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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – April 10, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, CA. April 2017 photo by Robyn Beck

We still have little hard evidence proving that Syria gassed its own people. Much like Iraq in 2003, we have made a military move that feels great emotionally, but that isn’t built on a solid foundation of fact. That the Syrian government deliberately used chemical weapons to bomb its civilians became absolute truth in US media in less than 24 hours.

And once that tidal wave of American war frenzy starts rolling, questioning the casus belli is not permitted. Wanting conclusive evidence before commencing military action will get you vilified, denounced as a sympathizer with America’s enemies.

When Trump launched the tomahawks, most in the mainstream media suddenly fawned all over him. Margret Sullivan in the WaPo quoted several, starting with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria:

I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night…

And the NYT’s headline:

 On Syria attack, Trump’s heart came first

Sullivan noted that the NYT’s piece failed to even mention that Trump is keeping refugees from the Syrian war, even children, out of the US. Victims of chemical weapons were “beautiful babies” to Trump at his news conference, while the children trying to flee such violence require “extreme vetting” and face an indefinite refugee ban. And this from the WSJ’s Bret Stephens, previously a Trump critic:

 President Trump has done the right thing and I salute him for it…Now destroy the Assad regime for good.

Perhaps the worst was MSNBC’s Brian Williams, who used the word “beautiful” three times when discussing the tomahawk missile launches. He quoted a Leonard Cohen lyric (from First We Take Manhattan): I am guided by the beauty of our weapons — without apparent irony:

We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two US Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean…I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’…They are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them what is a brief flight over to this airfield…

Williams might have focused on: What did they hit? What are the strategic consequences?

Many of these same media pukes were continuously expressing doubts about Trump’s judgment since before his election. But, when he orders the use of force, his judgment needs to be questioned by them more than ever. One reason that the US so easily resorts to the use of force abroad is that the very people that should be the first to question the rationale for a presidential military decision are instead among the first to cheer it and celebrate it.

We see groupthink most of the time when the American news media watches an administration step up to the brink of war. This was true in the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, the start of our longest military disaster.

Journalists and pundits need to keep virtues like skepticism, facts on the ground, and context fixed firmly in their minds. They should not be like Brian Williams, focused on spectacular images in the night sky, without contemplating their deadly effect.

For example, how can the media NOT ask how Trump, a man with little outward empathy, can change in a minute, suddenly becoming a caring individual about beautiful Syrian babies? Or, how in a period of 24 hours, Trump managed to flip-flop 180 degrees on a position about Syria that he’s held for years?

Why is the media leading the cheers on Syria, but keeping silent about Yemen?

Why are there never pictures of “beautiful”dead babies after our drone strikes go awry?

Time for the main stream media to wake up and do their jobs in an old school way. To help them wake up, here is Brian Williams’s favorite lyricist, Leonard Cohen, with “First We Take Manhattan”:

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

Takeaway Lyric:

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

I’m guided by a signal in the heavens
I’m guided by this birthmark on my skin
I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 9, 2017

There are two inescapable conclusions in the aftermath of Trump’s missile strikes in Syria. First, the US can no longer focus only on destroying ISIS. Now, we are in the position of having to also burn calories dealing with the fallout from those strikes with Russia, Syria and Iran.

Second, we can no longer keep our previous distance vis-à-vis the Syrian civil war separate from our relations with Russia. Before Trump’s Tomahawking, it was possible to argue that Russia’s involvement in Syria was peripheral to our goals in Syria, and certainly not central to overall US/Russian relations. Now, the US has put at risk the limited cooperation we have had with Russian in Syria regarding ISIS.

And for what? Apparently, Trump’s missile strikes didn’t change much on the ground in Syria. In fact, the Syrian air force just used the same air strip that we blasted with 60 tomahawk missiles (at the cost of $1million a copy) to again bomb the same city that suffered the sarin attack.

Doubtless, Trump will call this a “victory” but, if you use $60 million to disable an airbase, shouldn’t it be disabled? Again, the question is: What was Trump trying to accomplish? He has taken a dangerous situation, and seemingly made it more dangerous. To Wrongo, it looks like Trump got nearly nothing from his attack. Does this remind anyone of Trump’s attack on Yemen?

