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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – February 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Coyote in Litchfield County CT – February 2019 photo by Sharon Shea

For more than 30 years, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) has been one of the cornerstones of the international security system. But, on February 1st, Trump announced that the US would suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty. Shortly thereafter, Russia’s President Putin announced that Russia will also officially suspend its treaty obligations.

Trump swings another wrecking ball! Defense One reported that Trump said that the US:

“Will move forward with developing…its own military response options and will work with NATO members and other allies to deny Russia any military advantage from its unlawful conduct.”

This means that Trump will start the development, production and deployment of formerly INF-banned weapons.

Until the treaty took effect in 1988, the US had hundreds of nuclear-tipped ground-launched cruise missiles, or GCLMs all over Europe. Today, all cruise missiles are either air or sea-launched. New GCLMs are likely to be returning soon. Contenders include converting the sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missile, and the air-launched Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM.

Walking away from the INF Treaty opens the door to both sides building land-based nuclear capable missiles with a range beyond 300 miles.

There are two things to think about: Cost, and Strategic necessity. Kingston Reif, a policy director at the Arms Control Association, said the cost of the new missile systems would be much higher than the $6 billion or so it cost in the 1980s.

On the subject of necessity, he says:

“The United States can already…threaten the same Russian targets that new ground-launched missiles prohibited by INF Treaty would….In addition, no European nation has agreed to host such a missile, which could take years to develop. And even if one in Eastern Europe did, such a deployment would be a significant source of division within the alliance—one Russia would be eager to try and exploit—be hugely provocative, and put missiles in a place where they would be especially vulnerable to Russian preemption…”

The downside to the US withdrawing from the treaty is that we currently have no strategy to prevent Russia from building and fielding even more and new intermediate-range missiles.

Since Russia already announced it will now build these new missiles, our NATO allies in Europe have decisions to make. They will have to pursue options to defend themselves, to mitigate the damage done by the collapse of the treaty.

We’re entering a new Cold War with Russia.

Some believe that the INF treaty is obsolete, because many nations are developing effective missiles and launching capabilities that will be outside the limitations of the INF. Since we all will continue to develop these technologies, maybe the best we can hope for is to negotiate new treaties that address this increasing lethality down the road.

OTOH, Trump and his neocons are doing everything they can to encircle Russia with missile bases while claiming the moral high ground. We should expect them to utilize Poland, the Baltic states, and possibly Ukraine (if they can get away with it), as forward missile bases.

They figure that since geography favors them, why negotiate if you can win? Russia already called our bluff. For this strategy to work, the US must threaten Russia from Europe while simultaneously putting Europe under our new missile thumb. It might work, but there are many moving parts.

Republicans of course supported Trump, cheering about the breakup of a treaty signed by Ronald Reagan. When Wrongo grew up, the threat of nuclear annihilation was real. We drilled for it in school. He then ran a nuclear missile unit in Europe at the height of the Cold War. These were formative experiences that implied very dangerous consequences.

And think about our domestic politics: If someone were to run in 2020 as anti-Cold War II, they would have to say we need to work with the Russians to find a peaceful way out of this mess. Trump will then run to their right, saying Russia must be stopped.

Scared yet? A presidency based on disruption will do that to you.

Time for your Saturday Soother. Try to unplug from all the data that are streaming into your life for a few minutes. Start by brewing up a strong cuppa Hula Daddy Kona Coffee ($45.95/half pound) from the Big Island of Hawaii. You can see their plantation here.

Now settle back and listen to Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All” performed as a guitar instrumental by Gabriella Quevedo:

For those who may have forgotten the lyric, it includes this:

The winner takes all

It’s the thrill of one more kill

The last one to fall

Will never sacrifice their will

Think there will be winners in the new Cold War?

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

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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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Saturday Soother – July 14, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Newhaven Breakwater Lighthouse, East Sussex, England – photo via @mindcircle

It was a tough week for our Orange Overlord, what with picking fights with NATO, and with Theresa May about Brexit. Who knew that he would get sucker punched by his good buddy North Korea’s Kim Jong Un? From the NYT:

North Korean officials did not show up on Thursday for a meeting with Americans at the inter-Korean border to discuss the return of remains of United States soldiers killed in the Korean War, officials said.

