Is There A Western Strategy For Libya?

From my VOA article August 5

“Some analysts worry that the current mainly covert military involvement of Western countries against IS [Islamic State] in Libya is adding to the chaos in the strife-torn country because the U.S., Britain, France and Italy are assisting opposing political alliances.

In the U.S. case, the airstrikes targeting IS extremists in Sirte this week have been supporting militias mainly from the western Libyan town of Misrata currently loyal to the GNA[ Government of National Accord] . British commandos have also been assisting Misratan militiamen against IS.

But France and Italy, as well as Egypt, have been working with the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, the military commander of a government in the east, one of the two rival governments the GNA was meant to have replaced in December.’

You can read the full article here

Democrats Win the Summer But Will They Win The Election?

Normal Rules No Longer Apply?

The always thoughtful David Brooks has a chilling column in the New York Times today questioning whether a convention win will translate into a November win for the Democrats at the polls. At first glance, maybe it will.

He argues that Donald Trump has — if unintentionally — stumbled on an ingenious way to to allow the Democrats to save themselves: by “abandoning the great patriotic themes that used to fire up the GOP… he’s allowed the Democrats to seize that ground.”

“Trump has abandoned the deep and pervasive optimism that has always energized the American nation,” he says. He adds: “Democrats have often been ambivalent about that ardent nationalistic voice, but this week they were happy to accept Trump’s unintentional gift.”

But he fears that although “the Democratic speakers hit doubles, triples and home runs… the normal rules may no longer apply.”

He adds: “It could be in that in this moment of fear, cynicism, anxiety and extreme pessimism, many voters have decided that civility is a surrender to a rigged system, that optimism is the opiate of the idiots and that humility and gentleness are simply surrendering to the butchers of ISIS. If that’s the case then the throes of a completely new birth are upon us and Trump is a man of the future.”

Paul Krugman — also in the NYT today — poses the question, “Who Loves America?” And makes this telling observation: “If what bothers you about America is, instead, the fact that it doesn’t look exactly the way it did in the past (or the way you imagine it looked in the past), then you don’t love your country — you care only about your tribe.”

Trump and Russia

Having myself written this week for The Hill about Trump and Russia, I think this point from Krugman is thought-provoking: “Mr. Trump’s willingness to cast aside our nation’s hard-earned reputation as a reliable ally is remarkable. So is the odd specificity of his support for Mr. Putin’s priorities, which is in stark contrast with the vagueness of everything else he has said about policy. And he has offered only evasive non-answers to questions about his business ties to Putin-linked oligarchs.”

The Trump-Russia links are fascinating. As I pointed out earlier this week, if those business ties and financial dealings, as well as the relationships some of his advisers have had with Kremlin-run entities and allies, had been ones pursued by Clinton or her advisers, American Conservatives would be in uproar and hurling the national-security card.

Does that mean I think Trump is a recruited Russian agent? No, there is no basis for making such an allegation. But the question remains — and Trump and his advisers have not answered it — how much do those ties and connections go to shape and mould his foreign-policy thinking, or their’s, when it comes to Russia? Is Trump being reflexively a business deal-maker and playing nice now to Putin in the hopes that post-election, if he fails to win the presidency, he will be rewarded with the kind of deals in Russia that have so far eluded him?

There is something truly shocking, even tawdry, observing national-security Republicans remaining mainly silent on all of this.

On a side-note, it is curious to see Wikileaks and Edward Snowden fall out over the right approach to leaks with the NSA whistleblower condemning in a Tweet Wikileaks “hostility to even modest curation.” Predictably, Wikileaks has accused Snowden of pandering to the Democrats.

Of course, Wikileaks never panders to anyone, does it? The Wikileaks site is full of embarrassing Russian data disclosures, isn’t it?

 

 

Assad Says It Enough; Maybe The West Should Believe Him

Bashar al-Assad sent sent a telegram Thursday to Russia’s Vladimir Putin to thank Moscow for its military support and vowed to accept nothing less than outright victory. Assad said the army was set on “attaining final victory.”

He noted in his cable that Aleppo has become like Stalingrad, promising that “despite the brutality and cruelty of the enemy, and the great sacrifices and pains, our cities, towns, people and army will not be satisfied until they defeat the enemy and achieve victory.

Now Assad has said this before — namely, that he is aiming for complete victory. So why does the West still persist trying to negotiate a political transition?

Assad sent the telegram hours before government warplanes fired four missiles at a refugee camp 10km from the the border with Turkey, killing at least 30 and wounding dozens.

You can read my full news report on this at VOA here.

Who Lost Iraq?

According to former US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey it wasn’t Joe Biden. Jeffrey’s tart piece in Foreign Policy is worth a read. And with some good tidbits, like”  “During my 20-month tenure in Iraq, Obama called Maliki just three times and met with him only once. Biden has been to Iraq 24 times.”

The thrust of his argument is that without Biden, things could be even worse in Iraq. Really? How much worse? You can read the full article here.

Pharma Boy’s Contempt

I hope Rep. John Mica does move to hold Pharma Boy Martin Shkreli in contempt for his smirking and subsequent tweeting. Maybe Congress should unearth the 1821 Supreme Court ruling in Anderson v. Dunn, which affirmed Congress’ power to hold someone in contempt was essential to ensure that Congress was “… not exposed to every indignity and interruption that rudeness, caprice, or even conspiracy, may mediate against it.”

