Monday, September 29, 2014

Obama Reveals Shocking Ignorance Concerning Shia-Sunni-Kurd Makeup Of Iraq

Obama, as is his habit, spent a lot of time in the "60 Minutes" interview looking down and away. Whether he was trying to think of what to say, or he was trying to think of how to lie while saying it, most people find a person who cannot look them in the eye when he's answering a direct question about important matters to be shady. Add this to the fact that Obama's knowledge of what seems Iraq 101 was appallingly deficient—like who is the majority, Shia or Sunnis—and this interview may have been some kind of new nadir of Obama's presidency. The good news for Barry is that most Americans are even more ignorant about Iraq (and Syria) than he is, and so will never question all the dubious and contradictory things he claimed about his new war and its strategy.
In one of the more disturbing interviews in his presidency, Barack Obama attempted to make his case last night on “60 Minutes” for his strategy in the new American war in the Middle East.

Obama repeatedly made assertions that he later contradicted. For example, at one point Obama argued, as he has done a number of times that America is not fighting in a war against Islamic State, but is instead engaged in an extended (apparently open-ended) counterterrorism operation against any number of bad actors.

Then later, when asked by CBS interviewer Steve Kroft about the 1600 American boots already on the ground in Iraq (Obama repeatedly says there will be no American boots on the ground in this new war), Obama said that he was aware some of these troops, embedded in Iraqi operational combat units, were “in harm’s way” in “a war environment”.

Kroft of course did not catch this contradiction, and nor did he catch the most glaring and troubling Obama blunder of all, when the President answered a question about how Iraq’s national army performed so poorly after the US spent a fortune and many years training and equipping it to be able to fight against just the kind of threat Islamic State poses.

Obama was quick to deny that the United States had any responsibility for this outcome, claiming instead that Islamic State was able to roll over the Iraqi national army because the former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had failed to build an inclusive government and make Sunnis and Kurds feel they were part of one unified Iraq:
“Well, here’s what happened in Iraq. When we left, we had left them a democracy that was intact, a military that was well-equipped, and the ability then to chart their own course. And that opportunity was squandered over the course of five years or so, because the Prime Minister, Maliki, was much more interested in consolidating his Shia base, and very suspicious of the Sunnis and the Kurds, who make up the other ⅔ of the country. So, what you did not see was a government that had built a sense of national unity.”
Certainly, if that version of the facts is correct, and the minority Shia were abusing their position to deny representative government to the Sunnis and the Kurds, this suggests the Shia-led Iraqi government might be to blame.

But there is a fundamental problem in that analysis—the Shia religious sect are not, as Obama claimed in the interview, a minority of the population in Iraq. And the Sunnis and the Kurds do not “make up the other ⅔” of Iraq.

Rather, the demographics and the history of Iraq suggest a very different situation in Iraq—one the United States has ignored during most of its involvement in its bloody wars in the Middle East nation.

Here is the actual breakdown:

Arab Shia—65-70%
Arab Sunni—20%
Kurdish Sunni—10%

Some Kurds are actually Shia, and there are other groups that make up small parts of the population as well. But as you can see, the Shia in Iraq are the sizable majority of the country, representing about ⅔ of the entire population of the country.

And you must appreciate this in understanding the Shia position versus the Sunnis and the Kurds—both of which groups are essentially separatist movements in Iraq. During decades of Sunni rule under Saddam Hussein, the Sunni minority brutally repressed the Shia majority and the Kurdish minority in the north. When the United States removed Saddam from power and enabled a democratic process in Iraq, which naturally produced a large Shia majority in the government, the Americans pushed for a reconciliation between all the former enemies.

A semblance of this arrangement was easier to enforce when the US maintained a large combat troop presence in Iraq. Even though the Iraqi Sunnis had fought a vicious civil war against the Shia and against the US occupation, the Americans had resorted to large-scale bribery of Sunni tribal leaders to convince them to stop killing “good guys” and to instead turn on al-Qaeda insurgents (their former allies).

As I have noted before, the failure of the Iraqi Shia government to continue paying bribes to these Sunni leaders, a decision that followed from the reasonable belief by the Shia that these Sunnis should not have to be bribed to be peaceful citizens, led to the Iraqi government instead cracking down on the former Sunni insurgents. That pushed the Sunni tribes back into an alliance with new, very improved, al-Qaeda-affiliated ISIL. Eventually ISIL would break its affiliation with al-Qaeda, and would rename itself Islamic State.

