defrog: (Default)

So Trump has declared war on North Korea. Sort of. Turns out he was improvising. Which is exactly the quality you want in a man who has possession of the nuclear launch codes.

So now there’s lots of a-dithering over the possibility of nuclear war. And as a child of the Cold War I feel in my element – we went through this in the 80s with Reagan, who had convinced the Left that not only was a nuclear war with Russia was inevitable during his admin, but that he was sort of looking forward to it because it meant he would personally get to greet Jesus on His return. (Which isn’t how it works, according to most Revelations scholars, but whatever.)

So here we are again. Maybe.

I admit it’s hard for me to take the threat too seriously, if only because I’ve heard it all before and we still haven’t seen so much as a single nuke go off since Nagasaki.

On the other hand, we are talking about Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un – two demented egotistical man-children who care a lot more about looking weak than they do about the consequences of a nuclear exchange, and both of whom are dumb enough to assume that nuking a country is no big deal – it’s like a bomb, only bigger, right?

It's also possible that when Trump says “fire and fury”, he’s not thinking of nukes – he’s thinking maybe of the conventional Shock And Awe™ that GW Bush rained all over Iraq or something. Sort of like how when he says America’s nuke arsenal has been renovated and modernized since he took office seven months ago (which isn’t true), maybe he means “we gave them a good wash and polish and now they're so shiny”.

But who knows what the hell Trump is thinking, really?

That’s the big unknown that’s making people nervous – we KNOW that Trump and Kim are inhabiting their own personal alt-realities and think that being the toughest, loudest kid on the block is the way to solve all yr problems. What we DON’T know is (1) whether Kim really has the capability to nuke Guam and (2) whether he and Trump have the will to actually pull the trigger.

One of the complications here is, of course, that North Korea is decidedly a problem, and we need to think of a way to deal with them. It’s been argued that nuanced diplomacy hasn’t really worked, and we need another strategy. I don’t have any bright ideas as to what that might be. I’d prefer it to be something other than a military option, partly because I’m a pacifist and partly because I’m reasonably sure it will make a bad situation even worse – not just for the Korean peninsula but the whole Asian region (which is also where I happen tolive, so yes, I’m a little biased here).

Unfortunately, Trump seems to be interested in only two strategies: (1) pretend it’s China’s problem to fix because hey, yr closer and you know this guy, talk to him for Crissakes, and (2) “fire and fury”. And plenty of experts have said that while Kim Jong-un isn’t suicidal, he is the kind of guy who will do something stupid if he thinks he’s cornered and has no choice. Which is why you want to be careful about how you respond publicly to his exploits.

Unfortunately (again), Trump doesn’t know how to do “careful”. And he can’t delegate to America’s diplomats who know how to handle these things because, well, there aren't any.

Even so, I still can’t find the energy to get worked up over this, if only because (1) I’m used to it and (2) then as now, there’s really not a blessed thing I can do about it. I truly hope these two nincompoops are just waving their dicks around. But if not … welp, it’s been nice knowing you all.

Party at ground zero,

This is dF
defrog: (devo mouse)
As you may or may not know, the Chilcot Report – the official UK investigation into the decision made by Tony Blair to help George W Bush invade Iraq – is out. It’s very long. And it basically concludes what some of us figured out a long time ago – the war was unnecessary and based on a complete sham, and Blair knew it.

A lot is being written about this, and given how much material there is to go through, there may be even more written in the next couple of weeks. Most of it will be hyperpartisan nonsense. But here’s a few worthwhile links for now:

1. This BBC report covers the main findings quite well, as well as responses from Blair and Bush. Notice that Blair issued his directly and at length, while Bush had a spokesperson issue a very short statement that basically said, “I’m busy, but we did the right thing and Tony is a stand-up guy, now let’s forget the past, unite and fight terrorism together!”

2. Regarding Blair’s statement, he basically apologized for everything except the actual decision to invade Iraq, which he still says was the right thing to do, regardless of whether the WMDs were real or the intelligence was wrong, cherry-picked, fake, or whatever. Which is really another way of saying that the US has the right to invade any country it wants and instigate regime change so long as it provides a good reason, whether that reason is based on facts or not.

Blair also said the report proves he didn’t knowingly mislead anyone about Hussein’s WMDs. However, this story from The Intercept notes that in fact Blair knew early on that Bush had already decided to get rid of Saddam on pretenses of WMDs and terrorism – and that he didn’t have the evidence to justify either of them.

3. According to this BBC story, some of the “evidence” that MI6 eventually came up with that Saddam had an active biochem weapons program turned out to be not only made up by the agent who provided it, but may have actually been cribbed from a Michael Bay film. Moreover, it was clear by September 2002 that the agent was lying, but his reports were still being circulated as actionable intelligence until well after the war had started, the apparent reasoning being: just because he was lying doesn’t mean it’s not true.

4. This Vox article points out that The Chilcot Report isn’t just about Tony Blair’s failures – it’s also a detailed chronicle of how the Bush Posse not only made up their case for war, but also how incompetently they planned for the aftermath, despite being told by British intelligence officials that taking Saddam out of power would result in a quagmire of unmanageable civil war that would make the terrorism problem worse instead of better – which of course is more or less exactly what happened.

5. If you were hoping the Chilcot Report would be instrumental in putting the architects of Iraq War 2 on trial for war crimes – sorry, but that’s never going to happen. The report doesn’t explicitly say that Blair outright lied or did anything technically illegal, so regardless of the revelations in the report, no one is going to go jail over it apart those who already have (i.e. a couple of overenthusiastic soldiers and private security contractors).

But I’m willing to settle for a documented and detailed historical record of how the Bush Posse – with Blair playing the Tonto to Bush’s Lone Ranger – invaded Iraq on false pretences and with complete disregard of the consequences that they were told multiple times would happen. Let history books record George W Bush’s “legacy” as a disastrous, expensive and failed foreign policy coupled with a blatant disregard for civil liberties and human rights in pursuit of terrorism, and the impact of both on America, the UK and the world.

