Category Archives: Foreign Policy

About vetting

In light of the latest media Trump outrage spin cycle about a WH staffer’s email on preparations for Trump’s visit to troops in Japan, I want to write a post on why I am not part of the John McCain hero worship club, even though I do respect his military service to our country.  It only feels right to warn you, this post also is about spin, sorry, it is, .

My negative opinion of John McCain deals with McCain the Washington politician, who wore his war hero mantle to deflect any criticism.  I don’t believe in any public servant being placed on a pedestal, beyond reproach.  Every public servant must be accountable and subject to criticism.  I don’t want to be in the Trump Defense Camp or the McCain Deification Camp

At present, my understanding is the WSJ wrote about a leaked email, which they have shared a copy publicly – minus the pertinent information, like who sent it, who received it, and who leaked it to them.  The email detailed a WH staffer requesting the Pentagon remove the USS McCain, stationed in Japan from Trump’s line of vision, when he visited the troops in Japan.  Trump claims he had no knowledge of the email, but he made an excuse for the staffer, along the lines that the staffer meant well.  The Pentagon’s responses indicated the request was not agreed to or carried out, but they opened an investigation.

Frankly, I am sick to death of these holier-than-thou McCain spin cycles – even his funeral was deliberately turned into a media Trump outrage spin cycle

JK, a frequent commenter on my blog since 2013, and I have been chatting back and forth in recent days in the comment section on my April blog post, A rambling blog post.  We’ve tossed a lot of links and ideas back and forth on the endless Trump-Russia Collusion mess and while I don’t want to repeat all our comments, in another post I’ll paste some pieces of those comments, but first I want to explain how JK found my blog in 2013 and how McCain news was part of how this came about.

I started this blog in December 2012, writing mostly about American politics and foreign policy matters, especially the Obama administration policies and spin narratives I disagreed with or actions I found corrupt.  In September 2013, the hot topic was whether the US should jump into the Syrian civil war and aid the Syrian rebel forces fighting to topple the Assad regime.

Often things in the news catch my attention, because the spin rams not only new, made-up phrases (often meaning the exact opposite of what the words mean) into the American lexicon, but also new faces.  In 2013, Elizabeth O’Bagy a young woman, whom I had never heard of, even though I follow American politics closely, became a household name.  She was on cable news, she was being quoted by top US officials, she was being pushed forward by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) as their trusted Syrian expert and she was part of a group, which escorted John McCain on a surprise “fact-finding” trip to Syria in the Spring of 2013.

Taking a step back to McCain’s surprise trip to Syria in the Spring of 2013,  from news reports, McCain relied on a Syrian resistance group, Syrian Emergency Task Force, to arrange and guide him on that trip.   A young woman, Elizabeth O’Bagy, was on that trip and also Evan McMullin.  After that trip, photos emerged, I think British press was where I first saw them, of McCain in Syria posing with people these reports claimed were ISIS fighters.  McCain vehemently denied that claim.  He was there with this Syrian Emergency Task Force though and that’s what bothers me.  Who were these people  he went on this trip with, who vetted them???

By the fall of 2013, and the relentless “arm the Syrian moderate” media spin drumbeat, I was disturbed by how American foreign policy was driven by orchestrated spin campaigns and I was disturbed that so many powerful Washington politicians cluelessly are led by the spin and “experts” touted by some think tanks.

As I saw John McCain and John Kerry citing O’Bagy as the Syrian expert and the WSJ ran an op-ed she wrote, while O’Bagy was making the cable TV rounds, I wondered, who on earth is this young woman and how did she become the de facto Syria expert, whom McCain and Kerry are trusting?  What about our own intelligence agencies  and military intelligence VETTED intel?  Why are they relying on this young woman, instead of our government intel products???  This all sounds so ironic in light of the cries about Trump not listening to our intel agencies, lol, but there you have it – at the highest levels of the Obama administration and in the Senate Armed Services Committee, they were relying on Elizabeth O’Bagy.

McCain and Kerry were trusting some woman pushed by the ISW and the ISW obviously hadn’t even done basic vetting on her… but there she was being touted as the trusted Syrian expert at the highest levels of our government.  Don’t take this as excusing Trump’s decision-making process where he doesn’t listen to vetted US intelligence, because Trump says he relies on his gut.  From what I can tell though, he is easily manipulated and listens to whatever FOX pundits are selling…

What in the hell is wrong with all of these people in Washington???

