Thursday, December 31, 2015

My predictions for 2016.

As the year comes to a close I thought I could to another predictions post. In the past I have done these posts before the various political debates and I might as well do it for next year as well. I'm going to format it in the same way I do the debate posts, that is to say that I will post what I will think will happen and then how likely it will be with a percentage.

But before I do that I have to admit that 2015 was a pretty terrible year, at least in terms of this blog's subject matter. There were several huge terrorist attacks and ISIS is a bigger threat then it ever has been. As of the time of this writing, people are terrified that there will be another attack on New Year's Eve, to the point that many countries are even canceling their celebrations. Off the top of my head, Russia, Belgium and Turkey have all canceled events due to threats of terrorism. The fact that many of my predictions I am about to post could very well come true before the year is technically over is just sad. Hopefully nothing happens...

As for me this wasn't anywhere near as bad of a year. This month has kind of sucked but other then that it was ok. I made more money this year then I have in any other year and I am generally happy with the way things are going in my life. This blog is also doing better then it was this time last year, in terms of both views and post quality, in my own humble opinion. I am looking forward to a new year though and the continued growth of this blog.

Now for my predictions. I am going to organize these by topic and if you want me to go more in depth with any of my predictions, let me know with a comment!

2016 Presidential Election:
-Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party's candidate for President. 90%
-Hillary Clinton will not be president because she will be arrested and awaiting trial or actually be in jail. 5% Should be 100%...
-Bernie Sanders will be the Democratic Party's candidate for President. 1%
-Bernie Sanders will run third party after losing to either Hillary Clinton or Martin O'Malley in the primaries. 5%
-Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will drop dead allowing Martin O'Malley to become the candidate. >1%
-Martin O'Malley becomes the presidential candidate on his own merits and not because the other candidates died or had their campaigns explode, literally or figuratively. 0%

-Donald Trump will be the Republican Party's candidate. 90%
-If he is the candidate, the Republican Party will back him and won't try to undermine him. 75%
-Ted Cruz ends up as the Republican Party's candidate. 5%
-Combined chances of anyone else ends up as the Republican Party's candidate. >1%
-Jeb Bush will be the Republican Party's candidate. 0%. I'd go lower if mathematically possible. At this point it would take divine (or diabolical) intervention...
-Donald Trump will run as a third party candidate. 1%
-Someone will try to kill Donald Trump either before or after the election. 1% (much higher then I would rate the chances for all the other candidates combined)

-The election will be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. 90%
-Donald Trump will win. 65%
-Trump will also gain more African American supporters then any Republican in recent memory. 90%
-Trump will also gain Asian and women supporters compared to past candidates and will not lose a significant chunk of Hispanic voters. 60%
-If Trump is the Republican candidate, I will vote for him. 90% (I don't want Clinton to win and I don't really like any of the third party options)

Other Political Predictions:
-Barack Obama will try to ram through some kind of gun control before the end of his term. 99%
-This will result in a civil war. 1%
-No national gun control legislation will be passed by the Federal Government. 100%
-There will be a mass shooting not related to foreign terrorism in 2016. 100%

-Race relations will continue to deteriorate. 99%
-This will also result in civil war. 1%
-Someone directly involved with Black Lives Matter will either intentionally kill police officers or commit an act of racially motivated terrorism. 85%
-Opinion polls on Black Lives Matter will shift until the majority of people admit to disliking them. 75%
-Racial violence between blacks and whites will be more common next year then they were this year. More Dylann Roof's and equivalents on the black side. 70%
-The media will be held at least partially accountable for their role in this mess. 0%
-The media will blame the mess on racism, the police and gun rights, while avoiding blaming themselves, Democratic polices, and gun control. 100%
-Crime rates will increase due to police abandoning tactics that could offend Black Lives Matter. 60%
-Some police officers will die because they will hesitate to shoot a suspect out of fear of being the next Darren Wilson. 80%

-Republicans will retain control of both the House and Senate. 90%
-Republicans will also retain their lead in Governor's offices and State legislatures. 70%

-Social Justice will continue to face an even larger backlash then they did during the later half of 2015. 90%
-Social Justice will face such a backlash that it will hurt the Democrats chances in 2016. 75%
-Social Justice will still be a large force by the end of 2016. 70%
-Criticism of Social Justice, such as using the term Social Justice Warrior and anger over political correctness along with a general shifting of the Overton Window will push SJ out of the mainstream 25%
-Social shaming campaigns will lose some of their effectiveness in 2016. 33%

-Barack Obama will finish out his term as president and won't be assassinated or removed from office. 99.9999%

Foreign Policy:
-Relations with Russia will continue to falter. 55%
-Relations between Turkey and Russia will deteriorate to the point that war erupts. 10%
-NATO will be drawn into that war. 1%
-The Ukraine conflict will largely stay the same as it is now. A stalemate with little actual fighting. 80%
-Vladimir Putin will still be in charge of Russia by the end of 2016. 95%

-China will get into a conflict with one of its neighbors, over maritime claims. 55%
-That conflict will lead to an actual war. >1%
-China's economy will collapse for any reason. 25%

-The Mexican Drug War will continue with it's current intensity. 80%

-The Syrian Civil war will still be going on by 2017. 99.9999%
-The United States will deploy major ground forces in Syria and/or Iraq. 10%
-Some other country will deploy major ground forces. 1%
-Bashar al-Assad will be the president of Syria by the end of 2016. 90%
-China will join the war in Syria, in a role similar to Russia's. 60%
-The Iraqi government will survive 2016. 98%

-A major international war will break out due to reasons I did not mention above and not related to terrorism. 2%

-ISIS will still control significant parts of both Iraq and Syria. 99%
-ISIS will lose either Mosul or Raqqa and have their territory shrunk in both Iraq and Syria. 45%
-ISIS will actually expand in Iraq and Syria. 35%
-ISIS will lose control of most of the major cities they currently hold in Iraq and Syria and will be reduced to holding onto backwater towns and the country sides. 5%
-ISIS will expand in the other countries they control territory in, such as Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Nigeria and Afghanistan. 99%
-ISIS will also expand in other countries, to the point of taking and holding territory. 95%
-ISIS will be the main jihadist group in Syria. 99%

-ISIS's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will still be alive by 2017. 75%
-ISIS will conduct an assassination or terror attack that kills a world leader. 65%
-ISIS will assassinate the Pope. 50%
-ISIS will execute another US citizen; 80%
-ISIS will still exist by 2017. 100%
-Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States will admit their role in creating, funding and supporting ISIS, either currently or in the past. 0%
-The United States will admit their role in creating ISIS. 1%

-There will be a terrorist attack that kills a similar amount of people to the San Bernardino attacks in the United States in 2016. 90%
-There will be a terrorist attack that kills a similar amount of people to the Paris attacks in the United States in 2016. 75%
-There will be a terrorist attack that kills a similar amount of people to 9/11 in the United States in 2016. 20%
-There will be a terrorist attack that will occur but will fail to kill anyone due to incompetence on the part of the terrorists. 99%
-Canada will experience a terrorist attack. 80%

-Europe will have multiple smaller terrorist attacks and at least one on the scale of the Paris attacks. 90%
-Europe will have a attack on the scale of 9/11 with 1000+ casualties. 45%
-Europe will have a terrorist attack using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. 33%

-North Africa will see more attacks like the ones that occurred in Egypt and Tunisia this year. 75%
-Boko Haram will still conduct the majority of terrorist attacks throughout next year. 80%
-Egypt will be a hotbed of terrorism and westerners will be attacked much more frequently. 60%

-Asia will suffer a major terrorist attack on the scale of the Paris attacks. 75%

-South America will have a major terrorist attack of any scale. 15%

-At least one major terrorist attack will involve people that infiltrated the United States or Europe as a refugee. 80%
-The vast majority of terrorist attacks in both Europe and America will be conducted by 2nd generation citizens. 75%

-Other terrorist organizations besides ISIS will pull of a major terrorist attack in 2016. 90%
-Al-Qaeda will become relevant again. 50%
-The vast majority of terror attacks in Europe and North America will either be directly conducted by ISIS or inspired by them. 99%

As you can see I am somewhat pessimistic about 2016. I just think that terrorism is going to be a huge issue this year and I don't think the problem will get any better until it has gotten way worse. Nobody is taking ISIS seriously and they will continue to expand their capabilities to attack Europe and America. I also am not to hopeful about foreign policy in general. The world is a mess right now and I'm afraid that 2016 isn't going to be much better then 2015 was.

