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September 30, 2015

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Well, they very probably got one thing right: “Russia will not succeed in imposing a military solution on Syria.”

You'd think Russia might have learned something from their adventure in Afghanistan. Well, perhaps they have at least learned to go with air strikes, and avoid putting boots on the ground....

Awesome unselfawareness is how we roll. How dare you criticize us? Our intentions are pure. Our logic is therefore impeccable.

wj: Russia has way more at stake (i.e., "iterests") in Syria than we do. This is not to express support for their policy but to acknowledge they do have interests. Most Americans seem to think they should have no interests at all in anything...which is absolutely astounding.

I'd say that the Russians have the advantage of a well defined and potentially achievable objective: the survival of the Assad Regime.

The U.S./whoever is supporting it has a much more ill defined and fragile goal of "a negotiated political transition." Although I suppose if we don't know what we're trying to achieve that makes it easier to declare victory and go home.

He said the Russians were “seemingly taking on everyone who is fighting Assad,”

This should surprise no-one. The Russians support Assad. Now, historically, and no doubt going forward.

The Russian objective is not so much the survival of the Assad regime as keeping their naval base at Tartus. It's just that Assad's survival seems like the easiest way to accomplish that.

But they don't necessarily Assad to survive to in order to accomplish that. If some other contestant offers to let them keep it, and shows better chances of winning, they will jump at it.

I take it more as "Our 'attacks on ISIL' actually target members of ISIL."

wj - that sounds reasonable too. And again, much more achievable - or at least "winning" is much more defined - than what we're trying to do.

But really, who do the Russians think they are messing around in the Middle East like that?!!?

Josh Marshall tries to make some sense of things.

Juan Cole weighs in.

I' m always amused and irritated by the way papers like the NYT dutifully follow the US government in the use of the word "moderate" to describe guerilla groups that the US government sees as working in our interest. From what I've read, they are moderate compared to ISIS, but everyone is, including their enemies in Hezbollah, which has Christian supporters (no links, No time to look right now.). I've read the moderates sometimes shoot rockets into civilian areas. Since Hamas is also more moderate than the extremists in Gaza, I eagerly await the journalistic tendency to use " moderate" to describe them on a regular basis. Hezbollah too.

Getting involved in civil war is always a bad idea. Getting involved in ANOTHER COUNTRY'S civil war is an avoidable bad idea.

Sometimes the sides just have to fight until they get tired of fighting.

That reset button thing isn't working out so well. I would never accuse the current administration of a consistent or effective foreign policy (but you have to give Obama kudos for getting all those dissidents out of jail before recognizing the Cuban junta), BUT:
there really is a difference between fighting ISIS and fighting Assad's enemies. ISIS is, for sure and for certain, beyond the pale and merits extermination. Assad's enemies may be no better than he is, or they may be worse. Supporting Assad is nasty business. The Russians are fine with that--always have been. The left, always suspicious of US motives, is consistently silent (or pro forma "we don't support that") when the Russians, or the PRC, not only rattles sabers, but acts out militarily.

So, it's like this: ISIS = bad and ok to bomb; Assad's opposition = we don't know and it's bad to support Assad. So, Ugh, you're right--our bombs are the same--however the larger point is the targets are different.

And, we aren't really fighting ISIS. Maybe annoying them from time to time, but not fighting. It's a military kabuki play.

The left, always suspicious of US motives, is consistently silent (or pro forma "we don't support that") when the Russians, or the PRC, not only rattles sabers, but acts out militarily.

Your nigh inability to make a political point without seguing into sweeping polemics of "the left" borders on pathological, but it's particularly endearing when it's rooted in stereotypes that are a decade or two out of date. It's on the left that I see apologists for post-Soviet Russia and its strong-arm approach to foreign policy; Putin is, alas, a right-wing darling. And likewise, the only individuals you're likely to find espousing the absurd notion that PRC is a model left-wing socialist regime (or in many cases, simply left-wing or socialist) are firmly to the right of center.

*It's not on the left

And, we aren't really fighting ISIS.

I agree with this. I'd even support us actually fighting ISIS.

The level of effort and expense that would be involved would, I think, dwarf what we invested in the Iraq invasion of 2003-present.

The complexity of the situation militarily, politically, logistically, any way you care to consider, likewise.

Are your ready for your taxes to go up, significantly, for about ten years, to make it happen?

Ready for your kids and grandkids to go there, for years, to make it happen?

Put up or shut up, says I. Because some significant putting up would be involved.

