Russia’s Caspian Problem: Weird News Update About the Workings of the World

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Every day, there are millions of stories that don’t make the headlines, and don’t get written up in the papers, but that reflect the slow and grinding way the world really works. They reflect the tiny changes in policies, the historical patterns that ebb and flow but are never really absent, the way that past actions impact present decisions, and the way that political abstractions like “countries” and “borders” crash against the real world.

All of these factors are interesting, and I think especially so to Americans, a nation which is nearly unique in trying to ignore history, the ramifications of decisions, and geopolitical realities. But all that is catching up.

I bring this up due to a neat little story by Paul Goble in Jamestown’s Eurasia Daily Monitor, called “Collapse of Russian Shipping in Caspian Put’s Moscow’s Regional Strategy at Risk.” Even though shipping in the inland sea is booming, Russian ports, a key part of both its North-South and East-West regional strategies, is drying up. It’s about how the other Caspian nations are essentially colluding against Russia to starve its seaports, creating new regional alliances based on both underwater rights and the laws that govern surface territory, all hinging on the question: is the Caspian more like a lake or like an ocean?

What then is going on?  The answer can be found in the complicated politics of the Caspian region, the continuing difficulties the littoral states have in demarcating the seabed, as well as growing tensions among some of these states with Russia. And because that is the case, the decline of freight traffic at Russia’s Caspian ports in the first quarter of 2017 is even more significant than might appear at first glance.

In Soviet times, Moscow and Tehran divided the Caspian into two unequal zones, a division that even then had important implications because of the oil and natural gas reserves discovered on the seafloor as well as due to the rising trade between the Soviet Union and Iran. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the number of littoral states increased from two to five: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan thus become involved in talks about delimitation and trade on the Caspian alongside the Russian Federation and Iran.

For 25 years, these five littoral states have been unable to reach an agreement on the division of the seabed, something Moscow has exploited to block many pipeline projects that would not have involved Russia. Yet, at the same time, that deadlock has led to expanded contacts between other pairs of littoral states and increased shipping between and among them—again to the exclusion of the Russian Federation (Abo.net, April 18, 2016; Natural Gas World, May 6, 2017). Now, Moscow’s policies have returned like a boomerang to limit its future role in the region.

Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan call for treating the Caspian as a lake rather than an ocean, an arrangement that would divide the seabed among the countries but leave surface commerce open to all. Whereas, Turkmenistan and Iran want it to be treated as a sea and be divided totally into five sectors. Despite suggestions at a January 2017 ministerial in Baku that the five Caspian littoral states would sign an agreement overcoming the divergence of positions (see EDM, May 8), the participating foreign ministers could not even say when such a meeting would occur this year, an indication that they remain far apart (Mfa.gov.az, Azernews.az, January 25).

This isn’t a headline story, and nor should it be. Could you imagine if you got a buzz on your phone signifying a news alert and it was this? “Russia, Turkmenistan Remain Deadlocked on Oceanographic Nomenclature!” Holy shit, you’d be furious.

But that’s a reflection of how, regardless of the way time feels right now, the world doesn’t work in headlines. People come and go, and the decisions they make are momentous, but slow patterns of geography and history grind underneath their feet, constraining and shaping their actions.

Moscow’s centuries of expansion, whether as Russia or the Soviet Union, influence its relations with its former vassal states, as well as Iran, not to mention the ethnic federal entities that actually border the Caspian (most notably restless Dagestan, whose port revenues were seen as a guarantor of some stability). Russia also has no non-arctic  oceanic sea ports; it is a continental power. That’s why it is so aggressive in the Caspian and Black seas, as a way to control the Eurasian sphere.

But its aggression can often backfire, as we see here, when its oppressive thumb led other states to pair with each other and Iran, bypassing Russia, and perhaps putting its regional goals in check. This gives more lie to the “Putin is a flawless puppet master” myth. I still think Russia will rue their cruel Middle East adventures. He just got lucky with America and Trump.

