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TBR News December 11, 2017

Dec 11 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., December 11, 2017: “Ever since the Civil War, the United States has been actually run by groups of businessmen. These are not famous bankers or major personalities but small groups of very modest and very influential citizens.

This is an excerpt from a new novel in progress that a friend sent to me. Having spent considerable time in Washington, I must say it has the strong ring of absolute truth:

‘Washington is never pleasant in the mid-summer months and when Congress is in recess; everyone deserts the capitol for more agreeable surroundings.

It was three days before the Fourth of July and on Pennsylvania Avenue, prefabricated grandstands were being hammered and bolted together for a parade held in honor of the founding of the nation and to provide the new President with another opportunity of strutting before the public.

At the Cosmos Club on Massachusetts Avenue, once the elegant town house of an undersecretary of state, there was a meeting in the second floor library.

It was a very humid day and the long windows facing the street were open, their transparent curtains moving sinuously in the occasional half-hearted breeze. There were stone-faced security people at all the doors, which were closed and locked, but very few club members were in town in the heat and it was not a time when libraries were sought-after refuges.

The ornate oak table in the center of the room had been cleared of its stained globes and magazine racks and a group of men, most overweight and thinning of hair, sat around the table in various attitudes of attention. Bottles of mineral water, glasses and ice buckets were in constant use as were the pads of yellow, lined paper that sat in front of each attendee.

The speaker was a pudgy, balding man with rimless glasses, who looked exactly like a retired librarian. Appearances often deceive and the man was the director of a well-known conservative think tank.

“This, gentlemen, is not quite an emergency situation but I think I ought to inform you that the President has had another of his seizures. Oh yes, but not a serious one and fortunately not in front of anyone. How an epileptic ever got into the White House is a mystery….”

“Well, Josiah, you put him there,” said a thin man with the complexion of a bowl of cottage cheese.

“Don’t remind me, Jim, please do not. Now, we knew nothing about this and I will hold Saul and his people responsible for missing this…little illness. My God, what if Patrick had a grand mal at a state dinner? Or giving the State of the Union? Now, we have to find a way out of this mess. We need someone else….”

“What about Gordon?” asked another attendee.

“Gordon is a good soldier, but not the brightest star in the heavens. Still, he won’t flop onto the stage, pissing his pants and he isn’t a drunk like the second Bush. It’s too long to the next election and if it comes out due to some awful incident that the sitting President is a flip-flop artist….”

There was general laughter.

“Well, you see what I mean. If anything happens to Paddy, Gordon could serve out the term. But we do need to have a better man up and ready for the convention.  I was thinking of Cisek. He’s doing fine in Maine but the public doesn’t know about him yet.  We can have him keynote a few events, get the media to help out with wonderful puff pieces. There’s time but that still doesn’t address the problem of brother Pat.”

“Do a Kennedy on him,” interjected a bald man who was the CEO of a large insurance company.

“Yes, that has occurred to me, Benjamin.  Yes. Or something in his medicine. Sounds like a Borgia trick but the CIA got rid of an inconvenient Pope that way as you all recall. So, let’s get some input here and hopefully we can get a consensus….’”

 

 

Table of Contents

  • The Enemy Within
  • The Müller Washington Journals   1948-1951
  • Death by narcissism: The rise of selfie fatalities
  • Trump makes ‘robo-call’ for Moore as Democrat Jones takes lead in Alabama race
  • Trump Risks Uniting the Entire Arab World Against the US
  • Secrecy News
  • Twenty-five EU states sign PESCO defense pact
  • Hezbollah chief says fight for Jerusalem is now top priority
  • Still Waiting

 

The Enemy Within

It’s called the “intelligence community”

December 11, 2017

by Justin Raimondo

AntiWar

It was the Holy Grail of #TheResistance, the smoking gun they had been desperately searching for, solid evidence that Trump had colluded with the Russians to steal the presidency from its rightful owner: an email written and sent before WikiLeaks published the DNC material directing Trump’s attention to the data dump and even offering an “encryption key,” whatever that may be, so he could get a jump start on the news cycle.

Collusion! Impeach! Gotcha!

Except it wasn’t true. CNN, which initially reported the story, had the date of the email wrong: a 14 had somehow morphed into a 4. It turns out that CNN had never actually seen the email, but only had it described by “multiple sources.” CBS ran a story supposedly “confirming” the provenance of the incriminating email, and MSNBC followed suit with former Los Angeles Times national security reporter Ken Dilanian, whose reputation as a mouthpiece for the CIA is well-earned: Dilanian went on the air endorsing the story and tying it into the by now elaborate conspiracy theories that preoccupy #TheResistance.

Of course it was the purest coincidence that no less than three major media outlets got the Trump email story wrong. Yes, those “multiple sources” sure were busy.

It’s absurd to think that this episode is a case of simply getting it wrong: this was undoubtedly a deliberate lie, planted in the media by the same rogue “intelligence community” that invented Russia-gate. It didn’t matter that the truth would eventually come out: look at how many times the original story was tweeted and retweeted over social media, and then consider how many people don’t know it’s been debunked.

It seems like years since the Russia-gate investigation was launched, amid predictions of Trump’s imminent doom. So what have they come up with so far? Enough evidence of foreign meddling in American politics to drive the Podesta Group out of business. Mike Flynn is in trouble not because of his Russia contacts but due to his lobbying on behalf of Turkey while in office. Of the many Russia-is-after-us stories that have come down the pipeline recently, a good many have been debunked.

In short, Russia-gate is getting old, and going nowhere. It needed a jolt to kick it back into life again, and who cares what’s true and what isn’t? The point of circulating a lie, even a debunked one, is to normalize the inconceivable. A coup against the President? Why not? Violence directed at his supporters? Oh, it’s a moral obligation. War propagandists don’t need fact-checkers, and this is a war we’re in. We’re all living on a battlefield as the struggle for power goes on around us and our intelligence community – or at least the leadership – conducts open warfare against the President.

We’ve seen the same pattern unfold abroad, as the CIA and its ancillary organizations undertook regime change operations in countries throughout the world. Remember the “color revolutions” of the Bush II era? Or look at what happened in Ukraine, where the elected president was driven out of office by a CIA-bought-and-paid-for mob. They hope to replicate their Ukrainian success in the US.

Is it really necessary to explain why this is a deadly threat to the Constitution, the rule of law, and everything we stand for as a nation? Are we to be turned into some Third World banana republic, with coups, counter-coups, and a political police answerable to no one?

