Sunday, February 28, 2016

New ISIS offensive near Baghdad? Twin suicide bombings kill at least 70 people. Reuters

Iraqi civilians inspect the damage caused by the bombings. Reuters. 

ISIS has launched a new offensive near Baghdad, and have conducted the worst terrorist bombing there this year. Reuters. The twin suicide bombings in the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City killed 70 people and wounded at least 100 more. Sadr City is a major Shiite stronghold and was probably targeted by ISIS for that reason. ISIS fighters also managed to capture some territory near Abu Ghraib. They captured a grain silo and a cemetery, killing 17 Iraqi troops before being pushed back by Iraqi special forces. Abu Ghraib is only 15 miles from Baghdad. At least 20 ISIS fighters are claimed to have been killed in the battle. 

My Comment:
I was kind of expecting a new offensive from ISIS. In the past, whenever ISIS has been pushed out of a major city, ISIS has launched an attack in a new area. When Tikrit was recaptured by Iraqi security forces, ISIS managed to take the city of Ramadi. Now, since Ramadi has fallen, could this attack be the start of a major campaign? 

I think ISIS will try. After losing Ramadi and having some serious setbacks in Syria, ISIS has lost a lot of the momentum they had last year. They desperately need to make headlines again and capture new territory. They are doing that fairly well in Libya, but they need a success in Iraq or Syria to reverse the losses they have suffered. Threatening the capital, or even taking more territory, would do a lot to reverse the perception that ISIS is losing the war. 

The problem is that the area around Baghdad is a fairly well fortified area. The Iraqi forces in the area are willing to fight and it's important to note that many of the people living in the area are Shiite Muslims. The presence of Shiites means that the Iranian backed Shiite militia will probably be used in the defense of the capital. Given that those fighters are some of the most effective in the country, they will probably put up much more of a fight then the Iraqi soldiers have.

ISIS has some large logistical problems as well. Their troops in the area, mostly centered in Fallujah, are cut off from the rest of ISIS's army. Indeed, Fallujah is under siege and it is rather surprising that ISIS was able to launch an attack out of there. I said before that the Iraqi troops guarding the city were probably not up to the task and it seems I was right. Still, the Baghdad area is at the very limits of ISIS's supply lines. To make things worse for ISIS, the Iraqis are close to their supply bases and will have a much easier time reinforcing and rearming their troops compared to ISIS. 

So will ISIS accomplish their goals in this new offensive? I don't think so. Their troops in the region are just too far from their major forces to really accomplish much. And the forces they are up against are much less likely to melt away like they did in Mosul and Ramadi. They will fight and fight hard, to the point where I don't see ISIS making major gains. It will be a tough battle but I am thinking that ISIS will not gain major territory in this offensive. 

Still, ISIS has managed to make something out of nothing before. It wouldn't be unprecedented if they managed to succeed and perhaps take Abu Ghraib. If that happens, it would be a major victory for ISIS, and they could use Abu Ghraib as a staging area to attack Baghdad itself. Threatening Baghdad. would massively change the course of the war and would probably derail Iraq's proposed offensive to take back the ISIS Iraqi capital of Mosul. 

Of course, even if ISIS doesn't take any additional territory, the fact that they are so active in the Baghdad area is bad news for Iraq. The twin suicide bombings in Sadr City are proof of that. The fact of the matter is that even as ISIS has been largely pushed out of central Iraq, they are still able to hit areas as far away as Baghdad. That will probably be true even if ISIS is pushed out of Mosul. You don't have to hold territory to launch a suicide attack. All you need is some explosives and someone willing to blow themselves up... 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Syrian cease fire has held so far. Reuters.

The UN security council voting on the halt to the fighting. Reuters. 

The US and Russian brokered cease fire for the Syrian Civil War is holding so far. Reuters. The cease fire went into effect today and most fighting in the war torn country has ceased. Both the forces of Bashar al-Assad and the various rebel groups fighting him have stopped offensive operations against each other. Russia suspended all airstrikes, even ones against Jihadist targets, to help ensure that the truce would hold. Some small skirmishes continued, but the level of violence has dropped down considerably. The cease fire is already the most effective truce brokered so far in the war, but there are fears that it won't last long. Importantly, the agreement doesn't cover ISIS or al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front. 

My Comment:
Well, this truce is already going better then I thought it would. I was thinking that one or more of the parties involved would pull out at the last minute. I was also sure that ISIS and al-Nusra would do everything in their power to derail the peace initiative. It sounds like they did, since there are reports of both groups taking action, but calmer heads seems to have prevailed. The threat of suicide bombings and attacks by both groups is still very high, but so far it hasn't done enough to stop the truce.

I never thought I would have seen the day. I always figured that the Syrian Civil War would end in one of three ways. The government would destroy the rebels, the rebels destroyed the government or Jihadist groups defeating both. But this cease fire means that there is a small chance that a fourth option, a real legitimate peace deal that leaves both sides alive, could happen. It's still not likely, but there is at least hope now, however slim that hope might be. 

I think there is an obvious reason why all parties agreed to this cease fire. The Jihadist threat is greater then ever and all the effort the rebels spent fighting the government was wasted when it should have been spent fighting ISIS and al-Nusra. Once the airstrikes begin again, ISIS and al-Nusra should get the full attention of both the United States and Russia. And if the cease fire holds long enough where it looks like peace is a real possibility, then both sides could move their forces around to better hit ISIS and al-Nusra. Though nobody has much reason to work together in Syria, the destruction of these terrorist groups is in almost everyone's best interests. Once those Jihadist groups are destroyed, and that is no sure thing, then the fighting may pick up again. But for right now, they are the bigger threat. 

So will the cease fire hold? I still am not too optimistic. There are just so many things that can go wrong. The fighting is still going on somewhat and the small skirmishes that are still happening could spiral out of control. All it would take would be for one angry commander on the ground, on either side, to order a raid and the war could start up again very quickly. And with so much blood spilled on all sides, I just don't see people giving any mistakes the benefit of the doubt. 

And the fact that the war against ISIS and al-Nusra will continue could be another threat to the peace process. The airstrikes are going to continue but the problem is identifying targets. The rebel groups on the ground don't really look much different then the ISIS and al-Nusra fighters in the same area. Mistaken identity could lead to some attacks that are directed at the wrong people. That alone might be enough to derail the peace process.

Still, this is very good news out of Syria, even if it doesn't last. If a truce can hold for 24 hours then it can last for longer. Even if this one falls apart, the next one may last longer. And who knows? Maybe they won't need another truce. 

I do think that Russia deserves a lot of credit for organizing this peace deal. The pressure they put on the various rebel groups on the ground went a long way to getting them to accept a cease fire. After all, the rebels in Aleppo especially, were looking at oblivion had the fighting continued much longer. Though the Russian air strikes were unpopular, you can't argue that they didn't change the course of the war. If this cease fire holds, then they changed the course of the war for the better. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

My reaction to the 10th Republican Debate!

The three frontrunners at the debate. Reuters. 

It's that time. Once again, there was a debate last night, and I am going to walk through what happened. This debate was even more brutal then the last one. The three front runners tore into each other with a fury I have never seen in my entire life. It was a mess and I think it wasn't a great night for anyone involved. To the point where the real winner of the debate may be Hillary Clinton. Indeed, Clinton, and Bernie Sanders, were left alone last night, and we are at the point in the election where that shouldn't happen anymore. Tearing each other down instead of tearing her down only hurts Republicans in the end. 

I have to say that the moderation was terrible last night. Wolf Blitzer did a terrible job at controlling the candidates. They often talked over each other and at a few points, four candidates were all trying to talk at once. Candidates routinely talked over their time and ignored questions. Worst of all, John Kasich and Ben Carson were largely ignored throughout the whole debate. They were greatly hurt by the fact that they weren't attacked, and had no chance to respond. Even Trump said that they did not get enough time. When Donald Trump is saying that the moderators should give the lower tier candidates more time, you know they screwed up bad.

Again the audience was a problem. Unlike last time, it was all one persons fault. A woman, presumably a Marcor Rubio supporter, screamed almost every time he said anything. And calling it a scream is being generous. It sounded like a cat getting run over by a car driven by Perry Farrell from Jane's Addiction, who is shouting out his window while strangling a hawk. In other words, it was about the worst sound I have ever heard, and it made the debate almost unwatchable at points. I'm not a Rubio supporter anyways, but if had a chance to vote in a primary, I think I would vote against him just because his supporter was so annoying.

As always, I will go through each candidate individually. It was a rough night all around and I don't think anyone really won. And don't expect much talk about policy here. This was a very light debate on policy and mostly focused on the attacks. Only John Kasich and Ben Carson even tried to stick to the issues, so I'm mostly going to be talking about who hit who with what. 

