Hopefully, none of you brought any of these cute little babies home for Easter. Wrongo’s parents once brought home some baby chicks for the holiday. The family dog ended their stay very quickly. Just don’t do it!
Easter falls on April Fool’s Day. We’ve been invited to a family party. We’re hoping someone’s really home when we get there. The men’s college basketball championship is sandwiched around April 1st, and Wrongo will be watching. Sadly, the UConn women’s basketball team lost in their final four for the second year in a row.
We endured another week of non-stop foolery by our elected representatives, and this week’s cartoons show just that.
There will be new census questions, but its doubtful that these will make the cut:
The new questions come with a few new tools:
The Roseanne show reboot was cause for concern by Dan:
Trump has the best irony. Trump should pay more and so should Amazon:
We didn’t hear Bob Dylan at the #March for our lives, but Congress should have:
Trump’s legal problems actually have an easy solution:
Trump’s careful diplomatic approach will certainly win the trade negotiation with China: (from the Economist)
At the beating heart of Trump’s Presidency lies the notion of the “Art of the Deal”. It is said that Trump has few convictions, but his notion of how to negotiate – with a big stick, maximum leverage, and with credible, fear-inducing ‘threats’ – is central to his whole Presidency.
This underlying notion of the ‘deal’ is transactional in essence, best practiced as a one-to-one operation, rather than in a multilateral context. But in the sphere of geo-politics this is not so easy….in May… Trump will put his negotiating theory to the test in a very different ambit to that of New York real estate. The North Korean summit should be held; the verdict on the nuclear agreement with Iran is due to be pronounced then; the US Israeli-Palestinian determination is scheduled to be ‘handed down’ in May; the Sunni states’ Iran containment roles [are] to be set; and any punitive tariffs on China will be decided, and enacted.
May will be an important month for America. We could see success in all, some, or none of these negotiations.
Crooke posits that the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranians and the Russians all have read and understand the concepts behind the Art of the Deal. They also know that the US is not really in a position to make good on the bluff, and particularly, not in each negotiation, in each part of the globe.
And despite John Bolton’s best efforts to reinforce Trump’s desire to show America as the strongest, baddest version of LeRoy Brown, all of these competitors and would-be adversaries won’t necessarily blink if Trump threatens them.
There are other problems with Trump’s Art of the Deal strategy. He’s not the only one who knows how to play high-stakes poker: Putin and Xi did not become the undisputed leaders of Russian and China without knowing a bit about strategy and risk-taking.
And the leaders on the other side of each of these Trump initiatives are being told by their own “hawks” that one option is to out-Trump Trump, and win.
This raises the question of a diplomatic “off-ramp”. When Trump warns North Korea that the alternative to accepting America’s demands is military action, what will Trump do if Kim Jong-Un just says “no”? Or, what if Kim answers “yes, but only if America withdraws its nuclear shield from the Korean Peninsula”, or insists that American forces leave northeast Asia altogether?
What does Trump do then?
Does he go to war? The Donald can go to the well too many times with the Art of the Deal strategy.
Over the past 17 years in the Middle East and elsewhere, America’s military might has been shown to have serious limitations, despite our substantial capabilities.
Will Trump be able to bluff his way through May? And if he can’t, then what?
Relax! The good news is that we have a couple of months to figure this out.
Sounds like we need to enjoy the spring, now that it’s finally arrived. Here, the fields of Wrong have finally given up their snow. The birds are returning, and our thoughts turn to a spring clean-up of the damage brought by winter.
So, let’s procrastinate a bit by brewing up a vente cup of Dragonfly Coffee Roasters Ninety Plus Gesha Estates Panama Limited Batch #238, made with the Jose Alfredo Process. ($165/8oz.) Dragonfly claims that the taste is astounding and original, including deeply arousing notes of caramelized green apple surrounding lavish fruit notes that delicately transition the finish into rich cocoa.
Who writes this stuff?
Now, settle back and contemplate the arrival of spring by watching and listening to a video of a Bobolink, by the great Lang Elliott. The Bobolink is a member of the Blackbird family:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
The Three Sisters, viewed from Canmore, Canada – photo by DiscInPc
Strategy must be lost on the Trump administration. We revisit Afghanistan. Pepe Escobar reports that for the past two months, Beijing and Kabul have been discussing the possibility of setting up a joint military base on Afghanistan’s border with China. Escobar quotes Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense:
We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has committed to help financially, provide equipment and train Afghan soldiers…
Escobar says that the military base will be built in the Wakhan Corridor, a mountainous and narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China, and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. He also reports that, according to local Kyrgyz nomads, joint Afghan-Chinese patrols are already active there.
