Daniel Byman on Trump, the Middle East, and Terrorism

Here is one bit

Is Trump making us more or less safe?

He’s made us less safe, primarily on the domestic front. He has alienated Muslims and empowered right-wing voices. This is a very dangerous dynamic that is likely to exacerbate the terror problem moving forward.

Dr. Byman is probably the country’s most insightful commentator on the politics of Islamic terrorism.

You can read the rest here.

Trump versus Iran

Here is Trump’s reaction to the recent terrorist attack in Iran.

We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times. We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.

Here is Iran’s statement on the terrorist attacks on an American gay club.

“Based on its principled policy of condemning terrorism and its firm resolve for serious and all-out confrontation of this discouraging phenomenon, the Islamic Republic of Iran condemns the recent terrorist attack in the US city of Orlando,” Jaberi Ansari said, according to a report by KhabarOnline, as translated by IFP.

Keep in mind of the ample opportunity for Iran to take a swipe considering American meddling in Iran and the fact that both homosexuality and alcohol are illegal in Iran.

Here is the American source.

Here is the Iranian.

 

 

Larry Summers and Caesar

Motivated by Trump’s promise to invest in America, I’ve been doing some background reading on economics of infrastructure spending.

It is over a year old (April 2016) but reported in USA Today, Larry Summers offered some interesting insights into just how inefficient America is in the public sector.

Anyone who thinks problems of inadequate institutions and poor governance are the stuff of the less-developed world would do well to consider the bridge across the Charles River outside of my office.

The bridge is 462 feet long. The bridge was built in one year at the beginning of the 20th Century. The bridge has been under repair — complete with closed-off traffic and huge traffic jams — for 50 months now. And it’s expected to be another nine months.

 

I have made the point (semi sarcastically) to those involved that it is a complicated bridge and a difficult bridge, one that needs extensive consideration. On the other hand, to my mind, World War II was kind of a big, complicated war, and it only took the United States 3.5 years from the time it entered until the time it left. …

 

So I was talking about this with one of our … professors, and I learned that there’s a span over the Rhine which is about four times as long as the span over the Charles — and that Julius Caesar built a bridge over that span of the Rhine in nine days!

 

Two percent as long as it’s taking us to fix this bridge.

 

So yes, this is a huge issue.

 

On the other hand, I think it is tempting — and I see this in the United States — for the avatars of austerity to invoke inefficiency as a reason for not moving forward. And I think one has to be cautious about that.

More proof that Americans are ideological conservative but operationally liberal

 

That is from the latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll on ACA.

They note “This includes large majorities of Democrats (93%), independents (83%) and Republicans (71%). Support for continued funding for the Medicaid expansion is also popular among people living in states that have not expanded their Medicaid program.”

Maybe these results are partially a result of how the poll was conducted (i.e. data collection methods, question order, whatever) but this sort of data is consistent with the notion that Republicans are not against big government, just intrusive government.

You can read more here.

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.

 

I second Edelman and Tahiroglu’s suggestion to call Turkey’s bluff.

 

They have a piece in Commentary discussing the increasingly frayed relationship between Turkey and the United States.

They write

“Thursday’s NATO Summit provides an opportunity for the alliance to get tough on its putative Turkish ally. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s destabilizing policies in Europe and the Middle East have made it appear less an ally and more a Russian Trojan horse. To keep Turkey on track, NATO has been appeasing Erdogan, to no avail. Turkey’s recent “Eurasianist turn” and Erdogan’s now-constitutionalized one-man rule have only complicated the relationship. It is time for NATO to remind Erdogan that he needs the alliance just as much as NATO needs Turkey.”

The origins of the Turkish-American alliance are found in the same logic as most of the semi-permeant alliances formed after WWII. We wanted to contain the red menace. This was particular important for Turkey as Russia was, and probably still is, Ankara’s main antagonist.

Akin Unver has two excellent pieces on Turkish-Russian animosity. Regarding Crimean, he writes

“Some have argued that marching on Crimea was a last-gasp effort by Putin to save his fragile rule. But from the Turkish perspective, Russia’s invasion of Crimea fits a 340-year pattern. First, some military historians believe, Russia tends to expand when all of its neighbors are weak and unable to respond. Second, domination of the Black Sea is usually a shot across the bow; it presages further interventions. Third, Black Sea domination has inevitably required a revisionist stance on the status of the Bosporus strait, because patrolling Russian ships can only move down into the Mediterranean through that single bottleneck…:”

In a different piece, he writes

“In the last centuries, Turkey has suffered greatly whenever Russia is on the rise. During the Crimean War, World War I, and the Cold War, it has tried to protect itself through Western alliances. Today, Russian resurgence threatens again.”

Highly recommend you read both pieces if you want good historical perspective of Russian-turkish relations.

