Streetwise Professor

August 14, 2015

Obama & Kerry: (a) Chump, (b) Patsy, (c) Mark, (d) Sucker, (e) All of the Above?

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 6:07 pm

Apparently the administration is shocked! Shocked! that Turkey took advantage of its deal with the US to hammer its real enemy (the Kurds) while leaving its frenemy (ISIS) virtually untouched:

Turkey has launched a series of aggressive airstrikes against Kurdish militants but has yet to turn its firepower on Islamic State in Syria as expected, increasing concerns in Washington about the Ankara government’s intentions.

. . . .

But some U.S. officials suspect Turkey is using its recent agreement with the U.S. to fight Islamic State as cover for a new offensive against Kurdish separatist group PKK.

A senior U.S. official said Turkey gave American officials assurances last week that it planned to wrap up attacks on the Kurds in short order, but it has kept up the bombardments focused on the group’s bases in northern Iraq near the Turkish border.

“It’s clear that ISIL was a hook,” said a senior U.S. military official, referring to Islamic State. “Turkey wanted to move against the PKK, but it needed a hook.”

Who knew? This was evident within minutes of the deal being announced, and should have been eminently foreseeable. The US got conned. Played. Pantsed. Obama and Kerry were chumps. Suckers. Patsies. Marks. So yes, the answer is (e)!

But by all means, after seeing them getting totally taken by a duplicitous Middle Eastern autocrat, we should totally trust their assurances that they have this Iran thing completely under control. With such an abysmal record of diplomatic failures, of which this is just the latest, Obama’s superciliousness towards the numerous critics of the Iran deal (supercilious, when he isn’t accusing them of warmongering and treason) is an amazing thing to behold.

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August 12, 2015

Hey, It’s August: The Russian Economy Imitates the Kursk

Filed under: China,Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 1:37 pm

Despite happy talk from the government in recent months, Russia continues its downward economic spiral. The economy contracted by 4.6 percent in the second quarter. This is pretty appalling, given that oil prices had rebounded some. The Economics Ministry says this is “the lowest point” for Russia, but given the recent rout in oil prices, and the troubling signs coming out of Russia, this seems unduly optimistic. If anything Q3 and Q4 are likely to be worse. These therefore seem to be more realistic predictions:

“While second-quarter growth surprised on the downside, perhaps far more importantly is the fact that the outlook for the Russian economy has deteriorated so far in the third quarter,” Piotr Matys, a London-based foreign-exchange strategist at Rabobank, said by e-mail.

. . . .

“The economic prospects for the coming quarters look pretty grim,” Liza Ermolenko, an analyst at London-based Capital Economics Ltd., said by e-mail. “Industry appears to have been a major cause behind the deterioration in the second quarter, having gone from being a relative bright spot in the first quarter.”

The consensus is now that the current economic situation is more dire than 2008-2009, and that it is likely to persist far longer.

On top of this, China’s sudden devaulation of the Yuan has caused a further decline in commodity prices, with Brent now below $50/bbl. This has contributed to a further decline in the Ruble, which fell about 2 percent in the aftermath of China’s move.  The Russian currency is now around 65 to the dollar.  Russia is particularly vulnerable to an extended Chinese malaise, not to mention a hard Chinese landing.

The Russian Central Bank now faces the same conundrum that it confronted last summer and fall. It can choose between loosening monetary policy to spur the economy but would thereby spur inflation (already running at over 15 percent) and pressure the ruble even further. Or it can choose to defend the Ruble, which would hamstring the real economy, and potentially spur capital flight if the credibility of the RCB’s action is doubted. Which leg does it chew off?

Wherever Putin and his economic advisers look, the scene is bleak indeed. The situation in China is particularly ominous, because Putin had grabbed onto China like a drowning man, hoping it would rescue him from the blows raining down from sanctions and the commodity price implosion. But the Chinese devaluation, combined with a litany of other grim statistics coming out of China, suggests that if China is not drowning itself, it is struggling mightily to keep its head above water.  Russia is particularly vulnerable to an extended Chinese malaise, not to mention a hard Chinese landing. Putin counted on China’s economic support to allow him to continue his Ukrainian adventure and weather the resulting sanctions.  It’s not happening (Chinese direct investment into Russia has fallen by 25 percent), and the prospects of it happening anytime soon are diminishing daily.

