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President Trump’s tariffs and duties and the transformation of the world economy

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The 45thPresident of the United States, Donald J. Trump, keeps on repeating he wants to make America “great again”.

Hence, first and foremost, he wants to reindustrialize his country which, in fact, is currently the world champion in  the loss of productive, manufacturing or industrial companies.

The birth of a country that now consumes without producing much, namely the USA, materialized initially under Reagan’s Presidency, but continued rapidly with the successive Presidents.

For example, at the end of the 1960s, the US industrial labour force was at least 35% of the total number of people employed, while currently this labour force is only 20%.

Since 2001 over 70,500 companies with more than 500 employees have been closed down definitively.

The Gospel of Matthew (4:1-11) perfectly clarifies the situation of the post-productive post-economy – if we can use this expression.

Jesus Christ, who was hungry after having fasted forty days and forty nights in the desert, was tempted by the devil who told him: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread”.

Jesus answered to the devil: “Man shall not live by bread only, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.

Hence Jesus – as a great economist – explains to the devil that we must not change the Creation and replace God, but  instead follow Smith’s liberal and socialist labour theory of value.

Without the processing and transformation of materials – according to their laws – there is no value and therefore not even price.

Only manual or intellectual work, in fact, does transform materials, but never creates and hence does not even destroy them.

Hence we should produce only those goods and services that the market really asks for, without useless miracles, which are already incorporated in the Being as it is.

But let us revert to the economy of the powerful and stable North American de-industrialization process.

However, some sectors of US companies are still active, such as semiconductors and electronics, while clothing, for example, has fallen by 60% despite the US population has almost doubled since 1950.

When this happens, high value-added work increases, while all productive activities having a low incidence of unit value have definitively been delocalized outside the  USA (and the EU – although in this case, the debate has a political, military and strategic nature).

It is worth recalling that immediately before the first subprime crisis of 2016, the US industrial production had fallen by 15% – and this was certainly not by mere coincidence.

Later it started to grow again by approximately 4% – with many sectoral differences -in the years in which the United States managed to move their financial crisis elsewhere.

But let us revert to the factories that the US President deems necessary to make America great again, and to the specific policy of import and export duties imposed by President Trump in record time.

In fact, on March 1, 2018, the President announced it would imposed a 25% customs duty on steel imports from China and a 10% additional one on aluminium imports from China.

This, however, increases the production costs of the aforementioned US sectors that still handle and stand up to global competition, which obviously recoup the money lost from end customers, by increasing prices.

If – like the USA, but perhaps not for much longer – a country still lives on electronic manufacturing and components, the increase in the factory unit prices leads to an increase in the final price and, hence, restricts domestic or foreign markets.

Any price increase, albeit small, leads to a decrease in the buyers of those goods. Pareto taught this to us ad nauseam.

But clearly it was not enough.

Later, on April 3, President Trump announced he would  impose further 25% duties on additional 50 billion Chinese imports of electronics and aerospace products, as well as  machine tools.

This means that – paradoxically, but not too much –  President Trump wants to slow down precisely the  productive sectors that China deems strategic for the future, as shown in its Plan for 2025.

In 2017 China produced a total of 23.12 trillion US dollars, calculated on the basis of power purchasing parity (p.p.p.).

Currently the EU only ranks second, with 19.9 trillion US dollars, again calculated as p.p.p. In 2016 it was the world’s top  producer.

The United States only ranks third, with a yearly product of only 19.3 trillion dollars.

Financial stones cannot be turned into loaves of bread.

In spite of everything, China has a yearly per capita income of 16,600 US dollars, while the US yearly per capita GDP is equal to 59,500 US dollars.

Scarce domestic consumption, all focused on exports, is the Chinese model that has developed since Deng Xiaoping’s “Four Modernizations”, which survives only in an area in which all macroeconomic variables are not left to some “market” invisible hands, but to a central authority.

However, this is exactly the reason why China is the largest world exporter.

Hence it rules end markets.

In 2017, it shipped abroad 2.2 trillion US $ worth of goods and services.

Currently 18% of Chinese products are exported to the United States.

This much contributes to the US trade deficit, which currently amounts to 375 billion US dollars.

China is also the second largest importer in the world, to the tune of 1.7 trillion dollars in 2017.

The mechanisms of interaction between China and the United States, however, are even more complex than we could guess from these scarce data and statistics.