Beijing is trying to prevent Uyghur Islamic fighters, who are exiled in Afghanistan, from crossing the Wakhan Corridor and conducting terror operations in China’s Xinjiang territory. Xinjiang is an autonomous territory in northwest China that has seen years of unrest, primarily from Muslims.
China’s concerns are backed by solid evidence. In 2013, al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri supported jihad against China in Xinjiang. In July 2014, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, supported a move against Xinjiang.
China doesn’t want its Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road, which will connect China with Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe to be compromised by terrorists. And one of its links, the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), could be hurt if terror threats abound in Central and South Asia. It could also affect China’s investments in Afghanistan’s mineral mining industry.
The Chinese are smart. Their new ambassador, Liu Jinsong, was raised in Xinjiang and was a director of the Belt and Road Initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund from 2012 to 2015. He understands how the local problems could hurt the New Silk Road. The plan is to prevent terrorists from having access to Chinese territory, and work to broker a deal between Kabul and some factions of the Taliban. If this sounds familiar, it is also Russia’s strategy, and Iran’s, and India’s as well.
Compare this joint approach with Washington’s strategy. Trump’s plan for Afghanistan involves defeating the Taliban, and then forcing them to negotiate. Since the Taliban control key areas of Afghanistan, the US strategy requires a new mini-surge.
This pits the US “coalition” against all of the great powers of the region. Think we are likely to succeed?
Remember when military parades actually celebrated victories? Those were the days, or, better yet, the day—June 8, 1991…after the US military’s 100-hour lightning ground war ejected Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, some 8,800 soldiers marched down Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC…The White House called it the National Victory Celebration.
Sjursen adds: (brackets by Wrongo)
So, one cannot help but wonder what it [Trump’s Parade] is…celebrating. Nearly 17 years of indecisive quagmire?
He goes for the kill: (emphasis by Wrongo)
Trump…has turned the petty political appropriation of the troops into an art form. Soldiers are a pawn in the game, a very old game, in which the hawkish interventionists inspire the base and depict the opposition as dovish traitors. This is…meant to disguise what amounts to paltry policy in foreign affairs; it’s spectacle not strategy.
Linking our non-strategy in Afghanistan, which all of the region’s powers hope to solve with trade and diplomacy, to Trump’s parade, a good question is: How are our wars doing? The short answer: Badly. But haven’t we “beaten” ISIS? Not really. ISIS has leaped across the borders of Syrian and Iraq to Africa and Asia. That’s why China is building a base in Afghanistan.
For all the talk of new strategies about “turning corners” and “breaking stalemates,” more fighting in Afghanistan will just waste more of our resources. Today, a record number of Afghan provinces and districts are under the control of, or contested by, the Taliban. Short-term success isn’t sustainable.
Trump has no exit strategy. But no worries, he has a parade strategy.
So, time to wake Trump the (family blog) up. He’s got to get focused on closing a deal with his Russian and Chinese friends. To help The Donald wake up, here is the “Unity JAM” by Tony Succar, a percussionist and arranger:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
We watched the time-delayed opening ceremony of the Seoul Olympics. Yesterday’s news at night.
Time seemed to move slowly, except when the cameras showed Mike Pence frowning. That guy should never get a real job in government. Wait, he has one? Ohh. Sorry.
Not shaking hands with the North Korean representatives is beneath America’s leaders. His stony behavior won’t make any friends on the global stage, and while the NoKo’s clearly are not our friends, what does not shaking hands prove?
Then there’s this: Pence skips Olympics dinner in snub to North Korean officials. Instead, he had dinner with the US team. Maybe what caused him to cancel attending the Olympic dinner was a desert, called “A Plate of Hope”. It featured a map of Korea with chocolate barbed wire dividing it. By pouring on a hot sauce, the barbed wire between the north and south melted away. How would America benefit from that?
Is it now considered appropriate to be disrespectful to your host because you don’t like his guest list? Is bailing out on the official Olympic dinner, and not shaking hands the worst Pence will do while representing us at the Olympics? Let’s hope so. On to cartoons.
A wife beater without a security clearance reading everything in the White House is the shocking part:
The Olympics hits close to home:
We’re gonna see something really special at Trump’s big parade:
Trump’s gonna see something really special at the parade too:
-15° sunrise through Hollow Rock, Grand Portage, MN. The sun lines up perfectly only twice a year – 2018 photo by Tuckolson.
Sunday brought a Super Bowl victory by the Eagles, as Wrongo predicted. The week begins with Mr. Market in charge of our financial destiny after the Dow dropped 666 points last Friday. Adding 200,000 new jobs and higher wages, possibly because of minimum wage rate increases in 18 states, should have been good news. But Mr. Market thinks wage increases mean wage inflation, and that weakens corporate profits, which cannot be tolerated. So we must be punished.
