Who knew that when the declassifications we’ve been waiting for got rolling they’d seem like a distractor? Not that we should give them short shrift. Long shrifts only, please.
BREAKING: @jsolomonReports reports that Pres. Trump has ordered the declassification of intelligence docs from Obamagate, including Christopher Steele’s debriefings and FBI asset Stefan Halper’s instructions. Expected to be released tomorrow or Monday. #MAGA #AmericaFirst #Dobbs pic.twitter.com/8xFBV6wMPQ
— Lou Dobbs (@LouDobbs) January 14, 2021
The ones that are coming out Friday (I’ve seen initial takes pop up in the last couple of hours) are important in their own right, and we’ll all be grateful to whoever has the time to parse them out for us.
But in context – the big picture – they make a nice departure point for the main-stage drama that is only beginning to coalesce. They’re a leading element of the “so much, “ or maybe the “too much,” that’s going on.
We’ll skim over things to get this article up. And we’re going to run this one backward, with the geopol atmospherics up front.
First off, an extraordinary and very significant event in geopolitics occurred in just the last 48 hours. The Trump administration redrew the theater boundary of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to include Israel.
Israel has been included in the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) theater for decades, although her neighbors – Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, even Egypt – are in the CENTCOM theater. The reason was to separate Israel from the Arab nations for the military and diplomatic purposes of the different theaters. The four-star officer in command in each theater was able to deal with Israel or the Arab nations of the Middle East, but not have to deal with both.
As the GCC nations – along with Morocco – have begun to sign on to the “Abraham Accords,” however, the perceived need to separate military dealings with Israel from those with the Arab nations is fading quickly.
The ramifications of this switch go far beyond its impact on the Persian Gulf-centered face-off with Iran. To a significant extent, it blurs a dividing line between East and West that has been recognized and disputed not just for centuries but for millennia.
It might be thought of as the ultimate counter to Iran’s race for a land-bridge to the Mediterranean: a rapprochement of East and West that empowers the nations straddling the line – the ones from Mesopotamia to the Nile – to deal as a loose bloc with outside powers like the United States, rather than always representing a hodge-podge of squabbling, exploitable divided states.
The administrative action is a convenience for the U.S.; it’s not something that affects the sovereign discretion of the nations in the two theaters. But its meaning is so profound, it’s basically surreal to see the move made as an afterthought by an administration with less than a week left on its clock.
One of many things that make you go, Hmm. As in, come to think of it, why are we doing this now? It’s a good move. A Biden administration is unlikely to do much with it, however. Its full utility is something the Trump administration would pursue vigorously, but there’s no reason to think the Biden team will.
Meanwhile, after the U.S. loosened rules for dealing with Taiwan (noted in the last update), we apparently decide not to send our UN ambassador, Kelly Craft, on a scheduled visit to Taiwan, which was to occur before 20 January. (Craft met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen virtually instead.) If the goal there is to mix signals and continue to keep China guessing, perhaps it’s working.
Further north, Kim Jong-un has been logging a series of Major Moves with his party congress, some ritual denunciations of the United States, and a military parade.
THREAD — Here's what we know about North Korea's latest military parade:
– North Korea rolled out what looks like four Pukguksong-class submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). No ICBM spotted.
– Kim Jong Un attended the event wearing a leather jacket and fur hat. pic.twitter.com/0538sDuPlr
— NK NEWS (@nknewsorg) January 14, 2021
What has principally struck me about these events is the rote flatness of them. When North Korea is energized to rattle the saber, it looks, well, energetic. The Big Cheese Leader throws random punches like a madman, bullets fly, Seoul down south always has something to say. And China is there, holding the tablets, ready to utter bromides and be consulted.
But we haven’t been hearing much from Beijing, or from Seoul either. The whole thing looks “off” to me, like an inconsequential mailed-in performance more than a self-motivated geopolitical action.
It’s interesting partly because of the gathering of military power that’s going to be in the Far East in a couple of months. The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) Strike Group is deploying to the Far East, acknowledged by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to be in the Western Pacific as of Wednesday (it might have been acknowledged before; that’s just the first I saw of it). Theodore Roosevelt brings the carrier count in the Far East to two, with Japan-based USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).
But the Royal Navy is also planning a rare Far East deployment for its carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth early this year, which will expand the show-of-force potential further, and enable Japan’s helicopter-carrier, JDS Izumo, to exercise with U.S. and UK carriers, as well as with French navy assets that will be deployed in the Far East.
It’s been quite a while since there has been such a gathering. Further west, French carrier FS Charles de Gaulle is also scheduled for an early 2021 deployment to the Eastern Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and Persian Gulf. USS Nimitz (CVN-68) remains in the Middle East for now, with USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69) Strike Group expected to head there from the U.S. East coast within weeks.