Donald Trump:
All Trump needed to do here was survive and I think he will. He has had worse debates as well, but this one was brutal. I think that Donald Trump got a bloody nose. He hit back as hard as he received but Rubio's attack on Trump about Trump University may have some staying power. I'm not exactly sure what went down with that, but it does seem somewhat shady. It hurt him, but no so badly that I think it will actually effect the poll numbers. But I do think that for the first time, someone brought up something that sounds like a legitimate area of concern for Donald Trump. This wasn't an empty attack, it was bringing up something that actually calls his character into question. 

Trump also looked rather flustered at points but can you blame him? He was getting hit hard by both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Rubio's attacks were more effective, but Trump was always on the defensive. He hit back of course, but he really didn't get much of a chance to sell his ideas. 

For the most part I don't think that the attacks by Rubio and Cruz will hurt Trump. Mostly because they talked over each other, and Trump has never been hurt by these kinds of attacks before. The most repeated "stump Trump" moment in the media was Rubio's attack on Trump for his health care plan. It just didn't work for me. For one thing, Rubio was trying to make it sound like Trump had just one point to his plan, I counted four. First he would repeal Obamacare, keep the requirement for existing conditions coverage,  remove state border restrictions for insurance companies, and finally making sure that people don't die in the street without healthcare. You can argue that is lite on details and that it might not work, but you can't say that Trump had no plan. But the media is.  

The attack on Donald Trump's tax plan went the same way, but that was mostly from Wolf Blitzer. Right after saying that he would cut some departments, like Education, Blitzer asked how Trump would pay for his tax cuts. He then told him about his plan to cut government waste and fraud, but Blitzer kept hitting him for not having a plan. I think there is plenty of room to criticize Trump here, since every candidate says that, but it's crazy to say that he doesn't have a plan. 

Ted Cruz took a different approach to attacking Trump, and I don't think it will do much either. He constantly tried to link him to Democrats. Cruz went with the "Trump's not a conservative" attack, which everyone on the right has been hitting him with for awhile. Trump is still standing though, because few people outside the beltway really care. I personally don't care if he has worked with or said nice things about Democrats, and isn't willing to be a doormat for Israel, and I doubt anyone else does either. The no-true-Scotsman attack doesn't work when you are sick of Scotsmen anyways! 

Still, some of the issues brought up tonight may end up hurting Trump. The Trump University scandal seems like a legit problem for Trump, and I expect him to be hit hard for not releasing his tax returns. I have no idea why it even came up, other then Mitt Romney wanted to screw Trump over, but I don't think Trump's answer is going to play well. He might have a real justification not to release them due to being audited, which doesn't look all that good either, but until it happens he will be attacked for not doing so. I don't really expect any kind of scandal to come out from it when he does release them, but not doing so right away makes it look like he has something to hide. 

I also thought that Trump's faux outrage over ex-Mexican President Vicente Fox's use of the f-bomb against him was pretty lame. I am sure that Trump has a right to be angry with Fox for his comments, but the way he objected was just silly. Trump has a foul mouth. He swears. I don't think there is anything wrong with that, but for him to complain about someone else swearing? Stupid. He did have a good line about making the wall taller, but I don't think anyone was buying this argument. He should have just started dropping f-bombs at Fox instead. 

Finally, if Rubio and Cruz's plans were to make the entire debate completely about Donald Trump and let him completely dominate the speaking times, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Trump talked for more then 30 minutes while both Rubio and Cruz got nowhere near as much time to talk. People accuse me of being biased for Trump because I spend more time writing about him, but how couldn't I when he was the complete focus of the debate? 

Marco Rubio:
If I could have given Rubio advice for last night it would have been this. Don't wrestle in the mud with pigs. You just end up getting dirty and the pig likes it. Rubio got into it with Trump hard, and he ended up covered in mud. Rubio would have been much better off sticking with the issues and perhaps hitting Ted Cruz more. As it stands right now, I lost a lot of respect for him. Until this point I thought he ran a clean campaign. He never attacked anyone until being attacked himself. Last night we saw a darker side to Marco Rubio, and I didn't like it. He is much better when he just explains his policy positions and refrains from attacking people. He isn't suited to being an attack dog. 

I also thought that it was a total joke that he tried to hit Donald Trump for repeating himself. First of all, Trump had to repeat himself because Rubio kept interrupting him. Second, he's being hugely hypocritical. He has repeated himself more then anyone else in this campaign. Indeed, he torpedoed his chances in New Hampshire by losing his mind during the debate that happened right before it and repeating himself again and again about dispelling Obama or some such nonsense. And tonight he sounded like a broken record, repeating himself again and again, while accusing Donald Trump of repeating himself! It was an insane moment, and I don't understand why anyone thinks it makes Rubio look good. 

And though it is totally unfair to blame Marco Rubio for the actions of his supporters, that crazy yelling lady really made me mad with him. I know it isn't his fault, but damn if it didn't make it hard to watch the debate... 

I was also surprised at how little Rubio hit Ted Cruz. Right now Ted Cruz is his main opponent, not Donald Trump. What Rubio needs is for all the other candidates to drop out so he can gain sole control of the anti-Trump votes. And he needed to do it now, rather then later. Ted Cruz was not hit by Rubio at all, and he also passed on any attacks on Ben Carson and John Kasich. In short he was acting like it was a two person race when it's technically a five person one and definitely a three person one. 

I also think that Rubio burned a few bridges with people that might have ended up voting for him. I know that for me, Rubio's choice to get dirty made me less likely to want to vote for him. If I was looking for a mainstream establishment candidate, I would be switching over to John Kasich instead of Rubio. 

Ted Cruz:
Though Ted Cruz joined in on the attack on Donald Trump, I don't think he had much of an impact. Rubio is clearly dominating the headlines and nobody is really talking about Ted Cruz's performance. I'm no even sure why he is still in the race. Trump has correctly labeled him a liar, and that label is going to stick. People are going to remember what he did in Iowa for a very long time, and every time it comes up, like it did in this debate, it really hurts him.

Cruz's attacks on Trump also did not have the kind of impact that Rubio's had. While Rubio brought up a few actual areas of concern, Cruz just brought up the same old attacks that have completely failed to make an impact so far. Trumps a "fake conservative". Trump loves Hillary Clinton. And so on. The only original attack that Cruz came up with that was original is trying to say that Trump is in favor of amnesty. Which is ludicrous. Sure, Trump is further to the left then Cruz on the issue, but that's not saying much. 

Cruz also, unexpectedly, left Marco Rubio alone. They tangled a lot during the past debates but in this one they didn't hit each other at all. Cruz did more then Rubio, launching a few halfhearted attacks, but he never really went after him hard. This is even dumber for Cruz then it was for Rubio. He doesn't have the backing of the media, both left and right, that Rubio has. And I think Rubio will gain more if Kasich and Carson drop out. Kasich's supporters will probably go to Rubio by default and Carson's will go to Trump or Rubio after what Cruz pulled in Iowa. If Cruz is going to have any chance at, he needs to knock Rubio out of the race before that happens. 

I do have to say that there was one policy moment of Cruz's night that I liked. He talked about the impact of illegal immigration on lower class workers. That has largely been ignored lately, during the debates at least, and it always pays to bring it up. Too bad he wasted that point on an attack on Trump, where it was ineffective, instead of directing it at Rubio, Kasich or Carson, where it might have done some damage.

John Kasich:
I think if this had been a normal debate, John Kasich would have won or at least came close to winning. Indeed, the only reason I can't say he did win is because nobody other then me is going to talk about him. Last night was a night that was dominated by fights, and Kasich was just not involved in them. Nobody is going to talk about what Kasich did.

Which is too bad, because I actually liked some of what he had to say for once. He had a very strong answer on foreign policy when it comes to ISIS, Syria, Iraq and Libya. He also was a strong critic of North Korea, which was a topic that the top three candidates seemed to ignore. 

I'm not going to pretend that I agreed with Kasich on everything. Far from it. Indeed, I really hated his response to the question about immigration. Nobody wants amnesty anymore. And he was completely wrong about arming Ukraine and completely wiffed on the question about religious liberty.

But did you notice something? The last two paragraphs were about Kasich's positions. Not about how he attacked someone or about some scandal he is involved in. Just the issues. I think for mainstream Republicans, his performance could play well. Too bad most of them won't be paying attention to him. I do hope that he somehow takes over from Rubio as the mainstream candidate. Not bad for a guy I had written off months ago... 

Ben Carson:
Total non-factor. Ben Carson had two moments that everyone will remember. First, he said that he wanted to look at the "fruit salad" of a potential Supreme Court Justice nominee's life and positions. I have no idea what that is supposed to mean, and I don't think anyone else does either. Second, at one point he said something to the effect of "I wish someone would attack me" so he could have more time to talk. Funny line, but it didn't help him one bit! 

Carson just didn't talk all that much. When he did he just complained about how he wasn't getting enough time to talk. Once again, ask Jim Webb how that worked out for him. Though I do think it was unfair how sidelined Carson was this debate, he must have expected it to happen. When the debate is this rough, you need to find a way to get into the fight. Or do what Kasich did, and stick to the issues. Sure, CNN screwed up and screwed up badly by mostly ignoring Carson, but sooner or later he is going to have to fight harder to get his voice heard. Just complaining about it isn't enough. He needs to do something about it!