This week, the focus shifts to the Winter Olympics in South Korea (SK). And, the Trumpets plan to ratchet up their rhetoric about North Korea (NK). The Guardian reports that VP Mike Pence is leading the US delegation, and he plans a war of words on NK’s participation:
Vice-president Mike Pence will stop North Korea “hijacking” the Winter Olympics, an aide said on Sunday, by using his own presence at the Games to remind the world “everything the North Koreans do at the Olympics is a charade to cover up the fact that they are the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet”.
Axios quoted another WH source:
North Korea wants to make this about cute photo ops. The vice-president is countering North Korea’s desire to control the message…We’re not going to cede two weeks of world media to North Korea.
So, no dice on cooperation between NK and SK. But, the reality is much, much worse. The NYT points toward signs that a war with North Korea may be coming. They say that the White House is frustrated by the Pentagon’s reluctance to provide Trump with options for a military strike against NK. HR McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, believes that for Trump’s warnings to NK to be credible, the US must have better tactical military plans, including a “bloody nose” option. From the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)
But the Pentagon, they say, is worried that the White House is moving too hastily toward military action on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate catastrophically. Giving the president too many options, the officials said, could increase the odds that he will act.
Think about it: Our military leaders think that if they work up more tactical plans for striking NK, Trump will want to use one of them. And they think that would be a strategic mistake, since it will trigger a shooting war with NK that could kill millions on the Korean peninsula. It would almost certainly also threaten Japan, and draw in China as well.
Connecting the dots includes the disclosure that the White House decided not to nominate Victor D. Cha, a Korea expert, as ambassador to SK. Mr. Cha thinks he was sidelined because he warned the administration against a bloody nose military strike.
NSC Asia director Matthew Pottinger told Korea experts that a limited strike on the North ‘might help in the midterm elections’…
Fifield identifies Hankyoreh as “left-wing”, and says that it is the only news outlet currently reporting this. So, it could be nonsense, but it fits the messaging that the Trumpets are spooling out about NK. People keep wondering when Trump will reach rock bottom. Starting a war partially because you want to win the midterm elections would be it.
This sounds like something we need to know MUCH more about, and very quickly. The motives behind a preemptive strike transcend teaching Kim Jong Un a lesson. Trump might be thinking it would ward off Mueller’s possible charges, or the possibility of impeachment, if a Democratic Congress was seated in January 2019.
The quote may be fake news, but it’s not implausible that Trump’s administration could be thinking this. And it’s not clear which is more terrifying, that this thought is in the air in DC, or that some in SK are scared enough to make this up.
We need a serious discussion about preemptive war with NK. We are already living with the consequences of the unnecessary war George W. Bush started in Iraq, and we will pay for that for the rest of our lives.
We can’t let Trump start another.
Wake up, America! Time to find out what the truth is about giving NK a bloody nose. To help you wake up, here is My Morning Jacket with their 2008 tune, “I’m Amazed”:
I’m amazed the lack of evolution
I’m amazed at the lack of faith
I’m amazed at the love we’re rejecting
I’m amazed what we accept in its place
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here
The Asia Times reports that China has told Syria that it is ready to play a major role in helping to rebuild after the war:
The world’s second biggest economy has already pledged US$2 billion for reconstruction work at the aptly-named First Trade Fair on Syrian Reconstruction Projects in Beijing.
The Asia Times quotes Dr. Gideon Elazar, a post-doctoral fellow at Ben-Gurion University: (link in the quote added by Wrongo)
One factor motivating the country’s involvement is the One Belt-One Road Initiative – a planned attempt to establish and control a modern day Silk Road connecting China, the Middle East and Europe. This might mark a shift in the geo-strategic reality of the region…
Beijing sees a huge opportunity on the horizon now that Syria is edging towards peace after its brutal war. More than 30 Chinese companies are reported to have visited Syria this year. The main topic of discussions with provincial governors was infrastructure projects.
Syria’s ambassador to China, Imad Mustafa, explained that Beijing’s projected role was a direct result of its aid to Assad’s regime:
China, Russia and Iran have provided substantial support to Syria during the military conflict…Therefore, it is these three countries that should play a major role in the reconstruction of Syria.
The ultimate costs of reconstruction are staggering. After seven years of war, Syria’s economy lies in tatters with about US$226 billion in cumulative losses from 2011 until 2016. Data from the World Bank in July showed that amount was about four times Syria’s GDP in 2010.
Dr. Elazar pointed to an important strategic consideration:
It is likely that China is hoping to turn Syria into an important terminus of its economic web, perhaps centered around the Mediterranean ports of Latakia and Tartus.
Remember that Latakia and Tartus have hosted huge Russian facilities for years, and have been greatly reinforced militarily since Russia’s involvement in the Syrian War.