As a career Naval officer, I can attest, of course, that carrier deployment schedules rarely see disruptions related to presidential transitions. So that’s not the point.
The point is more that Western commentators haven’t seemed to know quite what to say about the mix of force activity and planning, set alongside the significant developments that continue to erupt, may from the Trump administration. In the past, U.S. presidential transition periods have usually been attended by suspensions of some forms of activity, whether by the U.S. or others, as well as occasional surprises sprung by other nations because of the transition. The strange thing in 2021 is how little sense there seems to be that anyone is waiting to see what changes after the 20th.
That’s a bit odd, because the approved narrative about Biden versus Trump would lead us to assume things will change significantly.
2016 intel band, Agonistes
A few things already have, although the conventional interpretation would be that they’re unrelated to events in the U.S. The government of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has just resigned, with his entire cabinet, ahead of a national election scheduled in March. The stated reason is to take responsibility for a government crackdown scandal involving child welfare payments.
The center-left government of Giuseppe Conte in Italy is verging on collapse following the withdrawal from it this week of Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva, a break-away left-wing party Renzi formed in 2019.
Oddly enough, Rutte and Renzi were both prime ministers throughout 2016, when – as readers may recall – their national intelligence agencies were associated with the allegations behind Russiagate about Russian interference in the U.S. election.
Also this week, the entire cabinet of Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas resigned due to a corruption scandal. The president of Estonia has asked the leader of the opposition party, Kaja Kallas, to put together a new government.
It is a peculiar coincidence that Estonian intelligence, alongside that of Italy and the Netherlands, figured with remarkable prominence in the allegations about Russia interfering in the U.S. election, and in particular that Trump and/or his team was involved, in 2016.
Ratas was not the prime minister at the time. He took office in November 2016 (months after the allegations from Estonia were reportedly forwarded to John Brennan). Then-president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the close associate of George Soros, left office in December 2016, shortly after Ratas assumed office.
One more putatively small vignette on the geopolitics front. Mike Pompeo was reportedly seen dining at Café Milano in Washington, D.C. this week, in company with Israeli Mossad chief Yossi Cohen. That alone is noteworthy, of course. If the two of them are seen schmoozing together in public, it’s because they want to be seen.
Joe Truzman of FDD, among others, tweeted later that they spoke about the U.S. providing intelligence for Israeli air strike operations.
According to a @washingtonpost article which cited the @AP, the airstrikes in eastern Syria targeted a warehouse used to store and stage Iranian weapons. The operation was discussed by Pompeo/Cohen during a meeting at Café Milano on Monday night. #Syria #Israel pic.twitter.com/NIZCu7pvhr
— Joe Truzman (@Jtruzmah) January 13, 2021
This interlude comes on the heels of a series of Israeli air strikes in Syria, which reportedly ramped up because Iran has been trying to shift and consolidate forward positions from western Syria to the Syria-Iraq border, given Israeli success over the past several years in attacking Iranian installations in the Damascus area.
That’s likely to be a valid assessment, of course. What’s interesting, as with all these developments, is how the Trump administration is setting things in motion it theoretically won’t be there to follow through on. As we have noted before, Trump isn’t really behaving as if he expects to leave office.
Neither are a number of the administration’s foreign counterparts. The Arab nations of CENTCOM have to understand the transformative meaning of the boundary shift that moved Israel into their “club,” and as with the Saudi-Qatari rapprochement, they seem to have signed off on it – showing a confidence I wouldn’t necessarily expect to see if they pondered how a Biden administration would use the arrangement.
Maybe it’s because the Saudis expect the theater boundary shift to be a net advantage for them; e.g., in facing down the regime in Iran. But while the Saudis hold the fate of the re-warming with Qatar in their own hands, they don’t have control over how much or little the U.S. does with a new theater architecture for CENTCOM.
There continues to be an awful lot of activity from the dead cat.
A tale of two psyops?
Back stateside, the bizarre melodrama of Inauguration Day continues to mount. To put it in an interesting perspective, let’s take a brief run at it from what may be an unexpected quarter.
Quite a few skeptics have noted how miracles are popping out all over the place to cue choirs of angels as soon as a new administration takes over, and grant us a glorious reprieve from the depredations of COVID-19.
First Andrew Cuomo said New York can’t stay locked down forever, and it’s time to open up again. Miraculously, he had this epiphany nine days before Inauguration Day.
We simply cannot stay closed until the vaccine hits critical mass. The cost is too high. We will have nothing left to open. We must reopen the economy, but we must do it smartly and safely.#SOTS2021
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) January 11, 2021
Eight days before Inauguration Day, Gavin Newsom miraculously had nearly the identical epiphany about California.
Hospitalization growth rates have slowed. ICU & positivity rates are stabilizing.
