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Notebook, 3 February 2014: Bleeding


Bleeding: Consistently losing chips through bad play, possibly resulting from tilt (Emotional upset, mental confusion, or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in poor play and poor performance).

When a player is consistently losing chips, they are “bleeding chips.”

- Wikipedia Glossary of Poker Terms

And as one Tweep replied, “I can only say No s–t Sherlock

There’s a confluence of reasons why the US should address the Syrian Civil War:

  1. A variety of non-state militant actors (ie: terrorists – a meaningless word by now) have gathered, threatening the creation of another safe haven.
  2. We have never had good relations with Assad, and this is, seemingly, an opportunity to indulge in some more regime-change.
  3. The humanitarian catastrophe.

It would be nice if we could do any of these things, but experience teaches us that we can only do one.

Rogin’s article highlights Lindsay Graham’s and John McCain’s concerns: hitting Al Qaeda, and we could do that, but that would solve exactly nothing, as we witnessed in Iraq, and as we continually witness in Af/Pak, Yemen and Libya. Graham and McCain, “leaders” of the Senate’s knee-jerk neocon caucus, don’t really care whether airstrikes or even troops on the ground will work or not. They’d get to spread the (electorally satisfying) claim that we’re doing something and indulge their veneration of the military, But we know how this plays out. Drones and/or boots don’t, in fact, bring stability or even materially diminish the Al Qaeda threat. They can, however, raise the cost of militant operations in specific localities. In other words, they can move it around (while also proving that those non-state militants have a point). Which brings up the question, how many countries do we want to be conducting military operations in? And will military operations of any scale whatsoever actually accomplish anything? More than a decade of war in Afghanistan and years of troops on the ground haven’t. McCain, at least, knows this, which is why he suggested maintaining a US military presence in Iraq for 100 years. (Which wouldn’t work either. Witness the Balkans and Central Asia, where those peoples simply began re-enacting their own history where it left off when the great powers came to town.) So, any massive “search-and-destroy” efforts on the part of the US military are, quite simply, a waste of time, money and most importantly, lives.

I think most people have a pretty good, if vague, sense of this.

As for replacing Assad, we can game this out and come to, I think, some pretty durable conclusions as well. If, by any means whatsoever, Assad is separated from power: overrun by opposition forces, voluntarily steps down (whether he faces justice for the chemical weapon attacks or not is immaterial) or simply drowns in the bathtub or chocks to death on a tuna sandwich, who will replace Assad? Another Sisi? Another Karzai? Another al-Maliki? Another whoever-the-hell-is-nominally-in-power-in-Tripoli? That amounts to a back-to-square-one scenario and merely postpones a repeat performance. History repeated, once again.

Addressing the humanitarian catastrophe is just about the only thing outside powers can do. There are lots of ideas about how to go about this, but one thing that hasn’t been seriously attempted is the creation of a safe haven. To do so effectively would require an invasion and boots on the ground – a massive military commitment and would be very, very costly.

Early on, it was recognized that there weren’t any good options for the US in Syria, and this hasn’t changed. I might add that the military sucks – totally sucks – at being stability to any theater of conflict, and again, Af/Pak and Iraq are merely the latest examples of a truth which dates back to Woodrow Wilson’s occupation of Vera Cruz.

Whatever happens, we’re stuck here at home with those like McCain and Graham who are ready to seize any opportunity to aggrandize American power throughout the world no matter the cost. They (and plenty of others) will use the humanitarian crisis, the “crime” (debatable and African leaders are right. International law is selectively and politically applied) of using chemical weapons on civilians as well as the presence of militant non-state actors as a pretext for getting our fingers in the Syrian pie, but this is precisely the kind of cold-blooded calculation we expect of a Putin and is in no small amount why we’re in mess with those militant non-state actors in the first place.

There is neither any winning scenario, any clear-cut victory, nor a credible exit strategy to taking sides in the Syrian Civil War. We can, however, attenuate the humanitarian distress, and I suggest we employ the Pentagon’s massive logistics capabilities to doing that, and only doing that.

Let’s be adults. Let’s cut through the tilt and forgo another round of bleeding. Our stack isn’t as deep as the knee-jerk neocons like to pretend it is.

