• Is Tillerson Skipping NATO for Russia a Crisis? (No.)

    March 23, 2017 // 41 Comments »


    Is Tillerson committing treason skipping a NATO meeting for Russia? A diplomatic crisis? The end of the alliance? A favor to Putin? No. It’s just a scheduling decision.

    Senior government leaders are often called on to be in more than one place at a time. They make choices. Not everyone agrees with those choices. Sometimes deputies go instead. This happens to every country; the more global a nation’s interests, the more it happens. None of this is new.

    Yet a decision to have Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attend a meeting between President Trump (Tillerson’s boss) and Chinese President Xi rather than a NATO ministers gathering (i.e., Tillerson’s peers) in early April has been blown up into yet another end-of-the-world scenario. The fact that Tillerson will attend an event in Russia weeks later was somehow thrown into the mix and the resulting cake was pronounced proof that the U.S.-NATO relationship is in tatters.

    It is fully reasonable to debate which event, meeting with Xi or NATO, is the best use of Tillerson. It’s just not a hard debate to resolve.

    “Skipping the NATO meeting and visiting Moscow could risk feeding a perception that Trump may be putting U.S. dealings with big powers first, while leaving waiting those smaller nations that depend on Washington for security,” two former U.S. officials said.

    Bigger stuff over smaller stuff, who could imagine?

    Despite much rhetoric, NATO has been a stable, predictable relationship for the United States over decades. Tillerson, and the U.S., will be represented at the April event by the familiar (he’s worked for State since 1984) and competent Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Shannon. Tillerson may be skipping the event; the United States is not. And FYI, Colin Powell skipped the same meeting once as Secretary of State.

    Meanwhile, Trump is set to attend a NATO summit in Brussels in May. Tillerson met his NATO counterparts at an anti-ISIS conference on March 22. State is proposing other dates for NATO’s foreign ministers to gather. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner stated in the midst of all this “the United States remains 100 percent committed” to the alliance.

    NATO is covered.

    China meanwhile is dead center on action. China will play a significant role in anything to do with North Korea. China and U.S. allies Japan and South Korea face continued friction in the South China Sea, with the U.S. involved as well. China is one of America’s most significant trading partners, and holds considerable U.S. Treasury debt. Weigh all that against sending a signal to NATO about a problem in the alliance that sort of doesn’t even exist outside the self-created media spectacle.

    And the same people criticizing Tillerson for attending the meeting between Trump and Xi have only recently criticized Tillerson for not attending meetings between Trump and other world leaders.

    Problems with Tillerson’s plan to go to Russia weeks after the missed NATO meeting are just conflation. Tillerson will be doing all sorts of things following the NATO meeting and simply throwing Russia into this NATO story is pure sensationalism, a desperate attempt to get the news hook of the moment, Putin, into the headlines and imply more diplomatic naughtiness on the part of Trump.

    Much of the can’t-win-either-way positions taken on Tillerson flow from two interlocking issues.

    The first is the trope that basically anything the Trump administration does is wrong, dangerous, and reckless. Politico comes out with it, saying “Two months and a string of eyebrow-raising decisions later, people in and outside the State Department wonder if there’s any tradition Tillerson thinks is worth keeping.” Suggest negotiations and you’re too soft. Rattle the saber and you’re tempting Armageddon.

    The second is Tillerson’s disdain for the media. The media as a rule is nothing but self-righteous and jealous, ready to wave the flag, wrap themselves in it, then throw themselves writhing to the ground claiming they alone stand between The People (who no longer trust them) and the abyss. Tillerson didn’t take a press pool with him to Asia, and this set of the latest round. Left out of course is that the press could and did travel commercially to Asia longside Tillerson and missed out only on the possibility of some back-of-the-official-plane leaking.

    This will become a self-licking ice cream cone, as 24/7 press criticism of Tillerson makes him even less likely to engage with a press that will seize on his comments to criticize him further.

    It is also deeply amusing to watch the press decry the lack of official State Department briefings that they for years criticized as being content free and little more than propaganda. It reminds of an old joke — Q: How was the food on your vacation? A: Terrible! And such small portions!