Today, the Sacramento region is coming out of the Regional Stay-at-Home Order.
Hopeful signs—but we must approach them cautiously. Wear a mask. Be safe. Avoid gathering. pic.twitter.com/FfoRfvJct1
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) January 13, 2021
Now, six days before Inauguration Day, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has miraculously had the same epiphany about Chicago (which basically might as well be Illinois for this purpose; I doubt Governor J.B. Pritzker would say her nay on the matter).
Mayor Lori Lightfoot says Chicago restaurants and bars need to be allowed to reopen "as quickly as possible" to cut down on instances of private parties where people don't take proper precautions against COVID-19. https://t.co/EC4Df2tFs7
— CBS Chicago (@cbschicago) January 14, 2021
At the same time – it’s a miracle! – the World Health Organization has decided to acknowledge that PCR testing for COVID-19 is an unreliable method of identifying asymptomatic cases, and shouldn’t be used for that purpose. (The inventor of the PCR method said the same thing back in 1993.)
The WHO have finally confirmed what we have been saying for 9 months … that the PCR test is not suitable for purpose as it detects many forms of respiratory problems including the common cold.
Therefore all the positive tests results mean nothing.
Is it all adding up yet?
— Ryan Martin (@_ReviveYourself) January 9, 2021
Mullis invented the test circa 1983, but his warning against using it as a diagnostic tool is dated 1993:https://t.co/qIQCnjXSIo
— torpido (@edgecitykid) January 12, 2021
Experts have been saying for months that PCR testing, using the number of iterations standard for most tests, yields too many false positives. It’s been driving the number of “cases” up in a way that has no useful purpose for public health.
That’s actually what’s important about WHO’s move. It means we don’t have as many “cases” as current tallies indicate, for any purpose meaningful to public health management.
But the political impact of the WHO announcement is that it opens the door to shifting the basis of testing, so that the growth in cases can fall dramatically. Miraculously, this door has been opened just before Inauguration Day in the U.S.
It’s like watching a toddler run a psychological operation – psyop – on us.
Given the blatant nature of the COVID-19 psyop, it’s understandable that many people are also skeptical of the political use to which the riot at the U.S. Capitol is being put. The event was appalling and intolerable, no doubt. There’s no question it can be called a riot, and a deadly one at that. The perpetrators need to be identified, tried, and punished to the full extent of the law.
But it is asinine to call it an “insurrection” or a “coup.” Breaking into the Capitol building could not result in toppling the government, no matter how it was done. Breaking into the Capitol unarmed, to wander the hallways posing for photo ops, engage in tense verbal exchanges with armed police before surrendering, and pilfer a lectern on the way out? Not even in the same Zip code as attempting “insurrection.”
This atrocious misbehavior amounted to exactly what most of the miscreants seem to be charged with: some version of violent entry, disorderly conduct, and/or interfering with the conduct of government business.
To get straight in our minds what we’re being sold on as an “insurrection,” take a moment to hear from the poster child for the insurrection force: the shaman, vegan, and climate-change activist from Phoenix who goes by the name Jake Angeli.
Ladies and gentlemen, your “coup” and “insurrection” leader. No, seriously, watch the video. pic.twitter.com/IXT2FLlwtW
— Matthew RJ Brodsky (@RJBrodsky) January 13, 2021
Right. Moving on, we see that in response to the 6 January riot, Congress and federal agencies requested and are receiving a substantial National Guard deployment to secure the Capitol between now and Inauguration Day.
There are more US troops deployed on Capitol Hill now than in Iraq or Afghanistan. The 15,000 mobilized for Inauguration equals 3 times the number of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) January 13, 2021
As several commentators (including me) have pointed out on social media, the Guard is being exploited – again, with that toddler-like obviousness – for photo ops. Dramatic images of soldiers sleeping on the floors of the Capitol building have been eagerly disseminated by the media. A Guard unit was formed up at attention on the Capitol steps to receive praise from Nancy Pelosi. Images showing hundreds of soldiers all over the Capitol grounds have been making the rounds.
Wow. Just incredible… pic.twitter.com/fexBwoEdRg
— Kenneth Moton (@KennethMoton) January 13, 2021
This one in the Daily Mail made me heartsick. pic.twitter.com/W1lvD85LaT
— mog1717 (@mog1717) January 13, 2021
If this is happening, your democracy may not be healthy: pic.twitter.com/CXtJCnxHhF
— half achieved harfleur (@halfachieved) January 13, 2021
I spotted the National Guard sleeping in the hallways of the Capitol as I walked in this morning. pic.twitter.com/PzVpQCo5yU
— Daniella Diaz (@DaniellaMicaela) January 13, 2021
According to the most reliable initial reports – quoting Chief of the National Guard Bureau General Daniel R. Hokanson – the deployment authorization could see as many as 15,000 guardsmen in the Capital Region. He expects 10,000 there by 16 January. (The authorized number has since been increased to 21,000.)
