Category: War on Terror

London Again

London was attacked again last night. Three creatures ran down people on London Bridge then attacked a market with knives. They were attacked by people at the scene and killed by police within ten minutes.

UK politicians are, commendably, refraining from panic and refusing to do the terrorists’ work for them. I’ll post more as events warrant.

In Which I … Kinda Side With Trump

This weekend saw a somewhat concerning diplomatic faceoff. North Korea indicated they were going to test a nuclear weapon and Trump had hinted at the possibility of pre-emptive or retaliatory strikes, sparking fears of a second Korean War. It wasn’t clear exactly what was going on because it was all rumors and innuendo. Ultimately, the Nork’s nuclear test failed (possibly due to US cyberwarfare) and the situation was defused.

Today, however, a new chapter in the saga came out. Trump is apparently talking to China to try get them to reign in North Korea. We’ve done that before but Trump is apparently breaking with long-standing US policy and offering trade concessions to China if they reign in Kim.

And … I’m actually not averse to that.

Look, we all know that Kim is China’s pet. China provides almost all their energy and trade. China has long had the ability to at least threaten North Korea, if not reign it in. Trump has been talking big on China for some time. He’s apparently reversed a number of positions after talking to Xi, including backing down on labeling China a currency manipulator. That’s another kettle of fish, of course. But if get China to clamp on Kim AND not have a trade war … that’s a win-win, isn’t it?

I’d like to hear why I’m wrong about this. But if my criticisms of Trump are to have any meaning, I have to point out when he’s done something right. Avoiding a trade war and getting North Korea in line is exactly the kind of “deal” Trump promised.

Virtue Signaling with Bombs

It would appear that we are moving toward getting involved with Syria. Images have emerged of a horrific chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians, including children. Multiple independent organizations are pointing the finger at Assad. And various Trump officials are making noise about attacking Syria in retaliation. So far, a number of politicians have indicated support for such an action, including Hillary Clinton and John McCain, even though it carries the danger of a conflict — by proxy or directly — with Russia.

I have long been wary of intervention in Syria. The reason is not because I am insensitive to the suffering of Syrian civilians or the house of horrors that is Assad. It’s because it’s not clear to me what the hell the goal would be. Sean Davis raised 14 questions that our leaders need to answer before they commit to military action — all good questions that no one has answered. The logic seems to be:

  1. What’s happening is awful.
  2. Let’s drop some bombs.

But what will that do? If we destroy his air force, does that simply drag the war out? If we remove Assad, do we just get more chaos for ISIS to move into? Is this virtue signaling with bombs?

I find myself agreeing with our friend Thrill:

My other thought is that one of the top five reasons I voted for Trump was that I thought he was less War Crazed of the two major candidates. You can argue with me all you like, but Clinton was creaming her pantsuit in anticipation of dragging us into more international conflicts. Trump convinced me that he wasn’t interested in any further needless military interventions and I’d prefer not to be proven wrong.

I’ve seen the images coming out of Syria. Yeah, it’s awful.

But it isn’t our war.

It isn’t our fault either. There’s nothing we stand to gain from it. It isn’t even within our ability to resolve. I’m not indifferent to human suffering, but I don’t support any war that doesn’t further the best interests of the United States. There’s no way I support Trump if he moves forward with military action against the Assad regime.

Something else to think about: why is Assad’s use of chemical weapons the red line here? Why is it so much more horrible than the bombs he’s been dropping on his people or years, bombs that have left many children dead or screaming in pain or maimed for life? Let’s say we eliminate all his chemical weapons — hey, remember when John Kerry said we’d gotten rid of them all? Will that ameliorate the suffering of Syria’s children? Will he not just drop more conventional bombs?

The more I turn this over, the more I think this is virtue signaling with bombs. Something horrible has happened and we want to show that we don’t like it. But that’s not enough for me. You’re going to need more than that for me to support committing blood and treasure to what looks like a massive dangerous quagmire.

Update: As I was writing this post, CNN announced that we have launched 50 tomahawk missiles against airfields in Syria. That was fast. And there was no approval from Congress.

Ninth Circuit Rules Against Trump

The Ninth Circuit issued a ruling on Trump’ immigration EO, maintaining a nationwide suspension of the order.

While I think that Trump’s ban was poorly reasoned and executed with the skill of a brass band falling down a flight of stairs, I’m a bit bothered by this decision for reasons David French gets into here:

Finally, and crucially, the court made a statement near the end of its opinion that is deeply, deeply troubling. In discussing the evidence before the court, the panel says this:

The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.

