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Party Of Two

How Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (with help from Elizabeth Warren) are trying to save the Democratic establishment.


By Glenn Thrush
Politico Magazine
July 18, 2016

Joe Biden wouldn’t take the hint, and Barack Obama wouldn’t take “yes” for an answer.

It was the fall of 2015, Donald Trump was rocketing up in the polls, Hillary Clinton was already wilting, and there was Obama’s vice president, occupying national center stage in an awkward public display of grief and political vacillation. Biden’s son Beau had died at age 46 that May, and the vice president was coping, it seemed, by throwing himself into a very open exploration of running against Clinton.

To Obama, this was a big, unwelcome problem. He had picked Biden for the ticket back in ’08 because he didn’t want him to run for president again, and besides, he honestly believed Biden would be crushed by a defeat he viewed as inevitable.

Still, this wasn’t personal for the president; it was business. Protecting his vulnerable accomplishments from the GOP wrecking ball and safeguarding his legacy have always been top priorities for Obama, and he had told friends as early as late 2014 that Clinton, for all her flaws, was “the only one” fit to succeed him. If Biden had come to him six months earlier—who knows? But it was much too late, and time to push Biden toward a graceful exit.

The choice was long understood by the president’s confidants. “My supposition always was that when the smoke cleared, he would be for Hillary,” David Axelrod, Obama’s campaign message guru and former White House adviser, told me. “It was just in the air, assumed.” Another former top Obama aide added, “After the 2014 midterms, when he could sense the end … it was like, ‘Who gives me the best chance to win?’”

One of the most important if hidden story lines of 2016 has been Obama’s effort to shape a race he’s not running in an anti-establishment environment he can no longer control. Over the past two years, he has worked quietly but inexorably on Clinton’s behalf, never mind the not-so-convincing line that he was waiting for the Democratic electorate to work its will. He has offered his former rival strategic advice, shared his top talent with her, bucked her up with cheery phone chats after her losses, even dispatched his top political adviser to calm the Clintons during their not-infrequent freakouts over the performance of their staff, according to one of the two dozen Democrats I interviewed for this story.

The one thing he wouldn’t do was endorse her before she cleared the field. And once, when things were darkest after Clinton’s devastating defeat to Senator Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, Clinton’s staff urged him to break his pledge and rescue her—but his team refused, a senior Democrat told me.

Clinton’s view of Obama is more conflicted, people close to both politicians told me. She has repeatedly said, “I’m not running for Obama’s third term,” while taking pains to emphasize their differences on issues such as free trade and Syria. And she started the campaign committed to earning the nomination without his overt help.

But Clinton has been pulled closer to the president out of mutual self-interest and circumstance as the long primary season has worn on: Both Sanders’ unexpected success and Obama’s 80 percent-plus approval ratings with registered Democrats have forced the former secretary of state into a tighter embrace than she anticipated. Indeed, her campaign’s internal polling showed that one of the most effective attack lines against the socialist from Vermont was his 2011 remark that Obama’s moderate governing record was “weak” and a “disappointment” to progressives.

"When he could sense the end, it was like, ‘Who gives me the best chance to win?’”


Clinton and Obama have something else in common: They both failed to anticipate seriously the rise of Trump. Early on, they were looking out for challenges from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Sanders on the left, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio as the most dangerous Republican in the field. But Trump’s ascent has only increased the urgency of the president’s last White House mission. “Mr. Trump will not be president,” Obama declared flatly back in February.

Obama’s ultimate goal in his final year has been strikingly ambitious, according to those I spoke with: not only blocking from office the birther who questioned his legitimacy as president, but preserving the Democratic Party’s hold over the presidency during an era of anti-establishment turbulence. Obama, always one to embrace a grand goal, talks in terms of creating “a 16-year era of progressive rule” to rival the achievements of Roosevelt-Truman and to reorient the country’s politics as a “Reagan of the left,” as one of his longtime White House advisers put it to me.

Which is why Obama first needed to stop Biden, and without seeming like he was trying to. As much as Obama loved him, Biden didn’t fit into the plan—especially when polls showed he would enter the race against Clinton with 20 percent of the Democratic vote.

So for most of last summer, Obama emphasized Biden’s weaknesses, gently jousting with him at their weekly lunches. He dispatched his de facto political director, Dave Simas, to Biden’s office to deliver a steady diet of polls showing a steep uphill climb, while a former Obama communications adviser presented Biden a plan that showed how tough it would be to attack Clinton, a woman Biden had previously praised in over-the-top terms. The most influential naysayer from the presidential orbit was David Plouffe, the disciplined brand manager and architect of Obama’s two White House campaign victories who remains Obama’s political emissary despite his day job on the board at Uber.

Eventually, Obama toughened his tone, telling Biden in a meeting that it was simply too late to run, a former White House aide told me.

But by the end of September, Biden still hadn’t gotten the message (though my sources insist he already was leaning toward no, at the advice of his still-grieving family), and Obama was getting itchy. Plouffe stepped up the pressure on his fellow Delawarean after months of gingerly trying but not succeeding to get Biden to step aside gently.

“Mr. Vice President, you have had a remarkable career, and it would be wrong to see it end in some hotel room in Iowa with you finishing third behind Bernie Sanders,” he said, according to a senior Democratic official briefed on the effort to ease Biden out of the race.

When Biden finally did tell Obama he wasn’t running, on the morning of October 21, the president comforted his veep—then sprinted into action like a man liberated. Within minutes, Obama ordered up a Rose Garden announcement—that same day. Although Obama saw it as a generous way to give his friend a chance to bow out on his own terms, several former White House staffers told me it also reflected Obama’s jitters; he wanted to lock in the decision before Biden had a chance to change his mind.

And with that, Obama and Clinton, rivals-turned-colleagues who had spent eight years perfecting the art of insider deals, assumed they had cleared their biggest hurdle in the Democratic primaries. But this was the 2016 election. Nothing would be easy.

In hindsight, of course, Biden’s departure didn’t end the threat to Clinton’s candidacy; it opened the way for a more disciplined and dangerous outsider to challenge her, a challenge made all the harder to recognize given that it came in the guise of a comically disheveled Vermont independent.

Biden himself signaled the problem at that awkward Rose Garden ceremony, sounding the very populist refrain that would soon bolster Sanders and rattle the best-laid plans of Obama and Clinton. Reflecting a party whose base has been racing left much faster than either the president or his designated successor had realized, Biden used his improvised speech that day—squinting into a low autumn sun as the boss stood nearby, arms folded—for a blunt discussion of all the progressive goals his boss had not achieved, calling for a reorientation of the party toward a simpler message of economic fairness. “We can’t sustain the current levels of economic inequality,” he said. “The political elite … the next president is going to have to take it on.”

A few blocks away, two unassuming barbarians at the gates were sitting in a bar across from the old Washington Post, after being stood up by a pair of reporters who had been diverted to the Biden announcement. Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver and strategist Tad Devine gnawed their sandwiches and watched Biden on a flat-screen TV above the liquor bottles, astonished as he hit virtually every element of their own insurgent platform: free public college tuition, a nonpartisan pitch to independents and blue-collar Republicans, a call for purging big money from politics.

“Holy shit,” Devine said. “That’s our message. That’s what we’re running on.”

Everyone seemed to get it. Except Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

***

As intuitive as their alliance now seems, there is simply
no modern precedent for the 2016 Obama-Clinton political partnership. In the words of one staffer in Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters, the pairing represents “the historic merger of two historic candidates.”

Americans really don’t like dynastic politics, or the perception that the presidency can be handed off between cronies like a borrowed lawn mower. Just ask Jeb Bush, who learned the hard way that there wasn’t much of a White House market for a third member of his family. The popular perception that the vice presidency (or a top Cabinet position, for that matter) is a steppingstone to the big job is also myth demolished by fact.

Over the past 50 years, two-term presidents have routinely endorsed their vice presidents, and it’s been a mess. Dwight Eisenhower was deeply skeptical of Richard Nixon’s executive judgment and he demurred from issuing a formal endorsement even after Nixon had cleared the field in early 1960. Ike felt no great obligation to rush his decision, and Nixon, a magnet for slights and political side-eye, was bitter, as was his wont, until interred. “If you give me a week, I might think of something,” was the president’s answer when asked to tick off his vice president’s accomplishments. Eisenhower bit his lip and in March 1960 finally offered a stiff endorsement of his party’s nominee.

