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1  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH kvetches, but question is fair: What is the end game? on: March 29, 2017, 11:20:47 PM
U.S. War Footprint Grows in Middle East, With No Endgame in Sight


Civilians in Mosul waited for aid this month. American forces have stepped up airstrikes in support of Iraqi forces’ fight for the city. Credit Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line positions and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq, American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17.

Two months after the inauguration of President Trump, indications are mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames.

Rather than representing any formal new Trump doctrine on military action, however, American officials say that what is happening is a shift in military decision-making that began under President Barack Obama. On display are some of the first indications of how complicated military operations are continuing under a president who has vowed to make the military “fight to win.”

In an interview on Wednesday, Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the commander of United States Central Command, said the new procedures made it easier for commanders in the field to call in airstrikes without waiting for permission from more senior officers.

“We recognized the nature of the fight was going to change and that we had to ensure that authorities were down to the right level and that we empowered the on-scene commander,” General Votel said. He was speaking specifically about discussions that he said began in November about how the fights in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State were reaching critical phases in Mosul and Raqqa.

Concerns about the recent accusations of civilian casualties are bringing some of these details to light. But some of the shifts have also involved small increases in the deployment and use of American forces or, in Yemen, resuming aid to allies that had previously been suspended.

And they coincide with the settling in of a president who has vowed to intensify the fight against extremists abroad, and whose budgetary and rhetorical priorities have indicated a military-first approach even as he has proposed cuts in diplomatic spending.

To some critics, that suggests that much more change is to come, in difficult situations in a roiled Middle East that have never had clear solutions.

Robert Malley, a former senior official in the Obama administration and now vice president for policy at the International Crisis Group, said the uptick in military involvement since Mr. Trump took office did not appear to have been accompanied by increased planning for the day after potential military victories.

“The military will be the first to tell you that a military operation is only as good as the diplomatic and political plan that comes with it,” Mr. Malley said.

The lack of diplomacy and planning for the future in places like Yemen and Syria could render victories there by the United States and its allies unsustainable.

“From harsh experience, we know that either U.S. forces will have to be involved for the long term or victory will dissipate soon after they leave,” he said.

Others fear that greater military involvement could drag the United States into murky wars and that increased civilian deaths could feed anti-Americanism and jihadist propaganda.  Some insist that this has already happened.

“Daesh is happy about the American attacks against civilians to prove its slogans that the Americans want to kill Muslims everywhere and not only the Islamic State’s gunmen,” a resident of the Syrian city of Raqqa wrote via WhatsApp, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. He gave only his first name, Abdul-Rahman, for fear of the jihadists.

The shift toward greater military involvement extends into one of Mr. Obama’s central legacies: the prolonged American presence in Afghanistan, where more than 8,400 American soldiers and 5,924 troops from NATO and other allies remain, and where the Taliban have been resurgent.

Plans have been announced to send 300 United States Marines to Helmand Province, their first deployment there since 2014. And the American commander, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., told Congress in February that he would like another “few thousand” American and coalition troops.

But the changes have also been notable in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, all home to overlapping conflicts in failed states where jihadist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have taken advantage of the chaos to step up operations.

Even while being drawn more deeply into those conflicts, the Obama administration sought to limit American engagement while pushing — mostly in vain — for diplomatic solutions. It also launched frequent airstrikes to kill individual jihadists or to destroy their facilities and sent thousands of American troops back to Iraq to train and advise Iraqi forces, and also provide firepower, so they could “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State.

But under Mr. Obama, the White House often spent weeks or even months deliberating certain raids and airstrikes out of concern for American service members and civilians — and often to the frustration of commanders and American allies.

Mr. Trump’s tough statements before coming into office, and the rise in civilian deaths in recent American strikes, have raised questions about whether the new president has removed constraints from the Pentagon on how it wages war.

But administration officials say that has not yet happened. And military officials insist that the streamlined process for airstrikes does not exempt commanders from strict protocols meant to avoid civilian casualties.

Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, General Votel said the Pentagon had not relaxed its rules of engagement. He called the mounting toll of civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria “absolutely tragic and heartbreaking” and said Central Command was investigating their cause.

The complexity of these wars and the American role in them is clear in Yemen, where the United States has two distinct roles, both of which have increased under Mr. Trump.

The country, the Arab world’s poorest, has been split in half since militants known as the Houthis allied with parts of the military and seized the capital, pushing the internationally recognized government into exile.

Two years ago, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia began bombing the rebels, hoping to weaken them militarily and restore the government. They have made little progress, while more than 10,000 people have been killed and large parts of the country are on the verge of famine, according to the United Nations.

Under Mr. Obama, the United States provided military support to the Saudi-led coalition, but halted the sale of precision-guided munitions over concerns that airstrikes by Saudi Arabia and its allies were killing too many civilians.