Since the Syrian fly-boys are back in the air, bombing the SAME city, Trump looks like a fool. Want to bet that he will feel the need to correct that impression? On to Cartoons!

Who/What was Trump aiming his tomahawks at?

We tipped off Putin that the tomahawks were coming:

Trump meets with China’s Xi and learns something:

Negotiations with Xi weren’t as easy as Trump thought:

Mitch McConnell, wrecker extraordinaire:

Invoking the nuclear option made things much easier for the GOP:

 

 

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Saturday Soother – April 8, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Mount Etna eruption, March 2017 – photo by Salvatore Allegra

Ready, Fire, Aim! Aren’t you glad we didn’t elect Hillary, the neo con warmonger? From Booman:

Our Bush Era PTSD has been reactivated in a big way. While I offered a limited and cautious and conditional defense of President Trump’s decision to authorize the strikes against Syria, I was at pains to note that it’s very important that the administration provide convincing evidence that the Assad regime is responsible for the sarin attack that served as the predicate for the missile launch.

Russia and Syria have denied that they are behind the Syrian Chemical Weapons (CW) attack. We know there was an attack, and that some kind of chemical was used. The media are saying it was sarin gas.

They also, nearly unanimously, say it is the fault of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Earlier in the week, both US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson and US UN envoy Nikki Haley said removing Assad was no longer a priority in US Middle-East policy.

Now, Assad has to go.

Most news outlets and pundits support Donald Trump’s spanking of the Assad government, but what is Trump’s strategy? Enforcing norms against the use of chemical weapons (CW) is a good thing. But it’s hard to see how Thursday’s all-out reversal of our level of engagement in the Syrian civil war is justified by the use of CW, particularly since it has been used several times before in Syria, and since it brings with it many other risks/issues, like a potential military confrontation with Russia and Iran.

After Thursday’s Tomahawk missile attack, we are now simultaneously confronting the two strongest factions in the Syrian civil war, Assad’s army and ISIS. While Trump and the MSM are going bananas about the horrors of CW, no one was going bananas last week, or in all the prior weeks, about the daily death count of Syrian children who were collateral damage in the country’s civil war.

The attack took place in the midst of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping This was where one of the hottest topics was what to do about North Korea’s continuing long-range missile tests and its work on completing a deliverable nuclear warhead.

Clearly there were implicit messages for both North Korea and China in the Syrian attack. This has something to do with Syria, and a lot to do with the Chinese. Military types would tell us that Trump firing 59 cruise missiles to take out an airfield is overkill.

But, it will not be lost on Xi that 50+cruise missiles could also devastate any of those new atoll airfields cropping up in the South China Sea. Donald Trump just proved to Xi that he is a man with 4,000+ nuclear weapons at this disposal and a military that follows orders. It looks to Wrongo like Xi and Putin now have a giant incentive to become better allies, and invite Iran to the party.

Once again, Wrongo thinks that the best option for the US would be to concentrate on humanitarian efforts and helping refugees. And to work with Russia and Syria’s other allies to end the threat from ISIS in the greater Middle East.

Unfortunately, that also admits there is a limitation on the US’s ability to control events solely based on its military strength. Despite its flaws, if there’s no reason to believe any strategy will improve results, then the best course is inaction. That was Obama’s approach.

It’s just not true that we “Must Do Something”. People think that if we Do Something, then nothing bad that subsequently happens is really our fault, because AT LEAST WE DID SOMETHING. Whereas if we do nothing, then every bad thing that subsequently happens is our fault.

Thanks, Obama.

We really don’t have to do anything. The problem is that by following the do-nothing strategy, America doesn’t get to be the biggest, baddest ass on the Middle East Street.

Yes, if we do nothing, lots of people will die, but that doesn’t exactly distinguish it from what will happen anyway. Our inaction won’t transfer blame for those deaths onto us, any more than an action to take out Assad will shift it from us.

Who knew running the world’s superpower was so complicated? Certainly, not someone who said “I alone can fix it”.

With all of this Bush-era Déjà Vu, we really need some soothing today. Here is the first movement (Allegro) from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No.5 in F Major, “Spring” Op. 24, for violin/piano, played by Ilya Itin and Igor Graupman from a live performance at the Miami International Piano Festival.