The repeal of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which forbade the CIA from carrying out actions designed to influence US domestic opinion, was justified by officials on the grounds that these limits prevented them from doing their job. Of course, if we had known that they considered it their job to pick and choose who can be President, perhaps Smith-Mundt would still be intact. As it is now, our spooks can use government resources to push their political agenda, and rest assured they have one: they are a de facto political party as well as a welter of government agencies.

Particularly frightening is the politicization of the FBI, which seems to have become a bludgeon in the hands of the President’s enemies. Their involvement with the Trump “dossier,” their refusal to hand over key documents to congressional oversight committees, not to mention the bizarre grandstanding of former FBI director James Comey – all point to a worrisome partisanship that has somehow infiltrated US law enforcement and called into question the integrity of our entire legal system.

We have given these people access to our most private information: they have a “legal” mandate to invade our privacy at will. We’ve given them unlimited resources, although nobody knows how much they really spend. We’ve allowed them to roam the earth, overthrowing governments, assassinating opponents, and engaging in dirty tricks that we’ll never even know about. So the question isn’t “How did they get to the point where they can conceivably pull off a coup?” – it’s “Why didn’t this happen sooner?”

We are facing a mortal threat to our republic, to our liberties, and to the future of democracy in America, and it’s not coming from overseas. The danger is coming from within our own government – the permanent national security bureaucracy, which was never elected by anyone to anything, and is now determined to impose its will on a country that voted the “wrong” way.

 

The Müller Washington Journals   1948-1951

At the beginning of December, 1948, a German national arrived in Washington, D.C. to take up an important position with the newly-formed CIA. He was a specialist on almost every aspect of Soviet intelligence and had actively fought them, both in his native Bavaria where he was head of the political police in Munich and later in Berlin as head of Amt IV of the State Security Office, also known as the Gestapo.

His name was Heinrich Müller.

Even as a young man, Heini Müller had kept daily journals of his activities, journals that covered his military service as a pilot in the Imperial German air arm and an apprentice policeman in Munich. He continued these journals throughout the war and while employed by the top CIA leadership in Washington, continued his daily notations.

This work is a translation of his complete journals from December of 1948 through September of 1951.

When Heinrich Müller was hired by the CIA¹s station chief in Bern, Switzerland, James Kronthal in 1948, he had misgivings about working for his former enemies but pragmatism and the lure of large amounts of money won him over to what he considered to be merely an extension of his life-work against the agents of the Comintern. What he discovered after living and working in official Washington for four years was that the nation¹s capital was, in truth, what he once humorously claimed sounded like a cross between a zoo and a lunatic asylum. His journals, in addition to personal letters, various reports and other personal material, give a very clear, but not particularly flattering, view of the inmates of both the zoo and the asylum.

Müller moved, albeit very carefully, in the rarefied atmosphere of senior policy personnel, military leaders, heads of various intelligence agencies and the White House itself. He was a very observant, quick-witted person who took copious notes of what he saw. This was not a departure from his earlier habits because Heinrich Müller had always kept a journal, even when he was a lowly Bavarian police officer, and his comments about personalities and events in the Third Reich are just as pungent and entertaining as the ones he made while in America.

The reason for publishing this phase of his eventful life is that so many agencies in the United States and their supporters do not want to believe that a man of Müller¹s position could ever have been employed by their country in general or their agency in specific.

Introduction

In the early morning hours of September 25, 1963, a grave was opened in the West Berlin Kreuzberg military cemetery and the contents removed for forensic examination. The marker indicated that the occupant of the grave was Heinrich Müller, born April 28, 1900, and killed in the street fighting in Berlin in 1945 when the Soviet Army seized the German capital. The memorial stone did not indicate that Müller had been an SS-Gruppenführer and a Lieutenant General in the German Police and that since 1935, was the head of the German Gestapo or the Secret State Police.

The exhumation had been requested by the West German Ludwigsburg Center that dealt with ex-Nazis sought for prosecution. This Center had information that Müller was not dead and was, in fact, gainfully employed by a foreign government. One of the first steps in proving this was to ascertain whether the corpse in the grave was that of Heinrich Müller who had been issued a death certificate from the Death Bureau of Berlin-Center numbered 11 706/45.

A subsequent pathological examination proved that there were the remains of three different men in the grave, none of whom were Heinrich Müller.

The man being sought was the son of a minor official, had completed a primary school education, had taken technical training in aircraft engines and in June of 1917 had joined the German Army. Because of his background, after his preliminary training, Müller was assigned to Flieger Ausbildung Abteilung 287 in April of 1918. In the seven months remaining before the war ended, Müller was promoted to NCO in August of 1918 and won the Iron Crosses First and Second Class. He was also awarded the Bavarian pilot’s badge and after injuring his leg in an aircraft accident, the retired Bavarian pilot’s badge. Müller served on the Western Front throughout the war.

When the war was over, Müller joined the Munich Police in 1919 as a junior assistant. He passed his entrance examination and became a police officer. He was promoted to Police Secretary in 1929 and was in Section VI of the Bavarian State Police, a unit that dealt with Communist activity. In 1934, Müller and a number of his associates were transferred to the Gestapo in Berlin and joined the SS as a Sturmführer on April 20, 1934. In 1935, Müller was head of Department II (Gestapo). In 1936, he was head of the Gestapo division of the headquarters of the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei). In 1937, he was promoted to senior police official (Kriminalrat) and in 1939, to the rank of Reichskriminaldirektor or Director of Police.

His SS promotions were:

SS-Obersturmführer on July 1, 1934,

SS-Sturmhauptführer on January 30, 1935,

SS-Sturmbannführer on April 20, 1936,

SS-Obersturmbannführer on November 9, 1936,

SS-Standartenführer on January 30, 1937, SS-Oberführer on April 20, 1939,

SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der deutschen Polizei on December 12, 1940

and

SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der deutschen Polizei on November 9,1941.1

The organization that Müller controlled, the Secret State Police, had been instituted by Hermann Göring as Minister President of Prussia in 1933 but was acquired by Heinrich Himmler as part of his empire building. The numerous changes, additions, absorptions and expansions of the Gestapo during the course of its existence would fill a volume, because like Himmler, Müller was also an empire builder.

