Tag Archives: NATO

Random Thoughts and Backfill

trump baby blimpOkay, it’s official. At 18,000£ this is beyond my budget, but it will be so nice to see it in flight tomorrow.  That’s $23773.99 at today’s exchange rate. I can go the 99¢, the rest of it not so much.

So lovely to hear The Angry Man Baby say he wants to meet with former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson.  Precisely what Prime Minister May doesn’t need at the present time as she works to rebuild her rather fragile coalition in the wake of the Brexit debacle.  But, what does AMBaby know of this, he’s not even familiar with the term “hard Brexit.”  Click on that link and a British newspaper will explain it for you.

Now, there IS some news ringing pleasantly in my ears –> Jacky Rosen is outpacing Dean (I have more positions on more issues than the Kamasutra) Heller.  This, I could learn to like very much. Democrats also appear to be doing rather well in the voter registration department, at least according to reports from early this month.

I have an idea!  If the Angry Man Baby wants to see all of Agent Peter Strzok’s non-work related messages to his lover, then let’s swap — Strzok hands over the mushy gushy and Trump hands over his tax returns for the last 20 years?  Fair enough?

obama uk visit

Check out the photo on the left — the Obama state visit to the UK — and compare that to the BBC’s version of Trump’s “working visit” to the Isle this week.  First off, notice the ties the gentlemen are wearing.  Obama = white tie event in Buckingham Palace. Trump = black tie event at Blenheim.  Obama = Queen Elizabeth II herself is in charge of the events, formal and informal, and there were informal social meetings.  Trump = being hosted by QEII’s youngest son Edward, Earl of Wessex, at a Palace — just not one anywhere all that close to London.  Trump =definitely not at Buckingham Palace for a meeting with QEII, he only gets one quick introduction in Windsor.  Wagers his reception from what interested public there might be won’t look anything like the “Harry-Meghan” wedding thing? Somewhere some British bookie is making odds…

Meanwhile, on a sadder note.  CBS reports that “under 3,000” migrant children have NOT been reunited with their parents.   The Misadministration is trying to parse the term “eligible” children such that children of parents who have already been deported aren’t eligible, and thus “don’t count.”   I  still can’t stomach the comment from Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar that the Misadministration is performing great acts of “generosity and charity” by reuniting families. 48 hours after the comment and I still can’t swallow it. There is still obviously NO plan. No coordination. Cruelty begets incompetence.  It’s time for the cruelty to end.  it should never have started.

Comments Off on Random Thoughts and Backfill

Filed under Foreign Policy, Nevada news, Nevada politics, Politics

DYI Guide to Orange Blimpy’s Potential NATO Disaster

Proposition One:  Yes, the Orange Buffoon can be, and probably is, too uninformed and too downright stupid, to comprehend what his ridiculous comments and assertions mean in terms of the overall diplomatic and military alliances among western nations.  After all, he’s the one who’s pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership leaving the field to the Chinese in the region; the one who pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords leaving nations which tailored their policies to meet our objections to the Kyoto standards wondering what happened; and, the one who is undercutting the renegotiation of NAFTA, while making the G8 the G7 Plus 1.  So, why should we expect any other behavior from him?

Proposition Two:  He is committed to distributive negotiation/bargaining (as previously noted) and lacks the will and the commitment to engage in the more difficult, nuanced, and  complex forms of integrated negotiations.  Further, he does not have a firm grasp on facts, and those he may manage to grip he places out of context or uses in inappropriate settings.  And, now off to the NATO races…

NATO background and history:  See Department of State, Office of the Historian, “Milestones” which is no longer maintained, but still available.  This will provide information about NATO from 1945 to 1952.  NATO itself has a page devoted to the history of the alliance.    This site offers an update into current NATO perspectives such as:

The 21st century will not be all about peacebuilding, however. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its aggressive actions against Ukraine have been a sobering reminder of the importance of NATO’s core task: collective defence. This, coupled with the Syrian conflict, the rise of ISIL and terrorism (and often home-bred terrorism), has become a brutal reality across many continents. Meanwhile, tensions rise as migrants seek refuge from conflict in countries that are struggling with the weight of ethnic and religious strife, demographic pressures and economic underperformance. Cyberattacks are becoming ever more frequent and ever more destructive. And through social media and other means, the opponents of liberal open societies are spreading disinformation and propaganda that seek to undermine the values that NATO has always sought to protect and promote. Altogether, the complexity of the current security environment is such that NATO’s flexibility is, yet again, put to the test.

