Category Archives: World War III

It’s Time to Panic Now! – Fred Kaplan.

John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser puts us on a path to war.

.

It’s time to push the panic button.

John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser, a post that requires no Senate confirmation, puts the United States on a path to war. And it’s fair to say President Donald Trump wants us on that path.

After all, Trump gave Bolton the job after the two held several conversations (despite White House chief of staff John Kelly’s orders barring Bolton from the building). And there was this remark that Trump made after firing Rex Tillerson and nominating the more hawkish Mike Pompeo to take his place:

”We’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things I want.”

Bolton has repeatedly called for launching a first strike on North Korea, scuttling the nuclear arms deal with Iran, and then bombing that country too. He says and writes these things not as part of some clever ”madman theory” to bring Kim Jong-un and the mullahs of Tehran to the bargaining table, but rather because he simply wants to destroy them and America’s other enemies too.

His agenda is not ”peace through strength,” the motto of more conventional Republican hawks that Trump included in a tweet on Wednesday, but rather regime change through war. He is a neocon without the moral fervor of some who wear that label, i.e., he is keen to topple oppressive regimes not in order to spread democracy but rather to expand American power.

In the early days of the George W. Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney finagled Bolton a job as undersecretary of state for arms control, an inside joke, since Bolton has never read an arms, control treaty that he liked. But his real assignment was to serve as Cheney’s spy in Foggy Bottom, monitoring and, when possible, obstructing any attempts at peaceful diplomacy mounted by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

When Powell got the boot, Cheney wanted to make Bolton deputy secretary of state, replacing Richard Armitage, who resigned along with his best friend Powell. But Powell’s replacement, Condoleezza Rice, who had been Bush’s national security adviser, blocked the move, fully aware of Bolton’s obstructionist ideology.

As a compromise, Bush nominated Bolton to be United Nations ambassador, but that move proved unbearable to even the Republican controlled Senate at the time. It was one thing to be critical of the U.N., it’s a body deserving of criticism, but Bolton opposed its very existence. ”There is no such thing as the United Nations,” he once said in a speech, adding, ”If the UN. Secretariat building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a lot of difference.”

More than that, he was hostile to the idea of international law, having once declared, ”It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so, because over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrain the United States.”

These might be quaint notions for some eccentric midlevel aide to espouse, but the United Nations is founded on international law, Security Council resolutions are drafted to enforce international law, and, as even Bush was beginning to realize by the start of his second term, around the time of Bolton’s nomination, some of those resolutions were proving useful for expressing, and sometimes enforcing, US. national security interests. How could someone with these views serve as the US. ambassador to the U.N.?

In his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bolton put on a dreadful show, grumbling and scowling through his walrus mustache. Finally, in a tie vote, the committee sent Bolton’s nomination to the full Senate ”without recommendation.” Properly fearing that this foretold a rejection on the floor, Bush gave Bolton the job as a ”recess appointment” after Congress went on holiday. But the law allowing this evasion gave the Senate a chance to take a vote 18 months later. In the second round of hearings, Bolton behaved even more obnoxiously than in the first. When one Republican senator asked him whether his year and a half in the UN. had altered his ideas about the place, Bolton, rather than seizing the chance to mollify skeptics, replied, ”Not really.” The head counters in the White House withdrew the nomination, and Bolton headed back to neocon central at the American Enterprise Institute.

During Trump’s presidential transition, Bolton made the short list of candidates for deputy secretary of state, but Tillerson, who would soon get the nod for secretary, expressed misgivings about working with the guy. (Trump might have recalled that conversation earlier this month, when he decided to fire Tillerson.) After Michael Flynn flamed out as national security adviser, Bolton was also on the short list to replace him. Gen. H.R. McMaster got the nod, but Trump publicly said he liked Bolton and that he too would soon be working for the White House ”in some capacity.” And now, here he is.

