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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump’s Nuclear and Israel Policies

2016 is ending on a somber note: We elected Donald Trump. We have confirmed his modus operandi, his lack of tweeting impulse control. We’ve seen his appointments to senior positions.

2017 will be an abrupt shift from the policies and guiding principles of the post-Reagan era. This will be true for the social safety net, tax policy, and several other primarily domestic policies, some which had their genesis in FDR’s New Deal. Then there is the Supreme Court.

It is doubtful that Trump can undo the Iran nuclear deal, but two other international policies will change.

First, America’s nuclear weapons policy: Donald Trump has recently tweeted that the US needs to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” We have had a 50-year period of nuclear arms control with Russia, mostly delivered by Republican presidents. It tamed and then downsized the nuclear arms race. But Trump’s national security appointees and Republicans in Congress now want to throw away their inheritance. They will try their best to bankrupt Moscow again. They will seek to chip away, if not walk away, from the New START and INF treaties. They will try to remove the CTBT from the Senate’s calendar and reduce funding for that Treaty’s global monitoring system.

Trump has shown little interest in intelligence briefings. This is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s first term. Recently declassified documents from the Reagan presidency show how slowly Reagan was brought up to speed on national security issues. Reagan took office in 1981, and was not fully up to speed by 1983, preferring to let his national security team handle those details. This is from the National Security Archive: (Emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Sharper understanding at high levels of the grave danger of nuclear war was one consequence of a Defense Department nuclear war game that occurred in mid-1983. In the “Proud Prophet” game…the lead players were JCS Chairman John W. Vessey and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger… during the game Vessey and Weinberger followed standard policies constructed for crises; as a U.S.-Soviet conflict escalated, their actions initiated a major nuclear war. “The result was a catastrophe” in which “a half billion human beings were killed in the initial exchanges and at least that many more would have died from radiation and starvation.”…Proud Prophet had a chastening and moderating impact on the Reagan administration’s rhetoric and thinking about nuclear war….but…The Proud Prophet report remains massively excised and it is unknown even if or when Weinberger briefed Reagan on it.

(h/t Booman)

This history shows that the (unelected) national security apparatus thinks it prudent to keep newly elected presidents in the dark for a long time after they are elected. In the case of Harry Truman, he didn’t even know we had nuclear weapons until he was asked for permission to use them!

Our only hope with nuclear is that Trump seems to want to forge a working alliance with Russia. We know that a renewed nuclear arms race is not in either country’s interest. It’s possible that Trump will surprise us by doing deals with Vladimir Putin, who cannot afford an arms race.

Second, is Israel’s out-of-proportion reaction to the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2334, which passed with the US abstaining, rather than exercising its veto. The resolution condemns Israel’s construction of settlements within the occupied Palestinian territories. Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t take the Resolution well. He vowed revenge on everyone, except Trump. Netanyahu said that Israel will “re-evaluate diplomatic relations” with all 14 countries who voted yes, including permanent Security Council members Russia, the UK, China and France. “Re-evaluation” will have no meaning to them, but for the other nine, who knows? Bibi singled out Senegal and halted Israeli aid. He recalled Israeli ambassadors from some of the countries that voted for the resolution, called for re-evaluation of Israel’s relationship with the UN, including its funding commitment.

Republicans, emboldened by their love of Israel, have made threats to defund the UN, something we haven’t heard since John Bolton was relevant.

Almost certainly, Netanyahu’s strategy is to exploit the UN vote to convince Trump and his team that Israel needs to be compensated in some way for what the UN, and especially the US, has done.

More compensation. How Republican of them. America has given Israel $124 billion in aid, and Obama just authorized another $38 billion over the next ten years.

It’s time to cut Netanyahu adrift. What we have here is a US client state that thinks it’s in charge. The question is how bad do Israel’s policies have to be before it provokes some sort of reassessment by Congress? Or is everything to be swept under the rug of “existential necessity”?