Although on Müller’s orders, most of the Gestapo records were destroyed in 1945, it can be approximated that the entire personnel roster of the Gestapo numbered 25,000 with a much larger but undetermined number, of V agents or Vertrauensleute, voluntary and paid informers. In 1943, when the army Intelligence system, the Abwehr, was broken up due to its poor performance, Müller managed to acquire its counter-intelligence department. Although Hitler had ordered in June 1941 that the army was to be the sole radio interception agency, Müller moved into this field as well and by the end of the war, was running an extensive radio intelligence department that specialized in “playback” or the turning of enemy agents to feed their former employers false information and locate other agents arriving or in place.

The Gestapo was renowned for its excellent filing system which permitted very close observation of the population. The Germans have always required the use of internal passports and required its citizens to register their current addresses and their places of employment so the Gestapo had less difficulty maintaining its control. The Gestapo also maintained telephone interdiction facilities and watched the mails. These methods are not unique to Germany or the Gestapo but were more prevalent and pervasive than in other western countries. Müller’s men did not have the modern American technology of using privately owned television sets connected to the universal cable systems as a means of listening to private conversations, mainly because the television set was not in use in Germany at that period. Almost any other conceivable form of observation was in use and after the war, the victors expressed considerable professional interest in the Gestapo’s methods and techniques.

Heinrich Müller married Sophie Dischner in 1924. Her father published a right wing Bavarian newspaper that was opposed to Hitler. A son, Reinhard, was born January 4, 1927, and a daughter, Elizabeth, on September 9, 1936. His daughter was stated to be “not entirely normal,” and there was considerable friction in Müller’s domestic life because of this. He eventually became estranged from his wife and had a lengthy relationship with his private secretary, Barbara Hellmuth. Müller and his wife were devout Catholics and even as a high-ranking SS officer, Müller refused to leave the church. He only joined the NSDAP very late when he was compelled to do so. In fact, Müller had been known to the Party as a strong opponent when they were struggling for power in the Munich of the 1920s and early 1930s. Party members were shocked when Müller and the men of his bureau were taken into the SS and put in charge of the Gestapo, and never ceased complaining about what they felt was ideological outrage. Müller owed his continued career and subsequent advancements to his intelligence, drive and ruthlessness. He was a self-effacing man, photographs of whom are rare. His putative superior, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, was extensively interrogated by US authorities after the war when they were seeking Müller. Excerpts from the comments of a man who disliked Müller and was not only disliked in return but also virtually ignored, are interesting. This quote is from the interrogation:

“MÜLLER’S influence in forming the Stapo staff was manifest not only in its foundation; later all posts in Amt IV were occupied by persons selected by him, including the Police Attachés…MÜLLER was unhappily married, had two children, one a boy of 17 called up for service just before the end of the war. The second child was much younger. The latter child had pronounced Mongolian features, and it is believed that on this account, MÜLLER avoided all social intercourse between friends and neighbors. MÜLLER spent practically all his time in his office on account of his unpleasant conditions at home. Most of his social life was confined to such officials as HUBER, PIFFRADER, GEISLER, MEISINGER and GOTTHALMSEDER. …When I met him for the first time, I did not notice any peculiarities. He had a remarkably small figure, a piercing look in his dark eyes and there was, in his appearance, nothing frank and kind but rather ‘luring’. He was, however, polite (“korrekt”) but perhaps too modest…MÜLLER had a remarkable memory and knew every person who had ever crossed his path and all events. He was a living encyclopedia for HIMMLER….He always wanted to do everything for himself, and gave his associates no chance for independent development; in fact this bad habit had been criticized even by HIMMLER.”There exist very few descriptions of Müller engaged in the art of interrogation, something he was very skilled at. Müller was persistent and would take hours over these sessions. With his remarkable memory, he was almost always able to extract the truth. The only surviving account comes from the writings of captured British intelligence agent Captain Best. Kidnapped in Holland after the November, 1939 bomb attempt on Hitler’s life, Best was brought before Müller and questioned.

“Müller was a dapper, exceptionally good-looking little man, dressed in imitation of Adolf Hitler, in a gray uniform jacket, black riding breeches and top boots. He started his ‘snort’ immediately when he entered, and as he walked towards me, increased the pitch and the volume of his voice with great virtuosity. He managed to get right up close to me before his vocal chords tore into shreds. ‘You are in the hands of the Gestapo. Don’t imagine that we shall show you the slightest consideration. The Führer has already shown the world that he is invincible and soon he will come and liberate the people of England from the Jews and Plutocrats such as you. You are in the greatest danger and if you want to live another day must be very careful.’ Then he sat down on a chair in front of me and drew it up as close as possible, apparently with the intention of performing some mesmerizing trick. He had rather funny eyes which he could flicker from side to side with the greatest rapidity and I suppose that this was supposed to strike terror into the heart of the beholder.” Best then encountered Heydrich who shouted to him: “So far you have been treated as an officer and a gentleman, but don’t think that this will go on if you don’t behave better than you have done. You have two hours left in which to confess everything. If you don’t, I shall hand you over to the Gestapo, who are used to dealing with such gangsters and criminals—you won’t enjoy their methods a bit.”

“I turned to Müller, who was standing at my side and asked: ‘Who is this excitable young officer?’ At this Heydrich really went off the deep end and literally foamed at the mouth; at all events, he sprayed me liberally with saliva. Müller quickly pushed me out of the room and into my own. Later on he came in again and told me I must not take the matter too seriously: ‘Soup is never eaten as hot as it is cooked.’”

Best concluded his description of Müller by saying: “In my experience, I always found Müller a very decent little man.”

Heinrich Müller was five feet seven inches, strongly built with dark brown hair, cut high on the sides and good features. He had a small, tight mouth and rarely smiled but his face, and in fact his entire persona, was dominated by a pair of hooded brown eyes that fixed themselves on people with great intensity. He walked with a slight limp as a result of a wartime injury. Müller was descended from Germans living in Alsace and he went to some trouble to conceal the family French connections because of Hitler’s strong dislike of the French.

Given the position Müller occupied in the Third Reich and the role he played during its course, the question arises as to why no writer or historian has made any attempt to produce an in depth work on the head of the Gestapo. Aside from several pages in two of Heinz Höhne’s books and some material in Aronson, there is almost nothing in print about Heinrich Müller, and much of that extremely superficial or inaccurate. Although considerable information does exist in official files in archives, Müller has fallen through the cracks for several reasons.

Primarily, Heinrich Müller was a man who neither sought nor encouraged publicity. Unlike many of Hitler’s satraps, Müller disliked public display and was rarely photographed. Also, Müller was devoted to hard work and results, and preferred to work in private.

