Saturday, October 31, 2015

New Kurdish/Rebel offensive launched in Hasaka, Syria. Reuters.

Syrians fleeing the fighting in Hasaka earlier this year. Reuters.

A new alliance between the Kurds, and Syrian rebels called the Democratic Forces of Syria has launched a new offensive near the northern city of Hasaka. Reuters. The announced offensive comes one day after the United States has announced that special forces would be deployed to Syria to help train the rebels and the Kurds. Throughout the war the Kurdish YPG has been our most reliable ally in the fight against ISIS in Syria. The objective of the new group is to drive ISIS out of the city of Hasaka, which is jointly held by Kurds, the Syrian regime and ISIS. Hasaka is a critical city for ISIS as holding it allows them to access the  border region with Iraq. The Kurds, along with their Sunni Arab rebel allies are expecting weapon drops from the United States. 

My Comment:
The elephant in the room is the fact that the Syrian regime has major forces still deployed in Hasaka (also spelled Hasakah). Indeed, Hasaka is their second remaining stronghold in the eastern part of Syria, along with Deir Ez Zor (which is spelled too many ways to count!). The Kurds are de-facto allies with the Syrian regime so I'm struggling to understand what is going on here. The way I see it there are a couple of options:

1. The new group is going to attack the regime as well. This would completely destroy relations between the Kurds and the regime and would be a major escalation in the war for the United States. The presence of the Arab rebel groups suggests this is possible. After all they want Assad out of power. But my guess is that this is not going to happen.

2. The more likely option is that the Kurds and regime will either work together in this offensive or the regime will just get out of the way. That makes the situation very awkward, not only for the United States, but for the rebels as well. Both groups have a stated goal of removing Assad but just think about what they are doing here. Hasaka has been under pressure for most of the year and by attacking ISIS the rebels and the United States are essentially helping the regime. At best in an indirect fashion by drawing forces away from regime positions and reducing the number of ISIS troops in the area. But if the Kurds end up working directly with the regime then we are helping the regime as well.

I am guessing that the second option is much more likely. At this point, with Russia helping the regime and the Kurds being essentially allies to the them, the U.S. military would not risk attacking the regime. The Kurds have no reason to do so either and the only group that I can think of that might risk it is the rebel groups. I think they know that if they do, however, that they risk losing U.S. support and drawing the ire and airstrikes of the Russian military. Crazier things have happened but I think it is a long shot. 

So will this new offensive actually turn the tide in Hasaka? I'm not sure. For a time earlier this year, it looked like Hasaka would be the next city to fall from ISIS. They were suicide bombing regime positions and there was heavy fighting throughout city. The Kurds and the Syrians managed to hold on to the city though, and since then I have heard little. This could break the stalemate. Presumably, the new weapons and training coming down the pipeline will help the forces in the area push ISIS back. There is also the possibility off  heavy U.S. airstrikes helping the offensive out if it gets bogged down. Still, given how intractable ISIS has been, I would not be surprised if this offensive either takes forever to accomplish its goals, or fails completely. 

In a semi-perfect world, Russia and the U.S. would work together to liberate Hasaka from ISIS. I say semi-perfect because in a perfect world ISIS wouldn't exist. You would think that Russia and the United States could put aside their differences and work together since they have a common goal. Both countries want ISIS out of Hasaka. Both countries have allies on the ground that they are supporting. And both countries may send airstrikes in the area. But neither side will talk with each other and coordinate. Which means both countries attacks will be less effective then they would be if they were working together. 

I know, I know, Assad is a monster and we shouldn't be helping him. That's the argument at least. But the facts on the ground mean that it doesn't make sense to have that view anymore. ISIS and al-Nusra are the bigger threats now. Sure, Assad is partially responsible for that, and yes, it would be nice if he would face justice. But I don't think we win the war against ISIS without him surviving the war. At this point we have to face reality. These new offensives and deployments may help defeat ISIS in the end, but there is no way that the regime collapses now unless everything goes way wrong. We aren't going to war with Russia over Syria and we just have to accept that our foreign policy in Syria failed. Let's just focus on destroying ISIS and worry about everything else after.   

Friday, October 30, 2015

US to deploy special forces to Syria. Reuters.

Syrian map of control. Washington Post/Institute for the Study of War.

President Obama announced today that there will be special forces deployment to Syria for the first time since the war began. Washington Post. The new deployment marks a huge shift in Obama's anti-ISIS campaign. The troops will be stationed in northern Syria and their focus will be on training troops. They are not expected to engage in direct combat but will assist the Kurds in the area that are advancing to the city of Raqqa, which is the de-facto capital of the Islamic State. The deployment appears to be an open ended commitment with no timetable for withdrawal. In addition to the special operations deployment, the Air Force is deploying A-10 Warthogs and F-15 Eagles to the theater as well. It is unclear what such a small force will accomplish since only 50 troops are being deployed. There are also fears that the deployment represents mission creep which could eventually lead to larger deployments. 

My Comment:
My guess is that this deployment is going to consist of a Green Beret soldiers. They are experienced trainers and have been training  troops since the Vietnam War. Though 50 of them is not really all that useful in a major battle, they can train hundreds of fighters. They are classic "force multipliers" and their real value is the morale and effectiveness boost they give to the troops they train. The Kurds are a fairly strong fighting force as it is, but with the Green Berets there to train and equip them they may have a larger impact on the battlefield. 

Is it going to turn the tide against ISIS? No. Not likely. The Kurds are an effective fighting force but they have been unwilling so far to expand outside of their own lands. Yes they advanced towards Raqqa but I think the chances of them actually trying to take the city are pretty much zero. They hate ISIS but they have no reason to attack them there. Still, arming and training the Kurds, who are about the only group in Syria that are both secular and not total jerks like the regime, is the best idea I have heard from the Obama administration so far. It's still a half measure but unlike other attempts I think they might accomplish something. It won't defeat ISIS but it may allow the Kurds to further roll back ISIS.

One wonders how Turkey will take this. They hate the Kurds more then they hate anyone else and they view an independent Kurdish homeland as an existential threat. The Kurds have been bombed by Turkey before and some of the groups fighting against ISIS in Syria are communist terrorists that have been blamed for the civil unrest that is ravaging Turkey right now. It's possible that this will hurt our relations with Turkey, but at this point I don't care. They can get mad as far as I am concerned.

I think the throwaway line about the United States deploying more jets to the region is probably just as significant as the special forces deployment. The A-10's and F-15's are primarily ground attack aircraft (though the F-15's have an obvious air-to air role as well). They are both extremely effective against ground targets and any armor ISIS has will probably be under serious threat from air attacks. They will also be able to provide effective cover fire if our ground troops come under attack. I think this is a major step up in our commitment to the air war. 

I also think the fears of mission creep are valid. There is a very real possibility that these new troops will come under attack and if they can't get the support they need from the local Kurds, they might be in trouble. If that happens, we may need to deploy more troops to protect them. I also think there is a very real possibility that we may end up deploying forward air controllers to direct airstrikes as well. With all our new aircraft in the area, and with so many various factions working on the ground, it's important to make sure what gets hit by airstrikes is actually the enemy. A-10's especially are effective in an air support role, and that often requires forward air controllers to avoid friendly fire incidents.  

I'm also worried how Russia is going to react. Though the Russians have no quarrel with the Kurds, it is also true that the Special Forces may be training local Sunni rebels as well. The Russians have been targeting these rebel groups extensively during their air campaign. The worry is that they will also target any groups trained by the Green Berets, and may even accidentally attack or kill our troops. I don't think this will be a major issue though since at the moment the northern area of Syria is largely cut off from the regime forces. And these troops will be fighting ISIS, not the regime. Also, the major faction being trained will remain the Kurds, and I doubt that the Russians will have any problem with that since they are de-facto allied to the Syrian regime. 

