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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – October 22, 2018, Treaty Withdrawal Edition

The Daily Escape:

Autumn near Walpole, NH – October 2018 photo by knale

Happy Monday. Over the weekend, Trump announced that the US will be exiting the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which Reagan and Gorbachev signed in 1987. The INF banned all US and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The weapons ban resulted in the destruction of 2,692 missiles. Washington demolished 846, and Moscow 1,846.

From the NYT:

But the pact has also constrained the United States from deploying new weapons to respond to China’s efforts to cement a dominant position in the Western Pacific and to keep American naval forces at bay. Because China was not a signatory to the treaty, it has faced no limits on developing intermediate-range nuclear missiles, which can travel thousands of miles.

While the treaty was seen as effective, it’s hard to argue that the US is somehow obligated to remain in the INF treaty since we know that Russia has been pushing the edge of envelope for the last few years.

But, Russia’s behavior is just part of Trump’s calculation: His administration would like to develop a larger and more diverse portfolio of nuclear capabilities. It also has concerns about China, which isn’t subject to any arms control agreement, and they specifically rejected joining the INF.

As a result, Beijing has deployed a large number of intermediate and short-range conventional ballistic missiles, pointing them at US allies, including Taiwan.

Washington has focused on ballistic-missile defenses, but it seems that the Trump administration would prefer to respond with next-generation intermediate and short-range weapons. The US has done preliminary work on a new intermediate-range nuclear missile, and if deployed, it would also violate the INF.

It’s also far from clear where such new land-based weapons might be deployed. None of our European allies appear willing to accept them.

And there isn’t enthusiasm for US land-based missiles among our Asian allies. Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, India, and Vietnam all are unlikely to host new US intermediate range missiles. That would leave Guam, which sits 2,400 miles from Beijing and 1,800 miles from Shanghai, not a decisive strategic counter-move.

The only argument for Guam is that those missiles would reach targets in China much faster than weapons sent via Guam-based bombers, but they would still be slower than sea-based cruise missiles.

Walking away from weapons treaties has had adverse diplomatic and strategic consequences in the past. When the GW Bush administration announced its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001, the Kremlin responded by withdrawing from the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and its prohibition on land-based missiles carrying multiple warheads.

The Kremlin is now moving forward with deployments of new “heavy” land-based missiles that can carry ten or more warheads. Their purpose is to defeat US missile defenses. Likewise, the demise of the INF Treaty would only reinforce the current nuclear competition.

Is Trump doing a smart thing?

The INF Treaty was less about hobbling the US than it was about hobbling Russia. The treaty only covered land- and air-based systems. So the US and NATO held a strategic advantage with its navies.

The only advantage Russia had, and still maintains, is its large land mass that can hide huge numbers of mobile launchers. By withdrawing from the treaty, the US actually plays right into Moscow’s hands. Mobile launchers are notoriously difficult to track down. We can’t do it in North Korea, and we couldn’t do it in Iraq.

Trump thinks he’s playing hardball, but Wrongo thinks his business acumen has been sadly overplayed. Exiting the INF isn’t so good for the Americans. Republicans used to think that fewer international entanglements would allow the US to keep its defense budgets low.

The Trump-Bolton idea turns this on its head. In fact, when it comes to American military security, Trump’s idea relies on magical thinking. It’s not just that his plan isn’t good for national security, it’s also that the Trump administration aims to make the US a military powerhouse while cutting taxes.

Bolton’s aim seems to be to create the conditions that could lead to war, an extraordinarily dangerous game, considering the flakiness of his boss.

Wake up America! Here’s another reason why turning out to vote in November, and then voting to turn out as many of these Republican chicken hawks in DC as we can, is of ultimate importance.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Russia Edition

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

Now, a few observations about Russia today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Japan Re-thinks Role of Its Military

The Daily Escape:

Unusual cloud formations, pre-dawn at Mt. Fuji, Japan – photo by Takashi Yasui

Wrongo lived in Japan while working for the big multinational bank, back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. During his three-year stay, he learned enough Japanese to navigate in business meetings, and bars. When he was there, it had only been 30 years since the end of WWII, and the nuclear-ravaged parts of Japan still had scars, some of which intentionally remain visible today.