It is not by mere coincidence that China is still the largest holder of US public debt.

In January 2018, China held 1.2 trillion in US government debt securities, i.e. 19% of the US public debt held by foreign investors.

A very powerful monetary, political, strategic and even military leverage.

Obviously China buys US securities to back the value of the dollar, to which the yuan is pegged.

However, it devalues its currency (and hence the US dollar) when Chinese prices need to be kept competitive.

Therefore, while the United States wants to increase the yuan value, with a view to favouring its exports, China threatens to sell its US public debt securities immediately.

The dollar increased by 25% between 2016 and 2016, but since 2005China has devalued the yuan.

A very clear example of aggressive monetary pegging.

Moreover, the issue of China’s unfair commercial behaviour is now long-standing and it was also raised by many candidates to the US presidential elections.

In fact the success of Paulson, the former US Treasury Secretary, was to reduce the American trade deficit with China and to later ask for opening to foreign investment in key sectors of the Chinese economy.

For example in the banking sector, thus putting an end – in some cases – to the Chinese practice of export subsidies and administered and capped prices.

Just deal with realism and intelligence and Chinese Confucianism can find solutions to everything.

The other side of the Chinese miracle, however, is the very high debt of companies and households, which is obviously  still connected to the balance between the yuan and the US dollar.

In this case, however, the programmed slowdown of the Chinese GDP growth and the limits on strong currency exports, as well as the control of wages and profits are enough.

But let us revert to President Trump’s tariffs and duties.

In fact the US President has imposed these new tariffs and duties on Chinese imports to force China to remove the  foreign investors’ obligation to transfer technology and patents to their Chinese partners.

Nevertheless China trades many productsit could also manufacture on its own just because it wants to fully open Western intellectual property rights for its companies.

A few hours later, however,  China responded to President Trump with a 25% increase in duties on 50 billion dollars of US exports to China.

On April 6, President Trump further reacted by stating he would call for the imposition of other duties on additional  100 billion dollars of imports from China.

It is worth noting, however, that this accounts for only  a third of total US imports from China, which is considering the possibility of responding harshly to President Trump by steadily increasing tariffs and duties for all US products entering Chinese markets.

Besides the issue of relations with China, however, the other side of the US tariff and duty issue is the NAFTA  renegotiation, officially requested by President Trump on August 16, 2017.

It should be recalled that the North American Free Trade Agreement is the largest commercial agreement currently operating in the world, signed by Canada, USA and Mexico.

Firstly, President Trump wants Mexico to cut – almost entirely – VAT on imports from the USA and put an end to the programme of maquiladoras, i.e. the factories owned by foreign investors in Mexico, in which the components temporarily imported into that country under a duty-free scheme are assembled or processed.

The maquiladoras programme started in 1965 to reduce the huge unemployment in the North Mexican regions, but currently there are at least 2,900 such factories between Mexico and the USA producing 55% of total Mexican export goods.

They mainly manufacture cars and consumer electronics, which are exactly the sectors that – as already seen – President Trump  wants to revitalize.

Obviously the current US Presidency wants to dismantle the maquiladoras on its Mexican border, where 90% of such companies are located.

Thanks to these special factories, Mexico competes directly with US workers, considering that the local Central American workforce is much cheaper.

Thanks to this mechanism of cross-border production outsourcing – between 1994 and 2010 alone – 682,900 US jobs moved to Mexico, with 80% of US jobs lost in the manufacturing sector.

Moreover, again due to NAFTA, as many as 1.3 million jobs in Mexican agriculture were lost.

In fact, following the removal of duties between the USA and Mexico, the latter was flooded with US produce below cost and subsidized by the State.

All this happened while the Central American administration cut agricultural subsidies – which will soon happen also in the crazy EU – and focused the little State aid left for agriculture to the big haciendas, thus destroying and ruining small farmers.

Liberal and free-trade masochism.

NAFTA, however, also has many advantages for the United States.

Without the tripartite inter-American agreement, North American food prices would be significantly higher, while also oil and gas from Mexico and Canada would be much more expensive for US consumers.

As Carl Schmitt taught us, the American Monroe Doctrine (epitomized by the slogan “America to the Americans”) was developed above all against Europe. Nevertheless, the agreements like NAFTA allow to share – at least partially – the benefits of increased trade between the USA, Canada and Mexico in a less asymmetric way than usual.