George H.W. Bush succeeded in winning the White House where other veeps had flopped, and like Clinton, he did so in part by incorporating key elements of his predecessor’s political team. But his relationship with Ronald Reagan was never especially close—Bush had savaged the boss’ tax-cut plan as “voodoo economics” in 1980—and by 1988, the Gipper was diminished politically after the humiliating Iran-Contra scandal and physically fading. Reagan’s endorsement in May, after Bush dispatched televangelist Pat Robertson in a sluggish primary, came almost as an afterthought during a fundraiser for Hill Republicans.

“I’m going to work as hard as I can to make Vice President George Bush the next president of the United States,” Reagan intoned. The Times noted that Reagan had somehow managed to mispronounce his understudy’s name, “as if it rhymed with ‘rush.’”

Bill Clinton, who vanquished Bush after just one term in 1992, was the only recent president emotionally and politically invested in electing his vice president, but Al Gore, fearing a backlash against Clinton’s sex scandals and keen on asserting his independence, famously snubbed the happy warrior’s offer to barnstorm in battleground states on his behalf. Many of the Democratic staffers who worked that campaign (including Tad Devine) believe Gore might have prevailed in the Electoral College had he embraced the boss—whose popularity ratings were a stratospheric 70 percent, post-impeachment.

Clinton, deeply hurt, has never entirely forgiven Gore, and later told his biographer Taylor Branch that Gore was living in “Neverland” to think he’d be a liability. When the two families appeared onstage together during an awkward endorsement event in August 2000, President Clinton had to pull Hillary into the frame with the Gores, the first lady looking less than thrilled amid the blizzard of confetti. She never forgot that moment, and has told people around her, time and again, that she didn’t intend to repeat Gore’s sin of pride. (The ambivalence is apparently mutual. As of mid-July, Gore was perhaps the only major Democratic figure yet to endorse Clinton.)

By comparison, her relationship with Obama has strengthened over the years, sealed by their shared White House experiences, like the tense deliberations over the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and Obama’s 2012 reelection, when Bill Clinton cast aside his resentments to deliver the capstone nomination speech in Charlotte, North Carolina.

They still make an unlikely pair, so friendly today that it’s hard sometimes to remember their 2008 primary campaign was one of the longest and most competitive in Democratic history, and that both sides accused the other of dirty tricks. The tone was set early when a prominent Clinton supporter in New Hampshire questioned whether Obama had really stopped using drugs at the young age he claimed in his memoir. When Clinton approached the then-Illinois senator on the tarmac of a D.C. airport to say she had nothing to do with the attack, Obama angrily accused her of planting stories about him in the press—including the claim that he was secretly a Muslim—and what previously had been a frosty détente devolved into a shouting match.

Clinton’s millions of primary votes, celebrated in her career-defining “Glass Ceiling” speech when she dropped out of the race in 2008, and her canny team-player approach as secretary of state secured her future leverage with Obama. Still, the early going was rough as Clinton pushed to carve out her own empire within the administration. The West Wing even tried to blackball two of her closest aides—communications adviser Philippe Reines and Capricia Marshall, a Clinton confidante tapped as director of protocol—until the secretary’s top aide, Cheryl Mills, personally wrangled a deal with Obama fixer and future White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.

Those battles seem like ancient history now. But Obama’s people still tend to have a Barack-first sense of loyalty. (One high-ranking current Clinton aide keeps a life-sized cardboard cutout of the 44th president in his office as a talisman.) And the old Hillaryland crewmembers (Mills, Marshall, Huma Abedin) remain ferociously pro-Hillary.

"One high-ranking Clinton aide keeps a life-sized cardboard cutout of Obama in his office as a talisman."

Over the years, the two staffs have inevitably melded into something the Republicans envy, though: a core team of 100 or so professionals who form the functioning heart of the national Democratic Party, working mostly in harness—a product of eight years in power and three campaigns’ worth of collaboration. These days, the big worry isn’t about division but excessive togetherness, a blurring of the lines between the presidency and the campaign (duly noted by the White House counsel’s office, which churns out advisories defining legal protocols for communication and coordination in keeping with the Hatch Act).

But it’s hard to police all the checkpoints, especially when friends on both sides are kibitzing in a bar or at a birthday party. And almost all the key players in Clinton’s Brooklyn high command have served time in both camps. John Podesta, the campaign chairman, was Bill Clinton’s last White House chief of staff, informally advised Hillary Clinton in 2008 and headed back to the White House in 2013 as Obama’s senior in-house strategist—with the caveat that he would hop back over to the Clintons the minute they set up the campaign. Campaign communications director Jen Palmieri, a former Podesta deputy, held the same job in the Obama White House. Clinton’s top strategist Joel Benenson was Obama’s pollster—and Clinton ad-maker Jim Margolis was part of Obama’s Chicago mafia.

Sometimes, it seems like family tree software would be useful: Take Brian Fallon, Clinton’s press secretary, who worked as Attorney General Eric Holder’s flack before joining the campaign, is married to Obama’s former legislative affairs director and interacts frequently with his West Wing counterpart Eric Schultz, a Clinton alum who preceded Fallon on Chuck Schumer’s Senate communications staff.

Budget Deficit Nearly Doubles During Obama Years

By Dave Boyer 
The Washington Times
July 18, 2016

The White House predicted Friday that the federal government’s budget deficit for the current fiscal year will hit $600 billion, an increase of $162 billion over last year’s and a final sour note on President Obama’s watch.

While the figure was expected, the increase represents a reversal from previous years, in which budget deficits had steadily declined from the massive $1.4 trillion annual deficit early in Mr. Obama’s first term during the recession.

In March, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected a $534 billion deficit in fiscal 2016, which ends on Sept. 30.

Shaun Donovan, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the new projection is actually $16 billion lower than the $616 billion deficit estimated by the administration in February.

He said deficits are expected to remain below 3 percent of gross domestic product through the next decade.

“Even as the administration made critical investments to support economic growth, it also succeeded in putting the nation on a sound fiscal path,” Mr. Donovan said. “Since 2009 federal deficits have fallen by nearly three-quarters as a share of the economy — the most rapid sustained reduction since just after World War II.”

Under Mr. Obama, the total national debt has climbed to $19.3 trillion; it was about $10.6 trillion when he took office in January 2009.

Mr. Donovan credited the $821 billion recovery act of 2009, the Affordable Care Act and other measures for American businesses adding 14.8 million new jobs since February 2010 and lowering the unemployment rate by more than half.


Article Link to the Washington Times:

Oil Prices Largely Unchanged As Market Shrugs Off Turkey Coup Bid

By Keith Wallis
Reuters
July 18, 2016

Oil prices were virtually unchanged in choppy Asian trade on Monday following gains last week as traders shrugged off the impact of Friday's attempted coup in Turkey, while upbeat economic data from the United States lent price support.

Brent crude futures rose 2 cents at $47.63 a barrel as of 0653 GMT after closing up 24 cents in the previous session, having gained nearly 2 percent for the week.

U.S. crude futures fell 5 cents to $45.90 a barrel after ending the previous session up 27 cents, gaining more than 1 percent for the week.

Both benchmarks see-sawed between negative and positive territory in Monday's Asia's session as investors digested the impact from the coup bid.

"The market is looking past the coup," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at Sydney's CMC Markets.

"There is no disruption to shipping. There is nothing in terms of short-term risk (to oil supply)," he said.

Istanbul's Bosphorus Strait, a key chokepoint for oil which handles about 3 percent of global shipments, mainly from Black Sea ports and the Caspian region, was reopened on Saturday after being shut for several hours after Friday's attempted military coup.

The dollar index oscillated against a basket of currencies in Asian trade on Monday, rising towards the end of the session. A stronger greenback makes dollar-priced commodities more expensive for holders of other currencies, boosting demand for crude.

Buoyant economic data from the U.S. and China on Friday, the world's two biggest economies, lent support to oil prices.

U.S. retail sales rose more than expected in June as Americans splurged on motor vehicles and other goods, while U.S. industrial production recorded its biggest increase in 11 months in June, official data on Friday showed.

But Morgan Stanley raised concerns about the longer term outlook for oil consumption as demand for petrochemicals rather than fuels such as diesel and gasoline is clouding the outlook for crude demand, according to a report on Monday.

"Fundamental headwinds are growing, supply-demand rebalancing is likely still a mid-2017 event, but tail risks are admittedly large in both directions, as geopolitics add to uncertainty," the report said.

