“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, December 31, 2016


WAPO’s Fake Story on Hacking Electrical Grid

Single Laptop Had Malware, Post Declared US Electrical Grid at Risk


“Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical grid security, officials say.” That was the headline at the Washington Post for a story which in reality did not involve hacking a utility, risking a grid, or even really Russians, above and beyond the nominal attribution of any malware to Russia these days.

The story stems from a report last night that a single laptop, owned by the Burlington, Vermont power company but not connected to anything, had become infected with malware sort of similar to what targeted the Democrats during the 2016 election campaign. And since we’re blaming Russia for that, we’re blaming Russia for this, by God.

But the laptop wasn’t critical infrastructure, wasn’t connected to anything in the grid, and there’s no evidence the malware did anything to it anyhow. Even putting aside the tenuous Russia link, officials like the Vermont Public Service Commissioner were quick to point out that the grid was not in danger in any way.

The Washington Post, however, hunted for a story, and got Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin to condemn Putin as “one of the world’s leading thugs,” and accused him of “attempting to hack our electric grid.” Shumlin and other top Vermont Democrats were only too willing to issue statements based on the Washington Post’s allegations, and the Washington Post was only too willing to keep the echo chamber going.

In the end, the Washington Post kept the false story up, but added an Editor’s Note admitting that there was no indication the grid was penetrated, and noting that the computer was not attached to the grid. The note was added way at the bottom of the long, hysterical story.


ason Ditz

Russia Accused of 'Snooping' on Vermont Utility's Laptop - December 30th, 2016
Obama's Russia Sanctions Set Stage for Clashes Between Trump, Congress - December 30th, 2016
US Expulsions Cost Russia's San Francisco Consulate Their Chef - December 30th, 2016
Clashes, Airstrikes Test Syria's Ceasefire - December 30th, 2016
Iraqi Forces Face Heavy Resistance as They Try to Push into Southern Mosul - December 30th, 2016

Friday, December 30, 2016

Obama Perpetrating Malevolent Mischief on USA as the Door Slams Him on His Lazy Ass


Nearing exit, Obama seeks to tie Trump's hands

President Obama has taken a flurry of unilateral actions in the waning days of his tenure that appear designed to box in President-elect Donald Trump.

Obama's decision Thursday to sanction Russian entities for election-related hacking is just the latest obstacle he has placed in Trump's way.

Day before the sanctions were unveiled, the Obama administration allowed the U.N. Security Council to condemn Israeli settlement activity — something that could have an indelible impact on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Obama has also permanently banned oil and gas drilling large swaths of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, closed off 1.6 million acres of Western land to development and scrapped the last vestiges of a registration system used largely on Muslim immigrants.

Those actions, as well as Obama’s claim he could have won a third term, seem to have irked Trump and his associates as the transition period enters its final weeks.

Trump on Wednesday morning went on the attack against Obama.

“Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks,” he tweeted. “Thought it was going to be a smooth transition - NOT!”

Later in the day, Trump spoke on the phone with Obama and turned down the temperature on the spat, telling reporters roughly six hours after his initial comments the transition is going “very, very smoothly.”

Yet it’s clearly not lost on Trump or his team that the president is using his power in aggressive ways.

Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday said Obama’s actions could hamper his successor, even as he praised the president’s team for being “very helpful” with the logistical aspects of the transition.

“Both the regulatory stuff, the executive orders that are on the way out … that [is] something that I believe, you know, makes it a little bit tougher in terms of the transition on the policy side,” Spicer told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt.

It’s unclear how many of Obama’s late actions Trump will able to reverse upon taking office.

Should Trump seek to scrap the sanctions on Russia next year, it could trigger a fight with congressional Republicans, who mostly praised the retaliatory steps Thursday even as they lambasted the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the sanctions “overdue.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called it a “good initial step, however late in coming,"

Senior administration officials argued that any effort to roll back the sanctions would be “inadvisable” because they apply to Russian intelligence agencies working against America’s national interest.

“Hypothetically, you could reverse those sanctions,” one official told reporters. “But it wouldn’t make a lot of sense.”

The actions against Russia included booting 35 officials from the United States and closing down two compounds that were suspected of being used by Russian intelligence.

Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on claims of Russian election interference, and has said the U.S. should try and “get along” with the country and seek to fight Islamic terrorists.

Yet his response to the sanctions Thursday was muted. While he called for the country to “move on” from the controversy in a statement, he also suggested he’s willing to hear out the intelligence officials who say Russia targeted the U.S.

“It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation."

The U.N. vote on Israeli settlements is another late move by Obama that complicates Trump’s policy goals.

Trump has vowed to break with past administrations on Israeli settlement activity and move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Those moves would align the U.S. closer with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But even if Trump follows through on changing U.S. policy toward Israel, it’s unlikely he will be able to repeal the U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements. 

To do so, he would need to convince nine members of the Security Council — and the four other members with veto power, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom — to back a measure scrapping the resolution.

The settlement resolution passed the council 14-0, with the U.S. abstaining. 

While the resolution has no direct, practical effect on current settlement activity, it could make peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians more difficult in the future. 

The Palestinians could use it as leverage in negotiating land swaps and the final status of holy sites in East Jerusalem, which the resolution refers to as occupied Palestinian territory.

Undoing Obama’s national monument designations — the latest protecting two massive areas in the American West — could prove a heavy lift as well, likely requiring a prolonged legal battle.

No president has ever reversed a predecessor’s actions to create a monument under the Antiquities Act.

The Obama administration and environmental groups argue it can’t legally be done, though some Republican lawmakers argue otherwise.

“In terms of whether it can be overturned, no,” said Christie Goldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “The Antiquities Act gives the president the authority to create monuments, but does not provide explicit authority to undo them.”

Meanwhile, by dismantling the dormant National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, Obama could slow any possible effort Trump makes to set up a registry for Muslims in the U.S. The system could have served as a foundation for a new Trump program. 

But Trump has signaled he plans to forge ahead with controversial counterterrorism efforts, including his proposal to ban immigration from countries with ties to Islamic extremism.

“You've known my plans all along and I’ve been proven to be right, 100 percent correct,” Trump said last week in response to a string of attacks in Europe.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hillary Clinton Was the Threat to US Security

Obama's efforts to undermine the president-elect

Donald Trump blasts Obama ‘roadblocks’ as transfer of power turns increasingly hostile

The Washington Times

The presidential transition hit a new low Wednesday, with President-elect Donald Trump openly criticizing President Obama for bungling U.S. relations with Israel and erecting other “roadblocks” to a smooth transfer of power in Washington.

