The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump’s Cabinet Moves Signal Danger Ahead

The Daily Escape:

Impalas sharing a drink – Via

A few additional thoughts about the falling dominoes in Trump’s cabinet that were triggered by Tillerson’s firing. There are rumors that Gary Cohn will be replaced by Larry Kudlow, and that National Security Advisor HR McMaster may be replaced by John Bolton.

So, think about the new line-up. Kudlow is economic czar. CIA Director Pompeo becomes Secretary of State. Gina Haspel, who oversaw the secret CIA torture prisons in Thailand is promoted to Director of the CIA, and John Bolton turns up as National Security Advisor. These people, along with Nikki Haley at the UN, who this week threatened another cruise missile attack inside Syria, are among the worst possible choices for their respective jobs.

Unless we exhume and reinstate Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Wrongo had direct experience with Kudlow during the Reagan administration, when Kudlow was associate director for economics and planning in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under David Stockman. Wrongo was at the big NY bank, and was lobbying for approval of a new line of business that was a stretch under the Glass-Steagall regulations at the time. In our one meeting, Kudlow was a pompous asshat. He lectured us about “trickle-down” economics, and how the country was in the midst of a conservative cultural revolution led by St. Ronnie.

We couldn’t get away from him fast enough. BTW, we did get the exception to the regulations, without any help from Kudlow. Perhaps it is useful to remember that Kudlow has no training in economics, although he plays one on TV. Also, he was fired from Bear Stearns for his $100,000 per month cocaine habit. And that’s in 1994 dollars. Real economist Brad DeLong says appointing Kudlow is like appointing William Shatner commander of the 7th Fleet.

If all of these moves come to pass, Trump will be surrounded only by true believers. Any Generals that are left, except for Mattis at Defense, may act as if they are true believers, as well.

Think of these moves as the first step in a new neo-con takeover of our national security strategy:

  • There will be no normalization of our relations with Russia
  • There will be a confrontation with Iran
  • The effort to destabilize Syria will continue
  • China will be confronted, first on trade, and second, on their growing regional aspirations
  • Nothing will come from any discussions with North Korea

Trump’s neocon cabinet now will have the means both to support Israel’s ambitions in the Middle East, as well as their own desire for Washington’s military hegemony in the world. They will use the “Russian threat” as a justification of more defense spending and even more militaristic actions abroad.

This is an extremely dangerous agenda. Russia’s new weapons as announced by Putin last week seem to suggest that they may have some military superiority over the US. Certainly, that may embolden China and Iran to move closer to the Russians.

If the administration persists in making charges and threats against Russia, Iran, and China, those nations must eventually react. They may become allied militarily, anticipating a possible war against the current US regime.

If, as Haley has threatened, the US were to again strike Syria, Russia has to choose whether to let it pass (as it did when Trump fired 50 cruise missiles previously), or to respond. If the US misjudges its attack, and Russia responds with actions that kill US military personnel, then the US regime faces the same choice, to let it pass, or not.

Any time we (or the Russians) are forced to consider retaliation, there is a clear cost to not retaliating, as well as a strong inclination to not just turn the other cheek.

Trump’s new cabinet line-up can lead us into a profoundly dangerous situation.

And it will be driven by a tiny minority: A neocon cabinet. Plus the Israelis who ardently desire the US to take on Iran. And elements of the US military/security complex, who feel we must be the biggest, baddest asshats in town.

We are sitting in the middle of the most reckless behavior in modern history.

Where are the voices against this?


Tillerson Replaced By Pompeo

The Daily Escape:

South Africa – 2012 photo by Wrongo. (Or it might be another member of the administration heading for the door)

Rex Tillerson is updating his resume and Mike Pompeo is adding to his. NPR reminds us that Pompeo already had an outstanding resume:

He graduated at the top of his class at West Point. He served as a tank officer in Europe. He went to Harvard Law School. He was a corporate lawyer who launched a successful aerospace business. He got elected to Congress as a Tea Party Republican from Kansas in 2010. For more than a year, he has run the CIA.

Now, assuming he gets confirmed by the Senate, he can add Secretary of State (SoS) at the top of the page. The LA Times reports that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expects to hold confirmation hearings on Pompeo’s nomination as SoS next month, and he should win bipartisan support. In January 2017, the full Senate confirmed him as CIA director by a vote of 66 to 32.

