Syria

Jim and the Buried Lede (Mattis Matters for America)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, 19 November 2016, in Bedminster Township, N.J. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It seems worth noting that we are actually through a particular looking glass:

One tense moment came last May as officials grew increasingly concerned about aggressive Iranian behavior.

For weeks, Mattis had been resisting requests from the White House to provide military options for Iran. Now Trump made clear that he wanted the Pentagon to deliver a range of plans that included striking Iranian ballistic missile factories or hitting Iranian speedboats that routinely harassed U.S. Navy vessels.

“Why can’t we sink them?” Trump would sometimes ask about the boats.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster and his staff laid out the president’s request for Mattis in a conference call, but the defense secretary refused, according to several U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. At that point, McMaster took Mattis off speakerphone, cleared his staff from the room and continued the conversation.

“It was clear that the call was not going well,” one official said. In the weeks that followed, the options never arrived.

(Jaffe and Ryan)

Something about buried ledes might go here, but, to be explicit: We are nine months into the period during which the National Security Advisor, a retired Marine Corps general, keeps the peace by refusing or ignoring the president.

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Not Exactly Clairvoyance (Monday Mission Mix)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite: President Donald Trump photo by Reuters, 2017; Puti-Toots protest image.

This is a superstition:

U.S.-backed militias in Syria said they came under attack on Saturday from Russian jets and Syrian government forces in Deir al-Zor province, a flashpoint in an increasingly complex battlefield.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias fighting with the U.S.-led coalition, said six of its fighters were wounded in the strike.

The Pentagon said Russia bombed a position east of the Euphrates river where it knew SDF fighters and coalition advisers were stationed. The jets did not injure coalition forces, it said.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow or Damascus.

(Francis)

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)Okay, so, the way it works is that in recent times the press really has called out the White House over weekend events, and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders might well be an entertaining spectacle trying to dodge questions about whether or not President Trump is capable of criticizing the Russian government or strongman Vladimir Putin. And the superstition is that, having mentioned it, this will turn out to be an occasion when the Press Corps will take a pass.

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Image notes: Top ― Composite: President Donald Trump photo by Reuters, 2017; Puti-Toots protest image. Right ― Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Francis, Ellen. “Jets strike U.S.-backed forces in eastern Syria”. Reuters. 16 September 2017.

Asymetrically Expected

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of frame from Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor, episode 6, "An Aroma Sweet, a Heart Bitter...".

Steve Benen brings both setup and punch line, which is what it is, and he is certainly fine talent―

Republican voters opposed bombing the Assad regime in Syria, until Donald Trump took office, at which point they changed their mind. GOP voters thought the American economy was awful, until a Republican became president, at which point they suddenly reversed course.

And Gallup reported late last week that Republican voters had deeply negative attitudes about the current U.S. tax system, right before they changed their minds in early 2017.

―but come on, Republicans are making it too easy. Or perhaps this is part of their faustian bargain, that such simplicity, daring to be stranger than fiction in a distinctive context akin to denigrating parody and pantomime, is the price of their desires. To say this is how Republicans or conservatives behave—to predict or expect such simplistic behavior—merely for the basis of political affiliation ought to be some manner of offensive stereotype.

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Carter Page

#NoPuppetNoPuppet | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite — Donald Trump: Detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc; Carter Page: AP Photo; Puti-Toots: Artist unknown.

This is Carter Page. Honestly, it is pretty much what it looks like. The headlines can tell you quite a bit, and either read along or don’t; there is a lot there, and the tale really is as clumsy and ridiculous as it seems.

• Milder, Zachary. “Trump’s New Russia Adviser Has Deep Ties to Kremlin’s Gazprom”. Bloomberg. 30 March 2016.

• Ioffe, Julia. “The Mystery of Trump’s Man in Moscow”. Politico. 23 September 2016.

• Nechepurenko, Ivan. “Carter Page, Ex-Trump Adviser With Russian Ties, Visits Moscow”. The New York Times. 8 December 2016.