About the only good thing I can say about 2016 is at the end of it we will be getting a new president. Barack Obama has been a huge failure as a president and I am guessing that if he hadn't been president, or had been a one term one, many of these predictions would have much smaller chances of happening or would be completely irrelevant. Whoever gets elected in 2016, I can't imagine them being any worse then Barack Obama has been, even the next president gets us into a nuclear war and kills the entire country. Obama has been that bad, and the day we elect a new president will be a great day, even if it isn't someone I like.

For me personally, I think next year will be great. Well as great as things can be when the world is burning around you. Despite that I am looking forward to the new year, and even if I sound like a pessimist I do think that 2016 will be the beginning of the end for the current crisis's the world is facing. Though 2016 might not be a good year, I do think that 2017 has a much better chance of being better then 2015 has been. There is light at the end of the tunnel and I think we are getting closer to a new day. Things will get better in the long term, even as the short term looks grim...

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Editor's note

Posting has been light lately. Things have been fairly crazy lately. My home state just got hit with a huge storm, and I have had some stupid issues with my car. In short, I haven't had enough time to post. Hopefully I will have a post up tomorrow but right now there is no guarantee. I am planning on doing a predictions post for the new year, but it might have to wait until the weekend!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Donald Trump is starting to attack both Hillary and Bill Clinton. AFP.

Donald Trump speaking on the USS Iowa last September. AFP.

Donald Trump is starting to attack both Hillary Clinton and her ex-president husband, Bill Clinton. AFP. Trump has been bashing the couple for Bill Clinton's long record of infidelity and perceived sexism. Trump has been labeled by the Clinton campaign as a sexist after many of his remarks, including one where he said that Hillary Clinton had been "schlonged" by Barack Obama during their presidential primary race. But Trump has warned the Clinton campaign that trying to pull the sexism card against him would be a bad idea due to Bill Clinton's behavior in the past. Trump also demanded an apology after Hillary Clinton claimed that ISIS was using his remarks on restricting Muslim immigration to recruit people during the last Democratic debate. Clinton claimed that ISIS had put his statements into propaganda videos, but to date no such videos have been found. 

My Comment:
I'll talk about the ISIS claim first. Hillary Clinton was completely lying about the video. As of this writing there have been no ISIS propaganda videos staring Donald Trump. And I doubt ISIS thinks about Trump at all. Most of their propaganda, when it mentions American politics at all, talks about Barack Obama. Sometimes other politicians are mentioned. Indeed, in one video, posted below, ISIS called out Bill Clinton himself calling him a "fornicator" (at about 45 seconds into the video). He wasn't the only president called out, as Barack Obama and George Bush were made fun of as well. But Donald Trump wasn't mentioned at all. 

If the video is removed, the video is "No Respite".

ISIS is certainly politically savvy and may eventually exploit Donald Trump's campaign statements in their propaganda videos. But that hasn't happened yet and for Hillary Clinton to claim that Trump is a recruiter for ISIS when her own husband has been filling the same role is hugely hypocritical. Either way though, the argument that we shouldn't say some things just because ISIS may use the soundbite as a recruitment tool is stupid. ISIS is going to do whatever they want and if it isn't Donald Trump's statements they use, it will be something else. They are disgusted by most of Western society, so there is plenty they could be offended by even if Trump had never said anything controversial at all. 

And the idea that we should never say anything bad about Islam and Muslims because if we do they will join terror groups seems rather offensive to me. After all, people are claiming anyone that wants to restrict immigration for Muslims are bigots, but those same people think that Muslims are so sensitive that even mentioning that some Muslims could be a threat will cause all Muslims to freak out and join terror groups? My question is who is the real bigot here? I'd like to think that even the most anti-Muslim bigot would understand that there are millions of Muslims that would either ignore Donald Trump's criticism or at the very least, wouldn't immediately join ISIS and kill people. 

As for Donald Trump being a sexist, I really think he is the opposite. He treats women exactly the same as he treats men, at least when it comes to politics. Trump is a blowhard and speaks his mind. He insults people. And he does it regardless of his opponents sex, race or age. He does the exact opposite of discriminating against women, he treats them the same as he would treat a man. I will say that it seems like he treats women he respects, like his daughters, wife, and the women in his company, well. Though Trump is crude and says some crazy things once in awhile, I don't think he hates women just for being women. But if the bar for sexism is that you can never be critical or any woman ever, under any circumstances, then all of us are sexist and sexism has lost all meaning. 

There is this insane idea out there that being critical of any particular woman means you hate all women. Which is incredibly stupid. Just because you disagree with Hillary Clinton, and I certainly do, does not mean that you hate all women. Even if you call her mean names, that does not translate to hating all women. Being a woman does not absolve you of any and all criticism. But many women see all women as their tribe. An attack on one feels like an attack on all. That's an almost universal problem with any group mind you, so the problem isn't unique. I could give you dozens of examples of people perceiving a criticism against an individual as a criticism of a group, including times where I fell into the trap myself. It's not a smart way to think about things, that is for sure. But it does explain why claiming Trump is sexist because he criticizes, harshly, people like Hillary Clinton and Rosie O'Donnell works. 

 And almost all of the time, when a female politician uses the gender card she is using it to distract against criticism. There is plenty of criticism that Hilary Clinton needs to distract against. She's done a lot of bad things as a First Lady, as a Senator, and especially as a Secretary of State. Those scandals won't go away just because she is a woman. She needs to answer for them and pointing those scandals out does not mean someone is sexist. 

As for Bill Clinton, I think Trump is right. His treatment of women has never been exemplary, to the point that Wikipedia has a whole page on his sexual misconduct. He cheated on his wife more then once with many different women. His relationship with Monica Lewinsky was inappropriate, even if he was single, and he has been accused of far worse. And Hillary Clinton has also been accused of covering up his infidelities and perhaps even crimes. After all, Juanita Broaddrick claimed that Bill went as far to rape her and she claimed that Hillary intimidated her. 

Though I have no idea if all or even most of the allegations against Bill Clinton are true, the fact of the matter is that most politicians don't have that long of a rap sheet when it comes to these kinds of sex scandals and still have a successful career. I would argue that even being sleazy like Bill Clinton is doesn't make him sexist, but by almost any standard he has treated women worse then Donald Trump has. I don't think either of them are really sexist, but I do think that Bill Clinton gets a pass for behavior that would get a Republican candidate crucified. 

I am not sure that these attacks will hurt Hillary Clinton or help Donald Trump all that much. The people that support her have supported her through worse and the people that hate her can't hate her much more then they do already. There may be a few people out there may switch their allegiance one way or the other because of this issue, but they will be few and far between. The only exception I can see is for young people that were too small to remember all the scandals of the Clinton Presidency when they happened. Since those people tend to lean liberal anyways Trumps attacks on Clinton, if they help anyone, they probably help Bernie Sanders more then they help him. 

I don't think Trump has anything to lose by bashing the Clinton's this way though.The people that hate him will think he is a bigot no matter what he does, so attacking has no cost. But it does have one benefit. It's like throwing a huge juicy red meat steak to the Republican party. Almost everyone in the Republican party hates Hillary Clinton and there aren't that many fans of Bill Clinton in the party either. Bashing the Clinton's for Bill's treatment of women is the kind of thing that could gain Trump's fans from people that would otherwise hate him. I also think that some people are absolutely sick of people using the "sexism" card to get out of actual criticism. If 2015 taught us anything it's that people are sick and tired of identity politics. Trump understands this and he is helping to fuel the backlash.

Finally, I think that most of this is irrelevant to whether or not you should vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. You should vote on policy and not whether or not someone said something mean about somebody. Just because Hillary Clinton got made fun off does not mean she should be president. And Donald Trump shouldn't be president just because he managed to tangle with the Clinton's. You should vote for what the candidates want to do and what their politics are, not over stupid scandals or fights. If you hate Hillary Clinton's personality or husband but you like her policies you should vote for her. Same goes for Donald Trump or whoever you want to vote for. Vote on the issues, not fights. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Iraqi army declares victory against ISIS in Ramadi. Reuters.

An Iraqi soldier raises the flag in Ramadi. Reuters. 

The Iraqi army had declared victory in Ramadi after they took the city center from ISIS. Reuters. Ramadi was taken by ISIS in May after Iraqi troops fled the city. Iraq had been fighting to take back the city ever since and had surrounded the city for weeks before finally pushing into the city itself. The Iraqis took the final major ISIS stronghold in the city, the central administration complex, on Sunday. Pockets of ISIS fighters are still probably in the city. Much of the city was destroyed in the battle and the Iraqis will have their work cut out for them as rebuilding begins. It is unclear how many casualties the battle caused. The Iraqi government claims that most of the civilians were able to escape the battle. The battle marks the first victory for the Iraqi army since the war began. Though they participated in the liberation of Tikrit, that was mostly a Shia militia victory. Those Shia militias were held back in Ramadi due to the atrocities they committed in Tikrit. With Ramadi back in Iraqi hands, the government now sets their sights on Mosul, which is the de-facto capital for ISIS in Iraq. 