But since Mr. Trump took office, his administration has advanced some arms deals for coalition countries, while approving the resumption of sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, according to an American official familiar with Yemen policy.
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Mr. Trump’s more muscular approach has been hailed by Gulf leaders, who felt betrayed by Mr. Obama’s outreach to Iran and who hope that they now have an ally in the White House to help them push back against their regional foe.

“It understands that it is uniquely positioned to play a unique role in bringing some stability to the region, and I think there is a meeting of the minds between the Saudi leadership and the Trump administration,” said Fahad Nazer, a political consultant to the Saudi Embassy in Washington who said he was speaking on his own behalf.

At the same time, since Mr. Trump’s inauguration, the United States has stepped up its long-running drone campaign against the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, believed to be the organization’s most dangerous.

Mr. Trump granted a Pentagon request to declare parts of three provinces in Yemen as an “area of active hostilities,” giving commanders greater flexibility to strike. Later, a Special Operations raid in late January led to the death of many civilians and an American commando.

So far this month, the United States has also launched more than 49 strikes across Yemen, most of them during one five-day period, according to data gathered by the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. That is more strikes than the United States had carried out during any other full year on record.

Some analysts note that this military surge has not brought with it a clear strategy to end Yemen’s war or uproot Al Qaeda.

“As the military line has surged, there has not been a surge in diplomacy,” said Katherine Zimmerman, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The United States faces a similarly complex set of overlapping conflicts in Syria, where a brutal civil war opened up opportunities for Al Qaeda to infiltrate the rebels seeking to topple the government while the Islamic State seized an area of territory that extended over the border into Iraq.

While intervening covertly to support the rebels, the United States has ordered airstrikes on the jihadists — alone in the case of Al Qaeda and as part of a coalition against the Islamic State. It has also built ties with the Iraqi security forces, and with Kurdish and Arab fighters in Syria to battle the jihadists on the ground.

But recently, a string of airstrikes have exposed the United States to allegations of killing large numbers of civilians. More than 60 people were killed in a strike on a mosque complex where local residents said a religious gathering was taking place. The United States said it was targeting Qaeda leaders. The military has been accused of killing about 30 Syrians in an airstrike on a school, but has insisted that the early indications show it hit Islamic State fighters. A strike in Mosul killed scores of civilians, although the military is investigating whether militants herded the people into the building or possibly rigged it with bombs.

The rise in reports of civilian deaths linked to the United States and its allies has been so significant that Airwars, a group that tracks airstrikes, said last week that it was suspending its investigations into Russian airstrikes to avoid falling behind on those by the United States.

American officials have attributed the rising number of strikes and the danger to civilians to the urban battlefields in Mosul and Raqqa and the high concentration of civilians in areas held by the jihadists. They say they try to avoid civilian casualties while the Islamic State deliberately kills anybody who stands in its way.

This month, American officials also said they would send an additional 400 troops to Syria to help prepare for the assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, nearly doubling the total there.

In Iraq, General Votel said that in just the past 37 days, as the fight moved into the denser western side of Mosul, 284 of the Iraqi forces had been killed and 1,600 more wounded, underlining the ferocity of the battles.
2  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Napolitano back on air on: March 29, 2017, 03:36:51 PM
He stands by what he said that got him in trouble.
3  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Crafty Dog's solution? on: March 29, 2017, 03:12:54 PM
GM's tummy tuck post makes the point I make.

Here is how I see it:

A) Insurance is for catastrophic events, but what we have now and what informs people's sense of things is analogous to thinking car insurance should pay for gas, oil, tires, windshield wipers, detailing, everything!

B) This creates a situation where the user/consumer does not pay for what he consumes; he does not care about price.  Surprise!  Prices rise faster than inflation!

C) Surprise!  This results in a market where prices are unknown, and virtually unknowable, even for the most diligent. Those outside of the bulk discounts achieved by insurance companies get anally raped by prices lacking sanity or the discipline of market forces.

D)  These means pretty much EVERYONE is terrified of being left responsible for paying for their medical care; thus they demand that insurance cover everything and the vicious feedback loop continues.

E) The solution as I see it, and Dr. Ben Carson was my starting point here, is to 
a) limit health insurance to true catastrophes after a pretty big deductible; 
b) take the money used to everything-is-covered health insurance use it to fund Health Savings Accounts for low income folks, and
c) require prices be known.