In his one year and one month on the job, McMaster, who is still an active-duty Army three-star general, proved a deep disappointment to his friends and erstwhile admirers. He’d made his reputation 20 years ago, as the author of a dissertation turned book, Dereliction of Duty, which lambasted the top generals of the Vietnam era for failing to give their honest military advice to President Lyndon Johnson. And now, in his only tour as a policy adviser in Washington, McMaster has wrecked that reputation, committing his own derelictions by pandering to Trump’s proclivities and tolerating his falsehoods.

But at least McMaster assembled, and often listened to, a professional staff at the National Security Council and insisted on ousting amateur ideologues, several of them acolytes of Flynn.

Bolton is not likely to put up with a professional staff, and the flood of White House exiles will soon intensify.

One subject of discussion at Bolton’s Senate hearings, back in 2005, was his intolerance of any views that differed from his own. He displayed this trait most harshly when, as undersecretary of state, he tried to fire two intelligence analysts who challenged his (erroneous) view that Cuba was developing biological weapons and supplying the weapons to rogue regimes.

Nor is Bolton at all suited to perform one of a national security adviser’s main responsibilities, assembling the Cabinet secretaries to debate various options in foreign and military policy, mediating their differences, and either hammering out a compromise or presenting the choices to the president.

Then again, there may now no longer be many differences to mediate in this administration. The last of the grown ups is Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the retired Marine four-star general, who got that job mainly because Trump had heard his nickname was ”mad dog.” He didn’t know that Mattis regularly consulted a personal library of some 7,000 volumes on history and strategy, that (like most generals) he’s not too keen to go to war unless he really has to, and that (also like most generals) he takes the Geneva Conventions seriously and opposes torture.

In recent weeks, Trump was said to be tiring of aides who kept telling him no. He might soon tire of Bolton, who, whatever else he is, can’t be pegged as a yes man. But in the short term, Bolton may be just the man to excite Trump’s darker instincts, to actualize the frustrated hitman who raged about pelting Kim Jong-un with ”fire and fury like the world has never seen” or fomenting ”the total collapse of the Iranian regime,” which he somehow believes was about to happen, if only Obama hadn’t signed the nuclear deal and lifted sanctions.

With Tillerson out, Bolton in, and Pompeo waiting in the wings for confirmation, Trump is feeling his oats, coming into his own, like Trump is free to be Trump. Finding out just who that is may make the rest of us duck and cover.

What happened when the US last introduced tariffs? – Dominic Rushe.

Anyone?

Willis Hawley and Reed Smoot were reviled for a bill blamed for triggering the Great Depression. Will Trump follow their lead?

America inches towards a potential trade war over steel prices, can Donald Trump hear whispering voices?

Alone in the Oval Office in the wee dark hours, illuminated by the glow of his Twitter app, does he feel the sudden chill flowing from those freshly hung gold drapes? It is the shades of Smoot and Hawley.

Willis Hawley and Reed Smoot have haunted Congress since the 1930s when they were the architects of the Smoot Hawley tariff bill, among the most decried pieces of legislation in US history and a bill blamed by some for not only for triggering the Great Depression but also contributing to the start of the second world war.

Pilloried even in their own time, their bloodied names have been brought out like Jacob Marley’s ghost every time America has taken a protectionist turn on trade policy. And America has certainly taken a protectionist turn.

Successful presidents including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have campaigned on the perils of free trade only to drop the rhetoric once installed in the White House. Trump called Mexicans “rapists” on the campaign trail. And China? “There are people who wish I wouldn’t refer to China as our enemy. But that’s exactly what they are,” Trump said.

As commander in chief he has shown no signs of softening and this week took major action announcing steel imports would face a 25% tariff and aluminium 10%.

Canada and the EU said they would bring forward their own countermeasures. Mexico, China and Brazil have also said they are considering retaliatory steps.

Trump doesn’t seem worried. “Trade wars are good,” he tweeted even as the usually friendly Wall Street Journal thundered that “Trump’s tariff folly ”is the “biggest policy blunder of his Presidency”.