Nor are the long run prospects particularly encouraging, not with Bloomberg running articles titled “Russian Workers Vie With Greece in Race for Productivity Abyss,” the upshot of which is that Russia has the lowest productivity in Europe, running at 50 percent of the European average and 30 percent below Greece. (Which makes this boast by the Russian Minister of Industry and Trade that Russia has overtaken the US in labor productivity even more hilarious.)

In brief, the Russian economy is doing an imitation of the Kursk, 15 years ago. The only difference is that Putin has yet to admit the economy has sunk.

 

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August 11, 2015

Chronicles of Hillary, Book the Second: The Felon’s Education Plan

Filed under: Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 7:13 pm

A few weeks ago I wrote the first in what I anticipated would be a running series of posts on Hillary Clinton. If the US is still a country of laws, not men (or women, in this instance), or if Hillary Clinton is an honorable individual, this would be a short-lived serial indeed. For today the State Department Inspector General determined that Clinton’s private email server contained a least two emails classified at extremely high levels. This despite her adamant (though utterly risible) denials that she ever discussed classified matters via her personal email. (I say risible because what Secretary of State would never discuss classified information in writing? If you believe she never did, I have a bridge spanning boroughs to sell to you cheap.)

Pair this story with another story that has been in the news and you know how bad it is. Namely, the story that the Chinese have penetrated the private emails of virtually all high ranking national security officials since at least 2010. And you know the Russians have done the same. And the Iranians. And maybe even the Tongans.

This is a felony. It appears to be open and shut. Hillary Clinton has no business holding any office or trust in the United States government, let alone the presidency. If this is a country of laws, she will be prosecuted and convicted, like David Petraeus. If she were a woman of honor, she would terminate her candidacy. But I have serious doubts on both scores-especially the last. Expect a barrage of vicious attacks on her critics (protect the queen! kill the messenger!), combined wit a campaign of obfuscation and denial. It’s the Clinton way. I can hope, but seriously I think this episode will be yet another demonstration of the low state to which this nation has descended.

Pending the outcome of this despicable affair, I will add to the Hillary Chronicles by writing about her New College Compact. I read it, so you don’t have to. Suffice it to say that it proves that Hillary only excels her dishonesty with her economic retardation. This document is triple distilled economic stupidity. 199 Proof.

Where to begin? Start with her formulation of the problem:

Either they say, “We just can’t afford it,” and pass up on all the opportunities that a degree offers — or they do whatever it takes to pay for it, even if that means going deeply into debt.

Now, for most people, the return on investment of a college degree is still worth it. On average, people with four-year degrees earn over half a million dollars more over their careers than people with high school degrees.

So it’s too expensive, but it’s worth it. Or something. But what about those for whom it isn’t worth it? Then why the hell should they be doing it? And why the hell should somebody else be paying for it?

But the worst part is this: “we’ll make sure cost isn’t a barrier.”

Under my plan, tuition will be affordable for every family. Students should never have to take out a loan to pay for tuition at their state’s public university. We’ll make sure the federal government and the states step up to help pay the cost, so the burden doesn’t fall on families alone.

Further, Hillary proposes to make community college free, and to subsidize the student loans that are undertaken, and to refinance outstanding loans at subsidized rates. (Come to think of it, Hillary’s proposal has a lot in common with China’s recent bailout of local government funding vehicles.) The refinancing portion is particularly daft, because those costs are sunk. This is just a pure transfer, and likely a regressive transfer because as Hillary herself admits, the college educated have higher incomes.

Most economic train wrecks occur when those who receive the benefits don’t pay the cost. One of the virtues of student loans is that the person who borrows out the wazoo to pay for the degree in anthropology (or puppetry!) has to bear the misery of his/her unwise choice. Their experiences should be spread far and wide, pour encourager les autres. A Scared Straight program is in order, but instead Hillary proposes to saddle taxpayers with bearing the cost of the romantic or juvenile or just plain stupid choices college bound students make, which often includes the choice of bounding off to college in the first place.

Here’s Hillary’s plan, such as it is:

  • Under the New College Compact, no student should have to borrow to pay tuition at a public college.
  • Schools will have to control their costs and show more accountability to their students.
  • States will have to meet their obligation to invest in higher education.
  • The federal government will increase its investment in education, and won’t profit off student loans.
  • And millions with student debt will be able to refinance it at lower rates.

First, I note the massive amount of federal coercion on the states inherent in the plan. Second: I laughed out loud at the “federal government . . . won’t profit off student loans.” That’s pretty much guaranteed.