"A rapid rise of non-petroleum products is boosting total product demand, but this is unhelpful for crude oil. Based on the latest data, even our tepid 800,000 barrels per day growth estimate for global crude runs looks too high," the report added.


Article Link to Reuters:

Oil Prices Largely Unchanged As Market Shrugs Off Turkey Coup Bid

Monday, July 18, Morning Global Market Roundup: Asia Shares Steady, Softbank Bids $31 Billion For ARM

By Wayne Cole
Reuters
July 18, 2016

The U.S. dollar gained on the yen on Monday as investors unwound safe-haven trades in the wake of the failed coup in Turkey, while a giant takeover bid in the tech sector and the promise of central bank stimulus lent support to equities.

The Turkish lira regained some poise, with the dollar down 2.75 percent at 2.9360 TRYTOM=D3 and reversing much of the gains it made late on Friday when it topped around 3.0476.

Ankara said it was in control of the country and economy and widened a crackdown on suspected supporters of the failed military coup, taking the number of people rounded up from the armed forces and judiciary to 6,000.

The initial reaction of investors to the coup had been to bid up safe havens such as the Japanese yen, but that was quickly unwinding. The dollar was at 105.50 yen JPY= having briefly been as low as 104.63 late Friday, with trade further thinned by a holiday in Japan.

Likewise, the euro had steadied at $1.1068 EUR= after gapping as low as $1.1021 on Friday.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS added 0.3 percent having reached its highest in almost nine months last week. Australia rose 0.5 percent while Shanghai .SSEC was flat.

Futures for UK shares FF1c1 rose 0.5 percent, with the French contract FCEc1 adding 0.2 percent.

Helping sentiment was a Financial Times report that Japan's SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T) had agreed to buy ARM Holdings PLC (ARM.L) for 23.4 billion pounds ($31 billion).

The deal, one of the largest in European technology to date, is expected to be announced later on Monday, the newspaper said.

The E-mini futures contract for the S&P 500 was up 0.3 percent ESc1, following on from Friday's upbeat U.S. economic data. The Dow .DJI had ended 0.05 percent firmer, while the S&P 500 .SPX and the Nasdaq .IXIC both lost 0.09 percent.

More Rate Cuts To Come

Prices for U.S. Treasuries were a shade lower with yields on the 10-year note edging up to 1.56 percent US10YT=RR.

In commodity markets, spot gold XAU= eased to $1,328.16 per ounce.

Oil prices inched higher, with Brent crude LCOc1 up 19 cents at $47.80 a barrel, while NYMEX crude CLc1 added 4 cents to $45.99.

One mover was the New Zealand dollar which slipped when domestic inflation data showed a surprisingly soft rise of 0.4 percent in the year to June.

The kiwi slid half a U.S. cent to $0.7086 NZD=D4 as the market narrowed the odds on a cut in rates from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand next month.

Investors are also wagering on policy easings from the Bank of England and Bank of Japan in coming weeks, while few see much chance of the Federal Reserve hiking U.S. rates anytime soon.

"We've pencilled in rate cuts over the coming months in Korea, Taiwan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and India," said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC.

"The global yield compression and the decline in FX volatility thanks to a plateauing U.S. dollar is making it easier for monetary officials across the region to deliver more easing."


Article Link to Reuters:

Europe's Eyes On Merkel To Rebuild EU After Brexit Vote

By Paul Taylor
Reuters
July 18, 2016

When the chips are down in Europe, everyone turns to Angela Merkel for a solution. But the German chancellor often sits on her hands until the last minute, then does the minimum necessary to keep the show on the road.

Since last month's shock British referendum vote to leave the European Union, all eyes have been on Berlin to indicate a way out of danger for the 27 members who will remain.

As usual, Merkel, the continent's most powerful and experienced leader, is biding her time and letting underlings air their differences without tipping her hand before she departs for her three-week summer break this week.

Votes had barely been tallied in Britain when her vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the center-left Social Democrats, and European Parliament President Martin Schulz rushed out a 10-point plan for a "refoundation" of Europe.

Lamenting that ever more citizens doubted Europe's ability to deliver a better future, they called for a more federal Europe with the European Commission as its government, and a more flexible, growth-friendly economic policy turning away from austerity to investment in an "industrial renaissance".

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble rapidly shot down those ideas, rejecting any need for economic stimulus spending and reaffirming his balanced budget target up to 2020 at a time when many in Europe are pleading with Berlin to borrow money free of interest and invest massively in infrastructure.

He refuses to accept that surplus countries like Germany, which has a giant current account surplus of eight percentage points of GDP, should help poorer deficit countries adjust by spending more on public investment and boosting consumption.

Furthermore, Schaeuble said those calling for a bold federal leap forward in integration had failed to understand the public disenchantment with the EU that fueled the British vote and is driving nationalistic euroskepticism elsewhere in Europe.

Rather than give more power to Brussels, the veteran conservative, who once advocated a federal "core Europe", said it was time for national governments to take matters more into their own hands if the Commission was unable to do the job.

Schaeuble is blocking the next steps forward in euro zone risk-sharing - the creation of a European bank deposit insurance system and of a fiscal backstop for the currency area's single resolution fund to help wind down failed banks.

The 71-year-old finance minister has also managed to delay any debt relief for Greece until after next year's German election in September and maneuvered to delay public support for Italy's ailing banks, saying there was no acute crisis.

Less Vulnerable

Even the German head of the euro zone's rescue fund, Klaus Regling, argued last week that Berlin and its partners needed to go further to make the currency area less vulnerable to shocks.

Restructuring Italian banks' bad loans and forcing investors including retail savers to take losses before any public money can be injected under the EU's new bank recovery and resolution rules could trigger precisely that kind of post-Brexit shock.

Regling called for completing European banking union by phasing in a deposit insurance scheme after a transition period. He also advocated a limited budgetary capacity for the euro area to cushion economic shocks hitting only some countries.

Both proposals have so far been anathema to Schaeuble, who speaks for a school of German fiscal hawks in warning that such steps would lead to unacceptable permanent north-south transfers inside the monetary union.

At least there is debate in Germany about what the EU should do to regain momentum and overcome the trauma of losing Britain, its second largest economy, even if much of it resembles shadow boxing before next year's German elections.

In many EU countries, politicians have simply fallen back on blaming Brussels, with some demanding the scalp of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as a scapegoat.

To be sure, Juncker has contributed to the sense of disarray by first trying to rush an EU trade deal with Canada through the European Parliament without letting national lawmakers have a say, then reversing himself under pressure from governments.

The result is that the Canada deal could be bogged down for many months, perhaps indefinitely, and the chances of getting a bigger and more sensitive trade and investment partnership with the United States wrapped up and ratified seem even more remote.

No progress on monetary or banking union, deadlock on trade - that doesn't leave much scope for restoring public and financial market confidence in Europe.

The German and French foreign ministers, both social democrats, have issued more modest joint proposals for the EU to focus on internal and external security, managing migration and refugee flows, and boosting the economy and job creation.

Their nine-page paper, which would not require changing the EU's founding treaty with the risk of more referendum defeats, called for a European Security Compact with a more integrated foreign and security policy and a permanent civil-military chain of command for crisis management operations.

But when it came to the euro - the economic heart of the European project - their suggestions of investment-boosting measures by surplus countries and a common fiscal capacity(budget) for the euro zone, ran into the same stonewall in the German Finance Ministry.

Merkel has broadly welcomed the Franco-German paper and broadly adopted its focus on three main themes - migration, security and growth/jobs. Whether she is willing to overrule Schaeuble and take political risks before next year's federal elections is highly doubtful.

Yet without some initiative to provide fresh wind after the Brexit blow, the EU looks highly vulnerable to the next external shock, whether from Islamist militants, Italian banks or another surge in migration.


Article Link to Reuters:

Europe's Eyes On Merkel To Rebuild EU After Brexit Vote

How Social Media Helped Defeat The Turkish Coup

By Mohamed A. El-Erian
The Bloomberg View
July 18, 2016

The attempted coup d'etat by a faction of Turkey's armed forces on Friday failed for many reasons, including divisions among the military and repeated missteps by the plotters.

Social media and mobile communications also played an important role. And it wasn't the first time this combination has enabled citizens to express their will and have a say in deciding who governs them and why.

Judging from available information, the rebellious faction of mid-level army officers sought to implement the classic playbook for military takeovers -- what in the old days would have been labeled a "colonels' coup," as opposed to one led by generals. They closed key transportation routes, tried to secure both parliament and the presidential offices, and attempted to capture high-ranking officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and top military brass. They also took over state media outlets, and used state television to broadcast their message and prematurely declare victory.