Not that it matters, since many people in 2016 live in alternate realities with decidedly different interpretations of history that no amount of fact-checking by experts will ever correct. After all, what the hell do experts know?

Write that down,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
danskjavlarna: “ “Books cannot be killed by fire.” ”

[Via Gotankgo]

Choice of weapons,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Just a few thoughts:

1. Yes it is horrible. You don’t really need me to tell you that.

2. The reaction from certain political quarters has been 100% predictable, especially regarding Muslims and immigrants (to include Syrian refugees). Which, as others have pointed out, plays nicely into ISIS’ hands. And as usual, pointing this out to those certain political quarters makes no real difference whatsoever. They’re very much into their fear/hate trip, which means anything that doesn't feed that trip is enemy propaganda out to confuse their moral resolve.

3. To be fair, I will say that the attempt to use the Paris attacks to score political points about the Mizzou protests was less predictable. Inexplicable, stupid and just plain mean – but not that predictable. 

4. Most of the same people are also predictably using the attacks to bash President Obama and his foreign policy of not invading all the Muslim countries and killing as many Muslims as it takes until they are sufficiently terrified by American Exceptionalism to give up terrorism. (As if that would actually work.) I’ve already said what I have to say about that here if anyone’s interested.

5. I’m not a fan of social media memes, but I’ve seen a few that make a perhaps harsh but thoughtful point: this kind of thing happens in lots of other places in the world, but we in the West tend to be selective about which ones we’ll change our Facebook profile pic for. Paris gets worldwide sympathy and prayers (and deservedly so), but not Beirut or Kenya’s Garissa University or other places where terrorist attacks also happen. It’s worth taking some time to reflect why that is. The point isn't that Paris should matter less, it’s that other victims of terrorism should perhaps matter more.

6. This is a minor point, but I can safely say I never expected to read a story like this and see the words “Eagles Of Death Metal”.

Which I only mention because I’m a fan of the band, and they’re not exactly a household name – so much so that some news media outlets were initially describing them as a death-metal band (which, if yr not familiar with them, they’re not – they’re more like a 70s-influenced blues-rock-boogie outfit).

Also, it’s rather sad that this was how I learned the news that they have a new album out.

Okay, that’s enough.

I love Paris,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
This one can be broken down into ten (10) simple bullet points.

1. Yes it was stupid and wrong and arguably prejudiced.

2. This is not an isolated incident, and hasn’t been for years.

3. That’s what happens when you respond to terrorism the way the Bush II Admin, its supporters and a lot of influential media pundits did after 9/11 (and continue to do today).

4. You can see the results of America’s post-9/11 response not only in Ahmed’s arrest, but also in this letter from the school principal which essentially says (paraphrased) that (1) that the arrest was Ahmed’s fault for violating the student code of conduct, (2) that code is keeping yr children safe from ISIS and (3) we’ll do this every single time something like this happens.

No apology, no “we could have handled that better”, not even a “we’ll review our policy to see if it can be implemented more effectively”. Just “we have a policy, we enforced it, yr welcome”.

5. See also: the mayor of Irving, TX, who thinks apologizing to Ahmed and his family is equivalent to second-guessing the police, which would undermine their authority. And we wouldn’t want that. (<tangent>This is the same logic many people have used to post those “I stand with America’s law enforcement officers” in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter. What they’re actually saying – perhaps without realizing it – is: “I stand with America’s law enforcement officers, no matter how corrupt some of them are and no matter many unarmed people they kill.</tangent>)

6. This is especially galling when you read the details about the actions that the teachers and the police when faced with what they claim they thought was a potential bomb situation. Short version: no one acted like they seriously thought it was a bomb. Ahmed ended up in handcuffs anyway.

7. Possibly the only thing more depressing than the way the school handled it is the way GOP candidates responded to it during last night’s Air Force One debate on CNN. Asked if it was a sign that anti-Muslim discrimination has gone too far, no one wanted to touch that question, and the few who did either changed the subject to ISIS, blamed innocent Muslims for not speaking out enough against ISIS, or said, “You want to talk about real religious discrimination? Let's talk about poor Kim Davis.”

8. One of my first thoughts on hearing the news was the psychological impact this would have on a 14-year-old minority, and what it would mean for his future development. So one good thing about all this is that Ahmed has handled it pretty well. The fact that he got so much support from the Twitterverse is probably a good sign.

He’s also changing schools, BTW. Cos, you know, it’d be awkward for everyone after this.

9. Bruce Schneier has the best headline describing the whole incident:


Choice quote: “We simply have to stop terrorizing ourselves. We just look stupid when we do it.”

10. All of the hoopla over this won’t really change much in terms of the ongoing Fear of Islams – not least because it’s an election year, and most GOP candidates are milking the OMG ISISTERRORSLAM card (and/or the OMG MEXICANZ card) for everything they’re worth. And they’re doing it because they know there’s an audience to pander to with it. The intention may not be to demonize Muslim kids making homemade clocks, but that’s going to be an ongoing consequence.

Tick tick boom,

This is dF


defrog: (sars)
Unexpectedly, it’s a holiday in HK today.

The purpose: to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Japan in WW2 (or as it’s known locally, the Second Sino-Japanese War).

The probable actual purpose: to give Japanese PM Shinzo Abe the finger for not apologizing sufficiently for WW2 atrocities, and for trying to make Japan a major military power by making Constitutional changes no one wants except him and the right-wing nationalists who equate military prowess with manliness.

I might be exaggerating there. I’m not sure. The Chinese govt isn’t exactly above using its power to settle personal scores. And state media regularly describes Abe as a dangerous warmongering fascist.

Also, it’s not like we have a holiday to commemorate the surrender of Japan every year – indeed, this one has been officially described as a one-off.

Anyway, the HK Govt decided we would observe it as well, because you know, One Country Two Systems™ and all. So day off for me.

Interestingly, the local major TV station, TVB Jade – which has been airing some historical docs about WW2 and the defeat of Japan – has stirred some controversy for accidentally using the wrong flag to depict the Chinese army:

In a documentary about the 70th anniversary of the war against Japanese invasion of China, TVB used the flag of the People’s Republic of China, also known as “Five-Star Red Flag,” to represent the Chinese army in the Battle of Taierzhuang in an animation.

