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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – Russia Edition

The Daily Escape:

Swan Lake, by Tchaikovsky, performed on September 26, 2018 at the Alexandrinsky Theater, St.Petersburg – iPhone photo by Wrongo. Russians didn’t like the original ending of the ballet, where Sigfried and Odette die, so in their preferred performance, Sigfried and Odette live happily ever after.

A few random thoughts about the US and Russia: We often forget that all countries have their own history, all of which is ongoing in parallel to our own:

  • America’s colonial history was underway while Russian history was being written. For example, Wrongo’s home town was founded in 1709 on the banks of the Housatonic River. By 1720, the town was a rough collection of small farms, churches and commercial buildings, connected by dirt roads to other towns in Connecticut and New York, but it depended upon the Housatonic for connection to the sea, to the old world, and to the rest of the new world colonies.
  • In 1703, Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg on its current site. He built the city with conscripted peasants, starting by reclaiming the marshlands on both sides of the Neva River. Tens of thousands of serfs died while building the city. The Neva was important, because it was Russia’s only ocean port, their connection to the rest of the world. The land around St. Petersburg was ultimately raised by nearly 10’. It became the capital of Russia in 1712.
  • We all know that President Lincoln freed about 4 million slaves in the US in 1863. In 1861, Tsar Alexander II freed 23 million Russian serfs, who also were slaves.
  • Alexander had to pay compensation to the nobles who had lost their supply of free Russian labor. In 1867, he raised the necessary funds by selling Alaska to the US for $14 million.

Now, a few observations about Russia today.

Below is a photo of the Obukhov State Plant in St. Petersburg. It makes surface-to-air (SAM) missile systems, including the world-famous Russian S-300 and S-400 air defense systems that are employed around the world including in Syria and India. The S400 system will soon be in the hands of our somewhat belligerent ally, Turkey. Wrongo was told that it is currently subject to the US sanctions regime, although he couldn’t immediately find it on the US Treasury’s sanctions list. Here is Wrongo’s iPhone photo of the missile plant:

Why does the US place sanctions on a state-owned arms manufacturer in Russia? Russia is #2 to the US in global arms sales, and we can be sure that if Russia sanctioned Honeywell or Northrup, we would be screaming that they had no right to interfere in our commercial relations with other countries.

Next, everyone knows that the legendary Hermitage, formerly the Winter Palace, has an amazing art collection. The collection was started by Catherine the Great in 1764, when she purchased 255 paintings from the city of Berlin. Today, the Hermitage houses over a million works of art. It is a truly remarkable museum to visit.

So imagine Wrongo’s surprise when he noticed many paintings had been marked with an inventory control number, painted on the visible canvas! Inventory control numbers routinely appear on the back of paintings, but to see numbers, painted in red, on the canvas itself? Here is an example of what Wrongo saw:

Is this desecration of an art work by an overzealous Bolshevik accountant? Did the powers that be eventually discover the error of their ways? Most likely yes, because only relatively few paintings from the 15 and 16th century were marked, but all seemed to be in the same script. Wrongo asked several people if the red numbers interfered with their enjoyment of the painting, and none said it did, but it sure did piss off Wrongo.

Perhaps it’s simply a different way of looking at things. Like how each country views the Syrian president: is he a tyrant, or the savior of his people?

So wrapping up, based upon Wrongo’s observations, we have many similarities with the Russian people, and a few similarities with their government.

Of course, each country has an easy-to-criticize bureaucracy. Ours wouldn’t paint numbers on oil paintings, but it will happily perform other desecrations without being asked.

Geopolitically, we have voluntarily placed ourselves in a competition with the Russian state. We have been directly competing since the 1940’s, and it hasn’t delivered either side a more secure homeland, or world.

Instead, it has positioned us on opposite sides in many third world countries. It has made our defense contractors very rich, while causing the deaths of many young people in America’s military.

Wake Up! It’s way past time for both countries to re-think this competition.

 

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Trump’s Tariffs Unite China and Russia

The Daily Escape:

Detail of the Peacock Gate, the City Palace, Jaipur India – photo by Miya.m – CC BY-SA 3.0

Do you know about the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF)? The EEF was started by Russia in 2015, as part of Moscow’s push to revitalize its ties with Asia after its relations with the West began to sour. The US doesn’t attend, although CA governor Jerry Brown attended in 2017.