The instigators soon realized that this classic approach was not sufficient, and moved to take control of private television channels, even shutting down the Turkish affiliate of CNN, an event that was broadcast live around the world.

The objective was conventional: By denying citizens access to alternative sources of news, the rebels would be able to control the narrative, dictating the information that was going out and its interpretation. They would also use this control to energize their small group of collaborators and attempt to persuade others to join them, particularly other factions of the military.

But the putschists failed to sufficiently update the standard coup playbook to take into account the realities of social media and mobile technology. As a result, their attempt to control the information available to ordinary citizens was only partial and the military's message was soon drowned out by domestic and international news outlets with much greater powers of amplification. Then, the advantage the military had initially gained through the element of surprise quickly eroded.

Within hours of the beginning of the coup, Erdogan used the video capability on his mobile phone to communicate with the nation, urging Turks to take to the streets and stand up to the rebels. His message was amplified on social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, and supplemented by images of people standing in front of tanks and on top of them.

Social media also played a critical role in relaying -- in real time -- domestic and international support for the president and for Turkey's democratically and legitimately elected government. These messages came from some of Erdogan's internal political critics, too, who used Twitter to condemn the attempted coup, which they said wouldn't bring the right kind of change.

Foreign leaders, including President Barack Obama, echoed the support for Turkish democracy and for Erdogan.

The international and domestic engagement did more than simply feed the curiosity of ordinary Turkish citizens. It countered the certainty about the outcome that the small group of officers in control of state media and some key installations had tried to convey. It also undermined the coup plotters' attempts to convey a state of siege. The flow of information encouraged, empowered and mobilized Turks to confront the rebels and their tanks.

The population went from being passive recipients to proactive participants in the country's present and future. And by challenging the information being transmitted by the captured media sources, they prevented the small group of mid-level officers from turning pre-emptive claims of victory into reality.

A significant number of Turks collectively formed what advancing military forces fear most -- crowds of civilians blocking their path and complicating their operational plans. The strength of the people was transmitted both domestically and internationally through images on social media of civilians standing up to rebel soldiers in the streets. This signaled that the rebels were not winning, and diminished the chances that they would ultimately prevail.

Sensing defeat, hundreds of rebellious soldiers started surrendering and road blockades were lifted. The images that filled social media showed that citizens had again found a way to have a deterministic role in their political destiny -- particularly when it comes to how they are governed and by whom.

This is not the first time that social media and mobility played an important role in influencing outcomes, or allowed ordinary citizens to play a greater part in ensuring that a tiny minority is unable to impose its will on the majority. And it is not the first time that the will of the people prevailed with the help of technology. For example, in 2011 and 2013, millions of ordinary Egyptians, enabled by social media, stunned the world with their collective action, taking to the streets to influence how they would be governed.

In helping to foil a coup against a legitimately elected government, social media reinforced democracy. This is the flip side of the tragic use of this same technology to influence and radicalize the disenfranchised.

History will record that the rogue Turkish officers and their followers failed to understand how social media has changed the traditional dynamics of military coup d'etats. It contributed to avoiding an outcome that, at a minimum, would have created huge uncertainty in one of the largest European countries and a member of NATO. That would have been yet another development that "expert opinion," both in the public and private sectors, had not predicted. Now the challenge for Turkey is to ensure that the legacy of the failed coup will be the strengthening of the country's democracy and its legitimate institutions.


Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

Bastille Day Attack Shows How Islamists Score Their Victories For Pennies

By Ralph Peters
The New York Post
July 18, 2016

The most important quality an intelligence officer can possess is the ability to escape his preconceptions to see the world from the enemy’s perspective.

By that standard, our analysis of the truck massacre on the French Riviera failed miserably. Instead of honestly measuring the terrorist success, we diminished it.

Islamist terror triumphed in Nice. A single jihadi in a rented truck achieved six strategic goals, yet Western commentators rushed to conclude that the attack was “unsophisticated,” that the petty-criminal perpetrator didn’t really belong to ISIS or al Qaeda and that he wasn’t even a very good Muslim.

We missed the meaning on each one of those counts.

Consider the charge that the hit was “unsophisticated,” a word that popped up repeatedly in commentaries. That description revealed how deeply we’re trapped in American thinking: The terrorist didn’t use hi-tech weapons, therefore the attack was crude.

Savage? Yes. Crude? No.

Nice was yet another instance of how imaginative thinking by fanatics exploits our laws, our ready means, and even our behavior to butcher us cheaply. We’ll spend a million bucks on bombs to kill a single jihadi. The terrorist in Nice probably didn’t even pay in advance for the rental truck (try collecting from his credit card now). From Paris to Orlando, Islamists score their victories for pennies.

What did the slaughter in Nice achieve?

-- First, a single terrorist killed almost 100 infidels, wounding another 200.

--Second, jihad garnered yet another wealth of headlines and free propaganda. 

--Third, terror again violated a traditional safe zone to assault our liberties.

-- Fourth, terror battered tourism again. While the blow won’t devastate the French economy as other attacks have ravaged Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey (and Paris hoteliers), it will certainly spoil the summer season on the Riviera.

-- Fifth, and still more important, it will drive up security costs again, adding more debt to the hundreds of billions in security spending already squeezing governments and businesses. Corpses generate headlines, but the economic costs of terror do more enduring damage to the state.

-- Sixth, the Nice attack further diminished trust in the French government’s ability to protect its citizens. It even played into our presidential election.

Unsophisticated? Even the timing and location of the Nice strike were brilliant in their obviousness and simplicity.

Then there’s the recurrent, misleading question: “Was this a lone-wolf attack, or was it directed by Terror Central?”

That utterly misses the thriving new model of violent jihad. ISIS, especially, created a global brand with loose franchising. Jihadis don’t need laminated union cards. If you say you’re ISIS, you’re ISIS. (Just as declaring yourself a Muslim is as simple as that — not one dreary catechism class.)

ISIS even has corporate best practices for terrorists, disseminated by their publicity department. If you go to the caliphate itself, there’s a dress code, too. It’s the flat-corporation management specialists idealize.

Of course, we want to know if there’s a network behind an attack so we can root it out. But victims of lone wolves or independent cells are every bit as dead as those killed by complex international plots. In our military and industry, we praise initiative. So does it make a lesser thing of terrorism if, around the world, thousands of jihadis are self-starters?

Then there’s the witless argument we hear time and again: “He wasn’t a devout Muslim when we knew him . . .”

Such claims may be absolutely true, but miss the way religious conversions occur. Revelation, real or hallucinated, is transformative and electrifying. No believer is more zealous than the recent convert.

The history of every faith, from the Buddha to St. Paul, is full of sudden conversions, of the divine revealed in an instant. The problem is that we no longer understand or respect the power of faith.

And terrorists do what they can to disguise themselves: Don’t expect the next attacker to warn us by wearing a “Jihadi-in-Training” T-shirt.

A corollary charge is that “he drank, he visited strip clubs, etc.” Well, if devotion’s the bride of faith, hypocrisy’s its mistress. From King David through Renaissance popes to televangelists, men of faith haven’t always practiced what they preached.

We write off the Nice terrorist as a minor thug with a history of violence. Hey, remember the Good Thief on his cross? A single act of faith can wipe out mortal sins and lead to paradise. We laugh; they believe.

One of the many lures of jihad is that it cancels the past and makes the heel a hero. Suicide strikes are the ultimate fresh start.

They slaughter us for pennies and bathe in our blood. And we belittle them.


Article Link to The New York Post:

Podhoretz: You Can’t Beat Something With Nothing When It Comes To Trump

By John Podhoretz
The New York Post
July 18, 2016

The lessons right now for the Republicans who sought and failed to secure the means by which Donald Trump might be denied the nomination at this week’s convention are simple: You can’t beat something with nothing, and a Twitter hashtag is not a political movement.

Trump cannot be ousted because there’s no one to oust him. And while typing #NeverTrump is a good way to add your tweet to a stream of similar anti-Trump tweets, it’s worth about as much as the 140 characters it’s not printed on.

So when it came time last week for anti-Trump members of the committee writing the rules for the convention to stage their revolt by designing procedures that might allow delegates to free themselves from the obligation to vote for Trump, they got rolled.

Since they’d telegraphed their actions, the Republican National Committee had come up with a blocking strategy. The RNC was better organized and more efficient, and not only knocked down the #NeverTrump effort but did so in a manner that made its leading lights seem ill-prepared and unserious.

