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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – August 5, 2017

(Sunday Cartoons will appear on Monday as Wrongo is attending a family event on Saturday)

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Bromo volcano Java Indonesia, 2016 – photo by Reynold Riksa Dewantara

We flushed another week down the crapper. A few things to think about: At a rally in Huntington, WV, Donald Trump characterized the investigation into his campaign as a “total fabrication” and again demanded Hillary Clinton be investigated.

The US Secret Service couldn’t agree on a lease with the Trump Organization to keep a command post in Trump Tower in NYC, so they have moved to a trailer outside. Do ya think that Trump could call Trump and worked this thing out?

But, everyone is talking about Special Counsel Mueller’s convening of a Grand Jury. As important, the Senate blocked Trump from being able to make recess appointments while they are on their August break. This requires the agreement of every senator, so the Senate will be in session every three business days throughout the August recess. That means Trump can’t fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and/or Robert Mueller, and use the recess appointment process to appoint a successor without Senate confirmation of the appointment.

And Trump is going on vacay just like the Senate. The guy who once asked, “What’s the point?” about vacations, left on Friday for a 17-day vacation at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf resort. While he’s away, the White House will undertake a number of repairs, including replacing the heating and cooling system, and repairing steps on the South Portico.

Is that why Trump called the White House a dump?

Too much to think about, so let’s take a Saturday Soother break. Get yourself an iced La Colombe Pure Black Cold Brew coffee, sit in a cool dark room, and watch this video of a flash mob doing Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity“, the 4th movement from Holst’s “The Planets”. It is performed by the Berklee Contemporary Symphonic Orchestra (BCSO) in November 2016 at Boston’s Prudential Center:

Why doesn’t this happen when Wrongo is at the mall?

To cap off our Saturday shout-out to Gustav Holst, this same movement of Holst’s “The Planets” was also used to set the following poem by Sir Cecil Spring Rice to music, and is a hymn to Britain:

I Vow to Thee, My Country

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,

Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;

The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,

That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;

The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,

The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

 

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,

Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;

We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;

Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,

And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

 

It was sung at the funerals of Winston Churchill, Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher.

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 16, 2017

Trump just returned from France. French President Macron apparently became the “Trump Whisperer” while escorting His Orangeness around Paris, because nothing terrible happened. Trump returned to the incessant talk about who attended Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russians, what was discussed, and what Trump Sr. knew about it all. OTOH, Mitch McConnell tried to breathe new life into the GOP Health Insurance Plan.

Replacing Obamacare still is looking mean:

 

One insurance option that never made it into the bill:

Putin said he would help Donny find the hackers:

People talk about the uncanny resemblance between Sr. and Jr.:

Baseball’s All-Star break gave the GOP an idea:

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Parsing the “Russia Hacked Our Democracy” Meme

The Daily Escape:

Kangaroos in a vineyard in Barossa Valley Australia, June 2017 – photo by David Gray

People can’t stop talking about the Donny/Vlad meeting in Hamburg, and the idea that Trump’s position regarding the potential Russian involvement in the 2016 election is: “Let’s move on”. Then, we learned that our new Syria strategy is driven by Russia and its plan for a cease fire.

But, Russia is the story of the Trump presidency. We learned over the weekend that Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian lawyers back in June of 2016. But, despite the continued news about meetings with the Russians, appearances don’t make the Trumps guilty. Mueller and his team will examine and understand the full extent of what the Russians did, and what they attempted to do. Only then will we determine if the Russians efforts had any effect.

There are two broad areas of potential Russian involvement to consider:

Interference in the electoral process: Russians attempt to manipulate domestic politics of many countries, including the US. We do the same. How serious is the threat? Political candidates already use a full array of tools and technologies to persuade voters toward specific social and political agendas. This persuasion effort is as old as humanity itself.