So where are the US and Western Europe in all of this? The Diplomat reports that we are outside looking in:
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the international community should attach importance to and actively support the reconstruction of Syria…
This is code, since the US and Western Europe have said that their help would only begin when Syria made a political transition away from Bashir al-Assad towards the so-called opposition (paid for by the Saudis). Since Assad is supported by Russia, China and Iran, we are once again out of step with the reality on the ground.
So, let’s review: The US and its Middle East allies provoked a civil war in Syria to take down Assad (who is no doubt, a very bad guy). To do so, we decided to ally with al-Qaeda (Remember? The guys responsible for 9/11?). In the subsequent dust up, the US’s “moderate” allies got beaten militarily. It was an unambiguous defeat by the alliance of Assad, Russia and Iran. The US-backed Syrian Kurds now seem likely to move away from us and make a deal with Assad to keep some form of Kurdish self-government within Syria.
And now the Chinese, the Russians and Iranians will profit from the rebuilding, helping Syria regain its strategic location as a key hub for trans-Asian trade. And Syria will be firmly within the Iranian/Russian/Chinese orbit.
So a few questions: Who in America takes responsibility for enabling this war and then losing it? And while losing it, greatly strengthening our rivals? Will we fire anyone?
And why is our supposedly free press not asking these obvious questions?
Let Wrongo answer for you: For the past month, the administration and the foreign policy establishment have been making the rounds saying that the US and the Coalition were responsible for defeating ISIS, that Russia and Iran (along with the Syrians) had little to do with the outcome.
The spin is that there was no defeat – it was a victory, so thankfully, no one is responsible for “losing”!
Let’s get in a better mood for Christmas and the holiday season. Here is the ever-reliable Mormon Tabernacle performing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” from December, 2012:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
Georgian Sheep returning for the winter from the high mountains. Mixed among the sheep are Georgian Shepherd dogs who are the same size and color, who protect the flocks from wolves – photo by Amos Chapple
Donald Trump is in China for a two-day visit, and North Korea (NK) is certainly on the agenda. While in Seoul, Trump urged “responsible nations” to unite and stop supporting NK:
You cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept…every nation, including China and Russia [must] fully implement recent UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea.
Trump praised China for taking some steps against NK, but urged them to do more, as administration officials believe the border between China and NK still remains a trade corridor. From Trump:
I want to just say that President Xi — where we will be tomorrow, China — has been very helpful. We’ll find out how helpful soon…But he really has been very, very helpful. So China is out trying very hard to solve the problem with North Korea.
What Trump and his administration need to figure out is a new strategy for NK. It is doubtful that China would cut off NK, because it fears that if the Kim regime collapses, millions of NK refugees will stream across the border into China.
North Korea is unlikely to launch a nuclear attack on the United States. However, if North Korea retains its nuclear weapons, it is likely to lead South Korea, Japan, and possibly Taiwan, Australia and Vietnam to go nuclear themselves. From the Chinese perspective, that would be a strategic catastrophe.
He makes the point that China has never sought world domination, in fact, it wants to maintain strategic distance from its neighbors. However, maintaining that distance requires a buffer zone around China, which historically China has sought, and is seeking now in the South China Sea.
Lind suggests that if the states on China’s periphery had nuclear weapons, China would be unable to keep a buffer zone of weak neighbors that it can dominate. Even Vietnam could stop China cold if they had nukes. The states bordering China, instead of serving as a buffer, could become existential threats sitting right on her frontier.
Lind’s idea is that Trump should make the case about the need to restrain North Korea’s nuclear program, but instead of threatening with trade or sanctions if China refuses, he should say:
If North Korea retains its nukes and delivery systems, we can no longer advise our allies in Asia not to go nuclear.
However, that would be a transformational change in the bedrock US principle of nuclear non-proliferation.
Lind explains that while Beijing does not care about the threat NK nukes pose to the US, they fully understand the strategic threat of nuclear weapons pose in the hands of America’s regional allies.
Wrongo doesn’t have much time for Mr. Lind, who has advocated that police in the US carry rocket-propelled grenades, and who has said that the “next real war we fight is likely to be on American soil.”
The idea of proposing doubling the membership in the nuclear club goes against American values, despite its source, might give the US some additional leverage with China.
But, China already knows all of this, so would it achieve much?
What China can do is push North Korea to the negotiating table. But, President Trump has not only to be willing to negotiate, he has to give a carrot to China. That would be to partner with them in a South Asia trade deal. China can’t be bullied by Mr. Trump into bullying NK. Trump will need “strategic patience” to get a deal that involves China, Russia, Japan, and, of course, both North and South Korea.
There may be a “deal” to be made, but does the Deal-maker-in-Chief has the ability to make it?
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.