Enlightened Despotism & the Cynicism of the Amerikan Left

The rancor and division animating the American polity has political sources.  As a recent Wall St. Journal editorial revealed, the Obama Presidency will remain historic but not consequential.  Because Amerian political life is dominated by the medium of television, real political skills are chiefly aesthetic.  Obama’s cool, detached temperament in an age of near permanent financial crisis is key to unlocking his charisma.

To understand the Obama Presidency, we must recognize the role benevolent government has in placing itself not in service to civil society but as a manevolent competitor, an arbiter to growth and achievement.  This isn’t new, but it was obscured and remained buried along the surface of Obama’s policy achievements.  His tenure held the Great Recession, national health care, a militant domestic regime of regulation, climate change, a botched Iranin deal and a general view of Americas role in the world as minimalist.  In a word:  retrenchment.

As a new inaugural begins, all these policies look fragmented, even evanescent.  Authoritarian regimes throughout the world are on the march in a way identical to the 1930’s.  This is the impact of pursuing goals to fulfill nearly 40 years of unmet progressive ideals.  The sad realism is simple:  policies rammed though on partisan divides are easily replaced.  Today’s partisan divide is the culture war and it may never go away.  For team Obama, it wasn’t just hubris, it was the love of the gamble, for he never did politics, he never built anything political.  Evidenced in militant regulatory regimes, hardened federalism, expanded entitlements and an exhausted central bank; the institutions of government are exhausted in the service of failed ideals.

The social impact of zero growth is dry political tinder.  It wasn’t foreordained. It was calculated.  The truth of the matter is that Obama’s hope had no theological foundation.  It remains the cynicism of a poor con man.

The gains of the Cold War have collapsed.  Disorder is spreading and threat deterrents are folding.  An emboldened agenda pursues our suicidal retrenchment.  For those who don’t do politics, here’s where we’re at:  Obama never lacked good intentions or sound political gifts; very few Presidents ever entered office with such astonishingly high public good will; but the lessons drawn from eight years of progressive utopian ideals is heartening, and this isn’t something you learn ‘on the job’ but, liberal political ideas never work when they abjure reality.

Now we’re left with an unreconstructed liberal road show called the post Obama Presidency.  Damn the man.

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Syria: Amerikan Irrelevance, Russian-Iranian Dominance

Clearly, Aleppo and Syria writ large is Obama’s Rwanda.  It didn’t need to be that way, but Amerian resolve is damaged in ways difficult to repair, just watch as the Ankara-Moscow detente hampers Kurish ambitions while strengthening a westward moving Shia crescent.  As of now, it cannot be stopped.

For an emerging occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the die is cast hard and in unfavorable ways.  General Mattis isn’t wrong when he said that America had a security problem and a solvency problem.  The fact is difficult for any emerging leader to acknowledge, but the Obama Presidency have left the American regime weaker.

The six year old Syrian civil war isn’t ending, it’s moving into a new different phase.  Russia has given cover for Erodgan to move against the Kurds in northern Syria while acknowledging Iranian supremacy in light infantry moving west toward the eastern Mediterranean.  While Putin gets military bases throughout Syria moving east, its clout and tactical cache that the Russians now have against any counter move we may make against Iran.  The strategic gains initiated by Nixon and consummated by Kissenger are gone, and with it, diminishing American options.

The world’s authoritarians are on the march, aggressively advancing interests inimical to security.  Unless we open new advances against Putin and Iran, we’re left sidelined, without options, allies or interests to defend.

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The Slog of Mosul

American television networks no longer cover foreign wars.  It’s the same for Mosul where U.S. Mesopotamian policy under the Obama administration has floundered dangerously.  It isn’t any longer a secret; having been handed a win in 2008, team Obama sought disengagement and retrenchment.  As Churchill said of Chamberlain’s appeasement of corporal Hitler, he sought peace and got war.

It really isn’t simple anymore, the Iraki terrain is riddled with Shia militias loyal to Iran.  The Iranians saw opportunity and sought to engage Iraki indigenous Shia through propaganda and grievance, if only to spawn Gulf Petro-monarchies to spend on the creation of greater Sunni state:  ISIS.

