Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Russia has begun airstrikes in Syria. Reuters.

Vladimir Putin and his security council. Reuters/Kremlin photo.

Russia has officially joined the war against ISIS and has conducted airstrikes in Syria for the first time. Reuters. The United States is scrambling to find a way to coordinate with Russia to avoid possible conflicts. Russia gave US forces one hour to stop airstrikes and delivered the message to diplomats in Iraq. However, the United States did not cease their operations. Russia claims that they sent 20 missions over Syria and destroyed multiple ISIS targets, including a command post and an operations center. However, Syrian opposition groups and the United States dispute this claim, saying that Russia hit targets in the city of Aleppo, which is not controlled by ISIS. In Homs, another city that is not in ISIS hands, activists reported heavy damage from Russian airstrikes. Unlike the strikes conducted by the regime, the attack by the Russians gave little to no warning and may have killed as many as 30 civilians. Moscow claims that the airstrikes will be limited in nature, 

Possible footage of Russian airstrikes in Syria. Youtube/Russia Insider.

My Comment:
This is a major development and represents a new phase in the Syrian Civil War. This is no longer a local conflict. The entire world seems to be getting involved. And Russia is just the last of a long line of countries that have joined the war. But unlike other countries Russia has actually deployed ground forces. I don't think those ground forces will be involved in combat, but it shows a level of commitment that nobody else has shown. 

It seems very clear that Russia is not targeting ISIS in any meaningful way. The cities they targeted, Homs and Aleppo aren't anywhere near the front lines between the regime and ISIS. They are targeting the rebels. There really isn't any question about that. Homs and Aleppo are strongholds for the rebellion. ISIS isn't anywhere near those cities. Russia may strike ISIS soon, and there may have been strikes outside of those two cities, but for the time being they are not fighting ISIS. 

And I don't have a problem with that. There aren't any secular rebels left in those cities. They have all either joined up with the al-Nusra Front or they are at least supporting them during battles against the regime. That isn't to say that there aren't a few secular rebels left in Syria. Notably, there are a few groups left in the South, but I really don't buy the argument that Russia is attacking "secular" rebels in these cities. Anyone that is fighting hand in hand with al-Qaeda deserves what ever they have coming to them. They are lying about fighting ISIS, but when that lie is being use to justify attacks on al-Nusra and their allies, I don't mind. 

The most disturbing part of this is the fact that Russia and the United States aren't coordinating right now. Though the chances of some kind of incident are low, the fact of the matter is that it still exists. It sounds like the Pentagon is absolutely scrambling to find a way to work with the Russians to, at the very least, avoid any kind of incident. I think they will work things out but until that happens, there is a risk.

I'm not too worried about that, but I am worried about one of our allies doing something stupid. I already talked about how Saudi Arabia is threatening unspecified "military action" in response to the Russians. I don't think there is much they can actually do, but threatening that isn't at all helpful. Turkey also has the potential to cause an incident. They hate the regime almost as much as they hate the Kurds. They must be seething right now. Their hated enemy will probably survive even after everything they have thrown at them. 

With all that being said, I don't think Russia will help all that much. The couple of squadrons of fighter bombers they have deployed in Syria won't be enough to win the war for the regime. For that the members of the Syrian Army, along with their Hezbollah and Iranian allies, will need to step up. Air power alone is never enough to win a war alone. For that you need ground forces, and that means the Syrian Army. Given how poor their performance has been as of late, I don't think much on the ground changes. I think the war will continue to be a stalemate. 

And you have to admit that this is a huge blow to Obama's foreign policy. He has been completely outmaneuvered by Vladimir Putin at every stage of the Syrian conflict. He has always said that Assad has to go and now that is almost certainly not going to happen. He has tried to train rebels and failed completely. He has tried to fight ISIS and they haven't even come close to being defeated. All in all it shows how Obama has failed as a foreign policy president and how outclassed he is by Vladimir Putin. Let's hope our next president is in the same weight class as Putin is, and not another lightweight like Obama is. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Saudi Arabia rejects Russian involvement in Syrian civil war, threatens "military solution". AFP

Bashar al-Assad. Saudi Arabia wants him gone. Yahoo/AFP. 

Saudi Arabia has rejected Russian efforts to prop up Bashar al-Assad in extremely strong terms, claiming that Bashar al-Assad has to go and threatened a "military solution" to end the war. AFP. Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir made the statements in response to Russian moves in the region. Saudi Arabia has rejected Vladimir Putin's call for an international coalition to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Saudi Arabia is also furious at the presence of Iranian troops and advisers in Syria. The only two options Saudi Arabia will accept is either Assad resigning or a "military solution". Minister Jubeir did not elaborate what that military solution would entail, but did note that Saudi Arabia is helping to prop up the various "moderate" rebel groups fighting against Assad. Saudi Arabia called on Russia to stop supporting Assad and to join the U.S. led coalition. 

My Comment:
Saudi Arabia is playing a dangerous game here. Trying to pick a fight with Russia is not a good idea. And that is what they are doing. Threatening a military option against Assad, and by implication, the Russians as well, is a losing proposition. Russia may not be the cold war power that it used to be but it still is much more powerful then Saudi Arabia is. To anger them is foolish, to fight them is suicidal.

Saudi Arabia is wrong. It is becoming more and more obvious that Assad really is the only choice left for Syria. There may have been a time when the so called "secular" rebels were the right choice. That time is long over. Those rebels are far outnumbered by the Jihadists, and have very little chance of being the winning faction. Though Assad has been crippled by the war, he is still in a stronger position then any of the secular rebels, who, by the way, aren't that secular. If anything the Syrian regime is the only secular force left. 

And though Assad is clearly a brutal dictator, any criticism from the Saudis is very hypocritical indeed. Almost every crime Assad has been accused of, the Saudis have been guilty of and they have gone above and beyond what Assad has done. They have a terrible human rights record, and treat women and homosexuals as less then human. They support terrorism throughout the world and the Saudi government is a major reason that Islam is in the state it is in right now. They have no business criticizing any government for any reason.

I think Saudi Arabia's true objection to Assad is obvious. They couldn't care less about his human rights record. They just care that he is an ally of Iran, which is Saudi Arabia's number one rival, in a military, political and religious sense. Assad could really have been a benevolent leader with no issues whatsoever, and Saudi Arabia would still hate him. I'm not saying that Assad isn't a terrible dictator, just that Saudi Arabia couldn't care less that he is. 

There is some question as to what a military solution could be. They are, of course, propping up the rebels in the region. I would not be surprised if they were supporting, directly or indirectly, ISIS and al-Nusra. But other then supporting rebels and terrorists, what can the Saudis do? I don't see them deploying ground troops or air forces. They are far to tied up in Yemen to risk any forces for a brutal fight against Assad and Russia. And any airstrikes sent in against the regime would have a very strong chance of being shot down since Assad's air defenses are great and his Russian allies have a decent air force in the region. 

So is this a true threat? Probably not. My guess is that this is just sound and fury signifying nothing. Saudi Arabia knows that it is losing control of the Middle East. They are understandably upset at that proposition, but there is very little they can actually do. I think that they will continue to whine while the world leaves them behind. 

As for America, it seems like we are washing our hands on the Syria issue. Yes we are still bombing ISIS, but it no longer looks like we care about what happens to the Assad regime. I saw a story saying that our training mission is over, which is a good thing since it was a colossal failure. I also heard that the Republican front runner, Donald Trump, is supportive of Iran and Russia fighting in Syria. My guess is that our adventure in Syria is going to be over before it has really began. Which is fine with me. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Taliban take the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan in their biggest victory in years. Reuters.

Afghan security forces in Kunduz. Reuters. 

