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Belmont Club

Fore, Three, Two, One …

August 11th, 2014 - 4:24 pm

As a Russian “humanitarian” convoy readies to launch itself at the Ukraine under Moscow’s version of the “responsibility to protect”, the Washington Post describes how Obama decided to help the Kurds after he was assured ISIS was meeting the legal requirements for genocide.

(Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Monday Russia is sending an aid convoy to eastern Ukraine despite urgent Western warnings against using humanitarian help as a pretext for an invasion.

With Ukraine reporting Russia has massed 45,000 troops on its border, NATO said there was a “high probability” that Moscow could intervene militarily in the country’s east, where Kiev’s forces are closing in on pro-Russian separatists.

I used to think that either of two events might trigger a serious effort to impeach the president: an invasion of Ukraine or an invasion of Taiwan. But now I doubt that even both together would pull him off the golf links. What might coax him from his pastoral settings is a legal document. The president seems to be one of those individuals who regard words on paper as the ultimate reality.

Just after 10 a.m., Obama met with advisers for 90 minutes in the White House Situation Room.

What was happening to the Yazidis, they concluded, was potential genocide under the legal definition of targeting an entire ethnic or religious group for extinction. In briefings from intelligence and State Department officials, “there were stories of mass executions, reports from the mountain of people dying potentially of thirst,” the official said. “Women being essentially enslaved.”

Ding. Ding. There was apparently a winner.  The joint power of those pushbutton words, “ethnic”, “women” and especially “enslaved” was hard to resist.

By the end of the session, Obama had made his airstrike decision, and discussion turned to how it would be shared with Congress and announced to the American people. “The president was very clear that he wanted to continue to have limiting principles on our engagement,” the official said. “He would not be putting U.S. combat forces back on the ground. . . . He did not want to create a slippery slope. He wanted to identify clear objectives that are in our national interest, in support of our strategy in Iraq, but don’t lead us in a direction that we don’t want to go.”

It is not that humanitarian considerations are trivial or not good enough. But strategy can be important too. The president can read a legal document, but ISIS can read a map.


A Ringside Seat To Our Own Destruction

August 10th, 2014 - 3:19 pm

Headlines have focused on the atrocities committed by ISIS on the northern Iraqi front. The leading stories seem almost expressly written by the Onion to make fun of political correctness. Crucified by the Caliphate monsters: Iraq descends into apocalypse as Islamic State fanatics seize towns and tell terrified Yazidi ‘Become Muslims by noon today… or we kill all of you’. Then there’s Islamic militants ‘buried alive Yazidi women and children in attack that killed 500′. Try topping: Anglican Vicar of Baghdad: ‘Child I baptized cut in half by ISIS’.

How about this lead paragraph? “BAGHDAD (AP) — Hundreds of women from the Yazidi religious minority have been taken captive by Sunni militants with “vicious plans,” an Iraqi official said Friday, further underscoring the dire plight of Iraq’s minorities at the hands of the Islamic State group.” Vicious plans is the 21st century journalistic equivalent of the Victorian phrase, “a fate worse than death”.

This eyewitness account is pretty close to the best reportage, however. “On board Iraqi army helicopter delivering aid to the trapped Yazidis, Jonathan Krohn sees a hellish sight”.

Mount Sinjar stinks of death. The few Yazidis who have managed to escape its clutches can tell you why. “Dogs were eating the bodies of the dead,” said Haji Khedev Haydev, 65, who ran through the lines of Islamic State jihadists surrounding it.

On Sunday night, I became the first western journalist to reach the mountains where tens of thousands of Yazidis, a previously obscure Middle Eastern sect, have been taking refuge from the Islamic State forces that seized their largest town, Sinjar.

I was on board an Iraqi Army helicopter, and watched as hundreds of refugees ran towards it to receive one of the few deliveries of aid to make it to the mountain. The helicopter dropped water and food from its open gun bays to them as they waited below. General Ahmed Ithwany, who led the mission, told me: “It is death valley. Up to 70 per cent of them are dead.”

