Wednesday, April 26, 2017

DONALD TRUMP AND AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY: OR LORD COOPER AS POTUS

"One of the joys of parenthood is that you see the world again through fresh eyes. Almost the same could be said of observing Donald Trump’s learning curve. Did anyone know how complicated US healthcare could be? Were people aware that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican? Who knew that North Korea was not at China’s beck and call? The good news is Mr Trump’s curve is often vertical. Some of his crazier positions have been discarded. The bad news is that Mr Trump’s shifts require constant vigilance. For the next four or eight years, global peace of mind will depend on Mr Trump having the right advisers at hand when it matters. Things go wrong when moderating influences are absent. On Monday, Mr Trump called Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s autocratic president, to congratulate him on a narrow referendum victory that is in dispute. It is no coincidence this ill-advised call took place while HR McMaster, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, was out of the country. The president’s most incendiary daytime tweets often come out on a Saturday, when his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is observing the Sabbath. The others are issued at night when Mr Trump is alone. He is the first president since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940s to go to bed and wake up alone. Until now, his wife Melania has shown no sign of wanting to join him in Washington. Beware Mr Trump when he is alone with the world. But his daytime company is greatly improved from when he started. Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state, has been criticised for failing to fill up the administration’s key diplomatic roles. His hesitation stems from an excess of caution. Until he knows what Mr Trump’s foreign policy will be, it is tough to know which people would be best to execute it. The same applies to Mr Tillerson’s shyness with the media. Why talk to journalists when Mr Trump may contradict you within minutes of stating a policy? Whatever Mr Tillerson’s shortcomings, impulsiveness is not one of them. The world should be reassured by that.... But there is little basis for assuming Mr Trump’s evolution will persist in the right direction. First, he has no personal loyalties. When his greatest friend and mentor, Roy Cohn (no relation to Gary), was dying of HIV-Aids in the late 1980s, Mr Trump refused to visit him. The notorious New York lawyer had ceased to be useful. “Donald pisses ice water,” Cohn said. Most presidents suffer from an excess of loyalty. Mr Trump is the opposite. The world’s diplomats are investing much time in cultivating Mr Kushner on the assumption he cannot be fired. That is almost certainly wrong. He can be marginalised, which is the same thing. Mr Kushner has been so overloaded with responsibilities he is almost destined to fail. Mr Trump never blames himself. Second, the president has set up a pipeline of foreseeable defeats. His team is no closer than it was six weeks ago to finding a replacement to Obamacare. A second failure on healthcare reform is almost certain. That, in turn, will endanger his centrepiece tax reform, which is no nearer a drawing board than when he took office. In some respects it is even further away. Many Republicans assumed that Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, would push through his own tax plan once Mr Trump had given up. They overestimated Mr Ryan’s competence. There is even less likelihood Mr Trump will get his own way on North Korea. At some point his failure to disarm Kim Jong Un