Here’s what we know about Pompeo. NPR quotes Ian Bremmer, of the Eurasia Group:

Pompeo is very much a hard-liner on issues of national security, broadly…He’s smart, but he’s also quite bombastic, and that plays well with Trump. But that doesn’t necessarily support a balanced national security policy.

Pompeo recently said that the US would not soften its stance on North Korea ahead of planned talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Trump. Pompeo has previously suggested he favors regime change in North Korea, although he has backed off that recently, suggesting that diplomatic and economic pressure could help resolve the nuclear crisis.

Pompeo is a harsh critic of the nuclear deal with Iran.

Colonel Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis gives some additional background on Pompeo’s experience at West Point, noting that: (brackets by Wrongo)

He concentrated his study there in Mechanical Engineering and graduated first in his class. By the time he graduated the war in VN [Vietnam] was over. He served just enough time to repay his service debt to the army, then resigned his commission to go to law school. So, he never served in combat. War is an abstraction to him. In other words, this is probably a game for Pompeo, a power game played on a global map board.

Lang also noted that Pompeo holds both hard line anti-Iranian views and has unshakable sympathy for Israel. We can only guess whether Tillerson played a role in restraining Trump’s poorer angels, and whether Pompeo will support them. Lang feels that Tillerson’s ouster leaves General Mattis at the Defense Department as the only adult in the room, and that it makes a conflict with Russia in Syria much more likely.

Wrongo had almost no opinion of Tillerson, except that his global deal-making gave him an interesting perspective on how to get things done as SoS. Tillerson seemed to be a moderate on Iran, so Pompeo seems worse on that score. Tillerson was also more likely to call out Russia than are Trump or Pompeo. Mostly, Tillerson seemed directionless, other than having a vague commitment to cutting back the State Department’s overheads. Perhaps whatever direction he tried to establish was countered by his boss.

Some who voted for Trump thought they were getting a CEO who knew how to run a business. One way you can tell whether a company is managed well is by how high their turnover is.

Or, by how well they handle money.

Or, how they stay on message.

Or, how individuals are empowered to do their jobs, without micro-management.

Trump doesn’t celebrate steady progress, he likes churn.

So, churn is what we have.


Tillerson: We’re Staying In Syria

The Daily Escape:

Coquina Rock outcropping, early morning, Flager Beach FL – 2017 photo by sir_oki

(By the time you read this, you may know if the US Congress has willfully kicked another own goal by allowing another government shutdown. If it has happened, it will be because Republicans couldn’t keep their factions in line in the House, and that the Democrats wouldn’t help the GOP in the Senate. As Wrongo writes this, there’s no sign that either are in place, but Wrongo thinks they will avert a shutdown.)

Secretary of State Tillerson visited Stanford University, and spoke about our threadbare geopolitical strategy. From the Guardian:

The US intends to maintain an open-ended military presence in Syria, not only to fight Isis and AL-Qaeda but also to provide a bulwark against Iranian influence, ensure the departure of the Assad regime and create conditions for the return of refugees…

This is laughable. Think about the results to date on our Syrian strategy: US-backed jihadis along with the Assad regime have wrecked Syria, and changed the politics in Europe because of massive refugee migration. And the politics on the ground in Syria are unchanged.

Tillerson’s speech was more of the same old, same old about challenges and threats, some of which are unrelated to a grand strategy of US in the Middle East. But the most basic question, why the US remains in Syria, (and in the Middle East in general), were not addressed, much less answered.

It doesn’t take a 6’3” 239-pound geopolitical genius to figure out that the Trump administration’s prime ME directive is the containment and roll back of Iran’s influence in the region. But our partners are unreliable, and in some cases, disagree with this strategy. Wishful thinking is a bad basis for strategy, it is really a recipe for yet another ME disaster.

The hidden hands enabling America’s obsession with Iran, a country that presents zero military threat to us, are Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel wants Iran-friendly Hezbollah neutralized in Syria and Lebanon, and is willing to fight to the last American in pursuit of that objective. The Saudis are fighting Iran for dominance in the region.

By carving out territory in Syria, we are creating a fundamentally weak situation, both militarily and politically. Over the next few months, Assad will prevail, and that will be the end of the Syrian civil war. Then, something entirely new will emerge. The Northeast of Syria, the Kurdish-controlled areas where we are placing our 2,000 ground troops, will become a main focus for Syria, Turkey and Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran.