One impact of losing the war was that Japan got a new constitution, helpfully provided by us, the conquerors. Enacted in 1947, it made the Emperor a constitutional monarch, where before the war, the Emperor was an absolute ruler. Japan’s constitution is known to some as the “Peace Constitution“. It is best known for Article 9, by which Japan renounced its right to wage war.

No amendment has been made to it since its adoption, but that could be about to change.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced that his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is seeking to revise the constitution in the very near future, including changing Article 9. In May, Abe announced that he wanted to add Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to Article 9. The Nikki Asian Review quoted Abe: (brackets by Wrongo)

Over the past year, discussion of [constitutional] revisions has grown much livelier and more specific….The document currently includes absolutely no provision for our self-defense….We must put an end to debate over [the JSDF’s] constitutionality…

This is on top of evolutionary changes to the use of the JSDF over the past two years. Revised laws authorized military action that previously would have been unconstitutional, including actions in response to “an infringement that does not amount to an armed attack”, or actions outside of Japan, such as minesweeping in the Straits of Hormuz, near Iran.

The key point is that the new changes lower the threshold for the use of force outside Japan.

Robert Farley writes in The Diplomat: (brackets by Wrongo)

Nevertheless, even these [recent] changes allow Japan to act more assertively as a coalition partner in its region. This means acting in either a direct or supportive role for allies or coalition partners threatened by China (or some other international actor). The reasons for such a shift lay in both the increasing power of China, and in uncertainty about the United States.

The world’s power balance is changing. It is totally unclear if the US can be counted as a reliable partner in mutual defense for Europe, or in Asia. Our allies fear that moves towards isolation by the current or any future administration, could leave Japan swinging in the wind.

Add to this the looming threat from North Korea. Japan’s total reliance on the US to blunt that threat, means that Japan feels it must look at a more assertive ability to use military force. Japan has recently purchased the Ageis Ashore system from Lockheed Martin to help partially protect it against North Korea.

Another consideration is Japan’s rapidly shrinking population. The birthrate in Japan is just over 1.3. It needs to be 2.1 to maintain its current population. The Japanese skew quite old, but Japan also refuses to allow immigration. Estimates are that its population will drop from 130 million today to 80 million by 2050.

Japan is likely to become very insecure about the declining population and the increasing regional threats. And that insecurity will be reflected in their next-generation military strategies.

In fact, today’s JSDF is sort of legal fiction. It is said to be an extension of the national police force. But the JSDF has several hundred tanks, 26 destroyers and 19 submarines. Since they already have a military, it doesn’t seem like changing the constitution to allow them to have and use its military should really matter.

OTOH, there is a residual fear of a militarized Japan in Asia and in the West. Some think that Japan, like Germany, is among the countries that shouldn’t be taking on expanded military roles. This is why the US has large, permanent bases in both countries.

Wrongo thinks that this is a superficial reading of today’s issues. Obviously Japan hasn’t fully apologized for its actions in WWII, or earlier, and both the Koreans and Chinese work to ensure that we never forget.

In the real world, Japan is an amazingly under-defended country. It has traditionally relied on the US to fund its defense, and make most of the hard choices about its defense.

Well, now that we’re no longer totally reliable, they really have no plan at all.

We shouldn’t have a particular problem if Japan or Germany decide they want to avail themselves of the full range of diplomatic and yes, the military options available to sovereign nation-states.

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Trump’s Tariffs Unite China and Russia

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 10, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cordillera Huayhuash, Peruvian Andes – photo by mh-travelphotos. The area has very few people, and is a popular trekking destination. It includes six peaks above 6,000 meters.

