Trump & Iran: presage to permanent emnity

The mess team Trump inherited equals what was bequeathed to Obama economically.  My guess is that team Trump has the fortitude to look at the world realistically and venture what’s possible.  First step Iran.

The May 21st approach laid out by Secretary of State Pompeo at the Heritage Foundation was significant, it was a rebuke to previous administrations who refused to identify the moral status of regimes.  Having articulated a 12 step program for Iran, it qualified how best to measure any workable format between the two nations.

Better yet, no one in Trump’s cabinet can guess what the President’s bottom line on Iran is.  This resembles a Reaganite grasp of moving geopolitical components that aren’t grasped by intellectuals at State.  The President himself may not know in advance his own negotiating position.  For those aping for policy clarity, they need to acknowledge the supremacy of adjudicating while moving forward.

Not even a repose articulating Trump’s evisceration of the neoconservative legacy provides policy clarity going forward.  My view is that skepticism is the foundation of team Trump’s governing instincts.  The optimism that shaped previous Presidents has been tempered by Mesopotamia.

So, where do we stand today with Iran.

Trump is likely to govern his applied policy practically not ideologically.  Why is this a superior posture?

Statesman must anticipate the impact of their framework and approach while simultaeneouly adjusting the shape of public policy.  Yes, Iran is very vulnerable, but U.S. exploits can strengthen the regime in a way that mutes US efforts.  That means addressing Iran’s core interests deep in its periphery.  It means preventing Iran from escalating its nuclear ambitions while possibly driving destabilization efforts against US regional allies.

Where should Team Trump begin?

Yemen, Syria, and Iraq!

Raising the price for any movement by Tehran is phase one.  Additional phases would optimally seek the collapse of the regime.  This policy gamble will upset Moscow because it cannot have any destabilizing trends in its southern tier.  This too can be used to our advantage.

The medium and long term policy is clear:  a strong posture enveloping multiple regional allies exhausting every adventure Tehran seeks abroad.


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The Moral, Strategic Bankruptcy of Arafat

Israel remains the only democracy in the middle east.  Is is surrounded by militant, terror driven petro-monarchies devoted to keeping Israel in a permanent state of siege.

The peace process is a nomenclature, born within unelected fiefdoms of bureaucracy throughout western political life.  How can peace be brokered between belligerents when peace means the extinction of Israel.

This process must be exposed for the sham it has become, especially after Arab refusal to acknowledge Israels near suicidal accommodation to Arab demands under the tenure of Ehud Barack.  Barack’s objective was to maintain strong relations with Israel’s only partner, the U.S.  The impact of accommodation killed the Israeli left.  Israeli self-flagellation is over.  Arab ambition continues to resonate around weakening Israel’s bilateral relation with other nation states.

Arab ambition is to weaken Israeli-American relations by internationalizing the conflict. This perpetual campaign is primarily twofold:  damage or weaken American resolve toward Israel and drive Israeli self-consciousness inward.

Arab geopolitical and ideological ambitions have failed.

The key to resolving this conflict is to look forward to further indigenous development of Arab political culture along western frameworks that resemble human rights.  Only then can agreements be brokered within mutually shared interests.

For the best historical summary of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the moral, strategic bankruptcy of Arafat, please see Commentary magazine article from Seth Mandel ‘The Palestinian Authority Loses Its Authority:  the last remnant of Oslo crumbles.”


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Didactic Dow Jones & the Realism of Leading

I’ve grown frustrated by the WSJ editorial boards tone deaf posture regarding international trade.  The editorial board continues to sound didactic and worse yet, academic in its understanding on US trade.

It reminds me of why Sam Rayburn (President Johnson’s mentor) told Johnson why he never trusted Harvard types. Rayburn heard how brilliant Kennedy’s cabinet was, and admonished Johnson that Kennedy’s Harvard cabinet, its best and brightest should run for Sheriff.  For those who cannot remember the ’60’s here’s a review.  Kennedy’s cabinet was composed of Harvard types who were clearly bright, in Rayburn’s view too bright. Rayburn admonished Johnson for placing his trust in intellectuals.  Here’s the full quote: “In his 1972 epic on the origins of the U.S. war in Vietnam, the great journalist David Halberstam told of then-new Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s coming back from his first meeting with the top people President John F. Kennedy had picked to serve in his administration. Johnson was dazzled by how brilliant they all were and told his mentor Sam Rayburn how smart each Kennedy appointee was. After listening to his fellow Texan, Rayburn said: “Well, Lyndon, everything you say may be true, but I’d feel a whole lot better if one of them had ever run for sheriff.”

