Mike Pompeo: Secretary of Hypocrisy

If Pompeo has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan.

It isn’t hard to guess what Mike Pompeo, the hawkish congressman from Kansas, would say about the Afghan exit deal that Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, is negotiating with the Taliban.

The details of the negotiations, which are being conducted in Qatar by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and could be finalized by the end of the month, are a closely held secret. So close, in fact, that I’m told Pompeo won’t allow White House officials to review details of the agreement except in his presence.

But the basic outline is this: a complete withdrawal of America’s 14,000 troops from Afghanistan within 14 months — that is, by October 2020 — in exchange for a promise from the Taliban not to attack our forces on the way out, along with some kind of vague assurance from them that Afghanistan will not again become a base for global terrorism. A source familiar with the deal says there is no explicit requirement for the Taliban to renounce its ties to Al Qaeda.

Even those who want the U.S. to leave Afghanistan, come what may, should be dismayed to see an American strategic decision be so nakedly dictated by the electoral needs of a president who wants to take credit for ending “endless wars.” They should be no less dismayed by the idea that we are doing so in plain indifference to Afghanistan’s government, which wasn’t invited to the talks because the Taliban won’t deign to speak to what it considers a puppet government.

That “puppet” government is, for all of its well-known flaws, internationally recognized and democratically elected. It does not wantonly massacre its own people, or wage war on its neighbors, or sponsor terrorist groups that seek to wage war on the West. And it’s also all that will stand between the Taliban’s murderous misogyny and Afghanistan’s 18 million vulnerable women.

Then again, progressives have been pining for an Afghan exit for at least a decade, and Barack Obama set a timetable for full withdrawal (which he was later forced to reverse in the face of Taliban gains) in 2014. Foreign-policy hawks in the mold of Pompeo used to take a different view about the wisdom of U.S. retreat — at least before they became Donald Trump flunkies.

For starters, they had no patience for the lie that the Taliban was to Al Qaeda merely what a flea motel is to a fugitive on the lam. The Taliban lied to Clinton administration envoy Bill Richardson in 1998 by telling him they didn’t know of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts when they were harboring him, and then refused to give him up after the 9/11 attacks.

They’d have even less patience for the convenient fantasy that the Afghan Taliban has, or ever will, part ways with its brothers in global jihad. The deputy leader of the Taliban is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the Haqqani Network that has been entwined with Al Qaeda since its earliest days.

“There is not a scintilla of evidence that the network is willing to break with Al Qaeda,” notes Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Even if the Taliban were to renounce A.Q. and attacks on the West, which they have never done, you’d need a verification mechanism. But if you withdraw all Western troops, there is no verification.”

What about the case for ending a long war? That’s always desirable, and every death in war is a tragedy. But a hawk might also note that U.S. endured just 14 fatalities in Afghanistan in 2018, and that a U.S. service member is far more likely to die in a training accident than in combat. At some point, describing our current involvement in the country as a “war” stretches semantic credibility when compared to past U.S. conflicts.

Against the human (and budgetary) cost of our presence in Afghanistan, hawks would tally the cost of withdrawal. Even liberals like former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized Obama for withdrawing too hastily from Iraq, thereby creating the power vacuum that ISIS quickly filled. It was a fiasco that ended only when Obama was forced to return U.S. troops to Iraq a few years later.

Why should a similar scenario not play out in Afghanistan? It’s true that ISIS and the Taliban are rivals, but any administration willing to entrust the Taliban with being a bulwark against global terrorism is even more gullible than the poor saps who paid money for a Trump University training program.

Hawks once understood this — just as they understood that America paid a steep price in strategic and moral credibility when it bugged out of its international commitments, squandered the sacrifices of American troops for the immediate political benefit of a sitting president, and betrayed the vulnerable populations we had endeavored to protect against a barbaric enemy.

Don’t just take it from me. “As a former Army officer, it is gravely concerning to see any president of the United States play politics with critical national security issues,” one conservative lawmaker said in 2011 of Obama’s initial decision to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces. “This decision puts both the lives of American troops and the gains made on the ground in Afghanistan at risk.”

That lawmaker was — who else? — Mike Pompeo. If the secretary has a sense of shame, he might consider apologizing to Obama for adopting the same policy he once so loudly denounced. If he has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan. I’m confident he’ll do neither.

Trump May Doubt Climate Change, Pentagon Sees It as Threat Multiplier

At his confirmation hearing, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called climate change a “driver of instability” that “requires a broader, whole-of-government response.”

For more than a decade, military leaders have said that extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels are aggravating social tensions, destabilizing regions and feeding the rise of extremist groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

.. Another Pentagon report in 2015 called climate change a “threat multiplier.”

