Saturday, January 30, 2016

US destroyer sent to disputed islands claimed by China. AFP

The USS Curtis Wilber. US Navy Photo/AFP.

The United States has conducted another operation close to a disputed island claimed by China. AFP.  The guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilber sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands. No Chinese ships or aircraft were in the area at the time. The Island is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam and the Navy says the operation was aimed at showing all three parties that the United States still enforces freedom of maritime travel. The United States officially takes no side in the dispute over Triton Island. 

My Comment:
There are a couple of reasons I wanted to post this story this morning. First of all that photo up there looks bad ass! That destroyer is making quite a hard turn and it looks like it was moving at quite a decent speed. I am guessing the crew was having quite a good time while that photo was being taken.

The other reason is that I like to remind people that these territorial disputes in the South China Sea have not been resolved. Indeed, they aren't the only ones as it seems every East Asian country is trying to enforce maritime claims on each other, and even disputing their land borders as well. It's not just China, it's Japan, both Korea's, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. And all those countries also hate each other to boot. It's not unreasonable to keep an eye on the area just to see if a conflict is possible.

Most of these islands are hardly worthy of the title. Some of them are being built up but most of them are just reefs or small, barren deserted islands that would be little use to anyone if it wasn't for the vast resources found in the water around them. It's not just oil, though that is a primary concern. After all, energy resources aren't quite as common as they are in other parts of the world. But it is also fishing rights as well. All the countries need to feed their people and these are some of the best fishing spots in the world.

Of course with over fishing being what it is, I wouldn't be surprised if these islands are depleted of fish in a generation or two. Which means that these territorial claims are even less worthwhile then they are. At best, if China was able to take all the territory they wanted it would only help them in the short term. The energy and other resources locked up in these islands and the water around them would probably last longer then the fish. Ugh, I sound like an environmentalist, but over fishing is a serious problem no matter what. 

Every-time one of these operations comes up the temptation is to talk about the potential for war. I don't think it is high at all. At least not in the short term. China and the other countries making claims obviously want to win these islands but I really don't think that anyone is really willing to risk warfare. Even the United States, which is very committed to keeping sea lanes open doesn't want to go to war. Right now they are just showing the flag. 

I guess there is always a chance that some kind of accident could happen in the South China Sea that could start a major war. Even if that does happen though, I think it is very unlikely. After all, Turkey shooting down a Russian jet in Syria didn't lead to a major conflict. Sure, tensions were raised to higher levels but war wasn't the first option. Instead Russia decided to impose sanctions on Turkey and punish them in other ways. I think a conflict in the South China Sea caused by an accident would probably end the same way. 

And there are not a whole lot of ways a conflict could start accidentally in the South China Sea. Naval vessels could harass each other but unless they hit each other I can't see them opening fire by mistake. An air collision is a bit more likely, but China and the United States are the main air powers in the area and I can't see them resorting to war over a small incident. 

I just don't see war happening in the South China Sea anytime soon. It's not the tinder box it is purported to be. This is, admittedly, a different stance then I have expressed before on this blog, but I think the Turkey and Russia incident changed my mind. They have had several incidents recently and I don't think anyone really considered war. Even though Turkey's actions resulted in a death. If those two countries could avoid war I think the chances are that everyone involved in the various Asian border disputes can do the same thing.  

More drone footage out of Syria: City of Sheikh Miskeen recaptured by Assad's forces.

Drone footage of Sheikh Miskeen. 

Russia has released new footage of the aftermath of the battle of Sheikh Miskeen. The city was liberated by Assad's forces after pushing out rebel groups in the area. The city is a major crossroads and was used by rebels to launch attack throughout the southern part of Syria and Daraa Province. Capturing the city helps Assad's forces cut supply lines to the southern rebels and help secure the area around Damascus. Capturing the city was a major victory for Assad and the government of Syria. 

I've posted footage from this youtube channel before and I can see the quality of these Russian made videos has not gone down. It's important to note that this is obvious Russian propaganda, so keep that in mind when you watch the video. They are trying to send a message and that message is that anyone who stands against Syria will be destroyed just like the buildings in the video. That doesn't mean that the images are any less powerful though. 

The destruction caused by the Syrian conflict is just incredible. Buildings toppled, roads destroyed and fires everywhere. And this is just one city, which has seen two major battles in this war. If nothing else this video shows had bad the conflict in Syria really is... 

Friday, January 29, 2016

40% of Germans say that Angela Merkel should resign as Chancellor over the refugee issue. Reuters.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Reuters. 

According to a new poll, 40% of Germans say that Chancellor Angela Merkel should resign due to her policy on accepting refugees and migrants. Reuters. The low poll numbers come after years of popular support for Merkel. All that evaporated due to the migrant crisis and Merkel inviting hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrants to enter Germany. Merkel's party, the Conservatives, along with their Social Democrat partners, have decided to tighten asylum rules due to widespread pressure. 45% of Germans still think that she should keep her job or not lose it because of the refugee issue. Merkel is trying to hold her coalition together as new state elections are set for March and national elections are set for next year.

My Comment:
The surprising part of this article isn't that 40% of Germans want Merkel gone. It's that 45% of Germans don't. Her policies when it comes to immigration have taken a very heavy toll on the German people. The article is very light on why people are so upset with Merkel. It's not just the ever present threat of terrorism. The Paris attacks are still on everyone's mind, but that's not the main issue. It might not even be the massive crime wave that included the New Years Eve sexual attacks. But the economic toll has been massive. Germany bit off way more then they could chew when they threw open the gates to these migrants. 

1 million refugees moved to Germany last year. That is an incredible burden on any system but Germany only has around 80 million people. And those 80 million are going to have to support that group of 1 million, many of whom are unskilled and untrained. Most of them won't even speak German, and will have to, at the very least, be taught the language before they can be any use to anyone. Many of those people are criminals or scoundrels, who would be difficult to assimilate during the best of times. Some of these migrants will be radicalized and some may even conduct terrorist attacks. And you have to feed, house and take care of all of them. And there is no indication that immigration wave is over either. That's going to cost billions of dollars, and I am not sure if the German economy can survive it. 

That's a massive burden to bare and it is little wonder why many Germans are upset. That alone should be enough for people to wonder if letting in these migrants was worth it. But then the behavior of these migrants adds a new layer of outrage. The events that happened at Cologne and in other German cities were hundreds of women were molested, robbed and raped, and men who tried to protect them were beaten, was, it seems, too much for the German people to take. Germany opened their borders and their lives to these men, welcomed them with open arms and open minds, and how to they repay the German people? With acts of utter barbarity. Not all of them, but enough to frighten and horrify the people that have to deal with the ones that are out of control. Cologne was a turning point and it woke up the world to the downsides of unlimited immigration.  

With the situation as bad as it is, I truly don't understand how so many in Germany can still support Merkel. After all, this situation is largely her fault. Sure, Europe would have had a migrant crisis no matter what, but Germany could have taken the path that Poland and other Eastern European countries did and restrict anyone from coming into their country. That didn't happen and it is entirely Merkel's fault. 

So why is support for Merkel still so high? Some of it is the true believers. The ones that think that Muslims can do no wrong and that the reports of the attacks are exaggerated. The media in Germany is still very committed to immigration in general and there will always be people that take the other side of the issue. There are also the businessmen who are thinking that they will save money on wages by hiring foreigners. They are probably wrong and I don't think they would ever admit it if they are. But the rest? I think they are afraid. 