Notebook, 8 January 2014: Review of Goliath, by Max Blumenthal


Before Blake Hounshell left Foreign Policy Magazine for Politico, he once tweeted something to the effect that he was wondering then if the entire body of “academic” foreign policy literature was best avoided. (I, who spent many hours immersed in it – they’re a stuffy, verbose lot – told him he wasn’t missing much.) The treatment of policy by elites in the US, from Fareed Zakaria (and almost uniformly throughout all the US press) through the corps of lobbyists over at The Council of Foreign Relations (and the rest of American officialdom), suffers from a sterile abstraction. Much needed, Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel is a glorious thumb-in-the-eye to all that. He covers a lot of territory here, almost all of it from the ground in Palestine. What he finds there isn’t a pretty sight to behold. Insulated by the shallowness of “balanced” press treatments of the Middle East, ordinary Americans can live out their entire lives unaware of what the street wisdom in East Jerusalem, Nablus and Ramallah (or, for that matter, in Cairo, Benghazi, Tehran, Kabul or Baghdad) has to teach us. Blumenthal hit the pavements of Israel and the occupied West Bank to tell it.

Disclosure: I have committed two errors no reviewer should ever commit: I have passed a few tweets with @MaxBlumenthal (which is why I’m writing this. I hadn’t planned to) and I read one column (not really a book review, but something better – a discussion of the merits) about Goliath. As for the latter, I cannot remember by whom or where I read it, but the point of the post was, if Blumenthal wanted to convince more readers, he’d have taken a more objective tone. He wouldn’t have inserted his own point of view into the text. There’s some truth in that, but I get the feeling that whoever wrote that hadn’t read beyond the first handful of chapters, in which the author doesn’t try to hide his disgust for the right wing in Israel, and especially it’s leadership. After that, he lets the subjects of his book, both Israeli and Palestinian, speak for themselves. It doesn’t take long before it becomes clear that they are simply telling it like it is.

As for the short exchange of tweets passed between us (I have never met or spoken with Max Blumenthal otherwise), I mentioned that I had been a supporter of Israel right up to the moment I saw the photogrpahs coming out of Gaza in the aftermath of the indiscriminate bombing of Operation Cast Lead. He replied that this moment of epiphany was shared by many he’d spoken with.

Though I do keep up (I have a page in my RSS reader devoted just to news out of Palestine), my own journey away from Israel and toward Palestine has been more in the nature of historical scholarship, and if I can find one fault in Goliath is that it doesn’t stress enough that the rise of Jewish fascism (their word, not mine) was inevitable, and that the whole sorry, tragic spectacle we witness today was predicted almost a century ago. All one must do is read the debate which took place in the House of Lords on 21 June, 1922 on the motion to drop the Balfour Declaration from the Palestine Mandate. Blast the English with their penchant for understatement. “Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.” – doesn’t even begin to tell it. Overwhelmingly, Lords voted 60-29 against Balfour.

The author’s journey is both winding and admirably comprehensive. You’d think Jews, for instance, of all people, would react viscerally (official opposition has abandoned the field entirely leaving a tiny, embattled minority of activists holding the bag) against the notion of their state would come to create their own Gestapo (Shin Bet), build concentration camp (Ketzlot, for African refugees), emphasize racial purity while demonizing miscegenation (rationalized as the “demographic” problem, but more significantly given religious and racial expression in groups like Lehava), using the police state, not just against enemies, but to crush dissent and ghettos (the walls are sprouting up all over Palestinian towns in the West Bank and, of course, there’s always Gaza). Even Kristallnacht was recreated by what amounts to an officially sanctioned anti-immigrant pogrom in Tel Aviv, in May of 2012.

Yes, you’d be mistaken. Reading Goliath, the similarities between Nazi Germany and today’s Israeli regime are impossible to avoid.

And it’s not hard to see why. A phrase written by John Brady Kiesling has resonated with me since the moment I first read it:

“. . . the logic of nationalism is implacable”

and if the Zionist experiment has many enemies without (full disclosure: I count myself among them), there is also the fact that a poisonous seed is enclosed within. Blumenthal closes Goliath with a look at one of growing numbers of Israelis so disenchanted with what their state has become and have chosen to leave. How the worm has turned. I’ve always held that irony will get you every time, and in this case the it’s crushing: after the US, Germany is the destination of choice for young Israelis looking to escape a fascist regime.

Indeed. Born out of a nineteenth century worldview in which race and smugly superior assumptions about the place in the world occupied by the West, Zionism is yet another illustration of how the imperative of the nation-state distorts and diminishes simple, shared humanity. One would think this lesson would have taken by now. As I read Goliath, one thought (and here I am guilty of the kind of abstraction that I accused the West’s foreign policy “elite” of) kept cropping up throughout: Apart from the specific group, it’s flag, and all the other trappings of a national mythos and its veneration, are the aims and methods of the “pure” Zionist state so very different than those of the “pure” Aryan one?

For its street level perspective of Zionism in practice, Goliath is a Must Read.

