Thursday, March 30, 2017

Policy shift on Syria: US no longer sees removing Assad as a priority

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. Reuters

The United States under President Trump has dramatically shifted policy away from the Obama administration and have signaled that they are no longer interested in replacing Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Reuters. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters that the US no longer considers replacing Assad as a priority. She also added that the US still views Assad as a hindrance and a war criminal and there will still be pressure on him for change, but the priority is no longer there. The main focus will be defeating ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria. Predictably, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of the GOP's biggest war hawks, condemned the move. US allies France and the United Kingdom also disagree about the future of Syria. 

My Comment:
This is great news as far as I am concerned. I have never understood what our national interest was in removing Bashar al-Assad. Sure, he is a brutal dictator, but we are allied with dozens of those and Assad isn't all that worse then the governments of the Gulf States. He is certainly brutal and worthy of criticism, but is he worth destroying Syria just to get rid of? Absolutely not. 

Bashar al-Assad may be a brutal dictator who has done some horrible things during the Syrian Civil War, but the forces arrayed against him are some of the most evil groups in history. ISIS and al-Qaeda are the most obvious but what is not widely reported is that many of the so called "moderate" rebels are Jihadists as well. As far as I am concerned radical Islam is evil incarnate and Assad has nothing on them... 

And we have to understand what would happen if Assad were to be removed. To find out, all we have to do is look at the examples of two other countries where we tried regime change, Libya and Iraq. Both countries had brutal dictators who were removed and killed after US interventions. Both of them suffered massive civil wars afterwards. Both of them had large swaths of territory taken by ISIS and both countries suffered far more deaths during and after the war than their respective dictators ever killed. 

There is also the fact that Syria is divided between Sunni Arabs and everyone else. Though Assad is brutal, he does protect religious minorities from Sunni persecution. If Assad were to be removed, what would happen to all the Alawites, Shiite Muslims, Druze, Christians and other non-Sunnis? The best case scenario is reversion to 2nd class citizens. The worst case is all out genocide. Given that the most credible resistance groups left are ISIS and al-Qaeda, who have genocide as a stated goal and are currently conducting genocide in both Iraq and Syria, that seems very likely.   

I also think that Trump understands that removing Assad is politically unpopular. When Obama considered bombing Syria after accusations of chemical weapons use, there was overwhelming bipartisan opposition. For once, left and right agreed on something and nobody but neo-cons wanted war. Nobody gave a straight answer as to what removing Assad would do for us and everyone was wary after the disaster that was Iraq. 

This move should not be surprising at all. Donald Trump often criticized Obama's handling of the war and our funding of rebels. Though Trump never seemed to be a fan of Assad, to my eyes at least, he was pretty clear that funding rebels that then went over to the enemy or simply laid down their weapons, was not a good idea. Indeed, this is one of the main reasons I ended up voting for Trump. I didn't want regime change in Syria and I wanted our focus to be on ISIS and al-Qaeda. I am very happy that Trump has delivered here... 

I am also not surprised that Lindsey Graham and John McCain are opposed to this. I really don't understand their obsession with war. I thought that I was a warhawk myself but Graham and McCain make me look like a bleeding heart liberal. If it were up to them we would be at war with both Syria and Russia... 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Turkey ends "Euphrates Shield" mission in Syria, claiming success.

Turkish allied rebels near al-Bab. BBC/Reuters. 

Turkey has officially ended it's Euphrates Shield mission in Syria claiming it ended in success. BBC. It is unclear if operations will continue in Syria or if Turkey will withdraw their troops but any further operations will continue under a different name. Turkey joined the war last August and cleaned the border area next to Syria of ISIS fighters and Kurdish troops. Though officially and effort to destroy ISIS positions near the Turkish borders, the campaign also targeted Kurds and prevented them from linking their eastern enclave with their western one. 

My Comment:
Very interesting story that seems to have flown under the radar for the American MSM. The BBC report was about all I could find on it during a simple google search, though I first found the story on my Twitter feed from the various wire services. American newspapers, websites and tv stations are too busy trying to undermine our president to cover a story on a major US ally possibly ending their commitment to the battle against ISIS. Good to know where their priorities are... 

That being said, this is a fairly big story and one that could go a couple of ways. The Turkish government's statement could be interpreted a few ways. First, Turkey could be withdrawing from Syria completely. Their mission is over and they don't have to worry to much ISIS and the Kurds taking back the cities taken from them since their proxy army of rebels is there to secure them. 

Second, they could be simply ending the offensive operations that have defined their involvement in the war so far. If Turkey doesn't trust their rebel proxies to hold onto their gains in Syria, they might want to stay in and give them some backbone. This would also free up some of those rebel troops so they could participate in the upcoming battles against ISIS, including the liberation of ISIS's capital, Raqqa.

Finally, the ending of Euphrates Shield could just mean that they are renaming their mission and will continue to conduct offensive operations. I know Turkey was pressing pretty hard to participate in the battle for Raqqa, and if some kind of deal was made, it would make sense that this was what was actually happening. 

So which option is it? I really doubt it is the third option. Everything I have heard has been that Turkey will not be participating in the battle for Raqqa. Instead the US is using Arab rebels that we have trained in the lead up to that battle and presumably in the battle itself. And we have deployed heavy support forces including air and artillery support. We really don't need the help of the Turks to liberate Raqqa... 

The other options seem much more likely. Turkey won't be participating in any of the newer battles. They will continue to guard the gains they made this year and will make sure that ISIS and the Kurds won't threaten their border again. Other then that it seems as their role in the war is essentially over for the time being, with defensive operations against ISIS or Kurdish attacks being the only likely exception. Events could change that in the future, obviously, but I doubt it will happen anytime soon. 

Now that Euphrates Shield is over I have to say that I always had mixed feelings Turkey's involvement. I have long been critical of the actions of Turkey's government and their president. Tayyip Erdogan. Indeed, I think he's a paranoid fool, who has aspirations of being an Islamist leader of the Middle East and I have serious questions about his mental health after his recent threats against the West. And I also have to point out that the border operations were more to hurt his Kurdish enemies than ISIS.

On the other hand, it is undeniable that Turkey's Euphrates Shield operation has dramatically shortened the war against ISIS. In addition to the cities and towns the Turks liberated from ISIS, they also cut off their supply lines, making it much harder to get new recruits into ISIS held lands and terrorists out to strike Europe. I don't think we would be talking about what happens after the liberation of Raqqa right now as anything other then a long term goal instead of a medium term one if it wasn't for Turkey cleaning out the border areas. 

Still, I don't like giving Turkey credit for helping to defeat ISIS since they were a major reason they were able to rise in Syria and Iraq in the first place. Turkey left their borders open for a long time, allowing ISIS to get recruits from across the world and even went so far as to by oil from ISIS. Turkey didn't care that ISIS was burning people alive, destroying ancient ruins and generally being horrible, as long as they were fighting the Syrian regime... 

Finally, I have to say that ISIS attacking Turkey was possibly one of their greatest mistakes in their war. Though some have argued that Turkey was going to attack anyways, the terror attacks against Turkish targets gave Turkey the excuse they needed to do what they wanted anyways, which was to attack the Kurds before they consolidated their power. ISIS was in the way of that goal and got eviscerated for it... 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The United States has massively increased the air campaign against ISIS in Mosul.