Whether tech-centric forms of propaganda, employing social media, fake news and data-mining techniques are effective remains to be proven. America has been engaged in exactly this sort of exercise in foreign lands for a long time, without significant (or lasting) success.

These technologies can only support ideas and feelings that are already out there. So, what was out there? Consider these:

  • Hillary’s emails threatening national security!
  • Dispensing contradictory, or conflicting, information like “Hillary Clinton is very sick”.
  • Using social connections to generate, or modify, beliefs, like “Trump is a successful executive who can fix the government”.

This type of information warfare is a lot like managing a stock portfolio. Hackers write small, diverse news stories and then wait to see what pays off. It is unclear that hackers were the tipping point in the election, and it is far from clear that the Russians were the sole party behind them. We don’t talk about the many countries that tried to influence our elections, including Saudi Arabia, China, Israel, and Ukraine. Is it more acceptable that the Saudi’s did it the “right” way, by donating massive amounts to their candidate’s campaign?

It is highly unlikely that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians regarding interference in the 2016 election.

Hacking into political databases: the “Russian hacking” stories are not just that Russians hacked the computers of US political operations including the DNC, but that the Russians have somehow delivered the election to Trump. Thus, the story morphed from “Russians infiltrated DNC computers,” to “Russians hacked our democracy.”

The first is both possible and probable, but the second is just wrong.

Hacking our democracy requires changing or destroying votes for one side in the presidential election, or suppressing voter turnout. Not even the Russians have the resources to pull off that feat. They may have preferred that Trump win, they may have done a few things, and Trump won, but that isn’t “hacked our democracy”.

Wrongo thinks it is probable that “Russian hacking” occurred. It is a serious story, but it needs to be placed in context. Yes, Russia has a political agenda. Yes, they use dirty tricks to influence political outcomes. Yes, this needs to be taken seriously. The problem is that once that is taken out of context, everything is reduced to political talking points. We are asked to choose between two absurd choices: Either Trump is a Russian stooge, or accusations against Trump are a baseless pack of lies.

The likely “truth” is that Russians were doing something, but what they did wasn’t material to the (relatively) close outcome of this election. This has been crowded out of serious discussion.

And who hacked us is still not definitively attributed: there are too many suspects with a motive, means, and opportunity. We can’t yet discount the possibility of domestic operatives (or disgruntled campaign workers) or political plants within campaigns doing mischief.

Sooner or later, we will figure out the definitive attribution for the hacks. And 2018 will bring new tools and techniques.

Who falls short may depend more on message, and less on technology.

Time for a tune. Here is Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit doing “Hope the High Road” (leads you home again):

Takeaway Lyric:

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 9, 2017

Pundits were all over the tube and Twitter after the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Hamburg Germany. They were yelling into the echo chamber, speaking about handshakes, the body language of the principals, and what the deeper meaning of each told us about the meeting.

What did it mean that Trump didn’t body-slam Putin about Crimea or US election meddling? What did it mean when they spoke for two and a quarter hours when the meeting was scheduled for 30 minutes?

Wrongo is glad that these two world leaders took the time, and then some, to talk to each other. He hopes they do so regularly. The world isn’t a better place when they are not talking, despite what pundits or politicians say.

On to cartoons. Trump is unaware of the irony in what he sometimes says:

The GOP is still searching for a health care bill that they can pass:

Hobby Lobby proves their true values aren’t truly Christian:

The Donny/Vlad meeting included chemistry:

The Donny/Vlad meeting included really tough talk:

 

 

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Can We Rein in North Korea?

The Daily Escape:

Pileated Woodpecker, Litchfield County Connecticut – photo by J Clery

On Independence Day, North Korea (NK) launched what looks to be its first intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of hitting Alaska. Pundits, including Wrongo have been saying that the US has no viable military option to blunt NK’s growing threat, because any attempt to do so would cause a brutal counterattack against South Korea that our military thinks is too bloody and damaging to risk.

