Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Way Trump Talks

Clinton’s ‘reliable’ political language may lose to the ‘intemperance’ of Trumpian rhetoric.

By Daniel Henninger 
The Wall Street Journal
September 8, 2016

Until recently, American politics was as flat as a backyard swimming pool. This year, the politicians gathered for their quadrennial family cookout, known as the presidential primaries. Suddenly, everyone saw some big old blond guy in red trunks bouncing on the diving board. Uh-oh. Then the big guy launched himself, butt first, into the middle of the pool. Everyone, and I mean everyone, got soaked.

Uncle Don, the uninvited guest at the 2016 election, has upended almost everything we knew about presidential campaigns. Not least is the way Donald Trump talks.

“I would build a great wall. And nobody builds walls better than me, believe me. And I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall.”

“Get ’em out of here. That’s right. Get ’em out of here.”

Nobody in politics talks like that. It violates what we now call “the political discourse.”

For years, politicians have been oh-so careful with their words. In part, this is the language of constituencies and coalition-building, the constant calibrating of support.

But it is also because in our time the media has made politicians pay a price for saying anything that risks harming this or that collection of political sensibilities. When Hillary Clinton said, “I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation,” the press said she had disrespected Native Americans.

It’s ridiculous, but real. No straighter jacket exists in politics today than language. Marco Rubio, an articulate and often forceful speaker, is careful not to push too far beyond the spin zone.

There is also the fact-checking mania. PolitiFact got a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for its microscopic fact-checks . . . and the politicians went to ground. Scrupulous exactitude in politics may be a good thing, but it’s also dull.

A century or more ago, “intemperate” wasn’t in the political vocabulary. Compared with Teddy Roosevelt, Donald Trump is Little Bo-Peep. The historian William Leuchtenburg writes that Roosevelt once attacked the Colombians as this “pithecoid community” of “Dagos” and “homicidal corruptionists.”

Possibly we are better off without TR’s red-faced eruptions. The problem today is that fear of offending or losing votes has so blanded out the political class that many of these politicians and the American electorate are no longer speaking the same language.

Into this void flopped a couple of rhetorical throwbacks—Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Though both lacked eloquence, people everywhere responded to their blunt language, to the point of being oblivious to its content. It was the way they talked that connected with voters. Messrs. Trump and Sanders liberated their audiences from normal politics, because normal politics had become suspect.

Some argued that Mr. Trump merely tapped into latent anger at political correctness. But Bernie embodied PC. Something else in the culture elevated this new political language.

It isn’t exactly truth-telling, because so much of what these two said remained obscure. Liberal critics pointed out that Bernie’s spending was essentially limitless. The Trump wall, like Jack’s beanstalk, kept getting bigger. It didn’t matter. It seemed—or sounded—so real.

Many people today think food isn’t real unless the label tells them it is organic or artisanal. TV commercials announce, “Not actors, real people.” Politics has no immunity from these new interpretations of what’s real. Just the feeling of authenticity for many has become more powerful than understanding the grubby realities of political limits.

Many voters don’t want to hear established politicians talking about the political process, as Mrs. Clinton is doing now, endlessly. What they want is a fighter, a valiant gesture. The Trump and Sanders detractors thought they were hearing a fascist or a socialist wingnut. Their supporters were hearing Sir Galahad, a knight to the rescue.

The political language of a Trump or Sanders also became a kind of shared code of entry. Only individuals able to speak the new language among themselves could “get it.” The discussions of illegal immigration and income inequality go on inside a kind of impenetrable regional dialect, like the way Donald Trump says China—“Chiiii-nuh!”

Hillary Clinton is the antithesis of the current need. Every word she speaks, because it is so carefully planned, rings instantly false. Even the true ones.

Still, the now-evident limitation of this new emotive political language is that none of its speakers or hearers knows what to do next. What comes after the words remains an unchartered frontier.

Bernie Sanders fell short. The current Trump campaign looks like a game of Twister, covering the blank spots. Even the Clinton camp is wrestling with two words—honest and trustworthy.

In the suddenly tightening presidential race, we are seeing, or hearing, the careful and “reliable” political language of Hillary Clinton in competition with the intemperance of Trumpian rhetoric. One sounds real, the other just doesn’t. The new way of talking in American politics may turn out to be enough to win.

Article Link To The Wall Street Journal:

George Will: In A ‘Change’ Year, Rob Portman Deserves Reelection

The Ohio senator has experience governing at a time when that’s not exactly popular.

By George Will 
The National Review
September 8, 2016

Senator Rob Portman probably will win a second term, despite the fact that he deserves to. The swarm of young people who gathered on a Saturday morning in this Cincinnati suburb to feast on doughnuts and his gratitude are among the 5,000 volunteer interns, including students from 35 campuses, who have made 3.5 million voter contacts. Portman’s supporters are a forgiving sort, undeterred by his many accomplishments and qualifications that could be disqualifying in this season of populist antagonism toward people who have actually governed.

A graduate of Dartmouth and the University of Michigan Law School, Portman was one of President George H. W. Bush’s counselors. After six terms in Congress, Portman became President George W. Bush’s trade representative and, a year later, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

It gets worse: This year’s Republican presidential nominating electorate decided that the lungs are the locus of wisdom, but Portman is as quiet as his 19th-century Quaker abolitionist ancestors probably were when assisting the Underground Railroad. (In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Eliza escapes over the Ohio River ice floes about 50 miles east of here.)

Given today’s apotheosis of the outsider, Portman is fortunate to be running against a former congressman and governor, Ted Strickland, a political lifer who first ran for Congress (unsuccessfully) 40 years ago. He is an ordained Methodist minister from the gun-toting coal country of southeastern Ohio. Fortunately for Portman, Strickland, after losing the governorship to John Kasich in 2010, became head of the Washington-based, impeccably liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund. What was he thinking? Probably not about running again in Ohio.