NATO funding and support:   Again, NATO itself maintains Internet publications of the various types of funding and mutual assistance projects associated with its core missions.  Please note that most of the contributions are indirect (national) as when countries send forces, equipment, and supplies to assist operations; or, provide assistance to the US for its operations in conjunction with NATO interests.  There are direct contributions and a system is in place to provide coordination and oversight.  Readers will also find it useful, I think, to read the 2014 Wales Summit Agreement on NATO, which can be found here.

Again, NATO is NOT a country club with dues. It is NOT a protection racket. No one “pays” to support it. It IS a mutual defense league.

Who is meeting the 2014 defense spending criteria? For starters, the US is spending 3.6% of its GDP on defense.  Forbes has a handy, up-to-date, interactive showing the percentage by country for defense spending.  While I periodically disagree with some of Forbes’ editorial policies, I usually have no reason to quibble with their statistics.  I’d recommend this source for accurate information on national defense spending.  At this point it might be advisable to return to the brief aphorism of British general Lord Hastings Ismay.  “The purpose of the new treaty organization founded in 1952, Ismay asserted, was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

The French, in particular, may have their reasons for finding a reassertion of German militarization problematic — as in 1870August 1914  to November 1918, and May 1940 to April 1945.  We should probably be understanding if they are a bit edgy on the subject.

We should also see NATO from the “keep the Russians out” perspective of the Baltic States.  See: “Trump Derides NATO as ‘Obsolete.’ Baltic Nations See It Much Differently.” in the New York Times, June 10, 2018.   See also, Business InsiderRussia appears to be building up its military bases near a weak point in the NATO alliance, June 10, 2018.  I’m rather glad not to be an Estonian right now.  I don’t want to be Ukrainian now either. See Radio Free Europe.  Ukraine’s water supply in Sky News.  Russian texts to Ukrainian soldiers in Unian Post.  And, then there’s that thing with Crimea.

Meanwhile, we can only hope that the US House of Representatives will follow the Senate’s lead in offering resolutions in support of the NATO alliance, and that Congress will continue to hold fast to the Magnitsky Act and the sanctions, although that little junket by Congressional GOP Moscow Mules over the 4th of July has me a tad worried.

Buckle Up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

 

Comments Off on DYI Guide to Orange Blimpy’s Potential NATO Disaster

Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics

In The Midst of the Drivel: Trump, Russia, and Our NATO Allies

I need to mark this date on the calendar.  I’m grateful to Max Boot, the same Max Boot whose foreign policy opinions generally drive me down the short road to distraction.  However, credit where it is due — he paid attention to a portion of Trump’s rambling campaign speech in Pensacola which offers more illumination on this administration’s dubious foreign policy.   The ‘almost missed point’ comes about 20 minutes into the ramblings:

“Donald Trump’s performance at NATO was unacceptable.”  Ya know why they said that? I told the people of NATO while they were standing right behind me, they’ve been delinquent. They haven’t been paying, I said ya gotta pay! And now they’ve taken in, because of that, and I guess I implied, if you don’t pay we’re outta there, and took more heat from the press.  They said Donald Trump was rude to our allies. Well they’re rude to us when they don’t pay! Right? They’re rude to us.  So, we’ll have a nation that doesn’t pay then their nation gets frisky with whoever. Russia?  So we have a nation doesn’t pay, the nation gets aggressive, we end up in World War III for someone who doesn’t even pay. “

The context is generally, and rather loosely, a rant about “global bureaucrats,” the US foreign policy establishment, and how members of the audience should perceive Trump’s performance as a triumph of ordinary people against the Great Machine,  as the Ordinary Man is exemplified by one Donald J. Trump.

There is another context, one highlighted by Natasha Bertrand who caught the topic as it fits into the Steele Memos.  The core of the matter is here:

“The reason for using Wikileaks was ‘plausible deniability” and the operation had been conducted  with full support from TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team. In return the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine, a priority for PUTIN who needed to cauterize the subject.”