This reborn Sunni insurgency crushed the Iraqi government troops sent out to stop their invasion, and has dominated the landscape in northern Syria in the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops. In Syria, unlike in Iraq, the Sunnis do actually represent a majority of the population.

But Syria was not the country Obama was discussing when he made his blunder.

Obviously, if the USA has a Commander-in-Chief who isn’t even informed on the most important and fundamental demographics of the nation he is depending upon to bounce back from its defeat against Islamic State to be the main proxy boots on the ground for the USA, the American people are being led by an ill-prepared President.

But, as the interview proceeded another possibility was suggested. While Obama’s mistake was truly disturbing, it was reinforced a little later in the interview when Kroft made the following statement:
“OK. [Iraqis] have a new Prime Minister. They have a new administration. What it’s not produced is any sort of an enthusiasm, or much enthusiasm on the part of the disaffected Sunni majority.”
Again, the Sunnis in Iraq, disaffected or otherwise, are not the majority, but represent about 1 in 5 Iraqis.

Was Kroft making a thoughtless error, or was this reinforcement of misinformation meant to give Obama cover on his “it’s all Maliki’s fault” talking point?

Even that story did not hold up as Obama went along. Right after claiming everything was just great in Iraq when the USA left, and it was the Shia dissing the Sunnis that messed everything up, Obama lectured (basically the whole region) about its failure to follow Obama’s view of “political accommodation” and “tolerance” towards enemies.

Kroft then asked Obama a most pertinent question:
“And you think we can teach them that?”
And all of a sudden, realizing that only the most brazenly chauvinistic jerk of a US President—say like George W. Bush—would say that yes he thinks we can teach them that, Obama backtracked, pointing out that getting over bad feelings towards different ethnic groups might take a very long time:
“Well, I think this is going to be a generational challenge. I don’t think that this is something that is going to happen overnight.”
Yet, when Obama wanted to blame Maliki for the failure of the Iraqi army and the entire American Iraqi enterprise, he completely ignored this very reasonable point, that maybe it was utterly unrealistic to expect the ⅔-majority Shia to just get over, basically overnight, their intense anger at the Sunnis. That was especially the case when the Shia had good reason to think a large portion of Sunnis were plotting to recapture their dominant position in Iraq. Trust between these groups was very unlikely to come about in any short term.

Meanwhile, the role of the Kurds was, if anything, even more discordant in Obama’s scheme, since the Kurdish northern region of Iraq has essentially all but declared itself independent and sought in the early days of the Islamic State invasion of Iraq to take advantage of the Iraqi government’s losses, capturing territory—from Iraq! Again, there is no trust between Kurds and the Shia majority either.

Failing to come to grips with these basic facts—on the ground—especially after so many years of American involvement in the nation and the region is simply an inexcusable deficiency in an American President, especially one who has just taken the nation to war (or whatever Obama calls it) on the basis of his misunderstanding of the political and military dynamics at play.

Obama needs a cultural geography lesson—or at least a CIA briefing on Iraqi demographics. And the American people need to contact their Congressional representatives and demand that they debate and vote on the authorization for this most dubious ObamaWar.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bombs Versus Beheadings—US Barbarism Worse Than That Of Islamic State

A good European, or American, imperialist, circa 1900, with his collection of bloody heads. Yes, that's right, beheading is not only a Western tradition, it's a Judeo-Christian tradition, so long as it is practiced against infidels and heathens and collateral casualties. Here, Saint Peter satirically points out that Heaven is not for heathens, and the mass-killer Christian will have to leave his war decorations (in this case Chinese heads removed during the recent Boxer Rebellion) outside. This cartoon is from a 1901 edition of the German satire magazine, Simplicissimus. It is by the artist Thomas Theodor Heine.
A question: how much support do you think there would be for ObamaWar in the US, or anywhere else, if the facts on the ground were that for every 30 Islamic State fighters killed by US bombing, 8 civilians, including 3 children, would die? (see below for relevance of this statistic)

Yet, the remains of the collaterals are the very last thing the Pentagon wants Americans, and the world, to see, or to even think about.

Instead, we get phantom-cam, the ghostly pictures of US bombs raining down—always we are told it is only on “bad guys”—which is claimed to be the civilized response to the brutality of the enemy (fill in the blank for its name this week). In this war, meaning the endless war Americans now fight and pay for in so many ways, the American response to the threat and moral deficiency perpetrated by Islamic State is to blow up lots of anonymous victims.