Whenever Wrongo writes about Syria, the Wrongologist Blog records its fewest reads. Maybe people think that what’s happening in Syria just doesn’t mean much to America. Maybe people think that we’ve already given up on our original goals, and we’re already letting the Russians run the place.

Both of those thoughts would be er, wrong.

The WaPo reported about our new plan: (emphasis by Wrongo)

President Trump, who just five months ago said he wanted “to get out” of Syria and bring U.S. troops home soon, has agreed to a new strategy that indefinitely extends the military effort there and launches a major diplomatic push to achieve American objectives, according to senior State Department officials.

Although the military campaign against the Islamic State has been nearly completed, the administration has redefined its goals to include the exit of all Iranian military and proxy forces from Syria, and establishment of a stable, nonthreatening government acceptable to all Syrians and the international community.

You remember al-Qaeda, the guys who took down the NY World Trade Center? (We’ll remember that tomorrow). Well, the first step in the new US “diplomatic push” is to prevent an imminent Syrian army operation against al-Qaeda aligned groups in Syria’s Idlib province:

While the US agrees that those forces must be wiped out, it rejects “the idea that we have to go in there…to clean out the terrorists, most of the people fighting….they’re not terrorists, but people fighting a civil war against a brutal dictator,” as well as millions of civilians, said US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey. Instead, the US has called for a cooperative approach with other outside actors.

He went on to say that:

The US will not tolerate an attack. Period.

Jeffrey had just visited Turkey to consult with Turkish president Erdogan about the upcoming Idlib attack by Syria, Russia and Iran. The result of the meeting was a plan that Erdogan presented at the Tehran summit that Erdogan attended with President Putin of Russia and President Rohani of Iran.

The parties didn’t agree to the US/Turkish plan, and the attacks on Idlib have already begun.

Jeffery said that the Trump administration’s plan for Syria involves more than the defeat of ISIS. It also was focused on reducing Iranian influence, and preventing Assad from controlling all of Syria’s geography. Jeffery said that Trump supports the strategy, contrary to Trump’s previous statements about withdrawing US troops after defeating ISIS:

…we’re no longer pulling out by the end of the year….That means we are not in a hurry…

America needs to wake up. Those who voted for Trump did so in part because he wasn’t the warmonger that Hillary was. At some point, they’ll have to admit that Trump’s new Syria policy puts us in direct conflict with Russia and Iran on the ground in Syria. That isn’t something that could be implemented without Trump’s agreement, and with less than 60 days to the mid-terms, is this just a political calculation?

It’s difficult to know if Trump truly cares about what happens with Assad, but we know that he has a burning desire to confront Iran. And his new Syria policy is all about Iran. And he’s already tweeted warnings to Assad and Putin to leave Idlib alone.

Does anyone reading this believe that he’s thinking geopolitically? And since Putin, Rohani, and Assad have already defied Trump’s tweeted warnings, Americans should be thinking that there’s liable to be a strike at least against Iran, in the next few weeks.

You know that all the neocons around him, like Bolton and Pompeo, will goad him on. And after that, it could be game on.

Perhaps Trump is bluffing. We have no realistic means to prevent the operations against Idlib by Russia, Iran and Syria. The US military understands that an attack on Syrian and Russian forces would likely escalate into a direct conflict between nuclear powers.

We can’t assume that the “resistance” inside the White House either agrees with the US military, or is capable of averting such a risk.

Wrongo’s solution? Not one more drop of American blood should be wasted in either Iraq or Syria.

Withdraw completely from Syria. Hand over our in-country bases to the Syrians. Encourage and assist the Kurdish insurgents and the Syrian Defense Forces to reintegrate into Syria. Pass the intelligence we have on the jihadis we have assisted over the years to Damascus.

Then we have to hope that Trump moves on to focus completely on more important issues, like Colin Kaepernick’s shoes.

