Tuesday, February 28, 2017

I will be live tweeting President Trump's address to Congress.

As you are probably aware, President Donald Trump is making a speech in front of a joint session of Congress tonight. This is not the State of the Union speech, as the first one is never called that for some reason. I plan to live tweet through most of the speech, just like I did for the debates. My twitter account can be found here. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

ISIS affiliate Abu Sayyaf beheads a German tourist in the Philippines.

German tourists Jurgen Kantner and Sabine Merz. AFP.

ISIS affiliate Abu Sayyaf has beheaded a German tourist in the Philippines. AFP. 70 year old Jergen Kantner was executed by the terror group after no one paid Abu Sayyaf's demand for $600,000. Kantner was abducted from his yacht, the Rockall, in an act of piracy. His wife, Sabine Merz, was left dead in the vessel due to a gunshot wound. Both the German government and the government of the Philippines condemned the attack. The Philippines have been conducting airstrikes against Abu Sayyaf and had attempted to rescue Kantner. Kantner had been abducted by pirates before. In 2008 Somali pirates held him for 58 days before he was released after a ransom was paid. 

My Comment:
Full disclosure, I haven't watch the video. I have no interest in watching another innocent person get murdered by Islamic terrorists and this is no exception. After watching one of ISIS's latest atrocities, where they used a toddler aged child to execute a prisoner, I have decided that watching these kinds of videos probably isn't good for my mental health. I still think the concept of "bearing witness" is still important, but that doesn't mean I am going to watch every single execution. Seeing a 70 year old innocent man get brutally beheaded is not my idea of a good time and not something I really need to see. 

Though I don't like criticizing the dead, I have to wonder what Kantner and Merz were thinking. They knew first hand how dangerous that sailing into pirate infested waters is. You would think that after being captured and held by Somali pirates back in 2008 they would have avoided the very dangerous waters in the Philippines but I guess they didn't. It's not like piracy in the Philippines is new, they are world famous for being among the most dangerous in the world. 

Still, by any standard this was an absolute tragedy. Though perhaps Kantner showed some poor judgement in sailing into pirate infested waters, the ultimate responsibility for his death lies with the terrorists that killed him. I am hoping that these Abu Sayyaf pirate/jihadists are brought to the justice they so richly deserve. 

It's unclear if the government of the Philippines can do so. The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Dutere is, quite frankly, completely nuts. His war on drugs is quite literal and he has been murdering and imprisoning drug dealers and users on a gigantic scale. The man is quite certainly brutal and more than a little mad, but will he fight Abu Sayyaf? 

Well he did say once that he would literally eat ISIS alive and I think he is crazy enough to actually do it. But bravado and crazy statements are one thing and actual action is another. The Philippines has been sending airstrikes and other attacks against Abu Sayyaf but I would prefer it if they gave up or scaled back their war against drugs and hit groups like Abu Sayyaf instead. Either way, destroying Abu Sayyaf has been a difficult task in the best of times. With a crazy president and a major war on drugs, it is only going to be more difficult. 

There is inevitably going to be an argument if someone should have paid Kantner's ransom. If he had been ransomed he would almost certainly be alive right now. The actual ransom amount, 30 million pesos, equivalent to roughly $600,000, is a small amount relatively speaking. And Kantner's 2008 experience where he got his ransom paid shows that if you do pay you have a good chance of being released. 

I think there is a major difference between what happened in Somalia and what happened in the Philippines though. The Somali pirates were mostly just normal criminals that didn't really have any ideology behind their crimes. They attacked vessels and took hostages because they wanted money, not because of politics. 

The kidnapping and murder of Jurgan Kantner was a political crime. Though paying any ransom, be it criminal or political, can encourage more kidnapping, doing so with a terrorist group has other implications. Abu Sayyaf is a brutal terrorist organization who has already conducted the most deadly terror attack in Philippines history. Paying ransom could give Abu Sayyaf the funds they need to pull off another terror attack like the Manila Bay ferry bombing that killed 116 people. Paying for this ransom wasn't politically possible and would be immoral to do so. 

I do have to say that Abu Sayyaf has always been the forgotten ISIS affiliate. Core ISIS, in Syria, Iraq and Libya gets most of the attention and their smaller groups like the Egyptian and Afghani provinces get more attention than Abu Sayyaf. Even Boko Haram, the Nigerian affiliate of ISIS, gets more international attention. With this murder perhaps Abu Sayyaf will gain more attention...  

Saturday, February 25, 2017

My take on the assassination of Kim Jong Nam.

Kim Jong Nam. USA Today.

As you probably know Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was assassinated on February 13th. I've been wanting to post something about the incident for quite some time but until now other things have taken precedent. I finally have a bit more time and here have been some large developments in the case. We now know most of what happened in this case. 

First, and most importantly, Kim Jong Nam was killed by VX. VX is one of the most deadly and dangerous chemical weapons known to mankind. Microscopic amounts are enough to kill someone and it seems that Jong Nam was killed in that way. The use of a chemical agent like this isn't unprecedented but it is extremely unusually and given the high lethality of VX, very disturbing. 

The use of VX tells us quite a few things. Though there have been some exceptions, most notably the Aum Shinrikyo cult who used VX to kill two people and injure a third, VX is usually the domain of nation state level actors. It's not something that a lone wolf could ever manufacture themselves and only someone with the resources of a major government (or a very powerful organization like Aum Shinrikyo) is likely to be able to manufacture it. That means that it was almost certainly the North Koreans. They have a very active chemical weapons program and are known producers of VX. 

Second, the assassination was well planned and professional. The North Koreans hired two women, Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong wiped his face with the chemical precursors for VX. Apart, the chemicals were comparatively harmless but when mixed together it turned into VX and killed Kim Jong Nam. For her role in the assassination, Siti Aisyah was paid the equivalent of $90. 

Siti Aisyah. Police handout via USA Today
Doan Thi Huong. Police handout. 

I think it's pretty clear why the North Koreans used these two women. Both of them are fairly attractive (the picture of Doan Thi Huong is a mugshot but there are social media pictures out there where she looks much better) and look fairly non-threatening. I am guessing that Kim Jong Nam did not see them as a threat and allowed them to approach him. Using women as assassins isn't anything new but it is a very good way to pull off your plan. Especially if you use attractive ones. I am guessing if it had been two men that had done this to Kim Jong Nam, he would have fought back and the plot may even have failed. 

There has been some questions if Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong knew what they were doing or not. Their story is that they thought they were on a television prank show and they had no idea that Kim was going to die from it. The police say they knew exactly what they were doing. I won't pass judgement either way since neither have been convicted yet, but I have to say that even if they did believe that it was "just a prank" it was a pretty awful thing to do. Wiping someone's face with a noxious chemical is battery no matter what and even if they didn't know he was going to die they were essentially paid to attack someone. I have very little sympathy for either of them. 

