Update: What I’m Reading on Suleimani

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what I’m reading. Over the years, these pundits, professors, and professionals have demonstrated that they offer sound analysis, timely interpretations, and wise insight into events with a backdrop or historical, cultural, and additional relevance.

Also, for context, I am not suggesting there will be an Iranian missile attack or an American ground invasion of Iran. Not impossible, but highly improbable. But this raises the already likely specter of confrontation to even more dangerous levels. And, lest we forget, these type of things can easily get loose from the grasp of control and spiral even more downhill quickly. There has already been a war by proxy with Iran for years, and an indirect confrontation by covert, economic, and cyber means. This is likely to increase, potentially into a semi-hot conflict that doesn’t bode well for the region or America.

Iran is a nefarious nemesis that needs our attention. But we need to reconstitute diplomacy, not tear up binding and working international agreements (JCPOA). We need to use our economic, cyber, covert, and alliance advantages, not rely on stupid and rash targeted assassinations against a state actor. We need to stop the chest-thumping saber ratting that gets us into war messes like Iraq 2003. We need to coordinate with an experienced government bureaucracy and national security establishment, not have a President that is surrounded by “yes” men inexperienced with the region and military/state peculiarities.

Here’s a good list so far:

Daniel Byman here. David Sanger here. Peter Bergen here. Andy Exum here. Robin Wright here. The Economist here. On our failed Middle East strategy…again. On US and Iran under Trump. Foreign Policy’s view. On Suleimani’s history and power. Wash Post article. On how his death is celebrated among many (of course he was a bad dude too). Slavin at the Atlantic Council. Always following David Ignatius, Vali Nasr, and pods like Lawfare, Rational Security, and Bombshell. Stay tuned…

Quick Response to Suleimani Killing

Trump’s rash and stupidly whimsical escalation of tensions with Iran in the Middle East just went from bad to worse, by a wholly unnecessary and dangerous U.S. strike that killed Iranian Quds Force Commander Suleimani. A beloved figure with a cult-like following not just in Iran, but across the Shia region, his death will require a response – whether by the regime or by Shia followers.

When things like this happen, no one can tell the future. Sometimes things blow over, sometimes they don’t. This killing of a major figure in Shia, regional, and Iranian religious/military/political affairs is likely to have staying power. This is not a good path for the region and for an already escalating conflict that never needed to happen. This is much of Trump’s own making.


A Highlight From Washington’s Farewell Address

I was looking over Washington’s Farewell Address for another project, and I was struck by one section I found to be particularly prescient with regard to political parties and foreign influence:

“Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. 

“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.” (1796)

It’s Easy to See Espionage

Given the impeachment open hearings regarding Ukraine and a false conspiracy theory picked up by Republicans – that Ukraine (not Russia) was behind 2016 election meddling – it’s good to remind ourselves of just exactly what the Russians did in 2016. Here’s the famous indictment issued a year and half ago against 12 Russian hackers who stole documents from the DNC in 2016. Its 29 double-spaced pages, but reads like a short story. (And this is just the DNC hacking, not the additional meddling with fake news ads on Facebook and speeding conspiracies.).

Here’s the intelligence community assessment from January 2017. Full IC consent.

Or read the book The Perfect Weapon by David Sanger.

Or remember the Russian deep-cover spies who were exposed in 2010? The Foley’s? Juan Lozaro? How about Jack Barsky and his story?

Or read up on any David Ignatius novel. Or don’t read a novel, but remember the classic KGB espionage actions throughout the Cold War. Stealing the bomb? Another Los Alamos worker was identified just this week! Or throughout the rest of the struggle.

And Trump, and the horrible lack of judgement he uses in picking extremely vulnerable people to surround himself with (remember that Jared Kushner couldn’t even get a clearance because he’s so shady, until Trump ordered it) – he is vulnerable himself to witting or unwitting assistance to the Russians. Check this piece out – not that I think Trump is a full employee of the KGB, but what makes him an easy target and how would they do it? And don’t forget that Putin is a career KGB counterintelligence official.