Irak’s current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi can no longer hide hard realities:  the Iraqi forces aided by American air cover have only half met the challenge of clearing out Mosul.  The second phase of the operation is current underway, it remains to be seen if the Iraki’s can retake Mosul’s industrial sector.  Already, they’ve lost nearly 25% of their soldiers.

Here’s the bad news:  the Sunni insurgnecy of the Islamic State has a new lease on life.  The dynamics are diffuse, but they can be discerned by watching the Saudi’s flounder as they seek air dominance to check Iranian light infantry in Yemen.

The dominance of Shia militias (Hashd al-Shaabi) will threaten American regional policy goals, for the Iranians have no incentive to leave or disengage the region.  Nor do the nearly 1 million Sunni inhabitants of Mosul.  If the Iraki’s and the American’s aren’t careful, we risk igniting the Islamic State on a scale we simply will not be able to handle. Our only hope are the Kurds and the implacable necessity that Amerian leadership reverse its policy/political goals of Iranian solicitation.  If not, expect the Kurds, and entire regional swaths of sunni’s to gather momentum of their own.

My monies on Amerian prudence, for Churchill was right, the Americans, after having tried everything else, will finally resolve to do the right thing.

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A Clown Called Clooney

The Sentry is a foundation started by George Clooney and John Pendergast, its mission is to end the conflict in Sudan, Africa’s newest country, plagued by persistent genocide.  Its a noble effort, but one destined to fail.

The chief culprit is the role ethnicity plays in Islam, for the criminalization of identity is what drives this genocidal conflict.

Factions based primarily on caste, ethnicity and tribal allegiance violently compete for State power.  Self interest as exploitation is the source of Sudanese genocide.  Whoever runs the State enriches himself and his tribal affiliation through looting of national budgets, the exploitation of natural resources or simply the manipulation of state contracts.

South Sudan is marvelously rich, possessing a natural tributary, Khartum on the Nile is connectivity making this section of Africa’s Horn linked to the Indian Ocean.  Sudan has traditionally been rich in oil and gold.  However, like the looting of Nigeria’s Central Bank and other national institutions, the Sudanese fisc is empty.  However, emptying this kleptocratic system will not end the genocide.  This is what Sentry’s clowns don’t get.

Sudan embodies the worst of African Islam.  The animus that Sentry should aim for is the following:  it should seek to expose the ideological/ethnic currents of the conflict, for they are irreconcilable to the egalitarian claims of orthodox Islam.  The regions history has long been a battlefield between competing national interests conceived by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Petromonarchies and Iran.  The Persians are the latest newcomers to dominate Khartum and the political wiles moving northeast to the Red Sea/Sinai/Philadelphia corridor.  Handling the geopolitical interests of competing nation states isn’t something Clooney as considered.

Instead, what Clooney and Pendergast have conceived is the sound and fury of international indignation in the hope of galvanizing public opinion to shut down regional warlords profit incentives.  Without having an engaged American executive actively and openly pursuing policies to thwart Iranian, Egyptian, Sunni interests through the Treasury department, this initiative will fail.

The Sudanese deserve better, maybe they’ll get it.  But for now, their sending a clown called Clooney.

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The Slow Rot of the House of Saud

As Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman is in a hurry.  By his own admission, the House of Saud is decades behind.  It no longer drives events, it is hostage.  To stem the tide, Saudi Arabia needs to sell its most precious asset:  ARAMCO, the world’s largest oil company.  If it doesn’t privatize, liberalizing and diversifying its sources of growth, the Kingdom will run out of foreign exchange reserves in a few years.  The rush is on, but so is the slight of hand.

The IPO itself, the largest in history, will attempt to do two things, hide any disclosure that actually reveals the innards of ARAMCO while raising money to work inside the capital markets of the Great Satan.  Funny isn’t it, that every time the Arabs get in trouble they call the American’s (proxies agents for war) or they call the Israeli’s (desalinization plants).  Both reveal a dearth of civil society and industrial base; it is a social disease of Islamic polities, they don’t create or transmit new capital.

