Deciphering Kim Jong Un’s Motives

Trump should take a cue from President Richard Nixon. In preparing for his historic meeting with the Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1972, Nixon made sure he understood how to play the game by thinking about his opponent’s aims. On a piece of paper, he outlined what Mao wanted, laid them out against the goals of the United States, and then mapped out areas of potential agreement. Trump should do the same, thinking strategically about the motivations of all the summit’s key players: North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. So what is it, then, that they really want?

the author then notes..

The other key item on Kim’s agenda is a relaxation of economic pressure. The Trump administration’s sweeping sanctions played a role in bringing the North Korean leader to the table, but it is also likely that Kim knew he would be sanctioned after he threatened the United States with his Hwasong-15 ICBM test last December. Although North Korea’s ultimate goal is for the United States to end its unilateral sanctions, it’s not an absolute necessity since China is likely to soften its own pressure once the negotiation process is under way—no small gain for Kim given that China accounts for 90 percent of North Korean external trade. Tactically, Kim will look for dramatic gestures and a slow-rolling “action-for-action” approach to negotiations that will drag things out until he is ready to escalate again (a well-established pattern that senior regime defectors like Hwang Jang Yop once predicted will continue into the future).

This will be very interesting to see how this drama unfolds. I don’t read too much into the recent threat of NK threatening to cancel the summit. Trump is, after all, just as erratic in the foreign policy realm. Just ask Tillerson.

Frankly, I can’t ever imagine that NK will denuclearize. I assume this most likely an attempt to weaken the economic coalition (mostly China and South Korea) which is clearly starting to bite into the North’s economy.

The author is  and you can read the rest here.

Why Trump supports diplomacy with North Korea but not Iran.

In the case of North Korea, the hurdles preventing the United States from pursuing its own best national interests and engaging with Iran do not pop up. There is no equivalent of MEK or AIPAC lobbying the White House on behalf of North Korea; there is no North Korean version of Sheldon Adelson to obstruct a push for peace with Pyongyang. North Korea presents President Trump with the opportunity to achieve success where his predecessors could not; a possible motivating factor for the president. When discussing North Korea, the president often throws the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations under the bus by voicing that the issue should have been handled long ago. Unlike Iran, the issue of North Korea has not galvanized a large and well-funded institutionalized policy sector devoted to curtailing engagement with Pyongyang. This provides room for US policy on North Korea to more accurately reflect US interests. For the Trump administration, this means that beyond the president’s showmanship and impulse to meet with Kim Jong-un, diplomacy can be given a chance with the hermit kingdom.

I do not understand the argument here.

  1. Trump is trying diplomacy with both Iran and NK. Pulling out of the Iran deal is still a form of diplomacy, albeit not smart in my opinion.
  2. These groups usually lobby congress, not the President.
  3. Why is their anti-Iran lobbying effective post 2016 but not prior?

The obvious reason Trump doesn’t like the deal is because it’s flawed and it was not negotiated by Trump but inherited. If we had an Asian JCPOA I suspect that he would be doing the same thing.

If the author is convinced that it is local politics and interest groups which explain Iran and not Korea, the more interesting question would be why there is no significant South Korean interest groups lobbying for/against a deal.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

Trump versus Xi’s worldview.

Xi’s worldview is as follows.

In the world according to Xi, authoritarian rule has trumped democracy as a superior model. He wants to export it to willing countries as an alternative to democracy. He is shrewdly wooing them by dazzling leaders with roads and railways paid for with cash China earned from the West. At home, he has whipped up nationalism and pride among the population by distributing rice and cooking oil in villages, raising living standards, supersizing the country’s infrastructure, and masking his toppling of political foes as a fight against corruption. Aside from opposing factions and some in the intelligentsia, every mainlander I have met worships Xi.

Trump, however, offers the following.

In the world according to Trump, exporting American goods supersedes exporting democracy. Instead of showering countries with American largesse, he has spooked them and allies alike with threats that the US will no longer be a sucker by policing the world at its own expense. He wants allies and others fearful of an authoritarian state becoming the dominant global power to pay their share for security. He wants the world to acquiesce to his demand to make America great again. Patriotism is an inborn American trait. But, instead of uniting the people through nationalism, he has divided them through politics.

The author then asks

So, which gives you the jitters, Trump’s world or Xi’s? Before you answer, think cold war, not trade wars. A cold war is already in the making. Those who don’t see it are in a state of denial.

You can read the rest here.

Dressmakers, Bakers, and the Equality of Rights.

The paper’s abstract is below and the author is Michael McConnell of Stanford.

Using recent examples involving dressmakers refusing to create designs for the First Lady at the Trump inauguration, this paper explains why Masterpiece Cakeshop should be decided in favor the baker who refuses to create a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony, and why this should be understanding as an equality of rights, rather than prioritizing free speech over nondiscrimination.

Here is one bit.

Like an inaugural gown, a wedding cake is an expression of its designer’s “values” and “point of view”—even if the dress contains no words and no symbols specifically referring to Trump. It is the event at which the dress (or cake) would be used that supplies the expressive context—not necessarily anything particular to the dress (or cake). Like dress designers, Phillips distinguishes between selling off-the-shelf items to a customer on a retail basis and “making one-of-a-kind garments [or cakes] for individuals.”