The Taliban has taken the city center of Kunduz in Afghanistan, which is their biggest victory in years. Reuters. For the first time since 2001 the Afghan military has abandoned a provincial capital. Insurgents raised their flag and released hundreds of prisoners from the local prison. The battle for Kunduz was the second attack in the city this year and was wildly successful. The attack managed to capture both the police headquarters and the governor's compound and are now threatening the airport. The majority of the city is now under control of the Taliban. Afghan forces offered up an excuse for their failure, claiming they did not want to battle in the city due to the harm it would cause civilian casualties. The Taliban appeared to show concern for civilian casualties as well, urging residents to stay inside and avoid the fighting. Afghan forces did not receive any support from NATO forces, such as airstrikes. 

My Comment:
This is a huge defeat for the Afghan security forces. They haven't lost a provincial capital since 2001. Think about that for a second. The Afghan war has raged since then, with some of the heaviest fighting happening in the past few years. But through all that time the Afghan security forces, with their NATO allies, never lost a capital like this. That is just insane to me. It really goes to show how much the Taliban have bounced back. 

It seems clear to me that the Afghan security forces can not stand on their own. They need support from other nations but nobody is willing to do so anymore. The United States role has been changed. Instead of active combat, the few forces we have left in the country are focused on training. But training can only do so much. The Afghan forces have plenty of arms, training and men, they just don't have the same will to fight that the Taliban have. Part of that is due to the extreme casualties they have taken in the past few years, but at some point they need to shape up and fight. 

I don't see how the Afghans take back this city. Their main advantage is artillery and the possibility of airstrikes. Neither of those things are as effective in a major city and they carry a huge risk of casualties. To take back the city they will have to fight in an urban environment, well more urban then most of Afghanistan. As we have learned in Iraq and Syria, urban fights are brutal, high casualty affairs. I just don't see the Afghan security forces as being able to undertake such an operation while at the same time absorbing the high casualties they are likely to sustain. For the time being I am guessing that Kunduz will remain in Taliban hands. 

As for the Taliban, they have had quite a bit of success lately. Fears that they would fall apart with the revelation that their leader, Mullah Omar, had died were obviously premature. Without NATO to give Afghanistan forces some backbone, the Taliban has been pushing them around. This battle was a major victory for the Taliban, but is in no way the only one they have had lately.
Since NATO forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the country has fallen apart. Not that it was exactly stable before NATO left, but things are certainly worse now. The Taliban are on the march and they are no longer the only game in town anymore. ISIS has tried to make a foothold in the country as well. Though they have only met with limited success, the fact that they are active in the country at all is a bad sign.  

So was leaving Afghanistan a mistake? It's clear that Afghanistan is having a very hard time standing on their own. And there is a very good chance that other cities could fall to the Taliban. But at some point we had to give up the fight. We had been at war for more then a decade in Afghanistan and suffered many casualties. Nation building wasn't working, and our main mission, to destroy al-Qaeda in the country, was largely accomplished. At this point Afghanistan needs to win their own battles. We just can't fight their battles for them anymore. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

France launches their first airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. New York Times.

French President Francois Hollande announces the strikes. New York Times/AP.

France has joined the war against ISIS in Syria by conducting their first airstrike there. New York Times. France identified an ISIS base with their intelligence aircraft with assistance from the US and local allies. Six jets, including 5 Rafales, completely destroyed the base, which was used to train recruits. No civilians were reported killed in the airstrikes. France may conduct additional airstrikes in Syria if targets become available. Earlier this month, Francois Hollande claimed that France was going to start intelligence flights over Syria. In the past France has been reluctant to strike ISIS targets in Syria due to the fear that doing so would help the regime of Bashar al-Assad. However, the migrant crisis and the recruitment of French citizens to ISIS has forced their hand. 

My Comment:
The skies over Syria are getting awfully crowded. France is just the latest in a long line of powers who have joined the war. ISIS is everyone's problem and it seems like everyone is trying to take some kind of token action against them. But that's the problem. A few airstrikes aren't going to be enough. Until someone sends in ground troops, and a lot of them, ISIS will continue to exist. 

That being said, I do appreciate France for their efforts against ISIS. Though they won't be a major factor, they will contribute. Any country that takes on ISIS is ok in my book. And France has a very competent military. The fact that they were able to get 5 Rafales into Syria speaks to their prowess. I am guessing the last jet mentioned in the article was some kind of refueling craft. 

With the airspace over Syria getting so crowded, there needs to be some kind of coordination to avoid any kind of incident. With Russia and perhaps even China getting into the fight against ISIS, the chances of some kind of accident happening grows. The worst case scenario is Russia either shooting down a NATO or Arab aircraft or the reverse happening. Due to the lack of communication, this is definitely possible. Hopefully there will be some coordination going on, but even if it does happen, there is always a chance of something happening with so many planes in the air. 

As for ISIS, this strike won't do a whole lot. Yes they probably lost a bunch of recruits, but from a purely practical standpoint, that's a lot better then losing a bunch of seasoned and experienced fighters. And the camp itself is probably very replaceable. What isn't though is their trainers. ISIS only has so many experienced people to draw from that are also competent at training recruits. If they did lose any trainers, that is a hard loss for them to accept. 

Like I said though, the airstrikes alone won't do much. I've said before, that ground troops are always necessary to fight a ground army. Air power alone can not win a war. Right now I am not sure if anyone is willing to risk their troops to fight ISIS, other then Assad and the Kurds. Yes, Russia is going to deploy troops, but I am still convinced that they will primarily be there to protect Assad's regime and not to conduct offensive operations against ISIS. They will give Assad's forces some backbone and keep the Syrian regime from falling completely but they will not destroy ISIS alone. 

But then the question becomes if not Russia, who? Who on Earth will deploy enough forces to destroy ISIS. Both America and the EU have enough troops to do so but neither have the will. The local Arab countries are either too busy dealing with the refugee crisis or with the war in Yemen. Iran is contributing forces but not enough to turn the tide. Turkey could help as well, but they are much more concerned with fighting the Kurds instead. And the various rebel groups spend so much time fighting each other and the regime that they can't do much either. Some of them are almost as bad as ISIS. And don't get me started on the U.S.'s efforts to train secular rebels... 

This is almost a propaganda victory for ISIS. Even though no single country is deploying enough forces to defeat ISIS, it is clear that a lot of countries are trying to do damage to ISIS. Some of those countries are world leaders with massive, powerful armies. To survive such attacks from such powerful foes might convince possible recruits on the fence that ISIS really is going to win. Without any commitment to destroy ISIS from anyone, I think they might have a point. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

US trained rebels in Syria hand weapons and ammo over to al-Qaeda. AFP

Al-Nusra front fighters in Aleppo. Yahoo/AFP.

In a shocking admission, the US has admitted that a group of rebels trained by the United States has turned over a portion of their weapons and ammunition to al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front. AFP. The New Syrian Forces (NSF) handed over six pickup trucks as well as weapons and ammo to al-Nusra. The NSF handed over the weapons and equipment to ensure safe passage through al-Nusra controlled territory. The equipment handed over to al-Nusra was equivalent of 25% of all the equipment held by NSF. The program to train secular rebels to fight ISIS in Syria has been a failure. the first batch of 54 fighters was largely destroyed by al-Nusra after they entered Syria, with the whereabouts of most of the fighters unknown. Only four or five of this group are known to be still fighting. The rebels that gave their weapons to al-Nusra are part of the 2nd group of about 70 fighters who just entered Syria. Rumors have been constant on social media of defections to al-Nusra from this second group of fighters but so far the rumors have not been confirmed. 