You may remember that at the Singapore summit in June, Kim Jong Un, and America’s Very Stable Genius agreed that the remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War would be repatriated. North Korea has returned the remains of some American soldiers since 1953, but about 5,300 Americans presumed to have been killed in the North remain unaccounted for.

Secretary of State Pompeo said after meeting with officials in North Korea last week, that working-level talks on returning the remains would be held in Panmunjom on Thursday. More from the NYT:

Though American military officials went to Panmunjom for the meeting on Thursday, their North Korean counterparts did not, according to a United States defense official….A South Korean government official, who also asked for anonymity, confirmed that the North Koreans had not shown up at Panmunjom.

Was North Korea just late to the party, or were they sending a message to Trump that he needs to give something to get something? It seems that we were caught flat-footed by the NorKo no-show:

Last month, Trump told a Republican convention in Las Vegas that North Korea had “already sent back, or are in the process of sending back” the remains of 200 US or allied service members following his summit with Kim.

The US military also announced that 100 wooden coffins had been dispatched to Panmunjom to receive the remains, although repatriation has yet to take place.

Remember when Trump said that hundreds of parents of Korean War vets (they’d all had to have been at least 99 years old) begged him during the campaign to help get the remains of their dead sons back? Do you remember that on June 13, Trump said on FOX that he’d gotten it done in Singapore?

Doesn’t look like it’s happening at the moment.

But Trump tweeted that everything is fine, because he got a nice note from Kim. From the Guardian:

“A very nice note from Chairman Kim of North Korea. Great progress being made,” the president said in a tweet that included both a copy of Kim’s letter, dated 6 July, and its translation.

If you are a True Believer in Trump, you say he’s shaking things up, and soon his stellar negotiating skills will have us wading hip-deep in all of the global winning. If you’re not a True Believer in Trump, you need some Saturday soothing.

It looks like a warm weekend in the Northeast, so start by brewing up some Yemen Microlot from whole beans, roasted by Dragonfly Coffee. Dragonfly is a Boulder, Colorado-based micro-roaster. The Yemen Microlot is delicate, and richly sweet. It tastes of caramelized apple, baker’s chocolate and tangerine zest, and its only $75/8oz.

Now, take a short walk outside, barefoot. Listen to the birds, avoid stepping on any bees. Settle somewhere in the shade, and listen to Matthew McAllister playing Sonata Pathétique, the 2nd movement of the Adagio Cantabile by Ludwig van Beethoven. Although it is a piano sonata, McAllister is playing it on guitar. It was written in 1798 when Beethoven was 27 years old:

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

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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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15 Years Later, Bush and Cheney Can’t Be Forgiven

The Daily Escape:

Shock and Awe – Baghdad, Iraq 2003

In March 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq to forcibly remove Saddam Hussein from power. A quick victory ensued, but while the campaign had been carefully planned, what was to happen after winning had not. That led to a series of blunders and ill-conceived decisions, and a chain of events that ensures the Middle East and North Africa will be unstable for generations to come.

The NYT has an article by Sinan Antoon, an Iraqi-American novelist on the 15th anniversary of the Iraq invasion. He closes his piece with this:

No one knows for certain how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion 15 years ago. Some credible estimates put the number at more than one million. You can read that sentence again. The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a “blunder,” or even a “colossal mistake.” It was a crime. Those who perpetrated it are still at large. Some of them have even been rehabilitated thanks to the horrors of Trumpism and a mostly amnesiac citizenry. (A year ago, I watched Mr. Bush on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” dancing and talking about his paintings.) The pundits and “experts” who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam’s reign, but that is what America’s war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis.

What was supposed to be a quick operation, limited in time to remove a dictator from power, has snowballed into an out of control global nightmare.

Fifteen years later, the consequences have given us an uncertain future, but back in 2003, it didn’t have to be that way.

