The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump’s Cabinet Moves Signal Danger Ahead

The Daily Escape:

Impalas sharing a drink – Via

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

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

Unless we exhume and reinstate Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are the voices against this?


Saturday Soother – March 10, 2018

(The northeast is digging out from two nor’easters, with another possible on Monday or Tuesday. The Wrong family will return from FL into the middle of all that on Sunday. Sunday Cartoon Blogging will be published on Monday, March 12th)

The Daily Escape:

Harbin Opera House, winter. Harbin, China – 2015 photo by Iwan Baan

Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un have stopped trading insults and seem to be willing to meet face-to-face, sometime in May. No sitting American president has ever met a North Korean leader, and Trump has repeatedly vowed that he would not commit the error of his predecessors: Being drawn into a protracted negotiation in which North Korea extracted concessions from the US, but held on to key elements of its nuclear program.

The setup is this: Trump says “they are only talking because we threatened them.” Kim says “they are only talking because we have nukes.”

Both leaders bring their unique orthodoxy to the negotiating table.

It’s pretty clear that South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, has been doing a lot of work behind the scenes to help bring this about. It is unclear whether it has been with, or without, the blessing of Washington.

We know for sure that Mike Pence had nothing to do with it.

In Wrongo’s experience, the South Koreans are very skillful negotiators, and Trump must expect that the North Koreans are as well. In particular, the North Koreans have proved to be quite skillful in the past at subverting the very deals that they have agreed to and signed with the West.

Is Kim Jong-un really willing to give up his nuclear program for a deal from a man whose proven to be an unreliable negotiating partner with his allies, much less his adversaries? If something seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t. If talks fail, both will have made their going-in position, that the other side can’t be trusted, justify their desire for a belligerent show of force going forward. They may both think there is nothing to lose by meeting.

If Trump can somehow defuse the threat from North Korea, he should get all of the credit that this achievement deserves. But, it really seems that these two are unlikely to achieve very much. Still, only the most cynical would say we shouldn’t “give peace a chance”, no matter how slim the odds of success may be.

So, there’s a calming diplomatic note at the end of the week. Time to continue the soothing for the weekend. To help with that, grind up some Panama Hacienda La Esmeralda coffee beans ($45/8 oz.) from Portland, OR-based Heart Roasters. Then brew a cup, noticing its notes of orange, vanilla, honey, and jasmine. With Heart’s Coffee, the company says it is easy to get the brewed coffee’s tasting notes. Soon, you’ll be saying things like, “I really taste the vanilla notes”.

Now, settle back in a comfy chair and listen to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”, performed by Karl Richter in 1969 on the 1766 Riepp organ at Ottobeuren Monastery, Germany. You will notice that Richter is playing from memory. An assistant is there to pull out the stops, as the piece requires too much with hands and feet to also pull stops without interrupting the music. You should watch the video simply to see Richter’s footwork:

Some may know the music as the opening title sequence from the 1975 movie, “Rollerball”. The film is set in 2018. The world is governed by global corporations, with entities such as the Energy Corporation, a global energy monopoly based in Houston. The corporations control access to all transport, luxury, housing, communication, and food. Rollerball is a game, and Rollerball teams represent cities, and are owned by the global corporations. The Energy Corporation, describes Rollerball as having a “distinct social purpose”: To show the futility of individual effort.

Think you see some parallels to the real 2018?

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


Monday Wake Up Call – February 19, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Gun Protest on Sunday in Ft. Lauderdale FL.

Trump linked two events last week, the shooting in Parkland, FL, and the Mueller indictments of 13 Russians for meddling in our election process, failing at both.

First, the Muller investigation. Trump suggested Saturday that the FBI failed to stop the Florida school shooting because it’s spending too much time on the Russia investigation:

We can agree that the FBI was derelict in investigating the tip about Nikolas Cruz. However, we can’t say that the Parkland shooting, or any other for that matter, could have been stopped. The Feds can’t foresee the future. This was another Trump ploy to discredit the FBI and the Mueller investigation as its work begins to bite deeply into the issues it was formed to investigate.