• Schwarz, Jon. “Carter Page, at Center of Trump Russian Investigation, Writes Bizarre Letter to DOJ Blaming Hillary Clinton”. The Intercept. 15 February 2017.

• Woodruff, Judy. “Former Trump adviser says he had no Russian meetings in the last year”. News Hour. 15 February 2017.

• Reilly, Steve. “Two other Trump advisers also spoke with Russian envoy during GOP convention”. USA Today. 2 March 2017.

• Helsel, Phil. “Carter Page, Adviser Once Linked to Trump Campaign, Met With Russian Ambassador”. NBC News. 3 March 2017.

• Herridge, Catherine, Pamela K. Browne, and Christopher Wallace. “Ex-Trump adviser Carter Page rips ‘false narrative’ on Russia collusion”. FOX News. 30 March 2017.

• Ross, Brian and Matthew Mosk. “Trump campaign adviser Carter Page targeted for recruitment by Russian spies”. ABC News. 4 April 2017.

• Groll, Elias. “Russian Spy Met Trump Adviser Carter Page and Thought He Was an ‘Idiot'”. Foreign Policy. 4 April 2017.

• Kaczynski, Andrew. “Former Trump adviser Carter Page says he didn’t disclose Russian spy contacts to campaign”. CNN. 5 April 2017.

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The Donald Trump Show (Puti-PWND)

A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)

“Does Mr. Trump propose this collaboration with a regime obsessed with thwarting and weakening American power out of ignorance and naivete, or because of personal and business interests he has not disclosed? Mr. Putin surely knows the answer to that question―but U.S. voters do not.”

The Washington Post

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Image notes: A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)

Editorial Board. “Donald Trump, Putin’s puppet”. The Washington Post. 10 October 2016.

An American Lamentation (Two by “Huh?”)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016. (Detail of frame via YouTube)

Americans often lament the fact of their essentially two-party political league, and the top of the Libertarian ticket, Gary Johnson, is capable of providing spectacular reminders of why we tend toward the binary. The former New Mexico governor and middle-tier celebrity stoner has managed to reduce a human atrocity to yet another icon of American stupidity, which really is no good legacy to build. Yet it is true, in the American discourse, “Aleppo” is … well, Matthew Kitchen tries to explain for NBC News:

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson struggled to name a single foreign leader when asked who his favorite was during an MSNBC town hall Wednesday night.

“Any one of the continents, any country. Name one foreign leader that your respect and look up to. Anybody,” host Chris Matthews pushed during the event, causing Johnson to sigh loudly as his VP pick Bill Weld tried to jump in.

“I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment,” Johnson finally said, referring to his recent gaffe on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when he asked “What is Aleppo?” after he was questioned about how he would handle the conflict in the Syrian city.

So, yeah. Aleppo is … Gary Johnson being inexcusably stupid. (Look, dude, I mean, you’re, like, running for president, you know, like, aren’t you?)

And then there is Donald Trump.

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The Gary Johnson Trip (Legacy)

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson botches a foreign policy question about Aleppo, Syria, on msnbc's Morning Joe, 8 September 2016.

This is perhaps the greatest contribution former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson’s presidential bid offers our society:

On the surface, the low approval ratings for Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump present a prime opportunity for a candidate like Mr. Johnson, who is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Even so, that intriguing blend of policies has made it difficult for the Libertarian ticket, which includes William F. Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, to attract stray Democrats or disenchanted Republicans in large numbers.

“He’s had issues coalescing the anti-Trump Republican crowd, partially because it’s a mix of social conservatives and moderates, and partly because at times he’s seemed more keen on appealing to the Bernie bros,” said Tim Miller, a Republican and a former aide to Jeb Bush, referring to the supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Mr. Miller opposes Mr. Trump and is considering voting for the Libertarian ticket this year.

Mr. Miller added that Mr. Johnson’s flub about Aleppo did not make him a riskier bet on foreign policy matters than is Mr. Trump. But, he said, it does highlight the problem that many Republicans have with Libertarians. “It reinforces my top policy difference with him, which is his relative isolationism” on foreign affairs, he said.

