What’s Your Endgame?

The likewise ever-hawkish editors of the Wall Street Journal hold views similar to those of the WaPo editors:

Mr. Erdogan says the U.S.-armed Kurdish fighters in Syria, known as the YPG, have ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a domestic Kurdish insurgency within Turkey. On that exaggerated claim he justifies an exercise that could amount to ethnic cleansing. Mr. Erdogan last month proposed a “safe zone” extending some 20 miles into Syria from the Turkish border, where he would resettle millions of Syrian refugees. This could require the forcible resettlement, or worse, of Kurds already living in the area.

Mr. Erdogan seems to have believed that the U.S. would help in this exercise. But after a phone call with the Turkish strongman, Mr. Trump made clear that Turkey is on its own. That also means so are the Kurds, and the U.S. withdrew its troops from two border posts. A Kurdish spokesman tweeted, “We are not expecting the US to protect NE #Syria. But people here are owed an explanation.”

This looks like a betrayal of the YPG, which lost 11,000 soldiers fighting against ISIS. America armed the Kurds in that fight, and they trusted the U.S. when they were asked to dismantle defensive positions near the Turkish border as part of the buffer-zone negotiations with Ankara. The Kurds are less likely to aid an insurgency in Turkey if they’re allowed to govern themselves in a safe area in Syria policed by the U.S. and Turkey.

Okay, let’s start with the Kurds. The Kurds did not fight DAESH on our behalf but to defend themselves and their homeland. They would have opposed DAESH under any circumstances.

I’m not as convinced that the Kurds are modern liberal democrats as the editors of the WSJ and WaPo and other U. S. worthies seem to be. It’s hard for me to believe that about any group whose heads of “political parties” are coincidentally traditional tribal chieftains. What I think has happened is that the Kurds have done a great PR job in Washington. Any hypothetical Kurdish state will necessarily be carved out of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran and I find it totally unsurprising that the non-Kurdish peoples of those countries are not down with the deal. If the Kurds want their own country they should do it the way other people do—they should seize it. And it is not in our interest to help them do so.

What in the world do the editors see as the endgame? Should the U. S. colonize all of North Africa, the Middle East, and West Asia? Presumably, they assume that everyone else in the world, e.g. the Russians and Chinese, would sit idly by as we did that.

Or do they believe that multi-ethnic states are unsustainable? What about the United States? Either way doesn’t that make them white supremacists?

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What Did They Expect?

The editors of the Washington Post, who never met a war they didn’t like, are distraught that President Trump, without consulting his advisors, allies, or the military, has ordered that U. S. troops be withdrawn from Syria:

Betrayed by the United States and forced to fight a potentially bloody conflict with Turkey, the Kurdish-led forces could quickly abandon any further effort to control the Islamic State. They might well set free the tens of thousands of former militants and family members held in SDF-controlled camps. The 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria could be forced to withdraw entirely, which would be a major victory for Russia and open the way for Iran to entrench its forces along Israel’s northern border. U.S. allies around the world meanwhile will have reason to question whether they should cooperate with a government that so casually abandons military partners.

Just for the record, I think that President Trump’s remarks about retaliation against Turkey were Turkey to overreach and “great and unmatched wisdom” are overblown and border on the unhinged. They will, no doubt, be trumpeted by the media.

I wonder what the editors think the legal pretext for the U. S.’s maintaining troops in Syria might be? It certainly isn’t Security Council authorization. None has been forthcoming. In fact we are in violation of our obligations with respect to the United Nations already.

It also can no longer be that Syria is “unwilling or unable” to to defend itself, the explanation on which the Obama Administration relied heavily.

I also note that the editors of the WaPo never complained about our supplying Al Qaeda in Syria which we have in fact done.

I wonder what the editors not to mention the Kurds expected? Did they expect the U. S. to occupy Syria permanently? That was never going to happen and it has always been obvious that it wouldn’t happen.

Removing our troops peremptorily from Syria is another case of a typically Trumpian approach to policy—doing the right thing in the wrong way for the wrong reason. Given only the choices between that and doing the wrong thing in the right way for the right reason, I think I prefer the former.