But what do we get in return for protecting Turkish sovereignty?

For starters, the president has helped inflame populist sentiment across Europe.

He also orders his cronies to physically assault American citizens exercising their civil liberties in America.

He calls emergency NATO meetings when Turkey shots down Russian aircraft.

And he even frustrates our attempts to defeat ISIS.

Just like any other alliance, this one has become semi-permanent and needs to be reevaluated. We get access to an airbase that probably leads to adventurism in the Middle East. Thats about it.

With the exception of Ukraine itself, no other country should be more alarmed by Crimea than Turkey, yet Turkish leadership behavior has only gotten more brazen.

 

Is Macron Delusional?

First there was the handshake with a message. We are still not sure what the message is, but apparently it’s serious.

Now Macron is taking on Putin’s policy in Syria informing him that if chemical weapons are used again, Russia will have France to deal with.

I’m not sure if he is serious or if this is just sour grapes because both supported his rival. But if there is any country that needs to look at itself before beyond its borders it is France. At one point it was a regional hegemony, but France today doesn’t get much correct.

Below are two indicators of its economy, unemployment and GDP growth. Both are from FRED and both speak for themselves.

 

 

There is also the seemingly perpetual issue of integration and terrorism. France more than the United States, the U.K. or Germany seems to have a unique problem integrating members of foreign cultures into their society.

But regarding foreign policy, France should  be mostly concerned with Germany’s apparent willingness to chart a more independent path. The biggest long term concern for France is still Germany.  NATO was just as much designed to keep the Soviets out as it was to keep control over a recovering German.

Taxes and Economic Growth

Here is a conclusion of a 2012 CRS report titled “Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945 (Updated)”

It is reasonable to assume that a tax rate change limited to a small group of taxpayers at the top of the income distribution would have a negligible effect on economic growth.

The report isn’t conclusive as the report looks at their association and not causation, but the report reinforces (to me anyways) that the Republicans need a broader solution to 1) achieving economic growth and 2) producing growth that is more inclusive. There are all sorts of ways to evaluate economic policy including GDP growth and its allocation, labor participation, unemployment, etc..  Economic growth seems to be the only metric Republicans talk or care about and even if we can growth the economy, we still need to make sure it “works for everyone.”

You can read the rest here.

 

 

Perspective on American Defense Budget

The 2015 (fiscal year) American defense budget is approximately 600 billion.

If the American defense budget were a state’s GDP, it would be ranked twentyfirst in the world.