Another Iraq-style "put it on the credit card" is BS.

What Snarki said at 9:27.

It can be agonizing to watch all the people getting hurt and killed in a civil war. But unless you actually like one side well enough to go all in to support them, and help exterminate the other side? Getting involved is just a seriously bad idea.

NV, I wrote, "The left, always suspicious of US motives, is consistently silent (or pro forma "we don't support that") when the Russians, or the PRC, not only rattles sabers, but acts out militarily."

Operative phrase: "consistently silent". Not apologists--that was a decade or two back-just silent, as in not saying anything.

And it's BS to say there is any kind of a consensus on the right that likes or admires Putin or the PRC--just the opposite. That is just more left wing bedtime stories. What is true is that many on the right have observed that Putin is far more of a leader than is Obama. A low bar, I agree, but many do say that.

Yes, I tweak the left. That's what I do here, since "here", the main point is to tweak the right.

The level of effort and expense that would be involved would, I think, dwarf what we invested in the Iraq invasion of 2003-present.

The complexity of the situation militarily, politically, logistically, any way you care to consider, likewise.

No doubt, re-arming and re-deploying would be incredibly expensive. I favor an attempt at a 'coalition of the willing', funded by our friends the Saudi's. I think we are going back to the mid east whether we want to or not. It's just a matter of when, who and where.

We are not going to eradicate ISIS, event if we went in all in. I think you overstate the effort needed to defeat ISIS militarily, but that doesn't mean the effort wouldn't be extraordinary.

And, I'd cut spending elsewhere to pay for much of the effort.

The above is not a hijack--just responding to Russell.

So, make the Saudis pay, and/or take it out of other parts of the budget.

I'm putting you down for "No, don't raise my taxes to do it".

Thanks for the response.

I'm putting you down for "No, don't raise my taxes to do it".

I'd accept a small increase to fight ISIS, but keep in mind that I'm already at 43.4% plus I pay state income tax in CA, CO, NY, PA, NJ, WV and FL. All up, my marginal income tax rate is 49%. So, I'm paying enough. Time to cut stuff.

What is true is that many on the right have observed that Putin is far more of a leader than is Obama

Such people's definition of what makes someone a leader (presumably this description is meant admiringly?) would be interesting. If it's to do with acting in furtherance of your nation's best interests, it's a pretty moot point I would have thought.

OK, I'm putting you down for "raise my taxes a little bit to do it, if you have to, but first you have to cut something else".

What we're willing to pay for is where the rubber meets the road, priority wise.

So turning our "military kabuki" into something more effective is not quite at the top of your list.

And not for nothing, but making a significant military response to expansionist actions by either Russia or the PRC could make dealing with ISIS look like a walk in the park.

Maybe belay the talk about "military kabuki". Real wars cost money. If you want to advocate for one, you need to be ready and willing to pony up.

At least if you have any interest in being persuasive, at all, to me.

Talk is cheap. Bullets cost money.

I favor an attempt at a 'coalition of the willing', funded by our friends the Saudi's. I think we are going back to the mid east whether we want to or not. It's just a matter of when, who and where.

I rather doubt that we will manage to recruit much (in either numbers or firepower) of a coalition of the willing. Certainly most of those, especially in Europe, who made up that coalition in Afghanistan are seriously unwilling to repeat that experience.

I also doubt that the Saudis are going to be willing to cough up any significant part of what it would cost to wade into the Syrian civil war. They may not like ISIS (and there are counter-arguments to even that). But not enough to spend big bucks doing anything about it. (As for their own military, look how that is working out for them in Yemen.)

I'm not even sure we are going to go back into the Middle East. Certainly not to the extent that we have in the past. What, after all, would be our motive?

We used to be there to protect our oil supply; today we are a net oil exporter. We have occasionally done things to support Israel; but Israel, or at least its current government, has apparently decided that we are not worthwhile as a serious ally. Besides, Israel has shown itself more than capable militarily of taking on any of its neighbors -- individually or collectively. Not to mention that it is getting on better with the Saudis, Egyptians, and Jordanians than they have in years.

So why do you think we would go back?

WJ, we would of course go back because our last large-scale intervention there worked out so well:

"The Islamic State’s leadership under Mr. Baghdadi has drawn mainly from two pools: veterans of Al Qaeda in Iraq who survived the insurgency against American forces with battle-tested militant skills, and former Baathist officers under Saddam Hussein with expertise in organization, intelligence and internal security. It is the merger of these two skill sets that has made the organization such a potent force, the officials say."

