Venezuela: Coalition of the Unabashed

After failing to win sufficient backing in the Organization of American States (OAS) to have those usually reliable rubber-stampers follow the US lead and recognize Juan Guaido as the lawful President of Venezuela, President Trump met with the leaders of five Caribbean nations in late March and assured them of increased US investments for being on our side. The tempting carrot induced a couple of other island states to switch sides and on April 9th the OAS voted to seat Guaido’s designee as Venezuela’s emissary to the OAS.

The administration likes to tout that some 50 countries have now joined our side by recognizing the pretender to the throne (leaving 150-odd countries which have not enthroned Mr. Guaido!). It’s easy to dismiss small, impoverished nations as simply having been bought off, but there are more substantial members of the US-led coalition for whom bribing would be too expensive. Some of these countries, e.g., Canada, didn’t need to be bribed as they saw siding with Guaido to be in their own self-interest. A Canadian gold mining company has had problems with the nationalistic Bolivarians of Venezuela and its government may anticipate fewer contentious issues with a Guaido-led regime.

Let’s grant that some Guaido-recognizing coalitionists may be acting on principle, believing last year’s election of President Maduro to a second term was illegitimate (a finding contested by the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America). For their own self-respect, it’s important to these legalists that Mr. Guaido acted constitutionally in proclaiming himself President (In the good old days, when military golpistas overthrew some Latin American president, we never worried about such niceties, but times have changed in this, the age of “the rule of law”). To ease their consciences, such strict constitutionalists cite Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution as legalizing Guaido’s self-ordination.

Here’s Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution:

The President of the Republic shall become permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.

As can be seen, the National Assembly, of which Mr. Guaido is the president, can only act unilaterally if the President of the Republic has abandoned his post. With President Maduro continuing to make speeches to large crowds from a balcony of the Presidential Palace, he can hardly be said to have abandoned his post. (The customary way a Latin American president abandons his post is to stuff some suitcases full of cash and flee to Miami). By the way, if you believe the nonsense about Maduro deciding to leave the country—despite there being no threat to his person or his position—but was talked out of it by the Russians, you might as well stop reading.

I believe there is a third reason we were able to convince other countries to join the coalition, and it is very troubling. I think we assured them that Mr. Maduro was history; i.e., we will not stop until Maduro has been deposed, even if this means intervening militarily. If I’m right, we may have witnessed only Act One of the drama in Venezuela. What, then, can we expect in Act Two?

To win the support of the American people for “sending the Marines”, we will need a casus belli. Just the usual blather about an evil dictator murdering his own people is not likely to be sufficient (too overused). Nor will accusing the Maduro regime of an incompetence that has brought untold suffering down upon the Venezuelan people (According to my conservative-radio-junkie neighbor, there are no pets in Venezuela; they’ve all been eaten!). That charge is confounded by the fact the United Nations ranks Venezuela higher on its Human Development Index than coalition member Colombia, a country which feels qualified to lecture the Venezuelans on good governance despite having the world’s largest population of internally displaced persons—over 7 million—as a result of their half-century-old (and still ongoing) civil war! (Where’s the humanitarian aid convoy for those refugees?).

No, what it’s going to take to get Americans behind another endless war is a good atrocity story—even a bogus one will do. For instance, we might assassinate Mr. Guaido. He’s pretty much outlived his usefulness anyway. Or we might pay homage to a scheme cooked up the Joint Chiefs of Staff to justify an invasion of Cuba and blow a civilian airliner out of the sky, say one carrying school children on their way to a pro-Guaido rally. Or, Syria-like, we might stage a gas attack (for which gagging victims are not even necessary; actors will do). In all cases, the atrocity would be blamed, of course, on the Maduro regime (hence the sobriquet “false flag operation”).

The last option presupposes the existence of an armed insurrectionary group to be the target. You can bet we are already trying to recruit and arm such a group (which explains Trump’s calling Iran-Contra felon Eliot Abrams out from under whatever rock he’s been hiding to engage in his specialty). Proof can be seen in the Venezuelans intercepting a plane loaded with arms in February. In the case of the sniper who shot up an electrical transmission station causing a blackout, we may well have cut out the middleman and infiltrated one of our own marksmen.

