January 3, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


THE SHADOW COMMANDER: Qassem Suleimani is the Iranian operative who has been reshaping the Middle East. Now he's directing Assad's war in Syria. (Dexter Filkins, September 23, 2013, The New Yorker)

Iran's leaders took two lessons from the Iran-Iraq War. The first was that Iran was surrounded by enemies, near and far. To the regime, the invasion was not so much an Iraqi plot as a Western one. American officials were aware of Saddam's preparations to invade Iran in 1980, and they later provided him with targeting information used in chemical-weapons attacks; the weapons themselves were built with the help of Western European firms. The memory of these attacks is an especially bitter one. "Do you know how many people are still suffering from the effects of chemical weapons?" Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said. "Thousands of former soldiers. They believe these were Western weapons given to Saddam." In 1987, during a battle with the Iraqi Army, a division under Suleimani's command was attacked by artillery shells containing chemical weapons. More than a hundred of his men suffered the effects.

The other lesson drawn from the Iran-Iraq War was the futility of fighting a head-to-head confrontation. In 1982, after the Iranians expelled the Iraqi forces, Khomeini ordered his men to keep going, to "liberate" Iraq and push on to Jerusalem. Six years and hundreds of thousands of lives later, he agreed to a ceasefire. According to Alfoneh, many of the generals of Suleimani's generation believe they could have succeeded had the clerics not flinched. "Many of them feel like they were stabbed in the back," he said. "They have nurtured this myth for nearly thirty years." But Iran's leaders did not want another bloodbath. Instead, they had to build the capacity to wage asymmetrical warfare--attacking stronger powers indirectly, outside of Iran. [...]

After taking command, Suleimani strengthened relationships in Lebanon, with Mughniyeh and with Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's chief. By then, the Israeli military had occupied southern Lebanon for sixteen years, and Hezbollah was eager to take control of the country, so Suleimani sent in Quds Force operatives to help. "They had a huge presence--training, advising, planning," Crocker said. In 2000, the Israelis withdrew, exhausted by relentless Hezbollah attacks. It was a signal victory for the Shiites, and, Crocker said, "another example of how countries like Syria and Iran can play a long game, knowing that we can't."

Since then, the regime has given aid to a variety of militant Islamist groups opposed to America's allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The help has gone not only to Shiites but also to Sunni groups like Hamas--helping to form an archipelago of alliances that stretches from Baghdad to Beirut. "No one in Tehran started out with a master plan to build the Axis of Resistance, but opportunities presented themselves," a Western diplomat in Baghdad told me. "In each case, Suleimani was smarter, faster, and better resourced than anyone else in the region. By grasping at opportunities as they came, he built the thing, slowly but surely."

In the chaotic days after the attacks of September 11th, Ryan Crocker, then a senior State Department official, flew discreetly to Geneva to meet a group of Iranian diplomats. "I'd fly out on a Friday and then back on Sunday, so nobody in the office knew where I'd been," Crocker told me. "We'd stay up all night in those meetings." It seemed clear to Crocker that the Iranians were answering to Suleimani, whom they referred to as "Haji Qassem," and that they were eager to help the United States destroy their mutual enemy, the Taliban. Although the United States and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980, after American diplomats in Tehran were taken hostage, Crocker wasn't surprised to find that Suleimani was flexible. "You don't live through eight years of brutal war without being pretty pragmatic," he said. Sometimes Suleimani passed messages to Crocker, but he avoided putting anything in writing. "Haji Qassem's way too smart for that," Crocker said. "He's not going to leave paper trails for the Americans."

Before the bombing began, Crocker sensed that the Iranians were growing impatient with the Bush Administration, thinking that it was taking too long to attack the Taliban. At a meeting in early October, 2001, the lead Iranian negotiator stood up and slammed a sheaf of papers on the table. "If you guys don't stop building these fairy-tale governments in the sky, and actually start doing some shooting on the ground, none of this is ever going to happen!" he shouted. "When you're ready to talk about serious fighting, you know where to find me." He stomped out of the room. "It was a great moment," Crocker said.

The coöperation between the two countries lasted through the initial phase of the war. At one point, the lead negotiator handed Crocker a map detailing the disposition of Taliban forces. "Here's our advice: hit them here first, and then hit them over here. And here's the logic." Stunned, Crocker asked, "Can I take notes?" The negotiator replied, "You can keep the map." The flow of information went both ways. On one occasion, Crocker said, he gave his counterparts the location of an Al Qaeda facilitator living in the eastern city of Mashhad. The Iranians detained him and brought him to Afghanistan's new leaders, who, Crocker believes, turned him over to the U.S. The negotiator told Crocker, "Haji Qassem is very pleased with our coöperation."