Strickland has revised the Clintonian mantra about making abortions “safe, legal, and rare.” He seems to prefer “safe, legal, and as frequent as subsidies can make them”: He favors repeal of the Hyde amendment, which for 40 years has banned taxpayer funding of abortions. The center supports many gun-control measures unacceptable to the NRA, which supported Strickland in 2010 but has endorsed Portman. The Center for American Progress shares the Obama administration’s animus against coal, so the United Mine Workers (like the Teamsters and the Fraternal Order of Police) have abandoned Strickland.

Tip O’Neill’s incessantly quoted axiom — “All politics is local” — is increasing false in polarized America, where many elections are nationalized. This year, however, it is in Portman’s interest to stress local issues unrelated to anything being bellowed about by the person at the top of the Republican ticket. Sixty-thousand eligible voters say that the biggest issue for them is algae threatening Lake Erie. And the biggest issue might be the epidemic of deaths from heroin and other opioids. Nationally, such deaths — about 27,000 a year — are almost half the drug-overdose deaths that now take more American lives than do car crashes. Opioids are especially devastating in post-industrial communities, of which Ohio has its share. In 2012, Ohio was one of twelve states where the number of opioid prescriptions written was larger than the number of people. Ohioans who are pleased that Portman authored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act must forgive him for having done so in Washington.

In Portman’s 15-minute parking-lot pitter-patter to his supporters here, he did not mention the choleric man at the top of the ticket. Portman’s strategic reticence does not extend to the matter of trade: He has made the obligatory vow to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Strickland’s one-track-mind campaign focuses on international trade as the root of most of Ohio’s evils. Never mind that Honda is Ohio’s biggest auto employer and that Portman says one-third of the state’s farm acres are growing crops for export.

Six presidents were elected from this state (William Henry Harrison, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, William McKinley, William Taft, Warren Harding), a seventh (U.S. Grant) was born here, and there could have been an eighth — Robert Taft (1889–1953). A president’s son, he was “Mr. Republican” during his 14 years representing Ohio in the Senate seat that Portman now occupies. Then as now, Ohio had many blue-collar industrial workers, and Taft’s critics said he could not represent them. So, in 1947 a reporter asked Taft’s wife, “Do you think of your husband as a common man?” Aghast, she replied:

“Oh, no, no! The senator is very uncommon. He was first in his class at Yale and first in his class at the Harvard Law School. We wouldn’t permit Ohio to be represented in the Senate by just a common man.”

In 1950, Taft was easily reelected. Portman probably will be, too, even though he should be.

Article Link To The National Review:

European Stocks Open Lower Ahead Of ECB Meeting

By Arjun Kharpal and Holly Ellyatt
September 8, 2016

European stocks opened slightly lower on Thursday as markets look ahead to the latest monetary policy meeting of the European Central Bank (ECB).

The pan-European STOXX 600 was down around 0.11 percent.

The ECB is expected to extend its trillion-euro bond-buying program beyond March 2017 and announce plans to expand the universe of eligible bonds as part of its efforts to kick-start the euro zone's economy. The ECB announces its policy decision at 12.45p.m. London time and the bank's President Mario Draghi is due to hold a press conference at 1.30 p.m.

The latest U.S. and China data are also in focus for markets. In Asia, there were declines across most markets on Thursday as investors weighed what the Fed's Beige Book meant for U.S. interest rates.

The Beige Book, a key indicator of the U.S. economic health and closely watched by the Federal Reserve, showed moderate wage growth in coming months.

Despite the labor market nearing full employment, broad-based wage pressures have so far been slow to pick up. But if wages start to rise, that would push up inflation in the months ahead and likely spur the Fed into action.

Meanwhile China released stronger-than-expected trade data in August, as yuan-denominated exports rose 5.9 percent in August from a year earlier, while yuan-denominated imports rose 10.8 percent.

All eyes are on Apple shares after the tech giant launched the iPhone 7, wireless headphones and a new watch on Wednesday in a bid to turnaround the company's first drop in sales.

In other news, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump traded jabs in their first joint appearance as Presidential candidates, with each arguing what it takes to be Commander-in-Chief.

Article Link To CNBC:

Brexit In America

By Thomas Del Beccaro 
September 8, 2016

The U.K.’s Brexit vote caught many by surprise. The rising societal tensions, brought on by years of a stagnating economy, that led to that vote, however, should not have surprised anyone – nor should the American parallels be lost on anyone.

The United Kingdom started over 300 years ago. At one time, the sun didn’t set on its kingdom. It boasted the world’s largest economy and its most powerful military. While the U.K. is still around, that stature is no more.

The European Union, by contrast, was founded in 1993 – a period considerably shorter that the lifespan of the U.K. The European Union is a bureaucratic overlay on the governments of its members. It produces no separate set of goods and services – it only raises the economic costs on its member nations through increased regulations, taxes and redistribution.

It is also comprised of economically troubled Member nations like Greece, Spain and Italy – and during its tenure, the economic growth rate of the Eurozone as a whole has been under 1%. So it is not just a coincidence that in the last 23 years, with such weak trading partners, the economic growth rate of the U.K. has trended down. In the last nine years, growth in Great Britain has been considerably below two percent.

The problems of the other member countries, however, aren’t the whole story. During that same nine-year period, it is no coincidence that U.K. government spending alone has averaged well over 40% of the Gross Domestic Product – while the costs of regulations has driven up the combined government burden of spending, taxes and regulations over 50%.

With a total government burden of over 50%, meaning that half of the UK is not only working to support itself, it is also working to support the over half of the economy, it cannot be surprising that economic growth has been so weak.

Economic growth that weak does not produce enough jobs. If prolonged enough, history demonstrates that, instead, it produces divisive social competition between social strata, races, immigrants, the young and the old. They compete for what few opportunities a fixed economic pie presents and for the government benefits their politicians offer them instead of economic opportunity.

So, while there are over 65 million living in the UK, there are a record number of over 31 million not working. Stark numbers despite its recent economic recovery brought on, in part, by cutting government spending and other reforms. Not surprisingly, with economic growth rates that low for so long, average weekly earnings are lower than eight years ago and there are complaints that the jobs being produced are not “good jobs.”

With those statistics of a weak economy year after year in mind, now consider the issue of immigration. Despite a lack of jobs, in 2015, the net migration into the United Kingdom was the second highest on record – and England had precious little to say about it.

