Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

The Homogenization of Islam’s Holiest City

From the Economist.

Critics call this Islamic Maoism. Out went the city’s heterogeneous mix of Maliki, Shafii and Zaydi rites; in came homogenisation under the Wahhabi creed. Alongside the black and white dress they forced on women and men respectively, the new tribal rulers reshaped the urban environment, stripping away the past. They replaced the four pulpits at the foot of the Kaaba, one for each of Sunni Islam’s schools, with a single one, exclusively for Wahhabi preachers. They cleansed the faith of saint-worship, demolishing shrines venerated by Shia and traditional Sunnis alike. Of the city’s scores of holy sites, only the Kaaba survives.

Attack in London

These kinds of unsophisticated attacks are impossible to prevent except to identify and act upon people who adhere to the Islamist ideology. That’s difficult in a free society.

The Westminster attacker was British-born and known to the police and intelligence services, Prime Minister Theresa May has revealed.

She told MPs he had been investigated some years ago over violent extremism, but was “peripheral” and was not part of the current intelligence picture.

The so-called Islamic State group has said it was behind the attack.

Automation Disrupting Chinese Manufacturing

This is a good reminder that automation is a global economic trend.

Rapidly growing appetite for industrial robots in China is set to hasten the decline in manufacturing jobs, according to the findings of an FTCR survey.

As part of a top-down push, local governments are subsidising companies to produce and purchase robots, while most companies reported productivity gains and forecast a reduced need for frontline workers.

This is not a zero-sum game: companies also cited a growing need for more skilled workers. This is creating demand for vocational skills and the robot revolution will be able to absorb only a minority of such workers.

The increasingly rapid adoption of industrial robots on Chinese production lines is set to hasten the fall in manufacturing employment. Among companies that intend to purchase robots in the coming 12 months, 72.7 per cent said this would mean job losses, according to an FT Confidential Research survey conducted across manufacturing centres in Guangdong in the south and Zhejiang on the east coast.

US Takes More Muscular Stance Toward North Korea

Unlike Obama, one gets the sense that the Trump Administration will back up a “red line.” The real question is, should we?

Seoul (CNN) The US would consider military action against North Korea if it was provoked, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday.

Speaking in Seoul at a joint press conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, Tillerson said Washington’s policy of “strategic patience” had ended.

“Certainly, we do not want things to get to a military conflict… but obviously if North Korea takes actions that threatens the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that would be met with an appropriate response,” he said, in response to a question from CNN.

“If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe that requires action, that option is on the table,” Tillerson added.

US Reiterates Demand that Russia Vacate Crimea

Good.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula following a military intervention and a hastily organized referendum, which was rejected by the international community.

“The United States does not recognize Russia’s ‘referendum’ of March 16, 2014, nor its attempted annexation of Crimea and continued violation of international law,” said Toner.

“We once again reaffirm our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In the statement the US also called on Russia to “cease its attempts to suppress freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion” among Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, pro-Ukrainian activists and journalists.

Germany Rebuffs NATO Committments

Germany is refusing to meet its commitments to NATO and the U.S. by failing to invest in its own defense. This sets up some interesting decisions for Trump.

The world’s fourth-largest economy spent $37 billion — 1.2% of its economic output — on defense last year, according to government figures. That is far short of the 2% set by NATO and a third of the 3.6% of gross domestic product that the United States spent in 2016, according to NATO figures.

That shortfall by Germany and other NATO countries is why Trump renewed his call in a speech to Congress on Feb. 28 for NATO members to pay their fair share of defense costs. “Our partners must meet their financial obligations,” Trump said. “Now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that. In fact, I can tell you that the money is pouring in.”

That’s not quite the case in the German capital. The federal government plans to increase its military spending by $2.1 billion this year. It would bring total spending to $39 billion, a 5.4% annual boost. The increase pales in comparison with the 10%, or $54 billion, hike in U.S. defense spending Trump proposes for 2018.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will meet with Trump at the White House on Tuesday, recently announced plans to add 20,000 soldiers to the Bundeswehr to bring the force to nearly 200,000 but not before 2024, and the increase merely offsets recent cuts in troop strength.

