Archive for the ‘Syria’ Category

Kool aid

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

via GIPHY

I must admit that I remain astonished at our current political landscape.

We have a Congress who are attempting to take healthcare away from at least 22M people in the name of what? Reducing premiums for the young and healthy? Providing the first of many big tax cuts to the wealthy? Further punishing the poor, sick, and old just because they can? Because we need something to replace Obamacare because we promised something better? How do you then explain a plan that costs more, covers less, threatens those with pre-existing conditions, does nothing to address the basic drivers increasing healthcare costs, and essentially eliminates Medicaid as we know it?

Then we have a President encouraging Congress to repeal Obamacare completely without any replacement as some sort of punishment to Democrats for not supporting him. If he can’t have what he wants, nobody can. Those 32M people who suddenly find themselves without healthcare can just go to the emergency room (Mitt Romney’s solution the problem of the uninsured).

It isn’t even enough to discover that the new healthcare bill will cause premature deaths to rise by approximately 29,000 a year as a result of lost insurance. Medical bankruptcies will again begin to rise after a decline during the ACA years.

We even have Republicans suggesting that the best way to deal with opioid addiction is to inform addicts that public safety officials can only afford to save their lives with Nar can three times. The fourth time they overdose, public safety officials are instructed to just let them die. Why? Because saving their lives is too expensive.

We’ve got reports that Russian hackers discussed gaining access to Clinton emails during the 2016 campaign and providing them through an intermediary to Michael Flynn.

We’ve got Mitch McConnell saying that he has $200B to play with and should be able to buy some votes. He has $200B to play with BECAUSE the Senate bill kicks so many people off of the healthcare insurance rolls so much faster than the House bill that instead of saving $119B over the next decade, the number is more than $300B.

We’ve got the war ratcheting up in Syria and Afghanistan with nary a peep from Trump supporters.

We watched a truly cringe-worth round robin of ring kissing from Trump’s staff and cabinet. Normally those things only happen in dictatorships and religions.

We’ve got Trump demonstrating on a daily basis that he has no idea what he is doing. His attempt to rally the senatorial troops to get a vote on his healthcare bill was embarrassing. It’s so bad, that McConnell had to chew out Priebus calling a Trump PAC’s attacks on Nev. Senator Heller for his opposition of the Senate healthcare bill “beyond stupid”.

There is all of this and more and what does everyone get upset about?

Trump picks another fight with a female news person.

Republicans can’t seem to muster the courage to call him and the Republican leadership out for their cynical attempts to pass a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the wealthy. They secretly cringe when he obsessively thrusts himself back into the spotlight taking focus away from their attempts actually get something done. They continue to defend him as the evidence mounts regarding his campaign’s involvement with the Russians and his own attempts to obstruct the FBI investigation.

You’ve got Paul Ryan defending the large number of uninsured in the Republican bill by claiming that most people don’t want healthcare insurance. Exactly the opposite is true. The main reason people don’t have health insurance is because they can’t afford it.

But even he felt compelled to say something about how inappropriate Trump’s attacks are.

Some folks in the White House think that they are somehow “winning” when Trump demonstrates that he is a petulant narcissist. In their view, these events galvanize their base because it forces them to swallow yet another gulp of the Trump Kool-Aide which inoculates them against reality and demonizes the only source of unbiased information that could possibly save them.

But even some of these have decided that this recent tweet may have been a bridge too far.

So if this is what it takes to finally get us to a point where Trump can be held accountable for his failures to fulfill his responsibilities as President, I hope that the Morning Joe reality-TV battle is only the first of a long series of attacks, each more demeaning and mean spirited than the last.

Perhaps that will be the missing ingredient to break the Trump spell for enough of his current supporters that we can finally start a rational discussion about the consequences of incompetence.

In the meantime, we’ll have to continue to witness to Trump’s feeble attempts to govern with a weak 40% approval rating and an even weaker understanding of how to function in the most powerful elected office in the world.

As I already mentioned, last week Trump called GOP holdouts to the White House for some old fashioned arm twisting around the stalled Senate healthcare bill. What happened? Nothing. Nobody changed their vote. Why? Because when the House bill was in a similar situation, he threatened intransigent conservatives that he would actively campaign against them if they didn’t drop their demands. What happened? They called his bluff. He caved and gave into their demands. They passed a bill that now has no chance of passing the Senate.

He has strong support among Republicans. Where are his appeals to his base and Republicans in general to support the Senate efforts? Shouldn’t this be a natural instinct for a “master salesman”? Instead he has been criticizing the bill. When he calls the bill “mean” and implies that it is cheap, how many Senators are going to be willing to take a hard vote? He is already telling them that he is going to protect himself if this whole thing goes south.

He has even undercut his lead dog in this fight, majority leader McConnell. McConnell has been working every angle he can think of wrangle the handful of votes he needs to get this thing passed and Trump undercuts those efforts with a tweet suggesting that it may be time to throw in the towel and just repeal Obamacare without any replacement. That’s what Rand Paul wants to do, not Mitch McConnell.

What does all of this mean?

It is not going to get better. Trump isn’t going to change and the realities of how politics works are also not going to change.

What will change is the voter’s opinions of Trump and those who support him. We will discover that like many other things about this President, his unwavering kool-aid-loving support is small too. We’ll see how this plays out in the 2018 election.

