Monday, May 21, 2018

Can Both Sides just agree on something about mass shooting in schools, ask a couple of TV pundits

Joe Scarborough and Nick Confessore on this Morning Zoo segment illustration the influence of the NRA, the gun lobby operating as a gun cult, has on the national discussion of mass murders in schools. We could call it "cultural hegemony," a decades-old left concept that more recently has been adopted by the alt-right. Although the hegemony here is less on the consciousness of the general public and more on the part of lawmakers, especially Republican ones, and elite journalist and TV talking heads.

Santa Fe High School Shooting: How To Find Common Ground On Gun Reform Morning Joe/MSNBC 05/21/2018:

Scarborough and Confessore wring their hands over what consensus agreement Both Sides in the gun-proliferation debate we might be able to get. Scarborough offers up the NRA standard of more attention to "mental health." Will you be surprised to hear that the segment fails to mention Republicans cutbacks in mental health programs?

To do away with the current level of small-arms proliferation in the US, there will first have to be a partisan demand by Democrats to oppose the pro-gun proliferation policy of the Republican Party that is in both financial and spiritual hock to the gun lobby.

Friday, May 18, 2018

US power shifts

Gordon Adams uses a foreign-policy realist approach to poke holes in a fond bipartisan assumption, "Both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are struggling to recreate a myth: that the US dominates the world by dint of power, values, wisdom, even God’s decisions. America, and only America, can bring order and security to the world. Any other option spells chaos." (Beyond Hegemony And A Liberal International Order LobeLog 05/17/2018)

I have a love-hate relationship with the "realist" school of foreign policy, prominently represented today by Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, and Famous earlier realists included Kenneth Walz, George Kennan, Reinhold Neibuhr, and Hans Morgenthau. I've been guilty in the past of confusing Hans Morgenthau with Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who served as Secretary of Treasury 1934-1945. The latter was involved in major foreign policy issues. But Hans Morgenthau is the one renowned for his theoretical contributions to foreign policy studies, notably with his 1948 book Politics Among Nations.

The article on Hans Morgenthau in the ever-trusty Encyclopaedia Britannica summarizes the bare bones of his Realist theory this way:
... Morgenthau maintained that politics is governed by distinct immutable laws of nature and that states could deduce rational and objectively correct actions from an understanding of these laws. Central to Morgenthau’s theory was the concept of power as the dominant goal in international politics and the definition of national interest in terms of power. His state-centred approach, which refused to identify the moral aspirations of a state with the objective moral laws that govern the universe, maintained that all state actions seek to keep, demonstrate, or increase power. He called for recognition of the nature and limits of power and for the use of traditional methods of diplomacy, including compromise.
On the one hand, that formulation doesn't work for me as an approach to foreign policy, because it suggests a kind of amorality in life-and-death decisions involving war and peace, and suggests an indifference or irrelevance to considerations of forms of government and ruling ideologies. That's the second part of my love/hate relationship with it. Also because the famous war criminal Henry Kissinger is thought to be a practitioner of it. The fact that I first encountered the theory in a conservative text in my first college political science class, which was also taught by a hardcore Nixon-Agnew conservative professor, probably adds to its bad vibe for me.

The "love" part is my experience that practitioners of the realist approach has to do with the fact that they often come up with a more realistic practical assessment of foreign policy situations than more explicitly ideological approaches. The realist view has its own ideological implications, but let's leave that aside for now. Approaching issues while seriously trying to apply the realist assumptions means one has to think carefully about how the leaders and political actors of other countries are making judgments about their own national interests. And the realist approaches assumes that all countries view their national interests in ways that at least implicitly have general legitimacy. Done right, it provides a counter-balance to the temptation to assume the outcome that would be most congenial to one's own ideology or interests is the most likely one. And recognizes that what may look like an important but secondary stake for one country may be regarded by another as an existential matter.

The adherents of the realist view viewed the "unipolar moment" of the global dominance of the United States after the fall of the Eastern Bloc governments and of the USSR as an inevitably transitory state of affairs. They predicted that other countries would seek ways to counter the overwhelming American dominance and create new alliances and approaches in pursuit of that goal. And, in fact, that process has proceeded as expected. Jeremi Suri described those shifting balances in an article from the transition time between the Presidential election and the beginning of Trump's Administration, Blustering Toward Armageddon The American Prospect 01/03/2017. His focus is on the major ways that the incoming Trump Administration might manage that shifting matrix of power relations in a way that could lead to disaster. Although his well-founded pessimism about Trump's ability to manage foreign affairs successfully also seems to be influenced by a perhaps overconfident faith in the ability of the US to be a benign influence in the Middle East, in particular.

Gordon Adams is skeptical that the two major parties fully appreciate that we are undergoing a "fundamental shift in global realities—the centrifugal redistribution of power and influence in the international system that has brought to an end the 'American century.' The United States has become just another power in a system for which it no longer sets or enforces the rules, if it ever really did."

But Adams thinks the Democrats are generally being unrealistic about what the feasible alternatives to Trumpist foreign policy are: "Both political parties fail to cope with this reality. Democrats and liberals insist that Trump’s foreign-policy decisions threaten the 'rules-based' international order America built and dominated. A simple change in leadership, they believe, can restore order and America’s primacy."

And he sounds considerably more skeptical than Jeremi Suri about the American ability to shape political matters in the Middle East to our liking:
In the Middle East, the power shift is palpable. The United States has treated Iran as a pariah since 1979, trying to stuff the ayatollahs back into some imaginary bottle, hoping that they will go away or be overthrown. This approach has failed, and the withdrawal from the nuclear deal will only make that failure more evident. Iran is a regional power, defending its interests, engaging other powers and movements inside and outside the region, such as Russia. US regime change in Iraq not only destabilized the region but helped usher the Iranians into this active regional role. The other influential countries in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia and Israel, will have to deal with this reality.

In addition to these three countries, Russia is also key to regional stability and instability. There’s no way of pushing the Russians out, short of direct conflict. Nor can Turkey be forced to comply with American policy. It is clearly asserting its own interests and influence in three directions at the same time: Central Asia and Russia, Europe, and the Middle East. The invasion of Iraq may have helped open this Pandora’s box. The US is rapidly becoming a marginal player in the chaotic security environment of the Middle East.
Leon Hadar adds a provocative wrinkle to this picture (Trump's Strategy for the Middle East Is Working The National Interest 05/17/2018):
... perhaps Americans should be experiencing a certain sense of pleasure, or Schadenfreude as they watch the Russians being drawn into what could prove to be a long and costly effort to “do something” in response to the growing military tensions between Israel and Iran and its allies in Syria, the Kremlin’s Middle Eastern protectorate. Good luck with that, President Putin!
He has a point!