.. Climate change is already impacting the military itself, how it operates, and the countries in which we have an interest where it can result in instability, which leads to violence, which leads to conflict and where we end up moving our young men and women overseas

.. He warned the U.S. that “if one country decides to leave a void, I can guarantee someone else will occupy it.” The only other countries not in the accord are Syria and Nicaragua.

.. “Around the world, military strategists view climate change as a threat to global peace and security,” he said in a speech at New York University. “We are all aware of the political turmoil and societal tensions that have been generated by the mass movement of refugees.”

.. a three-foot sea level rise would threaten at least 128 U.S. military bases, which are valued at $100 billion. Nine of those are major hubs for the U.S. Navy.

The Limits of Discourse: As Demonstrated by Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky

not all societies have the same degree of moral wealth. Many things contribute to such an endowment. Political and economic stability, literacy, a modicum of social equality—where such things are lacking, people tend to find many compelling reasons to treat one another rather badly.

..  Now imagine the benighted Americans of 1863 coming to possess chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. This is more or less the situation we confront in much of the developing world.

.. One helicopter pilot who arrived on the scene ordered his subordinates to use their machine guns against their own troops if they would not stop killing villagers.46

..  benign intentions are virtually always professed, even by the worst monsters, and hence carry no information, even in the technical sense of that term.

.. The bombing of al-Shifa was an immediate response to the Embassy bombings, which is why it is almost universally assumed to be retaliation.  It is inconceivable that in that brief interim period evidence was found that it was a chemical weapons factory, and properly evaluated to justify a bombing.  And of course no evidence was ever found.  Plainly, if there had been evidence, the bombing would not have (just by accident) taken place immediately after the Embassy bombings (along with bombings in Afghanistan at the same time, also clearly retaliation).

.. There’s no rational way to explain this except by assuming that he intentionally bombed what was known to be Sudan’s major pharmaceutical plant, and of course he and his advisers knew that under severe sanctions, this poor African country could not replenish them – so it is a much worse crime than if al-Qaeda had done the same in the US, or Israel, or any other country were people matter.

.. I have often discussed the ethical question about the significance of real or professed intentions, for about 50 years in fact, discussing real cases, where there are possible and meaningful answers.

.. And I agree that I am litigating all points (all real, as far as we have so far determined) in a “plodding and accusatory way.” That is, of course, a necessity in responding to quite serious published accusations that are all demonstrably false, and as I have reviewed, false in a most interesting way: namely, you issue lectures condemning others for ignoring “basic questions” that they have discussed for years, in my case decades, whereas you have refused to address them and apparently do not even allow yourself to understand them.  That’s impressive.

.. It would also be interesting if, someday, you decide actually to become concerned with “God-intoxicated sociopaths,” most notably, the perpetrator of by far the worst crime of this millennium who did so, he explained, because God had instructed him that he must smite the enemy.

..  I now see that to the extent that he does weigh intentions, he may do so differently than I would (for instance, he says that Clinton’s bombing al-Shifa without thinking about the consequences is “arguably even worse than murder, which at least recognizes that the victim is human”). This would have been interesting terrain to explore.

How Saudi Arabia played Donald Trump

President Trump’s journey to the Middle East illustrated yet again how the country central to the spread of this terrorism, Saudi Arabia, has managed to evade and deflect any responsibility for it. In fact, Trump has given Saudi Arabia a free pass and a free hand in the region.

.. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has spread its narrow, puritanical and intolerant version of Islam — originally practiced almost nowhere else — across the Muslim world.

.. the Saudi government, along with Qatar, has been “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to [the Islamic State] and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” Saudi nationals make up the second-largest group of foreign fighters in the Islamic State and, by some accounts, the largest in the terrorist group’s Iraqi operations. The kingdom is in a tacit alliance with al-Qaeda in Yemen.

.. Saudi Arabia’s government has begun to slow many of its most egregious practices. It is now being run, de facto, by a young, intelligent reformer, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
 .. so far the Saudi reforms have mostly translated into better economic policy for the kingdom, not a break with its powerful religious establishment.
.. to be clear, Iran is a destabilizing force in the Middle East and supports some very bad actors. But it is wildly inaccurate to describe it as the source of jihadist terror.
.. 94 percent of deaths caused by Islamic terrorism since 2001 were perpetrated by the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other Sunni jihadists. Iran is fighting those groups, not fueling them.
.. Trump has adopted the Saudi line on terrorism, which deflects any blame from the kingdom and redirects it toward Iran.
.. The United States has now signed up for Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy
.. I thought that Trump’s foreign policy was going to put America first, not Saudi Arabia.

Michael Flynn, General Chaos

What the removal of Flynn as the national-security adviser reveals about Donald Trump’s White House.