Secondarily, writers are drawn to the dramatic and the flamboyant, not the cold and secretive. Most treatments of historical personages consist, in the main, of wholesale filchings from previous writers, gotten up in new clothing but without substance. In the academic world, this is not called plagiarism, which it is, but instead labeled as research, which it is not.

Thirdly, U.S. intelligence agencies give every appearance of being singularly displeased by any mention of the name of Heinrich Müller.

In 1973, West German authorities issued a warrant for the arrest of Heinrich Müller, having good reason to believe that he did not die in Berlin in 1945.

Correspondence, still classified in US files, between German legal agencies and their US counterparts indicates unhappiness, frustration and growing displeasure on the part of the Germans and classic stonewalling on the part of the Americans. Portions of Müller’s US CIC files now in Ft. Meade, Maryland, have been censored. None of the documents refused to researchers deal with immediate postwar searches for Müller but cover a much later period. The reasons given for continued classification is that their release would adversely affect US national security.

..to be continued

 

 

Death by narcissism: The rise of selfie fatalities

Twenty-nine people have died while taking selfies in 2017. Only five have died in shark attacks

June 16, 2017

by Jennifer O’Connell

The Irish Times

It’s not enough to experience something anymore. It’s not even enough just to experience it through a screen. These days, unless you risked your life getting the picture – unless you hung out over the edge of the cliff, unless you kept your nerve in the face of the oncoming train or the angry mama bear long enough to frame the perfect shot – you weren’t really there.

More people now die in the pursuit of the ultimate selfie than are killed by sharks. So far this year, 29 people have died while taking selfies. By contrast, only five have died in shark attacks.

Hospitals have seen a surge in the numbers of people presenting with injuries sustained while taking a selfie. In a single week last summer, four people were admitted to University College Hospital Galway (UCHG) with what doctors call the “selfie wrist” – a broken wrist sustained while taking a photo of themselves on their mobile. Invariably, they broke their non-dominant wrist – even as they fell, they knew enough to protect their phone.

One of the injured was a 40-year-old woman, who fell when she took a couple of steps backwards at a well-known tourist attraction and fell onto some rocks, doctors from UCHG write in the current issue of the Irish Medical Journal.

Another was a 17-year-old girl, who was running up steps while taking a selfie. In their paper, the doctors recommend that selfie injuries are added to hospital admission forms to help gather data on the extent of the problem, and that more is done to raise awareness of the risks.

“The consequences of poorer spatial awareness and a focus on getting a good or daring photo has led to multiple traumas,” they write.

For some, the desire to capture the perfect selfie leads to much more than a broken wrist. Around the world, 15 selfie-takers died in 2014; 39 in 2015; and 73 died in the first eight months of 2016, according to a study at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

This year’s total so far is 29, including a 25-year-old man fell to his death down the 60-metre high Palouse waterfall earlier this month in Washington state, while he was posing for a selfie with his girlfriend. “He died doing what he loved,” went the headline on a local news site, apparently without even a hint of irony.

In May, a 22-year-old Scot died after he was hit by a car on the A24 Autobahn near Hamburg in Germany, while taking a selfie. In February, a 25-year-old woman in New Zealand was swept away in a dam surge while posing for a selfie, after apparently ignoring the five-minute warning siren for the dam floodgates.

Instagram user ‘drewssik’, a 17-year-old Russian student, populated his account with a series of death-defying selfies until, in 2015, he was staging a fall off a nine-storey building near Moscow, when his hand slipped and he really did fall to his death.

Russia has taken steps to warn its citizens of the risks of taking risky selfies, after a 21-year-old woman survived accidentally shooting herself in the head while posing for a selfie with a gun in Moscow. The government campaign includes a leaflet and a website that warns people not to take selfies while driving, standing on the train tracks while a train approaches, with a gun pointed at their head, climbing an electricity pylon, or in the middle of a busy highway.

In India, where hardly a month goes by without someone perishing on the twin rocks of idiocy and exhibitionism as they try to capture the perfect selfie in front of an oncoming train, Mumbai police have identified more than a dozen “no-selfie zones” around the city.

Is this really what we’ve come to? Warning people that taking a selfie with a gun pointed at their head or from the top of a pylon or standing in the middle of the railway tracks as a high-speed train approaches may not be a great idea? Apparently so.

Some of us can’t even seem to drive to the shops anymore without whipping out the phone and capturing that perfect pout: a 2015 survey by Erie Insurance Group in the US found that 4 percent of all drivers admitted to taking selfies while driving.

It’s difficult to think of a more appropriate, or more depressing, symbol for this shallow, social-media-obsessed age than death by narcissism.

Even when selfies don’t end in death or injury, there is something deeply unhealthy about a society in thrall to such a contrived, self-aware and fundamentally needy form of expression.

Photographs used to serve a social purpose. Families and groups of friends would huddle together squinting and hissing at one another to smile. The best results were often the imperfect ones – the ones with a toddler’s fist in a sibling’s hair; where someone is laughing and someone else is looking away.

The notion of an imperfect image now almost seems quaint

Selfies, usually taken alone, are painstakingly posed, discarded, retaken, filtered, uploaded. There are apps you can download now to narrow the width of your face, clear your complexion, widen and brighten your eyes, whiten your teeth, warm up the tones of your skin and hair, smooth out your wrinkles.

When you are satisfied that you look nothing like your flesh-and-blood self, you upload the photo and wait for the affirmation – likes, comments and follows – to roll in. Because, of course, the real appeal of a selfie isn’t the taking of it: it’s the dopamine hit you get from the affirmation of total strangers on the Internet.

It’s no wonder people taking selfies are so immersed in their own private world, that their judgment and environmental awareness plummets. “While taking selfies, proprioception and spatial awareness is often poorer, as attention is focused on a mobile device. This can lead to trauma, resulting in hospitalization,” the doctors say. Or death – 29 times this year.

The most recent selfie death happened last Tuesday, in Sri Lanka. A 24-year-old newlywed man was killed, and his bride seriously injured, when they were taking a selfie on a railway track in the southern province of Kahawa, just two days after two brothers died doing the same thing.

According to eye witnesses, the couple had ignored warning signals given by the people in the area saying that the train was coming, because they were too busy trying to get the perfect shot.

 

Trump makes ‘robo-call’ for Moore as Democrat Jones takes lead in Alabama race

December 11, 2017

by Andy Sullivan

Reuters

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump sought to boost Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore by releasing a recorded phone call on his behalf in the final stretch of a bitter Alabama election fight marked by accusations of sexual misconduct against Moore.

