NATO TRUMPED

First published at Strategic Culture Foundation

Picked up by The Duran; JRL 2018/135/17; Zenith News; South Front; Straight Line Logic;

Those of us who regard NATO as one of the primary sources of international instability thanks to its wars of destruction in the MENA and provocation of Russia were looking forward with delighted anticipation to Trump’s appearance at the NATO summit. We were not disappointed. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Trump came late to the meeting where Ukraine and Georgia were banging on about the Russian threat, started ranting about spending and blew up the decorous charade. Ukraine and Georgia were then dismissed and a special meeting was convened. (A side effect of his “creative destruction” was that the Ukrainian President delivered his speech to a practically empty room). He started his assault before the meeting, opening Twitter fire on Germany, returning to the attack in his breakfast meeting with NATO’s GenSek:

Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting from 60% to 70% of their energy from Russia, and a new pipeline, and you tell me if that’s appropriate because I think it’s not and I think it’s a very bad thing for Nato.

Good fun for some of us but a stunner to the Panjandrumocracy: “meltdown“, “tantrum“, “latest diplomatic blowup“, “making bullying great again” and so on.

As ever, Trump’s statements were extreme and his numbers might not stand up to examination but most commenters (typically) left out the context. Which was a piece by German Chancellor Merkel herself in which she called for NATO to focus on the threats from Russia: “the alliance has to show determination to protect us”.

This gave Trump the opening to pose these questions (posed in his own way, of course, in a strategy that most people – despite the example of North Korea – have still not grasped). You tell us that NATO ought to concentrate on the Russian threat. If Russia is a threat, why are you buying gas from it?

        1. You tell us that Russia is a reliable energy supplier. If Russia is a reliable supplier, why are you telling us it’s a threat?
        2. I hope you’re not saying Russia is a threat and its gas is cheap but the USA will save you.

Good questions to be sure; questions that crystallise the contradiction of NATO. If Russia is such a big military threat to them – as NATO communiqués incessantly say it is – then why aren’t the Europeans, presumably first on Moscow’s cross hairs, doing more to meet that threat? And, if, as their doing so little about their defence suggests, they don’t fear Russia, then why do they say that they do? From the latest NATO communiqué:

meeting Russia’s aggressive actions, including the threat and use of force to attain political goals, challenge the Alliance and are undermining Euro-Atlantic security and the rules-based international order.

I always like to count words in these cliché-ridden screeds: it gives a metric of importance and saves force-marching my eyeballs through 12,000 words of self-satisfied pap. In the countries where NATO forces are actually deployed, the communiqué mentions Afghanistan twice, Kosovo six times and Iraq 14 times. NATO destroyed Libya but it only gets six references; it’s doing its best to repeat the performance in Syria (nine). But Russia leads with 54 mentions, none of them complimentary. Why even NATO’s favourite mush words, “values” (16) and “stability” (26), appear fewer times. Ukraine, on the other hand, has 25 appearances, all in what could be called the phantasmagorical verbal mood: “We welcome significant reform progress”. So, in NATOland, Russia’s back. By contrast, the Riga Summit communiqué in 2006 mentioned Afghanistan 17 times, Iraq eight times and Russia ten times (“values” and “stability” scored 15 each). But NATO was still looking for a purpose then:

It recognizes that for the foreseeable future, the principal threats to the Alliance are terrorism and proliferation, as well as failing states, regional crises, misuse of new technologies and disruption of the flow of vital resources.

The logic of NATO’s very existence creates the contradiction. NATO, having lost its raison d’être when the Warsaw Pact and the USSR disappeared, having floundered around in out-of-area operations and the “War on Terror”, has returned to “the Russian threat”. (But in a bureaucracy nothing ever actually stops: this week’s meeting approved a NATO training (!) mission in Iraq Year 15 and more British troops in Kabul Year 16.) Without the “Russian Threat” there would be no reason for NATO to exist, and certainly no big arms contracts, and all the warm butterscotch sauce of “common values” or “projecting stability” could not keep it together. Because, the brutal truth is that military alliances are kept together, not by common values, but by common enemies.

But, no question about it, it’s Washington that bears the major responsibility: Washington pushes NATO expansion, adding monomaniacal anti-Russian members; Washington foments colour revolutions; Washington blew up Ukraine and tried to snatch the Sevastopol naval base; Washington “twists arms“; Washington demands European sanctions and Magnitskiy Acts; Washington’s failed wars in the MENA suck in NATO members; Washington dropped the ABM Treaty inspiring Russia to create its super weapons. The truth is that, whatever might have happened otherwise, Washington drove NATO in the anti-Russia direction.

But Donald Trump is not that Washington: he is the anti-Washington. He tosses bombs into gatherings of complacent apparatchiks: if you believe what you’re saying, act on it; if you don’t act on it, stop saying it. Then he threw the spending bomb. For years there has been a vague commitment that NATO members should spend 2% of their GDP on defence; the commitment appears to have been formalised in 2014. (14) But the members aren’t paying much attention. Few have achieved it and the downward trend, begun at the end of the Cold War, has continued. Regardless of whether “2%” makes any sense or how it is calculated, Trump was right to remind NATO members that they themselves agreed to it. Again Trump raises the pointed question: why don’t you act as if you believe what you’re saying?

Indicators of European NATO members’ actual readiness and combat capability are stunning; the latest being “Only 4 of Germany’s 128 Eurofighter jets combat ready — report“; “Ground force: Half of France’s military planes ‘unfit to fly’“. “Britain’s ‘withered’ forces not fit to repel all-out attack“. “Europe’s Readiness Problem“. Obviously they’re not expecting a Russian attack any time soon. NATO is, as I have argued here, a paper tiger. It is questionable whether NATO members can conduct any operation without the USA providing satellite navigation and observation, air defence suppression, airborne command and control, inflight tankers, heavy lift and ammunition resupply to name a few deficiencies. So, either the Europeans are not worried; or, as Trump likes to say, they are free riders.

Six months ago I suggested that Trump may be trying to get out of what I called the “Gordian knot of entanglements

President Trump can avoid new entanglements but he has inherited so many and they are, all of them, growing denser and thicker by the minute. Consider the famous story of the Gordian Knot: rather than trying to untie the fabulously complicated knot, Alexander drew his sword and cut it. How can Trump cut The Gordian Knot of American imperial entanglements? By getting others to untie it.