will become dangerously obvious. Ditto for reducing the US-China trade deficit and opening the spigots on infrastructure spending. Mr Trump will find it hard to stand the reality of one defeat after another. Heads will roll. Some will be moderates. Stephen Bannon, the champion of Mr Trump’s “America First” instincts, may have been sidelined. But he is still there. That, ultimately, is the weakness of Mr Trump’s Oval Office tutorials. They depend on who is doing the educating. For the time being, Mr Trump is surrounded by cooler heads. When things go wrong, their loyalty will count for nothing".
Edward Luce, "Painting by numbers with Donald Trump". The Financial Times. 19 April 2017, in www.ft.com.
"Lord Cooper explained Nazism, Fascism, and Communism; later in his ghastly library, he outlined the situation in the Far East. 'The Beast stands for strong mutually antagonistic governments everywhere', he said. 'Self-sufficiency at home, self-assertion abroad'. Mr. Salter's side of the conversation was limited to expressions of assent. When Lord Cooper was right he said, 'Definitely Lord Cooper'; when he was wrong. 'Up to a point'. 'Let me see, what's the name of the place I mean? Capital of Japan? Yokohama, isn't it?' 'Up to a point Lord Cooper'. 'And Hong Kong belongs to us, doesn't it? Definitely Lord Cooper'."
Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh. Scoop. (1949). p. 16.
Notwithstanding some of the more optimistic comments by various commentators, both in the United States and abroad, Trumpism as a foreign policy concept is disaster waiting to occur 1. The American President is a very dangerous combination of supreme ignorance and activism. Au fond 'un-masterly activity' could perhaps be said to be his motto. The bombing in Syria being the ne plus ultra of the very same. The fact that said bombing up-ended his previously declared policy of non-involvement in Syria, Trump perhaps (or perhaps not?) moved by the horrid usage of chemical weapons by the regime of Assad Fils, decided to almost completely reverse course and bomb one Syrian air field. Albeit after warning the Russians what was intended. Similarly, it has now been proved that the movement of a battle group into the waters off Korea from the Western Pacific, was more akin to a stunt than a thought-out policy decision. As the Financial Times' Edward Luce cogently notes, the real issue with Mr. Trump is that having no allegiances (except to himself), and no beliefs or deeply held views, added to which is a mountain-load of ignorance that would put Lord Cooper to shame. In short the American President is the human equivalent of a spinning top. Whoever spins the top last, has the possibility of ensuring where said top will go to. And while it is a very good thing indeed that Secretary Mattis, Secretary Tillson, Vice-President Pence and General McMaster, are all level-headed people. Some being highly experienced individuals with long years of government service, there is little reason to believe that per se, if the President were to convince himself that one or all of them should be displaced and or sidelined, then displaced and sidelined they will be. If it could potentially happen to the President's son-in-law, Mr. Kushner (whose sole qualification for holding the power that he does is that he is indeed President Trump's son-in-law), then it may occur to anyone in the current Trump cabinet. Time will only tell where exactly the top labeled POTUS, will end up spinning to.
1. For a more 'optimistic' view of Trumpian foreign policy, see: James Forsyth, "Trump's plan for Pyongyang". The Spectator (London). 8 April 2017. Page 14.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

