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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

The War of Words with North Korea

The Daily Escape:

Rangdum Monastery, Suru Valley, India. While the monastery is Buddhist, most of the residents of the Suru Valley are Shia Muslims – photo by Sugato Mukherjee

Are you tired of reading about North Korea (NK)? Wrongo is certainly tired of writing about it. Steve Coll had an interesting take on the war between Trump and Kim:

In the history of nuclear diplomacy, no nation-state has ever given up atomic weapons in response to shrill threats.

We all have noted the continuing tit-for-tat between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un. Pat Lang has described the state of play between them as “Simian Mutual Hostility“, giving a name to the image of monkeys throwing their poo at each other in anger.

On 9/23, the US Airforce flew a bomber mission, closer to NK than at any time in the past 17 years. Although the flight took place in international airspace, NK called it an act of war, threatening to shoot down American aircraft, even in international airspace, if it happens again.

Are we now just one miscalculation away from the collapse of the Korean Armistice? Or worse, the start of the Second Korean War? Can cooler heads on both sides ratchet back the simian hostility?

Possibly. Since Trump’s election, NK representatives have been interested in figuring out Trump’s strategy. The WaPo reports that:

North Korean government officials have been quietly trying to arrange talks with Republican-linked analysts in Washington, in an apparent attempt to make sense of President Trump and his confusing messages to Kim Jong Un’s regime.

WaPo quotes a person with “direct knowledge”:

 Their number one concern is Trump. They can’t figure him out.

So, could Trump calling Kim “Rocket Man” be a carefully calculated master stroke of foreign policy? It could, but don’t count on that. Trump did use “Crooked Hillary” to his advantage, but will calling Kim Rocket Man change the world’s perception of Kim in ways beneficial to America?

It seems more like a direct challenge from an older man to a younger one, to put up or shut up. It appears that Trump is trying to goad Kim into an openly hostile reaction that could justify a US attack in “self-defense”.

That would be following the Tonkin Gulf playbook, as used by LBJ in 1964. After the attack, which to this day looks like a fabricated incident, the US had a pretext to escalate its involvement in Vietnam, with disastrous consequences. We wouldn’t leave Vietnam for another 11 years.

An air-zone intrusion near (in) NK waters is a perfect way for Trump to replay the Tonkin Gulf plan. Trump may hope that NK will attempt to shoot down one of our B-1B’s. The issue of whether the attack happens in NK territory or in international waters will be disputed, and will not be really understood by the media.

And what about NK saying “it’s an act of war”? “b” at Moon of Alabama says that NK had declared something an “act of war” or a “war declaration” some 200 times in their press, so, perhaps we shouldn’t take exception quite so strongly.

The landscape is that we have two leaders willing to say anything, hoping that the other guy starts the actual fight.

Let’s remember that China and Russia have asked the US to be patient with NK. China has a mutual defense treaty with NK, and has said it would react if NK were attacked. South Korea’s president said he does not want a war to happen.

Our “missile shield” for the US homeland isn’t reliable, yet our military has based its nuclear deterrence on it. And we revere these Pentagon guys as brilliant “strategists”. The systems do not work effectively, yet we act as if they will, and that the technical problems are solvable before we will need them.

We have no ability in the short run to defend the homeland against Kim’s ICBMs, but Trump’s idea is to goad Kim into a first strike.

The “big stick” mindset is at the core of the Pentagon’s philosophy. However, with China next door, and their stance clear, why does Trump continue to piss on Kim’s boots?

The US has a terribly flawed strategic position. When the monkeys are consumed with throwing the shit, the risk that something happens far down the chain of command increases. The Cuban Missile crisis could have escalated were it not for a level-headed US junior submarine officer.

Let’s leave the last word to Steve Coll:

“To overcome the perils of the present”, the President said at the UN last week, “we must begin with the wisdom of the past.” If only there were some evidence that Trump knew what that was, or how to use the power of his office to forge a less dangerous world.

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Can We Rein in North Korea?