 

He stamps out of NATO leaving them quaking: if you say Russia is the enemy, why do you act as if it isn’t; and if you act as if it isn’t, why do you say it is? And firing, over his shoulder, the threat: 2% by next January.

I believe it is a threat and a very neat one too:

If you don’t get up to 2% (or is it 4%?) and quickly too; I warned you. Goodbye.

If you do get your spending up, then you don’t need us. Goodbye.

Another strand of the knot gone.

 

BRITISH RESIGNATIONS

(Answer to question from Sputnik)

(The editors wanted a definition, so I offered this “Panjandrumocracy: A group of self-appointed people claiming to have great authority. Formerly a characteristic of the Warsaw Pact and Comintern but now principally found in EU and NATO and related Western blastomas on the res publica.”)

All over the Western world, at different rates and varying with national peculiarities, we see a revolt against the Panjandrums. The British revolt took the form of the Brexit vote but, two years later, Brexit seems no closer. One Prime Minister has resigned and it looks as if May will be the second. I would guess that a compromise candidate will be chosen but that will only delay events.

If, in a general election, Corbyn should become PM, that will be another blow to the Panjandrumocracy. Where that will leave NATO, Syrian operations overt and covert, Yemen ditto, Russophobia and Skripalmania one can only guess. But certainly no stronger.

Whatever happens in the UK, the revolt will continue: now here, now there. The Panjandrums are giving ground everywhere. The process continues; but it will be painful: enormous sums of money are at stake.

HOW TO FIX UKRAINE

  • Hold a plebiscite throughout the territory of the former Ukrainian SSR (yes that includes Crimea – we’re trying to make a settlement that everyone agrees with and there’s no doubt how that would turn out).
  • Said plebiscite to be monitored by countries with no dog in the fight: say China, India and a South America one. Get the UN to bless the results in advance.
  • Question for Round 1
    • Do you want to be part of Russia?
    • Do you want to be part of Ukraine?
    • Do you want to be independent?
  • Re-design the borders to accommodate results of votes as much as possible.
  • Generous financial assistance to those who want to move from one area to another. Paid for by the USA and the EU who, after all, blew up the old Ukraine.
  • In five years as Rump Ukraine gets worse off, repeat plebiscite with one additional question
    • Do you want to be part of a neighbouring country? If so, which one?
  • Repeat in another five years and keep repeating until everyone is where he wants to be.
  • Make sure you have tight border controls around Rump Ukraine to keep the nazis in.

What are the chances of this happening? Well, given that Trump is a new phenomenon, you can’t say it’s absolutely zero.

What happens if this isn’t done? The same thing eventually but after a lot more suffering and a lot more time.

Is this a precedent? Yes, what’s wrong with that?

NO, YOUR INTELLIGENCE IS ACTUALLY BAD. VERY BAD.

First published https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/05/02/no-your-intelligence-is-actually-bad-very-bad.html

Picked up by https://russia-insider.com/en/us-thinks-it-knows-russia-keeps-getting-surprised-it/ri23357

JRL 2018-#79/4

About a year ago, one Evelyn Farkas boasted “we have good intelligence on Russia…“. She was an important functionary on Russian matters in the Obama Administration and was, therefore, much involved in “intelligence on Russia”. My immediate reaction when I read it was: No, you do not have good intelligence on Russia; if you did, you wouldn’t be surprised all the time and your boss wouldn’t be saying such silly things. In March 2015 I enumerated some of the delusions. Vide this famous quotation from a 2014 interview:

But I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything. Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking. And so we have to respond with resolve in what are effectively regional challenges that Russia presents.

Obama was surely repeating what Farkas and others told him. Wrong on all three counts: Russia makes many things; it is the second immigrant destination on the planet; and its life expectancy and population are growing. This was not hermetic knowledge, available only to the Illuminati; these facts were easily discovered by any competent intelligence agency. That is not good intelligence. He liked to tell us that “Russia is isolated” or that “its economy [is] in tatters.” Wrong again.

The Duke of Wellington once observed:

All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill.’

That is a concise description of intelligence. When done right, intelligence minimises surprise: it gives an idea of what is on the other side so that when it does come over the hill, you’re prepared. You can imagine anything you like, of course, but when it does come over the hill, you find out. Which made it all the more amusing to watch Obama when it did come over the hill: by two years later reality was making him admit that Russia was no declining regional challenge but

an important country. It is a military superpower. It has influence in the region and it has influence around the world. And in order for us to solve many big problems around the world, it is in our interest to work with Russia and obtain their cooperation.

Today Obama’s political party thinks Russia so powerful that it is suing it because “Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign.” Deep persistent ignorance: the opposite of “good intelligence”.

Washington was not prepared for Russia’s action in Crimea. It was so sure that it had the naval base there that the US Navy was soliciting bids on a real estate development in Sevastopol. But really… who thought that Moscow would acquiesce to the snatching of a territory that had been part of Russia before the USA existed and a part of the Byzantine-Russian space half a millennium before Columbus? Moscow moved and moved quickly and Washington was left inventing humanitarian crises in Crimea. Intentions and capabilities: the very stuff of intelligence. Both wrong.

Nor did they learn from their mistakes: Moscow had moved quickly after Saakashvili attacked South Ossetia and again Washington had had to explain it away with silly theories that Russia tricked him into attacking. Better intelligence would have considered that Moscow might react to its soldiers being killed and might have the capability to do so. Intentions and capabilities again.

In 2015 I speculated on the reasons why Moscow ran rings around Washington all the time:

So it’s not that complicated: competency, attention to first principles, reality, planning, consistency of purpose and unity of execution beats incompetency, interfering in everything everywhere, illusion, sloppy assumptions, confusion and disunity.

Syria was the next to show that American intelligence hadn’t seen over the hill. Some of the surprises.

  1. Relatively insignificant boats in the Caspian Sea with a thousand kilometre punch.
  2. The high sortie rate of Russian aircraft.
  3. “Dumb bombs” turned into “smart bombs”.
  4. Russian EW capabilities.
  5. The S-300/400/500 series, a major off-stage frightener.
  6. Impressive stunts like the “White Swan” strike from the Kola Peninsula, or the Kalibr cruise missile strikes from the super-silent Varshavyanka submarines were another unexpected display of capability.
  7. And, of course, the speed and decisiveness with which Moscow moved.