The “Five-Star Red Flag” did not exist then. Instead, the flag of the Republic of China was in use. The flag had Kuomintang affiliations.


Oops! (Perhaps.)

Hoist the colors,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
So this happened on the internet.
By “we’ve” I think they mean “conservatives who will shred Obama no matter what he does”. 

“What we’ve all been thinking”, apparently, is that Muslims are evil and the enemy of America, and that Obama’s strategy to fight them is to hug them until they love us, and that strategy is obviously failing because if it wasn’t, those five armed forces members in Chattanooga would still be alive, and we are all as tired of it as Tomi Lahren, because a REAL President would go over to the Middle East and kill all the Muslims us in the name of our Lord.

So by “we”, I think they mean “conservatives who hate Obama and Muslims because what’s the difference, really”.

Okay. Not just them. I’ve had a few friends I wouldn’t normally classify as Republicans forward this. They’re more representative of the “I’m from Tennessee and I support the military and my country, so I’m really upset this happened in MY state, thanks Obama” constituency.

Anyway, yes, the video has gone viral. I haven’t watched it, but I’ve seen the money quotes from it. So here’s some obligatory commentary in the popular numbered-bullet-point format.

1. The rant appears to be a rehashed update of every GOP talking point about (1) Muslims and the Middle East since 9/11, and (2) Obama ever since he launched his 2008 POTUS campaign. Even the “put the fear of God in their desert” angle was covered by Ann Coulter 14 years ago

2. It also assumes that the attack in Chattanooga is a direct result of ISIS’ current activities and Obama’s “half baked” strategy to stop them. In other words, Muhammad Youssuf Abdulazeez was taking orders direct from ISIS (though there’s no evidence of this right now) and if ISIS were being defeated, this attack never would have happened. 

3. It assumes further that Obama’s strategy to date has been “jihadist-friendly”. In what way, exactly? Because we haven’t deported every Muslim in the US to Gitmo? We haven’t nuked Iran already? I don’t know what this even means. 

4. Her big solution: “Let’s show them what the United States looks like up close and personal. Show them what a B1 bomber looks like flying overhead; show them what they’re messing with.”

Because if there’s one thing Obama hasn’t been doing, it’s bombing ISIS targets. Except when he has. Which doesn’t count because Obama. Also, since many ISIS soldiers are from Iraq, I’m pretty sure they already have a good idea of who they’re messing with. 

Unless Lahren is advocating a nuclear option. Which is not only inhuman and insane, but also lazy.

5. The fact that the video went viral does perhaps indicate that a lot of people who aren’t kneejerk Obama/Muslim haters are unhappy with the way Obama is handling ISIS, especially if it’s resulting in recruiting centers (well, one) being shot up. 

However, I get the feeling that displeasure is rooted in remarkably simplistic ideas about terrorism in general and ISIS in particular. Namely: if we bomb the bejeezus out of ISIS, we can end terrorism. 
No one’s really saying it that way. In fact, most of the people I know who have forwarded it aren’t really offering any detailed alternatives to the strategy he’s pursuing. But given the insane sociopolitical complexities of the Middle East in general and ISIS in particular, dealing with ISIS isn’t as simple as just bombing them all with American exceptionalism. 

Air Force Lieutenant General John W Hesterman III explains:

He said the bombing campaign should not be compared to past wars because the adversary is neither a state nor an established army.

“The comparison is not valid,” he said, adding: “This enemy wrapped itself around the civilian population before we even started.”

The military has never had a blueprint for how to use airstrikes in such a setting, he said.

“With this enemy we have to be available 24/7 with coalition air power, differentiate them from the population and go after them every time we find them. It’s an order of magnitude more difficult than what we’ve done before.”

6. Those armed civilians “protecting” recruitment centers? That might be a great idea if there were an actual organized plot to attack all the recruitment centers, instead of just one guy attacking one center who is now dead and therefore unlikely to attack more of them. And even then, it’s not really that great an idea.

Think of it this way: the Chattanooga shooter carried out the easiest kind of attack there is in America. We get mass shootings in America every week. We got one while I was typing this post. The vast majority of them since 9/11 were not carried out by jihadists. That illustrates how small the problem is, and how unlikely it is to happen again.

So either these people haven’t really thought the situation through, or they have but see it more as an opportunity to grandstand and make some half-assed point about Open Carry and Obama won’t let soldiers protect themselves so it’s up to us and doesn’t Obama just suck.

Even the Army has said, “Thanks, but we’d rather we be guarded by people with, you know, training.”

(NOTE: A few people on my Facebook feed have claimed that the civilian guards in their neighborhood are actual combat vets, not redneck wannabes. With respect, that doesn’t mean they have proper training for that specific situation. I’m pretty sure the rules of engagement in a war zone in a foreign country are way different than a shopping center in America.)

7. I have five American dollars that says the same people who support civilian guards at recruitment centers will use the fact that no other recruitments centers have been attacked since Chattanooga as proof that they’re an effective deterrent against attacks.

8. Probably my biggest grievance against Lahren’s rant is that it’s essentially an attempt to restoke post-9/11 fear and loathing disguised as righteous anger. Remember what that led to – disproportionate violence, mass round-ups, restrictions of civil liberties, Guantanamo Bay, torture and irrational paranoia every time you see a Muslim-looking person on yr plane or when some Muslim group suggests building a mosque in yr city.

No thanks. If yr letting terrorism scare you into doing things you would find reprehensible if dictatorships did them, guess what – the terrorists are winning.

No emo,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
There is dithering about Iran.

Specifically, there is dithering over the deal Presidente Obama has struck with Iran regarding its nuclear program.

I’ll save myself a lot of typing by linking to this Economist article, with is the most level-headed assessment I’ve read about the Iran deal. The upshot: it’s not great, but if the objective is to (1) keep Iran from making a nuke and (2) avoid a war with Iran, it’s the best option under the circumstances.