Notebook, 29 August 2013: Parliament on Syria


Watching the British Parliament debate British involvement in a US-led bombing campaign in Syria as a response to gas attacks, I’m hearing slippery slope and pie-in-the-sky arguments in favor, but the opposition is less articulate. Their arguments roughly break down thus:

  • The conflicting demands of international law, a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention vs breaking international law by intervening in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, the latter needs to be given the greatest consideration.
  • No conclusive evidence of a gas attack has been, as yet, been presented.
  • There’s no real plan. “Sending a message” seems to be enough justification for conservatives, but what exactly does that accomplish?

It is also apparent that neocon baggage and what amounts to a criminal record as long as your arm in the tawdry abuse of humanitarian intervention by the West, even while both sides are skeptical of the credibility argument.

What’s not being mentioned is how the West sat back after episodes like when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons on Kurds in northern Iraq.

We intend to remain seized of the matter.

Notebook, 26 June 2013: American Exceptionalism?


“Russia can neither be grasped by the mind, nor measured by any common yardstick. Russia’s status is special: no attitude to her other than one of blind faith is admissible.”

“He who is not with us, absolutely and without reserve of any kind, is against us, and should be treated as an enemy alien.”

The first is something I’ve quoted before; the poet Feodor Tyuchev singing his devotion to Mother Russia — the Third Rome. The latter was proclaimed by our own “progressive” hero, Teddy Roosevelt.

So much for freedom of conscience.

Notebook, 22 June 2013: Thank You For Your Service


At 18:08 in the video: After hearing that US helicopter gunships had shot and wounded a child (there were two), we hear

“Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids to a battle.

“That’s right”

As this was happening, and just a few blocks away, Agence France correspondent Ahmad Sahib got out of the car he was traveling in, started snapping a few pictures and began to attract a crowd – which soon drew fire from an American helicopter.

It looked like the American helicopters were firing against any gathering in the area, because when I got out of my car and started taking pictures, people gathered and an American helicopter fired a few rounds, but they hit the houses nearby and we ran for cover.

NY Times, 13 July 2007.


One of the U.S. Marines who was caught on video urinating on the corpses of suspected Taliban fighters has broken his silence to say that he’s not sorry for what he did and he’d do it again.

“These were the same guys that were killing our family, killing our brothers,” Sgt. Joseph Chamblin told ABC News affiliate WSOC in his first interview since the 2011 incident. Chamblin said he did regret any repercussions it may have had on the Marines, “but do I regret doing it? Hell no.”

ABC News, 17 July 2013. Last accessed, 18 July 2013.

Which is, we can be certain, exactly what our “enemies” think of that marine.

Here we have @james_stamulis, who describes himself thus:

proud retired veteran,infidel and conservative. dedicated to protecting and preserving our constitution and our god given individual liberties.stand with Israel

fort myers, florida

Who uses his time to tweet things like the following:

Did we really trust people like this with a firearm?


The Fallujah Mosque Shooting:

This update goes off topic, but it is important to note how the press centers in the US (NBC in this case) deliberately soft-pedaled the story. They failed to inform Americans that US Marines had committed a war crime. Casual brutality. Note that the commander, if not explicitly ordering the shooting, was fine with it.

The Marine(s) who shot unarmed, wounded combatants, and their commander, were never brought up on charges. While it may be true (it is debatable) that, as USMC Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski ruled that the shootings were “consistent with the established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict” this is clearly an atrocity. To accept otherwise it to tacitly admit that your armed forces are allowed (and as this post illustrates) all too willing to commit any atrocity whenever they can get away with it.

So the next time Americans start screaming about an atrocity committed on American personnel, I’ll remind whoever that is that they have no room to complain.

Absolutely none.

It also tends to illustrate that laws written with nineteenth century set-piece warfare in mind need to be revisited. Would the US enter into any such agreements? Almost certainly not.

Notebook, 19 June 2013: The Terror Con Indeed


Americans are hysterical. This was evident in the reaction to Chris Hayes’ thoughtful question whether we should be calling American service-people “heroes” in knee-jerk fashion. We neither think straight on many issues nor are we prone to thinking slow and relying on what we know.

This hysteria is just now beginning to be questioned. In The Terror Con, Robert Scheer points out that that the official National Security apparat isn’t populated with dedicated public servants, those “extraordinary professionals” President Obama demands we praise and admire, but career revolving-door bureaucrats intent on keeping the national security gravy-train running full bore. More to the point is the Council on Foreign Relations article pointing out that the chances of any American dying or being injured from an act of terror on US soil is infinitesimally small.
Read more…

Notebook, 8 June 2013: FISA judicial review? Seriously?


UPDATE: It would appear my characterization is shared by some on both political fringes:

And while I’ve mentioned weaknesses within the FISA court process, there is, of course, more than a whiff of the usual dynamic of self-reinforcing, institutional fulfillment at work here as well: Retired Federal Judge: Your Faith In Secret Surveillance Court Is Dramatically Misplaced.


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