And the surprises keep coming. Whether the Syrian air defence (with, no doubt, Russian help) really did shoot down 70% of the missiles in the latest FUKUS strike as the Russian MoD claims, there is no doubt that FUKUS is hiding something (unless you believe their absurd claim that 76 missiles hit this site). An American general complains that

Right now in Syria we are operating in the most aggressive EW environment on the planet from our adversaries. They are testing us everyday, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130s, etcetera.

Another surprise from the country “that doesn’t make anything”. Today the US Defense Secretary talks of “the erosion of U.S. military advantage in relation to China and Russia.

So, in short, bad intelligence. Wrong on the significance of Russia; wrong on its capability; wrong on its determination; wrong on its military sophistication. Wrong too on the effect of sanctions.

‘It seems that the people working on this lost their way a bit,’ said a former Treasury official who was involved in drafting the sanctions imposed in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. ‘The bottom line is that the US government has a very shallow bench on Russia. And so they end up acting more-or-less at random.’

“Shallow bench”? More of an echo chamber in which people at the top expect to hear what they want to hear and are told it; reinforced by a news media full of people paid to believe what they believe to be paid. The only challenge to this bubble of complacent idiocy is the difficulty of inventing excuses for failure: Putin tricked Saakashvili, Ukraine would be rich if Putin hadn’t “invaded”, Crimeans are suffering, Russia’s not really fighting ISIS, Putin hacked our elections, the Russian economy trembles, Putin is about to fall (here’s the latest in the long series).

We do know what we’re doing; tomorrow will prove us right; we’ll shout louder.

All this would be harmless and amusing if it were about Ruritania and the Duchy of Strackenz. But this complacent bubble of idiocy directs and informs the behaviour of the “world’s indispensable power” in its undeclared war against a power with enough nuclear weapons to obliterate it.

THOUGHTS ON KOREA

(Response to a question from Sputnik. https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201804301064040839-kim-north-south-korea-summit/)

I have long thought that the solution in Korea is what the Chinese call the “dual suspension”: the north gives up its nuclear weapons and the south agrees to stop the annual threatening exercises with the USA. Kim remembers the horrors visited on North Korea by the USA in his grandfather’s time and has little trust in Washington. Especially after the destruction of Libya.

But, getting from here to there will take a lot of careful testing of intentions and actions. Yesterday’s announcement suggests a step towards “dual suspension” in this sentence: “South and North Korea agreed to carry out disarmament in a phased manner, as military tension is alleviated and substantial progress is made in military confidence-building.” But a seven-decade situation will take a long time to end.

The real question is what will Washington do? The last agreement in 1994 – a type of “dual suspension” – was broken by Washington; Washington is what Pyongyang really fears. Will Washington step back and let the locals solve the problem?

Reading his inaugural speech, one would expect Trump to want to get out. But who can say? Washington is, as the Russians say, not-capable-of-agreement-with (недоговороспособниы). One President says no to NATO expansion; the next says expand. Korean agreements are passed by presidents, blocked by Congress. UN resolutions are used as licences to kill. One says deal with Iran, the next says no deal. Syrian ceasefires are negotiated by State and cancelled by the Pentagon. The present one says time to get out of Syria and a week later attacks Syria. Impossible to predict; impossible to trust; impossible to agree with.

That’s the problem. I believe that the two principals and their immediate neighbours could work their way to a solution over time; Washington is the unpredictable part.

WHY MOSCOW’S FOREIGN PHILOSOPHY IS “WESTPHALIAN”

First published at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/04/02/why-moscow-foreign-philosophy-is-westphalian.html
These days there are two styles of foreign policy being practised; Paul Robinson here describes them: one is a “a traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities”. In the other style, there are said to be two kinds of states: “the just and the unjust”; they are not “legally or morally equal”. Others have called the second “idealism” or “moral diplomacy”. There is a continuous tradition of the USA regarding itself as quite a new category of country as recounted here and so the moralistic stance is sometimes called “Wilsonian” after the President who wished to “teach the South American republics to elect good men” but it’s quite bipartisan: witness the “Roosevelt Corollary” in which Theodore Roosevelt arrogated to the United States of America, as a “civilised country”, the right to intervene “in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence”. Neither of these approaches is new: there have always been countries that have believed that their gods gave them the mission of instructing and disciplining their neighbours and there have always been countries that were content to leave others alone.

The moralistic position is erected on the assumption that the speaker’s country is virtuous; that its virtue is evident and demonstrable: that its virtue is a fact. The lack of virtue of the other country is also a fact. Some countries are virtuous and others are not and the virtuous ones are permitted to do things the others can’t. Not assumption but reality; not hope but realisation; not relative but absolute; not subjective but objective. Stated that baldly, one wonders how any adult can believe such a thing. But they do. And with straight faces too:

Our children need to know that they – the citizens of the exceptional country, the most powerful, good and noble country in the history of mankind.

Most of all, America is indispensible — and exceptional — because of our values… The world looks to us to stand up for human rights, LGBT rights, religious and ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities and people everywhere who yearn for peace. We challenge ourselves and other nations to do better.

How fortunate that the best and noblest country in human history is also the most powerful! The United States is the current headquarters of the notion that some (or is it only one?) countries are “exceptional” and operate under different, but higher, standards than mere ordinary ones. In the last couple of decades the idea has spread throughout the Western world generally via, as Robinson observes, the (self-awarded) distinction of “those who respect and those who don’t respect human rights“. The West, it need hardly be said, considers itself to be a respecter.

So some of us are morally elevated and the rest of us are not. Those who aren’t should look to their defences: it’s bad for one’s life expectancy to be on the defaulters’ list as Slobodan Milosevich, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi can attest. It is striking how often this moral superiority is expressed by sanctions and bombing rather than by example, but the morally exceptional can do such things because they are morally exceptional. And, when Milosevic is exonerated, the WMD that was the pretext for Saddam’s overthrow isn’t there and it’s discovered that Qaddafi wasn’t “bombing his own people”, moral purity lets the exceptionalists shrug it off and move on; children die, but in a good cause. Exceptionalists bomb hospitals by mistake; the others do it on purpose.

The “idealistic” camp is led by Washington, while Moscow has come to be the chief spokesman for the “realistic” camp. Practically every speech Putin makes on foreign affairs has an appeal to “multilateralism” or to Robinson’s “traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities”. Here he is in an interview in 2000, but many many times since:

The world cannot develop effectively and positively if one state has a monopoly on taking and implementing whatever decisions it wants… In the history of mankind, such a drive for a monopoly has never ended well. For that reason, we are constantly proposing a different democratic world structure.

