GOODBYE OPEN SKIES

(In response to question from Sputnik about Washington’s intention to leave the Open Skies Treaty)

The ABM Treaty and the CFE Treaty were already dead and the Trump Administration seems to be determined to kill off every remaining Cold War arms control Treaty. The Open Skies is just the latest. Russia will, of course, be blamed: it’s been “cheating“.

What’s driving this? I suspect it’s the post Cold War triumphalism that we have seen in every previous administration: We won, we’re Number One, suck it up Russia, you’re unimportant. The difference is that the Trump Administration makes no attempt to sugar-coat.

The irony of course is that the whole thing was President Eisenhower’s idea in the first place.

More of Washington’s short-term gain for long-term pain.

SULEIMANI ASSASSINATION

Answer to question from Sputnik

Three pretty likely consequences: Washington has begun its last foreign war and Trump’s future is in Tehran’s hands. Iran’s reaction will completely surprise Washington for the simple reason that smart people are smarter than stupid arrogant ignorant people.

Some questions:
Given that a large number of Israelis have dual citizenship, how many will stay when the rockets start to fall?
What will Washington do when (not if) the Iraqi government orders all US troops out?
But, it’s not August 1914: China and Russia will keep out and, one hopes, will have the good taste not to laugh out loud at this monstrous error.
One might suggest that Washington finish a few wars before starting a new one: on the 25th, Washington and its minions will have been in Afghanistan for twice as long as the Soviets were.

FAILURE IN PLAIN SIGHT

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation

Let us contemplate what John Bolton, quondam National Security Advisor to US President Trump, had in mind for “restoring democracy” to Venezuela. We are familiar with the first phase: 1) accusations, 2) threats, 3) stunts, 4) “world community” recognition, 5) appeals for coup, 6) sanctions.

1) You know, Venezuela is one of the three countries I call the troika of tyranny. It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of the United States. (January 2019)

2) All options are on the table. (January 2019)

3) After diverting aid needed badly by Venezuelans to Cuba last week (100 tons), and giving away billions of the Venezuelan people’s wealth to Cuba – now Maduro seeks aid from Cuba and China. All while denying the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis and rejecting aid at the border. (February 2019)

4) National Security Adviser John Bolton said on April 30, 2019 that what’s happening “is clearly not a coup” because the U.S. and many other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president. (April 2019)

5) The FANB [Venezuelan military] must protect the Constitution and the Venezuelan people. It should stand by the National Assembly and the legitimate institutions against the usurpation of democracy. The United States stands with the people of Venezuela. (April 2019)

6) Bolton said the U.S. is “sending a signal to third parties that want to do business with the Maduro regime: proceed with extreme caution. There is no need to risk your business interests with the United States for the purposes of profiting from a corrupt and dying regime.” (August 2019)

Despite “corrupt and dying”, Maduro was still in power, still supported by the population, the “burning aid” stunt failed (when you’ve lost even the NYT…) and the Venezuelan military remains loyal. (Irony alert! Washington’s sanctions on Venezuela increased Russian oil exports to the USA and Europe!)

What would Bolton have wanted to do next? (Easy speculation – we’ve seen it before.) A “coalition of the willing” (no matter how artificial), US aircraft attack key targets with “precision” “surgical” strikes; (more strikes added until, à la Serbia, bombing random bridges 200 kilometres away from the supposed target). The bombing and destruction would eventually force Maduro to leave. Enter the “liberators”, the “legitimate National Assembly” takes power, the “world community” recognises “Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president”. With “democracy restored” and “freedom returned” the next stage: “American oil companies really invest[ing] in and produce[ing] the oil capabilities in Venezuela“, privatisation and IMF austerity. Happiness all round: “good for the people of Venezuela… good for the people of the United States”. Is Maduro still resisting in the hills and jungles? A surge or two will take care of that; there’s plenty of light at the end of the tunnel and the obedient corporate media will bleat that Maduro will soon be gone: March, April, May, May again, August, September (The Latin America version of the Assad Must Go Curse.)

That would have been Venezuela’s fate with Bolton fully turned on. But Bolton has been turned off. Maduro is still in Caracas and the story has tip-toed off the front pages. Although Hollywood leaps to obey its Master’s Voice and Jack Ryan will save us from a nuclear-armed Venezuela.