The Daily Escape:

Pileated Woodpecker, Litchfield County Connecticut – photo by J Clery

On Independence Day, North Korea (NK) launched what looks to be its first intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of hitting Alaska. Pundits, including Wrongo have been saying that the US has no viable military option to blunt NK’s growing threat, because any attempt to do so would cause a brutal counterattack against South Korea that our military thinks is too bloody and damaging to risk.

Here is the NYT’s analysis: Nearly half of South Korea’s population lives within 50 miles of the Demilitarized Zone, including 10 million people in Seoul, its capital. NK has positioned 8,000 artillery cannons and rocket launchers on its side of the Demilitarized Zone, an arsenal capable of raining up to 300,000 rounds on the South in the first hour of a counterattack. That means it can inflict tremendous damage without resorting to weapons of mass destruction. The NYT quotes Robert E. Kelly a professor at South Korea’s Pusan University:

You have this massive agglomeration of everything that is important in South Korea — government, business and the huge population — and all of it is in this gigantic megalopolis that starts 30 miles from the border and ends 70 miles from the border… In terms of national security, it’s just nuts.

Not all of the NK’s weapons can reach Seoul. Most of its artillery has a range of three to six miles, but it has about 1,000 weapons that could hit Seoul, most hidden in caves and tunnels. But under a traditional artillery strategy, the North would never fire them all at once. Instead, it would hold some in reserve to avoid giving their positions away and to conserve munitions.

A study published by the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability in 2012, accounting for these and other factors such as population density, concluded that the initial hours of an artillery barrage by the North focused on military targets would result in nearly 3,000 fatalities, while one targeting civilians would kill nearly 30,000 people. That’s without NK using any of its small nuclear weapons.

Regardless of how this plays out, unless there is a durable peace, it will end very badly for South Korea.

So, America has few strategic options, and none have a high probability of success. Questions remain about whether the North can miniaturize a nuclear weapon to fit within an ICBM missile nosecone, or if it has mastered the technology needed to survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Trump thought he could count on China to rein in NK, but that isn’t occurring. Trump held out hope that China would see that a nuclear-armed North Korea isn’t in its interests. But Beijing’s behavior suggests that it hopes the North Korean nuclear threat can be used to drive the US out of North Asia.

China remains very sensitive about what happened in Korea in 1950, when US forces moved into NK stopping at the Yalu River that marks the NK-Chinese border. The Chinese lost close to a million men repulsing that invasion. That was only 67 years ago, a blink in China’s history.

Trump now has some hard decisions to make. More sanctions could increase the pressure on the Kim regime, but NK is already the most-sanctioned nation, and they haven’t worked so far to disarm the North.

We shouldn’t rule out a pre-emptive US attack, but there is a risk of a nuclear counterstrike on South Korea (and/or Japan) should even one NK nuclear missile survive.

We can return to the negotiating table, but three US administrations have tried that, and failed. The NK freeze might be phony, and if the NK demands were not being met, they could leave the table and resume weapons development like they have in the past.

We can work for regime change, but there is no guarantee that what comes next will be easier to work with. And our track record with regime change is terrible.

We can work for reunification of the two Koreas, and let them get on with partaking in the Asian Century. The story would become less about US needs or perceptions of the North. We would have to admit that we are not competent to control the history of this region.

Let’s see what the world’s greatest negotiator, he who alone can fix things, the smartest man with the highest IQ, comes up with. So far all he has done is what he always does, pass the blame. In this case, its China’s fault. Thinking that China will help is a dream; they love the situation we are in.

NK will not become another Iran, with a 20-year freeze on nuclear weapons development. Time to think Reunification.

Here is a nuclear musical interlude with Randy Newman’s “Political Science” from 1972:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Takeaway lyric:

We give them money, but are they grateful?
No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful
They don’t respect us, so let’s surprise them
We’ll drop the big one, pulverize them

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Russia’s Growing Influence With North Korea

The Daily Escape:

Lanterns lit last week for Buddha’s Birthday, Samgwangsa Temple, Busan, South Korea – photo by Jason Teale

Yesterday, Wrongo mentioned that Russia might prove helpful to Donald Trump in his efforts to deal with a nuclear-capable North Korea (NK). Today, Stratfor has a column about Russia’s relationship with NK. Rather than quote extensively from a long article, Wrongo has condensed from it, particularly about the history of Russia/North Korean relations.

