• ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, September 19

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Trump’s campaign manager wiretapped. That’s a big deal.

    The story was broken by CNN: Exclusive: US government wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman, starting in 2014 and continuing, off an on, until this year. The tap, authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), would include periods when he was known to speak with Donald Trump. (Manafort also owned an apartment in Trump Tower; that might be relevant because Trump spoke of wiretaps in Trump Tower.)

    There is increasingly strong public speculation that Manafort will be indicted by Robert Mueller’s office.

    At this point, we do not know who the FISA warrant(s) targeted.

    Comment: At this point, we simply don’t know enough about this surveillance. (In fact, the information released to CNN was almost certainly a felony violation of secret proceedings.)

    • Anti-Trump people think the fact that a federal judge would authorize surveillance on such a senior figure in the Trump campaign suggests something very bad was afoot and that collaboration with the Russians may have been Manafort’s aim (if not necessarily that of others in the campaign).
    • Pro-Trump people think this information vindicates his repeated claims that he was wiretapped.
    • And, of course, a lot of people, myself included, want to know more before they reach a conclusion.

    I think a lot of people will agree with Dan Drezner (a centrist and no friend of Trump’s):

    Trump at the UN: Very tough talk. Threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea, calls Kim “rocket man,” and labels Iran a “rogue nation” (New York Times)

    He included terms he had seldom used recently: “radical Islamic terrorism.”

    The full speech is available here on YouTube.

    Comment: Trump’s speech was an unusually blunt, full-throated defense of America’s interests, as opposed to globalism, and included particularly sharp and detailed attacks on Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela.

    Critical responses to the speech line up as expected.

    More censorship calls on campus, this time because a professor wrote a scholarly article called “The Case for Colonialism” 

    The article, by Prof. Bruce Gilley of Portland State, was published in a peer-reviewed journal that is very anti-colonial, which presumably thought the piece was serious, well-researched, and would spark scholarly debate. The basic argument does not deny the evils of colonialism but says they must be balanced against the benefits and that anti-colonialism has itself carried high costs.

    Recently, Gilley publicly resigned from the American Political Science Association for its ideological bias.

    Here’s the report at Legal Insurrection.

    Comment: Given the political climate on today’s campuses, especially those on the coasts, what Gilley’s article sparked was not discussion but calls for him to be fired, censured, and tarred-and-feathered.

    Will the End of Syria’s civil war spell disaster in Europe as battle-hardened terrorist fighters return? (BESA Center)

    Mordechai Kedar says “yes” and adds that Iran has now effectively taken over Syria, strengthened Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and given a free hand to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

    Comment: Iran’s expansion across the region was facilitated by the Obama administration and will cause death and destruction for years to come.

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  • Pres. Trump’s speech on Afghanistan: The Essential Points

    Here are the essentials of Trump’s Afghanistan policy 

    US policy toward Afghanistan must be considered as part of an overall regional approach, worked out after a major policy review by the Trump administration’s national security team

    • It was striking how little information leaked prior to Trump’s prime-time address. The White House staff was very disciplined, a sharp contrast to previous behavior, when internal opponents advanced their position anonymously in the press.

    The US is staying in Afghanistan and recommitted to the fight.

    We are not revealing operational details, beyond implying that it will not involve large numbers of US troops

    We’re relying ultimately on the Afghans themselves, not on US troops

    We’ve rejected the trial balloon of a US mercenary army (implied but not stated explicitly in the speech)

    We’ve put Pakistan on notice that their territory cannot be a safe haven for Islamic networks that kill Americans or attack US-supported forces in Afghanistan

    • The implication is that Pakistan must deal with these problems or the US will (a dangerous possibility in terms of bilateral relations)
    • Trump’s speech clearly positioned the Afghanistan fight as part of a regional strategy for South Asia.
    • The outreach to India was part of that and will undoubtedly scare Pakistan, which will be split internally on this and may reach out to China (at great risk)

    We are changing our troops’ rules of engagement; instead of tight restraints, the new rule is “kill the bastards”

    No more nation building. America’s only goal is security, for the US and US interests (including our allies).