But then, what choice did Putin have, with the Caspian? He was dealing with the legacy of an empire that rushed from the colds of northern Europe to the sunbaked sea, colliding with Iran and with other ancient Muslim nations, having to bloodily hack their way through the Caucuses to get there.

The sea is what mattered to Russia, as an easier way to get across the continent. And then, after WWI, for its insane abundance of oil and natural gas. This was heightened in WWII, when Hitler diverted a good chunk of his invading army south to secure the oil fields near Baku. And certainly, after the fall of the USSR, Russia fought to hang on to it Caucus territories both to stay by the sea, and to avoid letting the rest of its hard-fought empire, which we take for cartographical permanence, from spiraling away.

These things matter. History matters. Geography matters. America, whose long racial history is catching up with it, which is seeing the impact that its centuries of continental aggression and century of global aggression have wrought, and who is slowly learning the real lessons of geography, needs to understand that. Russia does. Iran does. The butchers of the ISIS and al Qaeda do. It’s time we do, too.

Trump’s Saudi Arabia Speech Condemns Yemen; Shows Shallow Weakness of His Phony Tough Guy Approach

 

Admit it, you’d like to see how Trump would do filling this out, right?

 

I was in the car during the President’s big speech on terrorism to a bunch of gilded heirs in a gilded palace, and there was a certain peculiar horror at hearing that voice saying those words. Even ignoring for a moment the substance of what he said, it was the fact that Donald Trump, who couldn’t be bothered to learn the first thing about terrorism other than “it’s bad, ok, believe me?”, was giving a major talk to rapt heads of state, forced to listen because this was the most powerful man in the world, representing the United States of America. It really put into stark relief the absurdity of our moment.

In a way, it was even worse that most of what he said was insipid and banal, a series of rolling cliches that sounded like the book report of a middling college Republican. His teleprompted bromides made him sound, in our dumb media formulations, “Presidential”. But you also didn’t have to dig very deep to see the bloody soil right beneath his feet.

The President made very clear that only one thing mattered: “defeating terrorism” by force. The drumbeat of his speech, the part they probably most want remembered, is when he dimly intoned with fake-machismo that the collected autocrats and kings should “DRIVE THEM OUT”.  It’s a strange formulation, because for all his anti-PC swagger about how this is an Islamic problem, he seemingly ignores that you can’t just “Drive them out” without addressing the sicknesses and pathologies in society, both internal and imposed, that have led to ISIS.

Clearly, thinking about those contradictions aren’t important to Trump or Bannon or Miller. What’s important is to give free reign to the collected autocrats, which is why the triumph of the weekend was to sell the Saudis $110 billion worth of arms. We should remember that selling rich people something they want to buy could only be done by a master of the deal.

This landmark agreement includes the announcement of a $110 billion Saudi-funded defense purchase — and we will be sure to help our Saudi friends to get a good deal from our great American defense companies. This agreement will help the Saudi military to take a greater role in security operations.

And what are these security operations? Well, there is the internal defense of the Kingdom, of course. But he really gave away the game when he was talking about how the assembled countries are already…

“…making significant contributions to regional security: Jordanian pilots are crucial partners against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia and a regional coalition have taken strong action against Houthi militants in Yemen. The Lebanese Army is hunting ISIS operatives who try to infiltrate their territory. Emirati troops are supporting our Afghan partners. In Mosul, American troops are supporting Kurds, Sunnis and Shias fighting together for their homeland.”

I was thinking that we can ignore that he pronounced “Houthi” as if it should be followed by “and the Blowfish”; that’s the sort of internet-type snark that obscures bigger issues. Every politician makes mistakes, and anyway, who can blame him? It’s doubtful he’d ever said, or maybe even heard, the word “Houthi” before.