Wrongo had dinner back then with Gen. Jay Garner, who GW Bush had just tapped to lead the post-war reconstruction efforts in Iraq. We were at a company offsite meeting, just before he left for Iraq. Garner said that he believed the establishment of a new government could be accomplished quickly, and that the country could be back on its (sort of democratic) feet within a year.

Garner’s plan was to choose the new government officials who would lead the country from the former Iraqi regime. He later said:

…as in any totalitarian regime, there were many people who needed to join the Baath Party in order to get ahead in their careers. We don’t have a problem with most of them. But we do have a problem with those who were part of the thug mechanism under Saddam. Once the US identifies those in the second group, we will get rid of them.

Garner was replaced by the noxious Paul Bremer in May, 2003. Garner wanted early elections, and for Iraqis to decide how to run the country. But Bush, Cheney and Wolfowitz wanted to purge all Baathists. They cashiered the Iraqi military. They then selected Iyad Allawi to lead the Iraqi interim authority. Allawi was a Shiite who had worked with the CIA.

You know the rest of the story. The continuing catastrophe in Iraq led to the continuing catastrophe in Syria. That has caused the destabilizing flood of refugees into Europe. And it led to the European right-wing anti-immigrant movements that have ascended in most of the Eurozone.

Europeans must find it unbelievable that Trump claims they aren’t paying their way. They’re paying a huge daily tab in the form of destabilized politics and costly social programs for immigrants that reside in their towns and cities due to America’s adventurism in the Middle East.

In its wake, Iran allied with Russia and Iraq. Assad has won in Syria. Turkey’s relationship with NATO is frayed. Those birds will keep coming home to roost for generations.

Without the lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and the sheer incompetence of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer in Iraq, ISIS might not have expanded throughout Iraq and Syria. The refugee crisis might never happened.

And for what? A neo-con wet dream come to reality? Some real money made by their buddies via no-bid contracts?

The human toll, as Antoon says, was about one million Iraqis, and untold Syrians on top of that. It was never worth it.

Americans aren’t accustomed to calling their foreign adventures blunders. Antoon says it was a crime. We had a moment after Obama was elected to call the Iraq war’s perpetrators criminals, but Obama and Pelosi agreed that they wanted to look forward.

Now, the American public seems to want to let GW Bush off the hook for his blunders.

We can never allow that.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The Three Sisters, viewed from Canmore, Canada – photo by DiscInPc

Strategy must be lost on the Trump administration. We revisit Afghanistan. Pepe Escobar reports that for the past two months, Beijing and Kabul have been discussing the possibility of setting up a joint military base on Afghanistan’s border with China. Escobar quotes Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense:

We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has committed to help financially, provide equipment and train Afghan soldiers…

Escobar says that the military base will be built in the Wakhan Corridor, a mountainous and narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China, and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. He also reports that, according to local Kyrgyz nomads, joint Afghan-Chinese patrols are already active there.

Beijing is trying to prevent Uyghur Islamic fighters, who are exiled in Afghanistan, from crossing the Wakhan Corridor and conducting terror operations in China’s Xinjiang territory. Xinjiang is an autonomous territory in northwest China that has seen years of unrest, primarily from Muslims.

China’s concerns are backed by solid evidence. In 2013, al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri supported jihad against China in Xinjiang. In July 2014, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, supported a move against Xinjiang.

China doesn’t want its Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road, which will connect China with Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe to be compromised by terrorists. And one of its links, the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), could be hurt if terror threats abound in Central and South Asia. It could also affect China’s investments in Afghanistan’s mineral mining industry.

The Chinese are smart. Their new ambassador, Liu Jinsong, was raised in Xinjiang and was a director of the Belt and Road Initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund from 2012 to 2015. He understands how the local problems could hurt the New Silk Road. The plan is to prevent terrorists from having access to Chinese territory, and work to broker a deal between Kabul and some factions of the Taliban. If this sounds familiar, it is also Russia’s strategy, and Iran’s, and India’s as well.