     

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    The Consequences of a Newly-Militarized Japan

    September 2, 2015 // 12 Comments »

    925012-japan-self-defence-forces-day

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing through legislation to give his country’s military the power to strike offensively for the first time since the war.

    It is hard to understate the potential impact of this development.



    The What

    Domestically, Abe is putting his own job on the line. Voters oppose the new legislation roughly two to one, opposition parties walked out of the vote in protest and the government’s support ratings fell to around 40 percent. The lower house of parliament’s decision to approve the legislation set off the largest demonstrations in Japan since the Fukushima nuclear accident; a crowd of 100,000 people gathered with signs reading “Abe, Quit.”

    Abe took this action knowing that 55 years ago similar protests forced his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, out of the prime minister’s job after he rammed a revised U.S.-Japan security pact, seen as too militaristic, through parliament.

    Abe’s move is also darkly symbolic both in and outside Japan.

    Most Japanese remain proud of Article 9 in their postwar constitution, through which they became the only nation in modern times to renounce the use of offensive force. Abe’s walking his country away from this achievement represents the end of the last great ideal to emerge from World War Two, and an almost contemptuous disregard for his citizens’ view of themselves.

    In addition, as China contests islands in the seas south of Japan, North Korea rattles its nuclear saber and Japan’s Southeast Asian neighbors remember their own World War Two experiences, the new legislation throws additional fuel onto the coals of East Asian tensions. China’s foreign ministry said the move called into question Japan’s postwar commitment to “the path of peaceful development” and urged Abe to learn the lessons of history.

    Chief among the practical concerns in Japan is that Abe’s legislative end-run around the constitution will block case-by-case debate on the use of the nation’s military.

    For example, Japan’s only post-World War Two deployment of troops abroad, a single battalion to Iraq in 2004 in support of U.S. reconstruction efforts, met intense scrutiny to the point where the government published images of the small arms the soldiers carried, which were to be used only for self-protection, to assure the public of its non-martial intent. A separate, one-time-only law, passed in the wake of 9/11 to allow Japan to refuel American ships in the Indian Ocean, restricted Japanese vessels to “areas where no combat is taking place.”

    The new legislation does not immediately become law. The measure moves to the upper house, where no vote is expected to be taken. After 60 days, the measure will automatically return to the lower chamber, where Abe’s coalition holds a comfortable majority. In theory, the decision could then be challenged in the supreme court as being in violation of Article 9, though the court historically rules in favor of the government.



    The Why

    That addresses the “what.” The “why” remains much harder to discern.

    Abe says the legislation is in response to threats facing Japan, including from China. He also cites the murder of two Japanese hostages by Islamic State, suggesting his military could have rescued them. While these views play well to the ultranationalists who help fund the prime minister’s party, Abe’s critics see them as blather; American security guarantees protect Japan without a (Japanese, at least) thumb in the eye of its neighbors. And even if Japan had the special-forces capability to pull off a hostage rescue, such an action seems well within the intent of Article 9.

    Abe also says that the new legislation would allow Japan to help defend the United States, something his critics feel could lead to entanglements in U.S. aggression against China, or even in the Middle East. Abe’s own arguments about defending Japan aside, one real factor is the United States pushing the leader into a more aggressive stance under the banner of “collective defense.”

    However, the real “why” likely rests deep inside Abe. He has long held a hyper-conservative view of World War Two. He stated, for example, that Japanese leaders charged with war crimes were “not war criminals under the laws of Japan.” American occupiers arrested Abe’s grandfather, Kishi, as a war criminal for his role in the war. Some say Kishi, who helped raise Abe, pressed into his grandson his own dream of remaking Japan as a military power and throwing off the postwar constitution.

    Abe is a politician who found himself powerful enough to act on his own ideas, apart from what many feel are his nation’s legitimate security needs. Abe is apparently willing to pick a fight, risk his job and anger his country, all in service to his own ideology.