Here is the NYT’s analysis: Nearly half of South Korea’s population lives within 50 miles of the Demilitarized Zone, including 10 million people in Seoul, its capital. NK has positioned 8,000 artillery cannons and rocket launchers on its side of the Demilitarized Zone, an arsenal capable of raining up to 300,000 rounds on the South in the first hour of a counterattack. That means it can inflict tremendous damage without resorting to weapons of mass destruction. The NYT quotes Robert E. Kelly a professor at South Korea’s Pusan University:

You have this massive agglomeration of everything that is important in South Korea — government, business and the huge population — and all of it is in this gigantic megalopolis that starts 30 miles from the border and ends 70 miles from the border… In terms of national security, it’s just nuts.

Not all of the NK’s weapons can reach Seoul. Most of its artillery has a range of three to six miles, but it has about 1,000 weapons that could hit Seoul, most hidden in caves and tunnels. But under a traditional artillery strategy, the North would never fire them all at once. Instead, it would hold some in reserve to avoid giving their positions away and to conserve munitions.

A study published by the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability in 2012, accounting for these and other factors such as population density, concluded that the initial hours of an artillery barrage by the North focused on military targets would result in nearly 3,000 fatalities, while one targeting civilians would kill nearly 30,000 people. That’s without NK using any of its small nuclear weapons.

Regardless of how this plays out, unless there is a durable peace, it will end very badly for South Korea.

So, America has few strategic options, and none have a high probability of success. Questions remain about whether the North can miniaturize a nuclear weapon to fit within an ICBM missile nosecone, or if it has mastered the technology needed to survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Trump thought he could count on China to rein in NK, but that isn’t occurring. Trump held out hope that China would see that a nuclear-armed North Korea isn’t in its interests. But Beijing’s behavior suggests that it hopes the North Korean nuclear threat can be used to drive the US out of North Asia.

China remains very sensitive about what happened in Korea in 1950, when US forces moved into NK stopping at the Yalu River that marks the NK-Chinese border. The Chinese lost close to a million men repulsing that invasion. That was only 67 years ago, a blink in China’s history.

Trump now has some hard decisions to make. More sanctions could increase the pressure on the Kim regime, but NK is already the most-sanctioned nation, and they haven’t worked so far to disarm the North.

We shouldn’t rule out a pre-emptive US attack, but there is a risk of a nuclear counterstrike on South Korea (and/or Japan) should even one NK nuclear missile survive.

We can return to the negotiating table, but three US administrations have tried that, and failed. The NK freeze might be phony, and if the NK demands were not being met, they could leave the table and resume weapons development like they have in the past.

We can work for regime change, but there is no guarantee that what comes next will be easier to work with. And our track record with regime change is terrible.

We can work for reunification of the two Koreas, and let them get on with partaking in the Asian Century. The story would become less about US needs or perceptions of the North. We would have to admit that we are not competent to control the history of this region.

Let’s see what the world’s greatest negotiator, he who alone can fix things, the smartest man with the highest IQ, comes up with. So far all he has done is what he always does, pass the blame. In this case, its China’s fault. Thinking that China will help is a dream; they love the situation we are in.

NK will not become another Iran, with a 20-year freeze on nuclear weapons development. Time to think Reunification.

Here is a nuclear musical interlude with Randy Newman’s “Political Science” from 1972:

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

Takeaway lyric:

We give them money, but are they grateful?
No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful
They don’t respect us, so let’s surprise them
We’ll drop the big one, pulverize them

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The US/Russian Confrontation in Syria

The Daily Escape:

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, 2016 – photo by Wrongo

They told Wrongo that if he voted for Hillary, we’d be at war in Syria. He voted for Hillary, and sure enough, looks like we could get into a war with Syria! Particularly after this:

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet from Carrier Air Wing 8 on board the USS George Bush shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 ground attack aircraft near Raqqa, Syria after the aircraft struck ground troops in Ja-Din, south of Tabqah, near Raqqa.