But that’s sort of the point. He blithely lumps the Houthi faction in the overlapping Yemeni civil wars with ISIS, even though Sunni extremists and the Houthis are bitter enemies. And while there is no question that the Houthis aren’t exactly stabilizing the region, the greatest damage has been done by the Saudi coalition, recklessly carpet-bombing the country into a bleak future of starvation and war. And disease. Due to the country’s already fragile infrastructure being destroyed, the WHO estimates as many as 300,000 cholera cases over the next six months.

Yemen shows the disastrous focus of the Trumpian approach. “We won’t tell you how to do your business, as long as you fight ISIS and stand against Iran.” There are so many areas where that is contradictory nonsense. To the extent that the Houthis are aligned, it is with Iran, against the Sauds, and against Sunni extremists, whether that is ISIS or al-Qaeda (in fact, multiple bombings of Houthis by extremists helped start the latest round of fighting, and helped draw them further into national battles). Allowing, or in fact encouraging, Saudi Arabia to have free reign in a country that we see only an “area of active hostility” will hurt the enemies of ISIS and create the very same “safe zones” that the Administration decries.

The problem is that the the primary focus is Iran, and stopping Iranian power. It’s part of Jared Kushner’s big play to unite the Sunni Arab world to stand against Iran, and get a peace treaty for Israel and Palestine out of it. This is one of those grand world plans which was drawn by the great Arabists and Orientalists in the early 20th century, drawing lines on a map, and assuming that “If we get Sunnis here, we’ve got it made.” Those ended in failure and bloodshed, and weren’t drawn by idiots with zero experience.

The problem is that these people think it is simple: a matter of will, and some brilliant negotiating tactics. They have zero knowledge of history, zero concern for how the region actually works, and zero ability to see past their own shallow ideas. They think it is an easy math problem, a quick sell. And there might even be surface-level successes!

There is no doubt that the gilded heirs sitting in Arabesque thrones are happy to see one of their own, and that the strongman tyrants are glad to see someone who emulates them, with his soft hands yearning to be considered callous and callused. I’m sure there will be papers signed and treaties made and grins exchanged. But by papering over everything but the headlines, and focusing on quick results rather than intelligent gains, this administration will set back the cause of freedom, of peace, and of actual security, another generation.

For them, the Middle East is, as is everything else in their dumbshow lives, a quick con and a chance to soak up applause before getting out of town. In going international, we’re finally giving thr world the bill of goods we so eagerly bought.

 

Ted Cruz’s “El Chapo Act” Is Peak Ted Cruz

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“Let me tell you about my acrostics”

Here at Shooting Irrelevance, we’ve long held that Ted Cruz is more clever than smart, and more of a short-term tactician than a strategist. He moves in short bursts to get his name in the spotlight, but usually ends up shooting himself in the foot. That might be slightly unfair, as he’s managed to come this far while being spectacularly and almost supernaturally unlikeable, but I think it is still pretty true.

Another long-held belief is that all of his smart things are actually dumb (which is really another aspect of his being more clever than smart), and that cleverness doesn’t always hold up. That said, this is pretty ingenious, at least on the surface. From Real Clear Politics

Sen. Ted Cruz joins ‘Fox & Friends’ to discuss his fun plan to pay for the Mexican border wall with money seized from Mexican drug lord ‘El Chapo.’ Apparently, up to $14 billion have been seized from his gang.

The Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order (E.L.C.H.A.P.O.) Act would use fund confiscated from drug dealers and traffickers to pay for border security.

“So Mexico would end up paying for the wall,” host Steve Doocy commented. “That’s pure genius on your part!”

“El Chapo led the Sinaloa drug cartel,” Cruz explained. “There is a sense of justice. A sense of, this is what is right, that the people who are violating the border like crazy, we should use their ill-gotten gains to finally build the wall, and to finally ensure we have the assets to secure the border.”

A couple of thoughts on this.

