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Each member of the U.S. president’s cabinet serves at the pleasure of the president and the same is true in the case of the United States Secretary of Defense which position is in the top tier of the Executive Office serving the country’s leader. The other two top tier cabinet positions are, of course, the Secretary of State and the Chief of Staff. All of whom serve at the president’s discretion.
That said, General Jim Mattis has done an excellent job as the U.S. Defense Secretary and there are questions as to why such a capable individual should find it necessary to retire from a position to which he was obviously well-suited. Also, the question exists whether the president influenced that decision or whether General Mattis was fired and the term “retiring” was used to convey proper respect to a long-serving military member who earned every honour he ever received.
Obviously, the president and the secretary had a difference on policy, that goes without saying. But under the U.S. Constitution, a U.S. president can pursue any foreign or domestic policy he chooses and he or she doesn’t need the approval of his cabinet.
(Of course, it’s better if they do approve)
U.S. cabinet officers serve the president, not the other way around. Therefore, in case of a difference of opinion the president wins, every time, and it must always be that way.
Even such notable soldiers as General Douglas MacArthur who tried to bully U.S. president Harry S. Truman into militarily attacking China — thereby dramatically enlarging the Korean War — was finally forced to step down famously saying, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away” find themselves subject to the U.S. president’s discretion by virtue of the laws of the United States and its Constitution.
Still, it could be instructive in some way to examine the reasons behind such events to ascertain whether a systemic problem exists that must be dealt with, or to find whether these events occurred due to some other reason.
Let’s look at the Syrian situation in the context of American military involvement, because in the case of president Trump and secretary Mattis it’s almost surely the issue that divided them:
- Syria has been involved in a civil war since 2011 and was the last country in the region to feel the effects of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’.
- No country is allowed under international law to intervene militarily in another country’s civil war without being invited by the lawful government of that country. Countries can’t unilaterally insert themselves into the midst of civil wars. That’s black letter international law. It’s 100% non-negotiable.
- Which the Americans did. As did their allies (some European countries).
- Russia and Iran on the other hand were invited by the lawful government of Syria and that invitation was made publicly. It’s a matter of public record.
- The legal exception to involvement by non-invited parties occurs if the UN Security Council approves military actions; Where the UN Security Council votes to apply sanctions or approve military force, military intervention becomes legal under international law. However, the UN Security Council didn’t approve military force by the U.S. and its allies against Syrian government forces or non-government forces (terrorists). Yet, the U.S. and its allies militarily attacked targets in Syria without the proper and legal authorizations required by international law.
- Though such actions clearly broke international law, Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad didn’t seem to mind. Yes, he did complain at first, but as soon as the Americans and their European allies lessened their attacks on terrorist targets in Syria, Bashar Al-Assad suddenly stopped complaining. To many people (and it might even hold up in international court if it ever comes to that) this clearly registered as tacit approval for America and her allies to conduct military operations against ISIS inside Syria for the duration of the Syrian civil war.
With me so far? Few people would dispute points 1 through 6 above.
No doubt that U.S. president Trump and U.S. secretary of defense Mattis were 100% aligned in regards to U.S. policy in Syria since the confirmation of General Jim Mattis on January 20, 2017.
Any difference of opinion between the two is therefore recent and easy to discern.
American Involvement in Syria: Part II
Since about November of 2018 it appears that the battle against ISIS is largely won in Syria.
From now on, it’s going to be a mopping-up operation with exponentially increasing chances for American and Russian forces to clash (accidentally or otherwise) in the ever-smaller areas formerly controlled by terrorist groups.
Not only American and Russian of course, many countries operate inside Syria fighting terrorists and thereby assist the Syrian government (even if assisting the Syrian regime isn’t one of their objectives) and some terrorists might decide to meddle with the foreign forces fighting them.
Any individual who feels they have something against America or Europe who happens to have access to a rifle, a rocket launcher, or other weapons system may feel entitled under Jihadi rules to shoot down an American fighter or bomber jet, helicopter, or perhaps take out a number of U.S. soldiers who may be sleeping in a tent or non-hardened building.