History gives perspective: The Soviet Union and the US were the actors that split North and South Korea at the end of WWII. In the 1950s, both Koreas became a proxy battleground, pitting the communist North against the US-aligned South. After China and North Korea agreed to an Armistice with the UN and South Korea in 1953, the Soviets helped to build up the military and security forces in NK, ensuring its stability. Some Soviet-era military equipment is still in use today.

The Soviets were a key NK economic partner throughout the Cold War. They accounted for nearly half of NK’s foreign trade in the 1970s and 1980s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, trade dropped off. China now accounts for 90% of NK’s imports, but about a third of that is Russian-sourced.

Putin saw the strategic value of good relations with NK, including how Russia could manipulate its influence in the region to pressure NK, or to put pressure the US and South Korea. Russia has criticized NK’s nuclear weapons tests and ballistic missile programs, and participated in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks along with China, the US, Japan and North Korea and South Korea.

In 2014, Russia joined in levying sanctions against NK, halting supplies of ships, helicopters and minerals in response to its continued nuclear tests. But, neither China nor Russia has cut their economic or military ties with NK. And both governments have opposed expanded sanctions or regime change.

Russia and NK have improved ties since the breakdown in Russia’s relations with the West over Crimea and Ukraine. In 2014, Moscow officially settled NK’s Soviet-era debt of $11 billion, forgiving most of it. NK granted Russian business executives long-term multiple-entry visas for the first time. In addition, Russia has provided millions of dollars’ worth of food aid to NK in recent years, including nearly half of the country’s grain imports.

One way that the two countries have expanded their cooperation is through the employment of temporary NK workers in Russia. Nearly 50,000 North Koreans were granted Russian work permits in 2015. In April, Russia’s parliament passed a bill allowing NK workers to travel visa-free to Vladivostok. Russia estimates that North Korea receives $170 million in remittances from its workers in Russia.

No doubt, Russia sees its relationship with NK as small potatoes. But Russia is not small potatoes for NK. While it will not replace China as NK’s primary partner, Russia has the capacity to play spoiler to the US plans to control NK’s nuclear ambitions. Today, Russia has its hands full with Syria, Crimea and Ukraine. But, its influence on the North Koreans can give it leverage, in the event that America’s Orange Negotiator needs help making a deal on the Korean peninsula.

Putin could add weight to China’s effort to lean on NK, forcing NK to come to the table. In return, His Orangeness might be persuaded to go easy on Putin’s goals in Ukraine or Syria, in addition to whatever he will owe China, if the pressure succeeded.

Russia can’t solve our problem with NK, but it might be able to move the dial enough either to play the spoiler, or to be an ally in any American efforts to defuse the Korean problem.

Here is a martial song from North Korea: “Leader, Just Give Us Your Order!” Don’t you just wonder what that order will be?

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Warning! Don’t scroll through the comments, it weakens the mind. A recent one says:

“Comrade Kim Jong Un, just give us the order to wipe out all imperialists and to reunificate Korea!”

Reunificate!

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Saturday Soother – April 29, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Welcome to spring, which has brought a dandelion horror show to the fields of Wrong. Apparently, these are mutant dandelions, completely immune to the weed killer we put down three weeks ago.

But that is far from the only horror show underway in the lives of average Americans. The Trump 100-day roasting or celebration, depending on your viewpoint, is underway today. The NYT’s David Brooks has a perceptive look at the Trump presidency so far: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I wish we had a president who had actual convictions and knowledge, and who was interested in delivering real good to real Americans. But it’s hard to maintain outrage at a man who is a political pond skater — one of those little creatures that flit across the surface, sort of fascinating to watch, but have little effect as they go.

