Conflict update: February 7 2017

OK, so…this could get long. Sorry. That’s what happens when I’m away for a few days.


I almost feel like I should start each of these with a quick roundup of the miscellaneous ways Donald Trump is fucking up around the world. For example:

  • When President Trump makes a formal state visit to the UK later this year, there’s a good chance he will be denied the honor of speaking to parliament. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow says that he will block any Trump address to the body, something about Trump’s “racism” and “sexism,” which…well, he’s got a point there. Bercow can’t entirely block Trump from speaking to parliament, because the speaker of the House of Lords also gets a say, but his unendorsement (?) should carry a pretty heavy implication.
  • Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “thanked” Trump, in a speech he delivered on Tuesday, for “showing the reality of American human rights” through his immigration ban. Which…well, he’s got a point there.
  • ISIS is also undoubtedly very happy about President Trump and his immigration ban. Anything that makes Muslims feel unwelcome in the United States, or pits America against Islam generally speaking, is good for ISIS, and this immigration order, coupled with Trump’s rhetoric, certainly does both. Which, and if I can I may write more about this tomorrow, is probably the Trump administration’s point. I think Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn welcome a War On Islam and will happily feed into ISIS propaganda because that will ultimately help fuel their propaganda.

Trump’s War on Islam

The New York Times is reporting that the Trump administration is considering two new foreign terrorist designations, and they’re both massive escalations of Trump’s War on Islam: the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Designation the Muslim Brotherhood as an FTO would allow the Trump administration to shut down large numbers of Islamic charities and mosques all over the United States, because so many Islamic organizations have ties to some variant of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is not a monolithic organization and most of its branches behave as peaceful political entities. Yes, it is an Islamist organization, and its historical record on violence is checkered, but for the most part since the 1970s it has been a political Islamist organization, and as such it has been an important outlet for conservative Muslims to find their political voice without resorting to violence. Designating it a terrorist organization would materially aid more extremist organizations, including ISIS and al-Qaeda (which, again, is probably part of Trump’s goal), and would greatly complicate relations with allies like Turkey (the Justice and Development Party is closely aligned with several Brotherhood chapters) and Qatar.

Designating the IRGC as an FTO could fundamentally undermine the Iran nuclear deal without technically touching it, which again is probably Trump’s goal. Anyone, American or otherwise, found to have dealings with an organization related to any FTO can be subject to civil and criminal penalties in the US. The IRGC has its tentacles woven throughout the Iranian economy, such that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for any foreign investor trying to do business in Iran to avoid dealing with the IRGC entirely. So any investors/businesses that value being able to operate in the US are going to have a hard time investing in Iran, which drastically cuts into the benefits Iran gets from sanctions relief.


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Fake News and the March to War

Fake news and war have been partners in (literal) crime several times in American history–Remember the Maine, the Gulf of Tonkin, the mushroom cloud smoking gun, etc.–so it’s deeply traditional for a mostly fake news outlet like Fox to commemorate the rise of our first Fake News President by bringing us another entry in war-mongering Yellow Journalism. In this case, a Houthi naval attack on a Saudi frigate in the Red Sea yesterday was apparently MEANT FOR A US WARSHIP BREAKING FLASHING RED LIGHT EXCLAMATION POINTS. Yes, the Houthis were actually trying to blow up a US vessel but mistakenly hit a Saudi one instead, somehow.

How do we know this attack was MEANT FOR A US WARSHIP OMINOUS FLASHING PREPARE FOR WAR TEXT? Because one of the Houthis shouted “DEATH TO AMERICA” while carrying out the attack. He did this while reciting the Houthi slogan…which includes the phrase “DEATH TO AMERICA.” So in reality this means nothing, but because you can’t get the war you want unless you’re prepared to invent some justifications along the way, the Republican Party’s favorite fake news outlet took this ridiculous Pentagon invention and happily published it.

Rather than do a line-by-line debunking here, I annotated the Fox report at Genius. I know it’s shouting into the void, but annotating it helped me stop being mad, and these days that’s about all you can hope to accomplish.

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I’m pretty sure Russia is not planning on nuking ISIS

Vladimir Putin used the words “nuclear” and “warhead” in a conversation about Russia’s military action in Syria yesterday, and so that created a bit of a stir on the internet tubes. For example, here’s Fox News’s level-headed take:

putin fox

For balance, here’s the equally fair-minded RT:

putin rt

And from The Hill:

putin hill

Also this, from The Independent (in the UK):

putin ind

Just for fun, let’s see what he actually said, per the Kremlin (the same place all three of these scary stories got their material):

Vladimir Putin: With regard to strikes from a submarine. We certainly need to analyse everything that is happening on the battlefield, how the weapons work. Both the Calibre missiles and the Kh-101 rockets are generally showing very good results. We now see that these are new, modern and highly effective high-precision weapons that can be equipped either with conventional or special nuclear warheads.