  1. If El Chapo was rich from selling drugs to America, it is because we, as a nation, were voraciously hoovering down his drugs while shoveling him money in exchange for drugs. If we weren’t getting them from El Chapo, it would be someone else.
  2. Arguably (or really inarguably), El Chapo’s biggest victims were Mexicans. The scope of suffering inflicted by the drug gangs is enormous and terrifying. Tens of thousands killed, corruption and murder made institutional. That’s not even counting the disappeared women of Juarez. Even if that wasn’t directly connected to the drug trade, it is part of a society ripped apart by violence.
  3. And again, this was done by Mexicans, to Mexicans, but it was done because America loves drugs. The suffering of Mexico is in so, so many ways an outcome of being neighbors with a rich drug-addicted country.
  4. So maybe we’re not the real victims, and maybe that $14 billion doesn’t belong to us.
  5. And even if it does, it certainly shouldn’t be used to build a wall that is steeped in racism and will do nothing to stop the drug trade (because where there is a market, which America is, drugs will find a way) and will continue to make life harder for el Chapo’s real victims.
  6. So it’s perfect. Like with wall-caused floodings, it is a perfect representation of our imperialistic indifference toward Mexico and our refusal to see them as real people. “Our bottomless appetite for drugs ravaged your country? Well, we’ll take the gains and use them to wall you off. Maybe that’ll teach you a lesson, Mexico.”
  7. That said, it is pretty smart, on one level. Idiots like Doocey love it (and a quick trip around Twitter showed me that people inclined to like the wall were going nuts over it). It is on the surface very satisfying, and even seemingly airtight. People for whom the only objection to the wall was its cost could be persuaded.  Especially if you accept that El Chapo’s money somehow belongs to us.
  8. But, as the arguments above said, I don’t think it does, and more to the point, having a smart way to pay for a dumb idea is still dumb. The objection to the wall wasn’t primarily cost, it was that the wall was an astronomical cost for a terrible and stupid objective. Ted Cruz’s smart plan is still in favor of something incredibly terrible.
  9. Also, it’s just stupid. You know his staffers were high-fiving when they made that acrostic. But it isn’t “Ensuring Lawful Collection”; that’s already ensured. And “Provide Order” is just creepy. And since when do we name bills after bad guys? I don’t think the end of Prohibition was marked by the “Concerning Alcohol: Perhaps nOw aNd thEn Act”
  10. In short, Ted Cruz is more clever than smart.

Honestly, I’m not totally sure Ted Cruz’s game here. I can’t imagine him waiting til 2024 to run for President. There’s no doubt he was rooting for Hillary (only Jason Chaffetz was screwed over more by her loss*), but he was going to run either way. I assumed he was running in 2020 against Hillary or against the fake conservative Donald Trump who hijacked the party.

He’s been a very vocal defender of Trump, supporting and even outflanking his racist cruelty, but I assume he is doing that so he has bona-fides to run against him. “I supported the President but now he betrayed us.” The problem is that no one will believe that, since he famously didn’t endorse Trump at the convention, and because his naked ambition and backstabbery has always been palpable. Again, more clever than smart.

But hot damn, do I look forward to that race!

*Ok, Hillary as well. And literally everyone who isn’t a rich white man. But beside them.

Floodplain Treaty Shows Ridiculousness of Trump’s Mexican Border Wall (and borders in general)

 

Image result for mexican border fence floodplain

As you can clearly see, the wall doesn’t spring forth from the seeded earth. 

 

There are few things more inherently unnatural than a border. We know this on a human level: they are weird and arbitrary lines drawn on a map. We understand this culturally, especially when we look at the Middle East or Africa, at colonial maps that were drawn without concern for how it would impact the people living there, and we are dealing with their legacies. Borders are the result of wars and appropriations and treaties and traditions, and not inherent things unto themselves. They only have meaning because we decide they should.

But step back, and they are even more unnatural. They idea of borders is absurdly recent in human history, which makes it impossibly new on the planet. Borders, geologically, don’t mean anything. Even if a border is drawn to correspond with part of nature, like along a river, well…rivers shift. (Sometimes very quickly!) The land isn’t really interested in political distinctions that only appear on some pencil-neck’s globe.