It’s not their fault, really. The #NeverTrump folks are motivated by principle and were making a last-ditch effort to head off what they see as the hijacking of their party. But the whole gambit was essentially abstract; it was just a way of saying no.

There was no affirmative option. No one could say how dumping Trump would work and how it would improve the party’s prospects in November.

Most important, there was no “who.” There was no person to embody the effort. No political figure well-known enough and respected enough emerged to rally troops for a serious party coup.

Indeed, the whole #NeverTrump effort was the orphaned stepchild of the strategy that emerged in March and April, when it was clear that no one was going to catch up to Trump in state victories or delegate counts.

The idea back then was to keep him from winning a majority of delegates on the first ballot of voting and then for the convention to erupt into a multi-ballot free-for-all.

But Marco Rubio lost his home state of Florida and had to drop out. John Kasich could not capitalize on his home-state victory in Ohio and became a zombie candidate. Ted Cruz won Wisconsin and then not only showed no momentum but got destroyed in the next five states by colossal margins before his final humiliating loss in seemingly friendly Indiana.


Article Link to The New York Post:

In Sea Dispute, China Can Choose Its History

By Michael Schuman
The Bloomberg View
July 18, 2016

An old saying tells us that those who can't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In China these days, a more relevant adage might be: Those who choose to learn only certain lessons from history are doomed.

That's the upshot of China's reaction to a ruling from a tribunal at The Hague rejecting its claims to much of the South China Sea. Government officials and state news media unleashed a blistering torrent of vitriol in response, deriding the whole proceeding as a "farce" and a "brutal violation" of international law.

That attitude is an outgrowth of a historical narrative propagated by the Communist Party's leadership -- one that may be politically convenient at the moment, but that ultimately threatens to undermine China's rise.

The Middle Kingdom, in this telling, had long been victimized and humiliated by predatory foreign imperialists, which today still scheme to prevent the nation from assuming its rightful place in world affairs. The storyline stretches back to the crushing defeats dealt to the Qing dynasty by aggressive Western powers in the 19th century, and continues to Japan's even more embarrassing invasion during World War II.

President Xi Jinping likes to remind people of these outrages. Last year's celebration marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the war was accompanied by a tidal wave of anti-Japan propaganda. In a speech, Xi said that victory "put an end to China's national humiliation of suffering successive defeats at the hands of foreign aggressors in modern times."

The same narrative is now being adapted for the South China Sea dispute. In early July, an editorial in the state-run China Daily, entitled "China Will Not Swallow Bitter Pill of Humiliation," linked today's maritime squabbles to past indignities at the hands of the West. "The days have long passed when the country was seen as the `sick man of East Asia,' whose fate was at the mercy of a few Western powers," it said. The Hague tribunal, according to the People's Daily, "degenerated into a political tool of external powers."

There's no denying the mistreatments inflicted on China during its past times of weakness. However, this narrative of woe is only one version of China's modern history. There's another, no less valid narrative that Beijing chooses not to talk about very much. It may not whip up nationalist fervor, but heeding its lessons would actually benefit China over the long term.

That story goes like this: By cooperating with the U.S. and its allies, China transformed itself into the world's second-largest economy and a rising superpower. Its rapid development would never have been possible if the U.S. hadn't opened its market to Chinese exports. Companies from the U.S., Japan and Europe have invested heavily in China, creating jobs and importing know-how. The U.S. security presence in East Asia -- the same one Beijing considers an intolerable constraint -- has generally kept the peace in the region, allowing China to focus on becoming rich.

If Beijing chose this historical narrative, then its approach to the South China Sea would probably look different. It would seek to peacefully negotiate with its neighbors and work closely with the U.S., Japan and others rather than characterizing them as saboteurs of Chinese interests. The same would be true with other territorial disputes, for instance with Japan and India, that keep Beijing’s neighbors wary of its intentions. And economically, China would be well served by reciprocating the openness of its trading partners to Chinese business by treating foreign firms more fairly in its own market. That would help forestall the anti-China protectionism now rising in the west.

The problem for Xi is that he benefits too much from the rhetoric about China's past victimization. By taking a stand against foreign aggressors, he can present himself as a defender of Chinese interests, the man righting all the wrongs of the past 200 years. Widespread support for the government on social media and in the press shows just how well that strategy is working.

But Xi's fixation on the history of China's humiliation is threatening to swamp the history of China's cooperation. In the end, history is what you make of it. Which narrative China chooses may determine how the story ends.


Article Link to The Bloomberg View:

Hezbollah’s Crucible Of War

Joining Syria’s civil war has made Hezbollah much more powerful, but much less popular, in the Middle East.


By Nour Samaha
Foreign Policy
July 18, 2016

BEIRUT — It was around 9 a.m. on July 12, 2006, and Katyusha rockets from Lebanon had crashed into northern Israel. As Israeli soldiers assessed the scene, a team of Hezbollah fighters slithered through the first wire fence, then the second wire fence, and ran up the road where two Israeli army Humvees were positioned.

The team fired an anti-tank missile at one of the Humvees, destroying it and killing three Israeli soldiers. They grabbed two other Israeli soldiers and doused the Humvee in petrol, setting it alight before dragging the two soldiers back into Lebanese territory. A second Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device as it attempted to cross the border, killing all four Israeli soldiers on board.

This marked the beginning of a bloody 33-day war. An Israeli aerial assault targeted south Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and the southern suburbs of Beirut, areas Israel has designated as Hezbollah strongholds. The Israelis then launched a land invasion into southern Lebanon with the stated aim of disarming the movement. Hezbollah, for its part, launched hundreds of rockets across the border into Israel. Around 1,300 Lebanese were killed, mostly civilians, and 165 Israelis lost their lives, 121 of whom were soldiers.

The 2006 war was a pivotal moment for Hezbollah. The Lebanese Shiite group was celebrated across the Arab world as the region’s only force able to defeat Israel; it was riding high on a wave of popular support, and a reputation as a defender of the rights of the oppressed.

But 10 years on, much has changed for Hezbollah. Once treated as a Lebanese national resistance movement, it is now widely seen as the elite arm of a regional Shiite axis composed of Iran and Syria, with a military and political presence that stretches from Damascus, to Baghdad, to Sanaa.

Yet Hezbollah’s rise as a regional player has come at a cost for the movement. It has lost a considerable number of fighters and top-level commanders in its battles across Syria. Its popular support on the Arab streets has also waned as it has come to be seen ever more as a Shiite sectarian party. It also faces increasing pressure from powerful countries in the region. All of which are leading many observers to ask: As the group continues to grow, can it survive its new challenges and responsibilities?

Military Growth

Sitting in a restaurant in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a veteran Hezbollah fighter explained in detail the military and tactical experience the group has recently gained. This fighter is in his mid-40s and participated both in the 2006 Lebanon war and the current conflict in Syria, before an injury on the battlefield in Syria forced him out of active duty.

“The 2006 war was conducted on only two types of terrain: that of the south and that of the Bekaa,” he said, referring to the rolling hills and mountains of the south and the plains of the Bekaa Valley. Syria’s war, however, has exposed the group to the varied landscapes of that country, which has enabled Hezbollah to significantly expand its military capabilities. In the process, it has been transformed from a primarily defensive guerrilla group to one that more resembles a conventional army.

“For example, in Syria we have fought in mountain ranges that are higher than Lebanon, where we have had to learn completely new strategies and equipment, as our previous equipment would not work at such high altitude,” he said. “We have fought on coastal fronts, on desert fronts, and on urban fronts. Even the urban fronts differ between big cities and smaller towns.”

While the 2006 war was fought on Hezbollah’s home turf, amid a largely supportive population, Syria has forced the movement to adapt to fighting in unfamiliar places with hostile populations. “In 2006, we were fighting defensively in areas that we know very well,” the fighter said. “In Syria, we are entering areas where the local population can be hostile to us, and against fighters who know the terrain better than us. We have conducted offensive battles.”

Others close to Hezbollah echoed this account. For the first time, Hezbollah has run offensive operations — and intends to transfer the skills learned in Syria to any future confrontation with Israel.

“For Israel, they started to see the experience we were gaining and are now concerned that the experience, especially inside cities and urban environments, would be used against them,” said one source familiar with Hezbollah’s operations in Syria.