It is too bad that Carson didn't talk much, because he did have a few good moments. On foreign policy especially, he did well. I liked what he had to say about North Korea, ISIS and Libya, but nobody is ever going to know what he was talking about because he got completely overshadowed.

I have to think that Carson's campaign is done at this point. I wonder why he is still even in the race. He has his 5% poll numbers but not much else. Is it just to spite Ted Cruz? I don't think many of his supporters would vote for Cruz anyways, but by staying in past Super Tuesday, he does slightly hurt Cruz's chances. 

I was not a fan of this debate at all. From the massive and unending attacks, to the shrill lady in the crowd, to the horrible moderation, this will probably go down as the worst debate this year. I don't think we learned anything new about any of the candidates, other then that Rubio is just as likely to fight dirty as anyone else. Indeed, the entire debate seemed pointless. 

I am really hoping that Super Tuesday ends the acrimony and fighting between the Republicans. At this point, dragging out the primaries does not help anyone except the Democrats. I still think that whoever the Republican candidate is will be a better president then Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, but I am thinking the margin of victory could be at risk if this continues. 

I don't mind some of these attacks, because they occasionally do bring up important issues. But I would really like more coverage on policy differences. I still don't entirely know where Donald Trump stands on the NSA, for example, even though that is a huge issue. It just hasn't come up. Neither have things like Afghanistan, the al-Nusra Front, the Mexican Drug War and so on. I haven't completely committed to any one candidate yet and I still think I need more information then what I have. Fighting all the time just tells me that people can fight, not if they have policies I agree with... 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Just a reminder, the next GOP Debate is tonight!

The last GOP debate before Super Tuesday is tonight and I am planning on watching it. As always I plan on live tweeting the debate. My twitter account can be found here. I am hoping to watch most of it but I do have other commitments which will probably mean I will miss at least a little bit of it. The debate starts at 7:30 central and will be on CNN.

There are a ton of questions that should be answered tonight. I am hoping that the final debate before Super Tuesday will offer some clarity about who the GOP nominee is going to be. At this point Trump seems unstoppable and the other candidates are just grasping at straws. The only way that Cruz or Rubio could pull it off now is if Trump completely destroys himself during this debate. I can't see that happening at all. He has just been too good during these debates, so even if Cruz or Rubio have a good night, I don't see them dethroning him in the polls. Even if all four other candidates spend the whole night attacking Trump, I don't see that working. The only way I see Trump going down is if he has a Marco Rubio robot moment or is found in bed with a dead woman or live boy.

It will be interesting to see who hits who tonight. I think if I was Donald Trump, I would ignore the other candidates and focus all the attacks on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Trump's the odds on favorite to be the nominee, it's time to take his case beyond the Republican Party. Acting like he has the candidacy in the bag already will make it look like that is actually the case, even if it isn't completely certain yet.

As for Cruz and Rubio I don't know if they will hit each other, hit Trump, or do both. If I was either of them I would spend most of my time attacking Trump. He's got the lion's share of support so hitting him hard could help siphon away votes. Still, Cruz has to avoid any sleazy moments, and Rubio has to avoid acting like a robot. If either of them screw up their campaigns are done.

For Kaisch and Carson, I am not sure what they are still doing in the race. Kasich's only chance is a complete collapse of Trump, Cruz AND Rubio, and I just don't see that happening. He won't give up because he still has a chance to win his home state of Ohio, but I just can't see him doing anything else. He just doesn't have much of a constituency. Carson has no chance of anything and I think the only reason he is in the race is to spite Ted Cruz for his Iowa shenanigans. Cruz took away his voters during the Caucus and pretty much destroyed Carson's campaign, so I wouldn't be too surprised if he wanted to return the favor.

Here's a few quick questions for each of the candidates:

Donald Trump, do you miss your favorite punching bag Jeb Bush?

Ted Cruz, people are concerned about your honesty. You have done some sleazy things this election. How can the American people trust you?

Marco Rubio, you have refrained from attacking Donald Trump in these debates. Are you gunning for a vice presidential nomination from him?

Donald Trump, would you accept Marco Rubio as a VP pick? Or any of the other current or former presidential candidates? For all the other candidates, would you accept a VP or cabinet role in a Donald Trump Presidency? And Donald Trump, would you accept a role as VP for any of the other candidates?

John Kaisch, why are you still in the race? Seriously?

Ben Carson, are you still in the race just to spite Ted Cruz? Or are you trying to position yourself as a VP or cabinet pick for Donald Trump?

For all the candidates, if no clear winner comes up after Super Tuesday, will any of you drop out just for the sake of the party? If you don't, won't that hurt the Republicans and help the Democrats?

For all the candidates, given all the bad blood between some of you, would you still support the eventual GOP candidate even if it isn't you?

For all the candidates, can you all set aside your differences for a bit and just make fun of Jeb Bush some more? Could we wheel him back in just for this debate so Trump can go another round with him?

For all the candidates, could you stop attacking each other for a moment and instead attack Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders?

Finally, I don't know when I will be able to post reactions to this debate. I won't have any chance whatsoever to do them right after the debate but I might be able to do them the next morning. I have a busy weekend planned so I might not even get to post anything at all, but I am keeping my fingers crossed!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

France's secret war against ISIS in Libya. Reuters.

 ISIS fighters training in Libya. AP/SITE intel group. 

In a new report by France's largest newspaper, Le Monde, the French government has started a secret war against ISIS in Libya. Reuters. According to the report French President Francois Hollande has authorized unofficial military action against ISIS using French special forces as well as the DSGE intelligence agency. France's strategy is to use occasional strikes against ISIS leadership as well as covert action by their special forces. The report also claims that France is working closely with the United Kingdom and the United States. French defense officials refused to comment on the report and will investigate who leaked the information. It has been confirmed that France has conducted reconnaissance missions over Libya and that they have a base in the northern part of Niger, which borders Libya. 

My Comment:
Interesting report if true. I said that someone needed to step up and go to war with ISIS in Libya and it looks like the French have done so. It is possible that this report is false though. I don't deem that very likely, Le Monde is a respectable newspaper, equivalent to the New York Times or Washington Post in terms of stature, and I doubt they would publish this without confirming it. The fact that the French government isn't denying it and is instead trying to go after whoever leaked this to the media means that I think it is true.

Which brings up another issue. Was it right to publish this report? Obviously the operational security of the French soldiers are at risk now. ISIS knows that they are there now and may take action to take these special forces out. They could even try to capture one and everyone knows what ISIS does to captured westerners. It could also derail French plans to hit ISIS targets. ISIS could spread their forces out and instruct them to look out for French ambushes. There is a threat here, that is for sure.

But I also think that the French people deserve to know if their troops are getting deployed. Though France has declared war against ISIS, that may not have translated to the French people that they are going to hit them in Africa as well as Syria and Iraq. And given the fact that French officials have said that they were not going to get involved in Libya, the people need to know that their government wasn't being honest. I am never a fan of any government that deploys troops into harms way and doesn't mention that fact to the people that put them into power. 

Personally though I am glad that someone is taking what is happening in Libya seriously, even if I wish they hadn't kept it a secret. I have said for awhile now that more needed to be done in Libya before it turned into a situation like Syria and Libya. ISIS has made huge gains in the country recently and they need to be checked. I was hoping someone would take a lead role and I am doubly happy that it is a European country, especially one that is partially responsible for the situation in the first place. After all, France had pushed for the overthrow of Qaddafi, a descion that had massive international consequences. It's only fair that the French help with cleaning up the mess they made. 

The only problem is that I don't think it will be enough. Don't get me wrong, the French have a very competent army. Anyone that still uses the "cheese eating surrender monkey's" meme in 2016 has not been paying attention. France has been very effective at controlling Jihad in West Africa and has done serious damage to the various insurgent groups fighting their, including al-Qaeda's Africa branch, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. They have also sent quite a few forces to fight in Syria and Iraq as well. 

The problem is that even highly competent French special forces won't be enough to counter ISIS in Libya. ISIS has at least 5,000 troops there and are recruiting more every day. And they have taken and hold quite a bit of territory. What needs to happen is for ISIS leaders to be killed and for that territory to be taken away from ISIS. The French troops can help with the first task, but not so much with the second. 

What is needed is a full army, not a few special forces fighters and limited airstrikes. But just like in Iraq and Syria, there isn't one available. Libya's two governments (a huge sign of trouble right there) are too busy fighting each other and the various other terrorist groups and militias to focus too much on ISIS. Nobody else will deploy ground troops and until that changes I don't see much happening to defeat ISIS in Libya. Though welcome, this French deployment is largely a band-aid on a bullet wound. It's just not enough. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Obama encourages congress to close Guantanamo Bay. Reuters.