The Syria conflict is just completely insane right now. There are so many factions fighting right now that it is utter chaos. At the very least there are five main factions, all of which fight each other and occasionally work together. The short list is the Syrian regime, the Kurds, the "secular" rebels, al-Nusra and, of course, ISIS. In addition to those factions many other groups have deployed troops or trainers. The Russians, Iranians, Hezbollah, and now the United States have deployed troops and many, many other countries have sent weapons and supplies. In short the Syrian war is drawing in the whole world. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My take on the 3rd Republican debate!

The best moment of the debate.

Well, the third debate is in the books and here's my reaction to it... finally. I needed a little time to digest what happened last night. It was pretty terrible. Before I go any further I have to say that the subject of this debate was the economy, which is pretty far from my area of expertise. I'm no expert on economic debates, so I can't tell you if Ben Carson's tax plan is better then Rand Paul's or Ted Cruz's. Indeed, I'm not sure if I care either way. Instead I will focus on how each candidate did in terms of performance and comment on any areas of policy I do know something about. If you are looking for how they candidates did on policy, you should probably look elsewhere. 

And I have to say the moderation of this debate was just terrible. The questions that were asked were just completely biased, needlessly snarky and just plain awful. Now I'm the last person to call for a fawning debate where the candidates only get softball questions. They need a curve ball now and then, just to keep them on their toes. What they don't need is to be hit by the pitch and have a bench clearing brawl. I am convinced that if Hillary Clinton had been a moderator she would have asked better questions. 

All of the questions followed one of two formats. The first and more common one was asking the candidate about some kind of controversy and then asking them if it disqualified them from being a candidate. A few of these questions were fair, such as the one attacking Ben Carson for being a snake oil salesman. But the vast majority of them were either non-issues, answered in past debates or could have been asked in a much less snarky and annoying way. As far as I am concerned almost all the questions were gotcha questions in the vein of the old "when are you going to stop beating your wife" trap. Even if you answer the question masterfully, you still look bad. 

The other format was just a blatant call for one candidate to attack the others. John Kasich rose to the bait early, but after that most of these calls to attack other candidates were ignored. Mike Huckabee completely turned it around and used it to criticize the media. These questions weren't nearly as numerous as the gotcha questions but they were also way too common.

All in all, CNBC did a terrible job with this debate. In addition to the bad questions, the moderators frequently lost control of the debate. Candidates pretty much ignored them and kept on talking even after their time was up, because they clearly didn't respect the moderators. And why would they? Between the debates, the commentary was painful and it seemed clear that they did not know what they were doing. I was also annoyed about all the commercials this debate had in comparison to the other debates. I guess CNBC needed to make up the money they lost when Trump and Carson forced them to have a shorter debate. 

Finally, let's get to my reactions to the candidates. I'm kind of angry that I had to spend all that time writing about how bad the format was. I think all the candidates did pretty good in hostile territory and too their credit they didn't rise to the bait and attack each other too much. Still, I think there are candidates that did a lot better then the others.

Donald Trump:
Compared to the other two debates, Trump had a much more limited role. I think that was largely due to him not being asked anywhere near the same number of questions that he was asked in the other ones. He also didn't get into nearly as many as fights as the other debates. The one major fight he got into, not counting all the fights with the moderators, he won hands down. John Kasich, prodded on by the moderators, attacked him and Ben Carson  on their tax plans. Trump fired back hard at Kasich, pointing out that he had been avoiding attacks on other candidates but once his polls started to slip he had to attack people to remain relevant. 

Trump's best moments though were in response to the moderators. He hit back hard whenever they asked him stupid questions, especially the one that happened at the very beginning of the campaign which accused him of having a "comic book" campaign. Trump rightly pointed out that was a terrible question and throughout the night he fought back hard against the questions. 

Other then that though it was a quite night for Trump. He didn't really make any major headlines but part of that is one of the questions he was asked had been asked and answered in the last debate. He already talked, at length, about his bankruptcies in Atlantic City in the past debate. I think that the answer he gave, that he just took advantage of the laws available to him like any other businessman, is a fair answer, and one that was given last debate. Asking it again showed bias by the moderators and did not help anyone understand the candidate better. 

Overall, I think the debate helps Trump. He didn't have any major gaffs, and scored big points with his attacks on the moderators. He didn't deal any killing blows to the other candidates but considering how bad the moderators were in this debate that helped him too. Showing unity with the other candidates was a great move by Trump, and all the rest of the candidates. 

Ben Carson:
Not a good performance from Carson. He didn't speak much and when he did he didn't really convince me of anything. And even though the issue about his endorsement for a supplement was quashed by the stupid way the moderators asked it, I think it's a real concern. For a famous surgeon, I don't have a whole lot of respect for a guy hawking a product that is probably worthless. If anyone should know better it is Ben Carson. Time will tell if this issue makes any impact, but my own opinion of him dropped a little, much like when Trump came out as anti-vaccine. It's not a deal breaker by any means but in my own pros and cons chart, this goes in the con column.

I do think that Carson did have one great moment of the night. He made the point that just because you don't like gay marriage, it doesn't mean you hate gay people. Given that Carson worked for Costco, which is fairly gay-friendly, means that his views are more complex then that. So many people on the left try to make this connection and it rarely gets challenged. I also loved that he immediately called out PC-Culture as well, which is another thing that needs to be challenged  much more then it currently is. 

Overall though, I don't think Carson did well here. I don't think he hurt his campaign too much, but he also didn't do anything much to help. Unlike the first two debates, I think Carson had a weak night.

Marco Rubio:
I think Rubio had the best night by far. He had great answers to his questions and, as always, he was articulate and intelligent. The man is a natural politician and is a joy to listen to, even when you disagree with him. He had one dumb moment where he repeated a joke that he made in an earlier debate, which would have been helped if he had just mentioned that he made the joke before, but other then that I think this was a pretty much flawless debate.

One of the best moments of the entire debate was his epic take down of his former mentor, Jeb Bush. Bush was hitting him hard over his sparse senate attendance and even went so far as suggesting that he should resign. I think that is a fair criticism, but it's a universal one for anyone on the campaign trail. Rubio pointed out that other major candidates, like John Kerry, Barack Obama and John McCain did the same thing. Rubio then completely turned it around on Bush by saying that he never complained when those guys did it and that he was only attacking him because his advisers told him that it would help. 

It was an amazing moment and one of the biggest turn around plays I have seen in any debate. What really sold it was the amount of emotion in Rubio's voice. You could tell that he actually felt saddened by the fact that his old mentor was attacking him. The old man was calling him out but it was clear that the old man was the one in the wrong. Instead of getting mad or firing back, he just felt sorry for Jeb Bush. 

Will the debate help Rubio? I think so. He may have killed Jeb Bush's campaign, which is great news for Rubio since he's Bush's greatest rival. His take down of him will live on throughout the campaign, along with his quip about the mainstream media being a Super PAC for Hillary Clinton. He sounded presidential and like a leader. I'd be surprised if he isn't the establishment candidate from now on, and has a decent chance of being the actual candidate.

Jeb Bush:
This was a terrible debate for Bush. I don't remember anything that happened with him other then the fact that Rubio completely destroyed him. That happened fairly early in the debate, and he never was able to recover from it. He just got wrecked.