Hard to maintain outrage? Brooks, (not a Wrongo fave) elsewhere minimizes the real and potential damage that the country will face with our Orange Overlord. He still is commander-in-chief and, as such, has his (figurative) finger propped on the (figurative) nuclear button, and can order military action at a moment’s notice. Yesterday, Trump said that

There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely…

That should have made David Brooks cringe, but it didn’t, Brooks opined that:

His foreign policy moves have been, if anything, kind of normal…

Really? Trump says whatever is on top of his mind, words that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un just might take as a pre-invasion threat. That could lead to war with millions of South Koreans, Japanese, or American citizens paying the price for Trump’s bellicosity.

Think about how the Trumpets created a nuclear scare in mid-April: NBC News reported that they were considering a pre-emptive nuclear strike:

EXCLUSIVE: US may launch preemptive strike if North Korea reaches for nuclear trigger, intelligence officials say http://nbcnews.to/2owFmep

After some hysteria, including the false (inaccurate?) reporting of the location of our Aircraft Carrier Carl Vinson, which wasn’t steaming toward a North Korea confrontation, cooler heads have prevailed, and we are now talking about direct talks with the NK’s. Not much of this is new. Consider this from 2010 by Mark Landler of the NYT:

President Obama’s patience with China had been fraying for months, and by November 2010 he was fed up. Meeting with President Hu Jintao in Seoul, South Korea, Mr. Obama warned that if China did not do more to curb North Korea’s bellicose behavior, he would have to take steps to shield the United States from the threat of a nuclear missile attack from the North.

Sounds like where we are today, although the GOP likes Trump’s mas macho ways better than it liked Obama’s.

Once we are done insisting that China will fix this problem for us, and it turns out there’s no real Plan B, Trump will have to consider what it takes to strike a bargain with the North Koreans, or we’ll learn to live in the same dangerous situation that Japan and South Korea already face.

Onward to something that both calms and soothes. Wrongo is going for Chai Latte this morning, along with his Saturday music. Your mileage may vary.

Edward Elgar composed the Enigma Variations between October 1898 and February 1899. It is an orchestral work comprising fourteen variations on a theme. The “Nimrod” is variation IX. This variation is sometimes used at British funerals, memorial services, and other solemn occasions, like your review of Trump’s first 100 days in office. Here is Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 1997 in Elgar’s “Nimrod” variation:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – April 8, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Mount Etna eruption, March 2017 – photo by Salvatore Allegra

Ready, Fire, Aim! Aren’t you glad we didn’t elect Hillary, the neo con warmonger? From Booman:

Our Bush Era PTSD has been reactivated in a big way. While I offered a limited and cautious and conditional defense of President Trump’s decision to authorize the strikes against Syria, I was at pains to note that it’s very important that the administration provide convincing evidence that the Assad regime is responsible for the sarin attack that served as the predicate for the missile launch.

Russia and Syria have denied that they are behind the Syrian Chemical Weapons (CW) attack. We know there was an attack, and that some kind of chemical was used. The media are saying it was sarin gas.

They also, nearly unanimously, say it is the fault of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Earlier in the week, both US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson and US UN envoy Nikki Haley said removing Assad was no longer a priority in US Middle-East policy.

Now, Assad has to go.

Most news outlets and pundits support Donald Trump’s spanking of the Assad government, but what is Trump’s strategy? Enforcing norms against the use of chemical weapons (CW) is a good thing. But it’s hard to see how Thursday’s all-out reversal of our level of engagement in the Syrian civil war is justified by the use of CW, particularly since it has been used several times before in Syria, and since it brings with it many other risks/issues, like a potential military confrontation with Russia and Iran.

After Thursday’s Tomahawk missile attack, we are now simultaneously confronting the two strongest factions in the Syrian civil war, Assad’s army and ISIS. While Trump and the MSM are going bananas about the horrors of CW, no one was going bananas last week, or in all the prior weeks, about the daily death count of Syrian children who were collateral damage in the country’s civil war.

The attack took place in the midst of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping This was where one of the hottest topics was what to do about North Korea’s continuing long-range missile tests and its work on completing a deliverable nuclear warhead.

Clearly there were implicit messages for both North Korea and China in the Syrian attack. This has something to do with Syria, and a lot to do with the Chinese. Military types would tell us that Trump firing 59 cruise missiles to take out an airfield is overkill.