As for North Korea, this seems like a major escalation with little payoff. Kim Jong Nam had been living in exile for years and was not much of a threat to the regime, though the regime obviously felt differently. At one point he was the heir apparent but back in 2001 he was arrested on a trip to Japan where he wanted to visit Tokyo Disney. This caused him to fall out of favor but the real deathblow is when he said that he wanted some limited reforms. His father, Kim Jong Il, disowned him for that and called him a capitalist. His half brother, Kim Jong Un, the current leader of North Korea, supposedly never actually met Kim Jong Nam due to Korean tradition saying that possible heirs shouldn't interact. Still, it's pretty cold to order the death of your half brother... 

After that, Kim lived in exile and occasionally spoke out about the need for reform in North Korea. That, combined with his extravagant lifestyle and the fact that he was protected by the Chinese was the probable motivation for this attack. The Kim family cannot afford a possible heir outside of their control and as long as Kim Jong Nam lived he was a threat.

But really, wasn't this overkill? I mean a guy with a revolver probably could have done the same thing without anywhere near the attention this story is getting. And they wouldn't even had to kill him publicly. They could have just abducted him and made him disappear. The fact that North Korea did this so publicly and with such flair and arrogance makes me think that this was a message to someone. 

So who was the target of this message? I am guessing the Chinese. China has just recently punished the North Korean's for their various missile tests and this attack by ending their purchases of coal. That is a major deal because China gets a massive amount of coal from North Korea, something like 25 million tons of coal a year. 

From what I understand the concept of "face" is very important in both Chinese and Korean culture. In short, there are social rules of what is acceptable and what isn't and one of the worst things you can do is embarrass someone socially. North Korea had lost face because the Chinese government had criticized them and put pressure on them to stop their nuclear program and missile tests. Not only did that embarrass the North Koreans, it also puts them in a weaker position both nationally and internationally. Remember, North Korea is very dependent on foreign aid for it's very survival. Criticizing them so directly was seen as an attack. 

Not only did the murder of Kim Jong Nam have domestic benefits in terms of security, it also caused the Chinese to lose face. Kim Jong Nam was living in Macau, China. He was protected by the Chinese government, who already prevented other attacks on him. Allowing Kim to die in such a public and spectacular was essentially a middle finger pointed at the Chinese and they threw up one of their own by cutting off North Korea's coal. 

None of this is good news for the stability of the North Korean regime. They are unstable as it is and if they weren't, I doubt they would have attacked Kim Jong Nam in the first place. With China cutting off their coal they are going to lose millions of dollars and this might be enough to push them over the edge. They may lose control of their country, or even worse, declare war in an attempt to take South Korea down with them. I don't think that it is very likely, probably less than 5% chance of it happening. But considering I would have said it had less then 1% chance of happening before this assassination, that is a major change... 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rebels, with Turkish support, take back the Syrian city of al-Bab from ISIS.

Rebel fighters near al-Bab hold a captured ISIS flag. AFP.

Turkish backed rebels have liberated the crucial Syrian city of al-Bab from ISIS. AFP. The rebels and Turkey claimed that the city is under their control with only pockets of ISIS fighters left. Al-Bab was a crucial city for ISIS. Not only did they use it as a base to attack both other parts of Syria and Europe itself, it was stationed on the critical road between Aleppo and the Turkish border. ISIS was able to collect taxes from those fleeing the war. Turkey, who lost several soldiers in the battle, wanted to secure al-Bab, not only to hurt ISIS, but to prevent the Kurds from taking the city. If the Kurds had they would have joined their western and eastern enclaves, which will now remain separated. It is unclear if Turkey will continue their offensive, but if they do the next likely targets are the Kurdish controlled city of Manbij or ISIS's capital of Raqqa. 

My Comment:
This is another huge defeat for ISIS. Losing al-Bab is critical. The city was hugely important strategically and lies on a critical highway. Not only was it a major staging area for ISIS attacks throughout the region it was a tax base for them as well. Since ISIS is already suffering economically, it can ill afford to lose the income that al-Bab generated. 

It's important to not understate how important the tax base from al-Bab was. Not only was ISIS taxing the population of al-Bab itself they were also taxing every single vehicle and person that passed through the city. Since al-Bab was and is the main route out of Syria from Aleppo. Though the battle there is over, it still remains a critical route for refugees and general travel. Losing that income will hurt ISIS greatly. 

The defeat is just the latest for ISIS. They have had a string of them lately with al-Bab being one of the largest. They lost the northern half of Mosul in Iraq and have lost several cities in Syria as well. Indeed, the only success ISIS has had lately at all was in south central Syria where they retook the city of Palmyra and several villages and towns near it. 

The media is calling this a rebel victory but I think it really has more to do with the Turks. These rebels are loyal to them and the Turks backed them up with armor and air support. I don't think they would have captured the city without the Turks giving them backup. 

It's clear to me that the Turks primary objective in taking al-Bab wasn't defeating ISIS. Though Turkey obviously has that as a second objective, after all ISIS has been launching attacks in Turkey, they obviously want to destroy any chances of an independent Kurdistan. Turkey hates the Kurds and they do not want them to join up their western and eastern cantons. If they were to do so, the Kurds would have a de facto state. Turkey would not allow that to happen. 

Turkey has really stepped up their game in Syria. By doing so they have greatly damaged ISIS's ambitions in Syria and have changed the face of the war. Their entry into the war was an x-factor that I wasn't expecting. With them joining the war and taking back the border area and now expanding south, they are putting extreme pressure on ISIS. 

The question now is where Turkey goes next. Manbaji could be next but that would be an awkward situation for all involved.The Kurds that control the city are currently fighting ISIS and have been de facto US allies for most of the war. Letting the Turks destroy them would be a major stab in the back for them, even though, as far left radicals, they probably deserve it. I'm not a huge fan of the Turks or the Kurds and if it wasn't for the ISIS situation I wouldn't mind seeing them fight, but it seems to be a huge distraction from the main objective which should be, for all sides in the Syrian war, the utter destruction of ISIS. 

Raqqa is another possibility, but a remote one. Taking over Raqqa would mean the general defeat of ISIS, but it would probably cause problems down the line. Raqqa is far from the border with Turkey and it would be more of an invasion then the border attacks that they have done so far. Part of me wants to say to hell with the consequences and just defeat ISIS already, but I worry about what the consequences will be...  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

British ISIS suicide bomber was a former Guantanamo Bay detainee.

Abu-Zakariya al-Britani in a picture taken shortly before his death and released via Twitter. 