Putting aside, for the moment, the administration’s inexplicable failure to include in the executive order or the record the extensive documentation and evidence demonstrating the threat of jihad from the seven identified countries (including terror attacks in the U.S., plots in the U.S., and a record of plots and attacks abroad), whether an attack has been completed in this country is not the standard for implementing heightened security measures. The president doesn’t have to wait for completed attacks to protect the U.S. from dangerous immigrants. He can see the deteriorating security situation on the ground, evaluate the intentions and capabilities of the enemy, and then act before the enemy can strike. Indeed, that’s the goal of national defense — to prevent attacks, not respond after the carnage.

I’ve been hearing versions of this argument over and over again. “No refugee has launched a terror attack against the US!” “No one from those seven countries has attacked the US soil!” “Since 9/11, more people have been killed by Right Wing terrorism than Jihadists!” For a while, I was swayed by these arguments. But I’ve come to realize that they are complete horse manure.

First, as French notes, the job of the federal government is to prevent attacks, not close the barn door after the horse has been stolen. If they have credible intelligence of an attack or a danger, they are supposed to act (within Constitutional limits).

Second, terrorist attacks are, by their very nature, stochastic. They are thankfully few and when you try to do any analysis of them, you are immediately swallowed by small number statistics. This is obvious when you think about it. Any sentence that starts with, “well, excluding 9/11 …” is just silly. 9/11 was the biggest terrorist attack in American history. It completely dominates the discussion. Our entire anti-terrorism policy is designed around preventing another 9/11. You simply can not exclude it from consideration and act like you’re clever for doing so.

It would take only one successful Jihadist attack to upset those numbers (indeed, the numbers changed dramatically after San Bernardino and Orlando). It would take only one attack by a refugee from, say, Somalia, to make those arguments completely moot. When your argument can be rendered useless by a singular event, it’s a terrible argument.

Think about where we were on 9/10. At that point, the most successful attack on American soil was the Oklahoma City bombing. Should Bush have therefore ignored the threat of Jihadists? On the contrary, many liberals slammed him for paying insufficient attention to the “Al-Qaeda determined to strike in US” memo.

Just to be clear: I think the danger presented by people coming into this country with visas or as refugees is low. But it is not zero. Can we quit pretending that it is?

(I would note, in passing, that deciding on the wisdom of a policy is not the Court’s job. Antonin Scalia used to note that the Courts were required to uphold laws that were ill-advised but passed Constitutional muster. He joked that he wished he had a stamp: “Stupid but Constitutional.” I’m not quite familiar enough with this case to opine on whether Trump’s order is legal or Constitutional. It may be dumb. I know many on this blog disagree. But even if we assume it’s dumb, it’s not the Court’s job to stop stupidity.)

Trump’s First!

The Senate today voted 98-1 to confirm Mattis as Trump’s Sec Def:

The Senate easily confirmed retired Gen. James Mattis to be the next defense secretary on Friday, shortly after President Trump took the oath of office, making Mattis the first confirmed member of the new Cabinet.

Mattis’ nomination to be the Pentagon’s top civilian easily passed the Senate in a 98-1 vote. The only “no” vote came from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is Trump’s nominee for attorney general, didn’t vote.

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved his nomination this week in a 26-1 vote in which Gillibrand was again the only opposition.

Gildebrant opposed the Mattis nomination under the pretense that a civilian should run the military, and she is correct: that civilian is the POTUS. Methinks however that Gildebrant had ulterior motives she hid behind a veneer of concern. From the article:

Gillibrand is a vocal member of the Armed Services Committee and has spent years crusading against the Pentagon’s policies on sexual assault in the military. Gillibrand has repeatedly and unsuccessfully introduced bills to reform the way the U.S. military handles sexual assault, in the face of objections from the Pentagon.

Mattis has been vocal about the damage done under the Obama administration that turned the military from an organization that was staffed by warriors into one staffed by social justice warriors, and his intent to change that crap. The military, contrary to the belief and agenda from the left, is the one organization that has no room for social engineering of any kind that doesn’t make its members more lethal and effective at killing and blowing up shit. That’s what war is. Or at least that is what people that want to win wars do.

