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Assessing Trump's Military Actions

[ Posted Thursday, April 20th, 2017 – 17:24 PDT ]

There seems to be a higher-than-usual amount of attention on grading President Donald Trump's first 100 days in office. We're still more than a week away from the milestone, yet both the media and the White House already seem to be at fever pitch over how history will see Trump's first 100 days. Maybe it's just my own perception, but I don't seem to remember quite this level of intensity for the past few presidents, or at least not this early on the calendar.

But since it seems to be what's on everyone's mind, I thought today I'd take a stab at grading Trump's military actions so far. Grading a commander-in-chief this fashion is a subset of his overall grade on foreign policy, which I'm not going to bother examining at length today (just to be clear).

Trump has taken four notable military actions in his first three months in office. He authorized a raid in Yemen, he launched 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase, he dropped a large bomb in Afghanistan, and he supposedly sent an aircraft carrier steaming towards the waters off North Korea. There have been other military actions the United States has been involved with during this period, such as the continued push to take Mosul in Iraq, but they are more in the nature of ongoing operations (that Trump hasn't changed or influenced), so any blame or credit for them at this point still rests largely with President Barack Obama.

Two out of the four Trump military actions are at least partially shared with Obama as well. The "mother of all bombs" dropped in Afghanistan was moved there quite a while back, and Obama reportedly authorized the generals on the ground to drop it whenever they thought it necessary or advantageous. The raid in Yemen was at least partially planned (but not fully authorized) while Obama was still in office as well. But grading a president on his military actions really has to be done from two different perspectives: military success or failure, and how the action was perceived domestically and internationally.

 

Military effectiveness

Taking the four events chronologically, the raid in Yemen was Trump's first foray into the world of authorizing the Pentagon to take military action. It was not exactly a success, militarily. American troops wiped out some terrorists, but they also suffered one casualty and lost an aircraft in the raid. There were also quite a few civilian casualties. The Pentagon claimed they had captured enemy intelligence, but they didn't exactly offer up any convincing proof of this claim (more on that later). The generals were reportedly pushing not only for this raid in Yemen, but for a whole campaign of getting tougher militarily in the country. If it had gone better, to put this another way, it would likely have been the first raid of many. Instead, it appeared ill-conceived and badly executed. The targets were even reportedly tipped off that an attack was coming by the fact that drone surveillance of them was ramped up before the attack began. So "going outside, looking up, and noticing a bunch of drones circling the area" defeated all the advance planning for a surprise attack. All in all, the raid had to be judged a military failure. If it really had been successful, we would have launched other such raids in the country. We haven't. That's really the best indicator of failure, right there.

The second attack came after Trump saw "beautiful babies" dying in Syria as a result of a chemical weapons attack. He hastily ordered a limited raid on a Syrian airfield in response. Of the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched, 58 hit their targets (one failed in flight). Assessing the raid's effectiveness is complicated, though. The Russians and the Syrians made a concerted effort to portray the attack as having minimal effect, and fighters were taking off and landing from the airfield the very next day. The Pentagon countered that something like one-fifth of Syria's air force was destroyed, but they didn't provide clear evidence to confirm this claim. Normally, if a military strike had devastating consequences, the Pentagon isn't exactly shy about bragging; but this time there were no satellite photo close-ups of destroyed planes presented to the public, so it's hard to accurately judge whether the Pentagon was right in their assessment. Especially since the Russians were publicizing photos of very limited damage. In this propaganda war, what was notable was nobody was talking about the peripheral damage to the airfield. The runways weren't targeted for "cratering," but the fuel dumps and the airport's infrastructure was. But, again, neither side really addressed how effective this effort was. One notable thing about the raid was how expensive it was -- those cruise missiles aren't exactly cheap -- but the benefit of such weapons is that they can be launched without putting American troops in harm's way.

The missile strike likely caused some limited damage, but it certainly didn't affect the war effort much. Trump did not have any sort of long-range strategy to announce on Syria, and Assad's forces were bombing the same area where the chemical weapons strike happened the very next day. Since then, though, there have been no further chemical attacks reported in Syria. So, militarily, this was a limited mission which at least partially succeeded in hitting the planned target, and may have succeeded in the larger purpose of stopping the chemical weapons attacks.

A few weeks later, the GBU-43/B "Massive Ordinance Air Blast" bomb was used in combat for the first time. Its "MOAB" acronym also colloquially stands for the "Mother Of All Bombs," which was likely influenced by the fact that it was developed for the Iraq War when Saddam Hussein was still in power. Twenty such bombs were produced, and the military finally got the green light to drop one in Afghanistan to take out a cave complex used by the Islamic State. The bomb has an explosive yield of 11 tons of T.N.T., which is enormous by conventional bomb standards but doesn't come close to the yield of a nuclear bomb (the bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of 16,000 tons of T.N.T. and the one dropped on Nagasaki had a yield of 21,000 tons -- and they were both very weak nuclear bombs by today's standards, which now measure explosive effect in megatons, not kilotons).

