Israel gets more aggressive with settlements with Trump as President-elect

With Donald Trump as President-elect, Israel has ramped up its settlement construction with the belief that he would be more sympathetic, or uninterested, in getting involved in the politics of West Bank Israeli housing. The latest behavior of the Israeli government is especially dubious. As reported in the LA Times, “The bill would empower Israel to expropriate the property and offer compensation to Palestinian owners, allowing Israeli settlers to have homes retroactively legalized.”

The Israeli government will, obviously, pay a below market price for these homes. Otherwise there would be no need for the bill.

This is actually a situation where I think the United States should involve itself in the domestic affairs of a foreign state. (1) Many of our Middle East security problems can be partially traced back to the peace process and the perception that the United States is not an neutral party. But more importantly, (2) we provide a ridiculous amount of aid to Israel; the latest pledge of 38 billion over a 10 year period is the largest aid transfer in American history. I disagree with subsidizing Israel security but if we are going to give so much American money to a foreign state we should at least demand that the recipient not pursue policies that jeopardize American security. This is not the same as Jackson-Vanik style negotiating because the United States, I believe, doesn’t get anything in return for subsidizing Israeli defense but overwhelming benefits from free trade.


Nato Secretary General warns Donald Trump against going it alone

“Going it alone is not an option, either for Europe or for the United States.”

That is the advice of Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

See the article written in the U.K.’s observer here.

This is most ironic as this is essentially what the United States has been doing for quite some time. There are 28 members of Nato yet but according to the Secretary General Stoltenberg, the United States contribution accounts for 70% of its budget. It’s not just total budget but also how much each state spends on their own defenses.

Here are 2014 and 2015 percentages of GDP that each NATO member spent on their defenses.



Okay, so maybe it’s not all that telling that Canada doesn’t reach the 2 percent threshold which all member states are bound to meet but why aren’t states that are most likely to be annexed by Russia (Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania) doing so? Why should the United States take their security more seriously then they do? The aim of Nato was to ensure that no hegemonic power (most likely Russia) could emerge in Europe and take control of its industrial base. What industrial base do these countries have? As a matter of strategy these countries are virtually meaningless to the United States; perhaps the morality of defending these countries from Russia is more debatable but that is for a different post.

Trump may not articulate his strategy in a polite or consistent way, but he is correct for demanding that the costs for maintaing security of Europe be shifted to those who principally benefit. Otherwise we have what Barry Posen calls “Welfare for the rich.”



“Iraq has never seen this kind of fighting in its battles with ISIS”

That is the headline of a WaPo story.

Here is one bit.

“It is a bitter fight: street to street, house to house, with the presence of civilians slowing the advancing forces. Car bombs — the militants’ main weapon — speed out of garages and straight into advancing military convoys.”

The reports of ISIL tactics are alarming. Not to pander but I’ve been stunned and, frankly, sickened reading how horrific ISIL is as an organization. From rape to using chemical weapons on children, ISIL is one disgustingly barbaric group.  Most worrying is that, as many have cautioned, the bigger challenge will come once ISIL is pushed out of their strongholds of Mosul and Aleppo and they start to look more like a  traditional islamic terrorist organization.

For those advocating a bigger role the US in Syria and Iraq, it’s important to note that ISIS has it’s roots in foreign interventions. First the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and then the American lead conflict in Iraq. This isn’t to blame Russia or the USA but to warn against proposals that don’t take into consideration unintended consequences.

Vox has a very nice video explaining the rise of ISIL here.





Trump’s team suggest grand bargain with China

Tyler Cowen provides an article written by James Woolsey which you can find here.

James Woolsey Jnr is a senior adviser of US President-elect Donald Trump on national security, defence and intelligence.

The headline is “Under Donald Trump, the US will accept China’s rise – as long as it doesn’t challenge the status quo.”

This would actually be a smart policy for all involved. China’s rise will result in a demand to redistribute regional power, but on average I think it is in China’s best interest to maintain the region’s military and economic arrangements produced and maintained by the United States.

The liberal economic order is why China has become so wealthy. What does China gain from challenging this? As many have noted, China doesn’t seek to introduce a new world economy like past rising powers (i.e. USSR) but to redistribute some of the institutional power to reflect China’s growing status.

In the security realm, China benefits the most from the American lead hub and spoke alliance system. If China were to ask itself their two largest security concerns in the region (1) would be stability on the peninsula and (2) for Japan to act like a normal country and balance China. Both of these issues are solved by America.

What gets in the way of China accepting this status quo is (in part) explained by what the article notes is “America’s commitment to the spread of freedom.”

Discussing the Chinese political system, James Woolsey goes on to note that “We may not like it but we don’t necessarily have to do something about it. I can therefore see the emergence of a grand bargain in which the US accepts China’s political and social structure and commits not to disrupt it in any way in exchange for China’s commitment not to challenge the status quo in Asia.”

Two cheers for Trump.




A post Trump America.

