Trump’s Assessment of Afghanistan: The Preview

Tonight the President will address the nation on our commitment to Afghanistan, by any reckoning I imagine that he will continue to posture U.S. forces in line with his national security adviser McMaster, who has advocated a mini-surge of U.S. ground forces with new rules of engagement.  Ironically, it was McMaster’s own publications on dysfunctional civil-military relations throughout our Vietnam commitment that underwrote American policy after Kennedy, shaping both Johnson and Nixon’s commitments.  It is my view that McMaster’s insights will be outlined tonight.

We should expect about 8.5k troops, with 3k special operators to remain embedded with the Afghan national forces; to in effect strengthen the extraordinary weak culture that has hamstrung the Afghan national army in its engagement with Pashtun Taliban proxies supported by neighboring Islamabad.

Here’s what you won’t see tonight:  any talk of grand strategy.  It is my view that President Trump is waiting to see if he can buy time to strengthen his geopolitical hand in Southwest Asia tonight.  Why is this the case?  Fixing Kabul means hurting Islamabad, and Pakistan remains a nominally ally; we have no other land base to use in support of our policy throughout Afghanistan.  We’re stuck with ‘the Citadel‘ and its own permanently dysfunctional civil-military platform.  Pakistan isn’t a Republic anymore; Pakistan isn’t a country anymore.  Pakistan is an army with a country!  Fixing Kabul means addressing policies that aren’t war aims.  This is the heart of our failure in Afghanistan and it cannot be fixed using instruments of war. This has probably been taught ad nauseum to Trump.

If the U.S. had to field instruments to secure Kabul it would have strong civil, diplomatic and economic institutions at its hand.  It doesn’t.  Winning in Afghanistan means deploying deft statecraft that would heat up the northwest frontier.  It would strengthen Indian policy of normalizing its relations with Islamabad.  It would also mean acknowledging an exceedingly high pain threshold that Pakistan has, that the west doesn’t.

To win in Afghanistan, you must mortally threaten Pashtun culture on both sides of Durand.  It means weaponizing U.S. civilian led policy, an instrument we don’t have in our contemporary configuration at Pentagon or Defense.  If you make the Muslims inside Durand compete, they’ll fold; but it would mean providing extraordinary support and pressure to Pakistan that remains easily enveloped.  Enveloping or entrapping Islamabad is exceedingly risky and would probably push its new patrons in Beijing to counter U.S. policy.  The fact is, we’re out of time in our Afghan commitment, especially given what the Obama administration accomplished over eight years of adverse risk counter-terror policy.

We’re stuck gaming a region that’s gaming us.

3a

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The Rage & the Fury Continues

When Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos quipped recently that “your margins are my opportunity” he laid down a general rule that governs Amazon’s success, namely the drive to work with technologies trend toward scale.  Until the arrival of digitization, electric technology worked alongside the concept of mass, like all center-margin based economies, efficiencies possessed no means to create, sustain and drive interior components of autonomy and redundancy.  Mass meant ever larger scale with more inputs.  The drive hued away from miniaturization, towards a commanding center.  It mimicked the driving contours of modernity; large, abrasive concentric movements whose only sin was compartmentalization.  Digitization and miniaturization have reversed the process.

Now, all components can be heterogeneous, autonomous, moving in eccentric modes that sustain spheres of autonomy that would have crashed previous mediums.  What the drive toward smaller scales has meant is something previous leadership couldn’t handle, now you’re competing against yourself or worse yet, your own government.

Let me put it this way, if you don’t demonstrate that your efficacious with your resources; if you fail to drive trends that sustain autonomy, you’re dead.  Raising prices kills you.  If your business is still working from a 20th century ethos, your finished.  Showing that you procure new capital for new problems is the immediate future.  When Andy Kessler wrote The High Cost of Raising Prices, he rang a bell, tolling a sound only new entrepreneurs implicitly know. Everyone else fell over dead from their own margin.

So instead of finding new efficiencies in new procured models of interaction, the U.S. Postal Service just raised prices.  That was after watching mail drop in volume.  People stay home now after work, streaming favorite movies instead of wading through movie lines for tickets, rude people and terrible service.  What have movie houses done, they raised prices.  When ESPN realized that breaking sports news was consumed on Twitter instead of obscenely priced cable, they just fired everyone.  No executive movement in the C-suite to jostle better service?  What did most companies do over the last eight years of our soft recovery?  They found mergers or acquisitions.  Or they folded.  No drive to create new velocities in their brands?  No new capital procured?  How about the stock market; huge sell-off’s when companies miss quarterly numbers.  Why didn’t Disney reform how ESPN worked?  It was easier to kill it off than reconfigure old capital.  Remember the parable of new wine in old skins?  Is the Wall St. Journal getting killed by Bloomberg radio or subscribing terminal?  Instead of pursuing what worked under Robert Bartley, its U.K. led management has sought buyouts and layoffs with a much smaller paper for circulation.