So, we have the President in Pensacola,  offering up a stump style recitation of his presidential accomplishments, bragging that he has directly criticized NATO leadership and questioned their contributions to mutual defense, while rationalizing American  reluctance to assist Baltic and Eastern European nations (read: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) if they “get frisky.”  With whom? The President answered his own question: Russia.

Now, why would the Baltic countries be getting “frisky” with the Russian Bear?  Step back to May 2015 and the earlier Latgale Proclamation.  Latgale is the easternmost region of Latvia, with a large Russian minority.  Officials in that nation took acute notice when in late January 2015 a website appeared boasting of the creation of the People’s Republic of Latgale.  The Los Angeles Times reported:

“Until the furtive creators of the website declared independence on behalf of the country’s Russian-speaking eastern enclave, authorities here had dismissed the threat of aggression by Moscow as all but unthinkable, thanks to the collective security shield wielded by a member of NATO.  But that first online hint of pro-Russia insurrection spurred an investigation that has identified the perpetrators, Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis said. He declined to name the suspects or say whether anyone has been arrested, disclosing only that “a criminal process has been started.”

And the connection between Ukraine and Latvia was readily apparent to Latvian officials:

“The Latgale proclamation, which journalists and others with intelligence connections say has been traced to provocateurs in Russia, continues to unsettle Latvians and their neighbors in Lithuania and Estonia for its similarity to acts of rebellion in Ukraine a year ago that have escalated into vicious warfare and more than 6,000 deaths.”

It was NOT the Latvians who were getting “frisky,” it was Russia promoting dissident elements in the Baltic nations, perhaps seeking to replicate their actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.   Further, the Estonians and Lithuanians were alarmed when Russia sent 2,500 troops to the Estonian and Lithuanian borders in July 2017.

“Concern about a possible war in the Baltics is high, with majorities in Lithuania and Latvia naming armed conflict as a prime concern and all three fearing the likelihood of war more than that of extremist attacks, according to various polls. Russia has formally denied it would ever attack a member of NATO, which all three nations of the Baltics are.

But the promises of Moscow diplomats have done little to assuage worries in the former Soviet Union states, largely because of Russia’s interpretation of events in Ukraine. Russia initially insisted its troops were not participants in the Crimean annexation and continues to deny that it has a military presence in eastern Ukraine.” [Newsweek]

Again, the example of Russia action in Ukraine, is cited as a reason for Baltic insecurity NOT as an element of Baltic aggression against the Russians.  Or, “friski-ness” as the President might characterize it.   Nor is there anything subtle about Russian intentions in Europe:

“Putin has made clear his national security goals. He wants a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space; a new security architecture in Europe and Eurasia; and a weakened and divided NATO and EU, so that he can expand Russian influence into Europe.”  [Newsweek 7/16]

It appears that in addition to assisting Putin “cauterize” the open wounds in Ukraine, and continuing to deflect discussions regarding NATO operations into debates about who owes what to whom, the President continues to hold up his end of his bargain with the devil in the Kremlin.

Comments Off on In The Midst of the Drivel: Trump, Russia, and Our NATO Allies

Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics

This Isn’t Normal And We Can’t Let It Be

In 1830 the United States had a total population of 12,806,702 spread among 24 states. New York City was our largest urban area with 202,589 people, Baltimore was second with 80,620. [Cen]  There was nothing about the American economy, which lurched from crisis to crisis during the 1830s, that would cause European powers to see the US as a power player:

“During this time, English traders could not collect on their sales in America, and many of them went bankrupt. Cotton mills closed in England, and American planters saw their markets disappear. By the summer of 1837, business was paralyzed, and it was not until the early 1840s that a semblance of confidence in business was restored.” [RU.edu]

We’re not, obviously, in the same category as we were 180 years ago, but we aren’t on the trajectory we were following a matter of months ago.   This, for Americans, isn’t normal.  Out of the economic and social debris of the American Civil War came an industrial nation,  fully prepared to compete with European nations, far ahead of some nations in terms of industrialization, financial markets (not that we were free from speculation and its results), and growing into importance as a world leader.  After booms and busts, periods of isolationism and nativism, and two world wars the US emerged as a super-power.  By 1953 President Dwight Eisenhower could say,”Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.” [NA]