A US C-17 unloads supplies at Camp Taji, Iraq. Marine Corps photo/Air Force Times.

The United States has massively and dramatically increased the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq. Air Force Times. Combined, all coalition forces have dropped 500 bombs a week over Mosul in March and one week hit 600 bombs. Fighters and bombers from the collation, including French Rafale fighters, Belgian F-16's and British Typhoons, along with the full arsenal of US forces, have been deployed. This uptick in bombing has caused an increase of civilian casualties, including the deaths of 200 in Mosul that may have been cause by US forces. The vast majority of airstrikes, 90% or more, have been close air support while the rest has been "battlefield shaping" targeting ISIS infrastructure, commanders and weapons. Those close air support strikes have often been at very close range, sometimes as close as 200 meters. 

My Comment:
As usual the mainstream media is completely misleading people on this story. The only thing they are talking about is the 100-200 civilians allegedly killed in Mosul. Though a US general said that there was a chance that the US was responsible, that isn't the real story. Civilian casualties are inevitable, especially when ISIS is using them as human shields and rigging buildings to explode. It's certainly tragic when civilians die, but it's not the most important thing happening right now. 

So what should the media be focusing on? The fact that Donald Trump's plan on ISIS is working in Iraq. The battle for Mosul is going much quicker then I thought it would. I had figured it wouldn't be liberated until Winter at the earliest. It seems that it could be liberated as soon as Summer now. And US and coalition air support is a large part of that. Of course the media is loathe to give anything close to credit for Donald Trump for anything good, and I doubt that will change anytime soon. 

And we should always remember, the best way to prevent civilian casualties it to win the war as fast as possible. Though sending airstrikes down on residences that may occasionally still have civilians in them being used as human shields, what would really increase the casualties would be slowing down the battle. It's better to accidentally kill a few hundred civilians right now then to see thousands of them die in brutal house to house fighting.

This is something that people on the left either don't understand or only pretend to not understand. Everyone should know that civilian casualties are an inevitable part of any conflict and while we should never go out of our way to kill civilians it's impractical and impossible to keep every single civilian alive. People that argue otherwise either have no idea how combat works or are playing politics. Period. 

I also want to point out that the Iraqi military is much more effective when it has air support. It was originally trained under the assumption that US and coalition air support would always be there. Though the Iraqi Army has been destroyed and rebuilt in the battle against ISIS, which happened when that air support didn't come, enough soldiers survived that the battle doctrine is essentially the same. 

We saw this earlier in the battles to liberate Fallujah and Ramadi and we are now seeing it in Mosul. Iraqi forces fight much better when they have US air support and they are much less likely to flee when they know they have help. It obviously makes sense that they would fight harder if they have help, so the real question is why we though the Iraqi Army could stand on their own without our help or large air force of their own. When ISIS finally is defeated in Mosul, we will have to ask ourselves the same question that we should have asked before the terror group arose... 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Editor's note

Just an FYI, I have been sick the last couple of days, which explains the lack of posting. I had food poisoning and obviously wasn't in the mood to post anything. I am feeling somewhat better, but still under the weather. Hopefully, posting will be back to normal in the next day or so. Fortunately it seemed as though the news was fairly dead this weekend anyways.

I also have to point out that since the new year I have had the cold, flu, a sinus infection and now food poisoning. Not a good start for a new year...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

My thoughts on the failure to repeal and replace Obamacare...

House Speaker Paul Ryan. Via

Well, it's official. The repeal and replace bill for Obamacare is DOA. Speaker Paul Ryan was unable to heard the cats in the GOP and get fiscal conservatives on his side and the bill appears to be dead. Since the GOP has run on a repeal and replace plan this is a major blow to them and to everyone that wanted Obamacare gone. 

The main problem is that the GOP is split between fiscal conservatives and those that emphasized the "replace" over the "repeal". Paul Ryan was somehow able to get President Donald Trump to go along with him and the replace faction but he wasn't able to get the fiscal conservatives of the Freedom Caucus to agree with him. With the bill DOA in Congress and dead in the Senate as well, we have lost our last best chance to repeal Obamacare with the current makeup of Congress. 

Personally, I don't think it effects me either way. I get my insurance through work and I have for years. Not much would have changed between the status quo ante of Obamacare or the repeal and replace "Ryancare" or, less accurately, "Trumpcare". I think that my rates would have gone up either way but I am certainly not an expert on health care. My main focus on this is the political aspect of this failure. 

First of all, there are going to be a lot of people extremely angry that nothing was done here. The GOP controls the House, Senate, presidency and will soon control the Supreme Court. The GOP is more powerful then it has been in years and that is due in no small part to the people furious with Obamacare who expected something to be done. I mean, how much more power do they need before they can do anything about the issue? If we get them to 60+ seats in the Senate, past the filibuster threshold, will they do anything then? I am guessing it's not likely, and I think a lot of the rank and file GOP voters will agree. 

This could have an effect on the 2018 mid term elections. Though I doubt many of the people that hate Obamacare would ever vote for a Democrat there is a real concern that they might stay home during the 2018 election. After all, they may have been disillusioned by this failure and are demoralized and disgusted by their leaders. 

I'm not sure I buy it. For one, there are a lot of GOP voters like me that don't really care about health care either way. As someone in my mid thirties with no health problems, I don't even think about health care and don't vote because of it. Status quo, repeal and replace, just repeal or even single payer, it wouldn't effect me much. I vote GOP because of gun rights and foreign policy and opposition to progressivism, not because of health care, and I doubt I am alone on that. 

And let's not forget that this bill would have infuriated the fiscal conservative wing of the GOP. They want a full repeal of the bill and are pushing for a return to policies set in place before Obamacare was a thing. To them, the bill didn't go anywhere far enough and didn't fix the problems they had with health care and they too might have been disillusioned if this bill had passed. It may even have split the party even more than it is now! 

I also think there is a sizable minority of rank and file Republicans that like Obamacare or at least have become dependent on it. I don't know any of them myself, but I think if any of these people that used Obamacare suddenly had it taken away or changed significantly to their detriment, they would be furious as well. It's hard to get a good number on how many people would be effected and would lose coverage because the issue has been so politicized. but kicking them off of Obamacare would both push some of them into the Democrats fold. Not to mention that doing so would have an energizing effect on the base of the Democratic Party, who are also very likely to use Obamacare. 

I really think this is a lose lose lose situation for all involved. Nobody comes out looking good, not even the Democrats. After all, if and when Obamacare fails, they can't really run on the fact that the GOP screwed things up. The failure to replace Obamacare means that the Democrats still own it. Obamacare was left alone and you can't really energize your base when you are running on a platform that is already failing. In some ways this hurts them as much as it hurts the GOP because no matter what happens, they have ownership of Obamacare. 

The GOP looks pretty bad here as well. The factional infighting here might cause some hurt feelings and this will distract from the rest of their agenda. The fact that nobody was able to come up with a plan when the one thing that all GOP voters can agree on is that healthcare is a mess is, quite frankly, extremely frustrating. There is the perception, one that I share, that the GOP spends far too much time fighting each other in purity spirals about who the bigger conservatives are instead of actually fighting the Democrats. If it wasn't for the fact that the Democrats themselves are stuck in the same spiral between progressives and "neo-liberals" the GOP would be screwed. I personally find it rather distasteful and hate all the infighting on the issue.