The war party is accustomed to blame its quagmires on someone else. Iraq was a success until Obama spoiled it:

because Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate a status of forces agreement that would have allowed some American combat troops to remain in Iraq and secure the hard-fought gains the American soldier had won by 2009, [the Islamic State] was able to be literally conjured up out of the desert.

Afghanistan likewise: Obama’s Failed Legacy in Afghanistan. Libya is far down the memory hole: an MSNBC special on Libya as the gateway of migrants to Europe never uses the word “NATO”.

To tell the story of Libya’s escalating migration crisis, one must weave together the threads of instability left behind by a toppled dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and the power vacuum filled by rivaling factions vying to take his place.

But Qaddafi didn’t just topple in a high wind, earthquake or other random phenomenon: NATO decided to topple him and did so – “We came, we saw, he died” cackled one of the architects. But MSNBC wants us to believe that the destruction was an inexplicable random event that nobody could have foreseen. And so, helped by the corporate news media’s goodthink, the war party slithers away from responsibility: Qaddafi “toppled”, we have a problem; nothing to do with us, or NATO, or Hillary. Bad stuff just happens. “The story of how Kosovo hosted an illegal market in human organs began to unfold today in a district court in the capital, Pristina” is so distant in time that only fringe websites talk about it. As to the Ukrainian disaster, news is starting to leak through the complacency membrane: Canadian officials honour Nazi collaborators in Ukraine, angering Jewish groups, Biden involvement, blowback.

With their excuses and deniability clutched in their hands, knowing the complaisant news media will back them up (CNN: Biden and Ukraine is a conspiracy theory), the war party rolls along. The wars start well, given the US military’s immense destructive power, and then bog down: US war-fighting doctrine is hard-wired for failure. Bolton’s Venezuela adventure, had it advanced to the bombing phase, would also have been pimped as a “success” – Guaidó inauguration, selected interviews, toppling of statues and the rest of the package. But Maduro and his supporters would not have given up and there’d be years of patrolling, “precision” bombing (eventually indistinguishable from “carpet bombing” – see Raqqa), door kicking, IEDs, ambushes, training failures. Iraq and Afghanistan again. They, in their turn, having repeated Vietnam.

But Bolton’s Excellent Adventure never got to that point because Trump would not sign off on the bombing stage and so his scheme failed in plain sight. Let us remember what Trump said while he was 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. Bolton, on the other hand, was all in favour of the Iraq war, believed one more war in the Middle East would have been good, thought NATO was great, and Russia terrible. (There’s a rumour that Trump was considering easing the failed Iran pressure and Bolton’s objections led to his firing.)

So why did he appoint Bolton in the first place? A theory: Keep you friends close but your enemies closer. The late Justin Raimondo agrees: “Instead of taking on the neocons directly, Trump embraces them – and we can see the knife go in as this whole scenario plays out.” When it’s clear that everything Bolton had a hand in was a spectacular flop, he’s tossed out of the tent with the knife in his back.

But Venezuela was not Bolton’s only failure in plain sight: his “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran turned out to be much feebler than Tehran’s “maximum”: the strike on Saudi oil production. Note that, despite billions of dollars of weapons, air defence, radars and the like, neither Riyadh nor Washington has any idea of where the attack came from. Whether Iran did it directly, indirectly, at a distance, supplied some or all of the weapons, was entirely uninvolved or any other possibility you can think of doesn’t really matter: it’s checkmate. Lots of entities in the region are friendly to Tehran and so we can know that:

The attack was an amuse-bouche for what Iran

and its many allies could do

if Washington attacked it.

Another Bolton failure. Read his How to Get Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal and note that he assumes that Tehran has no response. The greatest blind spot of the war party is its assumption that Washington always has the initiative and that its targets can only feebly squirm. But Tehran has been on Washington’s hit list for four decades and it hasn’t wasted that time. A war with Iran will, I am certain, be the Last War for the Imperium Americanum because Iran will stop the oil and the world economy will stagger and probably fall. It has outwitted Washington every step of the way. If Trump really is a reader of Sun Tzu, he should reflect on “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle“. The war party overestimates US power and underestimates the enemy’s will. Succumbs.

