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Tag Archives: syria

Why the Attack on Syria?

I won’t mince words: Trump’s decision to launch missiles into Syria is a disaster.  In reactions across the internet I am seeing justifications but in no way do the advantages come close to outweighing the costs.
I will address a few:

Trump wanted to intimidate China and North Korea
I doubt the Chinese president is easily frightened and making Kim Jong Un too nervous or desperate could turn Seoul and then the whole Korean peninsula into a smoking crater.

Russians and Syrians had time to evacuate/runways weren’t destroyed etc.
It’s still an act of war on another nation’s territory.  You don’t get brownie points or gold star stickers for playing nice at war.  These measures prevented immediate escalation to actual war but has worsened relations that were already pretty bad for no real reason.  If the goal was to get rid of ISIS why is the US attacking the people who were successully getting rid of ISIS?

That’ll Shut Up the Media About Russian Conspiracy Theories!
This didn’t stop Trump in the election when he was far more vulnerable, it certainly wasn’t going to stop his presidency. Wiretapping ploys and Rice unmaskings were already effectively countering the fake hysteria. Nothing about this relatively small problem required a risky foreign policy move.

Trump showed those pansies he’s not another wimpy Obama!
Trump got elected in part because his opponent was openly agitating for war with Russia and Syria that no one wants.   Obama and Hillary’s disastrous Syria policy helped ISIS form in the first place! Now we’re back to square one after spending nearly two years on the election?

The Syrians were gassing their own peoplez! Look at the cute dead kidz!
We all know this was just an excuse.  It’s irrelevant whether it’s fabricated or not. Trump’s whole America First campaign was a reaction to this kind of moralistic world policing.

The most rational possible reason I can think of for this idiocy is Trump has to make some concessions to the neocons or they would have just let the democrats filibuster Gorsuch indefinitely. 

Trump’s administration desperately depends on getting new justices into the supreme court.  For millions of American voters who did not like Trump, that’s the one issue that pushed them over the edge.  Furthermore, he desperately needs to break the impasse that is preventing him from acting decisively on immigration, the single biggest issue that put him in power.

I recognize it’s a tough situation, a sacrifice of some kind may have been necessary to grease the wheels, but I do not think this sacrifice was worth it.
The optics of attacking Syria right as Hillary came out and asked for it, with all the neocons celebrating afterwards is terrible.

It has just been openly demonstrated that no matter who you vote for, you still get pointless bombs and wars in the Middle East while the same old elites pat each other on the back.
Over $100 million dollars worth of cruise missiles just got dumped on a distant land most Americans could care less about for no real gain.
These conspicuous displays of waste while dams are crumbling and highways are burning down at home starts to sound a lot like just another chorus of “let them eat cake.”

So now Gorsuch is in, a key victory for Trump.  But the meta is even more important.
Now that Americans have seen appointed federal judges can block anything they don’t like…
Now that they’ve seen you get war and bombs in the Middle East no matter who you vote for…
The whole democracy really starts to look like a thinly veiled fiction.  And if that last veil gets stripped away, judges are just silly ugly old people in robes playing make-believe and all you have left is force.

From the start of his campaign, Trump shrewdly sought to curry favor with the military.  He understood if he was going to go against the entire political establishment, he would need solid backing to stay in power against contrived coups.

Unfortunately, we might be discovering a hard truth that neo-con politicians are just the political arm of the military top brass.  

Generals tend to be establishment to the core and incestuously in bed with military industrial contractors.  So perhaps we’ve found the limits of what voting can accomplish.  
Some grudging concessions on immigration and jobs perhaps, but the flow of trillions to contractors who pretend to design fighter planes and wars in the interests of the US’ biggest arms customers must continue.

The problem is the country is being bled dry and the farce is becoming obvious to millions.  Generals can’t really seize power directly until their troops are willing to fire on fellow citizens and if they tried that, they’d find their authority doesn’t go as far outside the beltway as they think.