AMERICA'S ANTI-RUSSIAN MANEUVER: A COMMENT

"The US has announced sweeping new sanctions against Russia in retaliation for cyber attacks against the Democratic National Committee and the emails of a key Hillary Clinton adviser that it claims were orchestrated by the Kremlin. President Barack Obama said he had issued sanctions against Russia’s two main intelligence services — the FSB and the GRU — along with sanctions against six individuals: four of them high-ranking GRU members and two of them individual Russian hackers. Separately, the state department also expelled 35 Russian intelligence operatives stationed in the Russian embassy in Washington and the Russian consulate in San Francisco for activity that the US said was “inconsistent with their diplomatic status”. This, it said, was in response to alleged harassment of US diplomats by Russia. The Russian officials have been given 72 hours to leave the country. The new measures represent a significant escalation in the US’s stand-off with Russia. The expulsion of close to three-dozen Russian officials is one of the biggest such expulsions in a decade. “All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” Mr Obama said in a statement. “In addition to holding Russia accountable for what it has done, the United States and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia’s efforts to undermine established international norms of behaviour, and interfere with democratic governance.”
Courtney Weaver, Sam Fleming and Kathrin Hille, "US expels Russian spies over election hacking". The Financial Times. 30 December 2016, in www.ft.com.
"In a head-spinning turn of events on Friday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia announced that he would not retaliate against President Obama’s decision to expel Russian diplomats and impose new sanctions — hours after his foreign minister recommended doing just that. Mr. Putin, betting on improved relations with the next American president, said he would not eject 35 diplomats or close any diplomatic facilities, rejecting a response to actions taken by the Obama administration on Thursday. The switch was remarkable, given that the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, had just recommended the retaliation in remarks broadcast live on national television, and given the long history of reciprocal expulsions between the two countries. Russian officials have traditionally been sticklers for diplomatic protocol. “While we reserve the right to take reciprocal measures, we’re not going to downgrade ourselves to the level of irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy,” Mr. Putin said, using a common Russian idiom for quarrelsome and unseemly acts. “In our future steps on the way toward the restoration of Russia-United States relations, we will proceed from the policy pursued by the administration” of Donald J. Trump".
Neil MacFarquhar, "Vladimir Putin Won’t Expel U.S. Diplomats as Russian Foreign Minister Urged". The New York Times. 30 December 2016, in www.nytimes.com.
Just like American Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry speech earlier this week on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the actions undertaken by the outgoing American Administration concerning Russia's undoubted interference in the recently concluded American Presidential election is very much a case of too little too late. Given the pro-Russian tendencies of elements of the incoming Trump Administration, it would have behooved the current American Administration to have acted upon the intelligence evidence that was in evidence going back to last summer and damned the political consequences. At that time, any such action, while perhaps controversial (with who exactly other than the Republican Presidential candidate and his immediate coterie?), would have given immediate and hard effect by retaliating for Russian behavior. However, but not acting in time and I would argue in the full quantity of expulsion and other moves: such as expelling double or triple the number of diplomats and engaging in black propaganda against Putin and his circle as well as more sanctions against Russian companies, the American Administration merely shows itself to be self-castrated and toothless 1. Hence, Putin's seemingly statesmanlike decision to avoid retaliating against the Americans. Not that Putin is by any means a 'statesmanlike' character. Far from it! Merely that the American decision was not of such significance as to require Russian retaliation. Per contra, if the full measure of sanctions as I have outlined it above had indeed been carried-out, it is quite certain that Putin would have been forced to retaliate and thus the incoming Trump Administration would have (providentially) been boxed-in politically speaking into an appropiate anti-Russian course. Now of course that question is still left up in the air. The first question being if the nomination of Mr. Rex Tillerson to the post of Secretary of State will be approved by the Senate or be blocked. One can only hope that it is the latter and not the former which occurs. Until then, regardless of the recent American move, all options are open as per the future course of Russian-American relations.
1. For a historical example of an appropriate response to Russian behavior on foreign soil, in this case, the expulsion of more than one-hundred Russian diplomatic personnel from Great Britain in 1971, see: Gill Bennett. Six Moments of Crisis: Inside British Foreign Policy. (2013),pp. 123-146.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

