This Is How the System is Supposed to Work

Sgt. Bergdahl is going to face two court-martial charges– desertion and something something with the enemy, as just reported by NBC News.

As I have stated repeatedly (and Sooner has as well), this is how the system is supposed to work. You bring American soldiers home any time you can. You don’t decide “ehh, fuck em” and leave them behind for the enemy. If they have done something that violates UCMJ, you bring them home and let military justice take its course.

I will note that the timing of the announcement seems to be planned (hastily, probably) to undercut any sympathy that his “Serial” appearances might create, but I have no evidence whatsoever to support that and think so only because I am a cynical bastard older than the age of two. So, of course, that’s evidence enough to blog, amirite?

A Syria’s Screw Job

Second-guessing President Obama while still in office never gets tiring for Team Ezra, you know.  Max Fisher declares Syria lost and it being Obama’s fault, because hey, why not?

There was a time before Syria was a paradox, before it was unsolvable. It’s difficult to say for sure when that time ended, when the window closed. And policy analysts and historians will surely debate, for years to come, what specific US actions — had the US acted when the window was open — might have best addressed Syria’s war.

But it is clear that, at the very least, there was a period of time when the US had a range of options that could have led to a range of outcomes. But those options have since closed off, and the outcome we’ve ended up with is one of the worst imaginable. Maybe it could have been worse, but it certainly could have been better.

There was never an easy or a perfect solution to Syria. But early on, the security vacuum was not so dire, the chaos and destruction not so severe, and the world might have removed Assad without toppling Syria into an unsalvageable chaos.

The opposition was, early on, not nearly so divided by ideology and politics as it is today. Though extremists did begin joining early in 2012, the rebels were still heavily populated by moderate volunteers and defected Syrian soldiers whose primary aim was to topple Assad. Had he fallen then, the opposition might have laid down its arms rather than turning on one another. It was not until late 2013 that rebel infighting became so bad that analysts began warning Assad’s fall would lead to a second civil war.

Early on in the war, before Assad destroyed his own country’s physical and political infrastructure, there was still enough of a state that a post-Assad government could have, in a best-case scenario, restored order with the consent of the Syrian population. But even if it hadn’t, the Syrian population was less riven by sectarianism, the territory less divided among rebel groups apt to lapse into infighting and warlordism.

The point is not to retroactively advocate for a specific policy on Syria, nor to suggest that the country could have been saved completely by US intervention; it’s unlikely a war could ever have been averted once Assad decided to fire on his own people. Rather, the point is that removing him could have at least hypothetically opened up a different set of paths for Syria. Those surely would have had downsides as well, and some could be even worse than the status quo, but there is at least a range of possible outcomes that might look better than today’s reality.

While Fisher is concerned with the reality of Syria today and is correct that it is awful, he also argues that the window for doing something existing mainly between Spring 2012 and at the very latest, Fall 2013.  The reality at that point overlooks three massively important things, all of which are missing from Fisher’s analysis.

One is Congress, who made it very clear with an election coming up that the kind of intervention Fisher wanted was never going to happen. Fisher mentions Congress all of once in his piece, and even if the Republicans in the House weren’t going to tell Obama to go to hell, enough Democrats would have.  It got nowhere fast, eliminating all of 2012 in Fisher’s scenario.

You can argue that 2013 could have gone better and that there was still time to act then, but by March we were already into Assad’s chemical weapon attacks, and Russia’s reality as the Assad regime’s major patron stonewalling and buying time.

Number two is a US desperately tired of war.  Even Libya was too much for America to support anymore back in 2012, and while a robust air campaign could have helped, in an election year it wasn’t going to happen for the reasons listed above.

Third is the 2012 election itself.  If we somehow had gone into Syria’s civil war with both US political parties screaming bloody murder, Syrian intervention in 2013 would have most likely been President Romney’s problem, not President Obama’s.

Yes, Syria has devolved into a crisis now, one that won’t be solved anytime soon. But saying Obama “lost” Syria is Monday-morning quarterbacking at its worst and most of all simply untrue. Obama isn’t the only person on Earth who could have done something about Syria, and Syria was never ours to “lose” in the first place.

Open Thread: “Upcoming Season of ‘Serial’ Will Focus on Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl”

Well, this won’t hardly be controversial at all, compared to their first season (she said sarcastically). From NYMag‘s Margaret Hartmann (

Those eager to hear “Serial” dig into another little known true-crime story should start adjusting their expectations. Maxim reports (and the Hollywood Reporter has confirmed) that one of the upcoming seasons — either two or three — will focus on the widely covered case of Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who was held captive by the Taliban for five years after leaving his base in Afghanistan, and freed last year in exchange for five Taliban detainees from Guantánamo Bay.