Returning to Raimondo’s theory, Trump is now in a position to tell the war party “see, we did what you told us to and it was a complete failure”. Will he appoint people in tune with his campaign thoughts? Apparently not, Bolton’s replacement is more of the same: “peace through strength”, US military dangerously weak, Obama “emboldened our adversaries and disheartened our allies” and the rest of the unreflective claptrap.

This is all part of the Mystery of Donald Trump: on the one hand he surrounds himself with the war party, on the other he hasn’t started any wars. (Bolton was fired in Trump’s day 963; by contrast Obama attacked Libya on his day 788 and called for Assad’s departure on day 940.)

But the war party has painted him into several corners.

(How can he get out of the corner? Easy – just blame his “bad advisors” and do it. The Trump haters won’t think any the worse of him and the rest of us will be glad to step away from the endless war and give him credit for deviousness in a good cause. Or, à la Macron’s suggestion, he can surrender while pretending to have won.)

BYE BYE BOLTON

(Response to a question from Sputnik)

Trump campaigned in part on the idea that the American wars had been a disaster for the country; John Bolton never met a war he didn’t want more of. So the mystery is not what the two disagreed about but why Trump hired him in the first place.

I can’t help wondering if the late Justin Raimondo was right when he suggested Trump had appointed Bolton as a cunning plot: “Instead of taking on the neocons directly, Trump embraces them – and we can see the knife go in as this whole scenario plays out.” Certainly everything Bolton has had a hand in has been a spectacular flop and Trump is now in a position to tell the war party “see, we tried that, and it didn’t work”.

Why fire him now? It might be connected with the re-evaluation of weapons supplies to Ukraine or getting out of Afghanistan before the US and its minions double the Soviet time there on 25 January. Or the undoubted failure of the regime change in Venezuela. Or the fact that Tehran has outwitted Washington at every step; a desire to finally improve relations with Russia; Bolton’s sabotage of the North Korea initiatives or many other things where the two would have been at odds.

And, although I doubt Trump or he knew it, he was fired on Ashura which is rather ironic.

But we’ll have a better idea when we see whom he appoints next. And whom he fires next. It is rather a mystery why Trump has chosen to surround himself with representatives of the war party.

BYE BYE INF, HELLO MAD

(Response to a question from Sputnik on what’s next now that the INF Treaty is dead.)

Washington has killed the third of the four arms control treaties left to us by the Cold War. All that remains is the strategic agreement of Obama and Trump says he doesn’t like that either. It’s possible that Trump expects some re-negotiation of these treaties this time involving China as well but, if so, Beijing is probably not going to bother. So all that’s left is mutually assured destruction: no matter what one side does, the other can obliterate it.

We know what Moscow’s response will be but because it’s already here: a new ICBM, a hypersonic re-entry vehicle, a nuclear-powered cruise missile with enormous flight time and a similar underwater cruise missile. No defence will stop them and so MAD returns. Checkmate.

If the US re-creates the Pershing missile, where will it station it? Many European and Asian countries would be unwilling to paint a target on their heads. So that remains to be seen.

TRUMP-PUTIN AFTER OSAKA

(Response to a question from Sputnik)

I’m not very optimistic. As everyone knows, Trump years ago said it would be better to get along with Russia than not. A perfectly reasonable point of view and not a thought that Roosevelt, Kennedy, Nixon or Reagan would have had much trouble with. But Clinton lost the “more than a 99% chance” election and “Russian interference” became her favourite excuse; the typists of the complaisant US media snapped to attention and repeated and repeated the charge, pumping the intensity of “Russian interference” to ever higher levels.

Mueller’s report has killed the collusion charge but the other half of the lie, Russian interference, remains.

Until a real investigation is completed and people are charged, convicted and sent to jail – we who been following events can name many of them – producing effects so indisputable that even the readers of the NYT and WaPo, the watchers of MSNBC and CNN, the last partisans in Congress, are speechless, the loudly shouted charge that Trump is Putin’s stooge will block genuinely improved relations.

So, until – if – that happens, I can’t expect much except minor improvements. Which are better than nothing but a good deal short of what is necessary between two powers either of which can obliterate us.

THE TRUMP MYSTERIES: INCONSISTENT INCONSISTENCIES

(First published Strategic Culture Foundation, Picked up by SOTT, entelekheia, astutenews.com, aisle c, apokalyps nu, The Russophile,

Unlike the American Democratic Party, the Western news media and most of my neighbours, I do not fully understand Trump. Although, unlike all of them, I thought from the start he had a good chance of winning and, as time went on, became more confident and finally bet he would win.