Now, it attracts heads of state from around the East Asian region. President Xi of China attended this year for the first time. It was the third time that Xi and Putin have met in 2018, and the outcome of the EEF meetings could have significant implications for the US.

The Diplomat reported that according to Li Hui, China’s ambassador to Russia:

At present, China-Russia relations are at their best in history…the two heads of state attending significant events held by each other are important manifestations of the high-level bilateral relations.

So, why now? What’s behind China’s and Russia’s fast-developing relationship? It seems to be the US tariff war. The Asia Times says:

Xi defines the partnership as the best mechanism to ‘jointly neutralize the external risks and challenges’. For Putin, ‘our relations are crucial, not only for our countries, but for the world as well.’

At the EEF, Putin and Xi agreed to keep increasing bilateral trade payable in yuan and rubles, bypassing the US dollar. Putin also swiped at Trump’s tariff policies:

The world and global economy are coming up against new forms of protectionism today with different kinds of barriers which are increasing….basic principles of trade — competition and mutual economic benefit — are depreciated and unfortunately undermined, they’re becoming hostages of ideological and fleeting political situations, in that we see a serious challenge for all of the global economy, especially for the dynamically-growing Asia-Pacific and its leadership…

Reuters reported that Xi also appeared keen to foster closer relations with Russia:

Together with our Russian colleagues, we will increase fruitful co-operation in international affairs and intensify co-ordination…to oppose the policy of unilateral actions and trade protectionism…

Their relationship will continue to improve, since the Trump administration plans to continue ratcheting up its trade war. Trump recently threatened placing tariffs on all Chinese exports to the US.

And, on the same day as Xi arrived for the EEF, Russia kicked off its Vostok 2018 military exercises, with China taking part for the first time.

All of this is largely a giant signal to the US, since Russia can’t come close to replacing the US as a major trade partner for China. Sino-Russian trade is less than $100 billion per year, while trade between the US and China was more than $630 billion last year.

China’s strategy is to start by reducing its dependence on US agricultural imports. One example is soybeans. Econbrowser reports:

The Chinese plan is — in addition to relying on Brazil and Argentina — to switch to other sources, like palm mill, rapeseed, sunflower seed, and other countries, such as Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, for soybeans. Obviously, the development of other countries’ ability to grow soybeans will take time. But that was also true for Brazil.

More broadly, attending the EEF gave Xi another platform from which to attack the US trade war, and pledge to defend rules-based trade. Our partners, the presidents of South Korea and Japan, also are watching closely. South Korea is looking to build a rail connection across Siberia, which requires help from China and Russia. The South China Post reported on Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, who attended the conference, and agreed to a summit with Russia:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Monday on further details of joint economic activities on disputed islands off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido

They also confirmed their close cooperation toward the denuclearization of North Korea ahead of the third summit between North and South Korea, scheduled for September 18.

The message is that the nations of Asia no longer see us as a reliable partner, and are walking toward forging new alliances with both China and Russia.

Our walking away from the Trans Pacific Partnership, which included all Asian countries except China in a free trade zone, seems to have been a geopolitical error. Trump’s tariff war seems to be another.

The US is alienated from Russia over US election interference, cyber warfare, Ukraine, Crimea and Syria. We have responded with sanctions, and truculence.

The US is alienated from China over trade, and the Trump administration’s perception that China isn’t helping our negotiations with North Korea.

We are at risk of being sidelined in Asia, and our allies are watching.

What’s this administration’s plan to succeed on all of these fronts in Asia?

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September 11, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Has it been 17 years already?

A quote from Edward R. Murrow: “No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices”, describes where America is today.

As we remember the 17th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the US, we should realize that most of the geo-political problems we face today can trace their root causes to the attacks on 9/11.

And 17 years later, it appears that we have become the accomplices of terror. We can’t let the Muslim world alone. We’ve continued to keep troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve beefed up our presence in Africa. The enemy has morphed from al-Qaeda only, to ISIS and al-Qaeda, with branches all across the world.

Just yesterday, Wrongo wrote about our current misadventures in Syria, where we have several thousand troops who were not invited in by the Syrian government. We said that US Syrian policy seems to be teetering on conflict with the other regional powers, Iran and Russia, because we are insisting that Iran exit Syria.