My Comment:
Unbelievable. This $500 million program is an absolute disaster. Our policy in Syria is so dysfunctional that we are now directly helping the al-Nusra front. Al-Nusra is al-Qaeda. They are the exact same people that conducted 9/11. They hate America and the only reason they aren't attacking us right now is because we don't have any ground forces in Syria. If we had, there is no doubt in my mind that these weapons and vehicles would be used against American troops. As it stands right now they will just be used to kill Christians, Shiites, Druze and Alawites. 

Sure ISIS is the worst group in Syria. It's hard to compete with them. But if any group does it is al-Nusra. They have conducted their own atrocities, and though they haven't reached the heights that ISIS has, they are still evil. It says something about the Syrian war that al-Nusra is not the worst group fighting in it. In a movie they would be considered a racist caricature of a Muslim group and in any other war they would be the worst faction by far. 

The fact that we are supporting these people, even indirectly, is a national shame. I may not be an expert but I though the number rule after 9/11 was to not help al-Qaeda under any circumstances. But now we are helping them, even if we didn't mean too. How is this even possible?

I blame the President. Barack Obama has always been inconsistent when it comes to Syria. He made a red line that the Syrians supposedly crossed and then backed down. And when it became clear that ISIS and al-Nusra were taking over most of the country we had a leader that again decided to avoid making the hard call and instead took half measures. Sure we had a few airstrikes that had an effect in some battles, like in Kobani, but we never deployed ground troops or worked with the government.

And our effort to train moderate rebels has been a complete failure. We would have been better served taking that $500 million and setting it on fire. None of the rebels wanted to fight ISIS. They wanted to fight Assad, but Obama was too cowardly to let them. There is a reason that we have trained less then 200 fighters and it's because nobody wants to fight with US. The rebels know we won't help them if they come up against Assad's forces, and that was true before Russia had forces deployed in Syria. 

If you want to see what a consistent foreign policy looks like, take a look at Russia. Vladimir Putin has always been on the same page. He has said from the beginning that Assad was the only choice for leadership in the region and that the people that have been fighting him have always been terrorists. Agree with that or not, but at least you have to admit that it is better then Barack Obama's waffling on the issue. 

Even if Russia is making a huge mistake by deploying ground forces, at least it seems like Russia has a plan. I don't know if propping up the Assad regime is the right thing to do but Russia is going to do it, no matter what the rest of the world thinks. That is how you run a foreign policy. Not by waffling around. Make a choice and stick with it. 

Of course now that Russia is involved with the war it complicates everything. Obama was not willing to attack Assad to protect our rebels, what do you think the chances that he will risk a confrontation with Russia to protect them? My guess is zero, especially since there are rumors that we will be working with Russia to fight ISIS.  

And that's another thing. It's clear that the United States has abdicated the lead role in the fight against ISIS. Russia is going to take over that role, whether we like it or not. Though I don't mind the idea of Russia stepping up to the plate, our allies throughout the world will perceive, correctly I might add, as a sign of weakness. We are letting our "enemy" Russia, make a fool out of us. And our power and prestige is at the lowest point since before the 2nd world war. 

My hope is that our next president will restore some of our prestige and power. America needs to be looked up to as a leader, not a country that accidentally lets a bunch of rebels hand weapons over to our most hated enemy. We need strength and competence and we do not have that with President Obama.    

Thursday, September 24, 2015

ISIS takes responsibility for mosque bombing in Yemen that has killed at least 25 people. New York Times.

Houthi rebels inspect the damage at the mosque. New York Times/AFP/Getty. 

A mosque bombing in Sana, Yemen has killed at least 25 people. New York Times. The ISIS terrorist group has taken credit for the attack, which involved two separate bombs, including one delivered by a suicide bomber. ISIS released a claim taking responsibility on social media. The attack is seen as part of ISIS's strategy to inspire hatred between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims. The victims of the attack were Shiite Houthis, many of which were rebels fighting the Yemeni government. The attack comes on the heels of an earlier mosque attack in Sana which killed 32 people. The bombings raise questions about how securely the Houthis control the capital of Sana, which has been under heavy bombing from the Saudi Arabian led coalition during the civil war between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni loyalists. 

My Comment:
I've said it a million times by now but ISIS loves chaos like what is happening in Yemen right now. That's how they gained power in Syria, Iraq and Libya. I think if either side had complete control of Yemen, then this attack would not have happened. It wouldn't matter if it were the Houthi rebels or the Yemeni government, either side would have crushed ISIS by now. But since both sides are fighting a bitter war against each other, ISIS, as well as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has an opportunity to conduct attacks, take territory and plan operations. 

And ISIS really is following the same playbook that has served them so well in the past.The strategy to pit Sunni and Shiite against each other is nothing new. Indeed, ISIS's old organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq, ignited the Iraqi civil war by bombing the Golden Mosque in Samara, Iraq, twice, which infuriated Shiite Muslims throughout the region. ISIS has constantly tired to repeat the success by targeting Shiite Muslims specifically for attacks. It also helps that they consider Shiite Muslims to be apostates who deserve nothing but death. 

There seems to be very little that can be done to stop these kind of attacks in a country as unstable as Yemen. After all the whole country is at war. The Houthis and the Yemeni government are in a knockdown drag out fight and they just don't have the resources to fight ISIS or AQAP. What is needed is a third party to attack these terror groups. As far as I know, the United States is still occasionally targeting AQAP targets in Yemen but I haven't heard of them fighting ISIS yet. As long as that is the case, ISIS will have the ability to attack in Yemen. 

I think that is probably because ISIS isn't anywhere near the "taking and holding territory" step in their plan in Yemen yet. Right now they are still mainly conducting terror attacks and murders in Yemen. They just don't have the recruits and weapons to take territory. And AQAP has taken most of the territory that was up for grabs in the first place. It will take time for ISIS to build the forces to attempt to take territory in Yemen and even then they will have to face at least three other factions that want the same land. 

As for Yemen itself, I see no end to the war that allowed all of this to happen in the first place. Neither the Saudi coalition or the Houthi rebels have a huge advantage over each other, though the Saudis seem to have the upper hand at the moment. With the Houthis still in control of Sana, it is way to early to say that they are being beaten back. And they have inflicted heavy casualties on the coalitions various members. 

I mentioned yesterday that Egypt may use their new helicopter carriers in the war in Yemen. I also said that the war would probably still be going on by the time those ships are ready for battle. But even if they aren't, Egypt may still have cause to use those ships in Yemen. I don't think the problem of ISIS is going to go away in Yemen anytime soon. And even if they do, there is still AQAP to fight as well. 

We haven't heard much from ISIS lately, largely because there have been other issues here in the States. After all, we have a presidential campaign going on and the Pope is visiting. And we in America always get distracted by stupid social issues. But even disregarding all that, ISIS hasn't been too active lately. They haven't taken a major city since Palmyra and I think that has a lot to do with it being summer. Now that fall has arrived and the temperatures are beginning to cool, expect the action to heat up. Indeed, it sounds like ISIS is massing forces near the Syrian city of Deir Ez Zoir. It will be interesting to see if the Syrian regime will fight for it, with or without their new Russian allies... 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

France selling two Mistral class carriers to Egypt instead of Russia. CNN

A Mistral class helicopter carrier. CNN/AFP/Getty.

France is going to sell the two Mistral class helicopter carriers, originally contracted to Russia, to Egypt instead. CNN. The former contract with Russia, worth $1.3 billion, fell apart after Russia's actions in Ukraine. The Mistrals are powerful helicopter carriers with room for up to six landing pads, 24 helicopters and up to 500 troops. Egypt is getting a better deal then the Russians would have and are only being charged $1 billion. France will also provide training for the Egyptian sailors who will crew the vessels. Egypt doesn't really have a pressing need for the carriers but they will be useful in the fight against ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula. They will also strengthen ties between the two countries. Russia will be fully reimbursed for any costs and any Russian equipment left on the ship will be returned. 