This is very bad news for Bush. He desperately needed to make a case that his campaign was still viable, but I think he ended up showing just the opposite. At this point the people that like his policies probably like Rubio's as well. And they are going to support Rubio because he is a much better speaker, and debater. I don't know if this was the killing blow for Bush, but it's damn close. He's still got millions of dollars to throw around but at this point I think it's time to just hang it up after last night. 

Ted Cruz:
If Rubio isn't the winner of this debate, Ted Cruz is. His denouncement of the media and the CNBC moderators is going to go down in legend as one of the best responses in debate history. He gave voice to a common criticism those of use on the right commonly have. The media is against us. They unfairly attack almost everyone on the right. And nobody trusts the media anymore. They lie about everything and they attack anyone who disagrees with them. And it is getting more and more blatant. The questions at this debate were more attacks then actual questions and even the ones that were appropriate were asked in snarky, condescending ways.  

Ted Cruz knows the media is against him and against all Republicans and his moment last night really set the tone for the debate. After he pounded the media he made it clear to the other candidates that they were being set up and that they should unite with each other instead of playing into CNBC's plans. 

I still don't like Ted Cruz's policies all that much and I think there are much better candidates in the Republican field. But if he keeps hitting the media like he did in this debate he's got a decent chance of lasting until the convention. I don't think he will win the candidacy, but he's making a case for it now. 

Carly Fiorina:
Not much to say about Fiorina. She didn't really have an impact on me like she did during the last debate. Probably because she was so passionate in her opposition of abortion. This debate is the economy and it's hard to show the amount of emotion about fiscal policy. She did clearly articulate what she believed though, especially when it comes to government getting involved in our lives. 

Still, other then that, she didn't have any good moments. Which is shocking to me because she utterly dominated the talk time. She had a lot to say, but apparently none of it was interesting or memorable for me. She might not get that bump like she did last time, which is not what I was expecting. 

Mike Huckabee:
Huckabee had two great moments at the debate. He was otherwise fairly silent. The first was his complete rejection  of the moderators offer to rip into Donald Trump. Instead of attacking him, he called him a great guy and pointed out that he shouldn't waste his limited time attacking him when he could be selling his ideas. I think that showed a lot of class and made him look pretty respectable.

I also loved that Huckabee is proposing attacking deadly diseases like cancer and heart disease. Everyone else is trying to save medicare and health care in general with dumb things like fuzzy math and repealing Obamacare. Huckabee says screw that, let's just improve people's health. We would save money if we could just cure these damn diseases. I mean what would you rather have? EU style socialist medicine where you still get cancer and die anyways, or US style healthcare where you get crappy health care but it doesn't matter because they found a cure for cancer? I know which one I want. 

Other then that though, this was a quiet night for Huckabee. I think he helped himself a little bit, especially when he teamed up with Trump, but he mostly faded into the background. Huckabee needs a huge debate performance to try and get back into the race.

Chris Christe:
Listen, I dislike Chris Christe. I think he is a bad candidate with bad ideas. And I don't want him as the Republican candidate. But he was amazing in this debate. I'm starting to see why people like him, and even though I think his ideas are terrible, his debate performance was great. Not as good as the leaders like Rubio, Cruz and Trump, but still pretty damn good.

His best moment was when he completely shut down a question about daily fantasy football. His response was basically, "who cares stupid, ask a real question". Sure daily fantasy sports are annoying and I think the whole thing is a pyramid scheme, but that doesn't mean that we should regulate it or even talk about it during the debate. Ban it or let it go, but in the end I doubt it would matter in the long term. 

I don't like Christie but I think this debate will help him. Not much mind you, but enough to keep him in the race.

John Kasich:
Terrible performance for Kasich. He talked a lot more then other debates, but when he did it was mostly stupid. After he attacked Trump and Carson in the beginning, I stopped listening to him. It was clear that he was playing right into the moderators plans. In any other debate I wouldn't have minded him attacking people, but it's clear that all the moderators cared about was discrediting Republicans in general. He thought he was attacking his opponents but what he was really doing was attacking his party. 

Other then that, I don't think he made any decent points or had any good moments. Trump shut him down and as far as I am concerned that was a good thing. This is a far cry from his first debate when he stuck with the issues and made his case as to why we should vote for him. 

Rand Paul:
I said after the last debate that Paul should just stick with the issues and give up on picking fights with everyone. Well, he must have listened to my advice because that is exactly what he did. He almost took it too far because he didn't even attack the media. Everyone should have attacked the media in this debate and the fact that he didn't hurts his campaign.
He also said that he was going to filibuster the debt deal. I wish he wouldn't. The last time the government got shut down it was a coup for the Democratic Party. It made the Republicans look like extremists and really hurt their image. If he does it again it is not going to help anyone. And quite frankly, I don't think people care all that much about the debt ceiling. Sure, fiscal conservatives care, but everyone else is going to be pissed off. Indeed, other then Rand Paul, the issue hardly came up. I don't see this as helping Paul's chances. 

This was a terrible debate for the media but a decent one for the Republican field. Some candidates did poorly but they all gained from the clear attacks by the moderators. I think that everyone in the Republican Party gained some goodwill from the debate. 

Still, I don't think it helped me at all decide about who to vote for. The issues they talked about were largely irrelevant to me. And I think that's true for the rest of the country as well. People don't care about the debt ceiling or taxes. They care about immigration, gun rights, abortion, and foreign policy, and none of these issues came up much during the debate. This is really bad since the Democratic debate was largely focused on those issues. For example, we heard more about gun control in the Democratic debate then we have in all three Republican debates combined. 

The main story out of this debate will be, of course, how badly CNBC bungled the debate. I am hoping that they don't moderate any further ones and I am hoping in the future that the other debates are run better. Let's hope this debate was a fluke and not a sign of things to come.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

RT has reporters embedded with Syrian Soldiers fighting outside of Palmyra.

RT report from Palmyra.

Saw this report from RT and I thought I would share. It shows how the battle against ISIS in Syria is going. I hadn't realized how long range the fight appears to be. Palmyra is in the middle of the desert and the area just looks like a wasteland. Though the footage is not quite as impressive as other footage I have seen, it is amazing to me that they managed to get a reporter into the area. 

Some caveats of course. 

1. RT is Russian propaganda, so of course this is going to be pro-Syrian military. Obvious, but should be pointed out anyways. 

2. There is no question in this case that the Syrians are actually fighting ISIS, but keep in mind ISIS isn't the only group they are fighting. The report seems to suggest that everyone the Syrians are fighting is ISIS. That's simply not true, though I would say that the other groups they are fighting aren't all that good either. 

Either way, it does show how the fight for Palmyra is going. I have no clue if they are going to retake it anytime soon. I do think that the ruins of the city are going to be destroyed. If ISIS doesn't blow it all up, the fighting will. Either way the ruins are doomed. 

Just a reminder, I am live tweeting the debate yet again!

I missed the first debate unfortunately, but I will be watching the 2nd "main" debate. As always my twitter account can be found here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My predictions for tomorrow nights 3rd Republican debate!

Once again, it's time for another debate predictions post! Like all the rest of the debates I plan to live tweet it. The format has been cut to two hours for the main debate so there is a small chance that their will be a reactions post right afterwards. If not though, expect one sometime the next day.

I may watch the pre-debate debate with the lower rated candidates, but don't expect reactions to be posted on those guys. At this point I think they should all drop out of the race. For the main debate, I think it might be a little better now that at least one guy has dropped out. Scott Walker didn't contribute much during the first two debates but with him out of the race the other candidates should have more time to talk. Still, with the debate only being 2 hours, it may be hard to have everyone get their fair share of speaking time.