Hadar recites some of the history of the US involvement in the Middle East. Which is not a story of "winning," which our current President pretends to think is the whole point of foreign policy. While we can certainly understand Russia's current expansion of influence in the Middle East as an instance of the Realist theory playing out in the real world, that doesn't mean that it hurts the United States more than it helps. And while the US should certainly try to promote peaceful relations in the Middle East, including a decent settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, if Russia's luck in the region resembles that of the US the last couple of decades, that's a fate one should only wish onto an enemy.

Hadar argues:
While no one will be forcing the United States out of the Middle East anytime soon, it is true that under both former President Barack Obama and his successor in office, President Donald Trump, the decision not to intervene directly in the civil war in Syria, can be seen as part of an effort to reduce the level of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. That does not amount to “isolationism” but it certainly challenges the axiom that Washington is required to immediately “do something” to resolve this or that conflict in the Middle East.
I tend to think he's overoptimistic there about American restraint. Obama did show a practical awareness that getting sucked in to a large intervention in the Syrian civil war would be a bad idea. But his Administration did try to put the American finger on the scales there, including direct support to some very dubious anti-government rebels. And the Obama/Hillary intervention in Libya with France and Britain was a reckless action with negative long-term consequences, and a disaster in the short-run, too. Albeit not as gigantic a disaster as the Iraq War. And I don't see that Trump has any policy goal as consistent as what Hadar calls "Trump’s goal of reducing U.S. military presence in the Middle East since it supposedly would lead to a confrontation between the United States and Iran."

Hadar may also have been letting hope get the better of judgment in his Don't Expect President Trump to Invade Iran The National Interest 02/21/2018. In the three months since then, Trump has brought on John Bolton as National Security Adviser and a buildup for a war with Iran sure looks like it's in process. But he does take a worthwhile shot at the way that the "Munich analogy" has served as musical accompaniment to some really bad foreign policy decisions:
For much of the post-1945 era, Western leaders, applying the lessons of World War II, operated under the assumption that the adoption of a policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany, symbolized by the agreement that the British and French leaders signed with Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938, helped encourage German military aggression that eventually led to the breakout of war in Europe.

The result was that the United States and its Western allies held to the conviction that they needed to avert another Munich, which meant that they had to adopt a tough and uncompromising diplomatic and military stand against any potential aggressor, whom they were quick to compare to another Hitler.

So if Egyptian nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser and Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh were “like Hitler,” failing to use military power in response to any bellicose action on their part would amount to appeasement.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Christian Zionism this week in Jerusalem

This report from The Real News features Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen talk about Christian Zionism and Israel with particular reference to the US delegation to the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem this week. Trump’s Jerusalem Move Caters to Religious Extremists 05/16/2018

Max Blumenthal has taken some criticism for his position on "Russiagate" lately. I mention that only to say that some of the criticism I've seen seems aimed at wholly discrediting him as a reporter and analyst, a goal I certainly don't share. His commentary here on Christian Zionism is well-informed. His book Republican Gomorrah (2009) is a well-researched and insightful look at the Christian Right in the US.

In that book, he wrote about John Hagee, one of the two pastors Trump sent to Jerusalem for the Embassy opening:
Hagee is a Christian Zionist who preaches that the prophecies of the Book of Revelation will unfold as soon as the Jewish diaspora resettles in “Biblical Israel,” meaning all of Israel and the West Bank. A natural ally of Israel’s rightist Likud Party and the messianic Jewish settlers colonizing the West Bank, Hagee leveraged his millions to unite dozens of conservative mega-church congregations and some of the Christian Right’s most prominent figures— including the Reverend Jerry Falwell, Gary Bauer, and Rod Parsley, a Pentecostal preacher with considerable sway in his home state of Ohio— under the banner of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest nationwide evangelical political organization dedicated to supporting Israel, or at least its most right-wing elements. Hagee said he would like to see CUFI become “the Christian version of AIPAC,” referring to the vaunted pro-Israel group rated second only to the National Rifle Association as the most effective lobby in Washington. The preacher tapped Republican Senator Arlen Specter’s former chief of staff, David Brog, as his Capitol Hill lobbyist and then proceeded to make inroads in influence.

Despite his pretensions to philosemitism, Hagee’s interest in Israel was motivated exclusively by his belief in End Times theology, a doctrine that celebrates natural disaster, war, and global pandemics as harbingers of Christ’s imminent return. According to Hagee’s reading of the Book of Revelation, the lodestar of End Times theology, when Jesus returns to Jerusalem, the Jews must convert to evangelical Christianity or suffer eternal torment in “an everlasting lake of fire.” And liberals had better seek cover as well. “As soon as Jesus sits on his throne he’s gonna rule the world with a rod of iron,” the portly Hagee boomed in a December 2007 jeremiad. “That means he’s gonna make the ACLU do what he wants them to. That means you’re not gonna have to ask if you can pray in public school. We will live by the law of God and no other law.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Transatlantic tensions

James Traub recently described a basic difference of perspective between the US and the EU countries when it comes to escalating confrontation with Iran (RIP the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, 1945-2018 Foreign Policy 05/11/2018):
As a simple matter of geographical proximity, Europe is threatened by conflict in the Middle East as the United States is not. The tidal wave of asylum-seekers from Syria in 2015 upended European politics and exposed a popular vein of xenophobia and illiberalism that has thrown a terrible scare into European elites. Europe simply cannot afford to follow the American lead if the United States is prepared to sow further chaos in the region.
He has a dramatically pessimistic diagnosis of the US-Europe relationship:
The Atlantic alliance, built to contain the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II, began to die when the Cold War ended. What kept it alive over the last three decades has been less strategic necessity than a convergence of values — the values of the liberal postwar order. Now, the senior partner of the alliance, the United States, has lost interest in those values. The alliance was already a corpse, but Donald Trump drove the last nail into its coffin when he decided this week to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran.

I wouldn't say that "the values of the liberal postwar order" loomed quite so large as that in the considerations on both continents. The US saw NATO also as way of amplifying its own standing and capability for power projection in the world. And as a way to enforce and enhance its dominance in the famous "unipolar moment." European allies, particularly those of the former Soviet bloc, wanted the continued protection of NATO in case Russian ambitions became threatening to them.

So the deterioration of liberal values in the US under the Trump Administration can scarcely be said to be the main reason for the current troubles in NATO right now. And Traub does discuss some of the conventional power-political considerations that affect the alliance.

Traub also uses the nails-on-the-blackboard characterization of Trump's foreign policy as a "Jacksonian moment," presumably on the mistaken notion that Jackson pursued an aggressive foreign policy as President.

But no breach of the NATO alliance itself is immediately in sight. One of the ways that could change would be if Trump's reckless Middle East policies wind up with a direct clash between US troops and those of our NATO ally Turkey.

