Trump, China, and the WTO

It looks like a trade war is taking shape. As reported in the Guardian,

China will defend its rights under World Trade Organisation tariff rules if US president-elect Donald Trump moves toward executing his campaign threats to levy punitive duties on goods made in China, a senior trade official has said.

 

China’s state-run Global Times newspaper last week warned that a 45% Trump tariff would paralyse US-China bilateral trade.

 

“China will take a tit-for-tat approach then. A batch of Boeing orders will be replaced by Airbus. US auto and [Apple] iPhone sales in China will suffer a setback, and US soybean and maize imports will be halted,” the newspaper warned.

The irony about all this is that there is no one who doesn’t enjoy free trade; who doesn’t like cheaper products? It’s just that those who complain about China and the market economy are not aware of how much extra wealth they consume because of free trade, only the costs.

Elites took Trump literally but not seriously. Trump supporters did just the opposite. For the benefit of his voters, lets hope that Trump is not serious about 45 percent tariffs.

What to do in Afghanistan?

At the Daily Caller (the Heritage Foundation), Lisa Curtis calls on President-elect Trump to “fight for Afghanistan.”

She states

Shortly after the Trump administration takes office in January 2017, it will need to consider its strategy in Afghanistan, the country from which al-Qaeda launched the 9/11 attacks and where U.S. and NATO-backed Afghan forces continue to battle the Taliban 15 years after the Islamist extremist group was ousted from power.

And if we don’t then this..

would allow the Taliban to re-take large swathes of territory and facilitate the revival of al-Qaeda in the region, not to mention boosting the moral of Islamist extremists across the globe.

Before recommitting American blood and treasure to Afghanistan, two questions have to be answered.

For one, is there any real and persuasive evidence that the Taliban have global ambitions of waging jihad? If they were to reclaim power, to what extent would they help rehabilitate Al-Qaeda and pursue terrorism against the “far enemy?” Or, would the Taliban only have regional aims of implementing their austere form of Islam?

It wasn’t the Taliban that attacked us on 9/11 but Al-Qaeda. That doesn’t excuse the aid offered by the Taliban while pursuing their terrorism goal, but why get sucked into a rabbit hole if the Taliban doesn’t have any future aims of providing a safe haven for Al-Qaeda?

And two, who are we fighting the Taliban for? After 16 years of war, the United States attempt of state building has produced…what? I’m not sure how to describe the situation in Afghanistan but you couldn’t accurately describe it without mentioning the rampant corruption and persistent tribal tensions that undermine effective governing from Kabal.

 

 

 

The forever war expands to the Horn of Africa.

At least legally. The NYT has a report detailing the Obama administration inclusion of Somalia’s Al Shabab as falling under the scope of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) which was the congressional response to 9/11. It gave the President a very broad and liberal mandate to use force in the War on Terror.

The summary of the bill, found here, states:

Authorization for Use of Military Force – Authorizes the President to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.

So on September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda, with the support of the Taliban, carried out a terrorist attack that killed roughly 3,000 people. Congress responded by allowing the President to use force against those who orchestrated this attack. 15 years later we are bombing a tangentially related group nearly 2,500 miles away from where those who planned 9/11 were located.

This is obviously mission creep and is the unfortunate consequence of the “forever war,” or the state of affairs in which covert operations and curtailed civil liberties are the new normal.

The biggest issue I have with the pursuit of Al-Shabab is how easily the executive branch relaxes and constricts the scope of the 2001 authorization to suit its own short-term interests. Determining who is an enemy of the state is all done with no transparency nor checks outside of the administration.

As Micah Zenko state in the NYT, “It’s crazy that a piece of legislation that was grounded specifically in the experience of 9/11 is now being repurposed for close air support for regional security forces in Somalia,” said Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.”

This isn’t new territory for the Obama administration. As noted in the same article, a similar style of interpretation of the 2001 AUMF was used to authorize the use of force in Libya, Iraq, Syria, and in June of 2016, to reenter Afghanistan.

Two consequences could result from this military engineering in far off lands.

1) As well documented by its critics, the victories of the war on terror have a tendency of producing new enemies. We may kill the leadership of Al Shabab but there is no way to be certain that the United States doesn’t produce more terrorist in its wake.