I would much rather be doing the right thing in the right way for the right reason but if there is one thing I have learned it is that I don’t get what I want.

Meanwhile, what about Erdogan’s Turkey? Kemalist Turkey was admitted to NATO not Islamist Turkey. Is there really a role for an Islamist Turkey in NATO? Rather than pieties about the fate of the Kurds we should be concerning ourselves with addressing that.

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Nuclear Jihad?

That more attention isn’t being paid to this by the major news outlets is a scandal and an outrage. At the Washington Times, take a look at this rundown on the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan by Shak Hill:

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since the 1947 partition created the two states; two of the three were over Kashmir. None of those wars occurred when either country possessed nuclear weapons.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the United Nations on Sept. 29 and threatened to change that. Mr. Khan took the 15 minutes of speaking time allotted him and went nearly an hour, using the entire speech to speak of “jihad” over Kashmir and rail against his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Nehendra Modi.

“Jihad” is not a word the world wants to hear from a man atop a self-described Islamic republic that owns more than 100 nuclear weapons.

Read the whole thing. This is the most dangerous issue in the world today.

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The UAW Strike

In case you’ve lost sight of it, the autoworkers are still striking against General Motors. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Analysts estimate GM is losing $50 million to $100 million a day from lost factory production, a sum that is expected to make a bigger dent in the company’s second-half performance the longer the work stoppage goes on. JPMorgan Chase last week pegged GM’s losses at more than $1 billion through two weeks of the strike.

GM last week idled its pickup-truck plant in Mexico because of strike-related parts shortages, fully cutting off output of its most-profitable vehicle line.

Workers get $250 a week in financial assistance from the union’s strike fund but that figure is a fraction of their full wage, which is anywhere from $630 to $1,200 for a 40-hour workweek.

Looming behind the strike is GM’s long-range bet on building more electric cars, which require far fewer workers and have more foreign-sourced parts. For the UAW, such plans are a threat to wages and job security.

Issues include the tiered pay system that now prevails in the auto industry with new hires being paid less than veterans, holding the line on the number of workers employed, and preserving the union’s “Cadillac” health care plan.

Possibly the most serious issue is that the union just doesn’t trust GM management and the recent setback in negotiations suggests that the workers’ trust in management is eroding if anything.

When I was a kid a strike like this might well have paralyzed the entire country. That this strike has not shows just how much the auto industry and the whole economy have changed. There used to be thousands of feeder companies, large and small, that were idled when the UAW struck against GM. Now a lot of those U. S. companies have gone out of business, replaced by overseas suppliers. I wonder if the strike is having a measurable effect on the economies of Japan, South Korea, and other countries where today’s auto suppliers are located.

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Tribune of the Elite

At The Week Matthew Walther speculates about Elizabeth Warren’s becoming the Democratic nominee:

Warren, meanwhile, is the only candidate showing signs of doing what I and many other observers said would be necessary for the eventual Democratic nominee — namely, splitting the difference between DNC establishment types and progressive activists. On paper Warren might have a great deal in common with Bernie Sanders, but her style is fundamentally different. Yes, she talks about breaking up the world’s largest corporations and increasing taxes (and even creating new ones) and single-payer health care, but she also talks about the importance of party unity. She understands that you can say “I agree with Bernie” in a debate as long you explain to donors behind closed doors that you are not here for a “revolution.” She does not shout or rant.

For all of these reasons, Warren is a great candidate in a Democratic primary and the one most likely to win the nomination if Joe Biden implodes. (Nancy Pelosi’s recent decision to make his son Hunter’s extensive knowledge of Eurasian mining infrastructure a 24/7 cable news talking point probably won’t help forestall that possibility.)

but he’s less confident of her being able to run a successful campaign against Trump:

If you don’t think Trump is capable of getting under her skin, remember that last year he single-handedly convinced her to take a freaking DNA test, the results of which she proudly reported, not-so-accidentally endorsing the “one-drop” theory. Native Americans were, rather understandably, appalled. Everyone else, with the possible exception of Trump himself, was confused. This is not how a sober-minded person responds to jibes from someone who has spent his entire life insulting people.