Naturally, we do not need that in fighting terrorists, and I hope we will never need it. But overall, this speaks to our significant progress in terms of improving weaponry and equipment being supplied to the Russian army and navy.

For context: this is part of a transcript of a meeting between Putin and his defense minister, Sergey Shoygu, where they’re talking about the effectiveness of new Russian rockets and their Kalibr cruise missiles, which were fired from a submerged submarine in the Mediterranean. Shoygu ordered the Kalibr missiles to be fired from a submerged submarine not because there’s some strategic benefit to using submarine-launched cruise missiles against an enemy that has neither a navy nor an air force, but because Putin wanted the new missiles tested in that kind of launch. Since Russia was bombing Syria anyway, they took the opportunity to kill two birds (and probably a whole bunch of Syrians, but clearly that’s not the Kremlin’s main concern) with one very large exploding stone–well, a few of them, anyway.

Now, for a guy who is “suggesting,” or “weighing,” a nuclear strike on ISIS, or “hoping” that things won’t come to that, Putin seems pretty clear that he’s actually not thinking about nuking ISIS. There are very few ways you can parse the sentence “Naturally, we do not need that [nukes] in fighting terrorists” and come away thinking “oh man, this guy is thinking about nuking the terrorists.” To the extent that Putin was delivering a message, and obviously he was or the Kremlin wouldn’t have bothered posting a transcript, it wasn’t directed at ISIS.

Considering the state of Russia’s relations with NATO member Turkey, it should be pretty obvious what Putin’s message was and for whom it was meant.This was a pretty clear signal to the West: hey, these new missiles we developed are pretty damn good, and by the way did you know we could put nuclear warheads on them? Sure would be a shame if we ever had to do that, huh? That veiled “I hope we never need it” threat is for Washington and Brussels, not Raqqa.

I award The Independent partial credit for the “…or anyone else” in its headline, but those other three outlets up there should be ashamed.

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An idea whose time has come

Credit where credit is due, Marco Rubio makes a great point here:

Appearing on Fox & Friends, 2016 GOP presidential contender Marco Rubio hammered at Democrats for proposing additional gun control laws after the San Bernardino attack, adding that “the left” never talks about “bomb control.”

Rubio voted against additional restrictions on gun possession on Thursday — just two days after the attack in California that left 14 dead and 21 wounded —  and took to the Fox & Friends couch to complain that liberals jumped to conclusions about the shooting before any of the facts were revealed.

“When this first came out, without knowing anything about the case, the first thing they started talking about was gun control, and gun control, ” the junior senator from Florida said. “I don’t hear anybody talking about bomb control. They put bombs, they left bombs behind on the scene of attack, intending to kill even more people than they did with the guns.”

When the hell is this country going to finally get serious about bomb control? As long as you can just walk into your local Walmart and come out carrying bags full of legally-purchased pipe bombs, we can’t hope to do anything about the epidemic of bomb attacks sweeping the nation.

In fact, you know what? I would go even further than Senator Rubio. What if we made it against the law to take another person’s life, maybe with certain very specific exceptions? Just outlawed it completely, you know? I don’t here any liberals out there talking about making laws against killing people–do you? But wouldn’t that be way smarter than gun control? You’re damn right it would be! Let’s see if we can work on this.

"God...has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates." -- Marco Rubio

“Also, what if we made it a law that water is a good thing to drink when you’re thirsty? This is just common sense, for God’s sake!”

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Please stop ignoring the real bigotry of Ben Carson’s comments

With the full-court right wing press on to rehabilitate Ben Carson’s statement that a Muslim shouldn’t be elected president, it’s worth noting that a lot of people (particularly in the media) seem to be so wrapped up in the “president” part of Carson’s comments that they’re missing what’s really offensive about what he said.

It’s very easy for Carson to walk back his comments about whether or not a Muslim should be president, because he can just say, as he already has (with an assist from Fox News), that “hey, I’m just saying I personally wouldn’t vote for a Muslim, I’m not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to run.” Perfectly reasonable, right? He’s even been able to walk that back a little, saying yesterday that he could support a Muslim candidate who would “embrace our Constitution and [be] willing to place that above their religious beliefs.” By that, he appears to be insisting that any Muslim candidate for president would have to effectively repudiate Islam, which probably isn’t something he’d ask a Christian candidate to do, but I digress.