But, it will not be lost on Xi that 50+cruise missiles could also devastate any of those new atoll airfields cropping up in the South China Sea. Donald Trump just proved to Xi that he is a man with 4,000+ nuclear weapons at this disposal and a military that follows orders. It looks to Wrongo like Xi and Putin now have a giant incentive to become better allies, and invite Iran to the party.

Once again, Wrongo thinks that the best option for the US would be to concentrate on humanitarian efforts and helping refugees. And to work with Russia and Syria’s other allies to end the threat from ISIS in the greater Middle East.

Unfortunately, that also admits there is a limitation on the US’s ability to control events solely based on its military strength. Despite its flaws, if there’s no reason to believe any strategy will improve results, then the best course is inaction. That was Obama’s approach.

It’s just not true that we “Must Do Something”. People think that if we Do Something, then nothing bad that subsequently happens is really our fault, because AT LEAST WE DID SOMETHING. Whereas if we do nothing, then every bad thing that subsequently happens is our fault.

Thanks, Obama.

We really don’t have to do anything. The problem is that by following the do-nothing strategy, America doesn’t get to be the biggest, baddest ass on the Middle East Street.

Yes, if we do nothing, lots of people will die, but that doesn’t exactly distinguish it from what will happen anyway. Our inaction won’t transfer blame for those deaths onto us, any more than an action to take out Assad will shift it from us.

Who knew running the world’s superpower was so complicated? Certainly, not someone who said “I alone can fix it”.

With all of this Bush-era Déjà Vu, we really need some soothing today. Here is the first movement (Allegro) from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No.5 in F Major, “Spring” Op. 24, for violin/piano, played by Ilya Itin and Igor Graupman from a live performance at the Miami International Piano Festival.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Wrongo’s Useless 2017 Predictions

It’s tough to make predictions. Especially about the future.”Yogi Berra

Since you have already plunged a stake into the heart of 2016, it is time for some predictions about 2017, which most likely, won’t happen. We can expect the following:

  1. There will be more global political and social turmoil:
    1. The EU could collapse. France is a Marine LePen government away from pursuing an exit from the EU, so there would be a Frexit to go along with Brexit.
    2. China’s economy is wobbling, and China’s president Xi has leaned into a populist message:

On this New Year, I am most concerned about the difficulties of the masses: how they eat, how they live, whether they can have a good New Year…

  1. The US will continue to lose influence globally despite “Mr. Unpredictable” becoming our Orange Overlord: Trump brags about winning when he negotiates. That has been undeniably true in his real estate and name brand licensing. He will find that when the other side doesn’t need access to his brand in order to succeed, he will have to resort to instilling fear. That may work once, but it will not work consistently.
  2. A corollary: Trump arrives in the Oval Office as an overconfident leader, the man with no plan but with a short attention span, and within six months, he will have his first major policy failure. Getting his hand burned will make him more subdued, more conservative and less populist thereafter.
  3. A second corollary: The triumvirate of Russia/Turkey/Iran will elbow the US firmly out of the Fertile Crescent, and secure friendly regimes in Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran. This will push American influence in the Middle East back to just the Gulf States, a weakened Saudi Arabia, and an increasingly isolated Israel.
  4. Domestically, drug abuse, suicide, and general self-destructive behavior will continue to climb and become impossible to ignore.
  5. The Trump stock market rally has already turned into the Santa Selloff. The Dow peaked on December 20 at 19,975, 25 points away from party-hat time. But since then, Dow 20,000 slipped through our fingers like sand. It closed the year at 19,719, down 281 points from 20k.
  6. Regarding the stock market, many people who want to sell stocks waited until 2017 in order to pay lower capital gains tax. Selling in January could lower prices further.
  7. The growing antibiotic resistance to main stream drugs will impact health in the US.

Meta Prediction: It is certain that few Trump voters will get the results they voted for. Some people who voted for Trump have incompatible outcomes in mind, so it’s a virtual guarantee that a sizable minority are going to feel cheated when they fail to get what they were promised.