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    Hilarious Anti-China U.S. Propaganda Smoked by Online Ad

    May 24, 2014 // 5 Comments »




    Your FBI is concerned that bonehead Americans will travel overseas to enemy-controlled territory such as China and be recruited as spies. Since this apparently sort-of happened once to one total dumbass kid, the FBI turned right around and spent a boatload of your taxpayer dollars to make a cheesy video, albeit one with professional actors and Hollywood-level technical production qualities. The video explains how to become a Chinese spy so you don’t do that.

    If you’d like to see this 21st century version of those hygiene movies once shown in health classes across America (Reefer Madness for STDs), you need only drop by the Facebook page of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). What, you didn’t know that the U.S. government organization responsible for coordinating all spying for America had a Facebook page? Silly you. It’s here. We’ll leave the question of who the 23,000 people who “like” the page are aside for now.

    Instead, let’s enjoy the irony of the web. Playing inside the video warning American kids about being recruited as spies when they study abroad is in fact an ad encouraging Americans to study abroad. Look:




    See the ad, there on the bottom? Win for the internet.

    As a follow up, did the Chinese in fact place that ad to undermine the U.S. government’s efforts to get kids to stay at home? Or does the ad imply the close cooperation Google and Facebook warmly enjoy with the NSA helping them spy on Americans? Better yet, why does a video made and paid by taxpayer money have ads at all?

    Bottom Line: Americans, stay home. Ignorance of the world is a small price to pay. For Freedom.



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    FBI Makes a Video on How You Can Be a Chinese Spy

    May 23, 2014 // 20 Comments »

    Are you a bonehead? Or do you have a college-age son or daughter who is a bonehead interested in study abroad? Have we got a video for you.

    Your FBI is concerned that bonehead Americans will travel overseas to enemy-controlled territory such as China and be recruited as spies. Since this apparently happened once to one total dumbass kid, the FBI turned right around and spent a boatload of your taxpayer dollars to make a cheesy video, albeit one with professional actors and Hollywood-level technical production qualities. This video explains how to become a Chinese spy.

    The whole silly thing is a long half hour to wade through, so for those already at the airport waiting to board a flight to Asia, we’ll summarize the steps to becoming a Red spy:

    — Go to China. Make out a bit with Chinese girls. These are not spies, it’s just that Chinese girls are easy. Be seduced by the ancient culture and sleazy Asian tail. You know they like big, tall Americans, just like in those old Vietnam movies, Charlie.

    — Answer an ad on Craigslist in China. This is really what happened LOL. It seems the Chinese government will pay you, a dumbass abroad who speaks just tragically awful Mandarin, a lot of money to write “papers” on whatever, politics and stuff, with no strings attached. They will not, however, send one of those beautiful hot Chinese women as your “handler.” They will send someone who looks like your mom if she was Chinese and used to be sort of hot but really, not any more, even if you’d been drinking a little first. Very clever.

    — Your Chinese mom will soon introduce you to Mr. X. He will look and act like a Chinese Bond villain, but kinda sleazier. He will ply you with booze and hand you lots of money, because, that’s what happens in China. He will make a chess analogy. You won’t get it, but you… are… the… pawn!!!!!

    — Mr. X will encourage you to take the State Department Foreign Service Exam. In the video, the kid fails it, because of course he is a bonehead. Next, Mr. X will introduce you to Mr. Y, who somehow is even sleazier. He’ll say hello, then demand you apply for a job with the CIA, perhaps via Craigslist.

    — The stern CIA will catch you with their super-polygraph trade-craftery and you’ll go to jail. No more Chinese love affairs buddy.


    An Idiot Abroad

    The real life dumbass this instructional hygiene film is based on did indeed do all these things. He ended up charged with conspiracy to commit espionage, even though he never had a chance to enter the federal government (he couldn’t even pass the State Department test!) and was in no position to give away any secrets because he knew none.

    One assumes it was either a slow week at the FBI, or the kid was popped as a warning to other stupid Americans to just stay on campus smoking dope in L.A. and not mess around with foreign languages and their vile women. Indeed, the collegiate perp had this insider’s advice from another dumb video for his peeps studying abroad: “If someone is offering you money and it feels like you don’t have to do anything for that money, then there’s probably a hook in there that you’re not seeing.”

    Americans: That advice, about not accepting free money because there is always a hook, also applies when “Coach” invites you over to his bachelor pad to do some yardwork. On Saturday night. At midnight. In your tight jeans, specifically.

