Trump’s foreign policy genius

General Mattis, Trump’s pick for Defence Secretary, tells a story about an American and a Chinese Admiral, chatting.

The American asked, “What would you most like, to enhance your security?” He expected to hear a list of submarines, warships, maybe carriers.

“Ten million jobs a year,” replied the Chinese Admiral.

China is in a rare, decades-long period of stability and growth. It is being aggressive, nationalistic, threatening smaller nations from Taiwan to Japan, but it doesn’t usually project force, unlike Russia. China needs economic stability and continuing growth, or the regime will find itself in serious trouble.

So the levers Trump has been pressing have been economic. This has had other purposes too, of course, but this post is about foreign policy.

The Forrest Gump or Chauncey Gardener view of Trump seems to be the most prevalent. He’s a complete buffoon, who somehow, without any guile or wit, won the primaries and the the Presidency. What’s charming about this view is the fact it’s impossible to put it forward without being, temporarily, a complete buffoon.

If you do a little research, you uncover a planned run that began five or six years ago, with meetings and readings on all policy areas with people Trump found persuasive and important. One of those sources was, plainly, General Mattis.

I don’t know when they first met, but I do know that Mattis has been explaining his outlook for years, to Congress, in lectures, visiting professorships, interviews and question and answer sessions. He is extremely cogent, clear and consistent in his arguments. Obama sacked him for it.

Trump hired him for it. Mattis has a strategic view of the world that, if you understand it, provides a framework into which every Trump action neatly falls. Like economic levers for China. Like friendliness towards Russia and Pakistan.

People aren’t drifting from long-established news and comment sources because they’re mad, alt-right conspiracy theorists bent on re-tweeting Putin’s propaganda and False News. They’re drifting away because these media are crap. This information is all completely accessible. You can watch Congressional Hearings, lectures (I’ll link to an important one at the foot of this piece), interviews, and see what’s happening. But they don’t.

Take Russia. Mattis thinks the rise of aggressive nationalism there is a threat. He believes that where China feels their security interests would be best served by stability, Russia believes they’d be safest with a region of instability all round its borders. The EU created the invasion of Ukraine, he thinks, by starting a process of slow outreach to the country without any provision at all for the inevitable Russian response. Start the outreach by all means, if you’re ready to handle the response. But what does the flaccid, impotent cry of “Putin is nasty” achieve when you’re not willing to confront him.

But in the longer – not very much longer – term, Russia is catastrophically weak, and it will be with Putin or without him. Its economy is contracting. It has a demographic collapse caused mainly by internal social dysfunction. It has the longest land borders of any country in the world to defend, and the greatest number of Jihadis within them of any country outside the Middle East. The nationalism Putin is cultivating is weak on the fringes of the Federation where Russian identity is weakest, and so could form part not of external belligerence now but of internal collapse.

They have a lot of nuclear weapons and a culture of threatening to use them (one broadcaster who spoke about reducing America to radioactive ash was hired immediately by the state information agency). The world does not need a collapsed Russia with nukes in the hands of various nationalist and, possibly, religious factions.

So while it’s a form of great self-satisfaction for many people to turn denouncement of Putin into performance art at the moment, it is in the interests of the West to get into a position where we can help to support Russia. The starting point there is to be friendly, ally in common causes – maybe against ISIS because Russia does have a serious Jihadi threat – and try to turn them into a less belligerent country, and maybe an ally kept afloat by western economic support.

You’ll note the overtures this policy would demand have already been made by Trump, to a chorus of criticism. He has praised Putin, and suggested the anti-ISIS alliance, which would also possibly have the effect of turning Russia’s aim away from Syrians opposed to Assad. Again, if you realise that, you see why they have been so determined to finish Aleppo before Obama leaves office.

These are very unusual policy approaches – long-term, carefully thought-out, avoiding entanglements with unclear objectives and non-existent endpoints.

Some entanglements are unavoidable, though. This is where Mattis is uncompromising. No military conflict should be contemplated without extremely clearly-stated objectives, and endpoints. He says ‘endpoints’ a lot – how do we know we’re done? In the absence of these, you get the meanderings of Vietnam, Iraq pre-surge, Afghanistan post-2008.

This is where he asks a question that has permeated Trump’s remarks: is political Islam in our best interests? Trump doesn’t put it like this, he has a different job, selling, persuading, laying the ground, speaking to different parts of the electorate. But it’s been there.

What is political Islam? In this sense it has two strands. The first comes from Iran and encompasses Hezbollah and supports Assad. The second derives from the Muslim Brotherhood and includes all the Al Qaeda manifestations and franchises, the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIS and the brief MB government of Egypt. The list should also include the government of Sudan.

