Home » Posts tagged 'United States'
Tag Archives: United States
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)
Q: Are the concerns of a superpower relevant to the other G7 members? A: Not really.
Maybe it’s time for a superpower group of the U.S., China, the EU, Russia, and The Commonwealth of Nations to form up, instead of the G7 group that has worked very well until now.
Even the sage Moses who lived 3400-years ago, suggested, “Thou shall not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together” and the reason is quite clear to every farmer. Being so dissimilar in size and power, both the ox and the donkey will be miserable the entire time they try to plow forward together and the farmer will spend most of his time ‘arbitrating’ disputes between the two and the plowing enterprise will get little actual plowing done.
It’s unfair to the U.S., it’s unfair to the smaller or weaker members of the G7 club and it’s unfair — even to near-superpowers like Japan and Germany which have far different challenges and causes to ‘plow’ than those of the superpowers.
Shall I list the ways?
If so, this would become a very long blog post indeed!
For just three examples:
- Which of the G7 partners have a negative balance of trade of $862.8 billion for 2017? The entire G7 combined doesn’t have a negative balance of trade anywhere approaching that of the United States.
- Which of the other G7 members have an inventory of nuclear warheads like the United States which includes 6450 nuclear warheads; 1750 that are retired and awaiting dismantlement, and 3800 that remain part of the U.S. stockpile?
- If we’re talking GDP, the U.S. represents 52.8% of the Group of Seven’s GDP, while the next largest country in the group (Japan) represents 13.3% of GDP, with only Germany at 10% remaining as the only other double-digit GDP member of the G7.
Population figures and economic growth indicators may be even more telling than the above indicators of superpower status.
Should the U.S. Join It’s Own 1-Member Club?
That may be a tempting thought for President Donald Trump and certain members of his administration, but there are common concerns among superpowers that only apply to superpowers (and there’s no doubt the U.S. remains the Number One superpower by a significant margin) and it’s those superpowers that must work together to deliver solutions for their large populations.
If we look at a superpower club of 5 members: The United States, China, the EU, The Commonwealth of Nations and Russia, we’re looking at a group that is roughly comparable to each other and have similar challenges.
Let’s look at our three main indicators, just to be certain:
Big 5 (Nominal) GDP U.S.A. --------- $20.3 trillion (USD) (Focuseconomics.com) China ---------- $13.0 trillion (USD) (Focuseconomics.com) EU ------------- $19.7 trillion (USD) (IMF) Commonwealth --- $10.4 trillion (USD) (Commonwealth.org) Russia --------- $1.72 trillion (USD) (IMF/StatisticsTimes.com)
Although there are some disparities in nominal GDP among the five countries, we must remember that China is on an exponential growth curve while The Commonwealth of Nations statistic (provided by commonwealth.org) is from 2017 and their economic group is also growing at a rapid rate ($13 trillion by 2020). Russia is the outlier in this group, however, as we shall see, that country has other (huge) chips on the table when it comes to retaining its superpower status.
Big 5 Nuclear Warheads U.S.A. --------- 6450 (Federation of American Scientists) China ---------- 270 (Federation of American Scientists) EU ------------- 300 (Federation of American Scientists) Commonwealth --- 485 (Federation of American Scientists) Russia --------- 6850 (Federation of American Scientists)
Although nuclear stockpiles vary, the U.S. and Russia were the main protagonists of the Cold War which lasted from 1950 through 1990 which is why they own far more nuclear weapons than all other countries combined. The only EU country to publish their ownership of nuclear weapons is France, with 300 warheads. The Commonwealth of Nations countries that publish ownership of nuclear weapons include the UK, Pakistan and India.
Balance of Trade Issues
Big 5 Balance of Trade (in U.S. Dollars) U.S.A. --------- $-862.8 billion (2017) (Handlesblatt/IMF/WTO) China ---------- $+98.46 billion (2017) (TradingEconomics.com) EU ------------- $+44.45 billion (2016) (Statista.com) Commonwealth --- $-187.5 billion (2015) (Commonwealth.org) Russia --------- $+ (2017) (Statista.com)
While balance of trade issues vary wildly between the United States, China, the EU, The Commonwealth of Nations and Russia, very few countries can play in the triple-digit or even high double-digit space occupied by those nations. Especially when analyzed using their (Nominal) and (Purchasing Power Parity) GDP numbers, these are exceptional nations and groupings of nations, which put them in a different category than other countries.
The Big 5 (B5) A Better ‘Fit’ for the United States, China, the EU, The Commonwealth and Russia
There is nothing wrong with small countries and there is nothing wrong with big countries. But small countries have far different challenges than large countries, and everything happens on a truly massive scale for the bigger countries and in country groupings like the EU and The Commonwealth of Nations.
And those differences cause irritations.
Instead of heads of government trying to plow forward with their challenges and issues while ‘yoked’ to dissimilar and dissimilar-sized partners, why not make it easier on everyone and ‘put like with like’ to gain a more comfortable fit?
It’s so obvious this should be done and the latest G7 meeting proves that the problems in that organization are systemic problems and are the sole cause of divisions between the oddly mismatched countries of that group.