With 24 days to go before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, the president-elect’s frustration with Mr. Obama’s perceived undermining of his victory, and wide-ranging efforts to tie the hands of the incoming administration, boiled over in a series of comments by Mr. Trump on Twitter.

“Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks,” Mr. Trump said. “Thought it was going to be a smooth transition — NOT!”

The president has been rushing with executive actions to lock in policies that Mr. Trump isn’t likely to support, such as bans on offshore drilling and a fresh round of pending sanctions against Russia for cyberattacks that the administration says were aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the election.

The expanded sanctions against Russia are expected to be announced Thursday, and Mr. Obama is promising to launch covert cyberoperations in retaliation.

Last week, the administration officially dismantled a dormant legal framework that Mr. Trump could have used for vetting Muslim visitors in the U.S.

Mr. Obama also riled Mr. Trump this week by claiming in an interview that he would have defeated the Republican in the November election, if only the pesky Constitution had let him run for a third term. Mr. Trump responded, “NO WAY!”

But the move that most alarmed Mr. Trump, judging from his tweet storm, was the administration’s decision not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned Israel for settlement activity in the West Bank.

“We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. “They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but not anymore.”

The move at the United Nations angered the Israeli government, which accused the Obama administration of orchestrating the vote.

The president-elect told Israel on Wednesday, as George W. Bush said in a different context, that help is on the way. “The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!” Mr. Trump said.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry defended the administration’s actions at the U.N. in a lengthy speech Wednesday, saying “no American administration has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama‘s.”

It was an astonishing public airing of the disagreements between Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama, who has pledged to do everything possible to create a “smooth and efficient” transfer of power. Although the two men have spoken by phone many times since the election, their mutual praise and handshake during a cordial Oval Office meeting on Nov. 10 now seem distant.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest dismissed Mr. Trump’s comments, telling CNBC, “We’ve been ignoring these tweets for a year — why would we start responding now?”

Asked by reporters if his transition was proceeding smoothly, Mr. Trump said, “I think very, very smoothly. Very good. You don’t think so?”

Speaking to reporters in Florida about U.S. jobs, the president-elect said he spoke with Mr. Obama earlier Wednesday and had “a very nice conversation.”

Mr. Trump has been irritating the White House in ways that go beyond his victory over the president’s chosen successor, Hillary Clinton. He has expressed eagerness to unravel some of Mr. Obama’s most cherished initiatives, including the Affordable Care Act, a global climate change agreement and a massive free trade deal in the Asia-Pacific region.

The president-elect also disturbed the White House with his call last week for the U.S. to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” In response, Mr. Obama on Tuesday hailed the efforts of the U.S. and Japan at “slowing the spread of nuclear weapons” to keep the peace in Asia.

During the memorial event at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Mr. Obama also seemed to take aim again at Mr. Trump’s foreign policy plans with one of those “inflammatory” statements.

“Even when hatred burns hottest, the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward,” Mr. Obama said. “We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different.”
Trump transition spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday that the president-elect’s tweet about the less-than-smooth transition “speaks for itself.” But Mr. Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, said Mr. Obama and his staff have been “helpful and generous” to the Trump team.

As if the transition has become a popularity contest, Obama supporters were gloating on social media Wednesday that the president beat Mr. Trump in a Gallup poll as the “most admired” man of 2016. Of those surveyed, 22 percent chose Mr. Obama, while Mr. Trump came in second with 15 percent. Pope Francis was third.

Gallup said it was Mr. Obama’s ninth consecutive win, but the 7 percentage point margin was his narrowest victory yet.

In the 70 years that Gallup has asked the question, the incumbent president has won 58 times.
Mrs. Clinton was rated as the most admired woman, edging out first lady Michelle Obama.

Transition tensions also flared this week when Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, who is running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, accused the Trump team of breaking the law by sending questionnaires to government agencies such as the Energy Department seeking to identify employees who had worked on climate change.

“Those questions have no place in a transition,” Mr. Perez said. “That is illegal.”
The president-elect’s transition team responded that “the transition has a memorandum of understanding in place with the administration, and we continue to uphold both of our ends in this agreement.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

In Plain English, it is past Time for Europe to get its head out of its arse

Terrorism in Europe... The curse of ideology on civilizations

Since February of this year, Germany has seen all sorts of organized terrorism. Violent encounters such as the officer incident, followed by the temple episode and the assault on the train. The terror didn’t end with the killing and assassination of the police, or with the leaked videos threatening Germans with revenge. It is known that Germany ventured forth by harboring a great deal of refugees, which gave the right wing great leverage as a defender and protector of German identity and roots.

The voices of anti-refugee and immigrant activists have escalated after the truck incident which rammed into a Christmas market in Berlin killing a dozen and leaving 40 wounded. The German party AfD explicitly called for “the immediate ban on the entry of any unidentified persons to Germany.” This brings us back to the problem of Islamic identity and its relationship with other European identities.

In the last third of the 20th century, European capitals have become a paradise for the figures of political Islam, taking advantage of the freedoms and the “spirit of law,” in the words of Montesquieu. They took advantage of the atmosphere of freedom and have benefited from European values. European countries welcomed those who have no homes, are hunted by their governments with no countries to return to and no roof over their heads.

However, the peace didn’t last long and resentment started to form against immigrants and outsiders ever since the Charlie Hebdo attack. Alain Gresh, famous for his leftist affiliation and former editor of Le Monde Diplomatique published a book after the incident entitled: “Islam, the Republic, the world.” After a commentary on the Charlie Hebdo incident, he covered chapters on “the clash of civilizations” which included sermons and moralities to world leaders, advising them to not categorize all Muslims as terrorists.

Gresh challenges the theory of Bernard Lewis which claims that: “The hatred goes far beyond the state of hostility towards some interests or business, or even against certain countries, to become a rejection of Western civilization not just as it is, but for what it stands for.”
If Europe remains a haven and a springboard for political Islam then extremism will grow
Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
He did not address rising nationalist tendencies in many nations and the foundations of the Islamic reception of Western civilization. There was a moral politeness to migrants, particularly with regard to food, veils, places of worship, preaching about Islam, building Islamic centers and charities. Unfortunately, a major disaster was building up for more than three decades in France and Britain in particular. This should come as a lesson to Germany and its relationship with political Islam.

The conflict was hidden between the new ideology and the existing civilization. A thematic conflict which was disguised by signs, symbols, clothing, banners and stereotypes about others. European civilization has been built on the values of individuality since the times of Hegel to the times of Emmanuel Levinas.