Donald Trump can't be happy either. He ran on a platform of repealing and replacing Obamacare and he is going to have a difficult time explaining to voters why it didn't happen. I do think that he is in a better position then the media would make him out to be though. Not only did one of his main rivals, Paul Ryan, get utterly humiliated, he also has the option of reaching out for a more bipartisan solution. Some are saying that was his plan all along, but that seems to be giving him too much credit. I have no idea if he has a chance of succeeding, or what that solution could be, but to place all the blame for this on him is rather foolish. It's a failure for him, to be sure, but not a critical one and the media is, of course, lying to the public about the situation. 

Paul Ryan though is screwed. His entire job is to make his party agree with him in Congress and he failed miserably.  There is a very good chance that he loses his speakership for this and he may even lose his seat in Wisconsin. Remember, Paul Nehlen ran against him in the primaries on a "Trump" platform due to widespread opposition to the speaker nationally. He lost because of incumbency and the fact that his district likes him, but I am thinking that Nehlen has a much better chance this time around. Given how annoying Paul Ryan was during the election, I, for one, won't be sad to see him go, if that is what is in the cards... 

If there is one positive from this entire debacle it's this. The GOP can move on to other things. Though people will be disappointed at the failure to fix healthcare, if they can actually get some other things accomplished, like immigration and tax reform and a stronger national defense, people might not be so critical of them. Time will tell if they manage to pull that off though... 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

US supports major raid in an effort to cut off Raqqa for ISIS.

SDF fighters with US provided vehicles in Manbij. USA Today/AP

The United States, along with their Syrian rebel allies, have launched a major raid behind enemy lines to cut off the ISIS controlled city of Raqqa. USA Today. The operation aims to take control of Tabqah dam, which controls the southern route out of the city. Hundreds of airstrikes have also occurred in the area in support of the attack. Hundreds of fighters as well as many vehicles and fortifications have been destroyed in the air attacks. The US role in the behind the lines strike involved US transport helicopters moving the Syrian rebels as well as attack helicopter and artillery support. Special forces have been deployed as well. The forces moved have so far been exclusively US trained Syrian rebels with the Kurds currently being left behind. 

My Comment:
This is a fairly ambitious move and I hope it works out. This is a risky mission and I think there is a decent chance of failure. These troops are cut off from the front lines and are totally dependent on US air support for supplies, ammo, medevac and reinforcement. With that restriction in place, there is always a chance of something going wrong. That is not a comfortable position for these troops to be in. 

On the other hand I think that our new president is more reliable than the old one. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy that would leave these troops in the lurch. If ISIS launched a counter attack, they will come under withering fire from US air support. Though something crazy could happen, I doubt ISIS would win. 

The US has deployed quite a few assets to Syria to support these rebels. We have deployed quite a bit of artillery, with 500 or so more Marines having been deployed to Syria. These Marines can utterly obliterate ISIS attacks, as long as they get good targeting information. That's along with our attack helicopters and airstrikes. Given this level of support the rebels would have to be completely incompetent or ISIS would have to show the kind of luck that seems to have abandoned them a long time ago. Still, given how crazy the war against ISIS has been, I wouldn't rule it out. 

As for the plan itself, it makes quite a bit of sense. Though the Tabqah dam would not cut off all of Raqqa from ISIS's other bases, most notably Dier Ez Zor, it would cut the southern route to ISIS's forces. That would further isolate Raqqa, but more importantly, it would also isolate the forces near the Palmyra area. Remember, the Syrian regime has launched a blistering counterattack in that region and have already taken back Palmyra. Taking the dam would create an anvil that the Syrian hammer can smash ISIS with. Too bad there are other routes between the Palmyra area in the West and Dier Ez Zor and Iraq in the west. 

Still, it's fairly impressive how close anti-ISIS forces are to Raqqa now. The front lines are a lot closer then they used to be and both the Syrian rebels and Kurds are advancing quicker than I thought they would be. It seems as though ISIS is in full retreat almost everywhere right now. That is, of course, a good thing. I predicted in the past that Raqqa would likely still be in ISIS hands next year but it looks like I could be wrong. I would be very happy to be wrong though. 

I do have to say that John McCain was right (even a broken clock is right twice a day) about the Kurds. We really are slowing down the offensive by not giving the Kurds weapons. Obviously, the Turks would be furious if we did give them weapons and there is an argument against giving far leftists groups weapons, but given how terrible Tayyip Erdogan has been lately, I don't really care if we make him mad. But given the fact that we are rapidly advancing to Raqqa and taking the Tabqah dam without their help the whole issue is probably moot anyways... 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Terror attack in London kills 4 people and wounds 40 more in car and stabbing incident.

Police patrol the area around Parliament after the attack. NBC/AFP.

In a major terrorist attack in London, 4 were killed and 40 were wounded in a knife and car attack. NBC News. The attacker started the attack by plowing his vehicle into the crowds on the UK's famous Westminster bridge. He then crashed his car into Parliament, got out and stabbed an unarmed police officer. He was then shot by armed officers and died on the scene. National and international leaders condemned the attack, which has been confirmed by the UK to be terrorism. The attack comes on the one year anniversary of the Brussels attack in Belgium. 

ABC News has video of the attack and pictures from the scene. Be warned some of the pictures in that post and the below video have graphic content. 

My Comment:
Yet another horrible terror attack in Europe and one that falls into a recent pattern for Islamic terrorists. Much like Nice, Berlin and the Ohio State attacks, the suspect rammed a vehicle into a crowd of people and then stabbed people. This tactic has proven to be extremely effective for terrorists and allows anyone with the ability to drive to kill and wound multiple people. It can be done anywhere there are crowds and can be pulled off by even the least sophisticated of terrorists.

The second part of the attack was much less successful. Though a police officer died, tragically he was a husband and father, the terrorist died shortly afterwards. Indeed, the attack would have failed entirely, much like the Orly attack, had the officer been armed. Unfortunately, the UK still doesn't arm all of it's officers. Only specially trained ones are armed, even at a place as important as Parliament. Even with the one man killed though, attacking cops while only armed with a knife is a suckers game.

Still, even if the murdered police officer was armed, he would not have been able to prevent the ramming attack, even if he could have saved his own life. I am not sure what can be done to stop these ramming attacks, short of eliminating the people that want to attempt them. They are about the cheapest way to kill a large amount of people and are easy enough to pull off that anyone capable of driving is able to do it. Even armed guards won't necessarily stop such an attack, assuming they aren't the first ones hit. Killing the driver doesn't stop the vehicle as it will still have momentum.

This attack once again proves that mass murders can kill without the use of a gun. Indeed, given the fact that the UK's gun laws are draconian it just goes to show that guns aren't necessary to kill. Had the attacker tried to obtain a gun, he probably would have been caught and captured and nobody would have died. Not only was using a car effective, it was safer for the terrorist in terms of discovery.