The US primacy theorized by Monroe in 1823 and later rearticulated by Roosevelt in his State of the Union address in 1904, with the Roosevelt Corollary whereby  “chronic wrongdoing may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation and force the United States, although reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing, to the exercise of an international police  power”, holds true also at economic level.

But are we currently sure that the most civilized nation is still the Northern one?

Just to better understand what we are talking about, it should be noted that the NAFTA agreement is made up of 2,000 pages, with eight sections and 22 chapters.

As such, it is currently worth 0.5% of the US GDP.

Since the official implementation of this agreement in the three countries which have adopted it, North American exports have created as many as 5 million jobs, with the creation of 800,000 additional jobs in the USA alone.

Nevertheless approximately 750,000 other jobs have also been lost in the United States alone, mainly due to the transfer of US activities to Mexican maquiladoras.

Hence a slight surplus.

Moreover, NAFTA has anyway ensured the status of “most favoured nation” to Canada and Mexico and has removed all tariffs and duties for the goods produced in one of the three Member States. It has finally established certain and clear procedures for settling trade disputes between the companies of every country belonging to it.

But above all NAFTA enables the United States to better compete with EU and Chinese products, by reducing the prices of the NAFTA goods wherever they are produced.

Also in this case, however, President Trump has threatened to walk out of the inter-American trade treaty and impose a 35% duty on imported Mexican products.

The aim is obviously to bring back investment in the maquiladoras to the United States.

Is this useful, also with regard to an evident trade war with the EU, Japan and China, as usual?

Is there currently sufficient real liquidity in the United States to back the supply increase which is thus created, with the return of all these productions back home?

Or is the idea prevailing of having everything be bought on credit, with all the consequences we can easily imagine?

Or is it possibly a matter of sending the NAFTA productive surplus back to European, Chinese and Asian markets?

Moreover, with specific reference to another multilateral trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), President Trump announced he would like to establish a series of new bilateral trade relations that the US President likes more than the multilateral ones.

It is worth recalling that the TPP applies to the USA and to other 11 countries around the Pacific Ocean, namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and finally Vietnam.

All these countries together account for 40% of the total global GDP, which is currently equal to 107.45 trillion US dollars annually. They are also worth over 26% of world trade per year and as many as 793 million global consumers.

Obviously the list does not include China and India, considering that the TPP architecture has been designed to surround, close or at least limit the growth of the two great Asian countries.

President Trump also wants to renegotiate the TPP, which  by2025 is expected to increase trade among all Members States to the tune of 305 billion us dollars per year.

Hence if President Trump walks out of the TPP, many Member States will look to China for replacing the USA – and, indeed, many of them are already doing so.

Therefore the US President’s idea is to make the United States grow – through this wave of various forms of protectionism – by at least 6% a year, with an expected 3% net tax increase.

Too much. It would inevitably lead to high inflation and the classic boom-bust cycle.

If the economy grows by 2-3% a year, the cycle can expand almost indefinitely.

Conversely, if there is too much money looking for too few goods to buy, inflation will always come and the booming phase will stop all of a sudden.

Hence the bust materializes, with the quick reduction of wages and credits, as well as with an increase in prices and interest rates.

Therefore President Trump’s very dangerous idea is that –  in such a monetary and economic context -the United States can keep on borrowing all the liquidity needed because, as he said recently, “we never default, because we can print our currency”.

This is true. But if too many green bucks are printed, interest rates will rise immediately and this new version of Reagan-style supply-side economics will be stopped.

Finally a very serious recession would materialize, which currently would not be so easy to export to “friendly” countries.

Recently the dollar area has much shrunk.

It is no longer true –  as the former US Treasury Secretary John Connally once told to his European colleagues – that “the dollar is our currency, but it is your problem”.

So far, however, President Trump has decided 29 commercial or financial deregulation operations and over 100 internal guidelines and directives to the Administration, as well as other 50 new global market rules discussed by the Congress.

On February 3, 2017, the US President also decided to reform and almost repeal the rationale of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, with rules and regulations further reducing checks and audits on banks, which are no longer obliged to send to the Treasury Ministry data and information about the loans granted.

Moreover the banks with clients’ deposits lower than 10 billion US dollars must not even abide by the Volcker Rule, which forbids banks to use clients deposits to make profit.

