Thursday, June 22, 2017

My thoughts on President Trump's suggested solar border wall with Mexico.

The end of the border fence near Tijuana, Mexico. James Reyes/Public Domain

I'm going to skip the normal format for this one and comment on a proposal that President Trump made. As a new way to pay for the wall, Trump has suggested that we line the wall with solar panels. The theory is that the energy produced by the solar panels would pay for the wall and, assuming Mexico buys our energy, it would fulfill Trump's campaign promise that Mexico would pay for the wall. 

I think it's an interesting idea to say the least. It has some very obvious upsides. The first advantage is political. If the Democrats try to shut this down or criticize it Trump can hit them on environmental grounds. He can basically say that if the Democrats are in support of the environment and combating global warming they have to support the wall. Given the absolute hysteria on the left after Trump left the Paris environmental accords, it would look incredibly hypocritical for them to oppose this proposal. 

This creates an obvious split between two Democratic party coalition members, environmentalists and immigration advocates. The idea is that the two groups will come to metaphorical blows over the plan. Obviously, the environmentalists will support clean energy and the immigration advocates will oppose any wall on the border.

Will it work out that way? I am not sure. Despite Trump trying to make an obvious gesture to environmentalists, I doubt they will go along with it. Most of them hate Trump and would oppose him even if he caved on every single environmental issue and oppose him on principal alone. Others will notice the same thing I did and will be opposed to it just because they don't want to fight the immigration block, which probably has some crossover as well. Plus, they have tried to block border walls/fences before due to environmental impact on endangered species.

Either way though it gives President Trump a good way to bludgeon the left. He can rightly claim that the Democratic Party both hates him and the wall so much that they won't even compromise on a plan that could help the environment. Even if it only pulls away a few Democratic voters it might still help. It also damages their claims that global warming is important if they won't even support a plan that could reduce our reliance on dirty energy. 

Economically the idea makes sense as well. Turning the wall into a money maker could reduce the costs of construction and maintenance. One of the major criticisms of the wall is the high initial cost of the project and the fact that it will require maintenance. So far efforts to get Mexico to pay for the wall have failed, largely because Trump hasn't decided to tax remittances, the money orders people send to Mexico. Doing this will help defray the costs and if we sell the energy to Mexico, they will "pay" for it... kinda. It also has the added benefit of not completely destroying the Mexican economy, which taxing remittances would do. 

There are obvious job benefits as well. Making the wall in general will create shovel ready jobs, but using solar power will also help US companies specializing in solar energy. It wouldn't be a huge increase, but it would add a few jobs to the US economy. And because the solar panels will need maintenance and someone to manage the power, some of those jobs won't go away after the wall is finished. 

It also gives the wall some insurance. The great fear among supporters of the wall is that as soon as a Democrat wins either the White House or Congress, they could tear it down. Getting rid of an energy source that provides jobs and perhaps even makes money creates a much higher cost in doing so than just a border wall. I am guessing that a solar wall would be popular as well, so getting rid of it would have a large political cost. The Democrats might do so anyways but it would cost them more support than it would with a normal wall.

So will the solar wall happen? Unfortunately it's not up to Donald Trump. Right now he has to convince Congress to pay for the initial construction of the wall and that has been like herding cats. Right now the Republicans in the House and Senate are more focused on health care and the Democrats in Congress... well the less said about their "muh Russia" witch hunt the better. 

Still, I think this is a great idea and a huge win for the Republican Party if they can pull it off. Doing so would greatly please the Republican base, who have wanted more effective borders for a very long time and have been infuriated by the lack of action on the issue. It would also greatly blunt Democratic criticism of the wall and make them look like hypocrites, either on the environment or on immigration. It's a win win for Republicans so I can't imagine that they aren't, at the very least, taking the proposal seriously. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Terror attack in Flint Michigan where a man stabbed a police officer and screamed Allah Akbar.

Police stand guard after the attack in Flint. Flint Journal/CBS/AP.

A Canadian man was detained in Flint Michigan after stabbing a police officer in the neck and screaming "Allah Akbar". CBS. The attacker has been identified as Amor Ftouhi and has been charged with violence in an international airport. He was in the country legally. During the attack Ftouhi allegedly screamed "Allah Akbar" and ranted about Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan before stabbing the victim with a 12 inch knife. The victim survived the attack and was in satisfactory condition. Flint police believe that the threat is over and that Ftouhi was a "lone wolf" attacker. 

My Comment:
I remember yesterday writing that America hadn't suffered any terror attacks during Ramadan so far. I guess I spoke too soon as this is fairly obviously a terror attack. It's a fairly minor one where only one person was hurt, but it was following the ISIS playbook. 

This was probably a lone wolf attack. It wasn't sophisticated at all and it was the kind of attack that almost anyone could attempt. I am not sure what the exact plan here was. It is possible that Ftouhi was trying to imitate ISIS inspired attackers in Europe. There have been several attacks where an attacker tried to overpower a cop or soldier and steal their weapon. If so, this attack failed just as those attacks failed. Ftouhi wasn't able to steal a weapon and was detained right away. 

It's also possible that he wasn't trying to go for a weapon at all and was just interested in stabbing a cop. I've said before that even though ISIS encourages that kind of attack, it's just about the stupidest way to go about things. Not only are all cops in the United States armed, they are trained to fight and do not represent a "soft target". It's a minor miracle that Ftouhi wasn't shot and killed immediately. 

Some will likely ask why Ftouhi didn't purchase a gun. As a foreign citizen, Ftouhi was not eligible to purchase a firearm. He would have failed a background check and I doubt any but the most scuzzy of private citizens would have sold him a gun. Unlike the popular media description, it's not actually that easy to get a gun in the United States if you aren't a citizen. 

I do wonder why Ftouhi attacked the United States instead of his home in Canada. Ftouhi was from Quebec and had multiple targets he could have struck in Canada. And he probably would have been able to acquire better weapons in Canada than he was able to get here. My guess is that he correctly surmised that a terror attack in Flint Michigan would have a bigger impact than any attack in Canada. 

I do have to say that the police response to this attack was fairly impressive. Though part of that is that there are always cops at airports, they were able to quickly able to stop this attacker before he killed someone. And they managed to capture him alive to interrogate him. Good work all around. 

I doubt that Ftouhi had any connections to larger terrorist groups. I suspect he probably read ISIS propaganda and followed their instructions but he had no direct link. If he had I think there would have been a better plan and some kind of weapon or explosive used other than a knife. I think that the threat is probably over... 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Soldiers in Brussels kill a terrorist before he could carry out his attack.

Soldiers stand guard in Brussels after the attack. CBS/Getty. 

Soldiers in Brussels shot and killed a terrorist after he set off a small explosion at the main train station. CBS. The suspect was ranting and raving about Islamic extremism and screamed "Allahu Akbar" before setting of a device in a baggage cart. Soldier shot the suspect soon after and were not able to provide medical treatment because they suspected he had a bomb. Police confirmed that the suspect had an explosive belt and a backpack. The government of Belgium said that the soldiers involved in the situation stopped a terror attack. 

My Comment:
Good on these soldiers for stopping this terror attack. It just goes to show that having people with weapons can help prevent a terrorist attack. They reacted quickly and correctly to the threat and their actions probably saved quite a few lives. If this guy had managed to get onto a train or a crowded area he could have killed dozens. Instead, he was the only one that died. 

That being said, this seems like another example of an incredibly stupid terrorist. I think this guy was watching too many action movies. Instead of being stealthy and making sure to get himself into a place with a large amount of civilians he went on a rant and set off a minor explosion. None of that makes sense. It seems like something the bad guy in a movie would do and like a movie it gave the heroes a chance to stop the villain. Why draw attention to yourself when your goal is to kill as many people as possible? Especially when attacking a defended target like a train station? Not a smart way to go. 