Third, the South Park Underwear Gnomes plan is about as coherent: “1. Collect underwear. 2. ? 3. Profit!”

The outcome of this plan, if heaven forfend it is implemented, will be: 1. a massive misallocation of human resources, as too many people go to college and too many people choose the wrong degree. 2. Deadweight losses from the taxation required to pay the estimated $350 billion cost of the program (which is doubtless an underestimate). 3. The cost of college–the real cost incurred, not the cost paid by the beneficiaries of the program–will go up, as surely as day follows night. The objective of the program is to raise the demand for college education, which will increase output, total cost, and marginal cost.

This is the first of Hillary’s big, bad ideas. If justice is done it will be the last. But, alas, I doubt justice will be served, and that more big, bad ideas are to come. When they are, I’ll add to the chronicles.

 

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August 10, 2015

Destroying Seized Food: Compounding Idiocy With Lunacy

Filed under: Commodities,Economics,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 5:59 pm

Russia cemented its well-deserved reputation for insanity by bulldozing and burning tons of food seized for violating the country’s cut-off-its-nose-to-spite-its-face import ban. This was daft, even overlooking the foolishness of the ban.

Seizing smuggled foodstuffs raises the cost of violating the ban, thereby achieving a deterrent effect. But what’s the point of destroying what was seized? Selling it would make much more sense. First, selling would actually help strengthen the ban by increasing supply and reducing prices in Russia, thereby reducing the profitability of smuggling. This would have also increased Russian consumption, making Russians better off. Second, the Russian government could realize revenue by selling the confiscated products: God knows it can use every ruble it can get. Or it could just give the stuff away, and get a PR victory as well as reducing the incentive to smuggle.

In other words, no economic downside, and some economic upside (assuming the ban is rational).

Instead, the Russian government engaged in exhibitionist masochism, and destroyed the seized items in a very public and flamboyant way.

Why? Beats me. Maybe they were trying to make the point that Russia needs nothing from the decadent West. Or maybe they are in thrall to the broken window fallacy, and believe that destroying stimulates production.

I really don’t want to understand. Because to understand these lunatics, I would probably have to descend into lunacy myself.

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Gazprom Has Unprotected Sales, And Pays the Price

Filed under: Commodities,Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 5:40 pm

I have long mocked Gazprom’s obstreperous, and economically unhinged, defense of an oil price peg of its gas sales. So today is another schadenfreude day, as the FT reports that Gazprom’s vaunted gas deal with China is finding that The East is Red (as in ink) because the price was linked to oil and “offers no protection against low [oil] prices.” (And despite the evident risks of going without protection, Russia is contemplating a ban on foreign condoms! Maybe Gazprom needs to be more “strict and discriminating” in its contracting practices.)

Apparently the company took strategic advice from Obama, who when asked by Fareed Zakaria what would happen if the Iran deal failed, said that “I have a general policy in big issues like this not to anticipate failure“:

Asked whether the contract built in protections to ensure that Gazprom would not make a loss in the event of a prolonged period of low oil prices, Pavel Oderov, a director at the company, said: “We have registered high risk appetite for this contract and we do not envisage such an event.”

By “high risk appetite,” I think he meant: “we were freaking desperate and we put it all on black (as in oil) to gamble for resurrection.”

And of course, Putin can’t let Gazprom eat a loss:

Separately, the Russian government is preparing to support the flagship project. According to a document published by the Kremlin on Monday, president Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian government to draw up by the start of September a “comprehensive action plan to ensure government support for the construction of gas transport infrastructure, including the Power of Siberia pipeline”.

Like the Russian government has money to throw around, especially since Gazprom (and Rosneft) are supposed to be the cash cows that feed the rest of its corrupt cronies, and the budget.

Insisting on the oil peg was always nuts. Note that one reason why many buyers of LNG want to move away from the oil-link is to diversify their price risk: that’s exactly why Russia, already a huge oil long, should have jumped at the chance to move away from a 100 percent reliance on oil price linkages. Yes, oil and gas prices are correlated, but imperfectly so, and moving away from oil-based pricing for gas would have reduced the country’s exposure to oil prices. But apparently Gazprom management and Putin believed that oil would always outperform gas, and insisted on the link. Be careful what you ask for, Vlad!