I did a few minutes of googling and realized that Dr. O’Bagy worked for the ISW as their Syria expert, but… she was also the political director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force.  I did not believe it was wise for the US State Department to be relying on a person who was the political director of a Syrian resistance advocacy group.  My blog is a backwoods spot on the internet, so I decided to write my concerns and questions about O’Bagy on a popular blog’s comment section.  Other reporters started looking into Dr. O’Bagy too.  Well, she wasn’t a Dr. is the first fact that hit me.  NO ONE VETTED HER – not the ISW, who was promoting her as a Syrian expert, not John Kerry, not John McCain, NO ONE.

JK and some other people came to my blog after I posted my comment about O’Bagy on another popular blog.

Some right-wing news sites online ran a lot of other information about O’Bagy and to this day, I still haven’t reconciled who on earth her connections inside Syria or the region were.  One report mentioned she used an alias and was the captain of a women’s soccer team in Egypt, another report claimed she signed an affidavit vouching for an accused American terrorist and so it went.

What I do know is that the ISW fired O’Bagy for lying on her resumé and less than a month later, John McCain hired her to work on his staff as a legislative assistant.  I wondered if she would get a security clearance and how on earth she would pass a background check after lying about her doctorate degree.   Even more than that, I wondered about John McCain’s judgment and integrity, where he would leap in to hire someone who had just been fired for lying on her resumé.

A lot of sensitive information passes through the office of the Senate Armed Services Chairman.  I also wondered about those photos of McCain that circulated from his fact-finding Syria trip and wondered if he had been set up by this SETF group in those photos, even though he declared they were faked.  It was all very bizarre.

This strikes me a lot like House Dems having the Awan brothers hired handling their IT stuff in Congress and Hillary having Huma Abedin, with her Muslim Brotherhood connected family as her closest aide and according to FBI Notes, the one Clinton aide said Abedin managed the SCIF in the Clintons home… She was Hillary’s close aide in the State Dept.  She was working for the State Dept and a Clinton-Foundation connected company at the same time during part of Hillary’s State Dept tenure and then she had tens of thousands of State Dept and Hillary emails saved on her laptop…  She even coordinated the Clinton server upgrade when Hillary became Sec. of State, but she told the FBI she learned about the server  in 2015, when the news broke about the server…

Back to McCain, sorry for venting about Hillary corruption again.  I never bought into the “Syrian Moderate” spin, because the Syrian rebels were Sunni resistance groups, many filled with jihadists and even more concerning, was even the more “moderate” resistance groups displayed a willingness to align with jihadist groups, as needed.  The effort that emerged to arm the “Syrian Moderate” forces was a debacle.  Media ran fawning stories selling the “Syrian Moderate” myth and the Obama administration and plenty of Republicans, especially John McCain, were all in on this arming “Syrian Moderates” idea, which the media spin pushed constantly, with stories like this Time story,The Frontman vs. al Qaeda: Meet Jamal Maarouf, the West’s best fighting chance against Syria’s Islamist armies.

Obama refused to commit US troops, but what emerged was an Obama policy to arm “vetted” Syrian moderate rebel groups.  The US military “vetted”,  trained and armed Maarouf and his group with TOW anti-tank missiles and immediately upon returning to the battle in Syria, Maarouf made a deal with ISIS and declared a truce...

In a McCain ringled public sideshow Senate hearing, McCain thundered on,  berating the US military over failing to arm “vetted” Syrian Moderate rebels at a fast enough rate.  McCain staged this sideshow hearing to berate the US military???   He worked to  create a media spin cycle making the US military look inept.  The truth was these Syrian rebel groups weren’t trustworthy and even the so-called “moderate” ones were willing to work with jihadists, when it suited their purposes.  At least the US military was trying to do due diligence to their mission of “vetting” supposed Syrian moderate rebel groups.  I have less confidence in the CIA’s vetting of Syrian rebel groups.  I also have zero patience with people who cite an annointed “expert” knows this person as “vetting”.  However, a McCain sideshow hearing berating a US general and a full-throated media spin cycle trashing the American military’s ineptitude followed, with plenty of Washington pols jumping in to attack the US military.

All of this was driven by a media-fueled SPIN effort.

Let’s move to the Trump/McCain feud and bizarre SPIN outrage cycles.  Trump has made many outrageous comments about McCain.  McCain in life, and even in death, seems to manage to become the center of media Trump outrage spin cycles.