A former Guantanamo Bay detainee has blown himself up in Iraq while fighting with ISIS. BBC. Abu-Zakariya al-Britani, formally known as Ronald Fiddler, 50 from Manchester, blew himself up in an attack at an Iraqi Army checkpoint south west of Mosul. Fiddler had been captured by US forces in Pakistan in 2001 and was found to have useful information about the Taliban but was released in 2003. When he returned to the United Kingdom after being released in 2003, he was given 1 million pounds ($1.24 million at the current rate of exchange). In 2014, Fiddler joined ISIS and entered Syria via Turkey. 

My Comment:
It's my understanding that this incident is causing a large political scandal in the UK. I'm no expert on UK politics but from what I gather both the Tories, and former Prime Minster Tony Blair are blaming each other for this debacle. I won't say who is right but I will say that giving this guy a million pounds was a terrible idea. No matter what happened to him there was always a good chance that he was going to end up being a Jihadist in the end. Either he always was one or he was made one due to his experiences. A huge bribe, which is what I view this payment as, wasn't going to change his chances much. 

There is a chicken vs egg problem here. More specifically, was Fiddler always a Jihadist who wanted to martyr himself for Islam or did his experiences in Guantanamo shape his worldview? It's a tough question and my gut tells me that both were probably true. Fiddler's detainment was controversial even in the more favorable political climate of the early 2000's.

Though a few people ended up in Guantanamo that shouldn't have ever been there, I am not sure if Fiddler was one of him or not. His version of events is rather disturbing. From what I gather he was on a backpacking trip in Pakistan and he claimed that the Taliban abducted him. After getting released he was detained by US forces in Kabul and the forces there didn't buy his story about his abduction. He was held for two years and then released in 2003. 

That tends to give credence to the theory that he hadn't been radicalized yet. Back in 2003, only people who really deserved to be released were released. And the government back then found that he wasn't a threat. 

If Fiddler's version of the story is correct than he had a good reason to be pissed enough to join ISIS. In his version of the events, he was a victim. But is his story true? I am not sure. I have very little reason to trust him or the reporters that mentioned him. For me, anyone that converts to Islam and goes to Pakistan on a backpacking trip is suspect. It's very possible that he was trying to join the Taliban or al-Qaeda and it just didn't work out for him.

Either way though, I get the feeling that the UK really dropped the ball on Fiddler. Forget about whether or not he should have been detained or released or not, once he was released the UK should have kept track of him. Either he was always a Jihadist or he had enough of a grudge that he would turn into one. Neither outcome was surprising. 

I do have to wonder why this scandal erupted now. Fiddler was a celebrity after a fashion. It should have been common knowledge back in 2014 that he joined ISIS. Simply blowing himself up doesn't make his defection any more shocking. The fact is that he was fighting for ISIS should be the main story, not the fact that he blew himself up. 

The one thing I have to point out is that the results of his actual attack have been downplayed. From what I understand it was part of a larger assault that involved three other bombers and killed several Iraqi soldiers. That means that despite whatever else, he acomplished his goal of revenge... 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rebels in Syria are cut off from international support after coming under attack by Jihadists.

FSA fighters near al-Bab. Reuters. 

The CIA and international governments have cut off support for the Free Syrian Army after they came under attack by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly al-Nusra. Reuters. The FSA has been cut off of funds and weapons. Supposedly, the loss of funding has to do with battlefield conditions and not the new administration of Donald Trump. There is a fear that any weapons given to the FSA will be captured by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also dropped their support through the CIA channel, though other channels of support still function. The FSA believes that this situation will be temporary. The assault from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham has resulted in the FSA joining with the separate Jihadist group, Ahrar al-Sham. 

My comment:
I agree with this move. The FSA has always been far too close to Jihadist groups. Not only are they now linked with Ahrar al-Sham, they were perfectly fine with being allies with al-Nusra. Indeed, the fact that FSA worked with al-Nusra always was a main sticking factor for me personally and when I found out about it I wanted Bashar al-Assad to win. 

The stated justification makes sense as well. Time and time again we have been burned when handing weapons to local forces in both Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, the Iraqi Army left massive amounts of weapons and vehicles, including armor, for ISIS to capture in Mosul when the city fell. And in Syria we had multiple rebel groups that lost their weapons, either because they were wiped out by jihadists or they willingly turned their weapons over to groups like al-Nusra. 

The failure of the Obama administration to control who these weapons went to was one of his greatest foreign policy failures. Indeed, it may have been deliberate as he and his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton have been accused of sending those weapons to Jihadists on purpose. 

What is surprising is that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have gone with this reduction in support. In the past these countries cared little if their weapons fell into the wrong hands. Their main goal was defeating Bashar al-Assad, not preventing jihadist groups from getting weapons. They cared little if terrorist groups like al-Nusra or ISIS got weapons as well. 

So what has changed? I think it's the new president. During the election campaign, Trump often railed about how we didn't know who was getting our weapons and he seemed to be very opposed to arming rebels in general. Though I think that the given explanation, that we don't want these arms to fall into the wrong hands, is plausible, I do think that this is a pretty huge sign that we aren't going to support these rebels anymore. Trump just doesn't trust the rebels and he's right not to do so. 

I also think that it's pretty clear that the rebels are doomed. With Russia backing Syria, there is almost no chance of the rebels winning. Losing Aleppo was the deathblow and now they are getting attacked by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Without international support they can not survive and even with it they are probably doomed. 

The growth and increase in prominence for Jabhat Fateh al-Sham is one of the more disturbing elements of this story. The group is essentially "ISIS lite". They have many of the same beliefs as ISIS but they are slightly less brutal. If ISIS wasn't active in Syria, Jabhat Fateh would be the biggest threat and biggest news story out of Syria.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

President Trump is right about Sweden. No recent terror attack, but massive problem with immigrant crimes.

Screengrab from Peter Springare

I'm skipping the normal format for this one. As you are probably aware of, Donald Trump has gotten into hot water yet again for some comments made at his "campaign rally" in Florida. While there he said the following: 

“You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden, Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

Naturally, the press went wild with this. Many people though that Trump was referring to a non-existent terror attack and they are correct, there hasn't been a major terror attack in Sweden lately. That being said, Trump came out and said that he was talking about a Fox News report about the massive increase in migrant crime and the fact that Sweden is lying through their teeth about it. 

The Tucker Carlson report that Trump was talking about can be seen here. It was an interview with a filmmaker that detailed what is happening in Sweden. Not only is there a massive increase in crime, especially sexual assault, the government is covering it up. Though Sweden does not release the racial, ethnic or religious background of criminals, the raw stats show a massive increase in rapes and other crimes. And if you talk about it in Sweden you get accused of being a white nationalist.

Furthermore, Sweden has a grenade attack problem. Malmo, a huge center of immigrant resettlement alone had 52 hand grenade attacks last year alone.  I can't think of any country that regularly has hand grenade attacks that isn't a center for terrorism. There are also many problems with riots and other violence. In short, there is a lot of crime and violence happening in Sweden.