This is just the latest in a litany of Gazprom failures. Along with today’s bad news about the China contract-the cornerstone of Putin’s vaunted pivot to Asia-the company disclosed that production was down and sales to Europe were down in the first quarter. The company’s ruble profits rose only because the ruble cratered: talk about the cloud engulfing the silver lining. Further, the Turkish Stream project appears dead in the water, foundering upon-you guessed it-the inability to negotiate a price. That, and the cracked economic rationale for the project.

The world is finally awakening to the fact that the alleged energy behemoth is in fact an economically incoherent mess. In the US, it would have been taken over, and ruthlessly rationalized. Or put into rehab. Or broken up. But Putin continues to let it blunder on, like a vodka-sotted giant.

Not so long ago, Putin was considered some sort of virtuoso. He apparently thought so too. But now everything that used to work for him is self-destructing. And he seems quite bewildered at his turn of fortune.

In truth, Putin was not a virtuoso: he confused luck–high oil prices–for some sort of strategic genius. He was a huge spec long on oil, and looked brilliant when the price was high. When it is low, not so much. And idiotically, one of his champions insisted on increasing that exposure instead of diversifying away from it.

Well played. Well played.

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August 6, 2015

70 Years Ago, A Violent Ideology Was Destroyed By A Better Idea: Nuclear Fission

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:48 am

Today is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In commemoration, we are being bombarded with moralizing criticisms of the US’s actions. Japan is playing the victim card for all it is worth, and it is getting considerable support in the predictable quarters of the US and Europe.

These criticisms only survive in a vacuum in which history begins on 6 August, 1945.  Put into proper historical context, Truman’s decision to drop the bomb is readily understood and easily defended.  Real decisions require an understanding of the choices at hand, and Truman’s choices were grim.

The alternative to the bomb was a continued relentless air assault on Japan with conventional weapons, likely culminating with a series of invasions of the home islands, combined with a Soviet assault in Manchuria and then into China. The human toll of this alternative would have far exceeded that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, especially in Japanese lives.  Curtis LeMay’s firebombing campaign inflicted horrific casualties: the firebombing of Tokyo on 8/9 March, 1945 alone killed over 100,000 Japanese civilians. The collective toll of the conventional bombing campaign was over 300,000 from November 1944-August 1945, and its continuation would have killed more Japanese than the atomic bombs did.

Then there is the invasion itself, for which the Japanese had prepared a last ditch defense that would have put every civilian in the front lines with bamboo spears, grenades and old rifles. On Okinawa, April-June 1945, an estimated one-third of the civilian population died, many by suicide.  The civilian toll on Saipan a year earlier was also large.

Then add in the horrific military casualties the Japanese would have suffered. In  most previous island battles, Japanese death rates were above 90 percent due to the fanaticism with which they fought. The same fanaticism would have been inevitable in a defense of the home islands, with similar results.

And I haven’t even gotten to the American (and British) casualties, which were rightly Truman’s first responsibility. On Okinawa, the US lost 20,000 KIA, approximately 8 percent of the peak US force.

To this add the massive Chinese civilian casualties that would have resulted from an extended Soviet attack.

Many critics of the dropping of the bomb counter that these horrors would have been avoided, because the Japanese were on the brink of surrender. This is the most ahistorical claim of all. Any leader contemplating the recent experience on Okinawa and Iwo Jima would have thought the idea of an impending Japanese surrender utterly delusional. Further, the most fanatical elements of the Japanese military were violently opposed to the idea of surrender even after the bombs were dropped. Officers mounted a last ditch coup in an attempt to prevent the playing of the recording of the Emperor’s surrender statement. There was a large hardcore element in Japan that would have resisted to the last had not the Emperor ordered them to lay down their arms.

In sum, by any reasonable calculus, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as horrific as they were, saved lives.

Japanese claims of victimhood ring particularly hollow. The fire in the sky was not a bolt from the blue. It was the climax of an orgy of destruction and death brought on by the Japanese, and carried out by them with a ruthlessness perhaps rivaled only the the Nazis in eastern Europe and the USSR. Indeed, Japanese atrocities pre-dated Nazi ones: millions of Chinese died at Japanese hands, often in the most brutal and inhumane ways, starting in 1931 (in Manchuria) and 1937 (in China proper).  Babies on bayonets were not a figment of wartime propaganda. They were a reality. Indeed, the Japanese reveled in such conduct, in large part because of a belief in their racial superiority. And don’t forget that Japan: (a) had its own nuclear program, (b) had an extensive chemical and biological warfare program which involved testing on POWs and civilians, and (c) waged chemical and biological warfare in China.