Dariush Shayegan printed a small pamphlet in Paris in 1992 which was translated into Arabic in 1993 entitled “Illusions of Identity.” He referred to this conflict saying: “The non-Western civilizations have not experienced these changes but received it by proxy; they had no access point to the origins of Western thought, or to dialectical movement. In a way, ideology has become the only available form of thoughts for non-Western civilizations and has been able to undertake a role in history.”
Shayegan is saying that ideology is a case of compensation for cultural poverty on the basis of conflict. These ideologies are always integrated from a principle of “intellectual irritability.”

Political Islam preached follies of reform in Europe rather than cultural adjustment. They imagined that they could issue reforms through influence in the state parliament and change the laws. European governments were in a comatose state of mind since the 1970s and didn’t care for the institutions of political Islam which reached Vienna and Switzerland. Unfortunately, they lived to see their mistakes.
If Europe remains a haven and a springboard for political Islam then extremism will grow. But if this invasion is to be curbed legally and politically, the danger will diminish. A European writer once published a book titled “France! Careful, you’re losing your soul.” Alain Gresh dismissed the title. This cruel calling may be a last appeal to the rest of Europe’s countries and their capitals.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat,, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.
Last Update: Saturday, 24 December 2016 KSA 11:02 - GMT 08:02 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Does anyone in the Neocon Establishment have a clue on what they have done?


  ALEPPO Three days before the Neocons worked their magic:


Does anyone in the Neocon Establishment have a clue on what they have done?

It's a mixed bag. You have true ideologues like Graham, McCain, and King who will never be convinced anything we've done is wrong, this even as in McCain's case where he has been publicly humiliated many times for his views and actions. These are mirrored on the Dems side by people like Rice and Powers who ardently push their R2P agenda. And you have Obama who, as with the majority of other issues, supports it reluctantly but still does support it.

You have others in D.C. who support the actions because their states and constituents, and more importantly their jobs, depend on the money generated by the MIC. Also, you have guys like Chuck Schumer, Steve Israel, Ted Cruz, and Mario Cuomo who are willing to sacrifice US interest for others nation's interests. 

You also have the media that supports these corrupt policies.

And finally you have the US public, conditioned by years of this stuff, apparently unaffected (personally) by the insanity, who view all of this stuff as spectators rooting for a mediocre sports team. Rooting for their team to win but not getting all that upset when they lose which they do often.

What all these people fail to realize is the opportunity costs they suffer from the madness, the trillions of dollars lost for no productive good that could have been used to advance science and medicine, save lives here and around the world, build, repair, and replace antique and disintegrating water systems, roads, energy grid, and transportation systems that currently make the US look like a third world country when compared with other states that have constantly been repairing and upgrading theirs.

So the neocons and the liberal hawks will continue along fat dumb and happy despite the death counts that grow daily as an effect of our actions in places like Yemen, Iraq/Syria, and Libya, and despite the rising costs generously donated by the American people. They will be supported by the majority of the sheeple who don't realize the extent of what they are losing, who, given there is no draft, feel they really don't have any shit in the game, and by those silly fools who argue for R2P or 'save the women' or any number of other mindless memes not realizing that whenever the US decides to intervene it always results in the displacement and/or deaths of the most vulnerable sectors of the population. The sheeple will continue supporting their team hoping that sometime in the not too distant future their team will finally get a win.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Neocons, Liberals and Globalists succeeded in 15 years of warfare at a cost of $5 Trillion and have accomplished nothing but death, misery and destruction


Do the Tragedies of Syria Signal the End of Arab Revolutions?


Just as the catastrophic Anglo-American invasion of Iraq brought an end to epic Western military adventures in the Middle East, so the tragedy of Syria ensures that there will be no more Arab revolutions. And it’s taken just 13 bloodsoaked years – from 2003 to 2016 – to realign political power. Russia and Iran and the Shia Muslims of the region are now deciding its future; Bashar al-Assad cannot claim victory – but he is winning.

“Aleppo must be taken quickly – before Mosul falls,” a Syrian brigadier announced to me with a wan smile in the country’s army headquarters in Damascus. And it did, scarcely a month later. There were – and still are – little Aleppos all over Syria in which the government and its armed “jihadi” opponents are playing “good guy” and “bad guy”, depending on who is besieging whom. When the Sunni militias end their siege of little Shia towns like Faour, the civilians flock to government lines. It’s reported as a slightly incomprehensible local dispute.

But when the regime’s forces storm into eastern Aleppo, it’s deplored around the world as a war crime. I’ve grown tired of repeating that, yes, war crimes are committed on both sides, and Bashar’s forces are no squeaky clean military cadets – although these days, we have to remember that 42 Royal Marine Commandos were not that squeaky clean in Afghanistan. But the story of Aleppo is still being re-threaded into old loops, the brave but largely “jihadi” defenders disguised as nondescript “rebels”, their opponents compared to Milosevic’s Serb killers or Saddam’s gas-bomb pilots.

All this will soon end. Russia realised that Obama and the weeping liberals of Europe were bluffing about the overthrow of Bashar – who, unlike Putin’s Ukrainian ally in Kiev, did not run away – and backed his army. The Economist made fun of Syrian soldiers because they supposedly couldn’t march in step when Moscow staged a military parade at its Syrian air base. But you don’t have to march like the Wehrmacht to win battles. The Syrian Arab Army – its real name, which is increasingly used, I notice, by the usual mountebanks who pose as “experts” on the satellite channels – boasts that it has fought simultaneously on 80 fronts against Isis, Nusrah and a clutch of other “jihadi” armies (and Free Syrian Army men who changed sides). Which, given the infractions and bulges in front lines, is probably true, but perhaps not a military record to be proud of. It’s one thing to recapture Palmyra from Isis, quite another to lose it to Isis again in the middle of the battle for eastern Aleppo.

Syrian soldiers have a lot of time for their Hezbollah militia allies – who used to turn up on the battlefield better armed than the Syrians themselves – but are less enamoured of the Iranian “advisors” who supposedly know so much about open warfare. I have been present when an Iranian officer called a Syrian general “stupid” – in this case, the Iranian was probably right – but Syrian officers are far more battle-trained and experienced than the Revolutionary Guard from Tehran who have sustained – along with their Afghan and Iraqi Shia allies – far more casualties than they believed possible.

So after almost five years of battle, the Syrian army is still in action. The Nusrah and Isis forces surrounding the government sector of the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zour will almost certainly be its next target — after the retaking of Palmyra, but long before the Isis capital of Raqqa, which will probably be retaken by Washington’s Kurdish allies. And it is the Syrian army which will most likely have to rebuild the new Syria when the war eventually ends. It will certainly decide the future of the country.