Rank Country 2017
1 United States 19,417.14
2 China 11,795.30
3 Japan 4,841.22
4 Germany 3,423.29
5 United Kingdom 2,496.76
6 India 2,454.46
7 France 2,420.44
8 Brazil 2,140.94
9 Italy 1,807.43
10 Canada 1,600.27
11 Russia 1,560.71
12 Korea 1,498.07
13 Australia 1,359.72
14 Spain 1,232.44
15 Indonesia 1,020.52
16 Mexico 987.303
17 Turkey 793.698
18 Netherlands 762.694
19 Saudi Arabia 707.379
20 Switzerland 659.368
21 United States Defense Budget 650
22 Argentina 628.935
23 Taiwan Province of China 566.757
24 Sweden 507.046
25 Poland 482.92
26 Belgium 462.715
27 Thailand 432.898
28 United Arab Emirates 407.21
29 Nigeria 400.621
30 Norway 391.959
31 Austria 383.509
32 Islamic Republic of Iran 368.488
33 Israel 339.99
34 Hong Kong SAR 332.266
35 Philippines 329.716
36 South Africa 317.568
37 Malaysia 309.86
38 Colombia 306.439
39 Denmark 304.216
40 Ireland 294.193
41 Singapore 291.86
42 Venezuela 251.589
43 Chile 251.22
44 Bangladesh 248.853
45 Finland 234.524
46 Vietnam 215.829
47 Peru 207.072
48 Portugal 202.77
49 New Zealand 198.043
50 Czech Republic 196.068
51 Greece 193.1
52 Romania 189.79
53 Iraq 189.432
54 Algeria 173.947
55 Qatar 173.649
56 Kazakhstan 157.878
57 Kuwait 126.971
58 Hungary 125.297
59 Angola 122.365
60 Sudan 115.874
61 Morocco 105.623
62 Puerto Rico 99.727
63 Ecuador 97.362
64 Ukraine 95.934
65 Slovak Republic 89.134
66 Sri Lanka 84.023
67 Ethiopia 78.384
68 Dominican Republic 76.85
69 Kenya 75.099
70 Myanmar 72.368
71 Oman 71.325
72 Guatemala 70.943
73 Uzbekistan 68.324
74 Luxembourg 59.997
75 Costa Rica 59.796
76 Panama 59.486
77 Uruguay 58.123
78 Belarus 54.689
79 Libya 54.411
80 Lebanon 53.915
81 Bulgaria 52.291
82 Tanzania 51.194
83 Croatia 50.084
84 Macao SAR 45.728
85 Slovenia 43.503
86 Lithuania 42.826
87 Ghana 42.753
88 Turkmenistan 42.355
89 Democratic Republic of the Congo 41.098
90 Jordan 40.506
91 Tunisia 40.289
92 Bolivia 39.267
93 Azerbaijan 38.583
94 Serbia 37.739
95 Côte d’Ivoire 36.873
96 Bahrain 34.31
97 Cameroon 29.547
98 Paraguay 28.743
99 Latvia 27.795
100 El Salvador 27.548
101 Yemen 27.189
102 Uganda 27.174
103 Estonia 23.422
104 Nepal 23.316
105 Zambia 23.137
106 Iceland 22.97
107 Honduras 21.79
108 Trinidad and Tobago 21.748
109 Papua New Guinea 21.189
110 Cambodia 20.953
111 Afghanistan 20.57
112 Cyprus 19.648
113 Bosnia and Herzegovina 16.78
114 Botswana 15.564
115 Senegal 15.431
116 Zimbabwe 15.285
117 Lao P.D.R. 14.971
118 Mali 14.344
119 Jamaica 14.272
120 Gabon 14.208
121 Nicaragua 13.748
122 Georgia 13.723
123 Brunei Darussalam 12.326
124 Albania 12.294
125 Burkina Faso 12.258
126 Mauritius 12.245
127 Namibia 11.765
128 Equatorial Guinea 11.686
129 Mozambique 11.17
130 Malta 11.164
131 FYR Macedonia 10.951
132 Armenia 10.741
133 Madagascar 10.372
134 Mongolia 10.271
135 Chad 9.636
136 The Bahamas 9.172
137 Rwanda 8.918
138 Benin 8.792
139 Republic of Congo 8.341
140 Haiti 7.897
141 Niger 7.674
142 Moldova 7.409
143 Tajikistan 7.242
144 Guinea 6.936
145 Kyrgyz Republic 6.854
146 Kosovo 6.809
147 Malawi 6.182
148 Eritrea 6.051
149 Mauritania 5.063
150 Fiji 4.869
151 South Sudan 4.812
152 Barbados 4.759
153 Togo 4.554
154 Montenegro 4.185
155 Sierra Leone 4.088
156 Swaziland 3.938
157 Suriname 3.641
158 Guyana 3.591
159 Maldives 3.578
160 Burundi 3.384
161 Timor-Leste 2.727
162 Lesotho 2.439
163 Bhutan 2.308
164 Liberia 2.215
165 Djibouti 2.088
166 Central African Republic 1.992
167 Belize 1.829
168 Cabo Verde 1.637
169 San Marino 1.551
170 Seychelles 1.475
171 Antigua and Barbuda 1.454
172 St. Lucia 1.428
173 Solomon Islands 1.245
174 Guinea-Bissau 1.166
175 Grenada 1.089
176 The Gambia 1.041
177 St. Kitts and Nevis 0.951
178 Samoa 0.843
179 Vanuatu 0.829
180 St. Vincent and the Grenadines 0.809
181 Comoros 0.654
182 Dominica 0.539
183 Tonga 0.422
184 São Tomé and Príncipe 0.355
185 Micronesia 0.334
186 Palau 0.315
187 Marshall Islands 0.188
188 Kiribati 0.173
189 Nauru 0.114
190 Tuvalu 0.036
191 Egypt n/a
192 Pakistan n/a
193 Syria n/a

Keep in mind that this doesn’t even include the vast intelligence apparatus created after 9/11.

All data are in current, USD. The scale is billions.

You can see the original data here.

 

 

Recreating China’s Imagined Empire

That is the title of Ian Johnson’s review of Howard W. French’s Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power. 

 

Regarding Chinese policy of cliaming owndership of South China Sea, Johnson writes

China’s leaders have not directly discussed theses actions, but broadly say that their claims are based on history. The argument is simple: because Chinese ships once sailed here, the reefs and shoals are Chinese. but as French puts it:

 

“These historical claims are not worth exploring because of any legal power they might possess. Almost all non-Chinese experts agree that claiming distant waters are one’s own “historic waterway” is not something that international law or conventions governing the sea either contemplate or permit…

 

The merit our attention instead because of how they speak to China’s ambivalence about the international system itself, and to the continuing resonance of a certain imperial perspective – tian xia.”

My view is that Chinese behavior in the SCS is mostly a form of balancing American military policy, but Johnson’s review is an interesting exploration of how China’s behavior is shaped by its history.

It is gated, but you can read the review here.