Thus, market discipline is brought to prices and consumption of services, and the cost of insurance comes way down.
4  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Activists who recorded Planned Parenthood charged w privacy violations of CA law on: March 29, 2017, 01:40:08 PM
5  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Was Manafort dirty? on: March 29, 2017, 01:34:56 PM
6  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: North and South Korea on: March 29, 2017, 01:34:24 PM
 shocked shocked shocked
7  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / RT show on all this on: March 29, 2017, 01:26:44 PM
8  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH goes looking for interesting thought pieces on the right on: March 29, 2017, 10:59:11 AM
9  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / NRO: Russia-Trump farce diverts attention from Surveillance Scandal on: March 29, 2017, 10:46:48 AM
10  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Elon Musk vs. Artificial Intelligence on: March 29, 2017, 10:33:55 AM
11  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Issues in the American Creed (Constitutional Law and related matters) on: March 29, 2017, 10:28:06 AM
Discussion of the Nuclear Option belongs in the Congress thread.
12  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / SPLC: Jack Donovan and Organizing Power Male Supremacy on: March 29, 2017, 10:25:48 AM
The SPLC is a thoroughly disingenuous organization.  Though this article is what it is, it does reveal some items of interest.
13  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Glick: A Test for King Abdullah on: March 29, 2017, 10:15:39 AM
14  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: President Trump on: March 29, 2017, 10:03:17 AM
15  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Cyberwar, Cyber Crime, and American Freedom on: March 29, 2017, 09:34:30 AM
That belongs in some other thread-- Politics perhaps?
16  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / President Frank Underwood on: March 29, 2017, 09:32:45 AM
17  DBMA Espanol / Espanol Discussion / AMLO y Mars Aguirre on: March 28, 2017, 11:51:46 PM
18  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care on: March 28, 2017, 07:50:57 PM
Here is how I see it:

A) Insurance is for catastrophic events, but what we have now and what informs people's sense of things is analogous to thinking car insurance should pay for gas, oil, tires, windshield wipers, detailing, everything!

B) This creates a situation where the user/consumer does not pay for what he consumes; he does not care about price.  Surprise!  Prices rise faster than inflation!

C) Surprise!  This results in a market where prices are unknown, and virtually unknowable, even for the most diligent. Those outside of the bulk discounts achieved by insurance companies get anally raped by prices lacking sanity or the discipline of market forces.

D)  These means pretty much EVERYONE is terrified of being left responsible for paying for their medical care; thus they demand that insurance cover everything and the vicious feedback loop continues.

When I come back from the gym, I will offer what I believe to be the conceptual basis of the solution.
19  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Cyberwar, Cyber Crime, and American Freedom on: March 28, 2017, 06:35:30 PM
BTW, IIRC Mike Rogers was the fg idiot that gave Dems major ammo when he chortled that the Benghazi Committee was a chance to get Hillary; that does not mean he is wrong here.  Headed out now, will read CCP's post when I get back.
20  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / CIA funded Art to fight the Commies on: March 28, 2017, 04:49:46 PM
21  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Zero Hedge: Healthcare system is completely broken on: March 28, 2017, 12:19:03 AM
22  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Mike Rogers: America ill-prepared, worse on the way on: March 28, 2017, 12:03:55 AM
America Is Ill-Prepared to Counter Russia’s Information Warfare
Propaganda is nothing new. But Moscow is frighteningly effective—and worse is on the way.
By Mike Rogers
March 27, 2017 6:59 p.m. ET

When historians look back at the 2016 election, they will likely determine that it represented one of the most successful information operation campaigns ever conducted. A foreign power, through the targeted application of cyber tools to influence America’s electoral process, was able to cast doubt on the election’s legitimacy, engender doubts about the victor’s fitness for office, tarnish the outcome of the vote, and frustrate the president’s agenda.

Historians will also see a feckless Congress—both Democrats and Republicans—that focused on playing partisan “gotcha” and fundamentally failed in its duty to gather information, hold officials accountable, and ultimately serve the country’s interests.

Whether or not the Trump campaign or its staff were complicit in Moscow’s meddling is missing the broader point: Russia’s intervention has affected how Americans view the peaceful transition of power from one president to the next. About this we should not be surprised. Far from it.

Propaganda is perhaps the second- or third-oldest profession. Using information as a tool to affect outcomes is as old as politics. Propaganda was familiar to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Byzantines, and the Han Dynasty. Each generation applies the technology of the day in trying to influence an adversary’s people.

What’s new today is the reach of social media, the anonymity of the internet, and the speed with which falsehoods and fabrications can propagate. Twitter averaged 319 million monthly active users in the fourth quarter of 2016. Instagram had 600 million accounts at the end of last year. Facebook’s monthly active users total 1.86 billion—a quarter of the global population. Yet even these staggering figures don’t fully capture the internet’s reach.

In February, Russia’s minister of defense, Sergei Shoigu, announced a realignment in its cyber and digital assets. “We have information troops who are much more effective and stronger than the former ‘counter-propaganda’ section,” Mr. Shoigu said, according to the BBC. Russia, more than any other country, recognizes the value of information as a weapon. Moscow deployed it with deadly effect in Estonia, in Georgia and most recently in Ukraine, introducing doubt into the minds of locals, spreading lies about their politicians, and obfuscating Russia’s true intentions.

A report last year by RAND Corp., “The Russian ‘Firehose of Falsehood’ Propaganda Model ,” noted that cyberpropaganda is practically a career path in Russia. A former paid troll told Radio Free Europe that teams were on duty around the clock in 12-hour shifts and he was required to post at least 135 comments of not fewer than 200 characters each.