The ‘Big 5’ followed by the ‘Next 20’
Every country stuck in a trade or political grouping that doesn’t match it’s particular talents will suffer. Therefore, the Big 5 must form into a group of their own, and the G20 (minus the by-then departed ‘Big 5’ members) must attract ‘the Next 20 nations’ to their refashioned N20 organization.
Helping Every Country and Individual to Become All That They Can and Should Be
In that way, the top 25 countries in the world can finally become all that they can and should be instead of being held back by arbitrary, mismatched, or outdated groupings.
And, isn’t that what it’s really all about?
It’s always helpful to look at a country’s actions over the past 200 years to help understand what its intentions may be here and now, and in the future.
The burgeoning but relatively isolated country of Iran hasn’t militarily attacked another country for over 200 years, and it was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that militarily attacked Iran in September 1980 — a conflict that finally ended in August 1988 with 1 million casualties and an economic cost of $680 million to $1 trillion dollars — with no clear winner and no benefit to either country.
After all that blood and treasure, no benefit to either country(!) although via the UN-sponsored peace accord and as a penalty to Iraq for starting the war, Iran gained access to the Shatt al-Arab waterway which runs into the Persian Gulf.
Since 2000, Iran has purportedly financed organizations (some listed as terrorist organizations, and others not) throughout the Middle East and most recently in Syria, Iraq, and perhaps Lebanon, in an attempt to exert some control on the various forces operating around their region. (Every country uses various methods to control what happens in its own region, so no news there)
But nothing captures the world’s attention like the Iran nuclear deal.
U.S. President Donald Trump says the deal is a bad one for the West and shouldn’t have been signed and wants to walk away from the deal, reserving the right to act unilaterally if he feels the country is a danger to the U.S.A. or its Middle East allies.
Last week, France’s President Emmanuel Macron flew to Washington to meet with the U.S. President to convince him to stay in the deal or to embrace a ‘third way’ which means renegotiating some of the agreement to better suit U.S. concerns.
Iran barely signed the previous agreement… so it will be interesting to see how the U.S. can get everything it wants from a renegotiated deal while still obtaining Iran’s signature to a new agreement. A deal isn’t a deal unless both sides sign on the dotted line.
Why Would the U.S. Care About Iran? (and Syria, for that matter)
From a strategic perspective, there isn’t a country in the world that could be less important to the security of the United States than Iran, and the same goes for Syria.
Neither country has the kind of military that could threaten America, nor could they project their power anywhere near the North American continent.
Unless the United States is actively working for Israel — a country which has an irrational fear of Iran (again, Iran hasn’t invaded any other country for over 200 years) and is willing to spend billions or even another trillion dollars to wage another Iraq War-style conflict against Iran, there’s no reason for the U.S. to have any dealings with Iran whatsoever.
Iran is a regional power at best, and will remain so for approximately the next 30-years as it hasn’t the capacity to be anything else.
If the United States is actively working for Saudi Arabia — a country that views Iran as an unwelcome competitor in the race to dominate the region, the same advice applies. Why should the U.S. spend multi-billions and sacrifice thousands of young soldiers to satisfy the Saudi ambition to be the local hegemon?
It’s not like Iran is withholding oil deliveries. On the contrary, Iranian oil is easily obtainable with a phone call — the country is highly motivated to sell every drop of oil due to high spending on social programmes by the Iranian government that are funded by oil revenue.
And Iran’s crude oil is rated either #2 (sweet) or #3 (semi-sweet) which means it’s in high demand around the world. Global oil producers have already pumped all of their #2 sweet crude out of the ground years ago; only Iran and Venezuela have significant reserves of sweet crude in the 21st-century.
As for oil refineries, they need Iran’s (or Venezuela’s) #2 sweet crude oil to blend with the oil supplied by their producers which is almost always #4 (sour) or #4.75 (very sour) like the Canadian oil sands product.
Most refineries won’t accept sour crude oil unless there is plenty of #2 or #3 sweet crude blended into the sour crude. It’s just too toxic to refine ‘sour’ as it requires a much more stringent maintenance protocol, meaning the refinery needs to shut down and go into ‘maintenance mode’ more often. That downtime represents a significant loss of revenue for oil refineries.
Therefore, as long as Iran continues to ship huge quantities of sweet crude, the United States should be facilitating that oil business instead of trying to curtail it.
The EU View of Iran is a Mature View
Say what you want about the Europeans, but they don’t allow themselves to be used by countries like Israel that have an irrational fear of Iran and want to use the United States and the EU to keep the Iranians ‘down’ and in their ‘proper’ place and thereby become the regional superpower, or countries like Saudi Arabia that want to use the United States and the EU to keep the Iranians ‘down’ and in their ‘proper’ place and thereby become the regional superpower.
To oversimplify the EU view; As long as Iran’s sweet crude continues to flow (it is) and as long as Iran isn’t actively invading any other country (it isn’t) then there’s no reason to use some imagined breach of the Iranian nuclear deal to launch another trillion dollar war in the Middle East. And, as always, the EU continues to refuse to allow itself to be used by regional powers such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.
In the final analysis, the EU’s position on the Iranian nuclear deal is the most enlightened of all and it is the view the United States should support.