    Important Video Points

    Before you consume the video, a couple of things to watch for.

    — Note how all the Chinese in the video are nice, polite, well-spoken. Note how every American in the video is shrill and unpleasant. The FBI video crew may want to send the script back with notes for a rewrite.

    — Note how much technology and how many people the CIA and the FBI devote to luring in and arresting this kid. They even surveilled him in China! They were on to the scheme all along, just like Jack Bauer and Tom Clancy!

    — Hey Chinese spies, a tip! You want to recruit Americans who actually have access to secrets, not the nerds we send abroad during college, ‘kay?

    — But if the Chinese really want to waste their time, money and assets on recruiting idiot American college students, we should let them. Just like when the Republicans won the Cold War by tricking the Russkies into spending too much on outer space rocket defenses against the Spiders from Mars, we’ll sit back and watch China fritter away their moola, then hope they still have some left to loan us.


    One also hopes that this helpful video from the FBI is never translated into Mandarin. It is highly likely our own secret agent men are using these same tactics to lure in Chinese students in America. Wouldn’t want to tip them off…

    Anyway, here’s the FBI’s anti-spy video, along with one of its peers:




    Or maybe this???????????????????????????





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    So How’d That Africa Thingee Work Out?

    January 2, 2013 // 10 Comments »

    W-a-y back in October 2011 the U.S. invaded, albeit in a small way, the Central African Republic, because, well, big countries can still do stuff like that in Africa. Now, in December 2012, we’ve evacuated our diplomats and civilians because the invasion failed and chaos reigns in yet another place the U.S. muddled. Happy New Year!

    Obama sent some 100 U.S. troops to central Africa to help battle a rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army. American troops deployed to South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The troops were combat-equipped to “fight only in self-defense,” a dubious statement given that as armed troops they are stomping around someone else’s country. That sort of calls for an armed response by the homeboys, and thus the need to self-defend, yes?

    FYI, The Lord’s Resistance Army are a bunch of terrible thugs who have conducted a two-decade spree of murder, rape and kidnapping. They have not, however, attacked the U.S. They live really far away from America.

    Anyway, like Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and pretty everywhere else the U.S. has bumbled into, things are not working out in the Central African Republic. Another 50 U.S. troops have deployed to the African country of Chad to help evacuate U.S. citizens and embassy personnel from the neighboring Central African Republic’s capital of Bangui in the face of rebel advances toward the city. Obama informed congressional leaders of Thursday’s deployment in a letter Saturday citing a “deteriorating security situation” in the Central African Republic.

    For those keeping score at home, this all tracks the growing US military presence throughout Africa (Admitted: Uganda, South Sudan, Mali, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana, Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia and Djibouti, currently some 5,000 personnel), complete with complex special ops, US troops on the ground engaged in “training” and occasional combat, along with the sad, usual accidents involving prostitutes and naughty boys that follow our military worldwide, most recently in Mali.

    Bonus: As part of our ongoing public service, Where’s Hillary?, we note that the elusive still-recovering SecState had no comment on the evacuation of her diplomats from the Central African Republic.

    Extra New Year’s Bonus: While the primary US engagement in Africa continues to morph into a military one, China’s dominant relationships on the continent are economic.




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    BREAKING: BoA Mortgage Broker Seeks Asylum at my House

    May 3, 2012 // 5 Comments »


    BREAKING NEWS – My Bank of America mortgage broker, who is blind and thus in charge of assessing properties for the Bank, sought asylum in my home. He told me he fears persecution, imprisonment and even physical beating if I return him to the Bank.

    The Bank of America, meanwhile, who holds my mortgage, told me to turn him over, so I had to. I’ll spend the rest of the news cycle trying to make this seem better than it actually is. Being in debt sure cuts back on your options.


    P.S. The man on the far left of the photo is State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh. Dude, the 1970’s called and wants its hair style back. The other guy holding Chen’s hand is US Ambassador Gary Locke. No one knows why Koh and Locke decided to wear matching ties for this event, but it appears to be the only aspect of the fiasco that the State Department properly coordinated.