US President Barack Obama at a meeting yesterday. Reuters. 

Barack Obama is making a last second pitch to convince congress to close the controversial terrorist detainment camp in Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Reuters. Obama revealed a plan that would close the camp and proposes 13 possible sites for the remaining prisoners to be transferred too. Republicans in congress are opposed to any plan that brings terrorists into the United States. With congress being opposed to any closure, Barack Obama is considering using an executive order to close the prison. Such an action would lead to legal action from congress. Obama has promised to shut down Guantanamo Bay since before he was even elected, but in more then seven years of presidency, he has failed to shut the prison down. Only 91 prisoners remain in Guantanamo Bay, with roughly 35 due to be transferred to their home countries soon. 

My Comment:
Looks like Barack Obama is trying to save his legacy yet again. He has promised to close down Guantanamo Bay as an election promise and he has utterly failed to get that promise fulfilled. I don't doubt that Obama wants to close Guantanamo Bay but he just hasn't had the diplomatic skill to pull it off. In order to close Guantanamo Bay would mean working with Republicans and throughout his presidency, Obama has completely failed to do that in any meaningful way. Indeed, Obama's failure to close Guantanamo Bay is probably his most obvious broken campaign promise. 

Will he be able to pull it off this time? I really don't expect Obama to make any meaningful compromise with the Republicans and they have very little reason to work with a lame duck president who will be out of office in less then a year. You actually have to give something up to make a compromise, and Obama would never give anything up at this point. Shutting down Guantanamo without huge concessions from Obama would be a fools move by the Republicans in congress. As spineless as they have been, I seriously doubt that even they would buckle under in this situation. 

And any Republican who represents a district where these prisoners would be transferred to would be insane to vote for closing down Guantanamo. This is an election year and closing down the prison would be a huge election issue. People really don't want terrorists brought into their states, and if this ends up happening, people will express their anger on election day. "Not in my backyard" is a real phenomenon, and I can't imagine that there would be many people that would like having these terrorists in their home states. 

If Obama does not succeed in shutting down Guantanamo Bay through congress, he could use an executive order to shut it down. Obama has been very liberal in using executive orders so you know he could try it. Doing so would provoke a legal fight and be extremely unpopular. It could even hurt the chances of whoever the Democratic candidate is. I don't know if the legal challenges against the executive order would work or not, but it would be a major fight. 

What would I do? I would leave those terrorists right where they are. Releasing them to US prisons is probably ok, though largely pointless, but we should never trust our security to other countries. In the past, terrorist suspects released from Guantanamo have gone back to fighting for terrorist groups. I don't trust foreign governments to keep track of these men, and letting them rejoin al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups is too much of a risk to take. 

Of course the real problem is that we aren't taking prisoners anymore. In the Obama administration, our official policy is to destroy terrorists using drones or commandos and only rarely do we capture prisoners. That is a mistake. The prisoners in Guantanamo were a valuable intelligence source, and by having a take no prisoners policy has not helped our intelligence agencies.

There is always the legal issues brought up by Guantanamo. The prisoners that are there are extremely hard to prosecute. Many of them were waterboarded which makes anything they said inadmissible in court. Treating them like POW's doesn't really work either because they aren't members of a legitimate government and commit war crimes. With no real legal option, these men are stuck in a limbo. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

ISIS has received millions of dollars in ransom for hundreds of kidnapped Christians. AP.

The ISIS flag. via Wikipedia. 

ISIS has received millions of dollars in ransom for a group kidnapped Assyrian Christians. AP.  The group of Christians were kidnapped last year after ISIS overran villages near the Syrian city of Hasakah. 230 Christians were held by ISIS and have now all been released. The last 40 were released today in Tal Tamr. Kidnapping for ransom is a major source of income for ISIS. They have received millions of dollars for captured air workers and journalists while they have killed others who have not been able to secure a ransom. The exact amount of money collected by ISIS for the release of the Assyrian Christians is unknown but some claim it was between $25 and $30 million. The influx of cash will probably help ISIS, who has been having financial problems lately. 

My Comment:
Yet another example of ISIS attacking Christians. ISIS has killed and captured thousands of Christians but the plight of Middle Eastern Christians has largely been ignored. Though Christians are not alone in their persecution by ISIS, you are much more likely to hear about the persecution of the Yazidi, Druze, Alawites or Shiites. 

Why is that? I have always said that the persecution of Christians in the Middle East goes against the main media narrative. According to the left, Christians are the dominate force in the world. They have "privilege" compared to other religions and by definition they can't be oppressed or attacked. So when Christians are captured by ISIS or even killed, the attacks largely don't make the news. Can't let the people know anything that goes against the media narrative. 

Of course, in the Middle East, and in other parts of the world, Christianity is largely going extinct. It isn't just in Syria, ISIS has targeted Christians in Iraq and Libya as well. And in Africa, Boko Haram has spent quite a bit of time targeting Christians. And even the governments in the middle east are hash against Christians. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the only Christians there are diplomats and allied soldiers. ISIS is probably the most active oppressors of Christians in the Middle East today but they are far from the only one. 

As for this specific story, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I am happy that these people were released. Though Christians are treated slightly better by ISIS then other groups , the common threat against them is flee, pay a hefty tax, convert or die. Since these hostages were unable to flee and didn't have the money to pay the tax, my guess is that if they had not been released they would have had to either convert or die. The fact that they weren't killed and will be able to have some kind of life is, of course, a very good thing.

It's just that the cost is so high. Giving ISIS $25 to $30 million will help them operate for quite some time. ISIS has had some financial problems lately. The United States has bombed their cash reserves. They destroyed millions of dollars in cash which hurt ISIS so bad that they had to cut the pay for their fighters. Russia (and the United States) has also damaged their economy through the much overdue campaign against ISIS's oil production. Oil wells and oil trucks have been destroyed and ISIS's ability to gather revenue. ISIS still has taxes to extract, but other then that they have lost most of their sources of income.

By giving ISIS this money, the Assyrians are essentially giving ISIS a gift, and they are encouraging ISIS to kidnap even more civilians. Not only are they helping the people that are oppressing them, they are giving ISIS a hell of a reason to do more of this in the future.

Still, what else could the Assyrians do? It's not like they had a military to liberate these people. Nobody else would help either. ISIS isn't the priority for any of the various factions fighting in Syria. The government and rebels are fighting each other, the Kurds are only interested in defending their territory and the United States and Russians are more interested in fighting each other by proxy then defending the Assyrians. It's an impossible choice and I don't envy the Assyrians for having to make it... 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My take on Jeb Bush dropping out of the 2016 presidential race.

Jeb Bush at a town hall meeting last week. AFP.

Jeb Bush ended his presidential campaign after yet another poor showing in an election. AFP. The former front-runner dropped out of the race despite being the son of one US president and the brother of another. His support was in the single digits nationally and he only got 8% of the vote in South Carolina. Bush had millions of dollars at his disposal and spent most of it on adds, but never made much headway. His SuperPAC, Right to Rise, raised $118 million dollars and spent most of it for little gain. Donald Trump is widely seen as the man who destroyed Jeb Bush's campaign. Trump largely got the best of Bush at the debates and gave him the "low energy" label. That label haunted Bush throughout the campaign. Bush never was able to connect with the voters and could not escape the legacy of his name. 

My Comment:
I'm almost sad to see Jeb! go. Don't get me wrong, two Bushes as president was more then enough. But Bush was an amazing person to have on the campaign trail just because Donald Trump was so effective in mocking him. From a pure entertainment value standpoint, Bush was probably the best part of this campaign by far. Not only were there great moments during the debates, there was also the way the internet brutally made fun of the guy. To a level I have never seen before and may never see again. Here's just one small example. Fair warning, there is some turtles getting eaten in the video and a little foul language. Also, you might feel bad for poor ol' Jeb at the end. 

No idea if this will be up much longer, so apologies if it is removed.

Here's another video that is basically the same thing in case the first video is removed. I could post more, literally dozens more videos like this, but this should make the point:

Ouch at Barbra Bush at the end there.... 

Wasn't that just brutal? But it pretty much sums up Bush's entire campaign. All though the campaign he was just bullied and made fun of. The internet loved it, the candidates joined in and above it all, Donald Trump was gloating. Bush was a meme candidate and not in the good way. Even Marco Rubio, his former protege, effectively humbled  him at one of the debates. In short, everyone turned against him, and his campaign ended up as a complete joke. Nobody took him seriously and in the end he was a huge punching bag.

And part of me loves that. If for no other reason that it shows that money isn't everything. Jeb Bush raised more money then anyone. His SuperPAC alone raised almost 120 million dollars, and that doesn't even include the $30 million he raised himself. The only other candidate to raise anywhere near that money is Hillary Clinton, and she's barely winning as well. Who out competed Jeb Bush? Donald Trump, who is largely self funding his campaign. The fact that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are doing so well without the help of these huge SuperPAC's is very gratifying. As much as the elites may hate it, it really isn't always possible to buy an election.