Therefore, since 2015, banks cannot hold hedge funds and private equity funds.

Nowadays, however, with the reform of the Dodd-Frank Act, many credit institutions can avoid these difficulties and restrictions and play roulette with clients’ deposits.

For the new US lawmaker, Volcker’s and Greenspan’s policy was a way to avoid the implosion of the US financial system, after the fatal end of the Glass-Steagall Act which had been lasting since 1933.

It is worth recalling that the Glass-Steagall Act had come into force when the Roosevelt’s Presidency decided to imitate the Fascist legislation of the new separation between deposit banks and merchant or investment banks.

Banks did not want the Glass-Steagall Act because they wanted to be “internationally competitive”.

They also wanted to create money at will, regardless of the relationship between investment and collection.

What happened is before us to be seen.

President Trump wants to abolish even the Departments of Education and Environmental Protection, with an increase in military spending that is supposed to lead to a total public deficit of 577 billion US dollars.

Hence, in this new context, can the US Presidency avoid the Chinese commercial pressure and also ensure that the jobs repatriated to the USA from NAFTA, from negotiations with Japan, from the TPP and the rest of the multipolar trade system are such as to back the dollar without creating excessive inflation?

Moreover, all international trade experts agree that it is not the simple and traditional tariff barriers – but rather the non-tariff ones, which are very fashionable today – to cause real problems.

In short, we need to consider trade policy together with  strategy: if US protectionism increases, the growth of peripheral economies will decrease.

Thust here will be increasing possibilities of crisis in developing countries, while China’s desire to replace the USA in multilateral economic mechanisms that directly affect it may increase enormously.

Also the desire of global US competitors, such as the EU, to replace US exports at unchanged rates – at least for a short lapse of time – may increase.

There is no need for dumping – non-tariff transactions and the quality standard of made-in-Europe products are enough.

Therefore, nowadays, nothing is certain.

Certainly not US protectionism, of which we have noted  the dangers for North America and also for its geo-economic partners. Not even universal free trade, which does not consider the political evaluations and the economic, monetary and military planning of the various world commercial areas, is feasible and practicable.

Indeed, as in military policy, a great agreement – as the initial GATT was – is required in the current world market, with a view to establishing – for at least ten years – the areas and spheres of economic and productive influence and their possible future changes.

There is no free trade without planning.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Donald Trump, Foreign Policy Incoherence and Inadvertent Nuclear War

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“In a surrealist year….some cool clown pressed an inedible mushroom button, and an inaudible Sunday bomb fell down, catching the president at his prayers on the 19th green.”-Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958)

From the start of his presidency,  Donald Trump has displayed unmistakable signs of debility, venality and intellectual impoverishment. Most conspicuous, in this regard, is Mr. Trump’s evident unfamiliarity with history, diplomacy, intelligence and law. Slightly less obvious, but only if one were willfully blind to unassailable evidence, is this president’s rancorous and brittle emotional state.

Even when considered separately, these presidential liabilities are worrisome.

Taken together, however, they become palpably fearful and potentially intolerable.

This cumulative liability reaches its nadir when considered with a debilitated  president’s lawful exercise of nuclear command authority.

In principle, at least, these risks and consequences of US presidential shortcoming are generic; that is, they are not necessarily “Trump specific.” At this level, they also represent bewilderingly complex matters about which I have been lecturing and publishing for half a century. Some of my long term personal conclusions can be pried interpretively from historical examination and from certain more-or-less coinciding logical extrapolations.

In all such matters, analytic competence and confidence must stem from calculably valid assurances that both complementary operations are being carried out dispassionately, and in tandem.

The bottom line here is unhidden. Principal national security risks America currently faces as a nation are prospectively immediate and formidably existential. Such risks can be fully understood only in light of the plausible or at least conceivable intersections arising between them. This is because such critical intersections are more-or-less likely (a conclusion based on formal logic, and not on any actual history) and because some of these reinforcing intersections could sometime prove “synergistic.”

Contradicting what was first learned in the eighth grade, this means (by definition)  that the “whole” of  intersectional nuclear risk effects must be greater than the simple arithmetic sum of component “parts.”

Always, in any staggeringly complex strategic risk assessments regarding military nuclear intentions and military nuclear forces, the concept ofsynergy must be included.[1]

Always, any such necessary inclusion must be reasonable, rational and purposeful.