It is not his first protectionist move. In his first days in office the president has vetoed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the biggest trade deal in a generation, said he will review the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), a deal he has called “the worst in history”, and had his visit with Mexico’s president cancelled over his plans to make them pay for a border wall.

Free traders may have become complacent after hearing tough talk on trade from so many presidential candidates on the campaign trail only to watch them furiously back pedal when they get into ofhce, said Dartmouth professor and trade expert Douglas Irwin. “Unfortunately that pattern may have been broken,” he says. “It looks like we have to take Trump literally and seriously about his threats on trade.”

Not since Herbert Hoover has a US president been so down on free trade. And Hoover was the man who signed off on Smoot and Hawley’s bill.

Hawley, an Oregon congressman and a professor a history and economics, became a stock figure in the textbooks of his successors thanks to his partnership with the lean, patrician figure of Senator Reed Smoot, a Mormon apostle known as the “sugar senator” for his protectionist stance towards Utah’s sugar beet industry.

Before he was shackled to Hawley for eternity Smoot was more famous for his Mormonism and his abhorrence of bawdy books, a disgust that inspired the immortal headline “Smoot Smites Smut” after he attacked the importation of Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover, Robert Burns’ more risque poems and similar texts as “worse than opium I would rather have a child of mine use opium than read these books.”

But it was imports of another kind that secured Smoot and Hawley’s place in infamy.

The US economy was doing well in the 1920s as the consumer society was being born to the sound of jazz. The Tariff Act began life largely as a politically motivated response to appease the agricultural lobby that had fallen behind as American workers, and money, consolidated in the cities.

Foreign demand for US produce had soared during the first world war, and farm prices doubled between 1915 and 1918. A wave of land speculation followed and farmers took on debt as they looked to expand production. By the early 1920s farmers had found themselves heavily in debt and squeezed by tightening monetary policy and an unexpected collapse in commodity prices.

Nearly a quarter of the American labor force was then employed on the land, and Congress could not ignore heartland America. Cheap foreign imports and their toll on the domestic market became a hot issue in the 1928 election. Even bananas weren’t safe. Irwin quotes one critic in his book Peddling Protectionism: Smoot Hawley and the Great Depression: “The enormous imports of cheap bananas into the United States tend to curtail the domestic consumption of fresh fruits produced in the United States.”

Hoover won in a landslide against Albert E Smith, an out of touch New Yorker who didn’t appeal to middle America, and soon after promised to pass “limited” tariff reforms.

Hawley started the bill but with Smoot behind him it metastasized as lobby groups shoehorned their products into the bill, eventually proposing higher tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods.

Siren voices warned of dire consequences. Henry Ford reportedly told Hoover the bill was “an economic stupidity”.

Critics of the tariffs were being aided and abetted by “internationalists” willing to “betray American interests”, said Smoot. Reports claiming the bill would harm the US economy were decried as fake news. Republican Frank Crowther, dismissed press criticism as “demagoguery and untruth, scandalous untruth”.

In October 1929 as the Senate debated the tariff bill the stock market crashed. When the bill finally made it to Hoover’s desk in June 1930 it had morphed from his original “limited” plan to the “highest rates ever known”, according to a New York Times editorial.

The extent to which Smoot and Hawley were to blame for the coming Great Depression is still a matter of debate. “Ask a thousand economists and you will get a thousand and five answers,” said Charles Geisst, professor of economics at Manhattan College and author of Wall Street: A History.

What is apparent is that the bill sparked international outrage and a backlash. Canada and Europe reacted with a wave of protectionist tariffs that deepened a global depression that presaged the rise of Hitler and the second world war. A myriad other factors contributed to the Depression, and to the second world war, but inarguably one consequence of Smoot Hawley in the US was that never again would a sitting US president be so avowedly anti trade. Until today.