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

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February 15, 2017

The Daily Escape:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(The Philology library at Berlin’s Free University. Designed in the shape of the human brain)

Trump’s National Security Adviser Mike Flynn is out. His lies or charitably, his misremembering whether his communications with the Russian ambassador included discussing the sanctions that had recently imposed by the outgoing Obama administration, were too much even for the fact-challenged Trump administration. That became patently obvious after the WaPo dropped the bombshell that Trump was warned about Flynn’s ties by the Justice Department before the inauguration.

Who notified them? Then-acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates. You remember that Yates was later fired by Trump for advising the President that his Muslim ban was unconstitutional.

She informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the US, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

When she notified the White House that the FBI had Flynn on tape talking with the Russian Ambassador, she also told then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-CIA Director John Brennan.

So the Trumpets had more than enough of Ms. Yates by the time she advised them that the Muslim ban wouldn’t fly.

Flynn resigned Monday night. Most Republicans say there is nothing more to see here, and that we should move along. Democrats want an independent investigation.

Whether this issue is over or not probably depends on whether you believe that Flynn was a rogue actor, operating without any cooperation or involvement by others in the Trump administration. Was something larger at work? Was it just Flynn lying to Pence, and then Flynn lying to Trump?

That’s possible, but considering the character of some of the people in this administration, from Trump to Bannon, to Miller and Conway, it seems unlikely that Flynn was acting alone.

And on Tuesday, Trump tweeted, after accepting Flynn’s resignation, that:

The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?

We all know that isn’t the real story. Thank you Sally Yates!

Here is The Who with “Behind Blue Eyes” from their album, “Who’s Next”. It was recorded in March, 1971. It describes the Orange Overlord to a “T”:

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

Sample Lyrics:

No one knows what it’s like
To be a rich man
It’s a bitch, man
Behind blue eyes

No one knows what it’s like
To be hated
To be baldpated
Telling only lies

No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

No one knows what it’s like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies

But my dreams
They aren’t as empty
As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That’s never free

No one knows what it’s like
To feel these feelings
Like I do

And I blame you

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The Pant Suit’s Scary Foreign Policy

There may be reasons not to vote for Hillary Clinton, but there are no reasons at all to vote for Donald Trump — except for pure nihilism. For the Trumpets, there is little coherence about why he is their choice. Two threads emerge: First, that Trump will shake things up, that DC is its own bubble that must be burst. The current two party system is fraudulent and corrupt. Second, that rage against Hillary is sufficient reason to vote for the Donald. Neither idea, nor are both ideas, sufficient reason to elect the Pant Load.

So, Hillary has to be the choice for this election. She has a track record, and the only things you have to go by with respect to Trump are his mostly appalling business practices, and his appalling character, neither of which should inspire voter confidence.

However, Clinton’s track record and policies are not without concern. In particular, her foreign policy positions are frightening. It is clear that Clinton proposes to pursue a more militaristic version of the policies that have brought us where we are in the world. She would:

  • Enforce a “no-fly” zone inside Syria, with or without Syrian and Russian agreement
  • Issue an even larger blank check to Israel
  • Treat Russia as a military problem rather than a factor in the European balance to be managed
  • Try to tie China down in East Asia

We have little idea about what would she would do differently in Afghanistan or Iraq. What would she do differently about North Korea, Iran, or Turkey? We don’t know, but this should be frightening:

In the rarefied world of the Washington foreign policy establishment, President Obama’s departure from the White House — and the possible return of a more conventional and hawkish Hillary Clinton — is being met with quiet relief. The Republicans and Democrats who make up the foreign policy elite are laying the groundwork for a more assertive American foreign policy…

And there is more: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The studies, which reflect Clinton’s stated views, break most forcefully with Obama on Syria. Virtually all these efforts…call for stepped-up military action to deter President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russian forces in Syria.

The proposed military measures include…safe zones to protect moderate rebels from Syrian and Russian forces. Most of the studies propose limited American airstrikes with cruise missiles to punish Assad if he continues to attack civilians with barrel bombs…

Obama has staunchly resisted any military action against the Assad regime.

Apparently, the Iraq war was such a success that these policy experts want to repeat it in Syria. But, we are not as popular as we used to be, what with our drones droning all over the Middle East.