My Comment:
I always wondered who would end up with these ships. I was not suspecting Egypt to be the one that would buy them. I figured it would be Canada, the UK or maybe that France would just keep them. I am sure France could have found some way to get use out of them. Still, selling them is understandable. Selling to Egypt? I guess it makes sense. After all, they are still getting $1 billion for them. I can't think of any reason for France not to sell these ships to Egypt. 

As for Egypt, I am not so sure this was a wise idea. After all, they don't exactly have a lot of money right now. Their economy is going to take a hit as far as tourism is concerned, both due to the fact that ISIS is very active in the country and the fact that the Egyptian government screwed up and killed a bunch of innocent Mexican tourists recently. My question is how are they going to pay for these ships? My guess is that they will just use foreign military aid to pay for it...

So what will they use these ships for? The article mentioned that they could use them as a mobile base against ISIS in the Sinai. I think that is a real possibility. After all, ISIS has a recent history in Egypt of attacking bases and checkpoints. It would be useful to have one that should be immune to ISIS terrorist attacks. Even if ISIS had boats they would have a very hard time attacking this ship due to its helicopters and what I am assuming will be strong naval support. That's an obvious advantage for Egypt in a war that seems to be heating up.

But there is another possibility that I think CNN missed. Egypt is involved in the war in Yemen. Obviously, Saudi Arabia is the senior partner in the conflict, but Egypt is playing a role as well. Though the war could conceivably be over by the time these ships are up and running, in all likelihood it will still be going on. Their use would be obvious, especially since the Houthi's don't have much in the way of anti-air capability. 

These ships will also serve as a deterrent to Iran, who does not have any carrier capability at all. Sure it won't be a huge deterrent as these ships are less aircraft carriers and more helicopter and troop ships but it is better then nothing. Iran is positioning itself to be the leader of the Muslim world and the Sunni countries in the Gulf are understandably upset at the prospect. This is part of a larger military buildup to counter Iranian ambitions. Egypt isn't the only country in the region that is buying weapons, and it would not have been surprising if Saudi Arabia, or one of the smaller Arab nations had bought these ships instead.

As for Russia I never really understood the argument for not letting them have this ships. After all they were willing to pay for it. Sure they were involved in the war in Ukraine but I never thought they should be punished for it. At least not this way. These carriers would not have played a role in the war there so there isn't much of a reason to end this sale other then pure spite. But that seems to be the West's policy towards Russia right now anyways. Pure spite... 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

New satellite images shows Russia's expansion into Syria. Washington Post.

Map showing Russia's activity in Syria. Washington Post. 

New satellite images show that Russia is greatly expanding its operations and bases in Syria. Washington Post. IHJ Janes has taken satellite images showing two more bases north of the new airbase in Latakia. One base near the now of Al-Sanobar shows new vehicles and pavement. Images have also shown that the Russians are also moving communications equipment into the area. Russia also has at least 28 jets, including SU-24 "Fencer", SU-25 "Frogfoot" and SU-30's "Flanker-C". In addition to the strike aircraft, Russia has at least 12 helicopter gunships along with an unknown number of T-90 tanks and surface to air missiles. The planes deployed are mostly ground strike aircraft. 

My Comment:
Sounds like Russia is greatly expanding its operations in Syria. I am still not sure what their plans there. It looks like they are going to deploy troops there to defend the western coast. All of the planes that are there are ground attackers with only the Flankers being geared to air defense, and even those planes double as strike planes. That along with the tanks and attack helicopters show me that the main airbase is there to support ground troops. My guess is that Russia is going to deploy ground troops to fight in defensive operations.

So will Russia try to attack ISIS and take back the country for Assad? My guess is no. They don't have nearly the forces to do so and I think Putin is smart enough to realize that trying to capture the whole country would result in a quagmire. Instead I think operations will be defensive in nature. They want to keep the west coast and don't really care about anything else. 

Russia's main objective is to keep their Tartus Naval base on the West Coast. They need that base because they don't have any others in the Mediterranean. Everything else is secondary. Propping up the Assad regime, fighting ISIS or even creating better relations with Iran. They just want their naval base and they will do everything in their power to keep it. 

My guess is that they will deploy troops in an effort to keep the West Coast and ignore everything else. The regime itself will have to fight for Damascus and their eastern enclaves of Deir Ez Zoir and Hasakah. And there is no guarantee that they will be able to defend those cities from ISIS and the rebels. It seems that Russia will be content for the Syrian regime to rule a rump state as opposed to having Syria re-capture the entire country. 

So what will Russian operations look like? I think  that they will primarily be defensive in nature. Russia will be there to give a backbone to regime forces. Their strike aircraft will mostly be their to support their troops and their regime allies. Who will they be fighting? Probably not ISIS. From what I understand, ISIS has very few front lines where they are fighting the regime, and most of those front lines are in the east of the country, far away from the Russian bases. That means that they will primarily facing the rebels and al-Nusra.

The fear is that somehow, someway Russia and the US or a major ally will have some kind of confrontation. That is certainly possible but I think it is unlikely. Apparently Russia and the United States are coordinating to some extent so that should help things. And if they are working together, the chances of an ally having an incident should be pretty low. There is also the fear that Russia could fight US trained rebels but since there are less then 100 of them and I have heard reports of them betraying America anyways... it shouldn't be a problem. 

As for my opinion on Russia sending in troops, more power to them. If they want to get involved in the utter chaos in Syria, then I say let them. Sure they are propping up a terrible regime, and that is a bad thing, but the alternative is worse. I'd much rather have Assad hang on to power if it means the black flags of al-Nusra or ISIS don't fly over the whole country. Probably not a popular opinion, but it is one I hold... 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Scott Walker, a former front runner, drops out of the 2016 presidential race. New York Times.

Walker announcing the end of his campaign. New York Times. 

Scott Walker, a former front runner for the Republican candidacy, has dropped out of the 2016 presidential race. New York Times. Announcing the end today, Walker attacked Donald Trump claiming that he has prevented a "positive conservative message" to be heard. Walker's fall from the race is stunning considering at one point he was the undisputed front runner in the race. Back in January he electrified voters in Iowa after giving a speech. Now he is polling between 1 and 3% of voters. Much of this is due to the rise of Donald Trump, who siphoned off a lot of his support. However, Walkers awful performance at both Republican debates, as well as gaff about building a wall on the Canadian border. This caused his fundraising to dry up.

My Comment:
Well, there goes the number one troll candidate. The left hated Scott Walker more then all the other candidates in the Republican field combined. Seriously, if you aren't from Wisconsin, you might not understand how much hate Scott Walker gets. During the union fiasco, he got death threats, a recall election, and a vindictive criminal investigation that targeted his supporters. For the left, it's not enough that Walker failed here. They want him destroyed and that alone makes me sad that he is out of the race. Had he won people would have gone insane. 

But why did he lose so terribly? I think the article is right, the main reasons were the debates and Donald Trump. Walker was just horrible at the debates. He made absolutely no impact and many times during both of them I forgot he was even there. I often wondered if he even had a pulse. And Trump did utterly destroy him in the polls. Walker was seen as an political outsider until an actual outsider showed up and took all his voters. 

I also think he did a poor job of showing why people should vote for him. Sure he tried to tout his experience as a governor but that always boiled down to "I survived attacks from the left" and not what he had actually done. I never really found out what his positions were other then that unions were bad and that immigration was bad. He never really told us what his positions on foreign policy, his stance on the NSA and what he would actually do as president. Trump can get away with being ignorant on the issues because he really is an outsider. But for the hand picked heir apparent? He needed to take some strong stances on the issues and he never really did, at least not in a way that got a lot of attention. 