One of the consistent themes of Trump’s campaign was that foreign entanglements were not to the country’s advantage and the wars were a waste of resources; bad for business, as it were. Now, I’m not so simple-minded as to believe campaigning politicians. Bush promised a quieter foreign policy and Obama was going to close Guantánamo; but what made me pay attention to Trump’s statements was that they weren’t just the disconnected laundry list of focus-groups handed out by most politicians, they had an internal consistency. (And consistent over quite some time: watch this interview from 1987.)

That consistency could be found in his slogan Make America Great Again. It was the “again” that was the clue. Shattered tells us that Bill Clinton tried to get his wife to perceive the dissatisfaction in the USA, Sanders tapped into some of it but Trump saw and understood it early and based his campaign on it; Clinton never understood. Again, that’s the clue. I concluded that Trump saw a connection between the loss of “greatness” and the foreign entanglements: the “six trillion dollars” spent in the Middle East would have been better spent on infrastructure“. Of course he was right: there is a direct connection. But to stop that drain, Trump, now President, has to break the entanglements and that will not be easy. Last year I formed the theory that he would try to get the allies to break these entanglements and updated the idea recently. (It was written just before we heard that Trump is considering to charging allies 150% for the cost of US bases – something that is sure sure to cause a lot of re-thinking and disentangling.)

So I expected a Trump Administration to cut entanglements and not create any more. But here we come to the inconsistencies. There have been three actions inconsistent with this view: important inconsistencies. Added to which, Trump seems to have gone out of his way to surround himself with entanglers. And that is a major and puzzling inconsistency: he’s free to choose his advisors but he has chosen warhawks almost every time. This inconsistency has driven many people to conclude either that he didn’t mean what he said when he was campaigning or that he has been captured by the war party. (Others – see first sentence – remain certain that he’s just an idiot, unfit for the office, can’t be elected and so on.)

There are three events of the Trump period that I cannot fit into either the Trump-the-disentangler theory or the Trump-dupe-of-war-party theory. These actions just don’t fit either: they are inconsistently inconsistent.

On 7 April 2017 the USA attacked a Syrian airfield with (it said) 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. This was in retaliation for a supposed CW attack for which (certainly wrongly) Assad was blamed. No time was allowed for inspections or any other examination before the strike. The attack was entirely consistent with the long-time attempt by the war party (entanglers all) to overthrow Assad. But, on closer look, while loud (“beautiful” missile launches at night) it would be hard to imagine a less effective strike. The airfield they hit was empty and no real damage was done to anything. At the time I assessed it as a show for the home audience designed to take the pressure off the “Trump isn’t legitimate” meme and, certainly, there was much effusion from the war party and anti-Trump media. But the strike could hardly have been less effective if Assad himself had picked the targets.

A year later there was another bogus CW attack blamed on Assad. And another immediate missile attack (this time France and the UK joined in thereby creating the memorable acronym FUKUS). Again it was a stunningly ineffective attack in which nothing was destroyed. Added to which, it appears that many of the attacking missiles were shot down – unless you can bring yourself to believe the official story that 76 missiles hit this site (here’s just one missile hit for comparison). Again the loud, immediate but completely ineffective action. (And, a year later, the attack justification is looking poorly – a BBC producer has just said the hospital scenes were faked and the OPCW found no nerve agent traces. But anyone paying attention already knew this at the time.)

Mystery piled on mystery: the disentangler would realise that Syria was no concern of the US and have done nothing. (And Trump has ordered the troops out.) As to the CW attack claims from the media and the intelligence agencies, the disentangler would immediately ask cui bono? and realise that it certainly wouldn’t be Assad; and Trump is surely the last person to believe what the media or intelligence agencies tell him. The disentangler would do nothing, or at least wait until there was some actual evidence. On the other hand, always ready to blow something up, the warhawk would have found valuable targets and struck them hard. No attack – yes; an effective attack – yes; but an immediate attack that does no damage? You can’t make any sense out of it.