The story adds, almost superfluously, that ISIS is attempting to shoot down aid deliveries. They would do that, wouldn’t they? Yet all this time the world was assured there was nothing to worry about in the hundreds of radical mosques, the thousands of militants eagerly received into the West and creeping sharia law in its institutions.  The dangers, they were told, all lay in the Tea Party and elusive militia groups holed up in a cabin in the Ozarks.

But if the calamities in Kurdistan were all it would be a good week for the Obama administration. Now tanks are reported in the streets of Baghdad. “Security forces have encircled the residence of the Iraqi President – Sharqiah News”. Other reports allege its a coup being staged by Maliki to establish himself as dictator.  It now appears that Maliki is suing the Kurds for not supporting him in office.


Minority Report

August 9th, 2014 - 4:10 pm

Most public facts fall into the “maybe” category. Let’s review the maybes in three categories of recent headlines.

  1. the conflict with Russia;
  2. the situation in Iraq;
  3. the transmissibility of Ebola.

The conventional wisdom is that “Putin is on the run” and “Edward Snowden was a patriotic whistleblower.”  Ed Epstein has recorded a YouTube video that might make you rethink the proposition that Snowden acted with good intentions.  Epstein argues that the vast majority of documents Snowden stole pertained to U.S. penetrations of Chinese and Russian systems. Only a very small portion of his take bore upon NSA domestic surveillance, and that has been selectively released to people like Glenn Greenwald.  Epstein makes a thoughtful case for the possibility that Snowden was — objectively at least — a Russian intelligence op.

Timothy Ash disputes the idea that Putin is on the run. In a closely reasoned article he asserts that Putin is far more likely to escalate the crisis in Ukraine, probably via some sort of invasion carried on under the cover of restoring peace to that troubled land.  Michael Weiss at Foreign Policy writes, “Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine won’t be an armored blitzkrieg. It’s a slow, seditious drip — and it’s already underway.”

For those living the reality of having a portion of their country occupied by Russian intelligence agents and insurgents — all armed with Moscow-dispatched weapons, of course — the question isn’t whether Vladimir Putin will launch a full-scale assault on his neighbor, but when he’ll do it. This week, U.S., NATO, and European officials all seemed to agree that the prospect of that event occurring has risen precipitously.

Is Putin on the run before a triumphantly advancing Obama?  The situation in Iraq is rather interesting. The conventional wisdom is that the Obama has finally arrived to save the day. The best place to begin examining the alternatives is the map provided by the Institute for the Study of War Iraq Updates site.



August 8th, 2014 - 11:49 am

The man who brought the Ebola virus to Nigeria probably knew he was infected.  Surveillance video of Patrick Sawyer before boarding his flight at Liberia’s James Sprigg Payne’s Airport showed “Mr. Sawyer lying flat on his stomach on the floor in the corridor of the airport and seemed to be in ‘excruciating pain.’ The footage showed Mr. Sawyer preventing people from touching him.”

He collapsed upon arrival in Nigeria, after a layover in Togo and was rushed to a Nigerian hospital.  Upon being told he had Ebola, he acted with what the Nigerians called “indiscipline”; a burst of rage and despair against the world and everyone in it.

Upon being told he had Ebola, Mr. Sawyer went into a rage, denying and objecting to the opinion of the medical experts. “He was so adamant and difficult that he took the tubes from his body and took off his pants and urinated on the health workers, forcing them to flee.

Amazingly, he was even then in the process of being sprung by his political connections before death intervened.  Had he lived Sawyer might have gotten out and protected by the juju of expensive watches and status symbols, mingled among the muckety-mucks of ECOWAS.

“The hospital would later report that it resisted immense pressure to let out Sawyer from its hospital against the insistence from some higher-ups and conference organizers that he had a key role to play at the ECOWAS convention in Calabar, the Cross River State capital.

In fact, FrontPageAfrica has been informed that officials in Monrovia were in negotiations with ECOWAS to have Sawyer flown back to Liberia.