The UK has largely been spared the string of terror attacks that have swept Europe in the past few years. As far as I remember this is the first major one that killed more than one person. Though I am obviously not supportive of this attack, it seemed that it was due for a terror attack. Given the large Muslim population who are often radicalized, it is amazing that the UK had been spared for so long.

The images I saw this morning of the attack were horrible. Unlike the Nice, Berlin or Ohio State attacks, images came out immediately of the dead and dying. This was probably a function of the location. As the seat of the government and a famous tourist location, there were many cameras and video equipment around. Either way, the broken bodies and wounded people might have more of an impact since the entire world saw them this time.

Personally, I stayed up too late watching this story unfold on social media and news. I had been expecting another major attack for quite some time and I was not surprised when this happened. There were no surprises here for me and I am sure such things will happen again...

As far as the suspect, I won't speculate too much. There has been some info floating around on social media but I haven't been able to confirm any of it, so I won't repeat it here. I do believe that this was probably a lone wolf, ISIS inspired terror attack. It seems that this tactic is the preferred option for that class of attacker and will probably be repeated in the future...

Turkey's president, Tayyip Erdogan once again threatens Europe, says citizens won't be safe in the streets.

President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey at a campaign rally. AFP. 

"If you continue to behave like this, tomorrow in no part of the world, no European, no Westerner will be able to take steps on the street safely and peacefully,".

Erdogan did not expand on what he meant by that but seemed to imply that Europeans would suffer the same "abuse" that he claims Turks do in Europe. Tensions between Europe and Turkey have been high ever since the Netherlands prevented Erdogan's diplomats from campaigning for a referendum that would dramatically increase Erdogan's power. Diplomats were prevented from campaigning and some were even expelled. Erdogan has called Europeans Nazis for the row and because Germany is demanding the release of Deniz Yucel, a German journalist of Turkish descent being held in Turkey.

My Comment:
I talked about Erdogan's war of words with the West last week. His comments then were beyond the pale but Erdogan has really gone all out now. You can debate what he meant by saying that Europeans and Westerners won't be safe in streets, but it sure came across as a threat to me. Though he made no promises of violence when I hear a Muslim leader saying that people won't be safe in the streets I think that there will be riots or terrorist attacks. If that isn't what Erdogan means then he needs to clear things ASAP because I don't think Europe is going to interpret it in any other way. 

And I have to wonder about Erdogan's mental stability right now. Though the world is getting used to bombastic leaders saying crazy things, threatening the safety of the citizens of Europe while walking on the streets is quite an escalation. That's on top of his demands that Turks in Europe purposefully outbreed and invade Europeans neighborhoods. I think the Turks in Europe are capable of doing both, and either threat will have serious repercussions if they happen.   

Worst of all, it seems Erdogan accused the Germans of being Nazis. Whatever you think of Angela Merkel and the current state of Germany, they are in no way as bad as Hitler was. And I say that as someone who despises Merkel and thinks that the German people are pretty much beyond hope politically. Germans, in fact, hate being called Nazis to the point where it's a massive insult for anyone to make the comparison. To have a world leader, and a NATO ally to Germany, call the Germans Nazis and terrorist supporters is a massive diplomatic insult. 

And it's not like Erdogan should be accusing anyone of being a terrorist. Leaving beside the fact that he appears to be threatening Europe with terrorism himself, Turkey long turned a blind eye to ISIS in Syria. They even bought oil from them and for far too long they allowed ISIS recruits to cross the border to fight in Syria and Iraq. And they have also offered material support to the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad's forces there. Some of those rebels were jihadist terrorists as well... 

Though I don't know if I entirely agree with Europe's criticism of Erdogan using his diplomats to campaign for his referendum or the actions the Netherlands took to prevent it, it's clear that he is playing a dangerous game. Though the incident with the Netherlands probably could have been handled better, that's no excuse for the kind of diplomatic insults that Erdogan is lobbing at all of Europe, and, indeed, all of the Western world right now. 

I also need to point out that Erdogan has gone far beyond just insulting the governments of Europe. In this latest rant, he seems to be threatening all of the innocent civilians in Europe just because of the actions of two of the governments that he is having a pissing match with. That's pretty inexcusable for anyone in any context... 

I do think it's obvious that Erdogan is acting fairly desperately and it raises the question of what he has to gain here. I feel these incidents proof that he needs the referendum to pass. His hold on power appears to be fairly precarious. Remember, just last year he barely fought off a coup by the military that almost succeeded. A lot of people died in that conflict and I am guessing that Erdogan feels more than a little paranoid. 

We have two possibilities. First, Erdogan knows how his actions will be perceived in Europe and across the world. He understands the risks involved and doesn't care because the votes from expatriates, who support the referendum more then Turks at home, could help him win. He needs to win and is willing to alienate and threaten his allies to do so. Though his descion is unwise, there is at least a rational thought process going on and I doubt if he remains rational it will go beyond anything but talk. It's scary and disturbing, but not an actual threat. 

The other possibility is much more dangerous and concerning. He might just be losing it. Like I said, he's got every reason to be paranoid and he might be thinking that the entire world is in a conspiracy against him. Given how readily the United States and Europe have overthrown world leaders that angered them, I don't entirely disagree with him, even though I think he's probably wrong. If the second option is the case though then Europe could be entering into a very dark place. I don't want to use the "w" world here but I think the chances of actual conflict in Europe have increased a bit... especially if Erdogan isn't thinking rationally. Let's hope that the first option is correct and this is all just big talk... 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Video: B-52 obliterates hotel in Mosul used by ISIS as a HQ.

The USAF has utterly destroyed the Ashur Hotel in Mosul, which was being used by ISIS as a HQ. The B-52 used in the strike used heavy BLU-118 "bunker buster" bombs to destroy the hotel. The hotel was once the best hotel in Mosul, but it had been taken over by ISIS and used as their main headquarters. At the time of the strike the hotel was on the front lines and would have been difficult to neutralize using conventional forces. After the airstrike, Iraqi forces were able to take back the ruins of the hotel though it remains near the front lines. 

My Comment:
Saw this video and I thought I should share it. It just goes to show how powerful the United States weapons can actually be. It's a short clip, in black and white, but the hotel is utterly destroyed. Any ISIS fighters that happened to be in the hotel were pretty much screwed. 

There didn't seem to be a whole lot of collateral damage from this strike either, which is surprising considering how powerful these weapons are. The buildings across the street looked pretty much untouched. Well as untouched as buildings can be in Mosul, which has been the site of several massive battles and bombing campaigns. 

I wonder if ISIS was actually hurt by this strike. Given how close the Ashur hotel was to the front lines I doubt that many ISIS commanders were still there. Even though they might not have expected to be bombed to oblivion, having your HQ right on the front lines is probably a bad idea. I have little doubt that there were troops stationed at the hotel though and I am guessing that almost everyone there was dead. 

A B-52 refueling. USAF/The Drive. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Donald Trump meets with Iraqi Prime Minster Abadi, assures support in the fight against ISIS.

Iraqi Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi. AP.

Donald Trump has met with Iraqi Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi and gave him assurances that the US would support him in the fight against ISIS. AP. Though he did not offer details, Abadi said that the Trump administration would accelerate support. Abadi has not seen Trump's plan on Iraq and noted that he had his own plan to eliminate ISIS from Iraq. Abadi also claimed that ISIS was on the backfoot and their main base in Iraq, Mosul, is near liberation. 