Donald Trump can't take full credit for dropping the MOAB, since reportedly President Obama was the one to authorize its use, last year. The military decided upon a target where the unique properties of the bomb would be useful and effective, but that didn't happen until Trump was in charge. The bomb was developed with two main objectives in mind: military effectiveness and psychological intimidation. Its first use has to be judged a pretty clear military success, as it reportedly killed all of roughly 100 Islamic State fighters in the cave complex. The bomb's massive pressure wave and the ignition of the air itself did precisely what its designers intended, in other words -- destroyed a very hardened military site in one blow. It also sent a psychological and political message, which I'll address in a moment.

The fourth military action Trump took was not an actual attack (as the other three were). It falls into the category of "saber-rattling." With great fanfare the Trump administration announced that the U.S.S. Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its accompanying fleet (called "an armada" by Trump) was quickly heading for the waters between Korea and Japan. A week later, however, the media noticed that the ship had actually headed in the opposite direction, into the Indian Ocean. Whoops! Maybe it was commanded by Wrong-Way Corrigan?

Trump's bluff turned out to be a double-bluff, or what some might just call "fake news." Sending an aircraft carrier near North Korea was always going to be a bluff, since launching any sort of pre-emptive strike on the country would be followed within hours by the absolute destruction of Seoul, South Korea -- a city of 25,000,000 people. This high price is just never going to be paid, by Trump or any other United States president, but that doesn't stop us from bluffing every so often. But it's hard to bluff when the ship is in an entirely different ocean. The bluff itself turned out to be a bluff. But because it wasn't an actual attack, there wasn't any actual after-action analysis to assess.

 

Perception

The public's perception was that two out of the four military actions taken by Trump were outright failures. The third was only a partial success, at best. But Trump did score one clear victory in the public eye.

It's hard for anyone to argue that the big bomb dropped in Afghanistan was anything but a success. It did was it was supposed to do, and it killed everyone it had targeted. No American lives were lost. Collateral damage was kept to a minimum by the choice of target for the big bomb. It also signaled a willingness to use such a weapon, perhaps in other places around the world. This might be summed up as: "Don't mess with Trump, he'll drop a MOAB on you if you do." You can bet that America's enemies around the world watched the video of the bomb's explosion quite a few times, while worrying what effect it would have on them. This is the psychological impact of such a bomb, which (as mentioned previously) was a major objective in the development of such a weapon.

The raid on the Syrian airfield had a very mixed reaction in the United States. Trump's job approval went up a tiny bit (roughly two percent) after the raid, but the Russian and Syrian propaganda seemed to have more of an impact than the Pentagon's post-raid analysis. Photos and videos (shot by Russian troops) of empty hangars destroyed and other very limited damage were on the air within 24 hours. The Syrians defiantly staged landings and takeoffs from the airfield the next day, too. Many Americans were left thinking: "We paid how much for such minimal results?!?" An attack costing tens of millions of dollars didn't seem all that devastating, to put it mildly. And Assad bombed the same city that suffered the chemical attack the next day, too (albeit with conventional weapons such as barrel bombs).

The Syrian raid initially caused a frisson of excitement in the news media, because they absolutely love running video of cruise missiles launching (just ask Brian Williams!). The raid did successfully distract the media's attention for almost a week, which Team Trump must surely have chalked up as a victory (they haven't had many such weeks so far, to put it politely). But Trump's lack of any strategy towards Syria or any followup meant that the story eventually faded away. When it did, however, the MOAB story took over. The timing of the attack in Afghanistan meant that a much-clearer military victory was the followup, which helped Trump's portrayal in the media.

However, these two actions were bookended by Trump's military failures. The Yemen raid was the first Trump military action, and although the Pentagon and the White House insisted that it was a victory, the public soon felt otherwise. Especially after the Pentagon bragged that it had captured a treasure trove of terrorist intelligence, and trotted out a terrorist-recruitment video to prove it. It was quickly pointed out that this video had been available on the internet for ten years, which seriously undercut the "it was a smashing success" storyline the Pentagon was peddling. However, the perception of failure didn't do Trump that much damage with the public because the raid was so small-bore. Calmer heads prevailed at the Pentagon, and no subsequent raids were launched, which did serve to limit the perception of failure with the American public.

Currently, however, Trump is looking like either a liar or a joke on the world stage. When you announce an aircraft carrier is going to threaten a country, it always helps if the ship doesn't head in the opposite direction, to put it mildly. Trump had strengthened his own position on the world stage by the Syria raid and the Afghanistan bombing, because it showed he was more than willing to let the military decisively act. Call it the "Don't mess with Trump" effect. But this was seriously weakened by all the bluffing towards North Korea. They went ahead and tested a missile launch anyway, which was another failure but also showed that Kim Jong Un was also willing to do whatever he felt like without regard to Trump's threats. And that was all before it was revealed that the aircraft carrier wasn't even in the neighborhood. From this point on, world leaders are going to wonder: "Is Trump even telling the truth when he makes military threats, or is it just his own version of 'fake news' meant to confuse us?" That is a much weaker position than "Don't mess with Trump," obviously.

Politically, Trump hasn't been hurt much or helped much by his military actions in his first three months in office. His job approval ratings were pretty bad throughout, and he got one of the smallest "rally 'round the president" bumps ever after the Syrian strike. Each of the four military actions had quite limited consequences, mostly because Trump didn't take the opportunity of any of them to announce any overhaul of military policy or strategy in any of the four countries affected. Yemen was supposed to do this, since the raid was supposed to be the first of many to come. The other three haven't changed any war plans or strategies at all, at least not beyond showing a willingness to react to chemical weapons attacks in Syria. If the North Korean situation escalates in any way in the near future this could all change, but for now it seems to be calming down somewhat from the past few week's bluster (on both sides).