Moore, 70, a conservative Christian and former Alabama Supreme Court justice, will face off in Tuesday’s election against Democrat Doug Jones, 63, a former U.S. attorney.

On Monday, the eve of the election, the Moore campaign is rolling out a “robo-call” with Trump’s voice telling voters that if they do not support the Republican candidate, progress on his agenda will be “stopped cold.”

Democrats then decided to make robo-calls using two of their party’s own big guns – former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

The race has divided Trump’s Republican Party and given Democrats a rare opening in deeply conservative Alabama, which has sent only Republicans to the U.S. Senate for the past 20 years.

A Fox News Poll conducted on Thursday and released on Monday put Jones ahead of Moore, with Jones potentially taking 50 percent of the vote and Moore 40 percent. Fox said 8 percent of voters were undecided and 2 percent support another candidate.

Moore has maintained a low profile, refusing interview requests and holding few public events. He planned an election-eve rally with former White House strategist Steve Bannon, an executive at the right-wing Breitbart News site who has been one of Moore’s most ardent backers.

While Trump, who swept Alabama in the 2016 presidential election, backs Moore, many other national Republicans, such Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have distanced themselves after Moore was accused last month by several women of pursuing them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. One woman accused him of trying to seduce her when she was 14.

Moore has denied any misconduct. Reuters has not independently verified any of the accusations.

The allegations have given new hope to Jones, who has touted a record that includes prosecuting former Ku Klux Klan members responsible for a 1963 bombing of a black church in which four girls were killed.

If Jones wins on Tuesday, Republicans would control the Senate by a slim 51-49 margin, giving Democrats much-needed momentum ahead of the November 2018 congressional elections, when control of both chambers of Congress will be at stake.

‘RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY’

Jones has spent the past week rallying African-Americans, the most reliably Democratic voters in the state, and hammering Moore in television ads.

He held a series of get-out-the-vote rallies across the state on Sunday.

”This campaign, ladies and gentlemen, is on the right side of history for the state of Alabama,” Jones told supporters in Birmingham on Sunday.

Moore got a formal endorsement last week from Trump, who also had to battle accusations of sexual harassment during his 2016 presidential race. Trump has denied the allegations.

Trump underscored his support for Moore at a rally on Friday night in Pensacola, Florida, near the Alabama state line, where he said Jones would be a “total puppet” of Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Moore’s campaign has cast Jones as a liberal out of step with Alabama voters, seizing on his support of abortion rights.

Many Republican officials in Alabama, including Governor Kay Ivey, say they will vote for Moore. But the state’s senior Republican senator, Richard Shelby, said he did not vote for Moore and instead backed a write-in candidate when he cast his absentee vote. “I think the women are believable,” Shelby told CNN on Sunday.

Moore, who was twice removed from the state Supreme Court for refusing to abide by federal law, may find a chilly reception in Washington if he wins. Republican Senator Tim Scott told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the chamber would immediately subject Moore to an ethics investigation.

Democrats have signaled they may use Moore’s election to tar Republicans as insensitive to women’s concerns at a time when allegations of sexual harassment have caused many prominent men working in politics, entertainment, media and business to lose their jobs.

Allegations of sexual misconduct prompted the resignations last week of three lawmakers – Democratic Senator Al Franken, Democratic Representative John Conyers and Republican Representative Trent Franks.

Additional reporting by Zachary Goelman in Birmingham and Lisa Lambert and Lucia Mutikani in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott

 

Trump Risks Uniting the Entire Arab World Against the US

December 9, 2017

by Patrick Cockburn

The Unz Review

President Trump and the Israeli government will have foreseen and discounted a Palestinian “day of rage” and protests among Muslims everywhere in the wake of the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to move its embassy there. They assume that this will all blow over because US allies such as the rulers of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt will be satisfied with pro-forma protests, and the Palestinians are too weak to do anything except demonstrate ineffectively.

The US and Israel could be miscalculating: when I lived in Jerusalem I came to believe that many dramatic events in Israel, such as shootings and bombings, often had less effect than the outside world expected. But anything involving Jerusalem itself, and above all its Muslim holy sites, had a much bigger impact than anybody had imagined.

The immediate consequence of Trump’s action is that the US becomes weaker because it has carried out another initiative of which the rest of the world disapproves. A superpower at the height of its strength might get away with such a demarche, but not a politically divided US, its influence already ebbing because of failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The move is so obviously against US foreign policy interests that it will further persuade other world leaders that Trump is an impossible ally.

The move could have other dangerous consequences. There is a myth that the Israeli-Palestinian struggle was not an issue that concerned Osama bin Laden or played a role in the rise of al-Qaeda. In fact, bin Laden’s speeches and writings are full of references to the Palestinians – and his first public utterances in the 1980s were calls for a boycott of American goods because of its backing for Israel.

The connection between the Palestinian question and 9/11 was played down at the time, particularly by neocon pundits and think tanks who claimed that the US could safely ignore the issue while pursuing an aggressive policy in Iraq. It is true that 9/11 damaged the Palestinians because they were marginalised as the US and its allies began a series of wars during which they largely disappeared from the news agenda.

But as the wars in Iraq and Syria come to an end, focus will shift back to Israel and the Palestinians. Isis and al-Qaeda have been defeated in their efforts to change regimes in Baghdad and Damascus. If they are going to survive and get support in the Muslim world, they will need to find a new enemy. Battered they may be, but they have far more activists and resources than bin Laden at the time of 9/11. The declaration on Jerusalem throws al-Qaeda-type movements a lifeline, just as they are facing complete defeat.

Trump inherited the war to eliminate the self-declared Caliphate from President Obama and has continued it unchanged. Most decisions about the conflict have in any case been taken by the Pentagon and not by the White House. Up to now the biggest change in US policy in the region has been the effort to end Obama’s détente with Iran and build up an anti-Iranian coalition. This will now become a more difficult job.

In October, Trump de-certified the nuclear deal with Iran, demonising the Iranians as the source of all instability in the region. He and his administration tend to conflate Iranians and Shias in much the same way as do Saudi Arabia and the Sunni monarchs of the Gulf. His National Security Adviser H R McMaster said in late October that “what is most important, not just for the United States but for all nations, is to confront the scourge of Hezbollah and to confront the scourge of the Iranians and the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps].”