After all, Germany has decided that censorship is a good way to do things. They have made it so that social networks have to censor anything they deem hate speech and are going so far as to fine or prosecute those that criticize migrants. When freedom of speech is under attack in a country such as Germany, would you really want to say on the record that the architect of the migrant crisis should go? If you phrase it wrong you could end up with a fine or worse. I think it is amazing that 40% of Germans were brave enough to express their unhappiness. I also wonder if this blog post will even be available in Germany...

I have to say that this was an amazing downturn for Angela Merkel. Before the migrant crisis, Merkel was one of the most powerful people on Earth, and was arguably the most powerful woman anywhere. She had a huge influence not only in her country, but across the world. Even America would listen when she spoke. Now? She's hated in her own country and her influence in global affairs is waning. More important her legacy will be forever tarnished. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Stupidest terror plot ever? Australian teen accused of plotting terror attack using a kangaroo. BBC.

The suspect, Sevdet Ramadan Besim. BBC/9News.

A 19 year old Australian man has been accused of terror plot for Anzac Day. BBC. Sevdet Ramadan Besim had planned to take a kangaroo, paint an ISIS flag on it and then pack C-4 explosives to use against police officers. Besim had expressed a desire to kill police and had also made plans to run down a police officer and behead him or her. Besim was charged with four crimes, including planning a terrorist attack. Besim was also in communication with another teenager overseas who he discussed the planned attack with. The man choose the date of the attack due to the significance of Anzac Day for Australians. Anzac Day is the day Australians and New Zealanders honor their war dead.

My Comment:
And I thought the guy in Milwaukee was dumb for trying to buy fully automatic guns! The kangaroo attack would have never worked. Kangaroos are notoriously difficult animals to work with and there is pretty much no chance of getting them to do what you want them to. And I am seriously doubting that a Kangaroo would let someone paint an ISIS flag on them, plant explosives on them (or in their pouch?) and then be docile enough approach a police officer on command. Trying to pull that off would most likely result in you getting your ass beat by an extremely angry Kangaroo and even if you did load it up with explosives, chances are it would just run away into the wilderness. And the most likely ending for any terrorist trying this plan is to be beaten and clawed to death by an patriotic kangaroo who would want nothing to do with attacking his country! 

In all seriousness though, I get the feeling that the kangaroo attack was more of an idle suggestion then an actual plan. I didn't see anything in the articles that I read that Besim was able to purchase anything that he would need to pull off the attack. Getting C-4 would be extremely difficult and even if he did get some, I don't see him getting a Kangaroo easily either. I am guessing that this was more of a "wouldn't it be cool if we could do this?" instead of "we are seriously going to do this and we have taken steps to pull it off". 

Though the kangaroo angle is pretty funny, the rest of this story isn't. The more likely and serious plan was "running down" (with a car I assume?) a police officer and beheading them. That's a much, much easier plan to pull off and there is a very good chance that he could have pulled it off. All you need for that is a car and a knife, and the ability to find a cop that is vulnerable. It still might have failed because Aussie cops do carry firearms, but it is a much better plan then the stupid kangaroo stunt. There's a decent chance that he could have succeeded, but like so many terrorists, he had to blab on the internet and someone found him out. That's almost as dumb as trying to use a kangaroo as a weapon. 

I do have to say that these lone wolf, ISIS inspired, moron wannabe terrorists actually help groups like ISIS. For every Sevdet Ramadan Besim and Samy Mohamed Hamzeh the anti-terrorist people catch, how many people like the San Bernardino attackers are falling through the cracks? The stupid people are a threat as well, because even a dumb plan could hurt or kill people, but if the focus is on them, the more professional ones may slip away undetected until they pull off a much more serious attack. This isn't something that has an easy answer...

As for Australia, they are having problems with radical Islam. Unlike Europe and the United States though, their issues are largely being ignored, at least internationally. The last incident there that made the headlines was the Sydney siege. Since then they haven't had any major incidents, but the Jihadi threat is truly global. I would not be terribly surprised if Australia had a major terror attack in the near future. And just like everywhere else, they are vulnerable to lone wolf terror attacks. This one was disrupted but the next one might not be... 

 On the other hand, Australia has some obvious advantages as well. They don't have a large Muslim population for ISIS or other terror groups to draw recruits from. They have less then 500,000 of them and they only make up 2% of their population. They also don't have anywhere near the number of refugees heading to them as Europe has. And being an island continent, it's fairly difficult to smuggle in weapons, explosives and people. Not that it is extremely difficult to get guns in Australia or anything, despite their draconian gun laws, but getting the kind of high powered fully automatic weapons would be even more difficult then it would be in the United States. In Europe, despite all their laws, it is way easier to get a fully automatic weapon. All that makes a huge terror attack, like the one in Paris last year, somewhat more unlikely then it is in Europe. 

All that being said, I have to say this kind of story does make me feel a bit better about the threat of lone wolf terrorists. A lot of the people crazy or misguided enough to want to martyr themselves for Islam are also really, really dumb. Besim is just one of a long line of fools that weren't able to accomplish much of anything. Just like the morons down in Texas that attacked a free speech event and died for their trouble without accomplishing anything, the vast majority of these lone wolf and homegrown attackers are going to fail and fail hard. We just have to worry about the percentage that aren't complete idiots... 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Israel accuses Turkey of buying ISIS oil. Reuters.

Israeli Defense Minster Moshe Ya'alon. Reuters. 

Israeli Defense Minster Moshe Ya'alon has accused Turkey of buying ISIS oil. Reuters. He also accused Turkey of funding the terrorist group and claimed that Turkey's actions hurt relations between the two countries. Last month Russia made the similar claims and said that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's family was involved in the oil smuggling. The United States claims that the accusations are false. Ya'alon also claimed that Turkey was complicit in allowing thousands of militants to enter Syria and join ISIS and other militant groups. Turkish and Israeli relations have been poor since 2010 after the death of 10 Turkish activists trying to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

My Comment:
This isn't really new news because Russia made similar accusations in the past. They basically said the same thing that Israel is saying right now. In Turkey's defense (and it is rare that I will ever offer up anything in their defense!), both Israel and Russia have a very good reason to be biased against Turkey. Israel had that incident in 2010 and Russia had multiple border incidents since their intervention in Syria. Neither country can be counted on to be truthful when it comes to Turkey.

Still, since I am biased against Turkey as well, I tend to believe the accusations. Even if I wasn't though it is clear that Turkey has been playing fast and loose during the Syria conflict. I think that the case that the Turks are buying oil on the cheap from ISIS is at the very least plausible, and more likely completely true. Someone has to be buying that oil. ISIS is probably selling the oil at a significantly lower price then the international markets. Even though oil prices are low right now, Turkey could still save and make money with this oil. 

Of course Turkey isn't the only country in the area to buy oil cheap from ISIS. Syria itself is guilty of the same thing and there are probably other countries that end up with the oil as well. I have even heard that Israel is buying some of it as well. Given everything that is said about Israel I have no idea if that is true or not. It's just as likely that someone made it up just to make Israel look bad, but I would believe either outcome. Cheap oil is a hell of a temptation.

I think the accusation that Turkey is allowing militants to cross their borders is a much more serious accusation. It's quite obviously true that Turkey is the main pipeline for militants entering Syria to join ISIS or al-Nusra. The question isn't whether that is true or not, but how involved Turkey is in the smuggling. 

I am not really all that sure. Turkey has the means and the motive to help ISIS. Obviously, they could help any militants that want to cross the border. Such a thing would be easy to accomplish. But why would they do it? Well for one thing they hate both the government of Bashar al-Assad and the Kurds. Right now ISIS is focused on fighting both. Though ISIS is a major terrorist organization that has targeted Turkey in the past, they have still done far more damage to Assad and the Kurds.