I'm also not so sure about the moderation on this one. Unlike Fox News and CNN, I don't know anything about CNBC, so I have no idea how biased or competent the moderators will be. I very occasionally watch Fox News or CNN, but I have never watched CNBC. It could go either way.

Now for some predictions:

-Donald Trump will get a boost in the polls from the debate. 80% His numbers have been sagging a bit and Ben Carson has been nipping at his heels, even passing him in a few polls. I think that is because he hasn't been in the news as much. Having a good debate performance will help him get back the spotlight.

-Ben Carson is going to get hit hard in this debate. 80%. He's pretty close to a new front runner and I think the lower tier candidates will hit him. I'm not sure if Trump will since they seem to have had a good relationship, but his rise in the polls mean that he will be attacked.

-Gun Rights will come up this time. 99%. It has to right? Half the Democratic debate was about how they were going to take our guns. Republicans have to hit back hard. I have been utterly shocked at how little the issue has come up during the previous debates.

-Someone will finally attack Chris Christie for his support of gun control. 75% This would be a great way to try and knock him out of the race. Having him try to defend his gun rights record on a national stage would hurt him and hurt him hard.

-Someone major will drop out after the debate. 99% It happened twice in the Democratic debate. Both Webb and Chaffe are gone now. Sooner or later the Republican field has to narrow.

-That candidate will be Jeb Bush 25%. His campaign is faltering and I think even he knows that he doesn't have much of a chance of winning. Unless he has an amazing debate performance I think he is done.

-Trump will hit Jeb Bush hard in an effort to deal a killing blow to his campaign. 100%

-Hillary Clinton will be a major target as well. She's the Democratic candidate at this point. 75%

-Carly Fiorina will get another boost in the polls, but will then fall back down again after a week or two. She's great at debates but terrible at keeping peoples attention focused on her. 60%

-Rand Paul will finally get a clue and not focus on fighting the other candidates, especially Donald Trump. He will instead focus on policy. 25%

-The debate will be much more entertaining then the Democratic one. 100%

-The debate will be a ratings coup for CNBC. 100%

-Out of all the "establishment" candidates, Marco Rubio will be the "winner", but not the overall winner. He will have the best performance out of the non-Trump candidates. 75%

-Foreign policy will be a large focus of the debate, at least in comparison to the Democratic debate. 75%

And a few questions I want asked:

Donald Trump, what is your stance on the NSA?

Ben Carson, you stabbed a guy? Isn't that kind of crazy? If some world leader makes you angry, will you stab them? If so, wouldn't that make you an awesome president?

For all the candidates, why on earth aren't you talking more about gun rights? And for Chris Christie, don't you have way more in common with the Democrats on this issue then anyone else at this debate?

For Carly Fiorina, in the last debate you said that you wouldn't talk to Vladimir Putin. If that is the case what happens if there is some kind of international incident where a war with Russia could only be averted by talking to him? Isn't that just taking a huge and stupid risk?

For all the candidates, Russia appears to be taking over in Syria. Many of you have a problem with that. Why should we even care?

For all the candidates, isn't focusing on abortion going to hurt you in the long run? Like gun rights, in an issue you can't really do anything about. Isn't all this talk about the issue just a bunch of sound and fury that will accomplish nothing in the long term? I mean, Roe vs Wade isn't going away anytime soon right?

For all the candidates besides Donald Trump, will you support Donald Trump if he is the Republican candidate? If not, why do you want Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders to win the election?

Speaking of Bernie Sanders, why is it ok for the Democrats to have a Socialist running for president?

For all the candidates, political correctness is running rampant. If you are elected how will you help defend the spirit of the 1st amendment? Isn't there something wrong with corporations like facebook and twitter clamping down on free speech pretty much just as bad as the government doing the same thing?

Rand Paul, why have you spent the last two debates just attacking Donald Trump instead of actually giving America a reason to vote for you?

For all the candidates, what do you think of the European immigration crisis? How do we keep it from happening here? What do you think of Obama's plan to bring Syrians to America?

Finally, I'll be live tweeting the debate here. I should be starting around 6 pm central. I doubt I will have a post up with my reactions, but anything is possible!

Monday, October 26, 2015

US Navy destroyer to challenge Chinese territorial claims in the South China sea. Reuters

The USS Lassen on patrol. Reuters/US Navy handout.

A US Navy destroyer has been sent to the South China Sea to challenge Chinese territorial claims. Reuters. The USS Lassen is set to patrol near the Subi and Mischief reefs in the Spratly islands. China has embarked on a massive building project on those features, transforming them into actual islands. China also claims a 12 mile exclusionary zone around these artificial islands. The United States, committed to the concept of freedom of navigation, especially in critical area for trade like the South China Sea, rejects these claims. Trillions of dollars worth of trade passes through the South China Sea each year. The Lassen also plans to visit other artificial islands made by Vietnam and the Philippines. These challenges to the various nautical claims in the region are set to be a regular occurrence. China claims that they are building up these islands for peaceful purposes but the US claims that they are building airbases in the region. 

My Comment:
This is a dangerous game to be playing for everyone involved. Though I don't think this will lead to war, it seems inconceivable to me that China won't at least challenge the USS Lassen when it arrives. What that would consist of is anyone's guess but I can't imagine that the Chinese will just ignore this. It's possible they will respond with ships of their own or perhaps even sending jets in for a fly-by. I don't think there will be a deliberate attack but there is always a possibility, however remote, that their will be some kind of accident. A plane could crash, ships could hit each other or a warning shot could go wrong, any number of things could go wrong.

All that being said though, I think this is the right move. We need to challenge China's territorial claims. The idea that you can just build an island in the middle of the ocean and then use that to claim 12 miles of territory is just crazy. If we allow these claims to stand, any country can just build an island anywhere to claim exclusion zones. That really cannot stand, especially in a place as important as the South China Sea. And that goes for all the players in this drama. China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, The Philippines and Malaysia have have made claims and all of them need to be challenged. 

One wonders if this is enough of a challenge though. Sure, a US Navy destroy is a fairly powerful ship. It's got a lot of firepower and is more then a match for many other ships out there. But it might not be enough to send a message. In a perfect world, we would send an entire carrier group to the region. That would send a clear message, though it would also be a significant risk. After all, any attack on our aircraft carriers is treated the same as an attack as our country itself. That raises the stakes quite a bit. And given how committed our carriers are right now, we probably don't have one to spare. That's one of the downsides to our adventures in the Middle East, they demand a lot of attention from our Navy, to the point that we can't always deploy them to where we need them. 

I don't buy for a second that China is using these artificial islands for peaceful purposes. It's clear to me what China's strategy is. They want to build up these islands to use them as stationary aircraft carriers. Much like the Japanese did during the second world war, they plan to use these islands as stations for attack aircraft to counter the threat from US aircraft carriers and our navy in general. I could also see them building up missile defenses, both anti-air and anti-ship, on these islands as well. With aircraft and missiles deployed, it would make it much more difficult to challenge China in any war. These outer defenses would make it harder to strike China itself and would partially neuter our naval advantage.

China's main concern is countering our carriers and naval power. Building up these islands is just a small part of this strategy. In addition to these airbases, China is building their own carriers to counter ours. They are also investing in ballistic anti-ship missiles, which have been called carrier killers. Critically, they are developing aircraft, radar and anti-air missiles to counter our air superiority. It can be argued that once the F-35 is rolled out, the Chinese will have better fighters then we have, other then our F-22's. It's very possible that in a couple of decades we won't even be able to get close to these islands. 