We continue to spend blood and treasure in the Middle East because of 9/11. We were meddling in the ME before 2001, and those efforts helped make bin Laden’s point that the US was responsible both for the suffering the US was causing directly through its sanctions, and the suffering we caused indirectly, by keeping Middle Eastern dictators in power.

To that, bin Laden added a decisive idea: Attack the US to end its power over the Middle East.

Seventeen years later, we are stuck in a Middle East quagmire. We cannot win militarily, but we never lose decisively. On this 17th anniversary, let’s address a few questions to our political and military leaders:

  • Isn’t it improbable that the US military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century?
  • Was it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “Caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself from Libya to Mali, from Nigeria to Afghanistan?

If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted where we are today, no one would have thought you were credible.

Since 9/11 our presidents have all tried hard to act tough on terror, as have our Senators and Congresspersons. They have all said that our young soldiers are available to go wherever the next Islamist problem arises. So, in the past 17 years, we’ve spent over a trillion dollars to protect the homeland, and while to some degree, we are undoubtedly safer, we haven’t defeated the Islamists.

The current crop of Republicans in the White House are trying more of the same: To convince us that the challenges we face in the world are simple, that we must be realists, aggressively going after what we want. They say it all comes down to “good vs evil.”

Sadly, we really live in an extremely complex world, and ignorance of its complexity is dangerous. Remember in 2006, there were reports that George W. Bush was unaware of the difference between Shia and Sunni as late as two months before the Iraq invasion. Combine that with the ongoing support for the neo-con’s Exceptionalist ideology, and we’ve all paid, and continue to pay, a huge price for their simplistic worldview.

The reality is that when tough talk is divorced from knowledge, you do dumb things, like start wars that diminish our standing in the world, that cost us terribly in lives and money, and that produce zero in the way of political results.

Trump seems ready to place a bet that his tough guy stance on Syria will cause Iran and Russia to back down. Those of us who pay taxes and send our kids off to war, should make it very clear that the American presidency is no place for bullies.

And rather than signifying weakness, traits like thoughtfulness and collaboration are exactly what we want from the Leader of the Free World.

Anyone can say “lock and load, we’re gonna fight!

We need to re-learn how not to fight, and how to exist in an ambiguous world without withdrawing, or being ineffectual. Since 9/11, when things get tough, our politicians strut around with chins out. They prefer form over substance and in the end, they’re just praying that it all works out, but it hasn’t.

Remember the 9/11 heroes and its victims.

But let’s stop listening to those who pander to our fears, and vote them out of office.

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Saturday Soother – August 11, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Near Helena, MT – 2018 photo by u/jacobs64

Today is Wrongo’s and Ms. Right’s wedding anniversary. No worries about cards or gifts, we usually celebrate this day alone, together. Tonight, we’re going to a bespoke dinner at a quirky French restaurant in Litchfield County, CT. There will be great food, champagne, and a couple of very good wines.

We’ve all made it through the 81st week of Trumpfest, and please, let’s not count how many weeks remain.

This week featured a DC judge threatening Jeff Sessions with contempt of court after his people committed another immigration sin, and the continuing saga of the Manafort money laundering and tax evasion trial in Virginia. Devin Nunes proved once again that he should be removed from his seat in Congress. And there was VP Pence’s announcement of the Space Farce.

This week also marked the resignation of Richard Nixon, in 1974.

But as we hit the weekend, Wrongo wants to talk Turkey. This week saw the relationship between Turkey and the Trump administration hit a new low. Here are a few of the developments: Relations with Turkey haven’t been good for years, but the current problems were sparked by Turkey’s detention of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, on espionage charges. We’ve insisted that he be released.

Then, Turkey asked for the US to extradite Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric living in the US in return for Brunson. We weren’t about to do that, so instead, Washington imposed sanctions against two cabinet-level officials in President Erdogan’s administration.

After the sanctions, the Trumpets thought they had made a deal with Turkey, whereby Turkey would release Brunson in exchange for Israel releasing a Turkish woman it had accused of funding Hamas. The Turkish woman was released, but Brunson wasn’t.