And here, we enter uncharted political territory. We have no legal right to occupy a portion of Syria, and we must expect that at some point, Syria and Russia will call us on that. What will be our response? Is Trump willing to head-to-head with them, and possibly see US troops killed? For what?

Tactically, we have aligned with the Syrian Kurds to try and check a regional grouping who will surround our position. Worse, our policy is opposed by our ally, Turkey, who wants us to stop helping (and arming) the Kurds.

We are engaging in more superficial thinking about the ME, once again attempting to reshape the region. And to help us, we are counting on a rapprochement between Saudi-Arabia and Israel. It also requires them to commit military support to American efforts to block the combined interests of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

When you listen to Tillerson, you would think that the US had defeated ISIS, and our troops are there for the mop-up, that the Syrians, Russians and Iranians were hardly involved. Little of that is true.

Tillerson’s Syrian manifesto requires that Assad step down, now by losing an election, because evicting him by force proved impossible. Yet, it seems probable that Assad would win a fair election.

Isn’t Tillerson’s plan just more neo-con regime change? Think about Iraq. The US wanted Saddam out, and thus handed the country to Iran. In Syria, the goal was to oust Assad. Now, Assad is staying, and Russia has an unprecedented footprint in the region.

Under Trump, we have no end-game in Syria, or in Afghanistan. We choose to sit in the middle of a divided region: Arab vs. Persian, Kurds vs. Turks, Sunni vs. Shia, Saudi Arabia vs. Iran, Israel vs. Palestine, and remnants of ISIS vs. everyone else.

It is a powder keg waiting to go off.

Has Tillerson come up with a sound strategy? Definitely not.


Wrongo’s 2018 Predictions

The Daily Escape:

Snowy Landscape with Arles in the background – Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

A tradition at the Mansion of Wrong is to attend the annual New Year’s Day Concert at the First Congregational Church of Washington CT, built in 1801. The concert is always by the New Baroque Soloists. This year, the church was packed, and among the guests were Tia Leoni and Tim Daly, the leads in the CBS series “Madam Secretary”.  For the sixth year in a row, it was another inspiring performance by the New Baroque Soloists.

Now it is time for a few Wrong predictions about 2018, most of which will probably will be wrong:

  1. The US economy as measured by GDP will grow at greater than 2% for 2018.
    1. The US stock market as measured by the S&P 500 index will end 2018 with little or no growth over year-end 2017.
    2. The Trump tax cuts will increase the deficit, and despite Paul Ryan’s best (or worst) efforts to push the country into austerity, that can will be kicked down the road for a few more years.
  2. The Democrats will not take control of either the House or the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections. The still-growing economy, and the pittance that increases paychecks from the Trump tax cut will help incumbents enough to forestall a wave election.
    1. The Democrats will remain without real leadership or vision in 2018.
  3. Cyber and other forms of meddling by people who wish our democracy harm will continue in the 2018 elections, to broader effect than in 2016.
    1. Facebook and Google will be held to account for their failure to tamp down disinformation.
  4. Trump will continue to flounder as the leader of the Free World, while his “frenemies” in the GOP will continue to try to thwart him on domestic economic legislation.
    1. There will be some form of bi-partisan accommodation on DACA.
    2. Trump’s public-private infrastructure deal will not pass the Senate.
    3. The House will pass legislation that messes with Medicaid, but the Senate will not.
    4. Trump will have the opportunity to appoint another Supreme Court Justice.
  5. Trump will have a serious medical issue in 2018, but will not leave office, or be temporarily replaced by Pence.
  6. Mueller: By March, MAGA will mean “Mueller Ain’t Going Away”. The storm will crest, a Russiagate conspiracy will be exposed, and crud will fly everywhere. This could lead to the Democrats taking control of one or both Houses.
    1. A few additional Trumpets will go to jail, or be tied up in court. Trump will not be impeached by the 2018 Republicans. 2019 might bring a different calculus.
  7. Tillerson and possibly other cabinet members will resign to “spend more time with family”.
  8. #metoo will continue to dog politicians, Hollywood and the media.
  9. Middle East:
    1. Syria – by this time next year, the war will be essentially over. Assad will still be in power, and the US will be out of the picture. The Syrian Kurds will switch sides, and collaborate with the Assad regime.
    2. Iran – the current protest movement will fizzle out. Neo-cons in Trump’s administration will try to bring us close to war with Iran, but cooler heads at the Pentagon will prevail.
    3. Famine and death in Yemen will continue to be ignored by everyone in the US.
  10. Russia: Russia, China, and Iran will have a “come together” moment, possibly resulting in an agreement for mutual economic cooperation.
    1. Russia will continue to face ongoing battles with the US, but Putin will persist.
    2. Ukraine: The US delivery of anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian army will not cause them to begin military operations in the east.
  11. Europe: The right-wing authoritarian movements in the Eurozone and England will become a larger factor in their domestic politics. Brexit will occur, and no one in the UK will be happy about the outcome.
  12. Will there be a war or “incident” with North Korea? Despite the scary politics, the Seoul Winter Olympics will keep the situation from escalating through June. The second half of 2018 could lead to some kind of incident between the US and NorKo, but will not be a nuclear incident.