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Pompeo Played in Pyongyang

The Daily Escape:

Ramona Falls, Mt. Hood, Oregon – 2018 photo by higher_moments

US Secretary of State Pompeo visited North Korea (NK) to further the agenda President Trump and Chairmen Kim had agreed upon in Singapore. The visit did not go well. As Bloomberg reports, there were issues from the start:

As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touched down in Pyongyang at 10:54 a.m. on Friday, he had few details of his schedule in the North Korean capital — even which hotel he and his staff would stay in.

Pompeo didn’t stay at either of the hotels where he thought he’d be. The North Koreans took him, his staff and the six journalists traveling with the delegation to a gated guesthouse on the outskirts of the capital.

It was the start of a confused 27 hour visit, including a pair of banquets that the secretary and his staff appeared to dread for their length, and the daunting number of courses presented by unfailingly polite waiters. And a meeting with Kim Jong Un never happened, despite strenuous efforts by Pompeo’s staff.

More from Bloomberg:

The lack of US control clearly rankled Pompeo. A former military officer accustomed to short, focused meetings, he was made to sit through multi-course meals with Kim and his staff, as waiters brought plate after plate of food — foie gras, turkey, pea soup, boiled oak mushrooms, kimchi, watermelon and ice cream, plus a drink branded “American Cola.”

By the morning of his second day, Pompeo had enough. Instead of the elaborate breakfast prepared for him, he ate toast and slices of processed cheese.

The specifics of what happened behind closed doors remain unclear, but there was a clear difference of opinion about the results of the brief meetings:

As he was leaving, Pompeo told reporters the conversations were “productive and in good faith.” Hours later, North Korean state media issued a statement that did not mention him by name but called the demands he presented “gangster-like.”

One North Korea watcher, Duyeon Kim, Senior Fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum and a columnist for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, had this tweet describing Pompeo’s and the Trump administration’s failure to understand even the basics of its joint Singapore communique with Kim Jong Un:

Duyeon Kim thinks that Pompeo and the Administration have the cart before the horse on the path to denuclearization.

In another tweet in her thread, Duyeon Kim says that NK sees denuclearization as part of a package that happens only after the military threat the US poses is removed, in other words, after items #1 and #2 above are negotiated. She makes the point that NK’s reaction to the Pompeo visit reaffirms that its priorities remain in that order.

Confirming her viewpoint, the statement released by the NK Ministry of the Foreign Affairs said in part:

The U.S. side never mentioned the issue of establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, which is essential for defusing tension and preventing a war…

Let’s take a close look at the Singapore Joint Statement signed by Trump and Kim. It included the following: (emphasis by Wrongo)

  1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
  2. The United States and DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
  3. [3a] to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and [3b], The DPRK commit to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

As far as we know, Pompeo didn’t talk about item #1, which would include the opening of embassies and economic engagement. He did not talk about item #2, i.e. a peace treaty. He also did not talk about Item #3a, the “security guarantees to the DPRK”. The only item he talked about was 3b, the last item on the list.

So in the words of the Captain in Cool Hand Luke, “what we have here is a failure to communicate”.

Pompeo came to Pyongyang and tried to go all gangster on Kim by asking for details about NK’s nuclear program, and its plans to abandon it. But NK wanted to talk about embassies and diplomatic relations.

The scorecard after Singapore: Kim 1, Trump 0

The scorecard after Pompeo’s visit: Kim 1, Trump 0

When does all the winning begin?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 17, 2018

Jeff Sessions isn’t the only Republican who is anti-immigrant. Arizona Republican State Representative David Stringer addressed the Yavapai County Republican Men’s Forum this week. He called immigration an “existential threat” to America: (emphasis by Wrongo)

60% of public school children in the state of Arizona today are minorities. That complicates racial integration because there aren’t enough white kids to go around.

Stringer helpfully explained what happens when there aren’t enough white kids:

And when you look at that 60% number for public school students, just carry that forward 10 or 15 years. It’s going to change the demographic voting base of this state…..Immigration is politically destabilizing.

He says 60% of the kids are “minorities”, but the math says they are the majority. Maybe he’s using the “nonwhites are 3/5ths of a person” rule.