A while back CBS's 60 minutes did a report on the massive migration in Sweden. Guess what happened? The camera crew came under attack and were punched by what appears to be Somali migrants. The only person that came to help them was a man in a mobility scooter...

And the lead image in this post came from a Swedish police officer. He broke the rule in Sweden and openly discussed how much of his job dealt with immigrants. He told the world the truth about what happens in Sweden and what happened to him? He was briefly investigated for hate crimes. Thankfully, he wasn't charged but the idea that someone could be accused of hate crimes for simply telling the truth is a good indication that Sweden is trying to cover something up. 

Clearly something is going on in Sweden and it is not good. They have taken a massive amount of refugees and migrants and they seem to be paying for it now. Sweden was a paradise once yet now they are facing problems more appropriate for Mogadishu than Malmo. I don't see how this ends well for them.

And I have to say thank you to our President for bringing this issue up. I have been following the happenings in Sweden for quite some time but it has been difficult to explain why. People are finally talking about it thanks to Trump and the fake media attacks against him. As far as I am concerned Sweden stands as a stark warning for the rest of the world. Take in Islamic migrants at your on peril...  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Iran produces an animated film showing their forces defeating America.

Fatima Zahra animation studios, via Reuters. 

Just a quick post for something I found this morning. Apparently Iran has a new movie coming out called Battle of the Persian Gulf II. It's an animated film that shows a potential conflict between the United States and Iran. It's also pretty hilarious, mostly because it makes Iran look way more bad-ass than it is in real life and the quality of the animation looks like it's from a bad video game made about 10 years ago. Reuters has more background on the film here, but I mostly wanted an excuse to post the following videos. Someone on youtube made a trailer based on several scenes that have been released already:

In a second clip from 2015, an Iranian frigate appears to destroy an entire navy's worth of ancient World War II Battleships:

Just as a comparison here's a game trailer from a naval game made in the western world:

And for balance, here's another one, this time based on ground and air combat:

Needless to say, if free to play MMO's like World of Warships and War Thunder can do a better job making a trailer for their video game then the Iranian filmmakers did, I am not holding out hope that this movie will be a good one. Not that I was expecting it to be good mind you, but still, if that's the best Iran can do, I kinda feel sorry for them... 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

ISIS's economy is in shambles.

The black flag of ISIS. 

The economy of the Islamic State is in shambles according to a new report by the International Centre for the study of Radicalization and Political Violence. AP/The Republic. At it's peak in 2014, ISIS collected $1.9 billion in revenue but last year they only gathered $870 million. ISIS is not a traditional terrorist organization and functions much like a legitimate state with expenses focused on infrastructure and public services. ISIS's economic model was largely dependent on looting newly captured territory for resources such as oil, ancient artifacts and even stealing cold hard cash. With ISIS losing 60% of their territory in Iraq and 30% in Syria, their fortunes on the battlefield have changed to the point where they have had little opportunity to loot. Despite the loss of revenue, ISIS is still a dangerous force and is able to pay it's bills even as it had to cut pay for it's soldiers. It still remains a very dangerous terrorist threat since the attacks it funds are relatively cheap and many terrorists are self funding their own attacks. 

My Comment:
Though ISIS isn't in a whole lot of danger of collapsing in the immediate future, it is clear that cracks are starting to form in the organization. Though ISIS is still able to pay for what it needs to do, it's clear that their economy is largely a farce. Most of their economy is dependent on looting and with very little offensive operations going on right now, other than in Western Syria near Palmyra. They have lost a critical source of income. 

It's probably even worse then the report says because some of ISIS's main streams of income have been cut off. Oil, one of the largest sources, is largely worthless now. The main route for selling oil, the Turkish border, has been completely cut off. Furthermore, the Russians and Americans have largely destroyed their transportation fleet of oil trucks leaving them very little chance to sell their oil, even if they can find a buyer. 

Further more, ISIS's cash stores have been a target for attacks as well. Back in January of last year, ISIS lost tens of millions of dollars in an air raid against one of their banks. Though sources are conflicting about how much they lost there, some have said it was almost a billion dollars, but no matter what it hurt them dearly. No organization can easily recover from that much money being destroyed. 

ISIS still has sources of income that will be there as long as they still control territory. Taxes are a major source of income for ISIS and as long as they control people, they will collect taxes from them. They are also in control of quite a bit of traditional farmland as well as controlling fish farms that are an effective 2nd source of income that is rather resistant to airstrikes. After all, killing a bunch of farmers and letting people starve would not play well and would go beyond the normal rules of war. And given the importance of food, it's not a source of income that they are likely to lose anytime soon.

ISIS also operates like a criminal organization as well. Their income from kidnapping, extortion and smuggling, will not just end. I've often asked why anyone would ever surrender after battle with ISIS, but the truth is that if you are an Iraqi or Syrian, you have a decent chance of being sold back for ransom if your family can come up with the money. I still wouldn't want to risk the consequences of not paying, given how brutal ISIS executions are, but ransom is still a major source of income for ISIS. Again, there isn't much to be done about this income stream short of not letting them capture anyone. Putting ISIS on the defensive has helped with this problem, but as long as ISIS is fighting they will capture prisoners to ransom. And given the alternative, people will continue to pay to get their loved ones back. Can you really blame them after what ISIS does to prisoners? 

All that being said, it's clear that ISIS is on the backslide now. Not only is ISIS's entire economic model dependent on expansion, they also have lost a lot of their credibility as well. They need to keep expanding if they want to survive, but given the circumstances on the battlefield, they have little chance to do so. Iraq has finally recovered from the disaster of the 1st Battle of Mosul and have pushed ISIS out for the most part. And thanks to the combined actions of the Turks, Kurds and Syrians, ISIS has little room for expansion in Syria either. Overseas, they might make inroads in Afghanistan but everywhere else they are on the retreat. 

The report did point out something critical. ISIS has been able to fund terror attacks on the cheap. The massive terror attack in Paris, for example, only cost about $10,000. That's a rounding error even for a government that only made $870 million last year. Even better, from ISIS's perspective, many of the terror attacks done in their name cost the core organization nothing. 

This is another reason why "lone wolf" attacks are so dangerous. An attack done in ISIS's name but without funding or input from the terror group gives ISIS all the benefits of the attack without any of the risk. Not only does it cost nothing for them, if it fails they lose nothing, but they gain just as much from a successful attack as they would if it was funded by them. Indeed, the only cost that ISIS is likely to incur from lone wolf terror attacks is the costs creating the propaganda that inspires these attacks. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

New Wikileaks document drop shows the CIA spied on all parties in the 2012 French election.

Julian Assange outside the embassy. David Silvers. 