A “black swan” event (an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect), could change everything for the President, the country and the world. Let’s hope that none occur in 2018.


Iran: Our New Enemy in the Forever War

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Hood at sunset as seen from Trillium Lake, OR – photo by Steve Schwindt

We are opening a new front in the Forever War. The WSJ reports:

The Pentagon plans to keep some US forces in Syria indefinitely, even after a war against the Islamic State extremist group formally ends, to take part in what it describes as ongoing counterterrorism operations…

There are approximately 2,000 US troops in Syria, along with an unspecified number of contractors supporting them. Last month, the US withdrew 400 Marines from Syria.

The Pentagon has said the forces will target parts of Syria that aren’t fully governed by either Syrian or rebel forces. US defense officials stressed there would be no large, permanent bases in Syria like we maintain in Germany and South Korea. Instead, troops will be assigned to smaller bases and outposts. These small unit forts are usually called Forward Operating Bases (FOB).

The US will now have FOBs in Syria, just like we have in Afghanistan. Anyone familiar with our Afghani FOBs can tell you that this can be a road to defeat. These bases are usually undermanned and difficult to resupply, or defend. We rely on air support to assist when these bases are attacked. That becomes difficult or impossible in bad weather, and if they are attacked with overwhelming force. Time is of the essence, but our jets and helicopters are at best, usually 10-30+ minutes away.

And our decision to remain in Syria is actually worse than that. Turkey, Iran and Russia are already on the ground in Syria, along with Hezbollah and the Syrian army. According to Reuters, CIA Director Pompeo sent a letter to Major General Soleimani of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards (IRG) warning him not to attack US or Coalition forces in Syria or Iraq. According to Pompeo, Soleimani refused to open the letter.

Elijah J. Magnier, a long-time Middle East analyst, reported that Soleimani replied in a verbal message via Russia to the head of the US forces in Syria, advising him to pull out all US forces, “or the doors of hell will open up”:

My message to the US military command: when the battle against ISIS…will end, no American soldier will be tolerated in Syria. I advise you to leave by your own will or you will be forced to it…

Given that many Arabs in the ME are very angry at Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, our troops might become tempting targets for pro-Syrian forces on the ground near our FOBs.

As they used to say in English Lit, compare and contrast the Trump administration’s message with what Putin is doing in Syria: On Monday, Putin visited Syria to announce that a “significant” number of Russian soldiers are going to be withdrawn.

We are staying indefinitely, and Russia is withdrawing a “significant” portion of their Syrian forces. Everyone knows that Russia will be there indefinitely, but they are staying with the full consent of the Syrian government.

In business, you sign the agreement and put it away. If you have to read it again, generally, you are screwed, and dialing up your lawyers. We had an agreement with the Russians to be in Syria while ISIS was viable. Now, they are largely defeated. We seem to think we can tear up whatever agreement we want, whenever we want to.

We are becoming the party nobody wants to have an agreement with. Here is how our current plan will operate:

  • We keep our troops in a country where they’re not wanted
  • Since they’re not wanted, they will eventually be attacked
  • Once attacked, we will have to reinforce them, to fight the “terrorists”

Trump is hoping that Iran’s reaction to our forces in Syria can be a pretext for an expanded conflict with Iran. Finding common cause with Iran is the key to peace in the Middle East. The US is needlessly fanning the flames of anger and violence. Cooler heads must prevail in Washington to prevent an utter disaster.