It is unclear how far this belligerent rhetoric is going to turn into real military action. If Trump does want to confront Iran and the axis of states and paramilitary organisations it leads, then he has left it a bit late. The Iranian Shia side has triumphed in the war in Syria and Iraq against predominantly Sunni resistance, which was once backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. The role of Hezbollah and the Shia paramilitary, Hashd al-Shaabi, will naturally diminish because there is no longer a war to fight and the central governments in Baghdad and Damascus are becoming stronger.

The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will make it easier for Tehran to call for all Muslims, Shia and Sunni, to stand together in defence of the Palestinians and the holy sites. It will make it more difficult, though not impossible, for Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies to act with the US, move closer to Israel and portray Iran as the greatest threat in the region.

There is a broader consequence of the switch in US policy: there are some 1.5 billion Muslims in the world who are the majority in some 50 states and make up 22 per cent of the world’s population. None of them will be pleased by Trump’s latest action. The population of many of these countries, including some of the largest such as Turkey (80 million) and Pakistan (193 million), were already very anti-American before the Trump presidency. In 2012, polls showed that 74 per cent of Pakistanis considered the US as an enemy. Even this high figure is surpassed by Turkey where 82 per cent said this summer that they had an unfavourable view of the US. Divided about everything else, Turks agree on their dislike of the US, which will again make it more difficult for the US to act against Iran.

President Putin is to visit Istanbul on Monday to speak to President Erdogan about Jerusalem and Syria, a sign that it may be difficult to isolate the issue of the Israeli capital from other conflicts.

All these important developments are happening, though nothing has really changed on the ground: Israel already treated Jerusalem as its capital, and the so-called peace process with the Palestinians has been a sham for years. The US can no longer pretend to be an even-handed mediator, but then it never was one in the first place.

By recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump and Israel may have broken a political rule which says it is dangerous to mess with de facto situations others have informally come to accept. Doing so can have unexpectedly disastrous consequences. A good example of this happened less than three months ago when President Masoud Barzani held a referendum demanding Iraqi Kurdish formal independence, though the Iraqi Kurds had enjoyed de facto near independence since 2003. The Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian governments, who had accepted the previous situation for years, reacted furiously and within three weeks the Kurds lost control of Kirkuk and much of their territory. It may be that President Trump and Israel will likewise find that they risked more than they imagined and will pay a heavier price than expected for formalising Israeli rule in Jerusalem.

Secrecy News

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 86

December 11, 2017

MILITARY OPERATIONS FACE GROWING TRANSPARENCY

Soldiers and Marines fighting in populated urban environments have to assume that their actions are being closely monitored by the public, according to new military doctrine published last week. They need to have “an expectation of observation.”

Increased transparency surrounding military operations in populated areas must be anticipated and factored into operational plans, the new doctrine instructs.

“Soldiers/Marines are likely to have their activities recorded in real time and shared instantly both locally and globally. In sum, friendly forces must have an expectation of observation for many of their activities and must employ information operations to deal with this reality effectively.”

This can be a matter of some urgency considering that “Under media scrutiny, the action of one Soldier/Marine has significant strategic implications.”

See Urban Operations, ATP 3-06, US Army, US Marine Corps, December 7, 2017.

“Currently more than 50 percent of the world population lives in urban areas and is likely to increase to 70 percent by 2050, making military operations in cities both inevitable and the norm,” the document states.

Inevitable or not, urban military combat presents a variety of challenges.

“Urban operations often reduce the relative advantage of technological superiority, weapons ranges, and firepower.”

“Moreover, because there is risk of high civilian casualties, commanders are generally required to protect civilians, render aid, and minimize damage to infrastructure. These requirements can reduce resources available to defeat the enemy, often creating difficult choices for the commander.””Military operations that devastate large amounts of infrastructure may result in more civilian casualties than directly caused by combat itself. Excessive U.S. destruction of infrastructure that causes widespread suffering amongst people may turn initially neutral or positive sentiment toward U.S. forces into hostility that can rapidly mobilize populations and change the nature of the military problem.”

“Destroying an urban area to save it is not an option for commanders.”

FOREIGN AGENTS REGISTRATION ACT, AND MORE FROM CRS

“In the wake of the 2016 election, concerns have been raised with respect to the legal regime governing foreign influence in domestic politics,” a new report from the Congressional Research Service notes. “The central law concerning the activities of the agents of foreign entities acting in the United States is the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).”

Significantly, that law does not prohibit “representation of foreign interests or limited distribution of foreign propaganda. Instead, the Act provides only for public disclosure of any such activities. FARA’s legislative history indicates that Congress believed such disclosure would best combat foreign influence by informing the American public of the actions taken and information distributed on behalf of foreign sources.” See The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA): A Legal Overview, December 4, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

“Extraordinary Measures” and the Debt Limit, CRS Insight, December 8, 2017

Efforts to Address Seasonal Agricultural Import Competition in the NAFTA Renegotiation, December 7, 2017

Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress, updated December 5, 2017

The Child and Dependent Care Credit: Impact of Selected Policy Options, December 5, 2017

Public Sector Union Dues: Grappling with Fixed Stars and Stare Decisis (Part I), CRS Legal Sidebar, December 4, 2017

EPA’s Clean Power Plan for Existing Power Plants: Frequently Asked Questions, updated December 4, 2017

Changes to “Too Big To Fail?”: Treasury Recommends Revisions to Dodd-Frank SIFI Designation Process for Non-Banks (Part I), CRS Legal Sidebar, December 1, 2017

Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs): Background and Issues for Congress, December 1, 2017

Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances, updated December 4, 2017

Haiti’s Political and Economic Conditions: In Brief, December 1, 2017

Yemen: Civil War and Regional Intervention, updated December 7, 2017

Lebanon, updated December 7, 2017

Oman: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated December 4, 2017

Natural Disasters of 2017: Congressional Considerations Related to FEMA Assistance, CRS Insight, December 6, 2017

FEMA’s Firefighter Assistance Grants: Reauthorization or Sunset?, CRS Insight, December 5, 2017

What Happens If the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Lapses?, CRS Insight, December 5, 2017

Russian Compliance with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty: Background and Issues for Congress, updated December 6, 2017

 

Twenty-five EU states sign PESCO defense pact

The European Council has adopted the decision to establish a European Union defense pact, known as PESCO. The 25 participating EU states are set to begin working on a series of joint-defense projects next year.

December 11, 2017

DW

European Union member states on Monday moved ever closer towards establishing a defense union, after the European Council adopted the creation of a new European defense and security cooperation network known as PESCO.

The Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which was first set out in the Lisbon Treaty, will allow members states to jointly develop military capabilities, invest in shared projects and enhance their respective armed forces.