For a terrorist, the opportunity to create a war between Russia and America, or between Russia and Europe (however unlikely that may, or may not be) might prove too tempting and numbers of them on multiple occasions might soon decide to employ themselves on suicide missions to accomplish that objective.
‘Targets of Opportunity’ are what every American and European military person will now represent to Jihadis at this stage — whereas prior to November 2018 they were too busy trying to stay alive to get involved in planning traps so that (nominal allies, in Syria, at least) America and Russia might find themselves in a ground or air fight against the other. Such danger that represents!
American Involvement in Syria: Part III
Even after the American troops (numbering only 2000 personnel) leave Syria there are still a number of ways to influence events in that country.
a) Soft Power
b) Hard Power
Soft power is the application of diplomacy. The UN is the most likely place for this to happen and America has a strong presence at the United Nations. At this point in the Syrian civil war, America’s best option is UN-backed diplomacy and its 2nd-best option remains direct diplomacy between the nations that are in some way involved with Syria.
Hard power is the application of military force. The U.S. military is the most powerful on Earth but that doesn’t mean the United States should be bombing just for the sake of bombing.
If there are better options than that, those should take precedence over military actions that could result in the unwanted and unnecessary problems of military conflict happening by accident between the U.S. and Russia, or between the U.S. and Iran (or between the U.S. and any other countries operating in Syria) or between the Americans and the Syrians.
None of that is going to help bring peace in Syria.
A final thought about U.S. Hard Power being applied in Syria following the pullout of America’s 2000-strong ground and air force is that the US Navy can deliver as many missiles as the president chooses to targets in Syria from the Mediterranean Sea, anytime the president wants. This has been done in the past with regards to purported chemical attacks that occurred in Syria and is something the Navy trains for every day of the year. Likewise with the U.S. Air Force, which can deliver as many bombs or missiles to terrorist targets inside Syria as the president chooses.
And none of them are going to accidentally bomb Russian or Syrian government positions due to the prior notification protocols common among the world’s major military forces that operate in conflict zones.
Conducting military operations inside Syria is still against international law (therefore I’m not advocating for such operations!) unless Bashir Al-Assad approves of it in advance (and it’s possible he might need help if he gets surrounded by terrorists again) and it’s still in America’s interests to have the democratically elected Bashir Al-Assad government in charge of Syria vs. any number of shady terrorist groups — but at least the lives of 2000 American troops won’t be unnecessarily at risk.
They don’t mind necessary risk, but they hate unnecessary risk. Wouldn’t you?
“Two Men Look Out Through the Same Bars – One Sees Mud, the Other, Stars”
In the final stage of the Syrian Civil War, U.S. president Trump likely sees a case of diminishing returns in Syria, with a growing threat of accidental conflict with America’s nominal allies (Russia, Syria and even Iran — as far as the Syrian conflict is concerned) He sees the potential for a sudden Jihadi attack comparable to the Marine barracks attack in Beirut (1983) that killed 241 U.S. Marines that could undo the good work done by U.S forces in the country especially if a large number of U.S. troops were to be killed in such an attack whether by design or accident; He sees that Syria’s allies are poised and able to complete the task at their cost in both lives and treasure, and he sees that America isn’t going to gain anything further by staying.
ISIS will be defeated in Syria due in large part due to American involvement and no matter how long America stays it isn’t likely to get more recognition for its work fighting terrorism there than it’s already gotten.
In short, for all the right reasons, president Trump decided that U.S. forces should leave Syria — and U.S. Navy aircraft carriers or U.S. Air Force bombers could still deliver a message to terrorist groups operating inside Syria at a moment’s notice.
And from the perspective of Jim Mattis, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, he has resigned for all the right reasons. If you can’t agree on policy (and it is the job of the president to decide policy, not the SecDef) then it’s right to leave. No doubt that General Mattis felt there was more good that American forces could still do inside Syria (even though they weren’t invited and aren’t there legally) and that having U.S. forces on the ground was a stabilizing force in the country. It was that for certain.
But now that Bashar Al-Assad’s tacit approval of unasked-for American ‘assistance’ is almost certainly about to come to an end president Trump has made the right policy move on Syria.