In effect, Moscow has developed a high-volume, multichannel propaganda machine aimed at advancing its foreign and security policy. Along with the traditional propaganda tools—favoring friendly outlets and sponsoring ideological journals—this represents an incredibly powerful tool.

Now extrapolate one step further: Apply botnets, artificial intelligence and other next-generation technology. The result will be automated propaganda, rapid spamming and more. We shouldn’t be surprised to see any of this in the future.

Imagine an American senator who vocally advocates a new strategic-forces treaty with European allies. Moscow, feeling threatened, launches a directed information campaign to undermine the senator. His emails are breached and published, disclosing personal details and family disputes, alongside draft policy papers without context. Social media is spammed with seemingly legitimate comments opposing the senator’s position. The senator’s phone lines are flooded with robocalls. Fake news articles are pushed out on Russian-controlled media suggesting that the senator has broken campaign-finance laws.

Can you imagine the disruption to American society? The confusion in the legislative process? The erosion of trust in democracy? Unfortunately, this is the reality the U.S. faces, and without a concerted effort it will get worse.

Congress is too focused on the trees to see the frightening forest. Rather than engaging in sharp-edged partisanship, lawmakers should be investigating Russian propaganda operations and information warfare. They should be figuring out how to reduce the influence of foreign trolls, and teaching Americans about Moscow’s capabilities. That would go a long way to save the republic.

Mr. Rogers was chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 2011-15.

Appeared in the Mar. 28, 2017, print edition.
23  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Humor on: March 27, 2017, 11:51:41 PM
24  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Michael Yon on: March 27, 2017, 11:46:44 PM
Woof All:

We already have a "Michael Yon in Afghanistan" thread and a "Micheal Yon in Syria" thread.  I have been in touch with him, inviting him to join our forum and so create this thread for him to use as he sees fit.

Here is what he just sent me of what he is up to now:
===================== (Most of the daily action is here.) (Feeds from Facebook.) (Japanese and Chinese translations of my Facebook) (Main website.)


Would love to have you here with us Michael-- look around and see if you like what you see.  Of particular interest to you may be posts by YA, probably on the Afpakia thread or the India thread.

Marc Denny (a.k.a. Crafty Dog)
25  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Tillerson and "New Approach" on: March 27, 2017, 11:36:56 PM
 By Bret Stephens
March 27, 2017 7:05 p.m. ET

Rex Tillerson was widely criticized earlier this month when he suggested that “efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization have failed.” The secretary of state then promised “a new approach” without offering details.

Perhaps he doesn’t yet know what that new approach is. But recognizing failure is the first step on the road to wisdom.

Since the end of the Cold War the U.S. has pursued a three-pronged approach toward North Korea. First has been a policy of inducements aimed at getting Pyongyang to change its ways. These include the unilateral removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991, yearly shipments of heavy fuel for most of the 1990s, South Korea’s construction of the Kaesong Industrial Complex inside North Korea in 2003, and the removal of North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2008.

None of it worked. North Korea is too cynical, greedy and poor to stay bribed for long. And it knows it cannot abandon its nuclear program, lest it also forsake the only reason the West would pay bribes in the first place.

Then there are sanctions. North Korea may be the “most sanctioned” country on earth, as Barack Obama pointed out in 2015, but sanctions on North Korea tend to fail because China has generally been reluctant to enforce them. China last year imported $1.2 billion of North Korean coal, above the level allowed by U.N. sanctions. More recently, Beijing announced that it would cut off coal imports from Pyongyang, but only after it had already purchased its annual quota. And politically influential Chinese individuals continue to help the North evade sanctions through front companies.

Finally there is what the Obama administration called “strategic patience”—a policy of waiting for the regime to collapse or change course.

Strategic patience would be a more plausible policy if time weren’t working against us. The North is now preparing its sixth nuclear test. Its ability to marry a nuclear warhead to an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland is no longer a theoretical risk. A state-of-the-art uranium-enrichment plant gives it the ability to produce as many as eight bombs a year. Some of those bombs could be shared with or sold to Iran or other malign actors.

So what’s the alternative?

It’s time to make regime change in North Korea the explicit aim of U.S. policy, both on strategic and humanitarian grounds. But there are two ways in which regime change can be pursued—and one can be used in furtherance of the other.

The first type of regime change is pro-China. Beijing has little sympathy for Kim Jong Un, who brutally purged his regime of its China sympathizers after coming to power five years ago. But Beijing’s distaste is tempered by its interest in the existence of North Korea as an independent state, mainly because it has good reason to fear the strength and example of a unified, democratic Korea led from Seoul.

