Thursday, October 19, 2017

Maybe "give them arms" shouldn't be a solution to every foreign policy problem?

John McCain apparently can't grasp the fact that once you give weapons to other people, they are going to use those weapons how they want to, not necessarily how you want them to.
The Iraqi operation also forced a military confrontation between two American-backed allies. Both the pesh merga and the Iraqi military have received American training, intelligence and supporting airstrikes and artillery in several joint operations against the militants.

Senator John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was incensed. “The United States provided equipment and training to the government of Iraq to fight ISIS and secure itself from external threats — not to attack elements of one of its own regional governments, which is a longstanding and valuable partner of the United States,” he said in a statement.

Mr. McCain warned of “severe consequences” if American-supplied military equipment was destroyed in the operation. The Kurdish government said Monday that its fighters had destroyed five American-supplied Humvees used by the Iraqis.

(Yes, I realize this comes from the same article I was reacting to in my prior posts. How many posts can I milk out of a single article?)

Holding a grudge

I used to highlight these kind of articles, the ones that note that "ironically" the U.S. and Iran just happen to be on the same side of some issue in the world. But someone could write an article like that almost every day. For decades, American and Iranian interests have converged on a number of issues. The U.S. and Iran have been on the same side in the war against the Taliban, in supporting the post-U.S. invasion government of Iraq, in opposing ISIS, etc. This is really nothing new, nor is it particularly remarkable.

I'm convinced the main reason that Iran gets such a beating in U.S. politics is because the storming of the Iranian embassy and the resulting hostage crisis created so damaged Iran's reputation in the eyes of the American public, the public will never think any level of demonization of Iran or its people goes too far. Bashing Iran or its regime is the lowest hanging fruit in American politics. Take a tough line with that country, and you will automatically get widespread applause. It also helps that the demonization of Iran is egged on by allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. But if you somehow wiped from America's memory everything that happened between November 1, 1979 and January 20, 1981, Iran would be, if not a regional ally, a power that the U.S. cooperated closely with.

Yeah, I know the Iranian government is horrible and has a terrible human rights record. But by any objective measure, the Saudi government is worse. It's human rights situation is at least equal to Irans (I think worse), and it is undeniably a lot less democratic than Iran is. My point is not to defend Iran but only to point out that when American interests converge with a foreign country, the niceness of the government or its human rights record doesn't pose any real barrier to cooperation. Those things are the reasons that people usually point to when they talk about why U.S.-Iran relations are so bad. But they can't explain it, at least not if you look at relations between the U.S. and several of Iran's neighbors.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Lawrence Lessig is on crack

Being a "constitutional expert" doesn't make the guy a political expert. Paul Ryan would never ever ever ever willingly give up the Presidency so he could make Hillary Clinton president. Ever. Even as a far-fetched thought experiment, this is so far outside the realm of possibility I can safely say it will never happen.

After all, it is possible that the United States government will completely collapse within the next year or two (either because of a North Korean nuclear strike, or just because President Trump runs it into the ground), and then Hillary Clinton leads a rag-tag group of patriots to rebuild the country and then a grateful country makes her president by acclamation.

Yeah, that is totally far-fetched and I don't think anyone would believe that will actually happen. But it is still more likely than Lessig's scenario.

Not getting the point of this

I don't think it's a "cryptocurrency" if a government backs it. After all, "dollars" are an electronic currency as well as a physical one, but that doesn't make it a cryptocurrency. I am guessing this is just an effort to make electronic Tenge transactions use blockchain.

I'm not sure what the benefit of that would be. In order for Astana to regulate its TengeCoins it would need to destroy the two advantages that cryptocurrencies have over regular currency: not being tied to a government and anonymity. (Personally, I think both of those advantages are overblown and come with a lot bigger downsides that cryptocurrency boosters are willing to acknowledge, but they are the reasons that Bitcoin et. al. have been successful.)

Monday, October 16, 2017


This is a really big deal, but I wonder if our Trump-obsessed news media will pay much attention.

For years common wisdom has said that the Pesh Merga is the toughest/most competent fighting force in Iraq. When the U.S. trained Iraqi national army crumbled and fled from the rising Islamic State, the Pesh Merga fought back and (mostly) held their borders against ISIS's expansion. They also seized Kirkuk from the Iraqi central government when those troops left and kept the city from the Islamic State. Now the Iraqi Army is trying to take Kirkuk back. So far it looks like Iraqi forces are taking over the city without a big fight. But if the Kurds decide to hit back, it is not clear that the Iraqi army would be able to win.

As Juan Cole says, this is probably would not have happened if the U.S. president was paying any attention to stuff that isn't covered on Fox and Friends. But he isn't, so we have a new conflict in Northern Iraq.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Perhaps the dumbest thing about President Trump

As I mentioned in March, and as Atrios said this morning, it really is remarkable that a guy that has access to the expertise of the entire federal bureaucracy (not to mention 17 intelligence agencies) primarily gets his information from a cable news channel that traffics more in culture-wars-style entertainment than actual news.

That alone is pretty compelling evidence of moron status.

Monday, October 09, 2017

What's a little mass murder if we can have the highest bracket down by a couple of percentage points?

Atrios is right. "World War 3" means nuclear annihilation. If these guys were really concerned that Trump has a real chance of getting millions of people incinerated and their grandchildren (assuming any survive) finding themselves in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, why aren't Republican clamoring the remove Trump from office?

Either they don't really believe he will get us into a nuclear conflict, or their priorities are so fucked up that are willing to risk a little nuclear holocaust if it means cutting rich people's taxes. The latter is totally nuts, so crazy I even have a hard time believing the insane Republicans in Congress could be that bonkers. So does that mean that they don't really believe that Trump will get us into a nuclear war? If that's the case, then why the hell is Corker saying it?

Saturday, October 07, 2017

What exactly is this, and does it just apply to Tillerson?

I have heard that Rex Tillerson gets some kind of tax benefit if he remains as Secretary of State for at least one year. e.g.

Can someone explain to me how that tax advantage works, or give me a link that explains it? Does it apply only to Tillerson, or would it apply to Trump's other cabinet members? (I don't think this explains where the one-year rule comes into play)

I'm wondering if Tillerson will resign when the clock strikes midnight on February 1, 2018 or will we be facing mass resignation in early 2018?

Friday, October 06, 2017

I know! I know! Pick me! Pick me!

He hates it because Obama made it.

The Times article works too hard to find some intellectual objection that Trump might have against the deal. Sure you can find individual objections if you pour through all of Trump's remarks about the Iran nuclear deal. But that kind of review will also tell you that Trump has little idea what the Iran deal is or how it works.

I wish someone would just ask Trump how many parties there are to the Iran Nuclear Framework Agreement and who those parties are. I am willing to bet that Trump would not be able to answer that. He certainly talks about the deal as if it is just an agreement between the U.S. and Iran.