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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – February 11, 2019

The Daily Escape:

The Piedmont Kilns, Wyoming. They were built in 1869 to supply charcoal for the iron smelting industry in Utah. Part of a ghost town, three remain.

A wave of bankruptcies is sweeping the US Farm Belt, and Trump’s trade disputes are adding to the pain. The primary cause is low commodity prices that American farmers have experienced for the past few years. Throughout much of the Midwest, US farmers are filing for Chapter 12 bankruptcy protection at levels not seen for at least a decade.

From the WSJ:

“Bankruptcies in three regions covering major farm states last year rose to the highest level in at least 10 years. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, had double the bankruptcies in 2018 compared with 2008. In the Eighth Circuit, which includes states from North Dakota to Arkansas, bankruptcies swelled 96%. The 10th Circuit, which covers Kansas and other states, last year had 59% more bankruptcies than a decade earlier.”

Those states accounted for nearly half of all sales of US farm products in 2017, according to USDA data. Since 2000, China’s share of our agricultural exports has increased from two percent to about 19% in 2017. China has become our largest agricultural trading partner.

The rise in farm bankruptcies tracks a multi-year slump in prices for corn, soybeans and other farm commodities caused by a world-wide glut. Prices for soybeans and hogs further declined after Mexico, along with China, retaliated against US steel and aluminum tariffs by imposing duties on our AG products, and then slashing purchases.

Farmers generally supported Trump’s tariffs when he started the trade war in 2018. China’s retaliation was to virtually cease purchasing American agricultural products. As an example, China moved the sourcing of soybeans from the US to Brazil. When a low margin business like farming loses 20% of sales, only those who aren’t in debt can survive. And most US farmers owe quite a bit to their bankers.

The Trump administration recognized the potential problem, and approved funding to bridge farmers across the decline in Chinese purchases, but the trade war has gone on for longer than anticipated.

Now, bankruptcies are way up, and exports to China are way down:

Source: Econbrowser

Unfortunately, we keep importing from China. But in the past year, the Chinese have stopping buying as much of our goods. Clearly, the bull our farmers got isn’t in their barn, but in the White House.

Republicans are saying that the surge in farm bankruptcies isn’t Trump’s fault, that the problem with the farm product glut started years ago. But, if Republicans want to give Trump credit for the good employment numbers, and a still-robust stock market, they have to blame him for the bad as well.

Time to wake up America! Disruption without a strategy brings chaos. And think back to the SOTU, when Trump said how he stood between us and socialism. But Trump’s picking winners and losers with his trade wars. He’s using tax-payer money to subsidize farmers damaged by his self-imposed trade wars. That sounds eerily like socialism to Wrongo.

Wake up to the fact that farmers are pawns in Trump’s capricious tantrums against China. Those who have played chess know that most of your pawns are gone by the end of the game.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 10, 2019

We start the new week as we ended it. Plenty of politics, not much in the way of progress for the country. Trump’s Friday physical didn’t go as planned:

Girl talk after the SOTU:

Executive time is seen as a good thing:

Trump hates House investigations, pledges to go another way:

VA governor Northam seeks place where moonwalking is OK for his political career:

Plutocrats favor the green deal we have, not the one we need:

Socialism for the rich is perfectly fine:

Trump announced North Korean summit, God shakes his head:

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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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Another Lie From Trump

The Daily Escape:

The Cuernos del Paine in Chile – photo via Live Science. The 4,300-mile-long Andes, the longest continuous mountain range in the world, didn’t form slowly by one geologic plate sliding under another. They grew in two growth spurts helped by volcanic action. (Hat tip to Ottho H.)

What Trump said about El Paso in the SOTU:

“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime—one of the highest in the country, and (was) considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities,”

Local politicians weren’t happy with Trump’s false claims that the city was violent and dangerous before a border wall was built. Trump was repeating bogus information from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. And, he had made the same claim at the American Farm Bureau convention in mid-January.

Here is an example of the local outrage. Jon Barela, the chief executive officer of the Borderplex Alliance, which leads economic development efforts in the El Paso region, tweeted:

Texas Monthly reports that El Paso has made lists of the nation’s safest cities for almost two decades. But what are facts when you have a wall to build on the back of a racist narrative?