I’d fell a whole lot better if the WSJ understood how a President defeats his opponents before taking the battlefield.  Sun Tzu taught that “every battle is won before its fought“. Even better, when asked how he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, Wellington replied that the “fight is decided the night before”.  Meaning whoever possessed better supply lines, communication routs and allies would win.

This is what the WSJ editorial board does not understand, Trump is angling for a comparative advantage by enveloping the democratic voting bank that is blue-collar workers.  He intuitively knows that Wall Street remains permanently divorced from main street.  He also knows that American trade partners will do anything to retain access to US markets.  Both Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro know this; didactic types wedded to print don’t.

The Journal continues to frame America’s engagement with international trade in terms a CEO would understand, but not the working stiff.  The WSJ reported that the flip side of our deficit is a substantial flow of investment into the US in terms of FDI measured as acquisition, creation or expansion of a US subsidiary.  However, many times said investments never reach the US worker in terms of wage increases or other tangible benefits.  Its a balance sheet win only.

Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross were always right:  “Historically, the U.S. has had a comparative advantage in manufacturing because of its high rates of technological innovation, correspondingly high rates of capital investment and worker productivity, strong protections for intellectual property, and wide availability of low-cost energy.” (WSJ Op-Ed 04/16/18)

This is why the war against China will be won fiscally with tax cuts, currency appreciation and sound money.

If the editorial board of the WSJ ran for Sheriff or understood applied international economics, it would understand the advantage team Trump seeks with bombastic rhetoric aimed at keeping mercantile authoritarian regimes off balance.

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The War Against Decline & Fall

I’ve always admired Elliot Cohen for his principled realism.  His last book ‘The Big Stick:  the limits of soft power & the necessity of military force” mentioned how he thought the concept of grand strategy revealed an exhausted, ameliorated vocabulary for statecraft. His idea was to repudiate a concept that could not account for the unanchored wiles of domestic policy, 24 hours news cycles and a return to tribalism as a dominant ethos animating our Republic.  The antecedents of grand strategy require a refined social, political, demographic and public homogenization that no longer exists for our polity.

True enough.  But I could not reconcile Dr. Cohen’s deft reasoning with John Lewis Gaddis’ “On Grand Strategy”, for Gaddis begins his magnum opus from within the purview of the ethics of individual leadership.  By exploring an interior relation between virtue and performance, Gaddis’ view of applied ethics is nothing less than statesmanship.

Exploring facets of wisdom, temperament and courage, Gaddis believes like John Paul II and Churchill, that enduring empires can be wrought from effort.  This strand of ancient thought culminated in Lincoln but has its finest aperture in Thucydides.

Using Isaiah Berlin’s hermeneutic of comparative advantage in hedgehogs or foxes, failure for great commanders often meant succumbing to how hedgehogs work from didactic doctrine or unrealistic objectives; having never learned to adapt, they fail destroying their empires.

What did US military have re-confirmed by their engagement with Arabs after 9-11?  Those that adapt win.

What does the fox know that the hedgehog doesn’t?  The fox knows to adapt tactics to the circumstances of changing variables they cannot control; be it geography, weather, technology or public support.  Yes, great commanders set priorities, husband their resources and work efficiently.  They also must do what authoritarians don’t:  manage difficult alliances.  Their are reasons why civil-military relations remains a difficult hidebound practice for democracies; a hindrance authoritarians don’t deal with.

Gaddis sources the advantages of the fox over hedgehogs by revealing how Octavian, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Queen Elizabeth worked advantages that built an Imperium.

Gaddis provides ample reflection that a curriculum should house history, philosophy and literature to inform foreign policy.  This is Arnold Toynbee writ large.

Make no mistake, Gaddis aims to take down the overt positivism that underwrites contemporary international relations:  “A gap has opened between the study of history and the construction of theory, both of which are needed if ends are to be aligned with means. Historians, knowing that their field rewards specialized research, tend to avoid the generalizations upon which theories depend: they thereby deny complexity the simplicities that guide us through it. Theorists, keen to be seen as social “scientists,” seek “reproducibility” in results: that replaces complexity with simplicity in the pursuit of predictability. Both communities neglect relationships between the general and the particular—between universal and local knowledge—that nurture strategic thinking. And both, as if to add opacity to this insufficiency, too often write badly.”