In 2016, there was McCain on a trip being approached and fed info on the Steele dossier.  McCain’s friend flew to England, to meet personally with Steele and get a copy of the dossier.  The friend hand-carried that dossier to McCain and McCain personally delivered it to James Comey, in a private meeting.  No one to this day has verified that Steele dossier and I am not even sure what efforts the FBI, our intel agencies or the Mueller team went to to verify and corroborate the Steele dossier.  It looks to me like top Obama officials, (just like with the O’Bagy situation)  relied on the Steele dossier based on Christopher Steele and John McCain being recruited as a dossier courier by some Brit:

“The Republican senator was attending an annual security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia shortly after the presidential election in November 2016 when retired a British diplomat approached him.

According to McCain, he didn’t recall ever having a previous conversation with Sir Andrew Wood, but may have met him before in passing. Chris Brose, a staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and David Kramer, a former assistant secretary of state with Russian expertise, joined McCain and Wood in a room off the main conference hall.

After discussing Russian election interference for a few minutes, Wood explained why he’d approached McCain in the first place.

“He told me he knew a former MI6 officer by the name of Christopher Steele, who had been commissioned to investigate connections between the Trump campaign and Russian agents as well as potentially compromising information about the President-elect that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin allegedly possessed,” McCain wrote.”

https://www.businessinsider.com/how-john-mccain-received-steele-dossier-trump-russia-2018-5

My gut instinct was that McCain was either compromised and a willing conduit, for what strikes me, as malignant foreign actors creating mischief or he was easily duped from years of being part of the inside Washington, ” it’s all a matter of who knows who” mentality, where being connected to somebody important is the ticket to entry.  Something stinks with McCain’s trip to Syria, then those photos splashed across international media alleging he was posed with ISIS fighters and then McCain being roped into the Steele dossier debacle.  McCain bought into O’Bagy’s reliability, so did John Kerry, same with Christopher Steele, without any careful vetting.  Even basic vetting would have shown she did not possess a doctorate from Georgetown.

This latest McCain controversy centers on an email someone leaked to the media.  I wonder who leaked it most of all and why???  Any White House discussion with the Pentagon about POTUS travel plans abroad would strike me as a sensitive, probably classified communication.

Sitting back and watching McCain being at the center of  so many media Trump Outrage spin storms, I am disturbed that perhaps there might be some malignant hostile foreign fingers in this effort.  Then again, I’ve wondered for years how deeply our media, across the political spectrum, is infiltrated with hostile foreign  influence operators looking to fuel controversy, make America look like a banana republic and fuel partisan divides.  With so many Americans, who are  connected to Washington, willing to leap to be lobbyists for foreign entities, even hostile foreign ones, there are assuredly plenty of American politicos willing to put big bucks over American interests. We’re not likely to ever get the answer to this hostile foreign influence question,because so much foreign money pours in to American politicians, lobbyists, think tanks, etc.

Even in death McCain still manages to become the center of very divisive media spin cycles, that are directed at fueling divides between Trump and the US military.  Finding out who leaked that email and why seems like it should be at the center of the Pentagon investigation. These McCain vs Trump media spin attacks might be driven by more than just domestic partisans.

Yes, Trump’s conduct often deserves heaps of condemnation, but the bigger picture is these spin efforts might be meant to destroy Trump’s credibility as CINC and undercut the US military image abroad.  There are massive media spin efforts to fuel these McCain vs. Trump’s outrage spin cycles and they not only attack Trump, they now include efforts to make the US military look bad .  I suspect there’s a hostile effort (whether American leftists who hate the US military or hostile foreign actors, don’t know), but troop images that can be used to fuel more Trump Outrage spin too  got played up in the media  Trump Outrage spin too.  The media effort this trip was a photo of described as sailors wearing MAGA-inpired patches. On Trump’s Christmas trip to visit troops in Iraq, the media hyped Trump signing MAGA soldiers’ hats.

This McCain vs. Trump outrage spin cycle falls right on the heels of Trump being manipulated by FOX News coverage hyping war criminals cases and urging Trump to pardon war criminals.  How on earth that morphed into urging Trump to pardon war criminals on Memorial Day, boggles my mind and should be investigated by our national security people – it’s bizarre as hell and all driven by media and media Trump outrage spin cycles.

