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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – Veterans Day Edition, November 11, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France – 2016 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo’s service occurred during the Vietnam War. His father was a WWII veteran. His grandfather, a WWI vet. Wrongo salutes all who have served!

While none of his kids have served, we all carry scars of our nearly two decades-long mistaken adventures in the Middle East. For some, it is poorer roads, bridges and airports. For others, it’s a huge budget deficit that won’t be paid off, even by Wrongo’s grandchildren’s children.

Of the 2.7 million who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, the Department of Veterans Affairs says that 35% have some form of disability. Over 970,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veteran disability claims have been registered with the VA. Over 6,900 US troops have died, as have approximately 7,800 contractors. These 20 years have also produced around 2,000 amputees.

From the Economist:

“Iraq and Afghanistan vets represent less than 1% of the population, and America lost eight times as many soldiers in Vietnam in less than half the time, when its population was two-thirds the current size.”

The Economist tries to tell us that the body count in Afghanistan is a great result. That’s neoliberal BS. People died, people were wounded and many thousands continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress.

Since we ended the compulsory draft in 1973, Americans are no longer connected to our wars, or to our veterans. These wars have been funded by debt, so younger Americans will pay for wars that they hardly know about, or why they happened.

This disconnect helps explain why the country’s civilian-military relations are so distant. It also explains why America has gotten locked into long and unproductive conflicts.

Some think that Trump will get us out of Afghanistan in the coming year. Some think that Trump was correct to cede northeastern Syria to Turkey and Russia.

But, as we sit here on Veterans Day 2019, the messages from the Trump administration are very mixed. The Guardian reports that two weeks after ordering a complete evacuation of US troops ahead of a Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria, Trump has changed his mind.

He’s now said some US troops should stay to “secure the oil”. That’s oil that is the rightful property of Syria. Reuters reports that Defense Secretary Mark Esper said:

“The United States will repel any attempt to take Syria’s oil fields away from U.S.-backed Syrian militia with overwhelming force, whether the opponent is Islamic State or even forces backed by Russia or Syria…”

Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said that US forces may continue this effort for years to come.

So, we’re “protecting” Syrian oil fields to deny access to ISIS and/or to the Syrian government? For years to come?

Here we go again with oil fields in the Middle East. It’s the same old story: oil companies are again directing the use of our troops, and how we should spend our taxpayer’s money. That’s the money that could have been used for many more important things. Follow the oil, and you’ll know Trump’s military policy in the Middle East.

It isn’t honorable for America to squat down uninvited in another country. It isn’t honorable to take control of Syrian oil fields while saying we’re stopping ISIS from using it. FYI, the US bombed that oil infrastructure years ago. It isn’t producing much oil today.

With this much dishonor, most of it at the Pentagon and the White House, no one who is signing up now to serve voluntarily should believe that what we’re doing in the Middle East is defending the Constitution.

We should honor the service of our veterans, and that of those currently in uniform, but that’s not all that we have to do. It’s time to wake up America!

We need to see that Trump’s so-called “bring the troops home” stance only means that he hasn’t opened a new theater of war for the last 3 years. He’s continued to shuffle a few of our existing pieces around. Has he closed any of our 800+ military bases around the world? No, in fact, more have been added. Has he stopped any of the active wars that the US currently is engaged in around the world? No. Has he reduced the military budget? No, he has increased it.

The American people are sick and tired of these military quagmires. It’s time to take action at the ballot box in 2020 against the war mongers in both parties.

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Al-Baghdadi Connects GW Bush to Trump

The Daily Escape:

Witches paddle boarding on the Willamette River, Portland, OR. The event was the Stand Up Paddleboard Witch Paddle, that brings 100’s to paddle board on the river. Useful to remember that drowning was one of the recommended witch removal methods in ye olden days. Happy Halloween!

Speaking of Halloween, it looks like rain all day in our corner of Connecticut, so those parents with little ones, are casting about for ideas on how to avoid getting little Megan’s mask of Melania soaked through in the first minute.

On the flight back to the States from London, Wrongo watched the film “Vice”, a film history of the life and political career of Dick Cheney. It brought back how the GW Bush administration executed its pivot from a limited war in Afghanistan to a full-scale invasion of Iraq.