Shockingly, Walker never really pointed out his 2nd amendment credentials. Under Scott Walker, Wisconsin went to one of the worst states for gun rights to one of the best. When he became governor, Wisconsin didn't have concealed carry, had a waiting period and other restrictive laws. Those things are no longer true and that's because of Scott Walker. But he never pointed that out. Indeed, gun rights hasn't really come up much in this race and the few times it did during the debates, Walker didn't chime in. If I had been in charge of his campaign I would be constantly talking about this, but he never did, at least not during the debates. 

I personally am shocked that Walker is the 2nd guy to go in the presidential race. I figured lower polling candidates, like George Pataki or Lindsey Graham would drop out way before Walker. But I am not too upset about it. For one, Walker never really convinced me that he was presidential. I'm sorry, but fighting unions alone does not mean you are qualified to lead the most important country in the world. He also didn't distinguish himself from the other candidates. To me, I really couldn't tell the policy differences between Walker and Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz. And all of them were more charismatic then Walker was. He always seemed as an "also ran" instead of an actual contender.

There is good news, or really bad news if you don't like Walker. He's still going to be the governor of Wisconsin. Sure unions hate him but like I said before he has done more for gun rights then any other single person in Wisconsin. I was genuinely worried that if Walker had won the presidency, Wisconsin could have elected a Democratic governor who would have rolled back gun rights. For now at least, that won't happen until at least three more years. That alone makes me happy he lost.

So how does Walker leaving impact the race? Not much really. He lost most of his supporters long ago so the 1 to 3% he still had won't make much of a difference. I am guessing his supporters will end up going to one of the establishment candidates like Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush. What really needs to happen is for more people to drop out so we can see who is going to be the Trump/Casron/Fiorina alternative. Right now it is all up in the air.     

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Donald Trump shifts his views on gun rights, now opposes further gun control. AP.

Donald Trump at the 2nd Republican Debate. Yahoo/AP.

Donald Trump has released a policy paper outlining his updated position on gun rights, showing a major departure from his previous beliefs. AP. In his book published in 2000, Donald Trump expressed support for long waiting periods and the assault weapon ban. However, Trump has now shifted to the right on this issue. In the policy paper Trump now says "The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed upon. Period." As for specific policy points. Trump opposes magazine limits and bans on assault weapons. Trump also expressed support for a national concealed carry system where concealed carry licences would be the equivalent of drivers licences, being valid in all 50 states. Trump also expressed opposition to any expansion to background checks due to the system failing to catch criminals. In addition, Trump would allow military members to carry firearms at bases and recruitment centers. Finally Trump called for enforcement of current laws and for better mental health treatment. 

My Comment:
Trump's policy paper on the 2nd amendment can be found here. 

What's my take on this? It's certainly welcome. In the bast I have questioned Trump's credibility as a Republican candidate due to his support of gun control in the past. It seems like he has flip flopped on the issue. Though I am still less comfortable with Trump as I am with candidates that have supported gun rights for their whole career, it's still an improvement. 

Indeed, Trump's support of gun control was a "dealbreaker" for me. Though I agree with Trump on a few issues and disagree on a couple of other issues, non of his opinions were so odious to me that I couldn't support him if he is the republican candidate except for his support of gun control. Now that the last hurtle is out of the way I can say that Trump is at least acceptable as a candidate by my definition at least. I still disagree with him on a lot of things, but I'm close to a single issue voter. Even if Trump isn't the greatest candidate, he's miles ahead of anyone on the left for this issue, so if he is the candidate I'll probably vote for him, just to protect my  rights.  

I'm not so sure how much this helps Trump though. Everyone else in the Republican field opposes gun control with Chris Christie being the sole exception. Saying he is in favor of gun rights doesn't exactly set him apart from the field. The only way this helps Trump is it might get him support from gun rights supporters who wanted to support him but were unsure of his position on guns. I don't think that is really a large group of people. .

Of course, compared the the Democarts, Trump is very far to the right on this issue. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Martin O'Malley are on the record for supporting draconian gun control laws. Only Bernie Sanders is different. As a Republican, Sanders would be Chris Christie tier, absolutely terrible. But as a Democrat, Sanders is practically a member of the NRA. Yes he supported expanded background checks and magazine restrictions, but at other times he has voted for gun rights. I don't advise anyone to vote for someone on the left, but if you feel you must, Bernie Sanders is the only one that even pretends to care about gun rights. He would still be a terrible president from a gun rights perspective, but not apocalyptic like Clinton, Biden or O'Malley would be. 

I'm also surprised how little gun rights has come up during this election campaign so far. I think the left is starting to realize that their gun control dreams aren't going to happen. Indeed, it seems like in all but the bluest of blue states, gun control laws are being trimmed back. Remember, concealed carry was illegal in many states until very recently and now it is legal pretty much everywhere, even though some states are much more restrictive then others. 

Still, you would think it would come up. I think part of it is that almost all of the Republicans support gun rights. If Chris Christie was higher in the polls they would be hitting him hard, but since he is pretty low in the polls nobody is making the effort. On the left there hasn't even been a debate yet. If there had been a debate at this point I am guessing that Clinton, O'Malley and maybe Joe Biden if he ever actually declares to be running, would hit Bernie Sanders hard since he doesn't quite toe the party line. Once the candidates are determined, expect the issue to come up some more. 

Hilariously enough the NRA released an add bashing Michael Bloomberg during the debate. Their argument was that he would spend all his money to try and support anti-gun candidates. I think that is very obviously true but either way I thought it was funny. I'd like to see more adds like this that bash the people that support candidates, and not the candidates themselves. 

The United States is changing it's plans in Europe as war games show Russia winning most of the time. Foreign Policy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Foreign Policy/AFP

The United States is updating it's war plans against Russia after the Ukraine conflict and war games that show Russia winning any conflict in Eastern Europe. Foreign Policy. After the fall of the Soviet Union, plans against a war against Russia have fallen to the wayside. The Ukraine conflict, and to a lesser extent, the 2008 Georgia War, have forced the Pentagon to dust off those plans and see what works. The news is not good as Rand cooperation war games show the Russians winning every time. The games, centered around Russia's new "hybrid warfare" strategy, which was deployed against Ukraine, In that war, Russia used deniable assets, political pressure, riots, demonstrations and capped with local troops seizing government buildings to achieve their goals. Even giving NATO advantages that they might not have in the real world, such as having all troops deployed in Eastern Europe, failed to end the war in a decisive victory for the west. The game was run 16 different times with 8 different teams and the result was always the same.

My Comment:
First, I have to say, how do I get a job war gaming professionally? It sounds like fun... 

These results are not surprising to me at all. Our military has long since turned its focus away from fighting Russia in Europe. For the past 15 years or so, our military has focused on the Middle East. Instead of Russian tank columns, we are focused on ISIS and al-Qaeda. Given that change of focus, it isn't surprising that we would be losing these war games. 

So is a war in the Baltic possible? Sure. Is it likely? I don't think so. Russia does not want to fight NATO and Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are all in NATO. They aren't powerful in themselves but if they were attacked directly, Russia would face the wrath of every other NATO country. But that rule only applies to an actual attack. Russia is now too smart to do so. 

Russia's "hybrid warfare" doesn't actually seem to be anything all that new. It's just fostering revolt and then supplying the rebels with weapons, supplies and intelligence. That's an old had for pretty much everyone these days. I don't see it being any different then what happened in the Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan conflicts. It worked fairly effectively in Ukraine but one has to remember that Ukraine didn't get much in the way of military support during the conflict. Any attack on the Baltic countries would be a different story. 