Ever since the computer-game-like images of war that the Pentagon now issues as America’s style of killing became popular in the MSM (which began back in 1991’s First Gulf War), the rhetoric attached to these images by America’s war propagandists (i.e., America's mainstream journalists) has been of a wholly different tone than that which accompanies images and descriptions of the ritual beheadings of prisoners by black-costumed jihadis.

Whereas the beheadings are always denounced as barbaric and the act of murderers and psychopaths (and other terms denoting the killers are beyond the Christian pale), the ritual bombings of alleged enemy positions, fed to the MSM by the Pentagon, are supposedly the rational and necessary response to the barbaric acts of militant Islam.

After all, in the Pentagon videos, war is clean. All you usually see is a black-and-white image of a building or sometimes an object (identified as an enemy tank or truck), followed in a couple of seconds by the target disappearing in a bright flash and cloud of dust. The assumption is that the enemy has been “neutralized” or eliminated. Even when you can see what appear to be human figures milling about before they are executed, they don’t seem real, but more like crudely-drawn cartoons.

What has actually happened of course is that the shock wave of the explosion has ruptured the internal organs of the victims. Fragmentation has torn their bodies, while the “blast wind” has ripped off arms and legs—and heads. As we saw in truly barbaric images, enthusiastically supplied by the Israelis this summer, in their Gaza slaughter of Palestinians, if a building was targeted, most likely any victims who survived the direct effects of the bomb (or missile or artillery) blast, will be buried in massive piles of rubble. Many came to believe that this was not a collateral effect of Israel’s war, but the key purpose—genocide against Palestinians.

So, again unlike the Islamic State’s very methodical executions, which reveal the name and scripted last statement of a particular person, there is a chance—more than a minimal one—that in that rubble, or in the blast zone of the explosion of American weapons—there will be victims who are allegedly unintended.

These “collateral” casualties are dismissed by the Pentagon, almost as if they are default-obvious plots by America’s enemies to make the mass destruction of whole buildings (or whole city blocks of them) look like something other than good, clean American-valued war.

For example, this a comment made last Friday, by Chairman of the JCS, General Martin Dempsey, commenting on the possibility that some of the Pentagon images of explosions were events that had caused the deaths of collateral casualties:
“Of course, you know you can't reduce [collateral casualties] to zero.* And I suspect that over time ISIL will probably publish a few propaganda videos alleging civilian casualties. But we've got a pretty good suite of ISR there now that should enable us to actually determine not only how to strike, but the results of it after the fact—what we call patty battle damage assessment.”
*—Note, another way to put this, yes America kills lots of innocent people in its wars, just like everyone does, but America tries really hard not to. So, even though America blows up lots of children—really, LOTS of them—it's all for a good, civilized cause.
This is the same kind of rhetoric the Bush regime’s military used to dismiss claims by Afghans and Iraqis that innocent citizens, including many women and children, were being indiscriminately slaughtered by America’s bombs and missiles. The default position of the US military is that claims about US-caused collateral casualties are enemy propaganda.

In the same way, unless there was Abu-Ghraib-like documentation to show otherwise, any reports by Afghans and Iraqis of US ground forces engaging in illegal killings or other war crimes, were generally dismissed by US military investigators as exaggerations on worse. The implication was that the enemy was seeking a way, as General Dempsey said, to expose US military operations to unfair and unjustified criticism.

See, in the end what President Obama wants you to do, and what the military knows you're going to do, because after all your life isn't endless war (or is it?), is realize one stupid battle-damage-assessment photograph looks like another. For all you know they just recycle the phantom-cam photos from some other American war and some other American air campaign of mass destruction and mass murder. The piles and piles of nameless victims of America's ghastly-giant lust for blood makes even Islamic State, and its pathetically stupid one-beheading-at-a-time horror show, look like what they are—hopeless amateurs.
And so, referencing again our statistic above, when you find out that only recently, less than a week ago, a Reuters article made this claim:
"Air strikes by U.S.­led coalition forces in Syria killed 30 fighters from al-Qaeda­-linked Nusra Front and eight civilians including children, a group monitoring the war said on Tuesday."
This report had credibility because:
"The strikes targeted a residential building in Aleppo province."
Also, the monitoring group, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was referenced in this article from 2013 as "the most authoritative tracker of violence [in Syria]".