So Trump still has considerable bargaining power even though he’s under a lot of pressure—if he wants to use it.  In retrospect perhaps we can now see the coils tightening.  Flynn replaced with someone more in line with the innermost circles and now possibly Bannon getting edged out of favor?
At this time all we can do is wait and see what happens next.

Brookings Institute Talk on Russia and America

I attended a talk today at the Brookings Institution about the future of Russian-American relations.

Naturally there was considerable focus on current issues such as Syria and Snowden being given asylum, and how it might affect the upcoming G20 summit.

I didn’t wonder about it much, really.  There’s nothing in Syria that’s central to Russian interests and Snowden, while a nasty diplomatic slap in the face, does nothing to change the larger situation.

I was more interested in bigger political and economic developments and where they might be headed.

Interestingly, the experts pretty much all agreed that the present political order in Russia is dependent on Putin’s cult of personality – that without his influence there would be nothing to hold Russia’s oligarchs together.
And – there is no plan for succession should something happen to Putin tomorrow…

They addressed how Putin’s main objective with his anti-American gestures is to boost his popularity at home.   His anti-American posturing has a huge appeal to his base – Russia’s working classes.
The urban middle and upper middle class has little loyalty to Putin, often protesting him in Moscow and St. Petersburg, so it’s only natural Russia’s ruler tailors his image to the vast majority he relies on.

While Syria is, relatively speaking, a sideshow, the fate of former Soviet republics is not.  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, among Russia’s first concerns is to bring countries like Ukraine closer to Moscow and prevent them from aligning with Western Europe.

If we look at the numbers, though, it seems to me Russia’s agenda is doomed to fail.

Russia’s entire economy is worth 1.8 trillion.  This is enough to make it one of the world’s bigger economies, but to put Russia’s imperial goals in perspective, Italy’s economy is considerably bigger at 2.2 trillion with 1/3rd the population.

Let’s pretend we are Ukraine for a moment:

Which would we align with:  A 1.8 trillion Russia or a 17 trillion European Union?!

Not to mention, Russia’s economy to this day is based heavily on commodities like natural gas rather than skills or tech.
Indeed, one subject to arise during the question and answer session with the experts was brain drain from Russia…

With no Soviet Union any more that can keep their best talent captive, skilled Russians are increasingly ditching their home country for places like Silicon Valley.  And Russia itself with its feudal oligarchs and powerful crime lords tends to be very unfriendly to commerce.
So long as Russian small businessmen are parasitized by protection rackets and foreign investors are confronted with corruption, their economy is not likely to become truly “modern” any time soon.

A main theme of the talk was to ask what Putin really wants and how to get Russia to work more closely with US objectives.  Even the experts seemed to regard Putin as a mystic, inscrutable, Eastern Czar.
If we look at the numbers, though, it seems clear why the US can’t seem to get Russia to budge.

Relatively speaking, the US really is not that important to Russian interests so it simply doesn’t have that much leverage.
The vast majority of Russia’s foreign trade is with the European Union and with China in a distant second place.   Commerce with the US takes a comparatively puny 4th or 5th place with just a few percent of the total.  Also, the US is just about on the other side of the planet from Russia’s major cities while China and Europe are much more immediate neighbors.
It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that US requests take a back seat compared to more immediate concerns.  What decisive advantage does America offer in exchange for Putin’s cooperation?  Putin is a pragmatist, so clearly what he’s being offered isn’t worth as much as he gets from slighting the US to boost his domestic approval ratings.

The economic reality on the ground is that Russia is already just a big commodity provider for the EU, and thus in every meaningful sense, already part of Europe.
If we look at the facts, Russia as a modern great power, is pure fantasy.

During the talk, there was mention of a new, more Western generation of Russians just waiting for the older oligarchs to die off.  Such a generation is bound to reconcile Russia’s political reality with the economic reality.
Instead of trying to keep states like Ukraine from being sucked into Europe, Russia will itself be sucked into the Euro zone.

Even if Russia somehow remains an aloof oligarchic kleptocracy, it will still be useful for its resources as a lesser partner of Europe.

Graph Russia Trade Partners

Welcome to the Kurdish Spring

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