There are several reasons why Putin (and Yeltsin before him) calls for the primacy of the United Nations in a multilateral world system. Two are obviously self-serving: Russia is a permanent member of the UNSC and, second, it fears that it’s on the Exceptionalist hit list. And, given the predominance of “human rights violations” as justifications for “humanitarian interventions”, the annual condemnatory US State Department human rights report shows it has reason to fear.

But there is another reason why Moscow is dedicated to “a traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities”. And it’s one that’s easy to forget:

The USSR spent 70 years pushing an “exceptionalist” foreign policy and it was a bust.

The USSR, as the “world’s first socialist state” was the standard-bearer for the “bright future of mankind”, a novus ordo seculorum, even a new type of human – “новый советский человек“. It was the exceptional country, it was the “most good and noble country in the history of mankind”, it was the leader of “people everywhere who yearn for peace”. It intervened all over the world in support of its self-awarded moral superiority. National Communist parties echoed Moscow’s superior wisdom. The German Communist Party collaborated with the Nazis to weaken the Weimar Republic. Why? Because socialism would prevail when Weimar went down. But it didn’t: the Nazis prevailed and the USSR paid a mighty price for their triumph. Cuba, a socialist state (“The Island of Freedom”), had to be supported by the Leader of World Socialism. That support brought the world close to a nuclear war. Any little movement that called itself socialist called for Moscow’s help, even countries the Politburo’s decrepit members had never heard of. They had to be provided with weapons, loans, aid and diplomatic support. It would have been impossible for the World’s First Socialist state not to intervene in Afghanistan when the so-called socialist government there began to wobble. Once socialist, socialist forever:

When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.

How could the USSR avoid lending money or weapons to any state that said it was socialist? Peace movements had to be infiltrated because theory said that only socialism brought peace. Being exceptional has heavy obligations:

More than any other people on Earth, we bear burdens and accept risks unprecedented in their size and their duration, not for ourselves alone but for all who wish to be free. (John Kennedy actually, but Brezhnev probably said something like it, although at greater length.)

And it all came to nothing. Consider, for example, Poland. The USSR liberated it from the Nazis who had killed off about a fifth of the population; Stalin redrew the map so that, for the first time in history, all historical Poland was united and that territory was almost completely ethnically homogeneous. The USSR intervened in Polish politics and civil life for four decades by enforcing, as it believed it was morally obliged to do, the “bright future of mankind” to the expected benefit of the Polish people. Or so the exceptionalists in the Kremlin said. And with what result? The moment it became clear that the tanks weren’t coming, Poland threw off the Soviets, the alliance and the whole socialist package. And so throughout the other Fraternal Socialist States. It was a bubble. Exceptional countries have no friends because they have no equals, they can only have clients; but clients have to be fed or coerced.

The Russian Federation, as the successor to the USSR, inherited what it owed and what it was owed. But there was a big difference: the debts were real; the credits were not. Russia has paid all that it owed and written off most of what it was owed. In the case of Cuba, in 2014 Putin wrote off $32 billion in debt. The USSR had lent money to African “socialist” countries – as Leader of the Socialist World how could it refuse? Putin just wrote off $20 billion of that. And so on. Exceptionalism was money down the hole.

In 1987 a short piece by Yevgeniy Primakov appeared in Pravda: “A New Philosophy of Foreign Policy”. Essentially it argued that the USSR’s foreign policy had been a failure: it had reduced security and was bankrupting the country. After 70 years of exceptionalism, what was left? No friendship, often the opposite. No monetary profit, just costs. The Leader of the Socialist Bloc and the Bloc itself evaporated as if they had never been. It was all for nothing. And worse than nothing: here’s Putin himself in 1999:

For almost three-fourths of the outgoing century Russia lived under the sign of the implementation of the communist doctrine. It would be a mistake not to see and, even more so, to deny the unquestionable achievements of those times. But it would be an even bigger mistake not to realise the outrageous price our country and its people had to pay for that Bolshevist experiment. What is more, it would be a mistake not to understand its historic futility. Communism and the power of Soviets did not make Russia a prosperous country with a dynamically developing society and free people. Communism vividly demonstrated its inaptitude for sound self-development, dooming our country to a steady lag behind economically advanced countries. It was a road to a blind alley, which is far away from the mainstream of civilisation.

“Outrageous price”. “Historic futility”. “Inaptitude”. “Steady lag”. “A road to a blind alley”. Nothing: no money, no friends, no power, no prosperity. Nothing: neither at home nor abroad.

Moscow knows the exceptionalist road is “a road to a blind alley” because it wasted 70 years on that road. However imperfect and irritating the “traditional, Westphalian, order in which states are equal sovereign entities” may be, Moscow knows that “idealism” is completely worthless.

It’s worth observing that the “Westphalian system” is named after the several agreements in 1648 that ended the religious wars in Europe by accepting the principle of cuius regio, eius religio or that each state would be allowed to do things its own way. In other words, Westphalianism was accepted only after idealism had burned everything to the ground.

It’s an old lesson that Russia has learned but Washington, with its still-large purse, hasn’t. Yet.

WHY I AM LEAVING FACEBOOK

Some years ago a friend, whose advice I generally take, suggested that I join Facebook because it could be used as a good source of news. And so I have found it to be. I have a relatively small group of “friends” and the general rule I use is whether that “friend” can tell me something I don’t know. So I have kept the list to about 100 – some family and a couple of people for amusement (one of whom I have always considered to be deeply shallow). In my little corner of FB the subject is Russia and all that. The “Russia subject” gets bigger as the Western world stumbles and fails and now covers quite a large territory of discussion. Generally speaking, I didn’t regret following my friend’s advice and found my corner of FB to be very valuable to me as a communications and information system.

I knew that my activity was being mined for advertising and the like but that didn’t bother me too much. My circle was small, I never filled out the lists of favourite movies or other rubbish and my interests are too eclectic to fit (I notice that Amazon has given up predicting what I might like). So I figured that was a price I could be comfortable with. I noticed that some people were banned but I wasn’t. Although I, as the anti-Russia panic grew and spread, realised that sooner or later I would be. So I began to see that the day would come when I left FB. Because my little corner is doubleplusungood. I make no apology for using Orwell’s Newspeak for it is becoming the language of the West.