But would Turkey really help ISIS if it means hurting their enemies? I think so. Turkey is in a major war with the Kurds and they consider an independent Kurdistan an existential threat. The last thing they want is a safe haven for the Kurds to launch attacks into Turkey. Indeed, their war against ISIS has mostly been a cover to renew their attacks against Kurdish fighters. 

I have said in the past that Turkey is a poor ally. At the very least they are not doing as much as they could in the fight against ISIS. At the worst, they are buying oil from our enemies and allowing them to receive reinforcements. That, along with their deteriorating level of civil rights and their poor treatment of journalists makes them unsuitable as a NATO ally...

Terrorist plot foiled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. AP

The suspect, Samy Mohamed Hamzeh. Waukesha County Sheriffs Department

A terrorist plot targeting a Masonic temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was foiled after the suspect tried to buy fully automatic and suppressed weapons. AP. Federal prosecutors charged 23 year old Samy Mohamed Hamzeh with possession of a fully automatic firearm and receiving a weapon not registered to him. Hamzeh planned to attack a Masonic temple and kill at least 30 people so "nobody can play with Muslims". Two people would have gone inside of the temple with fully automatic firearms while a third would shoot anyone that fled the building. Hamzeh also hoped that the attack would inspire more mass shootings. Hamzeh's original plan was to travel to Israel and attack civilians there, but the plan fell apart due to the difficulty in traveling to Israel and a lack of funds. Hamzeh then decided to attack a US target but he confided in confidential informants. Those informants went with Hamzeh to a gun range and visited a Masonic temple as a scouting mission. When Hamzeh tried to purchase fully automatic weapons he was arrested.

My Comment:
I had to cover this story. I live in Wisconsin and though I don't visit Milwaukee all that often, I have been there before, and I know a lot of people that live there or visit. So this story strikes rather close to home. It makes you realize that there is the potential for terrorism pretty much everywhere. I'm not sure what Masonic temple Hamzeh was targeting but if he had pulled off this attack, it wouldn't be too surprising if I or someone I know would have been effected by this personally. I am very thankful that this attack did not come to pass. We had a mass shooting near where I grew up recently and it is never a good feeling when it happens...

It sounds like that Hamzeh made the critical mistake of trusting someone he shouldn't have trusted. Those informants are the ones that stopped this attack. Though I doubt Hamzeh would have been able to pull off such an ambitious attack on his own, the intervention of those informants prevented any attack from happening. If Hamzeh had kept his plans more secret he could have pulled off some kind of attack, even if it wasn't quite at the scale had he planned. He should have stayed a "lone wolf" instead of looking for help.

He also made a huge mistake by trying to purchase fully automatic and suppressed firearms. Contrary to popular belief, fully automatic machine guns are very difficult to obtain in the United States. Though the gun laws in Wisconsin are fairly loose, we still have Federal restrictions on machine guns which make them basically unobtainable. Had Hamzeh known this and just purchased normal firearms, legally or otherwise, he would have likely been able to pull off his attack. 

His ambition to buy fully automatic and suppressed weapons also shows me that he was not a sophisticated attacker. Fully automatic weapons are fairly stupid to use in a mass shooting situation because automatic fire is for suppression. Attacking a civilian building like a Masonic temple is a rather unlikely place to need suppression fire, unless someone was concealed carrying. Semi-automatic fire is a much better idea as it allows you to conserve ammo and greatly increases accuracy. And suppressors seem particularly useless. With a large military style rifle it doesn't do a whole lot to make the gun quieter. It does make it quiet enough that you can shoot without ear protection, but not enough to disguise the unmistakable sound of rifle fire. Here's an example video of the difference between suppressed and un-suppressed fire. The suppressed fire starts at about 6:40 in the video, and you can hear normal fire in the beginning:

Hickok45. He's awesome!

It's clear to me that Hamzeh was one of those lone wolf attackers, inspired by ISIS and other terrorist groups. He was not a professional. Far from it. Though the basics of his plan would have probably worked the fact that he didn't realize that he would have been a lot safer buying legal weapons and not talking to any probably informants means that he was basically an idiot. His plan to attack Israel was even more stupid and probably got him on the governments radar in the first place. Though the danger was real, I don't think he was all that likely to pull anything off. Just a dumb kid trying to make a name for himself. But he failed, because I don't think that anyone will care about him after this. He will just rot in Federal prison for a long time due to these gun crimes. 

I am kind of surprised that they didn't charge him with conspiracy to commit murder, since they did seem to know all of his plans. Perhaps they didn't have enough evidence? Though trying to purchase machine guns is a major crime, the sentence isn't all that long. Even if they charge him with two counts I don't know if he gets more then 20 years for this. Receiving the weapons could add a few more but the fact of the matter is that Hamzeh is probably going to get out of prison before he dies, assuming he gets convicted. 

I do have to wonder why on earth he wanted to target the Masons. In the past there has been some strong anti-Mason sentiment in the United States, but outside of a few conspiracy nuts, that has faded into nothingness. I know a few Masons and from what I understand it's just a club. I don't know if Islam has any specific problem with Masonry but it seems unlikely that the Masons are hated any more then any other western group. I would love to understand Hamzeh's reasoning here because I just don't get it. Perhaps it was just a target of convenience?

The bizarre nature of the target of this attack, and other attacks like the San Bernardino shooting or the Oklahoma City decapitation just goes to show that any place could be a target. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the choice of targets that these people are deciding on. Which is a very bad thing because at least in the old days you could know what the targets are. You can harden a target like Times Square, but you can't harden it when it's a community center or a Masonic Temple. I really do think that the answer to this threat is having concealed carry. With such diverse targets you can never really know where you are at risk. It might be worth it to be prepared all the time... 

I also want to point out that a lot seems to be missing from the reporting I have seen on this incident. Nobody I have seen is calling it a foiled terror plot (other then me), even though that's exactly what this is. And many outlets are calling it a "machine gun attack" using the language of gun control advocates, even though the choice of weapon isn't really all that improtant. I also haven't been able to figure out if Hamzeh is a natural born citizen, a convert to Islam (though he appears Middle Eastern) or if he is a more recent migrant. All of those things tell me that you can tell the truth in your reporting but still leave people with a very inaccurate idea of what is actually going on. This happens all the time of course, but it seems a bit more obvious in this case then it normally does. It serves as a good reminder not to trust everything you read on the internet. Not even me! 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is al-Nusra in Syria a bigger long term threat than ISIS? CNN.

A screen cap from an al-Nusra Front video showing fighters training.

A new report from the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute of the Study of War claims that al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra, is a bigger long term threat than ISIS is. CNN. The report claims that both ISIS and al-Nusra are existential threats to the United States and that any plan that leaves al-Nusra intact is going to fail to protect the United States. Though the main focus of the Obama administrations bombings in Syria have focused on ISIS, the report argues that al-Nusra has many of the same capabilities as ISIS. To date, al-Nusra has not conducted any attacks on western targets, largely out of fear of retaliation. Al-Nusra has control of territory in Syria and has a large amount of influence among other rebel groups. 

My Comment:
I haven't read the report, but I think if I did I would disagree with it. Not all of it, mind you, but the idea that al-Nusra is a bigger threat to the United States then ISIS is not something I agree with. ISIS has shown, time and again, that they are able to pull off spectacular terrorist attacks in the west or against western targets. Just off the top of my head they have pulled off the Paris attacks, the destruction of the Russian jet in Egypt, and a couple of attacks in Tunisia. They have also inspired many attacks by supporters, such as the San Bernardino shooting. They are the largest, most dangerous group in Syria by far, and their reach is global. They hold territory in multiple countries and have shown no signs of slowing down. 

