The Devolution Of A Superpower & The End Of The American Century Part II: Levantine Edition

Earlier today MSNBC’s Ali Velshi interviewed Ronen Bergman, the Senior National Security Correspondent for Yedioth Ahronot. Bergman book on Israel’s assassination program has just been published, but the interview never actually got to the book. Rather, it was all about the Israeli Vs Syrian and Iranian fighting over the weekend. The discussion was illuminating, alarming, and discouraging (click across to see the video as it won’t embed).

Bergman is reporting that Israel was preparing a full scale operation against the Syrian military, the Iranian Quds Force, and Hezbullah on Saturday in response to the drone incursion and the downing of the IAF F-16I. The operation was called off when Prime Minister Netanyahu got an angry phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin telling him to stand down as this operation would put Russian military assets and personnel in Syria at risk. Bergman’s conclusion is that the US has now ceded its role in the Middle East to Russia. And that Putin may not have the region’s well being, let alone stability in mind, as he pursues his own agenda. Bergman also reported that when the Israelis went to the US and asked for them to get involved the American responses were a combination of less than reassuring to non responsive. As a result the Israelis, specifically Netanyahu, have concluded that the US is now disinterested and not willing to be engaged at the national and regional strategic level. Therefore the Israelis will make their own determinations about what to do, when to do it, and how to do it without concern for what the US may or may not want.

Bergman’s reporting should be shocking. And not just to national security and foreign policy hawks. There is a legitimate discussion to be had about the US’s role in the world, or in specific regions of it, and how better to balance other states involvement in the 21st Century global system. Essentially a long overdue discussion about what the global system should be, how it should be organized, who should guarantee a basic level of security within it, and who should be the rule maker or rule makers, as the post World War II and post Cold War international orders break down and need to be replaced. These discussions require intelligence, forethought and foresight, nuance, reason, the ability to negotiate in good faith and communicate across cultures to balance competing interests. From long established powers like the US to emerging powers like China to smaller, but regionally significant powers.

What Bergman describes as happening in the Middle East, as well as in other parts of the world, is not this. Rather it is simply an abandonment, a discarding with little to no thought, let alone apparent planning, for what comes next. This is not a recipe for success. It is a recipe for failure. It is a recipe for upheaval, discord, and ultimately more war, more death, and more destruction. It is both the devolution and the dissolution of a superpower as that superpower, the US, abrogates and abandons the responsibilities it has assumed over the past 70 years and the end of the American Century. This is not the result of being eclipsed by the next, rising hegemon. It is not the result of natural disaster or economic collapse. It is solely the result of a President that has no clear strategy or policy beyond “I will be treated fairly or else”. This is the true Trump Doctrine: I will be treated fairly or else. And only I, President Trump, can ensure that America will be treated fairly or else. Unfortunately for the US, for its allies, its partners, for the people that depend on it, Russia, China, Iran, the DPRK, and a whole host of other state and non-state actors don’t really care if the President or the US is treated fairly. And increasingly they don’t seem to be worrying too much about the or else.

Open thread.

A Battle of Eight Armies: Syria Update

Events have begun to spin out of control in Syria. Last week the Israelis lost an IAF F-16I Fighting Falcon. Though both the pilots were able to safely eject and survived. They came down in Israeli controlled territoryThe Israelis, of course, responded to the downing of their F-16 with a large scale reprisal. This included shooting down an Iranian drone – based on the US drone the Iranians downed in 2011. So we can now confirm that actually happened.

While this Israeli Vs Iranian in support of Syria and backed by Russia engagement was happening, the Syrian/Iranian/Russian coalition stepped up their attacks on Idlib and Ghouta.

The Turks lost a rotary wing (helicopter) craft last week as well. It was shot down by the US allied Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) near Afrin. Two Turkish Soldiers were killed.

Syrian Arab Armed Forces also conducted an attack against the US allied Kurds, which prompted a response from the US led coalition – Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF OIR):

US Special Operations Forces (SOF) are currently stationed in Manbij in a train, advise, and assist mission to the YPG.

It has been reported that anywhere between 100 (the official-ish number) and 600 Russian contractors fighting in Syria were killed in the US Coalition strikes last week.

While LTG Funk, Commander 1st Corps US Army and Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve talked about deconfliction and deescalation in the CNN clip above, he has a battlespace that is becoming more and more complex by the day. There are a lot of moving pieces in his operating environment (OE): Kurdish militia forces being supported by US SOF, the Syrian Arab Army and Air Force, Russian contractors, Iran’s Qud’s Force, Hezbullah’s military wing in support of Syria and Iran, the Turkish military, and Israel. And don’t forget ISIS. They may have lost almost all of the territory they seized to form their caliphate, but they are by no means finished. That is a lot of deconfliction and deescalation!