But 2) we have someone about to assume office who many expect to not impose any constraints on his use of power. Despite being relatively measured (at times anyway) in how he exercised the use of force abroad, President Obama has continued the behavior of the previous administration of setting very dangerous precedents of eroding legislative and judicial constraints on how he pursued the War on Terror. Precedents are especially important for a democracy as leadership changes on a regular basis. Donald Trump is inheriting a series of executive overreaches which would allow him a very liberal interpretation of who our enemies are and the precedents he sets building off of the Obama administration behavior could be very damaging for the institutional quality of American democracy.

 

Fidel Castro is dead

Here is the NYT write up.

It is difficult to find data that can be compared, but here is reporting on the average Cuban income as of 2015

The survey, which was conducted among 1,067 Cubans in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Camagüey, Pinar del Río, and Cienfuegos in May and June, found that about 27 percent of Cubans earn under $50 per month; 34 percent earn the equivalent of $50 to $100 per month; and 20 percent earn $101 to $200. Twelve percent reported earning $201 to $500 a month; and almost 4 percent said their monthly earnings topped $500, including 1.5 percent who said they earned more than $1,000.

The average poor person with no children living in the United States earns around 12,331 a year. This is 1,027 per month.
Remember that it is results, not intentions, that matter when evaluating public policy.
Viva the revolution.

Trump will be a hawk (probably)

Over at War on the Rocks, Benjamin Friedman of the CATO institute has presented a very good argument for why we should expect Trump to be a hawk. Among other good points he writes

I bet that the power of the status quo will make Trump into more of an establishment hawk. Keep in mind that something similar occurred with Presidents Bush and Obama. As a candidate, George W. Bush was skeptical about nation-building. After the September 11 attacks generated broad support for wars and subsequent nation-building efforts, he became their champion. Obama campaigned on his opposition to the Iraq War before retaining most of Bush’s security policies, including the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, while expanding the war in Afghanistan and drone strikes. Though Obama became a critic of the foreign policy establishment’s “playbook,” he struggled to escape its conventions.

I agree with everything he says but want to add that the most convincing reason I expect Trump to be a hawk is because of the “power problem“. This is the irony that the more military hardware a country has at it disposal, the more tempted the leadership will be to use it, including for non-strategic reasons. This can paradoxically result in less security. As Benjamin notes, both President Bush and Obama entered office skeptics of nation building. Yet both ended up doing just that. The power problem is especially problematic if the one given the options to use hard power has no clear foreign policy orientation prior to office. This included both President Bush and Obama. This would also include Trump.

Madeline Albright demonstrated the power problem succinctly when she asked Colin Powell “What’s the point of you saving  this superb military for, Colin, if we can’t use it?”

To answer the former Secretary of State I would suggest Iraq.

But we didn’t learn our lessons in Iraq, apparently. The United States had no strategic reason to invest in the Libyan uprising yet still engaged in one of the most juvenile uses of force since 2003. In an attempt to prevent war crimes against civilians, the United States and its NATO allies ended up creating a failed state. Not only does this create typical security problems associated with a failed state, it also erodes any credibility the United States will have when dealing with future hostile regimes and their weapon programs.

So we have a President-elect who is famous for his thinskin assuming command of a military tool box that is both quantitatively and qualitatively superior to anything else. For example, the United States has roughly 13,000 military aircraft. China and Russia have 2 to 3 thousand each.  The US 7th fleet’s principle aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, was christened in 2001. The only Chinese aircraft carrier is a refurbished former Soviet vessel. These sorts of lopsided comparisons could continue all day, and even those who lament the reduction in military spending acknowledge

The United States has the best military in the world today, by far. U.S. forces have few, if any, weaknesses, and in many areas—from naval warfare to precision-strike capabilities, to airpower, to intelligence and reconnaissance, to special operations—they play in a totally different league from the militaries of other countries.

Donald Trump campaigned, at times, as someone skeptical of foreign adventurism. But I would expect that after he has been instructed on the vast array of military tools at his command, he will be tempted to use them in ways that are not clearly linked to defending American sovereignty. Keep in mind that the use of force in Libya wasn’t our first choice. It was unfortunately a situation without any real good response from the United States so when all other tools failed and the opportunity presented itself, the United States resorted to employing hard power to address internal governing problems of a foreign state with a tribal culture.