We should dismiss General Soleimani’s threats, since the last thing Iran wants is war with the US and Israel. If they attack US forces, they risk just that, and they will drag Syria into a new war.

OTOH, our troops will be attacked, and opinions will differ on who conducted the attack.

The Global War on Terror is a fraud that benefits only a few. A lot of money is changing hands. Hundreds of billions of dollars. One group that benefits are the Republicans.

They want to gut Medicare.

But the sacred defense budget must be expanded.


Saturday Soother – October 21, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Autumn at Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park – photo by Jack Bell

Wrongo wonders where we went wrong. Was it the 2016 election, or were things heading towards the cliff for many years? Is there a way back from our national free-fall?

Another week when Trump dominates the news cycle by making it all about him. The federal response to the Puerto Rican disaster? A 10. Which president calls the next of kin of GIs killed in the line of duty? Trump, not the black guy. Who was for the bi-partisan insurance fix for Obamacare before he was against it? His Orangeness.

There was a notable softness in commentary on what Trump and the GOP are doing that is making America win. And the news from overseas is worse. Friday’s NYT speaks about how our Syrian and Kurdish proxies have taken Raqqa, the headquarters of the ISIS Caliphate. It says that now that our guys have won, we have no idea who/how to fill the political vacuum we just created: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Trump administration officials acknowledge privately that the military campaign in Syria has by far outstripped the diplomatic campaign, to the point now where there is no real plan for what to do in a post-Islamic State Syria.

We attacked ISIS in Syria because that was popular with American voters, and doing what the neo-cons really wanted, attacking Assad in Syria, wasn’t something the American public would accept. Now, ISIS is fading into the woodwork, and we will soon be face-to-face with the Syrians, Russians and Iranians. Certainly, Syria expects it will control Raqqa. What’s the Administration’s plan?

This is depressingly similar to what Wrongo has written this week about Iraq and Iran. Lots of energy, but no plan. Certainly, nothing that can be legitimately called “strategy”.

It’s Saturday, time to downshift, and find a calm place. Today, Wrongo suggests a Vente cup of Sakona Coffee Roaster’s Jaizlibel Blend, (€28.00/Kilo). Note that Sakona roasts to order, so you’ll need to plan ahead. Then, find your Bluetooth over the ear headphones, get comfortable, and watch the leaves fall on this October day.

Now, listen to Martha Argerich. The NYT reports that Martha Argerich, the 76-year old Argentinian pianist, and one of the world’s greats, played in NYC on Friday night at Carnegie Hall. She’s one of the last remaining old masters. Once she’s gone, much of what we hear will sound like what everyone else is playing. She rarely visits the US, but there is a large YouTube library of her work. Here is Argerich playing Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31 written in 1837. The video is from 1966, when Argerich was 24:

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


Choosing Between The Iraqis and The Kurds

The Daily Escape:

Fall in Cooperstown, NY – photo by Robert Madden

Yesterday, we talked about the US strategy of keeping all sides at bay in the Middle East (ME). This is supposed to allow us to turn our attention away from the ME to Russia and China. If that leads to conflicts between ME countries (or within them), that is acceptable to us, so long as these conflicts do not threaten Israel, or drag us back into military involvement in the region.

Today, we see our strategy in action in the brewing conflict between Iraq and the Kurds in Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds held a referendum that decisively supported their independence from Iraq. The vote was a historic moment in the Kurds’ generations-long struggle for political independence. But every major player in the neighborhood including the US, opposed even holding the referendum. And Baghdad refused to recognize the results.

In the past few days, the Iraqi military battled Kurdish forces to reclaim the city of Kirkuk from the Kurds. This means that one American-backed ally is fighting another, both with American-supplied weapons. From the NYT: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

American officials, including President Trump, insisted that the US was not taking sides in the dispute, but some analysts say that the US approved the Iraqi plan to enter Kurdish-held areas and that Iran helped broker the agreement with a Kurdish faction to withdraw its fighters from Kirkuk, allowing the Iraqi forces to take over largely unopposed.

Most of the Kurdish Peshmerga military forces in Kirkuk are loyal to a faction that is opposed to Mr. Barzani, the nominal leader of Iraqi Kurds. They agreed to make way for the advancing Iraqi force. Iran also supports the Iraqi government’s moves on Kirkuk. Iran’s goal is to insert Shiite militias into contested areas, dividing the Kurds, while solidifying Iranian influence over the Iraqi government.