This failed terror attack comes right after another failed one in Paris. In that attack someone rammed a police van despite being armed with a rifle and some handguns. Just like the Brussels attack, the suspect in France would been able to kill a whole lot of people if he had just used some common sense. Part of that is because the security forces in both cases were on the ball, but still, a better plan could have been effective. Once again, thank God for stupid terrorists. 

Another point is that these terrorists are acting like lone wolf attackers but have the weapons of someone with terrorist connections. The suspect in the Paris attack had multiple firearms and the suspect in the Brussels attack had explosives. I guess it is possible that a lone wolf attacker could get his hands on those kinds of weapons, but I doubt it. There have been lone wolf attacks in the past where one guy got a hold of firearms and explosive, but they are fairly rare and I don't think it is likely in this case. 

Still, the level of planning with both of these attacks seem to indicate a less sophisticated style of attack. Instead of actually trying to inflict as many casualties as possible they tried to pull off a terrorist attack in a flashy cinematic kind of way. They seemed to be more focused on style points instead of inflicting casualties. That tells me that both of these attacks were lone wolf attackers, probably inspired by ISIS instead of being directed by them. 

I do think there is a different possibility explaining the Brussels failure though. It's possible that the bomber tried to set off his explosives belt... and it failed miserably. That would explain his actions quite a bit better. If his belt failed he might have tried to set off his secondary explosive and then, when that didn't do anything, he just got shot. That would mean that his bombmakers screwed him over in which case the bombmaker is the one that's an idiot. 

After a hot start, Ramadan hasn't been so bad. This is due in a large part to the failed attacks in Paris and Brussels. There have been attacks outside of Europe, most notably in Mali, Somalia and Afghanistan, but the European attacks have largely failed outside of the London Bridge attack. Still, we have some time before Ramadan is done and we should remain vigilant. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Close call in France as a terror attack fails in Champs-Elysees

A member of the bomb squad checks the car. BBC/EPA

A terror attack targeting a police vehicle at Champs-Elysees has failed as a man with a car crashed into a police van. BBC. The suspect was armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, handguns and gas bottles, but was killed in the crash and ensuing fire. No one else was hurt in the incident. Though the attack failed, officials say that the amount of gas in the vehicle could have caused an explosion. No one has taken credit for the attack but the suspect was reportedly on a terror watchlist since 2015 for membership in an unnamed "radical Islamist movement". 

My Comment:
This was a very strange terror attack attempt. I'm forced to conclude that the attacker was probably pretty stupid. If the suspect was armed with a rifle and multiple handguns, why use the car for anything? Wouldn't it have been smarter to just shoot people? 

It's also unclear how the suspect died. I don't know if he just died in the crash, the ensuing fire, or if the cops put him down. If he just died because of his own actions then his plan was really terrible. It's possible that he was trying to set his car on fire to cause chaos and distract cops while he was shooting people, but maybe he rammed the car to hard and stopped his own attack? 

I also don't understand why he would use the ramming tactics ISIS has used so frequently this way. If he wanted to conduct a ramming attack, why target a police van? Why not run over a bunch of civilians? And why resort to ramming at all when you have a bunch of guns? It doesn't make any sense.

If this was a failed car bombing, it seems like an even stupider plan. Though the weapons and fuel in the car could have exploded, it seems like he didn't have a way to activate the bomb or died before he could do so. Either way, this plan didn't work. 

I'm not sure if this is a lone wolf attack or not. The very stupid plan of the suspect kind of makes me think that he was acting alone. If he had help they would presumably have told him to get a better plan. But on the other hand the presence of a Kalashnikov makes me think he had help. AK's aren't exactly hard to get in Europe but you do need connections to the black market gun dealers and that usually implies some connections with terrorism. Plus the BBC said he made Frances terror radar due to membership in an extremist movement, so at the very least he probably did have some connections. 

Even though this terrorist attack failed, it did help ISIS. Even failed terror attacks can frighten people and disrupt the country. This attack didn't kill anyone but it still grabbed headlines and shut down one of the most important tourist areas in the country. Despite the obvious failure of the attack, it still has an effect. 

All that being said though, I have to repeat something I have said many times in the past. Thank God for stupid terrorists. The more attacks that kill or wound nobody but the attacker we have the better... 

Copycat terror attack in London as a man rams into Muslims.

A victim is taken away on a stretcher after the attack. NBC/AP. 

A copycat terrorist has used the ramming tactics so common in recent attacks and adapted them to attack a group of Muslims, wounding 10 people in London. NBC News. The attacker drove his rented van into a group of people who were attending to a man who had collapsed. The man later died though it is unclear if he died due to the ramming attack or to his unrelated collapse. The community then captured and detained the man until authorities could arrive and arrest him. The attack comes on the heels of several Islamist terror attacks in the UK, including two similar ramming attacks and the Manchester suicide bombing. Witnesses claim that the suspect was specifically targeting Muslims. 

My Comment:
Before I get into the meat of this post I do have to say that I obviously condemn this attack. Whatever the issues the UK is having with it's Muslim population, getting into a van and running over a bunch of people isn't going to solve anything. Indeed, it seems like it would be massively counterproductive and may serve to further radicalize Muslims and push some of the moderates out of the fold. It also feeds into the worst tendencies of the political left, who will use this attack as a counterpoint to any criticism of terrorism or the governments response to it.

I also have to commend the heroism of the people on the scene. Not only did they capture the suspect they managed to capture them alive. Considering the circumstances, that was no small feat and it is impressive that they were able to resist the urge to dispense street justice to the suspect. I am not sure if I would have been so restrained. Either way though, I always respect people that put their lives on the line to defend others.

That being said, this was a sad but predictable outcome of the UK's recent problems with terrorism and Islam in general. The attacks that have rocked the UK have been terrible and I was frankly expecting some kind of blowback against Islam after the Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge attacks. Not to mention the non-terror related issues that the Muslim community have been involved in in the UK, like the Rotherham scandal. Indeed, I am amazed that it took this long for something like this to happen.

Why? Because, to the average person on the street, the UK government isn't doing a thing to prevent those problems. The message that the UK government has been sending is that these incidents are just part and parcel of living in the modern world and that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. Their main public response seems to have been to crack down on critics of Islam instead of bringing radicals to justice. They preach unity and togetherness but never responsibility and vigilance and have gone so far as to charge people with crimes for expressing their anger with the situation. I am sure that the UK is actually working hard to find and arrest the threats, but the public message seems to be that "Muslims are fine no matter what and anyone that objects to the murder of children is racist and is also going to be arrested".

When the government message is that is it any surprise that someone decided to take things into their own hands? We don't know the background of the attacker but I am guessing that he felt that nothing was being done to prevent these terror attacks and all the other problems caused by the lack of integration of Muslims in the UK and that somebody had to do something. He obviously chose the wrong thing to do by targeting people that are almost certainly completely innocent, but when the government doesn't seem to care that the people they are required to protect are getting murdered, is it even a surprise?

And this is what I am so afraid of. The UK and Europe might be heading into a death spiral of terror attacks. A cycle of revenge could be forming that could destroy the whole continent. Until now the people of Europe have had a tremendous amount of restraint but if the pace of terror attacks continues, there will be more reprisal attacks like this one. You can only push people so far before they start to push back. Remember, the Manchester bombing targeted children and so did the Rotherham rape/human trafficking gang. Once kids are being killed, all bets are off the table. Reprisal attacks were almost a given. Those reprisal attacks will further enrage radical Muslims and may push the moderates into the arms of the radicals. Actions like the terror attack today in London could actually radicalize peopl. If this tit for tat cycle goes on for long enough then it will be civil war. This is, of course, what groups like ISIS want.