There have been conflicting reports about why Bergdahl walked off base, and he was charged with desertion and endangering the troops who searched for him. During a trial last week that will determine whether he is court-martialed and sentenced to life imprisonment, Major General Kenneth R. Dahl, who led the Army’s investigation, testified that Bergdahl’s plan was to walk to a larger American base about 18 miles away to report what he considered serious leadership problems in his unit, according to the New York Times. “He absolutely believed that the things he was perceiving were true,” General Dahl said, adding that Bergdahl’s beliefs were “unwarranted but genuinely held.”

“Serial” host Sarah Koenig and at least one of the show’s producers were at Bergdahl’s hearing last week, as well as Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal. His company, Page One Productions, is working on a film based on Bergdahl’s story with director Kathryn Bigelow, and sources tell Maxim that Boal has provided “Serial” with research material, including interviews with Bergdahl. Deadline reports that Boal and Page One’s Hugo Lindgren have an even bigger role in the podcast, and will serve as on-air narrators…

(This is also a test; if the links work, thank commentor Steeplejack… if they don’t, blame me!)

Open Thread: Feel the Burn, Trump

Okay, Tim F. beat me to the topic, but Tammy Duckworth’s diss was too good not to front-page.

Also entertaining: #justlikemilitary service, the hashtag collaboration. “I am, at this very moment, watching Robert Redford raise the flag in The Castle. Also did a Men’s Health workout…”

Reports of the Russian Army in Syria: ISIS’s Chechen Connection

The International Business Times is reporting that the Administration is monitoring reports of Russian military operations targeting ISIS in Syria (h/t Raw Story). The Russians have been backing the Assad government because the latter has provided the former with a warm water port on the Mediterranean. In late 2013 and early 2014 reports started to dribble out from Syria that between 1,000 and 2,000 hardened Chechen fighters had joined ISIS. It is these fighters, radicalized in their ongoing dispute with the Russians and their proxy strongman in Chechnya that have always been one of my greatest concerns with ISIS. Not only because of their ability to influence the events in the Levant, but because as Eastern Europeans they can blend in while traveling throughout Europe, as well as the US.* That concern aside their influence was quickly seen within ISIS as they first started issuing threats agains the Hashemite monarch in Jordan and then against Vladimir Putin – their arch enemy and nemesis. According to the IB Times report a group of Chechen fighters, aligned with ISIS, attacked a Russian military base in Dagestan in the Northern Caucasus. Given that Chechen fighters have taken up both sides of the fight in the breakaway eastern provinces of the Ukraine, these reports of Russian actions in Syria bear watching. The Syrian Civil War, the rise of ISIS, and ISIS’s ability to take and hold significant portions of Syria and Iraq are responsible for potentially creating some strange bedfellows. The US, Iran, and Russia are all opposing ISIS in Syria and Iraq while at the same time the US and Russia are in opposition over Ukraine and the US and Iran still, formally have not normalized relations and do not agree on much of anything. While it is hard to find silver linings in civil wars and the suffering that they create, let alone in the rise of ISIS and its horrific and heinous activities, the creation of a common interest, through common enemies, between the US, Russia, and Iran may be one of them. Especially if this common interest can be extended to each state’s clients. Events in Syria should be watched very carefully over the next few days to see what develops.

* My concern over the potential use of the hardened and radicalized Chechen fighters to carry out actions in Europe or the US (or Canada or anywhere else) is not meant to devalue the legitimate grievances that the Chechen people have with both the Russian government and even more specifically with President Putin and his proxy strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. One of the hallmarks of just revolution concepts is that an oppressed people always retains both the right to self defense and to fight to overthrow their oppressors. The Chechens, like everyone else, have the right to determine for themselves how they wish to order their state and society. A right that has largely been denied because of Russian meddling.

Feeling The Something, Alright

Something something feet of clay and all that.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders said he wouldn’t end the lethal drone program on Sunday in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“I think we have to use drones very, very selectively and effectively. That has not always been the case,” Sanders said. “What you can argue is that there are times and places where drone attacks have been effective.”

Well yeah, if they weren’t effective, they wouldn’t be used at all.  Of course, there are people who would prefer that military drones would in fact not be used.

Bernie ain’t one of them, just so you know.

And the Home of the Brave

Regardless what you may think about whether or not Chelsea Manning deserves to be in jail, this is straight up ridiculous:

The fourth charge, “medicine misuse”, follows an inspection of Manning’s cell on 9 July during which a tube of anti-cavity toothpaste was found. The prison authorities noted that Manning was entitled to have the toothpaste in her cell, but is penalizing her because it was “past its expiration date of 9 April 2015”.

The “prohibited property” charge relates to a number of books and magazines that were found in her cell and confiscated. They included the memoir I Am Malala by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, a novel featuring trans women called A Safe Girl to Love, the LGBT publication Out Magazine, the Caitlyn Jenner issue of Vanity Fair and a copy of Cosmopolitan that included an interview with Manning.

Also confiscated was the US Senate report on torture.

This nation has really become a bunch of craven cowards.