All in all, Trump hasn't had any complete military disasters during his first 100 days in office. By comparison, the Bay of Pigs fiasco happened on April 17th of John F. Kennedy's first year in office. Trump hasn't presided over a comparable military disaster, at least not yet. His military record so far as commander-in-chief has been decidedly mixed, however. The most notable aspect of it so far is Trump's erratic nature, but then again he did virtually promise this during his campaign (by saying he wouldn't telegraph such actions beforehand). Trump has largely kept Barack Obama's war plans in place for both Iraq and Syria, and both seem to be succeeding slowly. The Islamic State continues to lose territory, and they're about to lose their hold on Mosul. By the end of the year, they may be fully evicted from Iraqi territory altogether. The next big attack on the Islamic State will come in their self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa, Syria, and Trump so far hasn't announced any changes in strategy for any of it.

One final note is worth making when assessing Trump's military actions: I could easily see three out of the four Trump actions being taken by Hillary Clinton, if she had become president. Hillary might have approved the raid in Yemen. She could also have responded with a limited airstrike after the chemical weapons attack in Syria. She definitely wouldn't have stood in the way of the Afghanistan bombing (which was reportedly greenlighted in principle by Obama, remember). But she would probably have handled North Korea much differently, with much more emphasis on a diplomatic effort. When judging Trump, I find it useful to wonder whether things would have been any different under Clinton, and in three out of the four military actions since January 20th, I think there's a very good chance Clinton would have done pretty close to the same thing Trump did. This shows the limited ability of the president to act in such matters, and it's an important consideration when assessing a president's military record.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

56 Comments on “Assessing Trump's Military Actions”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    When judging Trump, I find it useful to wonder whether things would have been any different under Clinton, and in three out of the four military actions since January 20th, I think there's a very good chance Clinton would have done pretty close to the same thing Trump did. This shows the limited ability of the president to act in such matters, and it's an important consideration when assessing a president's military record.

    I don't understand what point you are trying to make here, Chris, and how it relates to judging Trump. Would you mind elaborating? And, try not to mention Clinton, if at all possible, please. :)

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Maybe it's just my own perception, but I don't seem to remember quite this level of intensity for the past few presidents, or at least not this early on the calendar.

    Well, let's be clear ... Trump is like no other president in modern history.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What is the US trying to accomplish in Yemen?

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What came first, Mother of All Bombs or Massive Air Ordinance Blast? Need we really ask? :)

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It's hard for anyone to argue that the big bomb dropped in Afghanistan was anything but a success. It did was it was supposed to do, and it killed everyone it had targeted. No American lives were lost. Collateral damage was kept to a minimum by the choice of target for the big bomb.

    Are we sure about all of that? I mean, we can be sure that no American lives were lost unless they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    But, how do we know that the loss of civilian life was kept to a minimum? Apparently, journalists in Afghanistan are not permitted to venture anywhere close to the bomb blast site.

    What did this strike do in terms of getting us closer to winning the GWOT? Or, did it, along with any number of other military actions over the course of the last sixteen years, do more harm than good in that regard. Does President Trump ask these questions or even have a fleeting thought about them? Because, the answers are critical in judging the success of this military action.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    "Big nations can't bluff."

    Joe was right.

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    My assessment of Trump's military actions can be distilled down to a simple conclusion with general applicability beyond the use of military force: the Trump administration has a very serious credibility problem with a Commander-in-Chief whose unpreparedness for that job compels him to delegate too much authority to his Generals and pay too little attention to policy formulation, let alone, strategic planning.

  8. [8] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    What is the US trying to accomplish in Yemen?

    Preclude a US-unfavorable Yemeni government granting Iran a naval base at or close to Mandeb Strait.

  9. [9] 
    altohone wrote:

    Hey CW and Liz

    I would like to see a reassessment of the GWOT too.

    According to the CIA, there are now 10 to 20 times more Islamist terrorists than in 2001 when the "war" was launched. I think it's time for Americans to admit that this is not indicative of success and is actually clear evidence of failure.

    Politically speaking, Bush the Lessor was given a lot of room to operate in a bipartisan fashion due to the attack on 9/11 being fresh in everyone's minds. Iraq was treated separately despite the false claims of a linkage.

    Obama coopted and/or successfully minimized the effectiveness of the anti-war left, with few Democrats challenging his continuation of the GWOT.

    But now that the Trumpon is our "leader", it seems there should be a political opportunity for Democrats to admit the reality that we are creating far more enemies than we kill, and making the US and the world less safe in the process, while destroying our soft power and squandering trillions of dollars in a massive misallocation of resources that is weakening our economy in the long term... and by Democrats I mean voters and pundits, not the weak-kneed establishment yes women and men in Congress who think supporting militaristic failure is a political necessity for reelection.

    Not unlike elected Dems support for the War on Drugs (for fear of being painted as soft on crime), voters and pundits have had to drag elected Democrats along to a new reality, and I think the same should be done regarding the GWOT.

