Conflict update: March 20-21 2017

Because there’s so much to cover tonight, you’re getting two updates. This one covers everything but the Greater Middle East, the other covers nothing but the Greater Middle East. Enjoy…?

COMING SOON TO A SECURITY THEATER NEAR YOU

Effective as of yesterday, people trying to fly into the US from airports in Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia will not be allowed to bring any electronic device larger than a mobile phone into the cabin with them. Because Reasons:

On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement on the new policy, stating the “2015 airliner downing in Egypt, the 2016 attempted airliner downing in Somalia, and the 2016 armed attacks against airports in Brussels and Istanbul” as examples of why increased security was needed.

“Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items. Based on this information, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Transportation Security Administrator Acting Administrator Huban Gowadia have determined it is necessary to enhance security procedures for passengers at certain last point of departure airports to the United States,” the statement said.

Of those four cited attacks (two of which didn’t even take place on airplanes) only the Somali incident would have been inhibited by this ban, and since investigators believe in the Somali case that a laptop-encased bomb was rigged to explode on a timer, it’s not clear what sticking that same laptop in the luggage compartment would have accomplished–and, in fact, putting a bunch of lithium-ion batteries in the luggage compartment could have disastrous consequences. It’s certainly no secret that electronic devices are a risk, that’s why you get your carry-ons screened at security. But if security at the ten airports cited in this order is lax, then doesn’t the same concern apply to checked luggage? And why has a measure like this become necessary now, when we’ve known that electronics were a risk for years and there have been exactly zero attacks against US-bound passenger flights originating at any of these airports?

I’ve actually seen it suggested that explosives are less a concern than the possibility of someone hacking into the plane’s flight controls, but if that were really a possibility then why would you allow any electronic devices on any plane originating at any airport?

Britain has now implemented a similar ban though from a smaller list of airports, and Canada is reportedly considering one as well, because security theater is remarkably appealing. Aside from making it just a little bit more unpleasant to fly to the US from the Middle East and North Africa, which may be the entire point, I’m not really sure what this accomplishes.

NO MESSAGE HERE

I’m sure this was all just an unfortunate coincidence:

An African trade summit organized by the University of Southern California ended up with zero Africans as they were all denied visas to enter the United States just days before the summit despite applying months ahead of time, in what organizers called an act of “discrimination against African nations.”

“Usually we get 40 percent that get rejected but the others come,” Mary Flowers, chair of the African Global Economic and Development Summit, told Voice of America in an interview Friday.

“This year it was 100 percent. Every delegation. And it was sad to see, because these people were so disheartened.”

If we’re going to adopt Deputy Leader Bannon’s philosophy that nobody from a majority non-white nation should be allowed to enter the United States, then let’s just say that officially. Get it on the record so people can know what they’re dealing with. Sure, the administration will lose in court, again, but they seem happy to keep trying new ways to achieve this goal even as the courts keep telling them “no.”

TILLERSON TRACKER

secretary_tillerson_greets_german_foreign_minister_gabriel_before_their_meeting_in_washington_283263186542629

See, Tillerson already met with this German dude that one time! What the hell more do you people want?

BREAKING BREAKING BREAKING IN UNPRECEDENTED INSULT, SECRETARY OF STATE MAY SNUB NATO SUMMIT TO MEET WITH CHINESE PRESIDE–you know what, folks? I’m not entirely sure about this one. Continue reading

Nowruz, the Iraq War, and my eyeballs

Today is Nowruz, the ancient Iranian holiday celebrating the arrival of spring and, in the Iranian calendar, a new year. That really lovely holiday has unfortunately been marred since 2003 by the fact that it falls on the same day as the anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, for which I suppose we should note that no one has ever been held accountable despite the fact that it was a thoroughly criminal act that set of a series of other thoroughly criminal acts perpetrated by the American government.