The only conceivable argument for a president ignoring possible effects of synergy  is that US defense policy consideration is “too complex” (i.e., intellectually bewildering) and therefore “too daunting.”

When US national security is at stake – as it is in this case – any such dismissive argument is unacceptable.

Prima facie.

How could it not be?

I have been thinking about precisely such difficult issues for fifty years. For analytic purposes, the development of my own personal conclusions about strategic national security decision-making can be summed up in the following brief paragraph:

 After four years of doctoral study at Princeton in the late 1960s, long an intellectual center of American nuclear thought (recall especially Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer) I began to consider adding a modest personal contribution to an already evolving nuclear literatures.  By the late 1970s, I was cautiously preparing a manuscript on US nuclear strategy, and by variously disciplined processes of correct inference, on  certain corresponding risks of a nuclear war.[2]  

Already, at that early time, I was especially interested in US presidential authority to order the use of American nuclear weapons.

From day one of my studies, I learned, inter alia, that allegedly reliable safeguards had very systematically been built into all operational nuclear command/control decisions, but that these same safeguards could not be applied at the highest or presidential level. To a young scholar searching optimistically for nuclear war avoidance opportunities, this ironic disjunction didn’t make any obvious sense.  Nonetheless, within the broader context of credible nuclear deterrence requirements, there did exist a reasonable argument for accepting such a significant gap in relevant decisional protections.

For needed clarifications, I had reached out directly to retired General Maxwell D. Taylor, a former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. In reassuringly rapid response to my query, General Taylor sent me a detailed handwritten reply. Dated 14 March 1976, the distinguished General’s informed letter concluded presciently: “As to those dangers arising from an irrational American president, the only protection is not to elect one.”

Until recently, I had never given any extended thought to this candid and authoritative response. Today, during the increasingly problematic presidency of  Donald J. Trump, General Taylor’s 1976 warning must take on  substantially greater and more demonstrably urgent meanings. Based on ascertainable facts and logical derivations (technically called “entailments” in philosophy of science terminology) rather than on narrowly wishful thinking, we should reasonably assume that if President Trump were ever to exhibit any accessible signs of emotional instability, irrationality or openly delusional behavior, he could still order the use of American nuclear weapons. He could so this officially, legally and without any compelling expectations of  nuclear chain-of-command “disobedience.”

Still more worrisome, President Trump could become emotionally unstable, irrational or delusional, but still not exhibit such intolerable liabilities manifestly or plainly.

What then?

A corollary core question must now also come to mind:

What precise stance should be assumed by the National Command Authority (Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and several others) if it should ever decide to oppose an “inappropriate” presidential order to launch American nuclear weapons?

Could the National Command Authority (NCA) “save the day,” informally, by acting in an impromptu or creatively ad hoc fashion? Or should indispensable preparatory steps already have been taken, preemptively – that is, should there already be in place certain credible and effective statutory measures to (1) assess the ordering president’s reason and judgment; and (2) countermand the presumptively inappropriate or wrongful order?

 Presumptively, in US law, Article 1 (Congressional) war-declaring expectations of the Constitution aside, any presidential order to use nuclear weapons, whether issued by an apparently irrational president or by an otherwise incapacitated one, would have to be obeyed. To do otherwise, in such incomparably dire circumstances, would be illegal. Here, in other words, any chain-of-command disobedience would be impermissible on its face.

There is more. In principle, at least, US President Donald Trump could order the first use of American nuclear weapons even if this country were not under any specifically nuclear attack. In this connection –  again, in principle at least – some further strategic and legal distinctions would need to be made between a nuclear “first use” and a nuclear “first strike.”

While there exists an elementary yet markedly substantive difference between these two options, it is a distinction that candidate Donald Trump had fully failed to understand during the 2016 presidential campaign debates.

What next? Where should the American polity and government go from here on such urgent decision-making issues? To begin, a coherent and comprehensive  answer will need to be prepared for the following basic question:

If faced with any presidential order to use nuclear weapons, and not offered sufficiently appropriate corroborative evidence of any actually impending existential threat, would the  National Command Authority be: (1) be willing to disobey, and (2) be capable of enforcing such expressions of disobedience?

