Sunday, August 19, 2018

President Trump Needs to Establish a “Brennan Rule”


The feud between former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (DCIA) John Brennan and President Donald Trump points out an important clarification that needs to happen with respect to former officials engaging in active public debate to current administration policies and strategies.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Mr. Brennan disagreeing with the President. He is an experienced and insightful man with a long history serving his country. He has his own opinions as an independent pundit that he is very much entitled to. Where he has gotten himself into trouble is the use of his security clearance as a professional bona fide to imply he is a person of authority in current public policy debate. Personally, I doubt Mr. Brennan himself would imply this; but, he is in the employ of media organizations, the so-called 4th estate, that can and do imply to the public that his words carry such weight. They do not. Official weight comes only from the present officials in power holding the offices, doing their duty.

It is wrong for Mr. Brennan to overly project himself into the affairs of the keepers of the current watch no matter how much he believes in his views of the world. He’s not the one in the room looking at the current lay of the land, with both the clearance and the need to know to make today’s decisions. He should defer to the people who hold the active-duty positions in government to affect the national policy of the United States of America.

For instance, Mr. Brennan as DCIA oversaw a period of operations in the Middle East where the US engaged in a campaign of using unreliable operatives that didn’t quite work out as hoped. The campaign was designed by his predecessor DCIA David Petraeus who, fresh from his experience gaming warlord vs. warlord in Afghanistan, had the idea of stabilizing the western portion of the northern Middle East using proxies against unfriendly governments. And so began a CIA led effort that armed unreliable Sunni factions of Saudi sympathizers in Syria that would ultimately give birth to ISIS and create an opening for Iran to attempt to create the so-called “Shia Crescent”. We couldn’t balance our strategy with Shiites because the Imams of that sect are from hated US enemy, Iran; so we turned to the Kurds which, because half of them are in Turkey, eventually strained relations with that ally. It was a brilliant plan designed to fail. I remember hearing Petraeus discuss this at a Reagan National Defense Forum at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California once. My net assessment instincts were tingling with alarm bells. The strategy violated basic sphere of influence with respect to the one player the CIA brain trust underestimated, Russia and its commitment to the official government of Syria, the Alawite tribes of Bashar al-Assad. The net projection did not compute. And in the end, the what did compute is what happened, the entire campaign to unseat Assad failed. Mr. Assad is today, mopping up the last of the opposition forces enabled directly and inadvertently by the CIA of 2012 to 2016.

I recant this to make the point that the current “cooks in the room” are dealing with a very different set of global stability circumstances than that of the pre-Trump era. I could have used examples from the situations in NATO, North Korea, the South China Sea and others. Even our relationship on what the best going forward strategy to deal with China, an economic competitive and influence balance problem, and Russia, a boundaries of influence problem with a heavily nuclear armed, 1/10th GDP size of its opponents problem. My point here is not that Mr. Brennan does not have opinions on these matters. My point is that he is NOT IN THE ROOM. Clearance be damned, he does not have the need-to-know to make current US policy and strategy decisions. That he has personal reservations about the team now in the room is immaterial. They are also diligent and experienced people. And I’ll remind all those who have been told this, the greatest ethic of all in national matters. “Beyond this point, there is no left of right, there are only Americans.” My problem with Mr. Brennan is that he seems to have lost faith in our nation and its remarkable ability to persevere. I never lost it when he was in power. I do not know why he fails to do the same now that someone else is.

Then comes the media problem. Mr. Brennan exacerbates the situation by expressing his views in the mainstream media, a medium currently struggling for relevance in the political landscape against its disintermediation by the Internet, a replacement medium that is increasingly being adopted by world leader ship as a primary pathway for expressing international policy bypassing traditional media. As the media struggles believing it self to be part of policymaking when it is in fact merely an observer of the process, it places former officials like John Brennan into a difficult situation. Personally, his advice and counsel are better served with in the traditional private world of consultative discussions between current and former officials that has been how we carry on the long-term corporate memory of the Nation. That Mr. Brennan clashes with the administration outside of these confidential circles is what causes the current problem that President Trump has been placed in a difficult position to deal with.

 I believe that it is important for the United States to clearly delineate between consultative efforts by former officials in support of the government from public punditry that may interfere with the conduct of the work of the current watch. In the past, we relied on the discretion of these former officials to understand this difference. In the current environment of former officials becoming part of an opposition message marketed news media, this ground rule and assumption begins to falter. The nation must now deal with a cost benefit trade off between the advice that a former official can give versus the damage that a former official can do. The most poignant example of this problem stands before us in the personage of John Brennan.

I would respectfully suggest to President Trump that a rule should be established that a former official who, of his own volition, chooses to leave the cadre of consulted former officials to become a member of an opposition motivated industry should relinquish all connections to the government as part of becoming a member of that media. It is in our national interest that both the administration and Mr. Brennan make it clear that anything he says on the air is formulated from his considered opinion in complete isolation from what is officially happening inside the security and stability policy processes of the government of the United States.

I believe it would be good for both the US government and for Mr. Brennan to formally declare a hard disconnect to make it clear that the debate and disagreement that may or may not continue going forward is based on truly independent and carries no color or implication of authority. Now, I do not believe Mr. Brennan would do this himself. But I believe his employers in the media are doing so as part of their campaign to market the good old days of the Obama administration to their resistance-oriented viewers. Ethically, I don’t think Mr. Brennan should be comfortable being in such an awkward position.

I personally encourage Mr. Brennan to stand on his own soap box alone and proud with his thoughts. I welcome hearing them. However, he should not sanction to imply that his thoughts continue to carry the weight of officialdom well after the end of his tenure in government service. I believe that at some point Mr. Brennan may end his participation in the media. At that time, when he is ready to re-enter the cadre of old guard consultative voices in confidence again; that is when reconsideration of regranting him clearance should occur. In the meantime, his best service to the Nation may be to be the boy blue sounding his horn in the wilderness of the mainstream media.

To President Trump, I would say that I think this is a fair test that all who have at one time served the United States in some capacity of confidence should embrace. We all took an oath. We all made a promise. We all know that that promise is for life. We all know that when our shift ends, we turn it over to the next guy. That’s what makes sense for a great America.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Trump’s Aggressive Shuttle Diplomacy; In Search of the Eurasian Border


President Donald Trump continues to prove himself to be a diplomat who thinks out-of-the-box. The NATO summit in Brussels, despite all it’s testiness and recrimination by his detractors, brings up several realities that the alliance needs to deal with if it is to remain relevant as a contributing body to future world peace.