The good will didn't last. In January, 2002, Crocker, who was by then the deputy chief of the American Embassy in Kabul, was awakened one night by aides, who told him that President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union Address, had named Iran as part of an "Axis of Evil." Like many senior diplomats, Crocker was caught off guard. He saw the negotiator the next day at the U.N. compound in Kabul, and he was furious. "You completely damaged me," Crocker recalled him saying. "Suleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised." The negotiator told Crocker that, at great political risk, Suleimani had been contemplating a complete reëvaluation of the United States, saying, "Maybe it's time to rethink our relationship with the Americans." The Axis of Evil speech brought the meetings to an end. Reformers inside the government, who had advocated a rapprochement with the United States, were put on the defensive. Recalling that time, Crocker shook his head. "We were just that close," he said. "One word in one speech changed history."

W's biggest error.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


There's a great meme on Twitter right now that goes something like this: "We just assassinated some guy I never heard of, but let me tell you exactly what it means..."

It's funny not just because so many are engaging in precisely that behavior, but because the one thing Left and Right are absolutely certain of is that it must have some massive significance.

Ironically, that's because both objectify people to such a degree that they are barely human.  It's why both are so invested in Identity politics.  

Most of us, instead, believe in self-evident truths, like all men being Created equal with a universal desire for self-governance.

So where the Left/Right insists that liberalization has been forced by America and the West on other peoples who are unsuited to it, experience has always found peoples eager for it, irrespective of race, religion, history, stage of economic development, etc.

So we had Realists, Isolationists, Communists, etc., preaching to us during the Cold War that Slavs and Asiatics and the like had no interest in democracy and preferred the firm hand.  Likewise, the notion that the Muslim world today is somehow naturally anti-democratic (despite the fact that most Muslims live in democratic societies.)

Part and parcel of these prejudices is the notion that when the Shi'a of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen, etc. or the Sunni of Egypt, Palestine, etc. demand that they be allowed to govern themselves they obviously have to be victims of manipulation. And where they do achieve democracy but then elect Muslim parties to govern their societies, we get our panties in a twist in a way we never did when Christian Democrats won.  

Because we have failed so spectacularly over the last century in helping to liberate such peoples and because we have often forged bonds with their oppressors, we resist them even though they are seeking to vindicate our own principles.  And, because we refuse to see their liberation politics as organic, we think that by disposing of the "manipulators" we can end the "threat."  

Thus do we arrive at the moment where people have convinced themselves, at least for a few hours, that the removal of one Iranian general is a world historical event.  As if the Houthi, the Palestinians, the South Lebanese, etc. were going to walk away from their demands for self-governance now that the evil genius was gone.  You see, it's not as if they were human beings with the same expectations as we Americans.  It was all just a plot by the mullahs.

The reality, of course, is that the general has been replaced, the people of South Lebanon and the Palestinians and the Houthi still want to govern themselves, and Muslim electorates are still likely to elect Muslim leaders (for at least as long as we English-speaking have Christians).

Nothing significant has changed today because human nature can not be changed by a drone. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Manafort Said Hannity Served as His Trump Backchannel: Docs (Maxwell Tani, Jan. 03, 2020, Daily Beast)

Paul Manafort said he used Fox News host Sean Hannity to receive backchannel messages from President Donald Trump while prosecutors investigated him for financial crimes, according to newly released memos from former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. 

Among the several hundred pages of memos published by BuzzFeed News on Thursday, which contain summaries of FBI interviews with key Trump administration and campaign officials, the Fox News anchor's alleged role as an unofficial messenger between the president and his former campaign chairman comes into sharp focus.

According to the release, Manafort did not speak to Trump or anyone closely associated with the president or his legal team besides Hannity around the time that The New York Times and other outlets reported on a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner and a lawyer linked to the Kremlin. Manafort described Hannity as a close friend and "certainly a backchannel" to Trump, saying that he understood Hannity was in communication with the president.

"Manafort knew Hannity was speaking to Trump because Hannity would tell Manafort to hang in there, that he had been talking to Trump, that Trump had his back, and things like that," the memos said. "Manafort understood his conversations with Hannity to be a message from Trump."

Fun the way the network that started out conservative turned into Tass.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Give Me Liberty (STEPHANIE SLADE, FEBRUARY 2020, reason)

"The two great political parties in America represent only one English party, the middle-class Liberal party, the party of industrialism and freedom," H.G. Wells once observed. "There are no Tories...and no Labor Party....All Americans are, from the English point of view, Liberals of one sort or another." [...]