Moreover, while all of this is going on, and the US is being sucked deeper into the mess that is the Syrian Civil War, Russia continues to expand its interests in the region. In November it struck a deal with Egypt for basing Russian Air Force planes. Just last week the Russians and the Sudanese (that’s the northern, Republic of Sudan of the Sudans) came to an agreement for Russian military support to train and modernize the Sudanese Army.

Finally, it is unclear what the official US response will be. While the US led coalition is sticking with its Kurdish allies in Syria, it is unclear what decision will be made in DC by the National Command Authority. The President’s predilection for Russian President Vladimir Putin has kept the new, Congressionally mandated sanctions from being imposedAnd it appears that the decision to get rid of the Interagency produced, properly put together list of Russians to be named and shamed was made by a senior administration official, which lead to the rush job copy and paste from Forbes that was released.

A “name-and-shame” list of Russian oligarchs who made their money corruptly from their ties with Vladimir Putin was compiled by the US government agencies but then cancelled last week by a senior administration official, according to a Russia expert who was consulted on the list.

It was replaced by an all-inclusive list of rich Russians apparently copied straight from the Forbes magazine’s ranking of wealthy Russians, together with the names of some top Kremlin officials.

While the President has been very solicitous of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan even as Erdogan drags Turkey farther and farther into autocracy, he also warned the Turks against escalating against the US led coalition in Syria. The Turks have disputed the US account of this conversation.

U.S. President Donald Trump urged Turkey on Wednesday to curtail its military operation in Syria and warned it not to bring U.S. and Turkish forces into conflict, but a Turkish source said a White House readout did not accurately reflect the conversation.

“He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties,” a White House statement said. “He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”

However, a Turkish source said the White House statement did not accurately reflect the content of their phone call.

“President Trump did not share any ‘concerns about escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin,” the source said, referring to one comment in the White House summary of their conversation.

 “The two leaders’ discussion of Operation Olive Branch was limited to an exchange of views,” the source said.
Right now there are a lot of moving pieces in Syria. All of them are rubbing against each other in a confined (battle) space. And the alliances don’t really line up with how the President seems to see the world. He’s favorably inclined to Putin and Erdogan. Yet the former is allied with the Syrians, Iranians, and Hezbullah and the latter’s actions have the potential to pit NATO allies against each other. Since there is no clearly delineated US policy, or rather policy change, to what the US is trying to achieve in the Syrian part of the Levantine theater from the past administration to the current one, it is unclear what the President really wants to do. How deep he wants the US and the US led coalition involved in the Syrian Civil War. And just what end state he envisions as a result of the US’s actions in this highly complex theater of operations.

Stay frosty!

Open thread!

Ronald Reagan Was “Anti-Israel” And Obama Isn’t (But Should Be)

It is a common meme among the American Right that Obama is anti-Israel. This despite Obama giving huge military aid to the Israelis, just like every recent American president, defending them at the UN, and doing little to nothing to stop anything the Israelis have done over the past few  years.

A lot of these memes seem to be based on Obama sometimes saying that Israel should maybe stop colonizing the West Bank, and maybe move towards making a just peace (nothing out of the ordinary for American presidents, but this one is black and has a foreign-sounding name, so that probably makes the Adelson-types angry).

We have, however, had presidents who did restrict the flow of aid and weapons to Israel when its behavior spun out of control. Here’s Ronald Reagan in 1982, following massacres in Lebanon:



Reagan went even further in private conversations with the Israeli leadership, from Reagan’s diaries:



Reagan’s vice president, who later became president, was Bush Sr. Bush Sr. got into a pitched battle with Congress to actually delay aid to Israel to force them to come to peace negotiations. Here’s the press conference where he announced the delay, and bragged about taking on “1,000” Israel lobbyists.

Obama, on the other hand, waited for weeks of the Israeli offensive before condemning a single action (the shelling of a packed school being used as a shelter this morning). While he did this, the U.S. government has simultaneously been shipping weapons to the Israelis, in real-time.

In other words, Obama is much more pro-Israel than Republican Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr (and some would argue W as well). Yet he gets pilloried as the opposite by the Israeli and American right, which is probably at least partly driven by racism. The biggest losers? Palestinians. But Israel, ultimately, loses a well. A good friend is capable of taking away the keys when you’re drunk.

Atlanta Pro-Israel Protesters Bring Assault Rifles, Handguns, Call Islam Religion Of Death

There’s been a lot of attention placed on antisemitism at Palestinian solidarity rallies, particularly in Europe (the ADL has tried to make the same case for protests in the United States, but their evidence amounts mostly to a handful of signs comparing Israel to Nazis).

