Qatar and Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, War in Syria: The Dangers of Unserious Leadership in Fragile Times

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I’m not saying that to be a successful President you have to understand what this map means. But you actually kind of do…

America has been rightfully consumed with the subdued opera of the Comey hearings, in which members of both parties accepted as a stipulation that the President was a grotesque, habitual liar, and that his best defense was he literally has no idea what he is doing, so how could he be obstructing justice? I don’t know the legal ramifications of this, but even as the GOP desperately tried to downplay Comey, which seems to imply a return to the status quo, I think there will continue to be a steady drip of revelations. Comey implying that Sessions is dirtier than we (well, the media) thought might be the first major crack. No one is going to want to be the last person to go down for this.

But think again about the essential shrugging reaction even senators from his own party have to the essential nature of Trump: sure he’s dishonest and completely incapable of being President, but is that illegal? Maybe for the former, probably not for the latter. But that’s not the issue: the issue is that it is extremely dangerous. It’s dangerous domestically, and potentially catastrophic abroad.

There could be few worse times to have a blundering, spite-filled, ego-driven ignorant man as President of the United States. The post-WWII order was crumbling, but just as importantly (if unremarked), the post-WWI order in the Middle East (and much or Eurasia) is crumbling and reforming in unexpected and difficult ways as well. This is a hinge moment for a huge part of the world, and with his disaster-junkie approach to things, Trump can’t help but make it enormously worse. And it starts, of course, with Qatar.

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Trump and Paris: The Paranoid Element IS American Politics

 

Well, it happened. In a speech heavy with Bannon-esque paranoia, conspiracy, and almost endless mendacity, Donald Trump announced that the US would no longer fulfill its obligations in a treaty designed to try to mitigate the worst impacts that climate change will have on our planet and on our species. For this, he was roundly applauded by a pack of braying idiots.

But who knows? This seems to have galvanized the rest of the world to redouble their commitment, since, unlike the Republican Party, everyone else agrees that massive flooding combined with the withering reduction of arable farmland is a bad thing. It also spurred cities, states, and businesses to basically say “eff that, we’re following the treaty anyway.”

The speech was immediately fact-checked and debunked of course, but beyond the lies, it was a pile of terrifying paranoia and a view of the world that is 100% removed from reality. Trump kept repeating that the other countries only wanted Paris in order to hamstring the United States, that the entire process was nothing more than a global attempt to destroy our economic power.

It was a speech to be yelled from bughouse square, from a dirty corner on a forgotten street, in the backroom bar of a terrible movie. Is it political cynicism, to try to rally the nationalist base? Maybe to an extent, but I think that is in some ways giving people like Bannon and Miller, and Trump and Pence, too much credit. These are deeply stupid, credulous men, whose ideas of the world are shaped by Alex Jones and a peculiarly American prosperity gospel, in which bigotry and bullying go hand-in-hand.

Read this, and try to imagine the worldview that think it.

At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country? We want fair treatment for its citizens, and we want fair treatment for our taxpayers. We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won’t be. They won’t be.

It’s a perfect summation of how insane and ridiculous Trump and the Republican Party are. They think people are laughing at us for participating in trying to reverse our catastrophic actions and leading the world. But it is true people aren’t laughing at us. They’re terrified, and they are ready to move on without us. We’re the dumb and mean cousin that might get invited to family parties, but certainly isn’t welcome.

Yemen, Mosul, and a Strategy of Civilizational War

WASHINGTON — The senior United States commander in Iraq said on Tuesday that an American airstrike most likely led to the collapse of a building in Mosul that killed scores of civilians this month…

“My initial assessment is that we probably had a role in these casualties,” said General Townsend, who commands the American-led task force that is fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But he asserted that “the munition that we used should not have collapsed an entire building.”

On the one hand, the tragedy of Mosul was “one of those things” that happen in a war, and clearly not intentional, and obviously pales in comparison to the flagrant bloodlust of ISIS. It doesn’t pale to the hundreds killed, of course, and that’s exactly the other hand. It’s hard to say if this one specific incident was an outcome of the Trump administration loosening the rules on engagement, giving fewer restrictions about civilian casualties, or if it could have happened regardless, but we need to be prepared for more of these stories.

Because, while letting on-the-ground commanders have more freedom, and more coordination with local officers fighting ISIS, is theoretically a sound strategy in a vacuum (and there have been reports that Iraqi commanders are happy), we aren’t in a vacuum. We’re in the Trump administration, which has been openly hostile to the Muslim world. Mass civilian casualties won’t be seen as an outcome of war. They won’t be seen as terrible accidents by genuinely committed and largely decent military people who want to destroy ISIS and liberate the people of Iraq and Syria from medieval teenage monsters. It will be seen as an outcome of Trumpism.

And the problem might be that this is exactly what Trump and his people want.

Steve Bannon might be a slight outlier when it comes to dreaming of religious holy wars, but he isn’t that far off. For years, the GOP has been saying that the fight against ISIS is a war of civilizations, and of civilization, and that it is essentially an existential struggle in which the US might be destroyed. This is wrapped up, and exacerbated by, general hostility to Muslims. It also “confirms” and strengthens that hostility.

