Saturday, October 31, 2015

The circling back to the Assads continues

If it's Friday, it must be time for another White House strategy on Syria --

Reinforce Jordan’s and Lebanon’s defenses as ISIL is pushed south and west. Enhancing counter-ISIL support in both nations is expected to provide enhanced contingency planning so a strong defense plan is in place and reinforced, the official said. Lebanon likely will have doubled security assistance in its armed forces to protect against ISIL’s and other terrorist groups’ encroachment, the official said.

Lebanon's border with Syria is jointly, if tacitly, managed by the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah. And there's no way for the US to be claiming any contribution to helping Lebanon resist encroachment without some back-channel communication with Hezbollah -- which in any event is also using its control of parts of the border to give the Assads another lifeline to the world.

Brilliant plan.

Don't believe the plain English

David Brooks, expressing patience for the fact that none of the Republican candidate economic plans add up --

At this stage it’s probably not sensible to get too worked up about the details of any candidate’s plans. They are all wildly unaffordable. What matters is how a candidate signals priorities. Rubio talks specifically about targeting policies to boost middle- and lower-middle-class living standards.

David Brooks, after the fiscal cliff imbroglio three years ago, expressing impatience with voters continually believing in economic plans that don't add up --

Ultimately, we should blame the American voters. The average Medicare couple pays $109,000 into the program and gets $343,000 in benefits out, according to the Urban Institute. This is $234,000 in free money. Many voters have decided they like spending a lot on themselves and pushing costs onto their children and grandchildren. They have decided they like borrowing up to $1 trillion a year for tax credits, disability payments, defense contracts and the rest. They have found that the original Keynesian rationale for these deficits provides a perfect cover for permanent deficit-living. They have made it clear that they will destroy any politician who tries to stop them from cost-shifting in this way. Most members of Congress are responding efficiently to the popular will. A large number of reactionary Democrats reject any measure to touch Medicare or other entitlement programs. A large number of impotent Republicans talk about reducing the debt, but are incapable of forging a deal that balances tax increases with spending cuts.

It seems that the voters aren't supposed to interpret candidate promises the same way as the pundit class. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Turf accountancy

Among the bizarre questions in the CNBC hosted Republican presidential primary debate last night --

QUINTANILLA: Governor Bush, daily fantasy sports has become a phenomenon in this country, will award billions of dollars in prize money this year. But to play you have to assess your odds, put money at risk, wait for an outcome that’s out of your control. Isn’t that the definition of gambling, and should the Federal Government treat it as such?

From The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes --

Or, to change the metaphor slightly, professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Solving Syria will involve more of this

Unlike last week's exercise in Russian foreign policy trolling in Moscow, the above meeting might actually be constructive. The Sultan of Oman's delegate on foreign affairs, Yousef bin Alawi bin Abdullah, meets Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Bringing in a player who is (a) not compromised by military involvement, and (b) has a clue what they are doing, usually helps.

Photo: Oman News Agency.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Good luck, Speaker Ryan

The general phenomenon is well covered in the news today, but for a sample of the immature histrionics that Hillary Clinton had to face yesterday regarding Benghazi, it's tough to beat Representative Peter Roskam from Illinois, who had the demeanour of one of those fantasy sports losers yelling at the television as his picks go bad.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Iraq afflicted by analogy excess

Bush administration operative Peter Wehner in yesterday's New York Times bemoaning the crude rhetoric of Ben Carson --

Such rhetorical recklessness damages our political culture as well as conservatism, a philosophy that should be grounded in prudence, moderation and self-restraint. That doesn’t mean that conservatives should not use language that inspires people to act. But they should respect certain rhetorical boundaries. There are some places they shouldn’t go.

Peter Wehner in his former Bush administration operative role, attacking conservative critics of the Iraq war in 2006 --

Why is Mr. Fukuyama so sure people in Iraq and elsewhere don't long for democracy? Just last year, on three separate occasions, Iraqis braved bombs and bullets to turn out and vote in greater numbers (percentage-wise) than do American voters, who merely have to brave lines. Does Mr. Fukuyama believe Iraqis prefer subjugation to freedom? Does he think they, unlike he, relish life in a gulag, or the lash of the whip, or the midnight knock of the secret police? Who among us wants a jackboot forever stomping on his face?

As Corey Robin has elaborated many times, the notion that there was a pre-Trump or indeed pre-Obama golden age of restrained conservative rhetoric is simply laughable.

Also, Asma gave him a shopping list

Perhaps only the White House would be shocked that Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin troll everyone by having a Moscow love-in. Remember when US officials were sure that the Russians were coming around to the idea of easing al-Assad out!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pedant's Corner

Washington Post

Meet Justin Trudeau, the Liberal who just ushered in Canada’s first political dynasty.

Canada's head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, from the ultimate political dynasty.

Monday, October 19, 2015

From Russia with missiles

Barack Obama, 2 October --

Iran and Assad make up Mr. Putin’s coalition at the moment. The rest of the world makes up ours.