In any such literally unprecedented crisis-decision circumstances, all authoritative decisions could have to be made in a compressively time-urgent matter of minutes, not hours or days. As far as any useful policy guidance from the past might be concerned, there could be no scientifically valid way to assess the true probabilities of possible outcomes. This is because absolutely all scientific judgments of probability – whatever the salient issue or subject – must be based firmly upon the discernible frequency of pertinent past events.

In relevant matters of nuclear war, there are no pertinent past events. This is, of course, a markedly fortunate absence, but one that would inevitably stand in the way of rendering reliable decision-making predictions. The irony here is both conspicuous and problematic.

Still, whatever the scientific obstacles, the optimal time to prepare for any such incomparably vital US national security difficulties is now.

In the immediately specific matter of North Korea (Iran is not yet nuclear), President Trump must take special care to avoid any seat-of-the-pants analogies  (whether openly expressed or “merely” internalized) between commercial and military brinksmanship. Faced with dramatic uncertainties about his counterpart Kim Jung Un’s own expected willingness to push the escalatory envelope, the American president could sometime (suddenly and unexpectedly) find himself faced with a stark choice between outright capitulation and nuclear war.

Even for a genuinely gifted US president, any such grievously stark choice could prove paralyzing.

To avoid being placed in such a limited choice strategic environment, Mr. Trump should understand from the start that having a larger national nuclear force (a “bigger button”) in these sorts of negotiations might not bestow any critical bargaining advantages. To the contrary, it could actually generate unwarranted US presidential overconfidence and various resultant forms of decisional miscalculation. In essence, in any such wholly unfamiliar, many-sided and basically unprecedented matters, size might “count” inversely, or even not at all.

The field of international foreign policy making is not comparable to the commercial bargaining arenas of hotel construction and casino gaming. While the search for “escalation dominance” may be common to both sorts of deal-making, the cumulative costs of any corollary losses would be wholly incomparable. In brief, money or status losses in the commercial sector can never reasonably be compared to mass death or civilian dismemberment.

In  certain matters of world politics, even an  inadvertent decisional outcome could sometime be a nuclear war.

Here, whether occasioned by accident, hacking, or “simple” miscalculation, there could be absolutely no meaningful “winner,” not even for the side with the once cherished “bigger button.”

In the paroxysmal aftermath of any unintended nuclear conflict, those authoritative American decision-makers who had once accepted President Donald J. Trump’s stated preference for “attitude” over  “preparation” in strategic negotiations would question their once-visceral loyalties. But it would assuredly be too late. Most plausibly, as survivors of a previously preventable conflagration, these now-disoriented officials would merely envy the dead.

With their president, they too would have been caught unprepared on the “19th green.”


[1] See earlier, by this author, at Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School): https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/

[2] This book was subsequently published in 1980 by the University of Chicago Press: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics. http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-Nuclear-Catastrophe-World-Politics/dp/0226043606

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“Strategically brilliant” sellout: Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds

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“At last the world knows America as the savior of the world!” —U.S. president Woodrow Wilson

Turkey invaded the Syrian Arab Republic on October 9 following a U.S. pullout. The U.S. Congress has started an impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump, who apparently gave the green light for the Turkish invasion. The U.S. president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was accused of operating a “shadow shakedown” operation against Ukraine’s president and lobbying for a Turkish bank indicted for evading U.S. sanctions against Iran. Meanwhile, his secretary of state was pontificating on being a Christian leader who holds himself to a “high set of standards.”  

Three days after Trump’s announcement of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered Turkish forces to enter the country to neutralize the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPK “terrorists”) and stabilize the border zone. Placing his bipolar affliction on full display, Trump has alternated between praise for the Turkish leader’s actions and threats to bring down the Turkish economy. “I view the situation on the Turkish border with Syria to be, for the United States, strategically brilliant,” he exuded, claiming, “Syria is protecting the Kurds.” Earlier, he had stated that he was “fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path.” 

In his executive order issued October 14, Trump specifically wrote that Turkey’s assault “undermines the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS,” and “constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” As a consequence, Trump has declared a national emergency, and authorized sanctions against any “current or former official of the Government of Turkey.” Moreover, the order contains broad language that appears to go well beyond sanctions on Turkey and its officials by sanctioning any “foreign person” who is found by the U.S. secretary of state to have been complicit in obstructing or preventing a “political solution to the conflict in Syria.”  