Compare this joint approach with Washington’s strategy. Trump’s plan for Afghanistan involves defeating the Taliban, and then forcing them to negotiate. Since the Taliban control key areas of Afghanistan, the US strategy requires a new mini-surge.

This pits the US “coalition” against all of the great powers of the region. Think we are likely to succeed?

Let’s link this up with another Trump idea, his parade. Danny Sjursen, an Army major who served in Afghanistan wrote in an article in the American Conservative, “Parade of Defeat: Trump Prefers Spectacle Over Strategy:

Remember when military parades actually celebrated victories? Those were the days, or, better yet, the day—June 8, 1991…after the US military’s 100-hour lightning ground war ejected Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, some 8,800 soldiers marched down Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC…The White House called it the National Victory Celebration.

Sjursen adds: (brackets by Wrongo)

So, one cannot help but wonder what it [Trump’s Parade] is…celebrating. Nearly 17 years of indecisive quagmire?

He goes for the kill: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Trump…has turned the petty political appropriation of the troops into an art form. Soldiers are a pawn in the game, a very old game, in which the hawkish interventionists inspire the base and depict the opposition as dovish traitors. This is…meant to disguise what amounts to paltry policy in foreign affairs; it’s spectacle not strategy.

Linking our non-strategy in Afghanistan, which all of the region’s powers hope to solve with trade and diplomacy, to Trump’s parade, a good question is: How are our wars doing? The short answer: Badly. But haven’t we “beaten” ISIS?  Not really. ISIS has leaped across the borders of Syrian and Iraq to Africa and Asia. That’s why China is building a base in Afghanistan.

For all the talk of new strategies about “turning corners” and “breaking stalemates,” more fighting in Afghanistan will just waste more of our resources. Today, a record number of Afghan provinces and districts are under the control of, or contested by, the Taliban. Short-term success isn’t sustainable.

Trump has no exit strategy. But no worries, he has a parade strategy.

So, time to wake Trump the (family blog) up. He’s got to get focused on closing a deal with his Russian and Chinese friends. To help The Donald wake up, here is the “Unity JAM” by Tony Succar, a percussionist and arranger:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 1, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Interior of the Oculus, NYC – photo by Timothy A. Clary

On Saturday, Wrongo scoffed at David Brooks, who said that Donald Trump’s foreign policy moves:

…have been, if anything, kind of normal…

Another part of US foreign policy that is FAR from normal is our effort to square the circle between our NATO ally Turkey, and our Kurdish allies in Syria and Iraq, who are fighting with us to eliminate ISIS as a force in Syria.

Last Tuesday, Turkey triggered a crisis when it launched airstrikes on US-backed YPG Kurdish fighters. The YPG is a Syrian sister organization of the Kurdish PKK Party in Turkey. Turkey believes the YPG and the PKK are terrorist groups whose goal is to destabilize Turkey.

Within Syria, US Special Forces are embedded with the YPG and are coordinating YPG’s moves against ISIS around Raqqa. The Turkish airstrikes killed at least 18 people, destroying the group’s headquarters. The airstrikes triggered heavy artillery and mortar exchanges between Turkish troops and Kurdish forces along the border, raising concerns that Turkey might send its forces into Syria, something the US opposes.

The YPG wants to divert forces from the attack on Raqqa to protect against further Turkish adventures, something the US doesn’t want. Now we learn that the US has placed some of its very limited military resources in Syria between the Turks and the Kurds in an effort to calm the hostilities. From the WSJ:

American forces have started patrolling the Turkey-Syria border to prevent further clashes between Turkish troops and Kurdish fighters, which could undermine the fight against Islamic State, U.S. officials said Friday.

This is the second time we had to break up the fight between the Turks and the Kurds in Syria. We made a similar move last month in Manbij, a northern Syrian town at the epicenter of a fight between Kurdish forces, Syrian government troops and Turkish-backed militants.

We have become our own UN-style peacekeeping force between Turkey and our Kurdish allies in the midst of our very real effort to take Raqqa from ISIS.