Can that be avoided at this point? I am not sure it is even possible anymore. Even if the UK changed course and somehow came up with the perfect plan, it would still take a lot of time and effort to implement it. And in the meantime there will be more attacks and counter attacks. And I have seen no indication that the UK will take the steps I think that they need to take.

What are those steps? Here's a short list:

-Acknowledge that though there are many hundreds of millions and even perhaps billions of normal to good Muslims in the world, there is a major portion of the religion that is violent and dangerous. Not all Muslims are bad, but it's completely stupid to think all of them are good as well. This should be so obvious that it shouldn't be uncontroversial but to say it out loud makes you a "racist" in the United States and a criminal in Europe.

-Make it very clear to the public that the government cares about what happens to all of their people. All so often the press and the government goes on and on about the backlash against Muslims, which in this case was finally justified. In the vast majority of cases though, the backlash against a terror attack isn't anywhere near as bad as the actual terrorist attack. Yes it is terrible when an innocent Muslim gets yelled at for something they had nothing to do with, but it is way worse to be killed or injured in a terror attack. We should condemn the people that actually kill and not the people that are just angry and need reassurance that their lives matter. (This obviously also counts in reverse. The UK government should and probably will offer that reassurance to the Muslim community. The fact that they won't do so for everyone else is the problem)

-Don't crack down on free speech for anyone. Trying to make an idea forbidden is a great way to grow that idea. You can't stop people from thinking things that are inconvenient to you, no matter how much you try. Doing so will just increase the appeal of the idea, especially when the idea is that different people are being treated differently by the government. Let people express their anger so they can deal with it in a healthier way. Anything short of actual incitement to violence should be allowed.

-Provide a counterargument that isn't just faux unity drivel. "We are better than the terrorists" is way better than "we are all united against terrorism, but by the way white people suck and there is nothing we can do about terrorism anyways".

-Make sure to both parties understand that the cycle of revenge is a fools game and one that can destroy everything.

Will any of that happen? I sincerely doubt it. And as more terror attacks happen I am guessing that more people will be fed up with the perceived lack of action and even basic acknowledgement of the problem and there will be more reprisal attacks. Sooner or later the cycle of revenge will turn into actual war. I have thought for years that his would happen in Europe after the massive migration waves and it seems that it may be coming to pass if the trend started by this attack continues. The reaction to this attack and the attacks that I am sure will come will likely be the new status quo. Let's just hope that somehow the United States doesn't fall into the same trap...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Editor's note

I've been fairly busy this weekend and I don't expect any new posts until Monday. It's been a fairly slow news weekend anyways, but I will be away from my computer for much of the day so if something big breaks expect a post from me tomorrow.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Iran's goal in Iraq and Syria? A highway to Lebanon.

An Iranian militiaman firing a cannon against ISIS targets in the Iraqi town of Ba'aj. Reuters.

Iran war plans in Syria and Iraq include a highway that would like up Iran with Lebanon. The Guardian. Iranian backed militias are advancing in both Syria and Iraq in an effort to link up and construct a major highway that would give Iran ground access to Lebanon. They have already taken the city of al-Ba'aj in Iraq to further this goal and construction has begun on the road. Much work is yet to be done as ISIS still controls the two final hubs for the highway, Deir ez Zor and Mayedin in Syria. This effort has led to conflict with US backed forces in Syria who are also trying to advance to the two cities in the hub. Near the site of those clashes, between al-Tanf and Deir ez Zor, forces of the Syrian militias met up with the Iranian forces from Iraq. The connection between the forces is a major new step in the war, and one that will have consequences for the future. 

My Comment:
This is Iran's major power play in the region, and I am surprised at myself that I didn't realize it until now. Creating this land route between Tehran and Beirut must have been a major goal for the Iranians for the entire war and I just didn't realize it until now. And it looks like they are almost successful. It should have been obvious though. Logistics wins war and this looks like a very good way for Iran to shore up their logistics in the region. 

From what it looks like now it seems that Iran already has a potential route between its borders and Lebanon. It's a longer route but it seems as though using Iraqi Highway 1 all the way to the Syrian border and then following Syrian Highway 2 they could almost get to Damsacus. The main problem seems to be the rebels control much of the area by the al-Tanf crossing, and those rebels have US support. 

This explains why the Iranian militias are harassing US backed forces in the area. Their goal is to drive them out of the border area so they can link up both their forces and then move up Mayedin and Deir ez Zor.  By doing so they could potentially open up the longer southern route and get closer to accomplishing their larger goal of opening up the northern route that runs through those two cities. 

So what does Iran gain from this? In the short term they throw a massive monkey wrench into US plans in the region. Our plan was to drive from the north using the same areas that these Shiite militias now occupy. If Iran can block our forces they can  get all the prestige and accolades that taking out ISIS's last remaining strongholds. Doing so would not only be a major punch in the gun to the United States, it would also humble Iran's Russian and Syrian allies in the region. It would make them an even more powerful player in the region if they were the ones that finally took out ISIS, and, even more so, managed to keep America from accomplishing that goal. Letting Iran, or their proxies, be the ones to defeat the main stronghold of ISIS would be a huge loss of face for the United States.

Having a land route, either the northern one or southern one would also have an obvious impact on logistics. Right now Iran is forced to either fly their weapons and reinforcements, or use ships. Having a highway would mean they could move supplies and troops over land with trucks, which would be more efficient than air travel and quicker than by sea. This would allow them to make an immediate impact on the war against ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria.  

Long term though I feel this highway is more a threat to Israel than anything else. By creating controlled and safe highway between Iran and Lebanon, Iran can send weapons, money and support to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon. They could even deploy heavier weapons in the region as well. This highway, if allowed to completion, could represent a dagger aimed at the throat of Israel, especially if Iran wanted to deploy WMD's. 

So what do we do about this? My guess is that the three minor skirmishes between our rebel groups and the Iranian backed militias will likely be the beginning. We probably won't allow Iran to have the southern route to reinforce and resupply their forces. Longer term we will likely have to push very hard with the Kurds in the North and the rebels in the South to capture, at the very least, Mayedin. If we were to hold onto al-Tanf in the south and Mayedin in the North, we would completely destroy Iran's plans here. Everywhere else would have to either go through us or the Kurds, who aren't likely to cooperate with the Shiite militias since they are mostly Sunni Muslims.

The question is if we will have to will to do so. Driving to Mayedin and, even worse, Deir ez Zor, would involve attacking these militia groups. Doing so might enrage the Syrians who have only survived because the fact that Iran is backing them, especially if we move on Deir ez Zor which is partially held by Syria. It could also potentially anger the Russians who have their own goals in the region. It will be interesting, to say the least, to find out what our leadership decides to do... 

If we decide to do nothing, then perhaps the Israelis will do something themselves. Though they have no easy way to deploy troops, they could potentially violate Syrian air space to bomb these highways if and when they got built/captured. Doing so would be a major escalation but I don't think they will tolerate the increase of threat and influence this project represents... 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Video shows the Alexandria attack on Republican lawmakers.

 The above video shows the mass shooting targeting Republican lawmakers in Alexandria Virginia. It contains graphic content and language so don't watch if you are sensitive to such things. A few thoughts about the video:

 1. Though I am impressed that the person that took the video was able to do so with such clarity, he really should have realized that concealment does not equal cover. He hid behind a small metal trash bin that looks like it wouldn't be strong enough to deflect a bullet. It might have been the best cover available, but he probably should have found a better spot. Considering that some of the shots seemed like they came rather close to the witness, he may have lucked out.

 2. It is very unclear what the suspect was even aiming at. It seems that everyone that got injured did so during the initial volley of fire. After that he seems to be just shooting at nothing in particular. It could just be where the video is being recorded from but I really couldn't tell who he was shooting at. 