And Israel may have reason to be concerned. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has made it clear that in any future confrontation, it would attempt to invade northern Israel. In order to do so, it would involve the very skills it has gained in Syria — fighting in an unfamiliar area where local residents are hostile to its presence.

Furthermore, it would involve a high level of command-and-control capabilities of precisely the type that Hezbollah has developed in Syria. Although in 2006 the movement deployed small cells of fighters who could continue fighting for days and weeks without the need to wait for instructions from their leadership, now the movement deploys larger formations of soldiers on multiple fronts, across hundreds of miles, and maintains a constant flow of information and supplies to its commanders in the field.

“Hezbollah has always been an insurgency group, and they’re now really learning very well counterinsurgency,” said Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. “This enables them to be able to engage in a whole host of other different types of skills and maneuvers that would be useful to them in combat in Israel.”

Levitt is more doubtful of Hezbollah’s claim that it could actually hold Israeli territory in any future confrontation. “The security measures up there [in northern Israel] are actually quite sophisticated, so I don’t think Hezbollah would be able to do it, or hold it, but imagine the psychological impact for an Israeli community if that happened, even if it failed,” he said.

Hezbollah is also said to have acquired far more sophisticated weaponry than it wielded against Israel 10 years ago. Today, the group has heavy artillery, aerial drones, and a large number of jeeps with recoilless rifles in its possession — along with about 120,000 rockets, according to Israel’s estimates, which is almost a tenfold increase over its supply in 2006. The missiles in its arsenal today are far more powerful: It possesses the Iranian Fateh-110 tactical ballistic missile and its Syrian variant, the M-600. Numerous reports also claim it is in possession of the Yakhont coastal missile and has mobile air defense systems such as the Russian 9K33 Osa system.

The number of Lebanese fighters that Hezbollah counts in its ranks has also grown exponentially. In 2006, Hezbollah had a core of roughly 2,000 dedicated, full-time fighters in addition to about 10,000 reservists with basic training. Its involvement in Syria has provided the group with the opportunity to expand its core, and those with basic training have been hardened by years of fighting in Syria.

Numerous Hezbollah sources have stated that the group witnessed a huge influx of applicants in the aftermath of 2006, and then again in the aftermath of its involvement in Syria.

Hezbollah’s youth organization, the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts, held a recent graduation ceremony for 70,000 scouts, said multiple sources. “I couldn’t believe my eyes!” said one observer who attended the ceremony. “And as Sayyed Nasrallah said at the event, ‘We don’t have a problem getting people involved in Hezbollah, our problem is where to put them.’”

The same source confirmed that Hezbollah now operates in Lebanon up to seven training camps simultaneously to accommodate the number of new fighters and new techniques the organization has acquired.

Hezbollah, however, has also suffered high-profile losses over the last 10 years, most significantly after its foray into wider regional conflicts. Although there are no official figures for the group’s death toll in Syria, estimates range from 800 to 1,200 fighters killed over the last three years. Top commanders Fawzi Ayyoub, Jihad Mughniyeh, Mohammed Ahmed Issa, Ghassan Fakih, Fadi al-Jazzar, Ali Fayad, Samir Kantar, and Mustafa Badreddine have all been killed since Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria. The assassination of Imad Mughniyah in 2008, the main mastermind behind most of Hezbollah’s operations against Israel, was also a huge blow to the party.

“It is painful to them that they have lost more people, including many more senior people, in their war against fellow Muslims than all of the wars and battles against Israel,” Levitt said.

Ali Fadlallah, a professor of politics at the American University of Beirut and an expert on Hezbollah, said Hezbollah is willing to bear the losses because it sees the Syrian war as an existential issue.

“Hezbollah thinks of its role in Syria as an obligation, necessary to protect its weapons route and its political role,” he said. “And, as a result, it is paying a big price, including the deaths of key figures.”

Sources close to Hezbollah have played down the impact of the losses. According to the veteran fighter, the losses incurred in Syria do not “equate to even 10 percent of the death toll calculated by the party for such a war.”

“No war comes without sacrifices,” another source said. “Our organization after Hajj Imad Mughniyah is much bigger than it was before 2006, and so we are constantly restructuring.”

“Each martyrdom offers a new opportunity, and there is always new blood [coming in].”

Politics and Identity

Hezbollah’s success on the battlefield, however, has not been duplicated in politics. It has lost much of the broad-based appeal it enjoyed, both in Lebanon and the broader region, in the aftermath of the 2006 war. Its selective participation in the conflicts in the region — Iraq, Syria, Yemen — has reinforced the notion that it is a military and political force “strictly for the Shia.”

“While Hezbollah defines itself as a national actor with regional impacts, today it is seen as a model for the Shia because of its political and military success in the region,” said Hossam Matar, a Lebanese political analyst close to the party.

As the Syrian uprising took an increasingly sectarian character, Hezbollah’s entry came to be seen as an intervention on behalf of the country’s Alawite minority against its Sunni majority. That message was loudly and widely spread by the Gulf-state publications and broadcasters who dominate the Arab media landscape. As a result, many Arabs who previously supported Hezbollah began to see it through the prism of Sunni-Shiite sectarianism. This skepticism even extended to Hezbollah’s rhetoric supporting the Palestinian cause and the fight against Israel.

While Hezbollah and its supporters acknowledge the issue, they seek to minimize it. The movement continually states it is fighting takfiris, not Sunnis in Syria, and has urged Arabs to ignore what it deems propaganda by Saudi media.

“This [shift] is largely because the campaign by the others to portray Hezbollah as a sectarian party has been successful, and because we are witnessing a sectarian struggle in the region, Hezbollah will appear to be more Shia, and this is not by choice,” Matar said.

The perception of Hezbollah as the Middle East’s leading Shiite sectarian group has also led to increased diplomatic pressure on the party. Historically, the Arab Gulf states have always had a tumultuous relationship with Hezbollah; the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005, and its aftermath, was a notable low point. But following Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria and then its vocal opposition to the Saudi-led war in Yemen, the Gulf states became outright aggressive against the group, designating it as a terrorist organization and deporting Lebanese Shiites residing in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Remittances from Lebanese working in the Gulf are a primary source of income for many residing in Lebanon and help maintain the stability of the country’s financial system.

“I don’t think the Israelis will ever be as anti-Hezbollah as the Gulfies are right now, and that has real ramifications for them,” Levitt said.

But, despite the mounting pressure against it, Hezbollah seems to feel bolstered by its newly acquired international role.

“When [Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail] Bogdanov visits Lebanon, he’s not coming to talk to the politicians, but to Hezbollah about Hezbollah’s role,” said a source close to Hezbollah. “He is dealing with Hezbollah as a regional actor.”

As Matar pointed out, Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah has also changed due to its close connection with Arab Shiites in the region. “Hezbollah can now advise Iran on Arab issues, which in turn has granted Hezbollah a larger role in the region.”

What Next?

In 2006, Hezbollah was a small military organization with one theater of operations and a singular mission. Ten years later, it has expanded exponentially into multiple theaters with diverse responsibilities, demands, and challenges. It has grown into a regional political actor with influence on par with some nation states. But it has also alienated a large segment of the Arab population.

“They are gaining power across the region, especially in terms of the ‘resistance axis,’” said Fadlallah, referring to a regional alliance consisting of Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria. “If Hezbollah can win this battle, it will win the region.”

Matar said regardless of how much Hezbollah has grown, the group doesn’t make a regional commitment without considering its impact on its primary mission — its resistance to Israel. “When it engages regionally, it always has Israel at the forefront of its calculations,” he said. “And it allocates its resources accordingly.”

Those close to Hezbollah celebrate its new reach across the region and lament the lack of broad support among Arabs and the mounting regional and international pressure on it. But they also insist the Israeli “file” remains its priority. All its other activities are described as a means to gain experience to accomplish its ultimate end.

“What we took to Syria when we entered was some developed weapons and thousands of fighters,” one source said. “But what we have in south Lebanon now is a lot of new surprises for the Israelis.”


Article Link to Foreign Policy:

GOP, RIP?

By E.J. Dionne
The Washington Post
July 18, 2016

The Republican Party came to life as the bastion of "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men." It was a reformist party dedicated to stopping the spread of slavery and to fighting a "Slave Power" its founders saw as undermining free institutions.

The new political organization grew out of the old Whigs and reflected the faith that Henry Clay and his admirer Abraham Lincoln had in the federal government's ability to invest in fostering economic growth and expanding educational opportunity. Its partisans embodied what John C. Calhoun, slavery's chief ideological defender, described disdainfully as "the national impulse." It was, in fact, a good impulse.