Then, the Trump administration doubled existing tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum. The Turkish currency, the Lira, fell by 15% on Friday. But, the escalation continued when Turkish lawyers sued US soldiers at Incirlik Airbase, supposedly because they were working with Fethullah Gulen to overthrow the Turkish government. Incirlik is a place where the US stores nuclear weapons. It is the primary base for our air war in the Middle East. General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, is also named in the complaint.

Turkey is at best, an obstreperous member of NATO, who by holding significant geography, are strategically important to keeping Russia bottled up in the Black Sea. Yet, Turkey just ordered Russia’s latest, greatest air defense missile, the S-400, to consternation in the US. We countered by delaying Turkey’s orders of our latest, greatest jet fighter, the F-35.

Our sorry relationship with Turkey is another example of Trump’s failed “Art of the Deal”: His gut instinct is to escalate the problem, in this case, by imposing more tariffs, instead of stepping in with leadership and diplomacy to help resolve the underlying relationship problems.

Funny how he’s for diplomacy only with Russia and North Korea.

Had enough of this week’s emotional roller coaster? You bet. Time to turn off twitter, email, and network news. It’s time for a Saturday Soother.

We start by brewing up a strong cup of Los Planes coffee ($19/12oz.), from Theodore’s Coffee in Michigan. They import the beans from the Finca Los Planes farm in Honduras. This coffee is unique, because its beans are larger than average coffee beans. Theodore’s says that the coffee has subtle notes of fruit, particularly blackberry and raspberry.

Now, settle back cup in hand, and wearing your best earphones, listen to Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O’Connor perform O’Connor’s composition “Poem for Carlita” in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. Of the performance, O’Connor said:

When I wrote “Poem for Carlita” for Yo-Yo Ma, I hoped he would play this exactly the way he plays it. The experience was riveting. It was one of my most dramatic and romantic instrumental journeys and he was the one to expose every nuance of passion in the music. He saved his best for this performance…tremendous.

Here is “Poem for Carlita”:

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

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Some Thoughts on Trump, Putin and the Summit

The Daily Escape:

The North Window, Monument Valley UT – 2016 photo by Dsdugan, CC BY-SA 4.0

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are heading for the hills, literally. We are spending the next few days in the Berkshires with another sub-set of our kids and grandkids. Blogging will be light. Expect the Monday Wake Up on Tuesday, 7/24.)

It’s time for Republicans to take off their MAGA ball caps. Via the WaPo:

Trump on Monday refused to support the collective conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, saying that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin had given him an “extremely strong and powerful” denial during their private talks here….Trump went on to condemn the expansive federal investigation of Russian interference as “a disaster for our country” and “a total witch hunt,” arguing that the probe, along with “foolish” America policies, had severely impaired relations between the two countries.

It is a good thing for the US president to speak with the Russian President, they should do it face-to-face at least twice a year. We should get Russia back into the G-7 (it used to be the G-8 until Crimea). Wrongo isn’t one of these hardliners who insist on something impossible before a meeting, say having North Korea disarm before talking, or insisting that Putin return Crimea to Ukraine before inviting him back into the G-8.

Wrongo isn’t yet certain how far the Russians went to swing the election. He’s far from sure that the Trumpets played an active role in the Russians’ efforts. Wrongo doesn’t believe Trump’s actions amount to a treasonable offense, and desperately hopes that Democrats steer clear of saying anything like that.

Wrongo DOES know that the Trump/Putin press conference gave Robert Mueller much more job security.

But, we must demand much, much more from Republicans who observed the shit show of a press conference and say that they can do nothing. Politico Playbook got it just right:

REPUBLICANS TO THE WORLD: WHAT DO YOU WANT US TO DO? There was a general consensus in the Capitol yesterday: PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP thoroughly embarrassed the United States standing next to Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN on the world’s biggest stage.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-ARK.), a reliable Trump ally, criticized the president — albeit not by name. REP. WILL HURD, a Texas Republican who was a covert CIA operative before becoming a politician, told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “I’ve seen Russian intelligence manipulate many people in my career, and I never thought the U.S. president would be one of them.” SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), Trump’s golf buddy, even had choice words.

BUT, PRIVATELY, senior-level Republican aides and lawmakers had a second message: WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT US TO DO?

Republicans saying that they have “no idea what more we should be doing” means that they are cowards who are afraid to make the Redcap partisans in their party angry.