Whoomp

Monday, June 19th, 2017

 

The next big test of the Trump presidency is sneaking up on him. As I predicted, the domestic challenges that this administration has been dealing with will pale in comparison to international events where there is the very real possibility of escalation.

Trump’s generals told him and Congress that we are losing the war in Afghanistan. Trump agreed to send 4000 more troops into the area. What is Trump’s strategy? It appears that it is to do whatever the Pentagon asks him to do. These are the same generals that he criticized during his campaign about their strategies in the Middle East.

In past administrations, the State Department served as a balance to the Pentagon regarding policy and strategy. Trump and Tillerson have abandoned that role in their vision of a much smaller State Department. Those civilian State Department foreign policy experts no longer exist.

Gen. Mattis told the Senate that “Reconciliation” was the goal in Afghanistan. He was unable to articulate a strategy to accomplish that goal. The only apparent strategy is a response to what the Mattis described as a “Taliban surge”.

Trump is also expanding the war in Syria. The first step was firing missiles in retaliation for Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Yesterday, US forces shot down a Syrian jet that was bombing US-backed fighters near Tabqah. The US military said that they notified the Russians that they were planning to target this airplane using a communications system that was setup during the Obama administration. Russia denied receiving the message. Russia claimed they were going to shut that system down after Trump’s missile attack. They now say they are no longer going to accept these messages in the future. Instead Russia warned that US aircraft will be treated as targets going forward.

Trump has promised closer ties with Russia in a coordinated effort to fight ISIS.

That hasn’t happened.

Instead we have the same escalation in Syria that experts warned of when Trump talked about a military solution to the Syrian conflict.

That leaves us with a couple of questions.

  1. How will Trump respond when the additional troops sent to Afghanistan don’t have the desired effect and his efforts are criticized?
  2. How will Trump respond when Syria or Russia shoots down one of our aircraft in Syria?

The honest answer is that we don’t know.

That is just another problem with this administration. If the strategy of having no strategy actually works, we can all be grateful. If, on the other hand, it puts our military in a situation where they can’t win and introduces the threat of escalation into a much bigger conflict – is the risk worth the reward?

The Trump administration now owns both the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria. They seem to have abandoned the Obama strategies of winding down the Afghanistan war and containing ISIS.  They replaced those strategies with short-term Pentagon-lead tactics. History tells us that tactics are particularly ineffective in resolving asymmetrical conflicts. Ultimately strategy and diplomacy are required because as Admiral James Stavridis famously said, “You can’t kill your way to success in a counter insurgency effort.”

The only remaining question is when will Trump supporters hold Trump and his administration accountable for the failure to have a coherent foreign policy?

Donnie’s Got a Gun

Friday, April 7th, 2017

fembots

Trump took action in Syria.

As he had previously said, he now owns it.

But one action does not a policy make. It isn’t clear what the Trump policy in Syria is, other than a warning to Assad that he can’t use chemical weapons and a threat that the US is now seeking regime change.

Lack of a clear policy as well as Trump’s apparent “go it alone” preference, leave us in a precarious place.

Here’s why.

Russia
Syria is Russia’s opportunity to be a player in the Middle East. Russia has its largest military base outside its own borders there. They are the primary reason why Assad is still in power. They have also ratcheted up the risk to the US in Syria by canceling the cooperative agreement that kept US and Russian jets out of each other’s way. Tillerson has talks coming up in Russia. At this point, there is little that he or the Trump administration can offer Russia to obtain some cooperation in Syria. Instead it is likely that Assad and perhaps Russia will both strike back. How will Trump respond if Assad gases somebody else or attacks US positions in the north? How will he respond if Russia cranks up something in the Ukraine or maybe Libya?

ISIS
Trump took his eye off the ball by striking Assad. He has said all along that his goal was ISIS, but now it appears that his goal has widened to remaking Syria. That is dangerous. Taking down Assad doesn’t mean a stable western-friendly government will replace him. Syria is much more likely to join the long list of failed states where the power vacuum is filled by another radical jihadist organization. On the other hand, the original goal of eliminating just ISIS had its own unpleasant consequences. With ISIS out of the way, Assad would likely win his civil war and Russia and Iran would gain power in the region.

Plan
It isn’t clear that there is any plan here. Weakening Assad will in fact end up prolonging the conflict in Syria. More chaos provides more opportunity for ISIS, generates more refuges which continue to cause problems in Europe, and ultimately more innocents are killed. Eliminating ISIS strengthens Assad and Russia. That will also result in more persecutions, more refugees, and likely more Russian and Iranian activity.

Summary
Trump is being tested in a very public way at a time when he is most vulnerable at home. His approval ratings are at historic lows. His own party is in disarray. He badly needs a win to turn things around. The problem is that there is no clear path to a win in Syria. Trump took military action in order to respond to one incident in what has been a long and brutal civil war. How will he respond to the next incident?

He has expanded his scope in Syria to include bringing down Assad. He is going to need Russia’s help to do that and Russia isn’t interested. They like Assad right where he is. What Trump has done instead is set himself up for long term failure in return for the short term gain of a little popularity boost.

Worse yet, by taking this provocative step, he has opened himself up to a series of potential escalations without any clear understanding of how they all might play out. It will take some focus off of his domestic struggles, but at what cost?

He doesn’t have an experienced staff of diplomats in place right now to guide his actions. Our military leaders are his primary source of information. The weaknesses that he has already displayed in dealing with domestic issues combined with a bias toward military action may create an international crisis that could be Trump’s final undoing.