Trump tweeted on Sunday that the investigations into Russian meddling are creating chaos and divisions in the US. He said: “They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!”

On Sunday, David Frum said this in the Atlantic: (emphasis by Wrongo)

It’s worth thinking about what a patriotic president would have done in Trump’s situation. He would be leading the investigation himself. He would be scouring his own campaign—doing everything in his power to reassure the country that whatever the Russians may or may not have done, his government owed Putin nothing… Above all, he would be leading the demand for changes to election laws and practices, including holding Facebook to account for its negligence.

Why are Trump’s reactions so off the mark? Why is The Donald so defensive about something that is of ultimate importance, the integrity of our election process? Shouldn’t that be of great interest to anyone who has sworn to defend the Constitution?

Second, students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School rallied in southern Florida to protest how the lack of gun regulations affects their lives. One student, Emma Gonzales, told the crowd:

In February of 2017, one year ago, President Trump repealed an Obama-era regulation that would have made it easier to block the sale of firearms to people with certain mental illnesses…Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa was the sole sponsor on this bill that stops the FBI from performing background checks on people adjudicated to be mentally ill and now he’s stating for the record, ‘Well, it’s a shame the FBI isn’t doing background checks on these mentally ill people.‘ Well, duh. You took that opportunity away last year.

Here’s what Grassley actually said after the Florida shootings:

We have not done a very good job of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun getting their name into the FBI files and we need to concentrate on that.

Grassley twists himself into a pretzel, trying to blame the FBI for what Grassley himself did. Who has these ethics?

Another Parkland student, Cameron Kasky, told CNN that many Republicans are only concerned with things like weddings cakes at same-sex weddings:

There is a segment of this society that will shrug this off and send their thoughts and prayers but march for hours over a rainbow wedding cake…

High school kids in Florida are standing up to the President and the Congress. Teenagers are unerring in calling out hypocrisy. Their tolerance for it is lower than that of adults, too. This may be the stone that starts the landslide against the Second Amendment absolutists in Washington. Let’s hope so.

Time to help those Florida teens wake up Trump and Congress. Wake them up to the need to ban assault weapons. To have background checks for all gun buyers, to have liability insurance for every gun owned. To help them wake up, here is Pearl Jam with “Jeremy” from their 1991 debut album “Ten”. The song was inspired by a newspaper article Eddie Vedder read about a high school student who shot himself in front of his English class:

Sample Lyric:

Dead lay in pools of maroon below
Daddy didn’t give attention
To the fact that mommy didn’t care
King Jeremy the wicked
Ruled his world

Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in class today
Clearly I remember
Pickin’ on the boy

Seemed a harmless little fuck
But we unleashed a lion

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


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 18, 2018

Friday brought Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for “information warfare against the United States of America“. The best part was that the special counsel’s work was totally under the radar, and there were zero leaks.

And thus far, nobody on the right is claiming Mueller’s indictments are “fake news”.

One interesting takeaway was that Russian cells were formed to establish phony Facebook, Twitter and other accounts that pushed divisive politics in the US. We already knew this, but we didn’t know specifics: At one point, a supposed Islamophobic group protested outside a Texas mosque, and it was met by a pro-Muslim counter-demonstration. Both demonstrations were called for by fake Russian sites. These sites eventually had hundreds of thousands of followers. They spread false memes, including that Clinton supported Sharia law.

Russian sites that were disguised as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement argued that African-Americans should not vote. While it is impossible to show cause and effect, Clinton underperformed with Black voters.

The jury is still out on the extent of Russian influence, and we may never know if it mattered. Still, it is way past time for the Democratic Party to own up to its own failures, rather than continually blaming the Russians, Bernie Sanders, the Green Party, or the deplorables.

After Mueller indictments, Trump and friends now have some ‘splaining to do:

Mitch, Paul and the rest of the GOP think they have zero responsibility for gun violence:

The issue is always the guns:

American Exceptionalism was on display again last week:

Pledge of Allegiance needs new words:

Blockbuster Black Panther movie may help beyond entertaining us:


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.