European defense ministers from 23 member states had initially signed a joint notification on PESCO on November 13, and handed it over for review to the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, and the European Council.

On December 7, Portugal and Ireland announced their decision to join, taking the total number of contributing members up to 25. The countries that have chosen not to take part are Malta, Denmark – which has special opt-out status – and the UK(which is set to withdraw from the bloc in March 2019).

Mogherini, described the move as “historic,” while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hailed the move on Twitter, posting: “She is awake, the Sleeping Beauty of the Lisbon Treaty: Permanent Structured Cooperation is happening.”

Although PESCO remains an intergovernmental program, the Commission said in a press release that it will prop up the network via its European Defense Fund. Money is set to be assigned for the acquisition of new defense equipment and technology, as well as to finance grants for research projects.

17 joint defense projects

Officials have earmarked 17 joint projects that will fall under the scope of the PESCO agreement. These include establishing a pan-European military training center, improving capability development and even introducing common standards for military radio communication.

Germany is to take the lead on four projects: the creation of a pan-European medical unit, a logistics hub, a center for training missions and an initiative to build up faster crisis response forces.

Those projects are expected to be formally adopted early next year, with participating countries also invited to propose additional programs.

 

Hezbollah chief says fight for Jerusalem is now top priority

December 11, 2017

RT

Lebanese Hezbollah will work with its allies to create a strategy “in the field” to confront Israel, the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said, calling again for a third Palestinian intifada (uprising), during a rally in Beirut on Monday.

“Today the axis of resistance, including Hezbollah, will return as its most important priority … Jerusalem and Palestine and the Palestinian people and the Palestinian resistance in all its factions,” Nasrallah said, as cited by Reuters.

Speaking by video-link at a rally attended by tens of thousands in Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Beirut, Nasrallah vowed that the struggle for Jerusalem and an independent Palestine is now Hezbollah’s top priority.

According to Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s regional victories – the Iran-backed group played a key role in ground operations against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in Syria – will allow it to renew its focus on Palestine.

He also called on Hezbollah and its allies to form a united strategy “in the field” to confront Israel, and advocated for third Palestinian intifada to overturn US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Demonstrators marched through the group’s Beirut stronghold carrying banners reading “Jerusalem, Eternal Capital of Palestine” and “Jerusalem is Ours”.

Last week, President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and said he would move the US embassy there, sparking fury and condemnation from Arab states as well as from Washington’s European allies.

The Beirut rally took place on the day after a violent protest outside the Lebanon’s US Embassy.

Last week, Nasrallah called for an “Islamic summit that would declare Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Palestine.”

“We support the call for a new Palestinian intifada and escalating the resistance which is the biggest, most important and gravest response to the American decision,” he added, as quoted by Lebanon’s Naharnet TV.

Israel has waged two wars against Hezbollah, with the most recent conflict, in 2006, killing more than a thousand Lebanese civilians. Hezbollah convoys inside Syria have also been frequent targets of Israeli airstrikes.

 

Still Waiting

A Harvey Weinstein Moment for America’s Wars?

by Andrew J. Bacevich

Tom Dispatch

What makes a Harvey Weinstein moment? The now-disgraced Hollywood mogul is hardly the first powerful man to stand accused of having abused women. The Harveys who preceded Harvey himself are legion, their prominence matching or exceeding his own and the misdeeds with which they were charged at least as reprehensible.

In the relatively recent past, a roster of prominent offenders would include Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and, of course, Donald Trump. Throw in various jocks, maestros, senior military officers, members of the professoriate and you end up with quite a list. Yet in virtually all such cases, the alleged transgressions were treated as instances of individual misconduct, egregious perhaps but possessing at best transitory political resonance.

All that, though, was pre-Harvey. As far as male sexual hijinks are concerned, we might compare Weinstein’s epic fall from grace to the stock market crash of 1929: one week it’s the anything-goes Roaring Twenties, the next we’re smack dab in a Great Depression.

How profound is the change? Up here in Massachusetts where I live, we’ve spent the past year marking John F. Kennedy’s 100th birthday. If Kennedy were still around to join in the festivities, it would be as a Class A sex offender.  Rarely in American history has the cultural landscape shifted so quickly or so radically.

In our post-Harvey world, men charged with sexual misconduct are guilty until proven innocent, all crimes are capital offenses, and there exists no statute of limitations. Once a largely empty corporate slogan, “zero tolerance” has become a battle cry.

All of this serves as a reminder that, on some matters at least, the American people retain an admirable capacity for outrage. We can distinguish between the tolerable and the intolerable. And we can demand accountability of powerful individuals and institutions.

Everything They Need to Win (Again!)

What’s puzzling is why that capacity for outrage and demand for accountability doesn’t extend to our now well-established penchant for waging war across much of the planet.

In no way would I wish to minimize the pain, suffering, and humiliation of the women preyed upon by the various reprobates now getting their belated comeuppance.  But to judge from published accounts, the women (and in some cases, men) abused by Weinstein, Louis C.K., Mark Halperin, Leon Wieseltier, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, my West Point classmate Judge Roy Moore, and their compadres at least managed to survive their encounters.  None of the perpetrators are charged with having committed murder.  No one died.

Compare their culpability to that of the high-ranking officials who have presided over or promoted this country’s various military misadventures of the present century.  Those wars have, of course, resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and will ultimately cost American taxpayers many trillions of dollars.  Nor have those costly military efforts eliminated “terrorism,” as President George W. Bush promised back when today’s G.I.s were still in diapers.

Bush told us that, through war, the United States would spread freedom and democracy.  Instead, our wars have sown disorder and instability, creating failing or failed states across the Greater Middle East and Africa.  In their wake have sprung up ever more, not fewer, jihadist groups, while acts of terror are soaring globally. These are indisputable facts.

It discomfits me to reiterate this mournful litany of truths.  I feel a bit like the doctor telling the lifelong smoker with stage-four lung cancer that an addiction to cigarettes is adversely affecting his health.  His mute response: I know and I don’t care.  Nothing the doc says is going to budge the smoker from his habit.  You go through the motions, but wonder why.

In a similar fashion, war has become a habit to which the United States is addicted.  Except for the terminally distracted, most of us know that.  We also know — we cannot not know — that, in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. forces have been unable to accomplish their assigned mission, despite more than 16 years of fighting in the former and more than a decade in the latter.