In Give Me Liberty, a 13-part podcast from National Review based on Brookhiser's new book of the same name, he and election historian Luke Thompson discuss the origins of American exceptionalism. Each episode examines an important "document" from the last 400 years--from the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance, which set the stage for religious tolerance as we know it, to the Gettysburg Address, to Emma Lazarus' paean to immigration, "The New Colossus" (source of the famous line "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"). Whatever the specific topic under consideration, the major takeaway is, as Thompson puts it, that "America is a story with liberty at its heart."

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Republican Governors Are Rejecting Trump's Anti-Refugee Agenda (Nancy LeTourneau, January 3, 2020, Washington Monthly)

Ever since Trump issued a Muslim travel ban during his first week in office, this administration has made it clear that their goal is to dismantle the refugee system in this country. Every year they have lowered the number of refugees that are permitted to enter the United States, which now stands at the 40-year low of 18,000.

In order to turn refugee resettlement into a wedge issue and garner support for his policies from red states, the president signed an executive order last September that required every state and local jurisdiction to sign a consent letter authorizing the settlement of refugees in their jurisdiction. The order was designed to put pressure on local officials, by forcing them to opt in to the resettlement program rather than opt out.

Given that on the two occasions that Trump visited my home state he used the opportunity to demonize Somali refugees, I am particularly fond of the letter Minnesota Governor Tim Walz sent to the State Department on December 13th opting in. He stated the following.

Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. The are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors...As the Holiday Season approaches, we are reminded of the importance of welcoming all who seek shelter. The inn is not full in Minnesota.

Governor Jared Polis of Colorado, a Democrat from a swing state, upped the ante a bit by writing that his state would "gladly accept refugees turned away by other states or local jurisdictions. Their loss, he noted, would be Colorado's gain."

That's why Republican governors are so popular and Donald so un.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM

60-40 NATION:

Our Poll Finds A Majority Of Americans Think The Evidence Supports Trump's Removal (Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Laura Bronner, 2/02/20, 538)

There might not be a broad consensus about whether Trump should be removed from office, but our survey found that a majority of the public is on the same page about one thing -- they want a Senate trial with new witnesses who did not appear during the impeachment process in the House.

According to the survey, 57 percent of Americans think it would be better if the upcoming trial included new witnesses who could potentially shed light on Trump's conduct, while 39 percent said it would be better to keep the focus solely on the evidence introduced in the House hearings and included in the articles of impeachment, without calling new witnesses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 65 percent of Democrats support calling new witnesses in the Senate trial. But 48 percent of Republicans also support calling new witnesses -- although about the same number still want the trial to proceed with only the evidence introduced in the House hearings (50 percent).

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


How Anti-Semitism Rises on the Left and Right (Isaac Chotiner, January 2, 2020, The new Yorker)

To discuss these questions, I recently spoke by phone with David Nirenberg, the dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, who has written extensively on the history of anti-Semitism. . [...]

Do you think it is worth thinking of anti-Semitism today as akin to the prejudices that afflict many different religious and ethnic minorities, such as Muslims or Hispanics in the United States? Or is it distinct in important ways?

That's a really tough question, and, in some ways, I hate to distinguish between different forms of prejudice or hate. When you think about some of the most enduring prejudices--for example, the asymmetries of power between men and women--these are structural aspects of our global society. But I do think anti-Semitism is distinctive in certain ways. One of those ways is that it really does transcend particular political contexts. There aren't a great number of Jews in Hungary or Poland, but thinking about Jews is a crucial part of nationalism--or anti-globalization or whatever you want to call it--in Hungary and Poland today. And I think that's different from the way most of the other groups you mentioned are used in the world's imagination.

This is a really difficult topic to think about, and I would like to think we are each entitled to study our own hate without having to study all the others. But we can see symptoms of a distinction in our own age. I don't think, for example, that people in many parts of the world where there aren't Muslim immigrants are thinking really centrally about their own society in terms of Islam, and I would say the same thing might be true of some racial prejudices that are central to the United States but don't play a very large role in other societies. But what's curious about anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism is how it can be put to work by many societies that really have nothing to do with living Jews or Judaism.

When many of the people in these societies think about immigration, even though the problem they see isn't Jews immigrating to these societies, they do think about Judaism in order to explain the immigration they see as threatening their society. So, in the United States, France, Hungary, and many other places, replacement-theory ideologies explain replacement in terms of the machinations of the Jews, or the Jewish global order. Anti-Judaism is actually a system of thought that people can use to explain many of the challenges they face, even when there are no Jews around. And that has a flexibility that, in the worst moments, allows many parts of society to agree that Jews are the problem in a way you don't always see coalescing around other distinctions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Ex-Fox News reporter Courtney Friel claims Donald Trump invited her to Trump Tower to 'kiss' (NANCY DILLON, 1/02/20, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Former Fox News reporter Courtney Friel says Donald Trump called her with a creepy come-on before he became president -- while they were both married.