Under the European Union rules, control over immigration, with respect to those emigrating within the EU Member countries, does not rest with the individual Member countries. They cannot say no to them. As a result, Former Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to cut immigration by two thirds was all promise and no results.

All in all, despite their own struggles to find jobs and stagnant wages, the citizens of the U.K. have had to compete with recent immigrants – many of whom don’t share their cultural values – for jobs, wages and government services. That is a witches brew for politics and it has been simmering for a long time – not just this year. This year it reached a breaking point.

It is also has an all too familiar ring.

Our own GDP growth over the last 8 years has been less than 2%. We too have a record number who are not employed notwithstanding our phony government unemployment rate – by the way, England also doesn’t count as unemployed those that have given up on finding a job. Wage growth in this country has lagged as well and many claim that the jobs being produced are not good jobs.

Finally, we too have a political upheaval over immigration. Many in the United States believe that immigration is out of control – and there are claims that they are taking American jobs. So much so, the Republicans nominated a candidate almost singularly focused on that issue in the primary.

Trump also has taken a nationalist view on trade, decrying current and past free trade agreements. Remember that, historically, economic stagnation and international trade tend to be opposite ends of a see-saw, when one raises the other falls. The same can be said of nationalism and immigration.

It is, of course a false choice whether to be open or closed.

The choice should be how to foster economic prosperity and growth leading to lower social tensions.

Amidst our current divisive social competition, however, the only question remaining is whether the voting in the United States this November somehow will catch the masterminds of our weak economy by surprise as well. We will have our own Brexit vote – it’s just a matter of when.

Article Link To Forbes:

Why America And China Today Are Like Pre–World War I Europe

The international system is gradually moving toward the prewar era's instability.

By Jared McKinney
The National Interest
September 8, 2016

In November 1912, a war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary nearly broke out over a question of small importance: whether Serbia would own an Adriatic port on the coast of Albania. Had Austria intervened to oppose Serbia’s imperialist objective, Russia would have entered the conflict on the side of her Serbian client. France and Britain would have followed Russia for the sake of their Entente; Germany, likewise, would have entered the arena on Austria’s side, eager to protect its only serious ally. World War One would have begun twenty months earlier than it eventually did, over an issue of no concrete interest to any Great Power save Austria-Hungary, whose position in the Balkans was becoming increasingly threatened [3] by Serbia’s expansion.

In order to deter Austrian intervention in Albania—which Serbia and its ally Montenegro were busy conquering—the czar and his minister of war drew up orders for a partial mobilization on November 22, 1912. Had these orders been issued, Germany almost certainly would have responded according to the dictates of the Schlieffen Plan: with war. Russia’s mobilization was not implemented because one courageous Russian leader, Count Kokovtsov, chairman of the Russian Council of Ministers, opposed them when, on November 23, he learned of the plan for their issuance. “A mobilization remained a mobilization, to be countered by our adversaries with actual war,” he warned the czar [4]. Since Russia was not yet prepared for a general war, such a policy was simply foolish.

Why was Russia willing to push Europe to the brink of war over a question of no intrinsic value? Russia was not affected one way or another by a Serbian acquisition (i.e., conquest/colonization) of an Albanian port. But it was not the port’s intrinsic value that mattered to Russia’s policymakers, but the amour propre, the self-love—or more broadly, the prestige, pride and honor—of Russia and her leaders. Count Izvolsky, Russia’s former foreign minister and then ambassador to Paris, put the matter at the time without equivocation: “if Serbia failed to get access to Adriatic owing to opposition of Austria it would mean fresh humiliation of Russia” (Goschen to Grey 7 November 1912 BD 9.2, no. 151 [5]). The question had become a “point of honor.” This meant that the dispute had become zero sum—a Serbian port meant diplomatic victory, no such port meant defeat and humiliation.

In the end, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Sazonov, decided to back down: Russia wasn’t prepared for war, and he—guided as he was by fickle feelings—wasn’t in the mood (in the British Foreign Office, he was called “a sad wobbler”). Serbia didn’t get its Albanian port, and the crisis was averted.

Many worthwhile points could be made about the “November Crisis,” but three should be highlighted.

The first is that it’s quite easy to manufacture an international crisis: all a nation has to do is to make some issue—regardless of its intrinsic worth—a question of prestige or honor; if the opposing power actually has a vital interest in the question (as Austria did in November 1912), or if it merely invests its prestige in the issue, then all the ingredients for a clash have been assembled. In the era before the Great War, such conflicts were called “trials of strength.” Today, game theorists call this sort of conflict a game of chicken: a test of resolve in which both sides risk a clash, in the hope the other backs down. Sometimes, as in November 1912, one driver does swerve; other times, as in July 1914, no one is willing to. But the important point here is that had Russia simply not made the port question one of honor, its prestige would never have been engaged. The allure of power is in its exercise, but its habitual exercise over nonessential questions almost guarantees the sort of situation Europe faced in November 1912. The lesson is that states should not engage their prestige in nonessential questions, just as drivers should not play chicken merely to boost their prestige among their peers or followers.

Psychologically, secondly, the way to justify a trial of strength is to not think seriously of the consequences. Indeed, the day after Count Kokovtsov prevented a Russian mobilization, he was noisily opposed by his fellow ministers of state, who contended [4] that Russia should “firmly defend our present-day interests, having no fear of the specter of war.” This is a perfect example of “temporal discounting”: prestige today felt more important than peace tomorrow to Russia’s ministers. In November 1912, Kokovtsov angrily railed against this psychological crutch, and was able to convince the czar and Sazonov, who eventually decided that swerving was less costly than accelerating. Prestige today is worth far less than the cost of world war tomorrow. The lesson is that even if a state foolishly engages its prestige, it is still more rational for it to back down than to risk a catastrophic conflict.