According to most sources it is the first time a U.S. combat aircraft has shot down a manned enemy aircraft in aerial combat in nine years.

The pro-Assad regime Syrian Su-22 that was downed had attacked Syrian Democratic Forces aligned with the U.S. led coalition and inflicted casualties on the friendly forces as they were driving south of Tabqah before it was intercepted.

Russia was displeased. They announced that they could possibly shoot down any US air craft operating in western Syria:

In the combat mission zones of the Russian aviation in the air space of Syria, all kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.

Treating US and allied planes as “targets” does not mean the Russians will shoot at them. What they’re saying is that they will track the planes as they would track any target, they will send their own planes to observe the targets, and possibly escort the targets out of the area.

This gets tricky: what happens if the “target” refuses to be escorted away? Do the Russians then shoot at the target? They haven’t said. But until they do start shooting, we’re not in a hot war. We’ve just moved a step closer to one possibly occurring soon.

And this would be the most dangerous confrontation between the US and Russia since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Wrongo remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis very well. He was in college. We sat around thinking that DC (where we lived) would be taken out by nuclear missiles launched by the Russkies.

This is one outcome of Trump’s outsourcing full control of military action on the ground to the generals.

One miscalculation, and Trump’s generals are making new foreign policy. Clemenceau was correct when he said that “war is too important to be left to the generals”. Who we decide to fight is one of our most important national decisions. From the American Conservative:

There has never been a Congressional vote authorizing US military operations in Syria against anyone, and there has been scant debate over any of the goals that the US claims to be pursuing there. The US launches attacks inside Syria with no legal authority from the UN or Congress, and it strains credulity that any of these operations have anything to do with individual or collective self-defense.

The US says we are in Syria to fight ISIS and evict them from Raqqa. But we have also been arming the Syrian opposition for at least three years. And we have been a party to the Syrian civil war for at least a year before that. But the underlying assumption, that it is in our interest to be fighting in Syria, has not been seriously questioned by most members of Congress.

Americans are so accustomed to fighting wars on foreign soil that we barely notice that the policy has never really been debated or put to a vote. If this Syrian confrontation leads us into a larger conflict with Russia, will it finally be time to notice what’s happening?  

Shooting down a Syrian jet shows the dangers that come from conducting a foreign policy unmoored from both the national interest and representative government.

It was shot down because it was threatening rebels opposed to the Syrian government, and the US supports those rebels, apparently up to and including destroying Syrian regime forces that attack them. We say we are there to fight ISIS. That has sufficient support by the people and the Congress. If we are also fighting to oust Assad, we are doing something that requires a full debate.

Without that debate, when we shoot down a Syrian plane inside its own country, we have committed an act of war against another state.

A bit of music. Here is Paramore with “Hard Times”:

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

Takeaway Lyric:

All that I want Is to wake up fine
Tell me that I’m alright
That I ain’t gonna die
All that I want
Is a hole in the ground
You can tell me when it’s alright
For me to come out

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From Russian Hacks to Russian Collusion: Where’s the Beef?

The Daily Escape:

Image of Saturn taken from the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013

Wrongo has read much of the evidence that Russia interfered with the 2016 US Presidential election. He has watched House and Senate committees ask the intelligence community and the Justice Department what is known and not known about the Russian hacking story.

 It is clear that the Russians have extremely capable cyber technicians. They have a pragmatic view about getting what they need strategically, so it is both feasible and possible that they could have been disruptive to our democratic process.

But is there actual evidence that Russia interfered in our elections in 2016? And if they did, is there evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with them? The answer so far is summed up by Caitlin Johnstone:

Russiagate is like a mirage: from a distance it looks like something, but once you move in for a closer look, there’s nothing there. Nothing. Nothing solid, nothing substantial, nothing you can point at and say, “Here it is. This hard evidence justifies saturating the media waves with obsessive 24/7 coverage, escalating tensions with a nuclear superpower, stagnating political discourse in America and fanning the flames of a hysterical, xenophobic McCarthyist feeding frenzy.”