That doesn’t mean the overthrow of Bashar. Neither among his official opponents nor his mortal jihadi enemies nor the corrupt and corrupted political opposition in Turkey is there anyone who can challenge him on the ground. Even if they were successful, you can be sure that the same prisons and dungeons in Syria would be in operation within 24 hours to lock up and torture the “new” opposition to a “new” regime. Besides, Vladimir Putin has suffered enough humiliation after Isis’s second success in Palmyra – after the Russians staged a victory concert of peace in the Roman city only a few months ago. He is not going to permit the defenestration of Bashar al-Assad.

Oddly, Western leaders remain stupefyingly unaware of the nature of the real struggle in Syria, and even which warlords they should support. Take the impotent François Hollande, who chose to tell the United Nations in September that Russia and Iran must compel Assad to make peace, because they would otherwise, along with the regime, “bear the responsibility for the division and chaos in Syria”. All well and good. Yet only two months earlier, the same Hollande was demanding “effective action” against the Islamist Nusrah front – among the defenders of Aleppo, although most of us decided not to tell our readers this – on the grounds that Isis was in retreat and Nusrah stood to take advantage of this. “That is beyond dispute,” Hollande pompously remarked of Isis’s “retreat”. That was before the retaking of Palmyra by the same ISIS brigands.

But perhaps Hollande and his European allies – and Washington – are so besotted with their own weak and flawed policies towards Syria (always supposing they can decide what these are), that they do not realise how power moves across battlefields. Instead of whinnying on about Russian brutality and mixing this in with Iranian cruelty and Hezbollah mendacity, they should be taking a close look at the mostly Sunni Muslim Syrian army which has been fighting, from the very start, against its mostly Sunni Muslim “jihadi” enemies. They have always regarded Nusrah – our “allies” in eastern Aleppo, since they are paid by our Gulf chums and armed by us — to be more dangerous than Isis. The Syrian army are right. Here, at least, Hollande must surely agree with their conclusion.

Yet the power of illusion matters more to us. If the West can’t retake Mosul from Isis, they could hardly have stopped the Syrians retaking eastern Aleppo. But they could easily encourage the Western media to concentrate on the beastly Russians in Aleppo rather than the fearful casualties inflicted on America’s allies in Mosul. The reporting on Aleppo these past weeks has sounded much like the accounts of British war correspondents in the First World War. And the Russians could encourage their own tame media to concentrate on the victory at Aleppo rather than defeat at Palmyra. As for Mosul, it’s mysteriously vanished from our news. I wonder why?

And how many died in Palmyra? And, for that matter, how many were really captive in eastern Aleppo? Was it really 250,000? Or was it 100,000? I came across a news report a few weeks ago which gave two overall statistics for fatalities in the entire Syrian war: 400,000; then, a few paragraphs later, 500,000 Well, which is it? I’m always reminded of the Nazi bombing of Rotterdam in 1940 when the Allies announced that 30,000 civilians had been killed. For years, this was the authentic figure. Then after the war, it turned out that the real figure – though terrible enough — was only around 900, 33 times less than the official version. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, what Syria’s statistics really are?

And if we can’t get those right, what are we doing interfering in the Syrian war? Not that it matters. Russia is back in the Middle East. Iran is securing its political semi-circle of Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut. And if the Gulf Arabs – or the Americans – want to reinvolve themselves, they can chat to Putin. Or to Assad.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Christmas Tragedy to Our Shared Humanity

We can change the world when those who are sick of things Unite

92 feared dead as Russian plane with military band crashes en route to Syria

A rescue operation on the Black Sea coast at the crash site of Russian Defense Ministry's TU-154 aircraft © Nina Zotina
Rescue helicopters have discovered debris in the Black Sea from a Russian military transport plane which went off radar en route to Syria. Most of the passengers on the Tu-154 were members of the famous Alexandrov Ensemble army choir.

According to preliminary reports, the Tupolev transport plane had 92 people on board, including 84 passengers and eight crew members. It went missing over the Black Sea at 2:40 GMT shortly after refueling at an airport near Sochi.

Most of the passengers on board were members of the Alexandrov Ensemble, the official choir of the Russian Armed Forces, the Russian Defense Ministry said. They were travelling from Moscow to the Russian military base Khmeimim near Latakia, Syria to take part in a Christmas celebration with troops deployed there. The head of the choir, conductor and composer Valery Khalilov, is among the 65 members of the ensemble presumed dead in the accident.

Crews from Channel One Russia, NTV, and Zvezda (the official media outlet of the Russian Defense Ministry), each with three members, were on board as well, the outlets confirmed.

The passenger list released by the defense ministry also includes Elizaveta Glinka, a prominent charity activist and humanitarian worker. She is best known by her blogger nickname “Doctor Liza.” Some reports initially said she may have deplaned in Sochi, but the Presidential Council for Human Rights confirmed that she was on board.

Glinka was best known for aiding children with serious conditions like cancer, homeless people, and other vulnerable individuals. In the past few years, she organized humanitarian missions to conflict zones, including eastern Ukraine and Syria. For her efforts, she was awarded the Order of Friendship in 2012, the fifth highest state award in Russia.

Search operation near the coast of the Black Sea where a Russian Defense Ministry Tu-154 plane crashed shortly after take-off © Nina Zotina
Helicopters dispatched from Sochi to search for the aircraft have discovered the crash site, the ministry reported.

“Hull fragments of the Tu-154 plane operated by the Defense Ministry have been found about 1.5 km off the Black Sea coast of Sochi at a depth of 50-70 meters,” the ministry said in a statement.

Around 3,000 people are involved in a search and rescue operation in the 10.5 square kilometer area, the defense ministry announced. The 24/7 operation is being conducted by 27 vessels with 37 divers on board, unmanned flying vehicles, and four helicopters, officials added.

So far, no survivors have been found in the sea, local rescue services told Interfax.

TASS reports that weather conditions in the regions were “favorable” to aviation. No civilian flights have been cancelled yet.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his condolences to the relatives of those onboard the ill-fated plane. 

“I want to express my most sincere condolences to the families of our citizens who died in the plane crash in the Black Sea this morning. The government will do everything to provide support. Tomorrow will be a national day of mourning in Russia,” Putin told journalists in St. Petersburg.
Similar reaction poured in from the international community as well. “I express our sorrow to Russia – an important partner of Italy,” Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said as quoted by RIA.

His words were echoed by other high-ranking international officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “In her [Merkel] thoughts, she is with the relatives of the deceased,” vice-government spokesperson Ulrike Demmer announced.

Meanwhile people on social media are also expressing their grief over the tragedy.
“A terrible catastrophe. Condolences to the family and friends of the victims,” one tweet said.

“I express my condolences to the families of those killed in a plane crash! Eternal memory [to them]...!” another person wrote.

