The Battle for Fallujah (Has Once Again) Begun!

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Earlier today, which is already tomorrow in Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi announced that Iraqi Forces (regular Iraqi Army and [most likely the National] Police, as well as irregular forces from the sectarian and tribal militias) had begun their operations to retake Fallujah. From the Iraqi perspective, specifically the Iraqi leadership’s perspective, this is necessary to take the remaining Islamic State pressure off of Baghdad. This is because Baghdad as the seat of government is the core of Iraq for the Iraqi leadership, whether it makes strategic, operational, or tactical sense.

What should be of great concern to everyone is whether the fate of Fallujah is similar to that of Ramadi. The Iraqis retook it, but it was reduced to rubble. And as Major Mohammed Hussein, a member of the counter-terrorism battalion that was first into Ramadi at the start of the offensive remarked: “All they (Islamic State) leave is rubble. You can’t do anything with rubble.” Islamic State has, apparently, mined and wired explosives throughout Fallujah as they did in Ramadi and there is a large civilian population trapped within the city and behind the enemy lines. The Iraqi’s have conducted an Information Operation informing these civilians to fly white flags from their buildings so they won’t be targeted by the Iraqi Forces. Unfortunately if they do so they will be targeted by the Islamic State Forces for collaboration.

Here’s what Ramadi looks like now:

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* Image from Voice of America.

** Images found here.








EgyptAir Flight MS804 Update

Despite reports that wreckage from EgyptAir flight MS 804 had been found, the plane is still missing. The airline is reporting that the wreckage that has been recovered is not from their missing aircraft. While it will be impossible to know exactly what happened until wreckage, including the flight recorders, is found, speculation has already begun that it was an act of terrorism. More specifically it has become part of the presidential primary back and forth between Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump. What I find interesting about this is that none of the groups that one would expect to have made claims of a successful terrorist attack have done so yet. There is one erroneous report from a news agency I’ve never heard of claiming that an Islamic State’s news agency has claimed responsibility. It sources this to the Islamic State’s news agency, but provides no links to their statement.  The only place that this unsourced report has been referenced is at the notoriously unreliable Gateway Pundit, where its already been updated to indicate that this has not been verified on the Islamic State’s news agency’s twitter feed. The link to that twitter feed goes to an account suspended page.

Whether or not this one seeming erroneous report proves out as true or not, the lack of claims of responsibility are very interesting. There are complete update timelines at both the Guardian and BBC articles I’ve linked to above if you’re looking for updates from responsible news media outlets. The updates provide information on what is known now, such as the behavior of the plane based on its radar returns, prior to the crash. As soon as more detailed information comes out, we’ll update. Please remember that as is the case with every type of incident like this, information is moving quickly between multiple sources involved with the search and investigation, and anything reported within the first 72-96 hours may or may not turn out to be accurate.

Consider the comments an open thread to talk about whatever.








Iraqi State of Emergency: The Parliamentary Occupation

Yesterday a large number of Iraqi Shi’a stormed into the Green Zone in protest and occupied the Iraqi Parliament. The immediate driver of this activity was a call by Muqtada al Sadr for the Iraqi Parliament to actually convene and take a vote on pending legislation to force Iraqi Prime Minister al Abadi to replace ministers with non-partisan technocrats. The real cause of the unrest is with the way power is currently portioned out within the Iraqi government, which is partially done by sectarian allotment among Sunni Arabs, Shi’a Arabs, and Kurds. When the current Iraqi government’s institutions and structures were being rebuilt one of the reforms was a very, very soft form of consociational (confessional) representation. Perhaps the best known example of this type of system is in Lebanon where certain numbers of seats in the Lebanese Parliament and certain ministerial and military positions are reserved for members of specific Lebanese sects in order to force power sharing, compromise, and the creation of a functional civil space among the often hostile and antagonistic Lebanese sects.