Wrongo lived in El Paso for a time when he was in the military (Vietnam era), back before there was talk of a wall, before the Maquiladora factories became a part of NAFTA, when Ciudad Juarez was probably far more dangerous than it is today. But back then, El Paso couldn’t be considered dangerous for someone who went to college in Washington DC, and lived on the outskirts of NYC.

One state over in New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has ordered the withdrawal of the majority of National Guard troops stationed at the US state’s southern border, denouncing as “a charade” President Donald Trump’s warnings about migrants swarming the border, saying:

“I reject the federal contention that there exists an overwhelming national security crisis at the southern border, along which are some of the safest communities in the country,”

Are you getting the theme here? Two of the states closest to “the problem” say there isn’t a problem.

Kevin Drum at MoJo gathered the El Paso statistics. He shows that Trump cherry-picked the data, looking at 2005-2009. There was a spike from 400 crimes/100,000 people in 2005 to 450 crimes/100,000 people in 2008. Here is a chart showing the same statistics from 1993 to 2013:

Do you see the big reduction that came with the Wall? The Wall had almost no effect on crime in El Paso. It’s also important to remember that crime rates have come down throughout the US since the 1980’s.

The most damning fact about crime on the southern border is that it is way down. American Progress reports that:

  • Border cities are among the nation’s safest: Phoenix and other large border (and near-border) cities have some of the nation’s lowest crime rates, including San Diego, El Paso, and Austin
  • Border counties have low violent crime rates: Counties along the southwest border have some of the lowest rates of violent crime per capita in the nation. Their rates have dropped by more than 30% since the 1990s.
  • There’s no evidence of “spillover” of violence from Mexico: El Paso, Texas, has three bridges leading directly into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city which has suffered a significant percentage of the national death toll brought on by the Mexican war on drug cartels, which approaches 23,000 today.
  • El Paso experienced only 12 murders in 2009, which was actually down from 17 in 2008. San Diego, California saw 41 murders in 2009, down from 55 in 2008, and Tucson, Arizona experienced 35 in 2009 a significant decrease from the 65 murders committed in 2008.

We should remember that Trump is from Queens, an outer borough of New York City. He lived there during the 1970s and 1980s, so he knows first-hand what living in a high crime city feels like. He also knows that the high crime he (and Wrongo) experienced, wasn’t caused by immigrants. That was when the Guardian Angels were founded in NYC. Trump lived there the whole time, he probably even took the subway.

His argument is false, and is clearly purely political. He’s playing to the fears of those suburbanites too intimidated to visit NYC, even if they live less than 25 miles away. His audience is suburbanites in the Midwest and Northern states.

These same people believe European cities like London and Paris are full of Muslim “no-go” zones. You can show them evidence that those cities are safer than their own suburbs, but that’s not the point.

Maybe “safe” really means “white”, so any place with too many non-whites is just too dangerous.

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SOTU: Boring Like the Super Bowl, But Without the Snacks and Beer

The Daily Escape:

The sleeping kid is Joshua Trump. He was bullied for sharing the same last name as, you know. The kid is one Trump who has already mastered “Executive Time”.

 Young Trump kinda sums up the SOTU, along with this:

Certainly looks like an “FU” clap from Nancy Smash. Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times/Getty Images

Wrongo thinks the best part of the 1 ½ hour Trumpshow were the shout outs to people in the audience. They took up about 1/3 of the time, and provided some interest, even if most were ham-handed efforts to represent administration policy. These introductions of citizens in the SOTU audience have been around since Ronald Reagan in 1982, and usually give us a bit of a break from the eternal SOTU spewing.

Other than that? Vox makes a good point:

“There were two truly well-done sections of the speech. One was the troll of the Democrats present around the divisive term ‘socialism.’ The other was a series of moments on the stories of Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans.”

Most of the speech was either recycled campaign themes from 2016, or possible 2020 themes being screen-tested for the Republican faithful. Republicans in the room were very happy to see that Dems wouldn’t clap for the war on abortion, or for Trump’s pledge that America would never be a socialist country.

Wrongo thought that Trump’s review of the economy was effective. It is surprising that he doesn’t reference America’s late-stage economic recovery from the Great Recession more often. That, along with abortion, marauding immigrants, and socialism are setting the stage for what we can expect from Republicans over the next two years.