A "red-brown" alliance in German politics?

Alexander Reid Ross posted on his Facebook page a link to this article by Ktrtki Tkachenko, How Right is the Left? The German radical Left in the context of the ‘Ukraine crisis’ Eurozine 05/15/2018. Tkachenko argues that there is a de facto "red-brown alliance," i.e., an alliance of the far left (red) and the hardline right (brown).

Tkachenko's article left me scratching my head. A reader not at all familiar with German politics might easily conclude that there is active political cooperation between the far left and far right. But while his piece points out the overlap between far-left and far-right criticisms of Germany's and NATO's Russia policies, I'm not convinced that's anything beyond the usual politics-makes-strange-bedfellows situation. Germany has a parliamentary system at all levels. And I'm not aware of even a county or city government whether there is a coalition between the AfD and the Left Party, which are the "far right" and "far left" parties that sit in Parliament. At the national level, the Left Party has tried for years to persuade the center-left SPD to consider a "red-red-green" coalition of the SPD, the Left Party and the Greens. But there's no strategic political alliance between the AfD and the Left Party.

The German political discussion around Russia has been very different from that in the US. The German unification issue was a central one prior to 1990. The Ostpolitik of Willi Brandt's government was arguably a left-right policy, the SPD being the senior (left) partner in his governing coalition and the "classically" liberal FDP the junior (right) partner. German policy from the 1970s to 1990 was based on the idea that business, cultural, and personal interactions with the GDR (East Germany) and other Eastern bloc countries would be more likely to ease tensions and preserve peace. Even the family of Franz Josef Strauss, the embodiment of authoritarian conservatism, did profitable business in East Germany.

I followed the footnotes in Tkachenko's criticism of a claim by Sahra Wagenknecht of the Left Party about the US spending $5 billion on regime change in Ukraine. The article that he cites as a refutation is a piece by Alice Bota und Kerstin Kohlenberg from the thoroughly respectable Die Zeit. (Sahra Wagenknecht, "Die agilsten Gegner Europas sitzen heute in Brüssel" 07/07/2018; Alice Bota und Kerstin Kohlenberg, Haben die Amis den Maidan gekauft? Die USA gaben in der Ukraine über Jahrzehnte Milliarden aus. Wohin floss das Geld? Zeit Online 13.05.2015 (English version: Did Uncle Sam buy off the Maidan? The United States has spent millions on Ukraine over the past few decades. Where did the money go?)

Wagenknecht's claim that he links was, "Die USA haben 5 Milliarden Dollar in einen Regime-Change in der Ukraine investiert." ("The USA invested $5 billion in a regime change in the Ukraine.") It's legitimate to say that's an incorrect claim if it is taken to apply only to the 2014 events, as the context implies. But it was a line in a parliamentary speech in response to a heckler from the CDU. As the "Zeit" article notes, "Victoria Nuland, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, spoke of $5 billion, or €4.5 billion, for Ukraine in a call to the American ambassador in Kiev on January 28, 2014." Bota und Kohlenberg explain that Nuland's number would apply to the period from 1991 to 2014 from the State Department and USAID, including support for "civil society and NGOs" (USAID spokesperson quoted). It's not clear whether Bota und Kohlenberg are validating the $5 billion number, although that's implied. How partisan the USAID project may be is, not surprisingly, an ongoing dispute. But they note that even über-Realist John Mearshehimer regards it as at least in part as attempts to determine political/partisan outcomes.

But Tkachenko's piece leaves the impression that Wagenknecht just pulled that $5 billion number out of the air, or from some Russian bot. At least in that instance, he seemed to be trying a bit too hard to make the point. (Full disclosure: I'm very skeptical of the wisdom and practical utility of American "regime change" efforts. And I think it was reckless to expand NATO in the way we did. But I'm not a fan of Steve Bannon or the poor persecuted folks on Bari Weiss' "Intellectual Dark Web." Whether or not they might agree with me on those judgments, which they would be basing on very different criteria than mine in any case.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bernie Sanders panel on the Iran deal and the danger of an Iran War

Bernie Sanders held a town hall on Monday, Breaking the Deal: A Town Hall on Trump's Iran Decision 05/14/2018:

The panel includes featuring Joe Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund; Lara Friedman of Peace Now; Rob Malley, head of the Crisis Group; and, Suzanne Dimaggio of New America.

With the Trump Administration doing its version of the 2002 buildup to war, everyone concenred about it needs to be aware of major events in the Middle East that affect the environment in which Trump would launch a war against Iran.

This is one of them: David Halbfinger, Killings in Gaza, New Embassy in Jerusalem, and Peace as Distant as Ever New York Times 05/14/2018; Declan Walsh, Waves of Gazans vs. Israeli Tear Gas and Bullets: Deadliest Mayhem in Years New York Times 05/14/2018; Amnesty International, Israel/OPT: Use of excessive force in Gaza an abhorrent violation of international law 05/14/2018.

Halbfinger reports, "At least 60 were killed and thousands injured, local officials said — the worst day of carnage there since Israel invaded Gaza in 2014." Despite apparently all 60 deaths being Palestinians killed by the Israeli Army, both Israel and the Trump Administration said it was all the fault of Hamas.

Sen. Sanders tweeted yesterday:

Bernie's fellow progressive Senator, Elizabeth Warren, tweeted the following on the Gaza killings:

[sound of crickets]

Chuck Schumer, leader of the Democratic "Resistance" in the Senate, tweeted on Gaza:


Nancy Pelosi, head of the the Democratic "Resistance" in the Senate, tweeted on Gaza:


Corporate Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, tweeted on Gaza:


Corporate Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, tweeted on Gaza:


Who-knows-what-kind-of Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, tweeted on Gaza:


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Ruth Marcus commits an act of journalism!

I hate to give Ruth Marcus credit for anything journalistic. But this one actually caught my attention. It's from the PBS Newshour Friday Political Wrap for yesterday, Brooks and Marcus on Trump quitting Iran deal, Gina Haspel grilling.

David "Bobo" Brooks was the the conservative side of the discussion. It was more of a train wreck than usual. Bobo was promoting his new Trump defense that Trump's a thug but we actually need a thug as President. Expect to see the same kind of shifting position from other Never Trumpers as the midterm elections get closer.

This segment included one of the stock, lazy "talking to reglur voters" segments the press loves so much. They talked to some reglur folks in Elkhart, Indiana, including this from Trump fan Jack Cittadine:
We have gone from a 20 percent unemployment rate to a 2 percent unemployment rate. It’s one of the best in the country.

The stock market has done very well. And I think Donald Trump can take some credit for both of those, although perhaps the groundwork was laid earlier, under President Obama.