The Trump and the I-love-Israel-more than-life-itself crowd in Congress are on track to do severe damage to the UN and to our ME strategy during the next four years.

Trump’s foreign policy is giving Wrongo the year-end blues.

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Netanyahu: Gimme the Golan Heights

The carve-up of Syria has started. When Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Barak Obama on Monday, he asked for three things:

• That the US raise its aid to Israel from $2 billion US to $5 billion annually to be used against the “new” Iranian threat
• Israel intends to formally annex the Syrian Golan Heights, and Netanyahu wants our recognition of that annexation
• That the US submit the terms of any future deal involving Syria to Israel for their approval in advance of US approval

During the meeting, Netanyahu also clarified Israel’s purported “red lines” with regards to Syria.

We won’t tolerate attacks from Syrian territory, we won’t allow Iran to open a front [against us] on the Golan Heights, and we will disrupt the transfer of deadly weaponry from Syria to Lebanon…

That explains the money part of the requests. Well, we will do #1, we won’t do #3, and that leaves #2, recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan.

Some history: Israel occupied Syria’s Golan Heights after the Six-Day War in 1967, and annexed the Golan in 1981. In the intervening 48 years, neither the UN, nor any country has recognized the Golan annexation. The US could not unilaterally recognize the Golan annexation without upsetting our EU allies. In addition, Russia would not recognize the annexation, and they have an air force in Syria. And Iran could make life difficult for Israel by increasing Iranian aid and weapons to Hezbollah.

Why does Israel want to complicate Obama’s task in the Middle East? Well, he asked for recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, just as new oil reserves were discovered there.

Wait, they found oil in the Golan? Apparently, yes. And it’s potentially billions of barrels. The tangled web of the oil business is at work here: Genie Oil & Gas, a US company, is doing the exploratory drilling in Golan through its subsidiary, Afek Israel Oil and Gas, which holds an exclusive 3 year petroleum exploration license issued by the government of Israel. Genie’s founder and CEO is Howard Jonas, who has been a big financial backer of Netanyahu’s political campaigns. And, look at the advisory board of Genie Oil & Gas:

Michael Steinberg, Board Chair
• Rupert Murdoch
• Jacob Rothschild, the chairman of the J Rothschild group of companies
• ex-CIA director James Woolsey
• Dick Cheney
• Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard
• Bill Richardson, former secretary of energy under Bill Clinton
• Mary Landrieu, former Louisiana Democratic Senator

With “Advisors” like these, it would be foolish to bet against the US recognizing the Israeli annexation of an oil-rich Golan Heights at some point. From Mint Press News:

Israel hopes to quintuple the size of its settlements over the next five years by adding an additional 100,000 settlers to the region.

So, new settlers and new oil.

Perhaps Bibi’s request is really part of a longer game directed at the 2016 US presidential candidates, in which he is laying out his demands: “In return for my political support” go the unspoken, but implied words of Bibi, “I would like you to agree to fill my shopping bag,” including the Golan.

It turns out that Haaretz is now reporting that Mr. Obama has rebuffed Bibi’s bid to have the US recognize Israel’s annexing Golan:

Washington rejects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion to US President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday to discuss the possibility of US recognition of Israeli rule over the Golan Heights, a senior White House official said.

We should have predicted this move by Israel: the Golan occupied, and Syria in fragments due to uprisings and attacks by ISIS creates a vacuum for Israel to fill. But if you buy that the request was really directed at the next president and the next Congress, and not the lame duck Obama, Bibi apparently is betting that his sycophants in the Congress are going to give him what he wants in 2017.

It would be a challenge for America’s politicians to explain to voters in 2016 why we should increase funding of Israel by $3 billion, instead of helping students pay off their college loans, or instead of building better roads.

We need to make sure that this additional reach into our pockets by Israel is a national campaign issue in 2016. Until a few politicians lose an election because they are too hawkish on Israel, we will continue to lavish money on them.

And our politicians will continue to support Israel’s Middle East policies at the expense of our own.