In 1966, Abraham Maslow observed that “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”  I don’t want to suggest that the only tool the President has is a hammer. But I do think that when problems with no good solutions arise, like 2011 Libya, and other options fail, like diplomacy, sanctions, or soft power, the easy access to so much military power makes resisting it too difficult.

Trump’s transition team and terrorism.

Trump’s transition is taking shape and it doesn’t look like any political bridges will be built, at least not through who he appoints in his administration. Matt Apuzzo and Mark Landler have an interesting article in the NYT discussing the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general, Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas as C.I.A. director and Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn as national security adviser.

These three don’t mince words when discussing Islam and terrorism. Some of the quotes and positions attributed to these three are outright ridiculous.

For example,

General Flynn similarly favors the immigration ban and has expressed support for the idea of forcing Muslims in the United States to register with the government. He once erroneously wrote on Twitter that Shariah, or Islamic law, was in danger of taking over the country.

As well,

Mr. Pompeo has said Muslim leaders contribute to the threat of terrorism by refusing to repudiate it, although Islamic leaders and advocacy groups have done so repeatedly, and often. “Silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts and, more importantly still, in those that may well follow,” Mr. Pompeo said in 2013.

From reading the article, it’s clear that all three nominees share the idea that there is a special relationship between Islam and terrorism. As William McCants, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution states, “The thinking here is that…religion is the key factor that influences everything else.”

This is what is bothersome about these appointments. I’m no apologist for Islam. There is a good amount of evidence to support the argument that Islam has a unique relationship with terrorism. Most, if not all, recent large-scale terrorist attacks have been done in the name of Islam. I don’t know of any modern Christian equivalent to 9/11 and I’ve never seen a headline about a Jew beheading a journalist in the name of Judaism. And it is not just those who commit terrorism but the sympathetic outlook of many Muslims. You can find plenty of similar survey data but here are 2010 results on Muslim views of Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden. Indonesia, usually offered as an example of the compatibility of Islam and modern governance, had 25 percent of surveyed Muslims express confidence in Bin Laden.

views-of-bin-laden

My take on how to approach the relationship between Islam and the terrorism is to remind myself that (1) Muslim attitude can be differentiated by area and (2) the issue of Islam and terrorism is relatively new. Two antidotes generally shape my thinking.

Regarding the first point, the Muslim community in the United States is, on average, well adjusted. There have been several spectacular attacks like San Berdino and Orlando, but overall Muslims living in the United States are fairly well assimilated. In terms of terrorism, Muslims have been responsible for approximately 6 percent of all terrorist attacks carried out in the United States from 1980 to 2005.

See the data provided in Omar Alnatour’s Huffington Post article here, which states “According to the FBI, 94% of terrorist attacks carried out in the United States from 1980 to 2005 have been by non-Muslims.” This is misleading considering in 2015 there are only 3.3 million Muslims of all ages living in the United States and represents 1 percent of the overall population. This is the largest it has ever been so it seems that Muslims do cause a disproportionate amount of terrorism compared to other groups. But there is comforting data of American Muslim views towards terrorism. Less than 8 percent of American Muslims consider suicide bombings sometimes or often justified for defending the religion. That number is larger than we would like but it is not benchmarked and I don’t expect it to be significantly different from a similar style question posed to American Christians.

american-muslim-views-towards-terrorism

The other perspective I keep in mind is a long view of history. Islam hasn’t always been linked with terrorism or has been illiberal. Although not perfect, Islam has been relatively tolerant towards other faiths, most notably Judaism. Radical Islam didn’t really emerge until the work of Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), an Egyptian cleric who made his name by discrediting Arab leadership advocated a holy war against the post colonial regimes. But we didn’t see any serious amounts of Islamic terrorism until the 1970’s, with the Al Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and this was a response to the failed state building process of postcolonial Arabia and the success of Israel.

My point is that Islam is a little over 1,600 years old but Islamic terrorism in any serious form is only 40 years old. If the problem was “Islam” why don’t we have 1,600 years of terrorism? It seems to me that the religion didn’t change but the culture in which it is interpreted and practiced has. Like all major religious texts, the Koran has a large amount of ambiguous and culturally backwards passages that lend themselves to explanation. Just as you can find a passage advocating (2:244) you can also find a passage for tolerance (2:256).