Minimizing the abrupt abandonment of his Kurdish ally, Trump quipped, “Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.” U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized Trump’s impetuous act, noting, “His erratic decision-making is threatening lives, risking regional security and undermining America’s credibility in the world.” South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, perpetually a Trump lapdog, predictably supported his master after some initial squeamish protests categorizing the troop withdrawal as “shortsighted,” ?irresponsible” and “unnerving to its core.”

Turkey’s actions in Syria present a conundrum for the United States. As a NATO member with an estimated 435,000 troops, the largest contingent of military personnel in the organization outside of the U.S., Turkey is not a country with which Washington can trifle. Erdo?an is a powerful leader and a man of action, as opposed to his American counterpart who is a blowhard full of bluff, bravado, and bluster, but who backpedals and vacillates when confronted by a hardened, politically savvy opponent. By holding U.S, nuclear weapons, about fifty B61 gravity atomic bombs, at Incirlik hostage, Erdo?an effectively has called Trump’s bluff of sanctions “devastating to Turkey’s economy,” leaving the latter little choice but to send his vice president and secretary of state to do damage control on behalf of the NATO alliance.

Off the record, a U.S. defense official has conceded that the U.S. nukes at Incirlik “were now essentially Erdogan’s hostages,” but to remove them from there would not only be a politically ticklish endeavor but also would almost certainly mean the end of the U.S.-Turkey alliance and possibly, even NATO itself.  In addition, with its possession of the precise grid coordinates of former U.S., and now Kurdish, positions in Syria, Turkey has the upper hand in this act of unilateral aggression and demonstrated as much when Turkish artillery shells “bracketed” a U.S. commando outpost near Kobani on October 4, detonating about 300 meters away on either side. There is deep symbolism in this Turkish shelling of the U.S. outpost; Kobani was the first success by the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in routing ISIS from their territory.

One aspect of the Turkish incursion into Syria, which may appeal to Trump’s demonstrated racist tendencies, is the inherent ethnic cleansing bound to occur.  Erdogan, after failing to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad, found his country awash in refugees, some 3.6 million ethnic Arabs. His plan for the so-called “safe zone,” which his invasion is designed to create by purging the indigenous Kurdish population, is to settle the largely Sunni Arab Syrian refugees in place of the Kurds to form a de facto demilitarized zone, thereby eliminating the threat of cross-border raids by separatists aligned with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Scattered across Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, the Kurds form the largest ethnic group in the world without their own country.  Erdogan has blatantly threatened the Syrian Kurds, declaring, “If you want to live in Kurdistan, there is a Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Take all the terror lovers with you, clear off and live there.”

Along similarly racist lines are Erdogan’s threats to flood Europe with refugees, should European leaders fail to go along with his invasion and occupation plans for northern Syria. “If you try to describe our current operation as an occupation, our task will be simple,” Erdo? a remarked. “We will open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way.”  While the Turkish leader struck a deal with the EU for a cool €6 billion in 2016 to retain displaced Syrians, pressure has mounted among his supporters to repatriate the refugees following the recession in 2018 and drop in currency value along with double-digit inflation. Erdogan’s perspective on immigrants would also appear closely to parallel Trump’s.

Another aspect of the Turkish military operation, which also benefits Trump, is that the resulting chaos will divert public attention from the recently initiated congressional investigation into his impeachment. Shortly after Trump’s election in 2016, Harvard University professor of international relations Stephen Walt warned that Trump might make “an Erdogan-like attempt to use a terrorist attack or some other equally dramatic event as an excuse to declare a ‘state of emergency’ and to assume unprecedented executive authority.”  As noted above, by his executive order dated October 14, 2019, Trump has already declared a state of emergency.

In view of the abandonment of the Kurds by the U.S., not the mention the JCPOA, the “Iran nuclear deal,” how could the Islamic Republic of Iran negotiate with such a “partner?” Of the 374 treaties negotiated by the U.S. with indigenous peoples of North America, only one was honored. Although signing on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. has neither ratified nor enforced it. Trump withdrew from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord; Bush II withdrew from the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The United States is the only nation to have not ratified the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the 1997 Mine-Ban Treaty, and over forty other treaties.  