While Secretary of State Pompeo threatens a military invasion, I’ve yet to hear anyone speak out in favor of such a disastrous move. But a good atrocity story could change all that. It likely would bring around our hesitant but still unabashed fellow coalitionists, like the Lima Group (Canada, Brazil, Chile, et al.). It would also silence—perhaps even gain the support of—less strident domestic critics, like Bernie Sanders. To forestall such a tragic Act Two—a tragedy for both Americans and Venezuelans, but more so for Venezuelans—I encourage the two sides in the Venezuelan drama to put aside their differences in at least one respect and unite under the banner “No US military intervention”.



A couple of interesting things that happened to me or the world this week:

The Un-indictment of Julian Assange – Strangely, while indicting Julian Assange on a nebulous charge of having coached Chelsea Manning on how to crack the password on a US government computer, the Justice Department failed to include in its indictment any charge related to the much more consequential crime of purloining emails from the DNC, a theft chronicled in excruciating detail and pinned on the Russians in the Mueller Report. Could it be that the Feds know in their heart of heart that there was no hacking of the DNC’s computer, that the emails were downloaded by an insider named Seth Rich, who passed them on to Wikileaks? For the evidence compiled by a former Technical Director at the NSA that the data was downloaded, not hacked, see; on the mysterious murder of Seth
Rich, see

Turn Out the Lights – I had occasion to ask Fran Townsend, who held high-level national security posts in both the Clinton and Bush administrations and was interviewed by the White House as a possible successor to James Comey as FBI Director, whether she thought we were responsible for the attack on Venezuela’s electric grid which caused nearly the whole country to go dark. She didn’t think so but went on to explain that if we did do it, it would be consequent to an Executive Order issued by the president in consultation with key members of Congress. I then asked her whether the American people would be made aware of that order. “Probably not,” she said.

Consider the implications of this extra-constitutional usurpation of War Powers scenario. Let’s suppose we were responsible; that the Venezuelan government knew it; that they considered it (justifiably) an act of war and so retaliated in kind, say, by turning out the lights on the entire East Coast (It’s doubtful they have the capability, but probable that their friends do). If our government claimed Venezuela was responsible for the blackout, imagine the hue and cry from the public for some swift and punishing retaliatory action! But what would be the public’s reaction if they knew we had attacked Venezuela first? (Ponder the similar scenario in the leadup to our war with Japan where we imposed an embargo on oil shipments to Japan, sounding a death knell for the Japanese economy—and many hundreds of thousand Japanese—which led the Japanese government to place its hopes on a desperate, “unprovoked” attack on Pearl Harbor. Did the American people know about the embargo?)

Redacted – I attended an event entitled “Breaking News! US Intelligence and the Press” last week. The panel was moderated by Michael Morell, onetime Acting Director of the CIA, and included Andrea Mitchell of NBC, David Ignatius of The Washington Post, and a couple of lesser lights. As the panelists patted each other on the back about what a great job they are doing, how willing to speak truth to power they are, what a sacred calling they are engaged in, ad nauseum, I thought of a question I would like to ask them (but was not given the chance): “If a whistleblower provided you with proof we were responsible for the blackout in Venezuela, would you report it?” Your guess is as good as mine as to what their response might have been; but, if they said they would report it (what else could they say after so much self-glorification?), my next question would have been to Mr. Morell: “Would you request the press not to report it?”. He had previously remarked that when he, as Acting CIA Director, requested the press to not report on something, he “batted 1000”, i.e., they always complied (and they wonder why some refer to them as “presstitutes”!). I think he would have admitted he would have deep-sixed this juicy tidbit, as well. It’s not just Venezuelans who are left in the dark.

It’s Not About the Bomb

The cause of our ongoing dispute with North Korea is not their pursuing a nuclear weapons program. We know that even if they have the bomb, using it on us or South Korea would be suicidal. They would not even contemplate using it unless they faced an “existential” threat, and probably not even then. So, we control the situation. As long as we don’t attack them, they won’t use the bomb. (China has more reason to be concerned about a nuclear North Korea, being a closer target and geopolitics being subject to flip-flops, like our relationship with Japan post-WW II).