Iraq’s system isn’t a full consociational system as the elections to Parliament are based on party lists, not sectarian quotas regarding seats. Though in practice the party lists have produced a Shi’a majority bloc, with both Kurdish, Sunni, and mixed sectarian minority blocs within the Iraqi Parliament. Iraq’s consociational system instead focuses on having some ministerial positions allotted in a consociational manner to force power sharing and compromise. It has, unfortunately, not always worked effectively, and has been a source of serious contention, and a conduit for corruption. One of Prime Minister al Abadi’s goals has been the reform of this system by transitioning it away from consociationalism based on sectarian confession (Shi’a and Sunni) and ethnicity (Kurd) and towards a technocratic form of government. Unfortunately this has been stalled out; largely because those currently benefiting from the consociational system don’t want to give up those benefits so the legislation is stalled and a quorum cannot be produced in Parliament. The longer it drags on, the more the frustration grows. And today a lot of that boiled over. The good news is that the Iraqi Security Forces are not treating this as a type of activity that requires a counterterrorism response. This is a very good sign and watching the response of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Interior Ministry will provide us with important information going forward.

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Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Speech Part the Second: The Trump Doctrine

I’ve had a chance to read and reread the transcript of Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech, as well as reflect on both what was written and what was delivered. I will leave the fiskings and point by point takedowns of the contradictions, flaws in logic, petty vindictiveness, and inconsistencies to others. I want, instead, to focus in on the core of the address, which could, perhaps, be referred to the Trump Doctrine. The Trump Doctrine, at its core, can be boiled down to America (we) will be treated fairly. As I wrote yesterday in my initial impressions, this is essentially National Security Narcissism. The Trump Doctrine of America being treated fairly runs through all of the five weaknesses he identified in his remarks. Even when those weaknesses don’t bear a lot of close scrutiny or resemble reality or contradict each other. More than that, however, is that the Trump Doctrine is really the animating force or theme of the entire Trump campaign. The other candidates had better treat Donald Trump fairly, the Republican National Committee better treat Donald Trump fairly, the Republican establishment better treat Donald Trump fairly, the media better treat Donald Trump fairly, the state level parties that handle the primaries and all the delegates chosen better treat Donald Trump fairly. And Donald Trump will make them treat him fairly! And the only candidate, nay the only person in America who can ensure that you are treated fairly is Donald Trump. And if he isn’t treated fairly or the US isn’t treated fairly, then he will get even!

In one way this is pure genius. It seamlessly connects the domestic and foreign policy, for lack of a better term because there really has been no discussion of policies (or even the shorthand of ends and objectives by Mr. Trump or his campaign surrogates), within the campaign’s messaging. And by doing so it reaches right out to and connects with those supporting Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and ambitions. The average American, in some cases even the above average American, really does not know how policy is formulated or strategy is developed for domestic issues, let alone for foreign or defense issues. Donald Trump’s speech yesterday cut through all of that reality – that how the official business of America at the Federal, state, and municipal levels is done is often arcane and messy – and reached right for his supporter’s guts. Donald Trump has consistently been telling Americans – in his Washington Post interview, as well as the one in the New York Times,  in his media appearances, at debates and town halls, and at his rallies – that they are being taken advantage of and that only Donald Trump can stop this. All he’s now done is formally extend it into the realm of foreign and defense policy and connect the pieces together.

So what does the Trump Doctrine, America will be treated fairly, really mean? Donald Trump has provided some explanation. NATO members must start paying their minimums and the alliance’s focus must be adjusted for a post Cold War world. Never mind that the Obama Administration was already engaging on the European defense spending issue and that NATO has already adjusted their mission set for the post Cold War world. Our other allies and partners must actually pay us for the privilege of our partnerships.  The reality is that South Korea and Japan, who were both explicitly mentioned in this regard, already do so. And while there was a small amount of aid given to Saudi Arabia for military training, $10,000, that is not even a rounding error in the foreign military sales budget. It also means that if trade deals don’t actually work out to the US’s advantage, that the US will simply walk away from them. While this may work in private business deals in the US, it is not that simple when dealing with multilateral agreements negotiated through diplomatic channels. Of course it may also not mean any of these things as it is not at all clear that beyond the concept of fair treatment, Mr. Trump has actually thought through most of what would happen should he, as President, try to respond when he feels that the US has not been treated fairly.