Cheney is portrayed as the prime mover behind getting the Bush folks to craft false intelligence “facts” to support, and then sustain, our war in Iraq. Cheney did this by creating a separate intelligence apparatus, since the existing intelligence agencies would not produce analysis supporting Iraq’s culpability in the 9/11 attacks.

One thing the movie points out was the effort by Cheney and Rumsfeld to find a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. They settled on a minor Iraqi anti-Shiite cleric named Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as the person that could be plausibly presented as having a tie between Saddam and bin Laden. This turned al-Baghdadi into one of the cool dudes of Islamic terrorism. He became a regional celebrity, the head of ISIS. We’ve all had to live with the consequences of Cheney’s “fake news”: Many died, and we’re still paying the price for Cheney’s rogue operation that sucked us deeply in the Middle East.

Now a different Republican president has taken out al-Baghdadi in a stealth raid in Syria this week. It was similar to Obama’s killing of bin Laden in May, 2011 in Afghanistan. We should be pleased that al-Baghdadi no longer controls ISIS, and we should give Trump full props for doing the deed.

We should remember that when Obama got bin Laden, the NYT reported the following from Republicans at the time:

“Former Vice President Dick Cheney declared, “The administration clearly deserves credit for the success of the operation.” New York’s former mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said, “I admire the courage of the president.” And Donald J. Trump declared, “I want to personally congratulate President Obama.”

But killing bin Laden didn’t kill al Qaeda, and killing al-Baghdadi won’t kill ISIS.

It’s good that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. But never forget that there is a straight line between Bush and Cheney’s elevation of al-Baghdadi to justify their invasion of Iraq, and al-Baghdadi driving ISIS to take over a swath of Iraq and Syria that was larger than the UK.

There’s a straight line connecting Bush/Cheney, and Obama’s willingness to bend our constitutional freedoms to extend the Global War on Terror for the better part of two decades.

There’s a straight line connecting Bush/Cheney and what Trump is doing in the Middle East today.

Still, killing al-Baghdadi is a good thing, and Trump’s pulling 1,000 troops out of Syria is not as serious an issue as most people in DC are saying it is.

But gloating over an enemy’s death? That isn’t something American presidents should be doing. When we celebrate the death of a foe, it shows weakness.

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Trump Loses Syria, America Wins

The Daily Escape:

Lake of the Clouds, Michigan – October 2019 photo by kawl

The accepted view in DC is that Trump’s decision to green light Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring against the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria benefits US adversaries, including Iran, Russia and Syria.

There are collateral effects. The withdrawal of US forces and its behavior with the Kurds after many years of battles against ISIS helps to confirm Russia’s credibility and commitment towards its Middle East allies. By comparison, Trump’s actions paint the US as an untrustworthy partner.

The US foreign policy establishment and the mainstream American media keep making these arguments. American Neocons are openly complaining. They will blame Trump for “losing Syria.”

Are they correct, and does it matter?

When Trump announced over the weekend that all US troops are pulling out of northern Syria, it immediately led to the Kurds (the group we just abandoned) making a deal with Syria. Various outlets are reporting that the Kurds have made an agreement with Syria, and that Russia will be the guarantor.

This means that the Kurds will become part of the Syrian security forces. The Syrian Army has agreed to take control of all ISIS prisoners, families and those on the run.

According to free-lance Syrian analyst Danny Makki ‏ (@Dannymakkisyria) in a Twitter thread, here are the main points of agreement between the Kurds (SDF) and the Syrian government: (brackets by Wrongo)

1/ The abolishment of the SDF…with all the current Kurdish forces and military groups joining the 5th Corps (Assault Legion) under Russian control 3:12 AM – 14 Oct 2019
2/ A solid guarantee of full Kurdish rights in the new Syrian constitution with autonomy which will be agreed upon by Kurdish leadership & Syrian state.
3/ Joint coordinated effort by Syrian/Kurdish forces to remove Turkish presence in northern Syria including Afrin…
4/ Manbij & Kobani were agreed upon for SAA [Syrian Arab Army] to enter quickly, whilst Hasakeh has seen a wide scale deployment of Syrian troops, this will continue in Qamishli and other joint areas
5/ With Syrian forces now on the border area with Turkey it’s clear that this starts a new phase in the 8-year-long war where some sort of endgame is now taking shape – all border areas and administrational centers will be taken over by the Syrian government
6/ Within one month Kurdish leadership with start to take up some official roles within the current Syrian government to ease the transition period of N. #Syria until an new constitution/government is formed in the future

/snip/

12/ The agreement thus far is effectively a military one, based on self-defense and mutual interest with a number of set aims. The governance/land delegation/ISIS prisoners part will follow later
13/ Syrian forces will deployed on the entirety of the border with Turkey, this is the first time in 6 years that the Syrian army will have a serious presence in N. East Syria
14/ Although Manbij is one of the cities that the Syrian army would take according to the agreement, the situation there is still tense and it is unclear exactly who will control it.