And right now al-Nusra hasn't attacked anyone outside of Syria. That's despite the fact that we have bombed them a couple of times. Sure we called them the "Khorasan Group" when we did it, but we did attack them. So far they haven't done anything to us directly, and they have said they aren't interested in fighting us directly. They have attacked and destroyed our allies on the ground on multiple occasions but most of their focus is on fighting with the Syrian regime. 

That focus on the Syrian regime is probably preventing al-Nusra from targeting anything outside of Syria. They are desperately trying to hold onto what they have captured from the regime and other rebel groups and have come under heavy pressure from Russia's entry into the war. Russia has focused most of their attention on al-Nusra and their allies, and the offensives the regime is conducting right now is mostly focused on fighting the rebels, not ISIS. That leaves little room for planning and we have to remember that ISIS has a lot more assets then al-Nusra does when it comes to money and territory.

If al-Nusra has a reason to attack anyone it is probably Russia. All America has done is blow up a few of their leaders and give weapons to rebel groups who then turned their weapons over to them. If anything we are helping al-Nusra, not hurting them. Not directly, but through incompetence. Attacking Russia in revenge seems like something they would do since Russia is currently bombing the hell out of them. 

Still, al-Nusra is part of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda certainly hates the United States. I do think that there is some real truth the idea that al-Nusra is a large threat. Though they are not interested in international terrorism right now, that could change in the future. They definately have the potential to be a major terrorist organization if their ambitions change. Not as much as ISIS, almost nothing could match them at this point, but enough that we should probably change our policy in the region. And even if al-Nusra isn't going to be attacking western targets anytime soon, they are ripe for recruitment to other groups that do participate in international terrorism. Other branches of al-Qaeda, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) would love to recruit battle hardened al-Nusra fighters...

I really think that if any al-Qaeda ally is going to be a threat to the United States it will be AQAP. They pulled off the Charlie Hebdo attacks and control quite a bit of territory in Yemen. And unlike al-Nusra, we have a long history of bombing them. They have a much larger reason to attack us besides ideology, Revenge. Core al-Qaeda, based in Pakistan, is probably the 2nd choice while al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, their West African affilate, is the third most dangerous. Al-Nusra is a distant fourth, and the threat they pose is not in any way immediate like the threat from those groups. But that could change. 

It is also important to remember that al-Nusra was born from ISIS. Back then ISIS, called the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) sent over seasoned fighters to form the core of what would become al-Nusra. The groups broke up after ISIS was declared, but it's very true that both groups are similar in ideology and tactics. I wouldn't be totally surprised if al-Nusra split again or took up the reigns of international terrorism if ISIS were to fall. 

I think the Obama administration is making a huge mistake in Syria by indirectly supporting al-Nusra. Though I don't think they are quite the threat that the report made them out to be, I do think that they are an extremely dangerous group, that should be taken seriously. We have let them get away with a lot in Syria because they are allies with the people we support, such as the Free Syrian Army and other, so called, secular rebels. They are also among the most effective armies fighting the Assad regime, which makes them an asset for what Obama want's to accomplish in Syria, and a hero to many other rebel groups. We know that if we bomb al-Nusra we could face a backlash from those rebel groups. So we let them take over rebel groups, hold territory and turn a blind eye when they take weapons from US trained rebels on the ground. 

I think the Russian approach is much smarter in the long run. Any group that has taken up arms with al-Nusra and isn't actively fighting them should be destroyed. Working with any kind of al-Qaeda affiliate should be enough to sign your death warrant. Though that may be politically dangerous, I would much rather have no rebel groups to work with in Syria then even indirectly support the al-Nusra front. And make no mistake, that is what we are currently doing in Syria. It is just insane to me that we are basically on the same side as these people... 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Editor's note: Nothing going on edition

No post today. Not for any bad reason, just because I couldn't find anything to post about! Very slow news day. Yes there is a debate tonight, but I've given up on covering the Democratic debates. It's obvious that the debates have been set up in order to get Hillary Clinton the candidacy. Other then that there just isn't anything worth discussing.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is considering entering the 2016 presidential race as an independent. CNN

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (right) with Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in 2011. US Navy photo.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is seriously considering entering the 2016 presidential race as an independent candidate. CNN. Bloomberg has operatives working on seeing if he can get his name on the ballot in many states. He is expected to make a descion during march, well before the Republicans and Democrats choose their candidate. It has been reported that Michael Bloomberg is willing to spend up to $1 billion dollars on his presidential campaign. He is unhappy where the direction of the campaign is going and does not like how polarized it is. Sources say that if the race is between Bernie Sanders and either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, Bloomberg would enter the race but if Hillary Clinton is the Democrat's candidate or any other Republican wins the nomination, he will stay out. It is unclear how the election would play out if he entered the race. An internal poll conducted by Bloomberg suggested that he could steal votes away from Trump or Cruz but others, including presidential candidate Rand Paul, scoffed at the idea due to Bloomberg's support of gun control laws. Bloomberg has a strange history as a politician as he became New York's mayor as a Republican, but switched to an independent candidate during his third term. He also endorsed Barack Obama in 2012 and was courted by the Democratic party at one point last year for a possible presidential run. 

My Comment:
Wow. Somebody might enter the race that would knock Hillary Clinton out of my most hated politician running for president category. Seriously, if it was a choice between Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg I would vote for Clinton in a heartbeat. And I think Clinton is a criminal that belongs in prison for the rest of her life and has a decent chance of starting World War III if she became president. She's still way better then Bloomberg. I never thought I would say that about anyone in this election, but it just happened. Bloomberg is that bad. 

Why do I hate Bloomberg so much? Well he is pretty much the only thing standing in the way between America and proper gun rights. The man spends millions of dollars on supporting gun control and sometimes he even has success pushing in new legislation. I don't know if I can say that the modern gun control movement would be dead without Michael Bloomberg but I do know that they would have a lot less money. The man is on a mission and that mission is to remove the 2nd amendment. If Barack Obama is an anti-gun president, then Michael Bloomberg would make him look like the president of the NRA. 

Bloomberg is also a multi-billionaire who makes Donald Trump look like he is working class. He's worth at least $41 billion, compared to Trump's $4.5 billion. And if Bloomberg were to run he could outspend anyone, even a billionaire like Trump or candidates backed by super PAC's. If he really is serious about spending $1 billion of his own money that is fairly unprecedented. In 2012 both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama spent about that much, and most of that came from donors. If Bloomberg could get additional funds then he could essentially buy the election, and that's if he only spends $1 billion. He could spend more, either from his own accounts or from donors, and if that happens he could win through spending power alone.

I don't think that will happen though. If Jeb Bush has taught us anything this election cycle, other then that he overcharges for Guacamole bowls, it's that money can't always help if your candidate is a dud. Bush had $100 million in super PAC funds and it hasn't helped him at all at the polls. He's currently sitting at around 5% and that is being generous. He's thirty or forty points behind Donald Trump and he doesn't seem to have a realistic chance of winning. Money alone can't win you an election. At the very minimum people have to like you.

So will Michael Bloomberg be the next Jeb Bush? I think so. I believe that he is seriously underestimating how much middle America hates him. He's a gun control zealot, which will piss off practically every Republican, many independents and a few Democrats as well. He also is famous for being the nanny state mayor of New York City, where he made it illegal to sell large sodas and was famous for violating civil and business rights. Everyone with a libertarian streak already hates him for that. And his stop and frisk policy in New York was condemned by the left as racist. 