On the negative side — and I have to say I’m a fierce independent, but on the negative side, I am both embarrassed and ashamed of Donald Trump. I think our standing with the rest of the world, particularly the world leaders, has been diminished. We have a president that we’re talking about who lies frequently.
Bobo, the new MaybeNotQuiteNeverTrumper, was impressed: "And so it is true. If unemployment in Elkhart has gone down from 22, kind of astounding, and downtowns all around the country and town around the country are reviving."

But Marcus did something unusual in these sort of listening'-to-the-reglur-folks stories. She did some basic fact-checking!
... Elkhart is, by the way, the kind of poster child for the resurgence of the manufacturing economy, because they build a lot of recreational vehicles there.

But, at its worst, indeed, the unemployment rate in Elkhart was 20 percent. But guess what it was when Donald Trump took office? It was 3.2 percent. Now it’s 2.2 percent. If you’re going to give credit to a president, the bulk of the credit goes to a different president than Donald Trump.
What? The Real American who gushed about Trump was just pulling stuff out of his rear end?

Amazing what a little elementary fact-checking can clarify!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Bernie Sanders on the new conflict with Iran

Bernie criticizes Trump's decision to breach the Iran nuclear agreement in this interview with The Young Turks' Cenk Uygar, Bernie Sanders On Trump's Withdrawal From Iran Nuclear Treaty 05/10/2018:

Sanders is holding a discussion on Iran this coming Monday, which he's calling an emergency town hall.

Trump and North Korean nukes

"By meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump promises to wave his hand and create peace where before there was nothing but strife and dissension, writes John Feffer (Two-Faced Trump: Peace in Korea, World War in the Middle East Foreign Policy in Focus 05/06/2018). "At the same time, Trump the Destroyer has pledged to take the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal and bring the world that much closer to apocalypse."

I'm very dubious that Trump will be able to secure a nuclear agreement with North Korea. He's so impulsive and has no interest in policy details. And the global nonproliferation project has been compromised by the US/NATO attacks on Iraq and Libya and by the Russian confrontation with Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. And, as Feffer notes, "In light of Trump’s attitude toward previous U.S. pledges to Iran and the presence of John Bolton as the new national security advisor, any promises from Washington are worth less than the 140 characters they’re tweeted in."

But for whatever reason, he presently likes the image he's projecting of a peacemaker in Korea and a war hawk in the Middle East. As Feffer puts it, "like the rooster who believes that his crowing has caused the sun to rise, Trump took full credit for North Korea’s turnabout at the beginning of 2018." But it will take much more than Trump puffing about how great he is to get a meaningful nuclear agreement with North Korea.

Israel, Russia, and the Iran deal

American commentators and news junkies these days are too often trying to squeeze every bit of news about Russia into their preferred model of the Trump-Russia scandal.

But things to happen outside of America's borders. Russia has become a more important player in the Middle East in the last 10 years, something that in itself doesn't bother me. Given the disasters the US role in the Middle East has created over the past 20 years or so, Russian involvement there is about as bad a move as Russia's worst critics would wish on it.

Mark Katz explains the current balance of interests between Russia and Israel in Putin And Netanyahu: Converging Interests? LobeLog 05/11/2018. He sums it up this way:
Although Putin’s and Netanyahu’s interests with regard to Syria may be convergent, they are not identical. Putin wants Iran to remain in Syria as a junior partner in propping up the Assad regime but not acting provocatively otherwise. Netanyahu not only wants Iran out of Syria, but may even join U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton and other hawks in seeking regime change in Tehran. If so, the Putin-Netanyahu tactical alliance will not last.
He describes the conflicting interests between Iran and Russia this way:
Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria have the advantage of weakening Iran vis-à-vis Russia inside Syria without Moscow having to confront Tehran directly. And Tehran does have ambitions in Syria that Moscow does not share. For Tehran, preserving the Assad regime is not just an end in itself, but a means for Iran to better support Hezbollah in Lebanon in its conflict with Israel. Russia, by contrast, has strong economic and security ties to Israel that it wants to continue and expand. Moscow does not want Iran to disturb this, or create sufficient problems for Israel that the U.S. gets back into the Syrian conflict in Israel’s defense.
Unlike our President's imagination of the world, foreign policy is much more shades of gray and messy compromises than it is about win/lose situations or conflicts between Good and Evil.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Breaking the Iran deal and the US dollar

Robert Rosner in his contribution to Trump withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal. What now? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 05/09/2018 writes about one possible implication of the US breaking the agreement with Iran that hadn't occurred to me. This is not something that could happen quickly. And it would presumably require EU countries cooperating with each other in a way they haven't been able to do so far. And it wouldn't happen over the Iran agreement alone. Rosner:
Iran’s current posture ensures that the remaining other signatories to the deal—i.e., the U.K., France, Germany, China, and Russia—will have no current reasons to withdraw from the agreement and therefore are extremely unlikely to participate in the reimposed, US-led sanctions. This will generate international stress; according to the sanction rules set down by the United States, it will be put into the position of imposing secondary sanctions on European allies, as well as on China and Russia, if they trade in oil or other proscribed ways with Iran, because if they do, they will be violating American sanction rules.

At minimum, the United States has already managed to anger its own allies and will anger them more if it does indeed impose secondary sanctions on them. It is perfectly conceivable that they may take retaliatory measures in concert with China and Russia. Perhaps the most damaging of such measures—especially in the long term—have already been discussed openly by the Chinese and Russians. These would involve the creation of an alternate international banking system that no longer relies on the US dollar as its principal reserve currency. Eliminating the US dollar as a reserve currency would sharply reduce the effectiveness of US sanctions, which depend on our ability to control international financial transfers, an ability that hinges on the dominance of the US dollar in international trade. The damage of such a shift in international currency flows to the US economy, and to the United States’ ability to influence international trade, would be enormous. And once such a shift occurs, it is difficult to see how the damage might be undone.
The foreign policy "realists" would say this an idea that Europe, China, and Russia will inevitably attempt. Because the United States had a "unipolar mooment" in the world after the collapse of the Soviet bloc that gave us a relative dominance in the world beyond what it ever had during the Cold War years. In the Realist view, others countries in the world have a inevitable interest in reducing that relative dominance.

US foreign policy doesn't haven't to see the country's relative decline from its "unipolar moment" as a bad thing in itself. It was effectively inevitable. But some ways of adapting to the changed status are more sensible than others. Adopting a less trigger-happy foreign policy, for instance, would be a constructive way to so. But there are real risks in the process, too. And doing reckless things that damage relations with major allies and partners unnecessarily isn't so constructive.


Iran War: An early skirmish?

With the Trump Administration now laying the groundwork for war with Iran - to the extent that an Administration headed by an orange man-child can coherently do such a thing - it's worth paying close attention to news reports that provide justifications for such a war.

