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Monday, June 30, 2014

Our Terrorist "Bug-Zapping" Strategy

The Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS) seeks to establish a new caliphate in the Middle East.  This group of illusionists are leading the Sunni insurrection, but they are joined by the ex-Iraqi military and Baath party. Their immediate goal is to overthrow the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, which is hated by all the Sunni governments surrounding it.  

This is a Sunni-Shia war, and it will take years to burn itself out. 

Iraq and Syria have become highly effective terrorist bug-zappers.  Both the Al Qaeda-aligned groups and Hezbollah are losing valuable manpower in this fight.  That's a double win for us. Maybe Iran's Republican Guard Corps will also suffer losses; that would be a bonus.  From what I read, jihadists from Europe and the U.S. have joined these forces to fight for the new caliphate.

The administration has sent over 300 military advisers to enhance Baghdad's bug zapping effectiveness.  It won't win the war, but it will help keep it going. 

We are also pledging to give more aid to the Free Syrian Army.   But will it be directed at ISIS, or Assad?  Either way, it will not be decisive, but will keep the killing going.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Got GMOs? (That's genetically modified food, to you.)

Human beings have been genetically modifying food since Gregor Mendel.   It is human innovation at its best. It is defeating world hunger.  It is good for you.  Get over it.  But apparently the State of Vermont,  run by Sixties hippies who got lost on their way to Canada, wants GMO product identification on all food sold in the state.  Read this for a taste of sanity:  how-scare-tactics-on-gmo-foods-hurt-everybody

Thanks for the post, MB!

Worst Security Detail, Ever

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination, along with his wife Sophia, in Sarajevo.   Gavrilo Princip shot him with a .38 from five feet away.  He said he did not intend to kill the archduchess.   Both died on that day on their way to the hospital. 

Forget how this guy was allowed to be so close to his car.  Earlier that day, one of the Serbian Black Hand assassins threw a bomb at the car, which bounced off the trunk and exploded behind the car, causing a significant number of casualties.  See the wiki entry: Killing the Archduke   But FF made his scheduled appearance anyway!  What was his security detail thinking?

Princip shot him on the return trip. 

Maybe this was just stoicism in the face of the extremist threat, which was claiming European and American leaders left and right since 1900.  

Or perhaps he was motivated by Theodore Roosevelt, who took a bullet in the chest in 1912 and then went ahead with a stump speech anyway. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Inequality in the U.S.A

We should fight income inequality by improving the life chances for the poorest Americans.  Normally the Wall Street Journal denies that inequality is a problem, so it is nice to see it publishing a good article addressing the problem: Inequality in the U.S.   The author is a liberal but he's at least focusing on the right side of the problem. 

Conservatives in America need to come to grips with inequality.  It will skew the democracy permanently in favor of the very rich and the government dependent. 

One of the main reasons to fight the illegal immigration problem is that it continues to exacerbate income inequality.  We keep importing poor people, and then can do little for them once they are here.  Why the Democrats don't see this as impacting some of their traditional constituencies I have no idea.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How Scientists Manipulate Climate Data

Sometime in the future, historians will have a field day examining the Great Climate Scare and will use it as an example of mass psychology run amuck.  Recently I discovered Steven Goddard's blog Real Science that examines how the data has been fudged by NOAA and other agencies to make past decades seem cooler.  Fun to read about how NASA's James Hansen has actually reversed his views from the 1990s.   What say you, Hansen? 

For the average citizen like me, it is almost impossible to discern the truth on this issue.  Still, I enjoy seeing how easily some ambitious naysayers can poke holes in official wisdom. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Our Manufactured Immigration Crisis

The promise of amnesty has caused many Central American families to send their children, unaccompanied, to the US southern border.  Ross Douthat, the New York Times's only conservative columnist, at least gives a nod to those who have seen the so-called crisis of the status of illegals as one in our own mind. See his Open Invitation

Our punitive policy against Honduras a few years ago probably contributed to this mess.  When  the entire Honduran political class turned against President Manuel Zelaya and removed him from office, we hammered Honduras, cutting off trade and aid.  We drove the poorest country in the hemisphere even further into the ground. 

Many have noted the terrible gang problem in Central America and how this has spurred immigration. This was caused in large degree by immigrants to the US who became gang members in American prisons.  These gang members came north legally through our temporary refugee policies.   MS-13 and other notorious gangs were born in the U.S.A. 

We discount how difficult it is for a deracinated immigrant to make a new life for himself in the U.S.  Based on our national mythology, we think it all ends happily ever after.  But sometimes it goes the path of the Mara Salvatrucha. 


Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Children's Crusade to the Border

Check out this good report from Arizona Central on how unaccompanied children are traveling through Mexico to cross our southern border.  Both Republicans and Democratic politicians are starting to realize this is a disaster, and it will destroy their hopes for an Amnesty bill.  Kids at the Border

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Libya: Dear Terrorists, We Never Forget

Some years back a DEA agent told me that when his outfit had nailed a suspect they had been tracking for years, the prep exclaimed to them, "I thought you had forgotten about me."   The agent said no,  "We never forget."