So why are we making such a big deal of the nuclear issue? To understand that, we have to go back to what got us involved on the Korean peninsula in the first place. Post-World War II, we contended with the Soviet Union and China for dominance on the peninsula, i.e., installing our guys in power and preventing them from installing theirs. It came out a draw and the peninsula has been divided ever since. Nothing much has changed in 70 years. We still seek dominance over the whole peninsula, and Russia and China would like to do the same.

What has changed is the Koreans themselves—North and South—now ardently seek reunification. We are not inherently opposed to this, so long as reunification means the North surrendering and the South—our ally–ruling over the whole peninsula. That’s not likely to happen. The South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, has made clear he does not require the North to accept ultimatums from the South. He views the North Korean government as an equal, the North Koreans as fellow countrymen.

Consequently, reunification is likely to result in a government which adopts a neutralist position regarding the rivalry between us and the Chinese/Russians. This is unacceptable to us. It might not be defeat, but it certainly would not be victory. It could lead to our strategic position in East Asia being weakened; for instance, forcing the withdrawal of our troops and the recently installed THAAD missile system from the peninsula. So much for our Great Gamers’ aspiration for global hegemony if we suffer such a “retreat” (a word not in their vocabulary)!

If the South Koreans have lost interest in bringing the North to its knees, we haven’t. Hence, the clamor over the North’s nuclear weapons: it provides an excuse to impose economic sanctions. These days sanctions are our primary tool for imposing our will upon recalcitrant governments. Our customary approach, military intervention, has proven costly and ineffective (cf. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, et al.). Sanctions may hurt us, e.g., the loss of Venezuelan oil, but we are in a better position to withstand the pain than those upon whom sanctions are imposed, e.g., again Venezuela.

That’s why the sanctions on Iran will remain no matter what concessions they might make regarding their nuclear program and why we maintain the sanctions on Cuba while supposedly seeking more normal relations. We’re still hopeful these countries will cry “uncle” and surrender to whatever our demands might be. Until they do, or until sanctions prove counterproductive, the sanctions will remain in place.

So why do we pretend to be interested in negotiating with the North Koreans over their nuclear program? Because the South Koreans are serious about pursuing reunification and one stumbling block is our demand that the North Koreans denuclearize. We have to make some gesture towards resolving that issue, which was the motivation behind the recent summit in Hanoi. Expect a similar charade to be repeated in six months to a year, with the same fruitless outcome.

What can the Koreans do about our obstinacy? Here’s my suggestion. North and South Korea should sign a peace treaty independent of us. This should stymy any attack on the North by us as the rationale for such an action would be to defend the South, which would look a little silly when the South refuses to join in. With the South Koreans’ assurance they will not participate in any attack on them, the North Koreans can feel it’s safe to dismantle their useless nuclear weapons program to everyone’s satisfaction (except ours, of course), and together the two Koreas can peacefully and with mutual respect pursue reunification.

This would not sit well with us, for the reason given above about the possibility of a neutral government over the entire Korean peninsula. We would not stand idly by. Not only would we expand the sanctions on North Korea and strengthen their enforcement, sanctions would be imposed on South Korea as well, though disguised under a different rubric. For instance, we recently demanded the South Koreans double their contribution towards the cost of our maintaining troops in their country. When the Koreans proved adamant in their refusal to do so, we dropped the demand to a 50% increase. In the end, we settled for 8%, from $848 million to $924 million a year (I hope I face off against someone as skilled in the art of the deal as our negotiators the next time I buy a new car!).

Another “sanction” we imposed on South Korea was a quota on how much steel they can export to the United States. Now we are threatening to do the same regarding the number of cars they can export our way. South Korea is learning that their relationship with the United states—just as the North has been saying all along—is colonial (Witness the fact the South Korean military is under the command of our top general in Korea, a status the South Koreans have been trying to amend for years to no avail).

Whether the Koreans’ drive towards reunification will succeed despite our opposition, or we are able to squeeze North Korea so hard that reunification represents a surrender on their part, time will tell. But until one of those things happens, expect the theatrics over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program to continue to take center stage while the real drama—sanctions—is played out behind the scenes.


According to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Jews are out to rule the world. Despite the strategy laid out in that infamous tract being too sophomoric to be useful in plotting so much as the conquest of a local chapter of the Rotary Club, today’s world does seem to conform in some ways to the vision laid out in that exercise in plagiarism. Jews do play a disproportionate role in many important facets of American society, a role so disproportionate that, were I a Jew, I’d worry about what my coreligionists were up to for fear it threatened my good standing with my neighbors.

