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.

Europe may no longer be able to rely on the US for defense against Russia. Here are its options

This is at Quartz.

Options discussed include

  1. European Army
  2. Increase spending and pool resources
  3. “Get good at what’s actually possible without the US”
  4. Convince the US it needs Europe
  5. “Don’t do anything drastic”

The issue with NATO isn’t that the allies are free riding. Don’t get me wrong, NATO is “welfare for the rich” and its utterly stupid that Americans are arguably paying more for European security than Europeans do, but to me the issue is that the alliance has been extended into areas into territories that produce the security dilemma from a Russian perspective.

Taking political stock of the past 18 months, It is becoming clear that 1) the original NATO is becoming more essential than we realized and 2) it needs the United States to lead. There is too much latent populism and nationalism on the continent to let Germany rise without some sort of outside check to manage it. And frankly, NATO can’t survive without the United States. You have clear evidence of shrieking now. If the United States were to transfer power to NATO and the alliance was actually somehow needed, why would we assume buckpassing wouldn’t emerge as the dominant response?

Trump and Trade

Here is the editors note from a voxeu blog posting.

In assessing the underlying causes of the US’ significant trade deficits, the Trump administration’s focus appears to be on alleged unfair trade practices of foreign countries. This column argues that international trade policy has a negligible effect on trade balances. The aggregate US trade deficit results from macroeconomic pressures, while bilateral deficits are due to structural factors, supply chains, and how trade is measured.

Academic but readable. You can read the rest here.

 

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.