One of the most depressing and sad episodes of American political history is almost at a close. The 2016 presidential campaign was the most culturally and politically divisive contest in recent memory and exposed deep cultural divides in American society. Perhaps a new normal emerged? One in which race baiting, sexism, and xenophobic rhetoric becomes acceptable political theater. Nearly all polls suggest a win for Hillary Clinton, yet what does this leave us with? How could someone so politically incorrect, so brutishly and unapologetically crude come so close to being the President? What will a post Trump America look like?

It’s well understood that the roots of Trump’s rise are found in a growing sense of demographic anxiety. Economic misplacement and the Republican party’s frustration with their never ending search for an authentic conservative played a role, but I think at root we have the “deplorables” because of the shifting distribution of cultural and demographic America. His supporters are unapologetically white and they are responding to the perceived trend that the United States is becoming less so. Below is a chart which I think sums up the source of their grief.


The above trends are alarming from a governing perspective. Frankly, the less homogenous a body politic is the less well its political institutions perform. This was best discussed in Putnam’s work “Making Democracy Work.” The central premise is that political institutions are more efficient when there is a high amount of social capital. Social capital helps find solutions to problems of collective action problems by building institutions of trust and norms of reciprocity, or what he calls a rotating credit association. Social capital includes a shared language, community bonds based around culture, and other networks of civic associations. The more heterogeneous a society is demographically, the less social capital. This explains in part why we are observing such stark fault lines in American politics.

One of two things must give if the politics that made way for Trump are to be addressed. One, the mentioned demographic trends must be halted. This is exactly what Trump and his supporters demand and includes policies like building a wall and halting all Muslim immigration.

The other alternative involves thinking about how we conduct public policy. I would argue that this means refocusing public policy away from allocation and more towards facilitating cooperation and emphasizing personal responsibility. The tribalism that comes with this sort of demographic change is heightened when so much of government policy is an attempt to redistribute income. For FY 2012, federal spending on welfare programs alone was roughly 1 trillion dollars, and this doesn’t include Social Security and Medicare. No one can discount all aspects of these programs, but this style of governing doesn’t perform well in a heterogeneous society. Look at how brittle the social democracies of Europe are with the migration crisis. A consequence of these redistribution programs is that individuals often feel that they are competing with each over the biggest slice of the pie, breeding resentment and animosity among the participants. These are mostly mean tested programs, but its perception that is important, and one of the most common complaints of Trump’s supporters is that “others are cutting in lines.”

An easy fix (conceptually, not politically) would be to reorient public policy away from redistribution and towards creating incentives for being industrial and self-reliant. Both parties are responsible of creating public policy that promotes a rent seeking, zero-sum attitude. Instead we should design legislation that sought to realign competing self-interests towards more cooperative behavior. I don’t have an answer for what this specifically looks like but it would be libertarian in spirit and would include reducing the scope of the welfare state. Allowing for more personal responsibility avoids perceptions that bureaucrats are creating distributional conflicts and would help dampen any social conflict stemming from changes in demographic trends. It’s either that or we try to ensure the United States remains defined as a country by one dominant race.

Turkey and NATO

Good article by Aaron Stein in War on the Rocks documenting the growing divergence of interests in Turkey-US relations. Our alliance with Turkey is well beyond its usefulness and it makes no strategic sense for the United States to extend its nuclear deterrent to Turkey. I would make this argument even if the only reason to rethink the alliance was because its original purpose was dated. But today Turkey is pursuing its own foreign policy in Syria and is becoming more illiberal domestically each day. Yet, Turkey made no hesitation to convene NATO when it shot down a Russian aircraft in November of 2015. This seems to me as if the benefits of the alliance runs one way and the costs another.

States have interests that are permanent. Alliances form while pursuing these interests. It’s obvious that Turkey and the US no longer share the same interests so the alliance should be updated.


More demands for US involvement in Syria.

The NYT has a piece by Steven Heydemann arguing for deepening American involvement in the Syrian conflict in ways beyond a No Fly Zone.

What I found most disagreeable with the piece is that the author assumes that it is in American strategic interests to remove Assad. I’m not convinced it is. He writes that


The best candidate for recognition is the little-known Syrian Interim Government, or S.I.G. Unlike many other opposition groups, which are based in Turkey, the S.I.G. is based inside Syria, with offices in Idlib and scattered throughout opposition-held territory. Its prime minister, a politically independent heart surgeon named Jawad Abu Hatab, was elected in May by a large majority of the General Assembly of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, an important opposition group in exile.

I am under no illusion that Assad is a good guy but what the United States should aim for is an end to the violence and a return to some sort of normalcy. What’s to say this actually happens if the Assad regime steps down (which it obviously won’t do willingly) and the S.I.G. assumes power? Ethnic tensions are ripe in most of the Middle East and Syria’s will not be solved by one regime change.

Syria’s borders are not organic but were drawn to extend European influence after WWI. One reason we are stuck with the strongman of the Middle East is because stern rule is needed to govern the multiple tribes living under one flag. These competing tribes acquiesced to the nationalism and pan arab movement of the 70s and 80s but are beginning to resurface post Arab Spring. If we remove Assad, who among the possible replacements are expected to govern these groups? Keep in mind that ISIS has its roots in the disbanding of the Bath party of Iraq. Where do we expect members of Assad’s regime to go?