For a year or so I considered leaving but didn’t get around to initiating the process. What made me think the time had come was this report “U.S. visa applicants to be asked for social media history: State Department“. Now you just know that’s going to happen. And you just know that the vast NSA structure will sooner or later be hooked into visas to detect thoughtcrime. As a Canadian I don’t need a visa to get into the US but who knows what will happen. And the last thing I want is the system noticing that I don’t duckspeak. And then we see this: “Department Of Homeland Security Compiling Database Of Journalists And ‘Media Influencers’“. Well, I’m a “media influencer” in a small way and not in the direction of goodthink either. We are, by the way, about to receive a demonstration of just how much information FB has.

So time to get out. But where to go? Because I did come to rely on my circle on FB for news (real news I should say, not the fake news spewed by the MSM) and want to preserve the opportunity. I have decided to give the Russian Facebook, V Kontakte (“In Contact”) a try. Over the next few weeks I will moving over to it. One reason is that I have never heard of anyone being banned from VK for thoughtcrime as many of my FB contacts have been. But that’s only one reason.

Now I am not so simple-minded as to think that the Russian security services don’t mine VK and other social media sources for information. Of course they do – no security service on earth could resist the temptation no matter what the law might say. But I am less concerned about the Russians doing this than the Americans. There are two reasons.

The first is that I pass through the USA much more often than through Russia. I like cruising and many cruises involve coming under US jurisdiction. And, of course, it is only to the USA and its tools, lost in their Russomania, that I am guilty of thoughtcrimes: the Russians would regard me as a paragon of goodthink!

But there is another, more profound, reason. Witness the 2015 San Bernardino attack. The killers were active on social media. Witness the Boston Marathon bombing; again much activity on social media. In neither case were they apprehended before the attack. In fact, can anyone think of a terrorist attack in the USA in which the attackers were caught before they did it? Other than entrapments, of course. And yet the NSA regularly vacuums up all communications – social media and otherwise. Why is it doing this? Not, apparently, to catch terrorists. I do not believe that the Russians use bulk collection; I believe they are much more targetted in their collection. I say this because the Russians do catch terrorists before they strike. But I say it also because Moscow actually is fighting jihadists; it is not, as Washington is, alternately bombing them and arming them. Therefore I have much greater trust in the Russian security organs’ powers to mine social media.

So, altogether, I find myself in the interesting position – unimaginable 40 years ago when I started working for the Department of National Defence (How I got here) – of opting for a Russian social media network on the grounds that it is freer and more trustworthy than an American. But such are the times in which we live.

So I invite you to move over too.

(Those who question my conclusions might read this “Bill Binney, the ‘original’ NSA whistleblower, on Snowden, 9/11 and illegal surveillance” and follow up the issues raised in the piece.)

TRUMP CUTS THE GORDIAN KNOT OF FOREIGN ENTANGLEMENTS

First published at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/01/02/trump-cuts-gordian-knot-foreign-entanglements.html

Picked up by

https://www.sott.net/article/372828-Trump-knows-what-hes-doing-Cutting-the-Gordian-Knot-of-foreign-entanglements

https://www.therussophile.org/trump-knows-what-hes-doing-cutting-the-gordian-knot-of-foreign-entanglements.html/

http://mikenormaneconomics.blogspot.ca/2018/01/patrick-armstrong-trump-cuts-gordian.html

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-01-05/trump-cuts-gordian-knot-foreign-entanglements

http://world.news.aboutcivil.org/news/trump-cuts-the-gordian-knot-of-foreign-entanglements

http://financialliteracyy.com/trump-cuts-the-gordian-knot-of-foreign-entanglements/

https://madhousenews.com/2018/01/trump-cuts-the-gordian-knot-of-foreign-entanglements/

http://abundanthope.net/pages/Political_Information_43/Trump-Cuts-the-Gordian-Knot-of-Foreign-Entanglements_printer.shtml

http://dailyreadlist.com/article/trump-cuts-the-gordian-knot-of-foreign-entanglemen-5

http://lesakerfrancophone.fr/trump-tranche-le-noeud-gordien-des-intrications-a-letranger

Referred to at http://www.moonofalabama.org/2018/01/trump-offloads-foreign-policy-problems-lets-eu-grow-a-spine.html

President Trump is a new phenomenon on the American political scene. Not a professional politician begging for funds but a rich man who spent his own money and raised money on his own name: he arrived in office unencumbered with obligations. Free from a history in politics, he owes nothing to anyone. Add in his personality, grandiosity and late-night tweets and the punditocracy is in a state of angry incomprehension. Even more offensive to their notions of propriety is that this “dangerously incompetent“, unqualified, mentally ill man beat the “most qualified presidential candidate in history“. No wonder so many of them believe that only cunning Putin could have made it happen – even if they don’t know how. But the punditocracy is as befuddled about him today as it was last year and the year before. (Scott Adams, who got it right, reminds us just how clueless they were.) The very fact that Trump won despite the opposition of practically every established constituency in the United States shows that there is more to him than readers of the NYT and WaPo or watchers of CNN and MSNBC (can) understand.

What follows is an attempt to divine Trump’s foreign policy. It proceeds from the assumption that he does know what he’s doing (as he did when he decided to run in the first place) and that he does have a destination in mind. It proceeds with the understanding that his foreign policy intentions have been greatly retarded by the (completely false) allegations of Russia connections and Russian interference. There was no Russian state interference in the election (the likelihood is that Moscow would have preferred known Clinton) and, as I have written here, the story doesn’t even make sense. I expect when the Department of Justice Inspector General completes his report that the Russiagate farrago will be revealed as a conspiracy inside the US security organs. We do not have a date yet, but mid-January is suggested. Readers who want to follow the story are recommended to these websites: Dystopiausa, CTH and Zerohedge.

We start with four remarks Trump often made while campaigning. Everyone would be better off had President Bush taken a day at the beach rather than invade Iraq. The “six trillion dollars” spent in the Middle East would have been better spent on infrastructure in the USA. NATO is obsolete and the USA pays a disproportionate share. It would better to get along with Russia than not.