The idea is to sell a stake (5%) and raise $150 billion to secure social security payments to subjects (not citizens) too archaic to actually work.  As of now, bin Salman has decided to go half way and only list downstream, meaning marketing and distribution while resisting all independent audits regarding ARAMCO’s exploration and production capacities.  Funny thing these Arabs have, they don’t compete on western terms, yet secured favorable terms are extended to them anyway.  The Saudi’s fear lawsuits or claims on future revenues, they also worry about listing abroad; because the Arabs aren’t used to dealing with market based realities (Hayek’s ‘extended order‘), they fret over not possessing any advantage. They want it both ways, a fundamental feature of immature, archaic civilizations.  In the end though, the Saudi’s will continue to use ARAMCO as a tool shaping OPEC policy.  That too will fail. . . more on that another time.

As is stands now, the growth model of Saudi Arabia’s oil technocracy is dead.  To secure an independent financial base to insure the growth of civil society, the Saudi’s need proceeds from capital markets to seed domestic diversification efforts.

The horse is out of the barn and with it, any hope of forestalling an inevitable clash with modernity.  My monies on the youth who know better than the chartered financial analysts of Dubai or Dharan.

Palestinian men take part in Friday prayers in the Arab east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud, outside the Old City

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Africa: Capital Outflows, Crisis & Confidence

Their were only a handful of people wise enough to understand the challenge 1973 was to the American regime.  Nixon’s Treasury Secretary was quoted as saying “yeah, its our currency, but its you problem.” Reagan, Milton Friedman, Shultz and Robert Bartley knew that the source of the OPEC oil crisis was the Bretton-Woods framework linking the dollar to specie.  This coupled with Arthur Burn’s willingness to blow-up the federal fisc brought Reagan and Morning in America.  The move toward floating exchange rates would consume every American President from Nixon until Reagan.

The impact of monetary policy under Obama is evidenced in massive capital outflows that sought a home in regions abroad.  B.R.I.C.S. and other commodity based export regimes were the lifeblood for investment banks in need of rent-seeking opportunity.  They found it in Africa.

Z.I.R.P. wasn’t a policy it was an attempt to forestall a frightening deflationary tail spin.  It was a failure to conjure revenue growth through velocity.  It brought untold billions to emerging (read unreformed, political economies).  The African growth model has come to a crashing halt in 2014.  The hardest hit were oil exporters like Nigeria and Angola where oil remained nearly 95% of government revenue.  Commodity exporters like Zambia (copper), Ghana (cocoa, gold), have plunged.  Instead of demonstrating leadership in the reform of their domestic political regime, they simply enjoyed the onrush of F.D.I. Currently the plunge in sub-Sahara GDP is nearly 20% with no end in sight.  Some nations like Zambia, South Africa and Botswana denominated their debt in U.S. Treasury.  Others weren’t so smart.

For the African pessimists, this only validates their claim that the continent remains stuck in a vicious resource filled rollercoaster of unreformed economies and rapidly escalating credit cycles. The boom and bust of Keynesian kraft.

Yet their is plenty of confidence that Africa can emerge stronger from his cycle.  Capital outflows/inflows were never monolithic and haven’t hurt each nation state in identical ways.  Kenya, Uganda and others continue to see enormous gains in telecommunications and its attendant growth in dependent industries.  Nigeria alone, which historically imported everything staple related, is currently witnessing massive growth in indigenous farming.  Nigeria’s case is hard to reconcile with other African nation states because of its unusually high exchange rate which has fallen to accommodate sound money and flexible currency regime. Currently, Nigeria’s food imports are halved with millions of subsistence farmers going commercial.

The dark continent continues to rise, albeit unevenly.