Yeah, good one bro

As to the third part of the title to this post, well, I just got back from getting dilated at the eye doctor, and even staring at my computer screen for the time it’s taken me to write this has been enough to make me want to scoop my eyes out of my head with a melon baller. So I would invite you to enjoy the post I wrote on this date a year ago, which is short but angry, and includes a link to my own Persian language-inflected attempt at a Nowruz explainer if that’s something you’re interested in reading. And I would say that it is unlikely that I’ll be writing a conflict update this evening–the real conflict, my friends, is with my comically wide open pupils and any source of light. Seriously I expect my eyes will be fine in a few hours but I don’t think that will leave me enough time to actually churn one of those monster posts out tonight. If I’m wrong, I’ll see you later, but otherwise, see you tomorrow.

I suppose it feels like the war is over to most people in the US, which is all well and good, but try telling that to the Iraqi people, who haven’t known so much as a month of uninterrupted peace since the morning of March 20, 2003, when the Project for the New American Century finally got its new American century, the rest of the world be damned (literally). And yeah, Saddam Hussein is no more, and the human race is richer for his demise. But at what cost? At what ongoing cost?

The utterly unnecessary and comprehensively disastrous Iraq War animates a lot of my own views on war and peace, American foreign policy, and the unjustified/unjustifiable deference our political and media discourse still gives to the Professional Experts and Very Serious Pundits who watched the most avoidable foreign policy fiasco in American history unfold before them and did nothing, or else cheered it on. By and large those people haven’t suffered so much as a minor professional inconvenience over their malpractice–they certainly haven’t suffered anything like the Iraqi people have suffered for the past 13 years.

Source: Nowruz, and the Iraq War at 13

Hi, how’s it going? Thanks for reading; attwiw wouldn’t exist without you! If you enjoyed this or any other posts here, please share widely and help build our audience. You can like this site on Facebook or follow me on Twitter as well. Most critically, if you’re a regular reader I hope you’ll read this and consider helping this place to stay alive.

They hate us because we’re assholes

In China and Iran, two countries that are even more enthusiastic about capital punishment than America, authorities sometimes pursue what’s called a “bullet fee.” Basically they try to bill the family of an executed person for the cost of the execution–plus, who knows, a little extra for overhead and expenses or whatever. Families don’t have to pay the bill, but generally that means they forfeit the right to claim the body and give it some kind of funeral ceremony.

We rightly recoil from something so grotesque. Imagine executing someone, quite possibly on false and/or bullshit (i.e., political) charges, then asking that person’s family to pay for the privilege. Here in America, we may not want to pay to keep you from starving to death, or to allow you to see a doctor if you get sick, but when we execute you–whether formally for your third felony marijuana possession charge, or impromptu if you’re doing something really vile like selling loosies–your family can rest assured, it’s on us. Our pleasure, really.

Well, most of the time, anyway.

But what I’m trying to figure out is whether there’s any difference between collecting a “bullet fee” and, say, this:

Half a century after United States B-52 bombers dropped more than 500,000 tonnes of explosives on Cambodia’s countryside Washington wants the country to repay a $US500 million ($662 million) war debt.

The demand has prompted expressions of indignation and outrage from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Indignation and outrage? You don’t say. Cambodia doesn’t want to pay back its American loan of livestock feed (read the article) simply because American ordinance killed half a million or so Cambodians in the early 1970s and helped grease the wheels for the Khmer Rouge to take over the country, which led directly to the deaths of 2-3 million more? What a bunch of ingrates.