So, where are we going with Turkey, the Kurds and Syria? In the ME, the Kurds are one of the few groups the US can trust to perform militarily. They have fought alongside our troops in this region for years. In the past, we have sold them out in favor of Iraqi and Turkish geopolitical desires more than once.

OTOH, Turkey is a NATO ally, one who is the enemy of our Kurdish allies. We have several Airbases in Turkey which help with the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. If the Turks asked us to leave, our military effectiveness in the ME would be seriously weakened.

More than 25 million Kurds live in the region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. They are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the ME, but they do not have a permanent nation-state. The Kurds can see that a state could be created from the NE portion of Syria, and the region they already control in Iraq, if the Turks, along with Syria and its allies would allow it to happen.

Where does the US stand on this? Would we back the Turkish aspiration to control a Syrian buffer area between the Kurds to the East in Syria and in Iraq, and the Kurds in the West in Syria?

Would Russia, Syria, and Iran allow Turkey to succeed at that? What would happen if Russia and Iran moved against Turkey, if the Turks established a foothold in Northern Syria? Would the US come to Turkey’s defense?

Turkish President Erdogan is visiting Trump in DC in mid-May. Last Friday, Mr. Erdogan said he would personally urge Mr. Trump to stop working with the YPG, but Trump plans to directly arm them. What will the US response be to Erdogan, who looks more like a dictator controlling our only Islamic NATO ally?

Time for Trump and the State Department to wake up and solve the complex issues in Syria. Who knew being president would be so hard? This is not a time for shooting from the hip, or for deal-making, but for establishing principles for the end game in Syria with our most difficult NATO partner.

To help Trump and Tillerson wake up, here is the progressive rock band Yes, Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductees. The ceremony was broadcast Saturday night on HBO. The band’s co-founder, Jon Anderson, reunited for a performance of “Roundabout” from 1971. He’s here with bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, guitarist Trevor Rabin and drummer Alan White:

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

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Trump’s Defense Budget

(The Wrongologist is heading to Florida today. The next column will be Sunday’s Cartoons)

The Daily Escape:

(Water Buffalo at night – Zimanga Private Game Reserve, South Africa)

Wrongo did not watch Donald Trump’s latest reality show. Many are giving him some credit, saying that “it’s the most presidential he’s ever been”. What a low bar.

We should ignore the tone, and focus on the content. Today let’s discuss Trump’s aspirations regarding defense spending, cuts in non-defense discretionary spending and Trump’s tax reduction plans. In his speech, Trump repeated his commitment to increasing defense spending by $54 billion.

The Budget Control Act caps military spending at $549 billion for 2018. Trump’s proposed increase would bring military spending to $603 billion. He indicated that would mean getting rid of the Sequester spending cap agreement. But, he didn’t address how the spending caps would be overturned (it requires 60 Senate votes). And there was also nothing said about the rest of the budget, including the subject of what programs will be cut to fund the defense increase.

The problem is math. Trump’s plans require solving simultaneous equations: It may be impossible to cut discretionary spending by enough to fund the defense increase. It will be difficult to give a big personal and corporate tax cut while spending $1 Trillion on infrastructure. As Bryce Covert at Bloomberg said:

To increase defense spending, cut taxes, spend money on infrastructure and the border, protect entitlements, and balance the budget, almost everything else must go.

Neither Trump nor Congressional Republicans had a better idea about how to accomplish that after the speech than they had before it.

Trump in particular, has no idea. In a Fox interview on Tuesday, Trump argued that his increase in defense spending could be covered not by severe spending cuts elsewhere, but by an increase in economic growth. He said:

I think the money is going to come from a revved up economy…

He promised on TV to grow GDP by 3% or more each year, not something that is all that easy to do. The economic concept behind his thinking is the Laffer curve, which says that an optimal level of taxation will assure high economic growth. It’s a discredited theory.

If Trump and Congress can’t get Sequestration eliminated and they still want to spend the $54 billion, non-defense spending would be 25% below what it used to be, bringing spending on these programs to the lowest level ever recorded. The historical low point of Discretionary non-defense spending was 3.09% of GDP in 1962; Trump’s proposal could bring it below 3%.