Still, it wasn't just Donald Trump and internet memes that brought down Jeb Bush. It was his name. That's why he went with the "Jeb!" title for his campaign instead of something that mentioned his last name. That should tell you something about the GOP. The Bush name is no longer something the electorate cares about. Well, they do, just not in a good way. I know personally that I voted for George Bush twice, and though I think he did a better job then Al Gore and John Kerry would have done, he was by no means a good president. George Bush wasn't nearly as bad as the media made him out to be and I have defended him in the past, but that doesn't mean I ever really wanted another Bush in the White House. I never really seriously considered voting for Jeb unless I had no other options and the choice was between him and Hillary Clinton or perhaps Bernie Sanders.

I am more tolerant then a lot of other people out there. Almost everyone on the left, most independents and even a few people on the right hated George Bush and wanted nothing to do with Jeb Bush. And in an election year were independents matter and there's a chance that more then a few Democrats could consider voting for the GOP, that was very bad news for Jeb Bush. He just didn't have a base to rely on, and his last name had a lot to do with it. He may not be the same man as his brother, they do have some political disagreements after all, but for the American public? He might as well have been named George Bush II.

And he just didn't connect with the average GOP voter. What was the biggest issue for the GOP this year? Immigration. Where did Jeb Bush stand on the issue? In favor of amnesty. Called illegal immigration an "act of love". Said that immigrants were "more fertile" then native born Americans. In short, he was telling the GOP working class base the exact opposite of what they wanted to here. Instead of listening to the issues that so effect lower class GOP workers and promising to do something about it like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz did, he essentially said that he cared more about the people breaking the law then the people that are here legally. Regardless of your opinion on the issue, you have to admit that was never going to play well this year. Not with anger so very high. Bush wasn't alone in this backlash, but things came to a head this election in terms of immigration. The GOP base is sick of hearing about amnesty. 

Bush also didn't really stand out from the rest of the crowd. I always saw him as a person that had the exact same platform as Marco Rubio. Establishment GOP through and through. If that was what I was looking for, why not just pick Rubio instead? He's had a much better campaign other then the one debate where he looked unhinged. Rubio was always well spoken and could get his point across in a very effective way. Bush wasn't anywhere near as effective. He was always stuttering and stumbling and generally making a fool out himself. For the 30% of people in the GOP that want an establishment candidate, Rubio was a much better choice. And even John Kasich, who is practically a Democrat, was beating Jeb Bush in the polls at the end. 

Bush's defeat was inevitable, but I do have to wonder where his 5% of the vote goes. I think that Marco Rubio is probably where most of them end up going. Some could go to Kasich, assuming he doesn't drop out soon too, but I really don't see his voters going to one of the protest candidates. Maybe Ted Cruz or Ben Carson, but I really don't think Donald Trump gains much of anything for this. Donald Trump is the main reason Bush is gone, so I don't see his die hard fans supporting him. Indeed, without his favorite punching bag, it will be interesting how he handles the next few debates... 

As for the greater election picture, I am thinking that it is going to be Trump vs Clinton. I don't see the other Republicans stopping Trump's momentum. I mean the guy got into it with the Pope himself and it didn't really hurt him at all, so unless Trump literally murders someone or the GOP pulls of some kind of masterful scheme against him to screw him out of the candidacy, he's it. And with Bernie Sanders losing in Nevada, he is way behind in delegates. He was always behind in delegates due to the Democrats idiotic super-delegate program, but he is even worse off then he was before New Hampshire. At this point I would probably put money on it, if I was a betting man.

The best news out of all of this is that because Hillary won in Nevada, Michael Bloomberg will probably not run. As he is the only person that has thought of running that would make me seriously consider voting for a Clinton, I am ecstatic right now...

Back to Jeb Bush though, I wonder what will happen to him now. I think he burned too many bridges for a vice presidential nod, and I can't see him ever running for president again. After all, his donors must be angry that he wasted $120 million. I can't see him ever making a political impact again, but who knows what could happen in the future. The GOP may no longer be the official party of the Bushes, but I doubt we have heard the last of them... 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Two Serbian nationals held by ISIS are believed to have died in the US airstrike in Libya. Reuters

Damage caused by the US airstrike in Sabratha, Libya. Reuters 

Two Serbian nationals, taken hostage by ISIS, are believed to have been killed in a US airstrike in Sabratha, Libya. Reuters. The attack, that killed around 50 people, was targeting a ISIS training camp and an ISIS coordinator named Noureddine Chouchane, who is thought to be responsible for two terrorist attacks in neighboring Tunisia. The airstrike may have killed two Serbian men, Sladjana Stankovic, a communication officer and Jovica Stepic, a driver, who were abducted last November. The two men were captured in an incident when Serbian embassy personnel, including the ambassador, came under fire in Sarbatha. Their deaths have yet to be confirmed but the Serbian government has already filed a protest against the United States. Serbia had been negotiating for the men's release but neither the family or the government was able to pay what they were asking for.  On the ground in Syria, there are conflicting reports about if ISIS was even at the location bombed. The Libyan government claimed that some of the survivors claimed to be ISIS members, but the local mayor said the building was just a house used for meetings, not training. 

My Comment:
I covered this story yesterday, but this is a major development. I had no idea that ISIS had captured Serbians in Libya. Perhaps the Serbian government was keeping it quiet? Either way, I am hoping that this report is wrong and that these two men are still alive. It doesn't look good though. And of course this happens right after I decided to give credit for Obama for pulling off this attack. The presence of these two hostages and their probable death certainly changes the calculus for ordering this airstrike. I have no idea whatsoever if the United States government knew that these two men were present in the building that was destroyed. 

If they didn't know then this is nothing more then a tragic mistake. But what if they did know and sent the strike anyways? Could it be justified? I think you could make the argument that it might have been. I went over yesterday how big the threat this camp could have been. It was very possible that the ISIS fighters that were there were preparing for another major terrorist attack in either Tunisia or Europe. Chouchane has been accused of plotting the two major terrorist attacks in Tunisia last year so he certainly was a threat. Killing him may have prevented a serious terror attack that could have killed dozens of people. That alone justified the airstrike if the government didn't know these two hostages were there. 

Is that worth the lives of these two hostages though? That's a tough call, and I am glad that it isn't one I have to make. I am sure that the Serbian government and the families of these two men are furious with the United States government right now, and that is probably with the assumption that this was an accident, not on purpose. If it was on purpose expect them to be apoplectic. It's again important to note that I have no idea if the government knew about these two men before they launched the mission. I think it is much more likely that this was just a tragic mistake, though I can see a scenario where the United States took the option anyways because the threat was so severe. 

I do feel rather bad for the F-15 pilot that conducted this mission. In any case I doubt he or she knew that these hostages were there. Having the lives of those two men on your hands would be tough for anyone to deal with. People get PTSD just from killing the enemy, so killing innocents is probably even worse...

I wonder if the presence of these men at this camp was a deliberate attempt by ISIS to use them as a human shield. After all, ISIS has used human shields before to try stop airstrikes, so it wouldn't be without precedence. If it was, then we are going to have to think long and hard about how we order these airstrikes. It's a win win scenario for ISIS if they are using that tactic. Either they are much safer from airstrikes, or their enemy gets a huge PR embarrassment when they attack you. And it's not like there is much else for these hostages to do when they are waiting to be ransomed off. I almost wonder if it wouldn't be worth it for ISIS to stop trying to ransom Western hostages for this very reason. This camp was certainly worth protecting for ISIS so I would not be suprised if that was the role they were playing there. 

As for the Libyans on the ground, I am not sure if I have a whole lot of respect for the local government in Sarbatha. First of all, the claim by the mayor that the building destroyed was not a training camp strikes me as a pointless statement. It might not have been a traditional training camp but it was where ISIS fighters were first introduced to Libya and inducted into the organization. It was also probably a place were operations were planned, due to the presence of Chouchane. Though the deaths of the two Serbs was tragic, this was a legitimate target. Arguing about if it was a terrorist training camp or simply a meeting place is semantics at best. 

Second, it sounds like everyone on the ground knew that this was a terrorist held building. But nobody did anything about it. Sure, ISIS is a very scary bunch of people. Killing everyone there could have had consequences. And sure, the Libyan government has more then enough problems of their own right now. But nobody on the ground thought about sending in their own troops to attack this place? Had that happened perhaps the hostages would have lived. Of course it is possible that someone did do something and fed intelligence to the United States, but even so, I think a ground operation might have been called for.

As I said yesterday, this strike won't have much of a long term impact, outside of Serbia. ISIS is still very strong in Libya and haven't really come under any kind of sustained attack. Sooner or later someone is going to have to step up there and take ISIS on. It might be one of the Libyan governments, one of the militias on the ground, or the United States and/or Europe in the skies. But right now it is no one and as long as that is the case, ISIS will continue to expand. This is a temporary setback for their greater plans in Libya at worst. They may have lost a good planner and a bunch of recruits but that is a drop in the bucket for ISIS. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

US airstrike destroys ISIS training camp in Libya. AP.