But the Republicans who held their first national convention 160 years ago were more than just northern Whigs. Their ranks also included many former Democrats who shared a fervor for the anti-slavery cause and helped take some of the Whiggish, elitist edge off this ingathering of idealists and practical politicians.

"The admixture of Whig and Democratic politics inside the Republican Party," writes the historian Sean Wilentz in "The Politicians & The Egalitarians," his recently published book, "created a forthright democratic nationalism, emboldening the federal government, for a time, at once to stimulate economic development and broaden its benefits."

The Republicans descending on Cleveland would thus have every right to insist that all Americans owe a large debt to the GOP. We are a better, freer and more prosperous nation because their party was born.

Of course it would be historically naive to pretend that time has stood still since 1856. To do so would mean ignoring that the South, which hated the original Republicans, is now the dominant force in the party. It would involve being blind to the way in which our two great political parties have switched sides in how they view the capacity of our federal government to promote a more inclusive prosperity.

It would be equally untrue to history to claim that the nativism of Donald Trump is alien to the party. On the contrary, the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know-Nothings were an important force in early Republicanism, and the party embraced opposition to newcomers at various points in subsequent eras.

Nonetheless, Republicans who are not in the least progressive have reason to mourn what is likely to come to pass this week: the transformation of the Party of Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower into the Party of Trump. Some are bravely resisting this outcome to the end -- and good luck to them. A fair number of leading Republicans have stated flatly that they will never vote for Trump. Their devotion to principle and integrity will be remembered.

But so many others in the party have found ways of rationalizing support for a man who plainly does not take governing, policy or even what he says from one day to the next seriously. It is comical but also embarrassing to watch politicians and consultants fall all over themselves to declare that Trump is "maturing" because every once in a while, he reads partisan talking points off a teleprompter. This is seen as a great advance over the normal Trump whose free association rants refer to his opponents as "lyin'," "crooked," "sad," "weak," "low energy" and -- in the very special case of Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- "Pocahontas."

Liberals have long complained about conservatives "dog whistling" appeals to racial animosity. But hypocrisy really is the tribute vice pays to virtue and so it does mark a decline in simple decency that Trump has shouted out his prejudices openly: falsely claiming that Barack Obama, our first African-American president, was not born in the United States; railing against Mexican immigrants as "rapists"; and calling for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

And a party that helped build popular support for internationalism after World War II is about to turn to a man whose foreign policy pronouncements defy coherence. He's not even consistent in supporting non-interventionism or protectionism, both of which are part of a historically legitimate Republican tradition. He substitutes bullying for choosing, bluster for strength.

Many Republicans oppose Trump because they see him as the one candidate most likely to lose to Hillary Clinton. But others fear something worse: a Trump victory. They know that his presidency would represent a grave danger to the republic, a repudiation of the most noble Republican aspirations, and the end of their party as a serious vehicle for governance. The GOP can survive a Trump defeat. It will never get over being permanently defined by his politics of flippant brutality.


Article Link to The Washington Post:

GOP, RIP?

Trump And Pence's Awkward Marriage On Display In '60 Minutes'

By Pamela Kruger
Fortune
July 18, 2016

Donald Trump and his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, don’t have much in common—politically, philosophically or personally. And their awkward marriage was on full display in the first interview the two gave together on Sunday on “60 Minutes.”

“It’s probably obvious to people we have different styles,” Pence, who served six terms in Congress, told Lesley Stahl. “I promise our vision is exactly the same.”

In the interview, Trump made clear that he chose Pence in part because he thought it would satisfy the “establishment” wing of the Republican party. “It was party unity. I’m an outsider,” Trump said. “People I wasn’t necessarily getting along with are loving this pick,” adding: “The main reason I picked him was the incredible job he did in Indiana,” as governor.

In the interview, it was clear that the two have big differences in policy, but Pence was more willing to paper over them. In December, Stahl noted, Pence had tweeted that Trump’s plan to bar Muslims from entering the United States was “offensive.” In the interview, Pence insisted that he now supports the temporary ban. Stahl didn’t ask why he’d changed his mind.

Pence, as a member of Congress, had also voted for major trade agreements, including NAFTA, which Trump has railed against. One of Trump’s key campaign promises has been to get rid of these “bad” agreements. “I’m not an isolationist,” Trump told Stahl. “I want to make great deals for our country.” Pence chimed in, saying that he believes that Trump will be able to “renegotiate” NAFTA and make it more advantageous for Americans.

Pence also supported the Iraq War, which Trump has claimed to oppose from the beginning. “He’s allowed to make mistakes,” Trump said.

A devout Christian and family man, Pence has also said that he doesn’t believe in negative campaigning. Trump said that he doesn’t expect that Pence will call Hillary Clinton “crooked,” as Trump does. “But he will say how dishonest she is by going over the facts.”

Stahl asked Trump if he was “awed” or “intimidated” at the prospect of becoming president in such troubled times. (Trump said he was focused on how he could fix the problems.) At the end of the interview, Pence said: “This man is awed with the American people. He’s not intimidated by the world. And, Donald Trump, this good man, I believe, will be a great President of the United States.”

And finally, the two seemed to be on the same page. “I love what he just said,” Trump said.


Article Link to Fortune:

Was Turkey's Coup Attempt Just An Elaborate Hoax By Erdogan?

The amateurism of the attempted coup on the night of July 15 raises questions.


By Cengiz Çandar
Al-Monitor
July 18, 2016

While the Turkish coup was underway, The New York Times was asking me whether I was surprised, expecting my answer to be, “Of course I am.”

I bluntly wanted to respond “No” and remind New York Times correspondent Sabrina Tavernise that only two weeks ago, in our lengthy chat in Istanbul, I had told her of the “Faustian bargain President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan made with the military, which therefore, in my opinion, opened the way for a coup or a coup attempt to take place in Turkey within the upcoming two years.”

But I conceded and told her, “Yes, I’m surprised. I did not expect that to happen in two weeks.”

More surprising for me is the amateurishness of the attempted coup on the night of July 15. As a veteran observer of military coups and coup attempts in Turkey, I have never seen any with this magnitude of such inexplicable sloppiness.

The first coup occurred on May 27, 1960; the most ferocious one was on Sept. 12, 1980. Another military intervention occurred March 12, 1971 — I was one of its victims — and came to be known as the “postmodern coup.” I was given the reputation of coining this name thanks to a title I had used in one of my articles about the two aborted coup attempts in February 1962 and May 1963 that led to exchanges of fire in my neighborhood in Ankara, as our house was overlooking the premises of the War Academy, whose cadets had taken part in the failed attempts. Neither one of those occasions seemed so unprofessionally executed and really bizarre as this one.

Everyone observing the last attempt could not help but ask, “What is this? Who is behind this? What are they doing? Why?”

In no previous military coup or coup attempt in Turkey’s history has parliament been bombed by military helicopters and fighter jets.

Why did the coup attempt begin with blocking one side of Istanbul's Bosporus Bridge? Why was the passage from the Asian side to Europe blocked while the passage from Europe to Asia was allowed to flow?

Why did the putschists — knowing that Erdogan was neither in Ankara nor Istanbul but instead spending his vacation in the Mediterranean seaside town of Marmaris — not move to detain him? They let him travel from Marmaris to the nearby Dalaman airport and then fly to Istanbul on a flight that took over an hour.

Why did the putschists not seize the main TV news channels and instead waste precious time taking over the least-watched state TV channel, TRT, allowing their targets to regroup and use more popular channels and social media effectively to challenge the coup attempt?

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim spoke first on the NTV channel, alleging that it was not a coup but a rebellion perpetrated by a small faction in the military. Erdogan then spoke through CNN-Turk via FaceTime and called on his supporters to take to the streets.

Seemingly a headless and disoriented coup attempt crumbled after a few hours, leaving 265 dead, some 1,440 wounded and at least 2,839 military personnel in custody.

The failed attempt left more questions behind rather than plausible answers as to who perpetrated it and why it was executed so sloppily and poorly.

Although the coup attempt foundered, the damages inflicted are grave. First, the reputation of Turkey as the bastion of stability in a volatile region where military takeovers are a relic of the past is over. The country’s image is tarnished, and nobody can assure impossibility of a coup or a coup attempt in the future.

Erdogan and Yildirim unhesitatingly pointed to Fethullah Gulen, a cleric and former ally who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania for the last 18 years. The Turkish leaders implied that they would seek his extradition from Washington.