Most of what we know comes from the intelligence assessment by James Clapper when he was the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) for Obama; Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections. Here are the conclusions:

  • We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.
  • Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.
  • We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.
  • Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.”

From Sic Semper Tyrannis:

The assessment says Russia did three basic things to “influence” the Presidential election. First, the NSA, CIA and, to a lesser extent, the FBI, believed that the Russians hacked into the DNC and John Podesta emails, then passed that content to WikiLeaks and DC Leaks, who subsequently published the information. Second, the Russians supposedly obtained access to “elements” (undefined) of US state or local electoral boards. Third, Russian media outlets, RT and Sputnik News, put out Kremlin friendly messages.

There is no evidence backing up the claim that the Russian intelligence service hacked the DNC and Podesta that has been presented to the American people. The FBI did not conduct a forensic examination of the computers of either the DNC or of Podesta. The belief that the Russians did it is based on an independent firm, Crowdstrike’s examination of the DNC emails. Moreover, the release of Podesta’s emails had little to no effect on the election, while the Comey on-and-off-and on again investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails were certainly damaging to her electoral chances.

The larger point is that Democrats have convinced themselves that getting rid of Trump justifies throwing pasta (or any other sticky substance) at the wall to see what sticks. And that is what is happening with the “all Russia, all the time” hearings in the House and Senate.

An important subtext to this whole Russian conspiracy theory is the insistence that the Trump campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin to sabotage Hillary’s campaign.  That is repeated endlessly on the cable channels, and has become an article of faith to many Americans, especially Democrats. But, a few meetings do not create collusion. Possibly the intelligence community has some proof, but it has not been presented in a form that inspires credibility.

About a month ago, the DOJ appointed a Special Counsel to ferret out what is real from what is fake in the allegations about Russiagate, from hacks to collusion.

Let’s hope that he gets to the bottom of the story.

In the meantime, stay focused on the potential damage that Messrs. Trump, McConnell and Ryan are trying to do, from the gutting of Dodd-Frank to passing an Obamacare replacement that hurts many Americans.

Now for a tune. The Beatles’ “Back in the USSR” was released in 1968. It was intended to be a parody of “Back in the USA” by the Beach Boys. The song shocked many at the time for its pro-Soviet message. Years later, Paul McCartney stated he knew very little about the Soviet Union when he wrote the song. Here is McCartney doing the song live in Moscow’s Red Square:

Note Putin vaguely rocking @ 0:14

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

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Saturday Soother – May 27, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Baltimore Oriole

Trump returns from his international visits having moved the US into siding with the Sunnis in the Middle East. In this, he has also sided with his generals. This also puts him on the side of al Qaeda, a Sunni terror organization that did you-know-what.

Significantly, it is clear that the entire Trump foreign policy is anti-terrorism. That is one approach, but Trump’s take is mystifying: He calls Iran an enemy because they are a sponsor of terror, which is true. But he embraces Saudi Arabia, the largest sponsor of terrorism by far in the ME, and has attempted to make them his ally in the War on Terror.

The Saudis will now expect that the US will accept that their $110 billion in defense purchases and $40 billion in contributions from the Saudi state’s sovereign wealth fund will buy them enhanced power in Washington and that their demands will be greeted with great receptivity in the future.

That will probably be a difficult pill for Israel to swallow.

Siding with the Sunnis means that the “Shia Crescent” (Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and Syria) will be difficult for the US to maintain as friends, partners, or allies. In fact, it was reported this week that Russia, Syria and Iran have been proclaimed as allies by the Iraqi Interior Minister. For all the money and blood that we spent, for all of the domestic programs that we sacrificed, the US now has little to show for its last 15 years in Iraq except a huge, and under Donald Trump, a growing national debt.