ISIS Islamic Police officers. AP

The United States has conducted an airstrike in Libya that has destroyed an ISIS training camp and killed at least 40 people, including a major leader. AP. As many as 60 ISIS fighters were at the camp when a F-15 from Europe destroyed the camp. The leader, Noureddine Chouchane, is believed to have been killed in the strike. Chouchane was a high ranking facilitator and a Tunisian national. His role was recruiting fighters, creating ISIS bases and perhaps even planing terrorist attacks. The strike took place near the Tunisian border in the city of Sabratha. The city serves both as a major hub for ISIS fighters making their way to ISIS strongholds in the eastern half of the country, but as a major hub for the migrant waves heading into Europe. The airstrike does not mean that there will be a major uptick in operations in Libya as it is being described as an attack of opportunity. Though US and European special forces are active in the country, US President Barack Obama has refused to launch a major air campaign due to worries over the instability in the country caused by having two competing governments. 

My Comment:
I think that the Associated Press and other news agencies are downplaying the threat that this training camp posed. Given the camps location, not only next to Tunisia, but on the main route that migrants are making it to Europe, the threat was massive. I would not be surprised at all if these fighters were being trained for a terrorist attack. I can't know that for sure, but my guess is that the timing of this attack indicates that this base was a major threat. 

There are a couple of targets they could have been after. The most simple one would be Tunisia. ISIS has pulled off three major terrorist attacks in that country, and they know that they can be effective there. Two of those attacks, the Bardo Museam attack and the Sousse attack, killed dozens of westerners and are generally considered to be one of ISIS's more spectacular attacks. The third, a major bombing right in the capital, didn't get nearly as much press, but it did send a message to Tunisia that they are vulnerable. So vulnerable that the Tunisians are building a security wall on the border with Libya, both to keep ISIS out, but to also keep local militants from joining ISIS across the border. (hmm, building a wall to prevent terrorist infiltration, where have I heard that before? Is it still "racist" if the Tunisians do it?)

Certainly, another major attack in Tunisia would be tragic, but I doubt that is anyone's main concern here. The much greater threat is possible attacks in Europe. Getting the newly trained ISIS fighters into Europe would be largely academic at this point for this particular training camp. They would just have to wait a few months for the traffic to pick up again and then just blend in with the migrants. Sabratha is a major hub for people trying to get to Europe, so the opportunity is there. Getting weapons and explosives into Europe would be the most difficult thing, so I am guessing that they would just have to buy weapons there, which is where the plot would most likely fall apart. I do think that if they had made it into the country there is a decent chance that they could pull something off. 

If either of these possible plans had been pulled off, it would have been a disaster, and I think this airstrike may have slightly lowered the risk of a major terrorist attack in both Tunisia and Europe. The destruction of this camp is a major accomplishment and for once I will give the Obama administration a little credit. Not only was the threat of a terrorist attack originating from this camp rather severe, the camp was likely serving other purposes as well. Sarbatha is also a major artery for North African militants from Tunisia and Algeria joining ISIS in Libya. As ISIS has expanded in Libya they have become reliant on these new recruits to grow their numbers. Every day more militants arrive to join up with the 5,000 or so ISIS fighters that are already in the country. Perhaps this strike will slow the numbers of  new fighters down. Destroying this camp was a very good thing, and I would like to see more decisive strikes like this one. 

As for Libya itself, it is disturbing how active ISIS is in the country. In about a year they have expanded from a toe hold to controlling a huge strip of land in the middle of the countries coast line as well has having a major presence in Benghazi, Derna and even in Tripoli itself. The fact that they have enough of a presence in a place like Sabratha, which is far from their major strongholds in the east and center parts of the country, shows that they can operate almost everywhere in the country. With Libya as fragmented as it is, it seems as though ISIS is having an easy time expanding and operating throughout the country. The rapid pace reminds me of how quickly they were able to take over Iraq back in 2014, a victory that still hasn't been reversed. Perhaps in time, ISIS will be able to expand so much in Libya, it will no longer matter if ISIS is defeated in Syria and Iraq. Instead of a backup base and minor theater in the global war against ISIS, Libya may end up being the main stage... 

It is unfortunate that this attack seems like it will be a one-off strike. There just seems to be no will from any of the players involved in this drama to actually take ISIS seriously, even though the threat is so obvious and so severe. The Libyan governments are divided, and the other militias on the ground, some of them jihadists themselves, are too busy fighting each other to really focus on ISIS. And Barack Obama has no stomach for yet another major military deployment during the last year of his presidency. To be perfectly honest, our military is so overworked and over deployed in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, with more forces tied down by North Korea, I am starting to wonder if we are even capable of mounting an effective campaign. 

That leaves one option and I am surprised that nobody else is calling for this. The Europeans need to step up and take care of Libya. I know France and the United Kingdom are tied down with their military operations in the Middle East and Africa, but there are other countries in Europe that could help out. The Italians and the Germans, who are especially threatened by ISIS bases in Libya, should do their part as well. They haven't contributed nearly as much as our other coalition partners. That isn't to say that they aren't helping, but given the threat that Libya is posing, it would be nice if they were to launch a major campaign as well. In addition to whatever Europe is doing in Libya right now, I would recommend that they start an air campaign in the country as soon as possible. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Barack Obama will visit the communist country of Cuba. Reuters.

Barack Obama at the ASEAN Summit. Reuters.

Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the Communist country of Cuba next month. Reuters. The visit would be the first by a sitting US president since 1928 when Calvin Coolidge visited, and only the second time a present has visited the country ever. President Obama considers the thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba one of his major foreign policy accomplishments. The timing of the visit coincides with an expected peace deal between Columbia and the FARC guerrillas which was partially organized by Cuba. It is unclear how the visit would happen diplomatically because in the past Obama has demanded that any visit would have to include a meeting with Cuban dissidents while Cuba has refused. Republicans have condemned the restoration of diplomatic relations. Two presidential candidates, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both of Cuban dissent, have been especially harsh on the planed visit. Republicans in congress have blocked the ending of the trade embargo.

My Comment:
I think the only reason for a sitting US president to visit Cuba is if he is there to put a bullet right between the eyes of Raul and Fidel Castro. As long as Cuba remains a communist country we should have no official dealings with them. This action by Obama is obscene and there is no reason it should happen. But alas, nothing I say will change anything. Why am I not opposed to dealing with other communist countries then? For one thing, I am opposed to it, just not anywhere near as strongly because of the countries that still have communism, China, Laos and Vietnam have had some meaningful reforms. Indeed, China is largely thought of as communist in name only. North Korea is communist too, but I consider them to be essentially a hereditary monarchy, but I would be just as upset if Obama was visiting them as well. 

I do think that this visit is a deliberate attempt to salvage something from Barack Obama's terrible foreign policy record. Obama has failed so spectacularly in the Middle East and North Africa that in comparison his actions in Cuba almost look good. At least among his more liberal supporters, normalizing relations with Cuba is something he can hang his hat on, and will perhaps be remembered in the future as an accomplishment. I don't think I agree with that. Obviously I think the opening of relations with Cuba is a bad thing, but even if I am wrong and everything works out and Cuba enacts meaningful reforms, the fact remains that Obama has been a horrible president when it comes to foreign policy. Better relations with Cuba does not outweigh the rise of ISIS, the destruction of Libya and the roll Obama played in the Syrian Civil War.

Of course, his "accomplishment" is largely meaningless. When the next president is elected, chances are everything Obama has accomplished in Cuba will be undone. If Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders get elected then it will probably stay, at least through their terms, but chances are after that the normalization will be undone by the next Republican elected president. If Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz are elected, you better believe that it will be reversed, and I think that is true for almost all the other Republicans in the race as well. And if it doesn't happen after the 2016 election, then expect it to happen in 2020 or 2024, unless something radically changes in either Cuba or the United States.

There is one glaring exception in the Republican Party though. For those of you that think that I agree with Donald J. Trump on every single issue, here's a major disagreement I have with the Republican front-runner. Trump is in support of normalizing ties with Cuba, and has said that 50 years of sanctions is enough. Though he condemned Obama for "making a bad deal", he does think that we should normalize ties with Cuba. This is a huge policy difference between me and Mr. Trump, and I'd like people to keep that in mind the next time someone tells me that I'm all in for him. There's a few other major differences I have with Trump, most notably his stance on the NSA, but that's a subject better visited in another post. I still will probably end up voting for him since I think he will win the candidacy, but he is by no means a perfect candidate in my view. His opinion on Cuba is wrong, and I do not support it. 

As for Cuba itself, I see little reason to support their government. We work with bad countries all the time but that's usually because they are strategically valuable or have resources we want. As far as I am aware, that is not the case at all with Cuba. Realpolitik makes strange bedfellows, but what on earth do we gain by normalizing relations with Cuba? A tiny bit of trade? Not worth it in my opinion. And the Cold War is over, so there is little threat of the Russians deploying nukes in Cuba yet again, so the country has next to no strategic value for the United States. In short, I think we are betraying our principles without even getting anything in return. 