We’re reminded of this by an NPR story on how the idiotic and immoral border wall proposal by Trump might be stopped by an obscure 50-yr treaty.

Texas-based NPR reporter John Burnett says Antonio Rascón, chief Mexican engineer on the International Boundary and Water Commission, came to NPR with the story.

The commission is both in Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, and is normally a quiet job about diplomacy and allocation of water, Burnett says. But Rascón told Burnett he was gravely concerned about what a concrete wall would do to the river, especially in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Mexico has been growing more and more alarmed as they see plans for Trump’s wall progress,” Burnett says. “In the west desert on the Arizona-Mexico border we have proven examples that border security fencing has clogged with debris and has caused very serious flooding in places. … These walls, when they get clogged with debris, act like a dam.”

A 1970 treaty signed by both countries says neither side can put an obstruction in the floodplain, unless both countries sign off.

Now, it goes on to explain, we have been putting obstructions there (the fence), much to Mexico’s dismay and protest, but they haven’t really protested much. But if an enormous wall that will be partially underground goes up? A wall that will block the natural flow of water and almost certainly cause flooding on the Mexican side?

It’s almost too perfect. We’ve been using water as a weapon against Mexico for 150 years, whether it has been diverting most of the Colorado and sending them the polluted and salinated trickles, or just dumping pollution in southbound rivers. (And while there has been progress made, that’s in jeopardy now.)  What bigger “Screw you” could there be than to enact a racist, cruel, and dehumanizing border wall that has the added impact of causing flooding? It’s the height of bigoted indifference.

It also shows just how arbitrary and stupid the border actually is. I’m not advocating for “open borders” or anything,  but they are deeply unnatural. The floodplain will exist regardless of what lines we draw or how we pave it over. Water will flow where it flows, and people will imitate that water, crossing and erasing these lines. A wall is nothing more than a vanity-piece for a racist bloated manchild. To even entertain it is to show how fake these divisions on which he’s based his Presidency really are.

Yemen’s Agony: Starvation, War, Drought, and a Posioned Future

 

 

Yemen has only really been in the American public conscience since December of 2009, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to explode a bomb hidden in his underpants aboard a plane over Detroit. It didn’t go well, for him at least. But that was the first time the media en masse started to pay attention to Yemen. Before, if it was known at all, it was talked about vaguely, as a state where there were probably terrorists, but who really knew?

Well, after that, everyone knew. It wasn’t vague. For Americans, and much of the West, Yemen = terrorism. For me, as someone who spent a good decade of my life writing (or trying to write) professionally about Yemen, terrorism was always the hook. Most of us writing or talking about it tried to show the bigger picture, to paint Yemen as an actual country with real people and a history, but the story was almost always, ultimately, terrorism.

And that’s been a contributing to Yemen’s agony.  I’m trying to remember the last (or first) time I’ve heard a US politician talk about Yemen in positive terms, other than paying tribute to former President Saleh for being an “ally” in the GWOT, but even that was entirely about terrorism. It is identified, if at all, with being one of those explosive places on the map, the kind of joint where nearly everyone wants to kill you. Yemen is met with a shrug, at the most positive.

That’s partly why, I think, the horrible reality of its present has failed to make even the slightest dent in the public mind. What is happening in Yemen is shocking and sick-making and morally revolting; the numbers are truly apocalyptic. 17 million people are facing famine this year. Social services are wiped out. Traditional safety nets have been destroyed by war. Distribution networks are non-existent. Every 10 minutes, a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes.  The mind reels at the brutality of life and cowers from the lengthening shadow of a death-hunted land.

These are the kinds of horrors that usually awaken the generous conscious of the American people, and I genuinely mean that. For all our public meanness, when the country is roused, its private citizens turn their good fortunes outward. But with Yemen, there is nothing.