Pro-China regime change would take the form of a coup, in which Kim would be given the choice of exile or execution, to be replaced by a pro-Beijing figure willing to move the country from totalitarianism to authoritarianism—a Korean replay of the transition from Mao Zedong to Deng Xiaoping. The U.S. would recognize the new government in exchange for verifiable nuclear disarmament, sealing the division of the peninsula.

The U.S. could support such a policy and work with China to achieve it because it would ease the suffering of North Korea’s people and put the country’s nuclear arsenal in safer (and more negotiable) hands. China should support it because it would maintain the North as a buffer state and get rid of a regime that might otherwise collapse in unpredictable and dangerous ways.

Achieving such regime change will be tricky, but China could move things along by cutting off fuel supplies to the North and “inviting” Kim and his family for an extended luxury vacation.

And if the Chinese aren’t amenable to this strategy? In that case, the U.S. should support the anti-China model of regime change, aiming not only at the end of the Kim regime but of North Korea itself.

That would mean a formal U.S. declaration in favor of unification. Other steps might include cutting off Chinese banks and companies that do business with Pyongyang from access to U.S. dollars, undertaking a campaign to highlight Chinese mistreatment of North Korean refugees, and further speeding the deployment of antiballistic missile systems to South Korea. As another inducement, Donald Trump could return to his suggestion last year that the South should have an independent nuclear deterrent.

Mr. Trump is scheduled to meet Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago next month. It would be a good occasion for the president to ask his Chinese counterpart which kind of regime change he’d prefer.

26  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Tick tick tock on: March 27, 2017, 11:34:26 PM
Playing with matches while standing in puddles of gasoline , , ,

This is not going to end well , , , cry
27  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tax Policy on: March 27, 2017, 11:26:44 PM
As you guys probably remember, my proposal was for this sort of tax REPLACING other taxes; that said I find the politics of this proposal intriguing , , ,
28  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Podesta in bed with Russians? on: March 27, 2017, 11:25:09 PM
Also, his brother was on Russki payroll too , , ,

29  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / OK son drops three home invaders with AR-15 on: March 27, 2017, 11:11:51 PM
30  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR on: March 27, 2017, 04:25:14 PM
I have posted in favor of Kurdistan around here for years. 

As posted previously, I'm guessing they would love to host a big US base-- which could be very helpful in our dealings with the Russian-Iranian axis.
31  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Russia-- Europe on: March 27, 2017, 04:23:29 PM
Well, it appears senility now has a toe hold on me.  Where the hell did I get that idea?
32  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Putin endorses Le Pen on: March 27, 2017, 03:54:55 PM
March 26, 2017 3:46 p.m. ET

Marine Le Pen made a surprise visit to the Kremlin Friday, and Vladimir Putin’s warm reception left little doubt about Moscow’s choice to win the French Presidential election in a month.

The French National Front leader was looking for at least a de facto Kremlin endorsement a month from the first round of voting, and she received it with news footage that showed the Russian strongman smiling next to her.

“We do not want to influence events in any way,” Mr. Putin said, and how would anyone get that idea? Pro-Kremlin news sites merely published reports that the Kremlin had pledged to “help” Ms. Le Pen’s cash-strapped campaign before correcting the stories and deleting the tweets. In 2014 the National Front received a $10 million loan from a Kremlin-linked bank.

Ms. Le Pen returned the public admiration, saying Mr. Putin represents a “new vision” of conservative nationalism and sovereignty along with Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. That’s an insult to Messrs. Trump and Modi, who have won fair elections. She also called on Paris and Moscow to join forces to combat “globalization and Islamic fundamentalism.”

Ms. Le Pen made clear that she’d pursue a policy of appeasement toward Russian aggression against the countries that live in Moscow’s shadow. Sovereignty is sacred to her—unless you’re Georgian or Ukrainian. “I was one of the few politicians in France who were defending their own point of view on Ukraine that coincided with that of Russia,” she said at the Russian Parliament.

She went on to denounce Ukraine’s elected government using rhetoric that would make the producers at Russia Today blush: “We are forced to deal with a government that came to power illegally, as a result of the Maidan revolution, and now bombs the population in Donetsk and Luhansk. This is a war crime.” She vowed to fight European sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and proxy invasion of eastern Ukraine.

Ms. Le Pen has long been a Putin apologist, but the difference is that now she has a plausible path to the Élysée Palace. Being open to negotiations with Mr. Putin is one thing, excusing and endorsing Russian imperialism another. If she’s elected, Mr. Putin will have an overt fifth columnist in the heart of NATO.  

(MARC:  Forgive me if I have this wrong, but is France in NATO?)
33  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Kurds call for Independence on: March 27, 2017, 03:52:44 PM
WSJ: "A central goal for the U.S. should be to empower the Kurdistan Region. We are a stable, longstanding U.S. ally amid a sea of unrest. We’ve proved to be a valuable partner in the war on terrorism and share common values and a commitment to democracy."