Friel, who sometimes worked as a fill-in host on Trump's beloved "Fox & Friends," details the alleged proposition in her upcoming memoir, "Tonight At 10: Kicking Booze and Breaking News," due out Tuesday.

She says Trump told her she was "the hottest one at Fox News" and called her office line a few weeks after she mentioned an interest in working as a judge on his Miss USA beauty pageant.

"Though he said I couldn't be a judge since I worked at a different network, he did ask me about my career goals and complimented my work at FNC," Friel, 39, wrote in a sneak peek of her book shared with the Daily News.

"Then, out of nowhere, he said: 'You should come up to my office sometime, so we can kiss,'" Friel claimed.

The journalist who now works as an anchor at KTLA-TV in Los Angeles says she was "shocked" by the advance.

"'Donald,' I responded, 'I believe we're both married.' I quickly ended the call," she wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Unredacted documents show Trump explicitly broke the law (Quin Hillyer, January 02, 2020, Washington Examiner)

Before examining that evidence, though, please consider that this is only one of three ways in which Trump's actions were so inappropriate as to be impeachable. First, Trump's request for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was, on its own, wildly out of bounds. As former ambassador Bill Taylor testified, the president has no authority to ask a foreign government to investigate a U.S. citizen based on that nation's laws rather than our own.

Second, to turn the request into what amounts (in the vernacular) to an extortionary demand, the now-famous issue of a quid pro quo, is to misuse presidential power while unlawfully seeking a "thing of value" from a foreign entity for use in an American campaign. And, yes, as even some of Trump's most learned and eloquent defenders admit, the existence of a quid pro quo was obvious.

Third, as I have argued for months, it was illegal for Trump to withhold the military aid even if he had not asked the Ukrainians for anything of personal and political value in return. By delaying the assistance beyond the point at which it could actually be obligated before the budget year ran out, Trump violated the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 and, probably, the Constitution. That 1974 law provides that once an appropriation has been duly passed and signed into law, the president cannot withhold it for policy reasons without formally notifying Congress. Even then, the money must be spent unless Congress approves the president's request.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


The world is not enough: Guessing at the game God is playing (Samuel Graydon, January 3, 2020, TLS)

Photons have the same discrete energy, which depends on the colour of the light. The brighter the light the more photons, but their energy stays the same. "After a hundred years of thinking of light as a wave, physicists had to start thinking of it as a particle." It was for this work, and not for the theory of relativity, that Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize.

It's no secret, however, that light does act like a wave as well - which is very much where the questions start. And, in fact, wave-particle duality exists not just as a phenomenon of light, but, seemingly, of all matter as well. One of the most famous experiments in all quantum theory is the double slit experiment. It relies on diffraction, which most of us are familiar with from school. Pass a water wave through two slits close to each other and ripples will propagate from them both; as the two sets of ripples encounter one another you will see a pattern of constructive and destructive interference between them, as they either enhance or attenuate the oscillations. The same is true of other at least nominally more corpuscular things. Fire a beam of electrons towards two slits and you will also see peaks and troughs spread out on the wall behind them.

Moreover, if you fire one electron at a time through the slits, so that they cannot interfere with any other particle, you still get peaks and troughs at the other end. An interference pattern emerges over time as you fire electrons one by one through the slits, though individually they arrive on the other side of the slits in a defined place. We are forced to conclude that electrons can interfere with themselves like waves. They pass through both slits at once.

But this isn't the strangest thing about the experiment. Every attempt - every attempt - to measure an electron passing through the slits has destroyed the interference pattern, and produced a definitive answer to which path the electron took. Without a measurement there is concrete evidence for a wave-like nature; but as soon as one is made, however it is made, all evidence of it disappears and we are just left with particles.

This seems baffling - or at least it should. Niels Bohr, one of the fathers, and for a good time high priests, of quantum mechanics, is said to have given a talk on the subject to a group of philosophers, and was disappointed when they simply accepted what he told them about it, instead of protesting vehemently: "If a man does not feel dizzy", he said, "when he first learns about the quantum of action, then he has not understood a word". While it may seem complicated, it is perfectly possible to explain what goes on in the subatomic world, what happens when you do this or that, and in fact, once you have the knack, it can feel quite intuitive - but nobody knows why things behave the way they do. For this reason, in 1964, the same year he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum mechanics, Richard Feynman could tell a lecture hall: "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics".

Once physicists staked out a position of incomprehensibility, intellectuals of all stripes followed.