Each of these entities lost sight of customer trends.  Most clearly had no grasp of new relations emerging from new technology.

Why couldn’t newspapers figure out that classifieds remain a cash cow, only killed off by Craigslist.  Its because those that ran newspapers really believed that people bought for editorials.  They didn’t.  They still don’t.  Why couldn’t Microsoft discern that raising prices on its software would expose them to being crushed by tablets or phones?

The self-refercing ethos of the above named companies are legion.

IBM never accommodated itself to the social impact of digital technology, or other more nimble competitors like Salesforce, that’s why its failing.  Companies throughout the U.S. are dying because C-suite management thought in terms of accounting see previously wealthy companies failing from culture clashes from forced mergers and acquisitions.  3M and News Corp. are great examples of this.  With private equity circling, engaged investors are witnessing imperiled capitalism.

The fact is, companies have to learn that customers and markets are active environments. Kessler was right, Empires are lost on rising prices.

So what’s the fix?

The source of enduring growth resides in supply side policy mix favorably balancing the trends toward autonomy, digitization and liberty.  Without a return to a strong capitalist ethos we’re only going to see companies, fiefdoms and kingdoms die off from cannibalism.  Its already happening, its been on for a decade already.  Remember Mark Cuban’s policy admonition regarding IPO’s; that was the canary in the coal mine.

Its called confiscatory taxation.  That’s why we need a policy mix of tax, monetary, and fiscal reform from the House.

Don’t worry, an engaged fury called the Republic is awakening.

2a

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Steve Bannon, the Limits of Politics

The release of Bannon reveals an insight seldom learned in politics, the nature of limits and the central abiding role culture has in shaping policy.  If team Trump is to gain any traction on any policy grounds, he’s going to need far more political acumen than Bannon or any other self serving politico.  Working at the highest levels of American statecraft isn’t a place for self serving diatribes.  If Nixon taught anyone anything, it was the need for those in executive leadership the ability to shape the national culture; Bannon and most of Trump’s campaign staff was never up to this task.

My guess is that strongly held beliefs get trampled in D.C.  For the kinds of folk that succeed in that town aren’t the kind that are capable of lasting change.  Before she died of cancer, the late great Meg Greenfield, Newsweek’s senior editor wrote a political biography titled Washington, in it she reveals a startling truth about the dominant working ethos of D.C.  “If you want to understand how this town works, remember high school.”  Sickening in its simplicity, Greenfield was right, D.C. is predominantly backward looking, trailing the dominant trends of our mass induced culture.  It isn’t a place to go if you want to do great things.  Most CEO’s in fortune 500 companies understand this, and stay far away.

Two points to ponder with Bannon out.  How is Trump going to reform himself in the quest to field national policy resolutions of the first order.  Afghanistan, North Korea, tax reform.  The list is daunting.  Any failure after the health care debacle will permanently halter the growth and appeal of his Presidency.  Willingness to temper himself and field sound small tactical policy gains immediately after the loss of Bannon will demonstrate that Trump acknowledges the peril he’s created.  Secondly, can Trump posture an appeal of humility in his quest to unite the country.  The office he holds in daunting, but many fine men before him mastered it, can he learn how to learn?

Here’s the sad truth about this debacle:  it hurts everyone involved, and it emboldens our rising enemies in the ‘long war.’ Bannon’s grade of identity politics damaged the country, but team Trump cannot afford to turn inward, sulking.  To procure a win, Trump must lead.

Look for signs of growth in a presidency imperiled by seven deadly sins.  For its still early. . .

1a

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Solzhenitsyn’s Confrere Dies, Remembering Irina Ratushinskaya

I wan’t surprised to hear of her death, she was not born of this world because she like deprivation; like Samuel Beckett, she liked all things paired down to their essentials, no frills; the love of movement and depth found a home in her.  To call her a dissident was to confine her and she hated restrictions of any kind.  Born in Ukraine, Odessa was her home but Poland ran through her veins.  Her love of the Russian language was felt in her reciting Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin or Chekhov.  An unusual Pole indeed.  Her entire being, especially her developed fortitude in solitary confinement strengthened her grasp of Akhmatova and Mandelstam.  What did the American’s know of suffering, of the charge to grow small and defiant at once!  If Melville, Thoreau, Whitman and others from Concord had a Russian compatriot, it was her; albeit no pacifist, she fought hard for her place in this world.