The Countries Arrayed Against Us in Afghanistan

The Daily Escape:

Gas crater in Turkmenistan. It has been burning since the 1970s when Soviet engineers accidentally collapsed it while exploring for gas. The escaping methane was lit to avoid poisoning nearby villages. It has been burning ever since. Photo by Amos Chapple

Afghanistan has been burning for about as long as that gas crater. We are now ramping up our commitment to the Afghans by shifting military resources from Iraq and Syria back to Afghanistan.

On one hand, our presence makes it very difficult for the Taliban to win. They don’t have an air force, or anti-aircraft weapons. The Afghan Army is better trained than before, and they greatly outnumber their opposition.

On the other hand, the Afghan government can’t win; 40% (or more) of the country’s rural districts are under the Taliban’s control. They are active in other parts of the country. Government corruption remains rampant, and there’s a constitutional crisis in Kabul that’s been going on for three and a half years.

But let’s talk about the countries that are arrayed against Afghanistan. Iran, Pakistan, and Russia, all of which share common borders with Afghanistan, and all of which would be quite happy to see the US fail in its 16-year long war, are working with the Taliban.  According to Carlotta Gall in the NYT:

Iran…is providing local Taliban insurgents with weapons, money and training. It has offered Taliban commanders sanctuary and fuel for their trucks. It has padded Taliban ranks by recruiting among Afghan Sunni refugees in Iran, according to Afghan and Western officials.

Ms. Gall quotes Javed Kohistani, a military analyst based in Kabul:

Having American forces fight long and costly wars that unseated Iran’s primary enemies has served Tehran’s interests just fine. But by now, the Americans and their allies have outlasted their usefulness, and Iran is pursuing a strategy of death by a thousand cuts to drain them and cost them a lot.

So, Iran is thinking strategically. They have outmaneuvered us in Iraq, and in Syria. And they are siding with the Taliban against us in our biggest bet in the Middle East.

They are not alone. Russia now supports the Taliban. They are backing them in regions where the US is carrying out airstrikes. Their initiative reflects Moscow’s concerns that Afghanistan might become a new staging ground for Central Asian jihadis pushed out of Syria and Iraq after the defeat of ISIS. Moscow thinks that scenario could threaten its own security.

Also, Russia is trying to build an international consensus around direct engagement by major countries with the Taliban. This from the WaPo:

Russian policymakers support engagement with Taliban factions that support a diplomatic settlement in Afghanistan, while eschewing factions that seek to destabilize the war-torn country. Moscow’s selective engagement strategy toward the Taliban contrasts markedly with Washington’s historical resistance to engagement with the Afghan militant group.

Russians are inserting themselves in Afghanistan following their very successful intervention in Syria. Russia’s approach could increase its status as a counterweight to US influence in the Middle East.

Finally, Pakistan has long been recognized as a safe harbor for the Taliban. We have long believed that there is no way we can seal the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, so Taliban troops are free to leave the battle and return to relative safety in Pakistan. Our strategic concern has been to balance the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands, against the chance that our desire to crack down on their safe havens for the Taliban will alienate them.

The Taliban is undefeated mostly because Pakistan gives it support and sanctuary. The Trump administration has told Pakistan that it will no longer tolerate them providing the Taliban with a safe haven, but whether it changes anything on the ground remains to be seen.

We have an array of strong competitors who share borders with Afghanistan, all of whom want us to lose. And Afghanistan is a bad hand for nation-building: Over 50% of the population is under 19, and 39% are impoverished.

That’s a lot of young, impressionable kids with nothing to lose, and every reason to earn a living through illicit means, or by joining an insurgency. And Afghanistan’s population is growing faster than its economy. When the US invaded in 2001, the population was approximately 21 million people; today it is 35 million.

For anyone hoping to disrupt the Taliban’s ability to recruit, this is very bad news. The Taliban’s opium trade accounts for 400,000 jobs alone. That’s more jobs than those that are employed by the Afghan National Army.

