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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
Some interesting sleights-of-hand in what I take to be a White House riposte to my Daily Beast article last week authored with colleague Shane Harris. The riposte is carried in the Washington Post. The thrust of our piece was that the administration received from British sources by the and of the first week of June positive identification on the whereabouts of American and British hostages held by the Islamic State. By late May there were three possible locations for the captives — all in or around Raqqa, the de facto capital of the militants in northern Syria.
Our sources — a mixture of British and White House officials and private security contractors as well as family members and friends of American hostages James Foley, Steve Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller — confirm that positive identification of the location the captives were being held at had been passed on to the administration by June 6. The thrust of our article was that, and I quote the opening paragraph of the story, “The U.S. government obtained intelligence on the possible location of American captives held by ISIS in Syria last year, but Obama administration officials waited nearly a month to launch a rescue mission because of concerns that the intelligence wasn’t conclusive and some of it had come from a foreign service.”
The foreign service in question was British intelligence.
Officials — including deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes — seem at great pains in the Post piece to insist that Obama signed off on the rescue mission within about 24 hours when presented with a final operational plan. But the question remains, why if the administration received the crucial information by June 6 did they wait until July 4 to launch the rescue, by which time the captives had been moved. There is no denial carried in the Post article about when the administration received intelligence about the location.
And in our Daily Beast article, we don’t suggest the hold up was with the President but his officials. I quote: “But a U.S. official said that inside the White House, Obama’s senior national-security advisers were not willing to base a raid on intelligence developed by a foreign service. ‘The issue was that they didn’t trust it, and they wanted to develop and mature the intelligence, because it wasn’t our own,’ said the U.S. official, who asked to remain anonymous when discussing sensitive hostage-rescue efforts. ‘They got the information. They just didn’t trust it. And they did sit on it, there’s no doubt about that,’ the official said.”
My latest piece co-authored with Daily Beast colleague Shane Harris has prompted a storm of comments. We explore claims that the Obama administration delayed last summer acting on intelligence received about the location of Western captives held by ISIS.
The opening paragraphs:
“The U.S. government obtained intelligence on the possible location of American captives held by ISIS in Syria last year, but Obama administration officials waited nearly a month to launch a rescue mission because of concerns that the intelligence wasn’t conclusive and some of it had come from a foreign service, U.S. and British officials told The Daily Beast.
British officials, as well as private security contractors, said they were frustrated by Washington’s hesitance to give the go-ahead for a rescue attempt, which eventually was carried out on July 4, 2014, by which time the hostages had been moved. The following month, ISIS began beheading its American and British prisoners in a series of grisly Internet videos”
You can read the full report here.
Worth noting the speed with which Israeli acted back in 1976 to mount a mission to rescue hostages held at Entebbe. The Air France passenger jet was seized by Palestinian militants on June 27; the rescue operation was launched July 6.
A rift is growing between Washington and Berlin over how to handle Vladimir Putin and his stoking of pro-Moscow separatism in the Donbas region of east Ukraine. Despite the denials of Secretary of State John Kerry, the split is becoming more obvious with each passing conference — or gathering for peace talks.The Munich security conference has exposed the divergence.
While Obama officials are playing it all down, senior US lawmakers aren’t so reticent. “History shows us that dictators will always take more if you let them,” says Sen. John McCain, comparing Angela Merkel and François Hollande’s talks with Vladimir Putin to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler.
A useful take on the conference can be found here at the Daily Telegraph.
The split dramatizes the recent remark by Germany’s President, Joachim Gauck: “Germans and Americans appear to live on different planets.”
“Formerly known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (roughly, Champions of Jerusalem), the group now calling itself Sinai Province announced the slaying on a Twitter account and posted images of oil worker William Henderson’s passport and identification cards. It did not say how the slaying was carried out….
The Sinai-based jihadi group claiming responsibility for the oil worker’s murder has grown increasingly proficient carrying out attacks and sophisticated selecting targets based on their “strategic value.” It has conducted scores of attacks since the July 2013 ouster by the Egyptian armed forces of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, and with each blast or shooting the group has been expanding its theater of operations. Originally it was a low-level insurgency mainly confined to the Sinai Peninsula . but recently it has been hitting at high-profile targets and foreigners elsewhere in the country—including right in the heart of Cairo.”
You can read my full report here at the Daily Beast
“Only two days ago, President Barack Obama’s envoy to the Syrian rebels, retired Marine Gen. John Allen, explained confidently that the U.S. would help to train and equip Western-backed fighters to become a credible force that would compel the Assad regime to negotiate a political deal and end the four-year-long civil war.
Yeah. Right. The Obama administration’s plans have little or nothing to do with what is unfolding all too rapidly on the ground: Rebel brigades are demoralized, disintegrating, and fighting among themselves.”
Read full dispatch here at the Daily Beast