I think that’s partly, of course, because we have our own problems here. A quick glance down this blog shows where my priorities are; I have less an excuse to ignore Yemen than literally almost anyone in the United States. Even Yemen posts have largely been US and Trump-centric. But a lot of it is because Yemen is easily brushed off as a country where there are no real people, just terrorists. And if not terrorists, certainly some other kind of bad dude.

That’s why the war crimes of our great ally Saudi Arabia have been ignored (by successive administrations, to be clear). It’s why we don’t at all blink an eye when Yemen is reduced to “areas of active hostilities“, an expansion of war.  It’s why it isn’t a scandal when the incoming POTUS knows absolutely nothing about the region (though to be fair, he doesn’t know anything about anything). And it is why a strategy designed to provoke civilizational collapse is basically seen as aces all around, when it isn’t being actively ignored.

And that’s what this is: a civilization that is collapsing, pummeled from without and starving from within. It’s running out of water as well as food, a terrible harbinger for our collective climate-imperiled future. The lack of resources fuel more war; war increases the resource shortage. Millions will die in withering agony.

This could be the worst famine in modern times, surpassing even the miseries of Ethiopia, Somalia, Biafra, Ireland, approaching the terror famines of the Ukraine. And to be clear, this is little different than the last example (or any of these examples). You don’t have the towering figure of Stalin or Mengistu orchestrating the misery, but you have the shadow of indifference and even active complicity across the world.

The UN estimates it needs $2 billion dollars to fight the famine, and $1 billion has been pledged. That’s pledged, not collected, and it is still short. Meanwhile, we’re slashing foreign aid (the public meanness which stands contemptuous rebuke to the short bursts of private decency; no politician has ever won by promising to increase aid to foreigners). The US alone could easily make up the shortfall; Trump wanted a billion for a down payment on his idiot wall. But there was no way to turn cruelty into decency.

This isn’t about the next generation of terrorists, or the stretegic importance of turning enemies into allies. That is important, and it is blind and willful idiocy to let Yemen collapse. It isn’t even about how we are dealing with a terrible onrushing future in which this will happen more and more, as resources dwindle and water evaporates and conflict increases. That’s also important; this is just the beginning of the show.

But it is also simply mean and terrifying. These are real lives, which will be extinguished with a stomach’s empty and piteous howl. These are human beings, lives ripped apart by Yemen’s place in the world’s collective conscience, as a testing ground for ideas and ideologies. It’s another judgment on our species. It isn’t a good one.

 

NATO is “No Longer Obsolete”. Trump Still Doesn’t Understand What NATO Is

Image result for trump stoltenberg

One of these men is the most powerful in the world. 

Yesterday, during a news conference in which he said that he wouldn’t label China a currency manipulator, Donald Trump also claimed that he had fixed NATO’s terrorism problems.

At a joint press conference with Mr Stoltenberg, Mr Trump said: “The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more Nato can do in the fight against terrorism.

“I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism.

“I said it [Nato] was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

It’s actually pretty breathtaking. Because NATO countries were always fighting terrorism, from before September 11th, of course, but certainly after, when it invoked, for the first time ever Chapter 5, a mutual defense agreement. But it’s a neat trick, complaining that something already happening should happen, and then taking credit when it still is. Temporally, it’s sort of the mirror image of the great Mitch Hedberg line: “I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.”

It’s the same thing with the Chinese currency manipulation (they haven’t been artificially devaluing Renmimbi for three years, by all accounts, in fact, the opposite). That Trump was accusing them of manipulation was correct, if he was talking about years ago. Chances are he didn’t know that, and didn’t care. But now that they are no longer doing so, he can claim it was his tough talk. It’s like saying “I’ve been telling people for years we should draw heat from earth’s yellow sun, and now people are saying, ‘you’re right, you’re so right, we should’. A lot of people are saying that, and now we are.”