And the president still retains the option of US Navy or Air Force attacks on terrorist targets inside Syria — while removing only the increasingly imperilled ground force option.
‘Timing is everything’ they say.
- A look back at the deadly 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut (abc.com)
by John Brian Shannon | August 30, 2016
Europe is at a crossroads and it’s time to make some decisions
Very conveniently, however, there are really only 3 problems with Europe.
I: The trickle-up economy continues to move trillions of dollars out of the bottom 4 quintiles and place it into the hands of the top quintile. This remains a recipe for failure, and the longer it continues the more draconian the solutions will need to be.
In 2016, half the world’s wealth is concentrated into the hands of the 1% — but by 2030, three-quarters of the world’s wealth will be concentrated into the hands of the 1%.
That’s wholly unsustainable. And nobody is even talking about it.
Unless addressed, Record Inequality will become Social Breakdown. And that will be the end of Europe as we know it.
II: Globalization is a truly wonderful thing. It continues to bring cheap goods to consumers since the Arab Oil Embargo in 1974, which caused millions of Americans to buy cheaper, more fuel efficient cars. That was the beginning of it, but the flood of electronics, textiles, and other goods soon followed.
For one such example of this; Each iPhone would retail for over $2000. with some sources asserting each iPhone would cost $3000. if manufactured in the United States.
But globalization has piggy-backed on Record Inequality to the detriment of workers and families in the West and it looks like (however fairly or unfairly) ‘The People’ are sick of globalization.
Declining living standards due to Inequality and Globalization have ‘The People’ thinking that change is necessary.
And change will come. The People always get their way. Maybe not with Perestroika and Glasnost, but the will of the people eventually becomes reality.
III: “You are leaving the American Sector”
We all remember those signs in postwar Europe. But what is actually happening is that America is leaving the American Sector in Europe.
Yes, America has realized that 58% (and growing) of all global trade is happening in the Pacific and the Americans are lowering their commitment to Europe and the Middle East.
Europe should be all grown-up by now, and the Middle East is a rambunctious, late-teenage, regional power. You should try to get along.
Prior to the Brexit referendum, the normal course of events would have been for the U.S. to become the Pacific Power and for the EU to become the Atlantic Power.
However, for that to happen, the EU needed Britain (which is by definition) the world’s seafaring nation and Britain is leaving the EU.
Consequently, history is still happening as the logical course of action post-referendum is for the UK to become the dedicated Atlantic Power, while the EU becomes the dedicated Mediterranean Power.
And that means strong (and fair) linkages with MENA nations and it means a strong invite to join the EU for every single southern European nation.
As 97.1% of Crimeans voted to rejoin Russia, it also means ‘Hands-Off Crimea’ but either Turkey or Ukraine (sans-Crimea) will eventually join the EU. But not both.
Russia won’t allow the EU to have both, so choose the option you prefer and get it done with as little upset as possible. The EU already has too much on its plate — troubles with Russia is the last thing the EU needs — especially in view of decreased American commitment to Europe.
The next 10 years will be a vulnerable time for the EU; Meaning, this is not the time for the EU to go shooting itself in the foot with a Russian gun.
Europe has only three problems. The ways I’ve outlined are not the only ways to solve them. However, they align with what is already happening.
What I’m saying, is that instead of governments being steered by events European leaders need to steer the thing even if it means continuing on with what was already going to take place anyhow.
a) Friendly divorce with Britain.
b) EU lowers Atlantic commitments and ramps up linkages and commitments in the Med and MENA.
c) All southern European nations join the EU.
d) Choose either Ukraine (sans-Crimea) or Turkey and make one of them an EU nation, ASAP.
e) Friendly relations with Russia are imperative — if the present leadership can’t get it done, Fire Them and get new leaders — it’s that important.
f) Friendly relations with the Middle East (stop bombing your neighbours)
g) Address Inequality in no uncertain terms.
h) Stop using the word globalization and seek Win-Win bilateral trade agreements exclusively, where that trade actually benefits both sides — instead of just dumping your goods in other countries and getting the loot. You need (true) Interdependence instead of Globalization.
i) Harmonize EU economic policies around the best existing model in Europe (Norway) where deficits are limited to 4% of GDP, plan for a 3% unemployment rate, free university education for residents, low crime rate, high productivity, very high SPI and UN Happiness Index scores (and those two metrics drive all other positive stats) revenue surpluses directed to a sovereign wealth fund, and so much more.