Eight of the Nigerian hospital workers are now infected with Ebola, including the doctor who attended Sawyer. One, a nurse, has already died. The Liberian president, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, apologized to Nigeria for the incident. She said “Patrick Sawyer was on surveillance, but he sneaked out of Liberia”. Sneaked out, presumably, to hobnob with the big shots of the region.


The Last of the Yezhidis

August 7th, 2014 - 4:34 pm

The Obama administration has reached what one might call the ‘Pol Pot Aftermath’ of its Middle Eastern policy.  Michael Totten notes that ISIS is massacring the Yezhidis, people who practice “the original religion of the Kurds. ”  What is worse, according to the New Yorker magazine, this massacre is genocide. George Packer describes the travails of his friend Karim, who “spent years working for the U.S. Army in his area, then for an American medical charity. He’s been waiting for months to find out whether the U.S. government will grant him a Special Immigrant Visa because of his service, and because of the danger he currently faces.”

Tell him to try Mexico.

ISIS regards Yazidis as devil worshippers, and its fighters have been executing Yazidi men who won’t convert to Islam on the spot, taking away the women as jihadi brides. …

The Kurds began to run out of ammunition, and those who could retreated north toward Kurdistan. By dawn, the extremists were pouring into town. Later, ISIS posted triumphant photos on Twitter: bullet-riddled corpses of peshmerga in the streets and dirt fields; an ISIS fighter aiming his pistol at the heads of five men lying face down on the ground; Arab locals who stayed in Sinjar jubilantly greeting the new occupiers.

Karim had time to do just one thing: burn all the documents that connected him to America—photos of him posing with Army officers, a CD from the medical charity—in case he was stopped on the road by militants or his house was searched. He watched the record of his experience during the period of the Americans in Iraq turn to ash, and felt nothing except the urge to get to safety….

Prince Tahseen Said, “the world leader of the Yazidis,” has issued an appeal to Kurdish, Iraqi, Arab, and European leaders, as well as to Ban Ki-moon and Barack Obama. It reads: “I ask for aid and to lend a hand and help the people of Sinjar areas and its affiliates and villages and complexes which are home to the people of the Yazidi religion. …

Karim couldn’t help expressing bitterness about this. “I don’t see any attention from the rest of the world,” he said. “In one day, they killed more than two thousand Yazidi in Sinjar, and the whole world says, ‘Save Gaza, save Gaza.’ ”


The First Horseman

August 6th, 2014 - 3:36 pm

News that 8 persons in Lagos, a city of 20 million people, were infected by the dying Patrick Sawyer with Ebola and one — a nurse — had died sent a shudder of fear through Nigeria. Close on its heels reports that a businessman had died with Ebola-like symptoms in Saudi Arabia following a trip from a West African trip have prompted assurances from authorities that steps have been taken to keep the Haj from becoming a distributor of the disease to Muslim world.

Ebola is proving the proposition that when dealing with nature, if you lie you die.  Nowhere is this clear than in Liberia where the poorly educated population is hiding victims, abstracting them from hospitals, attacking doctors who they believe bring the disease or dumping Ebola corpses in the street, satisfied that by casting the infectious corpses out of doors to be torn to pieces and spread abroad by dogs and carrion, have solved the problem.

And in a way it is rational a rational response to irrational Liberian governance.

With less than half of those infected surviving the disease, many Africans regard Ebola isolation wards as death traps, he said.
‘They are therefore removing the bodies from their homes and are putting them out in the street,’ Mr Brown told Reuters.

The virus has closed down Liberia’s hospitals and killed its doctors.  Liberia’s institutions, never much good in the best of times, are being collapsed by the virus.  A chart from the Wall Street Journal tells a tale of rout. While Guinea and Sierra Leone Ebola statistics show a constant rate of infection, but Liberia’s slope is increasing as the days progress.  It’s getting worse faster.