The Native American ancestry controversy is not going away, even if Warren does somehow manage to beat the current Super Tuesday math, which still favors Biden. How many Pocahontas jokes do you think she can stomach? Is she ready for Trump to tweet “Colors of the Wind” with her face superimposed on the Disney princess character by some teenaged alt-right sludgelord?

IMO Sen. Warren’s problems with resume-padding merely begin with her pretense of American Indian ancestry. A retort that Trump lies all of the time won’t help. We need a real straight-shooter not a complement to Trump.

Sen. Warren’s gravest problem is that she represents a single constituency of the Democratic Party—college-educated whites—and winning that constituency isn’t enough to win the election. Will she able to bring out enough blacks and Hispanics to win? We don’t know.

And don’t underestimate Trump. We only know the campaign he’s been running not the campaign he will run. He’s a wily opponent. Don’t underestimate his ability to adapt.

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What We’ve Always Known About China

The editors of the Washington Post say that the Chinese authorities’ response to the demonstrations in Hong Kong is “wrecking Hong Kong’s ideals”:

Under pressure from the streets, Ms. Lam eventually withdrew the objectionable extradition law, and, at almost any point, the demonstrators would probably have been satisfied if she had met relatively modest demands for an investigation into police brutality and an adherence to democratic norms. But neither Ms. Lam nor the overlords in Beijing understood this, and the latest crackdown is the most stark evidence yet of their self-defeating miscalculation. They have entirely destroyed the “one country, two systems” pledge under which the handover was made. For years, Taiwan, a thriving democracy, has watched — warily — how that pledge would unfold. Now the answer is clear: China will stop at nothing to achieve absolute control.

For those whose vision has not been obscured by dollar bill-colored blinders it has merely confirmed what we’ve known all along. Economic liberalization will not bring political liberalization in China. Economic liberalization may well be evanescent. The authorities’ main priority is retaining their own grip on power.

I don’t know what practical effect the editors’ preferred course of action:

Congress ought to send a stronger message by approving legislation requiring a review of whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from China to deserve its current special economic and legal treatment from the United States.

other than to hurt the people of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is just not that essential to China any more. Unlike 20 years ago China has other financial hubs.

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Blame Congress

Rather than get into an argument about whether David Leonhardt is bouncing back and forth among personal income taxes, marginal vs. effective rates, and corporate income taxes in his latest New York Times column, I will couch my objection this way. If you think “the rich” don’t pay enough of their income in taxes, blame Congress. Just changing the marginal rates (the rates in the 1040 instructions) won’t necessarily achieve the objective you want.

You’ve got to change how income is calculated and what’s deductible from income, too. Take the home mortgage interest deduction, for example. Under present rules the interest on the first $1,000,000 in mortgage debt can be deducted from your income for purposes of calculating the taxes you owe. I feel confident in asserting that very, very few in the bottom 90% of income earners are taking out million dollar mortgages. If we were to want to give most of the benefit of that “tax expenditure” as it’s called to those with incomes in the bottom 90%, we’d reduce the cap to something more reasonable.

That would engender howls of anguish from people living in places with very expensive housing, realtors and home builders, and state and local governments.

But the biggest howls of all would come from Congress. Most of Congress’s power depends on being able to offer something (in this case a tax break) to high rollers. Even with simplification the tax code runs to thousands of pages. That isn’t to keep it simple and comprehensible.

Marginal rates are eye-catching and make good political footballs but the real action is in how income is calculated and what deductions are offered.

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Who Are the Houthis?

There’s a good briefing at Deutsche-Welle on the Houthis. Here’s a snippet:

The Houthis emerged in the 1980s, forming a broad tribal alliance in Yemen’s north based on a revival of Zaydism, a branch of Shia Islam, in opposition to an expanding Salafism.

They were also motivated by what they saw as Saleh’s economic discrimination of the north.

After morphing into a militia in the 2000s, they fought six rounds of war from 2004-2010 against then-President Saleh’s forces, until the 2011 Arab Spring uprising toppled him.