KERRY'S SPEECH ON ISRAEL: WHAT DOES IT SIGNIFY?

"US secretary of state John Kerry delivered a stinging rebuke of the Israeli government on Wednesday, accusing it of making the establishment of a viable Palestinian state nearly impossible through the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. With Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu joining forces with president-elect Donald Trump to attack the Obama administration, Mr Kerry said that the US allowed a resolution critical of Israel to pass last week at the UN as a last-ditch effort to keep the idea of a “two-state solution” alive. In the most direct and detailed criticism by a US official of Israeli settlement construction, Mr Kerry said that the West Bank was being “broken up into small parcels like a Swiss cheese that can never constitute a real state”. “The United States cannot properly defend Israel if we allow a viable two-state solution to be destroyed before our eyes,” he said in a speech at the state department in which he also spelt out the US vision for Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side. Mr Kerry’s speech followed the US abstention last week on a UN resolution that condemned Jewish settlements in the occupied territories that it said were “dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-state solution” — a decision that prompted a furious reaction from Mr Netanyahu."
Geoff Dyer, "Kerry accuses Israel of jeopardising two-state solution". The Financial Times. 28 December 2016, in www.ft.com.
"Undeterred by a resounding defeat at the United Nations, Israel’s government said Monday that it would move ahead with thousands of new homes in East Jerusalem and warned nations against further action, declaring that Israel does not “turn the other cheek.” Just a few days after the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn Israeli settlements, Jerusalem’s municipal government signaled that it would not back down: The city intends to approve 600 housing units in the predominantly Palestinian eastern section of town on Wednesday in what a top official called a first installment on 5,600 new homes. The defiant posture reflected a bristling anger among Israel’s pro-settlement political leaders, who not only blamed the United States for failing to block the Council resolution, but also claimed to have secret intelligence showing that President Obama’s team had orchestrated it. American officials strongly denied the claim, but the sides seem poised for more weeks of conflict until Mr. Obama hands over the presidency to Donald J. Trump. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lashed out at Security Council countries by curbing diplomatic contacts, recalling envoys, cutting off aid and summoning the American ambassador for a scolding. He canceled a planned visit this week by Ukraine’s prime minister even as he expressed concern on Monday that Mr. Obama was planning more action at the United Nations before his term ends next month."
Peter Baker, "Middle East: A Defiant Israel Vows to Expand Its Settlements". The New York Times. 27 December 2016, in www.nytimes.com.
There is nothing egregious unheard of, or even very novel about American Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry's statement about Israel and its settlement policy. Indeed in a rather loud manner, his statement merely follows the inner, unspoken thoughts of many policymakers in official Washington and especially in the State Department lo these many years. The questions that needs to be asked are: what does Kerry's speech signify? And more importantly, even in the (now extremely unlikely) event that the incoming Trump Administration were to follow the path laid out by Kerry Speech (id. est., if one were to follow the logic consequences of what Kerry in fact says), would it make any difference to the realities on the ground in the Near and Middle East? I for one would answer both queries as follows: i) Kerry's speech and the UN vote which unleashed an Israeli diplomatic push against the outgoing American Administration, is the fruit of the fact that Secretary Kerry has been completely stymied in his push for a settlement of he Palestinian problem in the past four years. The Netanyahu government has completely blocked any and all proposals, American and others towards re-starting negotiations between the two sides. With the looming loss of power on the horizon, it is not altogether surprising that Kerry, et. al., have decided to show for once, their public frustration with the current Israeli government. It can be reasonably asked if in retrospect, the Americans should not have taken much, much earlier the line that Kerry is now taking. Not of course with mere words but with 'deeds'. Which of course raises that second query that I mentioned earlier: ii) whether even in the unlikely event that the Trump Administration were to follow the policy of its predecessor, would a policy of diplomatic and economic coercion: cutting off of aid, both economic and military, as well as other in-direct forms of assistance, result in a change of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians? I would argue that at the present time no it would not. Why so? For the simple reason that unlike in the 1970s to 1990s, American military assistance (the USA no longer gives economic assistance to Israel), is not sufficiently large to impact Israel to such an extent as to make the Netanyahu government or any other Israeli right-wing government change its policies. Currently, the Americans give military assistance to Israel in the amount of approximately one-percent of Israeli GDP. Whereas in the earlier period mentioned the figure for total American assistance was closer to five-percent of Israeli GDP. Added to this is the fact that in the past fifteen years, Israel has acquired a considerable high-technology industry which has permitted it to in fact 'stand on its own feet', economically speaking. With a per capita GDP close to the European Union average. Accordingly, it appears that regardless of any policy of diplomatic coercion that the Americans might employ that the Netanyahu government would merely choose to ignore it and press forward with its recent tilt towards allying itself with Moskva and Peking. Something that a Kerry-like policy would merely cause to Israel tilt even further in the authoritarian camp 1. In short, the only way that I for one can imagine that Israel will change its policy towards the Palestinians, is if there is a change-over in who rules Israel. That the Jabotinsky-like 'iron-wall' policy of the current Israeli government, is discarded and a government which is seriously interested in pursuing a policy of peace comes to power 2. When and if that were to occur is anyone's guess. I can only surmise that it will occur when the Jewish population of Israel becomes tire of being a sort of Near Eastern Sparta. That is something which of course may never happen. And in that case, the iron-wall policy will continue for who knows how long?
1. For Netanyahu's recent tilt towards Putin see: David Gardner, "A new balance of Power in the Middle East". The Financial Times. 29 December 2016, in www.ft.com. See also: Damien Sharkov, "Why Is Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu Warming to Russia's Vladimir Putin". Newsweek. 7 June 2016, in www.newsweek.com
2. For the concept of the 'Iron Wall' in Israeli and Zionist politics and thought, see: Lenni Brenner, The Iron Wall: Zionist Revisionism from Javotinsky to Shamir. (1984).

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

DONALD TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE: A 'CREATIVE OPPORTUNIST'?