OTOH, when Trump fails, most of his base will blame anyone but the Donald. The question is, when disillusionment sets in, will the reaction be a turning away, or a doubling down on the anger?

Wrongo thinks anger will win out.

The coming Trump administration will seem like a fractious family outing: Just under half of the family (the “landslide” segment) wanted to go out, but now, the whole family has to go. Those who wanted to stay home will sulk in the back seat while Daddy tells them to stop bitching.

Meanwhile, once we are out of the driveway, it dawns on everyone that Daddy hasn’t decided yet where to go. Everyone pipes up with suggestions, but Daddy again tells everyone to shut up, because it’s his decision alone. There will be the usual “are we there yet?” complaining, some motion sickness and incessant fighting over who is touching whom.

Daddy won’t reveal the destination, but insists everyone will love it once they get there, even those who wanted to stay home, those who wanted to go the beach, and those who wanted to head over the cliff like Thelma and Louise.

Time for our Monday Wake Up Call, “Wake Up Everybody”, originally by Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes, featuring Teddy Pendergrass. Teddy left the group for his solo career after this album.

But, today we will hear and watch John Legend’s cover of the tune, backed by the Roots Band along with Melanie Fiona, and Common. The song is as strong as it was 42 years ago when it was released:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Your Holiday Gift Is Team Trump

From Ian Welsh: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Trump is now Team Trump. The two most influential people in his court appear to be his son-in-law, [Jared] Kushner, a fellow real-estate developer and the guy who made the key strategic decisions which led to Trump’s victory; and {Steve] Bannon. Bannon is an economic nationalist with white nationalist leanings, who identifies with the working class and wants to bring manufacturing back to America. He’s quite willing to have a trade war to do it.

And while we are at it, Wrongo is sure that all of the Goldman Sachs alligators Trump is dumping into DC’s undrained swamp have lots of winning in mind for America. Welsh adds:

Trump’s children are influential, and it appears that Ivanka, his daughter, is the most influential of the three. She’s probably the most liberal person in the administration (even if she, strictly speaking, isn’t in the administration.)

Despite Welsh saying Ivanka won’t be in the administration, US News reported that she will set up shop in the White House space usually set aside for the first lady, which is in the East Wing. That sounds like influence!

With almost five weeks remaining until the inauguration, attempting to understand what Trump’s administration will do to you (or for you, if you are a fan), is America’s favorite holiday party game.

Trump has loaded up on oligarchs and generals to help steer his thinking on policy. More from Welsh: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

So, for example, his shift on China policy [to confrontation] is in alignment with what a lot of generals think (China is the real threat) and with what Bannon thinks (manufacturing jobs, economic nationalism.)

In some ways, Trump’s China policy is a continuation and extension of existing policy, but his style is confrontational, and more focused. All of Trump’s complaints about Chinese actions are long-standing US complaints that had not been addressed by previous administrations.

When we look at Trump’s team, they are anti-labor, pro-corporatist, pro-Wall Street, pro-MIC, Big Oil, Big Coal, climate changing denialists. With Pruitt @ EPA, Perry @ Energy, and Ryan Zinke @ Interior, all the news looks bad for those of us who want to see more alternative energy and a radically improved global environment. And Price @ HHS will have the largest and quickest negative impact on Americans.

These proposed cabinet appointments are not the source of any Christmas cheer if you favor our current domestic policies.

And it will get worse: Congressional Republicans told BuzzFeed News that the GOP plans to re-introduce the First Amendment Defense Act. The act prohibits the federal government from taking action against private businesses and individuals that discriminate against LGBT people (or others) due to their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Trump has already stated his support for the First Amendment Defense Act:

If I am elected president and Congress passes the First Amendment Defense Act, I will sign it to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths…

We got to this precipitous place after a very close election. Paul Campos tells us that the US has recorded the popular vote in 34 US presidential elections (despite having had 57 of them), and Trump received the smallest share of the popular vote of any winning candidate in US presidential election history, if we exclude elections which featured a significant third-party vote.

Jacob Levy points out that Trump eked out victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and therefore the presidency, by a combined 80,000 votes across those three states.