In another major leak, Wikileaks have released documents showing that the CIA spied on all major candidates in the 2012 French election. IBT Times. The seven CIA documents showed that the CIA was directed to target three French political parties, the Union for a Popular Union, the Socialist Party and the National Front. In addition, French president Francois Hollende, ex-president Nicholas Sarkosy, current 2016 election front runner Marine La Pen and former 2012 candidates Dominque Strauss-Khan and Martine Aubry were targeted as well. The CIA wanted information on the candidates positions on issues as well as their election strategies. 

My Comment:
This is a fairly important story that is getting zero coverage in the press. The only outlets I saw covering it were IBT Times, RT, and The Daily Caller. Not exactly unbiased sources there so I picked the best of a bad bunch and went with IBT Times for the source. Since I wanted to see for myself what the leak said I also read the actual leaks. You can find the Wikileaks documents here and the Wikileaks press release here.

 On the one hand this isn't very surprising at all. The CIA's purpose is, of course, is to spy on foreign governments. It is a little shady because France is one of our greatest allies, but even spying on them isn't that new. Honestly I would be more surprised if we weren't spying on Frances elections. 

So why does this story matter? Well for one it goes directly against the mainstream media's narrative on Russia interfering with the American election. Though I have no doubt that the Russian equivalents of the CIA spied on our election, it's pretty hard to complain about it when the CIA does the same thing to France. 

It also matters because the press is not covering it at all. Like I said, the only outlets I found covering this were the three outlets I mentioned and a few smaller ones that I haven't really heard off. And when I looked for the story on Google News I couldn't find it until I typed it in the search bar itself. Normally, the revelation that the CIA spied on a major ally's election would be a huge news story, but it's being suppressed. 

Finally, and much more importantly, it seems that there is a mole in the CIA that is feeding Wikileaks documents. Wikileaks has been very cryptic lately, posting many tweets about #Vault7. 

People have speculated on what those tweets mean and without proof either way, I will be speculating as well. Leading theories have included FBI information about Hillary Clinton and, less believably, information about 9/11 and WTC building #7. I think both of those theories are blown out of the water (the 9/11 one was never credible in the first place).

It seems clear to me that whatever Vault 7 was, it's related to the CIA. It seems as though that someone in the CIA has given information to Wikileaks and that this is just the first release. Can I prove that? No, but I think it is likely. This is, of course, a huge deal and, depending on what is released, could have huge implications down the line. I won't speculate on what those leaks are going to be, but I will urge everyone to keep an eye out for new leaks...

I am worried about the massive amount of leaks right now. Not only are people leaking to Wikileaks, there are also a ton of leaks concerning Donald Trump's administration. Many of these leaks are being done for political reasons. Though I enjoy reading about the inner workings of government, it's clear to me that these leaks are damaging. I don't think there can be much that can be done about it though...

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Trump vs the Deep State

President Donald Trump. 

I've been thinking a lot about the resignation of Michael Flynn. Though Flynn made his own bed by lying to Mike Pence, it's clear that his political fate had a lot more to do with what he believed then what he actually did. His actual actions, though foolish, weren't that bad. Certainly talking to a foreign diplomat during the transition period is not a big deal, even if it is technically against the rules. Obama's administration did the same thing when he was elected, so this really isn't a big deal.

But one thing is for certain. Trump would not have gotten rid of Flynn if someone hadn't leaked the fact that he had said things he shouldn't have said to the Russian ambassador. Which brings up some questions. 

First of all, why on earth was the government listening in to Flynn's conversation? Of course, thanks to Edward Snowden, we know that the NSA listens into pretty much everything, everywhere. But the source of the leak wasn't the NSA, it was the FBI. The FBI was tapping into the Russian ambassador's phone line. There is no indication that they had a warrant to listen in on Flynn, so either they ignored the law entirely or they were spying on all of the ambassador's calls. Why would they be doing that? 

Second, why was Flynn's involvement in the phone call released? Normally when a transcript is released or even discussed, great care is taken to scrub the identity of  any US citizens, especially when there is no warrant to spy on that citizen.  That didn't happen this time and zero steps were taken to protect Flynn's identity. 

Third, it is illegal to talk to the media like this. Whoever leaked the specific accusations to the media committed a felony. It is a crime to reveal the identity of someone like this and whoever did it committed a very serious crime. 

So what does this all mean? There has been a lot of talk about the "deep state" as a concept. Basically, there is a shadow government in the United States that is immune to the change of presidents. It's the massive bureaucracy of political appointees and career officials that are in the service of globalism and not the American public. This deep state is threatened by the election of Donald Trump and are doing whatever they can to undermine and eliminate him.

I'm not sure how much of all of that is true. But I do think there are elements in the United States intelligence community and the criminal justice system that aren't answerable to anyone and are doing everything they can to undermine President Trump. Many of these people are political appointees from the Obama administration who have not yet been purged due to the fact that half of Trump's cabinet haven't been confirmed yet. The rest are Russiaphobes who desperately feared Flynn for his pro-Russia views. 

They aren't alone though. There is a large amount of people that do support the president and want him to succeed. Even in the government. Most of them are not political appointees. Some of them are genuine Trump supporters but most of them are just patriots that care more about the country than anything else. 

These two groups have been called "black hats" and "white hats" respectively. I don't know if I actually agree with those terms, but they do make some sense. It's clear to me that there is a group within in the FBI, NSA, CIA and the State Department that are trying to undermine Trump and they succeeded by getting rid of General Michael Flynn. 

It is also clear to me that they are being actively opposed and have been so since before the election. After all, it was very clear that the FBI was dumping harmful things about Hillary Clinton during the lead up to the election. This was done legally and continues to this day.

Essentially, there is a civil war in the intel community right now and it just claimed it's first public victim in Michael Flynn. What happens next though is the big question. If the deep state comes after Trump directly a lot of very bad things could happen, including both civil war and war with Russia. I don't think the millions of people who voted for Trump would accept him being removed from office. I won't say much more than that... 

As for Russia it's clear that they understand what the Russiaphobes want. They want regime change. Just like they did in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Ukraine, and what they attempted to do in Syria. Putin obviously knows this and won't accept that. It's very possible if the black hats succeed we will have war. The fact that they have already torpedoed Trump's chances at building a better relationship with Putin is not enough. They want blood and won't stop until they get it. 

The real question is what Donald Trump is going to do about it. He can't simply fire everyone because we can't tell the good guys from the bad guys and if we do fire everyone the country will be unsafe. But he can't just let these deep state people keep leaking and undermining him. That makes the country weak and unsafe as well. 

Trump's only option is to use the white hats to root out these black hat people who are more loyal to Obama or hate Russia this much. That will take time and it's very possible that more Trump appointees will fall as well. And though I think it is unlikely, it is indeed very possible that the black hats will succeed in their goal. They are trying to either remove Trump or marginalize him to the point where he can't do anything effectively. 