"The more powerful the passions and the more uncontained the ambitions, the more likely the democratic system will collapse into despotism. Demagogues are the Achilles heel of democracy. There is even is a standard demagogic playbook. Demagogues, whether of left or right, present themselves as representatives of the common people against elites and unworthy outsiders; make a visceral connection with followers as charismatic leaders; manipulate that connection for their own advancement, frequently by lying egregiously; and threaten established rules of conduct and constraining institutions as enemies of the popular will that they embody. Mr Trump is almost a textbook demagogue. Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence party, has not advanced so far because it has proved harder to capture the UK’s party-based institutions than it is the US presidency. Yet there are similarities between the demagogic elements of the Brexit campaign and the rise of Mr Trump. For both, opponents are enemies rather than fellow citizens who think differently. Both claim to represent the people against foreigners and traitors. The demagogue’s campaign leads naturally to despotism — the tyranny of the majority that is a mask on the tyranny of one. As institutions are brought under dictatorial control, the opposition is driven into rebellion or acquiescence. Despots use the former as an excuse for repression and the latter to demand absolute obedience. A host of examples of the demagogic route to power exists, in both past and present. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler are case studies of demagogues turned into despots. It is not hard to think of recent examples, from Hugo Chávez to Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin".
Martin Wolf, "Democrats, demagogues and despots". The Financial Times. 20 December 2016 in www.ft.com.
"Lloyd George was an opportunist in the second sense, one whose fluidity of principal made him a creative politician for a period of great unrest and danger. He was a manager, not an ideologist or class warrior: a manager of genius. 'The difference between ordinary and extraordinary men', he told Lord Riddell, 'is that when the extraordinary man is faced by a novel and difficult situation, he extricates himself by adopting a plan which is at once daring and unexpected'. And the point of the man of action is to get things done when there is danger but no consensus. At no stage in his career was Lloyd George ever at a loss for a plan, a solution, a way out, however intractable the problem appeared. His method of action was instinctive, but a certain preferred pattern emerges: the summoning of the best brains to provide policies; the appointment of executive types, mainly from business, to carry them out; and the exercise of political leadership to mobilize the necessary consent....But the Coalition elected in 1918 also illustrates the seamy counterpart of flexible response: the growth of a purely manipulative style of politics. Like Nixon, Lloyd George came to believe that everything could and should be fixed, managed or bought. His [Lloyd George's] court developed many of the same paranoias and vices, illustrating what a thin line divides creativity from corruption".
Robert, Lord Skidelsky. Interests and Obsessions: selected essays. (1993), pp. 161-163. In an essay titled: 'Lloyd George'.
Which of the two above characters is the American President-elect, Mr. Donald Trump? Based upon the evidence that we have so far, it would appear that Mr. Trump embodies both character traits cited above, by Mr. Wolf of the Financial Times, and Lord Skidelsky. He is on the face of it, a demagogue or at the very least a demagogue in training. Mr. Trump having consistently preferred to slander, and frequently tell lies of the most obvious sort for the entirety of his brief political career. Indeed, one is hard put to ascertain exactly where 'reality' in the most prosaic sense of the mot and Mr. Trump's views and opinions ever cross paths. The frequency of his extraordinary claims and statements, puts paid to even the ordinary leverage that one normally allows politicians in their distortions of reality. In Mr. Trump's weltanschauung (insofar as it exists), reality is something which collapses completely and entirely. Disappearing without a trace. With that being said, is there any hope that Mr. Trump will in office 'grow' into an opportunistic of the 'creative', Lloyd George type? Regardless of certain similarities, I for one cam profoundly skeptical that Mr. Trump will grow into being a second Lloyd George or even a pocket-size one. Why? For the simple reason that Mr. Trump is a complete narcissist, without I would wager any redeeming values, either in politics and in his private life. Per contra to Lloyd George, who for all his corruption and bounder-like personal behavior, was a patriot of the very first-order, Mr. Trump scarcely seems to conjure-up any such a resemblance. Which is not to gainsay that while in office, Mr. Trump may on occasion summon-up some elements of statesmanship and even surprise those of us who distrust him. It is simply that for Mr. Trump being elected President was a gamble and a whim. The type that a self-involved school-boy would indulge in. And in fact, au fond, Mr. Trump psychologically bears a great similarity to nothing more than an over-grown school-boy who has never quite grown-up. The child of rich and doting parents, who indulged his every wish from childhood onwards. And who has treated life as mere stages on a personal anabasis in which other people, are manipulated, moved-around, forced-out, humiliated and or crushed. In short, Mr. Trump is the very antithesis of a Gentleman. He is nothing more than a bounder, a charlatan, a rotter, a mountebank, a fraud. As well as being an ignoramus. From first to last. And it is an has proved and will prove a grave embarrassment that he will soon be given the highest office in the land. One only hopes that his demagoguery stops short of going all the way to semi-dictatorship. Something which I feel, sure that the (relative) strength of American institutions will prevent. The Lord God willing.