Again, we should insist that Trump and the Congress answer these questions:

Why are we there? What end state are we trying to bring about?


Trump’s Syria Policy Could Threaten NATO

The Daily Escape:

Swaziland street scene – 2012 photo by Wrongo

Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch” against Kurdish militias inside Syria on January 20. Reuters reports that Turkish artillery pounded Kurdish positions, while rockets fired from inside Syria hit two Turkish border towns, wounding dozens. More from Reuters:

Intense Turkish artillery fire and air strikes continued to hit some villages, the YPG said, while fierce battles raged to the north and west of Afrin against Turkish forces and their rebel allies…

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey had informed the Syrian government of its military operation in Afrin with a written statement before the incursion was launched. Apparently, Moscow gave the green light to Ankara to commence Operation Olive Branch, and has moved Russian troops out of harm’s way in Afrin. From Stratfor:

The war in Syria should be ending. The Islamic State has lost all the territory it seized in 2014. The Syrian army, backed by Russia and Iran, has confined other anti-government rebels to besieged pockets in the south, on the eastern outskirts of Damascus and in the northwest. Opposition hopes of removing Syrian President Bashar al Assad have vanished. But the war refuses to die. It just takes new forms.

The new fighting is between Turkey and American surrogates. The US announced a post-Islamic State mission that would keep American advisers and their local surrogates in Syria for years to come. The mission calls for the US to train, arm and advise a 30,000-strong, mostly Kurdish border security force. The border that this force will secure is between Syria and Turkey.

Unsurprisingly, this didn’t sit well with Turkey’s president Erdogan, who pledged “to strangle it before it’s even born.” He moved Turkish military units to the border and launched artillery at Kurdish positions in their Syrian enclave of Afrin. Erdogan is a smart guy. He told members of parliament from his Justice and Development Party:

Hey, NATO! You are obliged to take a stance against those who harass and violate the borders of your members.”

Naturally, it’s Turkey’s borders that Erdogan wants NATO to protect from Kurdish militias. The US border security plan could tear NATO apart. Several European partners are unhappy with this latest move by the Trump administration. Importantly, this may commit the US to a long-term presence within a country that doesn’t want us there, and where we have no real strategic interest.

Erdogan’s incursion has received support from al Assad’s government, Russia, and Iran. They see the US plan as a pretext to keep a military presence in Syria, to deprive Syrian authorities control over large swaths of the country and gain some leverage over the war’s likely victors. Joshua Landis at the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies, wrote:

By controlling half of Syria’s energy resources, the Euphrates dam at Tabqa, as well as much of Syria’s best agricultural land, the US will be able to keep Syria poor and under-resourced…

Russia admonished the Kurds that their decision to put their faith in whatever US Central Command (CENTCOM, the controlling regional Defense Department command for Syria and the ME) has planned for them is a poor decision. And the US has already backtracked on their support for the Kurds in Afrin. CENTCOM has announced through a spokesperson, that the US will not continue to support them.

So, what’s the strategy? Both Russia and Iran can simply sit back and watch as Erdogan goes about crushing the US’s proxy (Kurdish militias) in northern Syria. And, they have nothing to lose if a nasty spat develops between the US and Turkey. On the other hand, if Turkey succeeds in vanquishing the Kurdish militia, US will have to vacate northern Syria, which would also be to the advantage of Russia and Iran.

It is hard to explain the Trump administration’s decision to keep the US military presence in Syria indefinitely, against the wishes of Damascus, Russia, Iran and Turkey. Tehran knows that if the US is forced to vacate Syria, it would mean the US-Israeli failure to block Iran from establishing the “Shia Crescent”.

Trump has delegated far too much autonomy to the Pentagon. The White House is focused domestically, or otherwise engaged in infighting, and Trump doesn’t have the interest, or expertise to provide leadership in the region.

Despite all Trump’s campaign rhetoric, his ME policy will only lead to further US humiliation in the region. The US needs a Metternich.

Instead, we’ve got Trump & Tillerson, sort of the “Abbott & Costello” of international affairs. Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon have been completely outplayed for the past year or two.