A system based on trials of strength, finally, is perilously unstable. This is even truer in complex systems divided into alliance blocs, as was prewar Europe. This is what historian Paul Schroeder meant by picturing prewar Europe [6] as “Galloping Gertie,” a reference to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which in 1940 collapsed in an orgy of “aeroelastic flutter.” In the prewar era, traditional Concert of Europe diplomacy was being replaced by prestige contests in which someone had to back down, the Great Powers were increasingly unwilling to respect each other’s vital interests, and the leaders of Europe were more concerned with the strength of their alliance blocs than with the peace of Europe. War was avoided in November 1912, but the very nature of Great-Power politics led to new crises in the spring of 1913 (over Scutari) and October 1913 (over Albania’s northern borders). These, too, were eventually resolved, but by the time July 1914 rolled around, Europe, like Galloping Gertie, was fluttering, and a sharp burst of wind—the assassination of Franz Ferdinand—was able to bring the whole system down with a crash. The lesson is that systems based on trials of strength and alliance solidarity are unlikely to last, a fact unaltered by the resolution of a few crises.

Happily, this is the twenty-first century, and constructed crises, prestige and alliance blocs don’t define the contemporary international system. Right?

Wrong. Prestige today typically goes by the moniker “honor” or “credibility,” and it is certainly still extant [7]. As for alliances, since the end of the Cold War they have never been so in vogue. Here at the National Interest, a veritable [8] campaign [9] has [10] been [11] waged [12] by [13] advocates [14] of [15] a[16] newly [17] empowered [18] “get tough on China” school. The school’s argument is simple. The United States should internally balance against China by rebalancing its assets to East Asia, by increasing military investments and by openly planning for war with China. The United States should externally balance against China by forming anti-China blocs—the Quad [19] is a common such suggestion—and strengthening current allies like Japan and the Philippines. The United States, furthermore, should be more willing to intervene—to invest its prestige—in East Asian disputes: old questions like Taiwan, yes, but particularly the new questions of the Senkaku Islands and the South China Sea.

These latter two are indeed new questions. It was not until 1996 [20] that the United States publicly indicated that the Senkakus fell within the U.S.-Japan Treaty, and it was not until 2010 that a U.S. Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) ever verified the claim [21]. As for the South China Sea, in 1974 and in 1988, China fought actual battles with Vietnam over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, in which hundreds died, but indifference was America’s only response. In 2010, Secretary Clinton (again) shifted U.S. policy by inserting the nation [22] into the region’s territorial disputes as a prelude to her pivot strategy.

Today, the Washington Consensus is that the United States should lead Asia by creating blocs like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that exclude China, by “shaming [23]” China when it acts against the contemporary wishes of Washington (but, incidentally, as America historically has acted [24]), and by investing American prestige in East Asia’s conflicts.

The latent danger of this sort of international system is that a crisis will develop—say, over Scarborough Shoal, over which the United States has apparently [25] laid down a “red line”—that will pit American prestige and “alliance credibility” against China’s perceived vital interests and supposed “historic rights” in its adjoining seas. A courageous leader would back down rather than fight a war over such an insignificant dispute. This is what the Russian czar did in November 1912, and what President Obama did in (and after) August 2013. But the trouble is that even if the first such crisis is resolved peacefully, afterwards the supposed “humiliation” of backing down becomes a rallying cry for stronger future resolve. This happened to Russia after the Annexation Crisis of 1908–09 and, indeed, after Russia backed down over its constructed trials of strength in November 1912, spring 1913 and October 1913. Popular opinion pushes out prudent statesmen, like Count Kokovtsov, who was forced to resign at the end of January 1914. Then, when the next crisis comes along, no driver is willing to swerve. In July 1914, there was no one in St. Petersburg to oppose proposals for mobilization. Russia mobilized at the end of the month, and Germany responded, as Kokovtsov had warned two years earlier, with actual war.

Constructed trials of strength, obsession with prestige (“credibility”), emerging multipolarity and strengthened alliance blocs today are gradually moving the international system towards the instability of the pre–World War I era. The creation of new flashpoints in the East and South China Seas is the first stage in this process; this has already happened. Strengthened anti-China groupings (both military and economic) are the second stage; this is currently under way. An intensified arms race [26] with China and simultaneous constructed crises, typically over “alliance credibility,” are the third stage. Cumulative radicalization, following the peaceful resolution of a few crises, is the fourth stage [27]. It’s here that the system becomes “Galloping Gertie” and statesmen insist on “firmly” defending “present-day interests, having no fear of the specter of war.” The conflict of 1914 was the “seminal catastrophe” of the twentieth century. There is no reason to suppose the Sino-American conflict of a decade hence would not be the seminal catastrophe of the twenty-first.

Article Link To The National Interest:

The Taliban’s Mean-As-Hell New Warlord

Mullah Sheerin Akhond is taking the war to Kabul, and with a vengeance.

By Sami Yousafzai
The Daily Beast
September 8, 2016

The Taliban commander believed responsible for at least two ferocious attacks in Kabul over the last few weeks knows the Afghan capital very well. Five years ago, Mullah Sheerin Akhond, as he is called, spent long months walking the streets incognito, and as he learned the lay of the land, he also honed his hatred for the people there.

“He is a very nasty character,” one knowledgeable Afghan Taliban source tells The Daily Beast. “His Islamic scholarship is nil, but he has a harsh, fanatical attitude about anyone who lives in areas controlled by the Afghan government. In his view, it is permissible to kill anyone who lives in Kabul because they are supporting the Afghan government.”

And members of that government agree: Mullah Sheerin is a very nasty character indeed. “At the moment, when it comes to atrocities targeting civilians, he is the most cruel and inhuman of the Taliban,” says a senior aide to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who asked not to be named because he doesn’t have permission to speak on the record.

There had been hope that when the Pakistani military turned on the old Haqqani Network, pushing it out of the havens it had enjoyed for 40 years in North Waziristan, attacks in nearby Kabul would diminish. But Mullah Sheerin quickly stepped in—and with a vengeance. “Haqqani would use kilograms of explosives,” as one Western diplomat put it, “but Mullah Sheerin uses tons.”

The recent attacks bear that out, although they hardly appear to have been random and they are not always claimed. On August 25, gunmen attacked the American University of Afghanistan, leaving more than a dozen people dead, and dozens more wounded.