Only in Russia are poets shot!

In 1983 she was sentenced to a Siberian labor camp, internal exile, labeled a dangerous criminal, she and her husband (Igor Geraschenko) openly sought to hurt the regime.  While in solitary confinement she composed even more.  On bars of soap, on cigarette paper, even on the insides of garments she was made to sew!  She was inspired by gruel and black bread, of physical beatings and the freezing cold of isolation.

What other women in the west grew strength from hunger strikes, of four months in rigid isolation.  Fellow inmates called in indomitable.  She earned it.   Growing chives in a small garden to break the monotony of gruel, she always found a way to look presentable for prison visits while sustaining fellow inmates.

Gorbachev released her after Reykjavik, she arrived in London openly embraced by Thatcher.  She stayed twelve years only to have her children return to Mother Russia.

Openly thwarting the celebrity status of a dissident, she knew what only mystics and others deep in the GULAG knew intimately; the sordid conditions under camp life had miracles; it was there where one was taught HOW to live with grace.

Take the rest you’ve earned at the altar of the Lord.  Gone at 63 on July 05.

1a

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Libya: Failed State. . . again

Studying the Arab Spring would require one to look at Libya and U.S. efforts immediately after the popular uprising. The American’s didn’t want Gaddafi but they also didn’t seek any measure to sustain Libyan presence into U.S. orbit either.  Today, Putin has linked his future to partial gains that has become North Africa after the Arab Spring.  The Russian strongman is smart to only publicize what benefits Russian propaganda for Libya today is rife with war factions that cannot be reconciled to any national government. Reconciling Libya may be beyond American reach IF it assumes proportions that consumed the French in Algeria!

The U.N. backed government in Tripoli is held by Faye al-Serraj.  Although he openly holds both French & popular support, his writ is limited.  His counterpart is Khalifa Haftar holding the Libyan National Army (LMA).  It is Haftar who continues to battle Islamic terror arriving from Egypt or Mali.  No agreement can link the writ that each man presents because politics in Libya is archaic and tribal.  Haftar continues to receive Emirati and Egyptian support while openly confiscating significant oil ports throughout eastern Libya.  Having liberated Benghazi, his gains have yet to gain political traction.  For either man to succeed, they’ll need the public backing evidencing knowledge, charisma and executive decision making necessary to push Libya’s political economy westward.

Because Serraj commands no fighting force, he needs to convince competing militias to align themselves to his command.  To secure this objective, he’ll need to deliver on public services.

Both men need Mustafa Sanalla, Libya’s chief national minister for oil; without securing the sinecure of Sanalla, both men will fade.  Only time will tell which man has the skills to master the components of Libya’s oil market that is heavily tilted toward Russia.

The key to Libya’s future resides in whomever masters Hayek’s extended order for Libya’s petroleum. If Sanalla can hedge to either Hatfar or Serraj, Libya just may end up favorably positioned toward western alignment, and that would openly confront Russia with a losing hand, given how Libyan oil would flow to Europe.

A lot is at stake in Tripoli, but don’t expect our guys at State to understand this.  The shame is, we’re sitting out on building a viable outpost that could squeeze the Islamists throughout the Sahel.

1a

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Beijing Backs Down, India Retreats: The Ethnicity of National Sovereignty in SW Asia

The myopia of western academic parlance is shaped from unhistorical ideals of Westphalia; the idea of the nation state and its historical foundation in ethnic identity as a distinct boundary has limited appeal in the west after the end of the cold war, it has virtually no basis of national sovereignty in southwest Asia.  Although the Protestant Reformation destroyed the ‘Catholic‘ unity European identity, it ushered in both brutality and stability evidenced in the extraordinary level of sustenance that underwrites the achievement that has become western civilization. These ideals have no currency in southwest Asia, the new terra incognita that is nuclear, ethnically diverse and demographically large.  We shouldn’t expect geopolitical resolution here, where history is heavy and violence a norm between competing versions of sovereignty.

The border dispute that erupted into armed conflict between India and China in 1962 has reared its ugly head again, this time with Beijing openly confronting India on its eastern border near Bangladesh.  Although the tiny nation state of Bhutan (another former British protectorate) is administered in New Delhi, it was Islamabad’s proxy in Beijing that sought to overtly challenge Indian sovereignty by entering a small plateau bordering India and China usurping previous agreements.