We are obviously and irredeemably ignorant, and apparently determined to remain so. The Shia Crescent will be an Iranian/Shia alliance extending through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the sea, with Russian and Chinese backing to boot.

Whomever heads ME strategy for Trump needs to hear: “You’re fired!

Trump also met with NATO and the EU, and both relationships look less confident than at any time in recent history. In fact, European Council President Donald Tusk has said that Trump and senior European Union officials failed to find common ground on the main issues at their meeting in Brussels.

Consider this: Trump emerges from this trip as closer to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Israel than he is with the democracies of Western Europe. We can now start preparing for US War on Terror Part B; followed by Sunni insurgency 3.0: now with even better weapons and funding.

Do these thoughts make you feel that you need something to help you calm down? Wrongo’s advice is stop watching or reading the news for a few days, as he did while traveling in Europe. Talk to locals in your area. Ask them about why they think as they do.

Then grab a vente cuppa chamomile tea and listen to Janine Jansen play French composer Jules Massenet’s “Meditation from Thaïs”:

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

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Russia’s Growing Influence With North Korea

The Daily Escape:

Lanterns lit last week for Buddha’s Birthday, Samgwangsa Temple, Busan, South Korea – photo by Jason Teale

Yesterday, Wrongo mentioned that Russia might prove helpful to Donald Trump in his efforts to deal with a nuclear-capable North Korea (NK). Today, Stratfor has a column about Russia’s relationship with NK. Rather than quote extensively from a long article, Wrongo has condensed from it, particularly about the history of Russia/North Korean relations.

History gives perspective: The Soviet Union and the US were the actors that split North and South Korea at the end of WWII. In the 1950s, both Koreas became a proxy battleground, pitting the communist North against the US-aligned South. After China and North Korea agreed to an Armistice with the UN and South Korea in 1953, the Soviets helped to build up the military and security forces in NK, ensuring its stability. Some Soviet-era military equipment is still in use today.

The Soviets were a key NK economic partner throughout the Cold War. They accounted for nearly half of NK’s foreign trade in the 1970s and 1980s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, trade dropped off. China now accounts for 90% of NK’s imports, but about a third of that is Russian-sourced.

Putin saw the strategic value of good relations with NK, including how Russia could manipulate its influence in the region to pressure NK, or to put pressure the US and South Korea. Russia has criticized NK’s nuclear weapons tests and ballistic missile programs, and participated in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks along with China, the US, Japan and North Korea and South Korea.

In 2014, Russia joined in levying sanctions against NK, halting supplies of ships, helicopters and minerals in response to its continued nuclear tests. But, neither China nor Russia has cut their economic or military ties with NK. And both governments have opposed expanded sanctions or regime change.

Russia and NK have improved ties since the breakdown in Russia’s relations with the West over Crimea and Ukraine. In 2014, Moscow officially settled NK’s Soviet-era debt of $11 billion, forgiving most of it. NK granted Russian business executives long-term multiple-entry visas for the first time. In addition, Russia has provided millions of dollars’ worth of food aid to NK in recent years, including nearly half of the country’s grain imports.

One way that the two countries have expanded their cooperation is through the employment of temporary NK workers in Russia. Nearly 50,000 North Koreans were granted Russian work permits in 2015. In April, Russia’s parliament passed a bill allowing NK workers to travel visa-free to Vladivostok. Russia estimates that North Korea receives $170 million in remittances from its workers in Russia.

No doubt, Russia sees its relationship with NK as small potatoes. But Russia is not small potatoes for NK. While it will not replace China as NK’s primary partner, Russia has the capacity to play spoiler to the US plans to control NK’s nuclear ambitions. Today, Russia has its hands full with Syria, Crimea and Ukraine. But, its influence on the North Koreans can give it leverage, in the event that America’s Orange Negotiator needs help making a deal on the Korean peninsula.