Then, on Monday of this week a massive car bomb blew up on a bustling street near the Ministry of Defense. As rescue workers arrived at the scene, another huge suicide bomb detonated. At least 24 people reportedly were killed, some of them senior security officials, and more than 90 were wounded. Gunmen followed up the attack, barricading themselves inside a building and skirmishing with authorities throughout the night.

To make matters worse, there appears to be competition between the Taliban and the partisans of the so-called Islamic State to see who can inflict the worst carnage. In July, ISIS targeted a street demonstration and slaughtered more than 80 people.

One Taliban officials says privately that he’s very uncomfortable with Mullah Sheerin and his tactics, which are likely to inspire hatred not support. “Some Taliban do not like him,” says this official, “but he is too strong to be disputed.”

Mullah Sheerin Akhond, at age 45, is now head of the Taliban military council for northeast Afghanistan and Kabul, and some diplomats say they believe he is also the head of the Taliban intelligence committee. His core strategy appears to be to undermine confidence in the government’s ability to protect the people, and with some success.

He is no stranger to the Western and Afghan intelligence services that have been watching him for years.

Although Mullah Sheerin kept a low profile in the past, he was known to be very close to the late founder and leader of the Taliban, the one-eyed Mullah Omar.

Another Afghan Taliban commander contacted by The Daily Beast, Mullah Salih Khan in Helmand province, tells us, “I knew Mullah Sheerin from day one. He is a very devoted Taliban commander, and has a very sharp mind, with a genius for security,” whether providing it, or thwarting it.

The role he played for Mullah Omar was head of security. “Sheerin used to wake up early in the morning and go to sleep only after Mullah Omar slept,” says Mullah Salih Khan. “He was one of Mullah Omar’s most trusted men.”

According to Mullah Salih, Sheerin “was giving military instructions to top Taliban commanders from Mullah Omar’s office, conveyed as if they were Mullah Omar’s directions. In fact they were Mullah Sheerin’s ideas.”

Afghan intelligence officials believe that, like the Haqqani network before him, Mullah Sheerin has close ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI.

Rahmatullah Nabi, who served until recently with the Afghan intelligence service, NDS, says Mullah Sheerin “is not just behind recent attacks, he was behind several other barbaric attacks in Kabul.” Nabi mentioned the attacks on the night of August 7 when one bomb exploded near a police academy and another near an army base, killing at least 35 people and wounding hundreds mores.

Nabi claims that Mullah Dheerin is “very close to the ISI” and to Seraj U Din Haqqani, also known as Khalifah, or the Caliph. According to Nabi, Mullah Sheerin is living in Peshawar, where even his security guards are provided by the ISI. “Pakistan never took action against him,” Nabi told The Daily Beast.

Pakistani officials, as usual, reject such allegations out of hand.

Article Link To The Daily Beast:

EU Tries To Mend Fences With Turkey Following Attempted Coup

European officials stream to Turkey to overcome tensions that are putting arrangements such as the migration agreement at risk, but serious differences remain.

By Semih Idiz
September 8, 2016

Intense diplomatic efforts are underway to restore relative normalcy to Turkish-EU ties, which entered a tailspin after the attempted coup in Turkey.

Increasingly contrite over the reserved manner with which they initially responded to the coup attempt, EU officials are streaming to Turkey now to make amends. Many in Turkey believe that the antipathy felt for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blinded Europe to what had really transpired on the night of July 15.

“Had the coup succeeded, you would have supported it, like in Egypt. You don't know this nation, but they know you,” Erdogan’s chief adviser Ibrahim Kalin raged in a tweet aimed at Europe after the coup was foiled.

The EU fears that worsening ties with Ankara will undermine the agreement arrived at in March with Turkey to cope with Europe’s refugee crisis. The future of the deal is already in the balance over the issue of granting visa-free travel for Turks traveling to Europe.

Elmar Brok, the head of European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, was the first EU official to visit Ankara in an effort to improve ties. Brok, who is a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, did not hold back from sounding apologetic following his visit at the end of August.

“After my visit, I take a different view on some of the Gulen-related issues. … There has been a misappraisal of the Gulen movement on our side,” Brok said while briefing the European Parliament on his visit.

He was referring to Fethullah Gulen, the Islamic preacher whom Ankara accuses of masterminding the coup attempt and who is currently residing in the United States. The issue remains a thorn in the side of Turkish-US ties.

“From our geostrategic point of view, it’s more important for Turkey to be on our side than in some else’s camp,” Brok said.

Brok’s visit was followed by that of European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who arrived Sept. 1 for talks with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and was also received by Erdogan while in Ankara. Schulz also struck a positive note after his talks.

“I have paid tribute to the courage of Turkish citizens who took to the streets to defend democracy and derailed the plan of the plotters,” he said, adding, “Our ties are strong and must be deepened.”

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Johannes Hahn, commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, are due in Ankara later this week to follow up on last week’s EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, where Turkey was a key agenda item. Omer Celik, Turkey’s EU minister, also traveled to the Slovakian capital to brief the EU on recent developments in Turkey.

Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak joined European politicians who believe the EU could have responded better to the plot to topple Erdogan and the Turkish government. “Instead of showing our solidarity — also by visiting them — we have resorted to public messages, which were rather critical and they found it unfair,” Lajcak said.

He was referring to EU criticism over a massive purge in Turkey against alleged Gulen supporters after the coup was foiled. This left Ankara feeling that the EU was more concerned with measures against coup plotters than it was with the coup.

Mogherini said during a press conference in Bratislava that the time had come for the EU and Turkey to “talk less about each other and more with each other.”

Most Turks at this stage generally accept the worst from Europe, while the majority of Europeans clearly don't want “Islamic Turkey” in the EU. It is also no secret that there is little love for Erdogan in Europe. The antipathy Erdogan and his supporters feel for most things European is also no secret.

While these sentiments linger, European leaders nevertheless seem to believe that Europe’s interests require that Turkey does not drift away from the Western fold. The recent flurry in diplomatic activity also reflects this belief.