But would Russia win a war in the Baltic? My guess is that they probably would. Russia has a lot more troops then we have in the area, and the local armies are not anywhere near as powerful. Any fight would need U.S. troops to give some backbone to the locals, and even then we would be outnumbered. Plus it is very likely that Russia would use unconventional tactics as well. Cyber warfare, civil unrest and perhaps even tactical nukes could be deployed, 

There is also the fact that Russia owns an exclave called the Kaliningrad Oblast. This piece of land, cut off from the rest of Russia, presents a major headache for NATO. Not only could Russia use it as a base to create a two front war against the Baltic states, they can also use the territory as a major surface to air missile station. With Kaliningrad existing, any air campaign in the area would have major difficulties until their SAM stations are air forces were destroyed. 

Of course there is always a chance that a war between NATO and Russia would go nuclear. If that is the case then none of this matters since Western civilization would be largely destroyed. That alone makes me think that any war would be extremely unlikely. Vladimir Putin is many things but he is not insane. He wants to live, just like anyone else and he probably knows that if he were to declare war against the Baltic states, his life could very well be forfeit. 

Another question I always have is why we let these countries into NATO in the first place. The only reason we care about what happens to them, from a purely realpolitik point of view, is because they are in NATO. Sure, they helped us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they should be commended for it, but let's face it, they aren't that great of allies. And taking them as allies only infuriated Russia. At this point it's too late to do anything about it, but in my humble opinion, the Baltic States aren't worth going to war over. 

Since we are committed to protecting the Baltic States, how do we protect them? I don't think this is a military question anymore. We can't win anything other then a Pyrrhic victory in a military conflict. I think the answer is diplomacy. One of the reasons why Russia is interested in the Baltic states is the large number of Russian speakers in the country. Those people are not treated that well. If we could ensure that they were treated as well as anyone else in the Baltic, we would remove the main reason for Russia to go to war. 

We will also be served by a better president. It's true that Putin and Obama hate each other and will not work with each other on anything. I think Putin, correctly, believes that Obama is spineless and Putin has gotten the better of Obama again and again. Putin got what he wanted in Syria twice, got what he wanted in Ukraine and is getting his way in Iran. Perhaps the next president, whoever it may be, may be more respected by Putin. To the point that he would either be to afraid to act or no longer have any reason to fight with the United States. What we need is a born diplomat or a complete madman as president. Until then, I expect U.S./Russia relations to remain in the toilet. 

We could also spend more money on better weapons systems. I am sure some of you are screaming at your screens saying we waste enough money on things like the F-35 and the littoral combat ships. I agree. We should instead be buying new weapons that actually work that can counter Russia's near parity in air power and excellent air defense capabilities. Given how our military procurement work in this country, I wouldn't hold my breath on that happening anytime soon...   

Thursday, September 17, 2015

My reaction to last nights 2nd republican debate!

Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson share an awkward handshake. CNN.

I'm finally going to post my reactions to last nights debate. The debate lasted for a lot longer then I thought it would and there was no way I could get it up last night or this morning. Better late then never I guess.

I watched the entire debate... all three hours of it, and the "kiddie table" debate that happened before the main debate. I'm not going to talk much about the first debate as I don't think any of the candidates there have a shot. As far as I am concerned nobody won that debate, though Lindsey Graham showed that he was the biggest war hawk in the race. None of the other candidates even made an impact for me in that debate. And I was also just embarrassed that Bobby Jindal and Lindsey Graham were so desperate for media attention that they couldn't even show up for the group picture. 

As for the main debate, it was very entertaining. There were a ton of good moments and I think the moderators did a very good job, even better then Fox News. I was surprised at how balanced the questions were and was very happy that gun rights actually came up. I do have to say that the format was desperately trying to get the candidates to fight each other. That's entertaining, but it doesn't help people make up their minds.

And I don't think anyone "won" the debate. I think a few candidates will have their stock rise, but I didn't see any knockout blows here. I know people are going to be talking about Carly Fiorina, but she wasn't the only one to have a great night. Either way though, I am going to go through all the candidates and say what I liked and what I didn't like. 

Donald Trump:
Trump didn't dominate the debate like he did last time but overall I think he did a very good job here. He survived everything that was thrown at him and didn't lose too many of the fights he got into. I think he won all of his fights against Jeb Bush and Rand Paul while he fought Carly Fiorina to a standstill, on their work history at least. I also liked a few of his policy goals. For example, his idea for the Syria situation is to just let Syria and ISIS fight it out and let Russia get involved with a quagmire if they want. He also stated his opposition to the Iraq War, which will probably help him, Ben Carson and Rand Paul.

 I was also very impressed during the section on abortion. While every other candidate doubled down, Trump positioned himself as a less radical alternative. Not hard when the other players are demanding to shut down the whole government over planned parenthood, but Trump is showing that he is the least extreme choice on the issue by defending women's health. This could very well hurt him in the primaries, but once the general election comes it removes a line of attack that the Democrats can use against him. He's still pro-life, but compared to Ted Cruz or Carly Fiorina, he's a much more palatable pro-life for anyone that's on the other side or doesn't care about the issue. I think this is a brilliant move by Trump and should he be the actual nominee, it will help him greatly in the general election.

I also have to say that it looked like Trump was having the time of his life. He was laughing, high fiving people and generally having a good time. Trump might be a jackass, but he is a fun jackass and all his high fives and handshakes will help him at the polls. And I think that the fact that he could high five Jeb Bush even though they were at each other's throats all night speaks positively to both of their characters. 

But it wasn't all good news for Trump. I think Carly Fiorina won when they fought about her appearance. He screwed up there and for the first time I think someone got the better of him. He didn't have a good option there as every response he would have made would have lead to calls of sexism, but I think his response of calling Carly beautiful didn't help him much. Not that I have a better option for him, but still. 

Finally, coming out as an anti-vaccine candidate is really going to hurt his chances. There is no link between vaccines and autism, period, and the fact that Trump tried to claim that there was really hurts him. To their credit, Dr. Carson and Dr. Paul shut him down and forced him to waffle on the issue. Still, this will probably bit Trump in the ass long term and really reduced my opinion of him. Hopefully, he backs down on the issue. 

Ben Carson:
Ben Carson didn't really have any huge moments at this debate. I don't think he did anything that hurt him, but he also did little to help. I don't really remember any specific policy claims either. I will give him a lot of credit for not pilling on like the other candidates were even though the moderators were practically begging for him to do so. For example, when Trump talked about vaccines, Carson clearly disagreed with him, but he did not attack Trump. That made Carson look likable and humble. I also loved his two tiered minimum wage idea. I don't know if it would work but it makes a lot more sense then our current system.

Like Trump, I think Carson scored points by stating his opposition to the 2nd Iraq War, but his opposition to the war in Afghanistan can hurt him. Though he may have a point that there were other options instead of invasion, the war in Afghanistan was the most justified war for America since World War II by a large margin coming out against it will not help Carson. 

Other then that, it was a quiet night for Carson. I didn't really change my opinion of him all that much, just confirmed what I thought of him already. He's a very nice person with a humble, almost meek, personality. He's light on policy, but he's also light on criticism that can be used against him.

Jeb Bush:
Not a whole lot of nice things to say about Bush. I do think that he his performance at this debate was a lot better then it was at the last debate. He had some good jokes and he actually looked like he had a pulse for once. I also think he scored some points in "defending" his wife against Trump, even thought I think Trump won that engagement and had a really good point. Bush really is too close to the immigration issue to be unbiased. He also had a few nice moments with Trump and the high five at the end really humanized both him and Trump. I don't know about everyone else, but I think people that have fierce political and personal disputes like Bush and Trump that can put aside those differences for a moment of levity and unity are alright in my book. 

Still, I don't think this debate will help Bush all that much. He got beaten in every fight he had against Trump. A couple of times it seemed like Bush had Trump against the ropes, but he never was able to land a killing blow. The fact that Trump was able to fight Bush to a standstill over his wife of all things, shows that he wasn't able to win any of his battles with him. 