Let US ambassador William Heidt, seen here shortly after he’d been recruited into the foreign service from his former position as a loan shark for the Gambino family:

william_heidt

explain why the Cambodians are being really unfair and unethical about this whole loan business: Continue reading

Conflict update: March 2-5 2017

GOVERNMENT OF THE MARKS

There’s long been this narrative on the right that America spends vast sums of money helping feed and clothe the poor around the world while our own people/military/deficit starve/wastes away/balloons. This is, of course, a giant pile of bullshit, maybe the most bullshit of all the bullshit stories the right has fed the American people in my lifetime. The ubiquity of this narrative, and the inability/unwillingness of politicians on the center-left to counter it, leads to nonsense like this:

A large majority of the public overestimates the share of the federal budget that is spent on foreign aid. Just 3 percent of Americans correctly state that 1 percent or less of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, and nearly half (47 percent) believe that share is greater than 20 percent. On average, Americans say spending on foreign aid makes up 31 percent of the federal budget.

The Republicans who have invested heavily in selling this narrative to the American people, of course, know they’re shoveling bullshit. Or at least they did. The Republican Party that used to peddle lies to their marks has now been replaced by a Republican Party made up of the marks themselves, and we just elected one of them president. So this is unsurprising:

The White House budget director confirmed Saturday that the Trump administration will propose “fairly dramatic reductions” in the U.S. foreign aid budget later this month.

Reuters and other news outlets reported earlier this week that the administration plans to propose to Congress cuts in the budgets for the U.S. State Department and Agency for International Development by about one third.

“We are going to propose to reduce foreign aid and we are going to propose to spend that money here,” White House Office of Management Budget director Mick Mulvaney told Fox News on Saturday, adding the proposed cuts would include “fairly dramatic reductions in foreign aid.”

Mulvaney said the cuts in foreign aid would help the administration fund a proposed $54 billion expansion of the U.S. military budget.

“The overriding message is fairly straightforward: less money spent overseas means more money spent here,” said Mulvaney, a former South Carolina Representative.

That’s nice. Except we’re not spending that money “here.” We’re “drastically” cutting the pittance we already spend on trying to make life a little less shitty in poorer countries and repurposing the “savings” toward the shit we use to fucking bomb those same countries because that’s how America gets its kicks. The fact that cuts in foreign aid will probably make America less secure, thus requiring more military spending, is a feature, not a bug.

Trump’s budget is likely DOA in Congress, thankfully. But as a window into how these people view the world it’s…well, I was going to say “troubling,” but that would suggest that it’s not entirely in keeping with everything else about Donald Trump.

Anyway, that was the big Trump news this weekend, I’m sure there wasn’t anything else.

IRAQ

Continue reading

Secretary of Stifled

tillerson_sworn_in

ABOVE: the last time Donald Trump paid attention to Rex Tillerso–oh, wait, he’s not actually paying attention there either. ATTWIW apologizes for the error.

When Donald Trump announced that he was nominating Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State, I have to say my first reaction was relief. Which is not to say that I have any positive feelings about Rex Tillerson, and in fact having the former CEO of ExxonMobil as our Secretary of State is incredibly bad from a climate change perspective. But compared to the names that were bandied about to run State at the start of the transition process (John Bolton? Rudy Giuliani? Mike Flynn? Mitt Romne–oh right that wasn’t a serious possibility), Tillerson was positively sparkling. Unorthodox, yes, but less likely than the other candidates to, say, directly contribute to the start of World War III.

Unfortunately, it also doesn’t seem like he’d be able to do much to stop World War III. Among the questions involved in making a non-politician and non-diplomat like Tillerson the Secretary of State was whether or not he’d be able to a) do the job and b) negotiate the politics of the job. So far the answer to both of those questions appears to be a resounding “no.” When you’re a novice cabinet secretary, and the Washington Post and Politico both publish pieces about your struggles on the job on the same day, as they did about Tillerson yesterday, it’s pretty clear that you’re not having a smooth ride in office. Here, for example, is how the Post begins its piece: Continue reading