Former General Eisenhower had another line which should resonate with us today: “Now I think, speaking roughly, by leadership we mean the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it, not because your position of power can compel him to do it, or your position of authority.”  [NA]

A Quick Review 

Other presidents following in this tradition sought to use American leadership in this manner.  President Kennedy’s foreign policy problems were legion, but he did manage to take a step towards arms control in the Limited Test Ban Treaty.  Lyndon Johnson’s presidency is associated with the Vietnam War, however during his tenure the US negotiated the Outer Space Treaty with the Soviet Union and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  President Nixon followed through with the SALT talks and the ABM Treaty.  President Gerald Ford signed the Helsinki Accords.  President Carter is remembered for the Camp David Accords. President Reagan changed the SALT formula to the START format: Strategic Arms Reduction Talks, and the tension evident in 1983 ended with Reagan’s trip to Moscow toward the end of his term in office. President George H.W. Bush managed to steer a steady course when relations with China threatened to implode over Chinese reactions to popular demonstrations, and his careful commentary in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet-era regime in Germany is said to have mitigated the reaction of hardliners in Eastern Europe.  President Bill Clinton pursued what he called his Policy of Enlargement, i.e. a policy based on promoting democracy and human rights abroad.  President George Bush’s foray into Iraq has encumbered the US with several foreign policy challenges, as did Clinton’s failure to deal assertively with Rwanda, however it would be remiss to omit Bush’s initiatives to deal with global HIV/AIDS programs and treatment.  The presidency of Barack Obama included negotiations concerning climate change (Paris Accords) and the limitations on the Iranian weapons program.

However mixed the policies and results of American world leadership since the Eisenhower Administration one aspect has remained fairly constant.  Every president has sought to get someone else to do what we want because they want to do it.  This was normal American foreign policy.  Until now.

America First America Alone

The first speech was a clear signal:

“President Trump’s speech Friday will go down as one of the shorter inaugural addresses, but it will also be remembered for its populist and often dark tone.“From this day forward,” Trump said at one point, “it’s going to be only America first. America first.” Trump appears to have first used the phrase last March in an interview with The New York Times when he denied he was an isolationist. “I’m not isolationist, but I am ‘America First,’” he said. “So I like the expression. I’m ‘America First.’” [Atlantic]

He appears to understand the dark origins of the America First movement, but adds a transactional element to the implied isolationism:

“Not isolationist, but I am America First,” he said. “I like the expression.” He said he was willing to reconsider traditional American alliances if partners were not willing to pay, in cash or troop commitments, for the presence of American forces around the world. “We will not be ripped off anymore,” he said.”[NYT]

He may like the expression, but it is irrevocably associated with the infamous Lindbergh Speech delivered on September 11, 1941:

“The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.  Behind these groups, but of lesser importance, are a number of capitalists, Anglophiles, and intellectuals who believe that the future of mankind depends upon the domination of the British empire. Add to these the Communistic groups who were opposed to intervention until a few weeks ago, and I believe I have named the major war agitators in this country.”

Putting America First, Lindbergh rushed past the fact that the British were  blitzed in the Summer and Fall of 1940, and the Jews were the subject of Nazi genocide.  His rationale was that neither the British nor the Jews were “American” and therefore they were promoting their interests at the expense of American interests.  At the time Lindbergh delivered his speech in Des Moines the British weren’t fighting for their empire — they were fighting for their existence; and, the Jews were fighting for their lives.  Given this context, the expression “America First” should have been assigned to the great trash heap of really bad phrases, however in Trumpian terms it’s a banner to be waved in front of our adversaries, and unfortunately our allies as well.  This isn’t normal.

Normal recognizes that Article 5 of the NATO Treaty states an attack on one ally means an attack on all — no strings, no demands for payment, no second guessing — as when it was invoked after September 11, 2001 on behalf of the United States.  It is not normal to address a gathering of NATO allies and delete a reference to the article.

Normal recognizes that voluntary accords such as the Paris Climate Agreement aren’t binding, but do express the aspirations of the global community toward adopting policies and practices which do not impinge on the health of our shared planet.  It is not normal to unilaterally discard an agreement most of the changes to which (from the Kyoto version) were made at American insistence.