While it was known that al-Nusra used the building that was hit, it should be understood that "residential" implies there are also going to be civilians in the building.

And if the United States is going to conduct operations in this manner, basically using the same tactics as the Israelis in Gaza, the number of collateral casualties in the US operations against Islamic State and the other targeted groups are going to be considerable.

Yet, not surprisingly, the US military response to these reports was:
"We don’t have any credible operational reporting through operational channels that would sustain those allegations."
In other words, nobody in the US military is confirming it happened, so it didn't happen. While the United States said it would take the reports seriously, it did not say how it intended to investigate the claims.

Let us be quite blunt about this: the number of innocent people that the United States has murdered in its endless wars on “terror” far exceeds those killed by al-Qaeda and Islamic State and all the other “terrorist” organizations.

This is not to say that Islamic State are fine fellows with sterling reputations and great ideas about how to conduct themselves.

When it comes to the horrors of war-making, Americans are not morally superior to the IS thugs. Indeed, Americans are much more practiced than any little jihadist club at committing heinous crimes against humanity.

Therefore, when you see the MSM peddling these Pentagon warmonger photos, showing how the enemy is being cleanly degraded and destroyed, consider the reality behind these obviously misleading images. And do the same regarding the similarly misleading war rhetoric of US leaders and their allies.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Little Sissy Psycho Beheads Third Victim—Sends "Message" To Turkey

Episode three of Islamic State's "Little Sissy Psycho" program, included the usual forced denunciation speech by the beheading victim, David Haines, followed by Little Sissy Psycho blathering about British Prime Minister Cameron's responsibility for the murder about to occur. Next up the killing, once again thankfully short in duration, as most of it occurs after the fadeout. And then of course LSP's obligatory threats and a preview of the next victim, Alan Henning, another Brit. All this is delivered with gangster-rap (or pro-wrestler) swagger, and the best guess of British Intelligence at this point is that LSP is in fact a British rapper,  Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary.
The latest episode of Little Sissy Psycho*, i.e. the Islamic State beheading program, showing the killing of British citizen, David Haines, aired yesterday to generally outraged reaction in the West.
*—Note, this nickname for the black-clad executioner host of these beheading videos is explained here.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who figures prominently in this third episode, denounced the Islamic State video in harsh terms:
"David [Haines] has been murdered in the most callous and brutal way imaginable by an organisation which is the embodiment of evil...[Islamic State] boast of their brutality. They claim to do this in the name of Islam. That is nonsense. Islam is a religion of peace. They are not Muslims. They are monsters."
In the video, the execution of Haines is prefaced by a clip of Cameron, talking about giving arms to the Kurds, and sticking to the “very clear foreign policy and very clear strategy…and [British] military prowess…to do everything we can to put the pressure on Islamic State, this appalling organization”.

The IS video is entitled, “A Message To The Allies Of America”, and, according to NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent, Richard Engel, the key American ally targeted for messaging in this third beheading video is not the UK, but Turkey.

Engel explained on Meet the Press today:
"It’s a message to the world...But it is also a very specific message it seems, to Turkey. ISIS is holding more than 40 Turkish diplomats hostage...Turkey has been very reluctant to join this coalition, at least publicly, with the United States. Turkey would be essential. It’s right on the border. If the US wants to build an effective campaign, to build a free Syrian army, it probably has to be done through Turkey. And this is one way for ISIS to say, if Turkey joins, its diplomats are at risk."
Whomever is the intended political audience, the grimness of these videos, the stylized way in which they are performed—not like a documentary of an execution but more like a music video—suggests another target of Islamic State is the huge market of disaffected youth, who may be drawn to these outlandish, extremely anti-authoritarian visual messages.

After all, Little Sissy Psycho (or Jihadi John or Mr. Bary), is working on his fourth episode now, with yet another British victim, Alan Henning, next up for execution, and neither America and its famed SEALs, nor American drones, nor any other force, has been able to successfully rescue the hostages held by Islamic State, nor have they stopped these beheading videos from being produced and distributed. And of course, nobody has been able to stop Little Sissy Psycho from killing.

So long as that is the case, Islamic State's beheading program must also be working as a big recruiting instrument for the Caliphate.

This may explain why the videos habitually cut away just as the victim's throat is being cut by the executioner. It avoids the most gruesome aspect of the beheading, and yet always displays the bloody corpse of the victim, with the murdered person's head resting on top. The effect, while grisly, is almost like a Halloween haunted-house corpse—neatly posed (except for the blood) and rather artificial seeming. And, as always, the victim is clothed in an orange jumpsuit, just as were the prisoners taken by the United States to Gitmo, the infamous prison for alleged Qaeda terrorists in Cuba.