It is important to remember that when the Arab Spring erupted in 2010, the total Arab ME population was 348 million (World Bank data); today, it is 400 million. In the past six years, 52 million new Arab citizens were born in the ME, few of whom know a world without war, many who have limited education, schooling and economic prospects.

Should our next president be making new enemies in the ME?

We have a yuuge problem if our so-called foreign policy “elites” think the most “dovish” policy available is Obama’s current foreign policy. If this is the best that our serious policy thinkers can come up with, maybe we should just burn down the Kennedy School and Georgetown.

Wrongo thinks that 2016 is reminiscent of 1964, when LBJ ran against Goldwater. We had an anti-communist foreign policy elite looking for a fight with the USSR, and Goldwater was their man. America chose LBJ, because it was impossible to conceive of Goldwater having his finger on the nuclear button. LBJ was solid on domestic policy, but he listened to the elites, and launched us into Vietnam for no good reason, and with little public enthusiasm.

Today our anti-Russian foreign policy elites have Hillary’s ear, and there is a potential that she will mirror LBJ, getting us into another calamitous foreign policy adventure.

Wrongo will vote for her despite these concerns, as there is no alternative.

Bush’s policy should not be the starting point, with Obama’s foreign policy being the end point in terms of Hillary Clinton’s possible foreign policy options. If Bush’s policy was a complete failure, why on earth would she rely on a variant of it as the basis for our foreign policy?

Sadly, we are having this discussion less than two weeks before the election.

We have to hope that Hillary Clinton can be a good listener to options other than what the Neo-Cons are proposing.

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What’s JOE – 2035?

Haven’t heard of JOE- 35? Not surprising, since it is very difficult to find any mention of it in any major media news outlet. Google JOE- 35, and you get a series of links for a cast stone fire pit that is 35” in diameter.

Wrong. It refers to the “Joint Operating Environment 2035” [pdf] (JOE – 35), issued in July by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It lays out the environment that the military and the nation will be facing 20 years from now. It is written as a guide to how the Defense Department should be spending resources today in order to protect against tomorrow’s threats. They identify six broad geopolitical challenges the US Military will have to deal with in 20 years:

  • Violent Ideological Competition: irreconcilable ideas communicated and promoted by identity networks through violence. That is, states and non-state actors alike will pursue their goals by spreading ideologies hostile to US interests and encouraging violent acts to promote those ideologies.
  • Threatened US Territory and Sovereignty: encroachment, erosion, or disregard of US sovereignty and the freedom of its citizens.
  • Antagonistic Geopolitical Balancing: increasingly ambitious adversaries maximizing their own influence while actively limiting US influence. That is, rival powers will pursue their own interests in conflict with those of the United States. Think China in the Philippines.
  • Disrupted Global Commons: denial or compulsion in spaces and places available to all but owned by none. Think that the US will no longer be able to count on unimpeded access to the oceans, the air, space, or the electromagnetic spectrum in the pursuit of its interests.
  • A Contest for Cyberspace: a struggle to define and credibly protect sovereignty in cyberspace. That is, US cyberwarfare measures will increasingly face effective defenses and US cyberspace assets will increasingly face effective hostile incursions.
  • Shattered and Reordered Regions: states increasingly unable to cope with internal political fractures, environmental stress, or deliberate external interference. That means states will continue to be threatened by increasingly harsh pressures on national survival, and the failed states and stateless zones will continue to spawn insurgencies and non-state actors hostile to the US.

The report also warns that the rise of non-state actors such as ISIS, described in the report as “privatized violence“, will continue, as will the rapidity by which those groups form and adapt. The spread of 3D-printing technologies and readily available commercial technology such as drones, means those groups can be increasingly effective against a fully equipped and highly technological US military.

The study says:

Transnational criminal organizations, terrorist groups, and other irregular threats are likely to exploit the rapid spread of advanced technologies to design, resource, and execute complex attacks and combine many complex attacks into larger, more sustained campaigns…

John Michael Greer has a review of JOE-35 that is worth reading in its entirety. His criticism of the report is that:

Apparently nobody at the Pentagon noticed one distinctly odd thing about this outline of the future context of American military operations: it’s not an outline of the future at all. It’s an outline of the present. Every one of these trends is a major factor shaping political and military action around the world right now.