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/21/world/middleeast/isis-strategies-include-lines-of-succession-and-deadly-ring-tones.html

Putin's interest here seems to be keeping Assad in place, so that, as wj notes, he can continue to have access to the Med via Tartus.

From Russia's point of view, those are completely sensible priorities. And, they don't really align with ours, except perhaps coincidentally in some cases.

Is there any credible alternative to Assad, should he be driven from power? Or is it a game of musical chairs at that point, only with guns?

If we believe that Assad has to go, who (in our - the US's - perfect world) replaces him?

[Maybe belay the talk about "military kabuki". Real wars cost money. If you want to advocate for one, you need to be ready and willing to pony up.

At least if you have any interest in being persuasive, at all, to me.

Yes they do. So, we have the interesting phenomena that the establishment spends trillions in money it doesn't have, while shorting national defense. Then, when a taxpayer suggests cutting spending in one place to spend elsewhere, that's not serious. Only raising taxes, again, is serious. That's persuasive.

And it's BS to say there is any kind of a consensus on the right that likes or admires Putin or the PRC--just the opposite. That is just more left wing bedtime stories.

Like it's BS to say that the left is "silent" on Putin's militarism? Because that's a favorite right-wing bedtime story, but it's still just a bedtime story. You may not remember leftists decrying Russian atrocities in Chechnya even as pundits on the right admired Russia's willingness to "do what was necessary" to deal with those damned Muslim terrorists, but I sure as Hell do. You as a rule seem to have a problem seeing much outside of what appears in the corporatist mainstream media, so I'm not really surprised. But if a tree falls in the forest and McKTx isn't there to hear it, that doesn't mean it made no sound.

I can't find the reference for the talking head who was on the news (BBC or C4) last night explaining why Tartus is not the overwhelming motivation many are claiming, but here is something to similar effect:

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/03/russia-sanctions-europe-nato-economy-cyprus-mediterranean.html#

Putin's motives aren't (only, or even mainly) rational geopolitical ones; so much of what he does is to shore up his position domestically: he needs to be the "strong man" that certain sections of the Russian public have a nostalgic longing for, and opposing the world's remaining superpower, and circumventing international ostracism after Ukraine fulfils that mission very nicely. It's very depressing that it impresses some on the American right as well.

the establishment spends trillions in money it doesn't have, while shorting national defense.

The US defense budget represents half of the defense outlays IN THE WORLD. By EVERYONE.

Of all of the dollars spent on defense, in the world, by any country whatsoever, approximately half are spent by us.

And that's just DoD, I don't think that even includes all of the intelligence and covert ops stuff.

What would not "shorting the national defense" look like?

Reuters says the total cost of the Iraq war was $2 trillion. Do you think you're gonna roll up ISIS for less than that?

US federal budget in 2015 was $3.9 trillion.

Even assuming it takes years to get it done, even assuming we *can* get it done, that's a lot of penny-pinching.

What are you going to cut?

I understand that your top marginal rate is unusually high, and I can easily understand that that may well leave you feeling put upon.

All of that said, if you want to move beyond "military kabuki", it's going to cost a sh*tload of money. Just the "military kabuki" is costing us something like $9M a day. A couple of billion since we started it up. Just to throw bombs around, as it were, no significant ground forces, no territory taken or held.

You're going to find that money, where? Make the SS retirement age 80 and raid the trust fund? Replace Medicare with a program of "aspirins for all" and spend those funds?

You wade into the conversation with comments about how un-serious lefties are, but you want to jump into another war in the middle east, and not just in the middle east but at ground zero of the mother of all ungodly sh*tstorms, and you want to fund it by either making the Saudis pay or "cutting the fat" out of the federal pie.

In other words, you want it for free. You don't want it to cost you anything.

Who's unserious?

Also, bedtime stories:

Buchanan.

Dreher

Giuliani.

Bryan Fischer, American Family Association.

That's why lefties think conservatives have a weird thing about Putin.

If you need more examples, just let me know.

I favor an attempt at a 'coalition of the willing', funded by our friends the Saudi's

The Saudis don't have the funds anymore.
They have around 12 months left at their *current* rate of spending, and then if the oil price doesn't recover, they are in fiscal trouble.
The idea of their funding an operation on that scale is as unlikely as the idea that the Iraq war would pay for itself.

The idea that they are our friends is also questionable.

So, I'm paying enough.