By Aziz Ahmad
March 26, 2017 4:11 p.m. ET

Erbil, Iraq

‘I swear by God we are not brothers,” the Sunni Arab sheik shouted from the audience in response to a conservative Shiite lawmaker’s plea for brotherhood. The occasion was a conference last summer at the American University of Kurdistan, in Duhok. It was the two men’s first encounter since the fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to Islamic State in June 2014.

Conference organizers had hoped for reconciliation, but there was little sign of it. “We were never brothers,” the sheik said. “We’ve always been afraid of each other.” His candor drew nods from the Sunni men seated in front rows. The speakers and audience members condemned one another as failures and exchanged blame for the army’s flight, for embracing Islamic State, and for perpetrating massacres.

Sectarian distrust—a problem that has plagued Iraq for much of its modern history and has been amplified since Saddam Hussein’s fall in 2003—was laid bare that day. A country that should have been brought together under the adversity of Islamic State’s rampage seemed to be further apart than ever, with divisions extending far beyond Mosul.

Almost a year later, a fragile coalition of Kurdish, Arab and American forces is slowly advancing in Islamic State’s primary stronghold in Mosul. But retaking the city will not unify Iraq. The current Shiite-led political discourse in Baghdad is synonymous with the denial of rights to minorities, including Kurds. Conversely, in Mosul a Sunni Arab majority marginalizes minorities, who in turn accuse Sunnis of supporting ISIS.

Sinjar, west of Mosul, is a case in point. When I visited last year I saw no sign of peaceful coexistence. The local security chief, a Yazidi, told me that Sunni Arabs from his village, Kojo, had joined ISIS’s brutal terror against the Yazidis, a religious minority. Men from the al-Metuta tribe helped kill “hundreds,” he said, including 68 members of his own family. “Of course I remember them,” he said. “Those Arab men had a hand in the honor of our women. It’s not possible to live together again.”

In meetings with Iraqi officials and community leaders, I’ve seen how Islamic State’s campaign has aggravated animosity across tribal, ethnic and religious lines. Without a political track to address tensions between Sunnis and Shiites or Kurds and Arabs, the day-after scenario remains perilous.

Addressing the problems begins by restoring trust. For Mosul, Baghdad is already on the wrong foot. The offensive against ISIS includes a coalition of Shiite militias, despite strong protests from Mosul’s predominantly Sunni provincial council. The new formula must tackle minorities’ fears of marginalization by granting local autonomy, including to Christians persecuted by ISIS militants, and by implementing laws already in place to give Sunnis a stake and isolate extremists.

We Kurds can help. We make up a third of the province’s population. For over a year, our Peshmerga fighters were poised for an assault on Mosul, but our persistent calls for a political agreement were ignored. An agreement during the military campaign is still necessary to prevent intercommunal conflict.

Such an agreement should outline a path toward governance and offer more than a Shiite-centric alternative. In parallel, there must be an effort to demobilize Shiite militias formed in the aftermath of the war by engaging the Iraqi Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, for a religious decree. It should also call for the groups’ withdrawal from areas liberated by the Peshmerga.

Baghdad should not impose solutions. It should instead lead talks with Turkey and Iran to defuse regional tensions that intersect in Mosul. Iraq’s problem with Turkey can be solved by ending Baghdad’s payments to the anti-Ankara Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as PKK, in Sinjar and demanding the group’s withdrawal, in line with calls from local officials and the provincial council.

More broadly, once the fight is over, there needs to be a political reckoning by Kurds and Arabs about how the Iraqi state can go forward. It’s too late to salvage the post-2003 project; the country has segregated itself into armed enclaves. The Kurdish people suffered a litany of abuses, including genocide, under successive Sunni regimes. More recently, despite a shared history, the Shiite-led government reneged on promises for partnership and revenue sharing. It suspended Kurdistan’s budget and prevents us still from buying weapons. Given that experience, Kurdish loyalty to an Iraqi identity remains nonexistent.

For us, complete separation is the only alternative. Our pursuit of independence is about charting a better course from Iraq’s conceptual failure. The path forward should begin from a simple truth: Iraq has already fallen apart, and the country will be better off realigned on the parties’ own terms.

A central goal for the U.S. should be to empower the Kurdistan Region. We are a stable, longstanding U.S. ally amid a sea of unrest. We’ve proved to be a valuable partner in the war on terrorism and share common values and a commitment to democracy.

The advance on Mosul represents the turn of a chapter that transcends Iraq’s three-year war. It represents a moment of reckoning and an opportunity to consolidate the Kurdistan Region on terms that will de-escalate conflict and safeguard its peoples.

Mr. Ahmad is an assistant to the chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council.