Above, Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi today holding a letter from Vladimir Putin in which, according to al-Abadi's press office, he stressed --

Russia's desire to develop bilateral relations with Iraq in various fields, especially in armament and exchange of information to counter Daesh (ISIS) terrorist gangs. In turn, the Prime Minister Dr. Al-Abadi stressed Iraq's desire to build better relations with Russia in order to serve the interests of the two peoples, noting that Iraq faces today a fierce war against Daesh terrorist gangs and needs every international effort to get rid of these gangs and there is a common coordination with Russia on the importance of eliminating terrorism.

The British taxpayer is the one falling into the piranha pool

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's mania for Chinese investment has no better illustration than the way he's trying to use their still small commitment to invest a new nuclear power plant to lock in a massively expensive power source with unknown long-term consequences (BBC):

£89.5 Price per MW/hr guaranteed to EDF by government 
£44 Current price per MW/hr of wholesale electricity in UK

A brilliantly diabolical plot to financially cripple a western country!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

ISIS and other bad dudes

Pentagon --

An Oct. 15 coalition airstrike in northwest Syria killed Abdul Mohsen Adballah Ibrahim al Charekh, also known as Sanafi al-Nasr, a Saudi national and the highest ranking leader of the network of veteran al-Qaida operatives sometimes called the "Khorasan Group," according to a Defense Department statement issued today.

One of the US criticisms of the Russian military campaign in Syria is that they are attacking targets other than ISIS.

The "Khorasan Group" -- a name made up by the US government -- is not ISIS.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Just wait until they hit traffic on the Roosevelt Bridge

Pentagon spokesman trying to make the locations in Iraq seem more vivid when the discussion is of how soon the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) can retake Ramadi from ISIS --

If I were going to put it in more colloquial terms, I would say the ISF are probably around Falls Church, if it was Washington, D.C., that we were talking about; maybe they're coming in onto Arlington at this point, just to give you a sense of what this is like. So, they haven't entered the city center proper, but they're certainly kind of in the outer suburbs, if you will.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Bad cop, worse cop

New York Times news analysis, 31 July 2015 --

“We believe that a world in which there is a deal with Iran is much more likely to produce an evolution in Iranian behavior than a world in which there is no deal,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, said just before the deal was announced.

A selection of news headlines over the last 2 days --

Iranian-American journalist convicted, Iran news agency says

Iran tests new precision-guided ballistic missile 

Russia's Syrian bombing gives boost to Iran

But imagine how crazy the Iranians would be acting if there was no nuclear deal!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Bypassing the Bosphorus

Reuters --

Russia and Syria carried out what appeared to be the first major coordinated assaults on Syrian insurgents on Wednesday and Moscow said its warships fired 26 missiles at them from the Caspian Sea, a sign of its new military reach. ... The rockets would have passed over Iran and Iraq to reach their targets, covering what Shoigu described as a distance of almost 1,500 km (900 miles), the latest display of Russian military power at a time when relations with the West are at a post-Cold War low over Ukraine ... But in Iraq, the head of parliament's defense and security committee said Baghdad may request Russian air strikes against Islamic State on its soil soon and wants Moscow to have a bigger role than Washington in fighting the group. Iraq's government and powerful Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias question the United States' resolve in fighting Islamic State militants, who control a third of the country, saying U.S.-led coalition air strikes are ineffective. “We might be forced to ask Russia to launch air strikes in Iraq soon ... and that depends on their success in Syria," Hakim al-Zamili told Reuters.

That should be the definitive falsification of Barack Obama's claim -- dubious even when uttered last week -- that Russia's coalition consists only of the Assads and Iran. And by the way, those missiles crossed battle space that the US coalition is trying to control. Of course from the crisis=opportunity perspective, isn't this now the ideal time to completely exit Iraq?

Monday, October 05, 2015

Maybe leadership is the problem

The Wall Street Journal offers backhanded excuses for the attack on a MSF hospital in Kunduz --

But if the Afghans and the world want the U.S. to lead the fight against terrorists, they have to understand that sometimes innocents will die because civilian casualties are part of the terrorist strategy.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

The pivoting friend

In his news conference yesterday, President Obama provided a fairly vigorous defence of his Syria policy, based mostly on the actual or likely ineffectiveness of the proposed alternatives. However one gap in that defense was evident in his claim that proof of Russia's weakness in its Syria response is that its coalition has 3 members -- Russia, the al-Assads, and Iran, while his coalition has everyone else:

Iran and Assad make up Mr. Putin’s coalition at the moment. The rest of the world makes up ours.

Missing from his Russia coalition list is Iraq, which provides overflight permission for Russian military support to Assads and beyond that says it is in a new military pact with the others against ISIS, which of course is now clear is simply a fig leaf to protect the Al-Assads. And there's the stretched logic of the Obama Iraq policy: if the Al-Assads sustain ISIS by their brutality, and ISIS now is a trans-border threat to Iraq which US support to Iraq is helping them contain, isn't the US now thus undermining in its own policy since the Iraqi government supports the Al-Assads?

Friday, October 02, 2015

How many miles do we need for that?

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde understanding all too well the phrase needed to get the attention of global policy elites flying to yet another Very Important Meeting (this time in Lima) to save the world's economy --

I am calling on policymakers to make a policy upgrade to address the current challenges,

Then she called for the new policies to be "limousined" to implementation.