Military spending increases are never justified to Americans by what the money will be used for. Instead, we hear vague arguments about how we need to be “stronger”, or laundry lists of the various kinds of new hardware we need to buy, without any focus on the strategic rationale for the new hardware. For example, how do new aircraft carriers help defeat ISIS?

More military spending has an opportunity cost: If we spend on defense, that’s money we can’t spend on education, healthcare, or rudimentary things, like the State Department.

It can’t be enough to say that larger numbers will make us safer.

We need a geopolitical rationale for why additional defense spending is necessary. Trump hasn’t offered that argument. He and the GOP say that President Obama “neglected” the military, but in truth, Obama left our military stronger than it was under Reagan: If we look at total military spending by China, Russia and the US in 2015, the US accounted for 68% of that total, while Russia accounted for 8% and China for 24%

Under Reagan the totals were: US, 62%, Russia, 36% and China 2%. So we are up from 62% to 68% under the Kenyan Muslim.

We should be thinking about cutting defense spending, not increasing it.

Take a break and listen to guitar hero Joe Bonamassa playing “Further on Up the Road” live in 2009 at Royal Albert Hall with his hero, Eric Clapton:

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

 

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February 17, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(National Library of Ireland)

The NATO Defense Ministers are meeting this week, and a big issue is the financial support provided by the member nations. The US spends more of its GDP on NATO than any other member, 3.6%, or $664 billion in 2016. NATO countries have committed to spending 2% of their GDP on the military, but the only countries currently meeting that target are Britain, Poland, Estonia and Greece. At a preliminary meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the ministers would “stress the importance of fair burden-sharing and higher defence spending,”

New US Defense Secretary, Gen. Jim Mattis, warned that continued American support for NATO could depend on other NATO countries meeting their spending commitments:

Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do…I owe it to you to give you clarity on the political reality in the US and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms…If your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense…

Europe is reluctant to pay for its own defense. The GDP of the EU approximates that of the US, but its military budget is less than half of ours. Trump is correct to question why Europe doesn’t pay its fair share. Of course, he isn’t the first US president to make that point.

This issue is well known, but a Win/Gallup survey provides a disturbing portrait of the will of people in Europe to defend themselves. The survey shows that 61% of people polled across 64 countries would be willing to fight for their country. However, there are significant differences in willingness to fight by region. It is highest in the Middle East (83%), but, it is lowest in Western Europe (25%).

Win/Gallup surveyed a total of 62,398 persons globally, and developed a representative sample of around 1000 men and women in each country. This is somewhat old data, the field work was conducted during September 2014 – December 2014.

In Europe, the highest number willing to fight was Finland at 74%. The Netherlands was at 15%, Germany was at 18%, Belgium, 19%, Italy, 20%, UK, 27%, France, 29%.  Except for Turkey at 73%, Greece at 54%, and Sweden at 55%, a clear minority of people in the NATO countries said they would be willing to fight for their country.

Only 44% of Americans surveyed said that they would fight for our country.

We should remember that like us, most European armies have professional militaries, and that is probably reflected in the survey results. Neutral Finland still has a draft, and trained reserve of about 900 000. They also have an 830 mile border with Russia.

It is also possible that there was confusion, with some respondents thinking about fighting an offensive war, while some could have been thinking of a defensive war. Another difference could be due to whether the respondents think an offensive or defensive war is more likely for their country.

Europeans have become used to having the US foot much of the NATO bill. The bigger question is raised by the Gallup survey: What would they do if we had a real fight?

BTW, would most Americans fight for America? Survey says “no”.

 

With the Trump administration’s moves to deport Mexicans, let’s remember a plane crash in Los Gatos Canyon in January 1948 that resulted in 32 dead. The news reported it as four Americans and 28 migrant workers whose names were not recorded. They were simply called “deportees” in news reports, because they were being deported back to Mexico. Woody Guthrie wrote “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” to remember them. Here is Judy Collins with “Deportee”:

On Labor Day, 2013, a monument was unveiled listing the names of the 28 who perished in the crash. After 65 years, the names of the 28 were finally known.