I’ll add that I’m not that impressed with the criticism from Republicans over the deal. For one thing, they’re programmed to criticize any decision Obama makes about anything as the worst decision ever, particularly regarding foreign policy, and especially with a POTUS election kicking off. (I mean, these are largely the same people who actually wrote Iran a letter during the negotiation process saying they wouldn’t honor any deal they made with Obama even before they even knew what the terms of the deal would be. So it’s not like I can take them seriously.) 

There are some legit reasons for opposing the deal, and some Repubs may be motivated by those as well. Certainly some Congressional Democrats are. I understand that. The thing is, no one is offering up any better ideas – at least not realistic ones. Yes, I know they’re saying the terms aren’t hardcore enough and they’d only back a deal that goes something like “You destroy all yr centrifuges and we don’t bomb you back to the Stone Age.” Written in ALL CAPS for effect. (I'm exaggerating, but you get the idea.) 

The problem is that they want something they can't have. Iran wouldn’t take a deal like the ones Republican hawks are suggesting in a million years. And why should they? A “deal” involves both parties getting something they want. The alternatives being described by GOP hawks (and Binyamin Netanyahu, for that matter) are more like ultimatums rather than deals. Okay, but they don’t really need Iran at a negotiating table for that. You could just send them an email. 

In any case, with all the political posturing and rhetoric flying around, it’s easy to forget what the overall objective is here: how to stop Iran from developing a nuke.

I’m not saying the Obama deal will succeed in achieving that. Neither is The Economist. A lot more work has to be done to make sure the details are workable and the terms enforced effectively. That won’t be easy, not least because if the GOP and Israel are right about one thing, it’s that the Iranian regime can’t be trusted. No one’s really disputing that, as far as I know. 

But I don’t see how playing Big Dick Hardball will get better results. Since Iran already has nuclear facilities, we can’t really stop them from making a bomb by refusing to negotiate and doubling down on sanctions until they give up. We’ve been doing that for over a decade, and Iran’s nuclear capabilities have gotten exponentially better every year.

The remaining option is to do an Iraq on them – which might stop Iran from having a bomb (for awhile), but it would come at the cost of a trillion dollars, a decade or two of occupation, hundreds of thousands of dead people, and destabilizing the entire region.

So no, the Obama deal is probably the best option going if you want a shot at actually keeping Iran from having a bomb. However, if yr only real objective is to talk trash about Obama and Iran for maximum political advantage – which I think is all Repubs are really interested in at the moment – then okay, carry on, and good luck with that.

Deal or no deal,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
And so we are at war with ISIS now. Or ISIL. Or IS. Or, if yr Fox News, IIG (Islam In General).

Anyway. Good morning, 

I was sitting in the business class lounge in Mactan International Airport just after Presidente Obama unveiled his anti-ISISISILISIIG strategy, which meant I overheard the talking heads on CNN “analyzing” it. On the internet, the commentary has pretty much conformed to the usual party lines.

As it happened, I was working on a post about Obama’s overall foreign policy and the criticisms thereof, which was inspired by his own former Secretary Of State, who was going around saying, “Yr doing it wrong.”

That says a lot, though what it mainly says is “Hillary 2016” – not least because Obama’s foreign policy accomplishments were, for the most part, a lot more popular back when Hillary was head of State than they are now. Still, the fact does remain that Obama’s foreign policy approval ratings in 2014 are bleak enough that you can’t pin it all on Republican naysaying.

There’s more to that than ISIL, of course. It’s been a rough year for foreign policy issues – Ukraine, Gaza, the Middle East in general, etc. Still, when ISIS is decapitating American journalists on YouTube, that’s an attention getter. And suddenly Obama’s general foreign policy approach (i.e. “don’t do stupid stuff”) doesn’t cut the mustard.

And so now it’s air strikes for IS and anyone who happens to be standing near them when the smart drones kill them. For starters. There may be boots on the ground later. Or perhaps golf shoes.

There are two obvious follow-up questions to this development:

1. Is it the right decision? Depends who you ask. Conservatives are grudgingly approving it, though you can bet they’ll criticize the way Obama handles it. The anti-war section of Obama’s liberal base is against it because they see it as an addendum to Bush’s ill-advised endless-by-design Iraq War 2. Also, there’s a possibility the threat of ISIS has been somewhat exaggerated. Which isn’t exactly unprecedented when it comes to the US GWOT.

2. Will it do any good? Beats me. My gut feeling is it might contain ISIL but create new problems. It won’t stop terrorism or quell the radicalism that fuels it.

Meanwhile, I’m more interested in the overall paradigm that ISIS actually represents and what it means for foreign policy in the future.

The majority of grown-ups in America – as well as in Congress – have had their opinions of foreign policy shaped by the Cold War and Vietnam. Someone said somewhere that Obama would be the first post-Boomer POTUS to come from outside that Cold War mindset, and that this would be a point in his favor, because the 21st Century sociopolitical arena isn’t being driven by major opposing political ideologies. The problem seems to be that while Obama doesn’t think in either/or Cold War terms, he hasn’t really worked out what the 21st Century framework should be beyond “don't do stupid stuff”.

This is one of the better critiques I’ve read (written before the ISIS speech), which makes a good point: Obama’s foreign policy doctrine is really more of an anti-doctrine, which is fine to a point but has its limitations, and the statelessness of ISIL is currently demonstrating that:

Whether you're talking about al-Qaida or ISIL or whatever nihilistic gang comes along next, what you're talking about is a global assault on the very idea of statecraft. And increasingly the operative question will probably be, Do you have a functional government at all? And if you do, can't we find interests that align?

I don’t know if Obama’s ISIS strategy counts as a framework or not. It looks more like another ad hoc solution to a specific situation. I suppose it could serve as a template for similar future situations. Provided it works.

As I said above, I don’t have any wisdom here. But I feel reasonably confident in saying most of Obama’s critics don’t either, especially conservatives who think Instant Disproportionate Violence both counts as a policy and actually solves problems. (Of course, “problems” in this case usually means the problem of Halliburton and other defense companies not making enough money.) And as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, conservative critics have generally demonstrated they’re less interested in offering solutions and more in bashing Obama – hopefully hard enough to damage Hillary’s 2016 chances. So there’s no reason for me to take them seriously.