3. Some people have been critical of the protection detail for Steve Scalise after seeing this video. They say that they should have opened fire earlier. I disagree. With the suspect firing wildly and most of the victims of the attack in decent cover, waiting for him to run out of ammo for his rifle was probably the right move. 

4. Speaking of the rifle James Hodgkinson used, it still hasn't been revealed which rifle he used. Rand Paul said it might have been an AR-15. Other outlets said it was a "M-4" which is extremely unlikely due to them being military weapons and fully automatic, which wasn't used in the shooting. Still others have said it might have been a Kalashnikov (AK47). Finally, Fox Business News said it was an SKS rifle. I am certainly no expert on firearms but I do believe that I would recognize an AR-15 or M-4. They have a bit higher pitch popping sound than the rifle used in the attack. To me it sounds deeper and that would make the SKS more likely. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mass shooting targeting Republican members of congress, injuring 4.

The scene of the shooting. Reuters. 

A mass shooting targeting Republican members of Congress has injured four and ended with the death of the shooter. Reuters. The attack occurred at a practice for a bipartisan charity baseball game. The suspect, James Hodgkinson, of Illinois, approached Jeff Duncan (R, South Carolina) and asked him if the practice was for the Democrats or Republicans and when he was told that it was the Republicans he returned to his vehicle and opened fire. He injured Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who remains in critical condition, a congressional aide, a former congressional aide and a Capital Police Officer. The Capital Police, who was part of Scalise's security detail shot the suspect, even after being injured, who later died in the hospital. 

The suspect was a Bernie Sanders supporter who had a very large social media presence. He was members of Facebook groups critical of President Trump and the Republican Party. Some of these groups include "The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans," "Terminate The Republican Party," and "Donald Trump is not my President". For their part, the Democratic Party and Bernie Sanders have denounced the attack. 

My Comment:
I am late on this story, but when I heard the news this morning I was in no condition to write up anything. This news story has made me more mad than any other news event in recent history. Even the Paris attacks, the Nice attack or the Pulse shooting didn't result in such an emotional response. I was enraged and I decided that it would be better to wait to write something up after I had calmed down and more information was available. 

At the time I suspected that this was an attack by someone on the left done for political reasons. It turns out I was right. The suspect, James Hodgkinson was a Bernie Sanders supporter and had a very large social media presence filled with anti-Trump and anti-Republican propaganda. It's very clear that this was, if not a direct assassination attempt, a politically motivated attack. Hodgkinson hated Republicans and those of us on the right politically. 

I consider this to be a terrorist attack. This attack fits the classic definition of terrorism. His goal was to silence people on the right and he did so doing violence. Terrorism isn't just something that radical Muslims do, people of all political stripes do so. The far left has a long history of political violence and terrorism and this is just the latest example. 

I also think that the mainstream media and the Democratic party has some responsibility here. The suspect was radicalized by the social media bubble he was in. He was a fan of leftist pundits like Rachel Madow and John Oliver and member of Facebook anti-GOP groups. I have no doubt that he never heard anyone that ever had anything good to say about Republicans.

The left has very openly suggested that it is ok to attack Republicans. Not all of them do but enough that it is making an impact. They have called Donald Trump and Republicans "literally Hitler" long enough that people actually started to believe it. They have encouraged violent groups, like Antifa and Black Lives Matter to attack Republicans. They have suggested that the election that resulted in President Trump was not legitimate and completely falsely implied that he was in collusion with the Russians, literally accusing him of treason. 

And they have even begun to suggest that assassination is an acceptable political tool. Remember, last week we were talking about how Kathy Griffin had held up a fake decapitated head of our President. Her defense was that she was the one under attack, unjustly, after pretending to assassinate the President of the United States. Plus there was the New York production of Julius Caesar that cast Trump as Caesar and then showed him being killed. Though I do respect free speech, it seemed that the message in all these cases was "it's ok to assassinate Republicans because Trump is mean". That's a message that I won't ever defend. 

Is it any wonder that someone caught up in this propaganda picked up a gun and tried to murder a bunch of Republicans? When you convince someone that one party is the party of evil, is it any surprise that they try to take action against them? When you pretend to assassinate Republican politicians, is it any surprise that anyone attempts it? 

For their part, the Democratic Party has denounced this attack. Bernie Sanders himself seemed fairly disgusted with this and many Democratic members of Congress joined the bipartisan condemnation. I think in some cases that condemnation is genuine, and in some cases it isn't. I won't speculate on who falls into which category but I will say that there are voices in the Democratic Party that wanted something like this to happen. Do I think they are responsible for this attack? Not directly, but I do think that the rhetoric probably contributed to Hodgkinson doing what he did. But I don't blame the entire party for this attack and I am happy that the powers that be are finally condemning violence. 

Does the right deserve any blame for this attack? I don't think so. Most of us on the right have been speaking out against political violence for quite some time. Indeed, that's one of the reasons I decided to openly support candidate Donald Trump. I was sick of the political violence targeting him and his supporters. We have very loudly condemned the actions of Black Lives Matter and Antifa and warned that the rhetoric coming out of the left could result in this kind of violence. 

Sure there are voices on the right that are unhinged. I don't really remember too many of them preaching violence though. We do have nutjobs like Richard Spencer, but I don't think even he has suggested violence, and if he has the fact that I haven't heard about it is evidence of the difference. On the right we don't have influential voices like Kathy Giffin or Madonna calling for violence. Everyone that has is already marginalized to the point of obscurity. 

There is a chance that this attack could reignite the gun control debate. It's too early to speculate how Hodgkinson got his weapons, but he probably passed his background check. Background checks don't do anything to stop mass shootings. Period. 

But I doubt the gun control movement will get any converts from this attack. Listening to the news today and the common theme from the GOP politicians is that they wish they had been armed. And you are never going to convince Republicans to give up their weapons when people on the left are shooting them. It just isn't going to happen. Hell, I'm worried that my handgun isn't enough to defend myself anymore and I am considering buying a rifle for self defense. I've publicly stated my support of the President and I think that I could be a target too. If so, I'd like to be prepared. 

I also have to point out that despite the fact that the gunman had a high powered rifle and the cops only had pistols, the only person to die in this attack was the shooter. It goes to show that just being armed with a gun doesn't mean that you will kill a bunch of people. The suspect was apparently a bad shot and might have been further handicapped by his old age. The well trained and heroic Capital Police officers were able to stop this attack with just pistols, showing the importance of training and expertise. 

I think this attack will be a turning point. The question is what kind of turning point it will be. On the one hand this might finally be the thing that stops the left from demonizing the right. People might finally realize that things have gotten too far and that they should distance themselves from the radical voices on the left. Pundits that are responsible for this radicalization could lose their jobs and people calling for violence will be loudly condemned. 

But I am not that hopeful. Indeed, I think things will just get worse. There will likely be more copycat attacks targeting Republicans. The pundits and blue checkmarks on Twitter will double down on their rhetoric and will be embolden, not humbled. Groups like Antifa and Black Lives Matter will still have their views and actions tolerated. 

Why am I so pessimistic? Because we have seen this kind of thing before. We have had massive terrorist attacks caused by ISIS, including the Pulse nightclub shooting, and it did nothing to convince the left that radical Islam is a major problem. We had multiple attacks targeting police officers due to Black Lives Matter and nothing changed there either. And nothing will change of this attack as well. 