And now we come to Venezuela. Venezuela has been on the war party’s hit list for many years: Obama declared it an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” and there were many attempts to overthrow Chavez. The disentangler would immediate know that that was nonsense on stilts – nothing Caracas could do would affect the MAGA goals: no bridges would be built or destroyed, no opioid victim cured or addicted, no manufacturing jobs gained or lost. Nothing. But the warhawk wants a regime-change/resource-theft operation to bring Maduro down.

But what do we see? Certainly an rc/rt op but a singularly incompetent one. The USA is good at these, it’s had a lot of practice, its allies are toeing the line, the media is re-typing the handouts: it should be well on the way by now. But what do we see: the US official put in charge is notorious for involvement in shady coups in Latin America and the Iran-Contra affair, the puppet president is almost completely unknown in Venezuela, the concert was a flop, the “humanitarian aid” another flop, the Venezuelan Army holds firm, no country is willing to provide troops, the big demos in the country are pro-Maduro and anti-intervention (small “thousands” here). So inept a performance that even the NYT is losing enthusiasm: “Footage Contradicts U.S. Claim That Maduro Burned Aid Convoy” thereby blowing up all the faux outrage of “What kind of a sick tyrant stops food from getting to hungry people?” (The significance is not that the NYT has suddenly discovered fact-checking after years of cheering on rc/rt ops but that it is trying to distance itself from this particular one.) Which is not to say that Washington can’t destroy Venezuela: enough “precision bombing” can turn Caracas into Raqqa.

One of the reasons Trump won was his implied promise that he would stay at home and repair domestic deficiencies. And yet he jumped to bomb Syria twice and is involved in a regime change/resource grab in Venezuela. But the two bombings could not have been less effective and the Venezuela adventure is looking more idiotic by the moment. Contradiction within contradiction and it’s hard to make sense out of it.

Justin Raimondo has been brave enough to try; he thinks the Venezuela rc/rg op is a cunning plot by Trump: “Instead of taking on the neocons directly, Trump embraces them – and we can see the knife go in as this whole scenario plays out.” The ridiculous concert just reinforced his conviction “It’s all a show, produced and directed by that expert showman: Donald J. Trump.” I’ve wondered that myself – it’s so incompetent and at the same time so transparent that it can’t be real. For example, Bolton says out loud what is supposed to be said in private: the “humanitarian concerns” are just a cover for the resource grab:

You know, Venezuela is one of the three countries I call the troika of tyranny. It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.

I don’t know, but I wonder why such noisy but ineffective missile strikes by people who know how to find and destroy valuable targets and such an idiotically-incompetent rc/rt op effort by people with many successes under their belts.

TRUMP AND THE GORDIAN KNOT, YEAR 2

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

About a year ago I advanced the theory that US President Trump understood that the only way to “Make American Great Again” was to disentangle it from the imperial mission that had it stuck in perpetual wars. I concluded that his statements implied that he believed that

1) the post 911 military interventions did nothing for American security;

2) foreign interventions impoverish the country;

3) the alliance system is neither useful nor a good deal for the country;

4) Russia is not the once and future enemy.

I further argued that he understood that the Gordian Knot of entanglements could not be cut from the American end because Americans were too wedded to the idea that the USA was “the indispensable nation” or too complacently accepting of the conceit that it had a moral obligation to set the world aright. (Gallup has just revealed that Americans greatly overestimate the respect and affection the rest of the world holds for them.) In any case “The Swamp” was too entangled in the war business ever to change. I speculated that he understood that the cutting could only come from the other side.

In short I saw method in Trump’s boorishness and well-displayed contempt for Washington’s allies.

So what do we find thirteen months later? Well, of course, one year is not nearly enough time to cause American allies to quit. Washington has not pulled out of NATO and no one has left it, the wars continue, the bases remain; but the Knot is loosening a bit. Despite very strong pressure from Washington, Ankara is going ahead with its S-400 purchase and Berlin is determined to complete Nordstream. Washington has made its opposition plain – and with menaces – but these two important allies persevere in their contumacy.

Recently more cracks widened. Secretary of State Pompeo at Warsaw, trying to get everyone on board with attacking Iran: “Sadly, some of our leading European partners have not been nearly as cooperative. In fact, they have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions.” Vice President Pence at the Munich conference all but ordering the allies to get on board with Washington’s leadership, to stop buying weapons from “our adversaries” and equating opposition to Washington’s stand on Iran with anti-semitism.