(Rappeport)

That is to say, Aleppo is no longer the name of a human atrocity, but, rather, an emblem of atrocious American stupidity.

Then again, it clarifies the remainder for the the Johnson/Weld effort: That would be a hell of an unfortunate legacy.

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Barnicle, Mike. “Gary Johnson asks: What is Aleppo?” Morning Joe. msnbc. 8 September 2016.

Rappeport, Alan. “Gary Johnson’s ‘What Is Aleppo’ Flub Amplifies Skepticism of Republicans”. The New York Times. 9 September 2016.

The Gary Johnson Trip (Dearth and Aleppo)

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson botches a foreign policy question about Aleppo, Syria, on msnbc's Morning Joe, 8 September 2016.

Thus Mike Barnicle interviews Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson for Morning Joe on msnbc:

Say what?Barnicle: What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo?

Johnson: About …?

Barnicle: Aleppo.

Johnson: And what is Aleppo?

This is yet another reminder why the American electoral outlook is functionally a two-party system.

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Barnicle, Mike. “Gary Johnson asks: What is Aleppo?” msnbc. 8 September 2016.

The Word from the War (What Is This Thing Called Hope?)

A Turkish army tank stationed near the Syrian border, in Suruc, Turkey, Saturday, 3 September 2016. Turkey's state-run news agency says Turkish tanks have entered Syria's Cobanbey district northeast of Aleppo in a "new phase" of the Euphrates Shield operation. Turkish tanks crossed into Syria Saturday to support Syrian rebels against the Islamic State group, according to the Anadolu news agency. (AP Photo)

Via Associated Press:

Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels expelled the Islamic State group from the last strip of territory it controlled along the Syrian-Turkish border on Sunday, effectively sealing the extremists’ self-styled caliphate off from the outside world, Turkey’s prime minister and a Syrian opposition group reported.

The question does arise, occasionally, what constitutes good news in war. As the Syrian government prepares to lay siege against Aleppo again, it seems reasonable enough to temper any celebration of the announcement from the Turkish government.

To wit, while Daa’ish might well have “lost its link with the outside world”, as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights suggests, “after losing all border areas”, it would also seem that constitutes progress vis à vis one human rights disaster that pretty much prevents the world from reasonably addressing another.

Two words: Aleppo roses.

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Image note: A Turkish army tank stationed near the Syrian border, in Suruc, Turkey, Saturday, 3 September 2016. Turkey’s state-run news agency says Turkish tanks have entered Syria’s Cobanbey district northeast of Aleppo in a “new phase” of the Euphrates Shield operation. Turkish tanks crossed into Syria Saturday to support Syrian rebels against the Islamic State group, according to the Anadolu news agency. (AP Photo)

Mroue, Bassem and Zeynep Bilginsoy. “Turkey: IS has lost all territory along Syria-Turkey border”. The Big Story. 4 September 2016.

Unsurprising Cowardice (Leadership)

The shadow over Congress, and Mitch McConnell.

In February, Republicans said no to an Authorization for Use of Military Force specifically crafted to address Daa’ish because it wasn’t a big enough war. And while Republican presidential candidates might be lining up to take it out on Syrian refugees and Muslims both at home and around the world, the one thing they won’t do, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is grant an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Daa’ish.

“The president obviously feels he has the authority now to do what he’s doing,” McConnell said. “And the discussions with Democrats on AUMF make it clear that the only kind of AUMF they would support is one that would include such micromanagement of the military exercise as how many troops you could have, how long they could stay, and all of this.

“I would not want to saddle the next president with a prescriptive AUMF. We’re going to have a new president a year from now,” McConnell continued. “He or she may have a different view about the way to deal with ISIS and that part of the world. I don’t think we ought to be passing an AUMF as the president exits the stage when he already thinks he has the authority to do what he’s willing to do now.”

(Lesniewski)

This is a weird back and forth; as near as anyone can tell, the Obama administration is operating in the Levantine Theatre under the auspices of the same post-9/11 AUMF that saw President Bush invade Iraq. We are, essentially, living in the time of perpetual warfare authorized fourteen years ago.

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