How do we persuade Muslims to focus on the latter and not the former? Probably do the opposite of what Trump and his new cabinet members want to do. What motivates Islamic terrorism is an underlying sense of alienation in a context of economic, cultural, and political stagnation. Islamic terrorism is an attempt of asserting one’s identity as a response to the failure of Islam to offer any viable alternative to the modernity (i.e. the west). I’ll write more on this in a later essay, but for now read Bernard’s Lewis’s piece here.

So the issue is not only do we have someone who claimed Islam is cancer as a future National Security advisor, he is part of an administration which ran on a platform of 1) extreme vetting (or a ban, not sure what he wants at this point), 2) bring back waterboarding, 3) retaliating against terrorist by bombing their families, 4) frame the issue of terrorism as Islamic terrorism. If you agree that the root of Islamic terrorism is estrangement from the modernity, you will also agree that these policies and appointments only exacerbate the issue. The shape that Trumps administration is taking shape suggest that his administration will further dehumanize the wider Muslim community and to reframe the debate as one between the West versus Muslim instead of civilized versus uncivilized.

Who are “key allies?”

Over at Duck of Minevera Phil Arena has a piece discussing information failure and the possible outbreak of war under a Trump presidency.

 

He writes…

…Trump’s electoral victory is so alarming. Trump has famously questioned what the US is getting out of its military presence in South Korea and Japan and indicated that the US should no longer serve as the world’s policeman (source). He has expressed admiration for Putin and indicated that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are legitimate – when he’s acknowledged that they’re even occurring (source). One could hardly blame Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un for thinking that the United States would not respond if they chose to attack traditional US allies in the Baltics or South Korea.

 

The bold text is original.

he concludes with…

As horrifying as the prospect of a return to warfare on a scale not seen in decades is, I cannot hope for the abandonment of key allies. That is why I am so troubled; if Putin and Kim respond to Trump’s comments the way leaders have often responded when the US signaled that it was unwilling to check aggression, there is no best case scenario.

My issue with his post is that he doesn’t want to “abandon key allies.”

We have almost 30k troops in South Korea so I don’t expect the scenario described to occur in Asia. And either way, I actually lean towards supporting the American hub and spoke alliance system of the Far East as it dampens the security dilemma. There are probably too many historical grievances in Asia to allow for multipolarity to emerge.

But what about Europe?

What exactly is a “key ally” in this region? Like everyone else, I’ve written about the lack of military spending by those the United States is obligated to protect. It’s a standard post and you can read it here. But look at this lineup of “key allies” I pulled from wikipieda. You can sort them into basically three different groups. (1) Most are utterly meaningless for American security. Does anyone think that if Russia annexed Slovenia and Slovakia that this means anything for the defense of American sovereignty? (2) Some are actually not just meaningless but pose a serious threat to American interests and, in a rare but worst case scenario, could drag us into conflict. Turkey is an obvious example. The last group (3) can actually defend themselves and are free riding. This includes states such as Germany, and France.

Military personnel[edit]

Country Active personnel Reserve personnel Total
 Albania 100,500 5,000 105,500
 Belgium 24,500 100,500 125,000
 Bulgaria 46,712 302,500 349,212
 Canada 68,000 27,000 95,000
 Croatia 18,000 180,000 198,000
 Czech Republic 21,057 2,359 23,416
 Denmark 20,003 63,000 78,000
 Estonia 3,209 60,000 63,209
 France 222,215 100,000 322,215
 Germany 180,676 145,000 325,676
 Greece 180,000 280,000 460,000
 Hungary 29,700 8400 38,100
 Iceland 210 170 380
 Italy 180,000 41,867 220,867
 Latvia 6,000 11,000 17,000
 Lithuania 15,839 4,550 20,389
 Luxembourg 1,057 278 1,335
 Netherlands 47,660 57,200 104,860
 Norway 26,200 56,200 82,400
 Poland 120,000 515,000 635,000
 Portugal 44,900 210,930 255,830
 Romania 73,350 79,900 153,250
 Slovakia 16,000 16,000
 Slovenia 7,300 1,500 8,801
 Spain 123,000 16,200 139,200
 Turkey 620,473 429,000 1,041,900
 United Kingdom 205,851 181,720 387,571
 United States 1,369,532 850,880 2,220,412
 NATO 3,585,000 3,745,000 7,330,000

The United States has far too much “free security” offered by two oceans to consider NATO essential to its security. My suspicion is that the US insists on maintaining NATO because being the “leader of the free world” is a public good. NATO doesn’t have any real meaning for America outside of generating pride for the uninformed. Either way, we shouldn’t refer to any of these countries as allies but dependents. An ally helps pursue the national interests and I’m not sure what interests any of these “allies” help us pursue.