Monday, December 19, 2016

THE FALL OF ALEPPO: A TURNING POINT IN THE SYRIAN WAR?

"Syria's government ignored a rebel cease-fire proposal for Aleppo on Wednesday as its forces captured new neighborhoods around the city center and squeezed some 200,000 tired and frightened civilians into a shattered and rapidly shrinking opposition enclave. Facing a punishing and brutal defeat, rebel factions proposed a five-day cease-fire for the eastern parts of the city to evacuate the wounded and civilians wishing to flee. "The artillery shelling is non-stop," a resident told The Associated Press by messaging service. He asked to conceal his name out of fear for his safety. "The humanitarian situation is really tough. There are corpses on the streets. ... There is very little food. Bread is distributed every two or three days, six pieces per family. That's small, not enough for breakfast," he said. Government officials had not directly addressed the rebel proposal by the evening. "The decision to liberate all of Syria has been taken, and that includes Aleppo," Syrian President Bashar Assad told the state newspaper al-Watan.... The Syrian government and its ally Russia have rejected previous cease-fires for the war-torn city, keeping up the military offensive that has forced rebel retreats and displaced at least 30,000 civilians in the past 11 days, according to U.N. figures. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Wednesday in Hamburg, Germany but did not release any statements.".
Sarah El Deeb & philip Issa, "Syrian Government Advances Despite Rebel Cease-Fire Offer". ABC New. 7 December 2016, in www.abc.go.com
"As Bashar al-Assad’s forces close in on the last districts of the rebel stronghold in eastern Aleppo, the Syrian president is on the verge of winning the symbolically important battle — and with it, his supporters say, the civil war. The east of Aleppo, Syria’s second city, was the rebels’ last big urban stronghold and is seen as crucial to the outcome of Syria’s five-year-old war. Its loss would largely relegate the rebels to a rural insurgency. But after five years of bloodshed, no victory in Syria is ever really decisive. “Whoever wins Aleppo wins the war in Syria — for the short term. But over the long term, who knows? Everything is possible in Syria,” says Rami Abdelrahman, head of the UK-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.... Syria is now a kaleidoscope of fiefdoms. The jihadist group Isis still holds swathes of eastern Syria, as does a powerful Kurdish militia in the north-east. Even the badly bruised rebels, with tens of thousands of fighters, still cling to an archipelago of territory across the country. “It’s the ‘Swiss cheese theory’ — Syria becomes a piece of Swiss cheese with lots of holes,” argues one opposition figure, who asked not to be named. “Some areas will be the product of regional agreements or mutual understandings that are not up to the regime. Regime sovereignty is never going to come back.” With the help of his powerful backers — Russia, Iran and regional Shia militias such as Lebanon’s Hizbollah — Mr Assad has basically won back control of what some observers cynically call “useful Syria”. That is, the central cities and major population centre that stretch from Syria’s north, along the Mediterranean coast and Lebanese border, and into the capital of Damascus".
Erika Solomon, "Aleppo defeat unlikely to signal end of conflict". The Financial Times. 9 December 2017, in www.ft.com.
What can one say then about the fall of Aleppo in terms of the overall situation in Syria? Firstly, it seems self-evident that conquest of Aleppo by the forces of the Assad regime and its allies (Syrian, Persian, Hezbollah, Iraqi, Russian), is an important victory. With the fall of Aleppo, the Assad regime now controls all of the major urban areas of the country. And given the brutal if effective tactics employed, there seems very little doubt that going forward that no urban area can stand out against the combined forces (Syrian and non-Syrian) which determined the outcome of the battle for Aleppo. Au fond of course, this does not gainsay the fact that it is not altogether clear that Assad has enough forces at present, Syrian or non-Syrian to conclusively defeat the Sunni insurgents. The best example of that being the loss, however temporary of Palmyra this week to the butchers of ISIS 1. It is also not entirely clear that Assad's non-Syrian allies are willing to continue to wage the struggle on the same level that they have been doing so for the last fifteen months. Certainly, if they were to do so, then it might very well be the case, that the regime will endeavor to re-capture all of the minor urban centers in the Aleppo to Damascus corridor, as well as all coastline to the Mediterranean 2. And while some like the ever-wise Jonathan Landis proclaim that the fall of Aleppo heralds "the imposition of a new security architecture in the northern Middle East for the next several decades" 3, this seems to me to be mistaking the wood for the trees. Id. est., even with the control of all major and minor urban areas, it seems self-evident, that the Sunni insurgency will continue, smoldering, if not necessarily very successfully for years to come. The examples of Algeria after 1989 or Ceylon in the 1970's and after ring to mind. Which is again not to gainsay the fact that with the fall of Aleppo a rubicon in military terms has been crossed and the likelihood of the Assad regime, being ousted by the Sunni opposition and their Gulf Arab allies has evaporated perhaps forever. Since in these types of military conflicts psychology can be as an important a factor as military hardware. As the Prussian military commentator Clausewitz aptly put it long ago:
"A general uprising, as we see it , should be nebulous and elusive; its resistance should never materialize as a concrete body, otherwise the enemy can direct sufficient force at its core, crush it, and take many prisoners. When that happens, the people will lose heart and believing that the issue has been decided and further efforts would be useless, drop their weapons" 4.
1. Erika Solomon, "Isis retakes ancient Syrian city of Palmyra". The Financial Times. 12 December 2016, in www.ft.com.
2. Melissa Dalton, "What options do we have in Syria". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 15 December 2016, in www.csis.org.
3. Erika Solomon & Geoff Dyer, "The battle for Aleppo: ‘It felt like the last goodbye’". The Financial Times. 16 December 2016, in www.ft.com
4. Karl von Clausewitz. On War. Edited and Translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. (1980), p. 481.