My Comment:
This deceleration of victory is possibly premature. Yes they were able to take the city center back and ISIS has been reduced to isolated pockets of resistance. But they are still in the city and I doubt the fighting is over. There may be a few more days or even weeks of fighting as ISIS is slowly pushed out of the city. And even if ISIS is pushed out, they will likely still have an operational presence in the city. Though ISIS will no longer hold territory in Ramadi, they may still be able to launch terror attacks targeting the Iraqi military and civilians. I don't think there is any chance that ISIS will be able to hold out in Ramadi for any extended amount of time, but there are still forces there and as long as that is true, I think any declaration of victory is premature. 

And it's not like ISIS has been pushed out of central Iraq. ISIS still holds the cities of Fallujah and Hit. With those two cities still in ISIS hands, they will be able to conduct raids and offensive operations throughout central Iraq. Taking Ramadi is a victory, but Iraq still has major problems in the region. Fallujah has been in ISIS hands for longer then Ramadi and there is no sign that the battle for that city is going to end anytime soon... 

I'm also worried that ISIS will be able to take another city after this battle. Remember, when Ramadi fell last May, it was right after Iraqi led forces took back the city of Tikrit. ISIS pulled their troops out of that city, after inflicting heavy casualties, and then prepared for a new offensive. By pulling troops out of northern Iraq, they were able to conduct a major offensive in south central Iraq, which ultimately ended with them taking Ramadi. With Iraqi forces spread so thin, ISIS may be able to go on the offensive again. Sure, the incompetence of the troops guarding the city of Ramadi helped, but it was still a successful operation. If it happened before, there is always a chance it could happen again.

Still, ISIS's chances of victory are smaller now then they were when Ramadi fell. In Ramadi they had the advantage of the Shia militias being tied up in the north. ISIS may decide to attack, but with central Iraq being the place they are retreating from, they would have no choice but to attack the north. And there, the Iraqis should be able to deploy the Shiite militias, which are probably fresh since they didn't take part in the battle of Ramadi. The other option is to attack the Kurds, but their fighters have been exceptional lately and I don't see them as an easy target. I do think that ISIS will probably try to attack somewhere, but I doubt they will have the level of success they had in Ramadi. 

All that being said, this is a huge victory for Iraq and a major defeat for ISIS. This is the first major victory the Iraqis have had without much in the way of help. Sure, America definitely helped the Iraqis win the battle with airstrikes and logistical support, but when it came down to the actual fighting, it was the Iraqi's that stepped up and won the battle. They didn't have to rely on Iranian backed militias and they avoided the possible massacres those troops would have conducted in Ramadi. That should be a major morale boost for Iraqi troops and for Iraq in general. It shows that the Iraqi army isn't completely incompetent and is rebuilding after being largely destroyed in the first phases of the war against ISIS. 

For ISIS, this is a major defeat for them, in a season where they are facing a lot of setbacks. ISIS has been losing a lot of territory lately, in both Iraq and Syria and have even had to pull out of Damascus in Syria. Though those other battles hurt ISIS more then Ramadi ever did, Ramadi is going to get most of the headlines. That will probably hurt their morale and could even result in fewer recruits for the group. ISIS will also lose out on the tax base that Ramadi provided, and they have lost quite a few troops that were killed or captured in the battle. The fact that Iraq didn't deploy the Shia militias to the city also means that ISIS missed out on a recruitment opportunity as the atrocities those troops would have conducted would have been a propaganda victory for ISIS.

But let's not pretend that ISIS is on the verge of being defeated in Iraq. I already mentioned that they control Fallujah and Hit in central Iraq, but more importantly they still control Mosul. The Iraqi government says that Mosul is the next target but they have been saying that since the city fell last year.

 Mosul will be a much tougher battle then Ramadi will be. For one, the Iraqis will be much further away from their logistical bases which will make supplying their army a lot more difficult. ISIS will also have way more fighters in Mosul then they did in Ramadi. Remember, there were less then 500 ISIS fighters in Ramadi during the final stages of the battle. That will not be true in Mosul. And there is also the question of what to do with the civilians in Mosul. Most of the civilians in Ramadi were able to evacuate, but I doubt that will be true in Mosul And in that city, many of the civilians may actually support ISIS. In the end, if the battle of Mosul happens anytime soon, expect it to be a long bloody siege where many more people die on both sides when compared to the battle of Ramadi... 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Leader of Jaysh al-Islam, an Islamist group of rebels in Syria, killed near Damascus. Reuters.

Zahran Alloush, the former leader of Jaysh al-Islam. Reuters. 

The leader of an Islamist group of rebels in Syria, fighting near the capital of Damascus, was killed in an airstrike Friday. Reuters. Zahran Alloush, the leader of Jaysh al-Islam, also known as Army of Islam, is a massive blow to the organization, which is one of the largest rebel group fighting in area. The group, now temporarily leaderless and in chaos, fields between 10,000 and 20,000 troops and was President Assad's main enemy in the Damascus area. Since 2013, the group had consolidated local rebel groups and held control of the Eastern Ghouta area of Damascus. Russian bombers targeted the secret headquarters of the group during a major meeting with as many as ten missiles. The Syrians said they gathered intel about the base on the ground while the rebels blamed Russian spy-planes. Jaysh al-Islam does fight against ISIS and al-Nusra as well as the Syrian regime, but they are not a member of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). 

My Comment:
Reuters was sure trying to make it seem like Alloush was a moderate Muslim. I guess in comparison to ISIS or al-Nusra he was, but that's a low bar to clear. Jaysh al-Islam is a radical Islamic group and I think it is fair to call them Jihadists, even if they aren't under the same banner as ISIS or al-Nusra fight under. Alloush was a Salafist, which means he was a follower of an extremely strict and regressive form of Islam. As far as I am concerned, the group is just as dangerous ideologically as ISIS or al-Nusra are, though are less of a threat militarily due to their small size and limited area of control. They also have not exported terrorism to other countries... so far. 

Jaysh al-Islam is responsible for a long list of atrocities in Syria. The Wikipedia page for the group has a long list of horrible things that they have done. The worst of these accusations was the Adra massacre, which they conducted with al-Nusra, where 32 Druze, Alawite, Christians and Ismalites were killed. This is far from the only bad thing they have done. Taking an page out of ISIS's playbook, they filmed the execution of several captured ISIS fighters. Though the ISIS fighters probably deserved it, it was still a war crime. Far worse though is the use of captured Alawite soldiers and their families as human shields against the government's bombing campaign.  

In short these are not good people and I am not sad to see Zahran Alloush go. He was a dangerous man and the world is probably a better place without him in it. But the press is downplaying his crimes. Why? Probably to demonize the Russians. After all, if you claim that Zahran and Jaysh al-Islam are "moderates" then Russia is spending time attacking "moderate rebels, and not ISIS like they are "supposed" to be doing. I understand many people have a problem with what Russia is doing in Syria, but let's not lie and say that the people they are bombing are wholly innocent. Though many of these groups are opposed to both ISIS and the regime, that does not mean they are good people. Indeed, there seems to be very few "good" rebels left in Syria. The thousands of "secular" rebels the American government claims are available for training are mostly a myth.

As always, nobody seems to ask the question of who replaces Bashar al-Assad if he loses. The obvious candidates right now aren't the secular rebels. ISIS is the main candidate but even if they are defeated, al-Nusra is next up in line, and they are affiliated with al-Qaeda. Should that group fall then it is going to be other radical groups, like Jaysh al-Islam, that will take up the banner. And these groups are only slightly better then ISIS or al-Nusra. Though the regime of Bashar al-Assad is evil, and has many crimes to answer for, 

All that is just complaining though. The actual death of Alloush has major implications and I should really discuss them. Destroying the leadership of Jaysh al-Islam should greatly help the Syrian regime's effort at defending Damascus. Damascus has been a hotbed of violence since the start of the war, but the regime has slowly started to take back territory from their enemies. Though the groups still has large numbers of fighters, the loss of their leader will be a major blow to their morale and could give the regime the advantage in the long term. And it's important to note that Alloush wasn't the only commander killed in this attack, he was just the highest ranking. Many other senior commanders were at the meeting and their loss will have an impact as well. 

The attack has short term implications as well. AFP is reporting that an evacuation deal, brokered by Syrian government, to remove ISIS and al-Nusra fighters from the capital of Damascus has fallen apart due to this bombing. Jaysh al-Islam was supposed to provide safe passage to ISIS fighters and civilians to Raqqa, the de-facto capital of ISIS. That deal is, at the very least, postponed. It sounds like there is hope that the evacuation will go on as planned. 