As a longtime analyst, NATO, in my observation, has been morphing away from being a purely defensive alliance to becoming a de facto expansionist one in the European theater. In concert with the economic agenda of the European Union, NATO has been expanding its presence into eastern Europe coming ever closer to the traditional influence sphere of Russia in the last 25 years. As eastern European countries have discovered the attraction of Western economic advantages, they have sought to join the military alliance as part of their migration from what was the old Warsaw Pact. This has led to some interesting political clashes in this expanded Europe that puts active socialist experiments in Western Europe in league with recovering failed communist experiments in Eastern Europe. Within this loose union, this new European landscape has proven to have all of the hill and valley complexities that have marked such matrices throughout history; and it is a tenuous matrix as best, as the world has witnessed the players within the EU/NATO system experimenting, sometimes dangerously, to define the future of their sphere of influence.
                                                        
All of this ebullience has not gone unnoticed on the eastern border of the new NATO where the power shifts into the hands of mother Russia. In the minuet of set piece warfare that forms the long wave undertone of conflict for Europe ever since the end of the Hundred Years War, these subtle border shifts expanding eastward have the net effect of an invasion not unlike the threat of Operation Barbarosa was to the motherland’s Steppes in the mid-20th Century.

Russia, for its part, has sought to adjust and consolidate its latter day version of a Maginot line making shifts to territorial alignments to fix haphazardly drawn borders from the aftermath of the Cold War. This has caused, and will continue to cause, a growing tension between the evolving nouveau Europe, a $14 trillion GDP federation, and the prideful but poor order of magnitude poorer eastern empire of Vladimir Putin. This economic disparity makes for a very real and volatile border tension reality.

But wait. Let’s take a step back for a second from our perspective as the outside third party. What is the national interest of the United States when looking at the evolution of these two very important spheres of influence that characterize most of the northern half of the Eurasian continent?

Clearly, we see value in both of these power spheres. We have a long history of interaction with both western Europe and Russia. We have cultural and strategic reasons for wanting to have productive relations with both. Simple pragmatism dictates that EU/NATO and Russia are both equally vital to our strategy to ensure global stability and world peace. These two spheres, along with China, are the fundamental building blocks of a likely future northern alliance that could at some point replace the peacekeeping function of the United Nations; an organization now suffering from the ill effects of too much autocratic world mediocrity and prejudice disguised as international democracy. Therefore, it does fall to the United States to be the bringer of tough love to the alliance.

And that is precisely what the president of the United States did at the NATO summit. President Trump recognized the self-interest of EU/NATO Europe to build a sphere of influence within which its evolving federation can grow. He then pointed out that if this is the aim of this new EU, it would have to fund it’s military border with the Russians much more indigenously. In his policy position, it is apparent to me that Donald Trump did the calculus of deterrence. It’s not that hard. He spelled out to the Western Europeans the simple formula that a 4% of GDP commitment to military spending is what it would take to sustain a fully credible deterrent of the type that would stabilize the border between the Western and Russian spheres of influence. It’s a simple global stability equation; one that both the Europeans and the Russians can, and very well do, understand. Mr. Trump, who if you haven’t been reading Twitter, understands that plain and direct messaging gets results when it comes to asserting influence, set the 4% line because it is a plain language message that even economists would understand. Yes, that was a dig. Here is the simple math. 4% of the GDP of Western Europe in aggregate spent on defense is roughly 50% of Russia’s GDP. It creates the conditions for resilient stability; an overwhelming deterrent advantage in the mission to stabilize a sphere of influence border.

Mr. Trump further recognizes the dangerous nuance that the spending pain by NATO has to be equitably distributed among all of the members. It creates this business concept called “buy in”. It is astute acumen by Mr. Trump. Every student of military history that has studied Europe knows that a failure to ensure parity in participation eventually leads to disastrous outbreaks of European warfare. Don’t repeat the League of Nations mistake; it’s bad. It was clear to me in Mr. Trump’s messaging that he had thought long and hard about far more complex elements than people give him credit for. The summit ended with grudging pledges of new commitment. President Trump called it a success; probably more of a strategic success that an everyone feels good one. As they say, sweat equity.

Back to all about “US”. What does that buy the national interest agenda of the United States? In global stability, everything is an enabler. Things are a turn within a tun within a turn. The next logical step is, for anyone paying attention, already coming into play.

On July 15 in Helsinki, Mr. Trump will meet with Mr. Putin in what will be a private bilateral relations discussion between two major military powers and world affairs influences. The USA will ponder thoughts with the nation most critical to enabling global stability in the lower 2/3 landmass of planet earth. It’s a tumultuous co-dependency for sure; but then again, so was perpetuating a Cold War for decades while waiting to find out if the Reich would rise again? What? You didn’t think that was a big part of why we both did it?

Economically, it’s another order of magnitude disparity. The US with it’s over $16 trillion GDP dwarf’s Russia; although, the two leaders do share parallel concerns about certain portions of their federations being economically problematic. Housekeeping is a universal pain it the butt. Still, President Trump will be bringing the vast richness of the United States, who’s GDP as a single nation equals and exceeds the entirety of Western Europe’s; and is matched by only one other trading partner, China, to the chat room. Economically, it will be a giant sitting down to talk to a dwarf, a very prideful dwarf. Militarily it will be a unique peer like no other on this planet having a heart to heart discussion about what to do to bring peace to troubled regions in the world; with the combined imperial power to make those changes happen.

Mr. Trump has set a very interesting stage indeed.

Parting Shot

I understand that the news media is captive to reporting the blow-by-blow minutia of events as they unfold. But this is not the way to view these events. This is more like watching the story arc of a grand play unfold. Ultimately, it is left to us, the citizens, to discern the movie from the soundbites.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Childish Border Wars; Wrong Border?


US immigration policy has had a rough time of it lately. On January 30, 2018, President Donald Trump asked Congress to pass comprehensive reforms on immigration trying to end an arduous era of border policy by executive order that began long before his administration. So far, no joy as Mr. Trump faces bi-partisan opposition in the Legislative Branch seemingly more incentivized to kick the can down the road so as to preserve the immigration issue as a talking point for electoral politics. This has forced the Executive Branch to go back to effecting border policy via Executive Order; and oddly, put @realdonaldtrump, as the President is known on Twitter, in the same less than desirable muddling box as his predecessor Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama both share episodes of dealing with families arriving on the US border seeking asylum. Mr. Obama’s problems occurred in 2014 when a wave of people fleeing turmoil in Central America reached the US border after traveling through Mexico. The event overwhelmed the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Services as well as the those of the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The result was a rash of family detentions triggering the issue of child separations that Mr. Obama’s administration, also getting little help from Congress, coped with via Executive Order as it sorted out who could stay in the US and who had to return to their countries of origin. In Obama’s case, after trying to separate children and failing, and unable to detain entire families while their cases were pending, the federal government ultimately decided to use a form of electronic hostage taking as part of its enforcement strategy. Obama instructed the federal apparatus to place ankle tracking bracelets on the legs of the mothers, a direct threat to the central figure of these family units.

In 2018, the US formally changed the authorized ceiling of the number of refugees allowed into the country radically cutting the figure. This recognizes a policy change that began with the new administration that shifted US protocol from attempting to fill quotas to the maximum each year to one of practicing a higher-degree of scrutiny in who qualifies for the US refugee program. It is important to note that this pattern of “extreme vetting” has manifested in other ways including Trump’s day one ban on entry by persons from certain at-risk nations know to be sources of radicalized terrorism; a national security policy that was also pursued with less success by Trump’s predecessor Obama. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, presidents are, in the end, caretakers of national interests that precede and survive their tenures.