Franklin D Roosevelt swept into power in 1933 and for the first time the president was granted the authority to undertake trade negotiations to reduce foreign barriers on US exports in exchange for lower US tariffs.

The backlash against Smoot and Hawley continued to the present day. The average tariff on dutiable imports was 45% in 1930; by 2010 it was 5%.

The lessons of Smoot Hawley used to be taught in high schools. Presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Ronald Reagan have enlisted the unhappy duo when facing off with free trade critics. “I have been around long enough to remember that when we did that once before in this century, something called Smoot Hawley, we lived through a nightmare,” Reagan, who came of age during the Great Depression, said in 1984.

They even got a mention in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when actor Ben Stein’s teacher bores his class with it. “I don’t think the current generation are taught it. It’s in the past and we are more interested in the future.”

But that might be about to change. “The main lesson is that you have to worry about what other countries do. Countries will retaliate,” said Irwin. “When Congress was considering Smoot Hawley in the 1930s they didn’t consider what other countries might do in reaction. They thought other countries would remain passive. But other countries don’t remain passive.”

The consequences of a trade war today are far worse than in the 1930s. Exports of goods and services account for about 13% of US gross domestic product (GDP) the broadest measure of an economy. It was roughly 5% back in 1920.

“The US is much more engaged in trade, it’s much more a part of the fabric of the country, than it was in the 1920s and 1930s. That means the ripple effects are widespread. Many more industries will be hit by it and the scope for foreign retaliation, which in the case of Smoot Hawley was quite limited, is going to be much more widespread if a trade war was to start.”

“When you start talking about withdrawing from trade agreements or imposing tariffs of 35%, if you are doing that as a protectionist measure, that would be blowing up the system.”

That the promise of “blowing up the system” got Trump elected may be why the ghosts of Smoot and Hawley are once again walking the halls of Congress.

The Guardian

Trump is the real nuclear threat, and we can’t just fantasise him away – Jonathan Freedland. 

Among the many terrifying facts that have emerged in the last several days, perhaps the scariest relate to the nuclear button over which now hovers the finger of Donald Trump. It turns out that, of all the powers held by this or any other US president, the least checked or balanced is his authority over the world’s mightiest arsenal. He exercises this awesome, civilisation-ending power alone.

As Trump has learned in recent months, the man in the Oval Office cannot simply issue a decree changing, say, the US healthcare system. He has to build majorities in the House and Senate, which is harder than it looks. If he wants to change immigration policy, a mere order is not enough. He can be stopped by the courts, as Trump saw with his travel ban. But if he wants to rain fire and fury on a distant enemy, bringing more fire and fury down on his own citizens and many hundreds of millions of others, there is no one standing in his way. Not for nothing does the geopolitical literature refer to the US president as the “nuclear monarch.”

The more you hear of the simplicity of the system, the more frightening it becomes. If Trump decides he has had enough of Kim Jong-un’s verbal threats, he merely has to turn to the low-level military aide at his side and ask them to open up the black briefcase that officer keeps permanently in their grasp. The bag is known as the nuclear “football”. (It gets its name from the code word for the very first set of nuclear war plans: dropkick.) Inside the bag is a menu of options, explained in detail in a “black book,” but also set out in a single, cartoon-like page for speedy comprehension. Trump has only to make his choice, pick up the phone to the Pentagon war room, utter the code words that identify him as the president and give the order. That’s it.

There is no need for consultation with anyone else. Not the secretary of state or the secretary of defence, nor the head of the military. The officer who receives the call at the Pentagon has no authority to question or challenge the order. His or her duty is only to implement it. Thirty minutes after the president gave the instruction, the nuclear missiles would be hitting their targets. There is no way of turning them back. Such power in the hands of a single individual would be a horrifying prospect even if it were Solomon himself whose finger was on the trigger. But as Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer, and seasoned military analyst wrote during the 2016 campaign, Trump’s “quick temper, defensiveness bordering on paranoia and disdain for anyone who criticises him do not inspire deep confidence in his prudence.”