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India: Bulwark Against China

For the last two years in a row New Delhi has overcome China.  It is on time to register faster gains in 2017 giving it needed credibility after Modi’s demonetization regime collapsed both GDP and public support.  Every major index sees India gaining permanent ground against her larger northern neighbor.  In population, social stability and mobility, India continues to enjoy greater margins of growth than China.  Here’s a few numbers: India today is where China was in 1980.  Its literacy rate, demographics and per-head income match China in 2000.  This momentum has magnitude.  We’ll witness another nation state embrace both John Locke and Adam Smith if only to confirm what Marx denied, the inevitability of material progress when political institutions function.

Every barrier that India faces is self-imposed.  This is good news, for it is easily addressed. The most significant barrier will be India’s upper chamber, because most of India’s dominant political “Senatorial” class acts like an oligarchy, it remains susceptible to both archaism and self-dealing.  Except this time its citizenry is hooked into media on a scale that could easily threaten any political majority.

As America begins its road of recovery along decentralized lines of engagement:  think federalism, state rights and autonomy; India continues to slog about in a near stupor of Marxism centralism.  Its GST or general sales tax on goods and services as well as central state budgets, dominant state-owned firms match Aadhaar- a unique identification system registering biometric data for more than 1 billion citizens, is currently up and running.  The Central Bank of India claims digitization can provide more efficient targeting of services to the poor and those outside the main economy.  India’s cash economy or ‘unbanked’ is very large and in need of reform; something demonetization attempted to do yet failed.  India’s vast informal economic sector will require political and social assimilation akin to Imperial writ.  The good news is, India can achieve these in record time.

All of the above and Modi’s tenure will be hotly contested in looming elections throughout its northern corridor (Uttar Pradesh), home to mostly 200 million Muslims, throughout 2017.

Watch for trends that upend even the most seasoned policy wonks.  The rise of India is permanent.



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The Clash: Beijing & Washington, Inevitable

Both China and North America reside as large geographic islands, Beijing has always had an eye on its interior, for it is there where we witness Beijing’s massive security apparatus continually divide and conquer legions of ethnic groups long hostile to the Han masters from Beijing.  My friend, the late great Nin Cheng, CEO of British Petroleum in Shanghai and bridesmaid to Mao’s second wife (his first was dissolved during the civil war) had tutored me on the political wiles of this vast interior.  It was Toynbee who taught that large flat contiguous plains act as communicative devices, holding, possessing and transmitting cultural mores too disparate to witness in time except synoptically.  For Cheng, the North American frontier beckoned, for Beijing it always solicited a haltering gaze.  In a word barbarism.  It remains so today.

If you want to Beijing’s respect, introduce into its interior, alien concepts of liberty anathema to the concentric hold openly applied by Beijing.  The source of anxiety for Beijing is an open frontier of mixed unassimilated folk unafraid of the Han.

In ancient times, China’s regional movement of social capital was oriented along a north-south axis because the littoral South China Sea was China’s breadbasket.  This was the route taken by tens of millions recently as China grew under a capitalist yoke.  It still holds, even if only partially given how Indochina has received manufacturing that left China.  Still, the country now has over 270 billionaires, yet it remains stuck in a “middle income trap” unwilling to unleash the politics of liberty to consummate a first world political economy.  Instead, the Han masters love the commanding heights of debt, depreciation and capital controls. The state owned enterprises will remain, as will the wholesale theft of intellectual property.

Still, the calculus dominating Washington remains:  will Beijing seek military adventurism?  If so, the cause of brinkmanship may seek the amelioration of social policy from China’s interior.

Even still, the long game in Asia is liberalization of the Indo-Pacific.  How this occurs in a closed economy isn’t known, but Beijing will seek the alievation of debt that is 250% of GDP, it does this by accelerating a debt-for-equity swap.  It isn’t growth or reform, but a conjuring trick learned from us.  This occurs as Xi continues to consolidate his reign through the appointment process for the autumn congress.  One thing remains:  Toynbee taught that the criteria for growth is self-determination; how do the Han Masters in Beijing reconcile a failed growth model to the preservation of economic stability.