After WWII, the western world over time forgot what militaries are for. I read an interesting book once that claimed this was an unavoidable consequence of the nuclear age, but I think while that did make leaders more cautious about going to war (a great thing), what really did the most damage is the move to sanitize warfare. War was, and always, will be – if you want to win – about breaking the enemy and most importantly, the enemy’s will to fight. The stupid quote that force never settled anything was coined by idiots. History is replete with examples where force settled everything. Ask the Carthaginians, the Mongols, the Armenians, the Jews, or Osama bin Laden, what their take on that is. WWII was the last war where the western world had people that fought to win. There were no innocent bystanders, and both sides bombed the living shit out of civilians.

War historically was, and is supposed to be a ugly and nasty thing to be avoided at all cost. Sanitized warfare has only resulted in a lot more and perpetual conflicts, where because the deaths happen in smaller numbers that oft does nothing but cause people to talk, has confounded many into seeing it is as a superior way of doing things. It is not. There is never any finality, and the decision to go to war has become far easier to make because the people involved always convince themselves they can keep casualties down and fight it all nice and clean like a video game. Eventually those playing the video game will end up fighting those that fight for keeps and care little for civility, and that’s when the shit hits the fan. The barbarians have always stormed the gates when those that thought civilization made war a bad idea, and nothing was worth defending, lost their bearings, and it was never good when it happened for anyone (often including the barbarians).

Anyway, this was not supposed to be a post about war itself, but about turning the military into a social engineering experiment. If they made all players plat by the same rules, at least the results would have chance of being beneficial, but what has been happening to the military – because SJW types have demanded reality and human nature subside to their ideological beliefs – has been detrimental to the survival of this country and the western world. Mattis reversing some of the idiocy of the last 5 decades, but especially the last 8 years, is a welcome thing. Gildebrant, and people like her whom want reality to bend to what they want it to be, can go do her social engineering elsewhere.

UPDATE: And his second.

UPDATE PLUS 1: Well done, sir.

Manning to Go Free

I’m actually shocked:

President Barack Obama on Tuesday commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of documents and videos to WikiLeaks.

The President also pardoned James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who pleaded guilty in October to a single charge of making false statements to federal investigators in 2012 when he was questioned about leaking top secret information on US efforts to cripple Iran’s nuclear program to two journalists.

A presidential commutation reduces the sentence being served but it does not change the fact of conviction, whereas a pardon forgives a certain criminal offense.

Manning, a transgender woman and former US Army soldier, was serving a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, an all-male Army prison in eastern Kansas, despite her request to transfer to a civilian prison. A White House statement on Tuesday said her prison sentence is set to expire on May 17.

The material, which WikiLeaks published in 2010, included a classified video of a US helicopter attacking civilians and journalists in Iraq in 2007. Labeled “Collateral Murder,” the film drew criticism from human rights activists for the deaths of innocent people.

Though found guilty on 20 out of 22 possible charges (including violating the US Espionage Act), Manning was not convicted of the most serious one; aiding the enemy, which could have earned the private a life sentence.
Instead, the former intelligence analyst was sentenced to prison, as well as demoted from private first class to private and dishonorably discharged.

Manning was in solitary for no apparent reason and was having problems (e.g., two suicide attempts). But this is honestly surprising. I know the intelligence community was vehemently opposed. Obama has been commuting a lot of sentences for drug dealers and such, which I don’t really have a problem with. But this is the biggest one yet.

I’ll have to think about this one a bit though. Manning’s leaks crossed me as less defensible than Snowden’s. Snowden, at least, was revealing NSA malfeasance and civil liberties violations, even if one disagrees with the manner in which he revealed them. Manning’s leaks seemed more motivated at embarrassing the military and political leadership than anything else (e.g., Cablegate, which revealed diplomatically embarrassing discussions but no actual scandals).

So why has Obama pardoned Manning and not Snowden? I suspect because Manning undermined Bush and Snowden undermined Obama. We’ve seen this kind of partisan bullshit with Wikileaks. Republicans who denounced it when Manning was releasing info praised it when it released the DNC’s e-mails. And Democrats who praised Wikileaks when it was humiliating Bush denounced it when it humiliated Clinton. My stance on Wikileaks evolved a bit in the early days (as you’ll see in the link below) but solidified by the end of the Bush years. While I appreciate the efforts to reveal lawbreaking and civil liberties violations, I do not trust this messenger. Assange does not have our interests at heart and the information he has revealed has generally not benefitted us or the world. Quite the contrary.

As an example, I wrote a long blog many years ago on the “collateral murder” video. I disagreed with Wikileaks editorializing of the video, seeing it more as a tragic accident than the deliberate targeting of civilians. And be sure to click through to letters from Andrew Sullivan’s readers who go into the context of the video.