Monday, December 05, 2016

A 'ONE TWEET' POLICY ON FORMOSA?

"Most periods between the election of a new US president and the inauguration are relatively quiet, with a bustle of appointment-related activity going on behind the scenes but a lack of hostages to fortune given in public. As president-elect, Donald Trump seems determined to up-end this tradition. If not necessarily settling on irrevocable policies that will bind him in office, he is setting out a stall that could radically change US strategy. It was the turn of Taiwan and its relationship to China on Friday. By taking a single phone call from Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese president, and referring to her by that title, Mr Trump threw 40 years of established practice into question. In fairness, he is right — if indeed this is his aim — to point out America’s contradictory attitude to the self-governed and democratic island.... The US attitude to Taiwan since it was set by Jimmy Carter’s administration in 1979 could be described as constructive hypocrisy. America professes to support Taiwanese democracy and sells it arms to defend itself from its powerful neighbour, while at the same time adhering to a “one-China” policy and refusing to recognise Taiwan as an independent country. For a long while, this was a stable position that has kept the peace in a potentially inflammatory situation. But Beijing’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, particularly in the South China Sea, has made it more unstable. The US has looked ever more passive in the region and the timidity of its approach may have emboldened China. The Obama administration reacted to China’s building of artificial islands and militarisation of the South China Sea by sailing some ships and flying a few jets through the region in “freedom of navigation” exercises. China shrugged off these actions and carried on building military bases in the disputed waters. Beijing’s initial response was to downplay news of the phone call. Unless Mr Trump doubles down on the provocation, China may simply bide its time and wait for him to enter the Oval Office, assuming this is the action of someone who has not had time to consider the issues at length".
Leader, "Trump’s dangerous provocation over Taiwan: The president-elect should assume office before changing policy". The Financial Times. 5 December 2016, in www.ft.com.
"However, Trump fueled the fire on Sunday by complaining about Chinese economic and military policy on Twitter, while on Monday an economic adviser to Trump, Stephen Moore, said if Beijing did not like it, "screw 'em." Analysts, including senior former U.S. officials, said the call appeared to be at least an initial shot across China's bow to signal a tougher approach to Beijing, which includes plans for a buildup in the U.S. military, in part in response to China's growing power in the Asia-Pacific region. Jon Huntsman, reportedly among the candidates to become Trump's secretary of state, was quoted by The New York Times as saying at the weekend that Taiwan might prove a "useful leverage point" in dealings with China. Trump adviser and China hawk Peter Navarro, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, another in the mix for the top U.S. diplomatic role, have both proposed using degrees of escalation on Taiwan to pressure China to step back from its pursuit of territory in East Asia. Navarro, who has produced books and multipart television documentaries warning of the dangers of China's rise, has suggested stepped up engagement with Taiwan, including assistance with a submarine development program. He argued that Washington should stop referring to a "one-China" policy, but stopped short of suggesting it should recognize Taipei, saying “there is no need to unnecessarily poke the Panda.” Bolton though, in an article in January, countenanced a "diplomatic ladder of escalation" that could start with receiving Taiwanese diplomats officially at the State Department and lead to restoring full diplomatic recognition".
David Brunnstrom, "Trump fires opening salvo in risky test of wills with Beijing". Reuters. 5 December 2016, in www.reuters.com
'Dangerously provocative' or a 'one tweet' policy? That is the crux of the discussion currently about American President-Elect Donald Trump's telephone conversation with the President of Formosa and his subsequent 'tweets' attacking the regime in Peking this week-end just past. One does not have to like in the least Mr. Trump (as I do not) to au fond agree with his more aggressive views on Sino-American relations. And while similarly one does not have to have a very high opinion of the diplomatic talents of Messieurs Navarro and Bolton, et. al., to agree with them that the course of Sino-American relations since the late 1990's has been one long trend of benign neglect and or appeasement of the very worst sort. That the current regime in Peking is for Primat der Innenpolitik reasons pursuing an increasingly aggressive and revanchist policy in the Far East. And that only a consistent policy of militarized containment by the Americans and their allies will put a stop to Peking's dangerous and provocative policies. It is in fact Peking's consistently aggressive policies in the Far East in the past half-dozen years which is 'dangerously provocative'. Choosing to ignore or minimize it, will only make an eventual military confrontation between the Americans and Peking more rather than less likely. In this instance if in not much else, Mr. Trump (or more likely his advisors) has a better read on the diplomatic situation than the current American administration. One can only hope that it is in fact more than merely a 'one tweet' policy.