That is a .05% vote margin in a 137 million vote election.

This is why vast numbers of people head into the holidays scared for their families and future.

So you need an Xmas soother. It’s not bad enough to be late in buying presents for people who you know will be disappointed when they open them. Now you gotta deal with Team Trump, and all of the winning we will see in the next four years.

Here are the Piano Guys with O come, O come, Emmanuel. It was filmed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Jerusalem Movie Set in Goshen Utah:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 5, 2016

We’ve entered uncharted territory. Trump had a phone call with the president of Taiwan. Why is that such an issue? Presidents speak to other world leaders all the time, but American presidents have not spoken to the president of Taiwan since 1979. This studied form of non-recognition is at the core of the One-China Policy.

That policy states that there is only one state called “China”, despite the existence of two governments claiming to be China. This diplomatic dance works precisely because everybody agrees to abide by rules that don’t make complete sense.

We learned from experience in Korea and Vietnam, where we acted with hostility to both “two country” standoffs between a communist and a non-communist government. We learned, and then changed the game when it came to the two Chinas. That is, until President-Elect Trump was lured into the Taiwan call by his advisors, John Bolton and Stephen Yates. This from the Guardian: (strike out and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Bolton wrote in the Wall Street Journal in January: “The new US administration could start with receiving Taiwanese diplomats officially at the State Department; upgrading the status of US representation in Taipei from a private ‘institute’ to an official diplomatic mission; inviting Taiwan’s president to travel officially to America; allowing the most senior US officials to visit Taiwan to transact government business; and ultimately restoring full diplomatic recognition.”

Stephen Yates, a former White House aide to Dick Cheney now advising the Trump transition was in Taiwan at the time of [Trump’s] the call. “It’s great to have a leader willing to ignore those who say he cannot take a simple call from another democratically elected leader,” Yates tweeted.

China reacted by saying Trump needs to be educated about the world. Scott Adams, Trump butt-boy, puts it in about the most favorable light possible:

Trump is “setting the table” for future negotiations with China. He just subtracted something from China’s brand that they value, and later he will negotiate with them to maybe give it back in some fashion. Probably in return for some trade concessions.

It didn’t end there. Trump apparently has invited Philippine President Duterte to the White House. Figuring out how to resolve Duterte’s issues with the US, his embrace of China, and his demonstrated abuse of human rights in the Philippines should be high on the new administration’s list of issues. It would have been smart to have the outline of an agreed joint solution in place before rewarding Duterte with a state visit.

And there was Trump’s phone call with the Prime Minister of Pakistan. According to the Pakistani account of the conversation, Trump told Nawaz Sharif that Pakistan is a “fantastic” country full of “fantastic” people that he “would love” to visit as president.

Just awesome, except for Trump ignoring that India, our real partner in that part of Asia, is Pakistan’s enemy. Trump risks appearing to reward Pakistan at the expense of our relationship with India. Again, the US has maintained a balancing act between these two countries, who have a history of war and skirmishes over their disputed border.

The jury is out on what Trump is trying to do, and whether it is based on strategy, or ideology. Speaking with Taiwan’s and Pakistan’s leaders are potentially dangerous moves, as is his engagement with Duterte.

They are also potentially revolutionary. Every out-of-the-box move by Trump challenges norms and potentially blows up longstanding ways of doing things. If you are gonna shake things up, it’s all-important that you understand exactly why we have done things the way we have, and what the implications are of change. We know Trump is an instinctive guy, and not a willing student. The danger is his willingness to overturn complex situations where governmental institutions have had very good reasons for the policy they support.

This is the dark underbelly of Trump’s populism. He was elected to shake things up by voters who dismiss facts, if presented by journalists.

You start by discrediting what came before. You call it elite failure. You shake things up because you can.

Time to wake up, America! Think about Michael Moore’s calling Trump a human Molotov cocktail on NBC’s “Meet the Press”:

Across the Midwest, across the Rustbelt, I understand why a lot of people are angry. And they see Donald Trump as their human Molotov cocktail…I think they love the idea of blowing up the system.