Take the media. At one time, Jews headed the three mainstream TV networks—NBC, CBS, ABC—as well as all eight major Hollywood studios. Is this fulfillment of the Elders’ scheme to control the minds of the goyyim, or simply symbolic of Hebrew reverence for The Word, manifest in their gift to mankind of the most widely read book in the world. Maybe they just have a knack for communicating, like blacks have for basketball.

More sinister from a world conquest perspective is what the British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, called the Jew’s “faculty of acquisition” when he noted with pride that his fellow Jews were “remarkable for their accumulated wealth”.. To get an estimate of Jewish wealth today, just count up all the museums, college libraries, and hospital wings bearing the name of some Jewish benefactor. In the Middle Ages, the kings of Europe had their Court Jew to handle their financial matters; today we have the Secretary of the Treasury, almost always a Jew.

More people than just the Elders of Zion believe the Golden Rule is “He who has the gold rules”. The influence of money in our politics is widely admitted and seemingly accepted… begrudgingly. To the extent it’s Jewish money, the Elders’ ambition has been accomplished; but to single out Jewish money behind governmental policy smacks of antisemitism, even when the linkage is valid.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar found that out recently when she claimed congressional support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins” ($100 bills). Omar was critiquing the influence of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), to whose annual convention politicians of all stripes make pilgrimage to express their unwavering support for Israel. Despite AIPAC not being an explicitly Jewish organization and Israel not officially being designated a Jewish state until last year, Omar was accused of antisemitism and she issued an apology midst calls for her resignation from Congress. (Antisemitism sometimes gets complicated, as when both Zionists and antisemites agree the Jews should have a state of their own: the one because they believe Jews cannot live securely amongst Gentiles, the other just wishing the Jews lived somewhere else. Are Semites and anti-Semites in cahoots?)

Having been a proponent of the Palestinian cause since visiting Israel in 1969, I’m familiar with the charge of antisemitism. I don’t pay much attention to it, as I think it says more about the person making the charge than about me. I am more concerned about how blithely critics of our chumminess with Israel portray that alliance as being determined by Israeli, aka Zionist, string-pulling. This explanation implies our policymakers, and by extension American Jews, have either sold out their country, i.e., have committed treason, or are unwitting agents of a foreign power. It may be true that the personal interest, dual loyalty, or naivete of our policymakers determines our Middle East policy, but this is a serious charge. It should not be made without solid evidence.

Just believing our support for Israel runs counter to our national interest because of the antagonism it engenders among Arabs and Muslims is not sufficient proof. There is good reason why we support the Zionist project, the same reason the previous dominant outside power in the area, Great Britain, did. Vice President Biden hinted at this when he remarked that Israel is worth two aircraft carrier battle groups to us. The enormous intelligence facility we maintain in Israel which enables us to spy on the entire Middle East is one example of what he meant. The Arabs consider Israel a dagger plunged into the heart of the Arab World (witness Israel’s collaboration with Britain and France in an attempt to regain control of the Suez Canal from Egypt in 1956). Imperialism continues its thrusts into the vitals of weaker nations to today.

That no protocol is required to explain our policy in the Middle East does not negate the possibility that some cabal of likeminded conspirators is out to rule the world, whether they be aged Zionists or an amorphous body of likeminded operatives buried deep within the sanctums of the state. This is something we should justifiably be concerned about (more so than the phantasmagoric suspicion the president has colluded with a hostile power because of an embarrassing indiscretion). So let’s look into what it would take for a World Zionist Conspiracy to be out to control the world.

First, they would need an ideology to unify and motivate the conspirators. With the tribal Chosen People concept reinforced by a persecution complex (part rational, part paranoid), the Jews have that in spades! Next, they would need an organizational structure to make and implement policy. Of necessity such an entity would need to operate in secret. If such a structure exists amongst Jews, they have indeed succeeded in keeping it secret. Aside from whatever nefarious shenanigans some Jews may be up to on Wall Street, like insider trading, Jews as a whole are not very secretive. Their gatherings—from sabbath services to AIPAC conventions—are open to all (unlike another, much larger cabal bent on world conquest—call it an agency—whose machinations are hidden behind multiple layers of secrecy).