I having trouble understanding who he thinks his supporters will be. I just can't see too many people that will like his platform or him personally. I guess he could siphon off a few disgruntled establishment Democrats and Republicans if Sanders and Trump are the candidates, but I can't imagine that it would be very many. Especially on the Republican side, due to his support of draconian gun laws. I'll keep repeating it, Republicans hate Michael Bloomberg.

And sure, Sanders and Trump's insurgent campaigns are working but I don't see a Bloomberg campaign working in the same way. On the left, Sanders had energized the youth vote who are sick and tired of the Democratic Elite and want all the promises that Sanders has made, such as free collage and debt relief. On the right, Trump has tapped into a genuine anger within the Republican base and has electrified the electorate by covering issues that everyone else is too afraid to talk about. I think it is safe to say that people are really excited for both candidates, and are willing to sacrifice to get them elected.

Are people really going to get excited for Bloomberg? He's pretty centrist on everything but gun rights and the nanny state but he has burned bridges on both the left and the right. The right hates him for his gun control support (among gun owners his name is synonyms with Satan) and the left hates him for his support of stop and frisk which the left claims is racist. I just don't see an issue that he can tap into. Gun control isn't popular and even if it was, why not just elect Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders? Hell, Martin O'Malley is running a campaign based on gun control and he is losing terribly, so that's not an issue that Bloomberg can win on. And his name recognition is acceptable, but it's mostly negative. I am guessing when asked "who is Michael Bloomberg" people will say "the guy who pushed nanny state B.S. in New York City". 

I am betting that this speculation will turn out to be nothing. Though Bloomberg may have convinced himself that he has a chance at winning the election, I can't imagine that the poll numbers will back him up. People want an outsider this election and I think Bloomberg is about as close to an establishment candidate an independent person can get. He won't get support and even if he does run, I can't imagine him winning.

But if he does win, I can't imagine what will happen. Nobody in either party will support him and he won't be able to accomplish anything. He'd be a lame duck president from day one, if not for the fact that he could issue executive orders like Barack Obama has done. And believe me, if Obama has abused the powers of his office, Bloomberg would be much, much worse...  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Weekend Movie Night. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max movie poster. Warner Brothers Pictures. 

It's been a LONG time since I posted a movie review on this blog, and it's about time that changed. Though I have seen quite a few movies since last August (has it really been that long?), I have not written any of them up here in this blog. Part of that is because I simply didn't feel like writing up many of them. Some of them were pretty mediocre while others would have been a very short review. For example, I saw the new Star Wars movie and all I have to say about it was that it was a good movie. That makes for a short review so I like to review movies that I have a lot to talk about or in some way relate to this blog. As with all my reviews expect spoilers ahead. Also expect some political commentary as well. 

Mad Max; Fury Road qualifies on both counts. I know that some people are turned off by the name of the movie and the pedigree of the first three films. Full disclosure, at the time of this writing I have only seen the first Mad Max movie and to be completely honest I wasn't a huge fan of it. It's a radically different film then this one, and isn't anywhere near universally acclaimed as Mad Max: Fury Road. Indeed, Mad Max: Fury Road was just nominated for Best Picture along with 9 other nominations as well as a whole host of other awards. It's a high quality movie and if it doesn't win for special effects then Hollywood has completely lost its collective mind. 

So if you haven't seen this movie, why should you? Well for one there is this (minor spoilers):

If that clip doesn't make you want to see this movie then I don't know what I can say to you. Obviously you have a completely different concept of awesome then I have. And keep in mind that most of that is practical effects. They actually built a giant vehicle with dozens of speakers on it with an actor wielding a flamethrower guitar, and a bout a dozen guys playing the drums in back. Almost all of the stunts and vehicle effects were done with practical effects, and CGI only plays a small part in the movie. Most of the time it isn't noticeable, and even when it is, it still manages to look cool. 


I'd go further to say that you should see Mad Max just for the special effects. From a technical standpoint this film was a joy to watch. It is just an extremely well made movie. For example, the opening scene at the citadel where Immortan Joe, the main villain is introduced. In many movies there would be a voice over telling us every little thing about the Citadel and it's leader. Not so in Mad Max. Instead of telling us George Miller shows us. 

Just from that opening scene we can tell that Immortan Joe isn't who he claims to be. He's riddled with cancer or sores and wears plastic armor that makes his body look strong and healthy. It shows his minions, the War Boys, acting with military proficiency, obviously well trained and scary. It shows that he has control of water, a critical resource in the wasteland, and withholds it to keep power over the common people.  And it shows how even though Joe is treated like a messianic figure by the people, he still treats them terribly. That usually isn't how it goes in action movies. A lesser director would have had someone, probably Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa, deliver all the exposition, but showing it directly means that George Miller respects his audiences intelligence. 

The world building in the movie was interesting as well. I loved how the movie answered one of the easiest plotholes that could be anticipated in this kind of movie. How, after the end of the world, is there enough gas, food and ammunition to go around? Well, Immortan Joe has control of oil derricks, hydroponic bays, and a huge ammo dump, which are clearly shown during the movie. Again, most movies would have either just ignored the obvious problems with resources or gloss it over with some half-assed excuse. It makes sense that the Citadel exists and that the people there are able to do what they can do. 

Some have called Mad Max a feminist movie. I guess that's true depending on what your definition of feminism is. I don't think it is really and most of the praise it gets is mere projection on the parts of certain feminists. There is the tendency for feminists to take any film that is even slightly pro-women and claim it as their own. Make no mistake, this isn't a anti-woman movie. Far from it. But it isn't what I would think of when I think of feminist film making. If you consider a movie to be pro-feminist just because it has decent female characters and shows women fighting then I guess it counts. I don't think it really matches what I think a feminist movie would look like though. 

Many of the super annoying "girl power" tropes are missing here. You don't see a 90 lbs ballet dancer beating the crap out of dozens of men three times her size for no realistic reason. Women do win fights in this movie but almost all of the time they do it through using guns, not by beating the crap out of someone they should have no chance of beating. Indeed, it's important to note that when Furiosa and Max fight, it's a lot closer then it should be because Max is drained of blood, chained to an unconscious man, and has to confront the wives as well as Furiosa. And he still wins! Had this been a "feminist" film Max would have been completely defeated by Furiosa (who would be played by the tiny Summer Glau instead of the statuesque Charlize Theron) along with Immortan Joe's entire army using nothing but her bare hands. 

And it's not like all the women in this movie came off all that good either. Furiosa isn't exactly a nice person. After all she had ended up as a military commander for Immortan Joe and it's implied that she might be the reason that the women were captured in the first place. She had to do bad things to get where she was. And she was more then willing to kill both Max and Nux before circumstances forced them to work together. 

And the all-women Vuvalini aren't saints either. They not fit the typical female bad-ass tropes mentioned above because they shoot first and ask questions later. They know in a strait up fight they would lose, so they use sniper tactics to fight. And it's directly stated that they kill anyone that they come across. Indeed, in the scene that we first meet them, they are laying a trap with a naked and seemingly distressed woman to lure in any wastelanders that could come by. Though efficient and probably smart in a world as messed up as the Mad Max universe, that still isn't the action of good people. And they get called out on it too by one of the wives. 

The willingness to portray women as something less then perfect angels who are good at everything makes me think that this is far less of a feminist movie then certain people like to think. In the end, it turns out that the Masculine society of the Citadel and the Feminine one of the Vuvalini had to work together to create a better life for everyone. And neither Max of Furiosa would have survived without the help from the other. Though many feminists would probably disagree with me, the idea that men and women could work together to solve problems that effect them both is almost completely absent from the current wave of feminism. It may have counted with the earlier waves, which were much more about actual equality, but with today's hyper-sensitive, blame men for everything wave, the movie almost comes across as anti-feminist. It certainly shouldn't be labeled as anything other then a very good action movie, which happens to have good female characters. But that won't stop anyone from projecting what they want to see. That's half the fun of watching movies, naturally. 