Some analysts in the pro-government Turkish media, which is generally anti-Western, are also underlining the importance of maintaining ties with the EU. Hasan Bulent Kahraman from daily Sabah, for example, argued that although there are historic reasons for Turks to suspect Western motives, ties with the West have still opened the door to new possibilities for Turkey.

“It is meaningless to consider [these possibilities] as nonexistent. Neither is there any use or utility to turning our back and implementing an isolationist policy,” Kahraman argued in his column this week.

He also maintained that if the EU was not engaged in double standards, it should admit Turkey as a member as soon as possible, not just for the sake of Turkey’s interests but also for its own interests.

This, however, is no more than a pipe dream today, as prospects for Turkey’s membership remain remote due to crises in Europe and Turkey’s drifting away from the EU’s standards of democracy.

Current diplomatic efforts are merely designed to return to a relative state of normalcy in order to facilitate ongoing undertakings, such as the migrant deal, or joint efforts to combat Islamic terrorism. Serious differences remain that have yet to be ironed out.

The issue of visa-free travel for Turks is one problem that is unlikely to be overcome unless the sides can work on a new approach. Ankara says this is part of the migration agreement, and if the EU does not honor it, Turkey will not honor its side of the agreement.

The EU is demanding that Turkey amend its anti-terrorism law in line with EU standards before the visa privilege can be granted. Under the current law, anyone can be arrested for expressing views considered to be “promoting or supporting terrorism.”

Ankara refuses to bow to the EU’s demand, saying this will weaken its hand against terrorism by the Kurdistan Workers Party, the Islamic State and the Gulenists.

The mass arrests and other legally questionable steps by the government after the coup attempt are also obstacles to normalizing ties with the EU fully. Erdogan’s support for the death penalty for the coup plotters is a potential breaking point. European officials say that if that happens, it will end Turkey’s EU bid altogether.

Celik, however, reportedly assured the EU in Bratislava that this was not currently on the government’s agenda.

Burhanettin Duran of the pro-government Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research said that if the sides cannot find a solution to the visa standoff, a new crisis will break out in Turkish-EU ties soon.

Unlike Kahraman, Duran — who also writes for Sabah — is not perturbed by the prospect of deteriorating ties with the EU. He argues that being pro-Western is a cultural deformation specific to the Turkish elite. He says this elite lost much prestige in recent years for various reasons, including Germany’s and France’s opposition to Turkey’s EU membership on cultural grounds.

“If the idea of EU membership got extensive support [in Turkey] this was based on an economic rationale. A ‘change in civilization’ or being part of ‘Western civilization’… was a concern of the elite, not the people,” Duran argued.

Developments nevertheless show that as far as governments are concerned, the pretense of working for eventual EU membership for Turkey has to be maintained by both sides for the sake of vital interests that require close cooperation between Turkey and Europe.

Article Link To Al-Monitor:

EU Tries To Mend Fences With Turkey Following Attempted Coup

If The Palestinian President Was A KGB Agent...

By Benny Avni
The New York Post
September 8, 2016

Attention, would-be Mideast peacemakers: There’s compelling evidence the man you’ve been heavily betting on for years, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is a former KGB spy.

If so, dealing with him may continue to be necessary, but don’t be surprised when Western interests don’t appear to top Abbas’ list of priorities.

Wednesday night’s bombshell report on Israel’s Channel 1 news is reverberating across the region. Foreign-desk editor Oren Nahari broke the story: In the early 1990s, while working on a Ph.D. thesis in Moscow, Abbas, known colloquially as Abu Mazen, was recruited by the Soviet spy agency, and became a USSR asset in Damascus.

(Palestinian officials angrily denied the report.)

Here are some of the details that make this story so compelling: The Channel 1 report is based on a new study by two research fellows at Hebrew University’s Truman Institute, Isabela Ginor and Gideon Remez. (Ginor, a Russian native, and Remez, a veteran Israeli journalist, are married.)

They obtained documents from a collection kept by former KGB chief archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, who defected to the West in 1992 and lived in London. Mitrokhin kept mementos from his spook days, and part of his collection was recently opened up, allowing researchers to study it.

That’s where the Israeli couple found files that mentioned Abbas, code-name “Krotov” (“mole”).

“They could have called him ‘friend,’ or ‘our man,’ or whatever, but in the documents he’s referred to as an agent,” Remez says. Specifically, Abbas was described in a 1983 document as a KGB agent in Damascus. (It isn’t clear if the spy agency used Abbas’ services after that date.)

Moscow is where Abbas wrote his infamous Ph.D. thesis that included some choice Holocaust denial. But the researchers say these new revelations don’t change the facts on the ground. Abbas can’t be ignored just because we now know his anti-Western bona fides were more robust than previously thought.

But Remez conditions that with a warning.

“Look, Abbas now heads the Palestinian Authority, and as such he’s the man to talk to,” Remez told me. Yet, he added, “the Americans should know that the Kremlin may well still have stuff on him, and Washington must take that into account.”

Especially now, as President Vladimir Putin is trying to arrange an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Moscow, perhaps in the next few weeks.

If successful, even as a photo-op, such a powwow could help Putin add yet another Mideast corner to his collection of spots once dominated — or at least mostly influenced — by America.

It’s a bit of a Cold War game Putin is playing with Syria, and now we know he has a Palestinian ally who played that game for the Soviets.

Remez told me he doesn’t know whether Putin, the ex-KGB man, knew of the recruitment of the future Palestinian leader in the early 1980s. But Abbas’ direct KGB handler at the time was Nikolai Bogdanov, and that’s just as crucial.

After all, Bogdanov, a top Mideast hand at the Kremlin, is now one of Putin’s closest aides, serving as special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He is the main player in orchestrating the Moscow peace parlay. “As we speak, Bogdanov is working with the Israelis and Palestinians,” trying to coax them to come to Moscow, Remez says.

So Abbas is an old, ahem, acquaintance. But Israelis should also worry about how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu increasingly consults with Putin, Remez says: “It’s a mistake to see the Russians as our allies.”