Along with Obama's inability so far to provide a convincing narrative for how his strategy to defeat Islamic State could possible work as he has claimed, he should give a high priority to canceling the Little Sissy Psycho program. The longer it is on, the more inept and ineffectual Obama appears.

Will The NSA Hack The Scottish Independence Vote?

Oh yes my little sheep—Scottish independence! Vote for it and see how the NSA assesses the winner. Democracy! Freedom! On the Moon maybe. On the Earth, Scotland is part of the American empire.
Sound a little extreme to you?

After all, isn’t the USA in favor of democracy and national determinations and all that?

Yeah, right. Just ask the Muslim Brotherhood about how that worked out in Egypt. Oh wait. You can’t. They’re all dead and in prison.

The Scots after all are getting ready to commit democratic terrorism on the United Kingdom, and while most Americans cannot find Scotland on a map of Colorado, they do know it’s a bad thing for America’s little helpers, the English, to lose their nuclear submarine base in Scotland—which will happen, we are told, if the anti-nuke Scots finally avenge the ’45 and go free from England (and Wales and Northern Ireland—YAY!)

From the USA perspective, which is to say from the NSA perspective, it is time to hack the vote in Scotland, just to make sure the Scots are kept in their place and the Trident submarines are kept in their place—and all the British flags (which will all have to be redrawn all over if the Scots get away) are kept in their place!

On the other hand, all Americans love to see the stuck-up English punched in the nose. Again, the USAish are not entirely sure where London is (in “Sherlock” episodes it looks very modern—Japan perhaps?), but they know those English had something bad to do with America back in the day—like they were the villains in the Civil War or something—right?

So, America absolutely would love to see all those exotic, skirt-wearing folk, give the electoral finger to the English.

But, while it would be terribly satisfying to Americans on that count, among other things, a successful Scottish independence vote might give other, browner, peoples the idea that standing up to well-established authority—after centuries!—is a proper way to conduct oneself.

And we can’t be having that, can we?

So, yes, from the American perspective, NSA has every reason to hack the Scottish independence vote and keep the Mad Macs British. Don't worry, they'll calm down. They'll always have their ghastly booze, their haggis, and their dreary vistas of sheep and moss to keep them warm at night, after all.

Friday, September 12, 2014

ObamaWar Is Already Misfiring On All Cylinders

Secretary of State John Kerry, explained on CNN yesterday that it was necessary for ObamaWar not to be called a war, but rather "a very significant counterterrorism operation" against al-Qaeda (even though Islamic State is not al-Qaeda). In this way, Obama did not have to ask Congress for a new war authorization, since Obama was just fighting his war on the basis of the old, post-9/11 war authorization against al-Qaeda. This war authorization apparently has no expiration date, and no matter how many people die in the current euphemism, it isn't a war. This is just one sign, among many others, that something 1984-ish is going on in Obama's White House again.
One of the more interesting stories reported in the last few days was a Reuters article that revealed this surprising situation:
"Rather than help keep the nation together, [US] air strikes risk being used by different factions for their own advantage in Iraq's sectarian and ethnic conflicts...The fallout...risks worsening grievances that helped Islamic State find support amongst Iraq's Sunnis, and allows the militant group to portray the U.S. strikes as targeting [Sunnis]."
Further, while Shiite and Kurdish militias had joined forces in the North to stop and push back the recent Islamic State advance. the alliance has proven all too brief:
"Now that [Islamic State] has been pushed back, the alliance is unraveling. Kataib Hizbollah [an Iranian-trained and equipped Shia militia], which controls access to Amerli, is denying Kurds entry to the town and one peshmerga [Kurdish militia] commander described the militia as the "Shi'ite IS". The tensions reflect a struggle for territory which the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad claims, but the Kurds want as part of their autonomous region in the north of the country."
The fact that US airstrikes are achieving unintended consequences that are precisely the opposite of how those airstrikes were supposed to work, has been little noticed, and certainly was not a feature of Barack Obama's Wednesday night speech to the nation, announcing another round of Middle East war for America.