Of course there are other reasons for China to build up these islands. Most of them are economic. The article mentioned that trillions of dollars pass through the South China Sea. Controlling the area gives a lot of leverage during trade disputes. The article failed to mention the obvious role that fishing plays in these disputes. The South China Sea is a rich fishing area. Fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry and all the countries involved also need to feed their people. Of course over-fishing could very easily make these areas economically useless, but that's nothing new. Finally, there is always the possibility that oil or other resources could be found in the area. The benefits of securing those resources are obvious.  

I think China will probably win out in the end in this dispute. Not in the short term, mind you, but eventually I think they triumph. They are investing heavily in their military and there will come a point soon where we won't be able to challenge them anymore. There is no will in the United States to invest in our own weapons and military and at this point it is needed to counter the billions of dollars the Chinese are investing in their own military. There also just isn't the will needed for the United States to actually go to war over anything in the region. Sure, we have allies in the region, but are we really willing to risk nuclear war to protect them, or the concept of freedom of navigation? My guess is no, at least with the current administration. Perhaps a new president will act differently, but at this point I think China will probably win out in the end. Until then, expect more of these patrols. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

U.S. and Saudi Arabia to increase support for Syrian rebels as the search for a political solution continues. Reuters.

John Kerry meets with King Salman of Saudi Arabia. Reuters.

The United States and Saudi Arabia are planning on increasing their support of rebels fighting the regime in Syria. Reuters. In meetings with the King, Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed both countries continued support for rebel groups. They also are looking for some kind of diplomatic solutions. No details were revealed about what this new support would consist of but both countries provide weapons and training to certain rebel groups. All diplomatic talks on Syria have predictably failed due to instance by the United States, and many other companies, that Bashar al-Assad must leave the presidency. The other major players in the Syria drama, Iran and Russia, claim that there are no secular rebel groups left and that both the United States and Saudi Arabia are helping terrorists. 

On the military front, the anti-tank missiles are having a major effect. The Daily Beast. TOW missile launchers are destroying dozens of tanks and are allowing the rebels to blunt Syria's latest offensive and are even allowing them to take territory. The increase in the use of anti-tank missiles has greatly diminished the regime's armor advantage and has even countered the advantage the Syrians have in air support. 

My Comment:
I'm not very happy about these developments. I am on record as saying that arming rebels is a very, very bad idea. Though the idea that there are no secular rebels left in Syria isn't completely true, it is true that there are very few rebels left that won't work with Islamic terrorist groups like al-Nusra. Sure, just because these groups are fighting side by side with al-Qaeda's organization in Syria doesn't mean that they are terrorists, but it does mean we are indirectly helping our most hated enemy. I tend to judge people by the company they keep and the rebels keep the company of pure evil. We shouldn't be helping them, unless they decide to use their weapons against al-Nusra. 

As for a diplomatic solution, how would that even work? Bashar al-Assad is not going anywhere. He knows that if he surrenders he will likely end up like Saddam Huessien or Muammar Gaddafi. It's not just about holding onto power for him, though I don't doubt that it is a factor as well. It's about being allowed to live, and the only way he can guarantee that is by staying in power. Any agreement or solution that doesn't account for that is doomed to failure. Sure, he could go into exile or to prison, but even then, his life will be over. That may be justice, since Bashar al-Assad is an evil person, but it pays to understand what the issue actually is. Assad doesn't want to die or go to prison for the rest of his life and that's the actual sticking point. 

And even if there was a solution, why would the rebels or the terrorists go along with it? The rebels might want an end to the fighting and if Assad were to go they might cooperate. Or they might just throw their lot in with the Jihadists and keep fighting. Groups like al-Nusra and ISIS won't stop fighting. They have religious reasons to keep the war going and they hate the groups that would negotiate a settlement. Do you really think ISIS and al-Nusra would follow any agreement authored by the United States? They are committed to destroying us, not working with us. 

If I were in charge I would suspend all training and arms deals with all of the non-Kurdish groups in the country. I would also demand the return of all our anti-tank missiles, with possible airstrikes and commando raids against any group that refuses to return them. I don't like that we are working with people that are fighting with groups like al-Nusra. Unfortunately, that will never happen. 

As for the TOW missiles, it seems like they are having a huge effect on the war. I posted before about how dangerous these weapons are, and it's clear that even then I underestimated how effective they are against Syrian armor. From the Daily Beast article it sounds like they new Syrian offensive has bogged down and that the rebels are even advancing in a few areas. 

These weapons must be completely demoralizing for the Syrians. Their main advantage is armor and to see their weapons just be hard countered like this must be devastating. Without their advantage in armor, the playing field is a lot more even. That isn't to say that the Syrians don't have advantages though. Even if their armor advantage is being countered, they still have plenty of tanks and APC's. They can still use them, they just have to be more careful with them. They also have plenty of air support and my guess is that they have the advantage in artillery as well. Still, who fights harder? A group of soldiers that have a couple of tanks backing them up, or  group of soldiers who just saw their armor destroyed? 

As for the war itself, I think we have settled back into a stalemate. I don't think any side is in a great position to win the war. The Syrians have an exhausted army and their armor advantage has been weakened. The rebel groups are coming under massive attacks from the Russian air force and are the primary targets for the Syrian regime. And ISIS is too busy fighting everyone to focus on knocking any one faction out of the war. As it stands right now, I see no end to the fighting any time soon... 

ISIS vows to attack Israel and releases a threatening new video in Hebrew. Washington Post.

A screencap of the video with the Hebrew speaking member of ISIS. Washington Post/SITE Institute. 

In a new video, spoken in Hebrew, ISIS has issued new threats to Israel. Washington Post. The new video threatens extermination for all the Jews in Israel and across the world. ISIS, also threatened that the attacks Israel have had in the past will pale in comparison to what is coming. The threats come on the heels of fresh violence in Israel. 10 Israelis have been killed in several stabbings and vehicle attacks while dozens of Palestinians have died, all over the Al-Asqa Mosque. ISIS obviously wants to influence the Israeli conflict and wants more support from the Palestinian territories, and from within Israel itself. The speaker on the video spoke perfect Hebrew and was likely from Israel. Israeli authorities believe that dozens of Israeli Muslims have crossed over the border with Syria to fight with various rebel and terrorist groups. 

In a related story, an Israeli Arab citizen used a para-glider to cross the border into Syria. CNN. The 23 year old man flew over the border station in the Golan Heights. It is believed that he intends to join a militant group, though it is unclear which one. The Israeli government may revoke the man's citizenship.

My Comment:
I really don't like talking about Israel. I have an unofficial policy to not cover what happens there, but these two stories seemed very important. The ISIS threat is significant and the para-glider story is just too bizarre not to mention. Still, I am hoping people don't shoot the messenger here. I'm just giving my two cents, not trying to anger everyone on both sides of the Israel issue. Please leave all angry comments somewhere else. Or I might make a multi-paragraph post complaining about your negative comments!  As always, Israel is one of those topics, like circumcision, abortion and grammar that people just go loony when they are mentioned, Besides, I don't take sides in the conflict because I think both sides are stupid. After so many years of war, both sides deserve each other. 

On to the actual stories. The para-glider story is about the weirdest thing I have heard from the entire Syrian conflict. I know people were going to great lengths to join ISIS and al-Qaeda but this is just ridiculous. And it sounds like it caused quite a stir on the Syrian border. From what I have heard, Israel sent quite a few military assets to find this guy, but it sounds like they were unsuccessful. You would have though that someone from one the the multitude of air forces in the area, the guy would have been shot down but it looks like he pulled it off. Such a weird way to go about it though, but I guess with security in Israel as tight as it is he might not have had any other options.