Normal recognizes that the deployment of U.S. forces around the world is a deterrent to adventurism and the disruption of financial and commercial functions in the global domain.  It is not normal to view these expenses as being “ripped off” by other nations.  It is truly beyond normal to decry these expenses and then advocate for a $700 billion increase in the U.S. military budget.

Normal recognizes that not everyone gets exactly what is wanted from any international agreement, but that small steps can often lead to greater improvements.  The SALT talks begat the START talks and the START talks begat a nuclear non-proliferation treaty.  It is not normal to demand that the treaty with Iran contain precisely what the American government wants when it wants it — without securing international agreement as to the terms of the specific treaty.

Normal recognizes that it is necessary for a nation to be perceived as cooperative and willing to be held to one’s word.  It is not normal to have allies questioning whether or not the U.S. will sustain its support for NATO, cooperate with global initiatives on trade, health, and climate change, and keep its word concerning threats to global peace.

Normal recognizes that the foreign policy of other nations, such as Russia, is not in alignment with American interests.  Normal recognizes that the creation of a “Russian Century” is not in the best interest of the United States.  It is not normal to have an American president deny or try to minimize the significance of a Russian assault on American democratic practices and institutions.   It is not normal to have an American president omit reference to what is occurring in the Crimea, in Ukraine, and along the borders of western Europe.

The United States of America cannot allow the abnormal to become the new normal.

Comments Off on This Isn’t Normal And We Can’t Let It Be

Filed under Defense spending, energy policy, Foreign Policy, Politics

DIY Ukraine Briefing: Will Trump Stand Up To The Russian Tanks?

Ukraine Map

Yes, Mr. Trump, the Russians are in Ukraine. They’re occupying Crimea, and supporting “rebel” groups in eastern Ukraine. [HuffPo]  More distressing still is baffling inarticulateness which came after Mr. Trump was reminded that the Russians were already in Ukraine:

“Asked about the scrubbing of pro-Ukrainian language from the Republican platform, Trump offered up a word salad in which he seemed unaware that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been meddling in Ukrainian politics for years.

“[Putin’s] not going into Ukraine, okay, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want,” Trump said. (1)

Stephanopoulos pushed back, reminding Trump that Putin’s “already there, isn’t he?” Trump quickly changed the topic to Obama bashing.

“Okay — well, he’s there in a certain way. (2) But I’m not there. You have Obama there,” Trump said. “And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away. He takes Crimea.” (3)  [ThinkProg]

(1) The Russians are obviously already in Ukraine, and are currently building up forces along the border (again).

“Kremlin is supposedly to deploy three more brigades near the Ukrainian border. The Russian Federation is actively regrouping its two armies near the border with Ukraine and new divisions are being formed, according to the representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency.

“The 1st Tank Army, which is stationed in Moscow region, is being built up, as well as the 20th Army with Headquarters in Voronezh. Three new divisions are being created. The plans of the Russian leadership are changing,” told the representative of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine Vadym Skibitskiy.” (emphasis in original) [Ukraine Today, July 26, 2016]

Skibitskiy further commented that the three brigades formerly deployed along the border with Ukraine have now turned into three divisions.

(2)He’s there in a certain way?”  Well, yes, if “certain way” means occupying Crimea, supporting eastern pro-Russian rebels against the Ukrainian government and moving in like the proverbial brother-in-law who takes over the couch and then the living room. Liquidating status and changing place names.

July 28, 2016: “Russia liquidates the federal district status of the annexed Crimea.”

July 30, 2016: “U.S. tech giant Google has reinstated existing Soviet-era place names on online maps of Russia-annexed Crimea after it angered Moscow by changing them to correspond with names that Ukraine hopes to adopt in future under its “decommunization” law.”

(3)He’s  going away.” Certainly not if the Russians are building up units like the 1st Tank Army and the Russian army units based in Voronezh.  Putin is not going away any time soon, but he would like the Sanctions imposed in March and April 2014, April 2014, and the third round of sanctions imposed from April 2014 to the present to go away. Putin would really like it if the EU sanctions extended on December 12, 2015 to July 31, 2016 went away.