To the neocon and humanitarian intervention crowd, who have been driving US foreign policy for most of the century, these four points, when properly understood (as, at some level, they do understand them), are a fatal challenge. Trump is saying that

  • the post 911 military interventions did nothing for the country’s security
  • foreign interventions impoverish the country;
  • the alliance system is neither useful nor a good deal for the country;
  • Russia is not the once and future enemy.

A Chinese leader might call these the Three Noes (no regime change wars, no overseas adventures, no entangling alliances) and the One Yes (cooperation with Russia and other powers).

Which brings us to his slogan of Make America Great Again. We notice his campaign themes of job loss, opiates, lawlessness, infrastructure, illegal immigration, the stranglehold of regulations, the “swamp”, the indifference of the mighty, the death of the “American Dream”. None of these can be made better by overseas interventions, carrier battle groups or foreign bases. But they can be made worse by them. There is every reason to expect that by MAGA he means internal prosperity and not external might. Trump has little interest in the obsessions of the neocon and humanitarian intervention crowd. “We need a leader that can bring back our jobs, can bring back our manufacturing, can bring back our military – can take care of our vets… The fact is, the American Dream is dead.” No foreign adventures there. So, in summary, Trump’s foreign policy of Three Noes and One Yes is a necessary part of making America “great” again. If I am correct in this and this is indeed his aim, how can he do it?

There is a powerful opposition in the United States to the Three Noes and One Yes. And it’s not just from the neocon/humanitarian interventionists: most Americans have been conditioned to believe that the USA must be the world’s policeman, arbiter, referee, example. Perhaps it’s rooted in the City on a Hill exceptionalism of the early dissenter settlers, perhaps it’s a legacy of the reality of 1945, perhaps it’s just the effect of unremitting propaganda, but most Americans believe that the USA has an obligation to lead. Gallup informs us that, in this century, well over half of the population has agreed that the USA should play the leading or a major role in the world. The percentage in the punditocracy believing the USA must lead would be even higher.

Interventionists are becoming aware that they do not have a soulmate in the White House and they’re wagging their rhetorical fingers. “The fact is, though, that there is no alternative great power willing and able to step in“. “If nations in the South China Sea lose confidence in the United States to serve as the principal regional security guarantor, they could embark on costly and potentially destabilizing arms buildups to compensate or, alternatively, become more accommodating to the demands of a powerful China” warns the intervention-friendly Council on Foreign Relations. The US has an obligation to lead in North Korea. It must lead for “Middle East progress“. A former NATO GenSek proclaims the US must lead. “US should be the great force for peace and justice globally“. “The absence of American leadership has certainly not caused all the instability, but it has encouraged and exacerbated it.” The ur-neocon tells us that America must lead. Chaos is the alternative. Must resume (resume??!!) its imperial role (which apparently means even more military expenditure lest its military lead be lost). Innumerable more examples calling on the US to lead something/somewhere everything/everywhere can easily be found: it would be much more difficult to find one pundit advising the US to keep out of a problem somewhere than find twenty urging it to lead.

If I have understood him aright, what would Trump see if he read this stuff? Lead, lead, lead… everything everywhere. The South China Sea, the Middle East and North Korea specifically but everywhere else too. More infrastructure repairs foregone so as to ensure what?… That ships carrying goods to and from China safely transit the South China Sea? “Friendly” governments installed in “Kyrzbekistan“? Soldiers killed in countries not even lawmakers knew they were in? 40,000 troops out there somewhere? Trying to double the Soviet record for being stuck in Afghanistan? How many bridges, factories or lives is that worth? Trump sees more entanglements but he sees no benefit. He’s a businessman: he can see the expense but where’s the profit?

How to get out of these entanglements? It’s too late to hope to persuade the legions bleating that “America must lead” and, even if they could be persuaded, there isn’t enough time to do so: they salivate when the bell rings. President Trump can avoid new entanglements but he has inherited so many and they are, all of them, growing denser and thicker by the minute. Consider the famous story of the Gordian Knot: rather than trying to untie the fabulously complicated knot, Alexander drew his sword and cut it. How can Trump cut The Gordian Knot of American imperial entanglements?

By getting others to untie it.

He walks out of the Paris Agreement (“a watershed moment when it comes to debating America’s role in the world“). And the TPP (“opened the door toward greater Chinese influence, and won’t benefit the U.S. economy in the slightest“). His blustering on Iran caused the German Foreign Minister to express doubts about American leadership. He brusquely tells NATO allies to pay their own way (“America’s NATO allies may be on their own after November if Russia attacks them“). By announcing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel he unites practically everybody against Washington and then uses that excuse to cut money to the UN. His trash talk on North Korea has actually started the first debate about the utility of military force we’ve seen for fifteen years. He pulls out of Syria (quietly and too slowly but watch what he doesn’t talk about). One last try in Afghanistan and then out. Re-negotiate all the trade deals to US benefit or walk away. Be disrespectful of all sorts of conventions and do your best to alienate allies so they start to cut the ties themselves (his tweet on the UK was especially effective). Attack the media which is part of the machinery of entanglement. Confiscate assets. It’s a species of tough love – rudely and brusquely delivered. He (presumably) glories in opinion polls that show respect for the USA as a world leader slipping. He doesn’t care whether they like him or not – America first and leave the others to it.

The Three Noes and One Yes policy will be achieved by others: others who realise that the USA is no longer going to lead and they will have to lead themselves. Or not. Perhaps, as the neocons love to say, US leadership was necessary in the immediate postwar situation, perhaps NATO served a stabilising purpose then but there has been nothing stabilising about US leadership in this century. Endless wars and destruction and chaos and loss. Thus abroad and – the part that Trump cares about – so at home. It’s not incompetence, as the people who fail Adams’ test tell themselves; it’s a strategy.

(All real theories must be falsifiable; let’s see in a year’s time whether the US is more entangled or less entangled. It should be pretty apparent by then and, by the end of Trump’s first term, obvious to all.)
(Afterword: I have been thinking about this for some time as I ponder the Trump phenomenon. But I was inspired to write by Israel Shamir’s piece about how the Jerusalem decision has united everybody against it. I was also pleased to see that Andrew Korybko has just published a piece that argues along the same lines as I. The principal difference between his take and mine is that he sees the plan as using the chaos to strengthen the US’ world position whereas I see Trump as essentially an isolationist. But we both see the same mechanism at work.)

 

 

NATO: A DANGEROUS PAPER TIGER

(First published at https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/11/16/nato-dangerous-paper-tiger.html)

The Chinese have a genius for pithy expressions and few are more packed with meaning, while immediately understandable, than “paper tiger”. NATO is one, but paper tigers that overestimate their powers can be dangerous.