Even American cable news media networks are at war discrediting each other, with Fox attacking  mainstream media coverage of Trump and mainstream media attacking FOX coverage of Trump – this constant pitting them against each other – leaves Americans totally divided and living in completely separate news bubbles.  Trump lives in the FOX News bubble, but he watches and  appears to long to be cheered by CNN and MSNBC, where his old friends reside.  He frequently seethes about their betrayal of him…

How on earth ordinary citizens are supposed to sift through this  24/7 barrage of media-driven scorched earth spin disinformation and pile-on incitement effort,  I don’t know.  It’s getting harder and harder to keep track of details and facts in news stories with so much spin crap being flung in every direction.

All I know is I don’t want the US military being used as a political football by Trump, by Democrats, by the media and most especially by hostile foreign entities.

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Trump’s boring re-run

President Trump cabinet meeting/Reality Presidency Show season premiere today garnered huge media coverage.   Numerous comments the president made raised eyebrows and evoked critical media commentary, but the thing that struck me about this Trump show is it was a boring rerun of every other Trump show, when he’s trying to talk his way past some deepening controversy.

Trump really is a one-trick pony repeating the same media gimmicks over and over.

Today was a boring rerun of Trump’s staged attacks against his enemies.  It’s just like his May 31, 2016 press conference he staged to silence the controversy over the funds from his January 2016 debate temper tantrum, where he staged a vet fundraiser rally.  By the Spring of 2016, media questions started swirling about which veterans groups received funds from that January fundraiser and exactly how much money was raised:

Today, Trump repeated this same press conference, except he used his cabinet as stage props instead of some veterans, who support him.

Incoming Senator Mitt Romney penned a scathing op-ed about President Trump leadership and character for the Washington Post last night.  Romney stated:

“The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December. The departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, the appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fight beside us, and the president’s thoughtless claim that America has long been a “sucker” in world affairs all defined his presidency down.

It is well known that Donald Trump was not my choice for the Republican presidential nomination. After he became the nominee, I hoped his campaign would refrain from resentment and name-calling. It did not. When he won the election, I hoped he would rise to the occasion. His early appointments of Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Nikki Haley, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, Kelly and Mattis were encouraging. But, on balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.”

This op-ed added to the growing criticisms of Trump’s handling of announcing a Syria pull-out via a tweet, without even informing our allies or his own national security team about the decision first.  The bad press escalated with General Mattis’ resignation as Secretary of Defense, followed by Trump’s spiteful announcement he was moving up Mattis’ departure.

As criticism over both Trump’s Syria decision and how he went about it escalated, the president began ramping up his mean tweeting in recent days.  He retaliated over the weekend when General McChrystal answered a reporter’s question about whether he would ever serve in the Trump presidency and whether he believes the president is immoral.  McChrystal, I believe, answered the questions honestly.  In typical Trump fashion, Trump decided to wage the only strategy he knows – a vicious divide and conquer attack.

We now have a POTUS committed to playing American generals against each other and even more disturbing, publicly undercutting top retired generals to curry favor with the troops.  He is undercutting confidence in the US military and its top leaders, all to win spin cycles…

The truth is these retired generals should tread very cautiously criticizing the President and avoid it.  Engaging in public spin attacks back and forth with Trump will only damage military morale and could easily begin to damage confidence in America’s top military leadership. If these retired generals or former Trump administration officials feel strongly about Trump’s competency, conduct in office and handling of  national security matters, the proper way to air that would be to testify to Congress, under oath.

The real big picture threat is America’s adversaries are watching the Trump Reality Presidency Show and they understand that Trump’s shallow narcissism makes him so easy to manipulate.  Since Erdogan talked Trump into pulling out of Syria, both Kim Jong Un and Putin made public overtures to Trump about more meetings.  They obviously feel confident they can easily play Trump again.   All it takes is stroking Trump’s ego, by praising him as a strong leader.  How much Trump will sell America down the river remains to be seen, but for a reality check, Trump doesn’t bother with facts or details.

The media latched onto a Trump comment in his presser that speaks to Trump’s colossal ignorance about American foreign policy and history.  Trump touted the Soviet view on their invasion of Afghanistan, not the Reagan foreign policy view.  It was a surreal comment coming from a sitting American president:

Trump: “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia.” This is simply not true. The Soviet Union ventured into Afghanistan as part of its effort to prop up communism abroad, not because terrorists were striking the Soviet homeland.

I also commented on a tweet by a top Trump Spin Commando this afternoon and added a few comments beyond that:

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Trump the Builder & our Syria Policy

The truth matters.