(And it is terrible for Stoltenberg, who has to stand there, and can’t immediately call Trump out for being such a doughy liar. It’s a classic weak-fingered power move by someone steeped in the artifical world of real estate and failed casinos.)

The only inkling of credit that Trump could take is that he drew a spotlight on how member nations need to contribute more of their GDP to national defense, but that was already going up anyway.

But that’s sort of the point. Because you want to ask Trump: what do you mean when you say “NATO wasn’t fighting terrorism”, and that now they are. Do you mean that:

  • None of the member states were doing so? Does that include the UK or Canada? Because they clearly were.
  • Did you mean in Afghanistan? Because NATO member nations, under the auspices of the International Security Assistance Force, have been there since 2001. Granted, not every member nation sent soliders, but most contributed in one way or the other.
  • Do you mean, more vaguely, that they are doing nothing to “fight terrorism” in terms of bombing ISIS, or sending troops into Syria/Iraq? Because that’s not entirely true, nor is it the only way to “Fight terrorism”. Pretty sure that Belgium and France are trying to combat ISIS attacks in their countries.
  • But, more to the point, what changed? How are they “no longer obsolete”? Can you point to any actual differences, other than perhaps raising the percent of GDP spent on defense, which you can’t really take credit for, but more to the point, would not have changed anything tactically?

It’s obvious he couldn’t answer any of these questions, and that gets to the real heart of the matter: Donald Trump still doesn’t know what NATO actually is. He really seems to think it is an independent fighting force instead of a collection of nations who sometimes fight under a more unified banner with a central command (as in Kosovo). But there are no, like, standing NATO forces or NATO air force that these countries are not contributing to.

To say NATO has been obsolete is to say that every member nation refuses to take terrorism seriously, which even Trump couldn’t actually think (or, I guess, he could). He might mean that “NATO” should do more to coerce members to step up, which isn’t how it works. But there is no way to interpret his comments that comports with the reality of NATO.

Member states do, of course, have to contribute to what is NATO overhead, but even that is not the same, and not in the way he thinks. That’s why he embarassed himself when Angela Merkel came to visit. He most likely didn’t actually hand Merkel a bill, but he still tweeted that Germany owes…

To which The Guardian explained

Ultimately, members’ contributions are based on each nation’s capability. Therefore, Nato member nations do not “owe” or have to compensate any other country.

On Saturday Ivo Daalder, who was permanent representative to Nato from 2009 to 2013, respond to Trump in a series of tweets.

“Sorry, Mr President, that’s not how Nato works,” he wrote. “The US decides for itself how much it contributes to defending Nato. This is not a financial transaction, where Nato countries pay the US to defend them. It is part of our treaty commitment.”

But I think the “obsolete” comments go even further. Because there is no NATO except for an agreement between nations, there is nothing to change except for what the nations themselves are doing. And I don’t see any big change since January 20th. Some countries are more aggressive than others in combatting ISIS/AQ, and some have different priorities, but all contribute. It’s always been that way, since that terrible September day, when our strongest allies rallied around a battered and stunned United States, and did so thorugh 15 terrible years and multiple Presidents. It’s still the same, even though Trump refuses to understand that, and continues to take credit for the actions of others.

The “Chemical Weapons” Fiasco Is A Result of Not Understanding Syria or Russia; or: Spicer Is an Idiot, But He’s Also Carrying Water for Idiots

 

Image result for hitler

“Ok, but…” No! Just don’t start that way. It’s SO easy

 

Look, it’s not hard. Normal people don’t slip up and say things like “Hitler never gassed his own people!” Most people don’t even start sentences with “At least Hitler…”  That’s Human Speaking 101, and something that, if your entire job is to talk, you should have learned. So one can reasonably come to the conclusion that Sean Spicer isn’t particularly good at his job.