To attack political Islam, if such an attack were held to be in the national interest of the US or the West, the US needs to bring Russia across. It is vital to have Pakistan as an ally just as it was in 2001. That puts Trump’s friendly words to the Pakistani PM, which he was so pleased with he released the transcript, into some better perspective than the asinine squealing that greeted it from most commentators. Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, all vital alliances.

It is hard to overstate how radical a policy change this would be. The Muslim Brotherhood and all their derivative organisations, would need to be expelled from the USA. Their mosques would need to be closed, as they have been in Egypt and Tunisia. We are in the odd situation where half a dozen Muslim countries suppress political Islam more effectively than any Western country.

Which brings me to Europe. We, in Europe, are as much a threat to world stability as Russia. The EU cannot make effective decisions but is can misjudge situations so badly the result is land war – which is what Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be called. The Euro was certain to create regional political and economic instability. It did, and five or six years after this reached crisis point the EU has no solution, other than to – read this carefully – replace the odd democratically elected government.

Migration policies have brought genuinely far right parties to the fore in some countries, while other parties are denounced as fascist so compulsively it’s impossible to know which is which and the hysterical cretins of the EU-centric left and centre have ended up actually promoting fascism through their terminological incontinence, as their American counterparts did for the minuscule Alt Right.

Hardly any NATO countries meet their NATO spending obligations. Some European countries seem to be trying to end any pretence at national defence entirely. No NATO member is a reliable ally for America, yet all expect the US to protect them. Even Britain and France left the US in the lurch in Afghanistan and who stepped in? The UAE and Jordan, two of America’s actually reliable allies.

Worst of all, Mattis is clear about why he fights. He is defending Enlightenment values, the ones the US Constitution and Bill of Rights were based on.

European countries are abolishing Enlightenment values, privileging the more insane manifestations of religion (all religions) and bringing back de-fact or explicit blasphemy laws.

What would we be fighting for in Europe? We’re destroying ourselves, out of sanctimoniousness, narcissism and stupidity.


The following is time well spent, if you want to understand the politics of the next four years. Start 18 minutes in.


UPDATED – Jeff Sessions helped break the Klan in Alabama


Update, thanks to Chris Hall in the comments. In fact, Galanos does credit Sessions with the help he needed to convict and to amass the evidence needed for the civil prosecution. So, while Sessions didn’t do this directly as has been suggested, he does seem to have been central to its success:

“What they need to know is he’s not a racist. I have never heard him even suggest racist comments. Either publicly or privately and I spent a lot of private time with him,” said Galanos, who was the DA in the 1980’s when Sessions was U.S. Attorney.

Galanos said because of Sessions, his office was able to prosecute and eventually execute a KKK member responsible for the vicious murder and hanging of a black teenager, Michael Donald.

“We needed some horsepower, which the feds through Jeff Sessions provided. Specifically we needed the investigative power of the FBI and the power of the federal grand jury. I reached out to him (Sessions) and he responded, tell me what you’ll need and you’ll have it,” said Galanos.

Galanos said in his opinion, it was the first step in the dismemberment of the KKK in Alabama.

“Because after the criminal cases were over, the Southern Poverty Law Center took the evidence we had developed and gave to them and they sued civilly and got a $7 million dollar verdict on behalf of Ms. Donald,” said Galanos.

Read more here.


Original post here:

The Weekly Standard ran a piece a couple of days ago about Jeff Sessions, a Trump Administration nominee, and allegations of racism. Far from being a racist, it claimed:

As a U.S. Attorney he filed several cases to desegregate schools in Alabama. And he also prosecuted Klansman Henry Francis Hays, son of Alabama Klan leader Bennie Hays, for abducting and killing Michael Donald, a black teenager selected at random. Sessions insisted on the death penalty for Hays. When he was later elected the state Attorney General, Sessions followed through and made sure Hays was executed. The successful prosecution of Hays also led to a $7 million civil judgment against the Klan, effectively breaking the back of the KKK in Alabama.

This is mainly untrue or misleading.

The claim he desegregated schools came from Sessions himself, in a 2009 interview. he said:

I signed 10 pleadings attacking segregation or the remnants of segregation, where we as part of the Department of Justice, we sought desegregation remedies — the takeover of school systems, redrawing lines — all those things that I was allowed to participate in supporting.

That part, the claim Sessions himself can be traced as having made, seems likely to be true. It would have been easy enough to check, if anyone had felt it worthwhile.