Naturally the World Health Organization is meeting to decide whether the experimental drug Zmapp should be provided to the stricken African countries. Nothing like demanding a uncertified, unneeded product created by a morally defective capitalist pharmaceutical system to save the world. The LA Times reports:

the World Health Organization said it was convening a panel of medical ethicists early next week to consider whether experimental drugs should be more widely released.

A decision to allow two American health workers infected in Liberia to have access to an experimental treatment — while dozens of African doctors and nurses have perished — has ignited a controversy over the ethics of the decision, which reportedly sidestepped Liberian health regulations.

If the serum proves their last hope they’ll first demand it as a ‘right’– then commandeer it if necessary.  Necessity knows no bounds. But that cuts both ways. There may be no serum other than a few experimental vials. Reality doesn’t give a damn about Liberian health regulations nor WHO edicts nor speeches by president Obama. It cares about facts.

About who invested in medical research, and who didn’t; about who has good epidemic controls systems and which don’t; about which country have functioning border controls and which care about ‘immigration reform’.  And there isn’t any serum in production, then there’s no serum. The problem is that since our leaders have messed up the facts, they can’t fix things with speeches.

War, Famine and Pestilence all obey the laws of physics. The media, government and the academy have heretofore cared about the laws of political correctness and the tyranny of appearances.  Now we get to see who wins. In recent years it has become fashionable to claim the Narrative trumps reality. Yet you can’t bribe viruses, can’t “hide” infectious victims, can’t appease dictators and you can’t print money. As I’ve written many times before, nobody beats arithmetic.


I Aim To Misbehave

August 5th, 2014 - 4:04 pm

The UK’s top public doctor says the failure to find a cure for Ebola represents underscores “the moral bankruptcy of capitalism”.  Does that mean we can expect an Ebola vaccine from a socialist country any day now? Or one developed by the public doctor’s public system?  That’s not what he means. What he might be referring to is the dramatic recovery of two missionary healthworkers in Liberia following the administration of the experimental Zmapp serum.

This will be cited as proof that the cure for Ebola was only “50 white people away”.  Professor John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, an independent body for specialists in public health in the United Kingdom said as much. No cures for blacks. “They’d find a cure if Ebola came to London,” he said.

But who’s ‘they’ kemo sabe?  Not his public system.  ’They’ is the morally bankrupt capitalist system that he hates so much. Now if only we could put the morally bankrupt capitalist system under the control of public doctors then all would be well.

Would the public doctors really decide to develop a cure for Ebola? The sad fact is that  if they tested Zmapp on black Africans during this Ebola outbreak the media would claim they were being used as lab rats. The only acceptable way to test the new uncertified medication in Liberia was on two white Americans. That way if the serum failed the UN wouldn’t sue. As it is the Kentucky Bioprocessing, a subsidiary of Reynolds American, is not out of the woods yet. If it failed critics would note that the drug supplied was made from tobacco plants.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration must grant permission to use experimental treatments in the United States, but the FDA does not have authority over the use of such a drug in other countries, and the aid workers were first treated in Liberia. An FDA spokeswoman said she could not confirm or deny FDA granting access to any experimental therapy for the aid workers while in the U.S.


Terror And The Sword of Justice

August 4th, 2014 - 5:04 pm

The after dinner entertainment at one Shi’ite leader’s home, according to Jacob Siegel of the Daily Beast, consisted a torture video taken by one of the new members of his militia, the so-called “Peace Brigades”.  Sheikh Raad al-Khafaji had invited Siegel to break the holy fast of the Ramadan and then showed the video around to let people know that Shi’ites mean business.  Brutality is apparently the coin of the realm in some parts of the world.

Western culture now regards torture as something underhand and shameful but apparently shiekh saw advantages in making it known he was one mean hombre.

Given ISIS’ emphasis on publicizing its own acts of torture, it wasn’t shocking to see young fighters from the other side doing the same. … The sheik seemed to keep his young fighter on hand for meetings with journalists. …

The video itself was clear enough but the message it was intended to convey never came entirely into focus. If the record of torture was being deliberately leaked it may have been to threaten ISIS supporters that the militia forces, even those working with the military, were capable of their own brutality.