What I do fear is that we could be heading to a cycle of revenge. I fear more attacks from the left and possible retaliation attacks from the right. If that happens then it could be civil war. Folks, I shouldn't have to say that would be a horrible thing and it should be something that we avoid at all costs. I think people on the right and the left need to get together now and denounce political violence and those who support it. We don't have a choice anymore... 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

As ISIS's de facto capital of Raqqa comes under siege, the last stand for ISIS will likely be in Deir ez Zor

An ISIS photo of Raqqa. Via Washington Times

As ISIS's de facto capital in Syria, Raqqa, comes under seige, the final battle against ISIS will likely happen in Deir ez Zor. Washington Times. As US backed Kurdish and rebel forces have advanced to the gates of Raqqa, most of the ISIS leadership have fled to the contested city of Deir ez Zor and other cities and towns in the Euphrates river valley. The exodus began last may as it became clear that Raqqa would soon be under threat of being captured. US attempts to speed up the offensive to contain and destroy ISIS leadership failed due to tensions between the US and Turkey about arming Kurdish fighters. With Raqqa no longer the main ISIS base, it is now a race between the Syrian government and US allies to capture Deir ez Zor. 

My Comment:
A good article from the Washington Times detailing the current situation in Syria. They also talked about the high tensions between the United States and Iran in Syria. While it appears that both Russia and Syria are abiding by our deconflictation zone, it's very clear that the Iranians do not care at all. The Iranian backed militias are massing near Tanf, which was supposed to be where US backed forces would launch their attacks on Dier ez Zor.

That attack seems less and less likely every day now. Iranian forces are swarming the area and more will likely join after Mosul falls in Iraq. Though the idea of these former rebels taking up arms and defeating ISIS in Deir ez Zor was always a bit of a pipe dream, I seriously doubt that they will be able to advance towards Raqqa. Indeed, it almost looks like the Kurds are in better position to do so. The worry now is less about if they can advance, but if they can survive at all.  

The question of what to do with the rebels in al-Tanf is a serious one. It's pretty clear that the Iranians want them destroyed and that the Russians and Syrians can't control those militias. Our special forces deployed there are at risk from these militias and we have to wonder if it might not be a good idea to just evacuate everyone and admit that we aren't going to be able to use al-Tanf as a long term base. 

I also find the plans for attacking Dier ez Zor as rather pointless anyways. The Syrian government has had control of the airfield and parts of the city for quite some time and have never entirely lost their hold on the area. They have survived the siege their for years and it would make sense for the Syrian government to make the relief of those forces trapped their a number one priority. It makes much more sense for them to be the ones to lead the offensive. 

Unfortunately for the Syrians, they also have major problems. Their rear flank is still threatened by al-Nusra and the few surviving elements of the Free Syrian Army. Most of Idlib province is still under their control and there are a few rebels left in the Damascus area. Even if those pockets of resistance were dealt with, they still have quite a bit of territory to capture between Palmyra and Deir ez Zor. 

With zero hopes of a quick victory in Deir ez Zor for both the US backed southern rebels and the Syrian regime, is there any other force that can take the city? I think there are two other options. The first is the Kurds. Though the Kurds are fairly far away from Dier ez Zor as well, they have been advancing south quite a bit. I personally thought they never would have ventured as far south as Raqqa, but they have, so perhaps they will advance as far south as Deir ez Zor. Using them would further enrage the Turks but at this point that's more of a benefit than a downside. 

The problem with using the Kurds is that the battle plan rests on them capturing Raqqa fairly quickly. Though I have been surprised at how fast the Kurds have advanced to the gates of Raqqa, it seems foolish to claim, as many news outlets have been, that the battle will be over soon. They said the same thing about the battle of Mosul when it began... almost 9 months ago. It's true that Mosul is much bigger than Raqqa and that many fighters have abandoned Raqqa, but I doubt it will be a week long operation like some media outlets are claiming. 

The other force I could see taking Deir ez Zor are those very same Iranian backed militias that are blocking the US backed rebels. They will soon have the backing of hundreds or thousands of fresh troops from Iraq as Mosul falls. Though there are still wide swaths of territory left in Iraq besides Mosul, the main battles against ISIS will not be there. There is little reason for those militias to stay in Iraq after Mosul and I bet that they will throw themselves into the battle against ISIS in Syria. 

Of all the options possible in the final battle against ISIS, the Shiite militias are probably the worst choice. If they are the ones to liberate Deir ez Zor, expect a bloodbath. While it is somewhat understandable that the Iranian backed militias would want revenge after ISIS's genocidal campaign against Shia Muslims, there are, presumably, some innocent Sunnis left in areas controlled by ISIS. If the Shiite Militias are the ones to recapture those areas, don't bet on there being any left afterwards. 

The bigger question is what happens after ISIS loses its last major outposts in Syria and Iraq. Much of the leadership is likely to die, but I am guessing there will be thousands of fighters that will flee and escape to the wider world. Many of the foreign fighters will try to return to their home countries and cause chaos. The remaining Syrian and Iraqi members will likely go under ground and operate as a more traditional terrorist organization, awaiting the opportunity to take and hold territory again. 

They will have plenty of places outside of Syria and Iraq to go to. ISIS has several backup enclaves where they can flee. In Egypt, they control parts of the Sinai peninsula. They have a small enclave in Yemen. Though they have been greatly reduced in Libya and had their main base of power there destroyed, but they still have cells operating in the country. Afghanistan as well has a major ISIS enclave, despite US airstrikes against them. Most concerning, they have stepped up their presence in The Philippines, where the battle of Marawi City continues to rage. All of these places will likely accept fleeing fighters and perhaps even their leadership. 

Even with the destruction and liberation of ISIS's main holdings, they will not go quietly into the night. They will continue to fight, even as their leadership dies and their capabilities wane. They are a major threat and we can't just expect them to go away... 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Megyn Kelly is getting crucified for interviewing Alex Jones

Megyn Kelly. AP.

NBC and Megyn Kelly are facing a massive backlash for having famous conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on her new program. USA Today. Twitter users have bashed Kelly for "giving a platform" to Jones. Jones is famous for his conspiracy theories, including questioning 9/11, calling the Pulse nightclub shooting a "false flag" and saying that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered. However, most of the outrage was directed at the fact that Jones has stated that the Sandy Hook shooting was faked. Kelly defended the interview by saying that Jones is an important media figure and has a White House press pass and has had President Donald Trump on his program. 

My Comment:
This is fairly hilarious and a very good example on how much has changed in just a few years. I remember back when Sandy Hook happened and leftist supporters were always very happy to have Alex Jones on their shows. Back then I claimed that it was a deliberate attempt to make gun rights supporters look nuts and discredit any arguments for gun control. By booking a conspiracy theorist they implied that all gun rights supporters were like Jones and believed the same dumb things he does. The most notable of these programs was Piers Morgan. Jones went on his program and went nuts, famously claiming that "the solution to 1984 is 1776". I'd link to the video but it was on CNN and I won't support them. The video is easy enough to find though.

(As an aside, hilariously enough, both Jones and Morgan now publicly support President Trump.)

It seems as though the left can't even do that anymore. I don't believe for a second that the Megyn Kelly interview was nothing but a smear piece both on Alex Jones and Donald Trump. Though Alex Jones doesn't have all that much of a reputation to hurt, he is quite possibly the most eccentric and strange Donald Trump supporter and the fact that Trump at least tolerates him could potentially damage him.

Indeed, back when the "Deplorables" controversy happened I said that the only damaging thing about the image was not the fact that Pepe the Frog was there, but the fact that Alex Jones was. He is an extremely controversial person and he is certainly worthy of criticism. I personally am far more offended by his 9/11 conspiracy theories than anything else, but other people have different priorities. I can certainly understand why some people are outraged by him. I personally view him closer to the crazy uncle that spouts stupid things but has some strange charm, but he doesn't have much in the way of credibility.

I tend to agree with Megyn Kelly's argument. Alex Jones is certainly newsworthy and is someone that should be examined. He's got a huge audience and is a major influence in conservative thought. He was one of the few people that were all in with Donald Trump from the beginning and now his news organization, Infowars, has a press pass. I don't want to overstate his influence, but given how close the election was, I am not sure if Trump would be president if it wasn't for Alex Jones. All of these things mean that he is worthy of coverage.