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Powder Kegs & Flashpoints

The Americans reside in a far stronger position than any other international rival regarding posture and standing than the Imperial powers did a hundred years ago, when England decided to back indigenous Arab tribes under the banner of nationalism and kick over the Ottoman yoke.  In so doing, they bequeathed to the world an Iraq, a Yemen, Syria and a nominal notion of Palestine.  The tribes and sects that coexisted under the suzerainty of Istanbul gladly embraced an appeal to freedom, even if they couldn’t quite square the circle to emulate foreign captors. One hundred years later, the wars of these lands have an indigenous origin even though they beckon and drape their victimhood in colonial garb. It was never foreordained.

The challenge for team Trump isn’t to put the Islamic state away quickly.  It is to prevent I.S. transitioning from a predominantly territorial force to an extra-territorial guerrilla movement in perpetual animus to the domestic Shia who look east to Iran.  This is a tall order for even the best America has to offer.  It will require an untold grasp of Hobbes and Machiavelli IF our stratagem survives. . .

We should remember that the Iranians will not stand still as we begin to corral their regional proxies throughout the eastern Mediterranean.  If anything, the noose slipped around Arabia will tighten as the Arab world’s poorest state (Yemen) becomes a training ground for Iran.  What the post Obama world will acknowledge is the supremacy of light, forward moving infantry.  What team Trump should ignite are the nationalist and regional Kurdish ambition, even if it threatens Turkey.  We should be willing to play with fire, and prove to our enemies the ruthlessness of a Great Satan.

Regarding fire, Saudi budget deficits are mounting.  The House of Saudi is falling.  The rot is deep and personal.  The Saudi’s will run out of foreign exchange reserves by 2020.  THEY’RE OUT OF TIME.  Even while encircled by Iran, their half hearted attempt at liberalizing their political economy will drain its leadership, placing the Saudi’s in IMF receivership.  It will be their OPEC crisis, identical to the one unleashed upon the Americans in 1973.

If anything, expect the animosity of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry to consume those both near and afar.


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Failed States & the Polity in Islam

Shortly before his death, Samuel Huntington learned of rugged pluralism as the defining feature discerning variable polities constitutive of Islamic regimes, it was an insight that came long after his critique of Islamic polities in the infamous Clash that lines bookshelves unread next to Fukuyama’s Last Man Standing.  Both men tried to explain the loss of new or renewed capital as the scourage animating the barbarism that is contemporary Islam.  It is a far cry from the determinism that animated previous scholarship evidenced in locating the chief cause of state failure in geography, climate, or even culture.  Efficient institutions matter, but so does politics.  It is political craft that underwrites Islamic Civilizations inability to come to terms with modernity.

South Sudan is an extreme but likely candidate in any sound explanation of predatory states, archaic polities and the formative role ethnicity plays in Islamic political norms. How else does one explain the role of tribalism, militiamen and the limited but extremely lucrative role the state plays in criminalizing identities.  Although South Sudan is the most prominent example, their are others in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, the Magreb, and hosts of others to numerous to mention.

Foreign military support can buy time, even assist in the constitution of a government polity, but institutions outside of clan must take hold.  Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Colombia, even Iraq after the success of Anbar Province proved that good governance cannot simply be imposed from outside.  More is required. . .

The fight over the sources of social, political capital are theological.   For Islamic politics, the crux of its paradoxism is its unwillingness to ponder the impact of sources of renewal or grace outside of revelation.  If the theoretical matters, it matters here more than anywhere else.  If Islamic scholarship remains unwilling or unable to ponder a renewed theology of revelation, one that may reject or upend archaic jurisprudence, then Islamic Civilization will continue to wither in its social impact with modernity.

On a practical matter, a degree of physical security must be imposed by the state, if only to introduce comity.  Next is the rule of law or the introduction of custom in the security of several property; national institutions cannot surmount innumerable indigenous bulwarks that serve predatory polities.  If Islamic Civilization is to mature in its grasp of modernity, then it must begin the long arduous journey of “faith” that constitutes our extended order.  To conjure functioning national institutions of sound governance, ethics and leadership are required.

The west started this process hundreds of years ago, by some accounts over 500 years ago. With a good American Executive, it can be cut down to decades.

Let’s Roll.


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