Thinking about America’s “big picture” strategy, first I’m going to meander on about America’s War on Terror a bit and then pivot to the “little picture” homegrown “Trump problems”, which in the end are probably way more important to America than our regional strategy in the Mid-East.

President Trump did not cause America’s failures in the War on Terror.  America’s foreign policy experts, on both sides of the aisle, have made plenty of disastrous strategic mistakes in America’s endless War on Terror, since 2001.   Our extreme partisan Trump Hysterics United echo chamber in the media makes it difficult, for these foreign policy experts to concede this fact, but it’s the truth.

The people who did formulate and carry-out these policies that failed, came from both sides of the political aisle, in previous administrations.   Some of them now are the loudest Trump critics, while at the same time refusing to admit their own policies failed.  In the spirit of the season, it’s also only right to concede that they acted with good intentions to do what they believed was best for America.

Thinking back over my many angry and scathing blog posts about Obama administration decisions, made in the heady, High-On-Arab-Spring delusions days, that’s quite a big concession, considering how disgusted I was by their massive media “narrative-writing” efforts to sugarcoat American strategic blunders and their refusal to admit mistakes and failures.  To this day, many of the loudest Trump critics, who underwrote failed Bush and Obama era foreign policy, still determinedly spin their failures as successes.

For many years, I’ve believed we should completely rethink our War on Terror, expand our focus to be more about regional stability and less about a myopic fixation on killing Islamic radical terrorists.  By turning American interests into strictly destroying Al Qaeda, Inc. we’ve overlooked many other key American interests in the region and we’ve allowed ourselves to get stuck on repeating failed approaches, over and over and over.

Even more alarming, in our zeal to invest more in military options rather than other tools of American power, we’ve failed to weigh the real damage grinding down our military, decades of endless war has wrought on our military readiness.  We’ve been so used to believing our military is invincible, that American policymakers too often grab for a military option, without even considering how that option might impact bigger picture American strategic issues.

It’s easy to get lost in Trump outrage spin cycles, just like many conservatives (myself included), often got lost in the Obama outrage spin cycles, but the real strategic issue America needs to deal with is we need a larger regional strategy that bolsters American national interests.  That’s how I began thinking about the late General William Odom last night, even as my ire simmered at how President Trump went about handling his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.   The above video of General Odom is worth watching and thinking about.

America needs a new regional strategy to deal with the Mid-East and the umbrella of Sharia-inspired terrorists, like Al Qaeda and ISIS, regardless who is in the Oval Office.

There are many larger foreign policy strategic problems that might be fall-out from the “how” Trump operates, but in my view, the greatest problem remains, not just Trump, but our, by any means necessary,  2016 scorched earth SPIN information war, that has destabilized and corrupted both political parties and most especially the media, both FOX News and the mainstream media.

Trump might be an indiscriminate flamethrower, but he isn’t the only one intent on using SPIN info war guerrilla warfare.   The constant no holds barred smear campaigns, character assassination attacks and orchestrated disinformation attacks on the American people provide an open information warfare battlefield for America’s adversaries to easily operate at fueling American divides, without ever having to deploy a single military unit to American soil.

The entire Syria mess has been so mired in spin lies, that it’s hard to figure out what is going on in Syria and what our mission even is in Syria.

I didn’t believe we should get involved in the Syrian hot mess, despite the ISIS threat, the larger humanitarian refugee crisis, or the “Assad the Butcher” arguments ( all of which had some validity).  The “how” U.S. involvement would help advance U.S. national interests and how the lessons learned about problems from our previous regime change efforts would be avoided in a Syria intervention never made any sense to me.

After Russia took action in Syria to prop up Assad, the U.S. involvement chorus morphed into competing discordant parts.  The arming “Syrian Moderates Rebels” delusions set the stage for more delusions about how removing ISIS from Raqqa was the key to destroying ISIS and somehow that would lead to stability in Syria, that removing ISIS was the key to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and then for good measure there was the larger strategic argument about how getting involved in Syria would help deter Russian and Iranian regional dominance.

None of the arguments ever made much sense to me, as part of a larger regional stability strategy… probably because I don’t think we ever had a big picture strategy.  We have a bullet point presentation of talking points strategy.  Islamist terrorist groups quickly relocate, regroup, rearm, and rebrand.  Assad and the Russians had effectively broken the Syrian rebels.  I wondered how we would deter Iranians in Syria when we hadn’t figured out how to deter the Iranian-backed militias in Baghdad from increasing their influence in the Baghdad government, which vast amounts of American money and thousands of precious American lives went into nursing into existence and bolstering.