The really awful part of what Carson said is back in the original exchange he had with Meet the Press host Chuck Todd on Sunday (which went unchallenged, by the way, and thanks for that, Chuck!):

Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson said he would not support a Muslim as President of the United States.

Responding to a question on “Meet the Press,” the retired neurosurgeon said, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

He also said that Islam, as a religion, is incompatible with the Constitution.

Carson, who is near the top of several early presidential polls, said a president’s faith should matter depending on what that faith is. “If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” he clarified.

The implication of that exchange isn’t just that Muslims are unfit to run for office, it’s that they’re really unfit to be Americans, period. Islam is “inconsistent with the values and principles of America,” and “incompatible with the Constitution,” according to Ben Carson, who apparently holds PhDs in political theory and religious studies in addition to the MD that he supposedly has (consider me a skeptic on that one). These are not statements about whether a Muslim should be allowed to run for office, they’re far deeper (and far more bigoted) than that. This is the kind of talk that, if it gets mainstreamed and enacted into policy, ends up with people being herded into camps, or worse.

"At least I'm not saying that Muslims aren't human. I mean, I'm not saying that yet, anyway."

“At least I’m not saying that Muslims aren’t human. I mean, I’m not saying that yet, anyway.”

I understand that Carson’s rejection of the very idea that a practicing Muslim can also be a good American is helping him rake in the campaign contributions, and small wonder when he’s running for the nomination of a party in which a big chunk of core voters think Islam should be against the law. But what the guy said on MTP is just grotesque, and yet most of the public conversation about it is missing the real point.

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Why is CNN picking Republican winners and losers too?

Yesterday amid all the Trump-Ailes-Kelly nonsense, I had a Deep Thought:

It’s true, isn’t it? If CNN or MSNBC, rather than Fox, had pioneered the idea that a news network should get to pick and choose which candidates would get to participate in a primary debate, Fox would never have stopped talking about it. If the president of either of those two networks were to get involved in a feud between one particular candidate and one of that network’s personalities, a feud that dominated campaign coverage for days on end, there are Fox hosts who might spontaneously combust in outrage, or feigned outrage at any rate. But here we are at the end of a five day period in which the Fox News network, abandoning even its usual tissue-thin pretense of objectivity, was a bigger player in the Republican primary than all but one GOP candidate and nobody has really made a big deal about it apart from a few left wing internet outlets.

Lo and behold, though, CNN is deciding which Republican candidates are allowed to participate in the “real” portion of its double-header primary debate on September 16:

Sixteen Republican presidential candidates — the entire GOP field, minus Jim Gilmore — have been invited to participate in the CNN/Reagan Library presidential debate on September 16.

The debate will be split it into two back-to-back debates: The main event will feature the top ten candidates according to an average of national polls between July 16 and Sep. 10. The undercard debate will feature the remaining contestants who fulfill candidate requirements and register at least a one percent average in national polls between July 16 and Sep. 10. CNN set the criteria for the debate back in May.

Back in May? Well, hell, nobody ever accused me of being quick on the uptake.

Now, it would be hypocritical, even by Fox standards, for that network to criticize CNN for doing the same thing they just did, but I’m not Fox, so I can ask: why is this being allowed to happen, and who at CNN thinks it is in any way appropriate? I can certainly understand not wanting to stick 16 people on one debate stage; even if all 16 weren’t certifiable, that would still make for a trainwreck of a debate. But the only impartial way to split things up is to randomly assign the 16 candidates into two flights of 8 each. CNN is, instead, selecting winners and losers on behalf of Republican voters, which is about as antithetical to the mission of a journalistic enterprise as you can get, and they’re doing it on the basis of early national primary polls, which are otherwise meaningless.

CNN might try to minimize the “winners/losers” aspect of the two debates by holding both in prime-time and not making the lower-tier debate look like total amateur hour the way Fox did, but CNN is still prejudging the participants by putting them in tiers like this. Are we supposed to be cool with the media pre-screening our presidential candidates for us now?

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Define “can’t win”

Ezra Klein:

In a war with Fox, Trump will likely lose

Now Trump and Fox News are at war. And as Nate Silver writes, this is a war Trump probably can’t win.

Until now, Trump has mostly been fighting with institutions that Republicans mistrust — like the media, and the Republican establishment in Washington, DC. But 80 percent of Republicans trust Fox News. And Fox News is the most reliable source of cable airtime for Republican candidates trying to reach Republican voters.

Hmmm, OK, let’s assume this is cor-

Yeah, Trump definitely lost that exchange. He’s reeling, in fact.

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