I do not agree. So there you are.

Also, cutting somebody else's stuff is simply shifting the burden, because, you know, government spending is somebody else's income.

You seem to be unaware of that fact.

when a taxpayer suggests cutting spending in one place to spend elsewhere, that's not serious.

OK, so we cut other spending in order to pay for military action. That might be a viable position. So how, exactly does it work?

We have a pretty good idea, from our recent experience in Iraq, what the cost of the military action would be. (Using annual numbers, not totals, since we don't know how long it will take.) So how about some numbers on what we cut and how much. Numbers which add up to the predictable costs.

I don't even insist that the proposed cuts be even vaguely possible, politically, in the real world. Just what are they, how much does each save, and does the total add up.

plus I pay state income tax in CA, CO, NY, PA, NJ, WV and FL

What is this supposed to prove? I'm not. I pay Mass. tax on the income I earn in Mass. and Maine tax on the income I earn in Maine.

Are you paying tax in more than one state on the same income, or was it just a woe-is-me rhetorical flourish?

Sorry, trying to be not-wordy, I rearranged things and made them incoherent. Take the "I'm not" out and it will make more sense.

McTx: All up, my marginal income tax rate is 49%.

Congratulations, McKinney. Seriously. You have a damn fine income. (I reject the possibility that you merely have a lousy accountant.) Good for you.

A "marginal income tax rate" of 43.4% must be the 39.6% the feds take, plus 3.8% something else. Assuming you do live in Texas that "something else" is not state income tax. Assuming you are self-employed (though I seem to remember you saying that's not true any more) the Medicare portion of FICA would account for only 2.9% of your marginal dollar. So there's still 0.9% that maybe you're paying to some local authority. But let's not quibble about that, since local authorities don't finance wars.

How you get from 43.4% to 49% is a bit puzzling. The Schedule A that I fill out includes Line 5: Taxes You Paid (state and local income tax), which lets you subtract your "state income tax in CA, CO, NY, PA, NJ, WV and FL" from your Adjusted Gross Income (which is already less than 'what you make'). Admittedly, SchedA also includes Line 29: Is Form 1040 Line 38 (your AGI) over $152,525? which you must be answering "Yes" and therefore going to the worksheet to figure out the limits on your deductions. Maybe the limit at your income level is zero and those states take 5.6% of your marginal dollar. Maybe you're calculating your AMT wrong. Or more likely I am missing something.

But these are mere quibbles. The big points are these:
MARGINAL TAX RATE APPLIES TO MARGINAL INCOME. You are welcome to argue that it's unfair or counterproductive to tax your millionth or ten-millionth or billionth dollar of income 49 cents. You are NOT welcome to conflate marginal with average. I'm not saying you tried to do that; I'm only putting on record that you're not paying close to half your total income in taxes.
YOU CAN ALWAYS GIVE YOURSELF A MARGINAL RATE CUT. Just make less income. Drop your hourly rate, or take time off. You've earned it.

So: congratulations again on making well over 3 times what the average American makes, and at least 5 or 6 times what a soldier makes. Sorry that you probably pay a higher AVERAGE (let alone marginal) rate than Carly, Mitt, Jeb, or The Donald, but raising taxes on them would never do.

--TP

We have a pretty good idea, from our recent experience in Iraq, what the cost of the military action would be. (Using annual numbers, not totals, since we don't know how long it will take.)

Actually, we don't, not really, unless we cut all future care and benefits for veterans of OEF and OIF - and while there's plenty of precedent for quietly stiff vets, I can't see 100% cuts, nor any significant cuts carried out in the light of day, especially by anyone who wants to credibly suggest increasing manning levels to support new adventurism abroad. The prices of those wars are ongoing, and we'll probably never actually calculate a clear figure for much they have and will yet cost us.

*for how much

<sigh>

For the record, the 33% bracket kicks in around $190K, the 39.6% bracket at around $411K.

None of which is to dispute the fact that McK, and other high earners, pay a lot of taxes, because they do. And, I'm sure that they feel that most acutely when they don't agree with how the money is being spent.

The only point I was trying to make is that it's all well and good to say "ISIS should be exterminated", but it will cost a lot, in various kinds of coin, to make that happen. If we want to be serious about it, we need to recognize that.

And, make the sacrifices that will be required to succeed.

The kind of wing-and-a-prayer bulls*t that characterized the way things were done in Iraq from 2003 on ain't gonna make it happen. It's no small part of the reason that ISIS is there in the first place.