Some Russians are concerned that there are today more hostile troops at the Russian border than at any time since 1941. While this is true, it is not, at the moment, very significant. The Germans invaded the USSR with nearly 150 divisions in 1941. Which, as it turned out, were not enough.

Today NATO has – or claims to have – a battle group in each of the three Baltic countries and one in Poland: pompously titled Enhanced Forward Presence. The USA has a brigade and talks of another. A certain amount of heavy weaponry has been moved to Europe. These constitute the bulk of the land forces at the border. They amount to, at the most optimistic assessment, assuming everything is there and ready to go, one division. Or, actually, one division equivalent (a very different thing) from 16 (!) countries with different languages, military practices and equipment sets and their soldiers ever rotating through. And, in a war, the three in the Baltics would be bypassed and become either a new Dunkirk or a new Cannae. All for the purpose, we are solemnly told, of sending “a clear message that an attack on one Ally would be met by troops from across the Alliance“. But who’s the “message” for? Moscow already has a copy of the NATO treaty and knows what Article V says.

In addition to the EFP are the national forces. But they are in a low state: “depleted armies” they’ve been called: under equipped and under manned; seldom exercised. The German parliamentary ombudsman charged with overseeing the Bundeswehr says “There are too many things missing“. In 2008 the French Army was described as “falling apart“. The British Army “can’t find enough soldiers“. The Italian army is ageing. Poland, one of the cheerleaders for the “Russian threat” meme, finds its army riven over accusations of politicisation. On paper, these five armies claim to have thirteen divisions and thirteen independent brigades. Call it, optimistically, a dozen divisions in all. The US Army (which has its own recruiting difficulties) adds another eleven or so to the list (although much of it is overseas entangled in the metastasising “war on terror”). Let’s pretend all the other NATO countries can bring another five divisions to the fight.

So, altogether, bringing everything home from the wars NATO is fighting around the world, under the most optimistic assumptions, assuming that everything is there and working (fewer than half of France’s tanks were operational, German painted broomsticks, British recruiting shortfalls), crossing your fingers and hoping, NATO could possibly cobble together two and a half dozen divisions: or one-fifth of the number Germany thought it would need. But, in truth, that number is fantasy: undermanned, under equipped, seldom exercised, no logistics tail, no munitions production backup, no time for a long logistics build up. NATO’s armies aren’t capable of a major war against a first class enemy. And no better is the principal member: “only five of the U.S. Army’s 15 armored brigade combat teams are maintained at full readiness levels“. A paper tiger.

This reality was on display – for those who could see – in the “Dragoon Ride” of 2015. Intended “to assure those allies that live closest to the Bear that we are here“, it was a parade of light armoured vehicles armed with heavy machine guns. Although breathlessly covered in the US media (“Show the world some of the firepower the United States and its NATO partners have in Eastern Europe“), it is unlikely that any watcher who had served in a Warsaw Pact army was impressed by what was in effect a couple of dozen BTR-50s. And neither was the US Army when it thought about it: a rush program was put into effect to give the vehicles a bigger weapon. The first one was delivered a year later. So now the US Army has a few lightly armoured vehicles with cannons. Something like the Soviet BTR-80 of the 1980s. Meanwhile, the Russians have the Bumerang-BM turret. Years of kicking in doors and patrolling roads hoping there are no IEDs are poor preparation for a real war.

No wonder NATO prefers to bomb defenceless targets from 15,000 feet. But there too, the record is unimpressive. Consider NATO’s last “successful” performance against Libya in 2011. No air defence, no opposition, complete freedom of movement and choice of action; and it took 226 days! Kosovo, a similar air action against a weak opponent, took 79 days. Meanwhile the years roll by in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Not, in short, a very efficient military alliance even when it is turned on against more-or-less helpless victims.

But there is one obvious question: does NATO take all its Russian threat rhetoric seriously, or is it just an advertising campaign? A campaign to bring in £240 million from the Baltics, an extra eighty billion for the US military-industrial complex, US$28 billion for Poland, Patriot missiles for Sweden, billions for F-35s for Norway (but no hangars for them), spending increases in the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Czech Republic and so on. A Russian threat is good for business: there’s poor money in a threat made of IEDs, bomb vests and small arms. Big profits require big threats. As I have written elsewhere, Russia was thought to be the right size of threat – big enough, but not too big. And they thought it was a safe target too – remember Obama in 2015 and his confidence that Russia didn’t amount to much?

Or so they thought then. What is amusing is that NATO is starting to worry about what it has awoken: “aerial denial zones“, British army wiped out in an afternoon, NATO loses quickly in the Baltics, unstoppable carrier-killer missile, “eye-watering” EW capabilities, “black hole” submarines, generational lead in tanks, “devastating” air defence system, “totally outmatched“. Russian actions, both diplomatic and military, in Syria gave NATO a taste: the Russian military is far more capable than they imagined. And far better wielded. The phantom conjured up to justify arms sales and NATO expansion now frightens its creators. A particularly striking example comes from General Breedlove, former NATO Supreme Commander who did much to poke Russia: he now fears that a war “would leave Europe helpless, cut off from reinforcements, and at the mercy of the Russian Federation.” Not as negligible as they thought.

To what should we compare this weak, incompetent but endlessly boastful and belligerent alliance? In the past I have suggested that NATO is a drunk that drinks to cure the effects of its last bender. Is it a child in an endless tantrum, frightening itself with the stories it tells itself? Like the Warsaw Pact it is frightened of contradicting information or opinion and insists they be blocked. Certainly it is an exemplar of complacent self delusion: “Projecting Stability Beyond Our Borders” boasts about the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. The unicorns roam free in NATOland.

There is no reason to bother to read anything that comes out of NATO Headquarters: it’s only wind. There is one response. And that is Libya. When they say stability, respond Libya. When they say terrorism, respond Libya. When they say peace, respond Libya. When they say dialogue, respond Libya. When they say values, respond Libya. NATO is dangerous in the way that the stupid and deluded can be. But, when its principal member starts demanding its members “pay their share”, and the people of five members see Washington a greater threat than Moscow, maybe its final days are upon us.