    There is ample evidence to present, and a president worthy of opposition.

    A

  10. [10] 
    altohone wrote:

    Liz
    5

    Your challenge of the official narrative with skepticism about the claims being made is a beautiful sight.

    A

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Al,

    I'm very discriminating in my skepticism. :)

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    LB,

    Do you think Trump knows anything about the urgent and worsening humanitarian crisis that is enveloping Yemen?

  13. [13] 
    altohone wrote:

    LeaningBlue
    8

    The US establishment has been painting Yemen as a proxy war with Iran, without providing any evidence whatsoever that the Houthis in Yemen have received anything besides moral support from Iran.

    The Mandeb strait is touted as a potential chokepoint for commerce (particularly oil), but Iran has a naval base almost in spitting distance of Yemen, and already has potential control over a chokepoint for that very same oil coming through the Persian Gulf.

    In other words, the conflict in Yemen is mostly about Saudi paranoia and their feeling of entitlement to dominate their neighbor to prevent a regime next door that might give the restive Shiite population in Saudi Arabia ideas about having a voice or rights in their government.

    US participation is about placating the Saudis and selling billions in weapons.

    A

  14. [14] 
    altohone wrote:

    Liz
    11

    I'm hoping positive reinforcement chips away at that.

    A

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Don't hold your breath.

  16. [16] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    LB,

    (What is the US trying to accomplish in Yemen?)

    Preclude a US-unfavorable Yemeni government granting Iran a naval base at or close to Mandeb Strait.

    Yes, well, the US backed for many years the Saleh government which was ousted during the Arab Spring and now on the wrong side in this civil war.

    Your answer is far too simplistic.

  17. [17] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Liz said,

    Your answer is far too simplistic.

    That does not mean it isn't the correct answer, though. The American government's attitude and game plan has often been extremely simplistic despite the complexity of the actual problem they were supposed to be addressing. These overly simplistic game plans might explain why we have provided arms to almost every nation that we have later had to take military action against!

  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    That does not mean it isn't the correct answer, though.

    True. But, it does mean that it is incomplete.

  19. [19] 
    TheStig wrote:

    CW-

    "The bomb's massive pressure wave and the ignition of the air itself did precisely what its designers intended...."

    The reporting on this event has been uniformly uniformed, which is not your fault.

    Yes, the bomb produced a massive pressure wave, but MOAB is NOT a thermobaric weapon aka "fuel/air bomb" that uses atmospheric oxygen to ignite a payload of fuel. It's just a big air burst bomb, with a light weight aluminum case. Lighter case, more explosive.

    I don't think the designers intended MOAB to destroy very hard targets, MOAB is intended to kill soft targets inside a big kill radius. The ISL fighters in the caves weren't a hard target. You don't live deep in a cave...you live near the mouth. The roof is hard, but the door is open. A big shock wave comes in the door and kills you.

    The beauty of MOHAB, if you want to use beauty in the context of killing people, is that one massive air burst can simultaneously target multiple caves over something like a 1 mile radius, with no need for super targeting accuracy. This solves the "shell game problem" that ISL relies upon. A bonus feature of this particular cave complex is that it's at the bottom of valley, which contains the shock wave.

    Fiendish in it's intricacy, if it actually worked as advertised, which I don't think has been conclusively determined. Some poor US intel teams have take a systematic look see into those caves.

  20. [20] 
    altohone wrote:

    Hey gang

    Check this out-

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-39668313

    Claims about Syria.
    Once again, unsubstantiated assertion.
    No evidence.

    Wasn't Mattis supposed to be the sane one in the room?

    You should also note that the BBC is using the "incontrovertible proof" line about "Sarin or a Sarin like substance" again... almost as if it proves who was responsible, when it doesn't.
    Of course, there's no mention of what other substances they may be referring to, because that would require efforts along the lines of journalism and may confuse the message.

    In case anybody missed the saber rattling about Iran yesterday, Mattis also failed to substantiate his claims there too.
    And Trump contradicted the State Department about Iran meeting their obligations under the nuclear deal.
    A disturbing pattern that suggests US policy is being set without regard to any obligation to provide facts to the American citizens for whom they work.

    Liz... see anything worthy of your discriminating skepticism?

    A

  21. [21] 
    altohone wrote:

    20
    part two

    Of course, it doesn't help that Mattis was sharing a stage with Avigdor Lieberman in Israel when he made these comments...

    ... who, in case anybody has forgotten, thinks having ISIS take power in Syria is preferable to Assad, who supported the Israeli policy of providing medical care to al Qaida fighters injured in Syria, and who openly supports the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the West Bank so that Israel can claim all of their land.

    Not that those things make him an extremist, untrustworthy "ally" working against official US policy...
    ... oh wait... yes it does.

    A

  22. [22] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    yes, avigdor lieberman is a far-right nutjob and an irresponsible politician. however, third person ad-hominem does not make mattis incorrect. the first link in the bbc article you provided explains many of the facts behind the mattis assessment:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-39500947

    and the first link in THAT article discusses the value that forensics can bring to resolving any factual issues that are not yet resolved.