My Comment:
A fairly good meeting for both Trump and Abadi. Trump was able to talk to a world leader and reassure Abadi that we are still on his side. After the Barack Obama presidency, which allowed ISIS to take over a decent chunk of the country, that reassurance was needed. Obama didn't really care about Iraq after the withdrawal until ISIS had already taken back Mosul and even then he didn't do much to fight them after. 

Abadi is probably concerned with what happens after Mosul is liberated. I don't know if he should be that optimistic. Though the battle is going well, I don't know if the city will be liberated this spring. It may take a bit longer, though I would be shocked if it was still in the hands of ISIS by the end of the year. It will fall, the only question is when. 

After Mosul falls, ISIS will still have some minor outposts in Iraq with Tal-Afar being the most famous and powerful. It's far from the only place though as ISIS still controls many small villages and towns in the western part of the country. 

The big question is if the US will continue to help the Iraqis after the liberation of Mosul. After the city falls, ISIS's power base will be broken but they will be far from defeated. Remember, before Mosul fell, ISIS's position in Iraq was essentially the same as they are now. They only controlled a few small towns but they still had a lot of area in Syria left to retreat too. If we don't back the Iraqis it's very possible that ISIS could return. 

Trump's main goal is to assure that ISIS will not rise again like a phoenix after the battle of Mosul ends. Part of that goal is to assure that Abadi that he isn't going to flake like Barack Obama did and I think he accomplished that today. 

The other thing he needs to do is make sure that he keeps his promise to support the Iraqi regime. Mosul largely fell because the US government didn't give the Iraqi military some backbone with airstrikes and other support. If Trump does keep forces in the region to offer up air support and keeps some troops on the ground, he can make sure that ISIS doesn't rise from the ashes yet again. 

He also needs to make sure that ISIS doesn't have anywhere to retreat too. Beating ISIS in Iraq doesn't mean much if Syria is there to act as a backup base. If ISIS still controls Raqqa and still has Dier Ez Zor under siege, there is little to gain by defeating ISIS in Iraq. They will just cross the border again if they recover. 

The good news is that ISIS is under attack on all fronts. Everyone in the region is working together to fight them. Though none of these factions have similar goals, they all are fighting ISIS. Not only are the Iraqi's fighting ISIS in the East, the Syrian government is fighting them in the west and at Dier Ez Zor, the Kurds, Turks and Americans are advancing in the Raqqa area and even the Russians are bombing them. 

There is a question if Iraq's government will survive even after ISIS is defeated. ISIS has united the various factions in Iraq against them, but once they are gone, the various factions could start fighting again. The biggest divide is Sunni vs Shiite. That divide was so bad that many Sunni Muslims welcomed ISIS with open arms just because they aren't Shia Muslims. Even after ISIS is gone, that divide is still there... 

Update on the Orly attack. New video shows the incident.

Just a quick update to the last post. Video has been released showing the incident at the Orly airport. Initial reports that the suspect was unarmed were incorrect, he did have a gun though it's unclear if it was loaded or not. It also seems like it may have been a pellet gun instead of a shotgun. The suspect did try to steal the soldiers rifle but failed to do so and was shot.


 It has also been released that the suspect was indeed an Islamic extremist named Ziyad Ben Belgacem. He had a large bag with some gasoline and he was actually pretty stealthy when he grabbed the soldier. He also said that he wanted to die for Allah.

After watching the video I have to say that Begacem was even more incompetent than I thought. Though he was pretty smart by sneaking up on the soldier, he didn't really accomplish anything more than that. Given that it seemed like had a bit of time before anyone reacted, he probably could have at least killed someone and might have even been able to steal the soldiers rifle if he had tried. But for whatever reason he didn't.

Indeed, Begacem seemed to have trouble even controlling the smaller female soldier. I have to give her credit as she was struggling with him even as he had a gun to her head. She was overpowered but she didn't stop fighting. Given that she was taken from behind I can't really fault he for anything she did. I do think that her partners probably should have realized something had happened quicker but they still managed to stop this man before anyone got hurt.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Man tries to steal a gun from a soldier in Orly airport in Paris, France and gets killed in the attempt

French police stand guard at the Orly airport after the incident. CBS/AP

Soldiers shot and killed a man who attempted to steal a weapon at Orly airport in Paris, France. CBS News. The attacker wrestled a female Air Force soldier to the ground and steal her weapons when her comrades shot and killed him. Nobody else was hurt in the attack but the incident grounded flights and triggered a massive emergency response. No links to terrorist organizations have been found so far but the terror police in France are handling the case. The suspect, who has not yet been named, had a long history of crime and was also suspected in an incident during a traffic stop. Police had pulled him over and he fired at them with birdshot, wounding one, and then carjacked a woman who drove him to the Orly area. 

My Comment:
Strange case in France this morning. Unlike the last incident in France where someone tried to get a rifle from a soldier they attacked, this attack seems much more spontaneous and unplanned than the attack on the Louvre. In that attack the suspect had a machete and tried to use that to obtain a better weapon. That attack failed as well, with only one solider being slightly wounded and the attacker being captured. It was clearly planned though

This attack though seems like a spur of the moment thing. If indeed the suspect was the same one in the traffic shooting and carjacking, we can build a likely scenario. My guess is that the suspect probably thought that he was being pulled over for his probable criminal activity, most likely related to terrorism. Since he had a gun he decided to shoot it out with the police. He escaped but he realized that whatever plans he had were likely blown so he decided to head to the airport and do as much damage as possible before he got killed or captured. 

There are some problems with that theory though. If the suspect in the police shooting had a shotgun, why didn't he keep it? Did he only have one shell, or did it have some kind of catastrophic failure? Maybe he left it behind in the chaos? Did he have one of those DIY "four winds" shotguns that are essentially one use only? Or perhaps the incidents aren't related at all? Other sources seem pretty clear about that not being the case so one wonders what the deal is with that. Birdshot is a poor choice in a mass shooting, though you could certainly kill someone with it, but any gun is probably better then going in unarmed against three trained and well armed soldiers. 

The soldiers did a pretty good job here. Though it's not really good that the man was able to either get his hands on the soldiers FAMAS or at least fight for it, he didn't live long enough to actually use it. And given that he probably blitzed the soldier he took it from, it's probably forgivable that it turned out this way. There is a reason why soldiers work in teams and not alone and this incident proves why it is so important to have someone watch your back. 

Indeed, I have always been impressed with the professionalism of French soldiers and their military in general. They have a bad reputation due to World War II but that reputation is mostly undeserved. They have been excellent in the mostly ignored actions they have taken in Africa against al-Qaeda and they have done a decent job responding to attacks in France itself. 

To be fair though, it's not like this attack had much of a chance of succeeding. I mentioned after the Louvre attack that even if the attackers had succeeded in taking the rifle and subduing the first solider, they would have little time to fight back before the other soldiers shot him. Fighting someone makes it even more difficult to secure a weapon and even if you win, you have an unfamiliar weapon that may not be ready to fire. I'm somewhat knowledgeable about firearms but give me a FAMAS without any instruction and it would take me a bit before I figured out how to release the safety (or if it even has one) and to charge the weapon. Having a bunch of pissed off French soldiers ready to kill me if I didn't figure it out fast enough would make it all but impossible. 