Let’s go back a few years. Obama signed the nuclear deal with Iran, effectively ending their nuclear program. Republicans in Congress disrespected the Democratic president’s foreign policy purview, and sent a letter to Iran, saying Obama didn’t know what he was doing. They added that the GOP Congress would unwind the deal as soon as they got the opportunity.

Now, with the GOP in control of the White House and Congress, Trump sells out America to Putin, yet THESE SAME Republicans have no idea what they can do about it.

None. Because, remember, foreign policy is the president’s purview, not theirs. They’re saying: “We’ve tried nothing, and we’re fresh out of ideas!”

They’d better figure something out. What if Dog forbid, Trump gets worse?

The mainstream news outlets are saying that: “Most Republicans condemned Trump’s press conference with Putin“. Next week, it will seem as if Republicans actually stood up to him on Russia.

Even though they’re really standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him.

What Democrats must continue to do is stay on message with voters that Trump is a clear and present danger, and that the GOP won’t do anything about it.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – Peter Strzok Edition

If you had your fill of Trey Gowdy during the Benghazi hearings, you can be excused for vomiting if you watched the FBI’s Peter Strzok’s hearing last week.

In the hearing, the Republicans wanted to make America believe there was an FBI conspiracy to prevent Trump from being elected president. How did the FBI go about it? First, by mounting an investigation of what nearly everyone now acknowledges was a comprehensive effort by Russia to help Trump get elected. But then, the FBI kept that investigation completely secret from the public, to prevent news of it from affecting the outcome of the election.

You also have to set aside the fact that the Director of the FBI may have thrown the election to Trump when he violated FBI protocols, and announced 11 days before the election, that the Bureau was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the FBI engaged in a conspiracy, and the GOP’s claim is contradicted by everything the FBI actually did.

And so far, Republicans have not produced any evidence that Strzok, or anyone else, took any official action that was biased or inappropriate with respect to the Trump campaign.

Fake news, folks. But Gowdy’s committee managed to set a new low during their show trial of Strzok:

This is where we are: The American right have become Trumpers. The head Trumper is free to say and do whatever he likes, and so are his lackeys in Congress.

Today, there is no institutional check on Republicans, except another Republican, Bob Mueller. Ultimately all he can do is provide a report to Congress, which the Trumpers will ignore, regardless of the validity of any accusations it contains. The fate of the nation now hangs on the midterms. And since the electorate failed the country in 2016, we shouldn’t be too hopeful about the odds.

On to cartoons. Strzok tells it like it is:

Trump’s move to remake Supreme Court goes a little too far:

Trump’s new guardian is Judge Kavanaugh:

Trump was poorly received in UK:

Trump took on Germany at the NATO meeting. It wasn’t hard to know why:

Trump’s moving on to his Monday meeting with Putin:

The first Helsinki meeting will be very private:

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Trump Tells NATO to Arm Up

The Daily Escape:

Louvre, Paris – 2017 photo by Brotherside

From the WaPo:

President Trump joined fellow NATO leaders here Wednesday in approving a sweeping set of plans to bolster defenses against Russia and terrorism, hours after delivering a blistering tirade against Germany and other allies.

Trump is obsessed with the levels of military spending by NATO members. At breakfast with Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, he said:

Many countries are not paying what they should, and, frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money from many years back…They’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them.

But NATO doesn’t owe the US anything. Trump says that NATO member countries are freeloading on the US taxpayer’s dime. Trump throws around the target of 2% of GDP as the target share that each NATO country should pay toward the overall NATO budget, but that’s wrong.

Josh Marshall of TPM gives us some perspective: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The actual NATO budget is quite small — a $1.4 billion military budget and a $250 million civilian budget. The US pays a relatively modest part of that total, about 22%. The percentage is based on a formula which includes the size of each member state’s economy. This mainly goes to pay for the NATO headquarters in Belgium and the quite thin military infrastructure which coordinates and integrates the various member-country militaries which make up the alliance. That’s it. The whole thing is budgeted at less than $2 billion. The percentage the US pays is reasonable relative to the size of the US economy and no one is in arrears.

In 2014, at America’s request, NATO set a target that member states should get to a minimum of 2% of GDP on military spending by 2024. Almost all of them have increased spending in GDP terms. But few are at 2% yet, and it’s an open question how many will get there by 2024.