The presence of Muslims in Israel itself, and not just in the occupied territories/Palestine/whatever the term is that won't anger everyone, is one of those things that is easy to forget about. The country has a large and growing Muslim population and the worry is that these people might be ripe for recruitment. Indeed, both of the news stories above shows that it is happening. But is it a real threat for Israel? 

My guess is no. Israel is a fairly good place to live if you are a Muslim. Indeed, if i was going to be reincarnated as a Muslim and had to choose anywhere in the region to live, it would be Israel. The country is stable and generally treats their minority populations better then the Arab states treat their majority population. That isn't saying a whole lot, but unlike many of the other countries in the Middle East. I don't see Israel as a major recruitment center. They just don't have the disillusioned population of Muslims that other countries have. Sure, everyone is all worked up over the Palestinian conflict, but overall, the Muslims there are in pretty good shape. They have little reason to join ISIS or other militant groups. My guess is that ISIS will get about as many recruits from Israel as they will get from the US. Not many.

Of course the occupied territories are something else. They are the home to a large group of fairly angry, financially poor and disillusioned Muslims. You would think that this would mean that ISIS would have a huge opening to take over. But I just don't see it. The Palestinians that want to join a terror group have plenty of local groups to join. Why would they join ISIS when all their friends and family are in Hamas? Why join a group that has global ambitions when you are concerned about the local situation? There is a possibility that people will become disillusioned with Hamas due to it's constant failures, but even if it does happen I don't see ISIS doing much.

After all Israel is a military powerhouse. The only military in the region I trust to give Israel a run for their money is Saudi Arabia, and even then, Israel has the nuclear advantage. They could very easily handle whatever ISIS tries to do in Israel. The country has a very well trained and well armed military and their leadership is both paranoid and willing to use all the weapons at their disposal. In short, ISIS may very well want to attack Israel, but they can't pull it off, at least not without suffering some pretty severe consequences. Sure they could attempt some terror attacks and border raids, but that could draw Israel into the war. And I really don't see that going well for ISIS unless there is some kind of cock-up between Israel and Russia. That shouldn't happen because both sides are reportedly working together to avoid that very thing. In short, there is very little ISIS can accomplish in Israel. I suspect that this video, along with all other threats from ISIS against Israel, is an empty threat with no actual plans attached to them. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

American commando killed in a raid to release ISIS prisoners in Iraq. Washington Post.

An ISIS flag in Iraq. Washington Post/AP.

An American commando has died in a raid against ISIS in Iraq that released at least 70 prisoners. Washington Post. The soldier killed was the first to die in combat in Iraq since the 2011 withdrawal. The Army's Delta force, along with a squad of elite Kurdish fighters, attacked an ISIS prison in the town of Hawijah. Dozens of Kurdish Peshmerga were suspected of being held in that prison and were scheduled to be executed. When the raid was completed, no Peshmerga were found, but dozens of other prisoners, including at least 20 that were with the Iraqi security forces, were released. 5 ISIS fighters were captured and an additional 10 to 20 were killed. The Delta operator was killed as he was entering the building. As of this writing his name has not been released. Three or four Kurdish fighters were wounded in the raid as well. The government of Iraq had not been informed of the raid and are now furious that they were not consulted. Questions have also been raised about the quality of intelligence the raid relied on since the goal was to release Peshmergea fighters but no fighters were found at the prison.

My Comment:
Despite the casualty, it seems like this was a fairly successful raid. Though the raid did not accomplish its main goal of releasing Peshmerga fighters, they did release a large number of other prisoners. Some of those prisoners were Iraqi soldiers. I can hardly think of a worse fate then being a prisoner of ISIS. The best you could hope for is being released after someone payed an exorbitant ransom for you. The worst case is a long period of beatings, false executions and eventually, a creative and horrifying death. Sparing anyone from this fate, no matter who they are, is a worthy outcome. 

Still, it sounds like there were some things that could have been handled better. It sounds like the intelligence that the raid relied on was way off. Instead of rescuing a group of politically important Peshmerga fighters, the raid released what seems like a random group of prisoners. Though it is obviously a good thing that these people were released, whoever they were, it means that these Peshmerga fighters are still in the hands in ISIS. They were slatted to be executed already, but now that they know that the US is gunning for their release, they may just execute them as soon as possible, just out of spite. 

I also wonder why Iraq wasn't told of this raid. Obviously the Kurds were because they were a major part of it, but you would think that the Iraqi government would have been told. I can think of a few reasons why they wouldn't have been. First, there may have been the potential for leaks that could have put the raid in jeopardy. I haven't heard of any high ranking traitors in the Iraqi government, but given how corrupt the government is there, I wouldn't be surprised. The other possibility is that this was a punishment for the Iraqis. Recently, Iraq has been putting out feelers towards the Russian government. The Iraqis want the same kind of intervention that the Syrians are getting and that is not making the U.S. government happy. It's possible that Iraq wasn't informed of this raid just due to bitter feelings over Iraq's Russia links. Of course it is possible that they just screwed up and forgot to tell them, which wouldn't be the first time something stupid like that happened. 

I haven't said much about the soldier who died. Obviously it is a tragedy, especially when it is one of our best soldiers that has died. The fact that he was a member of Delta Force means that just by definition he was one of our best and brightest. His loss is a blow. He is also the first soldier lost in Iraq since 2011 and the first one killed by ISIS, unless you count all the deaths caused by ISIS's former organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq. My hope is that he is the last one to die, but I'm not optimistic. 

As for the prisoners, I wonder if any of them were Westerners. ISIS has a couple of Western prisoners. A while ago I wrote about a Norwegian man and a Chinese man who were being held by ISIS. Since then I have heard nothing about their fates. I would think that if they were among the prisoners released, we would have heard about it now. Indeed, I assumed when I first heard about this raid earlier today that they were the main targets instead of the Peshmerga. But apparently they were not. 

So that begs the question, what on earth happened to these two men? When I first heard about the story I assumed that they were going to be executed right away. None of the countries involved would negotiate with ISIS, and I have heard nothing of the ransom being paid. My guess is that they are still being held in Syria, but you would have thought something would have developed by now. Perhaps they were killed in an air raid? Anything is possible at this point... 

Hopefully, Delta Force and the US military can use what they learned in this raid against ISIS in the future. Perhaps if they get the intelligence, they can launch a raid to rescue the two men being held by ISIS. Either way, these ISIS prisons should be a priority target. ISIS has a terrible track record of abusing and executing their prisoners. It's also a propaganda tool for them as well. We should do whatever it takes to find these prisons and shut them down... 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Amazing Russian drone footage of the Syrian conflict.

I found this video the other day on another blog I followed, warnewsupdates, and thought I should share it here too because it is amazing. A few notes though:

1. It is obvious propaganda in support of the Syrian regime and their Russian allies. The video is most likely heavily edited and it doesn't show any casualties on the Syrian side.

2. The battle took place in the Jobar neighborhood in Damascus. That place looks like it has been completely destroyed. The destruction is incredible and looks worse then what I have seen in Ukraine or even Iraq. 

3. Since the battle took place in Damascus it's very unlikely that the Syrians were battling ISIS or al-Nusra. Those groups are mostly found in the north and the east and Damascus is one of the few places in the country where the so called "secular rebels" actually ARE secular. 

Still, the video is incredibly impressive. It's propaganda but it is so well made that it is impressive on a technical level. I highly recommend watching it if you haven't already. 

Joe Biden has decided not to run for president. Washington Post.