A door prize to anyone who can figure out what this means, which might be perilously close to “I can see Russia from my house:”

And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this.”

Ah yes, THIS from the man who suggested he would seriously consider not supporting Article 5 of the NATO agreement – one for all and all for one.  Yes, that self-same article 5 that was invoked by NATO after we were attacked on September 11, 2001.  The Lithuanians certainly don’t find Mr. Trump’s bombast comforting –  a large segment of the Lithuanian population remember all too vividly what the Russians did to them when they asserted their independence in 1991. [WaPo]

Mr. Trump obviously isn’t listening to people like Erika Verberyte, Lithuanian diplomat and foreign policy expert: “Almost every family in Lithuania had someone killed or deported by KGB. I was 19 and a student at Vilnius University during the events of Jan.13, 1991, when we rallied to stand up to Soviet tanks.” [WaPo]

The question is will Mr. Trump stand up to the Russian Tanks?

Comments Off on DIY Ukraine Briefing: Will Trump Stand Up To The Russian Tanks?

Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics, Republicans

3 Reasons to Ignore Beltway Blather about ISIL

White House Press Room Senator Lindsey Graham (R-Fainting Couch) wants a muscular U.S. policy against ISIL before we’re all murdered in our beds.  However, before we get all pumped up from watching cable news and beltway media blathering it might be a nice exercise to know more pesky details about the situation, especially with regard to ISIL held territory in Syria and Iraq.

#1.  Beltway blathering demonstrates little understanding of the situation inside the area under consideration.  The White House Press corps, which is evidently so shallow they can’t concentrate on major policy statements if the President or speaker is wearing a suit made of any fabric not dark gray or dark blue, persists in analyzing the “optics” or “atmospherics” surrounding such statements without listening to what is being said.  Were they better informed about the political and military situation their opinion pieces would be significantly improved.  Here’s an example:

During the White House press briefing on September 12, the Press Secretary fielded two questions concerning the relatively quiet response from NATO ally Turkey on joining the alliance against ISIS (L).  After Mr. Earnest offered a very diplomatic explanation the second questions was:

But any disappointment that particularly Turkey, a NATO member, would not sign on to something like this?” As if the explanation required more explication.  It did, but had the questioner a bit more background it would have been understood why the Turks are reticent and the White House Press Secretary more diplomatic.  Here’s what the press missed —

On June 11 ISIS (L) captured Mosul, and in the process of doing so attacked the Turkish consulate in that city, taking 79-80 hostages. [WSJ] As of September 1, 2014 the Foreign Ministry of Turkey sought to alleviate concerns about the health and well being of the hostages expressed by some of their family members and sources in the Turkish press. “Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc talked on the latest developments regarding the Turkish hostages held by ISIS militants, claiming they were alive, their location was known and that contact with them was being maintained.”  The Ministry went one step further — “The accuracy and reliability of information in respect to the source is necessary,” Bilgic said. “Since the first day our staff were taken hostage, our government has been conducting extremely sensitive work through all relevant institutions.”

It doesn’t take too much analysis to translate that statement as “We are working really hard with anyone who will cooperate to insure that our people from the Mosul Consulate are where we’ve been told they are, and are being treated humanely.”  After the grisly scenes of what has happened thus far to two American citizens and one British citizen, it is no wonder the Turks are less than enthusiastic about wanting to discuss their contributions to the “war on ISIS(L).”

So, the ill-informed member of the Press Corps asked a redundant and undiplomatic question, inferring that the Turks are not enthusiastic about defeating the ISIS(L) forces – perhaps a better question would have been something like – What are the allied nations doing to assist the Turks retrieve their consulate personnel?