What’s more, Trump is the man who said in 2015, “For me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me,” and who bellowed from the campaign podium, “I love war”. In last year’s election campaign, the former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough reported on a briefing a foreign policy expert had given Trump. “Three times, he asked, at one point, ‘If we have them, we can’t we use them?’ … Three times, in an hour briefing, ‘Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?’”

It turns out Hillary Clinton was right to warn Americans 14 months ago that, “It’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.” And here we are, Trump tweet-goading the North Koreans by declaring military solutions “locked an loaded”. We need imagine no longer.

Those who find themselves trembling at all this have spent the last few days grasping for a comfort blanket. A favourite has been the notion that those around Trump, especially the generals current and former, will not let him unleash nuclear Armageddon. This view holds that, yes, Trump may well be dangerously unhinged but fear not, the wiser heads of Washington will stay his hand. Indeed, this strain of thinking has been visible since Trump took the oath of office. Call it the deep state fantasy. It looks to the national security apparatus, the intelligence agencies and the permanent bureaucracy, the shadow government, to step in and do the right thing.

It hangs its hopes on a range of prospective saviours. It might be the trio of former generals made up of Jim Mattis, who heads the Pentagon, John Kelly, recently drafted in as chief of staff, and HR McMaster who serves as national security adviser. Alternatively, it looks to the loose alliance hailed this week by the influential Axios website as “The Committee to Save America”, consisting not only of the generals but also the cluster of New Yorkers that includes some of Trump’s less hot-headed economic advisers, with added reinforcements from the Republican ranks in Congress. The committee’s unofficial mission: to protect “the nation from disaster”. The ultimate deep state fantasy longs for the men in the shadows not merely to restrain Trump, but remove him from office. The designated hero of this story is Robert Mueller, the former FBI director now heading what is reported to be a swift and penetrating probe into allegations of collusion with Russia as well as Trump’s wider business dealings.

Mueller’s role may indeed prove to be critical. But the deep state fantasy itself, while comforting, is surely a dead end for Trump’s opponents. For one thing, events have reached an odd pass when liberals are dreaming of unelected generals thwarting an elected head of government: that used to be the fantasy of the militaristic right.

But it also relies more on hope than evidence. All these supposedly wise heads around Trump: what restraint have they achieved so far? Kelly was meant to impose order and discipline, and yet we still have Trump tweeting threats that could easily be misinterpreted as the cue for war. On North Korea, the US administration continues to send conflicting signals by the hour, with Trump outriders like Sebastian Gorka slapping down secretary of state Rex Tillerson on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, creating confusion when a nuclear standoff requires calm clarity.

And we cannot escape the basic fact. All these advisers can try to hold him back, but when it comes to it, nuclear authority is Trump’s and Trump’s alone. He is the nuclear monarch.

The glum truth is that the only people who can effectively check a democratically elected menace like Trump are other democratically elected leaders. Ultimately it will be up to the men and women of Congress to do their constitutional duty by impeaching Trump and removing him from office. If Republicans won’t do it, then voters need to replace them with Democrats who will, by voting for a new House in the midterm elections of November 2018. The trouble is, it’s not clear that the US – or the world – have that much time.

The Guardian 

The Poppy should be a declaration of hope that wars should never happen again. It has been a sad failure. 

Wearing a poppy was a pledge of peace. Now it serves to sanitise war. 

What an irony it will be when at 11 o’clock on Remembrance Sunday, British troops on war exercises find themselves wearing poppies and listening to The Last Post as they face Russian troops across eastern Europe.

The current buildup of forces by Nato and Russia in eastern Europe is frighteningly reminiscent of the military escalation before the first world war. Either side, at any moment, could find a pretext to turn a dangerous standoff into a fullblown conflict.

Despite the extensive recent retelling of the history of the 1914 war and detailed analysis of its causes, governments appear to have learned nothing. There have been warnings that we may even be on the brink of a third world war.

The Guardian