Then again, I have a much more negative view of communism then the average American. It seems that these days leftist ideas are gaining popularity, and aren't being condemned nearly as strongly as they used to be. For example, a self-declared socialist is running for president, and has a decent chance of winning. I think people have forgotten how dangerous communism is, and have grown complacent. I am hoping this doesn't end up burning us in the end.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Editor's note

I've been fairly busy the last couple of days so posting has been light. I've got a bunch of other things I need to get done, so blogging might have to take a back seat for a day or two. It should be back to normal in a couple of days.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Confirmed. ISIS has used mustard gas in Iraq. BBC

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter in Iraq. BBC/Getty.

Experts have confirmed what has been suspected since last summer; ISIS has used chemical weapons in Iraq. BBC. The confirmation relates to an incident in Irbil, Iraq on August 11th, 2015, where 35 Peshmerga fighters became ill. The chemical used has been confirmed to be sulfur mustard gas, a chemical agent known for its deadliness. The report, from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons did not cast blame for the attack but other sources confirm that the attack was conducted by ISIS. The attack occurred on the front lines and several shells landed near the Peshmerga fighters releasing white dust and black liquid. This incident is not the first time ISIS has used chemical weapons. Also last year, they used mustard gas in an attack against Kurds in Syria. This attack in Iraq is the first in that country committed by ISIS. It is unclear where ISIS obtained chemical weapons. They may have been captured from the Syrian government's stockpiles of weapons before they were destroyed in 2013. However, US government officials have admitted at the very least, ISIS has the chemicals and capability to produce mustard and chlorine gas. 

My Comment:
I can finally finish this post! I tried to do it last night but my cable and internet both went out so I couldn't! That's just the way it goes I guess. It was kind of an older story last night, but it's practically ancient now. Might as well finish it though...

As for the actual story itself, this news isn't all that surprising. There were a couple of attacks last summer involving chemical weapons. ISIS has used both mustard gas and chlorine as a weapon multiple times now but apparently this is the first time they have used it in Iraq. This story isn't all that notable because it is new, but because I think it is important to remind people that ISIS has access to chemical weapons.

That news has not made anywhere near the splash I would have thought it should have. In the 2016 election cycle, nobody that I am aware of has made a political point out of the fact that ISIS has chemical weapons. That just seems baffling to me since any candidate that is running on a platform of national defense would bring this up as it is a major terrorist threat, a war crime and a huge step up in terms of what ISIS is capable. But there has been next to nothing said about it in any of the debates that I have watched. Perhaps after the Iraq War, the threat of WMD's is no longer considered a plausible reason to vote for someone. After all, the Republican Party got burned and burned hard by the fact that no active chemical or biological weapons program was found in Iraq (some old weapons were found, but they weren't the threat they were made out to be). If we were to use these ISIS chemical weapons as a causus belli for a major war with ISIS, it could turn into Iraq 2.0 if we didn't find a major threat.

And it is hard to ascertain how much of a threat this is, at least with what has been released to the public. After the initial attacks happened last summer there haven't been any more reports that I have seen of ISIS using these weapons. Just a few scattered attacks in the summer and nothing much since then. Which raises an obvious question. Why on earth aren't ISIS using these chemical weapons more? I think there are a few possible reasons for that.

1. ISIS ran out of the precursor chemicals needed to make these weapons. They have already used up all that they had and can't get any more. I think this fairly unlikely because the precursor chemicals are fairly easy to find and the main problem isn't gathering the chemicals, it's finding someone who knows what they are doing. Which brings us to..

2. ISIS's experts on chemical weapons, or the labs needed to make them, have been destroyed. This is much more likely because any chemical weapons experts or facilities would be a priority target for pretty much every single other faction involved in the fighting in both Syria and Iraq. Nobody wants to go against chemical weapons, so there is a huge motivating factor in finding the people responsible for making these weapons and destroying them. Why don't we know about it then? Well it's possible that it's classified. If it was a commando raid it might not have ever made the headlines. The other possibility is that these chemists and labs were destroyed just during the normal course of the war. Many ISIS fighters and leaders have died due to the bombing campaigns conducted by United States and their allies as well as the strikes carried out by the Russian and Syrian coalition. There is a decent chance that whoever made these chemical weapons is no longer among the living through shear bad luck alone.

3. ISIS is saving those chemical weapons for something. This is the most scary option. If ISIS were to perfect their chemical weapons they could be used as a potent weapon, both on offense and defense. Though chemical weapons are by their very nature extremely hazardous on the battlefield for anyone who deploys it, they do serve as a very strong terror weapon. Nobody who knows anything about mustard gas ever wants to be exposed to it and if I was a soldier fighting ISIS I know I wouldn't want to have to worry about getting gassed. The other option is they are building up their supplies for a major terrorist attack abroad. It wouldn't be too difficult for ISIS to smuggle in enough chemical weapons for a major attack in Europe, especially as spring begins and the migrant horde begins to come in greater numbers again. I would not be surprised if the next major attempted terrorist attack, successful or otherwise, in Europe is a chemical one.

Of the two scenarios I deem credible, it is very hard to figure out which one is more plausible. Either ISIS's chemical weapons department was blown to smithereens or they are planning something big with these weapons. I can't imagine that they would go through all the trouble of developing and deploying these weapons only to not use them just a few months after they learned how to make them. Perhaps there is some other factor that I am missing, but in my mind the threat of more chemical attacks by ISIS is either worse then ever or largely non-existent. That sounds like I am hedging my bets but I honestly am not sure what will happen. 

Needless to say, I hope it's option number two above. I really don't want to see a chemical weapons attack in Europe. The damage it would cause would be fairly negligible in comparison to other major terrorist attacks, but the psychological damage it would cause would be severe. People are very afraid of chemical weapon attacks (and would be even more so after seeing images of the victims) and a successful chemical attack on a major European city would cause widespread panic. On the other hand, such an attack would require a massive response. Perhaps that would finally be the line that would encourage the world to utterly destroy ISIS once and for all... 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

My take on the ninth GOP debate.

The Republican front runner. Michael Vadon

I watched the GOP debate last night and I thought about posting something about it right away. But that debate was so crazy I needed to digest it for awhile. It was a wild one and I am almost surprised that nobody threw a punch. There were so many fights and hard blows thrown all around that I almost wonder if the debate almost helps the Democrats. Indeed, I don't think any of the candidates held back, and even the more soft spoken candidates got into the action.

I do have to say that the crowd was completely nuts. And not in a good way. Though at times it seemed that they were in the pocket of the establishment candidates, other times it just seemed like they were cheering and booing at random. It got so bad during the fight between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz that I could barely hear what the candidates were saying or even who they were booing. If there is a huge loser from this debate, let it be the crowd. Even though the candidates were a little wild themselves tonight, the crowd was an embarrassment, and their reaction was more suited to a WWE event then a political debate.

It was a mixed night for the moderators. I think the questions themselves were fair and tough, just like debate questions should be. And there weren't the embarrassing snafus that happened in the last debate during the beginning of the debate. But the moderator team did not have control of the candidates at all. Everyone talked over their time, yelled at each other and talked over each other. The moderators should have done more to calm things down, but they seemed like they wanted to stir things up. Oh well, better drama sells more advertising.

As for the candidates themselves, I will do the same thing I do for everyone of these debates. I'll go through each candidate and explain how they did. I think it was a mixed night for everyone and I don't think there is a clear winner at all. I do have to say that my cable glitched out a couple of times when Jeb Bush and Donald Trump were talking. I don't think it really impacted how I reacted to their performances, but I figured I could mention, just in case I did miss something critical

Donald Trump:
Rough night for Trump. I don't think his performance was bad, just controversial. He got into it with Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and most of those fights were drag out knife fights with no quarter given or revived. Though I think that Trump won each of these engagements, I don't know if they will play especially well in the primary.

Trump hit Jeb Bush hard, even by Trump standards. Once again he went after his family, this time his brother, former president George Bush. Trump bashed George Bush, not only for his performance during the Iraq War, but for allowing 9/11 to happen in the first place. His argument was that Bush didn't do enough to prevent 9/11 and that he lied about WMD's in Iraq. I'm not sure how well this plays for Trump, as many in the Republican party still like George Bush, and hate the argument that Bush lied about the Iraq War. It's one that they have heard before and it usually comes from Democrats (and Libertarians).

It almost seemed that Trump was playing to a general election crowd, forgetting that he hasn't yet won the nomination. I think his bashing of Bush will play well among independent voters along with blue collar Democrats that aren't too happy with the choice between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Trump also defended Planned Parenthood, which will also play well for the same groups, but will be anything but popular for Republicans. And he also said that Social Security should be protected which is pretty far from the reservation when it comes to the GOP.