Russia has been working hard to reach a comprehensive agreement with Turkey and Syria to halt the military operations including for Manbij, as soon as possible.

Syria is now on the way to regaining control over all of its territory, thanks to Russia and to a lesser extent, to Donald Trump. There’s no other way to put it. It appears that all that was needed was an announcement of the US withdrawal to fast track an end of the war in Syria.

It seems like every party is getting what it needed: Trump gets US forces out of Syria. Turkey feared a well-armed and powerful YPG, which was previously supplied and protected by the US. Now that the US is pulling out, Syria won’t allow any YPG attack against Turkey from northeast Syria.

Russia sees the end to their hot war in Syria, and a huge boost in their credibility and reputation in the Middle East. The Kurds won’t get their semi-autonomous Rojava territory, but they will be alive, living in their ancestral lands, and under Damascus’ governance.

But take it from Wrongo, (who has absolutely no respect for him), Trump did the right thing. Maybe its a Republican thing: Reagan got out of Lebanon. Nixon went to China.

Trump’s seeming willingness to work with Putin will ultimately make Syria a better place. Most Syrian refugees could wind up repatriated to a peaceful country.

Putin could not have orchestrated this without Trump’s willingness to buck the US foreign policy elites, the military, and our politicians.

Trump may have done the right thing for the wrong reasons, or he may not have even been aware of this predictable outcome. But we should chalk it up as a victory for the American people.

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Rainy morning, Emerald Lake, Yoho NP British Columbia CN – 2019 photo by mrgoomba7

On September 14, explosions rocked the Saudi’s Khurais oilfield as well as the Abqaiq refinery, one of Saudi Arabia’s most vital petrochemical installations. Several hours later, the Houthis claimed that they had targeted both facilities with ten drones. In reality, it now seems that 17 drones or cruise missiles hit the Saudi plants.

There is a continuing debate on who launched the attack. Pompeo tweeted that it was the Iranians:

Perfect positioning by America’s First Diplomat!

While Pompeo says Iran did it, the Arms Control Wonk reports that the Houthis have both the technology and ability. The US, Israel and Iran also have the capability to conduct such an attack.

Saudi Arabia and the US will no doubt eventually figure out who owned the missiles used in the attack, but that won’t resolve the question of guilt, or complicity to everyone’s satisfaction. Some are saying that the Abqaiq oil field is too far from Yemen for them to be the culprit. Yet, the US supplied these photos of the damage, including an arrow helpfully pointing to north (it’s pointing left, while the shadows mean the sun is in the east):

The boxes showing damage mean the missiles came from the west, where Yemen is located. Iran is located to the Northeast, as are Israel and Iraq.

But please wait, and let Washington tell you what to believe.

The most important takeaway is that Saudi Arabia has no real defense against this kind of attack. In mid-June 2019, a cruise missile fired by the Houthis hit the terminal of Abha Airport in Southern Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 passengers.

The Saudis use two US air defense systems, the Patriot, and the Hawk missile systems. Both are deployed in Saudi’s northeast, facing the Persian Gulf. They do not provide defensive cover for the attacked oil refineries if the missile or drone is fired from the south or west:

The Patriots are useful against cruise or ballistic missiles. The Hawks are for aircraft. But no system could protect all of the Saudi’s oil field facilities if 17 missiles are fired at once.

Despite the hopes of DC’s Iran-hating Neocons, it is possible that the attack originated in Yemen. The Saudi war in Yemen was launched in 2015. It costs Saudi Arabia several billion dollars per month. The Saudi budget deficit again increased this year and is expected to reach 7% of its GDP.  They need much higher oil prices to help prosecute the Yemen war.