So why is Kelly getting so much flack for this? Well I think it has a lot to do with the tit for tat outrage games that are currently going on. The left and right have been going after each other for years but now people are trying to hit each other where it hurts. The pocketbook. People have been going after advertisers whenever they do things that disagree with. These boycott campaigns started with Gamergate and have expanded to the mainstream.

Lately the right has been winning the outrage games, for at least the last couple of weeks. We have gotten rid of Kathy Griffin after she held up a decapitated head that resembled the president. We also went after admitted cannibal and former CNN host Reza Aslan after he called the president a "piece of shit" and got him fired from CNN. Finally, we have gotten some of the advertisers of a play of Julius Caesar that had someone resembling Trump murdered. I personally was disgusted by all of those things and I am not surprised that there was outrage, but it is surprising that the right has been able to pull this off. In the past we were always the victims of these attacks, and never the perpetrators.

The left needs some scalps now too and it doesn't seem to matter who's scalp it is. It doesn't matter that this report was likely to be biased against Jones and President Trump. It doesn't matter that Kelly was supposed to be the new NBC Golden Girl. It doesn't matter that Kelly hit Donald Trump very hard during the presidential campaign. All that matters is that by giving Jones even a hint of credibility makes her just as guilty as him in the eyes of the extreme left. By their logic, only someone on the right would give someone on the right a platform. By interviewing Jones, she's getting lumped in with the right.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I have to think it's fairly funny that the left turned on Megyn Kelly so quickly. She's hardly been on NBC at all and she is already facing all this backlash. It seems that her career would have done better if she had just supported Trump and stayed at Fox News. I personally dislike the fact that she tends to make her news stories all about her and not about the actual news. In short, I am not a fan and don't really feel sorry for her.

On the other, I do think that this cycle of outrage spirals and boycott movements is highly damaging. And I think that despite all the apt and fair criticism that Kelly deserves, interviewing Alex Jones is not one of them at all. I do think that people should be able to express themselves freely without worry of losing their jobs. I am, of course, worried that someday I'm going to be in Kelly's position. She didn't really do anything wrong here, other than being a typical MSM shill, and if it can happen for her for simply talking to someone with separate beliefs, it can happen to me as well...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dianne Feinstein calls for an investigation into Obama Admin's Attorney General Loretta Lynch covering for Hillary Clinton.

Dianne Feinstein. AP

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D, California) has called for an investigation into former Obama Administration Attorney General Loretta Lynch's actions in the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. Politico.  Feinstein was referring to former FBI Director James Comey's testimony where he was told by Lynch that he should call the e-mail investigation a "matter" rather than in investigation. Feinstein said that Comey was correct in feeling "queasy" about that and that the Judaical Committee should look into the accusation. She also said that any investigation into Lynch should be separate from the Trump/Russia investigation. 

My Comment:
While the left focused on Jim Comey's personal opinion on the president, the biggest thing to come out of the Comey testimony by far was the fact that he claimed that Loretta Lynch pressured him to downplay the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. That was shocking and showed quite a bit of malfeasance on the part of the Justice Department. 

Indeed, one of the reasons James Comey made his highly unusual move to explain why he was dropping the case against Clinton after Loretta Lynch had her infamous tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton just days before  Though I don't trust Comey's motives in the case, it's clear that at the very least the tarmac meeting looked corrupt as hell. I personally think that Comey used that speech to provide further cover for Hillary Clinton, but it is possible that he legitimately understood that he had to do something to make it look like there was some manor of justice going on. 

It seems very clear to me that the investigation into Hillary Clinton was mishandled from the start. Her actions were, at the very least, criminal. Comey's rational that she didn't intend to break the law did not matter at all, the laws she broke don't require intent. The only reason she didn't get charged is because of who she was. 

But even more concerning than Clinton's actions were the Obama administration's interference with the case. The tarmac meeting between Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton was at the very least a huge break of protocol. That's the most charitable interpretation. Much more likely is that Bill Clinton confirmed that Hillary would be keeping Lynch on when she won the presidency but only if she made the e-mail investigation end. Comey knew this and knew that if he recommended charges he would be out as FBI director and nothing would come from it because Lynch wouldn't charge anyone. 

I will leave how much of this is legal and how much of it isn't an exercise to the reader. Even if it was legal though, and the quid pro quo between Lynch and Clinton would not be under any circumstances, it would be a huge scandal that could greatly damage the Democratic Party. Even more than the various Hillary Clinton scandals have already hurt the party.

Enter Dianne Feinstein. I am no fan of her, but it seems she understands what's about to happen. More evidence of collusion and impropriety will come out and he needs to tamp down on it before it destroys her party. She understands that she needs to distance herself and her party from not only Hillary Clinton but the very worst parts of the Obama Administration as well. 

Opening an investigation into Lynch will give the Democratic Party some much needed credibility. Doing it now before the rest of the bad information gets out not only helps Dianne Feinstein personally, it also starts the process of distancing the party away from the Clinton and Obama families and could give them a chance to reform the party into something that can actually win elections. 

I also think that doing this shows that there really is more evidence of malfeasance under the Obama Administration. Remember that Feinstein is part of the "Gang of Eight" bipartisan congressional group that is briefed on intelligence matters by the Executive Branch, not to be confused with the immigration Gang of Eight. As a member of the Gang of Eight, I am guessing Feinstein has seen more evidence than the average person on the street on the Democratic Party. Freinstein has been relatively quiet compared to other Democratic leaders with the Russian investigation and I think her comparative silence is due to being provided evidence of something terrible. 

Most likely, she has been shown evidence that Lynch was the one that ordered the unmasking of Donald Trump and his associates. That unmasking was based on the phony "pissgate" dossier and the unmasking was most likely illegal. Feinstein knows that information is going to come out and when it does, there will be hell to pay. But now when it does she can say that, at the very least, she was concerned about Loretta Lynch. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

President Trump calls on Qatar to stop funding terrorism.

President Donald Trump has called on Qatar to stop funding terrorism, taking sides in a major diplomatic row with other Gulf States. NBC. Trump accused Qatar of funding terrorism at a "very high level" during a press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that though the Emir of Qatar had made some progress and that the Gulf States should ease their blockade, he had a long way to go in expelling terrorists. Trump also said that he hopes that the situation can be resolved swiftly. The Untied States has a large air base in Qatar and though short term missions haven't been effected so far, longer term missions are. 

My Comment:
I haven't covered the Qatar diplomatic row yet. There has just been too much terrorism happening this week. For once though there have been a couple of days with no major terror attacks so I can finally cover something else. 

Officially, the row is based on Qatar's support of terrorism. That is justified because Qatar has been sponsoring terrorism in both Syria and Iraq. Not only has the government itself been caught red handed giving arms and money to terrorists, members of the royal family has as well. Qatar has been funding terrorists for quite some time. 

Is it hypocritical for them to be attacking Qatar for this? Of course! Most of the Gulf States have their fingers in the various terror groups rampaging across Syria and Iraq right now. Saudi Arabia itself is a major offender itself, so it's not really in a position to complain. Indeed, there is evidence that some minor members of the Saudi Royal family provided some limited support to the 9/11 terrorists. 

Our government isn't innocent either. Leaked documents have shown that Hillary Clinton at least knew at the very least that Qatar and the Saudis were funding ISIS. The Obama admin also knew that some of the weapons that they were giving to rebel groups in Syria were ending up in terrorist hands. And often the rebel groups that we did support were little better than the groups like ISIS and al-Nusra they were fighting. Some of the troops we supported were actually working with al-Nusra directly! 