How Trump went about this decision will likely lead to damage to America’s relationship with our allies and he does operate like a one-man wrecking ball to our international system, which many of his supporters will cheer on, just like they cheered on his “GOP Insurgency”, asserting the GOP deserved to be burned to the ground.

The problem with Trump, the touted “Builder” is he seems particularly uninterested in the most important part of any building, whether a Trump Tower or a new political movement.  He prefers to stay ensconced in his ivory tower mean tweeting his “enemies, than he does in building a solid foundation for his new GOP or his MAGA effort.

I remember the conservative fainting couch reactions to President Obama’s clashes with the generals, because I spent a good deal of time blogging while prostrate on my own fainting couch.   I’m trying not to get too worked up about Trump’s impulsive Syria decision, although the difference seems, to me at least, that  Obama was prone to foot-dragging and kicking the can down the road, rather than making tough decisions.  Trump, on the other hand, makes impulsive decisions based on “his gut”…

In my view, President Trump prefers being the one-man show in his MAGA circular firing squad.  He takes aim at people in his own administration,  America’s intelligence agencies, the FBI, Congressional Republicans, the media and now – General Mattis.  His ammo is low-grade, scattershot mean tweets and petty name-calling.  His attacks on General Mattis will likely lead to dissension within the top levels of the Pentagon and his “playing his own team against each other antics ” could create some dangerous confusion and distrust at the highest levels of the American chain of command.

That’s way more worrying to me than whether we pull out of Syria.  He was tweeting late last night:

President of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria….and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right “next door.” Our troops are coming home!

He’s trusting his good friend, Erdogan, and today he’s on a twitter rant, taking wild pot shots at his assorted “enemies” (Americans whom he thinks have personally wronged him).  What he isn’t doing is studying policy or strategy  or working on a better big picture strategy for America in the ME, after we pull out of Syria and he isn’t working to build any sort of foundation of support for his domestic agenda.

It’s hard to envision any sort of regional ME strategy developing in an administration where the POTUS gets more energized waging war against his own cabinet than he does reading anything about foreign policy.   His strategic depth really is his simplistic “killing ISIS family members to scare ISIS fighters into submission plan”, which he doubled-down on during the 2016 primary.  He believes that was a brilliant strategy, so expecting him to grasp a larger regional strategy is hopeless…  Trump also isn’t going to hire the best people and seems to struggle keeping any competent people.  He isn’t going to do anything other than foment more chaos and be an endless, one-man show circular firing squad.

You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, but often some unexpected things grow from manure piles.  When I was a kid, in the summer time we used to sit on the flat roof of our rabbit coop, which was 3 or so feet high.  Often we’d eat watermelon slices perched there and spit the seeds toward the nearby pile of rabbit manure.  Many summers, that manure pile was covered with robust watermelon plants that sent out long runners, which produced lots of watermelons.

Perhaps, we should all be trying to spit out as many good policy seeds toward the Trump manure pile and hope some sprout and grow…

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Another Twitter tantrum…

I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!

The above tweet followed by this tweet:

I just had a long and productive call with President of Turkey. We discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria, & the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area. After many years they are coming home. We also discussed heavily expanded Trade.

One can only wonder if this amazing call with Erdogan came before BOTH tweets, which should be causing alarm bells inside the highest levels of America’s national security.  Trump stated the Erdogan call was “long and productive”.

Our adversaries, especially Putin, know how to manipulate Trump.  All it takes is stroke his ego and praise him as “strong” and “great”.  The really serious national security problem with Trump though, is if you dare criticize him, YOU become “the enemy”.  He has no ability to look at any issue beyond his own fragile ego.

I expect Trump will use every vestige of presidential power to wage personal attacks and find ways to spite “his enemies” (any American leader who challenges him), while at the same time sucking up to America’s adversaries, craving their praise.  Fun times…

Added thought: Timelines matter. There are reports now that Pompeo was the one to call Mattis and inform Mattis that he was ousted ASAP. One wonders if Pompeo was informed before or after the Erdogan call? Trump’s first step in orchestrating “the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area” was to create more chaos in the Pentagon and to leave top US military commanders in the dark about this amazing plan…

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It’s about the “how”

“There is nothing for America in Syria. We haven’t defeated ISIS by taking its territory, and it wouldn’t matter if we did because sharia-supremacist culture guarantees that a new ISIS will replace the current one. The names change, but the enemy remains the same. And if you want to fight that enemy in an elective war, the Constitution demands that the people give their consent through their representatives in Congress.”

https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/12/syria-troop-withdrawal-middle-east-policy/

Spoiler alert here, the above is the last paragraph in a must-read Andrew C. McCarthy piece, The Syria Fairy Tale Lives!.