Attacking multiple semi-alert and very well armed soldiers in a high priority target like an airport well unarmed with your only plan to be stealing a weapon from one of them is about as terrible of a plan as you can get. If I was in the terrorist position, on the run and about to be caught or killed, I would have done almost anything else. You would have to be an idiot or have a death wish to even try it and this attack shows why. I, personally, am very thankful for stupid terrorists and hope that they all meet their end this way. 

I do think it is significant that this attack happened at an airport. There have been several successful terror attacks at airports recently and most of them have been targeting the terminals instead of the much more well protected planes. Had this suspect been armed and chosen an airport that wasn't regularly patrolled by highly trained soldiers it could have been much, much worse. 

Finally, I have to say that terrorism seems to have tapered off in Europe and America the last couple of months. Most of the attacks that have happened are disorganized attacks like this one. There hasn't been a more serious planned attack in quite some time. Part of that might be because the terrible losses ISIS and al-Qaeda have suffered on the battlefield, but I can't help but to think that something big might be coming soon. Given how screwed up the world is right now, that's probably a safe bet anyways... 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan urges Turks in Europe to have multiple children as revenge. He's lost his mind.

Turkish flags fly in Amsterdam. New York Times/AP

Turkey's president, Tayyip Erdogan, urged Turks living in Europe to have multiple children as revenge against European "injustices" New York Times. Erdogan said that Turks are the future of Europe and that instead of having three children they should have five and move into the best neighborhoods. Erdogan has been campaigning for a referendum which would give him more power and European Turks are eligible to vote. Erdogan also claimed that Nazism was alive in well in the Netherlands of all places, after the country rejected attempts by his government to campaign for his referendum inside the country. 

My Comment:
First of all, I am utterly amazed that the New York Times actually reported on this incident. Typically they refuse to report on issues that go against multiculturalism. I am wondering why they did so here? I rarely trust the motives of the mainstream media so perhaps I am missing something? Either way, this is an important story and I am glad it is getting covered. 

I have to say that Erdogan seems completely unhinged right now. I have no idea how anyone could get into a fight with the Dutch. The Netherlands seems like the most harmless country in the world and while they do have some famous anti-Islam politicians, even they are pretty tame. Still, it's the Netherlands, they aren't a threat to anyone. 

I don't really know who is in the right with that row. On the one hand if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had campaigned in Europe during the 2016 election to get overseas votes, I don't think anyone would have cared. On the other hand if their position was to flood Europe with migrants than perhaps there would have been problems. I have to say that I personally have more support for the Netherlands, mostly because I dislike Erdogan. 

I have to choose my words carefully here because I don't want them to be used out of context. What Erdogan said here in regards to his revenge through breeding idea seems like a parody of an anti-Islam advocate would say about a Muslim leader. Indeed, Erdogan statements seem like they came out of Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik's manifesto. Though Breivik was a heartless killer, it seems as though he had a point about the leaders of the Muslim world. That doesn't make what he did anywhere near acceptable of course, just that his argument just got a lot more credible... 

I also have to point out that Erdogan is essentially using multiculturalism as a weapon against Europe. This is fairly disgusting, especially considering how little multiculturalism Turkey has. Turkey has committed genocide in the past against the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians inside their borders, to the point that there are very few of each group left in Turkey today, and continue discriminate and wage war against their Kurdish minority. 

And this isn't the first time that Erdogan has threatened Europe through demographics. Erdogan has threatened multiple times to allow Syrian refugees to flood into Europe if certain demands aren't met. This blackmail was effective but the fact remains that Erdogan is using refugees as a weapon. Whatever you think of the refugee crisis you have to agree that using them as a blunt object to batter political enemies is disgusting. 

These comments by Erdogan will probably fuel both anti-Islam sentiment in Europe and actual incidents of white nationalism. After all, Erdogan said explicitly what these groups believe Islam wants. They believe that Europe is under threat and that Islamic immigration could be used as a form of genocide. Those arguments are going to be a lot stronger now. 

I myself have said in the past that there is a good chance that civil war is going to happen in Europe due to the migrant crisis. Muslim migrants have had a very hard time integrating into European socieity and are economically disadvantages. They also commit quite a bit of crime and some of them have even committed terror attacks. 

Europe's non-Muslim population, including non-White members, are getting tired of it and are shifting to the right. With far-right parties having more success, I think that could act as a pressure valve and could reduce tensions a bit. 

That's probably not going to work, at least not anymore. Erdogan is just pouring fuel onto the fire and is encouraging the worst sides of the debate into their baser instincts. He is encouraging those Muslims that believe that they are being oppressed to lash out and saying that they are indeed oppressed. Anti-immigration and anti-Muslim Europeans are having their absolute worse fears confirmed, in public, by one of the most powerful Muslims in all of the world. This is not going to end well. 

As for Erdogan himself, the man seems to have lost his mind after the coup attempt that attempted to remove him from power. No only is he trying a huge power grab, he is getting into fights with his European allies. Both the Netherlands and Turkey are in NATO and are treaty and honor bound to fight with each other if the other gets attacked. But Erdogan's words and actions are not those of an ally. I have said before that I think NATO should kick Turkey out and this latest incident strengthens that argument. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Talk about overkill: $3 million Patriot Missile used to shoot down $200 drone.

Patriot Missile battery. BBC/AFP. 

A US general has revealed that a $3 million Patriot Missile was used to shoot down a $200 quadcopter drone. BBC. Army General David Perkins said that an ally used the advanced missile system to destroy a "$200 drone from Amazon". The Patriot was effective but obvious overkill. Small drones have been used recently, most notably in the battle of Mosul, to deliver small explosives as a terror weapon and air support. It is unclear which US ally used the Patriot Missile but Perkins pointed out how economically nonviable continued use could be. 

My Comment:
Though this story is somewhat humorous, it does speak to a larger problem. What do we do about drones? ISIS has been using them as a makeshift airforce in Mosul and though these strikes weren't all that effective they did have an effect on morale and did hurt some people. And these drones obviously have a terror threat and can be used to spy on people. 

I am surprised that a Patriot Battery was able to target and destroy a drone. You would think that their radar wouldn't be that effective but remember, the Patriots weren't just made as a missile defense system. They also can be used against aircraft. Such a small aircraft is certainly unusual though. My guess is that the missile didn't even slow down when it hit the quadcopter. 

It's unclear which US ally had this engagement. I can think of two very obvious suspects. The first is Israel. Not only does Israel border Syria, which is filled with dozens of factions that might wish to cause Israel harm, including ISIS and Hezbollah. They have also had some border raids as well and have used the Patriots to shoot down other things. 

The other main suspect is Saudi Arabia. They have the same problem as the Israelis in that they have a major war across their border, in this case Yemen. Houthi rebels may have used these drones for recon or perhaps in the same way that ISIS has used them. It is also possible that the operator was ISIS or al-Qaeda themselves. 