But let’s remember: The main reason Putin’s influence is growing is that for nearly a decade America has decided to watch from the sidelines one of the most transformative periods in the modern history of the Mideast. The vacuum America has left has driven some of our closest allies and friends to the arms of the former spymaster.

And now, in addition to that loss of influence, we’re placing a diplomatic bet on a leader who has been exposed as a former Kremlin agent.

The aging Abbas, often described as the last great hope for Palestinian-Israeli peace, has in fact never been willing or able to make the necessary compromise to bring about peace or security for his people.

Instead, he’ll be remembered as the man who has kept false hopes alive.

And who has spent decades knowing he can’t stray too far from Moscow rules.

Article Link To The New York Post:

Can Congress Stop Obama From Making Payments To Iran?

Congress wants to rein in the White House's legal settlements slush fund. It's a little late for that.

September 8, 2016

To hear Republicans in Congress tell it, President Barack Obama trampled all over precedent and the Constitution with his $1.7 billion cash payout to Iran.

The State Department first announced the payment in January. It has gained renewed attention, however, in the wake of Wall Street Journal reports linking the payout to the release of four Americans detained in Iran.

On their first day back from summer recess Sept. 6, Republicans in both the House and Senate introduced legislation to censure the president over what they call "ransom" payments and block any future ones. Congressional leaders have vowed a vote on the measure this month, forcing Democrats to make a painful political choice right before the November presidential election.

"What on earth was the White House thinking?" House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said in a statement announcing his bill. "Sending the world’s leading state sponsor of terror pallets of untraceable cash isn’t just terrible policy. It’s incredibly reckless, and it only puts bigger targets on the backs of Americans."

For all the heated rhetoric, the partisan legislation is unlikely to clear the Senate, where Republicans are six members short of the 60 votes needed to get anything done. And even if it did, Obama would surely veto it.

Election-year politics aside, the Iran payments debate does have the virtue of shining a bright spotlight on just how much Congress has abdicated its oversight powers in recent decades. Republicans are now making a play to reassert some of that authority, but both the timing and the tenure of their efforts militate against their success in the context of the Iran nuclear deal.

"We've got our priorities all messed up," Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., said at a hearing Sept. 7 concerning potential reforms to the fund where most of the payments to Iran were drawn from. "We ought to be dealing with voting rights and due process … instead of trying to pick a partisan fight with the administration over bringing some people home from Iran and giving [the Iranians] back the money they gave us in the 1970s to buy weapons they never got."

The debate centers around the use of the so-called Judgment Fund, an open-ended 1950s-era mechanism that allows for claims against the United States to be paid out without having to debate each one before Congress. The Obama administration drew $1.3 billion from the fund to pay the interest owed to Iran for an undelivered arms package dating back almost four decades (the $400 million in principal was paid for through another pot of money).

Republicans and some legal experts have long urged more restrictions on the fund, which they believe has been used by the current and past administrations to circumvent congressional oversight. On Sept. 7, the House Judiciary panel on the Constitution got around to holding a hearing on the issue, which Republicans framed squarely in the context of the Iran deal.

Panel chairman Trent Franks, R-Ariz., called the payments to Iran "stunning" and implied that the Obama administration had somehow acted improperly. The allegation, however, gave Democrats on the panel a chance to ask the three witnesses — two invited by the Republicans, one by the Democrats — if the $1.3 billion payment was in any way a misuse of the Judgment Fund. None thought so.

"Everything that the Obama administration has done is well within not only the letter of the Judgment Fund law, but within the spirit of that law," said Neil Kinkopf, a professor at Georgia State University College of Law.

The hearing also shed light on similar payments to Iran by past presidents, including Republicans.

In his written testimony, Paul Figley, an associate director at American University Washington College of Law, pointed out that George H.W. Bush paid a $278 million settlement to Iran in 1991 for arms that were never delivered. That piece of information is included in a March 17 letter to Royce from Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield.

In that letter, Frifield reminds lawmakers that Iran was America's largest weapons buyer in the 1960s and 1970s. She also details several other payments to Iran since the Islamic Revolution, including $200 million paid under Bush and $7.5 million under President Ronald Reagan, a Republican icon. Reagan's presidency, of course, was rocked by the infamous Iran-Contra operation during which the US sold weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages.

Article Link To Al-Monitor:

Ukraine’s Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace

Kiev thinks it’s ready to face an endless list of enemies. But it can’t.

By Nicolai N. Petro
The National Interest
September 8, 2016

By tradition, the Ukrainian political season begins the week after independence day—August 24. This year’s celebration was especially poignant, as it marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence.

What was the public’s mood on the eve of this silver anniversary? A survey conducted this August by SOCIS, one of Ukraine’s best known sociopolitical research and marketing companies, provides a rather striking answer.

The survey, which was conducted in Odessa, Ukraine’s third-largest city, suggests that over half of Odessans describe their city as “tense,” while nearly ten percent say it is “explosive.” But even more interesting is that Odessans view the situation in Ukraine overall as much worse, with over ninety percent describing it as either “tense” or “explosive”!

Lest readers think that Odessa is an anomaly, I should point out that these results do not differ substantively from surveys conducted in February or June 2016, which show a steady decline in public trust in government since the 2014 Maidan uprising.

How did things get so bad? Part of the fault certainly lies with the IMF’s austerity recommendations, which the vast majority of Ukrainians view as both harmful and pointless. But no downward spiral in public confidence could ever be so complete without the connivance of government officials. To put it bluntly, government policies have seemed, at times, almost intentionally designed to fuel public anger.

A good example is the policy of actively curtailing Russian investment in Ukraine. While this has reduced Russia’s economic influence in the Ukrainian economy, as the government intended, in the absence of commensurate Western investment to replace what was lost, major industries have collapsed, and the country’s standard of living along with them. If the country continues on its present course, Odessa’s reformist governor Mikheil Saakashvili has noted sarcastically, Ukraine will not reach the level of GDP it had under former president Viktor Yanukovych for another fifteen years.

People might even be willing to view this as a necessary sacrifice in times of war, but for the fact that Ukrainian oligarchs often continue to line their own pockets by doing business in Russia. This includes President Petro Poroshenko himself, whose personal wealth increased sevenfold in 2015.