The Tupolev Tu-154 is a three-engine medium-range transport plane designed in the 1960s. It is capable of carrying up to 180 passengers, depending on the version. There are about 50 aircraft of this type remaining in operation throughout the world, with the Russian Air Force having the biggest fleet.
The plane that crashed near Sochi was a Tu-154B-2 with registration number RA-85572. The passenger capacity was boosted to 180. The aircraft has been in service since 1983, according to the online registry The defense ministry said the plane spent 6,689 hours in flight.
Over the decades, there have been around four dozen fatal incidents involving the aircraft, most of which were due to pilot error or improper maintenance. One of the most widely publicized crashes happened in 2010 near Smolensk, Russia, when a Tu-154M of the Polish Air Force carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his entourage crashed in foggy weather, killing all 96 people on board.

Hillary the Suicide Bomber: ‘Clinton tried to destroy us and was herself destroyed’ - Assange

Assange in the aftermath of US elections: 'Clinton tried to destroy us and was herself destroyed'

In his latest interview, the WikiLeaks founder confirmed that his 'internet has been returned'.

By India Ashok December 24, 2016 09:54 GMT

WikiLeaks is widely considered to have played a pivotal role in the recent US presidential elections. The whistle-blowing platform's infamous Podesta email dump, which detailed the internal workings of the Democratic Party, is believed to have dealt a massive blow to the Clinton campaign.

In the aftermath of the elections, Julian Assange weighs in, further clarifying WikiLeaks' role and motives. In his recent interview Assange reasserted that contrary to accusations hurled at WikiLeaks of its data releases having helped Trump win the election, it was the contents of the DNC leaks and not the platform itself that led to Clinton's defeat.

Assange told Repubblica,
"We published what the Democratic National Committee, John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, and Hillary Clinton herself were saying about their own campaign, which the American people read and were very interested to read, and assessed the elements and characters, and then they made a decision. That decision was based on Hillary Clinton's own words, her campaign manager's own words. That's democracy".
Clinton destroyed herself

When asked if Clinton's loss in the elections translates to a win for WikiLeaks, Assange said, "We were pleased to see how much of the American public interacted with the material we published.

"We have been publishing about Hillary Clinton for many years, because of her position as Secretary of State," he added, explaining why sources approached WikiLeaks.

"We have been publishing her cables since 2010 and her emails also. We are domain experts on Clinton and her post 2008 role in government. This is why it is natural for sources who have information on Hillary Clinton to come to us. They know we will understand its significance".

Commenting on the lessons learnt over the past 10 years, Assange highlighted how WikiLeaks has continued to publish material in the face of fierce opposition from the Pentagon and the US government. Assange himself was imprisoned and later put under house arrest.

He said, "Clinton tried to destroy us and was herself destroyed. Elephants, it seems, can be brought down with string. Perhaps there are no elephants".

Assange has 'mixed' feelings about Trump presidency

"If the question is how I personally feel about the situation, I am mixed," said Assange. "Hillary Clinton's election would have been a consolidation of power in the existing ruling class of the United States.

"Donald Trump is not a DC insider, he is part of the wealthy ruling elite of the United States, and he is gathering around him a spectrum of other rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities. They do not by themselves form an existing structure, so it is a weak structure which is displacing and destabilising the pre-existing central power network within DC.

"It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly, but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the better".

Will WikiLeaks survive if Assange is extradited to the US?

Swedish prosecutors travelled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London in November to question Assange over sexual assault allegations in the ongoing case from 2010. Swedish authorities are slated to make a decision in the coming weeks on whether to officially charge or absolve Assange. In light of Ecuador's upcoming elections and Sweden's impending decision, Assange's asylum and possible freedom, hangs in the balance.

However, Assange claims that "contingency plans" have been put into place to ensure the survival of WikiLeaks, in the event that he is charged by Sweden and later possibly extradited to the US.

"Yes, we have contingency plans that you have seen in action when my Internet was cut off and while I was in prison before." He confirmed that his "internet has been returned" adding that, "an organisation like WikiLeaks cannot be structured such that a single person can be a point of failure in the organisation, it makes him or her a target".

Friday, December 23, 2016

F-35 : Trump is Right About Costs but Does Stealth Matter? If so, Use Drones - The Enemy Will

The Official F-35 Price Tags Are Bogus

Pentagon statements do not reflect real costs or original estimates


On Dec. 12, 2016, president-elect Donald Trump asserted that F-35 unit cost was “out of control” through his preferred medium Twitter. On Dec. 19, 2016, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, in charge of the Joint Strike Fighter project, gave the press his version of things.

Multiple media outlets passed along the officer’s comments, but with no analysis of the completeness and accuracy of Bogdan’s assertions. The reports offered no context or alternative views on the stealth fighter’s actual cost per plane.

The general said each one of the Air Force’s F-35A would cost $102.1 million, while both the U.S. Marine Corps’ F-35Bs and and U.S. Navy’s F-35Cs would set the taxpayer back 132 million each. Those costs average to approximately $122 million for a “generic” F-35.

Bogdan got these numbers from the funds Congress set aside in the 2015 defense budget for what the Pentagon called “Lot 9,” just one of a number of planned F-35 purchases. In November 2016, the U.S. military was still negotiating the final deal with plane-maker Lockheed Martin.

Needless to say, the unit costs Bogdan gave the media were incomplete. They involve only the Pentagon’s existing contracts with Lockheed and engine-maker Pratt & Whitney to build the airframes and jet motors.

The numbers do not, for example, include the cost to buy maintenance equipment and other necessary support elements. They do not include money the Pentagon will spend to fix design errors discovered in testing now and in the future.

These figures are not the “sticker price.”

One could calculate a far more complete price from the appropriations that Bogdan told Congress he needed to buy functioning airplanes. The difference between what he is telling the press now and what he told Congress in 2015 is significant — it is also the difference between a factory simply putting together a airplane and delivering an airplane that can actually fly and operate.

For the 2015 fiscal year, the F-35 project chief petitioned Congress for $6.4 billion to produce 34 F-35s for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. This amount did not included separate funds for research and development and other costs that the Pentagon asked for in budget request.

With the production data, we can calculate a F-35A has a price tag of $157 million, not $102 million. It’s $265 million for a F-35B and $355 million for a F-35C, not $132 million for either variant.

On average, these F-35s cost $188 million apiece, not $122 million.

More basically, Bogdan says the F-35’s price has been coming down, and indeed it has. The $188 million generic price in 2015 was less than the $250 million the Pentagon quoted in 2001.

For the 2017 fiscal year, Congressional appropriations showed us that the total costs came down again to $128 million for a generic F-35. That’s $113 million for an F-35A, $142 million for an F-35B and $241 million for a F-35C.