So, the issue of the 2% is not directly related to NATO spending, it relates to overall defense spending by NATO members. To review, the military budgets of all the member countries combined was $921 billion in 2017. The US military budget is the largest, at $610 billion in 2017, or about 66% of the total of the NATO military budgets. Since the US has the largest economy of any country in NATO, it isn’t surprising that ours would be the largest.

Based on the 2017 numbers, the US spends 3.61% of GDP on defense. The next is the UK at 2.36%, while the other major NATO powers are significantly under 2%: France, 1.79%; Germany, 1.2%; and Canada, 1.02%. And in “great negotiator” style, at the Summit, Trump asked other NATO members to raise their defense spending commitment to 4% of their respective GDP’s, never mind that they are not yet at the already agreed 2%.

Trump and former US presidents have asked a legitimate question regarding whether the US should still be paying the vast majority of the cost of a European military presence that acts as the guarantor of security in Europe. The primary reason for the US to argue for other nations shouldering a greater share of military costs is to assure that NATO members have modern, interoperable weapons and the required readiness to work together with the US, if Europe is threatened.

And none of the NATO players has proposed a reduction to US defense spending in Europe, or said that they wanted to reduce their own spending. In fact, at the NATO summit, The NYT reports that Trump and the allies signed a 23-page NATO declaration: (brackets by Wrongo)

[The] allies agreed to a NATO Readiness Initiative, which would allow the group to assemble a fighting force of 30 land battalions, 30 aircraft squadrons and 30 warships within 30 days. The initiative reflects a “30-30-30-30” plan pushed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and meant to deter Russian aggression in Europe.

Ramping up to that level of readiness will cost a lot. And we are the primary driver behind the plan. Remember, the US military budget will grow from $610 billion in 2017 to $700 billion (14.75%) in the next fiscal year.

So, Trump wants Europe to arm up, we sure are.

After all, what else could we do with all that money?

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North Korea May Not Negotiate With Trump

The Daily Escape:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii – 2018 photo by Chaebi

North Korea made big news on Wednesday. From the WaPo:

North Korea is rapidly moving the goal posts for next month’s summit between leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump, saying the United States must stop insisting it “unilaterally” abandon its nuclear program and stop talking about a Libya-style solution to the standoff.

The latest warning, delivered by former North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan on Wednesday, fits Pyongyang’s well-established pattern of raising the stakes in negotiations by threatening to walk out if it doesn’t get its way.

North Korea (NK) has been a challenge for several presidents, and Donald Trump will be no exception.

NK has nukes, and possibly, the means to deliver them as far as the east coast of the US. South Korea is armed, and our military backs them up. Neither side has a true advantage militarily. Whichever leader best uses diplomacy in the face of a military stalemate will win.

But that leader might not be Donald Trump. Kevin Drum notes this:

The upcoming summit meeting with North Korea has been orchestrated entirely by Kim Jong-un. It started with his outreach at the Olympics. Then he proposed the meeting with Trump. He halted missile testing. He met with South Korea and it was all smiles. He’s implied that he’s in favor of complete denuclearization. He released three American hostages. And he’s now planning a public spectacle of destroying North Korea’s nuclear testing site.

And what did Kim get in return? He got this from John Bolton on Fox last Sunday: (emphasis by Wrongo)

WALLACE: Now, the joint statement from the two Koreas on Friday called for…a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and some people have suggested the North Koreans will give up everything they’ve got. But in return, the U.S. would agree that we are not going to allow any nuclear-armed airplanes or nuclear-armed ships on the Korean peninsula.

Is that acceptable?

BOLTON: Well, we certainly haven’t made that commitment. And again, I’m looking at the Panmunjom declaration as they call it in the context of a series of earlier North-South Korean agreements. And again, looking at the 1992 joint declaration, when they said nuclear-free, they meant with respect to the two Koreas.

WALLACE: So, you don’t view this as involving any kind of commitment from the U.S.?

BOLTON: I don’t think it binds the United States, no.

Personnel is policy, and Trump’s recent personnel moves brought in new wacko hardliners in key positions. Trump seems to be under the impression that the Singapore meet-up is a surrender ceremony, while the NK’s see it as two nuclear equals attempting to negotiate a final peace deal.

And Bolton is playing his usual games. It’s been true since the 1990’s that Republicans have a reflexive need to press for whatever seems more “hawkish” than whatever the Democrats had tried when they were in control.