    Also, activists in Bahrain, Saudi and other countries the US has to suck up to, you’re also on your own.



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    She remained silent. We do not.

    April 10, 2012 // 30 Comments »

    “Countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century,” said SecState Hillary Clinton.

    Clinton has made internet freedom and the rights of bloggers and journalists a cornerstone of her foreign policy, going as far as citing the free use of social media as a prime mover in the Arab Spring. At the Conference on Internet Freedom at the Hague, Clinton said:

    When ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled, and people constrained in their choices, the internet is diminished for all of us.

    In China, several dozen companies signed a pledge in October, committing to strengthen their – quote – “self-management, self-restraint, and strict self-discipline.” Now, if they were talking about fiscal responsibility, we might all agree. But they were talking about offering web-based services to the Chinese people, which is code for getting in line with the government’s tight control over the internet.

    The United States wants the internet to remain a space where economic, political, and social exchanges flourish. To do that, we need to protect people who exercise their rights online.

    Yet inside her own Department of State, Clinton presides over the censoring of the internet, blocking objectionable web sites that refer to Wikileaks, such as TomDispatch (above), while allowing sites that play to State’s own point of view, such as Fox.com, which also refer to Wikileaks. The use of specialized software and VPNs that State recommends to Iranians to circumvent the firewall block placed by the Tehran government are prohibited by the State Department to its own employees to get around State’s own firewall blocks.

    While Clinton mocks Chinese companies, claiming terms like “self-management, self-restraint, and strict self-discipline” equate to censorship, her own Department’s social media guidance reminds employees to “be mindful of the weight of your expressed views as a U.S. government official,” and to “Remember that you are a Foreign Service USG employee.” Official guidance reminds employees that “All Department organizations with a social media site must monitor user-generated content,” and cites 27 laws and regulations that must be followed to be acceptable to the government. Self-censorship is the byword at State, as it is in China. Government bureaucrats know that this sort of slow-drip intimidation keeps people in line. They are meant to see what’s happening and remain silent.

    One web site reported that when Matt Armstrong was hired as Executive Director for the now defunct Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a condition to his hiring was to stop blogging. The condition was set by the office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

    Whistleblower Ray McGovern was arrested merely for physically standing and turning his back on Clinton at a public rally where she was speaking about the importance of freedom of speech. Did Secretary of State Clinton say anything about the arrest?

    She remained silent.

    We do not.



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    Here a billion, there a billion…

    October 13, 2011 // Comments Off on Here a billion, there a billion…

    … And pretty soon you’re talking real money. No one is really sure exactly how much the war in Iraq actually cost the United States (in dollars; in prestige and our good name, well, priceless). Estimates vary by a trillion dollars over/under and there is a whole web site with a spinning dollar amount to check. The Army has lost a bunch of the receipts, and some stuff was paid for with Paypal, and then the credit card got stolen and…

    Anyway, since most of the American troops will be leaving Iraq over the next few months, and because shipping charges are so damn high, it is cheaper for us to leave behind most stuff we brought to Iraq. We’re saying it is all being transferred to the Government of Iraq, but in fact we’re really just leaving most of it the same way you left the old couch behind when you blasted out of that off-campus apartment without paying the last month’s rent.

    The always-prescient Dan Froomkin on HuffPo has the story. Dan tells us:

    With just over two months until the last U.S. troops are currently due to leave Iraq, the Department of Defense is engaged in a mad dash to give away things that cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars to buy and build. The giveaways include enormous, elaborate military bases and vast amounts of military equipment that will be turned over to the Iraqis, mostly just to save the expense of bringing it home. “It’s all sunk costs,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton. “It’s money that we spent and we’re not going to recoup.”

    Check. War is a bad investment. Hear that Cheney– we aren’t going to recoup that investment. Iraqi oil did not, now officially, pay for the war.

    When the Iraqis take over a Forward Operating Base they also get the things that go with it, such as containerized housing units, water and fuel tanks, air conditioning units, generators, refrigerators, porta-johns, beds and mattresses, office equipment, fences, dining facilities and so on. According to Lt. Col Melinda F. Morgan, a Pentagon spokeswoman, excess defense items worth $70.5 million have been turned over to the Iraqis, with more, worth about $40 million, to go. U.S. forces have also given the Iraqis non-excess military items worth $47.7 million.