However, an old Congressional Research Service report on the F-35 tells us that in 1994 the Pentagon was promising F-35As for $31 million, F-35Bs for $31 to $38 million and F-35Cs for between $30 and 35 million. In 2017 dollars, those costs would be $53 million per F-35A, $53 million to $65 million for each F-35B and $51 million to $60 million for a single F-35C.

Put another way, in 2017, a F-35A costs about twice what the Pentagon promised Congress more than two decades earlier. Compared to this initial estimate, the F-35B costs more than twice as much now, while an F-35C is about four times more expensive.

I suspect Trump can recognize when he is being scammed. In this case, the Pentagon is telling him American taxpayers can get F-35s for only two to four times what they originally advertised.

In 2014, Winslow Wheeler retired as the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project On Government Oversight. He worked on national security issues for 31 years in the U.S. Senate for members of both political parties and at the Government Accountability Office.


You can't replace the F-35 with an F-18 any more than you can replace an aircraft carrier with a cruise ship
Popular Science

An F-18 cannot do everything an F-35 can do, unless stealth doesn't matter.

Stealth planes are complex machines. The science of stealth is really two sciences carefully put together: materials and shape, forming an outer casing of an airplane that hides the sensitive guts inside from hostile RADAR. Only a handful of countries have ever developed stealth fighters. Only the United States has ever deployed them in war.

Today, president-elect Donald Trump tweeted about the F-35, America’s long-in-development and expensive new family of stealth fighters.

Stealth is integral to the design of the F-35. A low radar signature means the plane is harder for enemies to see, and so can get closer to targets before it’s in danger. Keeping that stealth body while developing three version: the F-35A for the Air Force, the F-35B with short takeoff and vertical landing capability for the Marine Corps, and the F-35C for the Navy (rugged enough to land on aircraft carriers) meant the planes had to make some compromises in design, like small internal bomb bays for stealth missions. In the 20 years from the start of the development of the F-35, stealth remained a consistent part of the program, one deemed essential by the Air Force and a shared bonus for the Navy and Marines, as well as the foreign allies who are buying the F-35.

Those limitations, and the cost overruns, have left the F-35 both unpopular and without a real, obvious alternative. Trump’s proposal is simple: “I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!” It also ignores the stealth at the heart of the much-maligned fighter. An F-18 is many things, but it is not a stealth jet and the systems built around the F-35 are all built to take advantage of the stealth.

It is as absurd as suggesting that a standard 747 airliner can perform the same role as the expensive, highly specialized Air Force One variants built from the 747 airframe. Or, more plainly, it’s like suggesting a cruise ship can do the job of an aircraft carrier: the body is essential for the role, and whatever else the flaws of the F-35, it has a stealthy body and the F-18 doesn’t.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Trump's Absurd Proposition to Revamp US Nuclear Capability

Technology suffers from a momentary illusion called "State of the Art".

"State of the Art" is a momentary assertion of technological superiority with an implied assumption of some permanence. In the area of advanced weaponry it tempts the owner with a feeling of superiority and provokes a default position of hubris.

Trump is making an error in believing he can build a superior lasting nuclear advantage. It is a foolish bet and a terrible risk. One needs to look to our own experience on two historical events to appreciate Trump's folly in this claim.

All new technology comes with high risk. Take the US shuttle program.

NASA's official overall probability risk assessment number (PRAN) for complete loss of life and vehicle for the Space Shuttle was  widely quoted at 1/100. In practice we lost two out of 131 missions. We have no idea on how capable nuclear missile and anti-missile systems would work as we have thankfully never known or practiced them under real world conditions. They may or may not work to a degree unknown but worse yet, we know there will be failures and those failures would come with terrible consequences.

How bad would be the consequences? We can only speculate but let's go to an event we do know about, 911.

Two commercial airplanes with the explosive power of high speed kerosene containers took down two buildings in one city. The property and economic damage was in the hundreds of billions and immediate death and casualties were in the thousands. Following wars ran the cost of 911 into the trillions and deaths in the millions. What would be the consequences of hundreds of cities being hit with nuclear weapons taking taking out ten thousand buildings in each city?

The United States has made itself vulnerable to nuclear weapons because by it having nuclear weapons, others have followed. Even shit-ass backward countries like North Korea and Pakistan have them. Increasing and "improving" nuclear weapons will only result in others following suit and the risks would increase for all of us with security improving for none of us.

UPDATE: Europe - A Migrant Crisis of Mindless Creation by the Usual Suspects

2016: A look at Europe's ongoing migrant crisis

© Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP | Migrants protest on the Greek island of Chios on April 3, 2016.
The year 2016 saw the migrant crisis dominate headlines once again. From the controversial EU-Turkey deal to the closing of the Calais “Jungle”, FRANCE 24 looks back at the key events of the year.

January 1, 2016: More than 1,000 women were assaulted during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne, Germany. Suspicions turned towards Germany’s large refugee population. In the weeks that followed thousands of Germans protested against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open-door” refugee policy. Although the majority of the New Year’s perpetrators were never caught, many of the identified suspects were migrants from Morocco and Algeria, though not part of the most recent wave of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan migrants.

© Mehdi Chebil
March 7, 2016: France’s first camp built to the standards of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees opened in the northern French town of Grande-Synthe. The camp was built in partnership with the mayor of Grande-Synthe and Doctors Without Borders, to house some 1,300 migrants who had been squatting in a muddy, unsanitary encampment nearby. The French government initially opposed the project, but is now running the camp and aims to close it.

© AFP, Bulent Kilic
March 20, 2016: A controversial deal between the European Union and Turkey came into effect, aimed at controlling the migrant crisis. Under the pact, Ankara would take back all illegal migrants who cross to Greece, including Syrians, in return for the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and rewarding it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations. The deal continued to be a source of tension between the EU and Turkey throughout 2016.

© Sarah Leduc
April 2016: Following implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, migrant camps in Greece were turned into de facto detention centres. Over 3,300 people were held at the Moria centre on the island of Lesbos. Migrants who failed to register for asylum, or whose asylum requests were denied, were deported to Turkey. Clashes between police and migrants were reported in Chios and Moria in April. Doctors Without Borders had suspended its activities in Moria in March, citing what it called “unfair and inhumane” conditions.

May 24-26, 2016:Police evacuated the squalid Idomeni refugee camp in northern Greece near the Macedonian border, which at its height housed more than 12,000 people. In the space of three days, migrants were transferred by bus from Idomeni to newly created camps in the industrial outskirts of Greece's second city, Thessaloniki. The camp had exploded in size after Balkan states began closing their borders in February to stem the tide of migrants trying to pass from the Mediterranean to northern Europe.