Further, while the Japanese make a moral claim against the US, they are adamant in their refusal to admit the validity of any such claim against them. Unlike the Germans, who have for the most part come to grips with their past and acknowledge and have paid reparations for the actions of the Hitler government, the Japanese have largely obfuscated and denied what their forebears did with no justification even approaching Truman’s.

Japan sowed the wind, and it reaped the whirlwind. That should be the focus of Japan’s commemoration of Hiroshima.

Some weeks ago, Obama said “ideologies are not defeated with guns but better ideas.” There is at least one instance where that is true. In August, 1945, the violent ideology of Bushido was defeated by an idea. The better idea was nuclear fission.

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August 5, 2015

Five Guys Isn’t a Burger Joint: It’s What’s Left of the US Trained “Force” in Syria

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:19 pm

With considerable embarrassment, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter admitted to Congress that the US had trained a grand total of 60 fighters in Syria after the expenditure of tens of millions. But his numbers are out of date. For in an arguably criminal move, no sooner had Carter reported to Congress that the US sent this platoon, grandeloquently  named “30 Division” into Syria, in the naive hope that Syria’s Al Qaeda group Al Nusra and other Islamist groups would treat them as allies not enemies. Since when was Al Qaeda fond of American lackeys?

The US was soon disabused of its fantastical notion. Almost as soon as they set foot in Syria, Al Nusra captured many of the 30 division, including its leader. Several of those have thrown over to Al Nusra. Yesterday, Al Nusra attacked the American-trained troops, killing and wounding several.

I have seen various counts of the casualties, one of which states that there are 13 left. So Five Guys isn’t that far off.

In other news of the wretched US policy in Syria, the US and Turkey have reached an agreement on US use of the Incirlik air base. But the Turks consider it a “red line” to use Incrilik-Bcsed aircraft to support Kurds fighting ISIS even though the YPG is the only effective ground force currently fighting the head choppers. And of course, even though Obama ignores his own red lines, he scrupulously adheres to Erdogan’s. Since the US cannot bomb from Incirlik in support of the Kurds, it will either (a) bomb in support of no ground force, meaning that the airpower will be ineffectual, or (b) it will bomb in support of non-Kurdish units in the “safe zone” on the Turkish border west of the Euphrates, most of which are Islamists of one sort or another.

This all makes the Bay of Pigs look like the height of military genius and moral courage.

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August 3, 2015

Adding to Atlas’s Burden: The EPA’s CO2 Rule

Filed under: Climate Change,Commodities,Economics,Energy,Politics,Regulation — The Professor @ 6:41 pm

Acting under the aegis of its most malign agency, the EPA, in its unbending effort to hamstring the US economy, the Obama administration today released its long dreaded CO2 rule. The Rule mandates a 32 percent decrease in CO2 emissions by 2030. This outcome will be achieved by a dramatic reduction in the use of coal powered generation, and its replacement by renewables.

The administration touts its generosity by pointing out that compliance with the Rule has been extended by 2 years.

Great. We get screwed in 7 years, instead of just 5. Gee. Thanks. How thoughtful. You really shouldn’t have.

The Rule is tarted up with a cost-benefit analysis which purports to show massive benefits and modest costs. The benefit is in the form of improved health, in particular through the reduction in respiratory ailments.

But every step of this analysis is literally incredible. Consider the steps. First is an estimate of how the regulation affects climate. The second is an estimate of how climate affects health. The third is an estimate of the value of these health benefits. None of these calculations is remotely plausible, or even is it plausible that they can be made realistically, given the incredible complexity of climate and health.

And note the bait and switch here. The Rule is touted as a solution to the Phenomenon Once Known As Global Warming. But the Rule itself admits that the effect on temperature will be point zero one eight degrees centigrade by 2100. This is effectively zero, meaning that the “Climate Change” benefit of the Rule is zero.

The health benefits come from reductions in particulates from coal generating plants. So why not regulate particulates specifically?

This all points out that cost benefit analysis for large federal rules is basically Kabuki theater. Some laws require this analysis, but since courts give so much deference (under Chevron) to agencies, that this analysis is not subject to any serious scrutiny. Consequently, the process is ritual, not a serious check on agency discretion.

The Rule is grotesquely inefficient even if you believe this Making Shit Up And Calling it Science!® “cost-benefit analysis.” An efficient rule would achieve its results at lowest cost. But the command-and-control EPA rule does not do this.

