group in the Libyan city of Sirte for the first time on Monday, the Pentagon and Libya’s unity government announced.

“The first American air strikes on precise positions of the Daesh organisation were carried out today, causing heavy losses… in Sirte,” Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj said in a televised speech, using an Arabic term to refer to the IS group.

In Washington, the Pentagon said the raids were launched in response to a request from the unity government.

“At the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), the United States military conducted precision air strikes against ISIL [IS group] targets in Sirte, Libya, to support GNA-affiliated forces seeking to defeat ISIL in its primary stronghold in Libya,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said, using another name for the IS group.

The strikes targeted an Islamic State group tank and two vehicles that posed a threat to forces aligned with Libya’s GNA.

US strikes in Sirte “will continue”, Cook added without elaborating.

The factoid that this is the “first time” the US has bombed ISIS in Sirte is true but misleading, because if you’re not familiar with the story you might assume this is the first time the US has bombed ISIS in Libya altogether, and it most definitely is not. This is the first time the US has gone after ISIS targets in Libya at the behest of what passes for a Libyan government, though to be fair Libya hasn’t really had much that could be called a “Libyan government” for a little over two years now. And frankly it’s also a little misleading to call the GNA a “unity government”–that’s certainly its intent, but until the House of Representatives in Tobruk finally agrees to recognize the GNA’s authority there’s not really much “unity” happening there.

Western nations have been champing at the bit to throw financial and military aid at somebody in Libya, both to drive ISIS out of Sirte and to stabilize the country so as to stem the tide of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean via Libya to enter Europe. Continue reading

What the Supreme Court beef says about the GOP

635909838735642880-axx-scalia-supreme-court

Gone but clearly not forgotten

I’ve resisted the urge to write anything about the dearly departed Antonin Scalia, in no small part because I’ve learned that it really isn’t nice to speak ill of the dead, but I don’t really know what nice thing I’d say about a guy who once argued that demonstrating innocence was not enough to save somebody from execution. People liked him personally, I guess, so that’s nice. Presumably none of them had their lives materially harmed by his jurisprudence, but still.

Anyway, I also don’t really know what to say about the Republicans’ immediate refusal to even acknowledge the nominee whom Barack Obama is constitutionally required to name as Scalia’s replacement. And that is what they’re doing:

Senate Republicans are saying that they won’t even meet with an Obama nominee, which is even more dickish than refusing to hold hearings. This is obviously a dereliction of their responsibilities in the service of pure, naked partisan politics, but it’s only the latest and arguably most egregious example in a long tendency for Congressional Republicans to put their party first. Now Mitch McConnell is apparently refusing to say that he’ll allow the next president to get a hearing on a nominee, which exposes all his “the American people should have a say in the process” bullshit for what it is and would, in that case, truly be a remarkable choice of ideology over country.

What is more interesting to me is that the Republicans have chosen to do this in such a brazenly obstructionist way. It was entirely within their power and rights to reject an Obama nominee through the normal selection process, and they could have rejected that hypothetical nominee for any reason. But now they’re making a huge public thing about not even meeting with a nominee, and thereby inviting all sorts of appropriate criticism. This means that the idea of even acknowledging an Obama nomination is so hateful, so toxic to the Republican base that these Republican senators would rather look like obstructionist zealots than take another, quieter path that would still end with them denying Obama his choice for the court.

The Republican Party survives entirely on rage and conspiracy theories these days, and rather than try to right that ship Republican politicians would rather go along with the madness, to cultivate it for electoral gain. Yet these same Republican senators will almost to a person wonder how it can be that their party is about to nominate Donald Trump, a guy who talks about punching protesters in the face, as their presidential candidate. Yeah, it’s a real mystery.

I need your help to keep this blog going! Please read this and consider contributing something. Also, while you’re out there on the internet tubes, please consider liking this blog’s Facebook page and following me on Twitter! And please share my work with your friends/followers to help me grow the audience around here! Thank you!

The capacity to feel shame

If Mitch McConnell is capable of feeling the emotion of shame, then I hope somebody holds his eyes open, A Clockwork Orange-style, and makes him watch last night’s Daily Show on a loop:

Jon Stewart has gone after Mitch McConnell in the past, but now he’s so mad that turning him into a bizarre internet meme won’t suffice. On Monday night, the former host returned to The Daily Show for the first time since he stepped down in August as part of his years-long effort to secure health-care funding for 9/11 first responders, who have suffered with serious illnesses linked to the air they inhaled at Ground Zero. First responders received funding through the 2011 Zadroga Act, but that law will expire if Congress does not pass a long-term extension this week.