Also, Saudi Arabia is planning to sell a share of its state owned oil conglomerate, Aramco, which may be worth $2 Trillion. But who would buy a share of Aramco when its major installations are not secure, and has endured crippling attacks?

Assuming this attack isn’t a one-off, the Saudis probably will need a cease-fire or a peace deal with Yemen before it can sell Aramco shares for a decent price. It is likely that the Houthis will demand reparations payments from the Saudis in order to make peace.

The first Saudi attempts to negotiate happened two weeks ago. The Hill reports they asked the Trump administration to work out an agreement with the Houthis:

“The Trump administration is preparing to initiate negotiations with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in an effort to bring the four-year civil war in Yemen to an end….The effort is reportedly aimed at convincing Saudi Arabia to take part in secret talks with the rebels in Oman to help broker a cease-fire in the conflict, which has emerged as a front line in the regional proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran.”

But it hasn’t led to anything.

Back in DC, we’re hearing that the US must have some response to the missile attacks.

Why?

America wasn’t attacked. We’re not even sure who carried out the attack, and there is at least a small probability that it was some disaffected group within Saudi Arabia itself.

We do not have a mutual security agreement with Saudi Arabia, although we are strategic partners.

Now the poor helpless Saudis will want their best friend Trump to attack Iran, much to the delight of Israel and the Neocons. And a refinery attack showing Saudi’s lack of defenses may get Trump off the dime.

How on God’s green earth is this in our national interest?

Trump and Pompeo are trying to position us on the Sunni side of a region-wide sectarian civil war. That would be a disaster for us and for all in the Middle East.

Wake up, America! Most who work in DC in any power capacity have been dreaming of war with Iran for decades. Yet, somehow they haven’t made it happen.

Let’s hope that continues.

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9/11/2001: What Have We Learned in Eighteen Years?

The Daily Escape:

Man standing in rubble of the North Tower late on 9/11/2001, calls out in vain to possible WTC survivors – Photo by Doug Kanter

People say that they will never forget 9/11, but what Wrongo remembers is that it was the proximate cause of the war in Afghanistan, starting with our invasion on October 7th, 2001.

And now, we’ve been there for 18 years. The war in Afghanistan has led to the deaths of over 2,400 US soldiers, with another 1,100 coalition troops killed. Over 62,000 Afghan security forces personnel have died. Tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and thousands of Afghan civilians have also died. We’ve spent Trillions of dollars that could have been used here at home to make the lives of Americans better.

Eighteen years after the 9/11 attacks, it is still “wartime” in America. The War on Terror has been the primary driver for our government’s weakening the Bill of Rights. In the panic after 9/11, the GW Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act, along with measures that permit torture, illegal surveillance, and indefinite detention without charges or trial. Our whistle-blower protections were weakened.

If these attacks on the Bill of Rights continue, we’ll have gone full-circle: back to a post-Constitutional America, sharing much with how colonial America was governed by the British King.

With this 9/11 Afghanistan meditation as background, after 18 years of fighting, what are we to make of Trump’s botched Afghan peace talks?

He was right to try. It’s past time that we exit Afghanistan. Much like when we left Vietnam, talks with the Taliban are not about ending the war, they’re about limiting US future military participation in Afghanistan.

In 1973, Nixon tried to create the appearance that we were exiting Vietnam on our own terms. We settled for the flawed “Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.” Under that pact, American prisoners of war were freed by North Vietnam, and the last US combat troops in the south left for home, completing a withdrawal begun several years earlier.

Primary responsibility for defending South Vietnam fell to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam who we knew were incapable of holding the country. Our message to both North and South was: We’re outta here; you guys sort this out. And within two years, the Republic of Vietnam was gone.

Now, our military wants to shift its focus to China and Russia. So, here we go again, looking for a pretext that makes it seem that we’re leaving on our own terms, only this time, from Afghanistan.

Enter the Taliban talks. Trump’s “deal” relied on paper-thin assurances by the Taliban that there would be no haven for the terrorists, despite ISIS already being there in significant numbers. Al Qaeda is still active there, and is coordinating with the Taliban.

In return, the US would withdraw 5,000 of our 14,000 troops. We had no assurance that the Afghan government would agree to the deal, since the Taliban had refused to negotiate with them. Trump now says the deal is dead. Republicans think Trump’s move is an opportunity to reset the terms of the peace deal, which faced bipartisan criticism here, along with rejection by the Afghans.