Anyway, Manning is going free and I’m happy for her, I guess. But I’m very surprised and baffled by this. I really didn’t expect it.

The Obama-Israel Kerfuffle

The last week has been a bit fraught for US-Israeli relations. Last week, the US abstained from, rather than veto, a UN resolution condemning settlements in the West Bank. The US has abstained from or even supported condemnations of Israel before. But this one was unusually harsh. The Administration’s actions were condemned by Israel and Trump. Israel began expansion of the settlements in retaliation. And, today, Kerry gave a speech blasting the settlements as a threat to peace.

The Right Wing has gone with their default explanation (encouraged by Netanyahu) that Obama just hates Israel. If so, this hatred is hard to see. Obama has continued to give Israel $3 billion a year in military aide, was practically the only leader to support them during the War on Hamas and has, until now, blocked any UN actions against them. There is a profound disagreement between Obama and Israel on the Iran Deal. But the GOP seems to think that the proper relationship with Israel is to give them money, support everything they do and maybe go to war with Iran. As often I disagree with Obama’s foreign policy (such as it is), the alternative the GOP seems to prefer is just as silly. And let’s get some perspective here. The Administration has firmed up their opposition to the settlements which every Administration, Republican or Democrat, has opposed and which every Administration, Republican or Democrat, has seen as a problem for creating peace. Not as a big a problem as Palestine’s refusal to let Israel exist, but a problem nonetheless.

If I had to guess, I would say one of two things is going on here.

First, this may be Obama doing an end-of-the-Godfather settling of business. It’s no secret that Netanyahu has been a thorn in his side for the last eight years: opposing the Iran deal, which Obama saw a lasting legacy; expanding the settlements; meeting with the opposition party; interfering with … whatever it is Obama thinks he’s doing in Syria. So this may be one last slap in the ongoing slap fight between the two Administrations.

There’s another possibility and one I think is more likely: that Obama’s trying to tip Netanyahu out of office. Netanyahu’s approval ratings tend to be poor and he is currently mired in a corruption scandal. It’s possible that this could help tip him out of office, potentially putting someone in office who is less of a hardliner. Of course, it’a also possible it would make the Israelis rally behind him or replace him with someone who take an even harder line. But with Trump less than a month away from office, Obama might be trying to make Trump’s Israel policy, which includes moving our embassy to Jerusalem, harder to implement.

Or it may just be amateur hour. The problem with Obama’s supposed six-dimensional chess is that it’s often hard to tell the difference between six-dimensional cheese and just randomly bumbling around.

Israel to the Rescue

This seems like … a really smart thing to do:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the Foreign Ministry to explore ways of increasing the humanitarian aid that Israel provides to Syrian civilians wounded during the civil war in that country, particularly in the battle for Syria’s largest city Aleppo.

Netanyahu announced the move on Tuesday, during a reception for foreign correspondents based in Israel.

The prime minister added that he had instructed the ministry to find way of bringing wounded civilians from Aleppo to Israel for treatment in Israeli hospitals.

Israel has actually been doing this for some time now, bringing thousands of wounded civilians out of the fray, giving them medical attention in field hospitals on the border, then returning them to Syria. But given the appalling atrocities in Aleppo, it looks like they’re going to ramp up the program, transporting Syrians across Syrian territory into Israeli territory.

I have to give credit to Netanyahu, who is the only leader who has kept his wits about him during the Syrian crisis. He supports keeping Assad in power, fearing what might happen if Assad falls and some more radical group takes over (hello, ISIS). Israeli forces have been striking ISIS targets in Syria and he’s been working hard to make sure the Israelis and the Russians don’t accidentally end up shooting at each other. He has so far resisted calls to accept refugees, believing (correctly) that this raises the danger of Israeli Jews one day becoming a religious minority in their own country. I really can’t fault him in any steps he’s taken. And this one is just another opportunity to demonstrate that, for all the (sometimes justified) criticism, Israel is still the most modern and humanitarian country in the region. What other country in the Middle East would lend medical aid to the citizens of a nation with whom they are, technically, still at war? And yet, Israel is the only one with a huge Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement targeted against it.

This is what a coherent foreign policy looks like, incidentally. We haven’t seen one in a long time and I’m dubious that we’ll see it under Trump. But Netanyahu has identified his country’s interests — keeping the devil they know in power, avoiding conflict with Russia and lending humanitarian aide — and executed it. If the big powers had been so coherent in their foreign policy, tens of thousands of people might not have died so needlessly.