Bush also has increased his problems connected to his brother. Sure, it's fine if Bush thinks that George Bush kept America safe. You could even make that argument. But I don't think that line gets Bush applause in anything other then the friendliest of audiences. Admittedly, it got applause during the debate, but that just proves my point. That would not have happened anywhere else. For most of the country, fairly or unfairly, George Bush is still the guy that got us into the Iraq War for stupid reasons. This only hurts Jeb Bush.

Scott Walker:
Was Walker even in this debate? Once again, I can barely remember anything he said. The only conversation I remember is when he had that zinger against Trump. It was a pretty good line and doubled as an attack on Obama, but it was the only memorable moment of the debate for Walker. To the point where I am struggling to find anything else to say about him. Indeed, on twitter the only time I mentioned Walker is by saying that I forget he was even there.  

Again, I don't think this will hurt Walker all that much, but it sure as hell doesn't help him. I don't see him winning the nomination at this rate.

Ted Cruz:
Again, Cruz didn't make much of an impact on me, but when he did it was all negative. Cruz came off as a dangerous extremist. His statements on Iran went way further then anyone else and I don't think it helps him. Crucially, his plan to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood is just terrible. It is not going to help anything. 

The last time the Republicans shut down the government it was a PR disaster for them. And that was over the debt limit, an issue that at least has some bipartisan support. Abortion is not one of those issues and shutting down the government will have a huge galvanizing effect on the left. Just like gun rights is an issue that the left has lost, abortion is an issue that does nothing but mobilize and infuriates the left. Trying to elect a candidate who tried to shut down the government over abortion will hand the presidency to the Democrats just like the Democrats shutting down the government over gun rights would give the presidency to the Republicans. Be opposed to abortion if you want. Hell, be passionate about it. But shutting down the government is not the way to solve the problem. 

Other then that I don't think Cruz made much of an impact. He didn't really stand out.

Carly Fiorina:
I think Fiorina really made a name for herself in this debate. She had a very strong performance, sounded impressively knowledgeable about the issues and was incredibly passionate. She scored points with her fight with Trump and with her impassioned condemnation of abortion. I was also impressed with her foreign policy recommendations. Unlike almost other candidates she had actual numbers to back here up and had concrete plans to, for example, restore the 6th fleet. 

Still, I don't think this was such a slam dunk for Fiorina as everyone thinks. She was fought to a standstill with Trump over their business records before Chris Christie effectively shamed them both into shutting up. He remarks about Russia are, quite frankly, insane. We absolutely need to talk to Valdimr Putin. Cutting off communication with him is the absolute last thing we should be doing. Hell, we even talked to Stalin back in the day and he was pure evil. It just makes sense to try and talk to people that have nukes pointed at us. As someone who wants better relations with Russia, this "no talking to Putin" policy that Fiorina has scares the hell out of me.

And her impassioned defense of abortion is also a mixed bag. I think it definitely helps her with the pro-life faction of the Republican base. But much like Ted Cruz, I think this moment will be played for the duration of the campaign if she ends up the candidate. When I heard it live I just pictured Hillary Clinton salivating at the thought of fighting Fiorina about it. Abortion is a losing issue for Republicans and spending political capitol on it will just hurt them. Sure it helps you during the primary phase but it will kill you during the actual election. 

Marco Rubio:
Again, I was very impressed with Rubio. He stayed out of the fights for the most part, and when he did have to fight he generally won. Not through direct attacks but through policy recommendations. When Trump attacked him about missing votes in the Senate, Rubio admitted it but immediately neutralized the attack by showing that the system is broken. Rubio did this a couple of times during the debate, never rising to the bait, and kept out of the petty fighting. I was impressed

And he was very strong on policy. Marco Rubio is very good at explaining his policy arguments in a clear, concise and convincing way. I don't always agree with him, but it's very clear where Rubio stands on any issue. Unlike some of the other candidates, Rubio comes across as an expert.

He did have one painful moment where his joke at the start fell flat, but other then that my personal ranking for him has raised. Out of all of the "establishment" candidates I think I like him the best.

John Kasich:
I was really not impressed with Kasich's performance. I think he had the worst opening statement and that was about the only thing I remembered about him during the debate. He got out competed whenever he was in a discussion and I don't really remember him making any good points, other then when he told Carly Fiorina that there was plenty of time to attack Hillary Clinton. Still, I feel this debate was a huge step back for Kasich since he did a very good job during the first debate. 

Mike Huckabee:
Once again, Huckabee had some really good moments in this debate. He had the best opening statement and a decent closing one. I loved the fact that he was the first candidate in either debate to bring up gun rights and I also loved how he talked about how we should find new ways to cure diseases like Alzheimer's and cancer. As someone who is likely to get all of those diseases, it was a nice touch, 

Other then that though, Huckabee didn't really have any showy moments that will be talked about in the future. He certainly didn't hurt his chances last night but without getting into any fights, he kinda faded away. I don't think his defense of Kim Davis, the Democrat who didn't want to issue gay marriage licences, will help all that much in the general election. And see above about why I think his attack on abortion rights will hurt him in the end. 

Still, I think Huckabee did a great job of bringing up things that need to be talked about. I don't think it helps him win the election, but I do appreciate him steering the debate somewhat. 

Chris Christie:
I'm on record on saying that Christie is the worst candidate in the election on either side and I stand by that. But even I had to admit that he had a great moment in shutting down both Trump and Fiorina. He had a really good point there as well, nobody cares about who the better CEO is, just tell us what you are going to do for real people. I'm no fan of Christie but credit where credit is due. That was a great moment and I am glad that he said what we were all thinking. 

Other then that though, I didn't buy Chris Christie for a minute. He is trying to turn into some kind of conservative maverick but I know he is a RINO. Sure, talk all about how much you want to prosecute Hillary Clinton or invoke 9/11. He's still a basically a Democrat.

 And it infatuated me that when the issue of gun rights came up, nobody attacked Christie over it, not even Rand Paul, who hates Christie and hit him over the NSA in the last debate and over medical marijuana this time. Chris Christie is the governor of a state where the right to keep and bare arms does not exist in any meaningful way. People need to point this out and hit him hard on the issue.

Rand Paul:
Again, even though I agree with Paul the most on policy, I don't think he did a very good job last night. All he did was attack people and did very little to show how he was different then the rest of the pack. Instead of putting his own policies out there to stand on their own, he just attacked other peoples ideas. 

Sure Trump picked a fight with him, but to be fair to Trump, Rand Paul did the same thing to him during the first debate. Turnabout is fair play and I think that Paul got blown out here. And his attacks on Trump and Christie fell flat. Trump is way better at attacking people and Christie has the advantage that Trump keeps picking on him. And his attack on Bush for smoking pot fell flat as well. 

The few good moments for Paul came when he stopped his attacks and just talked about what he wants to do. Paul isn't suited for being an attack dog. He's a libertarian and showing how he is different then the other candidates should be his greatest strength. But he isn't playing to his strengths. 

I can't declare a winner here but I do think this debate certainly helped Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush and didn't hurt Trump, Carson and Rubio. I don't think there were any knockout blows here either. It's possible that someone will drop out because of the debate, but if so it's going to be one of the guys in the kiddie debate. We are still a long way from choosing a candidate, but I think we are getting closer from separating the wheat from the chaff.  

I'm looking forward to the next debate and I am also looking forward to the Democratic debate as well. Even thought there are a faction of the candidates I really want to hear what the zeitgeist is on the other side of the coin. I really want to see who the nominee is going to be on the Democrats side and if Hillary Clinton can survive. Hopefully the first Democratic debate will be the final nail in her coffin,. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Not going to get a reaction to the debate posted tonight...