    To the extent that anyone speaks of a “Trump doctrine,” it will be:

    Kill the bad guys, rely heavily on local partners, hold them accountable, and don’t do nation building.

    What outcome does Trump envision, if his policy works?

    Trump gave a hint of the end-state he wanted. At this stage, he was wise not to spell it out in more detail.

    He wants a political solution. The implication is that the US will not put in enough resources to win unilaterally on the battlefield.

    His implicit goal, then, is not only to keep the Taliban (and their Pakistani allies) from winning but to convince them that they cannot simply outlast the US and thus win a war of attrition.

    Trump explicitly said the political solution could include some elements of the Taliban, as long as that end-state was stable and would not lead to attacks on the US or US interests. Clearly, he thinks that will be possible only if the Taliban don’t think they cannot win unilaterally, or cannot win at a tolerable cost.

    For all Trump’s talk about “winning,” this is really a political compromise, made possible by greater success on the battlefield.

    Comment

    Trump’s initial comments voiced a hope that a divided America could come together, clearly a reference to Charlottesville and its aftermath.

    After that, his speech was very much directed at the military men and women in the audience and offered them strong support.

    Trump’s comments that he initially wanted to pull out were not so much narcissism (as is usually the case with him) and more an attempt to explain to a war-weary nation why it made sense to recommit to the fight there.

    The speech was filled with sharp criticism of the Obama administration’s strategy, without specifically naming Obama.

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    Hat tip to David Nix for asking about Trump’s vision for an end-state

  • A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma: Two Important Articles on Russia vs. US and NATO

    America is preoccupied, understandably, with its deep internal divisions, roiled by the riots and killing in Charlottesville and Pres. Trump’s reaction.

    But major world events don’t stop while we are preoccupied, whether it is with race relations at home or Kim Jong Un abroad.

    Russian expansion and NATO’s response to it remains one of America’s most important–and dangerous–security challenges.

    Here are two probing articles on US-NATO-Russian relations, one from a leading US strategist, the other from a country Russia invaded a decade ago, Georgia.

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    Michael Mandelbaum is one of America’s leading thinkers on international relations and US foreign policy. A centrist and a Realist, he writes here about NATO’s role:

    “Pay Up, Europe: What Trump Gets Right About NATO” (Foreign Affairs, subscription)

    European leaders may find [Trump’s] demands grating, especially given Trump’s unpopularity among their constituents, but they should heed them. In recent years, Europe has become a dangerous place. In search of domestic support, Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned to aggression abroad, invading Ukraine and intervening in Syria….

    Putin will always need new victims. That makes him an ongoing threat. Just when NATO has once again become necessary for Europe’s security, however, Trump’s election has thrown the future of the U.S. role in the alliance into doubt.

    For these reasons, Trump is right: to strengthen NATO and encourage the United States to continue its commitment to European security, the alliance’s European members should contribute more. Just as important for European and Western security, however, is for the United States to lead other multilateral initiatives to defend the interests and values that North America and Europe have in common. Without that leadership, Europe—and the rest of the world—will be a harsher place. –Michael Mandelbaum in Foreign Affairs mag.

    Mandelbaum’s conclusion:

    For Western responses to expansive Chinese and Russian conduct to succeed, the United States must lead the way. Only it has the power and the standing to launch global initiatives of this kind, as it did, for example, in 1990, when President George H. W. Bush assembled the worldwide coalition that evicted Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Unfortunately, Trump has shown neither the inclination nor the ability to exercise such leadership.

    Forming a global coalition to resist Chinese economic bullying and Russian aggression will also require a broad sense of community among democracies, based not only on shared interests but also on common values. –Michael Mandelbaum in Foreign Affairs mag.

