Archive for September, 2019


Given the growing potential for broad conflict now existing in the Middle East, it might be worthwhile to look at that region in terms of past US foreign policy to see just where we do or don’t fit in.


Islam has been divided since 632 AD when, after the death of Caliph Muhammad, Muslims were unable to agree on the selection of a new, permanent Caliph.  This ultimately resulted in the division of Islam into its two main branches, the Sunnis and the Shias, two branches that have fought for almost 1400 years for primacy in Islam.


America had minor commercial ties with Muscat and Oman under Andrew Jackson as early as 1833, largely at the behest of the Sultan who saw America as a sort of protective balance against the overwhelmingly negative influence of the encroaching British Empire in the region.


In the post WWI era, with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France had managed to colonize just about all of the Middle East.  Compared to the machinations of those two empirical powers, the United States looked pretty benign and at least for the moment, had a relatively good reputation in the region.


All of this changed in the post WWII era as America began to sign commercial agreements with regional powers designed to give us a handle on the control of Middle East petroleum.  Franklin D. Roosevelt’s comment to an English diplomat on the Anglo-American Petroleum Agreement of 1944 was “Persian (Iranian) oil … is yours. We share the oil of Iraq and Kuwait. As for Saudi Arabian oil, it’s ours.”  In terms of the Shia-Sunni split, please remember that Persia Iran) was and is Shia and Saudi Arabia was and is Sunni. Thus, petroleum has played an important role in regional internal Muslim conflicts (not to mention Western conflicts) in the Middle East, since the middle of the 19th century.


Our reputation in the region was not helped by our involvement with Britain in the 1953 coup that overthrew the only democratically elected leader the Iranians have ever had.  Additional US efforts is Syria, Iraq and Egypt did not help our reputation.


And thus began the era which is just now coming to a close – the era in which the world’s need for petroleum products dominated everyone’s Middle East policy. That is no longer true, particularly for Americans who now produce far more petroleum products than we need.


Why then does it seem that the Middle East is breaking out into open warfare.  Why does it seem, as in the recent cases of the shootdown of the American drone and of the demolition of Saudi petroleum production, that local countries in the Middle East are becoming increasingly bellicose and prone to increasing violence?


There is general consensus that the drone attack and particularly the recent attack on Saudi refining capabilities were both Iranian inspired operations.  Think of this against the region’s demographic realities. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 290 million Sunnis and 50 million Shia in the Middle East.  Despite this major disbalance, the bulk of sheer fighting power is represented in Shia Islam – Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.


Even more significantly, the Shia in Iraq and Iran have the potential at any time of their choosing, to shut down the Straits of Hormuz, which is the route through which all Middle East oil flows, most emphatically including that which comes from the regional Sunni producers like Saudi Arabia.  And this may well be the main purpose in recent Iran-sponsored hostilities toward their Sunni brethren. Perhaps it is all designed to show the Sunnis that they, the Shia, are the ones who will control any future intra-Muslim conflict.


Would the United States and Europe come to the aid of the Sunnis?  After 18 years in Afghanistan, Americans are sick of Middle East conflicts. In addition, there is no written agreement that would bring America to Saudi Arabia’s or any other Sunni’s aid in the event of conflict.


On the European side, those who, along with the United States, signed The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) which severely limited Iran’s nuclear development activities, only to see it incredibly stupidly trashed by President Trump, have little reason to support the Sunnis in any future conflict.  They would far prefer to see the JCPOA re-established, along with the potential for regional peace it would bring.


As long as the JCPOA remains inoperative and the USA remains Iran-bellicose, we will see unwanted Chinese and Russian interests and activities in the region.  That is definitely not in Europe’s or our national interest.

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There is absolutely no way to explain much of what President Trump does nationally or internationally, largely because he changes his mind so often on so many things.   What can be said is that his actions are almost invariably consistent with the goals of Russia.  Equally, up until this moment, there is absolutely no way to know what the motivation for his policies truly is.


Some have speculated that he is motivated by his own personal economic goals.  He would like to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.  Others have speculated that his past dalliances in Moscow have compromised him and that he has been blackmailed into his current behaviors.  It is further speculated, given his clear admiration of and support for today’s worst world dictators, that his goal is to become one of their colleagues, changing this country forever.  He has, after all, spoken (jokingly?) of serving for an additional 16 years.


To be fair about this, let’s look at Trump without partisan political speculation.  What policies has he followed that have favored the Russians? In order to fully understand this, we have to have a reasonable assessment of Russian motivation in the world.  It is clear that Putin, a former committed KGB colonel, deeply mourns the death of the Soviet Union.  He has said a number of times that it was one of the greatest tragedies in history and that it is his wish that the USSR return to Russia.


So, what has Putin done that would support that goal?  Recognizing the ongoing power and influence of the United States in the world, he has done everything humanly possible to weaken the U.S. both internally and internationally.


Internally, he has interfered in our 2016 elections and continues to do so today. Whether it was his doing or not, Putin has an American President who has attempted and often succeeded in overturning just about everything his predecessor did to try to make this country a fairer, safer place.  One of the results of this policy is that it has further exacerbated the deep political divisions that exist in our country.  He has basically destroyed the effectiveness of much of the Federal Government.   The State Department, the Intelligence Community, and the regulatory agencies (particularly the Environmental Protection Agency) have all been denigrated and humiliated.  Critical substantive jobs requiring real expertise have been purposely left unoccupied or occupied by Trump sycophants. Top management jobs are often left “acting”, leaving true power to the President.


Internationally, he has treated European heads of state with distain and occasional rudeness.  He has spoken against the European Union. NATO and just about every other western originated international agreement.  He has shown his distrust for our involvement with international agreements by withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership (PTT), The Paris Climate Accord, The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iran nuclear agreement.  None of these moves have strengthened the United States and in the process of acting out his disdain for international cooperation, he has gone a long way toward removing us from our decades-long preeminence in international affairs and limiting our ability to positively influence world affairs.


One further clue to his motivation could be Trump’s admiration for and support of some of the world’s most conservative, autocratic leaders, starting with Russia’s Putin who clearly occupies a special place in Trump’s heart.  From there we go on to Kim Jung Un, the North Korean dictator, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Xi Jinping of China, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the Saudi Royal family and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela.  In the past, Trump has even had kind words for Saddam Hussein.


Trump’s current crusade on behalf of his Russian friends appears to be the reinstatement of Russia in the G7.  Russia was expelled from that organization when it annexed the Crimea in 2014.  It is fascinating that just this week, Trump announced that he would not sign off on the $250 million in US military aid to the Ukraine, already approved by Congress, which was designed to help the Ukraine confront the Russian occupation.


Trump appears to be the only elected leader in the United States who thinks Russia can do no harm and who believes that Russia is a friend rather than the often hostile rival she has traditionally been.  Even without knowing why he takes that position, it can be said without equivocation, that is no position for any President of the United States to take, particularly a Republican.  He is not making the world a safer place in which to live, but he is certainly helping the Russians.

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