One can also, when riding in the wake of Seanspicerholocaustcenterdumbassgate, draw darker conclusions. This is an administration that didn’t mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day,  and it is one that employs not just Steve Bannon, but the ludicrous and grotesque pro-Nazi bigot Sebastian Gorka. It’s attracted the very worst elements of American politics, people who were more repulsively fringe than Steven King, mucking up from the bile of the hardest right. Every half-bright sexless bigot like Steven Miller with an axe to grind gyered and gimbled their way to the White House.  They were drawn by Donald Trump, who himself is a half-bright bigot. Like attracts like.

So yeah, you could say that hearing some perhaps mixed messages about Hitler contributed to Spicer’s confusion Choitner discusses that, but also gets closer to the real issues, which is that Spicer has to flip-flop almost daily.  Or not even flip-flop: wrench around based on the ill-informed whims of above-mentioned half-bright bigot.

The horrible weight of electing someone who never deeply considered any policy before, other than spouting off about headlines he skimmed, much like every other ill-informed paper-reader, is beginning to really press down on us. Our allies have no idea what to believe. Russia doesn’t even pretend to take us seriously. It has zero interest in listening to the administration, because, as we said yesterday, it is clear the administration doesn’t know what it is doing. Hell, right now, Putin is leaving Tillerson twisting in the wind.

Vali Nasser goes in-depth about why Russia will stay with Assad, and it is pretty clear that no one in the Trump administration has given these reasons much thought. They seem to believe that suddenly believing Assad “should go” is tantamount to a coherent policy that should be respected. I still think that Putin is making a mistake, and that even if things are going “well” right now, he’ll still end up broken on the rocks of an impossible conflict, but his short-term logic requires him to stay. And it certainly doesn’t require him to listen to an administration that has believed in what they are saying for about 15 minutes.

Trump likes to say he is “unpredictable”, and sell that as a virtue. And, to an extent (or rather, in neutral conditions) that could be true. But he isn’t “unpredictable” as part of some clever game; he’s unpredictable because he has no idea what he’s doing. His talk of not letting enemies know what he is going to do is pure bluster: he has no plans, no goals, no strategies, but couldn’t ever say that. So, like with everything else in his entirely empty life, he spun that off as a virtue. Oh, I can’t tell you what I am going to do, you’ll have to wait and see, but it’s great. Super great. I know more about everything that everyone, you’ll see. It worked during his days as a real estate and promotional carny, and it somehow worked during the campaign. He became President.

But it doesn’t work when you actually have to do things. When his casinos failed after empty promises, he declared bankruptcy. That’s something you can do when you are rich. He always had a system that would pick him up after he failed. But that doesn’t exist anymore. There is no backup. You actually have to produce, and you can’t suddenly have a coherent foreign policy when you’ve never actually thought of one before.

That’s where we are at now. A huckster who claimed that he was unpredictable as a way to mask his total ignorance is in a position where there is no net. He acts entirely on emotion and whims, never actually thinking things through. Eric Trump, showing the family gift for argument by evidence-free and indeed self-evidently counterfactual assertion, told the Daily Telegraph that his father was a “great thinker, practical not impulsive,” and added, “Believe me he thinks things through.” The last sentence also showed the family flair for relying on a non-existent wellspring of reliability.

This isn’t just snark. Pointing out the way this family runs is to point out how they are running the country. You can see that with Syria. One day it’s “Assad? He’s ok, I don’t care” and then “Well we should do something about that maybe” and then “Did we get good press for blowing things up? Then our position is that he’s big-league worse than Hitler. Got it Spicer?”

So no, Spicer can’t handle it. Partly because he’s an idiot, of course. But partly because he’s working for people with no idea what they are doing. In a way, he’s doing us all a service. If they had someone good at their job, they might be able to spin this in a way where you could potentially believe that the Trump administration knew what they were doing, that our allies wren’t terrified, that we weren’t being buffeted on the whims of an old man who is equal parts terrifying and laughable. Spicer’s wild incompetence does us the kindness of laying bare the enormoity of our world-historic mistake.