Realism and Syria

An interesting New Yorker look at Obama thinking on Syria and the so-called “realist” school of foreign policy. And John Cassidy has some clear-eyed perceptions, including this:

“Safeguarding the stability of Europe is surely a vital U.S. interest. Indeed, there is strong realist case for regarding it as part of an extended clean-up operation made necessary when the Bush Administration decided to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein.”

But as ever with commentators who are only US-based there is this stand-out on the Washington-backed international talks in Vienna:

“It is hard to hold out much hope that these talks will succeed unless the United States drops its demand for regime change.”

Actually, aside from the moral argument about why Assad and his inner circle should have to go, there is a practical one: Syrian rebels won’t settle for anything less. So it isn’t up to Washington or any outsider to drop this demand: rebel commanders and fighters are determined not to finish their fight until Assad is history and are even prepared, they tell me, to fight on, even if all their off-and-on-again foreign backers desert them.

An Improbable Week

As the cliche has it — truth is the first casualty of war.

And this week officials in Moscow, Ankara and Washington DC appeared determined to prove the saying true.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman claimed Tuesday a remarkable victory over Islamic State militants — despite the fact that 90 percent of Russia’s airstrikes have been targeting anti-Assad rebels of the Free Syrian Army or the Islamist Army of Conquest. IS had lost “most” of its ammunition, heavy vehicles and equipment in Russian airstrikes, the Defense Ministry baldly bragged Tuesday. So 86 claimed Russian airstrikes on IS the previous 48 hours — plus a few the previous two weeks — managed to achieve what 7000 US-led coalition airstrikes had failed to do!

Just putting aside how improbable that sounds, it doesn’t square with field actions of ISIS to the north-east of Aleppo, where Russian airstrikes have assisted the terror group to capture from Syrian rebels a chunk of important real estate. Nor does it square with what anti-IS activists inside Raqqa and Deir Ez-Zor tell me. Yes, damage is being done to ISIS by coalition and Russia airstrikes but the group is hardly on the ropes yet and won’t be until they are challenged on the ground by a serious force.

And that leads into the second great improbable of the week — this time coming from Washington. Namely that a US air-drop this week of 45 tonnes of ammunition in northern Syria did not go to the Kurds’ YPG forces. A Pentagon spokesman insisted Thursday that the US military was confident the supplies got to the so-called Syrian Arab Coalition. Earlier, another Pentagon official, Peter Cook, had admitted to reporters that some of the ammunition might have ended up with other groups, including the Kurds.

The Pentagon’s “correction” neither squares what the YPG/PYD is saying — including their leader Salih Muslim — nor does it make any sense, if, as US officials have said, they are pushing the YPG and Syrian Arab Coalition to march towards Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital, encircle and isolate it. The YPG is the dominant force in that grouping, able to field 25,000 or so fighters. The Syrian Arab Coalition can field according to Washington 5000 fighters and is basically a YPG catspaw.

And if you want to know what a dubious group the Syrian Arab Coalition is, read my report here.

The last great improbable of the week came from Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who offered one of the most unlikely pairings ever when he suggested on Thursday that ISIS and the PKK, Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish separatists, may have both had a hand in last weekend’s suicide bombing in Ankara, the deadliest terror attack in modern Turkish history.

Among those detained, he said on TRT television, are “people linked to the PKK and linked to ISIS,” he said.

The Circus Acts Alter

So the polls change and Trump slides and Carson advances: in short the audience in the big tent is getting bored with the circus acts. So predictable: but then my media colleagues will continue to pump up unprofessionally the quirky non-electables like some demented ringmasters fearful the audience will slip away and the bait-and-click won’t keep the numbers up. Anyone who has covered presidential races knows perfectly well that “likely voter” is a fiction at this stage in the race and that polls so far out from the primaries and the general election are meaningless. How about doing some real stories like actually exploring issues and substance as opposed to the Entertainment Tonight-style of journalism?

Half-a-Million American Jews Served in WWII

So, Ann Coulter has unloaded on the “f…Jews”. And there is a viral campaign of bigots “standing with Ann” on Twitter. Presumably she and her supporters would also consider the half-a-million American-Jewish GIs who served in WWII as beyond the pale — and so too, the following Medal of Honor winners: Isadore Jachman, Ben Salomon and Raymond Zussman.

The Berlin-born Jachman emigrated with his family to the US when he was a two-years-old. He graduated from a high school in Baltimore and joined the army in 1942. His Medal of Honor was awarded for action defending the town of Flamierge in Belgium. His company in the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment was pinned down by fierce tank fire and took heavy casualties.

Sergeant Jachman “left his place of cover, dashed across open ground, through a hail of fire and grabbed a bazooka from a fallen comrade. He then advanced on the tanks, which concentrated their fire on him. Firing his weapon, he damaged one and forced both of them to retire.”

Jachman was killed.

Benjamin L. Salomon was an army dentist, who when the Japanese overran his hospital, mounted a rear-guard action in which he had no chance of personal survival. His bravery allowed the safe evacuation of many wounded, and he killed at least 98 enemy troops before being killed himself during the Battle of Saipan.