The only people that should be happy with Mr. Trump’s foreign policy remarks are Vladimir Putin, the leadership of the People’s Republic of China, and the Islamic extremists running the Islamic State and al Qaeda. Mr. Trump’s doctrine of America will be treated fairly screams a revanchist approach to foreign and defense policy. Should the US not be treated fairly, the US will then retaliate. Maybe that’s taking our things and going home. Maybe that’s getting even. Maybe its something else, but because Donald Trump’s emphasis is on unpredictability there is no way to really know.

Vladimir Putin must be thrilled. Especially over the tough talk directed towards NATO and the EU, China and the Middle East. One of the cores of Putinism is to roll back NATO’s post Cold War expansion and weaken, if not outright dissolve, the EU. Both because he feels they are interfering in his near abroad and because part of Putinism is also revanchist; seeking retribution (h/t for both to: Stiftungleostrauss) for American and European predation on a weak post Soviet Russia. Putin also would love to have the US pull back from the Middle East and Asia so he could extend his influence there, as well as open up new opportunities and markets.

Similarly, the Chinese leadership would love for the US, in a snit, to take its expeditionary military presence in the Asia-Pacific region and go home. It seems to have escaped Mr. Trump’s notice that the only thing keeping China from not just fully capturing the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands, but from China’s actions in regard to them from turning into a full out Asian-Pacific war is that the US’s military presence keeps the sea and ground lines of commerce and communication open in the region. The People’s Republic would be thrilled if the US pulled its personnel out of Japan and South Korea and ended regional exercises in a snit of alleged unfair treatment. They would also, just like Vladimir Putin, like to be able to seek new opportunities in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Arab North Africa. They are already pursuing their own interests in all of these places, as well as sub-Saharan Africa, so having the US pull out because its new President’s feeling were hurt would be a dream come true.

Finally, the Islamic extremists that run the Islamic State and al Qaeda are most likely giving prayers of thanks every time Mr. Trump talks about excluding Muslims from the US, going after not just suspected and identified terrorists, but members of their families as well, and bringing back water boarding and then adding worse – whatever worse is. Aside from alienating the leadership of the Muslim majority countries that we need to be partnered with to contain and ultimately attrit the Islamic State and al Qaeda until they are incapable of causing the harm, destruction, and chaos they currently do, Mr. Trump’s remarks are the best recruiting material an Islamic extremist could ask for. Rather than having to destroy the gray zone themselves in order to force Muslims to chose a side, the Islamic State and al Qaeda can sit back and watch Mr. Trump’s rhetoric do it for them. And then leverage it in recruiting materials.

While Donald Trump’s doctrine of America will be treated fairly may not make a lot of specific policy sense in regard to the global system that the US exists within, it makes perfect sense as a campaign theme to further connect Trump with his supporters. The real genius behind the Trump Doctrine is that it is Donald Trump’s promise to his supporters and anyone amenable to his message that: Donald Trump will be treated fairly, only Donald Trump can ensure Americans will be treated fairly, and only Donald Trump can ensure that America will be treated fairly. National Security Narcissism indeed.








Donald Trump Foreign Policy Speech: Part 1.5 – Initial Impressions

Once I can get my hands on a transcript I’ll do a longer and fuller treatment. My initial impression and key take away from Mr. Trump’s foreign policy remarks is that the Trump Doctrine is: America will be treated fairly. Essentially National Security and Foreign Policy Narcissism. It is all about us and being treated well, properly, fairly however Mr. Trump defines those things. More to follow later on.