Still, this is a positive move. It seems as though the Gulf States are turning over a new leaf when it comes to terrorism. There looks like there is a genuine reform element in Sunni Islam that is being led by Egyptian president Abd Fattah al-Sisi. Along with the new king of Saudi Arabia, Salman, they have been making moves to reform the religion and reject the violence and evil that have come to dominate the Sunni branch. I support this reform movement and I am happy that Trump is supporting it. I hope that they are able to purge the elements in their own countries that support terrorism, but if they must start with Qatar first, I support it. 

Of course, rejection of terrorism isn't the only reason Qatar got isolated. Many people have cited news reports that hackers aired on Qatari media that showed the government praising Iran. Iran and the Gulf States are in a cold war, complete with a proxy war in Yemen. It all comes down to the differences between Sunni Islam and Shiite and the race to dominate Islam. The Gulf States could not risk any perception that Qatar is falling into the Iranian sphere of influence. 

There is also the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic extremist political organization that has been designated a terrorist organization by the UAE, had on Qatar. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood government fled to Qatar after being replaced by al-Sisi. This sparked a similar diplomatic row a couple of years ago. Qatar eventually caved and expelled the Brotherhood from their country. Turkey granted them asylum and allowed them to enter their country, but many in the region have not forgiven them for the insult. 

Speaking of Turkey, they have been the only major state to back the Qataris in this conflict. It seems pretty clear that their is a rift in Sunni Islam opening up. On one side is the Saudis, Egyptians and all the other states that support this blockade. On the other is the states of Qatar and Turkey. One side wants reform of Islam, the other supports it's more extreme elements. I am glad that for once our government is supporting the reformers... 

How will it end? I am guessing that Qatar will have to back down. Even though they have the support of the Turks and have a large US base in their country that would deter a war, the land blockade has been hell on their economy. They have been isolated by land and can only get supplies via the ocean or by the air. That isn't sustainable, so unless something changes, they will have to back down..  

Thursday, June 8, 2017

As the battle comes to a conclusion, ISIS steps up war crimes in Mosul.

Western Mosul. AFP. 

ISIS has killed at least 231 civilians who were attempting to flee the battle in Mosul, Iraq. BBC. At least 204 have been shot, which the UN calls a "significant increase". There are around 1000 ISIS fighters still trapped in the Old City of Mosul and the surrounding districts. 100,000 civilians are trapped there with them. In one incident last week, 163 civilians were shot near an abandoned Pepsi factory and left unburied. Many of the murdered are people trying to flee to Iraqi front lines and safety. ISIS wants civilians to stay so they can use them as human shields against Iraqi and US airstrikes. 

My Comment:
The Battle of Mosul continues to rage, even though it isn't getting much press. ISIS terror attacks and the various attempts to undermine President Trump are dominating the news right now. What is happening in Mosul is a major story and one that deserves coverage. 

Though ISIS's terrorist attacks have gotten the headlines, the massacres they have committed in Iraq have probably led to more deaths. Though attacks like Manchester, London and Tehran were spectacular, they hardly killed anyone. The attacks on civilians have killed hundreds and I have a feeling that many of the 100,000 civilians still trapped in Mosul won't be making it out. 

The slaughter is nothing new. ISIS has been killing people in Mosul since the beginning of the battle. They have also used civilians as a human shield for the entirety of their existence. It hasn't help them win any battles but it does seem to make the battles last a bit better. The number of killings does seem to be going up though. 

Why? Because ISIS is losing the battle. They have essentially no chance of ever escaping from Mosul. They only control a small patch of the old city and a few of the outlying districts. Beyond that it is a long way to other ISIS controlled territory. Those areas themselves, near Tal-Afar and al-Hawijah are also isolated from the main ISIS forces located in Syria and the Iraqi border. Even if ISIS had the men and desire to relieve Mosul, they would have to cross quite a bit of territory to do so. In short, it's not going to happen. 

With no hope of rescue and reluctant to surrender for ideological reasons, the ISIS fighters left in Mosul will be making their last stand. To do so they need the civilians. Those civilians are a major shield against US and Iraqi airstrikes. Though our new president is less concerned about civilian causalities, reducing them is still a huge priority for the United States. If it wasn't for the 100,000 civilians trapped in Mosul, we could just flatten the cities and then clean up the surviving ISIS fighters. 

With the civilians acting as a human shield, we will have to fight slower and without our heaviest weapons. Airstrikes will have to be used very carefully and heavy artillery can't be used much at all. Fighting will have to be house to house with occasional airstrikes on specific targets. ISIS knows this and that is why they are killing people who flee. Killing the people that flee will encourage the rest to stay, plus it spreads terror to the rest of the world. 

The problem for ISIS is that they are also cut off from food and other supplies. I have heard other reports that people are already on the brink of starvation in Mosul's old city. Though I have no doubt that ISIS fighters are getting first access to food, eventually everyone will run out. People will panic and both ISIS fighters and civilians will try to flee. When that happens the battle will have to end. Either that or everyone starves...

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

New video shows the Notre Dame ISIS attack

Just a quick update to a previous post, video has been released showing the attack on a police officer at Notre Dame in France. The video shows him launching himself from the crowd and attacking a cop before quickly getting shot. The whole attack only lasts a couple of seconds while the rest of the video is background on the incident. There were other youtube channels that had the raw unedited video, but those tend to be taken down for some reason. The Today show wasn't my first choice, but for once NBC's report seemed fair enough to include.

With the release of the video it seems clear that this attacker, first name Farid, was even more of an idiot than I first thought. You can see from the video that he attacked a group of three cops, all of whom are alert. Before he could even strike a second blow with his hammer, one of the other cops put a bullet into him. I said in my previous post that attacking an armed cop with nothing but a melee weapon was a very bad plan. The only thing worse? Attacking multiple cops. I can't believe that he thought this would work.

I also am impressed with how quickly the cop that shot Farid was in ending the situation. He (I'm assuming he was a man, but I guess I shouldn't) had his gun out and firing before the suspect could react. Though I don't like the way he shot the suspect in the leg instead of the chest, it was still an accurate snap shot and I am fairly impressed that he was able to pull it off.

It is surprising that someone as accomplished as a PHD student would try this. While I am not surprised that he pledged his allegiance to ISIS, I am surprised that he wasn't able to come up with a better plan than that. Someone with enough IQ points to make it past grad school should have been able to execute a terror operation that at least kills one person. Still, I am not complaining that this guy was an idiot.

ISIS takes credit for major terror attack on Iran's Parliament

Iranian first responders at the scene. Tasnim News/Reuters. 

At least 12 people are dead in two simultaneous terror attack claimed by ISIS on Iran's Parliament and the shrine dedicated to former ruler Ayatollah Khomeini. Reuters. ISIS has claimed the attack at the seat of Iranian power in Tehran and has released video of the attackers. The attackers at Parliament burst through the main entrance where one was shot dead by security forces and the other detonated his suicide vest. Two other attackers survived and were killed after a possible hostage situation. At the same time two more attackers attacked the shire for Ayatollah Khomeini. One was shot dead but the other one also detonated a suicide vest. A third team of terrorists was reportedly arrested before they could carry out their attack. The attack by ISIS was the first targeting the Shia majority Iran. 

My Comment:
I am no fan of Iran, but this story is extremely disturbing. ISIS was able to attack the very center or Iranian power by attacking Parliament itself. I have long argued that ISIS would eventually start attacking world leaders and politicians, ever since they attacked a soccer stadium were Francois Hollande was attended during the Paris attacks. It seems as though that is what this attack was. A direct attack on Iran and it's leadership. If they can strike at the very heart of Iran, than it is very possible that they can do the same thing in other countries, perhaps even western ones... 