Like McCarthy, I was against going into Syria for the very reasons he lays out about the nature of the Syrian opposition.  The “Syrian Moderate” myth still persists among way too many inside the Beltway and punditry smart set.  The only area McCarthy didn’t dig into in this piece is our Iraq mess serves as a prequel to this Syrian mess.  We were propping up the Iraqi government in Baghdad, since its inception, after the demise of Saddam Hussein.  Over the years the Baghdad government fell increasingly under the influence of Iranian-backed militias.  In our zeal to defeat ISIS, our mission became hopelessly ensnared in being on the side of bolstering Iranian-backed militias, in our fight against ISIS in Iraq.

The enemy of my enemy was assuredly not our friend, in this Iranian-backed militias situation.  No one hardly mentions Iraq among the polite American foreign policy set in Washington these days.  And assuredly, it’s rare to hear mention of our unintended alliance fighting on the same side as Iranian-backed militias against ISIS in Iraq.  The American people seem to prefer to stick to sound bites and catchphrase strategy, so it’s a sure bet most Americans didn’t pay any attention to the details.

There’s an American cultural preference to invest their trust in celebrities and “big name experts”, rather than facts or studying issues.  This behavior led to the Steele dossier being embraced by the media and top Obama officials, based solely on Steele’s reputation.  The same behavior led to hordes of FOX News viewers and Republicans buying the  “Syrian moderate” snake oil, based solely on people, like a popular retired general turned FOX pundit, selling it.

McCarthy covers all the bases in this defense of Trump pulling US troops out of Syria and I do agree with him on the facts, the history of the region and most especially with his analysis of Sharia supremacism.  Where I disagree is not about pulling out of Syria and lightening our footprint in Afghanistan, it’s about how we go about this process, how we manage our competing alliances and agreements and how we navigate the process with our allies, who have fought and bled with us on the ground in the ME for 17 years.  We owe them more than them finding out about the decision to pull-out in a tweet.

Figuring out a way out of Syria, that included informing our allies of the decision privately and ironing out some timelines, framework and coordination, rather than blindsiding them, by announcing the decision in a tweet to the world, should not have been too much to expect.  He didn’t give his own top commanders a heads up before tweeting his decision and that speaks to a totally unfit commander-in-chief.  He left his own military commanders out in the cold, creating unnecessary chaos and confusion about the mission.  The ramifications from how Trump went about handling his  Syria decision will reverberate way beyond Syria.  Just as with most of Trump’s actions that cause massive blowback, it’s the “how” Trump went about this that will burn more bridges than the actual decision itself.

Decided to add this thought, which I mentioned in a comment on my previous blog post about the Trump decision-making process.  Those cheering Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria should be aware that in the blink of an eye, Trump could as easily choose the above mentioned “Syrian moderate” cheerleader retired general as his next Secretary of Defense, as he could choose someone who aligns with the Rand Paul foreign policy school of thought.   The retired general is a popular FOX news pundit, afterall.  With Trump, there’s no telling.

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Stolen valor

When it comes to American national security strategy, it’s important to weigh strategic decisions through a “big picture/little picture” lens.   Even if pulling out of these long, seemingly unwinnable conflicts in the Muslim world makes sense, how we pull out matters even more to America’s larger strategic interests in the rest of the world.

Part of being a leader of large alliances, that America spent a century of blood and treasure building, entails bolstering the TRUST needed to sustain these alliances that have helped keep America and much of the world safe, free and prosperous.  President Trump not only made the decision to pull-out of Syria, he pulled the rug out from under America’s leadership role in the free world.

He did not consult America’s top military leaders before announcing the decision.

He did not bother to consult or inform America’s closest allies, who have committed troops to our effort in the Middle East too.

The larger damage to America is not only about the crippling of American efforts in that region, it’s the bulldozer effect damage his one-man show decisions inflict on America’s alliances around the world.  He is a one-man wrecking ball to the Western world order.