Part of that is the rhetorical tomb Republicans walled themselves in. Because Obama (correctly) didn’t consider ISIS more than just a very dangerous terrorist group, they had to imagine them as Nazi hordes landing on Floridian shores. And because Obama actually did act aggressively to fight ISIS, they had to ramp up the rhetoric to pretend that MORE had to be done, because Obama, of course, was a wimp and really probably wanted ISIS to win. Senator ISIS, he surely thought, had a great ring to it. So they’ve convinced themselves for years that a massive blitz was needed.

It goes deeper than that. It’s partly because the GOP is, by and large, a bunch of non-military types who pump themselves up with reflected glory, and that means elevating every threat to an existential level. But it is also because the GOP is, by and large, made up of religious bigots and hysterics who despise Islam and want the US to fight a Christianized battle against it. They’ll say against terrorism, but the two have a 1:1 conflation in the GOP mind.

So that’s where the new rules come in. It’s a way to push that battle forward, and that sounds good to Donald Trump, who 1) is a bigot; 2) thinks he’s tough, and 3) is too lazy to come up with a plan other than “kill”. So again, his personal pathologies perfectly line up with mainstream Republican goals, “mainstream” here meaning “lunatic”.

We see this in Yemen, probably more than in Iraq and Syria, largely because Yemen is off the map, for the most part, and seen as an ideological playground and a place in which one can experiment. It’s where the Special Forces-Drone strategy was tested by Obama, and it’s where Trump will test his “anything goes”s strategy.

The administration is expanding its role in Yemen, as the Soufan Group reports. It wants to expand help to the Saudi-led war against the Houthis, the large majority of which is a war crime. It is doing this because it believes that the Sauds are our friends, and that they can help broker Jared Kushner’s regional peace deal. They are doing this because they believe that the Houthis are essentially Iran, and that this is a war against Iran. They don’t believe Yemen actually exists, save as a battleground for their experiments.

But mostly, they are doing this because they can. They want this war, which is why they are expanding Yemen’s “area of active hostilities“.  This is a war of civilizations, against the Muslim tide. That they are doing this in conjunction with shutting down our borders from refugees, and specifically targeting Muslims, is not a coincidence. It’s a plan. Or, if this is a mistake, and they actually think that they are doing something positive for world peace, as opposed to Western domination, then they are doing an excellent incidental job of persuading people otherwise.

Yemen is facing a terrible, devastating famine, which will further destabilize the region. Can you imagine the Trump administration, which is gutting foreign aid, even pretending to care? The war in Yemen is not inherently regional; it’s a local battle steeped in Yemeni history and geography, and can only be resolved by taking that into account. Can you imagine Bannon or Trump or Kushner knowing any of that history, or even pretending to take it into account? Of course not.

And none of that is chance. They might be all bluster, but this isn’t a blunder. It’s a global tragedy, but it is intentional. They want a civilizational battle, and that’s essentially in lockstep with the majority of the Republican Party. The moral outrage of their actions is terrible enough. But knowing that any fleeting victory is ledgered against an ever-expanding and irresolvable conflict makes what happened in November a world-historic disaster.

Sad DHS Memos Don’t Reflect Full Faith in the Alternate Facts

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Pictured: unfavorable facts

In the last post, we linked to an article about the how the Trump administration approved DAPL and Keystone: essentially, throwing out every agreement they didn’t like. There’s a quote in the article that I think is a perfect summation.

Two days before the Trump administration approved an easement for the Dakota Access pipeline to cross a reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, the U.S. Department of the Interior withdrew a legal opinion that concluded there was “ample legal justification” to deny it.

The withdrawal of the opinion was revealed in court documents filed this week by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the same agency that requested the review late last year.

“A pattern is emerging with [the Trump] administration,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “They take good, thoughtful work and then just throw it in the trash and do whatever they want to do.”

Which is pretty much perfect. But it doesn’t just pertain to pipelines, of course. From Lawfare. 

CNN also reports that the White House is pushing officials in the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department to provide information in support of the supposed security rationale behind the executive order banning entry into the U.S. for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries. The administration rejected an earlier DHS report contradicting the White House’s assertions on the security benefits of the travel ban and now is asking for a revised report, leading to concern within DHS and DOJ over the potential politicization of intelligence.

This is what happens when you have a faith-based organization. Everything has to fit that belief, and that which doesn’t is fake. It’s faith in the bigoted mantras of the Bannon-Gorka-Sessions axis, and faith in whatever idiot things Trump improvised on the campaign. It’s an odd miracle of this peculiar catechism that these are happily aligned.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating on Bannon

JustSecurity:

Even before he was given a formal seat on the National Security Council’s “principals committee” this weekend by President Donald Trump, Bannon was calling the shots and doing so with little to no input from the National Security Council staff, according to an intelligence official who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution.

“He is running a cabal, almost like a shadow NSC,” the official said. He described a work environment where there is little appetite for dissenting opinions, shockingly no paper trail of what’s being discussed and agreed upon at meetings, and no guidance or encouragement so far from above about how the National Security Council staff should be organized.

I’m usually not a huge fan of the “unnamed source”, but do trust JustSecurity, and anyway, this lines up with everything we know. A man whose major qualifications are running a site for semi-literate hate jockeys who failed their AM radio tryouts is making the nation’s biggest decisions.