Appeared in the Mar. 27, 2017, print edition.
34  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Hillbillary Clintons long, sordid, and often criminal history on: March 27, 2017, 03:49:02 PM
Yup  rolleyes
35  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Articulating our cause/strategy against Islamic Fascism on: March 27, 2017, 03:48:40 PM
I knew something like that was coming from you!
 grin grin grin
36  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Dilbert Scott Adams on: March 27, 2017, 03:47:29 PM
37  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: President Trump on: March 27, 2017, 03:37:05 PM
second post

Amid Spending Questions, White House Defends Trump’s Golf-Resort Trips
By Rebecca Ballhaus
Mar 20, 2017 3:31 pm ET

President Donald Trump on Thursday released a budget blueprint calling for sharp cuts to spending on foreign aid, the arts, environmental protection and other areas to pay for a bigger military and more secure border. The next day, he left Washington for his fifth weekend at Mar-a-Lago, his luxurious private golf resort in Palm Beach, Fla.—a trip estimated to cost around $3 million.

The juxtaposition prompted a slew of calculations as to which agencies the president proposed to cut could be saved by reducing the number of weekend trips to Florida for Mr. Trump and his staff. The Washington Post, for example, pointed out that two trips to Mar-a-Lago would pay for a year of funding for the Interagency Council on Homelessness, which Mr. Trump’s budget proposed to eliminate.

Asked at Monday’s White House briefing whether the president would consider reducing his weekend trips “given his feelings about the priorities for Americans’ tax dollars,” press secretary Sean Spicer replied, “That is a vast reach to suggest.” “Presidents always travel,” Mr. Spicer continued. “The president will continue to go and travel around the country and have meetings to solve the nation’s problems.”

Former President Barack Obama also drew criticism for going on golf trips during his presidency — including from Mr. Trump himself. But Mr. Obama didn’t make his first trip to the golf course until four months into his administration. Mr. Trump first traveled to Mar-a-Lago on his second weekend as president.

Pressed on the fact that no previous president had traveled as frequently and as early in his administration—and to a private club—as Mr. Trump, Mr. Spicer pointed out that former President George W. Bush had traveled to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, but did not respond to the rest of the question. “The president’s very clear that he works seven days a week,” Mr. Spicer said. “This is where he goes to see his family. This is part of being president.”

Mr. Trump’s trips to Florida have raised eyebrows not just for their hefty price tag — which, according to a Government Accountability Office report on an Obama trip to West Palm Beach from 2013, is somewhere around $3 million — but for the spotlight they place on a resort he owns. His frequent trips there – sometimes accompanied by foreign leaders – and meetings with the club’s exclusive roster of members have driven up business for the resort, which recently doubled its initiation fees to $200,000.

Last weekend, Mr. Trump held what the White House called “part of a cabinet meeting” in the dining room of his Virginia-based golf resort. And in April, the president is tentatively set to meet at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who would become the second foreign leader to travel to the club. Meanwhile, White House officials have sought to play down the amount of golf Mr. Trump plays at the resort each weekend.

The White House on Sunday said Mr. Trump might hit a few golf balls, but declined to confirm whether he actually did so. Chris Ruddy, a longtime friend of the president who is also a member of Mar-a-Lago, subsequently tweeted a photo of Mr. Trump wearing a golf glove.

On Monday, Mr. Spicer defended the president’s trips to the golf course. “How you use the game of golf is something that he’s talked about,” he said. Mr. Spicer also challenged the notion that Mr. Trump’s frequenting of golf courses means he’s actually playing golf.

“Just because he heads there doesn’t mean that that’s what’s happening,” he said.
38  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: President Trump on: March 27, 2017, 03:34:34 PM
The Outsider Enters Boldly and Trips Over His Own Shoelaces

“There’s a new sheriff in town” is a pretty popular power fantasy. We find ourselves stuck in a circumstance where everyone seems to be running amok, pursuing their own selfish or petty agenda, acting in complete disregard of the needs of others or the community as a whole. Our patience is exhausted, we’re fed up with it, and we make a bold, impossible to ignore, vaguely threatening gesture that demonstrates our supreme power. ENOUGH! Everyone freezes. We declare that order has returned. We begin dictating orders to others, to put everyone in their place. Cowed and intimidated, everyone dutifully returns to their proper place as part of a well-organized machine.

Saturday, Mike Allen shared a rather revealing anecdote about the way the Trump administration is approaching the task of getting legislation passed:
When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon's opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building:

“Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.”

Bannon's point was: This is the Republican platform. You're the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But people in the room were put off by the dictatorial mindset.

One of the members replied: ”You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn't listen to him, either.”

“You have no choice…” Except, the members did. Perhaps at, Bannon got used to negotiating with people he could fire. The president and his team can’t make a member vote for a bill, particularly one the member thinks is terrible or severely disappointing.

I wrote Friday that one glaring, unavoidable problem for the White House is that the president was trying persuade reluctant members of the House without really understanding why they were objecting. Our old friend Tim Alberta offered a vivid anecdote:

Thursday afternoon, members of the House Freedom Caucus were peppering the president with wonkish concerns about the American Health Care Act—the language that would leave Obamacare’s “essential health benefits” in place, the community rating provision that limited what insurers could charge certain patients, and whether the next two steps of Speaker Paul Ryan’s master plan were even feasible—when Trump decided to cut them off.