Isabel Kershner reports in Israeli Warplanes Hit Dozens of Iranian Targets in Syria New York Times 05/10/2018 that Israel responded to an Iranian rocket attack from Syria.

Kershner carefully states that her sources on the rocket attack were official Israeli ones. she describes the attack this way:
Overnight, Iranian forces fired around 20 rockets at the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, targeting forward positions of the Israeli military, according to an Israeli military spokesman. The rockets were all either intercepted or fell short of their mark in Syrian territory, the spokesman said, but were nevertheless a significant escalation in Iran’s maneuvers in the Middle East.

Though Israel has hit Iranian forces in Syria with a number of deadly airstrikes, Tehran has been restrained in hitting back, until now. The rocket attack against Israel appeared to be in response to Israeli strikes on southern Syria on Wednesday. ...

There was no immediate information about casualties in Syria. Israel reported none on its side. Colonel Conricus said the barrage of approximately 20 Grad and Fajr-5 rockets fired from Syria and aimed at Israeli positions after midnight was launched under the command of the [Iranian] Quds Force and utilized Iranian weapons. ...

The barrage came after an apparent Israeli missile strike against a village in the Syrian Golan Heights late Wednesday. [my emphasis]

She describes the Israeli response this way:

By Thursday morning, the country’s air force had destroyed “nearly all” of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria, according to Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman. ...

In all, at least 23 people were killed in the strikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group. The Syrian Army, by contrast, said that three people had died.

Israel’s strikes overnight were one of the country’s largest aerial operations in decades across the Syrian frontier, and by far its broadest direct attack yet on Iranian assets.

“This was an operation we prepared for, and were not surprised by,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli military.

In a statement, the military said the targets included what it described as Iranian intelligence sites; a logistics headquarters belonging to the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards; military compounds; munition storage warehouses of the Quds Force at Damascus International Airport; intelligence systems associated with those forces; and military posts and munition in the buffer zone between the Syrian Golan Heights and the Israeli-occupied portion of the strategic plateau.

There was no immediate information about casualties in Syria. Israel reported none on its side. [my emphasis]
Presumably that last statement means no information from the Israeli side, because she had just quoted numbers of deaths as reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a lower number from the Syrian Army.

Based on that report, the Israeli strike was part of a series of military actions aimed against the Syrian government and its Iranian allies. Even if the Israeli report on what apparently was a distinctly ineffective military strike is accurate in attributing it to Iran, Israel's strike was obviously far out of proportion to that one incident.

But as Kershner's report makes clear, this is a part of a much longer series of attacks against Syria.

And in the larger scheme of things now, it is another in what is likely to be a series of steps toward war against Iran, a push which Trump escalated dramatically with his announced this week that the US would breech the Iranian nuclear agreement (JCPOA).

Robert Fisk is not a reporter much liked by Iran War hawks. But he's one of the best reporters on the Middle East in Western media. He writes about the strike today, too, begin with this framing comment (In the Middle East right now, all sides in this complex battle are staring at each other with increasing concern Independent 05/10/2018):
In the West, it’s easy to concentrate on each daily drama about the Middle East and forget the world in which the real people of the region live. The latest ravings of the American president on the Iran nuclear agreement – mercifully, at last, firmly opposed by the EU – obscure the lands of mass graves and tunnels in which the Muslim Middle East now exists. Even inside the area, there has now arisen an almost macabre disinterest in the suffering that has been inflicted here over the past six years. It’s Israel’s air strikes in Syria that now takes away the attention span.
The US and Russia are both heavily involved, the Russians with more direct forces on the ground:
Yes, the Russians are going to be around for quite a while.

So are the Israelis. Their earlier attack on Iranian forces in Syria – of which there appear to be far fewer than the West imagines, although there are many pro-Iranian Hezbollah fighters still in the country – came suspiciously close to the Trump announcement reneging on the US nuclear agreement with Iran. And an Israeli statement that the Iranians had missiles in Syria was surely made in concert with the Trump administration – it came within hours, and coincidences don’t run that close in the Middle East.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

The Trump-Bolton march to war with Iran is underway

Trump came out and lied some more lies that is a big step toward the war with Iran that the new National Security Adviser John Bolton has been wanting for years, WATCH LIVE: Trump to announce decision on Iran nuclear deal 05/08/2018:

And, hey, why not go for regime change in Venezuela at the same time?

Also from Trita Parsi:

War With Iran Won’t Be Iraq All Over Again. It’ll Be Much Worse. HuffPost 03/30/2018

I'm feeling the 2002 nostalgia, and not in a good way. A build-up to war with Iran in the fall could make a huge difference in the midterms. Because too many Democrats will try to weasel around opposing the war on the theory that, something or other. It's just the Democrats' default position.

Puff piece for rightwing intellectuals

Charlie Pierce harshs on the New York Times today:

The article in question is Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web by Bari Weiss 05/08/2018. To put in generously, it's a puff piece about various people who count as conservative intellectuals because they can regularly string together two grammatically correct sentences in a row.

In an earlier long-read opinion piece (We’re All Fascists Now New York Times 03/08/2018), she also mentioned two of the characters discussed in the new one, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Christian Hoff Sommers. So it's not like she's a novice encountering rightwing ideologues for the first time in the new piece.

Pierce commented on the March article (Charlie Pierce, Requiem for The New York Times Opinion Page Esquire Politics Blog 03/08/2018):
This shebeen largely has stayed out of the tiresome troll-war concerning the unruly reception that some speakers have received on various college campuses. I wish folks could be more civil and welcoming, because I am a gentle fellow with a fairly well-known taste for temperate rhetoric, but I also wish that there weren’t so many people making nice bank on insulting people and then driving nails into their own palms when the people they deliberately have offended talk back to them.

Professional martyrdom of this kind is not impressive when it comes with book deals. And with genuine Nazis assaulting people with automobiles on the campus of Mr. Jefferson’s university—and, I would add, with other weapons elsewhere—I choose not to accept as a national crisis the fact that some 20-year-olds throw the word “fascist” around too loosely. But, then again, I am not an “opinion editor” at The New York Times the way that Bari Weiss is.
In this latest one, Bari quotes one after another of these self-style conservative rebels recounting their road-to-Damascus conversion where they suddenly realized the horrible nature of the "left," in which we can safely assume anyone to the left of Joe Manchin is included. And they whine about how the Mean Libruls are pickin' on them. Mostly by criticizing the Social Darwinist and misogynist crap they regular generate, albeit in a more highbrow manner than we normally hear on Republican hate radio.

A couple of things that this sort of profile really should include in the way of research and fact-checking. One is to look at whether, say, Social Darwinism, is a fresh new perspective. Or check out whether trash-talking Muslims can reasonably be described as bold innovative thinking. Or take into account the fact that rightwingers have been suspicious of colleges since, well, since colleges and rightwingers first started co-existing. Ask the Rev. Ezekiel Bittery.