Recent Political Asylum Refugees
Year         Ceiliing Actual
2013 70,000 69,925
2014 70,000 69,987 Wave of Central American refugees.
2015 70,000 69,993
2016 85,000 84,995 Last year of Obama Administration
2017 110,000 53,716 First year of Trump Administration
2018 45,000 15,383     (est. ytd)

Mr. Trump’s administration now faces a new recourse dilemma triggered by a toughening of US policy in the direction of “enhanced scrutiny”, or using media’s adopted the hyperbole term from school politics, “zero tolerance” policies on the border. In Mr. Trump’s case, the shift in policy has run into same double-edged sword that beset his predecessor. The problem is triggered by a mismatch in timing in how US law works.

The US Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) § 208(d)(5) states that asylum interviews should take place within 45 days after the date the application is filed, typically the day a person presents themselves to US authorities, and a decision should be made on the asylum application within 180 days after the date the application is filed, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

The stress on the system today, as it was in Obamas time, is that there’s a Judicial Branch court order that impinges upon the I.N.A. timeline. It starts in 1985 when the daughter of actor Ed Asner’s housekeeper was detained by the then US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Her name was Jenny Flores. Jenny’s father had been killed in El Salvador and she was attempting to join her mother in the US, an illegal immigrant worker in the employ of Mr. Asner. The case exposed a problem of long term indeterminate detentions of minors in inadequate facilities within the INS system.

Initially adjudicated in 1987 during the Reagan Administration, it wound up a decade later in 1997 at the US Supreme Court where the Clinton Administration agreed to a settlement, the Flores Settlement, that would have far reaching implications. The Flores Settlement bars the detention of minors for more than 20 days and requires that children be held in facilities licensed as state-approved daycare centers, barring special circumstances.

This mismatch of timing caused Mr. Obama to take mothers as hostages because he could not get the courts to budge and is now causing Mr. Trump to pursue political lighting rod changes to US law. As part of the Executive Order to detain families together, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions is once again asking the US courts to adjustment the Flores Settlement. Mr. Trump is trying to avoid Mr. Obama’s jewelry solution; but he’s got to go through the US 9th District Circuit, one of the most activist in the country. My guess is it won’t end well.

That’s not the problem. This is! We are dealing with these people on the wrong border.

The international law on asylum is that the asylum seeker is supposed to present themselves to the authorities of the first international border they reach upon fleeing their countries. For Central Americans, that country is Mexico; specifically, the southern border of Mexico. The way it is supposed to work, that country, with aid from the international community, is supposed to set up refugee camps. It is from these camps, that other organizations such as the US Office for Refugee Resettlement are supposed to process persons to qualify them for movement from the camps to a third host nation. If this were the Middle East, the analogy would be people in Iraq and Syria fleeing ISIS going to U.N. camps in Jordan.

I do not understand why the US is not insisting that these conventions be followed. This is not a money issue. The US is a rich enough nation that we have the money to support such refugee camps unilaterally; heck, we pay for most of them around the world as it is. They are a good idea given that other Central and South American countries teeter on the edge of collapse of the kind that can and will lead to mass exodus.

One would think that the U.N. Commission on Human Rights would be all over this. BUT NO! Ok, so the U.N. are a bunch of useless puds as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley are quick to explain. Well fine then. To heck with the U.N., there’s the option of solving this as an Organization of American States (OAS) issue where, again, the North American economies can well afford to implement asylum infrastructure in the Western Hemisphere without needing help from the rest of the planet thank you very much.. Why is this not a top of mind conversation?  Why is this not part of the media narrative?  Why isn't this what gets asked about  on in Congressional hearings?

Personally, I’d advice President Trump to go all out on Mexico using trade and tariff leverage while offering the carrot of relief if Mexico cooperates in doing its part to set up proper refugee infrastructure to make the Organization of American States Great Again … so to speak.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Double Standards, Leadership Hubris, Softened Professional Walls Bring Out Human Frailty at the FBI



The Inspector General’s Report finally arrived.  The long-awaited proof of the powerful conspiracy to whitewash the “gross negligence” of Hillary Clinton.  On first pass, it’s a bit of an anticlimax play that speaks so much about the frailty of man in the face of power as Thomas Jefferson used to put it.

Dramatically, the saddest part in the 528-page report is a direct action by a Clinton.  Specifically, former President Willian Jefferson Clinton, imposing himself in a meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the tarmac in Phoenix.  The meeting “went on and on” saying nothing.  It created discomfort to the point that Lynch sought the advice of the ethics counsel and ultimately steeled herself to accept whatever the FBI recommended be done about Mrs. Clinton.  The reading between the lines is clear.  This chapter of the report is a love poem.  It’s a story about a man who knows the woman he loves has done something terribly wrong begging for mercy; how the mighty do have feet of clay.

But it’s also clear in this report that the double standard of behavior for public figures is a chasm from the public's.  The IG’s report’s preamble goes to great pains to says it avoids second guessing the course and outcome of the Clinton email investigation.  It mentions, but does not opine, on the pattern of mitigation of interpretation of US law that ultimately not only resulted in a declination to recommend prosecution but the removal of language in describing the offense that would have argued strongly in the opposite direction.  My fairness opinion on this after reading the applicable law is that someone should have gone to jail for violating 28 CFR 793(f), the "gross negligence" provision. That public figures get a pass on actions that would send ordinary Americans to federal prison is a cancer that begs introspection.

The eye of this storm in this report was James Comey.  He is the central actor in the play.  The one who’s choices caused everything else to pivot around.  The IG report is not wishy washy at all about its conclusion that Comey screwed the pooch twice by acting out of school when he should have followed procedure. Both times he committed failures of hubris speaking out of turn and bypassing chain of command.  The IG is correct in counseling that he should have gone by the book and let the external realities of the case wreak whatever havoc they should have.  The bottom line lesson for the future is that it’s better to let legitimate scandals happen than create artificial ones inside your own head.  It undermines trust and is an example of elitism in DC at its worst.  Sadly, it’s also petty.  If Comey had trusted in the design of how government and law are supposed to work in this country, much of this would have been different.  In theatric translation, where Loretta turned a deaf ear to Bill, Jim gave Hillary his heart.  Jim chose poorly.

As a result of Comey’s choices, the FBI was reduced to mediocrity, not by bad personnel, but by aimless purpose. That the IG found so many actions questionable and unconvincing should be no surprise; when you don't have equal protection under the law, clarity turns to mud.  Governance and law give way to politics and gossip; an entire country takes a ride on a roller coaster it didn’t have to. And here we are still in denial that 28 CFR 793(f) needs to be enforced.

As to the many supporting actors, Washington D.C. is a town of dangerous political diversity. It remains best navigated with bourbon and cigars.  There's nothing wrong with this. The system is designed to operate well as long as the wall between private like and professional conduct is maintained. Most people do so in the Beltway even as they enjoy the salacious aspects of capitol culture. That players will falter here and there is normal. Catching and counseling them is normal too. I did not really see that there was much more than common garden variety human frailty at work here.  Lovers get careless and mix play with their work. That doesn’t make them bad people.  Gossip worthy yes; but not enemies of the state. The system has the capacity to tolerate such humanity and keep working as long as leadership insists on professionalism in official activity.  The lessons documented in this part of the IG report applies beyond just the FBI. The IG is right to call for tighten up the ship.