    Let’s see, that adds up to a jazillion dollars including shipping and handling. Luckily, the Chinese have loaned us their Dad’s VISA card, so it’s cool, right? Maybe not says HuffPo:

    I’m thinking about the size of what was wasted there, and thinking about how what we spent in Iraq was all borrowed. In a crazy way, what we left in Iraq was our good credit rating.

    Oops. Everyone, please write your Congressperson and demand that the defense budget not be cut. Not one penny. They’re gonna have to replace all that stuff left in Iraq before the next war, and that is going to be expensive. Demand Congress not fund, well, everything else. Whatever, our country is so screwed.

    Read the whole article if you can stand to on Huffington Post.



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    GDP Growth Rates: Iraq versus China

    June 6, 2011 // Comments Off on GDP Growth Rates: Iraq versus China

    SecState Clinton addressed the Iraq business forum Friday, and was predictably encouraging but unpredictably lightly balanced in her advice to American companies to invest in Iraq.

    One line from her remarks stands out:

    According to the IMF, Iraq is projected to grow faster than China in the next two years. Now, let me repeat that, because when I read it I said, okay, are you sure because we always think of China as being the juggernaut? But no, indeed, Iraq is projected to grow faster than China.

     

    Sadly, none of the media covering the remarks bothered to do anything other than to repeat the Secretary’s claim.

    It was hard to track down, and it is always possible to prove green is yellow with the right statistics, but the statement is sort of true.

    The International Monetary Fund projected Iraq’s real GDP growth at 12.2% in 2011 compared to an estimate of 1% in 2010, and forecast non-oil growth at 5% this year relative to 4.5% last year.

    China’s GDP growth rate projection by the IMF is 9.70%

    So, breaking it down:

    SecState Clinton fudged it a bit. Percentages are fine, but in real dollars China’s growth is huge, Iraq’s much more modest. China’s is based on a much clearer record of growth, and more established economics.

    More importantly, most of the IMF’s positive prediction for growth in Iraq is based on oil revenues, that 12.5% growth versus 5% for non-oil growth. It is unclear (reader help invited) how much of the oil growth is based on the rising price of oil versus the rising production rate of oil in Iraq. Crude oil futures prices are up over 26% for the year, while Iraq’s oil output is relatively flat. In other words, a lot of the oil growth may be based on prices rising, something wholly outside of Iraq’s control and obviously a very volatile factor. China’s growth projections are based on a much broader range of industries (albeit also subject to their own, less swinging, volatilities).

    Bottom line:
    Points to Clinton for a reasonably balanced set of remarks (“I do not want to sugarcoat the difficulties. I think, among friends, we need to have an honest conversation about what is it we all need to do to realize these very positive projections.”) given the mandate of the day, with a minor deduction for some hazy use of statistics.

    We’ll also note she was a little casual about the dreary levels of violence in Iraq (five US soldiers were killed today in Iraq), but did mention the dirty corruption. She did not discuss, but I am sure her audience knew, that following Thursday’s raid on the offices of the Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI), CNBC reported that Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for the head of the bank, which itself is under investigation for alleged irregularities. The move comes as al Maliki faces growing discontent over rampant corruption and poor public services.

    Little good to be said for the accompanying fact sheet, which is largely happy talk about what is supposed to happen in the future with little injection of the current realities.

    Low marks to the media coverage for not bothering to do much more than simply repeat without context or explanation what Clinton said, absent quote marks, as “news.” Maybe none of this really matters anymore and the media, like State, is just going through the motions.



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    Red Dawn 2011; Why Reconstruction Cannot Work

    May 18, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    red dawn

    I’m reading Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders by Nathan Hodge. The book is a well-intentioned attempt to offer a popular history of the US’ recent efforts at nation building, the hearts and minds territory that my own upcoming book plumbs. The author amuses himself with euphemisms for the efforts– armed social work, soft power, relief workers with guns, social work on steroids, the armed humanitarians of the title and so forth. The idea in its most basic form can be expressed as a belief: that following military action to kill bad guys (Taliban, al Qaeda, Baathists), expanded access to jobs and the construction of local governments that provide basic services will cause the people to renounce insurgency and instead cooperate with the United States. The new country will be a bulwark against terrorism instead of an incubator for it.