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    The same issues is examined by one of Israel’s top think tanks, BESA (the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University).

    The author, Emil Avdaliani, observes these issues from a sensitive location, Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

    Russia invaded a portion of Georgia in 2008 and still holds territory there.

    Russia Feels American Pressure, writes Avdaliani.

    Russian-US relations have reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. President Donald Trump has signed a new package of anti-Russian sanctions into law and increased the US military presence across former Soviet territory and eastern Europe. He also sent VP Mike Pence on a tour of Estonia, Montenegro, and Georgia – a trip viewed by Moscow as western encroachment on an area it considers a buffer zone.

    This standoff does not mean the two superpowers will not be able to find common ground in other areas, but the potential for cooperation is limited. Former Soviet territory will likely remain a major confrontation line between the US and Russia. –Emil Avdaliani for BESA

    Russia’s economy is too weak to impose serious counter-sanctions, says Avdaliani.

    There are some areas for US-Russian cooperation, he thinks, but they are sharply limited.

    There are reasons for Moscow to be worried. American politicians openly state how supportive the US will be towards eastern European countries and Georgia in the event that Russia increases its military capabilities in the region…..

    A steady US/NATO military and security buildup is underway in eastern Europe and the South Caucasus.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, July 5

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     US confirms North Korean missile was ICBM, showing progress toward launchers that can hit continental US  (New York Times)

    The administration followed up that warning on Wednesday morning with a joint military exercise in which United States and South Korean forces fired ballistic missiles in the waters along the Korean Peninsula’s east coast.

    But North Korea reaffirmed Wednesday that it would never deviate from its determination to bolster its nuclear and missile abilities as long as the United States’ “hostile policy” and “nuclear threat” persisted. –New York Times

     US vows it will ‘never accept a nuclear North Korea’ after new missile test  (Fox News)

     These Pyongyang tests leave US with few options, NYT says

    A North Korean ability to reach the United States, as former Defense Secretary William J. Perry noted recently, “changes every calculus.” The fear is not that Mr. Kim would launch a pre-emptive attack on the West Coast; that would be suicidal, and if the North’s 33-year-old leader has demonstrated anything in his five years in office, he is all about survival. But if Mr. Kim has the potential ability to strike back, it will shape every decision Mr. Trump and his successors make about defending America’s allies in the region.

    So, the options (according to the David Sanger article in the NYT) are

    • Containment
    • Stronger Sanctions
    • Threaten Preemptive Strikes
    • Negotiations

    None work very well, Sanger says, and the tougher ones carry high risks.

    Comment: My hunch is that the US will try the first three and not show any interest in negotiations unless Kim really begs for it.

     Putin and Trump will meet at upcoming G20 summit. But the Russian controversy in the US limit Trump’s ability to maneuver (Washington Post)

    If Trump attempts to loosen sanctions against Russia for its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine or its interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Congress could defy him by pursuing even stronger penalties. And if he offers platitudes for Putin without addressing Russia’s election meddling, it will renew questions about whether Trump accepts the findings of his own intelligence officials that Russia intended to disrupt the democratic process on his behalf.

    “The president is boxed in,” said Nicholas Burns, who was U.S. ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush. “Why would you give Putin any kind of concession at the first meeting? What has he done to deserve that?” –Washington Post

     US Manufacturing picks up, signals positive future for US economy (Bloomberg) 2.9%  monthly gain.

    American factories powered up in June at the fastest pace in nearly three years, with robust advances in production, orders and employment that indicate a firming in the economy, data from the Institute for Supply Management showed Monday. –Bloomberg

     Tesla, introducing its first mass-market car this week, plans to introduce an all-electric, long-haul truck in September (Seeking Alpha)

    Trucking is a highly competitive industry, driven almost entirely by cost, cost, and cost. . . .  If Tesla can build a world-beating semi-truck that also delivers lower overall per mile cost, it might disrupt another industry. –Seeking Alpha

    The common wisdom in the trucking industry is that “electric trucks” aren’t possible.