But incessant repetition becomes reality and that’s where the danger lies. Hysteria has reached absurd proportions: 2014’s “gas station masquerading as a country” decides who sits in the White House; directs referendums in Europe; rules men’s minds through RT and Sputnik; dominates social media; every Russian exercise brings panic. This would all be amusing enough except for the fact that Moscow doesn’t get the joke. While the NATO forces on their border may be insignificant at the moment, they can grow and all armies must prepare for the worst. The First Guards Tank Army is being re-created. I discuss the significance of that here. When it is ready – and Moscow moves much faster than NATO – it will be more than a match, offensively or defensively, for NATO’s paper armies. And, if Moscow thinks it needs more, more will come. And there will be no cost-free bombing operations at 15,000 feet against Russia. NATO’s naval strength, which is still real, is pretty irrelevant to operations against Russia. And still the paper tiger bares its paper teeth.

In other words – and I never tire of quoting him on this – “We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way”. NATO has been kiting cheques for years. And rather than soberly examine its bank account, it writes another, listening to the applause in the echo chamber of its mind.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” We can only hope that NATO’s coming destruction does not destroy us too.

THE RIDDLE OF THE POTOMAC

(Inspired by questions from Sputnik asking my thoughts about US involvement in Syria: what it wants, what it’s doing and what will happen. My answer grew so large that it turned into this essay. Sputnik version https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201710311058699400-us-syria-strategy-failure/)

First published https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/11/02/riddle-of-potomac.html

These questions are rather like asking someone to Unveil the Mysteries of the Universe and answer the Riddle of the Sphinx all in one go. I cannot: Washington is a mystery today and it has been since the early Obama days. At the heart of the mystery are two questions:

Who is in charge?

What do they want?

The United States of America is de-laminating: when even so solemn an outlet as Foreign Policy magazine wonders “Is America a Failing State?” it starts to become a commonplace.

What were the motives or aims of US involvement in trying to overthrow Assad in Syria? I can think of the following:

  1. Build a gas pipeline from Qatar into Europe.

  2. Weaken Russia by striking at an ally and cutting its gas sales.

  3. Obey orders from Jerusalem and Riyadh to weaken Syria/Iran.

  4. Arrogance, ignorance, overconfidence, “exceptionalism” and other delusions.

  5. Create chaos so the USA will still be king of the hill even if the hill is smaller.

  6. Something I haven’t thought of.

  7. Some or all of the above.

But trying to work out Washington’s policy is, to quote an alleged Churchillism about the USSR, like watching bulldogs fighting under a rug. You see that something is happening, you hear growls, but you don’t know who is doing what to whom or why. For example, last year then US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov spent days negotiating a truce in Syria; within a few days the US military attacked the Syrian Army at Deir ez Zor. Who was in charge then? And what was the purpose of either of these actions? No wonder the Russians have concluded that Washington is недоговороспособны: no agreement is possible either because it can’t make one or it won’t keep it.

But what we can say is: whatever Washington, in whole or parts thereof, its sponsors or controllers, was or were trying to do in Syria, they have failed. The momentum, which seemed to be swinging against Assad two years ago, has reversed since Russia’s intervention and been replaced with the mockery of the “Assad must go curse“. Assad remains in power and supported by the population; Iran has gained power and influence; Jerusalem and Riyadh are nervous and unhappy; Russia is more influential and – most consequentially – shown to be reliable and effective; no gas pipeline will be built without the agreement of the Syrian government. Chaos has been reduced, order increased. Syria is the Thermopylae of the new New World Order. Every day the USA loses its position in the neighbourhood in proportion as Russia, Iran, Syria and Turkey increase theirs. Failure. Defeat.

Washington isn’t good at admitting defeat and it always comes up with another gimcrack scheme to postpone the day. But the Kurdish surrogates aren’t doing well and the latest bright idea in Afghanistan is a loser too. So we have to contemplate the shape of The End.

US wars end in one of three ways:

  1. A surrender ceremony on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

  2. Destruction, overthrow, walk away, amnesia; the proclaimed success is never connected to the consequent chaos. (This is today’s prevailing pattern – see Kosovo, Somalia or Libya).

  3. Helicopters lifting off the Embassy roof in Saigon.

It won’t be number one, it’s probably too late for number two so I guess we must look forward to helicopters on American Embassy roofs.

Unless President Trump can break the habit. Which brings us to another unanswerable question. When campaigning, his rhetoric suggested that he had the beginnings of understanding. His slogan, “Make America Great” had the important addition “Again”. Which suggested that it wasn’t “Great” any more. It seemed to me that he understood that the endless (and unsuccessful) wars were a cause of that loss of “greatness”. This was encouraging to those of us who hoped for an end to the wars. His Inauguration Address continued the theme that Washington should mind its own business.

But, since his election he has been hobbled by the accusation that he is Putin’s poodle. The US media, the US intelligence agencies (or, more correctly, “hand-picked, seasoned” members of same) have banged this drum since the DNC, caught fixing the nomination, blamed Russia. This hysteria has crippled his attempts to have better relations with Russia and move away from the neocon and humanitarian bomber catastrophes of the past. No one could have foreseen this month-in-month-out shrieking. Nor predict how loudly stupid it would become: “Catalonia held a referendum. Russia won”, Pokemon and cute puppies. Trump has been under constraints he could never have expected. Maybe the lunacy will turn on its creators with the new revelations about Uranium One and the Steele dossier, maybe it won’t: I’ve given up trying to predict the craziness.

So we must add the Trump Mystery to the other Mysteries. Although there may be a clue. He has had four foreign affairs issues to deal with so far: Russia, North Korea, Iran and Syria. He is very constrained on the first, loud and boorish on the second and third but interestingly quiet on the fourth. There was the cruise missile strike but I was and still am convinced that that was a theatrical production. What we do have is his decree ending CIA support for anti-Assad rebels. That is an action, the rest is talk. Maybe we should watch what he does, not what he says.

But still: we don’t know. We don’t know what Washington was trying to do in Syria. We don’t know whether all Washington was agreed on what it was trying to do in Syria. We don’t know if any agency in Washington had a plan in Syria. We don’t know who was making decisions in Washington then. We don’t know who’s making decisions in Washington now. We don’t know whether there is any unified position in Washington on Syria. Or anything else. We don’t know what Trump wants. We don’t know what Trump can do. We don’t know who’s running the place. Or whether anyone is.

We don’t know.

An unknown number of bulldogs fighting under a rug of unknown size.