I don't think they will succeed though. They have a very powerful enemy in Donald Trump and he has the support of the people and the white hats. They can hurt him but they can't defeat him. Not without a lot of luck. And I think their luck has run out... 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My take on the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Michael Flynn's DIA photo. 

As you are probably aware of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned yesterday after a story in the Wall Street Journal (link behind a paywall) broke accusing him of lying about a phone conversation he had with the Russian ambassador. Flynn was accused of telling Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that the incoming Trump administration would be more favorable then the Barack Obama administration on the issue of sanctions due to accused hacking. 

The left is, predictably, celebrating this as the first major scalp they have taken since the end of Barack Obama's presidency. I personally am not happy about it but I do have a few things to say to put this issue in perspective. 

1. Flynn was already on thin ice. There is a reason that he was not chosen over Mike Pence for VP and that is that he has already had some troubling links pop up in the vetting process. Back in 2015, he gave a paid speech for the Russian owned news outlet, RT.com, which Vladimir Putin himself attended, that may have also violated the Emoluments clause. This was strike one. It was a scandal, but one that could be easily handled.

Furthermore his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group received money from the government of Turkey around the same time Flynn was working with Trump and getting classified briefings. He did not disclose this information until after it came out publicly. Strike two, and a pattern of dishonestly starting to appear. 

This latest example, where Flynn told the Russian ambassador something he probably shouldn't have and then, critically, lied about it to his bosses, was strike three. Any one of these scandals alone would not have been enough to sink Flynn, even the first one with the Emoluments clause. But taken together, Trump had little choice but to cut ties with Flynn. 

2. None of these scandals were all that serious. What really sunk Flynn was the dishonesty. He told VP Mike Pence that he didn't discuss anything noteworthy about Russian sanctions and then Pence went to bat for Flynn in the media. After sticking his neck out for Flynn, Pence was blindsided by the reports that he was lied too and that probably forced the issue. Pence was never a fan of Flynn in the first place so the bad blood was amplified. 

And I have to point out that Trump was correct to fire Flynn. All of the scandals that he had could have been cleaned up and countered if he had been honest in the first place. Since Flynn lied through his teeth, not only did he burn his bridges with Pence, he forced Trump into a position that he couldn't defend him anymore. And if there is one person in the world that the President needs to be honest, it's the National Security Adviser...

3. This was very clearly a political hit job from Barack Obama appointees angry about Flynn's politics, not his actual behavior, as questionable as it may be. Acting  AG Sally Yates was the origin of the report and was also backed up by James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence and John Brennan, former Director of the CIA. All of these people were Obama appointees and all of them ended up out of a job after Trump took office (Yates lasted a bit longer then she should have but got fired anyways). 

There is no doubt in my mind that Yates hated Flynn just because he was a Trump supporter and Clapper and Brennan hated him because he didn't want war with Russia. They wanted to ruin him because of his beliefs and Flynn gave them the perfect opportunity. And it is very telling that they were willing to leak the fact that the government had a transcript of the conversation between Flynn and the Russian ambassador... I don't think for a minute that they did this out of patriotism.  

4. All that being said, I think Flynn did the right thing in his phone call with the Russian ambassador. Though what he did was, at the very least, legally questionable, he may have prevented a war with Russia. Remember, in the period leading up to the inauguration, Barack Obama was doing everything he could to ratchet up tensions with the Russians. Not only did he slap fresh sanctions on Russia for alleged hacking, he also deployed troops to Europe in a reckless and brazen attempt to damage relations between America and Russia so badly that the new president couldn't fix them. 

That very well could have led to a war, which, given the fact that both Russia and America are nuclear powers, could have ended everything. Though Flynn didn't have permission to reassure the Russians that the Trump presidency wasn't going to be like the Obama one, I, for one, am glad that he did. Don't get me wrong, Trump was correct to fire Flynn, I would have done the same thing, but what he did was a service to the country, even if it wasn't technically legal or proper. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Major Iraqi airstrike targeting ISIS leader al-Baghdadi kills 77.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

A major Iraqi airstrike targeting ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has killed 77 people, including senior ISIS leadership, in the city of Qaim. BBC. Baghdadi's fate is unclear. Iraq released a list of people killed in the airstrike but his name was not on the list. 13 other commanders of ISIS were on the list as well as 64 lower ranked ISIS fighters killed in the strikes. Baghdadi was rumored to be in the Iraqi town of Qaim to discuss a possible replacement for him if he were to die and the situation in Mosul. Baghdadi has been reported injured or killed many times in the past. 

My Comment:
Very surprised that it was the Iraqi's pulling off this raid instead of, well, anyone else. I wasn't even aware that the Iraqi Air Force even had the F-16's that they used in this raid. I knew they had a few SU-25's but I guess I just never heard about the sale of the F-16's. Still, they have 14 F-16's which is more than enough to pull off this raid. 

Still, that doesn't answer the question why the US government allowed the Iraqi's to attempt this raid instead of just doing it ourselves. The obvious explanation is that the Iraqi's simply didn't tell us that Baghdadi and his commanders were meeting in Qaim. I guess that is possible but it seems rather unlikely. It's also possible that it was a political descion made because Iraq wanted revenge on Baghdadi and wanted to be the ones that killed him, but that seems like a rather emotional response to an issue that has critical implications. 

If it was up to me I would have had US forces pull off this raid. We have a much more experienced Air Force and we have a lot of other assets, like drones and satellites, that the Iraqi's don't have. It seems to have worked out fine anyways, but I would have rather have our guys do this instead of the Iraqis. Plus it would be emotionally satisfying if we were the ones that killed him... I guess that response isn't just limited to the Iraqi's. 

It's very unclear to me if Baghdadi was even in Qaim. Indeed, Baghdadi has been so subject to rumors and false reports if he really does die at some point I probably won't believe it. My guess is that he wasn't at this meeting and was safely back home in Raqqa. The intel that said he was in Qaim was probably false. I just don't think he would risk going there at this point. He knows the whole world is gunning for him. I could very easily be wrong though. 

Still, even without Baghdadi's scalp (and who knows, maybe he was injured or killed), this was a very successful raid for the Iraqi's. Dropping a bomb on a major meeting of ISIS commanders has to be devastating for the group. It's part of a larger strategy against ISIS that has been very successful. Though ISIS is having problems recruiting even the lowest ranks of fighters, it's the commanders that are almost impossible to replace. 

When ISIS was first starting out in Iraq, they were greatly bolstered by several former regime officers. Those officers greatly helped ISIS in their campaigns there and were irreplaceable. Many of those men are now dead and there is zero chance of ISIS ever recruiting anyone of that caliber again. Every time ISIS loses a high ranking commander it's devastating. Any idiot can drive a car bomb, but only a good commander can tell him where to drive it where it will make the biggest impact. 