     We need a “Netflix of Knowledge,” says TechCrunch

    They highlight four elements that are needed:

    1. Aggregation, so content is in one place
    2. Curation, so relevant content is available to you
    3. Personalization
    4. Creation, especially the unlocking of tacit knowledge

    With as much as half of all current jobs going away in the next 10-12 years, let’s adopt the following mission: making learning accessible and feasible for every single employee. –TechCrunch

     

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  • The “Game of Camps” Revisited: Why Qatar? Why Now?

    Brief background on Qatar

    Until recently, Qatar has managed to play a complex role in the Gulf as a small, very rich, Sunni-Arab sheikdom, with a citizen population of just 250,000-300,000 plus some two million “ex-pats” (the majority workers from South Asia on term contracts).

    Qatar, ruled by its monarchy, has until recently managed to navigate in such a way that it worked both sides of the geopolitical street. 

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    Between Two Worlds, Playing a Double Game

     On the one hand it takes part in the modern, Western-oriented, liberal world order.

    It hosts a vast U.S. airbase and related anti-terrorism facilities.

    It has created and funded Education City, an enclave for a half-dozen major American universities.

    Its national airline, Qatar Airways, has become one of the Gulf giants, challenging the legacy carriers of the US and Europe.

    And it continues to export vast quantities of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from its huge reserves — the largest of which it shares with Iran.

      On the other hand, it

    • Has long supported the Muslim Brotherhood, which other Sunni regimes see as a threat.
    • Maintains very close working relations with Iran.
    • Is widely alleged to be the source of funding for terrorism.
    • Hosts and funds Al-Jazeera, whose programming Egypt and Saudi Arabia see as a threat, and
    • Hosts Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a highly-influential militant Muslim scholar whose program on Al-Jazeera has a wide audience throughout the region, and who has justified suicide terrorism (“heroic martyrdom operations”), and justified domestic violence against women as well as female genital mutilation.

    For more on Sheikh Yush Al-Qaradawi, see this profile at the Investigative Project (link here).

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    Why Are the Saudis, Egyptians, and Emirates taking on Qatar now?

    In an increasingly fraught Middle East, with Iran increasingly seen as the predominant regional threat, Qatar’s big neighbor, Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, and other Sunni states now have found this an opportune time to rein in their troublesome Gulf neighbor.

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     Additional Readings, setting the Qatar Crisis in the context 

    Eran Lerman’s essay (link here) provides an incisive treatment of this issue.  It is up-to-date and deeply-informed. (BESA, the Begin-Sadat Institute, Bar-Ilan University, Israel)

    The Qataris have been playing a dangerous game for years. They have provocatively supported the Muslim Brotherhood and actively promoted the destabilization of existing regimes, using huge sums of money as well as the pernicious influence of Al Jazeera TV. The dramatic steps taken against them over the past few days are thus hardly surprising, but they shed some light on the present stage in the struggle for regional hegemony. –Eran Lerman

     Yaakov Amidror writes a complementary essay (link here, also at BESA) arguing the Qatar crisis is a sign of weakness in the Sunni Arab world.

    The fact that the Sunni Arab world was unable to impose its basic approach on a small peninsular emirate is indicative of the deep crisis brewing in the Gulf over the lack of real leadership in the Sunni world.

    Sunnis are the vast majority in the Muslim world, making up some 85% of Muslims – and yet somehow, the Iran-led Shiite minority is the driving force behind the processes moving the Middle East. –Yaakov Amidror

     Michael Rubin, writing at Commentary, urges the US to “Support the Anti-Qatari Coalition: A Long-Overdue Epiphany on Terrorism

    The simple fact is that Qatar supports destablizing, radical movements across the region. –Michael Rubin

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    Robert Lieber, a professor at Georgetown, is one of the country’s leading analysts of US foreign policy, with special interests in the Middle East, Europe, and energy.