Monday, November 28, 2016

FIDEL CASTRO, 1926-2016: NI REQUIESCAT IN PACE

"Fidel Castro, the controversial Cuban leader who seized power in 1959 and ruled over the communist state for the following five decades, has died aged 90. Castro came to power as a charismatic guerrilla leader after his army of revolutionaries marched into Havana 49 years ago when he was just 32 years old. His younger bother, Raúl Castro, who took over as president of the Caribbean island in 2008, announced that the older Castro had died on Friday. Cuba will now hold a nine-day period of mourning, before a funeral is held on December 4. The 85-year-old said on state television following his brother’s death: “At 10.29 at night, the chief commander of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, died. Ever onward, to victory.” Castro was a divisive figure who initially won admiration from many on the left after leading the Communist party to power. Hundreds of young Cubans gather at Havana University to remember Cuban leader Fidel Castro © EPA But he has also been criticised as a repressive autocrat who treated his opponents brutally".
Madison Marriage & Andres Schipani, "Cuban leader Fidel Castro dies aged 90Z". The Financial Times. 26 November 2016, in www.ft.com.
"A corpse died yesterday".
L'Humanite on the occasion of the death of André Gide in February 1951.
The atrocious mots of the rotten French Communist gutter paper, soiled by its monstrous history of lies and filth, were of course a calumny when applied to the immortal Gide. However, in the case of the now rotting corpse of Fidel Castro, the words are very apt indeed. What is the history of 'Fidel' but a history of lies, foolish ambition, wasted efforts, mass killing and murders of his fellow Cubans. Dictatorship and under-development and mis-development. All ultimately for no positive purpose whatsoever. The idea, the fantasy that Cuba could stand on its own two feet, in opposition to the United States and remain a functioning state, was of course that: a fantasy. Unfortunately, it is a fantasy that first engulfed one man, then a clique and soon, via coercion an entire people. Thankfully, if perhaps too tardily this idiocy been revealed for what it truly is. One can only hope that when Castro's equally atrocious brother Raul also meets his maker in due course, that the poor and misbegotten people of Cuba will act upon the realization of the morbid joke that almost sixty years of Castroism has proven and put an immediate and complete end to it. Before it is too late.