So, does this mean we are now supporting Iran’s moves in Kirkuk? How does that compute when we are calling them out at the UN as state-sponsors of terror? Does it compute as Trump walks us out of the Iran nuclear deal? And why we are doing this when the Kurds are an important ally in our fight against ISIS?

The NYT quotes Joshua Geltzer, a former director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council:

It seems like we just got out of the way as Baghdad rolled the Kurds, and that doesn’t feel right…Plus, it makes little sense for an administration interested in getting tougher on Iran.

So, is this just more of the ME balance of power strategy that we are practicing in the region? Maybe, but the Iraq’s history doesn’t support our idea of E Pluribus Unum.

Iraq emerged from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI. Up to that point, the territory that became Iraq had been ruled by the Ottoman Turks for hundreds of years. But at the Versailles peace negotiations, the British were given the lands that are now Iraq, with the intention that the area be made independent at some point.

When Iraq was created, no group thought of itself as Iraqi.  As Pat Lang says, the land comprised:

Arab Sunni Muslims, Arab Shia Muslims, Kurdish Sunni Muslims, Kurdish Shia Muslims, Kurdish Yaziidis, Turkmans, Assyrian Christians, Chaldean Christians and Jews.

And these groups began revolutions against the central government shortly after Iraq was granted independence in 1925. In 2003, when the current Iraqi state emerged, it had ties to the US and to Iran. Now, Iraq is a Shia dominated state, and, despite all of the US blood and treasure expended to stabilize it, Iraq is likely to ally with Iran over time.

That’s the same Iran that Trump and his neo-con friends detest.

On Wrongo’s reading list is Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nationsby Georgina Howell. It details how Bell, at one time the most powerful woman in the British Empire, was the driving force behind the creation of Iraq in the post-WWI period. As Christopher Hitchens said in his 2007 review:

Howell points out that the idealistic members of Britain’s “Arab Bureau” knew that the promises they gave to the Arab tribes, that they would have self-determination after the war if they joined Britain against the Turks, would be broken.

How remarkable (and tragic) that we would use the Kurds in the same way 100 years later against ISIS.

Is there any reason to have confidence that the Trump administration has a clear plan to deal with what is happening on the ground in Iraq?


Why Can’t We Quit Poking Iran?

The Daily Escape:

Fall in the Eastern Sierras – photo by Deirdre Harb

You may not remember the tangled history the US has with Iran, but you know that Trump decertified the Iran deal that was developed by the US and 5 other major powers (Russia, China, Germany, England and France). In his decertifying speech, Trump said:

We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout…

Just three countries publicly support Mr. Trump’s decision: Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We all know that Iran calls the US “the great Satan”, but we forget how we earned the title. Here is a quick review from the BBC:

  • In 1953, the US overthrew Iran’s elected government. We (and the UK) were not going to stand by and let their Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq nationalize Iran’s oil industry. The CIA led a military coup, and re-installed the Shah.
  • In 1979, a coup overthrew the Shah, and Ayatollah Khomeini took control of the Iran government. In November 1979, Iran took over the US embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for what was 444 days, until 1981.
  • In 1985-86, the US secretly shipped weapons to Iran in exchange for Tehran’s help in freeing US hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The profits were channeled to rebels in Nicaragua, creating a political crisis for President Reagan.
  • In 1988, a US warship shot down an Iranian Airbus A300 killing all 290 people on board. We said it was a mistake, and Iran apparently forgave us.
  • In 1999, Iran’s new president Katahimi called for “a dialogue with the American people” that went nowhere.
  • In 2002, GW Bush denounced Iran as part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and North Korea.

Now, nothing in the above excuses Iran’s efforts to destabilize parts of the Middle East, or their deep, abiding hatred of Israel. Nothing excuses Iran’s role in developing and introducing the IED’s that were so lethal to US troops in Iraq.

Time has done little to heal the wounds that each country has inflicted on the other. Mutual enmity remains on full display.

But Trump, like Obama and GW Bush, searched for a way to reduce our presence in the Middle East and shift attention to Russia and China. The solution for all three Presidents was to pit Middle Eastern governments against one another creating a balance of power, attempting to prevent any single country from becoming too influential.

