Thursday, November 26, 2015

Seems like a good day to talk Turkey

Until I read this article, I didn't realize that the Turkish territory that the Russian bomber supposedly intruded upon was Hatay province. That really does muddy the waters a bit. While the Turks do not view the territory as disputed and it has been recognized as Turkish by almost everyone for the last few decades, the Syrians do not recognize it as part of Turkey and Russia has not taken a clear position on the issue.

When I was in Syria in 2005, I bought a map of the country printed in Arabic. That map shows all of Hatay, including the city of Antakya, clearly in Syria.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Captured and dead"

I thought "captured" implied alive. (You "recover" a body but "capture" a living person). Does that mean the pilot survived but then died?

And I realize this is an international story, but this close to Thanksgiving, can headline writers please stop referring to it as a "Turkey shooting"?


Not too surprising that this happened. Russian planes have not been terribly respectful of borders. Really the ball is in Putin's court, whether he wants to make this into something, or if he is just going to let it quietly slide.

Is this the first time a NATO member has shot down a Russian war plane?

ADDING: It looks like Turkey called an "extraordinary council" meeting (I love all the pomp and circumstance of the NATO treaty) but has not invoked Article 4,  which I thought was the basis for these extraordinary meetings. Isn't Article 4 what makes them so extraordinary?

In any case, Article 4 is mostly important because it is not Article 5, which is when the shit is really going down.

ADDING2: The Guardian Liveblog for this incident has the answer to my question about whether this is the first time a NATO member has shot down a Russian war plane. Apparently, this is the first time since the end of the cold war, but not the first time ever. In 1952 four Russian MIGs were shot down by U.S. planes during the Korean War. But that was the last time it happened.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Since the Paris bombing there has been a new push to call the Islamic State "Daesh". Personally, I don't think the name matters. I tend to use both "the Islamic State" and "ISIS" alternatively on this site. I like ISIS because it lets me do stupid jokes about a tv show that I watched when I was a kid. I switch ISIS out with "Islamic State" periodically just to avoid overusing ISIS.

I don't think there is any moral superiority with using "Daesh" as some people have recently argued. The argument for "Daesh" is that the other three names: "the Islamic State", "ISIS" and "ISIL" all include "Islamic" (that is what the first letter in both ISIS and ISIL stands for) which implies that the group is really Muslim when many mainstream Muslims claim that the group is really a perversion of the faith.

That argument is really dumb. Because "Islamic" is in "Daesh" just as much as it is in "ISIS" or "ISIL." "Daesh" is simply the transliteration of "داعش", which is the acronym in Arabic for the group's Arabic name, "الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام" (ad-dowla, al-islamiyya fii al-iraq wa-ash-sham). Al-islamiyya ( الإسلامية) or "Islamic" is part of the groups name in Arabic and the ا in "داعش" ("Daesh") stands for the Arabic word for "Islamic" just as the initial "I" in "ISIS" and "ISIL" stands for "Islamic" in the acronym for the English translation of the name,

Maybe there are good reasons to think that "Daesh" is a better name for the group than the alternatives. But those reasons should not be because "Daesh" takes "Islamic" out of the name. It just doesn't.


There have been a lot of odd responses to the Paris attacks. One of them is the idea that because ISIS perpetrated that attack, that means the group is somehow "winning". Unlike a group like normal terrorist group (like al-Qaeda) the Islamic State gets its legitimacy from being a state. That is, controlling territory and governing it with what it deems to be the correct version of Islamic law. Whether ISIS can attack targets in the West and whether it can hold the ground it controls in Iraq and Syria are two completely separate questions. Attacking a bunch of unarmed people does not take that much technical prowess or even competence. Defending the lands it controls is both central to ISIS's identity and a real test of whether the group can be said to be winning.

By that measure, ISIS is clearly losing because it is losing territory. On the same day of the Paris attack, ISIS lost Sinjar, Sinjar is important because it sits on the main transit point between the Islamic State's territory in Iraq and its territory in Syria. By taking Sinjar, the Kurds are cutting the links between Mosul (the largest city controlled by ISIS) and Raqqa (its capital). Meanwhile, a different group of Kurds are recapturing territory in Northeast Syria and are now at the gates of Raqqa. At the same time, Assad's forces are pushing back ISIS in West-Central Syria. ISIS is losing ground in the West, Center, and North of its de facto state. It is also having financial trouble, which is only going to get worse if the West continues to target its oil infrastructure.

The Islamic State's biggest problem has always been that almost everyone hates them. None of the surrounding countries in the region support ISIS, and they have managed to piss off the important countries from outside the region as well. The only thing they have going for them is that they are good at recruiting disaffected violence-prone youth from around the world. Well, okay, the other thing they have going for them is their enemies in the region don't like each other, so they are more concerned with their differences with each other than their common enemy in the Islamic State. Although that benefit to ISIS erodes a bit every time ISIS does some new brutal attack (e.g. the Paris attack got Russia and France working together and even got Russia to focus more of its fire against ISIS, as opposed to other anti-Assad groups)

As I have said before, I don't think that the Islamic State is viable in the long term, or even the medium term. Terrorist attacks attract more attention and make it seem like the group is powerful. Really it is just a symptom of desperation. As their territory shrinks, the Islamic State is leaning more and more on foreign recruitment. The way that ISIS can boost foreign recruitment is to do high profile attacks. The way to do high profile attacks is to attack places that the media areas about. Which means more attacks against the West to make the group seem competent and scary. The very things that make it seem big and powerful are symptoms of its weakened position.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Now everyone's FB profile pic will be green, yellow, and red


And because this is happening in francophone West Africa, the French media will pay attention to it, even if the U.S. media relegates it to page A7 (or whatever the electronic equivalent of that is)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

For once I actually agree with the #1 result of this kind of poll

"Which [U.S. presidential] candidate is best suited to deal with terrorism?"

Veto threat

When a president issues a veto threat, it used to mean the bill was less likely to pass. Now I think this makes it more likely to pass. Congress no longer sees its jobs as enacting legislation. It's only point is to make political theater.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Stuff I just don't get

(1) Why Republicans think they are tough when they take positions that reveal themselves to be complete pants-wetting cowards.

(2) Why so many commentators and politicians still believe that using military force is a good way to produce stability and security.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The shift in Russian strategy that they won't acknowledge

It looks like the Russians have concluded that the Metrojet plane that exploded over Sinai was brought down by a bomb and that the bomb was planted by ISIS. As a result, they are starting to actually bomb ISIS.

This is a bit different from their practice prior to now in which they claimed to be attacking ISIS while their bombers instead attacked other anti-Assad groups that were not ISIS. Because those other groups are rivals to ISIS and because the Islamic State has largely grown in Syria by seizing territory held by other rebels groups rather than the Assad-led government, the Russian strategy before now actually benefited ISIS.

We shall see whether this new Russian strategy will hold up. Because the U.S., France, and other NATO countries are now bombing the same territory that Russia is, this means that Russia and NATO will have to coordinate more closely to make sure they don't step on each other's toes.