Maybe.

Was much lost by walking away? Trump had planned on making a splashy announcement about bringing troops home on 9/11. He must have been channeling Camp David, where Jimmy Carter negotiated a peace agreement with Egypt and Israel in 1978, and where Bill Clinton did the same with the PLO and Israel in 2000. So, Trump’s lost something.

But he realized the meeting wasn’t going to happen. The Taliban wasn’t going to visit the US unless the deal was signed, but Trump wanted more deal-making, followed by a signing at Camp David. The Taliban aren’t fools. Getting on a plane without a signed deal could have landed them in Guantanamo, not in Washington DC.

Peace isn’t obtained by photo-op. It requires sound planning, the participation of all parties, and exacting negotiations. Offering to host the Taliban during 9/11 also shows tone-deafness. These are the very people who gave cover to Osama Bin Laden!

However and whenever the US leaves, much like in Vietnam, the Taliban will become the government of Afghanistan, despite our 18-year effort. We now seem unwilling to say: “you guys sort this out”, so our longest war will continue. It will be accompanied by more death, and more money flushed down the rat hole.

We should also expect most Republicans and quite a few Democrats will remain silent.

Have all of these lives lost, and the trillions of dollars spent, taught us anything?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 23, 2019

Iran’s solution to possible war with the US. If this happened, Trump would say he got a love letter from the Ayatollah:

Little-known technology shows Pentagon the best story to use about its reasons for war:

This week, the Trump administration argued in court that detained migrant children do not require basic hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes in order to be held in “safe and sanitary” conditions:

Mitch ain’t willing to discuss reparations:

Reparations are a difficult subject. As the historian Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” He meant that you either abide the status quo, or you oppose it. You either commit yourself to be the best anti-racist you can be, or you don’t. Whichever you choose, you should be honest in how you frame your choice. Saying that reparations are not worth pursuing, or simply doing nothing about them, is an implicit defense of the policies and systems that have created our present-day racial inequities.

The Supremes held 7-2 that a cross located in a war memorial could be displayed on public property (at a traffic circle). They said that some crosses are merely historic icons. Their decision favors one religion over others, and it seems hostile towards religious minorities. And why won’t Christians act like Christians?

How the Capitalism game actually works:

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Monday Wake Up Call – Trump Credibility Edition, June 17, 2019

The Daily (no) Escape:

Did Donald Trump lose all credibility last week? First, more of the “Russia, if you are listening…” in which he solicited election help from foreign governments, before backing down a little bit.

Next, hours after an attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, Trump said he knew who did it:

“Iran did do it and you know they did it,”
Donald Trump on “Fox & Friends”, June 14th.

This was before experts had much evidence, let alone time for analysis. Next, US Central Command released a video which they said showed:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.”

The video is of such poor quality that it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on, where the boat came from, or who’s on board. Trump and Pompeo want us to believe that Iran cruised over to a heavily surveilled tanker in broad daylight to remove a limpet mine, placed several feet above the water line.

Also, it’s hard to believe that military photography technology has again failed just when we needed it. We’re back to blurry Brownie box camera pictures. When Russian artillery was photographed in Ukraine, we saw blurry indistinct B&W photos. When Russia aircraft were photographed in Syria, we saw razor sharp color images. Why can’t the US Navy buy a few iPhones to use in videoing the “Iranians”?

Finally, it’s interesting that America’s Enemy du Jour always does exactly what we want them to do, and just when we want them to do it!

The captain of the Japanese tanker said he was hit from the air, not by a mine. A photo of the Japanese tanker shows two holes well above the waterline. Iran might have done this, or it might have been a false flag operation.

We should remember that in the past 20 years, the US has attacked nations based on similar information to this. There are groups other than Iran that would benefit from the US stepping up its anti-Iran campaign, moving from an economic war to a military one.

But let’s widen out to strategy: While Trump and Pompeo were itching for a fight with Iran, China’s President Xi was completing a three-day visit to Moscow. He hailed China’s strategic ties with Russia. At the same time, Chinese and Russian military commanders met to discuss deepening their strategic partnership.