Sound general quarters.  It’s time for drills.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Does Political Correctness Cause School Shootings? An Inconvenient Question for the Federal Commission on School Safety


In March 2018, following a shooting incident in Parkland, Florida, President Donald Trump formed the cabinet level Federal Commission on School Safety charged with coming up with a range of recommendations to improve school safety. Chaired by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the commission also includes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. The commission has formally met once and is to deliver a set of proposals to the President by the end of the year.

As the commission does its work, constituencies of every kind seek to influence it. From Congress and its lobbyists through the grass roots of Americans, people hope the answers that soothe them the most will be the ones that prevail in the final recommendations. I’m not so sanguine about finding better tomorrows within knee jerk responses. I believe that the Commission will not truly have done its work unless it fully deconstructs the pieces of how America got here, identifies the operative errors we made to our cultural norms, and explains the root causes and solutions to the American people. Anything short of that is a placebo.

In the 1990’s, I remember having a poignant conversation with James Q. Wilson, then a professor at my alma mater, the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA. Jim was a world class intellectual able to see out of the box on strategic, cultural and law enforcement matters. I met him first as a teacher. It turned out he and I shared a common past in strategic nuclear warfare and would find additional common paths to walk in the realm of developing theories about community policing. In both cases, he was the academic and I was the practitioner. He analyzed with words, I analyzed with computer code. Both paths led to deeper understandings about the insides of Pandora’s Boxes. This conversation was about the phenomenon of political correctness.

The rise of political correctness or PC as it was referred to then has roots deep in the Ivory Towers of social engineering. It was a product of arrogant elitism by people who believed they knew better than ordinary people. They had identified American Culture itself as the impediment to their dreams; that lack of cultural cadence that infuriated deeply felt existential and Marxist beliefs that find so much nurture in the safe spaces of tenured academia. They correctly recognized that the only way to defeat that enemy was to asymmetrically attack this culture. Thus, the strategy of deconstruction of language and meaning began, innocuously at first; but growing in rigidity over time. I remember the key word of the entire thing. The term “shouldn’t” became “mustn’t”. The attack vector to spread this cultural breakdown and remaking of America was obvious, the unprotected and vulnerable educational system. Wilson was always quick to point out that this was exactly how you created “systemic risks”. He was fond of saying whatever we teach today will be the social crisis a quarter century from now. From the mid-1990’s, it’s now been over 25 years.

Ivory Fortresses, Thought Prisons

Some perspective about the sheer power of asymmetric effect of education on US society is in order here. Where the US military indoctrinates 3% of the US population in to a culture of service, the school system indoctrinates 100% of America’s children.

In the decades since PC emerged, the schools have turned the concept of “mustn’t” into Orwellian zero tolerance. The deconstruction of American culture where tradition is vile and conventional values are evil have become pervasive. A student or teacher who believes outside the sanctioned thought lives an insular existence in a hostile workplace at best, is a bullied outcast at worst. Expression is punishable, both socially and academically. Values and norms, even those perfectly acceptable off campus, must be left at the gate by children who’s mental development knows nothing of the abstract post-doctoral concepts being forced upon them; it’s like using a sledgehammer to crack walnuts open, you destroy things in the process. They are too young to know that within a setting that purports to be a haven for their bodies and minds, they are in fact, closer to being like political prisoners or hostages in much the same sense that conquerors throughout history have sought to wipe out cultures. These children are too innocent to see that their families’ values, the things that make them happy, the things that make them unique, are the system’s enemy.

As that conversation in the 1990’s asked, “What happens when that school systems sees the America outside the Ivory Bubble as the enemy at the gate? How does that affect those young minds to be told that their parents are bad people because they think differently? That ideas are evil." Well of course it makes the children uncomfortable; they have real feelings and understand rejection. And statistically, when you deliberately make impressionable people uncomfortable, some of them will get angry, and some of them will lash out. This doesn’t just happen in schools; it happens in work places, it happens in the streets. It happens because someone who thought they knew better pushed the most vulnerable outcasts into the desperate corners of their minds; and probably fueled that angst with psychotropic medications. It’s wrong.

I respectfully suggest that, in our bullish brashness, we may have inadvertently made the perfect storm for school shootings. We created a systemic risk to America that’s become a perfect laboratory where we take lost children, so far mostly boys, who are vulnerable to stress and push them over the edge. Their needs often neglected at home, we set up the system to neglect their needs at school; indeed, we set up the system to reject the validity of their existences.

And it gets worse. As parents who can afford to pull their children out of public schools to put them either into private schools or home schooling, the concentration of distressed youths per capita in the remaining zero tolerance environment gets even higher. And these unwanted young people become valuable economic commodities on campuses because the public education system in this country gets paid by the body. This means we exacerbate the problem year by year essentially condemning those who cannot escape financially to the full force of zero’er tolerance; think of it as the quantitative easing of young impressionable minds. The dissonant cultures of outcast America are forced to collide within the walls of the educational keep, every rejection and pain filled day. And we wonder why kids snap? Let’s admit something to ourselves. We are bullying our children to make theoretical elitism feel good.

Somewhere in all of this we must remember that the American school system’s civic mission is to not to train future social justice warriors, it is to prepare children to become good, tolerant Americans. There's a critical thinking case to be looked into as to whether all of the elite social theories we have used our own children as guinea pigs to experiment on have netted to the good or to the bad of the generations we've "engineered" in the pursuit of our own hubris. It may take an entire deconstruction and redesign of education with attendant changes in financial incentives and retraining of educators and administrators to make it right. It will be uncomfortable to look in the mirror and admit to our frailties. But if the Federal Commission on School Safety can help the process along, maybe our schools can be the havens they once were again.

Maybe we won’t be such politically correct monsters this time.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Playing Hardball to Create Peace in the Middle East



On the same day the United States opens its new embassy in Jerusalem, Hamas sends dozens to die in suicidal waves on the Israeli border with Palestine. Both moves are statements; one strategic, the other desperate. Seemingly at odds, when combined, the Middle East is saying it’s time to move on. In asymmetric stokes, the United States is declaring that the past is the past; that there is no peace in it; that the road ahead is new, unpaved, and uncharted. Hamas, one of the vestiges of that past, screams in agony that the ears in the region have gone deaf to their pleas.

Changing the Game

The Middle East of the latter half of the 20th Century and dawn of the 21st has been a multi-party matrix of polarities based on volatile combinations of highly charged win-lose scenarios. This is not an area where win-win diplomacy has worked well. It is also not an area peace by force has provided anything more that temporary respite. Mostly, the Middle East’s core competency is grinding human flesh into meat. Both taking life and losing life have become commodities measured in hundreds of thousands of graves. Planet Earth has seen hundreds of thousands of innocent lives taken over the hubris of greed and power. Cousins turn into blood feud enemies. Neighbors on one day turn guns on each other the next. The reasons are many, almost all are pointless. Dreams of influence and power, control of trade and natural resources, ethnic cleansing for the sake of religious intolerance; all it’s done is left too many women who sell flowers and little boys who sell ice cream dead in forgotten ditches or splattered like paint onto the rubble of explosive debris. These examples are not fiction. Diplomacy, the kind that talks but does not act, has done little but keep the killing fields fertile.