If feminists can project their beliefs onto Mad Max then I can too. And my reading of the movie is probably just as biased as theirs is and my reaction to theirs, so keep that in mind. I saw Mad Max as a clear condemnation of radical Islam. It's clear as day for me. 

Why? Well for one the way women are treated has some obvious parallels how women are currently treated in the Middle East. In the movie a powerful rich man has multiple wives, who had little or no choice in the manner. Other women are treated like cattle and treated like second class citizens. Clearly women are subservient to men in the Citadel and Furiosa is the exception to the rule, not the standard. The comparison to ISIS is almost to obvious to write and Saudi Arabia could be an obvious influence as well. And locking up a bunch of women in a vault and giving them chastity belts seems an awful lot like keeping women at home and making them wearing burkas and hijabs...

But it goes beyond the treatment of women. The War Boys are locked up in a martyrdom culture that would make ISIS proud. They blow themselves up, with no regard to their life, on the promise of paradise in the afterlife. Could the comparison be anymore direct? Jumping off of a moving vehicle to throw exploding spears at cars isn't quite how ISIS would do things, but it really isn't that different then strapping on a suicide vest and blowing yourself up for Allah. 

They also have a fairly strong propaganda wing. It's clear that the other War Boys recount the tales of their fallen brothers. Men that die well are exalted in praise and story while those that fail are called "mediocre". How is that different then ISIS releasing a martyrdom video and executing people for cowardice? 

I think the parallels are obvious, and I have to think that ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups were in the back of the minds of the creators of this movie. I think that Mad Max takes a clear stand against such belief systems by showing how terrible they are. Under this interpretation of the movie, the Australian Outback turned into Syria and Iraq...

With all that being said I do have some criticism for the movie. For one, how did Earth become as screwed up as it was in this movie? Yes, the background is that there was a series of wars over resources and that nuclear weapons were used. But that doesn't explain how the environment was as screwed up as it was. Perhaps it was explained in the two other Mad Max movies I haven't seen, but I didn't see any reason for the world to be as messed up as it was.

Contrary to popular belief, a nuclear war wouldn't create the kind of conditions seen in this movie. Even in a full scale nuclear engagement, most of the world would be intact. There would be a lot of radiation for a couple of weeks and a lot of people in the target area would die. And there would be massive instability, disruptions in commerce and probably a lot of starvation. But the biosphere would recover. Not right away, but on the time scale that Mad Max is set in, the recovery should have begun.

Mad Max implies that even the oceans have dried up. Traveling 180 days over salt flats would have gotten you anywhere in Australia with a vehicle, so I am guessing that they meant to imply that the oceans are simply gone. If that is the case then the whole movie is pointless because humanity is doomed anyways. Without the oceans, our environment is destroyed, and conditions would quickly deteriorate to the point where whatever resources were at the Citadel would be meaningless anyways. That kind of inferred holocaust kind of brings down the otherwise happy ending.

I also have to say that the world seemed to have fallen apart way too quickly. Max was young enough to have been a cop in the first movie, set before the end, and he isn't really all that old. I just don't understand how Australia could have gotten to the state it is in in that kind of time frame. Indeed, in the first movie, things are basically intact, even though society is starting to collapse.  Maybe all the vegetation could have died, but even in the outback there would be buildings, power lines and other signs of civilization. I mean look at the area around Chernobyl in Ukraine. Though the area is ruined, buildings still stand. Part of that might be because of the huge storms shown in Mad Max, but that just begs the questions how are those storms even forming?

Still, these are minor complaints implicit in the setting. It's hard to blame a film for problems that have been in the series from the beginning. And the film is otherwise excellent. The film making alone makes up for any problems with the setting. Does it deserve to win Best Picture? I am not sure, but it is certainly one of the better action films I have seen. I highly recommend watching it and I am looking forward to more movies set in the same universe. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Obama administration allows the Pentagon to directly target ISIS in Afghanistan. Washington Post.

Afghan troops train in Kandahar. Washington Post/Reuters. 

The Obama administration has changed the rules of engagement in Afghanistan to allow the military to target ISIS fighters directly. Washington Post. In the past, the United States was only able to use airstrikes in defense of US, allied, or Afghani troops on the ground or if the militants were identified as al-Qaeda members. The new rules allow ISIS fighters to be targeted the same way al-Qaeda is, based on nothing more then there membership on ISIS. America has launched airstrikes against ISIS in Afghanistan in the past, but they did not use this logic to target them. Instead those fighters had demonstrated "hostile intent" to forces on the ground. Though this is not a major change in the policy, it does go to show that the United States feels that ISIS is a threat in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has become unstable lately due to advances by the Taliban, which has created an opportunity for ISIS to grow there. 

My Comment:
ISIS is a large threat in Afghanistan and I am glad that they are at least trying to take the threat seriously. If we had done so in Iraq back before the fall of Mosul, it is possible that ISIS would have never expanded to the extent they have now. Targeting these ISIS fighters probably won't do much but if we can kill some of their leadership we might be able to cut out the cancer before it becomes malignant. I wouldn't hole my breath though. 

Despite the new rules of engagement, there are limits to what this policy can do. Our air power is already stretched thin due to our operations in Iraq and Syria. Afghanistan is the backwater in the current war and our resources are being spent elsewhere. What little is left is being used to prop up the Afghani government and to fight the Taliban. Those targets are taking up the priority and I think that is probably justified. Instead of bombing ISIS into submission with a huge air campaign, expect to see a tiny uptick in targeted assassination bombings aimed at high value ISIS targets. We will try and kill their leaders if we find them, but when it comes to actually defeating ISIS, it will be up to the people on the ground to win the war. 

Afghanistan is a mess right now, and I mean that for every party involved. The Afghan national government is having massive problems with their military. They have suffered tremendous casualties against the Taliban and have lost quite a bit of territory from them as well. Their army is on the verge of falling apart and right now the main thing that is propping them up is US air strikes. Corruption is still a huge problem and one wonders if the government will survive, even with our help.

The best news for the Afghans is that the Taliban is having problems as well. After the death of Mullah Omar, the Taliban has split into factions that disagree with the way the war is being handled. Some members want peace and to reach a settlement with the Afghan government while others want to continue the war and destroy the Afghan government. Both sides are also fighting ISIS, who is drawing recruits from both groups. Still, their main focus is on fighting the Afghan government.

For ISIS, this represents a huge opportunity. If they can siphon off enough recruits from the Taliban, they could become a major force in the area. Then they could take and hold territory in Afghanistan. Though this territory won't be anywhere near as rich as the places they have captured in Iraq, Syria and Libya, they could still draw taxes and recruits from anyplace they control. ISIS also draws its legitimacy as a Caliphate from all the territory it holds. Even though the land in Afghanistan is largely worthless in comparison to other prizes ISIS has taken, it still gives them quite a bit of prestige and power if they take territory there. 

Afghanistan could also represent a safe haven of last resort if Syria and Iraq fall. Though Libya is a much more lucrative and closer place to go, there is no reason that Afghanistan couldn't be used as a backup base as well. I have said before the fight against ISIS is going to be a tough one for this very reason. If you stamp down on them in one place they are likely to pop up somewhere else. Should ISIS get a major foothold in Afghanistan then they have one more place they can flee too. Along with Nigeria and Libya, Afghanistan represents a second chance for ISIS. 