Here’s the thing… the United States has invested billions of dollars for the past 80 years to provide a military defense for Europe and Europe has benefited from that by being able to spend their money on rebuilding their economies and infrastructures after WWII. But while there were some altruistic motivations for that, the real reason was that it was in the best interests of the U.S. to do so. The macropolitical reasons were that if Russia were to ever bulge out of its borders in a quest for world domination, it will most likely have to go through Europe before getting to America. American leaders invested in European defense because we would rather fight the Russians on the continent of Europe and let them exhaust their energy on that soil than let them do so on the shores of New Jersey.

While the Russian threat has ebbed in recent decades, we are right of the precipice of a new Angry Bear with the face of Putin. He has already invaded Ukraine, created a virtual satellite state in Syria, and is threatening Poland and other former Eastern Bloc countries. One would think that European nations would see the threat and act accordingly, but the memories of WWII and the abject pacifism remains a powerful cultural phenomenon.

So what should the U.S. do? If we withdraw from Europe and leave them to themselves, the threat of war increases. And in the event that another European war breaks out, it is inevitable that the U.S. will become involved. Or, in another scenario, Germany’s inability to defend themselves with conventional forces may lead them to launch a nuclear defense in the face of a Russian assault, thus starting the nuclear war that we have spent 80 years trying to prevent. But if we continue to defend Europe with American forces, we are expending a lot of money to prevent an eventuality that may never come.  How much American money should we spend to defend countries who refuse to adequately defend themselves?

What will the Trump Doctrine be?

Russia! Russia! Russia!

Of course, I trust Putin’s mouthpiece about as far as I can throw him, but he’s right in the fact that it’s the JOB of an ambassador to talk to people and build multilateral relationships.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said in an interview Sunday that the Russian ambassador who met with Trump campaign officials also met with “people working in think tanks advising Hillary or advising people working for Hillary.”

“Well, if you look at some people connected with Hillary Clinton during her campaign, you would probably see that he had lots of meetings of that kind,” Dmitry Peskov told CNN “GPS” host Fareed Zakaria. “There are lots of specialists in politology, people working in think tanks advising Hillary or advising people working for Hillary.”

Peskov said it is the job of Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to meet with officials on both sides to talk about “bilateral relations.”

General Motors Surrenders Europe

It’s about time.

PARIS (AP) — General Motors is selling its unprofitable European car business to the French maker of Peugeot, marking the American company’s retreat from a major market and raising concerns of job cuts in the region.

With the 2.2 billion euro ($2.33 billion) deal announced Monday, GM is giving up brands — Opel in Germany and Vauxhall in Britain — that have given it a foothold in the world’s third-largest auto market since the 1920s. They have not, however, made a combined profit in 18 years despite multiple turnaround efforts.

China Maintains Spending on Military

This is a handy reminder that China has been rapidly expanding its military for decades – and will continue to do so irrespective of what the United States does.

China says it will increase military spending by about 7% this year, just days after Donald Trump outlined a boost to the US defence budget.

The scheduled announcement was made ahead of the annual National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing.

China has been modernising its armed forces recently as its economy expands.

China’s announced defence budget remains smaller than that of the US. But many China observers argue the real figure could be much higher.

The announcement marks the second consecutive year that the increase in China’s defence spending has been below 10% following nearly two decades at or above that figure.

It means that total spending will account for about 1.3% of the country’s projected GDP in 2017, the same level as in recent years, said government spokeswoman Fu Ying.

EU Votes to Require Americans to Get Visas

Before you go blaming Trump, notice that the reason for this goes back three years.

The European Parliament has voted to end visa-free travel for Americans within the EU.

It comes after the US failed to agree visa-free travel for citizens of five EU countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania – as part of a reciprocity agreement. US citizens can normally travel to all countries in the bloc without a visa.