So what happens if Baghdadi does die? Good question. He's more of a figurehead than anything else so I don't expect it to have much of an impact. Though nobody in ISIS is really replaceable at this point, losing him wouldn't be the end of ISIS by any stretch. ISIS would take a huge morale hit though if he were to die. And it would be a huge blow to their credibility and the last vestiges of their mystique of invincibility, already damaged by their recent battlefield losses, would be gone. 

His days are numbered though, one way or the other. He's been extremely lucky and/or skilled to live this long but he's got most of the world gunning for him, including the two governments of the countries he is living in. And if it isn't the Syrians or Iraqis, it will be the Russians, the Turks, or the United States of America that gets lucky and kills him. It's only a matter of time, as the death of Osama Bin Laden proves...  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Immigration arrests cause panic in California, but the story has been overblown.

Pro-illegal immigration protesters gather outside of LA's courthouse. LA Times. 

False rumors have swirled as immigration raids occur in California. LA Times. Protests broke out in Los Angeles after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers conducted raids in several California counties. More than 150 people were arrested but ICE claims that the operation was planned before Donald Trump took office and was a routine round up of criminals. 75% of the illegal immigrants arrested in the raid had prior convictions, including serious crimes like sex offenses, assault, robbery and weapons charges. 37 illegals, all from Mexico, have already been deported. Though the size and scale of the arrests is routine and similar to raids conducted under Barack Obama's presidency, the fact that Donald Trump is president caused panic and false rumors to fly. Fake news spread via social media indicated random sweeps and checkpoints, though no reliable reports have confirmed that to be happening. 

My Comment:
I think there is a lot of wishful thinking going on here on both sides of the political spectrum. Though the truth is that this was just a normal raid, both sides of the immigration battle want to believe that it is nothing of the sort. Both the pro and anti-immigration sides of the coin are suffering from motivated reasoning here. They want so desperately for this to be the start of massive deportations, but as of this post, it isn't happening just yet. 

For the anti-immigration folks, they want to believe that someone is finally cracking down on illegal immigrants. For decades now they have been promised that criminals would be removed from the country and they are desperate for any news that Donald Trump is keeping his campaign promises. To be fair to Trump, he has done more on immigration already then any other president in my lifetime, but he isn't sending huge raids targeting random people and setting up immigration checkpoints. And I don't see him doing so in the short term either.

The pro-immigration people desperately want the false rumors to be true, even more perhaps than the anti-immigration people. Though I am sure that there are people directly effected by the raids, real and imagined, that will be sad when their relatives are deported, I see this as a perfect opportunity for the left to play the victim card. They want to signal their virtue by saying that they are so much more moral and superior to those mean people that want the rule of law to actually mean something. That came off a bit more snarky than it probably should have, but I really do think that the upper and middle class leftists protesting this have very little at stake here other than wanting to score sympathy points. 

Too bad for both sides then that it's all a bunch of false rumors and fake news. These days a lie makes it around the world 20 times before the truth even gets out of bed in the morning and this is yet another example of false information getting out there and making a mess of things. Everything points to the raids in California being utterly routine. It's status quo ante for everyone involved, which is probably bad news for everyone who wants the fake news to be real. 

So are things going to be different under Donald Trump when it comes to immigration? Perhaps. He does seem to be playing hardball with the so called "sanctuary cities" that don't cooperate with ICE and other federal organizations on immigration enforcement. Those sanctuary cities are a blight and I hope that Trump does punish them for not following the law, but if that happens, it won't be the huge expansion of deportations that his supporters want. 

The Wall is most likely going to be built as well. It's going to be expensive and we might set off a trade war with Mexico to get them to pay for it, but it's going to happen. It will help more than people think since it will stop at least some of the most shady people from getting into the country. People always say that there is the visa overstay issue, but in the end, if we are going to crack down on a group of people in the country illegally it would be the criminals and drug smugglers crossing the physical border and not a student or visitor that just overstayed their welcome. Plus the Wall will hurt human trafficking and smuggling operations, that are about as horrible as you would imagine. It won't be the end all, cure all for illegal immigration but it will help things more than the left would like to admit. 

I don't feel sorry for the people caught up in these raids. All of them were criminals because all of them broke US immigration laws. Some are even less sympathetic then that because they have committed crimes here in addition to breaking immigration laws. I've always said that non-citizens, legal or otherwise, who commit serious crimes should be deported. But even for the non-violent ones, my feelings are pretty much the same as someone who accidentally shoots themselves by ignoring the safety rules for handling a gun. What did you expect to have happen when you did something that has obvious and serious consequences? 

I also want to point out that people always forget that the non-violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants matter as well. Identity theft is a huge problem and it ruins multiple lives. Not only are you stealing someone else's life essentially, you are also denying a job to an American or legal resident who needs one as well.  

All that being said, I have to say, again, that you should talk all news you hear about politics with a huge grain of salt right now. The major news outlets are making up claims out of whole cloth and social media is spreading false rumors, sometimes just for fun. We all need to be more careful about what we share on social media and keep in mind that media bias is out of control right now. If you see something that doesn't look legit or, even worse, looks too good to be true, remember to keep some skepticism... 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Imminent terror attack disrupted in France with four arrests and explosives recovered.

Aftermath of the raid in Clapiers. AFP.

Four arrests have been made in France after an imminent terror plot was disrupted. NBC News. The raid in Clapiers discovered 2.5 ounces of TATP, a common explosive used in previous ISIS attacks, and materials to make more. Three of the arrests were of adult men, while the last one was a 16 year old girl. AFP reported an explosion during the raid and provided the above picture, but no explosion was reported by French authorities. It is unclear what the target for the attack was. 

My Comment:
Very good news out of France. Though the 2.5 ounces of TATP probably wouldn't have been enough to pull off anything but a single suicide bomber attack, the suspects were making more. They probably had the ability to make several suicide vests or a car bomb. Had this plot not been disrupted it is possible that this attack could have been as bad as the Brussels one last year. Multiple bombings or one huge one could kill dozens.  

Though no one has claimed responsibility for this plot, I would say that ISIS is the leading suspect. I do think there is a chance that it could be al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as well. Though they have fallen off of the radar lately, they are still a major terror organization and they aren't above using suicide bombers. Still, I doubt it was anyone else besides ISIS. 

And by ISIS I mean core ISIS. This plot seems a bit too sophisticated for it to be a lone wolf attacker. Though some lone wolf attackers have used bombs in the past, most notably Ahmad Kahn Rahimi, the New York bomber, such things are usually beyond the typical lone nut. I am guessing that, at the very least, ISIS provided funding and advice for this attack. I can't prove that, but that's what my gut says. 