Then, both Putin and Xi met with Iran’s President Rouhani and expressed their full support for Iran despite the smoking tankers, or the US evidence that Iran was behind the attack. And China afforded its highest diplomatic status to Iran.

A strategically-minded US president would have turned the situation with tankers burning in the Persian Gulf to an advantage. It could have been an opportune time to engage China and Russia in a diplomatic coalition to deal with threats to commerce and free navigation in the Gulf.

Both China and Russia understand the potential impact of a Persian Gulf conflict to their economies. They probably would have listened. Our European allies are waiting for real proof of what happened to those tankers before expressing an opinion, given the state of America’s credibility. Only the UK currently supports Trump.

Another opportunity missed, thus advantage to Iran, while limiting US options.

Trump’s (and Bolton’s) policies of piling on more strategic risk without any gain is driving our allies away, and pushing our peers/competitors closer together.

Trump is increasing our risk of conflict, and the ramifications are global.

The main issue is credibility. We can no longer trust our government. When you can lie without consequence, then there is no value to discussing policy. If Trump wants a war, he’ll have one.

We need to wake up the American voters, who are the only people who can change this.

Their record to date, however, isn’t promising. Hopefully, the world won’t be in tatters before the November 2020 election.

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Trump and Bolton Screw Up Geopolitics

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Reflection Canyon, Escalante arm of Lake Powell, UT – 2019 photo by Aaryeh95

(Reminding readers that this is the last column until Sunday when cartoons will be back on the menu. We are attending our second college graduation of the spring.)

The Week reports that President Trump is having second thoughts about sending troops to Venezuela. He complained to aides and advisers that:

“he was misled about how easy it would be to replace the socialist strongman, President Nicolás Maduro, with opposition leader Juan Guaidó, The Washington Post reports. ‘The president’s dissatisfaction has crystallized around National Security Adviser John Bolton and what Trump has groused is an interventionist stance at odds with his view that the United States should stay out of foreign quagmires.’”

“He was misled about how easy it would be to replace the socialist strongman”! Who could’ve seen that coming? Just about everyone but Trump, and the neocons around Trump. The Neocons are batting 1.000, again proving themselves to be miserable failures at geopolitics. They continue to mess up geopolitical foreplay on the way to their real goal: Regime change and war.

By listening to Bolton and Pompeo, Trump has placed Venezuela more directly in the hands of Russia. It seems that Trump’s 90-minute phone call last Friday with Vladimir Putin was meant to talk Trump out of regime change in Venezuela. A secondary benefit for Putin may turn out to be that Trump handed Moscow a permanent Atlantic military presence in South America.

What’s the upshot? It looks like Maduro was pushed into Putin’s arms. Maybe Trump and Putin can cut a deal to sort this out without a crisis.

It looks possible that Maduro got an offer from a smarter, stronger player in the geopolitical game: Vladimir Putin. Republicans are bound to be disappointed. Blowing up Maduro’s regime was high on the Bolton and Republicans’s list.

Of course, regime change is always on their list. They want regime change in North Korea. In Syria. In Venezuela. And in Iran. It would be the perfect distraction from all the talk about Mueller and impeachment. They think war is a great campaign issue for 2020.

Now, Bolton and Pompeo have shifted their focus to Iran.

On Sunday, the National Security Council announced that we were sending another carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Persian Gulf in response to “troubling and escalatory” warnings from Iran. Bolton discussed the intelligence, saying that Iran appeared to be gearing up for war.

Help me. We all know that Russia is also more friendly with Tehran than we are. And Putin has already achieved near-total victory in Ukraine and Syria, and possibly has already bagged Venezuela. We were never going to be buddies with Iran, but will Tehran now move completely into Russia’s orbit?

To date, it looks like the worst thing Donald Trump has done is to hire John Bolton as his National Security Advisor. Of course, Bolton’s track record as a war-monger preceded him, so what’s happening now was predictable. The Neocons, including Bolton, want a war with Iran, to remake the Middle East.

Their project to remake the ME saw America destroy Iraq and Afghanistan. It fueled American regime change aspirations in Syria. It brought about the destruction of Libya. It’s also underway in Yemen.

What the Neocons are doing helps a new alliance to form. Its key members are China and Russia, but Iran is a part of it as well. The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (B&R) is meant to create routes to Europe and a Chinese-led trade zone. It is meant to bypass sending ships through the straits of Malacca (which the US can shut down any time to strangle China’s trade). It looks like the land parts of the B&R will move goods more quickly to Europe, but not as cheaply, as sea transport.