The vote urges the revocation of the scheme within two months, meaning Americans will have to apply for extra documents for 12 months after the European Commission implements a “delegated act” to bring the change into effect.

The Commission discovered three years ago that the US was not meeting its obligations under the reciprocity agreement but has not yet taken any legal action. The latest vote, prepared by the civil liberties committee and approved by a plenary session of parliament, gives the Commission two months to act before MEPs can consider action in the European Court of Justice.

Malaysian Authorities Say Kim Jong-Nam Killed by Nerve Agent

Wow. Spy novel stuff.

Mr Kim died last week after two women accosted him briefly in a check-in hall at a Kuala Lumpur airport.

Malaysian toxicology reports indicate he was attacked using “VX nerve agent”, which is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.

Malaysia has not blamed the North Korean state for the death, but says North Koreans were clearly behind it.

Mr Kim died on the way to hospital shortly after the 13 February airport encounter. His body remains in a hospital mortuary, amid a diplomatic dispute over who should claim it.

Mexico Rejects Mexicans

What a world

Under plans unveiled by the Trump administration on Tuesday, almost all people staying in the US illegally can be subject to deportation.

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said his country could not “accept unilateral decisions imposed by one government on another.”

[…]

But Mr Videgaray said on Wednesday: “We are not going to accept that because we don’t have to and it is not in the interest of Mexico.”

Mr Videgaray also warned the US about treatment of Mexican citizens.

“The Mexican government will not hesitate in going to international organisations, starting with the United Nations, to defend human rights, liberties and due process for Mexicans abroad according to international law.”

So here’s where we are… the Mexican government doesn’t want to allow its own citizens to return to Mexico, thus forcing deported Mexicans into a border purgatory, after which the Mexican government will go to the international organizations to blame America for it.

Lovely.

Leaker

This is a problem.

WASHINGTON — Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.

Frankly, I’m far less concerned with the fact than people from an incoming administration may have been running their mouths with Russians than I am about the fact that “four current and former American officials” are leaking intelligence to the media for purely political purposes. Is it too much to ask that our intelligence agencies to be able to keep a secret?

Syrian Refugee Becomes Truly American

Yup.

A Syrian man who fled the war-torn city of Aleppo in 2014 after suffering torture and imprisonment is suing President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials over an executive order issued by Trump last month that still effectively bars the man’s wife and daughter from joining him in the U.S., where he was granted asylum.

The man filed the lawsuit anonymously, to protect the identities of his wife and daughter, who still live in hiding in Aleppo. It was filed Monday afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, located in Madison. The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge William Conley.

The lawsuit doesn’t state where the man lives, only that he’s a resident of the Western District of Wisconsin.

The 9th’s Dangerous Ruling

The National Review does a concise job of breaking down the 9th Circuit’s horrible ruling without giving the Trump Administration any excuses for their slipshod executive order. This part is downright disturbing:

Finally, and crucially, the court made a statement near the end of its opinion that is deeply, deeply troubling. In discussing the evidence before the court, the panel says this:

The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.

Putting aside, for the moment, the administration’s inexplicable failure to include in the executive order or the record the extensive documentation and evidence demonstrating the threat of jihad from the seven identified countries (including terror attacks in the U.S., plots in the U.S., and a record of plots and attacks abroad), whether an attack has been completed in this country is not the standard for implementing heightened security measures. The president doesn’t have to wait for completed attacks to protect the U.S. from dangerous immigrants. He can see the deteriorating security situation on the ground, evaluate the intentions and capabilities of the enemy, and then act before the enemy can strike. Indeed, that’s the goal of national defense — to prevent attacks, not respond after the carnage.

Illegal Alien Felon Finally Deported After 9 Years

Finally.

(CNN)Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos went to Mass and said a prayer before her immigration check-in Wednesday in Phoenix.