    I say “belief” because generally such efforts—let’s just call it reconstruction—do not and have not worked. The neocon boneheads who sent us to war in Afghanistan-Iraq-Pakistan (AIP) looked into history and decided the model to follow was the British, hardy colonial bureaucrats; Republican stenographer Max Boot wrote of the need for “enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.” Author Hodge buys into this thinking as well, and the talk was and still is for some sort of US Colonial Service to step into Phase IV operations (what the military calls the time after the fighting is over.)

    The belief in reconstruction is encapsulated best by the embrace of the fairy tale Three Cups of Tea. I say fairy tale in that it appears much of what the books says just is not true. As the Washington Post wrote, “Spend some time with U.S. Army officers, and this much is clear: They are obsessed with drinking tea. At times, tea can seem a bit like the military’s secret weapon. A young U.S. officer bonds with an Afghan elder over cups of the brew, and soon they are working side by side to win the locals’ trust and drive out the insurgents.”

    Even when it did not work, the Army clung to this belief in reconstruction. The Army hated Phase IV and was desperate to stumble on to some strategy that would provide a path out. The Army grumbled continuously about being forced into Phase IV simply because there was no one else in the government to try it. Hodge buys into the whole picture, sucking in the basic military technocratic view: take a problem (insurgents), find a solution (spend money on schools) and keep doing it until you enter Berlin and the Nazis surrender.

    The problem is that there exists the possibility that reconstruction just will not work, cannot work, that the failure of the process is inherent in the conditions that require it. After all, look back at the British: their gentlemen colonial service members were eventually run out of just about everywhere (including Afghanistan), leaving behind legacies like the India-Pakistan partition as their legacy (I’ll argue Malaysia with anyone willing to buy the first round of beers.) Maybe not the right model.

    Despite the clear weight of history suggesting reconstruction does not—cannot—work, I failed to ever convince my colleagues of this, even the sober, smart ones. So, I will try again, to make the point via some fiction writing I’ll uncreatively call Red Dawn 2011.



    yellow peril The Chinese Army roared through my small town in Northern Virginia. The initial troops were tough veterans of the fighting outside DC, and a lot of people were killed by early shelling and mortar attacks. A tank battle near the hospital destroyed much of the building and intelligence that weapons were being stored inside the elementary school lead to the horrific air attack that killed 50 children with a “smart bomb.” Met by stone-throwing teens, the Chinese troops tore through local businesses. A gang rape of a young woman was never reported on the Chinese news even though it was common knowledge among us residents.

    The second wave of Chinese troops were better behaved. They sought out the few locals who spoke some Mandarin and hired them as translators. Of course language skills were quite rudimentary, and a lot of bad, dumb things happened due to miscommunication. Though the Chinese troops maintained that they were now occupying the town to make things better, for residents the current men with guns looked and sounded a lot like the previous men with guns. The Chinese tried: following local custom, they met Americans at the Starbucks for multiple cups of coffee, forgoing the green tea the Chinese would have preferred to sip on their own back at their bases. The officers had read that Americans loved coffee and were simplistic enough that their allegiance could be swayed just by choking down a few cups of the black gunk together. A popular book back home was called “Three Double Vente Lattes with a Shot.”

    The American translators helped steer some quick “feel good” projects the Chinese wanted to do toward their friends, quickly figuring out that the Chinese spoke no English and, to be truthful, really did not care to spend enough time researching the place to figure out who they should have been seeking to influence. The Chinese seemed happy enough just to report the “success” of each project back to Beijing. Beijing, interested in domestic harmony because of the unpopular war, welcomed only good news. Officers seeking promotion quickly learned which way the wind blew.