Sessions seems never to have claimed credit for the Hays case. I can’t find him trying to do that in any online sources or archives. So far as I can see, this just comes from the Standard.

Henry Francis Hays was executed in 1997 for the 1981 lynching of 19 year old Michael Donald. Hays’s father was the head of the United Klans of America, reportedly the most vicious of the Klan groups, at the time. Sessions was an U.S. Attorney in Alabama when the lynching took place and his office investigated it, but didn’t prosecute it.

That fell instead to District Attorney Chris Galanos, who urged the judge, Braxton Kittrell Jr., to pass a death sentence. This was slightly complicated:

At the time of the killing, March 21, 1981, Alabama’s death penalty law prohibited a judge from increasing a sentence to death if a jury recommended life imprisonment.

The law was changed later in 1981, but Ed Carnes, Assistant Attorney General in Alabama, has said the earlier statute applied in the Hays case.

Judge Kittrell said, however, that he believed the Legislature intended to allow ”the court itself, and not the jury, to be the final sentencing authority.”

So Galanos and Kittrell deserve the credit, if your views on capital punishment allow you to consider it such, for pressing for and obtaining the highest penalty, even though the jury hadn’t demanded the death sentence.

The $7 million judgement against the Klan is another matter, and the person responsible for that shouldn’t be allowed to be lost in obscurity. She was very remarkable.

She was Michael Donald’s mother.

Jesse Kornbluth wrote this exceptional piece about her. And you should read it.

The bottom line is:

Mrs. Donald’s determination inspired a handful of lawyers and civil rights advocates, black and white. Early in 1984, Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, suggested that Mrs. Donald file a civil suit against the members of Unit 900 and the United Klans of America. The killers were, he believed, carrying out an organizational policy set by the group’s Imperial Wizard, Robert Shelton. If Dees could prove in court that this ”theory of agency” applied, Shelton’s Klan would be as liable for the murder as a corporation is for the actions its employees take in the service of business.

Mrs. Donald and her attorney, State Senator Michael A. Figures, agreed to participate in the civil suit. Last February, an all-white jury in Mobile needed to deliberate only four hours before awarding her $7 million. In May, the Klan turned over the deed to its only significant asset, the $225,000 national headquarters building in Tuscaloosa. Meanwhile, Mrs. Donald’s attorney moved to seize the property and garnish the wages of individual defendants. ”The Klan, at this point, is washed up,” says Henry Hays, from his cell on death row.

But do read the piece in full.

And note too, Mrs Donald’s attorney, Figures, is the main source of the allegations that Sessions has made racist remarks.

How to fix Google’s email outage problem

Google had a global email issue, over the last 48 hours, affecting Google Apps for work customers, mainly in the US and UK. It can affect isolated users within Apps domains. The symptom is a ‘service not available’ message when the user tries to log in, as though email were an optional app not enabled for that user.

The fix is very simple. I’ll prefix this, though, with the disclaimer that you’re responsible for your own actions and data and should take advice, by using the support system in the domain management console, if you are at all uncertain or want to check this with Google first.

In the management console, choose Apps and then Google Apps. Gmail should be marked as ‘on for everyone’. From the three dot menu to the right, choose ‘Off’, then click to confirm in the dialogue that pops up. Wait ten seconds, then click again on the three dot menu and choose On For Everyone, assuming that was your setting. If you only allow it for selected users, enable them as you did previously.

That’s it.

German trade with China

Chris wrote:

If it is membership of the EU which is undermining competitiveness, why is it that Germany is doing so much better at exporting to China than the UK? Last year, its exports (pdf) to China were €71.4bn (£51.7bn) compared to the UK’s £12.8bn, which meant such exports represented 2.4% of GDP against 0.7 per cent for the UK.

I was curious and Googled. Wikipedia has this to say:

The frequent high-level diplomatic visits are acknowledged to have helped guarantee the smooth development of Sino-German relations. From 1993 to 1998, German and Chinese leaders met face-to-face 52 times: Among those Chinese leaders who visited Germany were President Jiang Zemin; Qiao Shi, former Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC); and Li Peng, former Premier and Chairman of the NPC Standing. Meanwhile, German leaders who visited China included President Roman Herzog, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and Minister of State at the German Federal Foreign Office Ludger Volmer. Among these leaders, Chancellor Kohl visited China twice in 1993 and 1995. Since the new German government came into power in October 1998, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has paid three visits to China. One after another from Germany came Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, and Minister of Economics and Technology Werner Müller. At the same time, Germany welcomed Chinese Primer Zhu Rongji, Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, State Councilor Wu Yi, Member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Wei Jianxing as well as Vice President Hu Jintao.