Why did Trump threaten Democrats about investigations? He said:

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!”

He’s saying that he will obstruct legislation unless Democrats stand down on investigating him. Fat chance. He also said this:

“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations…”

Nobody should threaten America’s economy for personal reasons. That prompted some boos from Democrats. Even Republicans greeted Trump’s threat to economy with near-silence. And the GOP weren’t totally craven yes boys for Trump elsewhere in the speech. The part about trade was poorly received by GOP members. The part about pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Syria was also met with near-silence.

Nancy Pelosi said afterwards that even though Trump spoke of the honor of being in the House chamber to deliver the State of the Union:

“He threatened the United States Congress not to exercise its constitutional responsibility of oversight.”

The SOTU was as boring as Sunday’s Super Bowl, but without the uncertainty of knowing who would win or lose.

Even before Trump opened his mouth at the SOTU, it was clear that America would be the loser.

 

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Saturday Soother – February 2, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hoggar National Park, Algeria – 2015 photo by Amri Mohammed

The blog Political Violence @ a Glance posted an article, “Three Lessons from the History of Foreign-Imposed Regime Change” by Melissa Willard-Foster, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Vermont.

She puts the Trump Administration’s support of Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, in perspective. Despite the fact that while Trump was running for president, he promised to “stop racing to topple foreign regimes,” he’s now saying Venezuela’s president Maduro must go.

According to Willard-Foster, there is a long tradition by American presidents of attempting Foreign-Imposed Regime Change, or FIRC. She lays out three FIRC lessons from our history:

Lesson #1

The more fragile a leader’s political power is, the less likely that leader will cave in to foreign pressure. Weak leaders are difficult to coerce. If a foreign power demands change, the more the incumbent fears an attack by domestic enemies. The incumbent becomes very difficult to coerce.

But politically weak leaders often seem relatively easy to overthrow, and their domestic enemies are more than happy to help the foreign power take them out. Willard-Foster’s research shows that the probability of FIRC rises by 112% for leaders with at least two predecessors taken out by a coup, or rebellion in the past ten years.

Lesson #2

America’s overthrow of Panama’s Manuel Noriega demonstrates what happens when the domestic politics in the foreign power’s country make it politically feasible for the foreign power to take military action. Like Maduro in Venezuela, Noriega railed against US imperialism and broke off relations with the US. When crises escalate, a single incident can lead to military action, and that happened in Panama. When a US service member died in December 1989 after an encounter with Noriega’s forces, the Bush administration had the domestic political cover it needed. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell, made the case for intervention. He argued: (brackets by Wrongo)

“There will be a few dozen casualties if we go [in]…If we don’t go, there will be a few dozen casualties over the next few weeks, and we’ll still have Noriega.”

The US decided that coercing Noriega wasn’t changing anything, but regime change by force could.

The risk of a US military escalation may explain why Maduro offered to negotiate with the opposition—he wants to avoid giving Trump justification for military force.

Lesson #3

The third lesson from the history of FIRC is that no matter how disastrous the last FIRC attempt was, policymakers still believe it will work this time. From Willard-Foster:

Whatever approach failed last is usually what policymakers avoid the next time. When George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton’s indirect approach to toppling Saddam Hussein failed, George W. Bush capitalized on the post 9/11 public mood for war to launch an invasion. The lesson Obama drew from the costly Iraq occupation was to avoid using troops to oust Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. The fallout in Libya then convinced Obama to avoid using military force in Syria, where he reluctantly funded the Syrian opposition.

Trump’s current Venezuelan approach is an indirect strategy, relying on economic and diplomatic pressure. Whether Maduro stays in power largely depends on the Venezuelan military. If Russia and China can blunt Trump’s economic pressure, Maduro may keep the military’s loyalty.

If China and Russia succeed in propping up Venezuela’s economy, Trump will have two options: Continue calling for regime change, while doing nothing about it, (as he’s doing with Iran) or employ military force. If protests grow, this will suggest Maduro’s position is weakening, which could cause Maduro to lash out, and possibly provide political cover for Trump choosing military force.

In supporting Guaidó, it’s unclear what path Trump will take. If, like Noriega, Maduro believes caving in to US demands will imperil his political (and personal survival), he’ll dig in.