Secondly, it's a common marketing device for some rightwingers to talk about all the death threats they are supposedly getting. That also deserves a bit more probling in cases like this, i.e., whether they have had occasion to file police or FBI reports over those.

A number of piece commenting on Bari's work came out around that time.

Bari Weiss Digs Into Campus Free Speech Debate Morning Joe/MSNBC 03/08/2018

Monday, May 07, 2018

More on #Marx200's acceptance today

Following up on the various Marx's-200th-birthday articles and posts in recent months, especially on Saturday, the actual birthday here's a paragraph from Oliver Nachtwey (Im Fahrstuhl nach unten: Marx und die Abstiegsgesellschaft Blätter 5/2018) that looks at how Marx is understood in very different ways in the West 200 years after his birth. For ease of reading in this blog's format, I've added two paragraph breaks with my translation to English afterward:
Zu den Haupttatsachen des Gegenwartskapitalismus gehört auch die zentrale Bedeutung der Finanzmärkte. In der spezifischen Tauschform der Finanzsphäre werden keine Waren, sondern nur noch fiktive Geldtitel gehandelt. Aus Geld wird darin mehr Geld, was bereits im Marxschen Akkumulationsschema der vervollkommneten Selbstvermehrung des Kapitals zum Ausdruck kam. Der dabei von Marx entwickelte Begriff des „fiktiven Kapitals“ und seine Einlassungen über das Kreditwesen wurden deshalb zur Grundlage für eine Reihe substanzieller Beiträge zur Analyse der Finanzkrise 2008.

Seit dieser globalen Krise erlebt Marx sogar eine kleine Hochkonjunktur. In der Öffentlichkeit und an den Universitäten wurde der Begriff des Kapitalismus (zuvor sprach man in der Regel nur von Marktwirtschaft) wieder zu einer legitimen analytischen Kategorie. Eine Referenz auf Marx erntete nunmehr ein vorsichtig zustimmendes Nicken statt des obligatorischen Kopfschüttelns. Eine geschichtsmächtige, sich auf Marx beziehende soziale Bewegung ist bisher jedoch nicht wieder entstanden, und wahrscheinlich erscheint die Bezugnahme auf dessen Ideen genau aus diesem Grund heute kaum mehr subversiv.

Marx schafft es mittlerweile sogar regelmäßig in die Debatten jener Kreise, die historisch gesehen zu seinen Gegnern zählen. In seinem Denken sehen diese offensichtlich keine Gefahr mehr, sondern primär eine Chance zur Analyse einer hochgradig widersprüchlichen Zeit. Und das aus gutem Grund: Denn anders als in den Wirtschaftswissenschaften, die trotz aller Eleganz ihrer mathematischen Systeme immer noch an der Annahme festhalten, dass Märkte im Grunde zu einem Gleichgewicht und Stabilität neigen, ist Marx’ Theorie geprägt von der Perspektive innerer Widersprüche, Instabilitäten und Krisen.

[One of the main things about present-day capitalism is also the central significance of the financial markets. In the specific exchange form of the finance sphere, it is not goods but only fictive money instruments with which they deal. Money thereby becomes more money, which already found expression in the Marxist accumulation schema of the fully developed accumulation of capital. The concept that Marx developed for that, "fictive capital," and its discharge through the credit institutions thereby became the basic concept for a series of substantial contributions to the analysis of the financial crisis of 2008.

Since that global crisis, Marx has even experienced a small boom. In the public sphere and in the universities, the concept of capitalism (before one normally spoke about market economy) has become a legitimate analytical category again. A reference to Marx now produces careful agreeing nod instead of the obligatory shaking of the head. No historically powerful social movement oriented to Marx has yet emerged again, and probably the reference to his ideas is hardly subversive anymore precisely because of that.

Meanwhile, Marx has even managed to get into the debates of those circles who historically counted among his enemies. They clearly see no danger any more in his thought, but instead primarily a chance for analysis of a profoundly contradictory time. And for good reason: Because unlike in the business sciences, which despite the elegance of their mathematical system still hold on to the assumption that markets basically tend to a balance and stability, Marx' theory is characterized by the perspective of internal contradictions, instabilities, and crises.]

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Financial uncertainty around Argentina

The Argentine daily Página/12 picked a memorable image for a weekend story on the brewing financial crisis there that generated panicky reactions in the business press at the end of last week (Luis Bruschtein, La batalla mauricultural 05.05.2018):

A Forbes column by Kenneth Rapoza warns, "It is time to get out of Argentina and sali corriendo [get out quickly]." (It Might Be Time To Get Out Of Argentina 05/03/2018)

Carolina Millan and Jorgelina Do Rosario report (Argentina Raises Rates to 40% After Peso Selloff Prompts Third Abrupt Increase Bloomberg Businessweek 05/04/2018):
In another surprise move, the central bank on Friday raised the key interest rate by an additional 675 basis points to 40 percent - the highest among major economies -- as the Treasury Ministry committed to reducing spending on infrastructure, and to target the country’s primary fiscal deficit at 2.7 percent of GDP, down from 3.2 percent this year.

The peso rebounded following the announcement to close 5.5 percent higher at 21.8 per dollar. It posted its biggest one-day decline since December 2015 on Thursday even after two surprise rate hikes. The currency is still down 15 percent this year against the U.S. dollar and dropped more than 6 percent this week, the worst decline since June 2016.

Behind the peso weakness is growing concern that President Mauricio Macri is dragging his feet on taking the possibly painful steps needed to revamp the economy -- and that both inflation and government spending are spiraling dangerously high.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri took office in late 2015. He did all the things that the IMF and the Washington Consensus and conservative respectable economics said he should do: paid off the vulture fund profiteers, cutting public services, dropping capital controls, etc., etc. Now Forbes is warning investors that it might be time to pull the [bleep] out of Argentina.

But that's the nice thing about Very Serious Respectable Economics. When it reduces the living standards of millions and takes things to the (possible) brink of a financial crisis, it can't be the that the policies were wrong. No, it's the wisdom of The Market and the best of all possible worlds. In early 2016 when the economy was limping, Macri promised that things would get better in the second half (segundo semestre) of the year. It's now 2018, and the Secundo Semestre seems to be further away than ever.

And, as we see in Forbes and Businessweek pieces cited above, if there's a financial crisis, Very Serious Economics has the perfect solution: cut government expenditures more, slam real wages and salaries down further, sell off public properties, drop even more of any remaining limits on foreign speculative capital, yadda, yaddda. Because the real problem according to them is that hasn't been enough austerity and privatization and so on. El Secundo Semetre is bound to arrive someday!