If the usual suspects, meaning the competing, not cooperating, players in Iraq and Syria, do the natural, and some might even say the "right" thing, and take advantage of Obama's naiveté, promising unity against the common enemy (Islamic State) while plotting further self-interested appropriations of territory and resources, the central tenet of Obama's strategy, especially in Iraq, the building of an inclusive, non-sectarian government, is going to fail before his war has even gotten going.

Another serious problem critics have raised is the fact that the United States cannot really hope to take the war to Islamic State in its home base in Syria, without risking having any success in that campaign end up helping America's other supposed enemy, the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. 

This concern is already manifesting, as we read today that Assad has won a battle near Hama, against the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-allied rival to Islamic State. Assad, knowing that the United States is going to be targeting his main problem in Syria, Islamic State, can turn his full attention to degrading and destroying the remaining Syrian rebel groups. Not only this, but Israel, realizing that Assad is a better Syrian regime (in Israel's view) than having some al-Qaeda affiliate confronting its Northwest border, recently realigned its Syrian policy to meet this reality.

One effect of having Assad strengthened by ObamaWar, is that this will make much more difficult the job of obtaining real support from Muslim countries against Islamic State. Turkey, for example, reportedly is reluctant to engage the war against IS specifically because they fear weakening IS will strengthen Assad. The complexities of the situation, and the interests of the players, make pursuing any winning policy in Iraq and Syria almost impossible. The one short-term move that would likely produce a quick US victory would be the one thing Obama says he will not do—commit large numbers of US ground combat troops to fight IS.

In fact, and this is yet another bizarre aspect of Obama's reaction against being compared to George W. Bush, and his 2003 invasion of Iraq, but just the idea of the word "war" is so troubling to Obama and his team, that Secretary of State Kerry told CNN yesterday that he did not think that word was the correct description for the military action the United States was currently engaged in against Islamic State. Instead, Kerry had a special euphemism for it:
"I think that’s the wrong terminology. What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation...If somebody wants to think about it as being at war with ISIL, they can do so. But the fact is it’s a major counterterrorism operation."
Kerry went on to demand that Islamic State was still part of al-Qaeda, despite the fact IS has clearly broken ties with its old mentor. Kerry said this is why Barack Obama does not have to seek any new war authorization from Congress. Obama claims he is still working from the 9/11, anti-Qaeda authorization, made so many years ago in a war that simply will not cease.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

With ObamaWar You Can Keep The Bad Strategy You Like

Whether it's ObamaCare or ObamaWar, the American people have the same impression of this guy running it—they don't like it. Americans are fine having health care or Islamic State dealt with for the betterment of citizens, but let's just be glad the first thing Obama needs to do to fight Islamic State is not to set up a working website. And let us hope we do not hear the word "Surge", especially not associated with David Petraeus, mentioned during the course of the new chapter of the endless war.
Fully embracing the jingoistic rhetoric of his foreign policy mentor, George W. Bush, Barack Obama said Wednesday night that he was bringing ObamaWar to Syria and that this would degrade and destroy Islamic State:
“Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”
In a speech that was promoted as an explanation of Obama's strategy for fighting Islamic State, he spent very little time talking about that, and a lot of time talking about American exceptionalism, suggesting that the war against IS was an expression of this:
"American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. It is America—our scientists, our doctors, our know-­how—that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so that they can’t pose a threat to the Syrian people or the world again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, and tolerance, and a more hopeful future."
As with so much Obama said last night, this is basically campaign rhetoric, intended to convince the American people to support the war, but it is not straight talk about the facts, which speak so strongly to the limitations of American power to achieve the goals Obama has set.

For example, many critics would point out that America's rallying the world against "Russian aggression" has achieved very little, if the idea was to stop the aggression. And nor have American scientists stopped the Ebola outbreak. And while yes, Syrian WMD has been removed and destroyed, the problem comes in the word "declared", which the UN has recently suggested did not equal the total of the Syrian government's WMD. Lastly, painting the USA as the savior of "Muslim communities" in their fight for "a more hopeful future" is simply ludicrous.

The United States of course was the main foreign driver in the overthrow of Egypt's democratically-elected government, and is currently dictating to the Iraqi government the form of apparent inclusion it has to present in return for American support against an enemy Obama says is such a dire threat to US interests that destroying it should not depend on how kumbaya-esque the government in Baghdad pretends to be.

One reason Obama spent little time talking about his strategy and more time talking about the great and powerful America, is that while the goals Obama set out Wednesday night (eliminating Islamic State) are generally popular (at this point) amongst the American people, and with many leaders in the Middle East, Obama’s strategy to obtain these goals is very complicated, and thus very difficult to coherently and concisely explain to the American people. Further, the basic assumptions behind Obama’s strategy seem to many experts dubious—if not outright naive.