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 24, 2015

There was a curious story in the NYT on Saturday. They quote former Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak in a new biography revealing that Israel came close to striking Iran’s military facilities in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The biographers spoke on Israeli television, saying that despite Barak’s and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s desire to do so, the Israeli military refused.

Recorded interview excerpts between Barak and the biographers were aired by Israel’s Channel 2, which stressed that Mr. Barak had sought to prevent them from being broadcast, but that they had been approved by Israel’s military censor. Mr. Barak later confirmed that the recordings were authentic, but said he had provided the information on background to Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor, whose book, “Barak: The Wars of My Life,” came out this week in Hebrew.

The interviews confirmed a longstanding view that Israel’s security chiefs held back the political leadership, particularly in 2010. In 2012, the timing did not work out because of a joint US-Israel military exercise and visit by Leon Panetta, US defense secretary. Barak said he recalled “demanding” to postpone the joint military exercise. The NYT quotes Barak:

You ask, you demand that America respect your sovereignty to make a decision that you want to do that, even if America is opposed to that and it is against its interests…

The news is that the civilian leadership really wanted to start a war with Iran but first, the military leaders demurred, and then so did the Obama Administration. This confirms that the past 7 years have not been all Israeli bluster intended to play bad cop to our good cop. The bad news is that the administration has known for years that Netanyahu and his administration are off their collective rockers, yet Congress continues to send Israel weapons and billions of dollars every year.

The sad part is that there isn’t anything really new here. It has been well documented previously. Juan Cole reported in 2011 that: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Netanyahu appears to have forced out Meir Dagan, the head of the Israeli spying agency Mossad… Dagan went on to accuse Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, of grossly exaggerating the threat from Iran, calling a [potential] strike on that country “stupid idea that offers no advantage.”

In 2012, apparently Obama stood firm in opposition to an Iran strike, since Israel didn’t have the capability to really damage Iran’s nuclear facilities and needed support from USAF in the form of B-52s and bunker buster bombs. Mr. Obama later compensated Israel for standing down by providing them with the bunker busters.

Here’s a thought worth polishing and spreading: That the unspoken concern of the US and the world is not so much that a nuclear armed Iran might someday attack Israel and further destabilize the ME, but that a nuclear armed Israel is now ready, able, and rehearsing their plans to attack Iran. Imagine for a moment the hysteria in Congress if the headline of this story was reversed: “Khomeini was on the verge of attacking Israel 3 times”.

It’s time to cut Israel loose, to eliminate the undue influence this nation has on American foreign policy.

So, wake up Congress Critters, modeling Netanyahu’s foreign policy behaviors will lead America to failure. To help with the wake-up, here is a photo that shows those in Congress just another example of life in the food chain:

Life in the Food Chain

(H/T Naked Capitalism)

Your Monday Hot Links:

This is how Bernie Sanders could win. OK it’s a long shot, but FiveThirtyEight says that if Hillary implodes, Sanders vs. Biden could be highly competitive. Clinton won’t drop out before the primaries and a Biden run could split the establishment vote, giving Sanders an opening.

Billionaires keep flocking to architect Robert A.M. Stern’s newest limestone creation at 220 Central Park South. Next is billionaire hedge funder Ken Griffin, who we mentioned yesterday. Griffin’s new pad could cost him anywhere between $30 million and $160 million, which is really just chump change for the hedge funder who reportedly nets $2.2 million a day, and that’s after taxes!

In a related story in the Onion, a study finds it is easier than ever for American dollars to join the 1%.

First wolf pack found in California in nearly a century. On Aug. 9, the cameras photographed two separate black-furred wolves, believed to be adults. Five black wolf pups were photographed in the same spot. It was clearly a pack.

Doctors may have found a way to override the body’s evolutionary habit of storing fat with a discovery of a master switch for the body’s metabolism. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School discovered a new genetic pathway that controls human metabolism by prompting fat cells to store or burn away fat.

Grading Carly Fiorina’s tenure at HP. By a Silicon Valley journalist.

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