Hopefully, these new rules of engagement help. I am not optimistic though. President Obama wants to get out of Afghanistan at almost any cost. Though I don't think he will abandon the country completely, I do think it is possible he could leave it in such a sorry state that the Taliban or ISIS could take over and the Afghani government could be destroyed.

I have no idea what the next president will do in Afghanistan. I haven't heard much of anything about the country in any of the debates I have watched. Though every candidate seems to have a plan for Syria and Iraq, I haven't heard them say that they have concrete plans for Afghanistan. And this goes for candidates in each party. I'm not sure I have any ideas myself, but I would be very interested in seeing a plan that can effectively keep the Afghan government it power and destroy the Taliban and ISIS once and for all. I guess I will just have to keep waiting, and I might not find out until we have a new president... 

Link post: Photo gallery of the damage in Ramadi. IBTimes

Damage to the city of Ramadi. Reuters/IBTimes.

Just a quick link post to a photo gallery I found. IBTimes has put up a fairly impressive gallery of photos from the battle of Ramadi. It shows the aftermath of the battle and the utter destruction wrought on the city. I originally covered the story here, so I don't see much point in going over it again, but I wanted to let people see this gallery. 

In addition to the massive damage the photo set shows Iraqi troops fighting and taking care of civilians. Though a few civilians are left the rest of the city looks completely abandoned. The only people there seem to be Iraqi soldiers and presumably ISIS holdouts. I said in my last post about Ramadi that I am worried that people aren't going to want to go back. If this is the level of damage that can be expected there, there isn't all that much to go back too. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hero professor in Pakistan uses pistol to defend students against a major Taliban terrorist attack. AFP.

A military helicopter landing at the Bacha Khan University. AFP.

An assistant professor in Pakistan's Bacha Khan University responded to a terrorist attack by the Taliban by using his own firearm, giving students a chance to escape. AFP. The attack by the Taliban killed 21 people. The assistant professor, Syed Hamid Husain, nicknamed "The Protector" even before the attack, pulled out a 9mm pistol as the terrorists began shooting at the students. Husain returned fire with his pistol before he was cut down by the terrorists. Though he did not manage to kill any of the terrorists he did buy time for other students to escape. Husain had spent 3 years in the United Kingdom studying for his PHD, and often carried a pistol on him. Pakistan legalized teachers carrying firearms after 134 people were killed in another Taliban attack on a school in 2014.

Reuters is reporting that the Pakistani branch of the Taliban briefly took credit for the attack but soon after denied involvement. Dozens more were wounded in the attack, and the death toll may rise to as many as 40 dead. All four attackers died as well. The attack shows how strong militants are in Pakistan despite crackdowns against them. The militants were armed with AK-47 type rifles and grenades but were not equipped with suicide vests. 

My Comment:
Yet another horrific attack against education by Islamists. Radical Islam and education do not have a good history with each other. Boko Haram, for example, literally means Western education is sinful/forbidden, and they have killed thousands. And the article mentioned the last attack in Pakistan that killed 134 people, most of them children. I've never really understood what their problem with Western education is. Most of it is probably just wariness of anything perceived as un-Islamic, but killing a bunch of college students seems pointless to me. The attack on Peshwar in 2014 at least made a little sense because it was a military prep school, but this was just a college. Seems needlessly viscous to me, though terrorists aren't exactly known for picking military targets exclusively. 

I have to say I am impressed with the actions of Syed Hamid Husain. By almost any measure, he was a hero, and one that everyone should aspire to be. Though he did not stop the attack himself, he did buy time for others to escape. The time that the terrorists were fighting him was time that they weren't executing people and it allowed more time for Pakistani officials to respond to the attack. A good guy with a gun may not always stop a bad guy, but they can buy time. That's something that gun control advocates always ignore. Even if you fail to stop a mass shooting, if you return fire you may slow down the attack, giving people time. Time to escape, time to hide or time to fight back. Much like the attack in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I am guessing that the response of an armed person reduced the number of casualties that happened in this attack. And he died an honorable death, laying his life down to help his students and co-workers. I can't think of a better way to go... 

Unfortunately, Husain was only able to save a few lives. Many other people were killed by these terrorists before the Pakistani security forces could respond.  The fact of the matter was that they were better armed then Husain, and unlike many mass shooters in America, they weren't going to take the cowards way out and shoot themselves. They were on a mission and they accomplished it, even if Husain was able to slow them down. They weren't going to give up just because someone fought back. They were going to fight to the death. 

Still, things could have been worse if "The Protector" wasn't there. I think Pakistan made a smart move when they allowed their teachers to be armed. After the attack in Peshwar, it was clear that schools and college campuses were a target. Though armed civilians are far from an ideal way to protect children and students, some protection is better then none. Hopefully other countries will learn from this attack, though I am not holding my breath. I would love it if the only response terrorists got when they try to pull off a mass shooting was incoming fire. 

It seems there is some confusion about who committed this attack. The Taliban took credit at first but then almost immediately backed down. That could be because they are fragmented and split right now after the death of Mullah Omar. But it also possible that someone else did it. I think that ISIS is another suspect. ISIS has a strong history of trying to pull off these kinds of attacks where they send in a few gunmen to cause as much chaos as possible before they die. Much like the attacks in Paris, Chattanooga, San Bernardino and Tunisia, this attack fits a pattern that ISIS has used again and again. Still, I have no evidence that it isn't the Taliban. If it was them, then they have adopted ISIS's strategies, which have proven so effective lately. 

I haven't posted much about Pakistan on this blog. Largely because other events have overtaken it. With Syria, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and Yemen all happening at the same time, Pakistan (and Afghanistan) tends to be lost in all the noise. Which is unfortunate because the country is locked into it's own battle against Islamic extremism. Pakistan isn't the most stable in the country in the world and the situation is complicated by the war in Afghanistan and the ever present threat of war with India. These kinds of attacks by the Taliban aren't going to help the situation at all... 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My thoughts on Sarah Palin endorsing Donald Trump...

Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. AP.

Donald Trump has secured a major endorsement from former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Yahoo News. After losing the 2008 election with John McCain, Palin has been active as a political pundit and reality television star. Though unpopular with many, Palin is very popular among conservative Republicans. The move should help Trump shore up his conservative credentials and fend off Ted Cruz. Cruz is locked into a close race with Trump and Iowa and Palin's endorsement could allow Trump to fend him off. 

My Comment:
Interesting move by Trump. Sarah Palin is, to say the least, a divisive person even within the Republican party. Many people blame her for John McCain's loss in 2008. Others find her down home "aw shucks" kind of attitude to be annoying. And the left has made a cottage industry in making fun of her. Would Tina Fey even have a career right now if it wasn't for Sarah Palin? I personally am not a fan, and kind of consider her a joke. She's still way better then anyone on the left, but her endorsement of Trump doesn't make me want to vote for him any more then I did before the endorsement. On the other hand I don' really see it as a negative either, she's just not someone who's opinion I respect.  

Many people outside of the Republican Party will call this a boneheaded move by Trump, assuming that an endorsement from Palin is the kiss of death. I disagree. Though Palin has her downsides she is very popular for a certain segment of Republicans; Evangelical Christians. And that is a group that Trump needs help from in the primaries. Trump's own religious credibility is in question. He has never struck me as someone that was particularly religious and when he talks about religion he sounds like an outsider. I think that will actually be an asset to him if he is the candidate in the general election but it could hurt him in the primaries. Palin helps cover up that weakness.