If nothing else, I suppose the best thing you can say about Obama’s foreign policy is that he doesn’t use Instant Disproportionate Violence and actually takes time to think about it first. I don’t know how effective it will prove to be, but I figure it can’t possibly be worse than Bush’s “shoot now, shoot first and shoot often” approach to everything post-9/11.

Stupid is as stupid does,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
Little ducks, there is trouble in Iraq. Again. Or as usual.

And I’d have posted this earlier but I was under deep cover in Singapore all last week.

So. ISIS is moving towards Baghdad, and everyone’s arguing over two very important aspects of the situation: (1) “What should Obama do about it?” and (2) “Which POTUS can we blame this on?”

I have no idea what the answer to the first one is. The Economist has a pretty good write-up of how it’s likely to play out. The only thing I’m pretty sure about is that of all the options Obama has in front of him, none are going to fix the overall problem, not when at least part of the problem is the current Iraqi leadership.

One thing we do know is that if Obama is hedging on military responses, it’s because the American People™ generally don’t want to hop back in the quagmire, because we’ve been there, and most of us didn’t like it the first time.

The exceptions are the neocons that created and advocated the quagmire in the first place. They’re clearly convinced that (1) we should get back in there and kick some ISIS ass and (2) everything was going perfectly according to their plan until Barry Hussein Obama screwed it up for everyone by not leaving US troops in Iraq forever.

That ground has been well-covered by Jon Stewart and others, but I think it’s worth reiterating. Because whatever you think the US should be doing about Iraq, the last people we should be asking are the dingbats who decided to invade the damn country in the first place. They’ve been consistently and catastrophically wrong about almost every aspect of the war in terms of the rationales and the outcome. Better yet, they refuse to even admit they were wrong despite all evidence to the contrary. Who in their right mind would take these yahoos’ opinions seriously?

I will say I don't think it’s fair to blame the current situation fully on the Bush Admin. But I do think Obama’s performance should be evaluated in the context of a president inheriting an impossible situation his own predecessors couldn’t have fixed even if John McCain had won in 2008.

Of course, that’s not how this works. Republicans are mainly evaluating the situation in terms of how they can inflict maximum political damage on Obama, not how to actually solve the situation. Sure, they’re offering their opinions on solutions, but most of them seem focused on salvaging the situation they created in order to prove they were right to create it.

I don't know if Obama has any better ideas, or if he’ll make the right decisions, but honestly, at this stage I don’t see how he could do any worse. In fact, one good thing I can say about Obama’s approach is his unwillingness to make the kind of snap judgments that Republicans claim to want. Obama is smart enough (or politically savvy enough) to know that a good chunk of America is now hip to the idea that knee-jerk military responses for every little foreign policy crisis comes with consequences, and they do matter.

It’s not so much that America has no right to intervene in trouble spots around the world. It’s more about doing so responsibly. The GOP has trouble admitting this (American Exceptionalism™ and all), but one of the criteria of being the World’s Policeman – especially when it’s a self-appointed post that everyone else accepts by default – is convincing the rest of the world that you have the good judgment to know when to use excessive force and when not to. In that sense, the Bush Posse was less World Policeman and more Maniac Cop.

Result: geopolitically speaking, America isn’t really in a position to take instant, decisive action and bomb whomever it wants. And the GOP has no one but itself to blame for that.

The GOP response to this, of course, is that public opinion doesn’t matter when it comes to making those hard decisions in the name of national security. George W Bush famously said that he doesn’t do focus groups.

Fair point. On the other hand, it helps when yr decisions prove that you were right and the focus groups were wrong.

So no, the neocons and the GOP don’t have a lot of credibility with me when it comes to Iraq.

Wrong about everything,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
At least I hope it is.

So ... everyone’s flipping out over this.

And admittedly, there’s a lot to flip over about – at least at first glance. But the more I look at it, the more all the hooha seems based on speculation and “what if”s.

Maybe it was illegal because Obama didn’t consult Congress on the swap. Unless maybe he did. And unless maybe it’s not actually illegal.

Maybe Obama abused his executive privilege – although some of the people now complaining about Obama’s use of executive orders weren’t all that worried about them when it was another executive giving the orders.

Maybe the deal will encourage terrorists to take more U.S. hostages (because it’s possible it never occurred to them to do that, or maybe they’ve been waiting for more US soldiers to wander off from their camps for mysterious reasons).

Maybe it doesn’t count as negotiating with terrorists since Qatar did all the heavy lifting. Maybe the Taliban don’t actually count as terrorists since they’re more like guerillas, with whom we negotiate all the time, unlike terrorists (unless we need to raise money to fund other guerillas in, oh, Nicaragua, say).

Maybe it’s a bad idea to let these five senior Taliban guys go free (though “free” in this case means staying in Qatar for a year under constant monitoring before they ever make it back to Afghanistan).

Maybe.

It’s hard to know. The media and the talking heads are still in wild uninformed speculation mode, and every day since the news broke, lesser-circulated reports have filtered in suggesting there’s a lot more nuance to this. As there usually is, though most people ignore it because COMPLICATED.

Still, there’s one thing I think we can be absolutely sure of – Republicans will milk the hell out of this to prove what they’ve been saying all along about Obama (OMGOBAMAINCOMPETENTMUSLIMBENGHAZI!!! … something like that).

For myself, all I’m wondering about for now is just what Obama had in mind when he okayed the swap. He had to know that releasing five Gitmo detainees – all of them pretty bad news, by most accounts – was (1) potentially risky to national security and (2) not going to go over well with both Republicans and the majority of Americans who have been told that all the inmates at Gitmo are too evil and dangerous to be put in a supermax prison on American soil, let alone released into the wild.

Granted, the latter doesn’t really matter – Republicans generally criticize Obama for everything he does, even things they otherwise support. And there is a political upside to bringing a US soldier back home – although critics like to point out that we’re talking about a guy who may have deserted his post.