Creating paths to peace requires choosing winners arbitrarily. Not by promoting self-determination; we already know the warring parties there’s choice is to perpetuate death as their coin of negotiation. Frankly, it’s how they milk the system. No. If we want real peace we need to take endless negotiation out of the equation. The world, or rather the powerful of the world, need to pick the outcomes and the pathways to manage the fate of the losers.

Benevolent Manifest Destiny

The Machiavellian model here is not democracy, it’s the marshaling of resources to impose better outcomes. The analogy that comes to mind is the taming of the American West. The latter 1800’s in America was a period when wars as a tool of statecraft were ending and the rule of law began to eclipse armies of occupation. The tool used for this was the US Circuit Court system of judges and marshals that had the power, in their individually jurisdictions to declare parties legitimate or outlaws; and enforce order under the shield of law accordingly. It eventually turned territories onto states that became self-governing with individually unique qualities; the American West the world knows today.

Let’s look at one facet of this puzzle. The clearest case for this ahead is in the country of Syria where stability is probably only possible by sectoring the country into imposed districts.

Northwestern Syria, the section held by Bashar al-Assad and this Alawites, is the new East Germany. It’s district judge is Russia. Its problem is the purging of what’s left of al-Qaeda and its various expressions of al Nusra and ISIS. Caught in this crossfire are the non-Alawite democratic factions that used to be part of a more inclusive Syria of a few decades ago but are in constant danger of teetering into the clutches of warlords who might turn the region into another Afghanistan. The conflict metaphor here is the sectarian governance of the Alawite model vs. the heavy-handed Salafist model of al Qaeda. The question for the world is how to enable the district judge to succeed in making sure the Alawite model prevails and northwestern Syria moves past the human rights sins of both Assad and his Islamist foes while seeking the restoration of broader inclusiveness in a post-Assad northwestern Syria. The latter is a challenge because the designated judge, Russia, isn’t exactly the most inclusive or tolerant of players.

Southern Syria is the section occupied by the Iranians. This is the westernmost projection of what is called the Shia Crescent, Imam controlled Iran’s dream of regional Middle East dominion. It is the powder keg and flash point of Middle East instability. The inability of Iran to get to the shores of the Mediterranean because the path is blocked to the west by the Israelis has been marked by military posturing and dueling that shows no sign of abating. This is metaphor here is immovable trench warfare. The only actual solutions are for either (a) Iran to abandon its agenda or (b) Israel and Iran to reach a peaceful armistice that allows for constructive economic conditions to emerge. For that, cooler heads, particularly in Iran, need to prevail. This is not presently feasible. Oddly, the decision of the US to abandon the 2014 Nuclear Treaty with Tehran actually creates a new basis for resolving the southern Syria issue by opening a pathway to tie Tehran’s regional behavior not just in Syria but in the Nineveh Plains of Iraq to a new round of negotiations. The gambit is reinforced by the US overture inviting participation by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, who are showing encouraging signs of liberalizing proactively, to help stabilize eastern Syria. The move, in military parlance, closes a salient created by the Iranians during the ISIS period further pushing them to an inevitable negotiated outcome. This is bold move stuff being pushed by cool cucumbers like US president Donald Trump and his team. A second Nobel Peace Prize would be well earned if it works.

Eastern Syria is the American sector. This is about as close as it gets to the frontier conditions of the American West of the 1800’s; where the American military occupies and patrols in a role more akin the the U.S. Cavalry of the Wild West. We sit on a powder keg on the knife edge of military governorship. And regionally, this is the most difficult sector to possess. Where western and southern Syria are set piece containments, eastern Syria harbors a flashpoint for a far broader regional breakdown. It’s because of the Kurds. A partner to facilitating America’s occupation agenda, the dream of an independent Kurdistan holds within it a war that would engulf Syria, Turkey and Iraq for a century. It may be ok with the Kurds who see only their hopes with myopic intensity; but everyone else who looks into this abyss sees casualty numbers that would equal if not exceed what the region has already suffered. The US has counseled both patience to the Kurds, difficultly, and accommodation by the sovereign nations within which the Kurds live, with even more difficulty. It will test the United States’ ability to reluctantly manage conflicting party coexistence over a long term yet again. On the plus side, there is probably no other nation on earth whose own history of being forged out of diverse dissonance can ascend. Perhaps that is why God has placed us in that part of the His former Garden of Eden at this point in human history.

We do stand a chance at this. The philosophy of “nation building” American-style has been applied in other tumultuous environments with success. The United States, under the command of Douglas MacArthur, used similar methods to stabilize the post-Spanish Empire colony of the Philippine Islands in the early 20th Century. MacArthur, a product of a flowering of other statesmen-generals like Marshall, Eisenhower, and others who saw the world stage as manageable, repeated the formula again in post-Imperial Japan after World War II. The United States, post MacArthur, did the same in a place called South Korea; a country that is about to bear the fruits of America’s sixty-eight (68) years of patience and commitment. Anyone who tries to tell you the USA doesn’t have the ability or skill to play the long game, don’t you believe it. We have, many times.

The only times we’ve lost on this planet is when we’ve abandoned and left regions to wallow in their own misery. The vacuum effect of our missing influence has been consistent; slow economic recovery in places strewn with uncleared minefields and, in too many instances, death due to gang warfare between criminal warlords. We’ve learned a little that our choices have consequences, probably not enough. But maybe enough to give the world a few more miracles to remember.

I’ll close by noting that I’ve written about his subject in the past. The last time I pointed out that the United States must ponder the long-term implications of our destiny on the world stage was 2003. At the time, we were arguing about the weapons of mass destruction of one Saddam Hussein and debating whether to invade Iraq. I wrote we’d have to have the stomach to stay for at least 75 years to do it right. I recall at that time there was another fellow being quoted as saying similarly pensive things.