It’s not exactly a good news story, to put it mildly.  So forgive me for saying it (yet again), but most of us simply don’t care, which means that we continue to allow a free hand to those who preside over those wars, while treating with respect the views of pundits and media personalities who persist in promoting them.  What’s past doesn’t count; we prefer to sustain the pretense that tomorrow is pregnant with possibilities.  Victory lies just around the corner.

By way of example, consider a recent article in U.S. News and World Report.  The headline: “Victory or Failure in Afghanistan: 2018 Will Be the Deciding Year.” The title suggests a balance absent from the text that follows, which reads like a Pentagon press release. Here in its entirety is the nut graf (my own emphasis added):

“Armed with a new strategy and renewed support from old allies, the Trump administration now believes it has everything it needs to win the war in Afghanistan. Top military advisers all the way up to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis say they can accomplish what two previous administrations and multiple troop surges could not: the defeat of the Taliban by Western-backed local forces, a negotiated peace and the establishment of a popularly supported government in Kabul capable of keeping the country from once again becoming a haven to any terrorist group.”

Now if you buy this, you’ll believe that Harvey Weinstein has learned his lesson and can be trusted to interview young actresses while wearing his bathrobe.

For starters, there is no “new strategy.” Trump’s generals, apparently with a nod from their putative boss, are merely modifying the old “strategy,” which was itself an outgrowth of previous strategies tried, found wanting, and eventually discarded before being rebranded and eventually recycled.

Short of using nuclear weapons, U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan over the past decade and a half have experimented with just about every approach imaginable: invasion, regime change, occupation, nation-building, pacification, decapitation, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency, not to mention various surges, differing in scope and duration.  We have had a big troop presence and a smaller one, more bombing and less, restrictive rules of engagement and permissive ones.  In the military equivalent of throwing in the kitchen sink, a U.S. Special Operations Command four-engine prop plane recently deposited the largest non-nuclear weapon in the American arsenal on a cave complex in eastern Afghanistan.  Although that MOAB made a big boom, no offer of enemy surrender materialized.

In truth, U.S. commanders have quietly shelved any expectations of achieving an actual victory — traditionally defined as “imposing your will on the enemy” — in favor of a more modest conception of success.  In year XVII of America’s Afghanistan War, the hope is that training, equipping, advising, and motivating Afghans to assume responsibility for defending their country may someday allow American forces and their coalition partners to depart.  By 2015, that project, building up the Afghan security forces, had already absorbed at least $65 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars.  And under the circumstances, consider that a mere down payment.

According to General John Nicholson, our 17th commander in Kabul since 2001, the efforts devised and implemented by his many predecessors have resulted in a “stalemate” — a generous interpretation given that the Taliban presently controls more territory than it has held since the U.S. invasion.  Officers no less capable than Nicholson himself, David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal among them, didn’t get it done. Nicholson’s argument: trust me.

In essence, the “new strategy” devised by Trump’s generals, Secretary of Defense Mattis and Nicholson among them, amounts to this: persist a tad longer with a tad more.  A modest uptick in the number of U.S. and allied troops on the ground will provide more trainers, advisers, and motivators to work with and accompany their Afghan counterparts in the field.  The Mattis/Nicholson plan also envisions an increasing number of air strikes, signaled by the recent use of B-52s to attack illicit Taliban “drug labs,” a scenario that Stanley Kubrick himself would have been hard-pressed to imagine.

Notwithstanding the novelty of using strategic bombers to destroy mud huts, there’s not a lot new here.  Dating back to 2001, coalition forces have already dropped tens of thousands of bombs in Afghanistan.  Almost as soon as the Taliban were ousted from Kabul, coalition efforts to create effective Afghan security forces commenced.  So, too, did attempts to reduce the production of the opium that has funded the Taliban insurgency, alas with essentially no effect whatsoever.  What Trump’s generals want a gullible public (and astonishingly gullible and inattentive members of Congress) to believe is that this time they’ve somehow devised a formula for getting it right.

Turning the Corner

With his trademark capacity to intuit success, President Trump already sees clear evidence of progress.  “We’re not fighting anymore to just walk around,” he remarked in his Thanksgiving message to the troops.  “We’re fighting to win. And you people [have] turned it around over the last three to four months like nobody has seen.”  The president, we may note, has yet to visit Afghanistan.

I’m guessing that the commander-in-chief is oblivious to the fact that, in U.S. military circles, the term winning has acquired notable elasticity.  Trump may think that it implies vanquishing the enemy — white flags and surrender ceremonies on the U.S.S. Missouri.  General Nicholson knows better. “Winning,” the field commander says, “means delivering a negotiated settlement that reduces the level of violence and protecting the homeland.” (Take that definition at face value and we can belatedly move Vietnam into the win column!)

Should we be surprised that Trump’s generals, unconsciously imitating General William Westmoreland a half-century ago, claim once again to detect light at the end of the tunnel?  Not at all.  Mattis and Nicholson (along with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster) are following the Harvey Weinstein playbook: keep doing it until they make you stop.  Indeed, with what can only be described as chutzpah, Nicholson himself recently announced that we have “turned the corner” in Afghanistan.  In doing so, of course, he is counting on Americans not to recall the various war managers, military and civilian alike, who have made identical claims going back years now, among them Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2012.

From on high, assurances of progress; in the field, results that, year after year, come nowhere near what’s promised; on the homefront, an astonishingly credulous public. The war in Afghanistan has long since settled into a melancholy and seemingly permanent rhythm.

The fact is that the individuals entrusted by President Trump to direct U.S. policy believe with iron certainty that difficult political problems will yield to armed might properly employed.  That proposition is one to which generals like Mattis and Nicholson have devoted a considerable part of their lives, not just in Afghanistan but across much of the Islamic world. They are no more likely to question the validity of that proposition than the Pope is to entertain second thoughts about the divinity of Jesus Christ.

In Afghanistan, their entire worldview — not to mention the status and clout of the officer corps they represent — is at stake.  No matter how long the war there lasts, no matter how many “generations” it takes, no matter how much blood is shed to no purpose, and no matter how much money is wasted, they will never admit to failure — nor will any of the militarists-in-mufti cheering them on from the sidelines in Washington, Donald Trump not the least among them.

Meanwhile, the great majority of the American people, their attention directed elsewhere — it’s the season for holiday shopping, after all — remain studiously indifferent to the charade being played out before their eyes.

It took a succession of high-profile scandals before Americans truly woke up to the plague of sexual harassment and assault.  How long will it take before the public concludes that they have had enough of wars that don’t work?  Here’s hoping it’s before our president, in a moment of ill temper, unleashes “fire and fury” on the world.

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