June 20, 2016: The UN reported that the number of refugees and internally displaced people worldwide had reached its highest point ever, surpassing the previous record seen during WWII. The UN Refugee Agency reported that there were a record 65.3 million displaced people around the globe in 2015 — or 24 people displaced every minute — up 10 percent from the year before.

© Pedro Ugarte, AFP
August 216: The first ever Refugee Olympic Team competed in the summer games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The team of 10 athletes included runners, swimmers and judokas from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of them, 18-year-old Yusra Mardini, had swum for her life through the Aegean Sea during her escape from Syria. The refugee team were given a standing ovation during the games opening ceremony.

© Aris Messinis, AFP
October 26, 2016: The UN refugee agency reported that at least 3,800 migrants had died in the Mediterranean Sea since January in an attempt to reach Europe, making 2016 the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean. As of December, at least 4,690 migrants have died in the Mediterranean in 2016, compared to 3,777 in 2015.

October-November 2016: French police moved over 5,600 migrants out of the Calais "Jungle" camp in northern France, hoping to close the camp permanently. The migrants, who included hundreds of unaccompanied minors, were bussed to shelters throughout France before the “Jungle” was bulldozed. French authorities reported that the camp’s population had reached record levels during the summer before its demolition.

November 10, 2016:France’s first official refugee and migrant shelter opened in Paris, with space for 400 single men. Migrants spend up to 10 days at the site where they receive medical care and advice on seeking asylum before being transferred to a "Welcome Centre" elsewhere in France. The centre was part of the French capital’s ongoing drive to clear thousands of asylum-seekers out of improvised camps on the capital’s streets.

Date created : 2016-12-22

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Trump is Right In Rejecting the Failed US Neocon Oriented Foreign Policy Crusade

Pentagon Memo Shows Trump Not Seeking Military Confrontation With Russia

A newly released memo from outgoing Undersecretary of Defense Brian McKeon to other officials within his office detailed the defense priorities of the incoming Trump Administration. Little focus among analysts was given to the priorities listed, instead focusing on the absence of Russia as a target.

This is already provoking criticism from some hawkish analysts, despite President-elect Trump repeatedly indicating over the last several months that he seeks improved diplomatic ties with Russia and thought it would “be nice” for the US and Russia to cooperate in fighting ISIS.
It would seem unsurprising, then, that the memo set out fighting and destroying ISIS as his top priority. The memo also said the administration wants to eliminate spending caps on the military to increase its overall size, to develop a “comprehensive” cyber-war strategy, and to generally find ways to improve efficiency.

Fighting ISIS has always been a talking point for Trump throughout the campaign. It is worth noting, however, that while most such memos lay out a whole series of enemies to target militarily, Trump’s priorities begin and end with ISIS, with the memo also mentioning in passing briefings on China and North Korea, but not including them on the list itself.

This may reflect Trump’s comments since the election, which have faulted the US as having a “policy of intervention and chaos” around the world, and needing to focus more narrowly on ISIS and not “fighting in areas that we shouldn’t be fighting in.”

On the other hand, Trump transition officials warned against drawing too many conclusions from the memo, saying it would be “misleading” to think this is a complete list of Trump’s military priorities.

Last 5 posts by Jason Ditz

Monday, December 19, 2016

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished


The driver of the big rig that barreled into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin on Monday — killing at least 12 people and injuring scores more — is a Pakistani refugee who arrived in Germany earlier this year, local reports say.

Sources told the German newspaper “Die Welt” that the suspected terror suspect came into the country on February 16, according to the Telegraph.

The man has been arrested in the past for minor criminal offences unrelated to terrorism, the sources said.

Another Berlin paper, Der Tagesspiegel, reported earlier that he was believed to be either Pakistani or Afghan.

Two senior German officials later confirmed to The Washington Post that the man was, in fact, believed to be a Pakistani national who arrived as an asylum seeker.

German authorities have yet confirm the identity of the driver or his nationality.

The fact that he is an alleged asylum seeker from Pakistan will surely spark widespread outrage in Germany following Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision last year to allow nearly 1 million migrants from the Middle East enter the country.

“When will German rule of law strike back? When will this accursed hypocrisy end? These are Merkel’s deaths!” tweeted Marcus Pretzell, European parliament member from the right-wing Alternative for Germany, according to the Washington Times.

Germany has been a popular target for terrorists in 2016.

The Islamic State has already claimed responsibility for at least two attacks in the country — both of which were committed by asylum seekers.

Just last week, German prosecutors revealed that they were probing an incident involving a 12-year-old boy who allegedly planned to use a nail-bomb attack to slaughter people at a Christmas market in the southern city of Ludwigshafen.

According to the Washington Post, investigators told local media that they believed the youngster — who holds dual German and Iraqi citizenship — was being directed by a member of ISIS.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

We Hanged the Wrong Guy in Iraq

If Saddam had remained in power, rise of ISIS ‘improbable’ – Hussein’s CIA interrogator

Published time: 18 Dec, 2016 21:50
Saddam Hussein © David Furst

Islamic State would not have enjoyed the success it did if Saddam Hussein had remained in power, John Nixon, the former CIA agent who grilled him, claims. Nixon says the West should deal with leaders it “abhors” to have a stable Middle East.

Nixon was the first to debrief Saddam after his capture in December 2003, 13 years ago. His book, entitled “Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein,” is a first-hand account of what the invasion of Iraq and the execution of Saddam Hussein have entailed.

No flourishing ISIS under Hussein

“In the course of interrogations, Saddam 'turned our assumptions upside down',” Nixon wrote in one of the excerpts from the book, published by Time and the Daily Mail. In particular, ex-CIA agent asks what would have happened if Saddam had remained in power and comes to the conclusion that, among other outcomes, it would have made the rapid rise of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) almost impossible.

“It is improbable that a group like ISIS would have been able to enjoy the kind of success under his repressive regime that they have had under the Shia-led Baghdad government,” Nixon wrote.

 A combination photo shows a British soldier and fighters of the Islamic State © Reuters
Chilcot: Intelligence reports confirm Iraq war created ISIS

According to the ex-agent, Saddam was well aware of the potential risks posed by the flourishing jihadist movements and was keen to suppress any such attempts. “Saddam felt that Islamist extremist groups in Iraq posed the biggest threat to his rule and his security apparatus worked assiduously to root out such threats.”

A recently published Chilcot report, conducted by British MPs on the country’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq war, backs Nixon’s assumption on IS.