All I’m saying is that it’s absolutely obvious to even casual espionage observers what the Russians did, why they’d do it, and how bad it is to have Trump in office along with the the horribly ripe (for the Russians) people he picks to advise him. Having a major political party have a cult-like atmosphere around their leader (Republicans and Trump) has to be a perfect dream for Russian intelligence.

The Essence of the Problem

As Fareed Zakaria wrote last weekend in the Washington Post:

The real issue is that the United States has become deeply polarized, and each side wants to believe the worst slander and lies about the other. And undeniably this phenomenon is far more prevalent on the right than the left.

As another commentator mentioned the other day, American politicians have ceased to look at members of the other party as “worthy adversaries” in the arena of bettering the country. Instead they are now demonized as “the enemy” or the “opposition” to be bitterly defeated no matter the cost to the country.

Notice the signs that were brought by the Republicans to the George Kent and Bill Taylor public hearings yesterday. Although it’s a standard congressional hearing practice, is that the conduct expected at something as serious as the impeachment hearings of a president concerning foreign policy and national security matters? They weren’t there to objectively get information from clearly patriotic and dedicated public servants. They were there to walk the party line in defense of the indefensible conduct of this president (who is damaging our democracy and national security). Not to mention the outlandish opening statement by Devin Nunes filled with lies and outrageous conspiracy theories.

Horrible partisanship consumes America’s politics, and the problem is far worse on the right than the left. This is the essence of the country’s problem.

Terminal Journal: Attacks on Saudi Oil Fields

A quick note from the terminal to write about the attacks this weekend on the Saudia Arabian oil fields. There’s been great reporting by The NY Times and Wall Street Journal, among other sources.

First, what happened. Drones were used to attack Saudi Oil fields, causing fires and damage and taking offline, at least for now, about half its production capability.

Who did it? The most likely culprit are Houthi rebels, based in Yemen and currently fighting the Yemeni government. The Houthis are backed by Iran, as they are both Shia, while the Saudis have been backing the government of Yemen, both because of its Sunni faith and because of their desire for stability on its southern border. A “proxy war” by Iran has been waged in Yemen in supporting the Houthis, while the Saudis have waged an overt war with a large bombing campaign and a devastating blockade causing the worst famine crisis in modern times. Needless to say, there are clear reasons why the Houthis would attack Saudi Arabia where it hurts. Unlike what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo states, there does not seem to be indication that Iran was directly behind the attacks (and hard to believe they would), but the Shia state has waged a war by proxy actor in Yemen supporting the Houthis, so they are indirectly involved.

So What? Well, Saudia Arabia’s economy and entire social contract with its citizens is based on oil. Any attack on those facilities would demand a response from any sovereign nation, let alone one that impacted half of its output. The attack shut down about 5 percent of the global output of oil, something that will have an impact on the global economy. Other oil-producing nations will need to make up that gap. Additionally, this is an attack that violates the sovereignty of Saudi Arabia, something that they will not look at passively (despite their current involvement in the sovereignty in Yemen).

What’s next? This attack was a a clear attack against the heart of Saudi Arabia’s economy and foundation of their economic state. They will respond, and it will most likely be a strong military response. Oil is at the heart of the importance of the Middle East, and this attack strikes at that importance. Andrew Bacevich writes about this foundation of oil in the Middle East in his book America’s War for the Greater Middle East. Thus, while Trump’s talk of the US being “locked and loaded” may be laughable, it is true that we have an interest in the stability of the region, in the oil that flows through it’s straits, and in supporting our ally (Saudi Arabia) in responding. We have been a large supporter of the proxy war already. We will see if this response is military related or not.

Attacks like this involving drones and hitting economic infrastructure also represent an evolving modern type of warfare, something ISIS has used already and others are adding to their arsenal. Warfare is evolving, from cyber attacks like Stuxnet, Sony, and Russia and the 2016 US election, to drone attacks like this. But for the time being, it will be interesting but also concerning to see what the responses by Saudi Arabia, the Houthis, Iran, and the US looks like following these attacks against the Saudia oil fields.