Putin could add weight to China’s effort to lean on NK, forcing NK to come to the table. In return, His Orangeness might be persuaded to go easy on Putin’s goals in Ukraine or Syria, in addition to whatever he will owe China, if the pressure succeeded.

Russia can’t solve our problem with NK, but it might be able to move the dial enough either to play the spoiler, or to be an ally in any American efforts to defuse the Korean problem.

Here is a martial song from North Korea: “Leader, Just Give Us Your Order!” Don’t you just wonder what that order will be?

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

Warning! Don’t scroll through the comments, it weakens the mind. A recent one says:

“Comrade Kim Jong Un, just give us the order to wipe out all imperialists and to reunificate Korea!”

Reunificate!

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 8, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Canada Warbler

Last Thursday, Iran, Russia and Turkey signed a memorandum on the creation of “de-escalation” zones in Syria. This represents the beginning of a new phase in the Syrian civil war. If the agreement and the cease-fires it envisions hold up, it could become a de facto partition of the country into zones of influence, some based on religious sect, and a recognition that at this point, neither the regime nor the rebels can win this conflict.

A glance at the placement of the proposed “de-escalation zones” shows that they are jihadi dominated areas under the protection and support of foreign sponsors; Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, the Gulf States and possibly, the US.

The text of the agreement says the de-escalation zones allow for an improvement of the humanitarian situation and to “create favorable conditions to advance a political settlement of the conflict.” In the zones mapped out under the agreement, the use of weapons, including “aerial assets, shall be ceased.”

The agreement was not signed by the Syrian regime, which is interesting. This means that Iran, Turkey and Russia are the guarantors of the facts on the ground post-agreement, and it shifts the conflict from one between the regime and the various opposition rebel groups, to one between the powerful foreign proxies that have sent weapons and in some cases, their armed forces into the country.

The US was not a direct participant in the negotiations for the agreement, but was present as an observer during the discussions. US Secretary of State Tillerson and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, stayed in touch during the discussions.

The agreement shows the degree to which Russia has outmaneuvered the US and is dictating terms in Syria. This sends a clear message to Trump that while the Americans are putting down roots in northeast Syria with the Kurdish YPG, the US role is not formally recognized by Turkey, Iran or Russia despite the fact that the area is de facto under US protection.

It remains to be seen if this agreement is the beginning of the map for a new Syria or just breathing space before the next round of war.

This is a gift for Donald Trump. He consistently called for safe zones while campaigning, so he can easily support this move. Also, Putin and Trump seem to be tacitly co-operating to keep Turkey out of parts of northern Syria. A question is whether the US will go along with the plan. The US plans to stay in Syria to finish off ISIS, while the other powers prefer to finish off the rebels fighting the Assad regime first.

Despite that, ISIS still controls much of the land mass of Syria, albeit not its population centers.

The answer may depend on how much the White House wants to take at least some of the credit for bringing peace to Syria, and Thursday’s agreement may be the best shot America’s got.

Clearly, Putin is thinking in terms of a “grand strategy”, where the Syria situation is one of a number of critical elements of a possible US-Russia relationship. If the US-Russia relationship can be genuinely reset in a better direction, then it will impact many fronts: Perhaps Putin can get Trump to agree to Putin’s land grab in Crimea and the Donbass region of Ukraine. Perhaps they can work together to end the civil war in Syria, defeating ISIS along the way.

Notably, when Tillerson and Lavrov spoke last week, Syria and North Korea were two topics on their agenda. Maybe Russia could prove to be a more important factor in the North Korea situation than most realize.

So wake up Trump administration! Take that baby step forward by supporting the de-escalation agreement. If it fails, the other guys are to blame. If it succeeds in stabilizing the refugee situation while leading to a political solution in Syria, the credit will partially accrue to America. To help them wake up, here are the Rolling Stones with “Start Me Up” from their 1981 album “Tattoo You”:

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

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