    His most recent book is Retreat and Its Consequences: American Foreign Policy and the Problem of World Order (Cambridge University Press).

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, June 13

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Reports that Trump is considering firing Mueller as Special Counsel  (New York Times)

    The comments came from a Trump friend, Christopher Ruddy, but the White House would not confirm them.

    His comments appeared to take the White House by surprise.

    “Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the president regarding this issue,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in a statement hours later. “With respect to this subject, only the president or his attorneys are authorized to comment.”

    Allies of the president cast doubt on the idea that Mr. Trump would take such a drastic step, and White House officials said Mr. Ruddy had not met directly with the president while he was there.

    Comment: Firing Mueller is within the President’s authority, but it would set off fireworks since they would appear that Trump could not withstand an investigation.

    Mueller, however, has done himself no favors by hiring major Democratic donors for his staff. His friendship with Comey is also a problem and should be reason enough for him to recuse himself from that portion of the investigation.

    Comey got a “steely silence” from Loretta Lynch when he confronted her over political interference in Hillary investigation (Circa)

    Ex-FBI Director James Comey has privately told members of Congress that he had a frosty exchange with Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year when he confronted her about possible political interference in the Hillary Clinton email investigation after showing Lynch a sensitive document she was unaware the FBI possessed, according to sources who were directly briefed on the matter. –Circa

    Comment: Sure looks like Lynch was in the tank for Clinton.

    AG Jeff Sessions will testify publicly before the Senate Intel Committee Tuesday  (Washington Post)

    The Democrats are in attack mode.

    Democrats plan to ask about his contacts during the 2016 campaign with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, which the attorney general failed to disclose fully during his confirmation hearing.

    They also want him to explain his role in the firing of Comey, despite the attorney general’s recusal in March from the Russia investigation after revelations about his meetings with Kislyak. –Washington Post

    Comment: The Democrats have made incendiary assertions about Sessions having improper meetings with the Russians and lying about them.

    But so far, there is simply no evidence of anything wrong. That’s what the hearings will be about.

     North Korea sent drones to spy on US anti-missile system in South Korea  (Reuters)

    The drone crashed on its way home.

    Comment: All this effort to spy, so little effort to feed and clothe the tyrannized population.

     France’s Macron: in a year and a half, he came out of nowhere to win the Presidency and now dominate the National Assembly (New York Times)

    Comment: Parties of the right and left have collapsed. Now, Macron is in a position to move a major reform agenda.

     The Palestinian Authority wants to pressure Hamas, so they have asked Israel to cut back on electricity supplies to Gaza. Israel has agreed.  (Los Angeles Times)

    Israel has approved a request by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cut by roughly a third the electricity it provides to the Gaza Strip.

    The move is aimed at undermining the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has controlled Gaza for the last decade.

    But the decision reached Sunday by Israel’s security Cabinet is stoking concern that it could trigger a humanitarian crisis among Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians and a new round of fighting between Hamas and Israel.

    In a statement on Monday afternoon responding to news of the Israeli decision, Hamas said that power cuts are “dangerous” and would lead to an “explosion.” –Los Angles Times

    Comment: Hamas is under considerable pressure, given the Muslim Brotherhood loss of power in Egypt, the sanctions on Qatar, and increasing resistance from international donors, who are themselves under pressure for funding terrorism indirectly.