I don't know if that idea is a good one or not. On the one had, if the evacuation takes place then ISIS and al-Nusra will lose their foothold in Damascus, which would be a major defeat for both groups. It would also allow the government to focus their energies on Jaysh al-Islam, and other groups in the area, which is fine with me since I consider them Jihadists. The deal would also allow some people to come home and start rebuilding the damage caused by the war. Still, I'm more then a little wary of letting thousands of Jihadists flee. I'd rather see them dead or in prison awaiting trial for their crimes...

Either way though, it's unclear what is going to happen in Damascus. If things work out then this is a huge victory for the Syrian regime, both diplomatically and militarily. Securing the capital would allow them to shift their focus elsewhere and spend more resources fighting both ISIS and al-Nusra. That's a fine outcome as far as I am concerned. Still, even if the deal falls apart and Jaysh al-Islam is able to reorganize, it's not really a defeat either. It's just the status quo that Syria has been living with for years now. I don't think any group is really seriously threatening to take the capital any time soon. 

I have to say the Russians are proving to be a huge boon for the Syrian regime. Before the Russians came, it seemed like the regime would fall, or at least be pushed back to the point where they would have to be a rump state near the Syrian coast. Losing Damascus seemed like a possibility, and at the very least it looked like it could be cut off from the northern cities. Thanks to Russian intervention that didn't happen. Yes the Syrians on the ground did their part too, but the Russian boosted morale for them with their airstrikes and have crippled the morale of the rebel fighters. I don't know if the Russians entering the war will be remembered as the turning point for the war in Syria, but it does seem that they are having a larger impact then some people would like to admit. 

Finally, it appears that Jaysh al-Islam has a website. It's got some interesting combat footage and photo galleries, but I must warn you that some of it is rather graphic and you may end up on a NSA watchlist for visiting the site...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas everyone!

Once again, have a great Christmas! I'm taking the next day or so off from blogging so I can do family stuff. Unless something crazy happens, blogging will probably return this weekend at some point. Until then, enjoy the holiday!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Russia accused of war crimes in Syria. AP.

A Russian SU-34 dropping bombs in Syria. Russian Defense Ministry photo

Amnesty International is claiming that Russia has committed possible war crimes in their military operations in Syria.  AP. Their new report focuses on six airstrikes that have killed up to 200 people. They are also accusing Russia of using cluster munitions and unguided bombs in their attacks on Syria militants. Russia rejected the claims and pointed out that there was no way to tell who was responsible for the airstrikes because the Syrian government also uses the same equipment and weapons. Russia also claimed a double standard due to the fact that US, Turkish and other members of the coalition have undoubtedly caused civilian casualties as well. In one attack, human rights officials on the ground in the city of Ariha, a city taken by al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra and their allies, said that there were no militants on the ground when the bombing run occurred. 

My Comment:
Quite a double standard here. The United States has killed thousands of civilians in many different wars since 9/11. Though there was always complaints about it, there was never this level of condemnation. Indeed, the United States has been accused of killing around 680 civilians in Iraq and Syria at the low end, though nobody seems to have reliable numbers. And I am sure the other members of the coalition has killed civilians as well. To argue that Russia isn't doing enough to avoid civilian deaths is to argue that they should be treated differently then anyone else involved in Syria.

That's the dirty little secret of air warfare. It's just as bloody and violent as ground combat, and civilians die all the time during airstrikes.  Though you can take steps to reduce civilian casualties, it is very difficult and if you do you risk not having an effective air campaign. Sometimes you just have to kill the innocent in order to kill your enemy. Nobody wants to do so, but it's probably one of the most obvious and universal rules of warfare. Rule number one is civilians always die in large numbers during war. To claim it isn't happening is foolish and in some cases trying to reduce civilian casualties can make things worse for everyone.

Indeed, that has been a major criticism of Obama's war in Syria. He has been criminally gun shy when it comes to his air campaign and has done a lot to try and avoid casualties. To the point that he has not been accomplishing his goals. Presumably, Obama wants to win the war against ISIS, but his obsession with reducing casualties is in direct opposition to winning the war. 

A great example of this is the recent airstrikes against ISIS oil trucks. For a very long time Obama did not want to hit the oil trucks that were being used to take oil out of the country. Oil is a huge source of income for ISIS but Obama was reluctant to hit them because the drivers of those trucks were technically civilians. I'd argue that anyone driving trucks for ISIS deserves whatever that comes their way, including airstrikes, but the Obama administration disagreed. The airstrikes didn't happen until after Russia joined the war but even then he sent down leaflets saying that trucks would be bombed. The trucks were destroyed in the end but ISIS could have been hurt a lot more if Obama had just bombed them right away. The Russians had no such reservations and due to that, I think their air campaign has been much more effective then ours.

Russia's use of cluster munitions are a bit more controversial. They do tend to kill people long after they have been dropped and can kill indiscriminately. But I am not 100% convinced that Russia is the one that dropped them. Syria also uses these munitions and it's possible that they are the ones responsible. Of course it's very possible that Russia used them as well, but no matter who is responsible for it, I am not going to lose any sleep over it. Compared to everything else that has happened in the Syrian war, from the use of chemical weapons, to the treatment of prisoners, to the executions of downed pilots, complaining about cluster munitions is almost quaint. Though not using them could reduce civilian casualties, it could also reduce enemy casualties. The whole point of the war is to kill ISIS and other Jihadists, so I am not too upset if Russia is using these weapons.

And no one side has clean hands in this war. Syria is the very definition of a dirty war. Pretty much every side in the conflict has killed civilians and most of them have conducted war crimes as well. Though ISIS is the most obvious candidate, almost every other group has done terrible things in the conflict. Obviously, the other Jihadists have used ISIS's tactics of murders and suicide bombings, but they aren't the only offenders. The regime has it's share of war crimes as well and even the few secular rebels left in the country have committed war crimes. Remember, it was the secular rebels on the ground that shot the Russian pilot as he was bailing out of his plane... There is plenty of blame to go around, and nobody is immune to accusations of war crimes. But it seems to me that Russia, Syria and ISIS are the only ones that get called out on it, even though the crimes are pretty much universal. That isn't to say that we shouldn't call out when those groups do something wrong, and believe me, there is a lot to call out, just that there is a double standard. 

Still, Russia does seem to be taking civilian casualties a lot less seriously then the United States. Though that doesn't play well in the international press, I find it refreshing. Nobody should try to inflict atrocities on purpose but I also think it is wrong to extend the length of a war just because civilians could die if you try to win. Nobody should ever go to war without a clear plan to victory, and half measures like the ones the Obama administration takes, more often then not prolongs the war  and leads to more deaths overall..

EDIT: Here's video of Russia bombing what appears to be ISIS oil trucks. You can clearly see people running away from the bombing and none of them appeared to be armed. I'll let you interpret that anyway you want.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Iraqi fighters finally make it to the city center in Ramadi. Reuters.

Iraqi fighters with a captured ISIS flag taken down at Anbar College. Reuters. 

Iraqi forces have finally entered the city center in Ramadi, in the biggest success so far in the fight against ISIS in the city. Reuters. The battle has been raging since November and progress has been very slow. Iraq initially lost the city last May, after fleeing from ISIS despite outnumbering them. Recently, Iraqi troops have been on the offensive but little ground has been regained. This is due partially to the fact that Iraq has been very reluctant to deploy Iranian backed Shiite militias in the primarily Sunni city. Progress has also been slow due the large number of civilians trapped there by ISIS. Only 250 to 300 ISIS fighters are believed to be left in Ramadi, but they left behind dozens of booby traps and bombs. Should Ramadi be liberated completely it will only be the second city, after Tikrit. ISIS still hold several cities in the area including Fallujah an Hit.  

My Comment:
It's still too soon to tell if the Iraqi forces will be able to dislodge the few fighters left in Ramadi. In theory they shouldn't have too many problems. After all, if the numbers quoted in the article are correct and ISIS only has 250-300 troops in the city, then they should be completely outnumbered and outgunned. But ISIS was able to take the city with only a few more troops then that, and it is always easier to defend then to attack. And Iraqi troops have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on more then one occasion in the past... 

ISIS is making sure that the Iraqis pay a heavy price for taking back the city. I have mentioned many times before that ISIS loves to leave bombs, snipers and booby traps behind whenever they are pushed out of an area. They are doing the same thing in Ramadi, so even if they lose the city, they will kill Iraqi troops and civilians. They are also using suicide bombers defensively, which is not a phrase you will hear very often. But it is true, and it shouldn't be too surprising that they are using the tactic. After all suicide bombings are easy to pull off, hard to defend against and are devastating for troop morale, just like all the bombs and booby traps are as well. Though ISIS primarily uses suicide bombing as an offensive weapon, or just a general terror tactic, they can be used to great effect when they are on the back foot. 