Conflict update: February 20 2017

McMaster Gets the Gig

h-r-_mcmaster_arcic_2014

H. R. McMaster (Wikipedia)

Donald Trump has a new national security adviser, and it’s not a name that was on many candidate lists: Lt. General H. R. McMaster. I’ll confess that keeping track of general officers in the US military is not exactly a pastime of mine, so I don’t know much about McMaster. John McCain likes him, which is a bad sign, but he’s also written critically of the military’s failure to challenge the civilian policymakers who got us into Vietnam and of the Bush administration’s approach to the Iraq invasion, so that might be good. He’s very well-regarded in the “counter-insurgency” school within the military, which sometimes strikes me as a bit of a cult, but he does have considerable experience in CENTCOM and particularly in northern Iraq. That experience, at least per Thomas Ricks, seems to have been OK–in particular, the notion that “every time you disrespect an Iraqi, you’re working for the enemy” is something the military and its current commander in-chief would do well to internalize.

Most importantly, McMaster isn’t Michael Flynn and isn’t a conspiracy addled, war-mongering maniac like Michael Flynn. It’s not clear whether he’ll be stuck with Flynn’s collection of like-minded maniacs on the National Security Council. Robert Harward, you’ll recall, refused the job rather than accept that he wouldn’t have control over his own personnel (and thus, he probably surmised, he wouldn’t have much real influence over national security policy either). Maybe McMaster insisted on bringing in his own people and Trump gave in, or maybe, as an active duty officer, McMaster felt more obligated to take the job despite the constraints than the retired Harward did. But still, at least he’s not Flynn, or someone equally disturbing like John Bolto–I’m sorry, what was that?

HA HA HA HA HA WE’RE SO FUCKED

Iraq

The main combat operations today seemed to center on the southern part of Mosul, where Mosul airport is located. Iraqi forces have made the airport one of their immediate priorities, with the hope that, after some repairs, it will be usable for combat support missions for the rest of the offensive. The latest update from Reuters says that Iraqi forces have reached the “vicinity” of the airport, but I’m not sure what “vicinity” means.

Joel Wing has a rundown of the three initial prongs of the west Mosul operation: Continue reading

Conflict update: February 18-19 2017

Trumplandia

Say, this seems nice:

On any given weekend, you might catch President Trump’s son-in-law and top Mideast dealmaker, Jared Kushner, by the beachside soft-serve ice cream machine, or his reclusive chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, on the dining patio. If you are lucky, the president himself could stop by your table for a quick chat. But you will have to pay $200,000 for the privilege — and the few available spots are going fast.

Virtually overnight, Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s members-only Palm Beach, Fla., club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of American government, a so-called winter White House where Mr. Trump has entertained a foreign head of state, health care industry executives and other presidential guests.

But Mr. Trump’s gatherings at Mar-a-Lago — he arrived there on Friday afternoon, his third weekend visit in a row — have also created an arena for potential political influence rarely seen in American history: a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, situated in a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists.

I’m not going to pretend that the wealthy and powerful never had special access to the levers of power in DC before this, but as with so many things about Trump, he seems to have taken the grossest parts of American politics and made them grosser.

On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the Munich Security Conference and tried to assure the attendees that the Trump administration’s commitment to NATO is “unwavering.” Reuters, at least, suggested that he was received tepidly at best, though the NATO bit got him some applause.

Paul Pillar wrote a typically insightful piece a few days ago about the utter confusion surrounding Trump’s Israel-Palestine policy, and what it says about Trump’s foreign policy more generally.

We’re Still All Gonna Die

Because it’s the one part of the government that Donald Trump and Paul Ryan can’t be seen to contradict or gut, the one part of the government that will definitely be allowed to continue research into climate change and its impacts is the Pentagon. Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis, ironically for this cabinet, was actually pretty forward thinking on renewable fuels and the national security implications of climate change when he was a flag officer.

The War on Terror (Old School Edition)

Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind radical Muslim cleric whose involvement in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and subsequent terror plots in the United States earned him a life sentence in federal prison, completed his sentence when he died on Saturday morning. He was 78 and, really, won’t be missed.

Seriously, fuck that guy.

Iraq

Continue reading