The only thing that could really hurt Trump is if he ends up choosing Palin as his running mate. Though the media has been relatively ineffective at hurting Trump, they are very effective hitting Palin. If you listen to the media you would think that Sarah Palin is a mentally challenged fool who thinks that Russia is visible from Alaska. Don't get me wrong, Sarah Palin has problems, but the media is able to exaggerate those problems and make new ones out of whole cloth. And I think a lot of people in the general public buy what the media is selling when it comes to Palin. Choosing her as a running mate may finally give the media an effective way to attack Trump. On the other hand, I have a hard time believing that anyone that Trump could choose as a running mate would be as immune to criticism as he is. 

I think this endorsement has a lot to do with Ted Cruz. In Iowa, Cruz and Trump are in a dead heat, with the election potentially on the line. Though Trump has a large lead in other primary states, it is neck and neck in Iowa, and if Cruz wins in that state it could cause a domino reaction in the other early primary states, effectively derailing Trump's campaign. I don't think that is too likely to happen, but it remains a possibility and I am guessing Trump wants to avoid it. 

But Sarah Palin's endorsement could give Trump the edge over Cruz in Iowa. There are quite a few evangelical Christians in Iowa and by and large they like Sarah Palin. Ted Cruz doesn't have the support of anyone as influence as she is, though he is more popular among Evangelicals then Trump is. I don't think Palin's endorsement alone is enough to beat him in Iowa, but the combination of the endorsement, the Canadian birther issue and his recent attacks on the city of New York should be enough to sink his campaign. That extra edge this endorsement will give Trump makes it well worth it, even if it could cause him problems down the line. 

As for the general election, I am getting more and more convinced that the candidates are going to be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I just can't see anyone on the Republican side taking down Trump. He just seems invincible at this point. Scandals and controversies that would have killed any other Republican candidate have lead to Trump becoming more popular. If he can hold on in Iowa, Trump should win the candidacy, barring any 11th hour shenanigans by the RNC during the convention. 

 On the Democratic side, I just can't see Hillary Clinton losing the nomination either. Yes Bernie Sanders is gathering steam and could capture several states. Yes, she's tremendously unpopular and should be on her way to prison for the rest of her life. It doesn't matter. The Democrats use a super-delegate system where un-elected delegates have way more influence then they should. Even if Sanders wins some states, the super-delegates all want Hillary Clinton and I am guessing she will be the candidate. Even if she gets arrested, which looks even more likely every day. 

If Sanders is the candidate, somehow, the election gets very interesting very fast. With Trump the likely candidate for the Republicans, that would mean that both candidates would be outsiders hated by they establishment. I'm no fan of Sanders but having him be the President would be better then having criminal like Hillary Clinton in office, and if the Democrats are so determined to have her as a candidate, then it would be just if Sanders punished them for it.  The most interesting outcome would be if both the Democrats and Republicans reject their insurgent candidates and find someone from the establishment instead. Both insurgent candidates could then run as independents and we end up with a four way race. That's not likely to happen but it would be insane if it did... 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ramadi is still a ghost town after being liberated from ISIS by the Iraqi government. Reuters.

A burnt out ambulance in Ramadi. Reuters. 

The city of Ramadi in Iraq is a bombed out ghost town after the liberation of the city from ISIS. Reuters. Ramadi was one of the first major victories against ISIS since the war began, but the cost was very high. Iraqi security forces used heavy handed tactics that destroyed much of the city. Small groups of special forces attacked the city and depended heavily on US airstrikes to kill the enemy. Army and police units have been relegated to a backup role. This strategy continues today, even though Ramadi was liberated last month. Bombs continue to fall on isolated ISIS fighters as they send snipers and car bombs into the city.  The city is largely cleared of civilians with many of them still waiting in refugee camps. They can not return to the city due to the security situation and the fact that ISIS has placed booby traps and explosives in many of their homes. 

My Comment:
I'm reminded of a quote that came out of the Vietnam War, possibly a false one. An AP reporter was embedded with troops fighting near the city of Ben Tre in Vietnam and a US Army major said something to the effect of "it became necessary to destroy the town to save it". Though that quote may never have happened you could write the same thing about Ramadi. The city was largely destroyed in the battle to save it. 

The Reuters report goes on to say that the entire city is full of destroyed vehicles and bombed out buildings. Many of the people that left the city will not have a home to go back too, and the ones that do will have to wait until their homes are cleared for booby traps. And even if they do have a place to live, it's still not safe in the city. ISIS is still very much a party of the landscape in Ramadi.

I am not sure if it is safe to say that calling Ramadi liberated was premature. I do think that ISIS's power base in the city has been broken, utterly and completely. They don't control the people there and they aren't gathering resources there anymore. But ISIS is still very active in the city. The report said that ISIS is still sending in gunmen and suicide bombings and that matches what I have read in other sources. Indeed, when Ramadi was first liberated I speculated that fighting would continue for some time, even after the major pockets of resistance were wiped out. Looks like I was right. 

I have to say I am not impressed with how the Iraqis retook and are holding Ramadi. It seems like they are almost entirely dependent on American air power to take and hold ground from ISIS. Even though they outnumbered ISIS in the city during the battle they could never take advantage of their numbers to wipe ISIS out. Instead they had to have this slow slog with special forces and airstrikes. My guess is that their main forces are either too weak or too cowardly to fight. I wonder if Iraq had deployed its regular units if they would have just broken like they have so many times in the past. 

That isn't to say that their strategy failed. ISIS was broken in Ramadi and the current phase of the battle is largely a defensive one. Iraq controls the city, even if ISIS still tries to contest it. My problem is that if this is the way Iraq is going to liberate areas taken by ISIS it will take them forever to kick ISIS out of Iraq. The slow, deliberate pace they are setting is going to make it so it takes years for them to recapture Mosul, Fallujah and Hit. 

And it is going to take a huge toll on their special forces. The Iraqi special forces are rather good, especially compared to regular Iraqi units, but they aren't immortal. Depending on them almost exclusively to retake cities is not going to work out. Casualties will mount even if they are extremely careful and the men involved will become exhausted. I don't think it is sustainable for such small units to be relied on so extensively. Iraq may be able to replicate their success a few more times but sooner or later these special forces units are going to break down. 

Iraq has to get their main forces involved in the battles against ISIS and they have to learn to not be so dependent on US airpower. After all, who knows what will happen to that air support after the next presidential elections? Though I don't think it will happen, the worst case scenario for the Iraqis is that we pull out our planes to focus on other targets, or even withdraw from the region entirely. If that happens, the Iraqis are going to have to fight, and their special forces aren't going to be enough to win the war. Though the Iraqi Army was largely destroyed in the battle of Mosul they need to rise from the ashes of that defeat and reform their military, sooner rather then later. The troops that they have now can't just be left to hold territory in a reserve role. They need to fight and fight hard. 

I'm also worried that these slow, plodding tactics will exacerbate the European migrant crisis. After all, these Iraq civilians that live in Ramadi may decide that they have no home to go back too and that it is probably worth it to try and head to Europe. Destroying the city may have been militarily necessary, but it is going to have reverberations throughout the world. And if this is really the way that Iraq is going to defeat ISIS then the problem is only going to get worse as people see their homes destroyed or simply get tired of waiting for a liberation that may never come. I am not sure if a extremely bloody house to house clearing operation would be militarily possible but I am guessing that there would be more left afterwards then the air power option. Either way though, people aren't going to want to go back, and many of them may very well head to Europe. 

As for ISIS, it seems clear that they want to punish the Iraqis for taking back Ramadi. These kinds of small attacks and probes won't take back the city but they will inflict casualties. I'm not sure how wise it is for them to do so because Iraq is fairly strong in the city right now. They should probably start looking for softer targets. ISIS does seemed to be more focused on Syria, with the battle for Dier Ez Zor gathering most of the attention. Perhaps a few raiding parties and suicide bombing are all they can spare for Ramadi right now...