That includes Republicans saying that “regime change” is the only realistic option when states object to the US, or its objectives in their region. The GOP is always outraged that the feckless, effeminate Democrats haven’t backed regime change since Vietnam. Iran is the GOP’s latest experiment, where throwing away the JCPOA was their goal, and Trump delivered it.

Of course, all foreign policy troubles would be solved if only our Adversaries and Enemies were magically replaced by Friends and Fans, but for some reason, that never happens.

The NK’s are doing what they have always done whenever negotiations get to this point. What Kim is doing is so blindingly obvious and predictable that only pundits and politicians could be surprised by it.

Trump says his strength is that he is unpredictable. But, in the case of NK, he put all his cards on the table, assuming that his strongman tactics would lead to peace and a legacy. Instead, it looks like Kim simply upped the ante on being unpredictable. Kim may think Trump wants the deal more than NK.

Seventeen years ago, Clinton made a deal to give NK aid and trade in return for halting nuclear weapons development, backed by inspections and monitoring. It wasn’t a perfect deal, and NK broke it, at least in spirit. The US decided to break the deal explicitly because the incoming George W Bush administration wanted regime change. The Bushies blamed NK’s breaking the deal in spirit, and wouldn’t give NK the promised aid.

Remember when Trump flattered Kim, calling him “very honorable”? What’s a guy gotta do to unify a peninsula around here?

And Trump was THIS CLOSE to becoming president for a second term based on a foreign policy triumph and a Nobel, too. Such a shame. Well, there’s always Syria.

Or, Israel. Or, Iran. Or, Afghanistan.

So many deals to try, and so few skills.

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Saturday Soother – May 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle, Aomori Prefecture Japan. It was built in 1611. Photo by Huffington Post

Spring is in full flower on the fields of Wrong. Our pear, plum, cherry, quince and crab apple trees all bloomed on Monday. By Friday, most began shedding their flowers. While they were in full bloom, honey and bumble bees swarmed the flowers, making each tree sound as if tiny motors were running on every branch. We also had both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles working hard to strip the crab apple trees of their setting fruit. It was a delight to watch and listen while standing under the trees.

But now, the birds and the bees are moving on to more promising targets, just like Trump is doing with his foreign policy. He’s leaving behind the so-called “bad deal” in Iran, for what will almost certainly turn out to be a similar deal with North Korea. Some have started a victory lap on North Korea, saying that only Trump could have brought Kim Jong-Un to the table. Maybe, but declarations of victory are certainly premature. We have been at least this far with North Korea before.

Wrongo doesn’t buy the outrage in Washington about CIA Director-designate Gina Haspel. Few of us who work inside large organizations have the strength to stand up and refuse to take an action simply because it offends our moral sensibility. We balance the thought that it could cost our job, or our next promotion. And besides, the boss is telling me it’s OK to do it.

Wrongo despises the idea of torture, and believes that America must provide the world with leadership that, by our example, shows that torture is wrong. OTOH, at the time, Haspel was part of a large system that said torture was legal. She was faced with a dilemma: to choose between what she was ordered to do, and what she now says she wouldn’t do again. And don’t trot out that “only following orders” is no defense. Often, in a large system, not following orders leads automatically to dismissal.

Try not to have knee-jerk outrage for someone who, like you, hasn’t always been in a position with sufficient power to use their sense of morality as their guide to all actions.

And we can’t let the week end without a comment on Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. The WaPo has internal company records that show Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Three days after President Trump was sworn into office, the telecom giant AT&T turned to his personal attorney Michael Cohen for help on a wide portfolio of issues pending before the federal government — including the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The internal documents reveal for the first time that Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T specified that he would provide advice on the $85 billion merger, which required the approval of federal antitrust regulators.

You may remember that Trump said he opposed the ATT/Time Warner merger, so who better to retain than his personal lawyer?

You might ask, what insight Cohen, a real estate attorney and taxi cab owner could provide AT&T on complex telecom matters? And AT&T has now admitted they messed up by trying to use Cohen as a way to reach Trump.

Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s simply released his own critters into it.