    JL

  23. [23] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    as for "the Israeli policy of providing medical care to al Qaida fighters injured in Syria," israel treats people they find on their borders who are wounded, they do not screen them for what political group they belong to, ally or enemy. perhaps that wouldn't be my first policy choice, but i don't think it's particularly nefarious.

  24. [24] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Al[20],

    Yes. The Kremlin and Assad regime have little credibility and so I wouldn't put much stock into anything they claim.

  25. [25] 
    altohone wrote:

    nypoet
    22

    I'm not seeing any evidence supporting the claims being made about Syria... and certainly no "facts".

    Iran doing what Iran has been doing for decades does not amount to new "provocations" that should be treated as breaking news nor "facts" that justify a shift in policy.

    If you set aside Saudi and Turkish support for al Qaida and ISIS in Syria, and the fact that every major terror incident in the news for years has involved Sunni extremists (not Iranian backed Shiites), he might have a point.

    As it is, our "allies" are creating far larger national security threats for the US by being state sponsors of terrorists who have actually attacked the US than our "enemy" Iran.

    But hey, arming and funding 50,000 al Qaida fighters in Syria won't come back to bite us in the rear just because it has happened before, right?

    23

    That sounds like a really clever rationalization touting an effort justified on human decency... but when the Israeli policy of providing medical care for al Qaida fighters was exposed by Israeli media, the government was forced to backtrack quickly.
    The right wing nutjobs couldn't even sell that bull in Israel.

    "Perhaps that wouldn't be my first policy choice" is a really strong statement of condemnation for our "ally" providing material support for the people who attacked us on 9/11.

    You do remember 9/11?
    I ask because a lot of the defenders of the policies of the right wing nutjobs running Israel seem to have conveniently forgotten that day in order to put Israeli interests ahead of American interests... not that this applies to you of course.

    A

  26. [26] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Al,

    A discriminating and healthy skepticism goes hand-in-hand with critical thinking and being able to assess news reports based on credibility.

    I have enough faith in my ability to read news reports and assess the veracity of what is presented. I can then choose to discuss the issues in an intelligent manner without constantly complaining that there is no evidence or facts.

    And, that is my final word on skepticism.

  27. [27] 
    altohone wrote:

    Liz
    24

    The article and my comment are about claims made by an American without substantiation.

    Why are you talking about Russia and Assad?
    That doesn't make any sense.

    I know you're not saying "they don't substantiate their claims, so we don't have to either", right?

    Nor that those who opposed the Iran nuclear deal and supported the war based on lies in Iraq have credibility, right?

    Is "trust us" good enough for you on matters of war and peace?

    A

  28. [28] 
    altohone wrote:

    Liz
    26

    Comment 28 covers a lot of what you wrote, but assessing news reports and credibility without needing facts and evidence, or even expecting it from our "leaders" is not something I will ever agree with.

    That is neither healthy skepticism nor critical thinking.

    A

  29. [29] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Do you have a reading comprehension problem, Al?

    I am done with you.

  30. [30] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    [20]Claims about Syria. Once again, unsubstantiated assertion. No evidence.
    [21]The article and my comment are about claims made by an American without substantiation.

    Nonsense. If you were to click on the link within the article titled Syria Chemical Attack: What We Know, you find that the BBC has eyewitness accounts, accounts from IGO's, NGO's and British monitors, the account of the US military, which claims to have tracked the aircraft that dropped the bombs in real time, and the opinions of experts asked to assess the claims of both sides. You would have to believe that the BBC has the credibility of Alex Jones to discount all of that.

    Mattis isn't going on the word of a guy nick-named 'Curveball' on this one, he's got a lot of data to back him up, and his logic is clear: if Syria used sarin gas, then they have a stockpile of it somewhere, and if that is true, then they lied to the world when they said that they'd given all of their gas to Russia. That's all.

    I'm far from a fan of Trump, and think that the showy 'attack' on the airbase looks from here like just a lot of 'bang' and 'pop', and it doesn't help that Mattis and others have given contradictory reports about the extent and nature of the 'damage' done in the attack.

    But I must defend the BBC. Long live the BBC.

  31. [31] 
    altohone wrote:

    Liz
    29

    Good response.
    Very convincing.

    A

  32. [32] 
    altohone wrote:

    Balthy
    30

    You seem to want to rehash the whole argument again, as if none of it has been discussed here.
    Fine.

    There are experts who dispute the claims, yet the BBC basically ignores them.

    The eyewitnesses to the attack are al Qaida "rebels"... believe them if you want.

    The NGO and other eyewitnesses only saw the aftermath, not the attack.

    And not unlike PBS, the BBC is hardly what it used to be. I still read their reports daily, as I have done for nearly two decades, and that stenography of the claims made by Mattis is not what you would have gotten from the BBC in the past.

    A

  33. [33] 
    altohone wrote:

    Balthy
    32 again

    Just to clarify, the BBC has been very good about using words like "allegedly" when reporting on the culpability for the chemical attack, which is why I even linked to this article that fails to mention that the claims by Mattis may not be accurate.

    It is shoddy journalism to omit the sentence that should clarify that the facts have actually not been determined.

    You believing the claims by Trump and his lackeys despite the lack of credible evidence is actually irrelevant to my argument.
    Nothing personal.