That’s a lot of soldiers. As the media were pointing out on Wednesday, 15,000 would be three times as many service members as we have in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined.
Readers are welcome to marvel over the level of danger that must be in response to. Others who understand how many it should actually take to secure D.C. against a hoodlums-and-hooligans threat will recognize it as vast overkill – and that’s assuming the narrative about why all these soldiers are descending on the capital is a valid one.
Now, maybe the narrative is incoherent (the streets around the Capitol are blocked off, after all; nothing except a homeless tent city that has for some reason been allowed to spring up right outside the Capitol building is near the Capitol complex anyway), but let’s go with it.
Was in Georgetown this morning and tried to drive through the city – police and construction vehicles blocking all eastbound traffic at 20th St…took a right on Constitution and there is also a block at the Lincoln Memorial. Not messing around. pic.twitter.com/2CNbgM4qkp
— John Burnham (@JohnJPBurnham) January 13, 2021
Why is law enforcement allowing a suspicious tent village right across the street from the Capitol? pic.twitter.com/xG8Ob2U3xe
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) January 13, 2021
So, OK, it has the look of a psyop. Seeming to reinforce that perception, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent a memo to the uniformed forces this week, reminding them of their constitutional duties. The troops were puzzled, as we noted in our Web Crawler headline on Thursday. They wondered why they were receiving this reminder, an unprecedented one in living memory.
Maybe it’s because Orange Man Bad. The implication would seem to be that the troops may have to keep their commitment to the Constitution by, say, being unfriendly in some way to the Orange Man and his rioting constituency.
— Nick Knudsen 🇺🇸 (@NickKnudsenUS) January 13, 2021
No one can ever outline an actual, rational scenario for this, so the usual practice is to repeat buzzwords about “attacks on our democracy and our democratic institutions.” If there are any such attacks, and they happen to be mounted in the parts of Washington, D.C. where there are lots of National Guard troops busy keeping their constitutional commitments, presumably they’ll be dealt with in short order.
I spotted these National Guard troops at a normal Washington street corner not even near the Capitol. So many streets have been closed. It reminds me of the war zones I saw in Baghdad or Mosul or Falluja. So sad. pic.twitter.com/la1Ixiva0D
— Wolf Blitzer (@wolfblitzer) January 15, 2021
In the meantime, there are some organizational features of the troop deployment that have gone almost entirely unnoticed. They boil down to this: the basis for the deployment is Title 32 of U.S. federal law. And the command structure puts the troops – who come from multiple states – under the commander of the District of Columbia National Guard.
Title 32 means several things, a salient one being that the troops can be used in a law enforcement role. In the states, that means the governor, not the federal authorities, is normally in command, effectively the commander-in-chief for the purpose of the deployment.
It’s likely that Congress, in particular, wanted to have the troops deployed under Title 32 for that reason. (I haven’t seen disclosures on any deliberations about that.)
A Title 10 deployment is the type that would leave the soldiers subject to federal command (e.g., like the U.S. border security deployments). When they’re under federal command, they must normally remain in a support role rather than be directly involved in law enforcement activities. Their commander-in-chief is the president. (In the continental U.S., the chain of command goes to POTUS through U.S. Northern Command and SECDEF.)
In the District of Columbia, meanwhile, there’s no governor. The mayor doesn’t exercise the authority of a governor either. The mayor has no command relationship with the D.C. National Guard.
To call up the D.C. Guard, the mayor requests support from the Secretary of the Army. And indeed, the whole set of deployments for 2021 inauguration security has been worked through the Secretary of the Army. The D.C. Guard has some 1,200 troops activated, and up to nearly 20,000 may deploy from other states.
The requests for support have come from the U.S. Secret Service, the Capitol Police, and the U.S. Park Police, according to the media. Thus, the top-level requesting agencies are, respectively, the Department of Homeland Security, Congress, and the Department of the Interior. Reportedly, the Guard deployment was signed off by Vice President Pence, ordered by Acting Secretary of Defense Miller, and executed by Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy.
Vice President Pence just made an unscheduled stop on Capitol Hill to greet the National Guard and thank them. About 20,000 National Guard members are expected in Washington this week to secure the city ahead of Biden's inauguration. pic.twitter.com/EDIYWUozm0
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) January 14, 2021
The Secretary of the Army does not exercise operational command. Command of the troops, as mentioned, is to be exercised by the D.C Guard commander. And whom does the D.C. Guard commander report to?
Of note, it’s the president who on 11 January declared an emergency situation in Washington, D.C. for the 20 January inauguration.
POTUS is who commands National Guard troops when they are deployed to the District of Columbia, the main element of the National Capital Region, a federal reserve.