His name was Donald J. Trump.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Cold Partnerships: The Complexity of Syria

Photo Credit: Reuters

On Friday April 13, 2018, US President Donald J. Trump appeared on television announcing the commencement of punitive airstrikes on chemical weapons research and storage installation of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. Joining the US in the attack, the United Kingdom and France, struck in response to renewed attacks by the Assad regime against insurgents in the city of Douma located east of the Syrian capital of Damascus. A chemical attack on April 7th killed an estimated forty-two (42) people and effected degrees of injuries on up to 500 more persons following yet another breakdown in a Russian brokered cease fire between factions in Syria’s ongoing civil war. Images and stories in the aftermath highlighted the humanitarian cruelty of the Assad’s sectarian Alawites against their Muslim neighbors. Toxicology and treatment reports from the area reported the use of a nerve agent possibly combined with chlorine, apparently an attempt to conceal the deadlier compounds. The ordnance was reportedly delivered via the Assad regime’s favored method, Syrian Air Force helicopter dropped barrel bomb(s). Typical of the subterfuge that is the Middle East, cover up stories seeking to muddy the finger pointing as to who actually perpetrated the attack followed; a number of them designed to cause doubt that the insurgents themselves may have martyred their own in an attempt to gain attention on the world stage as government forces closed in. Planted pictures, the “fake news” of hacktivism and the exploitation of the internet.  You want to know more about how sophisticated that gets?  Google “Syrian Electronic Army”

The global response so far has been surgically forceful. If you examine it from all sides, rather cooperatively so. The Russians could not have been happy that their attempt at brokering a cease fire in a relentless civil war had failed yet again. The US, which the week before had been contemplating ramping down operations as the war against ISIS waned, found itself dragged into the troubles of Western Syria, where the US does not operate, to deal with a breach of the Chemical Weapons Conventions. The Iranians and Israelis, who had been playing their own tit-for-tat in southern Syria, found their squabbles on the global back burner. And even Turkey, itself embroiled in the sticky multi-national pickle in northern Syria dealing with the Kurdish question of a culture straddling three countries who would rather not have to deal with them except that they’ve managed to charm the Americans, found themselves having to think global.

The world began to maneuver recognizing that the nation of Syria, its civil war including all its factions, had once again crossed that mythical Red Line in the Sand. Except this time, the United States was telegraphing it as going to make good on the threat to pound that sand. In the week between the 7th and 13th the world saw a global negotiation via diplomatic, press and social media channels. Negotiated gruffly yes, but amazingly efficiently turned into an actionable “deal”.

Alignments of Strategic Interests

There is no compelling global interest to take on the task of policing the civil war in western Syria. The “Deliver Us from Evil’ era of human rights interventionism of the last quarter century in places like Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq is over. This dispute is for the Syrians to work out for themselves. The world’s present-day mission is to contain civil wars, not end them.

Digging deeper, there is no compelling interest for non-Syrian regional players to attempt sudden gains in the regional “hill and valley” power matrix while this latest episode unfolds.  Consider,

The Iranians need a more stable Syria with a surviving Assad regime if they ever hope to complete their Shia Crescent hopes to reach the Mediterranean. Tehran’s main worry in the future is less America than it is whether America vigorously back the inevitable Saudi and Israeli opposition to the Persian dream.

The Turks similarly see no gain to upsetting the Syrian status quo to their south; they’re more worried that a break up of Syria would trigger a question of the Kurds in Syria, Iraq and Turkey demanding independence and possibly getting American help. This does not serve the Erdogan regime’s objectives.

The Iraqis just want to be left alone to rebuild their country on their own. Their fear is the “Wild West” might come across their border and infect them yet again. I once had a conversation with a diplomat where it came up that Iraq needs a, wait for it, “wall” to keep the Syrian mess on the far side of the Nineveh Plain from Baghdad. I did joke that they could try talking to the best wall builders in the Middle East about that. The response of a charming diplomatic smile noted that perhaps it’s a bit too soon.

What is compelling?

What there is when you get down to the core is a compelling interest to act to curtail the continued use of chemical weapons within the Syrian civil war. That need is paramount regardless of who is perpetrator or victim. As in Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, in the end, there are no innocents here anymore. Only those who will die and those who will survive.

What bothers humankind is that there is demonstrated capability and willingness to use chemical weapons in the region. This cannot be allowed. The pathways of negotiation, even by a forceful presence like Russia’s, did not work. Sanctions did not work. Threats did not work. The next step of infrastructure destruction has become a necessity, not an option. It’s interesting to note on this point that the Russians could not themselves destroy Assad’s chemical weapons program, that job had to fall to the militaries of the West. Machiavellian. A turn, within a turn, within a turn.

The West did so with the bulk of the firepower supplied by the United States. Warning time was sufficient to allow the Russians to move personnel and assets out of the area, or at least into avoidable locations; an action that stripped Assad of the ability to defend himself when aerial attack finally came. Regardless of bellicose bluster, that chess converted a field of technically capable air defense assets into a motley collection of bottle rockets. I particularly liked the Russian statement that they would “defend themselves” as a cool nuance.

The telegraphy of statecraft is subtle and consequential. The dance between Trump and Putin as it played out, telepathic … and hopeful.  Within the Twitter storm of the past week, there was this.


For now, mischief managed. Tomorrow? Well that’s another day in the former Garden of Eden.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Those Meddlesome Russians


Russian relations with the Western nations of planet earth are in a tailspin. Scandal erupts over the use of a nerve agent to poison former KGB spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the United Kingdom. The incident ignited concerns of over core principles of international law concerning states failing to honor the sovereign rights of other nations. In global stability, this is a critical barrier between peace and war among nations whose inherent national interests often do not align. It is dangerous precedent, that if allowed to stand, could enable other nations or their actors to pursue perceived enemies with impunity anywhere, regardless of the laws of the nation where the target is located.

Western nations are reacting using an international response strategy sometimes referred to as DIME. It stands for Diplomacy, Intimidation, Militancy and Economic response. They operate as a quartet in managing global stability in cases. So far, the first two response silos have been activated. Intimidation, also known as exposure and shaming, has been acrimonious by the U.K. including Prime Minister Theresa May public calling out the Russian government in parliament. Diplomatically, Britain and the United States have expelled Russian diplomatic personnel, 23 for the U.K. and 60 by the U.S. The Russians, also practitioners of DIME, have so far only activated a diplomatic response by similarly expelling an equal number of diplomats. Overall, despite all the news coverage and posturing, a muted tit-for-tat at best.

Epic Chasm

For westerners who live in cultures where criticism and defiance of the state is considered a virtue of democratic debate, the appearance of the statecraft and governance of societies like Russia’s where the image and stability of the state stands above that of the citizenry is a bit of a head bender. But in places like Russia, the security of the state is paramount. Russia is a large and poor country. Seventy-five of the eighty-five districts of the Russian Federation are insolvent. Keeping things together constitutes a large portion of the work of the central government in Moscow. Execution of this effort in Russia is not democratic by any means. The central government works though oligarchies that create a semblance of economic stability; albeit, through a corruption prone system rivaling that of any third world ninety-nine percent of the wealth in one percent’s hands. To obtain the narrowest of tenuous hold, Russia sacrifices the quality of life of its people.

Sanctioned Criminals

This generates one of the truly macabre path dependent technology revolutions on planet Earth. Russia is an amazingly intellectual society. Think of a place where community colleges can produce scientists and engineers rivaling the products of MIT, Georgia Tech and Cal Tech in the US. Back in the day, I used to joke with my friends in the stealth aircraft and electronic warfare specialties of the defense game that, as a net assessment risk and stability analyst, I always found it funny that most of the math equations they worked with were named after Russians, and the Reds did their calculations using pencils. They were not amused.