ISIS's tactics are unconventional and I am guessing most of the "fighting" in Ramadi is dealing with these kinds of bombs and traps instead of actual gunfights. While on the defensive, ISIS is more focused on doing as much damage as possible, so my guess is that they are doing their best to avoid getting into close range gunfights with Iraqi forces. Better to avoid a fight and plant more bombs then to get into a fight and lose. That isn't to say that gunfights aren't occurring, but the primary way ISIS is hitting their enemy is with these bombings and traps. On the other side of it, I am guessing the Iraqis are more focused on the gunfights but if past performance is any hint, they are still very reliant on US air support. 

None of this is really new, but the fact that Iraq is avoiding using the Iranian based militias in Ramadi is new. These militias have a history of treating Sunni Muslims as garbage and have committed many atrocities against them. When Tikrit was liberated from ISIS, many innocent and not-so-innocent Sunni Muslims were executed by the Shiite Muslims that make up the militias. There were also reports of widespread looting and burning of Sunni houses and businesses as well as many other human rights abuses. None of that is unexpected, given how brutal ISIS treats everyone, it's not surprising that people would take revenge, even if it is on people that probably don't deserve it. There would be payback even if relations between Sunnis and Shiites were better then they are now. 

That being said, I am not sure the Iraqi military itself will avoid taking a little revenge on any ISIS fighters they capture. Though they are much less likely to punish innocent civilians then the militias are, I doubt any captured ISIS fighters will live for very long. Sure, some will be captured for intelligence purposes and interrogated, but I am guessing most of them won't ever make it to that point. That's the problem with not following the rules of war. Once you abandon them completely, your enemy has no reason to abide by them either. When no quarter is offered, you won't get any in return. 

Which makes me wonder if there isn't a more practical concern for ISIS causing all of these atrocities. It is common knowledge that ISIS treats people terribly once they have been captured. From the Camp Speicher massacre, to the horrific video taped murders of dozens of Syrian and Iraqi captives, ISIS has proven time and again that they will kill people they take alive, often in horrible and creative ways. ISIS must know that doing so it's important to question what ISIS gets out of these attacks on a strategic level. 

I think that ISIS actually wants reprisals for these attacks. For one it makes it harder for their troops to give up. Who is going to forgive a fighter that has participated in mass murder? Especially if the capturing force has lost people to the attacks. For an ISIS fighter, it is probably better to keep fighting for some kind of life then to surrender or try to escape. The best case scenario is living on the run for the rest of your life and probably ending up in prison. The worst case is that you get killed in a similar way that ISIS has killed others. Many ISIS fighters may want to give up, but these massacres make it much more difficult to do so. 

ISIS also gets another benefit from reprisal attacks from Shiite militias. If the militias, or even the Iraqi Army, does commit atrocities on civilians in Ramadi, ISIS can use the attack as a recruitment tool and as a way to pacify the people they have under their control. ISIS can claim to be the defender of Sunni Islam if it looks like Shiite or even the secular forces in the area are out to get them. More then anything else, ISIS needs dedicated fighters and the support of the people that live in the areas they control. Shiite atrocities would go a long way in accomplishing that goal.  

Which means that Iraqi is actually fighting the battle the way that they should, even if progress is painfully slow. Using the Shiite militias may end the battle quicker, but it would play right into ISIS's hands. So would being super aggressive with the Iraqi military, which would result in high civilian casualties. Though the current tactics are slow, they are probably the best of bad options... 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Military operations in Turkey have killed at least 110 Kurdish fighters. Reuters.

A building damaged in the fighting. Reuters. 

Military operations in southern Turkey have killed at least 110 Kurdish fighters. Reuters. Clashes continued as the sixth day of the operation began. Protests erupted in Istanbul and Diyarbakir, which were broken up by riot police armed with tear gas and plastic bullets. Most of the fighting occurred near the Syrian and Iraqi borders. In one of the cities, Cizre, 300 houses were damaged and there have been shortages of power, food and supplies throughout the region. 10,000 police and soldiers participated in the attack, including at least 30 vehicles. The target is the PKK, the Kurdish Worker's Party, which has also been called a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union. At least two Turks died in the attack, including one soldier and a mail carrier. 

My Comment:
I have no idea who to support in this war. I am on record as not liking the government of Turkey. As far as I am concerned they are genocide deniers at best, and they have a lot of other problem as well. Their recent human rights record is terrible and they are one of the worst countries in the world for the treatment of journalists. Turkey has also been a terrible partner in the war against ISIS, going so far as to buy oil from the terrorist groups and doing nothing to prevent them from entering Syria from their borders. The country has also needlessly increased tensions between the west and Russia, with their shoot down of a Russian fighter jet. 

Compared to all that the Kurds almost seem sympathetic. After all they have been a great ally in the fight against ISIS and they have been about the only competent fighters going after the terror group in both Syria and Iraq. But I have more then a few reservations about the PKK. Though it would be unfair to call the PKK communist, they do lean further to the left then I am comfortable with. And they have also worked with actual communists, which is a total non-starter for me. They are also one of the few non-Islamic groups out there that have used suicide bombings. How you convince someone to blow themselves up without the religious motivation is beyond me, but somehow the PKK has managed to do so. 

Like most conflicts in the world, no one side in this war is obviously morally superior. I guess I like the Kurds a bit more, just because I dislike the current government of Turkey. But they are still far left terrorists, and I can't really support them either. This is a war where no matter who wins, the outcome is going to be bad for everyone. 

Still, I am fairly disgusted with Turkey. They have used their phony war against ISIS to pretty much exclusively target the Kurds. It was always clear that the country wanted nothing to do with fighting ISIS. Since they joined the war, they have only struck ISIS once, to my knowledge. All other attacks have targeted the Kurds, in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. 

And Turkey is indirectly supporting ISIS with this war. They were already doing so by buying their oil and not controlling their borders, but this is even more serious. By attacking the forces most effective in fighting ISIS, they are helping them. Maybe not directly, but you have to think that the Kurds are moving their forces around to respond to this new threat. With Turkey bombing them and attacking their allies in Turkey, the Syrian Kurds are in a much weaker position that they should be. 

With the new war between Turkey and the Kurds, I often wonder what the fate of the Americans and other foreign fighters working with the Syrian Kurds. Though fighting with the Kurds isn't illegal as far as I know, you would have to think that working with a group that works with the PKK, a designated terror group, might get you onto some kind of list. When the people that you are fighting with are fighting against a US ally, then you could really get yourself into trouble. I can't imagine the diplomatic problems it would cause if one of these Americans were killed or captured by the Turks. I imagine it would be a political nightmare. 

As for Turkey itself, it seems like the whole country is becoming unhinged. This conflict between the Turks and the Kurds is not the only problem the country is having. They are also in a conflict with Russia that continues to be a huge issue as well. Though I doubt the shooting down of the Russian jet will lead to war, it could lead to further skirmishes. In short, Turkey is greatly contributing to the chaos that is the Middle East, and I think it would be very wise if we were to reevaluate our relationship with them... 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Editor's Note: Why I won't be covering the Democratic Debate this weekend.

Bernie Sanders. Official Photo

Once again, I won't be able to cover the Democratic debate this weekend. I am picking up a 12 hour overtime shift so I won't be able to watch it while it happens live. I wasn't able to watch the last debate either, not all of it, but at least in that debate I was able to live tweet it for a bit. That won't happen at all this time, unfortunately. This isn't me being biased, it's just me being busy. I enjoy covering both sides of the political spectrum, and I actually expect this debate to be hugely interesting.

Bernie Sanders has some kind of scandal going on where one of his staffers accessed some data that he or she should not have, and is now being punished by the DNC. This has created quite an epic meltdown on twitter, Reddit and tumblr, and anywhere else Bernie Sanders supporters gather. Though I am always happy when the left eats itself, I think I have to take Sanders side here. Despite the fact that I don't like him as a candidate, I don't think he should be facing the amount of resistance he is getting from the Democratic Party. The Democrats have thrown all their support to Hillary Clinton and they can't abide anyone that is threatening her. Though Sanders is only a secondary threat at best, they still can't let him hurt her in any way. This is just a phony scandal to hurt Bernie Sanders chances, and I would love to hear what the candidates say at the debate, but I basically have to hope that the media is honest and tells me what happens after it is over. That's no way to run an honest presidential campaign and I think the Democrats should be ashamed of themselves.