But, a weakened Maduro appears, and still digs in further, the more likely it becomes that Trump will continue the tradition of forcibly toppling foreign regimes.

Time to move on from another week of “All Trump, all the time” to the anticipation of gorging ourselves during the halftime show of Sunday’s Super Bowl. You need to prepare for the chili, nachos, dips, chips and alcohol by relaxing today with a Saturday Soother.

Start by brewing up a strong cup of Honduras Las Flores Parainema ($22/12oz.). It is sourced by the Brooklyn NY-based Café Grumpy, an aptly-named vendor for our times.

Now settle back in a comfy chair, and take a few minutes to listen to Sarah Chang play Elgar’s888 composition, “Salut d’Amour, Op.12”, accompanied by Andrew von Oeyen, on piano. Chang is American, born in US, and raised in New Jersey:

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

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Intelligence Chiefs Contradict Trump

The Daily Escape:

Edworthy Falls, Elbow Pass, Kananaskis, Alberta, CN – 2018 photo by sluis0717

Just when Wrongo was beginning to think we would make it to 2020 alive and in one piece, testimony by the US Intelligence Chiefs had quite a bit to say about how the world could still blow up. This from Booman: (Brackets by Wrongo)

“In a written report and [subsequent] congressional testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, the senior members of the United States intelligence community had some interesting things to say. The most important arguments they made directly contradicted their boss, the president.”

They said that North Korea is unlikely to give up their nuclear program, and that Iran is not currently pursuing their nuclear program. Trump is holding a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late February. Last week, Trump said that the two sides are making progress in efforts to fully denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

The Intelligence Chiefs assess that Russia will continue to interfere in our politics and our elections. They think that ISIS is far from defeated. They reiterated what a report released to Congress last week by the Pentagon said, that climate change is a national security threat.

Now, the intelligence community doesn’t always get it right, but Trump is on the opposite side of each of these assertions. More from Booman:

“We’re supposed to have a chief executive and commander in chief who is a customer for this kind of intelligence. Our president is supposed to be the primary customer for these types of assessments.  But that’s not the situation we have in this country right now. At the moment, our president has taken public positions contrary to every one of the assessments…and he’s simply not interested in contrary evidence. He is certainly not interested in being contradicted.”

It’s a huge problem when Trump, who makes the final decisions on what we’re doing geopolitically, is fact-free when it comes to threats to our security. Fortunately, the Intelligence Chiefs seem willing to provide honest threat assessments, and testify about them before Congress.

But, there are people within the administration who support whatever Trump wants. Some are even willing to slant the information they provide to the press and to Congress if it supports the president’s stated position. Trump’s position has been that disruption is at the heart of his geopolitics.

In just the past few weeks, we’ve gotten quite a few things wrong. (h/t Arms Control Wonk)

  • On December 6th, the United Nations General Assembly rejected a US resolution to condemn the Islamic militant group Hamas for violence against Israel. The embarrassing vote, which required a two-thirds majority, was 87 in favor to 58 opposed, with 32 abstentions.
  • On December 12th, Secretary of State Pompeo blasted Iran at the UN Security Council and received no support from US allies for walking away from the nuclear deal. In fact, US allies Britain, France and Germany praised Iran for holding up its end of the bargain.
  • On December 21st, the US barely rounded up more votes than Russia on a Russian resolution at the UN calling for the preservation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The vote was 46 against to 43 in favor, with 78 abstentions.
  • On January 10th, Pompeo, speaking in Cairo, declared, “Let me be clear, America will not retreat until the terror fight is over.” The next day, the front-page headline in the New York Times was “U.S. Begins Syria Withdrawal, Amid Uncertainty Over Strategy.”
  • On January 14th, en route to Saudi Arabia, Pompeo declared he was “confident” and “optimistic” that he was nearing a deal with Turkey on a mutually agreeable exit plan from Syria. Later, Trump tweeted that he would “devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds.”

On January 22nd Pompeo spoke to the assembled billionaires at Davos:

“Is this pattern of disruption a force for good or not? I’d argue this disruption is a positive development.”

Most of us would say that’s crazy talk.

The Intelligence Chiefs have done everything except sound an air raid siren about this administration’s foreign policy bungling. There’s no indication that the Senate Republicans have mustered the gumption to act on their alarm.