    A

  34. [34] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    Elizabeth Miller [12]: Do you think Trump knows anything about the urgent and worsening humanitarian crisis that is enveloping Yemen?

    He may have been briefed on it, but I doubt he cares. The man has virtually no empathy.

    Autocratic personalities typically have no empathy for anyone, and for the same reason why there can be no apologies for anything: such men will feel it to be a needless expenditure of their power.

  35. [35] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    altohone [13]: Mandeb strait is touted as a potential chokepoint for commerce ...

    ... because it narrows to a two mile wide lane, the closure of which would shut off the only practical Indian Ocean-to-Med shipping route.

    You doubt that Mandeb is a strategic concern of the US. Defenders of the oil routes can point out that only about a quarter as much oil goes Mandeb as goes Malacca. Regarding trade overall, the routes it controls suggests its being the European and Asian trading states' problem, not the US's. Of course, if it constitutes casus belli for NATO allies, it does for the US as well.

    So we disagree. Either way, freedom of navigation through Mandeb is certainly an important element in the Chinese String of Pearls strategy. China would not permit any closure of the strait, so maybe you are right that the US is simply parochial and craven in its meddling in Yemen.

  36. [36] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, I'm not sure empathy has much to do with it; he is just going to have to deal with the crisis in Yemen, one way or another.

    I'm not convinced he's being very well briefed, by the way, on anything; or maybe I should say that the briefings are lost on him ...

  37. [37] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Why are you talking about Russia and Assad?
    That doesn't make any sense.

    Because you asked what I was most skeptical about after reading the article you cited.

  38. [38] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    ... but assessing news reports and credibility without needing facts and evidence, or even expecting it from our "leaders" is not something I will ever agree with. That is neither healthy skepticism nor critical thinking.

    I'm sorry ... I thought you were implying that I assessed news reports without needing facts or evidence ... because, well, that is what you wrote.

    In future, you really must try harder not to (purposefully?) misrepresent what is written in a simple comment unless you actually wish to stymie a good discussion. If that is your intention, then I really am done with you.

  39. [39] 
    altohone wrote:

    Liz
    37, 38

    The article reports what Mattis said.
    There aren't any claims by the Kremlin or Assad in the article.
    If there aren't any claims by them in the article, how does it make sense to question their credibility?
    (I'm not disputing that their claims are worthy of skepticism when they are actually being discussed)

    And Mattis doesn't substantiate the claims with facts or evidence. And the author of the BBC article doesn't challenge the claims despite the fact that the BBC hasn't been treating his claims as facts.

    Like most people, I occasionally have an off day.
    But in this case, I think the problem lies elsewhere.

    A

  40. [40] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @liz,

    agree. it's difficult to have much of a discussion when an individual demands facts, receives facts twice from two different people, complete with explanations of where they come from and why they are facts, claims they are somehow not facts at all, cites opinions of individuals who were not present as purported counter-evidence, and then restarts the process of demanding factual substantiation. it is like trying to discuss global warming with michale.

    JL

  41. [41] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Heh. Indeed.

  42. [42] 
    altohone wrote:

    nypoet
    40

    If they were "facts", the BBC wouldn't be using terms like "allegedly".

    You are arguing against your own source genius.

    It is rather funny that people abusing the definition of the word "facts" would be making a comparison to our resident trumpling who does the same constantly.
    Not unlike his propensity for projection.

    A

  43. [43] 
    altohone wrote:

    42
    part two

    The central FACT in this case is that culpability for the chemical attack in Syria has not yet been determined.

    All those claiming Assad is responsible are making an assertion, not stating a FACT.

    I would also consider it worth noting that in this case, it is also a FACT that you and most of the people here are on the same side as the science denying Trump and our resident science denying trumpling... which makes your false comparison that much more humorous in my eyes.

    A

  44. [44] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Al,

    I would also consider it worth noting that in this case, it is also a FACT that you and most of the people here are on the same side as the science denying Trump and our resident science denying trumpling... which makes your false comparison that much more humorous in my eyes.

    Clearly, you are confusing fact with fiction. Which is not at all surprising, considering your apparent obsession.

  45. [45] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    There are many sides to this case, in other words, and I think the president occupies one all by himself. :)

  46. [46] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Al,

    Are you able to discuss the chemical attack in Syria - or any other issue, for that matter - without full knowledge of the complete set of facts?

  47. [47] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @a01,

    If they were "facts", the BBC wouldn't be using terms like "allegedly".
    You are arguing against your own source genius.

    the bbc can cite opinions and base those opinions upon facts. journalistic use of the word "allegedly" just means they're repeating an opinion that is not their own. there's no need to say allegedly if the journalist is the one stating his or her own assessment of the situation. omitting the qualification is more a statement by the reporter that his or her opinion is sufficiently supported by fact that it need not be qualified.

    your opinion of my intelligence, like your opinion of the israeli military policy of treating the wounded without vetting them for terrorist ties, like the opinions of journalists who have not gone to khan sheykhoun and which are based on something that happened in iraq in 2003, are not even remotely relevant, and have been disregarded.