A peace of “trumphalia”

Stephen Walt has a persuasive piece at FP that the most politically possible and the most beneficial foreign policy would be the same thing. He calls it “Westphalian sovereignty” which he describes as

If Trump is looking for a unifying concept for his approach to foreign policy, it is the idea that states are responsible for their own territory and citizens and that other states shouldn’t interfere with either. This notion is consistent with Trump’s own “America First” mentality, and it resonates with the sentiment of populist nationalism that has driven everything from the Brexit vote to the assorted European xenophobes who are so jazzed by Trump’s success. And it is hardly a controversial concept; indeed, it still forms much of the basis for existing international law.

China would be pleased by such an organizing principle to America’s foreign policy. Remember that their distaste for Hilary started in 1995 when she delivered a speech on women’s rights in Beijing.

My concern with Trump is that he has no clear and firm record of a foreign policy ideology and he may be reacting to the previous administration overreaches. President Obama also had no foreign policy record outside of opposing the Iraq War and also campaigned on restraint. But before long he was hosting the Dali Lama and authorizing weapon sales to Taiwan.

Russia and internet censorhip

Writing as early as 1880, Russian writer Dostoyevsky wrote that man

“will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us. And shall we be right or shall we be lying? They will be convinced that we are right, for they will remember the horrors of slavery and confusion to which Thy freedom brought them. Freedom, free thought, and science will lead them into such straits and will bring them face to face with such marvels and insoluble mysteries, that some of them, the fierce and rebellious, will destroy themselves, others, rebellious but weak, will destroy one another, while the rest, weak and unhappy, will crawl fawning to our feet and whine to us: “Yes, you were right, you alone possess His mystery, and we come back to you, save us from ourselves!”

This is from his masterpiece The Grand Inquisitor, the final chapter of a larger piece of work, The Brother Karamozov. The “us” is the Church but can be any form of authority. There is a tradeoff between freedom and security, and as readers of this blog know I don’t think that their balance is the same for all cultures. You obviously have to be nuanced when discussing the “Russian soul.” There are Russians who prefer liberty to state control and cultures can adopt and change. The Korean peninsula was for the most part culturally homogenous in 1952 but today have a full democracy next to a full totalitarian state. Yet, as reported in the Washington Post, “Sixty percent of Russians believe that Internet censorship — in particular, the banning of certain websites and material — is necessary…” To me, this number is especially telling considering it is well known, even by the Russians, that the media is largely an apparatus of the state and alternative views are found on the web.

Freedom is an artifact of historical circumstance and there are good reasons why it is not as valued in Russia as highly as it is in America.

More data is available and you can read the WaPo article in full here.

 

It’s Nato that’s empire-building, not Putin

That is the headline of a piece written by Peter Hitchens.

Here is one bit here.

Just for once, let us try this argument with an open mind, employing arithmetic and geography and going easy on the adjectives. Two great land powers face each other. One of these powers, Russia, has given up control over 700,000 square miles of valuable territory. The other, the European Union, has gained control over 400,000 of those square miles. Which of these powers is expanding?

Obviously there is a difference between annexing territory through hybrid wars and joining a common market via some sort of democratic process, but the zero-sum description above is how Russia interprets EU and NATO enlargement.

He then goes on to point out the contradictions of the Western alliance patterns and liberal morals.

…we have a noisy pseudo-moral crusade, which would not withstand five minutes of serious consideration. Mr Putin’s state is, beyond doubt, a sinister tyranny. But so is Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, which locks up far more journalists than does Russia. Turkey is an officially respectable Nato member, 40 years after seizing northern Cyprus, which it still occupies, in an almost exact precedent for Russia’s seizure of Crimea. If Putin disgusts us so much, then why are we and the USA happy to do business with Erdogan, and also to fawn upon Saudi Arabia and China?

This article is dated, by the way. It was written in March of 2015, prior to the authoritarian backlash following the failed coup.

Do read the entire article.