Breaking with tradition, Trump skips president’s written intelligence report and relies on oral briefings -Washington Post

Standard

“For much of the past year, President Trump has declined to participate in a practice followed by the past seven of his predecessors: He rarely if ever reads the President’s Daily Brief, a document that lays out the most pressing information collected by U.S. intelligence agencies from hot spots around the world.

Trump has opted to rely on an oral briefing of select intelligence issues in the Oval Office rather than getting the full written document delivered to review separately each day, according to three people familiar with his briefings.

Reading the traditionally dense intelligence book is not Trump’s preferred “style of learning,” according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

The arrangement underscores Trump’s impatience with exhaustive classified documents that go to the commander in chief — material that he has said he prefers condensed as much as possible. But by not reading the daily briefing, the president could hamper his ability to respond to crises in the most effective manner, intelligence experts warned.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/breaking-with-tradition-trump-skips-presidents-written-intelligence-report-for-oral-briefings/2018/02/09/b7ba569e-0c52-11e8-95a5-c396801049ef_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-low_trumpbrief-1005am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.b7602a90fbcf

These 3 Everyday Products Show Who Won and Lost From Nafta -NYTimes

Standard

The title of this article is a little misleading, it does not show so much who won or lost with NAFTA as much as it shows the complexities of trade and production within the agreement. Beer sold in Mexico brewed from grains grown in America. Jeans made cheaply in Mexico for American markets, but with American cotton. Bacon from pigs born in Canada but raised in the USA….  The author argues in the case of the jeans, that without NAFTA production would likely move to Asia. This may or may not turn out to be the case. It seems very hard to tell what would happen. But this is the main point. The arguments we usually hear about who wins or loses from trade agreements like NAFTA are superficial. Much of the trade and production involved in manufacturing is not obvious to consumers who only see the final product. And, the people who profit from it are not always as salient as the people who have been hurt by the changes created by NAFTA. In the United States, Donald Trump has played to the type of superficial understanding of trade this article exposes. In the UK, the Brexit campaign did too. This is not to say these deals are good or bad, just that they are complex.

 

What’s Behind Turkey’s Attack on Syria’s Kurds -NYTimes

Standard

This article provides some basic background on the Turkish assault on Syrian Kurdish positions in the Afrin area of Syria North West of Aleppo.

“Mr. Erdogan fears that the Syrian Kurds would use control of much of northern Syria to support the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the P.K.K., a separatist group that Turkey, the United States and the European Union all consider a terrorist group.

Here’s where things get complicated. The United States has armed a Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units, that has played a crucial role in battling ISIS.

As the fight against ISIS nears an end, Turkey fears that the militia will turn its attention toward helping its Kurdish allies in Turkey. That fear is not entirely unjustified, according to Renad Mansour, a scholar at Chatham House in London, who points out that Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party leader imprisoned since 1999, was based in Kurdish Syria for nearly two decades.

Amy Austin Holmes, a fellow at the Wilson Center who has studied the Syrian Kurds, says that many of them joined the Protection Units “for the simple reason that they wanted to defend their towns, like Kobani, that were under attack from the Islamic State, and not necessarily because they were convinced by the ideology of the P.K.K.”

Michael M. Gunter, a political scientist at Tennessee Tech who also studies the Syrian Kurds, said, “The Turks overplay the threat, but it’s not completely a figment of their imagination.”

 

See: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/01/22/world/middleeast/whats-behind-turkeys-attack-on-syrias-kurds.html?referer=https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2F0K2P6MSeoe

WHY NO GENERAL SHOULD SERVE AS WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF -War on the Rocks

Standard

Donald Trump has now been in office for one year. And, with Michael Wolff’s new book The Fire and the Fury coming out, it is worth looking back at a few older articles examining the changes in the White House staff since he took over. So, this is the first of several posts on the subject.

This post links to a discussion on War on the Rocks, and focuses on Trump’s reliance on military personnel (active and retired) for advisers. From the title, one can immediately deduce the article is not supportive. Here are the three reasons why relying on the military is problematic:

  1. First, having a retired general (Marine Gen. John Kelly as his chief of staff) serve in such an unabashedly partisan role further blurs the boundaries between the military and politics, and erodes the long-standing reputation of the U.S. military as an apolitical institution……..
  2. Second, Kelly’s appointment promotes the myth that military leaders are superior to civilian leaders. Healthy civil-military relations cannot rest upon a belief that when the nation is in trouble, calling upon military leaders to “take charge” in senior civilian roles is the best or only answer………
  3. The final danger of having Kelly (or any military leader) serve as White House chief of staff is that any major policy failure occurring on his watch would undermine the standing of the military, rightly or wrongly. Any such failure would inevitably lead to questions about Kelly’s judgment and fitness to serve…….

For the details of these arguments, see:

https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/why-no-general-should-serve-as-white-house-chief-of-staff/

 

See also: http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/23/trump-is-tarnishing-the-military-brass/

 

 

 

The Risk of Nuclear War with North Korea -The New Yorker

Standard

This article from the New Yorker looks at the tensions between North Korea and the United States. It provides a rare glimpse into the internal workings of the insular state. Along the way it also raises some important issues about brinksmanship as a foreign policy and the strategy of deterrence.