Example, Obama, attempting to act as some kind of expert on Islam, lectured to the American people about the nature of the enemy:
“Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq­ Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates.”
There are many problems with this analysis, but mainly it is a statement of propaganda—not of facts.

1. Islam may not condone the killing of innocents. But the establishment of “innocence” as a characteristic of victims is the key point. The Koran views all infidels as devils, and against God:
“Whoever is an enemy to Allah, His Angels, His Messengers, Jibrael (Gabriel) and Mikael (Michael), then verily, Allah is an enemy to the disbelievers.”—"The Cow", 2:98
2. This is especially true of Muslims who have in some way fallen away from the faith, or who have believed in heresy:
“Whoever changes Allah's Favour after it had come to him, [e.g. renounces the Religion of Allah (Islam) and accepts Kufr (disbelief),] then surely, Allah is Severe in punishment.”—"The Cow", 2:211
3. This is not a characteristic only of Islam. Judaism and Christianity both feature the slaughter of the faithless—including women and children—as being a holy and acceptable thing. Whereas Christians generally, in theory, expect God to carry out the sentence, Christians have had no problem “helping” God by dispatching the infidels (in large numbers) for him. And Jews have their own history, in the Bible, of invading Canaan and wiping out numerous communities (men, women and children), whose only sin was to believe in a different God.

4. As for Islamic State’s status as something more—much more—than a mere terrorist organization, Obama’s assertion is again nothing but factless propaganda. Islamic State controls a large swath of territory. It has a capital city. It has a national flag. It has an army of around 100,000 fighters. And it has easily defeated in battle the three groups that Obama claims will be the ground combat game-changers. Does that make Islamic State a real state? That depends on how long it exists—just like any new state. If the US can, as it claims it will, degrade and push back IS in relatively short order, most people will view IS as a temporary terrorist blip. But if the US cannot accomplish this, IS will gain respect and recognition as standing up to the US and its allies.

5. Lastly, on Obama’s claim about “the people it subjugates”, it is useful to look at the comments made last night by NBC Middle East analyst, Richard Engel, who was sharply critical of Obama’s strategy and his claims about the reality the US was facing against Islamic State. Engel noted that, unlike what the President was claiming, Islamic State actually was ruling over many Sunni populations, especially in Iraq, that were much more fearful of the Iraqi army (i.e., the Shia-majority army) than they were Islamic State.

Engel, commenting from Erbil, Iraq last night, said this:
“[Obama] is talking about having the Iraqi army reconstituted and using that Iraqi army to secure this country [i.e., Iraq, especially the Sunni portions of it]. The problem is, the Iraqi army over the past several months has collapsed. It has been reconstituted already by many Iranian advisors, and sometimes regular Iranian ground forces that have been witnessed on many occasions. And these Sunni villages, that are now with ISIS [i.e., Islamic State], are afraid of the Iraqi army. They don't want the Iraqi army to come into their villages. So we talk about a partner on the ground, that we are going to link up with to rid Iraq of ISIS, well that partner on the ground in many cases is a reason that people support ISIS in this country."
As Engel and others have pointed out in the past 24 hours, if Barack Obama has any hope of actually achieving the goals he set out in his statement last night, the first thing he needs to do is to seriously and accurately asses the threat he is engaging, and to consider the consequences of trying to degrade and destroy it, especially without a large US ground-troop commitment.

As with so many of Barack Obama’s campaign speeches, once you get beyond the promises, to the nuts and bolts of how he expects to deliver, the whole thing just doesn’t make any sense.

Finally, Obama made the one promise that he must keep—if he expects anything other than Bush-level hatred to come his way:
“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”
For most people actually looking at the situation, they might say the US has already gotten dragged into another ground war in Iraq. Last night Obama announced he was sending another 475 US soldiers to Iraq to bring the total in country to over 1,500. Some number of those troops reportedly will now be embedded with Iraqi and Kurdish troops, as advisors only, but in or near combat.