Ted Cruz, sensing the opportunity, attacked Trump for being a secret Democrat. If it had been anyone else making the claim, I think it could have gained a bit of traction but Cruz did it in such a stupid way. First, he isn't the one that should be attacking Donald Trump, because Trump just ripped into him (more on that later). Second, he did in in a rather tasteless way. He claimed that Trump would install an anti-second amendment Justice to replace Antonin Scalia. The man's body isn't even cold, so to make a point this way is rather disgusting. And to choose the 2nd amendment, which Trump is very obviously in favor in, instead of abortion, where his credentials aren't nearly as strong, is baffling. If you are going to go with the low blow, do the right one!

I do have to mention that I agree with most of what Trump said. I don't think I would have gone as far on Iraq as he did, but I do think the war was a mistake. And though I don't think Bush was a disaster as a president, I do think there is a lot of room for criticism for him. I also really liked that Donald Trump was the only one that had anything nice to say about Russia. I'm fairly disgusted by both parties stance on the Russia issue, so to hear someone that says we should work with them is a breath of fresh air, and a major reason I am seriously considering voting for Trump, should I get the opportunity to do so. I'm neutral when it comes to Planned Parenthood and I do hope to get back the money I have put into Social Security, much like many others who have paid into the system for years.

I don't think this night hurts Trump too much, but he has had better debates. It's not going to help either. His supporters aren't going to abandon him over tonight, but I don't think he will gain any voters in the Republican Party either. His comments will play well for independents and dissatisfied Democrats, but not so much with his parties base. Still, all he needed to do to win South Carolina is survive the onslaught and I think he did. And he might have helped himself long term, if he makes it to the general election.

Finally, I don't think for a second that he will give up his profanity. It's half of his charm, even if some people don't like it. He should have just doubled down. I would have loved it if he had dropped an f-bomb right then and there.

Ted Cruz:
Terrible night for Cruz. He got hit by almost everyone. The only persons that I don't think attacked him were John "never attacks anyone" Kaisch and Jeb Bush, and Bush only ignored him because he was busy attacking Trump. Even Ben Carson called Cruz out and Trump and Rubio really hit him hard.

Trump was probably his harshest critic calling him a liar for his actions in Iowa. Once again, it pays to remember that Ted Cruz told his supporters that that Ben Carson had dropped out of the race. Trump also accused him of more shenanigans in South Carolina, saying that robo-calls in that state claimed that Trump wasn't even on the ballet. My google-fu has failed me, so I don't know if that is true or not, but it doesn't matter. Cruz already has the reputation of a lair and tonight didn't help things.

Marco Rubio also hit Cruz hard as well. Unfortunately, I couldn't even tell what they were fighting about at first because the stupid crowd drowned them out. I do know that Rubio called him a liar as well, mentioning Iowa, Planned Parenthood and and marriage. Strangely enough, Cruz tried to speak Spanish to Rubio, but I have no idea what he said. I don't think that moment will play all that well for Cruz. One thing that Republicans, especially anti-immigration ones that may like Cruz, don't want to hear during a debate is one of the candidates speaking Spanish. And from what I have heard it wasn't even fluent Spanish. I think this hurts Cruz and hurts him badly.

I do have to say that Ted Cruz was wrong about something I know quite a lot about. He claimed that arming the Kurds was the best way to defeat ISIS. As the moderator (or perhaps one of the other candidates pointed out, I can't remember) arming the Kurds won't do much because they won't expand beyond their lands. It's not a bad idea by any means, any plan that pisses of the Turks is good in my book, but it won't be the panacea that wins the war against ISIS. I do think we should do it anyways, since they are putting some pressure on ISIS, but Cruz was wrong to act like it would solve the war.

Marco Rubio:
A better night for Rubio. Not that is a hard thing mind you, his last debate was an utter disaster. Rubio needed to prove that he hadn't completely lost his debating abilities and I think he did that. He was still robotic and he seemed like he was reading from a script at times, but at least he wasn't repeating himself like a jackass. He was probably very happy that Chris Christie wasn't there to trip him up.

I'm not sure there is much other good news for Rubio though. I do think that his defense of George Bush, which was much better then Jeb Bush's defense, will probably help him among voters that still like George Bush, however few of those may be left. He also did it in a way that made it clear that he was talking about Donald Trump, but also didn't provoke a response from him. In short, he got all of the credit that Jeb Bush got for defending his family, but without the damage done by having Trump eviscerate him.

I think Rubio got the better of Cruz as well. He correctly called out Cruz for his dishonesty and I think that will serve him well. But it is important to remember what they were fighting about in the first place. Rubio was hitting Cruz on immigration which is not something Rubio should ever be talking about. Rubio is in favor of amnesty, which is a four letter word for Republicans. Though his plan isn't all that different then anyone in the room that isn't named Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, going at length to defend amnesty is not going to help him.

I personally did not like his performance though I can see how others did. He had a huge shot against Jimmy Carter that just completely fell flat for me. To me, Carter isn't the failed president that was replaced by Reagan. He's just a humanitarian, who occasionally does good on the world stage. I wasn't even alive Carter was president, and I think younger voters are going to think that the attack was out of nowhere. I also hated the fact that he kept going on and on about tax breaks for families. As a single guy I could care less about families. I am already subsidizing them enough, thank you very much.

Jeb Bush:
Rough night for Bush, as usual. I do think that he was a bit more engaged then he usually was and he did his best to fight Donald Trump. I just don't think it was good enough. Like I said before, the most memorable thing Trump did last night was hit George Bush. The fact that Marco Rubio is largely seen as having the better defense of George Bush then his own flesh and blood brother does not bode well for Jeb!

And Jeb did the same old ineffective attacks against Trump that everyone has heard before. Trump's mean, he's sexist, his businesses went bankrupt. We have all heard these attacks before and they haven't worked. Ted Cruz did a much better job attacking Trump, with fresh allegations about being a secret liberal, but Bush didn't have anything close to that kind of attack. And if Bush had made that attack it might have stuck, but because Cruz did it, it won't.

Jeb also said quite a few things that I disagreed with. For one he claimed that he wouldn't have a litmus test for Supreme Court justices. That just seems insane to me. I don't know if he misspoke or what, but I can't imagine that moment will play well among the GOP. After all, we got burned and burned hard by John Roberts, who ended up being the one that decided Obamacare. Everyone needs to be vetted and vetted hard.

Even John Kasich seemed to get the better of Jeb Bush. Bush inexplicably attacked Kasich over medicare expansion in Ohio, which is an issue I don't care about at all. I do think that Kasich won on performance in that battle due to the fact that he seemed awful reluctant to attack anyone. When you force John Kasich to attack someone and your name isn't Donald Trump, you know your campaign is in trouble.

Ben Carson:
Yet another poor debate for Carson. At least he seemed somewhat awake this time, but I really don't think that Carson is cut out for debating. He tried to get into the fights with Ted Cruz but he just wasn't able to do much with the time he got. I do like that he spent what little time he had not attacking the other candidates in his party but attacking people like Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders.

It's to the point where I can't even think of anything else to say about Ben Carson that hasn't already been said. He got wrecked yet again, and the only thing I really remember about his night is that he really wants you to visit That's not a good sign.

John Kasich:
Another fair performance for John Kasich. To his credit, Kasich did not get into the mud with the rest of the candidates and I think he looks better for it. Instead of attacking people, other then his small skirmish with Bush, he focused on his issues. To the people that dislike all the chaos and fighting, Kasich will score points.

Still, I don't know who Kasich is trying to appeal too. Though Donald Trump was attacked for being a "fake conservative" it is amazing to me that Kasich wasn't attacked as well. He gave a rather impassioned defense of amnesty and it was amazing to me that nobody attacked him for it. I do think that if it had been anyone other then Jeb Bush attacking him on Medicare, it might have made some waves as well, but since it was Jeb! doing it...

I have to say that I personally hated it when Kasich suggested that we arm the government of Ukraine. The last thing we need to do is escalate the conflict there, which has settled into a nice stalemate. Given the fact that some of the pro-government militias are far right, the suggestion might lead to us arming literal Nazis. That's something I'd like to avoid if possible...

Rough night all around and not a good night for the GOP. I don't think anyone won tonight but I do think that Bush, Carson and Cruz had worse nights then everyone else. I also wonder if Trump did any damage to his campaign. Paradoxically, I expect his national polls to go up due to this debate, but he may have hurt his campaign somewhat among Republicans. As for Rubio and Kaisich, they did just well enough that I think their campaigns will survive for a bit longer.

And finally, I have to repeat that the crowd in this debate was just terrible. I'm starting to think that if they had bused in a bunch of drunk degenerates from every dive bar in the state, the crowd would have had more class. I could get over them being a bunch of donor class people booing Donald Trump, but they were booing everyone, and then cheering them, sometimes at the same time. They were completely inconsistent and rather annoying and I hope the next debates have a less stupid crowd. I'm not holding my breath though...