August 1, 2016

Trump Says Obviously True Thing About Hillary and the Iraq War
Over the weekend, Donald Trump sought to defend himself and retaliate against Khizr Khan, the Muslim American man whose son died in Iraq and who spoke at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) against Trump.

This being Donald Trump, he started out with an offensive response rather than an effective one. In particular, he suggested that Mr. Khan’s wife, who joined him on the DNC stage but did not speak, may have been quiet “because she was not allowed to speak.” The intended implication was to smear Islam generally, something like, “Hey guys, remember how evil and repressive Islam is towards women?”

Of course, the more likely explanation for Mrs. Khan’s silence is not that she’s a Muslim, but that two-person speeches are decidedly awkward affairs. General Allen also spoke at the DNC with seemingly half of the military leadership behind him, and curiously, none of them spoke either. What are we to conclude from that, Mr. Trump?

But while that initial response was clearly stupid, Trump later got to the heart of the matter with the following tweet:

I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond? Hillary voted for the Iraq war, not me!

Here, Trump is pointing out the same irony we did in our write-up last week. Hillary Clinton was a key vote in favor of the Iraq War that got Mr. Khan’s son killed in an utterly useless conflict. Whatever Trump’s transgressions, he didn’t do that.

This response suggests itself, and it’s somewhat incredible that the DNC / Clinton campaign would want to leave themselves wide open for it. They must have expected that a normal politician wouldn’t “go there”. But here Trump proved anew that he is not a regular politician. He’s almost always offensive, but he’s also occasionally right. His comment on the Iraq War is a case of the latter.

Fortunately for Hillary, the media is focusing overwhelmingly on the offensive (and stupid) remarks that preceded it rather than this substantive reply, so perhaps the fallout will be limited. (For instance,CNN had this very long write-up on it, that only managed to give a couple lines to the war piece at the very end.)

Hillary Directly Accuses Russia of DNC Hacks
We previously commented on the campaign to shift focus away from the nefarious contents of the Democratic National Committee (also DNC) email leaks to the source of those leaks. It appears those efforts got escalated substantially this Sunday when Hillary Clinton proclaimed definitive knowledge that Russia hacked the DNC:

We know that Russian intelligence services hacked into the DNC, and we know that they arranged for a lot of those emails to be released and we know that Donald Trump has shown a very troubling willingness to back up Putin, to support Putin.

Nevermind that the US government has not even claimed to prove this. Nope, Hillary Clinton, with her famous knowledge of cybersecurity and email, has it all figured out.

Granted, the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party have been overtly pushing the “Russia did it” narrative all along. Still, this ought to be an alarming development. Not only is a would-be president directly making accusations against another nuclear power, she’s making them with certainty.

In this way, it’s much like how Secretary of State John Kerry claimed to “know” that Syrian President Assad used chemical weapons on his own people and wanted the US to bomb Syrian targets in response. Here’s what he said then, in a deeply face palm-worthy speech:

[W]e know that the Assad regime has the largest chemical weapons program in the entire Middle East. We know that the regime has used those weapons multiple times this year and has used them on a smaller scale, but still it has used them against its own people, including not very far from where last Wednesday’s attack happened. We know that the regime was specifically determined to rid the Damascus suburbs of the opposition, and it was frustrated that it hadn’t succeeded in doing so.

We know that for three days before the attack the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area making preparations.

And so on for two more paragraphs.

That made it somewhat awkward when, months later, it was reported that the culprits behind the attack was actually the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate, with Turkish assistance, and the goal was precisely to frame the Assad regime so the US would attack it. Perhaps we did not “know” nearly so much. Also, maybe lying is a Secretary of State thing. Looking at you, Colin Powell.

Worse still, the very idea that a cyberattack can be definitively pinned on anyone is fanciful for sophisticated attacks. The trouble is that hackers have many tools at their disposal to mask the origin of attacks. As cybersecurity expert Jeffrey Carr explained recently in an interview on the Scott Horton Show, the logical leap used to blame the Russian government is roughly equivalent to this:

Guy goes on a shooting spree -> guy used a Kalashnikov, which is a Russian gun -> therefore, the perpetrator is not just a Russian, but an agent of the Russian government itself.

Transparently absurd, and yet it remains the official narrative because Hillary Clinton believes regular Americans are as excited about a new Cold War as she is.

Rebranding–Not Just for Corporations Anymore
The same branch of Al Qaeda mentioned above, also known as the Nusra Front or Jabhat Al-Nusra (Al-Nusra) is now trying to rebrand itself. It claims it is dissociating from the Al Qaeda parent organization. It is also changing its name to Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham.

Importantly, the move doesn’t signify any change in the group’s underlying extremist ideology. Rather, it seems to be an attempt to become one more non-moderate rebel group in Syria to gain a strategic advantage. Heretofore, Al-Nusra has been one of the most effective fighting groups in Syria, and it has worked closely with US-backed rebel groups. Officially, however, it remains a terrorist organization, subjecting it to occasional airstrikes and barring explicit coordination with the US.

You might imagine the US would shy away from backing extremist groups of all descriptions–given our history with them–but you would be sadly mistaken. Just two weeks ago, we got a gruesome reminder of how “moderate” our allies in Syria really are. One such moderate group decapitated a 12-year-old boy who was an alleged soldier fighting on the side of the Syrian regime. That is not a typo. Twelve years old and decapitated on film, just like ISIS would do. Yet even after the incident, the US government did not say they planned to cut off aid immediately because it might have just been lower-level soldiers.

Horrible anecdote aside, this seems to  support the logic behind Al-Nusra’s move. Given that the US has no qualms about working with extremists to weaken Assad, but won’t work with Al-Qaeda officially; the solution is obvious–they can be as extreme as they want as long as they don’t call themselves Al-Qaeda. Granted, this isn’t an official government position yet. But I don’t expect this prudence to last too long. The following headline / strategy seems far more likely to emerge in Syria in the coming months:

Obama/Clinton Administration Declares Success in Eliminating Al-Qaeda in Syria; Declares New Strategic Partnership with Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham

It would make as much sense as the rest of our foreign policy in Syria…which is to say, none at all.

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