And now, John Bolton tells everybody that Trump wants to send 5,000 troops to Columbia as part of its failing Venezuela strategy.

In another ominous sign, Pompeo added Elliott Abrams, a neocon who was an actor in the Iran-Contra mess, as a Trump administration special envoy overseeing policy toward Venezuela. Maybe you remember that Abrams was pardoned for his Iran-Contra role.

Just two more neocons, completely lacking in principle, but flush with Trump’s authority to disrupt another part of the world.

Read the report, and then think about how it squares with Trump’s policy.

You’ll agree that this will all end perfectly.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 27, 2019

It took LaGuardia Airport being closed for about an hour before Trump and the GOP crumbled on the government shutdown. Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave to see that the Air Traffic Controllers union that he once busted rise up again, and change policy in DC.

Pelosi made Trump cave:

An ancient artifact blocks entrance to Capitol:

It was indeed a great fall:

The bar has been lowered:

The herd is heading to Iowa and New Hampshire:

Davos: Where the rich and the insincere act like something other than profits is important:

Trump’s buddy Roger Stone desperately acts as if all is well:

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Who Will Blink First?

The Daily Escape:

Maui, 2013 – photo by Wrongo

Sometimes you get the right person for the job:

“Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday she will block President Trump from delivering the State of the Union address in the House chamber on Jan. 29. In a letter to Trump, Pelosi said she would not move forward with the legislative steps needed for the address to take place:

‘The House of Representatives will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the president’s State of the Union address in the House chamber until government has opened,’ she wrote.

Pelosi’s move comes just hours after Trump informed her in a letter that he would move ahead and deliver the address at the Capitol on that date, essentially daring the Speaker to scrap his plans.”

This is why the election of House Speaker truly mattered. Dems should have assumed that whoever got the job would be immediately tested by Trump. When some Dems moved to replace Pelosi in December, the possible shutdown and test of a new Speaker was on the horizon. If another Democrat had been elected Speaker, don’t you think Trump would have already gotten his Wall money?

Someone’s gonna blink, and soon. Trump’s support looks like it’s beginning to crack:

“Overall, 34% of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance in a survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That’s down from 42% a month earlier and nears the lowest mark of his two-year presidency. The president’s approval among Republicans remains close to 80%, but his standing with independents is among its lowest points of his time in office.”

Trump has similar numbers in the latest CBS poll:

“Seven in 10 Americans don’t think the issue of a border wall is worth a government shutdown, which they say is now having a negative impact on the country….Among Americans overall, and including independents, more want to see Mr. Trump give up wall funding than prefer the congressional Democrats agree to wall funding. Comparably more Americans feel House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is handling negotiations better than the president is so far.

Republicans are more divided than Democrats are on whether the shutdown is worth it.”

As we’ve said in the past, $5.7 billion is not a lot of money, but it’s always been about more than just the money. If Democrats cave in now, particularly when public opinion supports them, it would reward Trump’s tactic of taking hostages. He would gladly bring more pain any time he wanted something, and he wouldn’t care who, or what he took hostage.

But there are other insights to why Trump may persist with the shutdown despite poor polls. Sarah Kendzior said this on Twitter: (emphasis by Wrongo)

”The Trump camp is not worried about public approval, because they’re not worried about losing elections, because they don’t plan on having free or fair elections. This is an acceleration of the move toward authoritarianism….The shutdown is a hostile restructuring…Mueller will not save you…We are being ruled by a coalition of corruption, a burden we as ordinary citizens all share but none deserve. The shutdown is not about Trump knowing too little about how government works, but about his team of GOP operatives and outside advisors knowing too much.”

Perhaps Kendzior is correct, but more likely, Trump is learning that the Art of the Deal doesn’t work when the other side has roughly equal power. He hasn’t caused Democrats to blink, if fact they seem more united than ever.

He hasn’t “won” anything with China. So far, they’ve had alternative solutions to keep trade flowing. He certainly hasn’t “won” his war of words with Nancy Pelosi.

But someone will blink, and possibly, soon. The GOP is asking for concessions when they ought to be offering them.

Thursday’s votes in the Senate will tell us nearly nothing, but since Schumer and McConnell had to agree that both votes would happen, maybe they point to an evolving position that 60 Senators and Pelosi can support.