    The central FACT in this case is that culpability for the chemical attack in Syria has not yet been determined.

    first of all, that's not a fact, it's an opinion. second of all, that opinion is an overwhelming minority. most people who have read and watched believe that the culpability has indeed been definitively established, and those opinions are based on actual facts, like the ones cited in the second bbc article, some of which balthasar enumerated in [30].

    if i find it unproductive to argue with you on this, it's because like michale's stance on global warming, your view of syria doesn't seem to be penetrated by facts that don't fit your narrative.

    best,

    JL

  48. [48] 
    altohone wrote:

    Liz, nypoet
    44-47

    You think Assad is responsible for the chemical attack.
    Trump thinks Assad is responsible for the chemical attack.

    On that issue, you're on the same side, no matter how you try to dance away from the fact.

    nypoet

    Nice word salads destroying the ethics of journalism and the definition of the word "fact".

    I particularly like the now repeated effort to defend the former Israeli policy of treating al Qaida fighters who were wounded in Syria. Your humanitarianism is so noble. Oh wait... we're supposed to be disregarding the context and history, and pretend like those things are irrelevant. Sorry. I forgot that you get to make such decisions...
    ... (after bringing the issues up again... which seems like you're disregarding your disregarding... oh well).

    Once again you compare me to the trumpling while imitating him and supporting Trump's position.
    Did I mention projection earlier?

    Condescension from neoliberals defending unsubstantiated assertions from Trump that help advance a regime change agenda in Syria is very convincing. Some might say you're indivisible.

    I very much like the 'everybody's doing it' appeal to the majority argument too.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumentum_ad_populum

    A

  49. [49] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Where's Michale?

    :-)

  50. [50] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Joshua,

    Well said.

    Sometimes, it just isn't worth the time or effort to cut through the sarcasm and condescension just to engage in a sensible discussion about a serious issue ... sad.

  51. [51] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Al,

    I'll be more than happy to engage in discussion with you but you are first going to have to drop your dismissive attitude toward your fellow Weigantians and just stick to your thoughts and assessments of the issues at hand.

    In other words, try to keep the distracting personal stuff out of it.

    I wonder how we would all interact if we were actually facing each other across a discussion table ... I, for one, probably wouldn't be there. :)

  52. [52] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    @a01,

    ahem. okay, i'll be your huckleberry a bit longer.

    You think Assad is responsible for the chemical attack.
    Trump thinks Assad is responsible for the chemical attack.
    On that issue, you're on the same side, no matter how you try to dance away from the fact.

    i'm not dancing away from anything, in the case of the chemical attack, donald's most recent point of view seems similar to mine. dismissing the validity of a point of view based on which other individuals happen to share it (even if one of those individuals is named donald j. trump) is an ad hominem fallacy.

    Nice word salads destroying the ethics of journalism and the definition of the word "fact".

    how exactly have i destroyed the definition? perhaps your perception of certain facts as "salad" indicates that you don't yet fully understand what facts are. if a statement is capable of being proven true or false, it's factual. you seem to have dismissed certain facts as lies or deceptions - however, you haven't provided any topical evidence to justify that assessment. opinions by individuals who were not present and cite no direct evidence themselves does not convince me of your point of view on that count.

    I particularly like the now repeated effort to defend the former Israeli policy of treating al Qaida fighters who were wounded in Syria.

    i'm not sure why you think this is relevant to syria. i think israel's policy of medically treating anyone, even their sworn enemies, is humane bordering on saintly, and i commend them for it. i responded because you mentioned it, but i don't see it as in any way germane to the chemical attack.

    Oh wait... we're supposed to be disregarding the context and history, and pretend like those things are irrelevant.

    i don't recall claiming that context and history were irrelevant - they're just not as relevant as eyewitness accounts and physical investigation. al qaeda in the early aughts was where most sunni militants got their training. al qaeda in iraq later became isis. other offshoots went all sorts of different directions in their beliefs and practices. syrian rebels include fragments of all sorts of militant types, including al qaeda.

    from the bbc article on forensics: "In 2013, the chemical hexamine, used as an additive, was a critical piece of information linking the Ghouta attack to the government of President Assad. that's also part of the context. perhaps chemical investigation of khan shaykhun will shed further light.

    still, what happened in the past is less relevant to khan shaykhun than what was directly observed and reported.

    the fourteen year old witness to the gas attack who was interviewed by the new york times gave an account that the times reporters found credible based on the timeline of events and their personal investigation of the scene of the bombing. maybe her family are al-nusra, maybe not, but that supposition alone seems insufficient to doubt the sincerity of her account, given all of the corroborating evidence available to reporters on-site, who went to all the sites of the explosions near the gas attack and examined what they found there. forensics will delve deeper, but as yet there's no objective evidence to doubt the veracity of what all the reporters believed they found.

    Once again you compare me to the trumpling while imitating him and supporting Trump's position.

    you and michale are obviously different people. the comparison is only in terms of your shared ability to summarily disregard the overwhelming preponderance of facts that countermand your narrative, and then believe that those facts somehow don't exist or are not facts simply because you have found a reason not to believe that they are true.

    if any of said facts turn out to be false, i'll re-evaluate my opinions on the attack. as yet, you have not yet provided anything other than speculation based on the iraq war, ad hominem arguments against israel, the general presence of al qaeda, and the opinions of journalists who did no investigation in khan shaykhun. in my view, that's not sufficient to doubt the veracity of the on-site evidence.