Why is this ugly?

The danger resides in the competing, unreconciled claims that underwrite regional sovereignty.  Bhutan is only nominally aligned to India, even though it receives generous financial aid from India, its culture is Buddhist and more closely resembles east Asia.  The flat plateau that serves the material cause of this conflict is called Doklam, however the proximate cause is diffused, related to Chinese bellicosity regarding smaller regional nation states.  As of this writing Beijing has receded and has tempered its aggressive stance.  This tells us much about Beijing, its reach and resources.

The 21km wide corridor connecting India to Bhutan is a nerve center colloquially called ‘the chicken’s neck’, serving connectivity between India & Bhutan.  China sought to openly threaten this causeway only to retreat.  Although war planners in China often govern their ideas through determinist concepts of geography, it was realism that tempered Beijing’s claims as it retreated from Doklam.

China’s attention is now dominated by North Korea, satellite pictures reveal that Beijing is fortifying its northern border with Pyongyang and doesn’t need to possibility of war on multiple fronts.  This should teach China-hands throughout academia and State that nationalism is tempered to the demands of realism.

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A Reckoning Called Pakistan

Today the Trump administration revealed a distinct policy regarding U.S. aid to Pakistan that remained unfulfilled for the fiscal year ending 2016.  This admonishment will definitely anger the ruling Punjabi’s of “the Citadel” who’ve arrogated to themselves a praetorian rule usurping Mohammed Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan.  Secretary of Defense Mattis revealed that the U.S. commitment to Pakistan is limited and under review.

For realists, this bodes well given the institutionalized duplicity that characterizes Pakistani posture as an ally in southwest Asia.  Given that Islamabad has always sought to prostrate itself as a client state reveals a bewildering hope that Pakistan would one day demonstrate a sound strategic hold of a national identity; instead, Islamabad has sought to pursue relations with Beijing for identical reasons that it openly courted Washington.  The ruling Punjabi class does not want to openly pursue functioning capital  markets or industrial bases, it simply wants to exploit a geostrategic advantage by openly availing itself to superior nations, in the hope of getting paid.  Foreign aid remains Pakistan’s second achilles heel, the first is nuclear proliferation.  Team Trump has decided that its time to get tough on Pakistan.

This will probably damage U.S. – Pakistan relations for some time.  Islamabad has not availed itself to capture terror proxies that serve its interests, and it openly uses the diffused Haqqani network in the destabilization of Kabul.  Both are now up for grabs.

August will be the 70th anniversary of the creation of Pakistan, and this policy reversal prompts a long detailed look at the profound civil-military dysfunction that animates this praetorian regime.  Team Trump has stumbled upon a fault line that needs to be remedied; we can only push Pakistani leadership so far before its encirclement is complete, just ask Tehran or Beijing.  Islamabad isn’t capable of fielding sound policy initiatives favoring U.S. policy, nor is it willing to openly accommodate Beijing’s petrol interests evidenced in the continued kidnappings throughout the Gwadar project linking the eastern Arabian Sea oil depositories to western China.

The news cycle throughout the west continuously derides failed U.S. policy, can these mandarins fortify Islamabad’s suicide?  Pakistani leadership at “the Citadel” believes that time is on its side.  It isn’t.  Tehran is openly recruiting Shia throughout Pakistan’s abandoned badlands and al-Qaeda grows pushing northeast.  Does Pakistan really believe it has an economy that can weather further diplomatic isolation?

Islamabad’s encirclement is nearly complete.

2a

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An Emerging Domestic Presidency

The current health care debate is actually the third; Obama’s initial tenure rammed through the ‘Affordable Care Act‘, Trump’s initial foray at the beginning of his presidency  and now the U.S. Senate failure to ‘repeal & replace‘.  It looks like team Trump will need to spend more dwindling political capital on a failing initiative.  His presidency looks domestic, small and very much in line with Clinton’s.  This needs to change IF he’s to gain traction on large foreign related policy gains that often singlehandedly define any Presidency.

We don’t need another domestic presidency, that is after all the job of both chambers of Congress and the judiciary.  As it stands now, team Trump’s policy on Syria, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Mesopotamia is identical to Obama’s.  It looks like this president will not spend anymore capital to wrestle the American imperium in a direction aligning our interests to indigenous institutions in war torn theatre.  The sad truth is, we’ll need to act like praetorian guards to win our current engagements, and even then, it isn’t clear that a Clausewitzian imperative of linking politics to war can deliver us any reprieve.  Aside from fielding new aims alloyed to realist notions of statecraft, we’re going to have to live with grossly limited achievements in pursuit of limited aims.  Fair enough, but how we get there matters.