Most likely, Pelosi will offer an alternative after the Senate votes, something that possibly could get 60 votes in the Senate.

Maybe Trump will console himself with a military action in Venezuela. He launched an attempt to kick President Maduro out of office by recognizing the opposition leader as interim president. Maduro responded by telling our diplomats to leave within 72 hours. The US replied that our diplomats will not leave simply because the elected president of Venezuela (that we no longer recognize as legitimate) has asked them to.

Going to war in the middle of a government shutdown: what could go wrong?

Someone will blink. The bet here is that it will be Senate Republicans who will prevail upon Trump to back down, and support whatever compromise can garner sufficient votes in the House and Senate.

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Bolton Hijacks US Middle East Policy

The Daily Escape:

Spice market, Grand Bazaar, Istanbul – 2013 photo by Wrongo

The struggle between the neocons and Trump over control of foreign policy has become ridiculous. The WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum reported on Sunday that John Bolton asked the Pentagon to provide military options to strike Iran:

The request, which hasn’t been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the US Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells—launched by a group aligned with Iran—landed in an open lot and harmed no one.

Bolton’s team held a series of meetings to discuss a forceful American response. Their request triggered alarm. The WSJ reported:

People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.

More:

The Pentagon complied with the National Security Council’s request to develop options for striking Iran, the officials said. But it isn’t clear….whether Mr. Trump knew of the request or whether serious plans for a US strike against Iran took shape at that time.

If that isn’t serious enough, the WSJ reported:

Alongside the requests in regards to Iran, the National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with options to respond with strikes in Iraq and Syria as well.

Anyone surprised that someone like Bolton, with his neocon bone fides wants war with Iran? Since Bolton took his post last April, the Trump administration has been more confrontational with Iran. Some will say that the Pentagon already has detailed plans drawn up for a strike against Iran, and that this is completely routine for our military.

That may be true, but a request from the White House is a different matter. Bullies love to taunt the weak, but Iran isn’t weak. The Iranian military wouldn’t be the pushover for us that the Iraq army was. They are much better equipped, motivated and have a healthy stock of air defense missiles.

And where is our strategy? Once you send a few bombs into Iran, you’ve started a war, and you never know where it will go. Suppose the Iranians consider (probably correctly) that it was Israel’s influence on the Trump administration that led to the US attack.

And they launch a few missiles at Israel. What would happen next? Would Hezbollah again move against Israel too? If the US attacks Iran, then there is no reason whatsoever for Iran not to attack the various US military units scattered around the Middle East in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

And who would the Russians side with? If Russia intervenes, is the US prepared to lose an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean?

Finally, how would the conflict end? Iran can’t be occupied by the US, and there isn’t a significant loyal Iranian opposition to back.

Surely even Trump must realize that Bolton’s idea is lunacy squared. It would be a major ME escalation, with Trump’s name all over it. It would sink his 2020 chances. How would he justify his response to a few mortars that landed in a car park? How would he justify the certain loss of American lives?

We have to be thankful that Trump didn’t authorize military strikes against Iran, but it is time to revisit our alliances and policies in the ME.

We back our loyal ally Saudi Arabia, and have made Iran our enemy. But let’s compare these two countries: Would you believe that Iran has a Jewish population that feel safe there, and has no interest in living in Israel?

In Saudi Arabia, if you renounce Islam, it can be a death sentence, as we saw with the Saudi young woman who sought asylum in Canada.

Women have careers in Iran, and can drive cars. In fact, there’s a female owned and operated taxi company in Tehran with 700 female drivers. Women in Saudi Arabia have few freedoms.

Iran has taken in refugees from the recent ME wars. Saudi Arabia has taken virtually none from Syria or Yemen, where they are perpetuating a humanitarian nightmare.

Iran is a multicultural country. Saudi Arabia is a medieval monarchy that has been exporting the most extreme version of Islam (Wahhabism) around the world, fueled by their oil money. Many of the jihadis in the past few decades can be traced to Saudi’s Wahhabi teachings.

If you have a choice, and you will in 2020, which country sounds like a more attractive ally for the US?

When are we going to stop our failed “Assad must go”; “Gadhafi must go”; “Saddam must go”; and “Mubarak must go” foreign policy?

We shouldn’t even be thinking about bombing Iran.

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