Rather than being “the savior of the world,” as U.S. President Woodrow Wilson haughtily proclaimed at the Treaty of Versailles after the First World War, the U.S. seems hell-bent on being its scourge. Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds not only should give ample evidence of U.S. perfidy, but also should be a lesson for all who fancy themselves as allies of the United States.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Americas

AMLO’s Failed State

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Mexico’s challenges since transitioning from the hegemonic rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) 19 years ago have remained numerous and elusive: rampant corruption; constant violation of human rights; spiralling violence; impunity; ineffective rule of law and the inability of the state to protect basic rights of its citizens. Drug violence, in particular, has undergone a rapid and intense process of diversification and popularisation while the ability of the state to deter anti-systemic forces has remained critically low. Over the last decade, the criminal field has become increasingly complex, fractured and multi-polar making it almost impossible for the authorities to respond effectively.

On the 17th of October 2019 after a shambolic operation that led to the arrest of Ovidio Guzmán, son of drug Lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, El Chapo, criminal organisations loyal to the Cartel of Sinaloa effectively sieged the city of Culiacán, Sinaloa overpowering the capacity of the army and rendering the current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) security policy obsolete, just 9 months into his presidential term.  The government was left with no choice but to release the prisoner in an attempt to stop the violence that had terrorised Culiacán for 6 hours. 

The Cartel of Sinaloa´s victory in subduing the government is a remarkable humiliation for the current administration and exposed the utter lack of capacity of the state to quell violence across the country. It could also set a dangerous precedent: the state as captive of anti-systemic forces. This is the second even of such nature during AMLO’s presidency, just last month after protests of striking teachers spread all over the country, the president blindly agreed to all the demands of the teachers’ union. Both of these events send the dangerous message to criminal organisations and anti-state forces that the only thing needed is to commit wholesale violence in any given city and the government will agree to meet their demands.

AMLO instead of pursuing a full-on military strategy like his predecessors to try to limit the growth and scope of violence, has decided to follow a pacification security strategy that focuses on trying to resolve the social roots of insecurity. He has placed poverty as the main reason why Mexican youngsters are joining criminal organisations. He is basing his strategy on a serious misconception: Poverty causes violence. Violence is a symptom of poverty not the cause. It is easy to blur the correlation between the two, and much easier to sustain the myth that continues to plague the poor to justify a simplistic approach to violence: If people are violent, it’s usually because they are poor, because when you are poor, your opportunities to escape poverty are exceptionally limited so you need to resort to violence; therefore people who have money, will not be violent: The massive corruption that undermines political institutions in Mexico is not committed by the poor. Drug Lords are not poor either.

It is true that Mexico’s crisis manifests itself in violence, however its real roots are the widespread corruption, the weakness of the state and its institutions, and the lack of vision of incumbent administrations to place the interest of the country ahead of their own particular electoral interests. This makes any attempt to solve the endemic problems of Mexico subject to the whims of those in power. Culiacán only showed that the government can be easily outgunned, outsmarted and outmanned; it also inflicted a major blow to AMLO’s pacification strategy he defends.

Reality is that the Mexican state is failing in at least 6 of its basic functions: It is unable to guarantee internal security; it has been unable to protect the rights of its citizens; it has been ineffective in ensuring the respect of the rule of law and the administration of justice; it has failed in the promotion of the policies aimed at the betterment of the welfare of its population; it has not maintained a stable economy that would translate into improved living standards for its citizens; and the state has failed to act as the exclusive holder of the monopoly of force.

There are only 2 ways in which the current spiral of violence in Mexico can stop: Go back to the narcopeace that the country enjoyed during much of the rule of the PRI hegemonic party. This will happen when one or two criminal organisations become powerful enough to establish enough deterrence to monopolise the drug market and are able to prevent its further fragmentation. The second option is if the state somehow is able to systematically build up enough deterrence capacity to align anti-systemic forces with the government. This is however hampered by the prevalence of weak institutions and a lack of commitment to a deep state reform. This would also require more than a pseudo-leftist leader waving the flag of modernisation and change, but whose  policies are dangerously steeped in a strong nationalist rhetoric that echoes the hegemonic PRI party of the 1970s.

Therefore, the most likely outcome is that AMLO, like its predecessors, will most likely disappoint. Current enthusiasm for the current administration has led to the denial of the new president’s very obvious shortcomings. Mexico has prioritised cheerleading of a messiah candidate over the slow but vital work of institution-building and state reform that is the only answer to decades of disappointment.

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