Like so many things in our current politics, the JOE projections are mostly about justifying current procurement/pork barreling by a linear extrapolation of today’s threats. That, and the institutional blindness that sets in when there have been no real challenges to the established groupthink, and the professional consequences of failure in the military are near-zero.

The JOE list may not be imaginative or fully predictive, but that doesn’t make it wrong. None of the problems they forecast are going away. For instance, the use of ideology to win and shore up support from potential fighters and allies is as old as ancient times, so why would ideological conflict NOT be an issue in 2035?

Threats to US sovereignty and territory go along with the Joint Chiefs’ recognition that the US is an empire most likely on a downward curve, unless there is great change in our policies, domestic and foreign.

In this sense, the report is quietly critical of our politicians.

The admission in the JOE report that we will be actively required to defend our home ground by 2035 is a mark of just how much our geopolitical environment has changed since 9/11.

It is indeed worth your time to read both the JOE report, and that of John Michael Greer very carefully.

Both will make you smarter than reading about the latest Trump outrage.

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Will The Candidates Discuss Syria?

Although it is Sunday, there will be no cartoons today. Sorry. Instead, time to eat our vegetables and prepare for tonight’s second Presidential Debate.

Wrongo thinks Syria should be a featured topic, since it lays bare our conflict with Russia, which has steadily grown since their annexation of Crimea. But, the debate is in a town hall format, with half of the questions coming from the audience, so it is difficult to say if Syria and Russia will make it to the table.

Certainly they should be discussed. On October 3, the Obama Administration walked away from the Geneva negotiations with Russia, aimed at ending the war in Syria. On October 5, the Principals Committee met at the White House to consider four options for Syria:

  1. Create a no-fly zone over Syria;
  2. Create safe zones along the Turkish and Jordanian borders inside Syrian territory;
  3. Bomb the entire Syrian Air Force;
  4. Arm the Syrian rebels (jihadists) with anti-aircraft weapons (MANPADS) as part of a prolonged insurgency directed against the Assad government, which are increasingly dominated by the very terrorist forces that the US and Russia were jointly targeting up until last week.

The first three options require the imposition of a no fly zone over Syria. There are big risks with a no fly zone, if the US imposes it without Russian cooperation. The Russians might refuse to respect it. If they defy the no fly zone and we shoot down Russian planes, it could lead to war. The Russians categorically oppose a Syrian no fly zone, because they believe it will weaken Assad.

Option four means the US aligns with our former jihadi terrorist enemies against Assad, in a semi-permanent war in the Middle East. So, consider these statements:

Any alternative approach must begin with grounding Mr. Assad’s air power…If Russia continues its indiscriminate bombing, we should make clear that we will take steps to hold its aircraft at greater risk.

I would recommend our colleagues in Washington to thoroughly consider the possible consequences of the realization of such plans…

That’s the current geopolitical landscape. What do the candidates think?

The Pant Suit wants to remove Assad and defeat ISIS simultaneously. She supports a no-fly zone. Clinton does not support an American troop commitment. Instead, she wants to arm and supply Syrian and Kurdish rebel groups. Her plan is to replace both Assad and ISIS with another group to be named later. It’s a weak plan, but it appeals to Americans because Clinton’s plan doesn’t require more American troops on the ground.

Trump has no plan, but during the primaries, he said: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

So, I don’t like Assad. Who’s going to like Assad? But, we have no idea who these people [Assad replacements], and what they’re going to be, and what they’re going to represent. They may be far worse than Assad. Look at Libya. Look at Iraq. Look at the mess we have after spending $2 trillion dollars, thousands of lives, wounded warriors all over the place–we have nothing.

But during the VP debate, Pence adopted Clinton’s position. Pence said:

The United States of America needs to be prepared to work with our allies in the region to create a route for safe passage and then to protect people in those areas, including with a no-fly zone.

Obama has repeatedly refused to impose a no-fly zone.

Here is some context: Arming terrorists in a sovereign nation is an act of war. Bombing and attacking targets in a sovereign nation is an act of war. Establishing no fly zones without permission in a sovereign nation is an act of war. Stationing troops or Special Forces in a sovereign nation without permission is an act of war.