These efforts fell flat. Even The Economist called the Warsaw effort “shambolic” and a number of invited key players sent lower-ranking substitutes. So unenthusiastic was the response that the meeting had to be rebranded as about security in the Middle East rather than about making war on Iran. So, altogether, a bust: the whistle blew but the dogs didn’t come. But worse, Pence’s speech at Munich, praising Trump in every paragraph and threatening allies, fell completely flat with almost no applause. German Chancellor Merkel, speaking for the opposition (lots of applause) demurred. NPR sums up the two meetings:

First, in Warsaw, Poland, the U.S. organized a conference seeking to marshal international outrage over Iran, and Vice President Pence urged France, Germany and the U.K. to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, accusing them of concocting a “scheme” to continue to business with Iran. Top European allies trying to keep the nuclear deal alive declined to send top-level diplomats to the conference.

Then on Saturday, in Munich, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the security conference with several critiques of U.S. foreign policy – and received a sustained standing ovation.

So, a failure for Washington but, if you agree with my theory, a success for Trump’s scheme.

Merkel devoted some time in her speech to Russian gas supplies, pointing out that in the Cold War, both Germanies reliably received gas from Moscow, thereby reminding Pence, if he was listening, of Disagreement Number Two – Nordstream. We had earlier been reminded of Disagreement Number One which was the unilateral American rejection of the JCPOA. Washington has sanctioned Tehran; the repellent CAATSA (not, in fairness, Trump’s doing) means that anyone who trades with someone Washington dislikes will also become a target of Washington’s sanctions. In reaction, Germany, France and the UK have developed a Washington-independent payment system. How effective it will be remains to be seen but it is undeniably a rebellion against Washington’s fiat.

And now we come to Disagreement Number Three: Washington’s rejection of the INF Treaty. Negotiated in 1987 between the USA and the USSR, it eliminated all land-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5500 kms. The Treaty had been preceded by large demonstrations across Europe against the deployment of American missiles. Washington’s excuse is that Russia has violated the Treaty (Theodore Postol has convincingly argued that, whatever Russia may have done, the USA did violate it). Some see it as the latest target of Washington’s dismantling of the arms control treaties of the Cold War, although one cannot rule out the possibility that this is Trump’s opening position to get an new INF Treaty with Russia and China. But it could put the Europeans on Moscow’s target list if the US puts intermediate range missiles into Europe. (The European protests were a causative factor of the original treaty.) In her Munich speech, Merkel called the cancellation “very bad news” and the former head of the NATO Military Committee, Harald Kujat, flatly called it “a betrayal of the security of the European allies“. The full ramifications of this latest trampling of allies’ interests have not been felt but the Atlantic Alliance will not be stronger for it. And I doubt allies will be any happier with Pompeo’s latest blank war cheque.

Even in Korea, where Trump’s new foreign policy has had, perhaps, its greatest success, we see a touch of the same thing. The two Koreas and China are moving forward whatever Washington does or, as in the Hanoi meeting doesn’t, do.

The economic integration plans are moving forward even before the nuclear issue has been resolved, the sanctions have been lifted, or a formal treaty ending the war has been signed. The entire region appears to be breaking out of Washington’s orbit and charting a new course on its own.

Two things seem pretty clear: the Trump Administration is alienating its allies and it doesn’t seem to care very much that it is. Washington has always overborne its allies but it has usually been more polite and discreet about it. Today there is no attempt to hide it: Trump & Co brusquely tell them our way or else.

Will Washington’s contempt and indifference make Europe start to look east?

Donald Trump and his “America First” attitude has thereby afforded Europeans some space to maneuver and establish some level of autonomy, resulting in increasing synergies with Moscow and especially Beijing.

Or will Europe swallow the insults? Will it stand on its “own two feet“? Or have its feet atrophied? We don’t know yet: there is talk, but talk is cheap and easy.

My question remains: we see the alienation but is it deliberately-caused or is it not? Is Trump behaving in a boorishly unilateral way to force his allies to break the imperial connection, or is it just the habitual “America First” style now crudely stripped of the earlier politesse?

(Which is not to say that they’re aren’t some significant inconsistencies in Trump’s foreign policy and, on closer examination, these exceptions become very confusing and inconsistent themselves. I will take up this question separately.)

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.)

 

 

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.