It was her eighth visit since she was arrested in 2008 for using a fake Social Security number. After each meeting, the married mother of two went back to her family.
This time was different. She was detained and within 24 hours she was deported to her native Mexico. She was turned over to Mexican authorities at a border crossing in Nogales, Arizona, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
Her lawyers claim she is a victim of President Donald Trump’s tougher stance on illegal immigration.
[…]
“Ms. Garcia, who has a prior felony conviction in Arizona for criminal impersonation, was the subject of a court-issued removal order that became final in July 2013,” US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement. “(Her) immigration case underwent review at multiple levels of the immigration court system, including the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the judges held she did not have a legal basis to remain in the US.”
CNN is trying to portray this story as a bad thing and playing up the sympathy, but isn’t this exactly the kind of illegal alien that even Democrats said they wanted deported? You know… a felon?  The only thing outrageous about this story is that it took almost 9 years to get it done.

Trump Condemned Iran Treaty to Putin

Good.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two U.S. officials and one former U.S. official with knowledge of the call.

When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said.

Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favored Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said. The White House declined to comment. It referred Reuters to the official White House account issued after the Jan. 28 call, which did not mention the discussion about New START.

The Iran treaty was horrible and a bad deal for America. I’m not sure in what context that came up, but the point is valid.

What is clear is that Trump has a serious leak in his administration. You’ll notice that it seems like almost every conversation he’s had with a foreign leader has had this kind of leak fishing for a “gotcha.” Someone – probably a hacked off insider at the State Department or White House staff – is leaking this stuff. And I don’t care who our president is, he or she needs to be able to have frank conversations with other foreign leaders with the assurance that the conversation will remain private. Trump needs to figure out who the leaker is and fire them. And if they have violated any laws by leaking these conversations (I imagine that they have), then they need to be prosecuted.

Islamic Terrorists Shift to Piracy

This truly is a global conflict against a hateful ideology.

Manila (AFP) – The Philippines is seeking US and Chinese help to guard a major sea lane as Islamic militants shift attacks to international shipping, officials said Wednesday.

Manila does not want the Sibutu Passage between Malaysia’s Sabah state and the southern Philippines to turn into a Somalia-style pirate haven, coast guard officials said.

The deep-water channel, used by 13,000 vessels each year, offers the fastest route between Australia and the manufacturing powerhouses China, Japan and South Korea, they added.

In the past year Abu Sayyaf gunmen from the southern Philippines have boarded ships and kidnapped dozens of crewmen for ransom in waters between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, raising regional alarm.

Indonesia has warned the region could become the “next Somalia” and the International Maritime Bureau says waters off the southern Philippines are becoming increasingly dangerous.

Putin Critic Sentenced for Embezzlement

How convenient for Putin.

Russia’s main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has been found guilty of embezzlement, local media report.

A judge was still reading the verdict in the city of Kirov, but news agencies said it was clear in his remarks that Mr Navalny had been convicted.

Even a suspended sentence would bar him from running for president next year.

An outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, Mr Navalny has denied the accusations, saying the case is politically motivated.

Romania Protests

Amazing. Something like 500,000 people in Romania took to the streets to protest a government decree to decriminalize certain levels of political corruption. Remember that Romania only has a population of about 20 million people, go a protest with half a million people in it is YUGE.

Sunday night’s demonstration in Bucharest was planned as the climax of the protest movement.

The government hoped that by scrapping the decree, calm would return to the streets of the country – but that hasn’t happened yet.

Many in the crowd don’t trust the government to keep to its word.

They are afraid that new legislation, promised by the prime minister when he abolished the decree, might contain some of the same elements in a different form.

The decree would have decriminalised abuse of power offences where sums of less than €44,000 (£38,000; $47,500) were involved.

Critics saw it as an attempt by the government to let off many of its own officials caught in an anti-corruption drive.

The government had argued that the changes were needed to reduce prison overcrowding and align certain laws with the constitution.

That last part is my favorite. The government is actually arguing that so many of them are corrupt that decriminalizing corruption was necessary to reduce prison overcrowding. 

Wow.