For both Toynbee and Gaddis, theorists become failed hedgehogs while foxes are born by studying geopolitics.  Both men openly acknowledge the training needed for statecraft requires training in making decisions; in the grasping of intangibles; in mediated experience that philosophy, theology and literature hold.

Gaddis concludes with the following:

“dilemmas can only be resolved by “stretching them over time. We seek certain things now, put off others until later, and regard still others as unattainable.” The American project of self-government began with a compromise between the high moral principle of the Declaration of Independence and the barbarity of slavery, a dilemma that took a century to resolve; we redressed the balance of power in Eurasia three times in the last century, and on two of those occasions succeeded through cooperation with an ideologically hostile power (with Stalin to defeat fascism; with Mao and his successors to defeat the Soviet Union). Each resolved dilemma, each geopolitical success, vindicated the reputation of our bold project of self-rule. Acting creatively within such tensions—between the dreams of “idealism” and the demands of “realism”—is the very stuff of the American approach to strategy. Or as Gaddis puts it, quoting Isaiah Berlin, “Perhaps there are other worlds in which all principles are harmonized, but ‘it is on earth that we live, and it is here that we must believe and act.'”

Gaddis picks up where Toynbee left his gauntlet. We’re privileged to have a writer alive prepared to address the sine-qua-non of political life itself:  ethics in action.


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Time Does Not Heal All Wounds: Anne Spoerry As Mama Daktari

Buried in Lamu, Kenya after decades as a doctor and nurse attending to millions of east African’s by remote plane, Anne Spoerry (1918-1999) has earned her rest.  Filmmaker and novelist John Hemingway first had contact with her in 1980, but she refused to speak to him regarding his requests about her past.  Upon her death and burial in Lamu, a distant nephew arrived to reveal a safe filled with documents piecing together her time at Ravensbruck, a Nazi concentration camp for women 60 miles north of Berlin.

The cache a papers revealed that she was known as Dr. Claude, a notoriously brutal “kapo”, and close associate to Carmen Mory, otherwise known as Black Angel for her torture, mercy killings brutality dished out in Ravensbruck.  Carmen Mory clearly had bewitched Spoerry.  Spoerry would spend the rest of her life in atonement for that relation.

Known throughout East Africa as Mama Daktari, she left Switzerland after liberation and began a new life in Kenya as a doctor for an NGO titled Amref Health Africa, a flying doctors service piloted by her for decades until her death.

Her life is told by John Heminway with “In Full Flight: A story of Africa & atonement”.

In typical fashion, Spoerry kept detailed documentation of her compass as wandering doctor; her personal cache of documents also revealed the shame she experienced as collaborator and perpetrator.  Heminway’s best contribution to this book is his tireless reproach to French officials who finally permitted him to read her confession as a Nazi collaborator and French resistance fighter.

Rest in peace, Mama Daktari, its finally over. 



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Arabs Abandon the Mythology of Palestinian Victimhood

Mike Tyson once remarked that “everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  Obama’s naiveté ushered in a deadly realism whose impact is the abandonment of the Palestinians.

The demise of Arab nationalism ushered in militancy in the name of Arafat, Erdogan, the Muslim Brotherhood and legions called Osama.  Most hard working honest Muslims know a thing or two about failed utopian regimes.  The move to consolidate as always been an Arab forte, even a failed one.  Politically, as monarchies throughout the land of Ishmael assess the wreckage of a failed Arab Spring, demoralized Sunni’s throughout North Africa and the levant are witnessing a Shia crescent arriving east from Tehran.  Having vanquished Sunni Arabs throughout Syria, Sunni regimes have panicked and in so doing abandoned Abbas.

After the defeat of pan-Arabism masquerading as nationalism, Sunni autocracies moved further left embracing militancy under the tutelage of resistance.  When that failed under the Oslo Accords, Sunni Islamists movements spring up only to witness profound role reversals after 9-11.  Abandoned by Riyadh and others, defeated by US coalition forces throughout the eastern Euphrates, Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and others are making peace with Israel.  The Arab states are seeking protection.  The real question is will Jerusalem acquiesce.