Relations would continue to improve after 1998. For instance, both Beijing and Berlin fervently opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and in 2006 both Germany (the largest economy and the most populous country of the European Union) and China further enhanced their bilateral political, economic and diplomatic ties within the framework of Sino-EU strategic partnerships. Both Germany and China opposed direct military involvement in the 2011 Libyan civil war. Before the 2011 visit of China’s PM Wen Jiabao, the Chinese government issued a “White Book on the accomplishments and perspective of Sino-German cooperation”, the first of its kind for a European country. The visit also marked the first Sino-German government consultations, an exclusive mechanism for Sino-German communications.

So I suppose the answer to Chris’s question might be that Germany is China’s biggest trading partner and has a special trading relationship with it outwith the EU.

Iran vs Saudi Arabia

In sum: Distasteful as the Saudis are, the Iranian regime is far worse. The Saudis are not carrying out crimes against humanity the way that Iran is. And Saudi Arabia is not seeking to subvert its neighbors or to make war on America or our allies. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has reached a quiet rapprochement with Israel because the two states are united in their mutual opposition to growing Iranian power.

Holmes, Wodehouse and Sherlock

The series created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss [Sherlock] works so well because its adaptation of the exploits of Sherlock Holmes is, excepting the names, flagrantly faithless…

No conundrum solved by Holmes is as mysterious as the enduring popularity of these squibs. Remember A Case of Identity from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes? Thought not: a plot that hinges on the inability of a spinster to work out that her suitor is in reality her wicked stepfather in disguise invites not sympathy for the victim but derision for the author.

Each to their own, and I don’t object to others’ harmless reading pleasure, but the notion that Holmes epitomises rationality is ripe for debunking. Holmes’s method is not reason but wild speculation and remorseless serendipity. He advises Watson to approach cases with “an absolutely blank mind, which is always an advantage”. What? That isn’t even a parody of critical inquiry. Where would scientists be without laws and theories? Plot contrivances such as a venomous snake trained to slither down a bedpull and then up again (in The Adventure of the Speckled Band, as if you cared) are an insult to the reader’s intelligence.

In person, Doyle would believe almost anything. It’s not a literary failing that he was an enthusiast for the occult (so too was Yeats) but there’s neatness in the fact that spiritualists tried to summon his spirit at the Royal Albert Hall five days after his death in 1930. He failed to turn up, having perhaps realised in the meantime that his life’s work merited public oblivion.

Oliver Kamm, The Times (£)

It’s rare for something to be so thoroughly misunderstood. Certainly, the mysteries that confront Holmes can be rather silly. In one of my favourites, for example, a blue carbuncle is fed to a goose, which is instantly mistaken for another by the thief, while the goose with the gem in its crop immediately makes its way to an acquaintance of Sherlock Holmes. Worse than silliness, in some stories Holmes holds information the reader doesn’t have, a serious breach of detective story ethics. Yet nobody seems to mind.

Because, and this should be fairly obvious, the mysteries are beside the point. Indeed, we never learn anything at all about one of the most significant:

Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson, … It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.

“For which the world is not yet prepared” – we read these stories for the silliness of the hyperbole. It delighted P G Wodehouse, who made Bertie Wooster refer to Holmes repeatedly. It’s very funny to read Wooster saying something like “You know my methods” to Jeeves, but there’s far more going on than a simple joke at Bertie’s expense. The similarities between the two sets of stories are extraordinary.

Both focus on a couple, two men, one clever, one less so. Both are narrated in the first person by the less clever one – with, I think I’m right in saying, exactly one exception in both cases, there is one H&W story narrated by Holmes, and one J&W story narrated by Jeeves. Neither is more than a curiosity.

This structure allows a very effective comedic and dramatic trick, that of having the narrator unaware of things the reader and the cleverer partner are aware of. The narrator can even be used a pawn by the other character, not realise it, yet make sure the reader does.

It was invented by Conan Doyle, and copied and complimented by Wodehouse, perhaps the greatest writer in English of the twentieth century – don’t be misled by the fact he ‘only’ wrote comedy.

Don’t be misled by Conan Doyle’s apparent oafish stupidity, either. If he had wanted to write about scientific detective work, he could have done so. The period in which he set the stories, the decades before 1914, was one of enormous progress. Fingerprinting became a standard police procedure, forensic ballistics emerged; Holmes apparently knew nothing of either. When a fingerprint does appear, nobody takes any notice of the whorls, its importance is as a planted piece of evidence.