We have no UN mandate to be in Syria. Congress has not given its approval to be in Syria.

It’s a big fat mess, with no good solution in sight, made worse by the scale of the Syrian humanitarian crisis. And marked by Congress’ lack of courage.

It would be nice if at least ONE candidate would recall that during the Cold War, the number one goal was not to provoke a war between the US and Russia, but to find ways to de-escalate the situation.

Perhaps this is too much to expect, given the temperament of both candidates.

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About Trump and Russia

From Emptywheel:

There has been a lot written about Russia intelligence agencies allegedly hacking the DNC server and — by leaking it — attempting to influence the election. Some observers have, based on that assumption, called the hack an act of war.

The good news was that the leak of emails defenestrated the detestable Debbie Downer Shultz, head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). It also exposed the DNC’s tipping of the playing field in favor of Clinton during the Democratic primaries, after much speculation that they were doing exactly that.

There are many claims being made, all serving a narrative that Putin is playing a role in our presidential election, and that he (Putin) prefers to see Trump in the White House. More from Emptywheel: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

I’m not saying the Russians didn’t do this hack, nor am I dismissing the idea that they’d prefer Trump to Hillary. By far the most interesting piece of this is the way those with the documents — both the hackers and Wikileaks — held documents until a really awkward time for some awkward disclosures

It is doubtful that the Russians care in the slightest about Debbie Wasserman Schultz, or the DNC. Perhaps there is another shoe to drop on the Clinton campaign. It is interesting that the Main Stream Media is focused on the hacking, and not the content of the hacked emails and the DNCs lax IT security. Is it possible that we will see a series of ever more damaging releases as the campaign goes on?

A piece of underreported news was that Trump and the Russians have had a cozy business relationship since the 1980s. Josh Marshall at TPM took an in-depth look at the business connections between Donald Trump and Russia. Marshall reports that Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money, some of it from persons close to Putin. Here are a few facts:

  1. Trump’s debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million, according to estimates by Bloomberg. This happened in a year when his liquid assets have also decreased.
  2. There is evidence that some big US banks don’t want to work with him, but Deutsche Bank has lent him $300 million since 2012.
  3. Post-bankruptcy, Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia. WaPo has a good overview which includes this:

Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.

  1. One example of this is the Trump SoHo development in Manhattan. The project was hit with a series of lawsuits, and emerging out of that litigation was news about secret financing for the project from Russia and Kazakhstan. As the NYT said: (brackets by the Wronologist)

Mr. Lauria [an FBI informant who worked for Bayrock Group, developer of the Trump SoHo project] brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians “in favor with” President Vladimir V. Putin, according to a lawsuit against Bayrock by one of its former executives. The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a strategic partner…

While not all in the Josh Marshall article checks out, there is something to the reasoning that Trump has a “special relationship” with Russia, which bears examination, even if Russia didn’t hack the DNC. The relationship is based on circumstantial, but non-trivial evidence for a financial relationship between Trump and Russia.

Even if you see no adverse news, Trump’s financial empire is highly leveraged and has a questionable reliance on capital infusions from foreign banks and oligarchs.

Even if you yell, “but, the Clinton Foundation has the same issue”, Trump’s dependence is simply not something that should be ignored. As Mustang Bobby said:

I’m old enough to remember when even a whisper of a connection between a political candidate and a foreign power — to say nothing of the country that makes up what’s left of the former Soviet Union — would be instant political death.

The question, is: Will this gain any traction in the American media, or will Mr. Trump be hailed as a deal-maker who can work with our adversaries?

Will Trump’s neo-conservative supporters who hate Russia think, “Commie sympathizer”?

Don’t hold your breath.

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Taking a Break From Domestic Politics

(The next column will appear on Monday 3/14. Starting tomorrow, the Wrongologist and Ms. Oh So Right are attending a wedding in Vermont)

Our preoccupation with the primaries, and dick-measuring has obscured several things that are happening around the world. Let’s take a quick look at three things we have talked about in the past.