Originally, the Rule was expected to lead to a substitution of natural gas for coal. But we can’t have that, can we, given that natural gas is a fossil fuel (even if Nancy Pelosi doesn’t think so)? So the current rule encourages the use of renewables.

The economics of renewables (especially wind) are atrocious. They are intermittent and diffuse. Intermittency strains reliability, and requires maintaining backup generation. Germany (and other countries, including Spain) have gone all in on renewables, and it has been a disaster. Energiewende has saddled Germany with high costs and lower quality power that has imposed great costs on German manufacturing. (Fluctuations in wind and sunlight induce fluctuations in frequency that wreak havoc with precision manufacturing processes.) California is already on the verge of reliability problems when the sun sets during winter months due to a sudden drop in solar generation (aka the swan problem) that requires a sudden ramp up of conventional generation: but the supply of solar during daylight hours undermines the economics of conventional generation. Wind power in Texas is leading to frequent bouts of negative prices which reduce the profitability of conventional generation necessary to maintain reliability.

The Rule acknowledges reliability issues, but the response is totally inadequate:

[T]he rule requires states to address reliability in their state plans. The final rule also provides a “reliability safety valve” to address any reliability challenges that arise on a case-by-case basis.

That’s just great. EPA says: “Yeah, we know renewables create reliability issues. Not our problem! You figure it out, states.” Note that this is problematic because the electrical grid is interconnected, meaning that retiring a coal plant in one state can have serious effects on reliability in numerous other states. So how do individual state plans efficiently address these inherently interstate issues? And as for the “safety valve”, the case-by-case analysis is likely to be cumbersome and costly.

Let’s get down to cases. By its own calculations, the proposed Rule will have a risible effect on global temperature. Therefore, there is no cost benefit justification for the control of CO2 per se, the ostensible purpose of the rule. If there are substantial benefits from reducing particulate emissions, then tax these emissions at a rate commensurate with these costs and let utilities and others find the most economical way of complying.

But that’s not the point, is it? Obama and the EPA don’t want efficiency. They have an intense ideological animus against fossil fuels, and a romantic attachment to renewables: many of the Democrats’ largest donors are have a strong investment in renewables. Pigouvian approaches would likely result in the failure to litter the landscape with bird blending windmills and massive solar panels, so they prefer command and control approaches instead.

And did I mention that Obama insinuated that if you oppose the Rule you are racist?

This new Rule is a piece with the last 6 plus years of grotesquely inefficient legislation and regulations. Frankendodd. Obamacare. Net Neutrality. Each of these add huge amounts of new weight that the Atlas of the American economy must bear. An economy subjected to such burdens will survive, but it will not thrive. The EPA’s new Rule will provide no meaningful benefit, and any benefits that it does generate will be gained at excessive cost. But that is the Obama way. That is the leftist way.

 

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August 2, 2015

They Are Spinning in Valhalla

Filed under: History — The Professor @ 3:56 pm

In June I visited Stockholm, and was able to fit in a trip to the Swedish history museum. I was quite interested in viewing the Viking exhibit, but was rather aghast when I did. First, the signage disclaimed any Swedish responsibility for the Vikings: “Vikings were not Swedes.” Whatever. Second, another sign claimed  “the Vikings were peaceful.” I’m sure the monks at Lindisfarme and myriad other English monastaries, the inhabitants of any navigable river from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, etc., would beg to differ. And those Sagas. So peaceful! But the best was what a tourguide said: “The Vikings were inclusive people who treated everyone equally.” Sure they were! Talk about anachronism. Who knew the Vikings (who weren’t Swedes!) personified postmodern Swedish values. (But if they did, why the haste to deny that Vikings were Swedes? A little cognitive dissonance?)

To put an exclamation point on how far the people who reside in the country now called Sweden have changed since the 8th century, consider this: “Nine ways to become a truly Swedish man.” At least those 9 ways don’t involve peeing while sitting, which is a subject of raging debate in Germany. So there’s that.

Thank God-or would it be Odin?-that my ancestors got on the boat in the mid-19th century. And if the Swedes are denying they are Vikings, I’m pretty sure the residents of Valhalla are now willing to agree.

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July 30, 2015

Perfidious America: The Allegedly Anti-ISIS Turkish Campaign is Objectively Pro-ISIS.