But Russia’s tiny $1.2 Trillion GDP economy cannot absorb all this brain talent into domestic industry. All that talent is poor and looking for something to do. Remember from earlier in this article that the Russian government’s main goal in life is to preserve the stability and image of the state. They are not dumb. They know they have a festering unemployed talent problem that they need to keep distracted while they figure out how to, somehow, centrally plan the growth of the Russian economy’s eighty-five federation districts, such is the way of socialists.

Thus, here comes the resurgence of the old concept of criminal privateering; the sanctioning of unscrupulous behaviors for gain. In technology that means looking the other way as the pauper technocrats engage in credit card fraud, computer hacking, and unethical datamining. In some cases, for personal profit; in other cases, for hire. The simple rule of the letter of mark for a privateer applies. You can do whatever you want as long as you don’t point your stick at Mother Russia; none of that western democracies questioning the state stuff. Indeed, Russia’s FSB has shown it remains stalwart in it’s viciousness against enemies of the state. Pretty sure the Skripals would agree. Today, you can buy any sort of meddle for hire from Russia’s technocrat class; and Moscow will quietly look away so long as you do not violate the social compact of aiming that meddle outside the castle keep.

Thoughts on the Mueller Investigation

And so we get to the alleged Russian meddling in the US 2016 election. By 2016, the Russian system of criminal privateering for hire had reached organizational maturity just in time to meet the demands of the gigantic multi-million dollar ($USD) budgets of intensely competitive presidential campaign motivated to stop at nothing to win. Russia’s pauper technocrats were looking at making five to fifteen times the amount of money a month than they’ve ever dreamed. Moscow correctly judged that it didn’t actually affect the domestic image or stability of the Russian Federation. Therefore, it was ok to look the other way as “Peggy” robots went to work for all sides in American politics resulting in social pandemonium and breakdown of decorum in America. For profit, not policy.

In the end, will the USA, indeed the world, learn the lesson that the reforms we really need are to place safeguards and ethics around our elections, and our economic, not to fall prey to sending checks to pauper technocrats who will use nonsensical memes to obscure the discussion of important issues; not because they are politically activist, but because it generates more click-thru rates and ad serves. We bought the meddling with our own money. It was never the Russian government’s responsibility to stop the hackers.

Friday, March 16, 2018

"All About Vlad"; What I’d Like to Ask Vladimir Putin If I Could Interview Him


We recently passed the equinox of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall has now been down longer than it was ever up. And the European landscape is once again returning to it’s post-Hundred Years War pattern of smaller political rifts and incremental border movements that it has used to blow off steam since 1,453 A.D. Cities like Sevastopol are once again fought over like the days of old when Hapsburgs went tit-for-tat with each other over strategic towns and valleys. Byzantine intrigue emerges again, the cloaks and daggers of spies replaced by the apparent surgical use of weapons grade toxins. The dour of Theresa May addressing Parliament has the indignant ring not heard in the House of Commons since Margaret Thatcher. The Romans would be proud at what the Romani have rediscovered.

The Russian Federation is a perplexing nation still caught, even after all these years, in the fallout of the Cold War. It’s predecessor, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, cratered spectacularly many years ago after the Berlin Wall fell and the Warsaw Pact vanished from the face of the earth. It’s $1,283 Billion (USD) GDP in 2016 is a dwarf compared to economic powers such as the United States’ $18.6 Trillion (USD), the European Union’s $11.8 Trillion (USD) and China’s $11.1 Trillion (USD) GDP’s in the same year. At barely three percent (3%) the wealth of it’s competitors, it’s the Duchy of Grand Fenwick from the Cold War era film “The Mouse that Roared” starring Peter Sellers. But this movie now stars Vladimir Putin and he is no mouse.

Putin is a complex man with a complex problem. He strikes me as a cross between the fiery bluster of Nikita Kruschev and the broken heart of Boris Yeltsin. He promotes the image of a strong Russia worthy of respect, which it does deserve; but his methods seem to harken back to times when the Soviet Union was run using the designs of a more dictatorial Stalinist state capitalism. He’s seen the economic dreams of his country stalled and thwarted, often by circumstances beyond his control; sometimes by the work of his own, at times overly prideful, hands. Only ten (10) of the eighty-five (85) districts of the Russian Federation are solvent. The poverty rate is at least twice above levels it should be to create the conditions under which a modern first world nation with a constrained elite, burgeoning middle class and high employment rate working class can be a truly self-sustaining economy. Every year that goes by, Russia’s 3% of the GDP of its most important blocks of competitors for global influence creates greater necessity to roar with bravado rather than walk quietly with a big stick.

And he can be clumsily shifty; something that the Obama-era played down but the more pragmatic and tangible result-oriented Trump-era shows little tolerance to put up with. His political apparatus can at times seem comedic, like Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, were it not also as deadly as Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s National Intelligence Organization; with similarly disastrous results in foreign relations that just make it harder for Putin to reach this heart’s national vision. Overall, it’s not a globally stabilizing path.

So the first question I’d like to ask Vladimir Putin is “Can you swallow your pride to reach a better tomorrow?” This is a question not so much for Mr. Putin himself but for this government and its apparatus. The blustery fire resurgent in Russia today is about as effective as the 1950’s Soviet attempt to blockade Berlin. Once again, it’s causing the world to build a new wall. The world, even a Twitter speaking pragmatic Trumpian world can still smell a Red Menace with there’s one in the room; and it will protect itself reflexively from it by isolating the source and cause of the bravado. It’s beginning to happen to Russia as deteriorating trade agreements, narrowing diplomatic ties and confrontive deterrent force postures begin to build and erase the “peace dividend” that people like Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev worked so hard to assemble. This is not a good thing for the 85 districts of the Russian Federation. It’ll leave them poorer and more isolated from the global economy; maybe even less well off than the sacrifices made to endure the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.

Russians went on to be the poorest of the members of an uneasy Cold War era that, quite frankly, had a lot to do with creating a world where it would be impossible to create any more Third Reich’s or Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Spheres. The Russians still wait for their turn, to borrow a term from America’s past, for Reconstruction. But it won’t happen if Russia’s leadership remains prideful. And Vladimir Putin, because of his position, is the man on the spot to either change that path so that Russian pride evolves to for better or degrades into another half century of worsening quality of life for his nation. I’m really curious to know how he and his apparatus sees this challenge they have no choice to face.

And then I’d like to ask an even tougher follow up question. “For the good of the Russian people’s future, are you willing to do what it takes to obtain ‘Most Favored Nation’ (MFN) trading partner status with the United States?” This is a powerfully loaded question. One I’m sure that would not be lost on Mr. Putin. MFN status is the modern equivalent of the US post-World War II Marshall Plan that rebuilt Western Europe and Japan from ruins. The conferring of MFN would establish pathways to create free trade zones with preferred trade and tariff treatment with each of the 85 districts of the Russian Federation. It would raise the standards of living in these districts and create tangible pathways for each of them to become part of the first world economy in ways presently impossible as long as their survival stems solely from the health of their central government in Moscow. For the US, it would create a vast new trading partner that over the next fifty years would almost assuredly blossom for both economies. It’s not unreasonable to envision a future Russia with GDP’s in the $4 to $10 Trillion (USD) range under such bilateral conditions. It’s probably the single most unfulfilled “peace dividend” on this planet from end of both the Second World War and the Cold War.