Most of the episode was devoted to the issue, and it featured a field piece showing Stewart’s mostly unsuccessful attempts to speak to members of Congress in recent days. There’s now enough support to get the legislation passed, but the Republican leadership could still kill it. Stewart said he thinks House Speaker Paul Ryan will get on board because, “ultimately, he is still human.” Instead, he focused his ire on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who he said is “unwilling to move the bill forward for purely political reasons.”

Senator McConnell (above) has so far refused to comment on the Zadroga extension

Republicans, at least those who will speak openly about their hesitation to take what should be the easiest fucking vote they’ll ever take in their lives, say they’re worried that a long-term or permanent extension of the Zadroga Act will cost too much money. Estimates are that a permanent extension would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 billion. This year’s total federal budget was just shy of $3.7 trillion, so $12 billion is petty cash. You could probably find $12 billion in between the couch cushions in the Pentagon.

But even if $12 billion weren’t pitifully small in the big scheme of the federal budget, Republicans would still be talking out of their asses here. Marco Rubio, the recently and desperately anointed savior of the Republican establishment, says that if he’s elected president, he’ll push for a tax cut that the most conservative estimates say will increase deficits by $4 trillion over ten years, with most of the benefits naturally accruing to people who are already doing just fine under the current system. If we’ve got $4+ trillion lying around to hand over mostly to the top 5%, then we’ve certainly got $12 billion to spend taking care of 9/11 first responders. Are you kidding me?

People may be right to say that Donald Trump’s forays into fascism are beginning to reflect who we are as a people, but our elected Congress’s inexplicable unwillingness to foot the bill for people who got sick by running in to the burning World Trade Center on 9/11 is equally emblematic of what America has become. And it ain’t pretty.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Also, while you’re out there on the internet tubes, please consider liking this blog’s Facebook page and following me on Twitter! Thank you!

This is boots on the ground

He's making some changes, apparently

He’s making some changes, apparently

Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that the US mission against ISIS has changed somewhat, along the lines of what he called “the three R’s”: Raqqa, Ramadi, and raids. In Syria, the US will focus its mission on backing a mostly-Kurdish offensive to dislodge ISIS from Raqqa, the groups “capital.” In Iraq, the US will stop insisting that the Iraqi army attempt to liberate Mosul and will instead support the Iraqis in retaking Ramadi, which is what the Iraqis have been pushing. And finally, US special forces will be engaging in more direct combat action against ISIS, in raids like last Thursday’s joint US-Kurdish raid in Hawija, Iraq, that freed 70 prisoners and resulted in the first US combat death in fighting against ISIS.

Some of this seems pretty self-explanatory; the idea that the Iraqi army was going to be ready to take Mosul anytime soon is completely unrealistic, and focusing on Raqqa is a way for the US to continue (or even expand) its air campaign in Syria without antagonizing Russia and potentially damaging whatever slim chance exists for a political settlement to the civil war. But parts of the plan seem new-ish. Carter says that the US is going insist that the Ramadi operation be “multi-sectarian,” which means, among other things, that Baghdad has to give Sunni tribal forces the US arms and equipment that Washington intends to give them, which hasn’t been happening so much to this point. This makes retaking Ramadi not only an important goal in its own right, but also important as a kind of dress rehearsal for an eventual push on Mosul.

The biggest news is obviously that raids like the one last week are going to become more common. There have already been a couple apart from the one last week, like that raid in Syria in May that resulted in the death of a reportedly high-level ISIS operative. The administration may also consider putting adviser/trainer forces in Syria, presumably attached to an FSA unit, and putting airstrike spotters near the front lines in Iraq. None of this quite reaches the level of direct combat, but that’s kind of splitting hairs. These forces would all be incurring significantly more risk than any US forces have incurred in the anti-ISIS operation thus far.

These moves, particularly the prospect of US forces being put in combat zones and/or engaging in regular armed raids, underscores just how desperately Congress needs to get over its complete institutional dysfunction and put together a new Authorization to Use Military Force that is specific to the anti-ISIS mission. The legal basis for putting US forces into or near direct combat in Syria and Iraq right now is basically ¯\_(シ)_/¯ without Congressional action, which means that the US operation is both poorly defined and pretty open-ended. In the absence of Congressional oversight, tiny changes/escalations like these are how you get from “adviser” to “air support” to “full-blown war.”