On to cartoons. It was difficult to know if Singapore was real, or a reality show:

Kim and Trump agreed on one thing:

Kim debriefed the team back home:

The big thing we have to fear:

Sessions fails bible study. The Boss wasn’t amused:

Sessions asks excellent question in bible study. Gets correct answer:

California’s referendum on whether to break into three states isn’t necessary:

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North Korea May Not Negotiate With Trump

The Daily Escape:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii – 2018 photo by Chaebi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that acceptable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So many deals to try, and so few skills.

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Saturday Soother – May 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Donny and Bibi’s Folly

The Daily Escape:

Hyner View State Park, Hyner, PA – photo by Scott Hafer.

Maybe it’s early to have a full perspective on Trump’s decision to leave the Iran Nuclear Accord, but Wrongo is reminded of this quote from Benjamin Netanyahu, on September 12, 2002:

If you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you it will have positive reverberations on the region.

He said this while he was pressing for the US to attack Iraq, who was an Israeli foe in 2002. Naturally, the results were far from positive for the region, and the outcome for the US was catastrophic in both financial and human costs.

Bibi has again been successful in urging another Republican president to start an adventure in the Middle East, this time, by backing out of the Iran deal. Once again, Bibi has set up an opportunity for the US to attack another Israeli foe. This decision is a truly consequential foreign-policy blunder.

Steven Walt in Foreign Policy:

It is important to understand what’s really going on here. Trump’s decision is not based on a desire to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb; if that were the case, it would make much more sense to stay firmly committed to the deal and eventually negotiate to make it permanent.

Walt says that this is what’s really going on:

Abandoning the JCPOA is based on the desire to “keep Iran in the penalty box” and prevent it from establishing normal relations with the outside world. This goal unites Israel, the hard-line wing of the Israel lobby…and hawks including National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and many others.

Walt says that the hawks’ great fear was that the US and its Middle East allies might eventually have to acknowledge Iran as a legitimate regional power.

The preferred strategy to keep Iran from becoming a regional power has been regime change. US neo-cons and others in the Middle East have pursued this for decades. The neo-cons see two possible routes to regime change. The first relies on ramping up economic pressure on Tehran in the hope that popular discontent will grow, and that the clerical regime will simply collapse. This is the same strategy that worked so well failed in Cuba. Since the Nuclear Accord would end the sanctions that were keeping Iran weak, it was reason enough for most Republicans and hawks to be against it.

The second option is to provoke Iran into restarting its nuclear program, which would give Washington the excuse to launch a preventive war. The Israelis and Saudis would be happy to watch the US and Iran fight. The thought is that a war would eliminate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and inspire its people to rise up and overturn their leaders.

This scenario shows how little thought these people give to outcomes: If we bomb Iran, their first reaction will not be one of gratitude. Bibi will again be wrong, there will be no “positive reverberations”. Rather, it would trigger fervent Iranian nationalism and the regime would become more popular.

Leaving the deal is another spectacular “own goal” from the Trumpkinhead. They must be dancing in Moscow and Beijing, the two biggest winners of the Trump withdrawal.

Other winners include the Iranian far-right, who will say that Rouhani and the reformists were naive to trust that the Americans would honor any agreement, and the Iranian public should move to the right in the next parliamentary election.

Bibi and his government will now campaign on how every Israeli should be terrified at the prospect of returning Iran back toward the possibility of becoming a nuclear power, something Bibi has worked hard to bring about.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia get closer to a pretext for the direct military confrontation that they want, purchased with the blood of Americans, blood that the American neo-cons will be happy to spill. With friends like Israel and Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies?

Ultimately, Iran will probably end up getting nukes. But, every other country also wants some atomic insurance. The hawks need to remember that nuclear fission and fusion are 75-year old technologies. Even North Korea, among the poorest countries on earth, has mastered it. The bar just isn’t that high.

So, nuclear proliferation has a natural tailwind, and destroying America’s credibility removes the last wisp of an obstacle to it.

 

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