#2The U.S. beltway media too often characterizes elements in complicated situations in simplistic terms.  Nothing illustrates this quite so well as in the case of the Syrian opposition.  There must be good guys and bad guys, and the U.S. should team up with the good guys!  However, what do we do when the coalitions and networks aren’t so conveniently classified? The Free Syrian Army, which some think we should arm, is actually a network of about eight large battalions and many smaller independent groups which are united in their opposition to the Assad Regime. [LATimes]

Consider for a moment the complications of arming the FSA, as described by the GulfNews organization:

“…equipment was in short supply and could not possibly match what the Syrian army had, or received from Iran and Russia. Moreover, Washington demurred when Riyadh readied shoulder-fired missiles and anti-tank launchers, and vetoed such transfers. The FSA’s fighting hands were thus tied allegedly because Western powers were not sure if some of these lethal weapons would fall under extremist control. In time, sophisticated American-made anti-tank missiles reached the FSA, though Al Nusra and, more recently, Isil boasted more advanced weapons. Timidity towards the FSA, ostensibly because its leaders maintained correct ties with moderate Islamist factions, translated in an entirely different outlook for Syria.”

Notice the policy of the Iranian government in this brief description, it is aligned with the Assad Regime (Alawite)  against the rebels in Syria – but aligned with the anti-ISIS(L) (Shia)  forces in Iraq.  Also, remember that the U.S. is trying to negotiate an agreement with Iran concerning its capacity to manufacture nuclear weaponry [Reuters] and actions which align with Iran’s interests in Iraq may promote this project, but those not aligned with Iran’s interests in Syria could derail the negotiating process.  In this instance it’s not so easy to shuffle groups into the Good Guys, Bad Guys categories.

#3The D.C. media are seemingly eager to critique policy without much background, especially as it pertains to the Arab states.  Witness this question from the September 12th briefing:

“One is on the Arab states.  They said that they would be prepared to do their share, and they talk about “as appropriate, joining in many aspects.”  But this language is a little amorphous.  It’s hard to get your hands around it.  What are they actually saying that they would do, besides Saudi Arabia hosting the Syrian rebels for training?  Will they provide troops, for example?”

The Saudis have a problem.  In August 2014 they donated $100 million to the United Nations to fund a counter terrorism agency, but they rejected a rotating seat on the UN Security Council.  Why the half in, half out posture? “Amorphous” is simply another way of saying we have a really sticky issue here and we aren’t ready to crawl out on a branch.  Ed Husain, writing for the New York Times explains:

“This half-in, half-out posture of the Saudi kingdom is a reflection of its inner paralysis in dealing with Sunni Islamist radicalism: It wants to stop violence, but will not address the Salafism that helps justify it.

Let’s be clear: Al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, the Shabab and others are all violent Sunni Salafi groupings. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has been the official sponsor of Sunni Salafism across the globe.”

While the reporter might have wanted the Press Secretary to answer for the Saudi government, or explain its position, the question would be better addressed directly to the Saudi government itself.   The issue has profound implications for the Saudi government – and has tentacles reaching back to the 1744 treaty or Holy Alliance:

“Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, founder of “Wahhabism,” an austere form of Islam, arrives in the central Arabian state of Najd in 1744 preaching a return to “pure” Islam. He seeks protection from the local emir, Muhammad ibn Saud, head of the Al Saud tribal family, and they cut a deal. The Al Saud will endorse al-Wahhab’s austere form of Islam and in return, the Al Saud will get political legitimacy and regular tithes from al-Wahhab’s followers. The religious-political alliance that al-Wahhab and Saud forge endures to this day in Saudi Arabia.” [Frontline]

Thus the Saudis have a 270 year old agreement with ultra-conservative elements in Islam, who represent perhaps 3% of the total number of Muslims world wide, and which produces an ultra-conservative government with the means and intent to spread the ultra-conservative message – to ISIS(L) and other religious fanatics.  And we wonder why the response from the Saudis is “amorphous?

Drafting this post took approximately one hour and forty minutes, during which reporting from the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, one D.C. press briefing, and an article from the Gulf News were perused.   Unfortunately, the White House press corps seems not to have taken the time to accumulate background information, or if some members did, they weren’t the ones who were called upon.  And thus we get the Parsing Game, in which sentences are analyzed for political meaning without much attention paid to the underlying policy; followed by endless speculation about the meaning of utterances without context. 

Instead of enhancing our understanding of intricate issues with a myriad of policy options, the press corps is trying to offer us the perfect news story, one with drama (preferably bloody), a hint of mystery, and the capacity for endless speculation.  Sometimes the WH Press Room might as well be empty.

2 Comments

Filed under Iraq, media