Are there implied demands that would come from the US to grant MFN status? Of course. Ensuring graft and corruption are nowhere near the economies that would emerge in each of the economic free trade zones so everyone feels comfortable that the risk-reward economics meet competitive world standards is one of them. Altering the behavioral culture of Russia’s central government from one that still believes it is fighting the shadow puppets of the Cold War to one that is focused on being a fully participating member of a hegemon free economic circle of trading partners is another. Put more bluntly, it demands that Russia take the therapy it needs to move beyond the PTSD of losing the Cold War.

One day, I hope to hear Mr. Putin’s reply in person. To be honest, I’d really like to ask Donald Trump and Xi Jinping what they think of the same questions.

Friday, March 9, 2018

“Getting to Yes”; Getting a Little Closer



Global stability is a titanic art. Planet earth is witnessing an earthquake on the 38th parallel. A man made one orchestrated by U.S. president Donald Trump. Since taking office, the president and this team, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, have labored tirelessly to create a “peace through strength” opportunity for the world in the Korean peninsula. Along the way they have garnered the cooperation and assistance of Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian Vladimir Putin to coerce the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea, and its leader Kim Jong-un on a path towards de-nuclearization, peace and normalization; including even the possibility of the peaceful re-unification of the entire Korean peninsula.

I first wrote about this possibility in January 2018 in an article “Getting to Yes”; Can Donald Trump Manage the Ultimate “Art of the Deal” and bring Korea to Camp David?”(1) After a year of global pressure, the thaw in the ice happened, poetically, at the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The two Koreas, countries divided against their will in the 1950’s by a Cold War among the very powers now coercing the north, basically said “WTF, let’s talk.” To the horror of US hawks, South Korean president Moon Jae-in combined forces with North Korea creating goodwill teams and contingents to participate in the Olympiad. American delegations, including Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka, stood in assigned positions next to North Korean general Kim Yong-chol at the closing ceremony on February 25, 2018. All the while, the Koreans talked, like two long lost families meeting anew. Barely eleven days later, Kim Jong-un offered to meet with president Donald Trump. That meeting will happen by May of 2018.

What does it mean for the United States to have a provocateur President? What can a Nation accomplish when it looks at old problems with “out of the box” eyes? What pathways to global stability are open today that were not open when America led incrementally? As noted earlier, American hawks, our crusty contingent that see the world through the lens of the Cold War are aghast at the possibility that a fundamental global stability paradigm they use to frame the meaning of “US leadership” in the world might change pivotally. A world where the 38th parallel is just another mile marker on an empty road to another town is scary when all you’ve known is a world with a Red Menace the speaks in sinister Russian and Chinese tongues. A world where conflicts are economic not nuclear. Back in the 1990’s, theorists that studied post-Cold War global stability organizing alternatives for the planet would describe this as a northern powers option.

We see other artifacts of this “northern” option in things like the emerging steel and aluminum tariff battle between the United States and China. Both countries are struggling with the same question of the sustainability of their base industries even as the global economy in finished goods continues to seek less and less friction to benefit a free market. Neither country has really explained well to their people, or to each other, why it’s perfectly fine to fight over adjustments to tariffs about the things like raw materials such as metals until a sustainable balance for every nation’s domestic, import and export industrial bases are in good order.

Actually, I have to interject that I’ve sort of found the US argument about needing enough steel plants to sustain its defense needs is a weak one in my opinion. I think the there’s a much stronger economic case to be made that the US wants, no needs, to claw back outsourced labor into its domestic economy and create local sources of raw materials supply with which to build the next 50 to 100-year generation of American cities, infrastructure and quality of life. This is something the Chinese can understand, because, they’re doing the exact same thing in China. I respectfully suggest that both nations may do better the rest of this year to negotiate with cooler heads with regards to their practical needs. These are year 2050 and 2100 strategic planning concerns that both countries have vital national interests in finding ways to coexist.

President Trump has a unique opportunity here to frame future coexistence between the Chinese and American economic engines in the context of his domestic infrastructure agenda. If he can find the right champions to explain and campaign it to the US Congress and the American people, despite all the hawks and protectionists that will attempt to derail it, he stands a chance to place the Pacific Rim of planet earth on a better path for posterity. Not a bad “nice to have” created by the catalyst of thinking out of the box with North Korea.

And then there’s Russia. The country that wears the “Scarlet Letter” on its chest, the Red Menace itself. The pinnacle of hawk fears and without whom the next step of demobilization of military might from the end of World War II would turn into plowshares. It’s president Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, plays the role of Dr. Evil in an ever more mediocre rendition of smaller and smaller Fulda Gaps. I wonder if America will ever be able to look beyond the bluster of an echo of Nikita Kruschev that Putin plays up in his role as leader in Russia to also hear the hopes of a Russian patriot who cries to improve the quality of life of his people the way the world once heard Boris Yeltsin cry at the door of a Texas supermarket. They are so loud because they have so little. Russia has a $1.283 trillion dollar GDP compared to the US $18.57 trillion dollar GDP.

Drowned out in the bluster of Putin’s March 1, 2018 speech announcing the defiance of a new generation of destabilizing nuclear weapon delivery systems to put the US and the EU on notice that Russia is not to be trifled with in it’s agenda in places like the Ukraine and Syria, I listened to the other half of Vladimir Putin’s address to his nation. His vow to raise living standards for the people of Russia was just as passionate, I thought maybe even more so. Definitely a mix of Kruschev and Yeltsin in that speech. The press reported on the salacious half of course. And I’m told that true to the Russian sense of humor, the jokes about he’ll raise the standard of living by declaring the poverty line to be half what it is now immediately rang across the cities and villages of the former Soviet Union. I thought that was funny because that’s kind of what the US did by manipulating unemployment figures to only count people actively looking for work as unemployed.

But let me end this week’s column with a message to President Trump and his cabinet. There’s an asymmetric response to Putin that I believe should be explored that would benefit the US and improve yet another global stability facet on the planet.  Consider the possibility of not responding to Russia one dimensionally by deflating his bluster about weaponry. To be sure, American weapon systems technology can respond to almost any Russian weapons initiative. That’s not the problem. Humiliating the Russian military gaining no diplomatic or arms control progress between the two nations is a problem; that is not a path to peace. If I may suggest, look at responding economically.  Not with sanctions, but with carrots. In exchange for not developing this next generation of advanced nuclear delivery technologies, that could very well proliferate to rogues, offer to set up free trade zones within Russia where the US can help improve the quality of life of Russians. Demand corruption free guarantees be made by the Russian government as a condition for the US to help. It plays onto the Kremlin’s needs and desires anyway and they can use the US as a lever to accelerate their clean up. If we do something like this creative version of a latter day Marshall plan, the US potentially gains a preferred export market that would further the agenda of consolidating a stronger US industrial base. I believe this is worth looking into.

I also believe it would create an even more compelling “peace through strength” hand for the United States in May when “Donald the Strong”, as the Chinese call him, meets “Rocket Man”. That just sounds so delightfully WWF doesn’t it?