What’s been given less attention is the blatant extremism of the pro-Israel movement in the U.S.

Yesterday a friend and I attended a solidarity rally with Gaza outside the CNN Center in Atlanta. The organizers of the event worked with the American Friends Service Committee, a pacifist quaker organization, and made clear in their organizing instructions that we were not there to agitate against any religion or ethnic group and that it would not tolerate hate.

The rally was pretty refreshing and free of the hyperbole you see at a lot of Palestinian solidarity events. I only saw one sign directly comparing Israel to the Nazis, and a kid who looked like he was twelve and made it himself was holding it, so he’s got a little time to learn the unhelpfulness of that comparison.

Here are some pictures courtesy of my friend @brassiest.



The crowd was multi-ethnic, including black, white, and brown people, Muslims, Jews, and atheists. I would say the crowd was majority Muslim, but it still had  the diversity you don’t typically see at pro-Israel events.

Unfortunately, you can’t say the same for the pro-Israel protesters at the event (who appeared to be the same crowd that held a larger rally earlier this week that, sadly, Jason Carter attended). Here’s some of the nice fellows on that side:


These individuals were carrying rifles and hand guns that appeared to be semi-automatic (I’m not an expert on weapons, so I can’t really say what they were).

When I first encountered them I sort of assumed they just showed up — Islamophobic nuts who wanted to show off their Wal-Mart weapons to a largely Muslim crowd.

Then I went on the Facebook page of the event and it appears that one of the organizers, Ronen Asher, who writes on his  profile page that he’s originally from Tel Aviv, invited them:




Then there was rhetoric like this from protestors, who explained to the press: “This is not about Israel vs. Gaza, this is about a religion that values life versus a religion that values death.” Keep in mind that this is what one of them was willing to say directly to a reporter:


This is who politicians, Democrats and Republicans, are siding with and pandering to.

As far as I know, nobody from AFSC called the Atlanta PD to make sure they could protect us from these guys.

UPDATE: Had to add this pic, the hat is too good



Jeffrey Goldberg Concern Trolls About Dead Muslims In Not-Gaza

Concern trolling is a fine art in politics, especially on the Internets.

Case in point: Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic and Bloomberg View staffer who writes almost exclusively about Israel and perceived threats to Israel (he’s a former Israeli prison guard who admitted to beating prisoners, FYI).

Now, he’s complaining people are writing too much about Israel:


He wrote a whole article about how Syria is being ignored and people are “obsessed” with Gaza.

Goldberg pointing to Other Dead Muslims to distract from Israeli behavior isn’t new. Here he is in 2012:


If there were enough Muslims in the press to be offended by this tactic, they would probably call him out on it. It’s pretty obvious why the U.S. should be focused on Gaza and in particular the American press — because our political system is arming Israel and defending it, it isn’t arming or defending Assad or Boko Haram. It’s also been going on for fifty years of statelessness for the Palestinians.

By the way, Goldberg had a long interview with Obama in 2012, asking him about  Israels nemesis Iran but not Pakistan once.


Just had to add this line in the aforementioned Goldberg column:

Judging by the number and scale of anti-Assad protests (or anti-ISIS protests) in the Muslim world, she is obviously on to something. The Muslim world does seem more interested in Arabs who are killed by Jews than in Arabs killed by Arabs, and I’m guessing that this influences the scope and scale of the Gaza coverage as well. 

I have been flooded with invitations to Syrian protests, fundraisers, and charity work since the revolution began in 2011. Thousands of Muslims care so much about getting rid of Assad that they’ve volunteered as foreign fighters to risk their lives to do it. Goldberg can ignore this, I guess, because he’s the ex-IDF prison guard who is The Expert On Muslims and the media seems fine to keep it that way.

CNN Poll: Liberals, Democrats, Poor, Women Most Likely To Oppose Israeli War, White Men Most Supportive

There is a reorientation going on right now with respect to the Israel Lobby. It used to be that it found its base of support among Democrats, with Republicans like Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush being the ones most likely to be critical of Israeli policy.

A new CNN poll finds that things are changing. Check out these crosstabs on whether people think Israel is using “too much,” “too little” or just the right amount of violence (its like porridge):



A few interesting things: the bulk of support for Israel comes from whites, with slightly more coming from those with incomes above the median. The majority of liberals oppose Israel’s level of violence, and 50 percent, a plurality, of minorities do the same. Women are also considerably more opposed.

In other words, the issue of Israel and the Palestinians is being polarized — with liberals increasingly believing that Israel is mistreating the Palestinians, and conservatives holding the opposite view.

I noticed that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has been trying to hire a progressive policy analyst since November, whose job is to do outreach to progressives. Poor guys can’t seem to fill it.