 

And just as there are many designers “who would happily, and without reservation, create a splendid wardrobe for the first lady,” the record in the Colorado case shows that there were dozens of bakers in close proximity to Masterpiece Cakeshop who would happily create a cake for their occasion. This means there is no practical burden on Melania or on the couple from the denial of service—only the insult that comes from knowing that another human being disapproves, which is precisely what the dressmaker and the baker wish to communicate, and the government has no right to prevent.

You can read the rest here.

North Korea is not a state sponsor of terrorism.

To put NK back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism is to continue the tendency of the US to deem all undesirable behavior as terroristic. It turns the word into a political tool and divorced from reality.  Terrorism is a serious issue and should be taken seriously, but not all violence, or in the situation of NK, diplomatic disagreements, fall under the umbrella of terrorism. To use the term in such a sloppy and haphazard ways only serves to make the term in the long run meaningless and to further chart a path for the central government accumulating more power.

For a good write up regarding NK and terrorism, see Micah Zenko’s 2014 writing in Foreign Policy.

 

“NATO allies boost defense spending in the wake of Trump criticism.”

From the WaPo

NATO allies of the United States plan to boost their defense spending by 4.3 percent this year, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday, a response in part to intense pressure from President Trump that the nations invest more in their militaries.

The rest can be found here.

The Forgotten War

All told, the conflict has displaced between two million and three and a half million people. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 1.6 million Ukrainians moved west toward Ukraine’s capital, Kiev as a result of the fighting. Russia says that 2.6 million Ukrainians moved east. In its report ending March 12, the refugee agency also estimated that from mid-April 2014 to mid-March 2017, at least 9,940 people have been killed and 23,455 wounded.

That is from a June 20th NYT piece titled The War No One Notices In Ukraine.

 

Cost per mile of road in America.

I don’t intend for this blog to be a “watchdog” site but I found this interesting.

There is no single answer to this question. Construction costs per mile of road depend on location, terrain, type of construction, number of lanes, lane width, durability, number of bridges, etc. It costs more to build a new road than to rehabilitate a road or add lanes. Roads cost more to build in urban areas than in rural areas. Roads in mountainous terrain are more expensive to build than roads on flat land.

Nonetheless, some states have developed cost models to guide planning for their highway construction programs. These models give a ballpark figure for various kinds of highway improvements. The following are some examples:

  • Construct a new 2-lane undivided road – about $2 million to $3 million per mile in rural areas, about $3 million to $5 million in urban areas.
  • Construct a new 4-lane highway — $4 million to $6 million per mile in rural and suburban areas, $8 million to $10 million per mile in urban areas.
  • Construct a new 6-lane Interstate highway – about $7 million per mile in rural areas, $11 million or more per mile in urban areas.
  • Mill and resurface a 4-lane road – about $1.25 million per mile.
  • Expand an Interstate Highway from four lanes to six lanes – about $4 million per mile.

The Florida Department of Transportation has published its generic cost per mile information for 2013 online. The Arkansas Highway Department’s estimated cost per mile for 2013 is available online.

 

That from American Road and Transportation Builders Association

How on Earth can a one mile long 4 lane highway legitimately costs 8 to 10 million dollars?

Instead of deporting Muslims and Mexicans to “Make America Great Again,” why not focus on such blatant rent seeking like above?

America is treating Iran “disgracefully”

The language is over the top but Ryan Cooper as a good point when he writes

Whatever Iran has done, when it comes to arming and supporting morally odious nations and factions in the Middle East, the United States simply doesn’t have a leg to stand on. And now we have elected President Donald Trump — our very own Ahmadinejad, except more inept. Worse still, many of the economic benefits for Iran predicted by the nuclear deal have failed to materialize, in part due to business worries that American hardliners will clamp down again.

 

Remarkably, the Iranian public did not respond to these developments by electing their own conservative hardliner in the May elections this year. On the contrary, they returned Rouhani to office again — and by a larger margin than his first term. It’s a triumph of willful optimism.

I think May 19, 2017 should be a viewed by Trump administration as a confidence building measure. Rouhani is a moderate. I’m aware that term isn’t all the meaningful when compared to the ranting clerics of Iran, but this election was a choice between a moderate path towards reconciliation or rigid ideogloy. Plus, he does have an Instagram. The Iranian populace is largely moderate and are becoming less thrilled with the ruling clerical regime. year by year. The governing grip of the religious body just seems to get weaker and weaker with each generation and the United States should be start preparing the groundwork for when the distribution of political power favors the moderate masses and not the religious nuts currently in charge.

The Fear Monger in Chief

Employing the same tactics of fear that he used to win 2016, Trump has encouraged public fear for political gain. See his Churchillian tweets below.

 

 

This was in response to the mayor of London notifying the public to not be alarmed to the increased police presence resulting from the recent attacks.

It would be assumed that proper leadership would reassure during a crisis, but the new normal in America is prepetuaing fear, whether of Mexicans, Iran, healthcare, or even Skittles.

You can read good analysis here and here.

These are sad times for America.