Doubly important is the fact that they attacked the mausoleum of former ruler Ayatollah Khomeini. Though ISIS considers all graves and mausoleums to be a form of ancestor worship and thus blasphemous, that isn't the only reason they targeted it. Doing so was a major insult to the legacy of arguably the most important Iranian to ever live. It is an attack on the history of Iran itself. 

There are multiple reasons for ISIS to target Iran. The first and most obvious reason is that they are Shiite Muslims, for the most part. There are a few Sunni minority groups in the country, but Iran is generally considered to be the leader of the Shiite branch of Islam. ISIS has been targeting Shiite groups for their entire existence since they consider them to be apostates and blasphemers and for that reason alone they would be very interested in attacking Iran. ISIS treats Shiite Muslims even worse that Christians, who are sometimes allowed to live if they pay the Jizya tax. Shiite Muslims aren't given that option. 

Secondly, Iran has sent thousands of troops to fight ISIS in both Iran and Iraq and have trained thousands of Shiite militias to further fight them. They also deployed their terrorist allies in Hezbollah to fight in Syria against ISIS. After the governments of Iran and Syria themselves and the Kurds, the Shiite fighters are perhaps ISIS's most dangerous enemy on the ground and striking a blow against their leadership would be a very important goal for ISIS. 

Finally, ISIS will further inflame tensions between Sunni and Shiite governments in the Middle East. The situation with Qatar, which had devolved into a diplomatic nightmare with many Arab countries cutting ties with the gulf nation, is due in part to Qatar's close connections with Iran. Having a major Sunni led terror attack could inflame already high tensions between the Gulf States. It could even lead to a war, which would relieve much pressure from ISIS and accomplish their goal of causing chaos. This would be a disaster for pretty much everyone else though. 

I am also surprised at how sophisticated this attack was. Though we haven't seen too many deaths, it is clear that this attack was on another level compared to recent terror attacks in Europe. Instead of lone wolves or small cells this one had at least six attackers, with an unknown number in the third terrorist team. They were heavily armed with Kalashnikov's and suicide vests and were able to both hit multiple locations at once and even broadcast some of their attacks. Part of that might have been to the geographical location of Iran, but it just goes to show that ISIS can still pull off attacks with core members of their group. And if they can do it in a country as hostile to them as Iran, they can do it elsewhere.

This is the fourth consecutive post about an ISIS terror attack (the attack in the Philippines probably really was just a lone crazy guy with no connection to radical Islam). Ramadan this year has been very bloody and violent throughout the world. So far we have seen attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, the UK, Australia, France and even a case in Canada that didn't get much coverage, but still injured someone. It is starting to become exhausting and more than a little disheartening to keep having to write about these daily atrocities. 

It's clear that ISIS is doubling down on the attacks during Ramadan and I am worried that America might be next. Last year during Ramadan we had our worst terror attack since 9/11 and the worst mass shooting in American history with the Pulse nightclub shooting. It is very possible that we will see an attack this year as well, which may even exceed that attack in the level of violence. Let's all hope that our intelligence services are up for it... 

Finally, it feels strange to be writing a sympathetic post about Iran, They are, after all, a state sponsor of terrorism and their government is brutal and repressive. Still, I don't think anyone deserves an attack like this so for the moment they have at least a little sympathy. The enemy of my enemy might not be our friend, but I do think that defeating ISIS is a common goal that we share... 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Violence at Notre Dame as an attacker armed with a hammer gets shot by police.

French Police stand by the Notre Dame cathedral. Reuters. 

An attacker armed with a hammer wounded a police officer before getting shot and arrested at the Notre Dame Cathedral. Reuters. The attacker yelled out "This is for Syria!" and held the ID of an Algerian student. French officials have opened an anti-terror investigation and believe the attack worked alone. Nearly 1000 tourists and worshipers were in the Cathedral as the attack happened. The attack is the first under the presidency of Emmanuel Macron and just days before Sunday's parliamentary elections and comes during a streak of attacks in Europe in the past weeks. In response to these attack Macron is likely to extend the state of emergency that France has been under since the Paris attacks. 

My Comment:
Ramadan is once again proving to be incredibly violent. The fact that the last three posts on this blogs are all detailing terrorist attacks means that they are coming almost daily now. Sure, this one and the one in Australia were fairly minor, but it does show that people are taking ISIS's call to attack during the holy month seriously. Things will hopefully calm down again after Ramadan is over but we still have a few weeks to go... 

It's pretty clear that this attack was a failure. Once gain, this attack strikes me as a lone wolf attacker instead of something that was actually planned by ISIS or another terror group. It was at the very lower limit of sophistication and the attacker was so incompetent that he couldn't even obtain a knife. Though the attacker used tactics described in ISIS propaganda, it should have been clear to anyone that it wasn't going to work. 

I shouldn't have to point this out, but attacking an armed police officer or soldier at a tourist site where there are dozens of other armed officers/soldiers while only armed with a melee weapon is not going to be successful. He might have increased his chances by using a blade instead of a hammer (unless it was a war-hammer or something), but even than his chances of actually killing a large number of people was always going to be close to zero.  Indeed, I can think of few worse ways to try and attempt a terror attack. 

I understand the basic plan. Kill or disable the first officer, take his or her gun and then turn that gun on other officers and civilians. It's a terrible plan, especially when it happens at a major tourist site. It might work if these terrorists would target lone cops walking a beat but the reaction time at a tourist site is going to be almost immediate. And even if you manage to take a weapon, unless you are familiar with it, you aren't going to accomplish much. People think that guns are something you can just pick up and use, but at the bare minimum you need to know how to release the safety, reload and clear jams. You aren't going to have time to familiarize yourself with a new weapon while locked in mortal combat with heavily armed and well trained cops and soldiers. 

Despite the obvious flaws in the plan, this kind of attack keeps on happening. I can think of a couple of attacks just in France alone besides the Notre Dame attack where they used this method and failed pretty miserably. In comparison to the London Bridge attack, which had about the same level of sophistication, it's a stupid way to pull off a terror attack. I am fairly happy when one of these attacks is pulled off since it means that the terrorist didn't last long enough to come up with a plan that could actually hurt or kill a large number of people. It's still not good when people are hurt either way, but things could always be worse. 

Still, even though the attack failed miserably and only resulted in two injuries including the suspect, it still succeeded in the goal of terrorizing people. The people inside the Notre Dame Cathedral were probably frightened and worried about surviving and the international press is covering it. More importantly it shows that the pace of attacks isn't going to let up, even if some of them are going to be incompetent. 

As for France, this is the first test of new president Emmanuel Macron. I personally see him as being fairly weak on terrorism, which is not something I would necessarily say about his predecessor, Francois Hollande.  Though Hollande didn't do anything to stop the massive stream of immigrants into his country, at least he had a very strong military response to the Paris attacks and other than the Nice attack, his country's military and police have been fairly effective in responding quickly to these attacks. 

Macron is more of a question mark. He didn't run as being strong on terrorism and he is very far into the "open borders" camp. With this attacker likely being a foreigner, it kind of disproves his ideas on immigration. Though this attack is minor enough for there to be no real response required, I do wonder if he will have the guts to actually do something after a major attack. Still, leftist politicians have occasionally shown backbone when threatened and I don't think we can draw any conclusions until Macron has actually been tested. 

I doubt this attack will have much of an effect on the French parliamentary elections. Unlike the UK, which has had much more severe attacks, one targeting children, and had UK Prime Minster respond to the attack by saying they should further censor the internet, this attack was very minor and the response to it was fine. I also don't really know if terror attacks actually seem to effect the elections. I would have thought that the Paris and Nice attacks alone, not to mention the dozens of other attacks in Europe, would have completely prevented someone with Macron's political stances from being elected. If those attacks didn't change things, than I am not sure anything will...