So on this Saturday, relax and see if you can get soothed before starting your yard work, or whatever other spring project awaits. Begin with a strong cup of “Thanks Mom” coffee ($20/12oz) for Mother’s Day from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in La Jolla, CA. They say its decadent flavors of caramel, red cherry and apple blossom will surely create a Mother’s Day to remember.

Your mom’s mileage may vary. She may prefer dinner at a fancy restaurant.

Now, put on your Bluetooth headphones, sit in the sun and listen to “Moorland Elegies: No. 1. Come, Walk With Me” by Estonian composer, Tõnu Kõrvits. The Moorland Elegies is a nine-part cycle for mixed choir and string orchestra. The texts are poems by Emily Bronte. It is a sonic tone painting.

It is performed here by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Risto Joost in Tallinn’s St. John’s Church in October, 2015:

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

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Saturday Soother – Korean Peace Edition

The Daily Escape:

Haze caused by smoke from a wildfire, Wind River Range, WY – 2018 photo by UtahPictures

Their handshake made history. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in met each other at the border, then walked hand in hand into South Korea for a meeting between countries still technically at war.

Whether they can declare an end to the war will be the subject of more negotiations and trust-building over the next few months, perhaps years. They did sign an accord that commits them to the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

This is either a huge step forward, or it is another case of false hope for a peace that has eluded the two Koreas for 65 years. Either way, it is an unprecedented diplomatic initiative between the two Koreas that could reduce global tensions.

South Korea’s peace offensive with the North has taken the US’s threat of military confrontation against North Korea off the table, unless the peace discussions should fail. Their preemptive diplomacy has left the US with no option but to move to the negotiating table without insisting that North Korea relinquish its nuclear weapons as a precondition. Is Trump behind this strategy? Historians will tell us some time in the future.

Strategically, North Korea looks like it is willing to work toward peace. They are in a win-win situation. If sanctions are eased, and peace talks move incrementally to a successful conclusion, a process of socio-economic rebirth in the North (a Kim Jong-un priority) can begin.

If Trump can’t agree with Kim Jong-un, we will find ourselves at odds with our South Korean ally. In that case, China might walk away from its sanctions against the North, blaming the US for not making progress in the face of the offer by Kim Jong-un to renounce his nuclear weapons.

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in needs to find a middle ground between his cunning enemy to the North and his impulsive ally in the US. And no one should expect that Kim will capitulate on Trump’s key demand of total and immediate nuclear disarmament.

That’s the biggest problem. South Korea’s president favors an “action for action” strategy in which the North takes steps to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, and is rewarded for each move with economic benefits and security guarantees.

South Korean officials said that the entire process could take about two years.

But Trump’s national security team has insisted that North Korea scrap its weapons programs before any relief from the sanctions can be granted. And they say that “substantial dismantlement” should be completed much more quickly, perhaps in six months.

Moon’s position is to offer economic benefits and security guarantees incrementally, based on one small agreement after another, until both sides are comfortable. In short, his plan is: Be sensible. No one needs to be humiliated. No one has to win. No one has to lose. Deal with issues one by one. Don’t refuse to talk about anything at all. Talk. That’s what sensible people do.

No one knows where this goes. The two Koreas have struck similar agreements in the past. For example, in 1991, Pyongyang and Seoul promised to end the Korean War, but never did. And in 2005, North Korea and five other countries — including the US and South Korea — struck a deal to end Pyongyang’s nuclear program in exchange for economic aid. That deal fell through.

President Moon has acknowledged that there is a limit to what the two Koreas can agree on without American involvement:

Peace on the Korean Peninsula cannot be achieved by agreements between South and North Korea alone…It has to have American endorsement.

But, nobody knows how the Trump wild card will play out.

But today’s Saturday. For now, let’s bask in a little hope. It’s spring, and buds and flowers abound. The fields of Wrong have bluebirds in two separate nest boxes sitting on eggs. We’ve over-seeded the whole 3 acres of grass to keep our world green and weed-free. Time to brew up a cup of Red Rooster Coffee’s 4 & 20 French Roast that the roaster says is dark and intense, full of complexity, with lots of spice and chocolate.

Now settle back, and listen to Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”, performed here by the Sydney Camerata Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Luke Gilmour, in 2011. Copland was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music for this work. Here it is performed by a 13-piece orchestra, which Copland scored for the eponymous ballet, choreographed by Martha Graham. Wrongo prefers the chamber version to the full orchestra version:

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

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