US Russia/Middle East policy. Sec. Def. Ash Carter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, and the wacky NATO Commander, Gen. Phillip Breedlove, all seem to be intent precipitating a war with Russia. Last week at a Congressional hearing, Breedlove called Russia “America’s greatest strategic threat.” He went on to accuse Vladimir Putin of “Weaponizing” the flood of ME refugees into Europe as a plan “to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”

We have our disagreements with Russia, we certainly hate what they did in Crimea and what they are doing in Ukraine. The jury is out on whether they are saving or frying our bacon in Syria, but it seems that we are (almost) on the same page there, except for our insistence that Assad must go.

It pays to remember that Russia is armed with several thousand nuclear weapons. Is it really wise for the head of NATO to pick a fight with a country that he knows feels deeply threatened by NATO expansion?

Our policy with Israel. Netanyahu has once again shown his contempt for Obama by spurning an invitation to meet in the Oval Office. When the Iran deal went down over Israel’s strong disagreement, the US agreed to send Israel more equipment and money to shore up their defenses against Iran. But, Netanyahu wants even more money and equipment than Obama is willing to give him, and he thinks that he will get a better “deal” from the next US president. Tom Friedman observed on PBS that Obama has quietly given up on the two-state solution, that it is up to Israel to implement a “one-state” solution: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The idea that they need John Kerry…to come over…It’s got to start with them. I think the most constructive thing President Obama could do [is]…say, we tried. It’s over. There’s going to be a one-state solution.

Friedman says all the Israelis do is pick apart new peace plans, making it more about the US, not about the warring factions in Israel: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The Americans [should say]…nobody’s coming. It’s over. It’s yours. You own it. Now you live with it.

And fix it if you can. But can we expect that from ANY of the current presidential candidates? No, they all say that they are Bibi’s greatest supporters. So we can expect the policy of “whatever Bibi wants, Bibi gets” to continue.

Finally, Turkey: Turkey is a member of NATO. Turkey wants to become a member of the EU. But, President Tayyip Erdogan is moving quickly to make Turkey an illiberal democracy. Turkish elections are democratic and mostly fair, but the government that they elect imprisons journalists, reassigns police in the middle of inconvenient investigations, and most recently, closed the country’s largest newspaper. In fact, 2000 people have been arrested just for insulting President Erdogan.

The EU is considering accelerating Turkey’s negotiations for EU membership. That process, which has been stalled for years, normally requires a candidate country to meet basic standards on pesky items from the independence of its judiciary, to press freedoms, two things missing in today’s Turkey.

The EU is crafting a devil’s bargain. They want Turkey to open up new refugee resettlement camps to hold the Syrians who cross from Turkey to Greece, and on to the rest of Europe. But shopping in the Turkish bazaar is never wise for the novice. The EU learned that lesson this week, when it discovered the refugee deal it believed it had previously sold to Turkish leaders turned out to be just the beginning of the negotiation on Monday. Turkey’s counter offer would have prompted EU negotiators to get up and walk out six months ago. Ankara’s proposal:

• €3 billion in refugee aid in addition to the €3 billion already pledged.
• Liberalized visas for Turkish citizens to visit the EU.
• A pledge by the EU to resettle the same number of Syrian refugees already in Turkish refugee camps, as Turkey takes in when the EU sends them back.
• Accelerated consideration of Turkish EU membership.

Turkey’s message to Europe is: You need us more than we need you. Their message back should be: we’ll give you the money. That’s it.

In closing, Wrongo just can’t resist a brief return (excuse the pun on briefs) to the US general election. Hillary’s likely reaction to Trump’s exhibitionism: “Somewhat like a penis, only MUCH smaller”.

COW Trump Package

 

 

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 29, 2015

Russia and Turkey, America and turkey. Turkeys shopping on Friday. Turkeys on the campaign trail. Quite the week for turkeys.

Russia’s and Turkey’s tiff makes Thanksgiving worrisome:

 

COW Russian Turkey

 

What Massasoit should have said to the Pilgrims:

COW Platter Back

“We’d love to get the platter back when this is over. That, and our land.”

Not all holiday cornucopias are filled with gifts:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

 

 

 

For some, Black Friday wasn’t about shopping:

COW Black Friday 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For others, long lines on Black Friday would be OK:

COW Black Fri

 

 

 

 

2016 presidential politics provided quite a bit of leftover turkey:

COW Leftovers

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