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Also, while you’re out there on the internet tubes, please consider liking this blog’s Facebook page and following me on Twitter! Thank you!

Maybe you should quit

Unfortunately, nothing can quench his hatred for his job

Unfortunately, nothing can quench his hatred for his job

Marco Rubio thinks his job sucks:

“I don’t know that ‘hate’ is the right word,” Rubio said in an interview. “I’m frustrated.”

This year, as Rubio runs for president, he has cast the Senate — the very place that cemented him as a national politician — as a place he’s given up on, after less than one term. It’s too slow. Too rule-bound. So Rubio, 44, has decided not to run for his seat again. It’s the White House or bust.

“That’s why I’m missing votes. Because I am leaving the Senate. I am not running for reelection,” Rubio said in the last Republican debate, after Donald Trump had mocked him for his unusual number of absences during Senate votes.

Hey, I get it; lots of people hate their jobs. Of course, most of those people who hate their jobs are still stuck doing them anyway, and doing them well, because they need the paycheck. Marco Rubio is employed by an outfit that collectively hasn’t done much of anything, and even by that body’s half-assed standards he’s doing a half-assed job. He doesn’t need the job because he’ll be able to live quite well on book royalties, speaking fees, and lobbying moolah for the rest of his life, and that’s assuming he’s not elected President next November. So, you know, instead of bilking the taxpayers to the tune of $174K per year, if Rubio’s going to quit anyway and he’s not really doing the job now, why doesn’t he just quit now?

Rubio defends his decision to stop doing his Senate job on the grounds that he can’t get anything done in the Senate and so running for president is more important, and that’s fine, but then quit. Nothing in that defense is a justification for continuing to take a paycheck for a job that you clearly have no interest in actually doing anymore, and that you haven’t really been doing for a couple of years now. Hell, even Sarah Palin was generous enough to stop stealing a paycheck from Alaskan taxpayers after she’d clearly decided to check out of her governor gig, you betcha.

I guess this Senate-bashing will play with the tea party types, but I’m not sure it’s really the image Rubio wants to convey to the rest of the country. Here’s a guy pulling in six figures who can’t be bothered to show up for his job because it’s SOOO BOORING and he’s got better things to do, but he’ll keep collecting his paycheck anyway and suffer precisely no penalty. I realize that senators who run for president basically stop being senators for a while yet keep getting paid anyway, but that’s the kind of thing you try not to talk about publicly and that, when somebody tries to make a fuss about it, you regretfully chalk up to the overwhelming demands of the campaign and your inability to be in two places at once. Rubio has instead decided to wear his well-paid dereliction of duty like a badge of honor.

Hey, thanks for reading! If you come here often, and you like what I do, would you please consider contributing something (sorry, that page is a work in progress) to keeping this place running and me out of debtor’s prison? Also, while you’re out there on the internet tubes, please consider liking this blog’s Facebook page and following me on Twitter! Thank you!

Meanwhile, in the actual Benghazi…

Trey Gowdy and totally not political committee are spending the day asking tough questions of Hillary Clinton, to get to the bottom of the key issues around the 2012 Benghazi consulate attack. These questions cut right to the heart of the whole matter, like “how about that Sidney Blumenthal,” “what’s the deal with Sidney Blumenthal, anyway,” “what did Sidney Blumenthal know and when did he know it,” and “is Sidney Blumenthal more of a PlayStation or Xbox guy?” An entire nation hangs on every crucial Sidney Blumenthal-related revelation.

Meanwhile, though, in case you were curious, there’s been stuff happening in Libya.

“I’m sorry, where?”

You know, Congressman Gowdy, Libya. The country where Benghazi actually is? The country we helped break, leading to the violence and chaos that contributed to the 2012 attack?

“Hm, doesn’t ring a bell, sorry”

Well, whatever. Maybe the rest of you care. About two weeks ago, the UN proposed, and a bunch of Western countries (the US, UK, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany) heartily endorsed, a unity government for Libya. This would bring together the country’s two competing governments, one currently in Tripoli and the other in sort of semi-exile in Tobruk, and hopefully end that part of Libya’s civil war. If it’s done right, it might even avoid an outcome where the Tobruk government’s top general, Khalifa Haftar, winds up running the country as Muammar Gaddafi v. 2.0, although that still may very well be where Libya is headed.

The problem here is that no actual Libyans have agreed to the UN plan (on the plus side, they have agreed on the need for an agreement, or something like that). Continue reading