Telephones appear in a handful of stories, Watson drives a car in the latest in setting, in 1914, but technology remains rooted in the mid-nineteenth century, for the most part. That is, the stories’ own use of technology is anachronistic, and deliberately so. The setting is a fantasy version of Victorian London, one forever lit by gas lamps, whose taxis are for all time horse-drawn and whose streets are eternally cobbled.

It’s a fantasy. It isn’t real. It isn’t meant to be the real London. 221B Baker Street is an address chosen deliberately because it didn’t exist. It’s the prototype for Harry Potter’s railway station platform.

Holmes is a fantasy character and his scientific detection, of which we learn just what we have to for the narrative, and no more, is a fantasy too. It isn’t meant to be taken seriously. It’s a device that allows Watson to be both uncomprehending and admiring.

It’s a measure of Conan Doyle’s success in rendering this fantastical version of the world convincing, complete with its archetypal characters and a version of science closer to phrenology than forensics, that some people do believe it and criticise it as though it’s serious.

But it’s no more serious than the Jeeves and Wooster stories. Like them, the joy for the reader is the narrative itself. It’s Bertie Wooster’s vocabulary, and Watson’s hyperbole. It’s the magnification of trivial things into issues of huge significance, for few of Holmes’s cases are actually of any import at all. Holmes’s methods aren’t realistic, but nor are Jeeves’s. The joke comes from having a character who is, in Wodehouse’s word, omniscient, and in seeing them through the eyes of a narrator who is – let’s be gentle – not omniscient.

The stories are recitations, performances of which the plots are there simply to support the characters and the narrative. Wodehouse used the same plots over and over again, and it didn’t matter at all, what mattered was each particular performance. The Holmes and Watson stories are the same.

Which is why I haven’t got the slightest interest in watching Sherlock. The series makes the same mistake Kamm does, of thinking the ‘mysteries’ are the point. They’re not going to get anything else right, from that starting point. And I think it’s a shame that millenial viewers might come to associate this series with the characters, and in doing so lose one of the genuinely great achievements of imagination and literature.

Letter from a young Peshmarga

Huner Surchi asked me to help put his words into better English. This is what he said:


All my family are Peshmarga.

They are fighting and risking their lives for other people’s lives and honour. I want you to understand, honour means a lot to us. Two Yazidi sisters who had been raped and escaped went from refugee to refugee asking them to kill them. When nobody did, they threw themselves from the mountain they had fled to.

And I want you to understand that Peshmarga are not enough.

Oh, they are enough for fighting. They are fighting IS and they are fighting the Arabs who have betrayed us.

Yes, betrayed us, and that’s something I want you to understand. As the Islamic State advanced, and our fighters had to fall back because they were fighting tanks with rifles, some of the Arabs who had lived among us, had been our neighbours, drank coffee with us and smiled at our children – some of our Arab neighbours joined the barbarians. They joined in the killing. They joined in the raping. Because they were neighbours, they knew where the prettiest young women lived. Women who could be raped, and taken as slaves and sold for the price of a hamburger in a western country. Sold for the price of a quarter pound of chopped meat.

Now hatred of Arabs is felt by many Kurds. And you will say that is bad, that is racist. We will say we don’t know who we can trust and so we can’t trust any  Arabs. You have felt this too. You interned Germans and Japanese during the Second World War. Many of them were blameless. But war breeds hate. War is not something you can play with, it’s not something you can take chances with. And for us, in our history, our recent history and our far history, we have been massacred by Arabs countless times. And now Arab neighbours have turned against us. There were no Arabs among the refugees on Sinjar mountain.

There’s something else I want you to understand. You have given us many things. You are giving us weapons now, and air cover, and we are very grateful. But you gave us the arms embargo that meant we faced tanks with rifles. We have built the most tolerant society in Iraq. Women have been free. We have trades unions. We had Arab neighbours, living equally with us until this happened. We have been an example of what is possible. And you have favoured Iraqi governments, and Turkish governments, who have slaughtered us and denied us our rights. You have refused to recognise Kurdistan. And now we have been fighting your war for you. It is our war, but it is your war too.

Because you have given us something else. IS fighters here include Arabs, but they include men with British accents who discuss on Twitter how many Kurdish women they are each allowed as sex slaves. They include Australians who post pictures on social media of their sons holding up severed heads. They include men with American and Canadian accents, men speaking French and German, men from Belgium and Holland and Sweden and Norway. You have given us some of our enemies. How has this happened?

How have you let your universities and mosques become incubators for these people? There are things I want you to understand about us, but I want to understand this about you.

And I want to understand how you can support our fight, how you can talk about brave Peshmarga, and not fight too. Because this is also your fight. You gave us these people. Now fight them with us.