Yes, I make a good living these days. It took 35 years to get here and I work 60 plus hours a week. Because I'm a partner in a firm w offices in the listed states, I have imputed income from each of those states. That's the way the cookie crumbles. I have no qualms calling for spending cuts. Doing so is not unserious. I'm in an airport. Will respond in more detail later.

Yes, I make a good living these days. It took 35 years to get here and I work 60 plus hours a week. Because I'm a partner in a firm w offices in the listed states, I have imputed income from each of those states. That's the way the cookie crumbles. I have no qualms calling for spending cuts. Doing so is not unserious. I'm in an airport. Will respond in more detail later.

I have no qualms calling for spending cuts. Doing so is not unserious.

I have no problem with your calling for spending cuts. Calling for spending cuts is, in fact, not unserious.

What is unserious, IMO, is thinking that you are going to fund efforts on the scale of "exterminating ISIS" through spending cuts.

My only point in bringing up the issues of taxes *at all* is to point out that, historically, when we've had to go to war, the cost of those wars have been reflected in (among other things) higher taxes.

Because they are freaking expensive.

If you have to fight, you have to fight. If you have to fight, you make the sacrifices to support it.

If you think you are going to support it through incremental paring away of other programs, IMO that is foolish.

Even if we were talking about a war, particularly a civil war, with only 2 well-defined sides, one of them clearly preferable to the other (or, better yet, "good" in absolute terms), it still might not be worth whatever costs the United States would incur to assure victory to our preferred side.

What we're talking about in Syria is a war with a bunch of poorly defined, ever-changing sides, other than the Assad regime. It's got quagmire written all over it.

It sucks donkey gonads for a lot of people who did nothing wrong, but I'm very, very, very unsure that we can do much of anything militarily to help those people. And I'm pretty damned sure we can't do anything militarily to ensure that our geo-political interests otherwise (assuming we can agree on what they are in the first place) are enhanced sufficiently to justify the costs.

Not to mention that, at this point, "wiping out" ISIS would be like trying to nail jello to a wall.

Actually, we don't, not really, unless we cut all future care and benefits for veterans of OEF and OIF - and while there's plenty of precedent for quietly stiff vets, I can't see 100% cuts, nor any significant cuts carried out in the light of day,

NV, even leaving those out entirely, I suspect that the amounts spent on operations (including payments to Iraqis for various reasons) would exceed any practical spending cuts. Which is where I was coming from, at least until McKinney's trip is over and he has time to wade thru the Budget for numbers.

As for stiffing our vets, the easiest (and traditional) way to do that is to simply cut the VA's budget. Or, if you want even less visibility than that, just decline to increase it to reflect the increased numbers of vets. (Not to mention that, as more of them have injuries and/or PTSD, the fraction of them requiring treatment has jumped.)

There's also a much more serious push than in the past to actually take PTSD and other behavioral health issues (and for that matter, TBI) seriously and, ya know, treat them. And those are things that may not have ramifications until years latter. But yeah, I did get where you were coming from.

It's probably also good to remember that the enduring costs aren't just medical bills, though. There's also medical retirement pensions, and disability compensation - even for servicemembers who only served a single term and may not have even deployed. The decade and a half of conflict also saw recruiting standards loosened to make numbers, so older or less fit people enlisted, and subsequently got broken, in or out of combat (military service is the realm of the young). I'm technically a combat vet (though I never saw combat), but only two of my service-connected medical conditions arose during deployment. The rest are fairly easily connected to the fact that I went onto Active Duty at the ripe old age of 32, and my body protested loudly.

I favor an attempt at a 'coalition of the willing', funded by our friends the Saudi's.

Is this supposed to be irony or do you really have no clue whatsoever about the ME?

@novakant: oh, the Saudies have TONS of money. That's how they could afford 1st Class One Way plane tickets for 9 o of the 9/11 hijackers.

Allies like this should be nuked to glass.

From the Saudi perspective the only problem with ISIS is that they do not like the House of Saud. In ideology they are close cousins (and ISIS owes a lot to financing from Saudi Arabia and the emirates, like Al Qaeda before them).

Actually, most Saudis are a lot more liberal in their outlook than ISIS. Nothing like liberal in the Western sense. But not really as extreme as ISIS either.

I suspect that Saudi Arabia (and maybe, by now, the Emirates) are regretting that they ever supported ISIS or its predecessors. Because the monster they created looks likely to turn on them -- to the extent that it has not already (see Yemen).

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