The likelihood of keeping a manipulative cabal secret is inversely proportional to the number of members in the cabal. Let’s suppose one in every hundred Jews is in on the plot. That would be 150,000 conspirators, enough to wield considerable clout but difficult to keep under wraps. But there is a more important point to be derived from this rough estimate. If this number is accurate, it means 99% of all Jews are not in on the conspiracy! Should they be held accountable for the sins of the fathers, er… elders? In a perfect world they would not be. But the world is not perfect. History has demonstrated—through the Holocaust in the case of the Jews, through the fate of those innocents trapped in the fiery inferno of the Twin Towers in the case of Americans—that guilt by association prevails and casts a wide net. It shouldn’t, and it mustn’t. I don’t believe most Jews–or most Americans–seek world conquest or condone those who do strive for it.

So what is to explain the remarkable success Jews enjoy in so many fields? I know at least one Jew who thinks they’re just smarter than the rest of us. I suspect he’s not alone. Even if they’re not, they have a well-earned reputation for a love of learning and an admirable work ethic, which goes far towards explaining their accomplishments. They also have a reputation for cliquishness, which is not so admirable, what with its undertones of clannish group-promotion. Personally, I haven’t come to a conclusion as to what accounts for disproportionate Jewish representation in the halls of power, but I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with some wizened yarmulke wearers plotting away in a synagogue in Tsarist Russia.

Delving into the role of Jews in American society is more problematic than examining the role of other distinguishable groups—the Deep State, Masons, Ivy Leaguers, et al. In light of history, it’s treading on dangerous ground. But are we at the end of history? Has persecution of the Jews come to an end? A lot of people have thought they lived at the end of history; they’ve all been wrong so far. If we, too, are not living in the end times, that perplexing, venerable interrogative, “The Jewish Question”, will be raised again someday. Aren’t we more likely to prevent the wrong answer from being arrived at if we confront the question than if we assume it will never be asked?

Good People on Both Sides

“There are good people on both sides.” Those words of President Trump, spoken in commenting on the ultimately tragic White Nationalist/Black Lives Matter confrontation in Charlottesville in 2017, have assumed such symbolic status they may be etched on his tombstone. Personally, I would be proud to have them be my epitaph. I found at the time—and still find—that his was a more insightful observation than the good-versus-evil dichotomy sanctimoniously brayed by the media at the time—and still.*

Does anyone really believe there were no good people amongst the slaveowners of the antebellum South? Or amongst the millions of Germans who supported—even joined—the Nazi party? Or amongst Mr. Putin’s fans—or Mr. Trump’s—today? And, yes, even amongst the tiki torch-bearing whites gathered in Charlottesville? Apparently, there are those who find no goodness in the other side; witness the ongoing campaign to tear down the statues of once acclaimed, now abhorred, notables—even Stephen Foster. To them I would say, to put it in the kindest way possible, “You are being ahistorical.” (If I wasn’t such a nice guy, I’d say “You’re being idiotic!”)

History is seldom as clear cut and simple as those with a cause would have it. For instance, slavery was not introduced to this country when the first Africans arrived in 1619 (they were treated as indentured servants) but in 1655 when Anthony Johnson, a black man, refused to release his indentured servant, another black man, when his term of servitude was over. Many free blacks owned slaves. The free black community of New Orleans swore their allegiance to Dixie, and a (hotly debated) number of slaves fought and died for the Confederacy. Perhaps we should erect a statue to Joseph Vann, a rich Cherokee chief who owned more than a hundred slaves, just so we can tear it down.

The Germans have a nice word to use in looking back on history: Zeitgeist, meaning “the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era”, i.e., the spirit of the times. Looking back we see many acts we find reprehensible, even barbaric, today: nomads burying babies in the sand; the Spanish Inquisition burning heretics at the stake, people being locked up in concentration camps based on ethnicity, and, yes, slaveowners separating mother from child. Were the people who perpetrated these abominations bad, or just people like you and me behaving in accordance with the prevailing Zeitgeist?