It's notable that a girl was arrested as well. I wonder what her role in the plot was? It's possible that she was one of the plotters relatives or a girlfriend, but usually that's not enough to be arrested. Perhaps she was going to be one of the bombers? 

That's not as unprecedented as it would appear. There have been female terrorists before, most recently in the San Bernardino attack. Also, ISIS's affiliate in Nigeria, Boko Haram, routinely uses girls under the age of 10 as suicide bombers. Those children are usually either tricked into doing it or forced, but that shouldn't be the case for a 16 year old. If she was part of this plot, she should be arrested with the rest of the plotters. 

There have been quite a few of these disrupted terror attacks lately in Europe. Though obviously many lives are being saved, I wonder if there isn't a downside as well. I don't want any of these attacks to succeed, but I worry that people will think that the threat isn't real. When we are getting weekly reports of disrupted terror attacks, but no actual terror attacks, it would be easy to rest on our laurels. That would be a major mistake... 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

My thoughts on Donald Trump's travel ban being overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

President Donald Trump's official picture

 As you all know by now, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the ruling of a lower court that stopped President Donald Trump's travel ban from 7 countries with Islamic terrorism. I, of course, do not approve. But I am also not a lawyer so I am not going to go into whether this was the correct ruling or not, legally speaking. I don't think it is, but that's a personal, not a professional opinion. I do, however want to go over what will happen next and what the consequences of this ruling will be.

1. The ban as it stands right now is probably dead. There is still the Supreme Court but given the ideological makeup of the court it would likely end in a 4-4 tie. Which means I doubt they would even hear it given the fact that they don't like split verdicts on important issues like this. Trump won't get his SCOTUS nominee, Neil Gorsuch, on the bench in time to do anything either due to the Democrats delaying the confirmation process. The ban as it stands now probably is DOA. At this point Trump is probably going through the motions and knows he isn't going to win.

2. There is the possibility that Trump will come up with a new plan that could avoid the legal issues in this case. From what I understand it was the effect on green card holders that caused the courts to overrule the executive order. It is possible that Trump could issue a new order that would only effect non-green card holders but at this point I am not sure. Congress could also act, but due to the large number of RINO's I don't know if it would work out.

3. The Democrats have made a massive mistake here. They have used a massive amount of political capital in ensuring this ruling and will probably alienate the majority of Americans who either support the travel ban or, people like me, who think it doesn't go far enough. The ban has been fairly popular and most of the criticism I have heard from Trump supporters on the issue has been the sloppy execution. The Democrats would have been better served by focusing on issues that are both popular and without political downsides, unlike opposing this ban.

4. Donald Trump may have lucked out though. If there is a major terrorist attack on his watch, and there will be, he can just point to this ruling. He's essentially immune to criticism at this point because he has the argument that he tried to fix the problem but a bunch of activist judges prevented him from doing so. When the next terror attack committed by a Muslim, refugee or not, the people that opposed this executive order are going to catch hell. And I am 100% certain that there will be a terror attack this year. Trump's ban might not prevent it, but either way, it helps his narrative.

5. This is the first major setback of Donald Trump's presidency. Though he hasn't lost completely and I pointed out the upside of the courts ruling, it doesn't change the fact that the Democrats were able to stop him on something. That should encourage Trump critics, but I don't think it should demoralize his supporters that much. After all, he's won on everything else...

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Donald Trump and Tayyip Erdogan agree to work together in the fight against ISIS in Syria.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Reuters. 

After a phone call between the two leaders, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and American President Tayyip Erdogan have agree to work together in the war against ISIS in Syria. Reuters. The cooperation will be centered on the Syrian cities of Raqqa, ISIS's capitol in the region, and al-Bab. The new coordination comes after Turkish/American relations dropped significantly under Barack Obama due to his support of Kurdish militia groups fighting ISIS and not turning over Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan blames for last year's coup attempt. Taking control of Raqqa and al-Bab would help both Trump and Erdogan establish a "safe zone" for refugees displaced by the war. CIA director Mike Pompeo is heading to Turkey to work out the details and settle the issue of supporting the YPG Kurdish group. 

My Comment:
I've got mixed feelings about this. I have never been a fan of Tayyip Erdogan. He doesn't respect civil rights and the freedom of the press and he has become less secular over the course of his presidency. Had the coup succeeded, I would not have been upset. He's a dictator and a thug and I don't like what he has done and what he is doing. 

All that being said though, Turkey is a critical NATO ally and Barack Obama did some serious damage to our relationship. Turkey was and is furious that we supported the Kurdish YPG group that they consider terrorists. Though the Kurds have been good allies against ISIS, they are also radical far left communists and I don't really like them. And it's pretty hard to deny that YPG has some serious ties to the more radical terrorist Kurdish groups currently engaged in a guerrilla war against Turkey. Those groups are one of the few secular groups that use suicide bombing as a weapon so I don't have much sympathy for them either. 

I also have to say that Turkey has somewhat redeemed themselves a bit in the battle against ISIS. Though it is not enough to make up for the tacit support they gave ISIS during the earlier stages of the Syrian Civil War, the fact that they have been curb stomping them since ISIS started to attack them is a welcome development. Taking the border from ISIS really hurt them more than any other action since the war began.

I do think that this is a win for just about everyone in Syria that isn't ISIS. We obviously get to degrade and destroy two of ISIS's most important cities. Turkey gets better security and prevents the Kurds from creating an independent Kurdistan. The Kurds don't have to risk their troop to fight in areas they have little interest in. Even the Syrian government wins because that is two less cities they have to fight ISIS for and they can turn their forces against al-Nusra and other rebel groups closer to their strongholds. 

Will it work long term though? I am not sure. The huge question is what happens to Syria after ISIS and al-Nusra are gone. It really looks like the country is going to be split in at least two parts. The regime will take back most of the territory they lost but I think the Kurdish areas in the north will come under control of Turkey. They already have troops their and it would be in their interest to create a buffer zone between them an the Kurds. I don't know if the Syrians will go along with it though... 

As for ISIS, they are in serious trouble. If the Turks really do start advancing on Raqqa they will be facing a professional and well trained military armed with modern weapons and the will to use them. Unlike the Iraqi Army, who breaks half the time and the Syrian Army, who had been bled dry, the Turks are going to fight to win and aren't going to be intimidated by ISIS. Even if the Turks advance primarily using the local militias, they will support the fight with armor and airstrikes. 

Again, I think this is probably a good thing in the end. As much as I dislike Erdogan, we need him as an ally and since he is finally doing the right thing by destroying ISIS, I think we can work with him. We should work with any ally in Syria, even the Russians, who are fighting against ISIS and al-Nusra. They are existential threats and they need to be destroyed. Hopefully we can work with the Turks to get that outcome...