These are not big challenges compared to the challenges faced by WWI and WWII leaders, and by leaders in the immediate postwar era. These are tiny challenges.
But these challenges will require persistence by leaders who can keep the main objectives in the forefront of their mind, even as (seemingly) everyone else wants to go in different directions.
The question is not; “Does the EU have good leaders?” (Of course it most certainly does or the EU wouldn’t have ever existed, nor would it still remain)
The question is: “Does the EU have the leaders it needs to actually accomplish the remaining goals?”
- Europe’s Last Chance (Project Syndicate)
by John Brian Shannon | June 21, 2016
Many non-British commentators have strongly suggested to British voters that they should vote to remain (‘Bremain’) in the EU, in the June 23 referendum.
Yet, some of those commentators have told other non-British citizens with opposing views on the issue (‘Brexit’) that they should refrain from expressing their strong suggestions.
Which I find odd, and troubling at some level.
I’m glad they’re worried about British voters being unduly influenced by the opinions of others in faraway lands.
But I’m not worried at all.
I think British voters are educated enough to be able to discern between the opinions of foreigners, and the opinions of present-day British citizens who are eligible to vote in the referendum.
By and large, Britons are a pretty educated lot and there are many nuances to British society that demonstrate they have plenty of 21st century sophistication.
British voters aren’t likely to get the proverbial wool pulled over their eyes by commentators from around the world. If they’re susceptible to that, they’ve got bigger problems than staying in, or leaving the EU.
I do agree that people shouldn’t be stirring up trouble. After all, it is illegal to run into a crowded theatre and yell, “Fire!” in a convincing way. And for good reason.
But a person can contribute their thoughts about a democratic vote in another country in a way that is designed to not inflame people to untoward behavior.
In fact, freedom of speech goes directly to the heart of the Western democracies which is exactly why it must be practiced often.
And whether we’re commenting about the goings-on in our own country or in our fellow Commonwealth nations, fair comment ought to be encouraged — as long as the commentator refrains from unduly inciting the voters of that nation.
Some commentators have made the case for, or against, the economic angle. It’s true that UK GDP has risen since it joined the EU.
Even euro-skeptics admit that United Kingdom GDP has risen — as compared to not joining the European Union.
Read: You can’t feed a family on GDP (New York Times)
How could it not? The EU is the largest single economic unit on the planet, slightly larger in total economic output than the United States and larger than other great economic powers such as the rising tiger in China.
Not that the bottom two economic quintiles in the UK have seen it!
The economic question, then, becomes; Will voting to ‘Stay’ or ‘Leave’ the EU result in higher income for the bottom two quintiles?
They’re certainly not seeing it now while still part of the EU, therefore, what would make their cohort expect to see higher incomes by staying in the European Union?
In fact, people in the UK’s bottom two quintiles say that recent and high immigration levels have ‘stolen’ many low-paying jobs from the two bottom quintiles and UK unemployment statistics seem to bear that out.
One can therefore empathize with very large numbers of people who’ve at the end of the day ‘lost’ more than they’ve gained via EU membership.
It will be interesting to see how many vote in the referendum and to look at their voting patterns, post-referendum.
Henry Ford used to say; “Don’t tell me what you can do. Show me what you’ve done.”
Many Bremainers are quick to point out that governance in the UK could be improved by staying within the European Union. And it goes without saying that the UK would be a force for good within the European Union as it relates to EU reform.
No doubt there has already been some of that. For one example, some labour standards have improved in the United Kingdom as a direct result of EU labour directives.
It’s too bad that recent (and high) immigration levels took huge numbers of low-paying jobs away from British-born workers, otherwise Britons would be able to witness those labour law improvements instead of reading about it in the broadsheets — while (not) enjoying life on unemployment insurance.
EU ‘Mission Creep’
Separate from labour law improvements and lower employment levels for British-born workers, is what could be termed the ‘bureaucratic mission-creep’ of the EU governance structure.