Either way, I am guessing the reason that Perkins didn't reveal who fired the missile is because it was fairly embarrassing. Though I think you can easily justify using a missile on a drone, especially when lives are at stake, the economics of the situation does look horrible. 

Obviously Patriot Missiles are extreme overkill, but what else can be done to shoot down drones? From what I understand the United States has neglected air defense because our doctrine is to destroy enemy air forces before they are a threat. That doesn't work when the air forces are made up with tiny drones. 

So what other weapons can be used against drones? Well MANPADS are a possibility. These small shoulder mounted launchers can easily shoot down drones but again, there is a massive cost differential. Our FIM-92 Stingers are $38,000 a pop. Russian models are a bit cheaper but not by much. Obviously using our own planes to destroy drones is a massive overkill as well. 

I think the best defense against drones in terms of costs would be flak guns. These are reasonably cheap and can easily shoot down drones, especially if they have good radar backing them up. In some cases guys with rifles and machine guns on the ground could shoot down drones as well.  

No matter what though, I think that the use of small drones in combat is going to be a tough nut to crack. Whatever we are going to use against them it's never going to be cost effective. That's nothing new, we already use multi million dollar drone strikes to kill single terrorists, but it's never a good thing. 

Though I am loath to suggest a ban, I wonder if one isn't coming. Small drones are already being used in combat and I think it's only a matter of time they are used in a terror attack, either as a weapon or as a propaganda tool. I think that after that happens, and it will, there might be a ban or further restrictions on who gets to buy a drone. If I had any investments in companies that primary make drones I would be shorting them now... 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stupid story of the day: MSNBC releases Donald Trump tax returns, makes him look good in the process...

Donald Trump. AP/Washington Post

So on Twitter today, everyone was hyped that Rachel Maddow, with help from an investigative reporter from MSNBC, had Donald Trump's tax returns, all of them, and that they were going to release them. People on the left were salivating at the thought of it. What dangerous scandals and horrible secrets did these tax returns contain? Was Trump dodging taxes and pay nothing? Did he have some horrible connections to Russia? Was there going to be truth that Donald Trump was literally Hitler? 

Nope. What was revealed in the single 2005 tax return is that Trump paid $38 million in taxes on $150 million in income. To be fair, Trump did pay at a rate of 25%, which is lower than the top rate of 35%, but way more then most people expected. After all the last tax return was dropped, people speculated that Trump didn't pay any taxes at all between the 1990's and the early 2000's. Now we know that it wasn't true for 2005 at the very least. 

This story was, to use the language of the time, a nothingburger. Even the Washington Post, or more accurately, Chris Cillizza, hardly a die hard Trump supporter, said so. There is nothing there that makes Donald Trump look bad. Indeed it made him look like someone who actually paid his taxes. Since Trump had been tarred as a tax dodger since before the election, this story actually helps him!

Which makes me wonder why Maddow even did this report. Already people are saying that Trump leaked this on purpose to make himself look good and to distract against other issues. I guess that is possible but I kinda doubt it. He did seem to know it was coming and had a statement out before it happened, but I don't think Trump would release his tax returns on purpose. Either way though Maddow got played and made herself look pretty dumb. Indeed, it's stupid and hurts her reputation. 

I do have to say that I feel more than a little Schadenfreude here. People were arguing with me pretty hard on Twitter when I pointed out that even if Trump was hiding something in his tax returns, I didn't care. It doesn't matter to me either way because I didn't vote for Trump because of his taxes and even if he didn't pay at all, it wouldn't effect me in anyway. People didn't like that and now that the report has come out it was pretty funny to see them switch from "this will be the thing that stops Trump!" and "Smell the fear!" to "Trump leaked this on purpose and Maddow got played". Gotta love it! 

Piracy returns to Somalia as pirates take control of an oil tanker

Aris 13 oil tanker, before being taken by pirates. ABC/AP.

Pirates have taken control of an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia. ABC News. The eight crew members of the Aris 13 oil tanker, flagged out of Comoros, are being held hostage by the Somali gunmen. The hijacking is the first incidence of piracy since 2012 and comes as a shock. Heavy patrols by NATO, India, Iran and China have greatly reduced the threat near Somali waters but these gunmen slipped through the cracks. Two dozen men from the semi-autonomous region of Puntland took control of the ship. No demands for ransom have yet been made. 

My Comment:
Looks like piracy has returned to the seas around Somalia. Piracy in Somalia was so bad a few years back that it reached memetic levels. Hollywood movies were made about it and even South Park had an episode on it. And to be fair, it was a serious problem. Many ships were stolen, crew members were taken hostage and ransoms were paid. It was a massive problem and the seas around Somalia were among the most dangerous in the world. 

And then, suddenly, it stopped almost completely. Why? Extremely heavy navy patrols. Not only was the United States Navy patrolling, they had a lot of international help, even from countries that normally don't get along with the United States. When the US, Iran and China are all working to a common goal it turns out that things can be accomplished very quickly. International trade is hugely important and even countries that normally hate each other will work together to protect it. The crackdown pretty much stopped piracy in the region.

The success of these pirates were fairly low as well. Some of them ended up dead, like the pirates portrayed in the Captain Phillips movie. The rest ended up in prison or just correctly realized that there was a very small chance of success. Most of the people dumb enough to try it ended up being dead or in prison. 

So why did these guys start it up again? The ABC article made it sound like they were former pirates who gave up the life to take up fishing instead. Unfortunately for them, the waters around Somalia have been over-fished and they had a lot of trouble making a profit. Without any other sources of income and angry about foreigners fishing in their waters, they decided to return to piracy.

It's not like  they don't have a point. Since Somalia is a failed state, it has little possibility to take control of it's waters. Foreign ships have exploited their waters for years. Not only do they steal the fish of their waters, the often dump toxic waste along the coasts. What happened to the waters around Somali is a crime and only happened because Somalia is such a basket case.

Still, there are better options than piracy. I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who take hostages and steal ships, even if they have been screwed by the international community and the fact that Somalia has been a failed state for decades now.  I am hoping these pirates are brought to justice and that the hostages are rescued safely. 

I do worry that there might be terrorist connections to this attack. The al-Qaeda linked group, al-Shabab is very active in Somalia and they have had connections to pirates in the past. Though the local sources quoted in the article made it seem that these were just run of the mill pirates, there could always be a connection that hasn't been discovered yet. 

If there is a terror connection then things can go very bad very quickly. Pirates are at least motivated by profit and understand that killing hostages is usually a very bad idea. Terrorists have no such motive and could very well execute hostages just for the sake of doing so. Let's hope that there isn't a terror connection in this case and that the hostages are released safely. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Kremlin spokesman says that the Russian Ambassador met with people related to the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. NASA/Joel Kowsky.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak also met with members and advisers to the Hillary Clinton campaign. The Hill. Donald Trump has been crucified in the media for his campaigns alleged connections to Russia, but it seems as though Hillary Clinton's campaign had similar connections. Indeed, Peskov confirmed that the role of Ambassador Kislyak was to talk to both campaigns. Peskov claimed that that there was no attempt to interfere with the elections and that claims otherwise were attempts to demonize Russia. Peskov claimed that Putin never openly supported Trump but conceded that he wanted him to win over Clinton due to her perceived bias against Russia. 