President Trump’s precipitous withdrawal from Syria won’t improve America’s national security, won’t bolster American leadership cred and it won’t put an end to America’s problem of Islamic terrorists attacking America and American interests.

America’s “War On Terror” has been failing for many years.  The linchpin mission end of defeating Al Qaeda has not been achieved.  The sub-strategic ends, like denying safe havens to terrorists or the massive investment in regime change, have proved to be failures in some cases and extremely costly in terms of, not only money, but in American lives and erosion of our own military might, due to endless military deployments to sustain these missions.  Despite our best efforts, jihadist terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, still remain defiant, functional, and determined to fight on.

Good intentions motivated the dedicated people who formed these strategies, and many of the military leaders have spent years deployed, acquiring first-hand knowledge of this war.  Good intentions have not produced a sustainable victory for America.

Without wading into Islamic extremism debates on whether jihadist terrorist represent true Islam or not, here’s another approach to viewing  this.   Islamic terrorists always had enough home-grown support to sustain their groups, to regenerate after devastating losses, and even more ominous to our goal to defeat them, they have a remarkable ability to network across continents and pop up under newly minted names, with new leaders, fresh fighters, money and arms.  They’re fighting with their minds committed to impose an ancient religious theology on the world, while at the same time mastering flexible, mobile, and very lethal military operations using modern information/communication technology, international money operations, and often creative improvised weaponry.

Overlaying the Islamic terrorism challenge, America faced a complex strategic challenge trying to figure out how to find our own long-term strategic ends in the region, pulled between the centuries old power struggle between Shia and Sunni powers, dealing with NATO ally, Turkey’s lurch toward fundamentalism, and finding ways to work with assorted corrupt and/or autocratic regimes, whose human rights abuses run counter to our values, but whose strategic importance was vital to our mission.

Our own partisan spin war often undercut and trivialized the complex strategic challenges to defeating Al  Qaeda and threat from Islamic terrorists.  Accompanying our military efforts in the “War On Terror” (heck, even the names makes this point), our endless domestic word battles in America about whether calling them “Islamic” terrorists would be the magic bullet to fell them and the endless encapsulating our war efforts into catchphrases masquerading as strategy often did more to defeat a unified commitment to our military effort and impeded our military efforts.

The selling of catchphrases as strategy has no greater supporter than President Donald J. Trump, whose understanding of American foreign policy and U.S military policy comes from TV punditry SPIN.  He doesn’t study anything, except TV, Twitter and news articles his minions try to get him to read.  He does not read his policy briefs and he does not believe his intelligence briefs.  Instead, he does listen to various friends and his pet pundits, whom he calls for advice, but in the end he is someone, who in his own words, “They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me”.  

President Trump said ISIS is defeated in Syria – a lie.  He said General Mattis is retiring – a masking of General Mattis’ resignation.  He reached a new low in using American soldiers as stage props,  – he stole the valor of dead soldiers trying to manipulate the American people and American soldiers into supporting his decision, claiming soldiers who died would support his decision.  And he lied when he said that his decision has widespread support among the U.S. military.

I could go on and on about what a disastrous leader of American foreign policy or pathetic excuse of a Commander-In-Chief President Trump is, but suffice it to say this man who trusts his gut, continually displays through his shameless, lying words and actions, that he is not only an emperor without clothes… he’s a gutless wonder, who tries to shield himself from media criticism using the valor of dead American soldiers.

That’s his crystalline defining comment about exactly who he is.  He stole the valor of dead soldiers to sell his crappy spin.

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A few foreign policy links

It’s back to reading more novels and crafting for me today, so here are a few links worth reading (and links I wish President Trump would read):

CHAOS THEORY: CONFUSING DIPLOMATIC MEANS AND ENDS IN HELSINKI, by Matthew Blood at the Small Wars Journal. A clearly written foreign policy piece that should be put on the President’s desk as a foreign policy 101 primer.

Agents of the Russian World: Proxy Groups in the Contested Neighbourhood by Orysia Lutsevych from Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. A PDF report on how the Russians meddle in other countries internal affairs.

HOW THE BIG LEBOWSKI EXPLAINS THE HELSINKI SUMMIT AND THE INTERNATIONAL ORDER by Kori Schake and Jeremy Shapiro at War On The Rocks.  An entertaining read and interesting analysis of the Helsinki summit.



Update:  Here’s another fascinating link by Steven L. Hall, retired CIA chief of Russian Operations, tweeted:

34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America by Paul Ratner at the Big Think.

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