    Although Israel is no friend of the Palestinian Authority, they know Hamas is much worse.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, June 11

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Turmoil within the Tory party after election failure

    The Sunday Telegraph has the most accurate headline, above a picture of Prime Minister May:

    In office, but not in power: Enemies circle Theresa May as she becomes a sitting duck (Sunday Telegraph)

    Boris Johnson, foreign minister and former mayor of London, is a likely challenger for Conservative leadership:

    British foreign minister Boris Johnson has been asked by five other ministers to launch a bid to replace Theresa May as the country’s prime minister after she failed to win a parliamentary majority in an election last week, the Sunday Times reported. (Story here, at US News)

    Pressure in Britain builds on Theresa May to step aside as her top aides resign, her party plots her possible ouster (Washington Post)

    The aides who resigned played a major role in the campaign and were under attack from other Party members. The WaPo goes on to quote Britain’s pro-Tory papers:

    The Daily Mail, an anti-immigrant, nationalist tabloid that has spent the past year cheering on May, published a photo of a graven-faced prime minister along with the headline “Tories Turn on Theresa.”

    The Times of London, a beacon of establishment conservatism that had enthusiastically endorsed the prime minister, published an editorial arguing that she had created “a national emergency” by misjudging the mood of the country and that she was now left “fatally wounded.”

    “If she does not realize this it is another grave misjudgment,” the paper wrote. “More likely, she is steeling herself to provide what continuity she can as her party girds itself for an election to replace her.” –Washington Post

     Qatari capital brims with fear, uncertainty and resilience as Arab crisis intensifies (Washington Post)

    It’s been a week since several Arab countries — led by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt — severed ties and imposed an economic blockade on Qatar after they accused it of supporting terrorism. The mood in this waterside Persian Gulf capital is a mix of fear, uncertainty and resilience as residents struggle to cope with a political and diplomatic crisis few imagined would so dramatically upend their world. –Washington Post

    Trump continues to take a strong stand publicly. Sec. of State Tillerson was more diplomatic.

    Bernie tells his troops it’s time to take over the Democratic Party (CNN)

    Also, he doesn’t like Donald Trump.

    Comment: His move to take over the Democratic Party is interesting, given that he is not a Democrat. As soon as he lost to Hillary, he formally reverted to being a Socialist, who caucuses with Senate Democrats.

    Van Jones made similar points, adding “Clinton Campaign ‘Took a Billion Dollars and Set It on Fire’ “ (Fox News)

    Comment: Great phrase. Of course, Hillary would never have done that. It would have offended her environmental supporters.

    ◆ Marches across US against Sharia law. Marches are small, often outnumbered by counter-protesters

    LA Times headline: Anti-Sharia rallies around the U.S. denounce Islam while stoking concerns among Muslim groups

    Speaking out about what they believe are the ills of Islam, anti-Sharia law activists demonstrated nationwide Saturday, but were met by counter-protesters who assailed their rhetoric as insensitive and demeaning. –Los Angeles Times

    Chicago Tribune: Chicago protest against Sharia law outnumbered by counter-protesters

    About 30 people gathered at northwest corner of Wacker Drive and Wabash Avenue, carrying signs that read “No killing Gays” and “Sharia abuses women.”

    The group was split into two factions. One group of protesters along Wabash Avenue hoped to bring awareness to specific Sharia practices they claimed oppressed Muslim women and children. They wanted to distance themselves from what they said was a more “radical” faction –protesters gathered near the Heald Square Monument, whose anti-Muslim rhetoric was met with anger and frustration by counter-protesters. –Chicago Tribune

    Comment: It is entirely reasonable to protest cultural restrictions, but it is shameful to engage in racist-style rhetoric. 

     The Daily Mail is reporting that international charities are part of the effort to smuggle refugees out of Libya and into Europe

    Refugee charities are paying people smugglers to ferry migrants to their rescue boats patrolling off Libya, it was claimed last night.

    A senior Libyan coastguard official told The Mail on Sunday he had evidence that aid agencies were stumping up cash for migrants desperate to reach Europe but who cannot afford to pay ruthless traffickers.

    Colonel Tarek Shanboor said he had obtained bank details and phone records that proved the charities were making payments to criminal gangs who have put hundreds of thousands of migrants into unseaworthy boats – leading to thousands of deaths each year.

    His claim will raise concern because there have long been fears that Islamic extremists could be among the migrants. –Daily Mail

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