Before we become too smug in celebrating our own moral advancement, we should reflect on what horrors arising from the present Zeitgeist our descendants might look back upon with incredulity and contempt? Mothers being separated from their children while migrating in search of a better life? Police breaking into people’s homes and gunning down suspects—inadvertently or otherwise—before a weeping wife and terrified children? Bemedaled militarists dismissing the killing of innocents as “collateral damage”. Baby-killing, both pre- and post-natal? Billionaires sailing around in yachts while children in poverty-stricken communities go to bed hungry? Will our descendants tear down the statues memorializing those associated with these outrages? Are there no “good people” amongst them?

Reflecting on one of the heroes of “The Good War”, Winston Churchill, might prove insightful. Ignoring his role in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of World War I, we can start with his authorizing, as First Lord of the Admiralty, the transport of munitions on the passenger liner Lusitania, making it a legitimate target of war (which the Germans promptly sank). When an armistice ending the First World War was signed, Churchill argued against lifting the blockade on Germany until a peace treaty was signed, resulting in the death by starvation of tens of thousands of Germans. As Britain sought to claim the victor’s spoils from that war by taking over Mesopotamia, Churchill, as head of the War Office, advocated using poison gas on recalcitrant Kurds, wondering why some in his government were so “squeamish” about “using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.”

In World War II, Churchill was responsible for initiating the practice of bombing civilian targets with a raid on Hamburg in May 1940 (up till that time both sides had restricted their bombing to military targets), precipitating the heroic but unnecessary Battle of Britain when the Germans retaliated in kind. Still a big fan of poison gas, he advocated the strategic bombing of Germany with the “merciful weapon”, i.e., wiping out much of the German populace (His generals talked him out of it: “If the wind changes, there go the French!”). The war wasn’t even over before Churchill drew up plans for a surprise attack on Britain’s erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union.

If Churchill is one of the good people on our side, what must the bad people on the other side be like? Could there have been some bad people on our side and some good ones on the other? Frankly, I’m not convinced the good guys won World War Two. I’m not convinced there were any good guys… or bad guys. Just fearful leaders with imperfect knowledge acting within the bounds imposed upon them by circumstances beyond their control. We are all circumscribed in our thoughts and actions by the ideology and institutions of the age in which we live, the Zeitgeist. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge our ancestors or our contemporaries, or even look at things in terms of good and evil. “Time and chance happeneth to all men” the Good Book says.
* I attended the rally held in Lafayette Square last year commemorating the anniversary of the Charlottesville brouhaha. Amongst the 20-30 White Nationalists gathered in one corner of the square and the thousand or so counter-protestors gathered in another, it seemed to me the least hate-filled person there was the organizer of both the Charlottesville and Washington rallies, Jason Kessler, who made clear he didn’t want the support of the folks in Nazi paraphernalia or white sheets.

Most critics of the proudly white make no distinction between White Nationalism and White Supremacy. Being proud of the history, customs, and values of whatever racial, ethnic, religious, or national group you belong to is generally not considered a bad thing. It’s even encouraged. This month, February, is dedicated to extolling the contributions of African-Americans in our history. Jews take justifiable pride in their contributions not just to American but world history. Shouldn’t white people be allowed to do the same without being accused of a hate crime? Classifying yourself in terms of race—whatever that is—is certainly “racist”, but isn’t that what “Black” History Month is all about? (It’s never been agreed upon—even amongst Jews—whether “Jewish” is a racial, ethnic, religious, or nationalist classification.)

Now declaring your particular group superior, e.g. White Supremacy, that’s different, and truly problematic. Still, white people are not the only ones who engage in such potentially destructive self-glorification. American Exceptionalism comes to mind, being just a thinly veiled euphemism for American Supremacy. Another notable group believes it has been chosen by God to be “a light unto the nations”. Now that’s a supremacist ideology!

The Trump Doctrine

Often a president takes a foreign policy initiative of such moment it goes down in history as a “doctrine”, with his name attached. President Monroe gave us one of the first instances when he presumptuously declared the Western Hemisphere no longer open to European colonization in 1823. More recently, the equally presumptuous Carter Doctrine was coined when that president warned the Soviet Union in the wake of its invasion of Afghanistan, “An attempt by any outside force [other than ourselves] to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America.”. Midst all the buffoonery, might there be emerging from President Trump’s contradictory policy decisions what could be called “The Trump Doctrine”?