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 1:42 pm

Last week the administration breathlessly announced that it had secured Turkey’s participation in the anti-ISIS campaign. This would entail Turkish airstrikes against ISIS positions, and Turkey granting the US use of Incirlik and other airbases for strike and drone aircraft. The straw that supposedly broke the camel’s back was an ISIS suicide bombing of a Kurdish protest on the Turkey-Syria border (by people wanting to cross to Kobane to help in reconstruction) and the subsequent killing of two Turkish policemen by Kurds who blamed Turkey for the bombing.

With great fanfare, Turkey launched an airstrike against ISIS. And then it has spent the last week bombing the snot out of Kurdish PKK positions in Iraq. If Turkey has engaged in further attacks against ISIS, I haven’t seen it reported, whereas there Turkey has attacked Kurdish positions on a daily basis. Nor do I believe that an extensive campaign would be possible without close coordination between the US and Turkey to avoid fratricide, mid-air collisions, etc., if their forces are operating in the same airspace against the same targets. And as I discuss below, it is unlikely such coordination is occurring.

In sum, under the pretext of attacking ISIS Turkey is attacking its real enemy, the Kurds, who happen to be the only effective ground force against ISIS, and who in addition to pushing them out of Kobane have been taking territory from ISIS and pushing it back towards Raqqa. Indeed, the Kurds have pushed ISIS away from virtually all of the Syria-Turkey border. But in addition to inflicting damage on the Kurds, the Turkish attacks will also no doubt divert Kurdish resources into a renewed war against Turkey, thereby further diminishing pressure on ISIS.

Put differently, the allegedly anti-ISIS Turkish campaign is objectively pro-ISIS.

This is not surprising, because Turkey has always perceived the Kurds-especially the PKK-as a true enemy, and has hardly been stalwart anti-ISIS. Indeed, there is much circumstantial evidence that elements in Turkey support ISIS. Turkey did precious little to seal the border with Syria, thereby allowing ISIS to move men from Turkey into Syria. Furthermore, most of ISIS’s oil is sold in Turkey. Turkey says that the PKK are atheist Marxists, but it is more accurate to say that the real beef is that they are not Sunni Islamists like Erdogan, which means that he has more affinity on sectarian grounds for ISIS than he does the Kurds.

Today Egypt went even further, explicitly accusing Turkey of supporting ISIS fighters in the Sinai.

But it gets better! The supposed deal between the US and Turkey for the use of airbases is only a verbal understanding. And we know about the reliability of verbal understandings in that part of the world, don’t we?  (This is why I doubt there is any serious coordination between US and Turkish air forces, and why I believe that there is no serious Turkish action against ISIS.)

Further, no formal deal is expected for weeks:

But the Pentagon said it will take “weeks” before U.S. airstrikes are launched from Turkish soil, as officials are still working out final arrangements. Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Monday that several bases were being looked at to house U.S. aircraft for missions against the Islamic State.

My guess is that “weeks” will turn into “never.” Erdogan, engaged in an intense domestic political battle following his bruising electoral defeat (to which a Kurdish party greatly contributed) is waging war on the PKK both because he hates them and because it plays well domestically, thereby boosting his position in coalition negotiations or a snap election. He will string out negotiations with the US until he accomplishes his political objectives, and then his enthusiasm for letting the US use Turkish bases will evaporate. Erdogan dangled supporting the US against ISIS to get a US (and NATO) green light to attack the Kurds: he will take the latter and renege on the former.

Even if, against my strong expectation, Turkey does permit US use of its bases, this will matter militarily only if the airpower supports and is coordinated with a strong ground force. At present, the only real ground force is Kurdish, and (a) Turkey is attacking the Kurds and (b) do you really think Erdogan is going to permit the use of the bases in a way that strengthens the Kurds? This is all so farcical.

This is not the first time the US has betrayed the Kurds: it has been a habit for going on 30 years. But this most recent action, betraying them again in the name of fighting ISIS, when in fact this betrayal will undermine the anti-ISIS campaign, is the most shameful of all.

Turkey has been opposed to US interests since Erdogan’s assumption of power. It has thwarted us at every turn. Only a fool would believe Erdogan (one of the leaders whom Obama said he got on best with-ha!) has changed his tune. I will certainly not discount the possibility that Obama and Kerry are fools of the first order, but I think it is more likely that this is a truly cynical ploy, with Obama pretending to have achieved a great diplomatic victory that advances the campaign against ISIS, when in fact it does nothing of the sort (and indeed is likely to do the exact opposite).

Idiocy or perfidy. Hell of a choice.

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