Was ISIS into beheading? Greasy kid stuff. We slice you up with razor blades and put it on video. Anything ISIS can do I can do meaner. I can do anything meaner than ISIS.

This should be no surprise. During Operation Iraqi Freedom the coalition forces would routinely come across “slaughterhouses” and torture chambers.  Terrorism doesn’t win by defeating armies. It triumphs primarily by controlling populations through fear and coercion.  It’s a cheap method of control.  The Chinese have a saying: “strike the mountain to shock the tiger” and “kill the chicken to scare the monkey.” Both sayings can be summarized as follows:  fear works.


Proxy War

August 3rd, 2014 - 2:01 pm

News that ISIS has seized Iraq’s biggest water impoundment facility, the Mosul dam, and taken 3 towns despite nominal Kurdish opposition will come as no surprise to readers of the Belmont Club. DW reports:

“Islamic State” fighters have seized Iraq’s biggest dam, an oilfield and three more towns. ISIS also scored its first major defeat of Kurdish forces since sweeping through northern Iraq in June.

The capture of the Mosul Dam could give the group a base from which to attack major cities and aid its bid to topple Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government. ISIS’s capture of the northern town of Sinjar has already forced up to 200,000 people to flee, the United Nations announced on Sunday.

“A humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sinjar,” UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov said Sunday after ISIS, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, captured the town near the Syrian border, which had served as a refuge for thousands of families displaced from elsewhere in previous fighting. …

In July, the Kurdish political bloc ended participation in Iraq’s national government in protest over Prime Minister’s Maliki’s accusation that the ethnic group had allowed “terrorists” to stay in Arbil, the capital of the minority’s semiautonomous region.

ISIS also raided Lebanon, with the NYT reporting the group kidnapping 17 cops in the town of Arsal, perhaps to trade as hostages for some of their own men held in jails.  It’s almost like they are creating access along various neighboring border points, like a doctor preparing to insert a drug, through which they can inject their militants into other countries. It’s an epidemic vector, with ISIS playing the role of Ebola.


The Return of the Natives

August 1st, 2014 - 3:13 pm

With  Gaza now looking more and more like a fight to the finish and president Obama vowing to ‘act alone’ to solve the ‘historic influx of migrants’ it may be time to examine some of the finer points of the ongoing world crisis.  First Syria. Let’s not forget Syria, which by the numbers is the highest intensity conflict in the region.

Nate Petrocine of the Institute for the Study of War (Syria Updates) notes how the Syrian rebels are using the same anaconda techniques the Belmont Club described in the Siege of Baghdad.  They are systematically attacking M4 and M5 in Syria to isolate Assad’s forces both from each other and the Latakian coastal region. “Rebel operations have continued to target the vital highways segmenting Idlib province, namely the M5 and the M4. The M5, which spans the western length of Syria from Damascus to Aleppo, is an essential supply route for both regime and opposition forces. Likewise the M4, which connects Aleppo and Idlib to the coast of Latakia, is indispensable for regime forces currently fighting in Aleppo City.”

ISIS (ISIL) is now able to conduct large scale operational warfare competently both in Iraq and Syria. Maliki and Assad are no longer fighting the Viet Cong. They are fighting the NVA. As Petrocine put it:

The late spring and early summer rebel advances in Idlib province indicate that opposition forces have the ability to coordinate large scale offenses over relatively large swaths of territory. The initial Idlib offensive on the M5 around Khan Sheikhoun began with a combined assault over a distance of 45km on a single day. Such an operational range demonstrates that opposition forces are able to coordinate effectively at above a tactical level.

The same adaptive mutation can be observed in Hamas. Israel has waked to the sudden realization that as its drones patrolled the skies over Gaza, its foes, like mole-men, had honeycombed the border with tunnels. The underground equivalent of Iron Dome won’t be ready for a year.

“The high-tech system, which uses special sensors and transmitters, is still in its R&D phase, and if all goes well, should be operational within a year”, notes a report on Israel’s I-24 news.