If we look at team Trump’s current war posture, it reflects a profound understanding of civil-military relations that mired previous presidencies.  While Obama used drones, special forces and air power to shield his party from un-welcomed realities, team Trump’s view of partial withdrawal and negotiation maybe the best result in regions that don’t have sufficient political institutions to solidify war gains.

Remember Rumsfeld’s admonition that “you go to war with the army you have. . . ” The U.S. Army, Defense & Pentagon don’t do reconstruction.  We’re unable and unwilling to do to Southwest Asia, Mesopotamia & Syria what we did in South Korea, the Philippines, Dominican Republic, Germany and hosts of other places.  We reconstituted their governing institutions favorable for peace.  We don’t seem to be able to do that with Islamic Civilization.  What our current operations reveal are limits to our overt myopic positivist framework of war.

When John F. Kennedy admitted in 1961 that Khrushchev had savaged him in Vienna, we got the Cuban missile crisis and the construction of the Berlin Wall.  Meetings have consequences and we’ll have to wait to see Putin’s geostrategic behavior in the coming months evidencing his own judgement of Trump.  In the meantime, a small bit of humility could foster greater reach for team Trump as he seeks to pursue U.S. advantages.  Trump’s Hamburg meeting with king Vladimir revealed that Putin wants to deflect the issue of interfering in U.S. elections while preserving Moscow’s regional position in Syria, ratifying Russian propaganda that Moscow arbitrates Syria’s future.  Putin also seeks to gain stature in the post liberation of Raqqa while eliminating post-Crimea sanctions and normalization of Ukraine.

What did Trump get?

According to the Lawfare  blog, Trump acknowledged that the current status of Syrian political, demographic geography should protect rebel territory.  However, team Trump ratified Moscow’s Astana framework relying on Russian initiatives to monitor and enforce any ceasefire.  This entire framework required Trump to drop America’s stated policy demanding the removal of Assad.

Its Obama 2.0

So what’s the big deal?  Moscow does not have U.S. regional interests.  With Trump’s strategic blunder we cannot begin to initiate proceedings on Russian war crimes in Aleppo or Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Trump’s accession in Hamburg really ratifies Putin’s hold on eastern Ukraine.  Hamburg also permits the opening for a ‘special channel’ laying the groundwork for normalized relations.

All of this dooms U.S. efforts because it leaves the initiative to autocrats.

This is what happens when an American executive goes abroad unprepared.

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Venezuela Is Cuba Again!

The ideals of romanticized guerrilla war have a long history throughout Latin America, think of Jesuit priests waging insurgent war against oligarchies sanctioned by the Catholic Church throughout Central-South America; the 1980’s saw the tip of a Russian spear in Nicaragua.  Although the Soviet Union was collapsing, it was expanding rapidly while weakening internally.  Only a Pole could implicitly know that Reagan’s political handlers sought to confirm, the edifice was collapsing.

Those with historical perspective know that Venezuela is Batista’s Cuba, and Castro is embodied by Iranian Shia and old Soviet handlers from Havana.  Venezuela is Cuba writ large.

The sad story is simple, yet increasingly difficult to tell.  The American’s really aren’t up for this fight, but the Tehran welcomes it.  The tip of another spear faces north from Tehran beginning in Caracas.

As Robert Bartley’s own Mary Anastasia O’Grady has written, “an engagement strategy will fail“.  What’s needed is a functioning State Department willing to do the Republic’s work.  This is another ‘long war’ given Cuba’s nearly seventy-five year reign of sowing ideological revolution throughout the Caribbean, Central-South America.  The Cuban’s rely on a cut rate Caracus petrol and illicit drug trafficking.  By any account, their winning.

Team Trump has no ally at the Vatican with Pope Francis, this is very unfortunate given how U.S. policy architecture works through local alliances.

The fact remains that the local governing opposition party continues to display leadership.  What Nicolas Maduro seeks now is July 30th elections effectively rewriting the Constitution ratifying Tehran & Havana’s spear moving north to Mexico.

I’m afraid to say it, but we should be tearing into Iranian proxies in Venezuela.  Sadly, we don’t have the stomach for this fight.

O’Grady was right, for too long we’ve overlooked the atrocities of the police state reigning throughout Latin America, because of this, we now have Moscow and Tehran establishing firm beachheads in Latin America.

This won’t end well.

1a1b

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