I read a tweet from AFP's White House correspondent Andrew Beatty that Kerry offered US help in investigating the coup and urged Erdogan to present evidence against Gulen.

It is a challenging task indeed. It is not very convincing that key positions in the military of Turkey — a NATO force second only to the United States in terms of its numbers and believed to be a formidable institution — are controlled by an Islamic faction.

Over 40 generals are among some 3,000 putschists arrested. One of them is a four-star general who commands the second army responsible for the regions next to Syria and Iraq. Dozens of brigadiers and major generals commanding mainly combat troops of land forces, gendarmerie units fighting Kurdish insurgents, and combat units of the navy and air force can hardly be classified as Gulenists. Another four-star general — a commander of the third army — was also arrested yesterday. The first army commander, who is in charge of defending Istanbul and had declared his allegiance to the government on the night of the coup, asked Erdogan to come to Istanbul where his safety would be assured, thereby playing a decisive role in the collapse of the attempt.

Twenty-four hours had not passed after the collapse of the coup attempt when 140 judges — judges of the Court of Appeals and 48 judges of the Council of State, two of the highest judiciary institutions — were taken into custody. Summarily purged from the judiciary apparatus were another 2,475 judges. A member of the Constitutional Court, the highest institution of the judiciary, was arrested and charged with association with the putschists.

The swiftness and scope of the action of the executive branch was remarkable. It gave the impression that Erdogan and the government were prepared for a coup attempt and had ample intelligence as to who in the state system would be associated with it.

Looking at the 2,839 military personnel under arrest, including scores of generals who commanded the combat units of a NATO army, it is quite bizarre that no security bureaucracy from the military intelligence to the National Intelligence Organization, the General Directorate of Security and Special Forces Command had a clue that a coup was being hatched at such a magnitude.

Such matters awaiting convincing answers naturally aroused conspiracy theories. A particular interesting one is this: The way you launch a coup is pretty straightforward. First you grab the leader, then the media outlets, then you exhibit the humiliated leader in the media. Instead, these people decided to throw the coup while Erdogan was on vacation and apparently didn’t even attempt to secure him. By the time the coup began, he was already taken to a secret location. Then the whole thing went straight to hell very quickly. The coup told people to go home, while Erdogan told his people to go to the streets. So the coup supporters were at home, while the Erdogan supporters were out on the streets. The coup also reportedly fired on civilians, which is also something you definitely do not want to do. That makes even people who were inclined to support it turn against it. In short, the whole thing could not have been better arranged for Erdogan himself, who now looks like a hero of the people.

As such, it seems to me the most likely possibility is that Erdogan — presumably with the blessing of Western forces — worked with some of his own people in the military to arrange a coup hoax.

It sounds outrageous to everybody who is in a mood to celebrate the victory of democracy over a military coup, the victory of the people over a “handful of traitors,” to suggest that the attempted Turkish coup actually was an arranged coup hoax.

As long as more questions than convincing answers remain and until the dust clears, an abundance of such conspiracy theories should not be surprising.


In Coup’s Aftermath, New Rifts Between U.S. And Turkey

Obama was quick to endorse Erdogan’s return to power, but the Turkish leader holds Washington partially responsible for the coup anyway.


Foreign Policy
July 18, 2016

The Obama administration has spent years feuding with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but the White House quickly condemned this weekend’s coup attempt and made clear that it believed Erdogan — whatever his faults — was the legitimate leader of his country and needed to be returned to power as quickly as possible.

That may not be enough to prevent the failed coup from emerging as the latest strain in Washington’s chilly relationship with one of its closest regional allies.

The United States has long wanted Erdogan to do more to fight the Islamic State and moderate his increasingly authoritarian tendencies, but the coup attempt seems likely to push Erdogan in the opposite direction. Turkish officials, for their part, have blamed the coup on Fethullah Gulen, a 75-year-old cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania, and hinted that Washington was somehow complicit in the attempted putsch, charges the White House has angrily denied.

“The most damaging aspect of the last few days has been the aggressive rhetoric from Turkey directed at the U.S.,” said Nicholas Heras of the Center for a New American Security, who has carried out extensive field research in Turkey. “Erdogan clearly takes Gulen’s presence in the United States personally and can’t understand why a man he sees as a terrorist can live freely here.”

The growing tensions have been on full display in the immediate aftermath of the military effort to oust Erdogan, which left more than 290 dead and Turkey — a NATO member with aspirations of one day joining the European Union — reeling.

On Saturday, Turkey shut down all U.S. and NATO operations at the Incirlik Air Base, home to at least 1,500 American personnel and a vital hub in the U.S.-led air war against the Islamic State. It also cut electricity to the base, leaving U.S. forces using what the Defense Department described as “internal power sources.”

Turkish officials justified the closure by saying that coup plotters were operating out of the Incirlik base and had used airborne tankers at the facility to refuel F-16 fighter jets piloted by coup supporters. The base commander, Gen. Bekir Ercan Van, was arrested Sunday along with other officers at Incirlik, though Turkey also reopened its airspace to U.S. warplanes.

Just as alarming to the administration, a high-ranking member of the Erdogan government accused Washington of directly helping to foment the putsch, with Turkish Labor Minister Suleyman Soylu bluntly saying that “the U.S. is behind this coup attempt.” Erdogan and his aides have linked the violence to Gulen and indirectly hinted that Washington bore some responsibility because the cleric lives in the United States.

The allegations prompted a sharp rebuke from Secretary of State John Kerry. According to the State Department, the top U.S. diplomat used a conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu Saturday to reiterate “U.S. support for the democratically elected government in Turkey,” but to also stress “that public insinuations or claims about any role by the United States in the failed coup attempt are utterly false and harmful to our bilateral relations.”

Kerry also pointedly “urged restraint by the Turkish government and respect for due process — and its international obligations — as it investigates and uncovers additional information about those involved.”

That plea is likely to fall on deaf ears with Erdogan, whose government has already launched a broad crackdown on alleged coup plotters. As many as 6,000 people — including nearly 3,000 military officers and troops — have already been detained. Turkish officials say they are continuing to look for other potential plotters and issued an arrest warrant Sunday for Erdogan’s top military aide, Col. Ali Yazici. The Turkish leader says those involved in the coup will “pay a heavy price for their treason.”

The sharp exchanges in the aftermath of the coup come on top of the long-standing U.S. criticism of Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies, which include opening roughly 2,000 legal cases against political opponents, journalists, comedians, and ordinary Turks accused of insulting the president.

Top Obama administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, have also said Erdogan needs to step up his efforts to seal Turkey’s southern border with Syria to prevent foreign fighters from passing through to link up with the Islamic State. Earlier this year, for example, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he would “like Turkey to do more” to fight the Islamic State.

Ankara, for its part, has bristled at American support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which has emerged as one of Washington’s most effective battlefield allies in the ground fight against the Islamic State. Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a militant group that has killed hundreds of Turkish civilians and security personnel as it battles to create a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey. Turkey, the United States, and the EU all view the PKK as a terrorist group, and Kurds have been blamed for a string of recent bloody bombings inside Turkey.

Heras of CNAS said Ankara knows Washington needs its help fighting the Islamic State but may warn that it will reduce its involvement unless the United States extradites Gulen to Turkey. “Erdogan will use Gulen as a chit,” he said.

Harsh rhetoric aside, it’s not clear how far Turkey is willing to go to try to force Washington to return the cleric. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Sunday that the United States has yet to receive a formal extradition request from Turkey, and Kerry and other administration officials say Ankara would first need to show clear and convincing evidence of Gulen’s direct involvement in the failed coup, a bar Turkey might not be able to clear.

Even if the Gulen controversy is defused, however, Washington will almost certainly have to sit back and watch as Erdogan ignores its pleas for restraint and uses the failed coup to further consolidate power and crack down on his real and perceived enemies.

David Weil, a doctoral student at Princeton currently in Turkey on a research fellowship, said those he saw celebrating the putsch’s failure didn’t seem to acknowledge in any way “that it was the increasing authoritarianism and incompetence of the ruling government” that led to the attempt to remove Erdogan from power.

Erdogan, Weil added, is already trying to use the failed coup to “inflame his supporters, frame opposition to him as a conspiracy against the nation, and continue the process of rooting out any and all obstacles to his personalized control over all aspects of Turkish politics.”

Kerry, in other words, can continue calling for the Turkish leader to act proportionately and adhere to the rule of law. An emboldened Erdogan may just choose not to listen.


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