Either way, is the GOP position really going to be that they’d rather let captured US soldiers rot and die than indirectly cut deals with the enemy as long as they’re soldiers who aren’t that supportive of the war effort? Because that’s kind of hard to square with the fact that many Republicans have pressured Obama to do whatever it takes to get Bergdahl home.

Anyway, this is why I just can’t help thinking there’s more to this story than what’s been revealed so far. There usually is. I’m pretty sure there’s something here that made Obama think it was worth the trade. Some are speculating that it’s his way of dealing with the fact that Gitmo can’t stay open forever, and if we can’t prosecute the detainees, we can at least get some use out of them as bargaining chips.

One day, we may find out what his reasons were, and whether it was the right call.

But we won’t find any of that out from the inevitable Senate hearing. In principle I’m not opposed to a hearing – something like this pretty much requires an explanation to the public, and it had better be good – but if recent history is anything to go by, I don’t think we’re really going to learn anything worth learning, except just how badly Republicans want to find something they can embarrass or impeach Obama with, and wreck Hillary’s 2016 bid in the bargain. And we already know that.

That’s my prediction anyway. I could be wrong. But at this stage I think most of the politicians and pundits demanding answers are not all that interested in finding out the truth (not if it doesn’t serve their particular agenda).

Let’s put it this way: when you have a Fox News commentator and former Bush admin official arranging media interviews with those soldiers who have been bad-mouthing Bergdahl the last few days, that tells me how interested they are in digging deeper into this story.

Something for nothing,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
Yr Skynet-Future-Is-Nigh lede of the day:




The BBC reports:

Those in favour of killer robots believe the current laws of war may be sufficient to address any problems that might emerge if they are ever deployed, arguing that a moratorium, not an outright ban, should be called if this is not the case.

However, those who oppose their use believe they are a threat to humanity and any autonomous "kill functions" should be banned.

"Autonomous weapons systems cannot be guaranteed to predictably comply with international law," Prof Sharkey told the BBC. "Nations aren't talking to each other about this, which poses a big risk to humanity."

It’s striking that while killer robots don’t actually exist – yet – we are working on them, and we’ve reached a point where it’s plausible enough to actually warrant a hearing.

It’s also worth mentioning that while the War Departments of the US and UK say they have no intention of granting warbots full autonomy, it’s a fair bet that not every country is going to follow that guideline.

RELATED: Russia is building securitybots to defend its missile bases.

So there you go.

Yr move creep,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
For some reason, this scene has been playing in my head recently.



Which seems to sum up the mindset of people of a certain political persuasion who seem to think that Obama is a spineless wimp on foreign policy, and that the only proper response to Vlad Putin’s aggression in Crimea is to fire a few drone missiles up his ass.

Or … you know, something mighty.

Which seems to be their solution to every foreign policy crisis – just drop some bombs on them. It might not solve the problem, but it will show everyone that America is the greatest country in the world and what we say goes and you do NOT want to fuck with us because we will fuck yr shit up.

Because people respect you when you do that.

Anyway.

There’s a lot of talk about this, obviously. And a lot of it does seem to be happening in a vacuum created by a fundamental lack of understanding of the situation, the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, and how complicated the whole thing is.

So all I really have to say about it for right now is this:

1. The BBC has some good backgrounders summing up the situation. I highly suggest reading them.

2. For all the hawk blathering over the Obama admin’s pussy approach, a military response seems like a very, very bad idea, if only because I’m a child of the Cold War who equates War With Russia with World War III. That’s probably a grand overstatement of the current situation (see point 1, above). However, the pro-military approach seems predicated on the theory that Putin will back off once we show up with navy and air power to stop him. Maybe. But Putin doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who blinks when you point a gun at him.

3. Ironically, this is one of Putin's more endearing qualities to the same people who criticize Obama’s lack of spine.

Sample:

On the March 3 edition of Fox News' Hannity, contributor Sarah Palin questioned the "potency" of President Obama saying, "People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates."

Which is amusing when you remember that the GOP’s two biggest contenders to challenge Obama in 2012 were “Rugged” Mitt Romney and Rick “The Rock” Santorum.

Anyway, I don’t particularly have any problems with how Obama is handling the situation – at least so far. It’s too early to say if he’s doing the right thing or not. But I think it’s fair to say that he’s at least doing the most realistic thing, and he’s doing pretty much exactly what Mitt Romney would be doing if he was POTUS.

Even John McCain agrees with me that a military option is a no-go, although he does go on to say that Putin is only doing this because Obama’s foreign policy sucks so much:

"This is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America's strength anymore," McCain said.

Which I think means, “People would believe in America’s strength if we bombed countries that are NOT Russia, like everyone in the Middle East who is not Israel.”

Sure. Because Putin totally respected America after we invaded Iraq. Which is why he did not send troops into Georgia in 2008 when George "Shock And Awesome" Bush was running things.

Granted, the situation in Georgia was somewhat different than the one in Ukraine. Still, I’m not sure I’d want to go around saying things like “no one respects America’s authority anymore” if my political party is the one that thinks America can go around invading another country on completely trumped up pre-texts and still be respected.

Which just isn’t done in the 21st century. Just ask John Kerry. Although he was talking about Russia …

… Oh, f*** it.

Yr move,

This is dF


defrog: (license to il)
Or, “Yr New Favorite War (Exclusive Preview!)”

This is the post I was hoping never to have to write. But …




There is trouble in Syria.

You knew that.

And as an American citizen, I am required under the Patriot Act to post my opinion about it so that the NSA has something to put in its file on me.

So … here’s a few talking points, since everyone communicates in talking points these days.

1. I get that a lot of people want to avenge the poor kids in that horrific video and put a stop to it (because that’s what Batman or Arnold Schwarzenegger would do). The problem is, that kind of thing works out a lot better in Hollywood blockbusters than real life. 