Vice President Joe Biden. Washington Post

Vice President Joe Biden has decided not to run for president. Washington Post. Biden claimed that the window for starting a campaign had closed. Joe Biden was in mourning after the death of his son, Beau, who suffered from cancer. Biden would have been a primary rival to Hillary Clinton. The two candidates have similar beliefs and qualifications and may have split the vote. With Biden not in the race, Bernie Sanders is the main competition for Hillary Clinton. Had Biden entered the race he would have been seen as a scandal free version of Hillary Clinton, who's campaign has been beset with controversy after controversy. Had Biden entered the race, most polls had him in third place, behind both Sanders and Clinton. 

My Comment:
I see this as very bad news for Democrats. Biden isn't perfect as a candidate. He's had more then a few "creepy uncle" moments with women and girls that would not have played well during the election (though Bill Clinton was way worse and it never hurt him). He also has all the baggage associated with the Obama administration, which are far to extensive to list here. His heart is also not in it due to the death of his son. All that being said Biden was probably the best candidate the Democrats could have put forth. Given all the problems I just mentioned, that's a fairly strong indictment for the rest of the field. I'm no fan of Joe Biden, but I also think he would be the best president out of anyone in the Democratic party currently being considered.  

I am still kind of glad that he announced that he isn't running, if for no other reason it makes the choices for Democrats a lot clearer. Do they want Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders? Or in other words, do they want a scandal ridden candidate or one that is so far the left that he isn't electable? I didn't see it was an easy choice but I think there is a lot more clarity in the Democratic field then there is in the Republican one. Still, I wouldn't want to be on the left right now... 

Of course without a viable 3rd candidate, the Democrats could be in trouble. Hillary Clinton's campaign could very well implode. If it isn't Benghazi, or the e-mail scandal, some other scandal could come up and sink her completely. If that happens Bernie Sanders will be the candidate, and I really don't think he is electable. He is just too far to the left for the general voters. Martin O'Malley and Lincoln Chafee have no chance whatsoever and they should drop out ASAP. 

That being said I would put money on Hillary Clinton being the candidate now. Joe Biden was the only real threat to her campaign. I don't view Bernie Sanders as a credible threat. Sure he's popular on the internet and in the few ultra-liberal places he likes to visit, but I view him the same way I used to view Ron Paul. He's a meme candidate. Young people like him because they like his policies, but when the primary day comes his supporters won't show up. And people that actually think about his candidacy understand that what he wants probably isn't possible. Ultimately, the Democrats want to win, so the people that support Hillary Clinton, or the ones that just want a Democrat as a president, will not support Sanders either. At this point it is going to be Clinton unless, like I said above, her campaign implodes due to scandal.

In some ways I think this is very good news for the Republicans. With Biden out of the race they have to face a much weaker and unlikable Hillary Clinton in the actual election. Clinton just has so many problems. She's unlikable, she's got more scandals then Richard Nixon, and her focus on gun control will hurt her. Even Trump should be able to beat her. And Clinton will likely get beaten up for the entire election. I think at some point the Republican field will narrow and the candidates that are left should be able to hit Clinton a lot harder then they are now. There are so many things to hit her with as well.

The only problem is that the field is not narrowing on the Republican side. I think there is a decent chance that the primary could last a lot longer then it should. With so many people still in the race, the low ranking people will attack the front runners in an attempt to stay relevant. I think that hurts whoever the candidate will be (and I think it will be Trump or Carson and not anyone like Bush or Rubio). In addition to the normal infighting, the fact that the front runners are outsiders means that the establishment would hit them hard as well. I think this could ultimately weaken the Republican's chances.

The more I think about the more strange I think this election will come out. Democrats will be completely united under a single candidate (unless Bernie Sanders throws a fit and runs third party) but that candidate will be weak and scandal ridden. People will vote for Clinton, but other then people wanting a woman for a president, nobody will be excited for it. On the Republican side, they will have a very strong candidate, but one that isn't part of the mainstream. That candidate will face opposition from not only the left, but also from his own party. Both sides will have difficulty getting the critical votes from the centrist people. In other words,I can see the election going either way... 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The only sensible Democratic presidential candidate, Jim Webb, has dropped out of the race.

Jim Webb at the debate. Yahoo/Reuters. 

Jim Webb has become the 2nd major candidate, after Scott Walker, to drop out of the 2016 presidential race. Yahoo News. Webb ruled out further campaigning as a Democrat but has not ruled out a third party/independent run. Webb criticized campaign finance laws and blamed them for his failure to raise money. He also says that special interest groups are pulling both parties to the fringe and that there was no room in the race for a moderate like him. Webb stood out during the Democratic debate as a moderate alternative to the far left candidates, such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Webb was never able to gain much money and when he ended his campaign he had only raised just under $700,000, compared to the millions Sanders and Clinton had raised. 

My Comment:
I'm sad to see Jim Webb go. I disagree with him on a lot of things but out of all the Democratic candidates, Jim Webb seemed like the only one that cared about America. He's a war hero and his views are a lot more acceptable to me then anyone else on the Democrats side. During the debate he was the only one making any sense. His views on gun rights, for example, are at least acceptable. If nothing else he was pushing the Democratic Party very slightly to the right. At the very least he ensured that the Democratic Party at least heard some moderate views. With him out of the race I fear that the next debate will fall entirely into far left lunacy. 

He might run as an independent but honestly, I don't see him doing much there either. He won't siphon off any votes from the Democrats. Their constituency has gone far left, and I doubt there are enough moderates left to go to Webb. And if Trump is the Republican candidate, he's going to be the one that gets disgruntled moderate democrats, not Jim Webb. And though Jim Webb is palatable to Republicans, they aren't going to support a third party run for a guy that is to the left of them, especially if it means having a chance at yet another Clinton president. 

I also don't think Webb is right about why he wasn't successful. To argue that it's big money is pretty off base when you actually look at the candidates who are polling well right now. On the Democrats side, Bernie Sanders is getting funded by small donations. He has had some larger contributions but  his campaign is largely being funded by the people. And Donald Trump is pretty much the same way. He's mostly funding his campaign, believe it or not, the same way that Sanders is. Small donations. And he has his own money to fall back on.

Out of all the major "big money" candidates, only Hillary Clinton is doing well, and that has more to due with not having a credible threat to her candidacy. Jeb Bush is doing terrible, Scott Walker is out of the race and the only candidates on the right that are making any noise at all are outsiders like Trump, Carson and Fiorina. I think Webb is way off base here, unless something radically changes in the polls. 

I do think it is a damn shame that there isn't room for someone like Jim Webb in the Democratic Party. Webb is definitely a liberal, but he's a sensible one. Unlike Bernie Sanders, he isn't a Communist in all but name. And unlike Hillary Clinton, he actually has beliefs he stands for, not changing his mind with the polls. And unlike Martin O'Malley, he actually makes sense when it comes to guns. I think there is way more political diversity in the Republican field. They have a full libertarian in Rand Paul, a populist in Trump, a couple of evangelicals, a couple of neo-conservatives and a few more libertarian leaning candidates, and a fairly left leaning Chris Christie. 

I am kind of surprised that Webb was the next one to drop out. Sure he wasn't polling well at all, but there are so many candidates that are polling terrible as well. I kind figured that Lincoln Chaffe would be the next to go considering his terrible numbers and the fact that his debate performance was just pathetic. And unlike Jim Webb, Chaffe doesn't really differ all that much from Clinton or the other Democrats. 