I've covered this before and I am sure that this is all just a cynical attempt to keep Bernie Sanders as far away from the nomination as possible. Why else would they have the debate on the weekends? Especially this weekend when the biggest movie in the world just came out? Nobody is going to be home this weekend, everyone is going to be seeing the new Star Wars. And even if they weren't they will be out doing all the normal weekend stuff like going to bars, hanging out with friends or just unwinding from work. (writing all that makes me wish I wasn't working overtime, but whatever).

All of this is extremely frustrating for me since I love posting about this kind of stuff. Watching the Republican debates has been a lot of fun and I enjoy writing about them. I can't do that with the Democrats because they won't let me. Though I am certainly critical about them, at least with me writing about them, someone is talking about them. But with the debates on the weekend, I won't be, and neither will anyone else...

ISIS is gaining a foothold in Yemen due to the civil war there. Business Insider.

A Houthi fighter in Sanaa. Reuters. 

ISIS has gained a foothold in Yemen due to the chaos of the civil war. Business Insider. Though ISIS controls little territory in the country, they have committed several terrorist attacks and executions in the country. ISIS has conducted car bombings, attacked mosques and made videos of men being executed in cruel and unusual ways, all hallmarks of the ISIS organization. ISIS is not getting much in the way of resistance either due to the nature of the civil war in the country. Neither the Houthi rebels or the government forces, with the Saudi Arabian allies have expressed much interest in fighting ISIS. The other major Jihadist group in the country, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian  Peninsula (AQAP) is also largely leaving ISIS alone to focus on attacks inside and outside of the country. ISIS's main target in the war are the Houthi rebels, who follow the Shiite branch of Islam. ISIS are radical Sunni's who consider the followers of the Shia fate to be heretics. Unlike other countries, the Yemeni branch of ISIS is mostly made up of locals due to the difficulty foreign fighters have in reaching the country. It is also unclear how closely the branch works with core ISIS. 

My Comment:
Yet another country where ISIS is taking advantage of the chaos of a civil war. Much like Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Egypt, ISIS is using the war to gain a foothold. None of this is particularly new news, but it really isn't getting the coverage it deserves. In fact the war in Yemen is not getting the coverage it deserves. With Syria, Iraq and to a lesser degree, Libya gathering all the headlines, very few people know what is happening in Yemen. Which gives ISIS a perfect opportunity to attack. 

It also goes to show that even if we destroy ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the problem won't go away. ISIS in Yemen is a largely independent group that gets little in the way of help from core ISIS. Even if core ISIS is destroyed it would not lose all of it's affiliates. Should the core group of ISIS be stopped, ISIS could be reborn in Yemen, or in any of the other countries where ISIS is active. Much has been said about Libya being a possible backup for ISIS should Syria and Iraq fall, but the country is far from the only option. 

It's also clear that a main focus for ISIS is attacking Shiite Muslims wherever they may be found. The Houthi rebels are Shiites, which also explains their support from Iran. Though ISIS's attacks against the Yezidis, Kurds and Christians in Iraq and Syria have gotten most of the press, ISIS has killed thousands of Shiite Muslims. Attacking them in Yemen is predictable. 

As a matter of fact, ISIS considers other Muslims groups that aren't Sunni to be the biggest targets. ISIS only really tolerates other Sunni Muslims, and only then if they follow them. Next up are Christians, who will be killed if they don't either convert or pay a tax. Jews would presumably get the same treatment, but I wouldn't hold my breath for that. On the next level are "Pagans" such as the Yezidi, which are killed or enslaved on site. The worst treatment is reserved for the Shia Muslims, who ISIS considers to be heretics.   

ISIS also has strategic reasons to attack Shiite Muslims. As they did in Iraq, they hope to inflame tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. This is an old tactic that predates the current incarnation of ISIS. Back when they were al-Qaeda in Iraq, they destroyed the Golden Mosque of Samarra, twice, in infuriate the Shiite Muslims. That attack caused the Shiites to retaliate and kill many Sunni Muslims. The hope is that relations between Shiite and Sunni get so bad that Sunni Muslims will have no choice but to work with ISIS. So far their strategy is working as Sunni/Shiite relations are as bad as they have ever been. 

I haven't talked too much about the greater war in Yemen lately. Largely because there hasn't been much in the way of movement in the front lines. The Saudis and the Yemeni government have taken quite a bit of territory back from the Houthis, but they aren't anywhere close to taking back the city. Both sides are focused on fighting each other, and aren't attacking ISIS or AQAP. 

All this talk about ISIS in Yemen ignores the elephant in the room. AQAP is still the premier terrorist group in the country and, next to ISIS, they are the most dangerous terror group in the world right now. After all, they pulled off the Charlie Hebdo attacks (with a little help from ISIS), which until recently, was the worst terror attack in Europe in years. Though ISIS is now competing with them for recruits, there is no evidence that they are attacking AQAP and neither the Houthis or Yemeni government is all that focused on attacking them. Only the US government is, with a bunch of low impact drone strikes. That gives them a huge opening to plan and execute more attacks, both inside and outside of Yemen. 

Of course AQAP was active in Yemen before the war. But the war has given them a chance to expand and take territory. Before they held only a few villages, but now they control major cities. ISIS will also probably take advantage of the chaos to take land as well. Once that happens, it will be very hard to dislodge ISIS and I don't think there is anyone around that will be willing to attack them. ISIS in Yemen will be a huge problem, and one that won't go away anytime soon... 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Editor's note

I'm dealing with both a head cold and a family situation, so I might not have any posts up for a couple of days. I'll try to be back ASAP, but in the meantime be patient.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My reactions to the 5th GOP debate!

Trump, Rubio and Cruz. AP Photo. 

I just finished watching the 5th Republican debate, and I have a lot to say. This was a very good debate and I think I learned a lot about where the candidates stand. It was also a very entertaining debate, with many fights and engagements. I think it was the best debate so far, and it really helped me decide who I want to support. There are a few that talked themselves out of my vote, and more then a few that made a fool out of themselves.

I did watch the undercard debate. It was a mess. Only Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum said anything good. Pataki was mostly a non-factor, but I didn't like what he had to say very much. The worst was Lindsey Graham. He seemed completely unhinged, and at one point it looked like he was crying. He also seemed like he wanted to go to war with everyone and, quite frankly, he scares the hell out of. Well, he would if he had anything like a real chance of getting elected. He's at zero percent in the polls, and as far as I am concerned that's too much. I'm actually to the point where I am concerned about his mental health. He might need some serious mental help, and he should really drop out of the race for everyone's sake. I did like Huckabee and I was sad that he was in the undercard. As far as I am concerned he won the undercard. 

I also watched, with growing horror, at how many people wanted to go to war with Russia over Syria. Many candidates wanted to set up a no fly zone and many people said they would actually shoot down Russian jets. That is, quite frankly, COMPLETELY INSANE! Rand Paul was right, when he called out Chris Christie and said that doing so could cause World War III. But Christie, Fiorina, Kasich and Bush, and everyone in the undercard debate except Mike Huckabee, said they want a no-fly zone. All of those candidates talked themselves out of a voter. If they are the candidates, I will be voting third party, because Hillary Clinton would do the same thing... 

Now, on to the candidates:

Donald Trump:
Great night for Trump. As expected he was hit hard by many of the candidates. Jeb Bush and Rand Paul hit him hard, while John Kasich and Carly Fiorina had a few jabs at him as well. Trump shrugged it all off and defended his political positions, which are pretty far from the establishment, effectively. He utterly destroyed Jeb Bush in their conflict and made him look like a fool. Jeb was trying to hit him about the Muslim issue, but Trump just laughed it off, and made Jeb look stupid while he was doing it. Rand Paul did a bit better against him, with a stronger criticism, but I think Trump managed to hold him to a draw. 

I don't think it was all good for Trump though. Ted Cruz had a pretty good alternative to his ban on Muslims, and his position on hitting the families of ISIS members was attacked by multiple people. I think both positions are more defensible then  people realize, but that's not going to play that way in the media. I do think that Paul won about the Internet, on performance if not on the facts. It sounded like Trump just wants to keep ISIS from using twitter and other apps to recruit people, but Paul was able to turn it against Trump. He didn't explain it very well at all, and Paul took advantage. I think that if Trump had explained his position better he would have won that engagement but as it stands right now, he didn't. 

Still, overall I think this was a good night for Trump. He won most of his battles and had some decent points. He also didn't say anything stupid that will hurt him before the first elections in Iowa. I also think he showed quite a bit of solidarity with Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, which should help Trump if either or both drop out of the race. Both are good vice presidential candidates for him. I also think that he scored points by saying that he won't run as a third party, which was always my main concern with Trump. 