    Did I mention projection earlier?

    you did, and i ignored it because you don't appear to have the expertise or the data to diagnose defense mechanisms. projection would be the assumption that others have the same feelings that i do, when they haven't indicated as much. if you're planning to argue psychology with me, take a few courses first.

    you keep using that word. i don't think it means what you think it means
    ~the princess bride

    Condescension from neoliberals defending unsubstantiated assertions from Trump that help advance a regime change agenda in Syria is very convincing. Some might say you're indivisible.

    name-calling followed by more ad hominem. check.

    I very much like the 'everybody's doing it' appeal to the majority argument too.

    anyhow, you got your cause and effect backward there. ad populum would be suggesting that an argument is probably right because most people believe it. michale has said the same about the ninety-something percent of climate scientists who have concluded there is a connection between human industry and global warming. in the same vein, i think most people believe assad is responsible because, based on the information we have, he probably is.

    cheers,
    JL

  53. [53] 
    altohone wrote:

    Liz
    51

    So, you don't agree with Trump that Assad is responsible for the chemical attack?

    A

  54. [54] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Al,

    You continue to play games - lucky for you I need a little distraction this evening, so I'll play along for a while.

    I don't think Trump understands the first thing about Syria or about how his decision to strike the airbase impacts on his policy there or beyond.

    I am, however, working on the assumption that the Assad regime is responsible for the most recent attack using chemical weapons. That is based on all that I know about the situation and the regime.

    I am still waiting for the OPCW investigation results and will change my view pending more information.

    To be clear for you, my belief that the Assad regime is responsible for this latest attack is based not on a full presentation of the facts of the matter but on my proven ability to assess a situation with less than the complete factual account and my willingness to change my assessment if new facts warrant it.

  55. [55] 
    altohone wrote:

    nypoet
    52

    "i'm not dancing away from anything, in the case of the chemical attack, donald's most recent point of view seems similar to mine."

    Identical, similar... dancing, waltzing.

    "how exactly have i destroyed the definition?"

    You were claiming that opinions were facts, and that ethical journalism using terms like "allegedly" in order to emphasize that the claims being made were not factual is not evidence that the claims were not factual.
    That's destroying two core tenets of journalism and the definitions of both words.

    "i'm not sure why you think this is relevant to syria. i think israel's policy of medically treating anyone, even their sworn enemies, is humane bordering on saintly"

    I consider it relevant because Mattis made his unsubstantiated assertions about Syria while sharing a stage with an extremist "nutjob" (as you put it) who was also making unsubstantiated assertions about Syria.
    There was no professional obligation. It was a choice, and that choice reflects on Mattis.

    You may think it's "saintly", but it's not Israeli policy any longer.
    When it was disclosed that Israel was aiding al Qaida, they ditched the policy quickly.
    It seems that covertly aiding the people who attacked us on 9/11 was viewed as indefensible when exposed publicly.
    And your "saintly" action would lead to prosecution and a conviction in this country.

    "i don't recall claiming that context and history were irrelevant"

    from comment 47-
    "like your opinion of the israeli military policy of treating the wounded without vetting them for terrorist ties, like the opinions of journalists who have not gone to khan sheykhoun and which are based on something that happened in iraq in 2003, are not even remotely relevant, and have been disregarded."

    Only the context and history I mention I guess.

    "syrian rebels include fragments of all sorts of militant types, including al qaeda."

    Of the three largest groups of "rebels" in Syria, al Qaida is the most effective, and the other two collaborate with and fight alongside them.
    But Khan Sheykhoun is under the control of al Qaida, and their claims and those of any eyewitnesses they allowed to be interviewed are not credible. In my opinion, that is most assuredly relevant.

    "you and michale are obviously different people. the comparison is only in terms of your shared ability to summarily disregard the overwhelming preponderance of facts that countermand your narrative"

    You disregard the facts that countermand your narrative.
    The history of al Qaida using chemical weapons.
    The fabrication of evidence by US government officials to justify regime change.
    The fact that assertions from al Qaida "rebels" are not facts.
    The fact that culpability for the chemical attack has not been established.

    You are accusing me of what you yourself are doing.
    In other words, projection.

    I on the other hand have not "disregarded the facts".
    I have not disregarded that a chemical attack occurred, nor that about 80 people died, nor that "Sarin, or a Sarin-like substance" was used, nor that Russia admitted a bombing raid on the town occurred.
    I have disputed that assertions from sources who are not credible should be considered convincing let alone facts.
    I have disputed the relevance to claims of culpability of "eyewitnesses" who were not there when the attack occurred.
    I have noted that the evidence is not conclusive and that Trump acted before an investigation could occur.
    I have noted that claims of Assad's culpability have not been deemed factual by media outlets.

    Your characterization of my pushback against the establishment narrative is false... but does apply to you.

    "ad populum would be suggesting that an argument is probably right because most people believe it"

    from comment 47 again-
    "most people who have read and watched believe that the culpability has indeed been definitively established"

    You used the tactic in an attempt to bolster your argument. How the majority reached their opinion is irrelevant. And I am baffled why you thought that spin would fly.

    A

  56. [56] 
    altohone wrote:

    Liz
    54

    I know.

    Are you aware of the games you're playing?

    A

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