Sometimes you just have to get out of the way, and just take the shame/blame that’s coming to you.


Tillerson: We’re Staying In Syria

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a powder keg waiting to go off.

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


Wrongo’s 2018 Predictions

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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


How Wrong Were Wrongo’s 2017 Predictions?

Wrongo is not a futurist, or a stock-picker with mad skills. On January 2 2017 he made a series of predictions about the year to come. Let’s see how wrong he was:

  1. There will be more global political and social turmoil:
    1.  The EU could collapse: That didn’t happen, as Macron soundly defeated LePen. OTOH, Merkel barely survived her election and May lost badly in a wrongly-played attempt to gain a super majority in the UK. Wrongo gets a “D” in this prediction.
    2. China’s economy is wobbling: and it still is, but a command economy can create its own reality. Wrongo gets a “C”.
  2. The US will continue to lose influence globally despite “Mr. Unpredictable” becoming our Orange Overlord: Wrongo gets an “A”. From Western Europe to the Middle East and Asia, there is not a single example of where Trump has put America in a position of greater influence in the past year. Except for Israel: they plan to name a train station after him.  Think about it, what great man only gets a train station?
  3. Trump arrives in the Oval Office as an overconfident leader, the man with no plan but with a short attention span, and within six months he will have his first major policy failure: Was his first policy failure the immigration ban? The North Korea diplomatic fiasco? The multiple attempts to repeal Obamacare? Walking out of the Trade Agreement, giving China a free hand in Asia? Give Wrongo an “A”, except that Wrongo added:

This will make him more subdued, more conservative and less populist thereafter.

Trump was less subdued, less populist, and clearly more conservative as he played to his base. Give Wrongo a “B”.

4. The triumvirate of Russia/Turkey/Iran will elbow the US firmly out of the Fertile Crescent, and secure friendly regimes in Damascus and Baghdad. An easy “A”. Wrongo went on to say:

This will push American influence in the Middle East back to just the Gulf States, a weakened Saudi Arabia, and an increasingly isolated Israel.

A home run for Wrongo, but not for America.

  1. Domestically, drug abuse, suicide, and general self-destructive behavior will continue to climb and become impossible to ignore: Sadly, another “A”. Trump’s declaration of the opioid crisis as a “Health Emergency” was a public relations exercise with no plan about how to truly deal with the crisis. Wrongo also said:

The growing antibiotic resistance to main stream drugs will impact health in the US.

This is very true here, as well as globally. There is no political push to force drug companies to deal concretely with this issue.

6. The Trump stock market rally has already turned into the Santa Selloff:  Give Wrongo an “F” on this prediction. While the Dow closed 2016 at 19,719, we are looking to close 2017 above 24,000, up nearly 18% in the past year.

Meta Prediction: Some people who voted for Trump have incompatible outcomes in mind, so it’s a virtual guarantee that a sizable minority are going to feel cheated when they fail to get what they were promised: This was hard to get wrong, so give Wrongo a gentleman’s “C”. Wrongo went on to say:

OTOH, when Trump fails, most of his base will blame anyone but the Donald. The question is, when disillusionment sets in, will the reaction be a turning away, or a doubling down on the anger? Wrongo thinks anger will win out.

An easy “A”.

Here is the part of the prediction that was 100% spot on:

The coming Trump administration will seem like a fractious family outing: Just under half of the family (the “landslide” segment) wanted to take a ride, but now, the whole family has to go. Those who wanted to stay home will sulk in the back seat while Daddy tells them to shut up and stop bitching.

Meanwhile, once we are out of the driveway, it dawns on everyone that Daddy hasn’t decided yet where to go. Everyone pipes up with suggestions, but Daddy again tells everyone to shut up, because it’s his decision alone…Daddy won’t reveal the destination, but insists everyone will love it once they get there, even those who wanted to stay home, those who wanted to go to the beach, and those who wanted to head over the cliff like Thelma and Louise.

2018 predictions will come in the New Year.