Ted Cruz:
Tonight, Ted Cruz went up in my personal ratings. His performance was very strong and I think it will help him at the polls. He completely destroyed Marco Rubio in their fights about the NSA and Immigration. The fight between the two the them dominated the debate and I think that Cruz handled the fight so successfully that he may very well have knocked Rubio out of the race. Cruz caught Rubio in a bald face lie about the USA Freedom Act. Rubio claimed that the bill undermined security but it actually just got rid of a useless and unconstitutional metadata program. Fact checkers and Rand Paul backed Cruz up on this so as far as I am concerned Cruz won that fight. 

Cruz also beat up Rubio about immigration as well. Rubio admitted that he is in favor of amnesty. He took a long and rambling path to admitting it, but he did admit it in front of millions of potential voters. Cruz pointed that out and showed that he wasn't in favor of it, and also gave a more mainstream alternative on his Muslim bans. This will hurt Rubio and help Cruz quite a bit. 

Ted Cruz also seemed to take a more moderate path when it comes to foreign policy. He doesn't seem to want war with Russia, and he seems a lot less likely to get us into a war in Syria or Iraq and agreed that taking out Basah al-Assad would be a mistake.. I also loved how he wouldn't raise to the bait to attack Donald Trump, even though the CNN moderators were desperate for him to do so.  Overall I think he did a good job and his political arguments convinced me that he is an acceptable candidate. If anyone won the debate tonight it was probably Ted Cruz.   

Marco Rubio:
Very bad night for Rubio. He got beat up all night by just about everyone. And unlike previous debates I don't think he won a single one of them. Ted Cruz just completely destroyed him, and he wasn't the only one to attack him. Rand Paul roughed him up, winning his fight against him. Chris Christie attacked as well, but his attacks pretty much fell flat. 

He was also wrong on the issues. Sure, some people like the NSA and support amnesty for illegal immigrants, but most of those people aren't Republican primary voters. His positions are unpopular and he pretty much lost me as a potential voter. I still like him, but I don't think I want him to be president. And I think a lot of people are thinking the same thing, after this debate's performance. His support of immigration amnesty more then anything else will hurt him and hurt him bad.

The only thing Rubio got right was his point about the Nuclear Triad. It almost seemed like Donald Trump was, forgive the expression, stumped when he was asked about it, but it was clear that Rubio knew what he was talking about. Rubio explained what it was and why it was important. That was about the only victory he had tonight. 

Ben Carson:
Other then a persistent and annoying cough, this was a good night for Ben Carson. He was hacking up a storm during the debate, and I can feel for him since I got a cold myself. Despite that, I think he did very good here. In the past Ben Carson has been criticized for not getting foreign policy, and he has had some pretty boneheaded things to say in the past on the issue.

All that changed tonight. He did very good in explaining his positions and talked about things that I haven't heard any other candidates talk about. He talked about hitting ISIS economically and attacking Raqqa and Mosul, which are the capitals of the caliphate. He also talked about making a safe area for Syrian refugees near Hasakah. Though the city is still dangerous, there are areas in the region that could serve that goal. 

I think that Ben Carson really helped his campaign and his smart answers will help in him in the polls. It's clear that he did his homework and I think he really improved his performance compared to other debates. He also had a great moment where he effectively shammed Hugh Hewitt for asking him a really dumb question about killing children. It was a terrible question and I think that he was right to complain a bit about it. Hewitt's point is valid, Carson might be too much of a good guy to fight a war, but he could have asked the question better. Overall though, I think this was Carson's best debate performance by far and I really liked what I heard from him. 

Jeb Bush:
How is he still even in this race? Trump shut him down yet again and he had a pretty piss poor performance. He also wants to go to war with Russia over the stupid no-fly zone and for the most part I disagreed with everything he said. The only point he made that I liked is when he brought up China's hacking of Americans data. I'm a victim of that attack, and I would like more candidates to focus on it. 

Other then that though, he had a pretty bad performance. Even if you agreed with him on the issues or like him more then Trump, you have to admit that he didn't win his fight against him. He also didn't do very well as a speaker. He was stumbling on words, stuttering and generally not speaking very well. I don't think Bush did very well, and I can't imagine him being a candidate much longer.

Chris Christie:
Not a good night for Christie. All he seemed to want to talk about was 9/11, and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And he also wanted to go to war with Russia over Syria, along with quite a few other candidates. I'm no fan of Christie but I am finding even more reasons not to vote for him. I just don't like his policy. Going to war with Russia would probably result in my death, and I can't vote for someone who is going to get me killed. Plus he's a RINO when it comes to gun rights, so he was never a guy I wanted to win anyways. 

In the past though, Chris Christie had decent performances on a purely technical level. He always had  a couple of good quips and made some decent points. That didn't happen tonight. The only quip he had was about Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio fighting. He tried to make it sound like they were both young wiper-snappers, who didn't know what they were talking about. I didn't see it that way at all. Even if I didn't agree with Rubio, I think both him and Cruz were talking policy, while Chris Christie was only talking about himself. It was a turn off and I didn't like his point at all. The only point he made that I did like was when he said that women are a security threat as well. The San Bernardino attacks showed that isn't true, so at least Christie was right about something.

Carly Fiorina:
Once again, I am not a fan. She wants war with Russia and I think she completely flubbed all the foreign policy questions that were sent her way and the way she repeatedly tried to interrupt people to get more time was pretty gross. She had a poor opener and a poor ending too. All in all I thought it was a bad night for her but I made up my mind about her in the last debate when she said we shouldn't talk to Putin. She kept at it tonight so I'm still sick of her.

She was right about Obama destroying the officer class. That is not something that is talked about and she did good bringing it up. That's the only good thing I will say about her. 

John Kasich:
Not much to say about him that hasn't been said already. I haven't liked a single thing he has said since the first debate, and that continued again tonight. To be honest, I pretty much tuned him out when he started talking. The only moment I really remember was his call to enforce a no-fly zone. If you take nothing else from this post, you should know I disagree with that strongly. 

Rand Paul:
Very good night for Rand Paul. I don't think it will help him all that much, but what are you going to do. He did pretty good against Donald Trump, and he made some great points throughout the night. His quip about Chris Christie wanting to start World War 3 is going to play well among his supporters and may even convince people that getting into with Russia over Syria is not worth it. 

I think he also scored points on the NSA issue and immigration as well. While the Rubio/Cruz fight gathered most of the headlines, Rand was wading into the battle and I think he did pretty well. He did a very good job showing how he is different from the establishment. Still, he is so far back in the polls I don't see him doing much.


Overall a pretty good night I think that it was mostly well run, other then one really stupid question, it was moderated ok. I am not sure if there were any knock out blows, though Marco Rubio came close, but I do think that some candidates did very well. I don't think anyone won, but some people certainly lost. 

I also think that it's clear that I will not be supporting Kasich, Fiorina, and Bush at this point. I'd put Chris Christie in that group too but he was their a long time ago. Their support of a no-fly zone in Syria, or even shooting down Russian jets, is just completely insane. It's not worth going to war for...

Monday, December 14, 2015

My predictions for the 5th Republican Debate!

CNN graphic

Once again, it's time for yet another Republican debate. The main debate starts at 7:30 pm central and will be shown on CNN. The undercard debate will begin at 5:00 pm central. The people involved has changed slightly. Chris Christie, who was in the undercard debate last time, has been bumped back up to the main debate. In the undercard, Lindsey Graham and George Pataki have been promoted back to the undercard after not making the debates at all for the last debate.

I'm fairly disappointed that there are going to be more people participating in this debate. The last debate was a lot more interesting with fewer candidates. With so many people participating, it will hard to get to know any one candidate. And at this point a lot of the people that are still in the race should not be. That is especially true for the undercard debate. I don't think any of those guys should still be in the race.

This debate will focus on national defense and terrorism, and believe me there will be a lot to cover. Obviously, ISIS and the recent terror attack in San Bernadino is going to be talked about extensively. But that's not the only foreign policy problem I expect to hear about. I'm hoping to hear about Turkish/Russian tensions, the war in Libya, China, North Korea, and Iran. I also expect to hear quite a bit about the refugee program and immigration in general.

As always, here are some predictions for the debate. After that I will post a few questions that may or may not be asked by the moderators.