For the Republicans, there are a ton of candidates that should no longer in the race. Lindsay Graham, George Pataki, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee basically have no chance. Though I like Rand Paul, his campaign has been terrible to the point he has no chance of winning the presidency. He should focus on his senate race. Even Jeb Bush, who still has tons of money and big business support, is doing terrible in the polls. Hopefully, some other candidates drop out soon. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

CIA director and Homeland Security Secretary e-mail accounts hacked by a teenager. AP.

CIA Director John Brennan. Washington Post/AP.

The CIA Director, John Brennan and the Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, have both had their personal e-mail accounts hacked. AP. The anonymous hacker has posted information, including a list of e-mail contacts, from John Brennan's AOL e-mail account. The hacker also released personal data from Jeh Johnson's Comcast account. One of the documents posted on the hacker's twitter account included a list of CIA and other intelligence officers along with their Social Security numbers, which were redacted. It is unclear why Brennan had this information in his e-mail account. It is possible that it was a list of White House invitees, who are required to give their Social Security numbers. The hacker claims to have Brennan's security application, also known as a SF86, which has sensitive information about his employment, finances and foreign contacts. The hacker claims that he committed the hack in order to gain support for Palestinians. 

My Comment:
The twitter account for the hacker can be found here... for the time being. I'm guessing it won't be up for long. The hammer of the gods is going to come down on this kid pretty soon, and I wouldn't be too surprised if his account gets banned. From what I understand this was just some stupid stoner teenager and his life is going to be essentially over soon. 

I think that is probably fair as well. Unlike Edward Snowden, this guy leaked sensitive information for no decent reason. Even if you think that Palestine is a worthy cause, how on earth does this help anything? The US government is going to change it's policy based on the actions of one stoner teenager? No chance. This kid just threw his life away for no reason. Whatever happens to him, it's probably justified. 

I do have to say that he did expose something that I think is just mind boggling. Why on earth do John Brennan and Jeh Johnson have a personal e-mail account? On AOL and Comcast? AOL still exists? Seriously, why do all these government officials even have personal e-mail accounts. Much like Hillary Clinton, I just can't believe that they are allowed to have one, let alone have one that is so easily hacked. AOL and Comcast aren't exactly known for having great security.

The security risks here are just massive. And if a teenage stoner can hack into these e-mail, you can bet that the enemies of America can do so just as easily. The Chinese and the Russians probably compromised these accounts years ago. And all those Social Security numbers are in the hands of foreign intelligence agencies. People lives could be at risk because these people couldn't use secure e-mail accounts. 

If I was in charge I would make it so that anyone in an intelligence or top government officials would be unable to use any account that wasn't government sponsored. Any accounts they had before they were elected, assigned or hired would have to be deleted on condition of employment. I don't know if that is illegal or not, but it makes sense. 

As much as people have been beating up on Hillary Clinton for her e-mail debacle, this new hack just goes to show that the rot extends far beyond just her. If the CIA director and Homeland Security Secretary are doing the same thing. That does not excuse Clinton at all. Indeed, I think that she should be barred from the presidency over the e-mail scandal and spend some time in jail. But it looks like a lot of other people should be going to jail as well. Who knows how many other personal e-mail accounts are out there? Does the President have one? And if so, how can we possibly believe that they are secure now? 

Nobody in our government takes internet security seriously. All the hacks, leaks and other revelations, would not happen in a functional government. I'm glad that some of these things happened, but you would have thought that after the Snowden leaks the government would have changed focus from offensive cyber warfare to defensive. The NSA shouldn't be wasting so much time spying on everyone that may have a link to a guy that has a link to a terrorist organization, in violation of the 4th amendment mind you, and should instead make sure that some asshole teenager can't hack into the accounts of high ranking government officials. 

But that won't happen, and I seriously doubt that anyone will be held accountable for this hack, other then the hacker himself. Yes, he deserves to go down and go down hard, but the fact that he was able to do this is more of a condemnation to the people he hacked then it is on him. If we were in a sane world, Brennan and Johnson would lose their jobs over this and there would be serious changes in our government. It won't happen, just like Hillary Clinton won't end up in jail for her incompetence... 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

New anti-ISIS offensive in Iraq is having some success. AFP

Iraqi forces fire a rocket near Baiji. Yahoo/AFP

A new offensive in Iraq, aimed at taking back territory from ISIS is having some success. AFP. Iraqi forces are clearing out the city of Baiji and advancing towards Ramadi and Hawija. The offensive at Baiji was launched last week and was aimed at taking back both the city itself and the major oil refinery located there. Iraqi troops, backed up by the Iranian led popular mobilization force, have reconquered most of the city, with only a few pockets of resistance remaining. The operation has now cut off the supply lines to the ISIS held city of Hawija, which is now being surrounded by Iraqi forces. The Kurds are also having some luck in the north, while Ramadi is slowly getting surrounded as well. Less then 1000 fighters still hold Ramadi. 

My Comment:
You can really tell that the Iraq War has really taken back seat to the war in Syria. This is a rather large victory for the Iraqis but I hadn't heard anything about it until now. The offensive happened last week and Baiji was largely taken over a couple of days ago. But I didn't hear anything about it in the media. Just goes to show when the Russians decide to do something militarily, everything else falls by the wayside. To be fair, the Russians joining the war in Syria was a game changer, but you would think the efforts in Iraq against ISIS would make the news as well. 

If the Iraqis manage to hold onto this victory, it will be a huge blow to ISIS. Baiji has been a major battlefield for them since last year and they were never able to fully control the area. They spent many lives and tons of supplies and have little to show for it. And ISIS needed to win in Baiji. They need the refinery their for their economy. They make a decent amount of their money by selling oil, and not being able to capture this refinery means that they are losing millions of dollars. 

It's still too early to say that the battle for Baiji is over though. ISIS has been driven away from there before, but they have always come back. And ISIS has a history of pulling shocking victories out of nowhere. That being said, even if this a temporary victory, it's still a victory, and the Iraqis and their Iranian allies should be happy right now. 

I haven't mentioned one of the major factors why the Iraqis were able to beat back ISIS. Iraq's military has been essentially destroyed so much of the fighting isn't being done by them. Instead, Shiite militias, trained and led by the Iranians, are doing the bulk of the fighting. Much like in Syria, Iran is providing troops, weapons and training. Obviously the Shiite Iranians are not happy about a group of Sunni fundamentalists running around and destroying Shiites. Their role in the anti-ISIS alliance is critical, but western sources tend to downplay their role, especially since the Russians joined the war... 

As for ISIS, it's been a long time since they have had a major success. Since they have captured Palmyra and Ramadi, they haven't done a whole lot. Some of that is due to the fact that war tends to calm down in the region during summer. It is just to hot to fight in Iraq and Syria during the summer. That being said though, it should be concerning to ISIS that they haven't had much of a victory in awhile. The only thing I can think of as a success for ISIS is the fact that they are closing quickly on Aleppo in Syria, and that may have more to do with the Russian air campaign against al-Nusra and their rebel allies then anything that ISIS is doing. 

I think Russia's campaign in Syria is having an effect on ISIS. Their morale must have taken a hit and they have lost troops and weapons to the airstrikes. Not nearly as much as the rebels have, but it's still a blow. Add in the US led air campaign and the Iranians backing up the Iraqis and it may explain why ISIS seems to be on the defensive instead of the offensive. They are getting beat up right now and the war against ISIS may have reached its turning point. Turns out declaring war on the entire world isn't always a good idea. 

Still, it would be foolish to underestimate ISIS. Their whole history is about doing the impossible. They never should have been able to take Mosul or Ramadi, but they did it. They were never supposed to survive our air campaign against them but they have. And to say now that they are getting beaten just because they appear to have lost one battle would be tempting fate.