Quoting Thomas Shelling one of the founders of American strategic thought, brinksmanship is the art of “manipulating the shared risk of war.” It involves creating a crisis or escalating a crisis with the expectation that one’s opponent will back down. Basically, it’s a game of chicken. In theory, it is a rational game played by rational actors, making careful calculations about the other side’s interests and the level of their aversion to escalation and possibly conflict. That being said, “…they may compete to appear the more irrational, impetuous, and stubborn.” Given the nature of the two leaders involved, Donald Trump & Kim Jong Un, the article correctly goes on to ask, “what if the adversaries are irrational, impetuous, and stubborn?”

The article also raises deeper questions about brinksmanship and deterrence, though. For these strategies to be employed without producing a disaster, there has to be a clear understanding of the other side’s interests and red-lines. Regardless of the specific leaders in place, this article suggests that neither side really understands the other.

  • US on North Korea: “Experts can’t say definitively why Kim wants nuclear weapons. Are they for self-defense, as North Korea claims, or will Kim use them to achieve the unfulfilled ambition of the Korean War—forcing reunification with South Korea? A senior Administration official told me that members of Trump’s national-security team are not convinced that Kim will stop at self-protection. “There are fewer and fewer disagreements about North Korea’s capabilities now, and so then, inevitably, the question of their intentions becomes critical,” he said. “Are they pursuing these weapons in order to maintain the status quo on the Peninsula, or are they seeking to fundamentally alter the status quo?””
  • North Korea on the US: “… I asked Pak what he and other North Koreans thought of Trump. “He might be irrational—or too smart. We don’t know,” he said. They suspected that Trump’s comment about “fire and fury” might be part of a subtle strategy. “Like the Chinese ‘Art of War,’ ” he said. “If he’s not driving toward a point, then what is he doing? That is our big question.”
  • Even China struggles to understand their neighbor: “In 2008, when Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke, Randal Phillips, a senior C.I.A. officer overseeing operations in Asia, met a Chinese counterpart to share analyses, as they sometimes did. But Phillips discovered that Chinese intelligence “didn’t know what was happening,” he told me. “I think the Chinese know a hell of a lot less than people assume.” Compared with other American adversaries, North Korea is the “hardest target,” Terry said. “There’s no other country that’s like that,” she told me. “It’s just pieced together.”
  • To make things worse, the North Koreans are deliberately obtuse: “We must envelop our environment in a dense fog,” Kim Jong Il once said, “to prevent our enemies from learning anything about us.”

 

Deterrence also requires effective communication, and as the article illustrates, the two sides have not been good at messaging each other. The following discussion provides a perfect example of how not not to communicate in the context of deterrence:

“So is he going to launch them or not?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Pak said. “It depends on whether the United States sends another nuclear asset, like a B-1B, over the Korean Peninsula.”

“Does the U.S. know that’s the determining factor?” I asked.

“We haven’t told them! But they should know, because we said they should not send any further ‘nuclear provocations.’ ”

For those familiar with the 1960s Cold-War satire, Dr. Strangelove, it is eerily similar to the miscommunication that leads in the movie, to nuclear Armageddon.

 

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/18/the-risk-of-nuclear-war-with-north-korea

‘Why let ’em in?’ Understanding Bannon’s worldview and the policies that follow. – Washington Post

Standard

The description of Bannon’s Islamophobia and general callousness is pretty much par for the course. There has been so much written on the Trump administration’s moral bankruptness that it is impossible to keep up with it all. This article digs a little deeper into Bannon’s psyche and his preoccupation with a particular understanding of the concept of “sovereignty”.

Bannon’s “worldview, which….laid out in interviews and speeches over the past several years, hinges largely on Bannon’s belief in American “sovereignty.” Bannon said that countries should protect their citizens and their essence by reducing immigration, legal and illegal, and pulling back from multinational agreements.”

This goes beyond typical realist thinking in its xenophobia and the belief that the “United States and the “Judeo-Christian West” were in a war against an expansionist Islamic ideology”. Further distancing himself from traditional realism, even ultra-hawkish realism, is his belief that this cultural threat is so pressing, it takes precedent over balance of power politics and the US’ deteriorating relationship with Russia:

“However, I really believe that in this current environment, where you’re facing a potential new caliphate that is very aggressive that is really a situation — I’m not saying we can put [Russia] on a back burner — but I think we have to deal with first things first,” Bannon said.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/bannon-explained-his-worldview-well-before-it-became-official-us-policy/2017/01/31/2f4102ac-e7ca-11e6-80c2-30e57e57e05d_story.html?postshare=1711485989417561&tid=ss_mail&utm_term=.b50125428f6a

 

Iran after Rafsanjani Rafsanjani’s death has created power vacuum in Iran’s political centre. -al Jazeera

Standard

There have been a number of articles written about the recent death of former Iranian president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, most of them pretty shallow. This one has a little more depth. In particular, it makes the point that his death not only weakens the moderates, it creates an imbalance in Iranian politics. In many ways Rafsanjani played an essential role in the Iranian political system. So essential, in fact, that even after he challenged the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei directly during the 2009 election crisis, Khamenei had to allow him to remain among the political elite. In contrast, Mir Hussein Mousavi, the leader of the Green Movement, has been under house arrest since then.

  • “In the absence of Rafsanjani, it is doubtful that Khamenei and his hardline supporters in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) or the fundamentalist clergy can maintain the political balance that is so crucial to the survival of the Islamic Republic.”

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/01/iran-rafsanjani-170111055041706.html

For further reading, see also https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/09/ebrahim-raisi-conservative-cleric-iran-supreme-leader-khamenei?CMP=share_btn_link