My Comment:
Peskov states the obvious. Of course Sergey Kislyak had contact with members of the Trump and Clinton campaigns. That's literally his job!  The whole point of having diplomats is to conduct diplomacy and during a presidential campaign that means talking to people on both sides. It would have been shocking if Kislyak hadn't had connections with both campaigns, the fact that he did isn't newsworthy at all in a normal context.  

Indeed, things could have been a lot worse if Kislyak hadn't talked to either campaign. If not, than Russia would not have the private positions of the candidates. Hillary Clinton famously had different public and private positions and considering her public position was that Russia was responsible for the current state of the world. These contacts with the Russians might have prevented a war if she had won. Assuming that her public position was a lie that is... 

The whole Russian angle that the media has been playing for months is a total witchunt. Not only was there any fire to the smoke, there wasn't even all that much smoke. Trump's connections to Russia are essentially non-existent and the members of his campaign that did have connections were either minor (like Michael Flynn) or were because they were doing their jobs (like Jeff Sessions). 

And the issue has been focused on to the point where the media is leaving actual attacks rotting on the vine. It just came out that Michael Flynn's connections to Turkey were so strong that he might have had to register as a foreign agent. And he lied to the Trump administration about that fact. Flynn was fired but when you hear about him it is only his supposed connections to Russia that matter. The fact that he had strong links to Turkey, an Islamic country that is currently involved in a row with the Netherlands of all countries, is a non-issue to the media. I personally think that Turkey is a much bigger threat than Russia could ever be, but nobody in the media even seems concerned about the fact that Flynn was working with them. 

Trump also had contact with all kinds of other foreign government officials and nobody raised an eyebrow. And this wasn't just weak connections between his campaign and diplomats. Trump actually met with the Presidents of Mexico, Egypt and Israel in person. Though there will always be those that say that every president is a pawn of Israel, nobody is accusing Trump of being a pawn of Egypt or Mexico. Given how poor relations are with Mexico, it would be madness to do so. And yes, Clinton met with foreign officials as well! 

As for the allegation that Putin wanted Trump to win, that isn't that surprising. After all, Hillary Clinton did everything but openly call for war with Russia. And her plan in Syria, to establish a no-fly zone, might as well have been a call for war. Trump instead stated that he wanted to work with Putin if he could. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Putin would want the person who didn't want war with him to win. 

Still, even if Putin did want Trump to win, he hasn't gotten much out of it. If there really was a campaign for Trump to be subverted by the Russians, then it really hasn't worked out for the Russians at all. They still have sanctions against them, America's commitment to Ukraine hasn't changed and we still aren't working closely with the Russians in Syria. That's what Russia wanted but they sure haven't gotten it yet. Things are probably better than they would be with Clinton, but if Trump really is a Russian agent, than the Russians are not getting a good deal... 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

At least 40+ Shia Muslims killed in a twin bomb attack in Damascus, Syria.

The aftermath of the blasts showing the pilgrim's buses. BBC/AP.

At least 40 people were killed and dozens more wounded in a double bombing in Syria's capital of Damascus. BBC. The attack occurred at the Bab al-Saghir cemetery, which is a pilgrimage site for Shiite Muslims. Many of the victims in this attack were from Iraq. Shiite Muslims have been common targets throughout the civil war but attacks rarely happen in Damascus, which is mostly under the control and protection of Bashar al-Assad. The bombers used a two pronged attack, in which they detonated a remote bomb while another attacker blew himself up. Responsibility for the attack has not been established but the former al-Nusra Front, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and ISIS are the top suspects. 

My Comment:
Another fairly effective attack in Syria. This time it took place in Damascus itself. I won't say that Damascus has been spared the worst effects of the war. There was a three week battle there back in 2012 and there have been raids, fighting and terror attacks since then. But let's be clear, as far as Syria goes, it's one of the safer places. An attack here is a big deal and not something to be ignored. It is the seat of power of the Assad regime and any attack in the city is serious. 

It is somewhat odd that an attack in Syria would have mostly Iraqi victims, but I guess it happens. I don't think Iraq is all that safe itself, but if I was going to go anywhere from there, I can't think of a worse place then Syria. I guess it goes to show that people will do dangerous things for their faith. Going on a pilgrimage though shouldn't be one of them and it's a shame that these Shiite Muslims had to die for it. 

It is no surprise though that someone was targeting Shiite Muslims. Shia and Sunni Muslims have been fighting each other for a long, long time. Indeed, much of the conflict in the Middle East these days can be seen through the lens of the Sunni-Shia conflict. The conflict is why Iraq was never stable, it's why Yemen is a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and it's why Syria is such a massive mess. Sure, Assad himself is an Alawite, which is somewhat different than Shia Muslims, but are hated all the same by the more extreme Sunni Muslims. 

Indeed, one of the reasons I kinda want Bashar al-Assad to win is because I know that if ISIS, Fatah al-Sham or even the less secular Jihadists rebels were to take over the country it would likely be the end of Shiite Muslims in Syria. Along with Christians, Druze, Alawites and all the other small religious minorities in Syria. They would either flee, compounding an already untenable refugee crisis or stay and be killed. There really isn't any other outcome of the Sunni extremists win...

This attack specifically demonstrates one of the major differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The Shia Muslims have no problem with tombs and cemeteries. The have the same beliefs on the issue as most of the western world and often go on pilgrimages to visit these sites. Sunni Muslims, especially the radical ones, consider tombs and cemeteries to be potentially idolatrous. Sunni Muslims are much more iconoclastic than Shiites and consider these sites to be a form of ancestor worship. The more extreme Muslims are willing to kill over it. 

Speaking of which, I wonder who was responsible for this attack. ISIS is the most obvious suspect and they do control some territory near Damascus. Most of that territory is empty desert though and the Syrian government is between them and the city. I guess it is possible that ISIS was able to smuggle in people to conduct this attack but it would be difficult. 

It would also make very little sense for them to waste weapons and manpower on an attack that has little strategic importance. Though there is always something to be said about striking deep behind enemy lines, it really doesn't do much for ISIS. Remember, ISIS is in a serious situation where they are retreating practically everywhere. Their duel capitals, Mosul and Raqqa, are in serious danger of being lost. I am guessing that due to these factors that there is a real possiblity that they weren't responsible, even though they probably are the leading suspect. 

The other main suspect is Fatah al-Sham, formally al-Nusra Front. Fatah al-Sham was formally associated with al-Qaeda and they were also the parent organization for ISIS before the two groups split in two. Their beliefs are similar to ISIS's and they have a strong presence in Damascus. Most of that is underground, but the fighting between them and the regime has been fierce. Indeed, this attack could be a revenge attack in payback for the destruction of one of their command posts near the city.  

Still, it seems a little out of character for Fatah al-Sham. Though they have conducted bombings in the past and hate Shia Islam almost as much as ISIS, they have been much more pragmatic in the Syrian Civil War. They are certainly capable of such an attack, it just seems unusual for them to pull one off that doesn't have immediate tactical and strategic advantages. 

Either way though, this is just another of a long line of serious bombings in the Syrian Civil War. No matter who is responsible, in the end, it is just another drop in the bucket...