It often seems Trump has adopted the approach to foreign policy expounded by Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger: The Madman Theory. According to Kissinger, great statesmen thrive on “perpetual creation, on a constant redefinition of goals” and have “the strength to contemplate chaos.” Sound Trumpian? Could the ill-advised missteps, the back-peddling, the policy reversals which have characterized the Trump administration result from a shrewd, conscious strategy of unpredictability, not just the ill-informed actions of an impetuous leader? As Kissinger’s putting into practice his theory prolonged the agony and magnified the tragedy of the Vietnam War, it is not encouraging that Trump sought advice from the madman par excellence prior to his inauguration.

Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria is a case in point. It’s unlikely Trump consciously adopted a Kissinger-esque stratagem; more likely just jerked his knee in a moment of pique. Whatever, Trump’s decision caused spasms of paroxysm amongst what’s known as “the foreign policy blob”, that amorphous coterie of self-designated authorities who determine—or presume they should determine—our foreign policy.

Lest you ask me to name names, let me point out there is a reason the blob is commonly referred to as the Deep State. (Before you dismissively snort “conspiracy theory”, tell me who made the decision to invade Syria in the first place. The International Criminal Court might like to know as it was a gross violation of international law.) The modifier “deep” is not applied to the blob for onomatopoetic reasons. It signifies that many blobsters—and the most influential—are people you’ve never heard of. Take Andrew Marshall. He directed the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessments (an office you’ve probably never heard of) for 42 years—from 1973 until his retirement in 2015 at age 92. You’ve never heard of him, but the Chinese have; they read everything he ever wrote on our strategic thinking.

More publicly known members of the blob castigated Trump for his decision on Syria. That the cacophonic chorus spanned the political spectrum—from sabre-rattling, conservative, Dixieican Lindsey Graham to mealy-mouthed, liberal, also-ran Hillary Clinton—revealed how likeminded the blobsters are in their thinking. As one wag characterized it, “The question for the foreign policy establishment is not whether to bomb Iran or not but whether to bomb Iran now or later.” That more deeply entrenched members of the blob like Andrew Marshall are reappointed from one presidential administration to the next explains why our foreign policy remains so consistent no matter who is in the White House.

The blob is so outraged because a withdrawal from Syria—any geostrategic withdrawal for that matter, whether from the Middle East, the Korean peninsula, or sub-Saharan Africa—contradicts the objective they have pursued since the collapse of the Soviet Union: global hegemony. That’s why we spend more on our military than the next seven or eight big spenders combined; why we have military bases strewn round the globe; why our wars in faraway lands of little intrinsic value never end; why we stir up trouble on the borders of Russia and in the sea south of China.

President Trump is not a member of the blob. Quite the contrary. His action on Syria fulfills a promise he made to his “base” to extricate ourselves from our never-ending interventions around the world—to bring the troops home. He sees the world as any well-meaning American ignorant of the complex, long-standing, secret-laden aspects of our foreign policy might, and this causes him to run up against the realpolitik imperatives of the entrenched foreign policy wonks. It takes a brave, self-confident man to stand up to the choir singing in harmony a counterviewpoint. Hence, the waffling which makes Trump’s actions appear chaotic, unpredictable.

Post pressure from the blob, the withdrawal from Syria has already become less than the “immediate” promised by the president. Will our troops still be lingering in Syria come re-election time, like the prison in Guantanamo Obama promised to close? Or, if Trump follows through on his promise, will the Deep Staters accept this token retreat from global conquest or decide something must be done about this bumbling gamechanger before he does real damage to their Grand Strategy? (If we really have only 2000 troops in Syria—the number cited by almost everybody—a withdrawal may be insignificant enough for the hegemonists to swallow, but one informed commentator reports his sources tell him we have more like 12,000 troops there and that they are building permanent-type bases complete with airfields, which makes a withdrawal much more unpalatable.)

I would like to think Trump is basically a decent man who believes, as I would also like to think most Americans do, that we can live in peace with the entire world. In wistful moments, I fantasize that once all those medal-bedecked generals, globetrotting ambassadors, and degreed academicians have explained to him how the world really works, the president will proclaim what posterity will know as The Trump Doctrine. Aghast at what he’s learned, he will address the illustrious elite thusly: “You people are crazy! You talk in calm, measured tones of a possible war with China. Do you have any idea what that would be like: hundreds of millions killed, one of the world’s great civilizations—theirs or ours, maybe both—annihilated? You should be locked up in institutions for the criminally insane. I’m not taking your advice. I’m following the path to peace.”