The Death of ‘He Said, She Said’ Journalism

What made it extraordinary was the way the Times covered it.

.. Traditionally, when a political candidate assembles facts so as to aggrandize himself and belittle his opponent, “objective” journalists like those at the Times respond with a “he said, she said” story.

.. “Bush and Cheney Talk Strongly of Qaeda Links With Hussein,” noted a Timesheadline on June 18, 2004. Why were Bush and Cheney raising the subject? Because the day before, the 9/11 Commission had reported that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda did not have a “collaborative relationship.” Nonetheless, the Times reported Bush’s claims and Kerry’s response as equally valid. Bush himself had helped create the Commission to provide an authoritative, nonpartisan account of the events leading up to 9/11. Yet the Times refused to grant its view any more weight than Bush’s own. It refused to render any judgment about what was true.

.. But the Times, once a champion practitioner of the “he said, she said” campaign story, discarded it with astonishing bluntness. The Times responded to Trump’s press conference by running a “News Analysis,” a genre that gives reporters more freedom to explain a story’s significance.

.. Its headline read, “Trump Gives Up a Lie But Refuses to Repent.” Not “falsehood,” which leaves open the possibility that Trump was merely mistaken, but “lie,” which suggests, accurately, that Trump had every reason to know that what he was saying about Obama’s citizenship was false.

.. A certain etiquette has long governed the relationship between presidential candidates and the elite media. Candidates stretch the truth, but try not to be too blatant about it. Candidates appeal to bigotry, but subtly. In turn, journalists respond with a delicacy of their own. They quote partisans rather than saying things in their own words. They use euphemisms like “polarizing” and “incendiary,” instead of “racist” and “demagogic.”

.. He has so brazenly lied, so nakedly appealed to bigotry, and so frontally challenged the rule of law that he has made the elite media’s decorum absurd. He’s turned highbrow journalists into referees in a World Wrestling Entertainment match.

.. Since Trump has largely stopped giving interviews to anyone except campaign sycophants and celebrity lightweights, the debates may serve as his last encounter with actual journalists. Those journalists—Lester Holt, Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper and Chris Wallace—must be prepared to confront Trump in ways they’ve never confronted a candidate before. The more audaciously he lies, the more audaciously they must tell the truth.

Present at the Creation

The never-told-before story of the meeting that led to the creation of ISIS, as explained by an Islamic State insider.

He admired the foreign fighters whom he knew, mainly young men from Belgium and the Netherlands who had traveled to Syria to fight jihad. They had all lived in rich and peaceful countries, and while tens of thousands of Syrians had paid large sums of money to be smuggled to Europe to escape the war, these jihadis voluntarily traveled in the exact opposite direction.

.. Abu Ahmad would soon sour on aspects of the jihadi group. First, the Islamic State has not brought jihadis together; on the contrary, tensions have risen with other groups

.. Secondly, while some of the foreign fighters were men who led truly religious lives in Europe, he discovered another group that he took to thinking of as the “crazies.” These were mostly young Belgian and Dutch criminals of Moroccan descent, unemployed and from broken homes, who lived marginal lives in marginal suburbs of marginal cities. Most of these crazies had no idea about religion, and hardly any of them ever read the Quran. To them, fighting in Syria was either an adventure or a way to repent for their “sinful lives” in Europe’s bars and discos.

.. Since 2010, Baghdadi had been the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), al Qaeda’s affiliate in that war-torn country.

.. most of them had sworn allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s chosen successor and the leader of al Qaeda. How could they suddenly abandon Zawahiri and al Qaeda and switch to Baghdadi?

.. Baghdadi told them that he had indeed pledged allegiance, but hadn’t declared it publicly, per Zawahiri’s request. But Baghdadi assured the men that he was acting under the command of the al Qaeda leader.

The jihadi leaders had no way to check if this claim was true. Zawahiri was perhaps the most difficult person in the world to contact — he had not been seen in public in years, and is still in hiding, most probably somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

.. But by creating a state, the jihadi leaders argued during the meeting, it would be extremely easy for the enemy to find and attack them. A state with a defined territory and institutions was a sitting duck.

.. One by one they stood in front of Baghdadi, shaking his hand and repeating the following words: “I pledge my allegiance to the Emir of the Faithful, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Qurashi, for compliance and obedience, in vigor and impulsion, abjectness and abundance, and in favoring his preference to mine, and not contending the orders of his trustees, unless I witness manifest disbelief.”

.. Everywhere in northern Syria, ISIS seized Nusra headquarters, ammunition caches, and weapons stores. Amazingly, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria was suddenly fighting for its existence. A new age had begun — the age of the Islamic State.