Luis Bruschtein writes:
La ideología del sálvese quien pueda o del “no me importa mientras a mí no me toque” se filtró por la grieta moral que ha producido este gobierno de empresarios que han hecho negocios muy productivos para sus empresas con el Estado, mientras llevaron a la economía del país al borde del precipicio.

[The ideology of everyone for themselves or of "I don't care if it doesn't affect me" has been spread by the moral crevice generated by this government of impresarios who have done very productive business for their companies with the state, while they have brought the country's economy to the brink of the precipice.]

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Karl Marx at 200 #Marx200

May 5 isn't just Cinco de Mayo in the United States. This year, it's also the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx's birth. Which has been the occasion for a number of what-is-Marx's-relevance-now feature stories.

I've never had a phobia here at this blog talking about Marxism and some of the effectively infinite number of issues related to it. Like my posts last year on the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

But I've had a hard time thinking of anything to say on the topping that seems to fit meaningfully into a 200th-anniversary observance.

When I attended business graduate school and a Jesuit university, literally my first homework assignment included readings from Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Because both in substance and symbolism, those two represent the classic justification for the capitalist system in Smith's case and the classic critique of it in Marx's.

The now-common term capitalism was not in wide usage until the second half of the 19th century. The OED Third Edition (March 2012) cites an English usage as early as 1833, but it was in very restricted use prior to that. So, ironically, from today's viewpoint, the most iconic theorist of capitalism, Adam Smith, didn't actually use the term "capitalism."

But I'm going to make some attempt, anyway.

Here is Marx' birth house in Trier, Germany in 2014 (from Von Berthold Werner, CC BY-SA 3.0,

It is currently the Museum Karl-Marx-Haus run by the SPD-associated Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. It has a Twitter account, of course: @marx2018. They are opening a new exhibit there on May 5 for the 200th birthday.

Sam Seder recently interviewed Richard Wolff on Why It's Cool To Talk About Marxism Again The Majority Report 03/24/2018:

Any description of a broad subject like the enduring significance of a 19th-century thinker has to perate from some kind of framework of the various historical settings for the reception. Marx very directly affected the early Social Democratic movement in Europe. There was a major split in the movement over the First World War and a more consequential one in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917 which produced distinct and competing "brands" of Communism and Social Democracy.

With the founding of the Soviet Union, the reception of Marx began decades in which state propaganda and counter-propaganda mixed with political activism and scholarship in shaping the Marx reception in all parts of the world. The broad post-World War II trend that came to be known as Western Marxism gave a great deal of attention to the problem of why the capitalist system in the advanced countries was able to secure such seemingly broad and deep public acceptance. And until the fall of the Soviet Union, Marxism was still widely perceived in the West as the Other of the capitalist system.

For the advanced capitalist countries, I would use the following major periods as a guideline for the context of criticism of the capitalist system as such:

  • Golden Age of Capitalism, 1945-1973. That was certainly not a common label during those years, although there is never a shortage of boosterism for capitalism
  • Post-Bretton Woods, beginning in 1973: As Yanis Varoufakis ably describes in The Global Minotaur (), the was a major inflection point for recycling the world's capital surpluses, when the currency-management system of the capitalist countries that had acted as a stabilizer in the postwar years was dramatically ended when the Nixon Administration broke the link of the dollar to gold.

In the decades after 1973, dogmatic "free market" neoliberalism rose to to dominance. Chile and Argentina under their military dictatorships that took power in the 1970s were major testing grounds for this approach. With the governments of Ronald Reagan in the US and Maggie Thatcher in Britain US, it surged in the advanced capitalist world. The fall of the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union brought what Francis Fukayama famously called the End of History, and the worldwide dominance of neoliberalism, after the "shock therapy" introduction of Herbert Hoover economics in Russia and eastern Europe.

After the fall of the Soviet bloc and rapid liberalization of regulations on the international movement of capital, we had a series of spectacular financial crises. And eventually the Great Recession of 2007-9 (National Bureau of Economic Research dates for the US) and the slow recovery that followed. Wolff in the above interview pegs that as an inflection point for interest in Marxism, and more broadly in renewed critical thinking about the fundamentals of capitalism as an economic system.

In Europe that manifests itself in the current shifts in political parties, the most important of which has been the collapse of social democracy as a center-left party. Olaf Scholz, the current German Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister just presented a budget on behalf of the Grand Coalition of which his SPD is the junior member. Wolfgang Munchau writes (On the madness of Germany's investment cuts Eurointelligence 05/04/2018):
The idea is that Scholz wants to go down in history as the Red Hawk, as they call him, the biggest deficit hawk in modern German history. We would like to add to this observation that the SPD supported the austerity policies chancellor Heinrich Brüning in the early 1930s. The SPD embraced Keynesian policies in the 1940s and until the 1970s, but has now returned to its pre-Keynesian roots.
Karl Marx can legitimately claim to be a co-founder of the SPD, though they prefer these days to reserve that designation for Ferdinand Lassalle (1825-1864). Strictly speaking, though, during the Great Depression the leading Marxist economists like Rudolf Hilferding also thought austerity policies for the governments of capitalist countries was an appropriate response to recessions.

I'll mention a few examples of evaluations of Marx on his 200th birthday. This is a Facebook entry from Kontrast, an online news service close to the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ):

They present a pretty anodyne Marx, "Seine Theorien haben Millionen Menschen inspiriert, für bessere Arbeit und ein besseres Leben zu kämpfen." ("His theory have inspired millions to fight for better work and a better life.") Karl Marx the tepid self-help guru.

Then there's Karl Marx the business adviser, here from the Economist via Croatian philosopher Srećko Horvat:

The Economist article takes a stab at dialectics, "the very failure of his ideas to change the world for the better is ensuring them a new lease of life." The pitch of his article is, "The chief reason for the continuing interest in Marx ... is that his ideas are more relevant than they have been for decades." (Rulers of the world: read Karl Marx! 05/03/2018)

Camila Vallejo Dowling, a Communist Party deputy in the Chilean Congress who became world-famous several years ago as the leader of student protests in Chile, presents a comment and video on her Facebook page on Karl Marx, the militant democratic reformer.

Marx fue un gran pensador que nos dejó un tremendo legado. Creer que ninguna clase debe oprimir a otra es también creer y luchar para que podemos convivir sin opresiones de género, color de piel o religión. Porque todos y todas podemos aportar al colectivo desde el desarrollo de nuestro máximo potencial. Partial translation: "Marx was a great thinker who left us a tremendous legacy. To believe that no class should oppress another is also to believe and fight so that we can live together without oppressions of gender, skin color, or religion. Because absolutely everyone can contribute to the collective good with our maximum potential." (Maybe a touch of Marx the feel-good carreer coach, too.)