If they make war against each other, that’s an acceptable outcome, as long as Israel remains unscathed.

In that context, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was something that the US and its European allies couldn’t allow. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), provided a means of halting the program’s progress without risking the outbreak of war. The deal prevented the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb destabilizing the region.

By attempting to reopen the JCPOA by withdrawing, Trump hopes to either rein in Iran’s regional meddling, or persuade Tehran to broaden the deal to include restrictions on its ballistic missile program, and on its support for militant groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Neither of Trump’s goals are reachable. Iran gains nothing by agreeing to them. And the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agree that there is no evidence to suggest that Iran is not complying with the deal. So, as long as Iran upholds its end of the bargain, the Europeans plus China and Russia, are unlikely to agree with any US attempt to reinstate broad sanctions.

And Trump is making his negotiations with North Korea more difficult. Walking away from the Iran deal justifies North Korea’s belief that negotiation with the US on nuclear issues is futile. Particularly when one president’s agreement can be so easily torn up by his successor.

The American Right has considered Iran one of the “axis of evil” since 9/11. In that context, Trump’s desire to replace diplomacy with sanctions and eventually regime change, is ideologically consistent. The Right is simply using its electoral victory to advance a long-held policy.

We should remember that most of the GOP presidential candidates in 2016 were against the Iran deal, and probably would have acted similarly to Trump.

We are at a crossroads in our relationship with Iran. With the Iran deal, our long-term antipathy could have been moderated, and ultimately replaced by alignment of goals in the Middle East. Peace might have broken out.

But Trump has insured that will now take decades longer than it might have.



Trump’s Termites

The Daily Escape:

Missouri Breaks, MT – photo (via)

US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that there would be no change for the Missouri Breaks National Monument. Zinke is from Montana, so saving one for his peeps isn’t a big surprise.

Missouri Breaks is one of 27 monuments established during the previous 20 years by presidents using the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act allows presidents to set aside objects of historic or scientific interest to prevent their destruction. The law was created in 1906 to guard against looting of sacred American Indian sites.

In April, Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to review the status of every national monument designated since 1996. As a result of the review, these cultural and/or natural treasures could be significantly reduced in size or even eliminated, and the Antiquities Act itself could be severely limited. The land would remain owned by the federal government, but might lose its protected status, and be contracted to private enterprises. When you allow corporations to ‘lease’ land for oil, fracking, mining, ranching, etc. fences go up, private police forces are hired to keep people out for their ‘safety’.

Not everyone agrees that Trump has the authority to do what he wants. From the Washington Times:

If President Donald Trump or any successor desires the authority to revoke national monument designations, they should urge Congress to amend the Antiquities Act accordingly. They should not torture the plain language of the Act to advance a political agenda at the expense of regular constitutional order.

The LA Times disagrees:

Indeed, those who claim that the Antiquities Act does not grant a reversal power cannot find a single case in another area of federal law that supports that contention. To override the norm, legislators have to clearly limit reversal powers in the original law; the plain text of the Antiquities Act includes no such limits.

Who knows? Next, Der Donald will lease the Grand Canyon to China for use as a landfill.

But the bigger picture is that behind the smoke and mirrors of Trump’s pathological lying and the media’s obsession with Russia, his cabinet appointees are working like industrious termites, eating away much of the support beams of our nation’s rules-based edifice.

Consider Attorney General Jeff Sessions. From the New Yorker: (brackets and editing by the Wrongologist)

He [Sessions] has reversed the Obama Administration’s commitment to voting rights…He has changed an Obama-era directive to federal prosecutors to seek reasonable, as opposed to maximum, prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders…he has revived a discredited approach to civil forfeiture, which subjects innocent people to the loss of their property. He has also backed away from the effort…to rein in and reform police departments, like the one in Ferguson, Missouri, that have discriminated against African-Americans.

Although candidate Trump promised to protect LGBT rights, President Trump last week vowed to remove transgender service members from the armed forces, and Sessions…took the position in court that Title VII, the nation’s premier anti-discrimination law, does not protect gay people from bias. Most of all, Sessions has embraced the issue that first brought him and Trump together: the crackdown on immigration…

All across the government, Trump appointees are busy chewing through the existing regulatory edifice, ending not just Obama-era rules, but others that have been in place for decades.