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

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Will Erdogan Remain In The Trump Fan Club?

Trump has two towers in Istanbul. In December 2015, his local partner explored legal means to take Trump’s name off the towers after the Orange Overlord called for a ban on Muslims entering the US. In June, Turkish President Erdogan reportedly called for the removal of the Trump name from the towers.

But things have changed. The Economist reports that:

Mr. Erdogan appears to have changed his mind, both about the towers and about the man whose name appears on them. Although polls show that most Turks would have preferred to see Hillary Clinton as America’s new president, Mr. Trump’s election has been greeted in Ankara with a mix of schadenfreude and hope.

In fact, Erdogan has called US protests against Mr. Trump’s election “a disrespect to democracy”. The Economist says that Trump reportedly told Mr. Erdogan over the phone that his daughter, Ivanka, admired him, and flattery works all over the world.

Erdogan thinks that our Orange Overlord may be more amenable to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt in July. Since July, Turkey has pressed the Obama administration to extradite Mr. Gulen. The Turks felt sure that Hillary Clinton would not extradite him, since her campaign accepted donations from his followers.

In November, Trump’s National Security Advisor, former General Michael Flynn, strongly supported Turkish President Erdogan in an op-ed at The Hill, suggesting that Erdogan is under siege by “radical Islam” and desperately needs our help. Flynn said:

The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him safe haven. In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.

Flynn also seemed to dismiss Erdogan’s crackdown on political dissidents and the dubious circumstances of the attempted coup which allowed Erdogan to solidify his power. So let’s review Erdogan’s actions since July:

  1. Turkey now has outstripped China as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. In addition, 150 news outlets have been closed, ranging from TV stations to online enterprises.
  2. Erdogan has suspended or fired 110,000 civil servants, judges, teachers, journalists and soldiers. This has gutted the educated middle class of Turkey.
  3. He has restarted an internal war with Kurds in Eastern Turkey, and has arrested the leadership of the Kurdish minority HDP party, which got more than 10% of seats in the last election.
  4. He has sent the Turkish Army into Syria in what was first described as border defense against ISIS (a group he has long supported), but it has been revealed that his plan is to reach central Syria and depose Bashar Assad.
  5. The EU has suspended negotiations for Turkish membership for civil rights backsliding, but not before they gave Turkey €6 billion to stop sending refugees into the EU.
  6. Erdogan has threatened to reopen the flow of refugees if the EU doesn’t agree to further Turkey’s application to join. Opening the refugee flow is an existential threat to the EU, and thus, to NATO.

Trump is holding a tough hand while playing poker with Turkey. As a NATO member with the largest standing army in Europe, Turkey occupies an important place in NATO’s strategy. Trump has to balance Turkey’s support for the mutual defense of Europe against Turkey’s intentions to go one-on-one against Syria.

He has to balance the shaky EU refugee deal with Turkey against Erdogan’s effort to engage militarily against the PKK, a Kurdish group in Iraq and Syria who are allied with the US against ISIS.

Erdogan has made an overture towards Russia and China. A link with them would destabilize NATO even further. Erdogan seems to be testing Trump’s resolve and his commitment to NATO at the same time. Perhaps he sees an opportunity to garner some good old American baksheesh, so he’s putting a foot in the water to see if it’s comfortable enough to dive in.

That may be a poor play, since while Trump may be sympathetic to Turkish concerns about Mr. Gulen, the cleric’s fate rests with America’s courts. Meanwhile, The Economist reports that Trump’s team wants to list the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group, roll back the nuclear deal with Iran, and continue arming the PKK’s Syrian wing against ISIS.

Erdogan opposes all of these measures vehemently.

Some of Trump’s new team are not fans of Erdogan. In a tweet, Trump’s CIA-designate, Mike Pompeo, called Turkey an “Islamist dictatorship”.

Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Trump show certain similarities. Both are busy recasting and ruining their countries at the same time.

Let’s hope it doesn’t last.

 

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