We all know what mission creep means in the military sense, it typically happens during long military campaigns where the fight has been long and hard, and the progress uneven.
Military commanders begin expanding the definitions of engagement and troop commitment on their own volition in order to more quickly or more fully attain their standing orders.
With the exceptionally clear lines of command found in military units, such liberties taken by commanders are almost always caught and rectified.
I don’t know that is always the case with regards to faceless, nameless bureaucrats who are in the business of running the EU’s governmental architecture. Many of whom may not be under the direct authority of duly elected politicians it must be said.
Instead of following the instructions of their elected leaders, such bureaucrats could easily engage in their own ‘mission creep’ and elected EU politicians wouldn’t know about it unless a whistleblower made it public.
For ambitious (unelected) EU bureaucrats with few checks and balances to worry about: Why bother to go through all the trouble of staging a coup (in a single EU country) in order to get the life they want, when by playing it coy and telling the politicians exactly what they want to hear over a period of years, the bureaucrats could eventually do whatever they wanted throughout the entire European Union, using the levers of power available to them in the existing governance architecture? Maybe with some help from other ambitious (unelected) EU bureaucrats?
Q: What are the chances of that, exactly?
A: About 100% — given enough time.
Who would know until it was already too late? How can you see hidden crime? How to stop them?
Eventually, the unelected functionaries in Brussels will be telling the elected politicians what to do, where to go, and at what time to do it. Some suspect they already are…
It’s bad enough that segments of the EU governance architecture are maintained by powerful and unelected individuals. When you factor-in bureaucratic mission creep it quickly scales-up to terrifying dimensions.
Some highly educated and respected commentators have spoken to the lack of democratic legitimacy for EU Apparatchiks and their masters the EU Nomenklatura — even at this early stage. I guarantee they’re not taking into account the bureaucratic ‘mission creep’ that is guaranteed to occur within the EU governance architecture over time.
It is likely to be cumulative and significant.
Windows of Opportunity
Quite separate from ‘Stay’ or ‘Leave’ debate is the future the British people could attain outside of the European Union political structure.
Some of us think that opportunities as big as the sky would be missed by the United Kingdom permanently joined to the EU.
While some ideas seem fanciful until someone crunches the numbers, a different plan could allow the United Kingdom to excel as never-before.
As there’s no precedent for the Brexit situation it could now become anything the UK government wants it to become.
Every day, we teach others how to treat us. At a personal level, how we interact with others shows them how to treat us.
Even the political relationship between nation-states are directed by human beings (not artificial intelligence bots) therefore:
As human nature is the foundation of all human relationships;
If we make people feel afraid, they will act defensively toward us.
If we solve their problems, we’re teaching them to become dependent on us.
If we act as their genuine partner, we are teaching them to trust us.
If we act as a team-player, they will either become part of our team or we will become part of theirs — either way, it works.
If we teach half of the UK population that their concerns aren’t a priority for us right now, we’re teaching them to withdraw from us.
In the end, we reap what we sow.
EU membership isn’t working for Britain’s bottom two quintiles and bureaucratic ‘mission creep’ will eventually bring a complete end to democracy within the EU, and Britain might miss windows of opportunity larger than the sky for as long as it stays in the EU.
If those reasons (and more that I haven’t touched on) aren’t enough for British voters to exercise their vote carefully, I don’t know what might qualify.
Whatever the results on June 23rd, I support the right of Britons to choose their future. It’s my goal however, to do my part to ensure that they go into the future (whichever way the vote goes) with ‘eyes wide open’ as opposed to ‘ears stopped shut’.
No matter the outcome of the referendum, the people of Europe have created an astonishing success story out of the rubble of World War II, and I salute their sacrifice, their dedication, and their ingenuity, and I very sincerely wish every one of them eternal peace, prosperity, and good governance.
Present Brexit/Bremain discussions aside, Europe is one of the brightest lights of our civilization. But we must always remember: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
And some in the UK expected better.
Isn’t that everything?
- Brexit in Context (Project Syndicate)
- With two days to go, Britain’s EU referendum vote still on knife edge (Reuters)