In all the discussion lately about government inefficiency, this story warms the heart:  the neat and clean capture of Benghazi embassy facility attack suspect Ahmed Abu Khatalla: See  Benghazi Raid.   We suspect he masterminded the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens.  

In this A Deadly Mix in Benghazi piece in the New York Times last fall, (worth reading) Khatalla figures prominently.  From reading this, you wouldn't conclude he was a man worried about being captured anytime soon.  

Last October, we arrested the engineer of the 1998 Nairobi and Dar al Salaam bombings, Abu Anas al-Libi, in Tripoli.  I wonder if he said, "I thought you had forgotten about me"? 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why are More Illegal Immigrants Pouring over the Border?

One of the drivers for the recent surge in illegal immigrants is the hope of an amnesty bill.  But what about our own policy in the Central America?   In this article Border Chaos, one woman mentions how gang violence in her Honduran town encouraged her to move north.  Honduras has had a bad time since 2009, when a coup overthrew the government of Manuel Zelaya. Many in the liberal press believe it was the coup that caused this problem.

In fact, the international overreaction to the coup destablized Honduras.  The US and the rest of the region ostracized Honduras, cutting it off from the economic aid this poor country desperately needs.  All of this was unnecessary.  The Hondurans just wanted to get rid of Zelaya, not overthrow democratic government.  The coup was prompted by his own illegal actions against the Honduran constitution and his own close association with Cuba and Venezuela.  (No one denies this) But with our support withdrawn while Honduras was being punished, drug traffickers set up house there. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Our Legacy in Iraq: Will Statebuilding Ever Recover?

George Packer, author of "Assassins Gate" and the excellent "The Unwinding" (see my review post below) thinks we might have had a chance under Obama to keep a stabilizing force in Iraq.  But in the end neither Washington nor Baghdad were too interested.  The concept of statebuilding might never recover from this debacle.

Yesterday the Iraqi Security Forces were shaking off their daze and holding the line around Samarra, north of Baghdad.  Air strikes nailed ISIS positions around Mosul.   Several reports of Iranian troops coming in to help. 

If this is the Arab Spring, I'd hate to see what their winters look like.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Iraq: The Endgame for a Nation State?

Since we withdrew our forces in December 2011, the security situation in Iraq has gone downhill.  The government of Shia-dominated Nouri al Maliki would not approve a status of forces agreement (SOFA) with Washington that we could live with, so we left. Some have criticized the Obama administration for not pushing harder for a remaining military presence.  But few in Washington really had much interest in staying in Iraq. 

So, on June 9, we were greeted with the news that at least half the city of Mosul--Iraq's second or third largest city, it is hard to say--has been overrun by forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), an Al Qaeda-inspired insurgent army.  Led by the charismatic Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (his nom de guerre), ISIS had already carved out control of much of western Syria and no sustains itself off the local economy.  In the attack on Mosul, ISIS captured substantial military equipment and looted at least one bank for $400 million. 

This was no raid, but a major military assault.  Perhaps the worse news, though, was the performance of the Iraqi Army.  According to most news accounts, troops of the 2nd Division simply fled.  The US spent billions training this army to sustain security after we left.  Iraqi officials now say that two divisions dissolved in the face of the attack. 

Yesterday the ISIS continued its push down the Tigris, capturing Tikrit (Saddam's home town) and the refinery town of Baiji.  Maliki has asked the National Assembly for a state of emergency, and has reached out to the US for help.

Lot of moving parts to this story.  Iraq may be facing an existential threat.  A few conclusions from all this:
  • This is more than just ISIS, but a major Sunni revolt.  I suspect the former Baathist insurgents have joined up, as have the Sunni tribes of Anbar. 
  • If Abu Bakr managed to pull the Sunnis together to support him in this, he's the greatest guerrilla commander since Mao Tse Tung.  Certainly his ISIS is now the lead franchise of Al Qaeda, Inc.  He may indeed be the caliph they've been looking for.
  • Baghdad will struggle to contain this.  Obviously corruption and lack of commitment to the Iraq state led to the collapse in Mosul.  On paper, Baghdad should have been able to manage ISIS. But Maliik's divisive policies have alienated the Sunni population.  
  • The Army failed to retake Fallujah and Ramadi from ISIS back in December, a bad omen. (But Maliki never cared for what was happening in Anbar.  Mistake!)  If Balad falls to ISIS, watch out Baghdad.  Watch for Shia militia and Iranian IRCG troops getting into the fight. 
  • The end of Iraqi democracy might be near.  I could see Malik falling and being replaced by a Shia Army officers.   In a real parliamentary system, he'd be done by now. 
  • The Kurds might be on their way out of Iraq.  Or at least, this new conflict will start the ball in motion. They are under attack too near Kirkuk.  Baghdad can't contest Kurdish territorial gains.  The Kurds stay in Iraq largely because their territorial ambitions haven't yet been realized.  This crisis could enable them to consolidate and finally declare independence.
  • Washington is fighting the last war.  This weekend the White House touted its plan for more aid to the Free Syria Army to fight Assad and the ISIS.  Forget Assad; can't you see that's over?
President Obama, you've been lucky in foreign affairs up to now.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Shooting in Las Vegas: "This is the Start of a Revolution"

We Americans are inured to mass shooting incidents.  But this one in Las Vegas yesterday is more disturbing than most.  The chilling phrase of the gunman: "this is the start of a revolution" puts a potential political twist on it.