An ascendant, restless neo-Ottoman empire is saddling under Erdogan.  We have yet to see its Sunni impact.  Here’s what the Arab regimes throughout the region calculate:  they believe that only they can hold the US engaged in the region.

Abbas and Palestinian victimhood get in the way of tacit tactical alliances with Israel. Major Gulf States and Egypt have largely strangled Hamas in Gaza.  Now they seek to do the unthinkable.  Make Abbas take what Arafat rejected, a workable peace.  For that to happen, regional Arab players must rebuild the domestic authority of Fatah.

What is Abbas doing.  He’s playing for time in a land that has none. Abbas believes he can wrestle better terms from Israel.  But the coin of resistance has lost its luster.  If the Palestinians don’t function politically, why should Jerusalem expect them to honor anything in the breach.

Here’s breaking news:  regional Arab Sunni states will do nothing against Israel for moving against Hamas in Gaza.  Wait. . . it gets worse. . .

Hamas’ audience isn’t the Arab world any longer.  Its Turkey and Iran.  Those are the locations that Hamas’ leadership will long for, like Arafat did for Tunisia after expulsion from Jordan.

Here’s where we stand:  broken, exhausted and moribund revolutionary movements in the guise of either Arafat, Saudi financed Sunni fundamentalism or pan-Arabism of Nasser will not save the Sunni’s any longer.

Arnold Toynbee had it right when he admonished that self determination is the sine-qua-non of growth.  The challenge thrown down by Obama has yet to be accepted by Sunni Arabs; waiting for the Israeli’s or the American’s won’t do.

Will the Sunni Arabs save themselves?


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Short Premier on Israeli Calculations with Moscow via Syria

Putin continues to look the other way when the Israeli’s hit Iranian outposts just northeast of Golan.  Why?

Because Israeli success in keeping Golan free from Iranian subversion makes Tehran dependent on Moscow.  Reports are confirmed that Putin gave assurances to Netanyahu about preventing deployment of Iranian forces and their proxies in the vicinity of Golan.

The irony is this:  Russia was responsible for establishing Israel as a foil against US dependent Arab regimes.  The Soviets willingly gave diplomatic recognition and weapons to the Israelis post ’47.  When the Cold War ran hot Moscow switched up and begin funding Arab radicals disguised as nationalists.  We know how that ended.

Here’s the calculus:  so long as Israel don’t openly shoot Russian aircraft or threaten the stability of the Assad regime, this game will go on indefinitely until it detonates into a conflagration between Jerusalem & Tehran.

In a sentence, Russian interests in Syria remain incompatible with Jerusalem.  A great game is unfolding with a wary, uncommitted American at the helm.


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The Syrian Backdrop As Battleground

When Obama pulled out of Iraq after being handed a win by team Bush, the political concerns that drove Obama’s decision paved the way for a surge that became the Islamic State.  That process of strategic defeat by absconding from commitments abroad may seal team Trump’s fate if his geopolitical instincts aren’t informed by realities in Mesopotamia.

Iraq is fomenting nationalist sentiments.  This is astonishing given the depth of is Shia population and Iranian subterfuge to subvert Iraq.  A year ago most U.S. strategists thought Iraq gone.  With May 15 elections arriving, we’ve got a reboot.  How can team Trump solidify gains favorable to the Iraqi’s and Kurds.

Regionally, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s cohorts have been identified and killed by special operators throughout the Euphrates.  This weakened caliphate has ambitions with a cohesive global network outside Syria and Iraq.  All of this changed when Turkey launched operation ‘Olive Branch‘ in northern Syria in January.  Ankara’s aim was to defeat the linkage of YUP (Kurdish People’s Protection Units) with PKK (designated Kurdish terrorist group.)  The Kurdish abandonment of U.S. objectives in the assistance of Afrin has revealed a startling insight; namely the limits of US regional war proxies.  With multiplying and competing geopolitical agendas, the US presence in eastern Syria is scaled back.  We’re now witnessing increased operational tempo of al-Qaeda affiliates in provinces of eastern Syria and western Iraq that were defeated.

al-Qaeda affiliates are growing in Yemen, Libya, Philippines, West Africa, the Sinai, Somalia and most of the African Horn (trans-Sahel).