So the question is: Can Bolton talk Trump into war with Iran? Will Trump lead us into a fatal miscalculation? Trump is walking a tightrope without a net.

Even without a war, the US’s continued abuse of its privileged position in the world payments system to sanction countries like Iran and Venezuela implies that China and Russia will develop an alternative payments system. It’s inevitable.

It’s only a matter of time before international payment alternatives become viable enough that major countries will simply ignore US sanctions.

The US looks to be the big loser in the geopolitical game of chicken that Trump is playing.

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Dems Should Talk Foreign Policy

The Daily Escape:

Lumen Museum of Mountain Photography, Italy – 2018 photo by Marco Zanta. The glass-enclosed extension is a restaurant.

Every Democratic candidate for the 2020 nomination is discussing domestic policy: Medicare for All, Free College, and all of the other jump shifts in policy, but what about global politics?

Biden isn’t unique among candidates in saying the 2020 election is about a return to the way things were before Trump, the Economist reports:

“’This too shall pass,’ Joe Biden told America’s allies at the Munich Security Conference in February. ‘We will be back.’ The applause he received reflects a longing to return to a world order that existed before President Donald Trump started swinging his wrecking ball.”

It is problematic to rely on the ideas of a Clinton operative, but the Economist quotes Jake Sullivan, a 2016 Hillary advisor who says that the thrust of the Democrats’ foreign policy approach is simple: reverse much of what Trump has done. Sullivan talks of a “back to basics” approach: Value alliances, stress diplomacy:

“Compared with domestic policy….there is less focus on new ideas.”

All of the Democratic candidates would rejoin the Paris climate agreement. They would rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, possibly with new pre-conditions for lifting sanctions. All would reassure NATO allies of their full commitment to the alliance.

Most Dems agree with Trump’s more confrontational approach to China. However, they would ask America’s allies to work with us on the outcomes.

Biden has a long foreign policy track record. He proposed cutting Iraq into three states for the Sunni, Shia and Kurds. He wanted to arm the Ukrainians against Russia. He opposed the surge in Afghanistan, and the intervention in Libya.

The other candidates have said less, and have no distinctive foreign policy positions.

It would be great if we actually talked about foreign policy in the 2020 primaries. Let’s take a step back and remember 1991. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the world’s other nuclear-armed superpower, we became the sole superpower. Until then, our strategy had been to contain the Soviet Union, but afterwards, lacking a global competitor, neither Party put forth a coherent global strategy.

We blundered into the Middle East with the Gulf War in 1991. After 9/11, we attacked Afghanistan and Iraq. We then hatched the war on terror, and subsequently expanded our globalized military across the world. And when the ledger finally closes on our expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cost will approach $4 trillion.

Had we spent that amount on domestic priorities, we could have shored up Social Security and Medicare for a generation. We could have paid for the repair of our crumbling infrastructure. Instead, we’ve emerged from our Middle East blunder with two global competitors, China and Russia, along with a huge fiscal deficit. Neither had to happen.

America has failed to see the connections between our global strategy and domestic strategy. Providing incentives to our multinational corporations that enabled them to make goods abroad has marooned large swaths of our domestic workers.

A reasonable question to discuss is whether we can continue supporting globalization while building good jobs in the heartland of America.

And there should be a real debate regarding Trump’s foreign policy. He has sided more closely with Israel. He’s walked out of the Iran nuclear deal. He’s threatened Venezuela with possible “military options” that are being seriously discussed at the Pentagon.

Over the weekend, the Israelis told Bolton and Pompeo that the Iranians are preparing to attack the approximately 5000 US military personnel in Iraq. That may or may not be true, but it led to Pompeo visiting Baghdad.

Do American voters want another war in the Middle East? Trump is daring Iran to fully withdraw from the Nuclear Deal. Who will become the fall guy if there is an Iranian closing of the Straits of Hormuz? Trump, or Iran?

Trade talks with China seem stalled. North Korea’s recent missile tests press Trump’s bet on a deal with NK. Surely Kim is carefully watching Trump’s moves in the Middle East.