There's a #Marx200 hashtag on Twitter. It's like a performance of the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant tale. This may be my favorite:

Jacobin offers some balls-out defense of Marx: Andrew Hartman, Marx’s America 5/05/2018; John Bellamy Foster, A New Marxian Century 5/05/2018; Marshall Berman, Adventures in Marxism 05/05/2018; James Ledbetter, Marx the Journalist 05/05/2018.

Here's a nice, safe commemorative documentary from Deutsche Welle English, Who was Karl Marx? 05/05/2018:

After seeing this in the DW documentary, I don't think I'll be able to live without a Karl Marx piggy bank:

The ZDF German channel also has a documentary, Karl Marx-der deutsche Prophet 02.05.2018

The German-language press featured various stories on Marx, including:

Thursday, May 03, 2018

"Moscow Times" op-ed on Russia's public position on the Syria War

I've never been hair-on-fire alarmed over the existence of RT, which is now conventionally described in the US as "the Russian propaganda channel." Which in great part it is. There are some shows that RT has run that can't be shoe-horned into that mode. And with the start of Putin's second Presidency, RT did take a turn toward more consistently promoting Russian government positions.

I'm all for critical reading and paying attention to the quality of sources. FOX News is Republican Party propaganda, and I always take that into account when using them as a source of information. Because of their status promoting Republican partisan ideology, they are a good bellwether for the direction the Republican Party is going on particular issues. But they also do report real news. If someone is being interviewed on FOX News, the interview itself and the content of it are news. For factual description of events, i.e., a big part of what we call news, I generally don't rely on solely a FOX News report. But even there, news reporting by FOX local affiliates is more straightforward reporting, not necessarily subject to the same intensity of an ideological agenda sa the FOX national news.

All this is by way of introduction to a quote from the Moscow Times. As of today, Wikipedia's entry on the Moscow Times says:
The Moscow Times is an English-language weekly newspaper published in Moscow, with a circulation of 55,000 copies. It is distributed free of charge at places frequented by English-speaking tourists and expatriates such as hotels, cafés, embassies, and airlines and is also available by subscription. The newspaper is popular among foreign citizens residing in Moscow and English-speaking Russians. In November 2015 the newspaper changed its design and type from daily to weekly (released every Thursday) and increased the number of pages to 24.

The newspaper regularly publishes articles by prominent Russian journalists such as Yulia Latynina and Ivan Nechepurenko. It has served as a 'training ground' for foreign correspondents, including Ellen Barry, who later became New York Times Moscow bureau chief and won a Pulitzer Prize.
The April 19 edition had the following op-ed by Maxim Trudolyubov, In Syria, Moscow Is Defending a Narrative, Not a Country:
Last week there was a lot of talk in Russia of a new “Cuban crisis,” evoking the breathtaking showdown between the U.S.S.R and the United States in 1962 over Moscow’s installation of nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba. In response to Russian bravado, President Donald Trump tweeted about America’s “nice, new and “smart”!” missiles.

But behind the smokescreen of the American president’s flamboyance and Moscow’s World-War-III innuendo, both sides have shown cool-headed restraint. The United States and Russia quickly moved to de-escalate as soon as the operation was over. Military and diplomatic contacts continued.

Given the circumstances, it is a good outcome. But for the Kremlin, it is bad television. Moscow wanted an engrossing new story about an evil aggressor deterred by a righteous Russia.

Commentators on Russia’s state-run television had few comforting stories to tell apart from praising Syrian air defenses, all Soviet designs from the 1970s, doing a superb job shooting down Western missiles. Syria intercepted 71 out of 103 cruise missiles fired by the U.S. and its allies, the Russian Ministry of Defense said on Saturday.

The U.S. military denied the claim. A military representative stated that the Syrians launched around 40 surface to air missiles after the last U.S. missile hit its target. At no time, he added, were Russian air defense systems engaged. The U.S. did acknowledge that they did not strike all the sites believed to be involved in Syria’s chemical weapons program.
I found the op-ed helpful in providing some insight into what Russia's official narrative on Syria might imply.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Iran, the US, and weak European foreign policy

The Beltway Village press has clearly decided yet again that Trump has become Presidential because the South Korean President met with Kim Jong-un. Amped Up Expectations Ahead Of President Donald Trump’s Planned Meeting With North Korea MSNBC 04/30/2018:

Part of that segment has decent information.

But would it be too much to expect the TV pundits to talk about Trump's nicey-nice rhetoric for a day or two on North Korea and how that might relate to the signs that John Bolton may be about to get his Iran War? (Apparently it is too much to expect.)

Then there's that small matter that every potential target of US wars has surely noticed: Saddam Hussein did away with his WMDs, and the US invaded and overthrew him. Muammar Khaddafi gave up his WMD programs and the US, Britain, and France intervened for a regime change operation. Nice people or not, any leader that wants to stay in power and would prefer not to be invaded by the United States will certainly be looking at those precedents when negotiating a nuclear disarmament deal with the US.

And since we all are supposed to talk like Cold Warriors these days, there's also the precedent of Ukraine giving up its nukes and then getting invaded and partially annexed by Russia, although that took a good decade longer than with Libya.

So from what I can tell, a meaningful agreement for nuclear arms control with North Korea is still a long way away. And it's unlikely in the extreme that NK will agree to any near-term full denuclearization, despite the fact that Trump keeps claiming that they've already committed to doing so.

If the US pulls out of the Iranian nuclear deal, it's by no means certain that Iran will maintain it with the European participants, as Ellie Geranmayeh warns in Europe’s Balancing Act On Nuclear Deal: Wooing Trump Without Losing Iran LobeLog Foreign Policy 05/02/2018. "In the process of wooing Washington on this bigger and better deal, Europe must ensure it does not end up losing Tehran, whose buy-in will be essential to succeeding in this effort," she writes.

Über-Realist Stephen Walt observes, "In response to Trump’s threats to leave the agreement, three key European leaders — French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Theresa May — have gone to great lengths to persuade Trump to do the right thing." (Europe Has No Clue How to Handle an American Bully Foreign Policy 05/02/2018

He judges their approach harshly, "The practical result of all this sucking up was disastrous. The top European powers had effectively caved in to the Trump administration’s view that the Iran deal is inadequate and has to be either replaced or supplemented by additional agreements."

And he observes:
Europe’s near-supine deference to Washington is not healthy, because it just encourages and enables America’s worst instincts. Caving into a bully may spare you some pain in the short term, but it reinforces the bully’s belief that threats and bluster invariably succeed. Do these people seriously think Donald Trump will appreciate what they are doing and reward them in the future? Have they been paying attention?

If the Iran deal eventually dies, in short, Macron, May, and Merkel will need to reflect on their contribution to its demise. Trump will deserve most of the blame, of course, but the Europeans’ misguided efforts to appease Trump in the hope of saving the deal will have played a role as well.