Another truly damning thing is Trump’s surrogates’ efforts to undermine foreign policy. The WaPo reports:

Trump signed off on Iran’s compliance with profound reluctance, and he has since signaled that when Iran’s certification comes up again — as it will every 90 days, per a mandate from Congress — he intends to declare Iran not in compliance, possibly even if there is evidence to the contrary.

According to the New York Times: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

American officials have already told allies they should be prepared to join in reopening negotiations with Iran or expect that the US may [unilaterally] abandon the agreement, as it did the Paris climate accord.

It is difficult to see how this ends well for the US. Imagine, Iran and North Korea both pursuing nuclear weapons to deploy against the US. Why would we want to engage on two fronts, when one (North Korea) is already so problematic?

What is the Trump agenda? Are there any articulated goals? What are the strategies to achieve them?

Have we heard a concrete proposal for any of his big ideas (health care, tax reform, or infrastructure)?

We have not, but his termites keep chewing, and soon, our whole building will be compromised.


Trump’s Dangerous Game: Regime Change in Iran

The Daily Escape:

Engelberg, Switzerland – photo by miracolei

Politico reports that the Trump administration is thinking about regime change in Iran:

As the White House formulates its official policy on Iran, senior officials and key allies of President Donald Trump are calling for the new administration to take steps to topple Tehran’s militant clerical government.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said just that in testimony to Congress about the State Department’s budget:

Our policy towards Iran is to push back on [its regional] hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work towards support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.

As a member of Congress, Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo last year called for congressional action to:

Change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime…

All of this may have gone unnoticed in Washington, but it was heard in Iran. Iran’s ambassador to the UN filed a formal protest over Tillerson’s statement, saying it revealed:

A brazen interventionist plan that runs counter to every norm and principle of international law…

Critics of regime change say that political meddling in Iran, where memories of a 1953 CIA-backed coup that overthrew a democratically-elected Prime Minister Mossadegh remain vivid, risks a popular backlash that would only empower hard-liners. That’s why President Obama assured Iranians, in a 2013 speech at the UN, that “we are not seeking regime change.”

Then there is the Iran nuclear deal. The Obama administration worked with the international community to put in place a program that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. It’s important that this program work not just because Iran is an adversary, but it’s also key for preventing other countries in the region from developing their own nuclear weapons.

We can debate how rational the Iranian regime is, and whether or not their religious beliefs might make them less prone to act responsibly with a nuclear arsenal. The safer course is not to get distracted by regime change arguments, but instead, hold to a policy based on anti-proliferation and avoidance of a regional nuclear arms race.

But the Iran hawks want to change the status quo, because they say America can’t be safe this way.

They are blind to the fact that Iran is changing. It has now twice elected a (relatively) progressive president. Their young people are progressive. Obama understood that, and that it was likely that within the ten year life of the Nuclear Deal, progressivism and the desire of Iran’s young people to be part of the outside secular would prevail.

We can agree that Iran’s government poses some risk to the US, but we should also be clear that this has been true for decades, and it has been manageable. We have suffered more from the terroristic Sunni-based ideology exported by Saudi Arabia. Nothing comparable can be said about Iran. In fact, Iran’s primary effort at destabilization has been their support for Palestine vs. Israel.

So, our regional “allies” are working to make us less safe than is Iran.

We can’t disentangle ourselves from the region, but we should refuse to take actions that are sure to inflame things. From Booman:

It would seem our only compelling national interests in the middle east are nonproliferation, and humanitarian conflict-reduction both for its own sake and to reduce the attendant population flows and contagious violence.

Wikipedia lists 19 US efforts at regime change just since WWII. If there is one thing we should all know by now, it is that whatever takes the place of a toppled regime is frequently no better and often even worse than the government that has been overthrown. Let’s learn from history!

An attempt to overthrow the government in Iran is sure to fail, and the political fallout could be catastrophic. Iran’s current theocratic government exists because we overthrew their last democratically elected government, replacing it with the Shah. That sowed the seeds for the Iranian Revolution.

Calling for regime change in Iran is a fundamental error in strategy that endangers us, inflames the region, and will be catastrophic if we act on it.

Here’s a tune for Tuesday, Sam Cooke 1960’s hit “What a Wonderful World”, with a line that expresses Republican thought about Iran: “Don’t know much about history”:

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