How long will it be before the mission creeps along to a brigade or two or ten of US ground troops going back to the fight that never seems to end?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Obama Redefines "War" Bypassing Constitutional Authority Of Congress

By replacing the idea of "declaring war" with the much nicer-sounding "protect the American people", Barack Obama seems to think he has personally amended the Constitution to read that Congress has the power to listen to the President explain to them his reasons when he decides to protect the American people. The fact the Constitution says none of this and that it explicitly states the power of declaring, i.e. authorizing, military action, rests solely with Congress, and not with the President, seems to be of no interest to Obama. On this count alone, that Obama is either afraid or contemptuous of seeking authorization from Congress for war, the American people should reject Obama's demand that the US continue its military action against Islamic State.
In an interview aired today on NBC's Meet the Press, US President Barack Obama took an extraordinary step of claiming he possessed sufficient authority on his own to take the United States to war—for years—without Congressional approval.

This dictatorial power, not expressed or implied in the Constitution, comes from Obama's redefinition of "war"—basically eliminating reference to that word and replacing it with the idea the President is using military power against Islamic State to "protect the American people".

At one point in the interview, Obama explained he would be going to Congress, for one thing to ask for "more resources" in a war that Secretary of State John Kerry recently said could last three years or longer.

At that, Chuck Todd, the new moderator of MTP, asked Obama the following:
"This is asking Congress for a vote, an authorization of your strategy?"
It was instantly clear Obama was balking at that idea.

Todd continued:
"This is not a—what does that mean? Define that."
Obama then replied:
 "Well—I’m confident that I’ve got the authorization that I need to protect the American people, and I’m always going to do what’s necessary to protect the American people."
So, the answer to whether Obama will seek a Congressional vote authorizing the new, years-long war is plainly "no".

Obama then explained what he thought the role of Congress is when a President declares war (or that he is once again "protecting" the American people:
"But I do think it’s important for Congress to understand what the plan is, to have buy-in, to debate it, and that’s why we’ve been consulting with Congress throughout."
Todd looked more than a little concerned and dubious at this response. After all, even George W. Bush sought Congressional approval of the war against Iraq.

Many Americans are likely so distracted and so badly informed about abstruse things like Constitutional powers to declare war, that they figure there should not be any problem about a President just deciding to declare war—or anyway go to war—especially if he isn't going to call it war, but instead protecting the American people. And given Obama's claim that that he is always authorized to protect the American people, what is the Constitutional argument supporting that alleged power?

Answer: there isn't any.

While there is an implied power of the Executive to use military means to protect the United States in an emergency, i.e. in a situation where there isn't sufficient time* to obtain Congressional approval for war, outside of that situation, and especially when the President intends on committing the United States to years of war, which Obama intends to do, the Constitution is quite explicit:
*—There is a concept for example in Section 10 of Article I having to do with emergency powers of a state government to "go to war", without Congressional declaration, when that state is "in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay" to take military action.
"The Congress shall have declare War...To raise and support Armies...To provide and maintain a Navy...To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces."
Respecting the current situation, Obama can certainly not reasonably or honestly declare he is dealing with any emergency situation affecting the lives of Americans domestically, since he was quite clear in the interview:
"I want everybody to understand that we have not seen any immediate intelligence about threats to the homeland from ISIL."
While Obama did say he viewed the Islamic State advance into northern Iraq and the Kurdish region, for example towards the city of Arbil, as an emergency situation, where the lives of American personnel (military and diplomatic) were threatened, that threat has supposedly been managed, with IS fighters pushed back by American airstrikes and counterattacks from Peshmerga militia.

So, even if there is a need, as Obama says, for the Islamic State to be confronted, and degraded, and ultimately destroyed, that is an argument Obama needs to make to Congress, and any resulting war to achieve those ends needs to be authorized by Congress, not just asserted as being authorized by President Obama.

Many of Barack Obama's defenders in the past few weeks have talked about what a welcome change it is to have a President taking slow and deliberate steps towards taking any necessary military action. Obama has been so slow in committing himself to a strategy to defeat Islamic State, even Democrats have begun criticizing his lack of apparent urgency.

But here is another consideration:

If Obama is so careful and deliberate about going to war, then he should recognize that idea is already built into the American constitutional system. It involves a President going to Congress to ask for authority to go to war. Obama says he does not need to do this, that his authority is somehow inherent in the Constitution, under the idea of protecting and defending the American people. However, the Constitution says nothing about this. It does say he is supposed to protect and defend the Constitution. It is Congress, not the President, that is supposed to be the deliberative authority in determining whether or not the United States should go to war.

If the President refuses to acknowledge this fact, and subverts the role of Congress in this matter, he should be impeached.