Then there is Russia. The Dems overreached with Russiagate, but the Russians are working with Syria to eliminate one of the last places in Syria (Idlib) where terrorists still hold sway. Neither Israel nor Bolton seem to want a stable Syria. Will they try to force Trump to obstruct this important operation?

Debate by Democrats may focus on military spending, with some wanting to cut it, and the mainstreamers being more cautious. A new policy towards the Middle East, and Israel in particular, should be discussed.

Regardless, Trump will surely attack Dems as “soft” on national defense.

But Democrats should thoughtfully challenge the Right-wing assumption that America must have a military-first strategy, rather than a diplomacy-first strategy.

We’re stretched thin trying to have a military presence everywhere in the world. It’s worth a real debate.

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Iran: Trump Is All Gambit, No Plan

The Daily Escape:

The Mitten Buttes, Monument Valley, UT – photo by Nathan Fitzgerald

Here we go, a new gambit on Iran. The Trump administration moved on Monday to isolate Tehran economically and undercut its power across the Middle East by not extending the waivers of sanctions against countries purchasing Iranian oil.

Secretary of State Pompeo announced that the waivers which allowed eight countries to import Iranian crude oil without being subject to US sanctions will expire on May 2nd. The eight countries included are China, India, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Greece, Italy and Taiwan. From the NYT:

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in announcing that current sanctions waivers…would expire on May 2, clearing the way for American economic penalties against all companies or financial institutions that continue to take part in transactions linked to buying Iranian oil.”

This decision to stop Iran’s biggest customers (China, who buys half of Iran’s oil exports) along with Japan, South Korea, India and Turkey, is a strike at Tehran’s lifeline. They export one million barrels of oil daily, and it accounts for 40% of their GDP.

Immediately, there were repercussions. Bloomberg reported that Iran threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz, a choke point in the Persian Gulf, while the Washington Examiner reported that the US has positioned a second aircraft carrier in the region.

What Trump seems intent upon is regime change. He campaigned against further wars in the Middle East, but now is catering to Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of whom, along with National Security Advisor John Bolton, are intent upon toppling the Iranian regime.

Trump’s Iran obsession makes us look terrible. Taking pages from the Iraq War playbook, Trump and Pompeo paint a picture of a rogue, outlaw, terrorist regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and whose “malign activities” are the cause of all the chaos in the Middle East.

This is straight from the neocon playbook: The one they’ve used before. They are building a case for war. America wants Iran out of Syria. We condemn their support for Hezbollah. We say that Iran supports the Houthis in Yemen, against our great friends, the Saudis.

This latest move is called the doctrine of “Maximum Pressure”. The goal is to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero. Will this gambit force the capitulation, or collapse, of the regime? That seems difficult to believe, but Trump and Bolton may have teed up a war.

Think about this: America is now decreeing to the rest of the world that only we decide which countries get to trade with whom. We’re telling China, the second largest economy in the world, that it lacks the sovereign authority to buy oil from Iran if it so desires.

Which do you think China will do? Both Iran and China appear to hold a better hand than the US. We can’t invade Iran and win. We can’t force China to do anything they refuse to do.

The rest of the world will have trouble understanding what Trump thinks the US can gain from this gambit, because there is no plan behind it. If Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz, will we bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran?

If China, Turkey, India and Japan continue to purchase Iranian oil, will we freeze their dollar-denominated assets in the US? If this leads to the creation of a non-dollar global payments system, what happens to the dollar as the global reserve currency? Has anyone in the Trump administration thought about that?

Once, the US used its reserve currency status and clout (largely) for good. Now, it’s just more bullying by Trump. In the end, the Trump administration may achieve a new level of worldwide cooperation against a common enemy: the USA.

Aren’t Americans sick of this neocon warmongering? Americans don’t want to be drawn into yet another ME action. It isn’t an accident that Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, declared unequivocally in November 2002:

“We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq…”

Is now the chief strategist behind Trump’s drive towards war, with Secretary of State Pompeo, happily riding shotgun.

It doesn’t matter that US intelligence, along with Israeli intelligence and the International Atomic Energy Agency confirm that Iran is complying with the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Or, that the US invasion of Iraq is the principle cause of Middle East chaos today.

Trump officials will cherry-pick information, package it, and amplify it, exactly as the Bush administration did in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

The real question is whether American voters will fall for this again.

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