-Donald Trump will be hit hard about his proposed ban on Muslims entering the country. 100%
-Despite the attacks, everyone will essentially agree with him on the issue and will call for a travel ban from countries where ISIS is active and the end of Obama's refugee program. 80%
-Someone will come up with a different solution to the problem. 5%

-ISIS will dominate the debate, and will be the most talked about topic. 85%

-If the topic of Turkish/Russian tensions come up, the candidates will take Turkey's side. 80%
-Donald Trump will be the only one that disagrees. 25%

-Establishment candidates, like Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio, will again go nuts when it comes to Russia and will suggest something stupid like a no-fly zone in Syria. 100%
-Someone will call out this plan as stupid. 75%
-If someone does call it out, it will be Rand Paul and/or Donald Trump 100%

-John Kasich will spend most of his time attacking Donald Trump. 95%
-Despite the attacks, Trump will remain unstumped. 99%

-Ted Cruz will again call for attacks on Iran. 75%
-Nobody will explain why this is a bad idea. 100%

-Jeb Bush will have yet another terrible performance. 100% I'd go higher here if it was mathematically possible.

-In the undercard debate, the only one that will make any sense at all will be Mike Huckabee. 90%
-Lindsey Graham will go full war hawk. 100%
-His position won't help him at all in the polls. 100%

And now for a few questions:

For all of the candidates, Donald Trump has created controversy by calling for a ban for Muslims entering the country. Though this plan has major problems, how do you propose to stop ISIS from infiltrating through visa and refugee programs? Isn't some kind of ban necessary?

For Donald Trump, if your plan is implemented, isn't there a huge threat from Muslims already in the country who may be radicalized? Won't your plan only stop infiltration, and not do anything about our own home grown extremists?

For all the candidates, Turkey has shot down a Russian jet and could potentially draw us into a war against Russia. Why on Earth should we still back them? Shouldn't we kick them out of NATO, if not for their incident with Russia, but for the fact that they are taking a huge step back in terms of human rights and basic freedom?

For all the candidates that support a no-fly zone in Syria, why the hell do you think it is worth going to war against Russia to overthrow a government and hand the country over to a group of terrorists linked with al-Qaeda? Isn't what you are proposing not only incredibly stupid, but high treason as well? Doesn't it make a lot more sense to work with the Russians to fight against ISIS and al-Nusra?

For all the candidates, even though ISIS has gained all the attention lately, what will be done with the other jihadist terror groups active right now? AQAP, al-Nusra in Syria and Boko Haram are all threats as well, will you do anything about them?

Will we have to eventually deploy ground troops in Syria, Iraq and Libya to defeat ISIS?

How will you stop the refugee crisis? Isn't it better to take care of the refugees in the Arab countries around Syria, and not to take any in this country?

For Ben Carson, what did you learn when you went to the Syrian refugee camp?

What role do guns have in our national defense? The Democrats response to the San Bernadino attacks was to try and disarm civilians. Isn't it a better idea for people to arm themselves?

As always, I will be live tweeting the debate. You can find my twitter account here. I'm on vacation this week, so I should be able to post my reactions to the debate right after it is over. It may take me awhile to write everything up, but my reactions won't have to wait until tomorrow.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Another skirmish between Russia and Turkey. Russian destroyer fires warning shots at Turkish fishing boat. AFP

The Russian destroyer Smetlivy in a 2013 photo. Reuters
In yet another incident between Turkey and Russia, a Russian destroyer had to fire warning shots at a Turkish fishing boat. AFP. The conflict occurred in the Aegean Sea where the Russian destroyer Smetlivy was at anchor 13.7 miles from the Greek island of Lemnos. While there it encountered a Turkish fishing boat that was on a collision course with the destroyer. The Russian ship tried to make contact with the Turkish one, but the ship ignored both radio contact and visual signals. When the ship closed to about 600 meters, sailors on the Smetlivy opened fire with small arms in what is being described as warning shots. The Turkish ship then changed course. Tensions between Turkey and Russia are sky high due to the destruction of a Russian fighter jet that was serving in Syria. Turkey shot that plane down and their allies on the ground killed one of the pilots. Russia released a statement saying that the government had grave concerns over the incident.

My Comment:
This is a very serious incident and it is a minor miracle that nobody was killed. The Russians were in the right here as threats against naval ships are extremely serious. Everyone remembers the USS Cole attack, and it was very possible that the Russians were thinking that this could have been another terrorist attack in the same style. Given how active the terrorism threat is right now, I wouldn't put it past ISIS or some other group to attack a Russian warship. And even if the threat from terrorism was zero, depending on the size of the Turkish vessel, a collision between the two ships could have damaged or even sunk the Smetlivy. It's a good thing that this Turkish ship backed off, because if they hadn't it is very likely that they would have been destroyed by the Smetlivy.

One wonders what the Turks are trying to accomplish here. I guess it is possible that there was some kind of communication error, or that the Turkish captain was just acting on his own. But the much more likely possibility is that this incident was engineered by the Turkish government. Ever since the downing of the Russian SU-24 in Syria, Turkey has engaged in a serious amount of saber rattling. They are doing their best to try and intimidate and punish the Russians for their role in the Syrian Civil War. 

I've got news for the Turks. It's not going to work out well for them. Russia is led by Vladimir Putin. You can say many things about Putin, but you can not say he is the kind of coward that would back down from this kind of intimidation. Though he has shown quite a bit of restraint ever since the SU-24 incident, he is doing a lot to punish the Turks for their actions. Sanctions, tourism restrictions and axing business deals have all been enacted in response to Turkey's actions. And Russian Prime Minister, Dimity Medvedev, has already said that the SU-24 shooting was a casus belli for a war between the two countries... 

There is a real danger that if Turkey keeps trying to rattle the Russians, they could cause a war. And war with a nuclear armed Russia would be no joke. Turkey might be alone if they did end up in the war. Yes they are a member of NATO, but it could be argued that the incident that kicked this whole thing off was a deliberate unfriendly offensive action. Sure, the Turks would argue that the plane was violating their airspace, but that happens all the time, and in most cases it ends with an escort or, at worst, a warning shot. Should an aggressive action by the Turks lead to an all out war, it's very possible that NATO wouldn't have their back. I know, for one, if Turkey got into a shooting war with Russia, I would be contacting my representatives to keep us out of the war. Assuming I even got the chance... I'm my city would most likely be on the target list for any nuclear war... 

If a war were to happen between Russia and Turkey, it would be interesting to see how it would turn out. Well, perhaps interesting is the wrong word to use, because I would be terrified that it could involve the United States and that could lead to nuclear warfare. I think that is an outside possibility, so let's just assume that NATO doesn't back Turkey's play. What would a war between Russia and Turkey look like? 

Turkey and Russia don't share a border and there are several unfriendly countries between them. I doubt Georgia, Armenia or Azerbaijan would allow either country to attack each other through their territory. Russia would have the Black Sea to launch strikes out of, and they could use their naval assets to attack Turkey. Turkey, in response, could close the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus straits. Doing so would cut off the Russian forces in Syria, which would could come under attack as well. Over all, I would expect naval and aerial battles, but little to no ground combat. I think both sides would be fairly evenly matched because as a NATO member, Turkey has advanced weapons. Turkish F-16's and F-15's would be a tough matchup against Russia's fighters, and I would expect that Turkey would have the advantage. But they would also have to deal with Russia's formidable navy, would could use cruise missiles to destroy those planes on the ground and destroy their bases. 

I'm not sure who would win in a war between Turkey and Russia, but as a whole, everyone involved would lose. Obviously, the war would be a disaster for both the Russians and the Turks, both in terms of human life lost and economic damage. If Turkey were to close their straits, then the world economy would take a massive hit as well. A lot of trade goes through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits. NATO would lose no matter what, since they would be forced to decide whether to back Turkey or not. If they don't then the whole alliance could fall apart. If they do then they could end up in a shooting war with Russia, a war which could go nuclear, which would be the end of the world as we know it. Such an outcome is unthinkable, but certainly possible. 

So will war between Russia and Turkey happen? I don't know, but it certainly seems like Turkey wants a war. Their ambitions in Syria, and their hatred of the Kurds, seems to be worth the risk for them. That is, quite frankly, insane. And that is what really scares me about this conflict. I don't think Recep Tayyip Erdogon is a rational actor. His way of thinking does not make any sense to me at all, and I wonder if he is mentally sound. If he has lost his mind, then there is no telling what he could do. And even if he is sane, Turkey has certainly taken a huge step back when it comes to civilized behavior. 

I really think that it is beyond time to reconsider America's relationship with Turkey. I want them kicked out of NATO for their recent behavior. I don't think their recent actions are in anyway justified. They have no reason to fight the Russians, even if they have different goals in Syria. If countries as different as the United States, France, Israel and Russia can all share Syrian airspace, then I don't understand why Turkey can't as well. And I think Erdogon is a fool at best and a madman at worst. We don't need to work with him, and we should wash our hands with Turkey...