Here's a survey of the mass shooting incidents over the last several years:  We value our freedom, and pay a stiff price for it.  Take a look at t his list; can you detect any pattern in the perpetrators.

The left says guns are the problem; the right says its crazy people.   Crazy?  Or alienated, and unable to cope with the relentless exigencies of modern life? 

Joseph Conrad in "The Secret Agent" suggests this kind of random violence is just something we have to live with.  And we do.  The Vegas shooting story lasted one news day.

The Times Will Be Cruel

America remains an "attractive nuisance."  Despite all the effort dedicated to border enforcement--we've more than double the amount of Border Patrol officers in recent years--we continue to be overwhelmed by illegal immigrants.  The press attributes so-called amnesty bill as creating the incentive for new waves to enter the country through the southern border.  Many are children. We were deporting in large numbers, but since the 2012 election, that has stopped. 

If we want to maintain a measure of prosperity for the working and middle class, we must control the immigration flow.  The constant downward pressure on wages is what the bill supporters want. But a ray of hope: the Republican majority leader ric Cantor just lost his primary to an outsider pledging to defeat the bill.   Maybe the GOP is starting to wake up from its suicide pact.

For a piece on Europe's problem, see this post by the Mail's Peter Hitchens: 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Questions for Snowden

Here's a piece by former CIA and NSA director Mike Hayden on some of the unanswered questions in the Snowden case.  It is a must read if you are following this drama.

It is about time the media--which includes "useful idiots of the right"--stop publishing Snowden and Greenwald's version of the events.  These two seek to weaken U.S. power and level the playing field for our adversaries. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Afghanistan: Obama's Good War

Obama ran in 2008 on the message that Afghanistan was the war to fight.  He agreed to a troop surge shortly after taking office.  Most of our casualties there have occurred on his watch.  And he has announced a nearly 10,000-troop presence (which usually means a lot more support elements) through all of 2015.   Good column here by Harsanyi gives the details:

Note that in Bob Gates's book, Obama never seemed to believe in this war commitment, but he did it anyway.  (Remember his ideological roots.)

Remarkable how the "pitiless crowbar of events" turned Obama into a foreign policy realist, by necessity, not choice.

The Afghanistan war deserves a longer post. It started in 2011 as a punitive action, supported by international law, because the Mullah Omar's Taliban regime refused to give up Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. After easily overthrowing him, we stuck around, on the theory that we needed to deny terrorists "safe havens" and we needed to restore the country to some semblance of good governance.

We should have treated Afghanistan like we did Mexico in 1916, sending in a punitive expedition to teach them a lesson and then getting out to fry bigger fish (in that case, an impeding war in Europe.)
General Pershing, with Pancho Villa and General Obregon, in 1914.  Two years later, Pershing was chasing Villa. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Release the Taliban!

The administration released five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO) in exchange for a soldier who was captured five years ago.  The five beards reportedly have been in GTMO for twelve years.  Qatar has agreed to keep them for a year, probably in a work release program as interns for Al Jazeera.  The Taliban appears pretty jacked about it:

The Mighty Whig himself spent a month in GTMO in 1987.  It almost makes one sympathetic.

The Obama team is treating this like a big win for us.  After all, closing down the GTMO detention facility has been one of the first things on Obama's "to do" list since 2008.  But they must have realized the optic is bad: We release five hardcore terrorists in exchange for a Sgt who, at least some believe, deserted.  Who could possibly find fault in that?

Admittedly, the circumstances of his capture seemed odd.  He might have deserted, and then had second thoughts about it.  It happens.  American soldiers have even deserted to North Korea.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  But a lot of folks have been working for his release, and his parents obviously have suffered.  I'm glad he's rejoined them.

(We just haven't heard that much about desertions in the Iraq and Afghanistan war.  I wonder how many troops have gone "over the hill" and have never come back?)

Nearly 150 prisoners are still in GTMO.  One thing for sure: they will all be released eventually, and probably some of them will go back to their terrorist ways.   But we'll be out of Afghanistan by then. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

The World Tilts Right

Columnist Michael Barone puts together all the recent victories by right-leaning parties here, and sees a pattern: voters care little about growing inequality and are rejecting distributist policies.  That's the economic explanation, anyway.  In a larger sense, voters are turning away from the intellectual straightjacket the international nomenclature wants to impose on them--on issues like bureaucratic centralization, austerity policies, climate change extremism, etc. 

We'll see.  Do a few swallows make a summer?   I'd like to see UKIP and National Front actually win a general election in their home countries first.