    Back in Virginia, the big Chinese banquet held for the town on the local July 4 holiday did not go well, as only a few complacent locals were invited, leading to accusations that they had sold out early. Those same complacent locals ended up receiving a fair amount of money from the Chinese to open a factory making plastic goods; the idea was to create jobs to distract the Americans from a forming insurgency while still keeping Walmart stocked. The first problems started when Chinese contractors took most of the development money for themselves, and no factory was ever built that round. Later the Chinese tried again, this time creating a few manual labor jobs that paid little and offered no sense of pride. The factory produced junk, and could only sell its goods back to the Chinese Army, who purposefully overpaid for them so that the factory could be labeled a success.

    The Chinese decided to turn their attention to the schools, hoping to move opinion by influencing the local kids. The teachers were all fired of course, because they had taught the old “US” way, and were replaced by know-nothings who did know which way the political wind blew. Chinese textbooks, translated into bad English, were brought in. Parents who could no longer afford to feed their kids watched as the only full meal of the day was handed out as charity at school, and Chinese food to boot. The worst was when moms and dads had to watch their kids beg for candy from the passing Chinese soldiers who somehow still occupied the city. The more the Chinese propaganda screeched that their purpose in invading America was to free the country from its lazy, fiscally insolvent previous government, the more the presence of the troops irked. Most residents felt the same way—keep your development money and just send your troops home.

    Some Chinese soldiers “got it,” and made some small differences, but they rotated home as quickly as the bad soldiers. No one was around long enough to really figure the Americans, with their odd customs, out. Good intentions were a good start, but without action they ultimately meant nothing. Simply meaning well was not enough.

    Accidents happened; that’s inevitable when you place military gear in close contact with regular people. A child was run over one night by an armored vehicle. A man was shot poking through the Chinese Army camp’s garbage. Local women were offered large sums of money to act as Chinese “girlfriends” for the troops. About the only way Americans could make any money was by selling knock-off X-Box games to the soldiers, though the Chinese were also grand consumers of porn that featured blonde American girls like the ones they made remarks to on the streets.

    The Chinese, isolated in their encampment for their own protection, failed to notice the impact that failing municipal services were having on the locals. The Chinese had their own generators and water purifiers, and missed the impact that corruption had on siphoning off the money they provided for water and sewer repairs.

    A group named after the former high school sports team formed, intent on killing as many Chinese as possible…

    Get it yet? When a relationship begins with a war and an invasion, and all the acts of violence that go along with that, you start deep in a hole. As corruption, mistakes, accidents and half-hearted efforts plague reconstruction, that hole only gets deeper. It may just be that reconstruction does not work no matter how many cups of Starbucks one drinks. Myself, I prefer a cold soda anyway.

    Wolverines!



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    State Department Censors Web Sites China Allows

    May 15, 2011 // 30 Comments »

    chimps see no wikileaksIf you’ve come over from TomDispatch after reading my article there, I am fairly certain of at least one thing (besides your good taste in blogs): You don’t work for the State Department.

    The State Department continues to block web sites within our offices such as Tom’s because they may contain content from Wikileaks, which although available all over the web, is still considered classified by the State Department. If you try to access a forbidden site, you get a message like this (click on the graphic below and it will enlarge so that your computer at home will look like a real US Government computer. Pretend you’re a real diplomat!):

    State Dept Wallpaper

    The doesn’t-make-sense part is that the State firewall does not block mainstream web sites that have a lot more Wikileaks content than Tom’s. Examples include the Washington Post, The New York Times and the Guardian UK. All of these sites have and continue to include Wikileaks material that is otherwise still classified within Foggy Bottom.

    Just to make sure our quotient of irony stays at Defcon 99, the State Department plans to spend $19 million on breaking Internet censorship overseas. State says it will give $19 million dollars to efforts to evade Internet controls in China, Iran and other authoritarian states which block online access to “politically sensitive material.” Michael Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of human rights, said that the funding would support technology to identify what countries are trying to censor and “redirecting information back in that governments have initially blocked; this is a cat-and-mouse game. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the cat through email or posting it on blogs or RSS feeds or websites that the government hasn’t figured out how to block.”

    I emailed a colleague in Beijing, and yes, Tom Dispatch is available there to him, at home. In his US Embassy office however, the site is still blocked.



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