“Forget about the little s***,” Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. “Let's focus on the big picture here.”

The group of roughly 30 House conservatives, gathered around a mammoth, oval-shaped conference table in the Cabinet Room of the White House, exchanged disapproving looks. Trump wanted to emphasize the political ramifications of the bill's defeat; specifically, he said, it would derail his first-term agenda and imperil his prospects for reelection in 2020. The lawmakers nodded and said they understood. And yet they were disturbed by his dismissiveness. For many of the members, the “little s***” meant the policy details that could make or break their support for the bill—and have far-reaching implications for their constituents and the country.

Maybe to Trump these details about the bill were “the little s***.” But to the members in front of him, this was the make-or-break criteria of what makes a good reform bill. You would think the author of The Art of the Deal would have understood the importance of knowing the other side’s priorities. I seem to recall impassioned, insistent assurances during the 2016 Republican presidential primary that Trump was the ultimate dealmaker. Now we’re assured by Trump fan Bill Mitchell, “Trump is prescient and a brilliant strategist; therefore, the death of today's bill was part of his long term strategy.”

We’ve seen the growing enthusiasm for “outsiders” in American politics in recent years. A pratfall like this isn’t the only potential outcome with an outsider, but it’s a strong possibility. They either think they can completely rewrite how the system works, haven’t bothered to study how the system works, or don’t care how the system works. But they don’t actually change how the system works.

Like most of my colleagues, I found AHCA pretty “meh” at best. (With all the bashing going on right now, it’s worth remembering that the bill did offer flexibility to the states on Medicaid, did reduce the deficit, would reduce premiums in the long term if not the short term, and constituted the biggest effort at entitlement reform in a generation.) But because of the impossibility of getting 60 votes in the Senate, it didn’t include tort reform, insurance companies selling across state lines, and a couple of other big elements of the conservative health care reform agenda. It’s quite possible that had this bill been enacted, most Americans would feel like nothing had changed or improved by November 2018.

This was always a thorny, multifaceted problem. But the president and congressional Republicans were quite clear in their promises in 2016. They told us they could handle this, and they made fixing it sound easy. At what point is it fair to conclude their self-assurance was evidence they had no idea what they were talking about?

Could You Guys Stop Finger-Pointing for a Minute?

Historians and students of the presidency love Abraham Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals” in his cabinet. They describe it as messy and complicated but effective and a way to guarantee a diverse range of viewpoints and options are considered. But I’ve always wondered whether the “team of rivals” approach worked because it’s a good system… or whether it worked because Abraham Lincoln was using it.

Because if you have a “team of rivals” in your White House, everybody spends a lot of time jockeying for position and addressing “palace intrigue” instead of, you know, their jobs.

What would be the worst possible way to respond to a defeat? Oh, probably recriminations and finger-pointing, instead of refocusing on common goals and getting everyone on the same page, rowing in the same direction.

With President Donald Trump’s sweeping agenda hitting the rocks as he edges toward the 100-day mark, top aides, political allies and donors are embroiled in a furious round of finger-pointing over who is at fault.

The recriminations extend far beyond the implosion of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal on Friday. Senior aides are lashing each other over their inability to stem a never-ending tide of negative stories about the president. There is second-guessing of the Republican National Committee’s efforts to mobilize Trump’s electoral coalition on behalf of his legislative priorities. At the Environmental Protection Agency, a top official quit recently amid accusations the department is failing to advance the president’s campaign promises. And one of Trump's most generous benefactors, Rebekah Mercer, has expressed frustration over the direction of the administration.

It’s not even April yet.
39  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Maureen Dowd on: March 27, 2017, 12:30:05 PM
40  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Why Europe has more jihadis than US on: March 27, 2017, 12:11:52 PM
41  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Brit Muslim man: many of us are afraid to speak up on: March 27, 2017, 12:09:19 PM
42  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tax Policy on: March 27, 2017, 12:02:33 PM
What don't you like?

43  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The twit Chelsea tweets on: March 27, 2017, 11:56:24 AM
44  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: When a President says "I will kill you" on: March 27, 2017, 08:16:39 AM
45  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Islam in Europe and pre-emptive dhimmitude on: March 26, 2017, 07:34:02 PM
Is that fair GM?  Are they not doing what we here have asked of them?
46  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / No death spiral and here is why on: March 26, 2017, 07:32:19 PM
Second post
47  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / No Dems yet for Gorsuch on: March 26, 2017, 07:24:19 PM
48  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Brit Muslim women condemn on: March 26, 2017, 07:18:37 PM
49  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / An example of why Infowars is not welcome here on: March 26, 2017, 07:13:03 PM
50  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Pravda on the Beach on the Huntington Beach scuffle on: March 26, 2017, 07:07:40 PM

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