A guy can dream.

Keep Your Woollies Handy

Here’s a conundrum for you. Check out this photo of the United States at night.

Find the lights of Chicago on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Now proceed northwest to the next bright spot, which is the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Continue northwest a couple of hundred miles more to the next brightly lit metropolitan area. What city is that? Fargo, North Dakota? Hardly! No, it’s the light from the flaring of natural gas in the Bakken oilfield—enough to light a whole city at night (leaving the lights on all day, as well).

The flaring in the Bakken results from what Marx called the “chaotic” nature of a capitalist economy, which results from the ownership of the means of production being in private hands. In their frantic drive to exploit oil through hydraulic fracturing, the black gold-miners of North Dakota didn’t wait for the infrastructure to transport the natural gas which accompanies the sought-after oil out of the ground (i.e., pipelines) to be built.

This gross waste of a precious resource may become a hot topic this winter if it happens that New Englanders are freezing in their living rooms while the heat from thousands of flares idiotically warms the frigid skies over North Dakota. This insane possibility is conceivable because our situation with regard to the supply of natural gas is a bit precarious this year.

Before citing the statistic which backs up this claim, a little about how natural gas is produced and consumed. The demand for natural gas is not constant; it’s much greater in the winter (because of it use for heating) than in the summer. Gas production, however, cannot be adjusted to meet the changing demand. So, during the warmer months—roughly April to November—some of the gas extracted from the ground is injected right back into subsurface cavities left by depleted oil wells in what is called ”working storage” (A graphic display of this process was provided in 2015 when one well used for storage leaked for months). During the winter, gas withdrawn from working storage can constitute as much as a quarter of the total daily supply.

This year the buildup in working storage has lagged significantly behind previous years—about 20% lower. Here’s a chart showing the amount placed in working storage for the last six years, as well as the five-year average:

Note the figure in the bottom line for 2018 and compare it to the five-year average: 2725 bcf (billion cubic feet) versus 3340 bcf. Now check the corresponding figure for 2013 (3071 bcf) and look at what happened in the unusually cold winter of 2014: the amount in storage shrank to just 824 bcf, causing the Electric Reliability Council of Texas—which produces more natural gas than any other state!—to declare a state of emergency out of concern there wouldn’t be enough gas for power plants (and causing me, prematurely, to purchase a portable generator, which remains in its box). With working storage currently 300 bcf behind 2013 and 600 bcf lower than the five-year average, just think what a near total drain there’ll be if we have a winter like the one in 2014 (and how comfortable I’ll be with my presciently-bought generator)!

How is it possible that a nation whose production of natural gas is booming could suffer a shortage? Partly it’s because we’ve overcommitted ourselves to natural gas. To clean up our skies we’ve been converting coal-burning power plants to natural gas. Natural gas’s share in electricity generation has gone from less than half that of coal in 2008 to exceeding coal’s contribution since 2015.

In addition, to fulfill the assurances we’ve given Europeans that our booming production will enable them to free themselves from dependence on Russian gas, we started exporting Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) in 2016. Our exports so far have been insignificant, hardly enabling Europe to liberate itself from the Bear’s grasp (Ironically, last winter New England received a shipment of gas from Russia!), but that we’re exporting any while we suffer a shortage here at home could become an issue (about 3% of total production is exported). A bizarre manifestation of how tight the situation may be is the fact that the export terminal at Cove Point, Maryland is actually importing LNG currently (while simultaneously exporting domestically produced gas!).

Another disturbing factor lies in a downside to hydraulic fracturing: fracked wells suffer a rapid depletion rate—as much as 70% in the first year and after two years the wells are pretty much drained. This means new wells must be drilled constantly to keep production up, and the number of active rigs drilling for gas has declined to under 200 from as high as 1600 a decade ago.

The saga of natural gas could be excitingly nerve-wracking theater this winter. You can follow the drama of working storage depletion at, as well as get the larger picture from the report put out by the Energy Information Administration every Thursday. Keep your woollies handy!