I didn't realize that the debate was going to be three hours so there is no way I am going to get a post up tonight. I have been live tweeting for the entire debate so you can check out my thoughts here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Some predictions for tomorrows debate...

The 2nd Republican debate is tomorrow night at 7 pm central time on CNN. I plan on watching it and you can follow me on twitter as I plan on live tweeting my reactions. I hope to have a post up before the night is through but no promises. I intend to write a reaction for all the candidates and that tends to take a bit of time. I might post what I have anyways just so I have something up early, and update it later. If something totally crazy happens tomorrow, like world war 3 or a second 9/11 I'll cover that instead but otherwise I should have something up about the debate.

As far as the debate goes I have a little advice for the candidates that aren't Donald Trump (who I am sure are reading this!). First, don't spend time attacking him. Attack Clinton, Obama, Sanders, even your other candidates. Just don't attack him. Doing so will sap your popularity and also increase his. His whole argument is that he is an outsider who the insiders hate so being an insider throwing hate at him will just make him even more popular. Also, don't try to out-Trump Trump. Scott Walker did this by saying he was going to build a wall in Canada and it made him look stupid. Just put your positions out there and leave Trump alone.

Now for some predictions.

-Donald Trump will "win" the debate. 100%.
By win I don't mean he will have the best arguments or ideas. By win I mean he will dominate the debate, have the most speaking time and have all the best water cooler talk the next day. Blindingly obvious I know but worth saying.

-Someone in the media will deliberately misrepresent what one or all of the candidates said in the debate. 100%
Because of course they will!

-Rand Paul and Chris Christie will get into it again. 80%
Perhaps about the NSA perhaps about something else. But these two guys hate each other and can't stand to be in the same room with each other. Expect fireworks.
-If Paul and Christie get into again it will hurt their campaigns. 90% if it happens
Last time it hurt both of them and made each of them look un-presidential and "mean". Only Trump can be mean in this debate.

-Nobody from the "kiddie table" debate will make any waves. 95%
Carly Fiorina was a fluke last time. None of the candidates in the pre-debate debate should even be in the race at this point and I can't see anything helping them out.

-At least one candidate will drop out right after the debate. 80%
This almost has to happen right? There are a ton of candidates polling under 5%. All it would take to eliminate one of the lower tier candidates is a poor debate performance. Sooner or later people like Bobby Jindal and Lindsay Graham will drop out and I am guessing that it will happen sooner and not later.

-Jeb Bush and Scott Walker will take another hit in the polls. 75%
Just a hunch here. Bush is so establishment that everyone seems to hate him and Walker is going to get hit hard with his comments on unions.

-The moderators will probably be biased. 75%
I think the Fox News guys did a decent job, but they still got hit with accusations of being biased. That was friendly territory while CNN is in the belly of the beast. Expect them to hit everyone hard and for there to be no softball questions... except possibly to Jeb Bush since he is the establishment and CNN is always in favor of the establishment.

-Gun Rights will make a larger impression in this debate then in the last one. 60%
Huge issue and the Democrats have been doubling down on gun control. The fact that it didn't come up last time was shocking. Hopefully this will be what brings down Chris Christie when it comes up.

-Immigration will come up, but won't dominate the debate. 55%
I expect a few fireworks here but I don't expect it will be the whole debate.

-Someone will try to out-Trump Trump. 75%
My guess is Scott Walker.

-Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee will fight over who the bigger evangelical is. 80%
This is the major issue for both of these candidates and the both need to paint themselves as the Christian candidate. Expect a lot of talk about gay marriage and/or abortion. From everyone, but these two won't shut up about it.

-There will be more attacks on the Democrats this time around. 65%
Just a hunch.

-Something crazy, like a mass shooting or terrorist attack will happen at the debate. .0001%
Just recognizing the possibility!

No matter what though it should be entertaining!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Egypt accidentally kills tourists, including Mexican citizens, after mistaking them for terrorists. AFP.

Tourist vehicles in Egypt. Yahoo/Reuters.

Egypt has killed 12 tourists, including several Mexican citizens in a botched raid against terrorists. AFP. It is unclear how many Mexicans died in the attack, but Egypt lists 12 dead and 10 wounded, many of which were Egyptians. According to the Mexican government at least two Mexicans died and 12 others were involved in the incident. The tourists arrived in Egypt on the 11th of this month and had journeyed to the Great Western Dessert to visit the Bahariya Oasis. The convoy of tourists had stopped for a meal when they were attacked by airplanes and helicopters. The dessert is often use as a base of operation for Islamic militants and the whole area has had warnings issued against it by various governments. ISIS is very active in the area and have greatly expanded their operations throughout the country. The deaths of Mexican citizen could further damage Egypt's critical tourism industry. The industry, already damaged by the revolutions and ISIS attacks, including the beheading of a Croatian national, may not recover anytime soon.  

My Comment:
Very bad news out of Egypt. It sounds like their security forces screwed up and screwed up badly. It sounds like they did not even try to confirm that their targets were actually terrorists. And that is scary. No doubt ISIS is a threat. But if Egypt is so jumpy that they just open up on any convoy that happens to be in the desert, then ISIS is already winning. Sure, these tourists were taking a major risk by being in this area, but it still boggles my mind that the Egyptians would just open up on them without confirming who they were. 

This will, of course, have a negative impact on tourism in Egypt. The revolutions hurt tourism for a long time but it was starting to recover. But this new war against ISIS is destroying any progress they had made towards recovery. The decapitation of Tomislav Salopek, though not a tourist, was an extreme example of how ISIS is targeting westerners in Egypt. And that is not the only example of ISIS doing so in the country or the region. This new tragedy just underscores the point. It is not safe to go to Egypt if you are a western tourist. There is a chance, not a gigantic chance mind you, that the terrorists or even the government could end up killing you.

Unfortunately, tourism is a massive part of the Egyptian economy. If they run out of tourists they could run out of money. And running out of money has massive effects throughout the country. First of all it's hard to fight a war if you can't pay your soldiers. Second, people will lose their jobs and see their quality of life decrease, which would make them ripe for recruitment. Finally, a bad economy could lead to yet another revolution or even more instability, which is bad enough on its own, but could also lead for an opening for ISIS. 

I'm not sure what is going on for the Egyptian security forces. So far in this war they are not exactly inspiring confidence. This tragedy is just the latest incident in a long string of embarrassments for the war against ISIS. They have suffered some defeats in the Sinai and have lost a few officials to murders and bombings. Which is surprising considering how much western support Egypt has received. After all they have F-15's, F-16's, Raphale's and Apache helicopters. It just goes to show that having the newest technology doesn't mean all that much if you don't have the wisdom to use them correctly or the intelligence to find the enemy. 

Even though this had very little to do with ISIS directly, I consider this a win for them. The damage this will do to Egyptian tourism will help them for the reasons I listed above. Egyptian security forces may also become more "gun shy" when they encounter convoys in the desert in an attempt to avoid this kind of tragedy. This could allow ISIS fighters escape when they might otherwise not be able to do so. 

Would I feel safe going to Egypt? Not really. I think you would be ok i you stayed in the tourist areas, but if you were to wander away form those areas you would be putting yourself at risk. Still, I wouldn't really feel any worse in Egypt then I would in Mexico. Mexico has its own war going on, and the cartels are almost as brutal as ISIS is and though they rarely target tourists they still bring a massive element of danger. On the other hand, if the unthinkable happens and ISIS takes over the country, this might be one of your last chances to see the ruins in Egypt. There is a good chance that if they gain power there, or even pull off some spectacular terror attacks, that the Pyramids, Sphinx and the various museums could all be destroyed. That alone is enough to hope that the Egyptian security forces get it together and push ISIS out of Egypt.