When two years of national dialogue broke down, the Houthis ousted the new Saudi-backed Yemeni leader Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and took Sanaa.

After they allied with their former enemy Saleh, fearing their growing power, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with help from the US and UK, opened an air and ground war against them.

There are several key points to keep in mind. First, the Saudi intervention in Yemen is not the result of attacks by Yemenis on Saudi Arabia but Saudi interference in a Yemeni civil war. Second, although Iranian support for the Houthis is pretty obvious now, it’s not nearly as obvious that the Iranians were supporting the Houthis prior to Saudi Arabia’s effectively installing their man as the ruler of Yemen in 2012.

And then there’s this. Although the “drone” attack on Saudi oilfields have gotten enormous publicity what has received much less is that the Yemenis are, essentially, winning on the ground. The Saudi army is essentially incompetent. The Saudi air force is only able to maintain its campaign against Yemen, in what has been called the “world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe”, deliberately targeting children, hospitals, schools, and other civilian targets, with U. S. support.

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Present Tense

Speaking of escalation the tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir continue to escalate as well. Pakistan just threatened India with retaliation.

The situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate as well. The situation in Venezuela puts pressure on Cuba which is dependent on Venezuela for its oil.

In Paris a radical Islamist has killed four police officers in Paris police headquarters in a knife attack.

There’s just 25 days until a “hard” Brexit.

I can’t help but wonder what the rest of the world thinks of our reaction to the impeachment inquiry in the House. I know what the Europeans thought of the Nixon impeachment hearings. They thought we had lost our collective mind.

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Escalation in Hong Kong

You may have missed it with the fixation of the media on impeachment but the situation in Hong Kong between the people of Hong Kong and the Chinese authorities is continuing to escalate. The Wall Street Journal reports:

For the first time during the four months of unrest, uniformed soldiers from the Hong Kong garrison of the People’s Liberation Army raised a yellow warning flag at nearby protesters, saying: “You are in breach of the law. You may be prosecuted.”

Tens of thousands poured into the streets Sunday, many wearing masks in defiance of a ban on them introduced Saturday under the emergency law. There were scenes of anarchy as some protesters set fires, smashed Chinese banks and subway stations, while police, outnumbered at many locations, fired volleys of tear gas and projectiles. A taxi driver was beaten bloody by a mob in another district after he rammed into a group of protesters.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam invoked the colonial-era law Friday to ban masks at public gatherings, saying it was necessary to deter protesters who posed a serious danger to Hong Kong. The full emergency law, however, gives her government sweeping powers that include allowing authorities to impose curfews, extend detentions, censor the internet and take control of all transport—moves her government has been reluctant to impose.

“I would expect to see such power to be invoked soon, if the masks ban does not stop the protests,” Steve Tsang, director of the School of Oriental and African Studies China Institute at the University of London. “There is now a sufficiently strongly motivated group among the protestors to fight whatever the government does to end the protests, so I see an escalation.”

If the wider application of those powers fails, Mr. Tsang said, the next step would be the deployment of China’s People’s Armed Police—a paramilitary force used across the mainland border for domestic security.

I’m actually surprised that deployment did not take place this week.

I emphatically reject the idea that the U. S. should take any actions the Chinese authorities would construe as material support of the demonstrators. The demonstrators have enough trouble as it is without our building a case that they’re treasonous.

Sadly, we won’t take the action we should—mobilizing our allies and trading partners to stop doing business with China. Let China return to its autarky. That’s where it’s headed anyway. The entire world except for China will be the better for it. Certainly no one can reasonably believe that economic dealings with China will necessarily lead to political liberalization in China and without that a growing China is a threat to its neighbors, the United States, and the whole world.

Yesterday I read an article that blamed George W. Bush for China’s abuse of its international agreements and there’s a kernel of truth there. He was blithely unconcerned when China violated the agreements into which it entered when it was admitted to the World Trade Organization. But it wasn’t just Bush. It was every president since Nixon and after Bush except, perhaps, Trump.

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