So, let’s wake up today with the Billy Joel song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. The lyrics to this song catalog both personalities and historic events from 1949 until 1989:

We didn’t start Trump’s fire, but get ready, we may very well have to put it out.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Sample lyrics:
Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, Television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye
Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

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China is the Enemy Trump Wants

Rudy Giuliani, the presumptive secretary of state in the Trump administration, said that Trump intends to prioritize building a “gigantic” military force to blunt China’s ambitions in the Pacific.

Speaking to business leaders in Washington on Tuesday, Giuliani said the US would increase its number of troops to 550,000, instead of shrinking it to 420,000. He also said they intended to take the navy up to 350 ships. It currently has around 280, but the plan is to decrease to 247: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

At 350, [ships] China can’t match us in the Pacific. At 247 ships, we can’t fight a two-ocean war; we gave up the Pacific. If you face them with a military that is modern, gigantic, overwhelming and unbelievably good at conventional and asymmetric warfare, they may challenge it, but I doubt it

Out of the probable Clinton/Nuland frying pan, into the reality of the Trump/Giuliani dumpster fire.

The Trump plan is to build up the Navy in order to fight a “two-ocean war”. It’s going to be difficult to build that size fleet in four years. A 350 ship Navy will be prohibitively expensive – the Navy’s new DD(X) destroyers cost $4 billion each; 70 new ships @ $4 billion each is $2.8 trillion, (and it might be more like 100 ships). But the DD(X) is not yet proven to work very well in rough seas, which seems a bit of a problem.

Giuliani thinks that China wouldn’t challenge 350 ships. He may be correct. That will stretch our economy, and it would certainly stretch China’s. China of course, is likely to respond with a military build-up of its own: They can probably build 350 (or more) anti-ship missiles with nuclear warheads in four years, and have the ability to blow up quite a number of the Giuliani-class navy vessels if necessary.

Want to see a few more Pacific reefs? A US/China military contest could deliver them.

Trump ran to the left of Clinton regarding Russia and the Middle East. He spoke about normalizing relations with Russia and lately, he has said Russia and the US should cooperate on defeating ISIS in Syria. What is the point of seeking decent relations with Russia, the other nuclear super-power, if you are going to press a military bet with the third largest nuclear weapons state?

We thought that Trump wanted a trade war with China, but we were only half right. He’s going to re-engage with battleship diplomacy, in true Ronald Reagan Cold War fashion.

Trump wouldn’t bother augmenting the Pacific fleet unless his objective was to try to out-gun, out-spend, out-trade and outright suppress the rise of China.

That strategy will lead to a sharp Chinese response. It isn’t at all clear that Russia would stay neutral in this power game. Russia might support China, like they did in the 1950s. Forbes says this: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Although the Chinese and Russians may not be natural economic allies due to historical grievances…and alleged xenophobia of Russians toward Chinese businessmen, an expanded alliance between the two countries could unfold if either presidential hopeful, particularly Donald Trump, acts on promises to get tough on China…A Chinese-Russian economic relationship that develops naturally, rather than out of security fears on both ends, is one that is more favorable to the US.

There has always been some sense in a muscular China policy. That was why Obama’s plan was to “pivot” toward Asia.

China shows every intention of expanding its influence outward. Containment has always been our best option with them, unless you believe in military confrontation. We should continue the current strategy of promoting/supporting resistance by China’s neighbors, supporting a regional arms buildup by South Korea, Japan, India, Vietnam and others. We can hope that this strategy will, over time, convince the Chinese to give up their imperial dream of dominating the South China Sea and its contiguous states.

Trump got elected on a more isolationist premise than Clinton’s or Obama’s. He led people to believe that he’d be far more focused on domestic policy and domestic security, including things like terrorism and immigration.

But since GOP controlled Congress will move quickly to end the Sequester, which could add $500 billion in defense spending over the next decade, now it seems that his administration will be more hawkish, possibly even more than what Hillary Clinton would have wanted.

Can’t we put these war-mongering dinosaurs out to pasture? Then they can dress up like WWII Generals and play out their global dominance fantasies whenever they want.

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