This ain’t over.  We cannot disengage.  There will be no ‘Mission Accomplished‘ for the long war.  We reform and deliver a win or they come for us.



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MbS: The Only Game in Saudi Arabia

Having left America for France, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is to arrive back in Riyadh empty handed.  This wasn’t supposed to happen.  Autocracies only half understand maritime republics.  I venture that MbS remains less resolute today about the domestic prospects for reform than ever before.  Here’s why.

U.S. Saudi relations were always transactional.  Especially on the Saudi side of the ledger. The House of Saudi relied on U.S. arms and strategic war advise while the U.S. got oil. This tacit alliance has fractured.  In fact, its over.  The Kingdom didn’t have much to offer outside of oil and its only option was to buy off their Salafist enemies by funding radical madrassas from North Africa to Indonesia.  The source of the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda is Riyadh.  That too is only partially over.  Yemen has exposed a deep profound political reality that Riyadh cannot surmount.  No one wants to fight for the Kingdom.

International Islamic terrorism remains a Saudi led enterprise.  Only reforming the domestic political economy will the Saudi’s from trends outside their control.

Offering the world more than oil is the challenge that MbS needs to fix.  He’s trying to do with Vision 2030.  Why will it fail?  It will fail because the clowns he hired were paid to secure the interests of the Saudi clan, not reform Islam.  This is a crucial distinction.

How can soccer matches and relief of public guardianship rules compete with Saudi political repression.  The denial of religious freedom, and vast domestic security regimes still lead Saudi public ethos.  No power grab in the maintenance of shaking down a dozen relatives and four government ministers will topple the balance needed for MbS to win.

Here’s why:  MbS has enemies abroad and domestic.  He’s got to win against them while building a functioning political economy.  My any measure this remains a colossal task in its own right.  Remember, the former Crown Prince relieved of his duties, Mohammed bin Nayef survived four assassination attempts.  There are plenty of reactionaries, traditionalists and others deposed from on hight that seek their revenge.

Refreshing candor about Israeli existence is nice, especially when its openly acknowledged in the west.  But the Saudi’s can’t afford to stop buying off radical fundamentalists; this alien bailiwick is permanent.  Its regionally, culturally and theologically entrenched.  Only by waging total war to the reform of Islam itself can MbS win.  That isn’t the policy. Riyadh’s policy is survival.  Its called Vision 2030.

So how does MbS win.  He needs luck, good strong stolid allies and a long life to test his ambitions at reforming the Saudi domestic economy.  If he succeeds, and by every relevant historical measure he can’t; the Israeli’s, the Americans and millions of Muslims have a place in modernity.  Godspeed MbS. . . .


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China’s Mercantile Regime & Its Rope-A-Dope Strategy

Beijing’s mercantile policies are identical to England’s Imperial monetary-business strategies of Empire.  All transactions were founded and justified to benefit the Crown. Period.  China remains no different.  Like Assad and his proxies, China seeks to exhaust American complaints by actively promoting trade & currency regimes that sustain its manufacturing base.  All its competitors can do is complain.  If the U.S. seriously wishes to confront China, it will sustain the initiative with profound domestic policy of tax reform, capital-equity formation & massive capital expenditure.

Beijing’s mercantilist regime isn’t rules based.  Anyone familiar with Chinese industrial policy knows that the regime acts through unwritten or informal procedures.  Much like any bureaucracy. Yes team Trump can file under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, even if only to justify tariffs. But the strength of China’s industrial regime lays with its opacity.  Its overt regulatory processes’ envelop everyone.  China’s state directed form of mercantile capitalism makes distinguishing between private and public affairs nearly impossible.  Just ask any ruling member of an Arab regime.  Without private property rights; having the Han Masters in Beijing do what the Punjabi’s of Islamabad do is to acknowledge ethnic kingship as the primacy of a ruling class.

Readers of this blog already know that Beijing and other autocracies learned their policy craft at the hands of the British.

What the Chinese do is entice foreign companies to promises of a vast consumer market only to find that the Han Masters of Beijing use regulatory bureaucracies to strip them of their bargaining power, exposing them to theft or force foreign companies to become joint ventures.

If team Trump want’s to make America great again, they’ll do everything possible to maintain Republican majorities in the House.  What does the GOP leadership in house need to learn?  They need to do something concrete with the governing majorities.


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