I don’t mean that to sound snide. The point is that the situation is a lot more complicated than television news and Republicans are making it look. So much so that I’d advise anyone with an open mind to look at this map and read this hypothetical conversation to get an idea of just how complex the situation really is before they finalize their opinion about it.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot more to it than just stopping Assad’s forces from using chemical weapons; military involvement come with serious consequences; and there’s no real upside for anyone – especially if Obama decides to act unilaterally (and at this rate he may actually have no choice – no one else in NATO wants to have anything to do with a military strike, and that right there should be telling Obama to consider his next move very carefully). 

2. Consequently, I’m not that critical of the way Obama has handled it up to now, if only because he knows full well what happened the last time we invaded a Middle Eastern country on flimsy evidence of chemical weapons usage/ownership. 

3. I’m also generally not impressed with Republicans – especially John McCain and Lindsay Graham – who have been complaining for monthsthat Obama has been dragging his feet and being a pussy about this, because c’mon, they complain about EVERYTHING Obama does as required by the GOP’s official “Obama is the absolute worst POTUS in the history of EVER” meme. If Obama had unleashed the Shock’n’Awe Kraken on Syria back in May, McCain and Graham would probably be the first to say, “Why is Obama shunning diplomacy and unilaterally dragging us into an unnecessary war?”

Meanwhile, everyone at Fox News would be saying, “This is just like when Obama invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Well, maybe not. But they will at the very least say, “Yr doing it wrong.” McCain is saying that now. Because from what I can tell, what the GOP really wants is not so much to bomb Syria as bomb Iran, and if we’re not going to do that, we need to at least bomb Syria back to the Stone Age to show Iran that we give the orders here, and if you get out of line we will fuck you up. So they’re going to complain no matter what Obama does, even if he does what they want him to do. 

4. Case in point: even Donald Rumsfeld is saying, “Now wait just a minute, Mr President.”

No, really:

“There really hasn’t been any indication from the administration as to what our national interest is with respect to this particular situation,” Rumsfeld told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto on Wednesday.

Which is a funny thing for him to say, given the justifications he used to help Bush dish out for invading Iraq, just about all of which turned out to be bogus. 


It could be Rumsfeld doesn’t think using illegal chemical weapons on yr own people should be taken as a bad thing. After all, back in his day, America used to be BFFs with guys like that. 

So possibly he’s waiting for a reason that includes words like “overthrow”, “Iran”, “business model” and “Halliburton”. It’s hard to know. There are known knowns, unknown knowns, known unknowns, etc and so on.

So, yeah. Anyway. The bombing begins in five minutes, and whether it does or not, a whole lot of people are going to die – most if not all of them Syrians. 

That's what I think about all this.

War all the time,

This is dF


defrog: (onoes)
After three years in the brig and at least a year of torture enhanced incarceration, Bradley Manning has been found guilty of five counts of violating the Espionage Act and five counts of theft – but NOT guilty of aiding the enemy.

Opinions about this are inevitably going to vary, and you pretty much know what people are going to say about it – i.e. exactly the same things they’ve been saying since Manning was identified as the person who leaked things to Wikileaks. Everyone made up their mind about this case and what it means on a macro level years ago, and I don't expect that to change with this verdict.

As for my own view, I’ll start by highlighting this comment from Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

“Manning is one of very few people ever charged under the Espionage Act prosecutions for leaks to the media. The only other person who was convicted after trial was pardoned. Despite the lack of any evidence that he intended any harm to the United States, Manning faces decades in prison. That’s a very scary precedent.”

I do think the Manning case sends a message to would-be whistleblowers hoping to unmask cover-ups of govt shenanigans – make sure you hole up in a Moscow airport transit terminal before they find out who you are.

Okay, I’m being flip. But not entirely. Presidente Obama has made it clear throughout this case and also the Fast Eddie Snowden saga that when he said back in 2008 that he thought govt whistleblowers were patriotic heroes who should have more protection under the law, he meant “so long as you don’t go blowing any whistles at me”.

Not that Obama ever actually promised anything like that. You won’t find anything like that on any of his official web sites. Not anymore. And in the 21st century, deleting stuff is the same thing as having never said it.

And so here we are, in a world where the US Govt does no wrong, and anyone who can demonstrate otherwise with classified documents is an enemy of the state. 

As for Manning, I understand his motivations, and I think the whole “traitor” label was overblown and overused by people silly enough to believe that the War On Terrorz is an actual war. Also, it’s fairly obvious that his real crime in the eyes of the govt isn’t so much what he leaked as who he leaked it to, though the prosecution has long since made it clear that if Manning had gotten the New York Times to take him seriously, they’d still have charged him with treason.

Even if we accept the idea that Manning technically broke the law and therefore has to go to jail no matter his intentions, it’s also worth mentioning that of all the misdeeds and possible war crimes Manning exposed, none of them have been investigated or prosecuted. 

So there’s another message from Team Obama to you: if the US govt ever does anything illegal, we promise to prosecute the hell out of the person who tells you, and make an example of them until you forget what it was they were trying to tell you in the first place.

And then there’s that torture enhanced incarceration I mentioned in the first paragraph. But never mind that. The US does not torture, ever, and Manning actually got a 112-day prison credit out of it, so it’s not like he has anything to complain about.

BONUS TRACK: Bruce Schneier has a very good argument for whistleblowing. It is here

Blame the messenger,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
Speaking of cartoons ...

Here’s an interesting WW2 curiosity – a series of Warner Bros cartoons made especially for GIs, starring Private SNAFU.

In this episode, he encounters the dangers of booby traps. Literally.



It's reasonably SFW, depending on how strict they are.

These weren’t released under the Merrie Melodies/Looney Tunes brand, but the style is totally recognizable (to say nothing of the piano-loaded-with-dynamite routine). This one has Robert Clampett written all over it, and you’d know the sound of Mel Blanc and Carl Stalling anywhere.

At the same time, it’s fascinating to see a WB cartoon with tit jokes and mild swearing in it. (Well, these WERE made for soldiers.)

A little more info for you here.

Beware of boobies,

This is dF


defrog: (devo mouse)
ITEM: Canadian artist Howie Tsui creates an exhibition for the bicentennial of the War of 1812, with a theme on healthcare in battle. 