The documents show that by 2006 – three years into the occupation – UK intelligence chiefs were increasingly concerned about the rise of Sunni jihadist resistance. Those radicals and parts of the disbanded Iraqi military later joined radical jihadist groups, including ISIS, the report said.

West may deal with leaders ‘we abhor’ to have peace in Middle East

Despite being no friend of Hussein, Nixon writes that he had “a grudging respect for how he [Saddam] was able to maintain the Iraqi nation as a whole for as long as he did.” The former CIA agent noted that he did not “wish to imply that Saddam was innocent,” since the measures used included “murder, blackmail, imprisonment.”

Yet in light of internal chaos and violence between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims which erupted following the 2003 US-led invasion, one may consider Hussein not the worst option, according to Nixon.
Trump warns that by attacking Assad, US will ‘end up fighting Russia’

“In hindsight, the thought of having an ageing and disengaged Saddam in power seems almost comforting in comparison with the wasted effort of our brave men and women in uniform and the rise of Islamic State, not to mention the £2.5 trillion spent to build a new Iraq,” he wrote. Nearly 4,500 American personnel, 179 British troops and estimated 150,000 Iraqis were killed during the active phase of the war and in the years which followed.

Nixon says he was also warned by the late leader that American attempts to stabilize the country were doomed to fail. “You are going to fail in Iraq because you do not know the language, the history, and you do not understand the Arab mind,” the ex-CIA agent quoted Hussein as telling him.

Despite the Iraqi army and militia backed by Washington now achieving some success in destroying Islamic State, “we [the US] are still far from achieving this goal," Nixon said.

According to Nixon, incoming US President Donald Trump will now have a chance to “play a very large role” in creating a new order in the Middle East. “This will require making tough decisions and, ultimately, recognizing that we may have to deal with people and leaders that we abhor if we want to help bring stability back to the region and limit the scope of terrorism’s reach.”

Following his election, Trump warned against pursuing regime change in Syria and said the US should focus on tackling the threat of Islamic State.

“My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS,” Trump said. He added that while Washington is backing rebels against President Assad, it has “no idea who these people are.”

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Bowditch Incident

U.S. Demands Return of Drone Seized by Chinese Warship

Helene Cooper
The episode did not have the life-or-death drama of the April 2001 midair collision between a Chinese fighter jet and a Navy surveillance plane that forced the Americans to make an emergency landing on Chinese territory. Acknowledging the odd nature of Chinese sailors seizing the drone close to its American mother ship, one official here likened it to watching a thief steal a wallet in broad daylight.

American officials said they were still trying to determine whether the seizure was a low-level action taken by Chinese sailors who spotted the drone — which the Pentagon said was conducting scientific research — or a strategic-level action ordered by more senior Chinese leaders to challenge the American presence in those waters.

“We call upon China to return” the underwater vehicle “immediately,” Peter Cook, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement Friday, “and to comply with all of its obligations under international law.”

The incident complicates already testy relations between China and the United States, ties that have been further frayed by President-elect Donald J. Trump’s phone call with the president of Taiwan. Mr. Trump angered Chinese officials by holding a phone conversation with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, an island that Beijing deems a breakaway province of China. It had been nearly four decades since a United States president or president-elect had such direct contact with a Taiwanese leader.
In an interview broadcast on Sunday, Mr. Trump also criticized China over its trade imbalance with the United States, its military activities in the South China Sea and its links to North Korea. Aides to the president-elect have defended Mr. Trump’s words and actions as important to bringing a fresh eye to a number of foreign policy issues.

Pentagon officials said on Friday that they were trying to determine if the seizure of the underwater drone had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s comments.

At the White House on Friday, President Obama was asked about the issue during a news conference, and he made clear that he viewed the question of Taiwan as especially sensitive. While the president refrained from directly criticizing Mr. Trump, he warned his successor to carefully consider his actions and any new policy, lest he ignite what could be a significant response from Beijing.

“I think all of our foreign policy should be subject to fresh eyes,” Mr. Obama said. But he added: “For China, the issue of Taiwan is as important as anything on their docket. The idea of a One China is at the heart of their conception of a nation.”

“And so if you are going to upend this understanding, you have to have thought through what the consequences are, because the Chinese will not treat that the way they’ll treat other issues,” he said, adding that the Chinese would not even treat it the way they treated issues around the South China Sea, “where we’ve had a lot of tensions.”

China experts said on Friday that it was unclear whether the seizure of the American drone was linked to anger in Beijing over Mr. Trump, or a continuation of years of tensions over competing claims in the South China Sea.

The Bowditch episode came after China signaled on Thursday that it had installed weapons on disputed islands in the South China Sea that it would use to repel threats. In describing the new weapons deployment, a Defense Ministry statement suggested that China was further watering down a pledge made by its president, Xi Jinping, to not militarize the islands.

That indicated that such installations were part of China’s plan to deepen its territorial claim over the islands, which has created tensions with its neighbors over their rival claims and with Washington over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest commercial waterways. The United States Navy routinely sends warships to sail the South China Sea as part of ongoing American policy meant to demonstrate that all countries have the freedom of navigation in disputed waters.

M. Taylor Fravel, an associate professor of political science at M.I.T. who studies China’s territorial disputes and has written on the South China Sea, called the seizure of the drone “a big deal, as it represents the deliberate theft of U.S. government property and a clear violation” of maritime law.
“By stealing a drone versus threatening the safety of the ship, China may be trying to find a way to signal its opposition to U.S. activities without creating a larger incident,” Mr. Fravel said. 

“Nevertheless, it will be viewed by the U.S. as a clear challenge.”

The Bowditch, an oceanographic ship, was operating in international waters and carrying out scientific research, said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. The drone was part of an unclassified program to collect oceanographic data, including salinity in the sea, clarity of water and ocean temperature, factors that can help the military in its collection of sonar data.

The Chinese Navy ship, which had been shadowing the American ship, approached within 500 yards of the Bowditch before seizing the drone, which American officials say was around 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, the Philippines.

Whatever the case, the Pentagon said that China had no right to seize the drone. “This is not the sort of conduct we expect from professional navies,” Captain Davis said.

Michael Swaine, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called the theft “low-level provocation.”

“This doesn’t involve lives,” Mr. Swaine said. “It involves the Chinese grabbing something that belongs to the United States. The normal thing to do in these cases is, you issue a démarche and demand it be returned ASAP.”

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, criticized the Obama administration for what he called a failure to provide a “strong and determined U.S. response” to Chinese actions in the South China Sea. “Freedom of the seas and the principles of the rules-based order are not self-enforcing,” he said. “American leadership is required for their defense. But that leadership has been sorely lacking.”
There was no immediate comment from Mr. Trump or his transition team.