It includes a pinball game called Musketball!, which is meant to illustrate what it’s like to be gut-shot with a musket:

“Since a musket (ball) isn’t aerodynamic, when it enters your body it doesn’t come clean out, like a modern bullet, it just kind of rattles around in your torso.”

Others might imagine that ball rattling around their innards and think “ouch.” What Tsui thought was, “it’s kind of like a pinball machine.” His art project on historic military health-care was born.





Other parts of the exhibition features illustrations on deer-hide of soldiers injuring themselves to get out of combat, and a sculpture of two conjoined skeletons wearing powedered wigs and dancing on a field of human skulls.

“I want to make it comical, satirical,” he says, of the three parts of his exhibition. “There’s a pinball machine as amusement, (the deer hides) I see as comics, kind of cartoony, and this (skeleton sculpture) being more Barnum and Bailey anatomical spectacle, a freak show.”

Happy Memorial Day, by the way.

PRODUCTION NOTE: For those of noting that the bicentennial of the War of 1812 was last year, I should mention the story I'm getting this from is a year old. But someone just recently passed it on to me. 

Mangled viscera,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
ITEM: A new study guestimates that Iraq War 2 – which kicked off ten years ago today) is going to ultimately cost the USA $6 trillion

That includes the $1.7 trillion in war expenses to date, an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, and another $4 trillion factors in to pay interest through 2053.

According to the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University (which wrote the report), that last figure is due to the fact that the US govt had to borrow all that money to fund the war (seeing as how George W Bush was in the business of cutting taxes, not raising them), which it has to pay back with interest over the next 40 years.

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY!

BTW, here’s what you got for that:

The new study concluded that both the war and the subsequent $212 billion reconstruction effort were failures as the war "reinvigorated radical Islamist militants in the region, set back women's rights, and weakened an already precarious health care system" while "most of [the reconstruction] money was spent on security or lost to waste and fraud," according to Daniel Trotta of Reuters reports.

As usual, Wonkette offers more concise commentary than I ever could:

What a deal! Freedom, water, and antiquities for the low low price tag of $6 trillion dollars. Did we also mention that over a hundred thousand people died and almost a million more were displaced? Did we also also mention that there may be around 16,000 people held in secret prisons and the female relatives of politically active men are routinely imprisoned and tortured or, at the very least, threatened with rape?

And people ask me why I don’t take Republicans seriously when they say they’re a whole lot better with money than Big Govt Tax/Spend Socialist Democrats. 

BONUS MATERIAL: More good commentary can be found in The Economist.

Bill shock and awe,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
Or: “From now on, ‘grandstanding’ will be known as ‘Rand-standing’ ”

As you no doubt know, yesterday Sen. Rand Paul spent the day filibusterin’ all over John Brennan’s nomination vote.

It looked like this.



Ha ha. No, it didn’t, really. But I’m sure Rand Paul thought it did.

Anyway, Republicans filibustering Obama nominations is nothing new. Hey, they did it just the other day to shoot down an appellate court nominee on the grounds that she’s not pre-approved by the NRA. 

But the Rand Paul filibuster is worth highlighting because he made such a strong case against using drone strikes on US citizens that he (possibly intentionally, possibly accidentally) called into question over a decade’s worth of govt policy that has essentially asserted the legal right of the US govt to stomp all over the civil liberties of anyone it thinks is guilty of terrorism (or drug smuggling, or whatever).

Danger Room has a nice write-up about it here.

“When people talk about a ‘battlefield America’,” Paul said, around hour four, Americans should “realize they’re telling you your Bill of Rights don’t apply.” That is a consequence of the September 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force that did not bound a war against al-Qaida to specific areas of the planet. “We can’t have perpetual war. We can’t have a war with no temporal limits,” Paul said. […]

Paul sometimes seemed to object to the specific platform of drones used against Americans more than it did the platform-independent subject of targeted killing. But Paul actually centered his long monologue on the expansive legal claims implied by targeting Americans for due-process-free execution: “If you get on a kill list, it’s kind of hard to complain…. If you’re accused of a crime, I guess that’s it…. I don’t want a politician deciding my innocence or guilt.” Paul threw in criticisms of other aspects of the war on terrorism beyond targeted killing, from widespread surveillance of Americans to the abuses of state/Homeland Security intelligence “fusion centers.”

Even more to the point, says Danger Room, Paul actually got some of the GOP’s more hawkish senators – all of whom have generally supported the very perpetual war, secrecy in the name of national security and due-process-avoiding tactics that have characterized the War On Terrorz ever since the Bush Posse concocted it – to agree with him.

Whether any of them will actually doing anything about this apart from blocking Obama nominations on general principle is another question entirely. I seriously doubt it. For a start, I think most of the senators who joined in were just giving Paul a chance to rest his vocal cords and think up a new angle to run with for another two hours. And I do think many of them see the issue mainly as a chance to put it in the heads of The American People™ that Obama (not the US govt, but Obama specifically) wants to kill them with drones without due process, and they oppose that.

Certainly John McCain and Lindsay Graham were not impressed or amused by young Rand's antics. If yr gonna filibuster a CIA director nomination vote, why spend 13 hours talking about killing Americans with US drones when the REAL issue is killing Americans with BENGHAZI

Also, most of the focus of post-mortem discussion seems more concerned with the specific scenario of a US drone strike on US citizens on US soil – which most reasonable people agree is unlikely to ever actually happen if only for sheer political reasons. And Eric Holder has since finally admitted that it’s probably illegal (at least if it happens on US soil and yr not talking about a 9/11 scenario – if America drone-strikes its citizens while they’re overseas, it is totally legal as far as Holder is concerned).

So if Rand’s filibusterin’ is an indictment of the entire post-9/11 paradigm of Perpetual War and Gitmo and the Patriot Act and torture chambers and legalized assassinations and warrantless wiretaps to date, it’s likely Danger Room and the usual civil-libertarian crowd that has been saying this for years are the only ones who’ve noticed. 

Still, you have to start somewhere, I guess.

If it takes all night,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
Good morning.

Animated DRAN #2Original illustration by DRAN

[Via Made by ABVH]

My war,

This is dF


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