Another source of public frustration is the new quotas for the use of the Ukrainian language. According to the law signed on July 6, the percentage of total content in Ukrainian in radio and television programs must be raised to 60 percent. For some reason, special attention was paid to songs, of which 35 percent must be sung in Ukrainian during peak listening hours within three years. Broadcasters failing to comply will face a fine of 5 percent of their license fee.

Given the sheer size of the Russian-language market, Russian has always been preferred in the Ukrainian entertainment industry. Ukrainian nationalists see this as a problem, but instead of making the use of Ukrainian a more attractive choice by providing financial support for Ukrainian-language entertainment, the government has decided to punish the use of Russian—which, just a few years ago, was the language preferred by 83 percent in a Gallup survey. If the movie industry’s past experience is any guide, the results of this latest initiative will be a decline in domestic sales, a rise in bootlegged entertainment from Russia and no perceptible shift in people’s linguistic choices.

Finally, this summer the government decided to “de-Communize” local place names, often with undisguised contempt for the opinion of the local population. In the cities of Dnepropetrovsk (now Dnipro) and Kirovograd (now Kropyvnytskyi), surveys showed large majorities in those cities rejecting the government’s name choice and, if the name had to be changed, preferring the czarist-era names. The parliament rejected this option out of hand.

The current speaker of parliament, Andriy Parubiy, seemed genuinely outraged that local residents felt they should be consulted on the matter at all. Recounting how his grandmother used to tell him about the “Muscovite occupiers” who had killed millions in eastern Ukraine and then repopulated the region with others, he added: “And now you appeal to us on behalf of the local population? And now you appeal to us based on the opinion of the people who live there?” All eastern and southern Ukrainians were told, in effect, that their voices had no right to be heard in the national parliament, because they were, presumably, the descendants of “Muscovite occupiers.”

Parubiy later described de-Communization as the parliament’s main achievement this session, but in reality nothing has been settled. The parliament’s decision will be challenged in the courts for many years to come. Indeed, the most notable impact of the government’s ham-fisted efforts to reeducate its own citizens has been to relaunch the once discredited Opposition Bloc.

Meanwhile, bad economic news keeps piling up. In September, right around the time that the new session of parliament starts, people will be receiving their electricity bills, at a tariff rate that has just increased by 25 percent. This follows repeated hikes in utilities, which 80 percent of Ukrainians say they already cannot afford.

In Kiev, which is by far the wealthiest city in Ukraine, payment arrears for electricity have risen by 32 percent since the beginning of this year. If the city’s electricity provider, Kievenergo, should one day refuse service for nonpayment, the capital city would quickly shut down.

Then there is the matter of the third tranche of the IMF’s four-year $17 billion bailout program, which has been held up for over a year. The Ukrainian government, however, went ahead and included these funds in this year’s budget anyway. Without them, as much as 15 percent of current budget allocations may have to be sequestered, which would lead to national catastrophe. Even so, in a sign of how utterly frustrated many reformers feel, the once staunchly pro-Maidan Evropeiska Pravda published its first ever editorial on August 15, calling upon Western leaders to deny any further financial support to Ukraine until the government actually starts implementing some real changes.

In sum, the perfect political storm is brewing, and it is hard to see how the current government can get through the fall without new parliamentary elections. But with or without elections, the situation has become so dire that it would not take much to upset the whole political apple cart.

Radical nationalists, along with armed volunteer activists returning from the frontlines, certainly seem to be doing their very best to tip it, recently firebombing Inter, the country’s most popular television channel. Both groups thrive on the current chaos, so their interests overlap in keeping this, and any future government, weak and off balance.

The horrific crimes for which members of “Tornado,” the special police unit for eastern Ukraine established by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, are now under indictment are thus not an anomaly, but a logical consequence of the resort to violence rather than dialogue in dealing with popular discontent in eastern Ukraine. As Avakov so disingenuously noted back in June 2014, at the outset of the military campaign in the east, an added benefit of war is that it can have a “cleansing” effect on the nation.

This explains why the Party of War in Ukraine—a group that includes such high profile personalities as the minister of the interior, the speaker of parliament, the head of the National Security and Defense Council and the former prime minister—has shown so little qualm about eastern Ukraine being liberated militarily. Some even insist that the struggle must some day be carried into southern Russia—to liberate the “authentic Ukrainian regions” of Voronezh, Kursk and Krasnodar.

What incumbent politician would espouse such lunacy? For one, the current head of military-civilian administration for Donbass, Pavel Zhebrivsky. He was appointed a year ago by President Poroshenko to govern this war-torn land and to win back the hearts and minds of the local population.

He began doing so by calling for the expansion of martial law, after coming to the conclusion that the number of civil servants loyal to the Ukrainian state in Donetsk had shrunk to “an insignificant number.” Yet, for some reason, his efforts do not seem to be having much success. Earlier this year, obviously frustrated with the locals, he told reporters that even after the liberation of Donbass, and regardless of elections, Ukraine will need to “impose . . . a normal democratic agenda on those people” by having a garrison of Ukrainian troops stationed in each of its major cities.

Like other members of the Party of War, Zhebrivsky is an outspoken opponent of the Minsk peace accords. Instead of trying to put an end to the current conflict, he tells Ukrainians they should embrace “an open, serious war between Russia and Ukraine.” Despite nearly ten thousand Ukrainian casualties, and millions of refugees forced from their homes, the Party of War is quite willing to expand the present conflict, because this war is vital to achieving its ultimate political objective—gaining the unimpeded right to define who is and who is not part of the Ukrainian ethnos.

To this end, Ukrainians must embrace the struggle against “the aggressor nation,” which supports (and is supported by) the internal enemy. At the same time they must embrace the struggle against the “internal enemy,” whose very existence encourages “the aggressor nation,” which must in turn be destroyed because it supports the “internal enemy,” and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

The struggle for the right to define Ukrainian identity has thus becomes, to use American historian Charles A. Beard’s memorable phrase, a “perpetual war, for perpetual peace,” a peace that can only come when all the enemies of Ukraine, at home and abroad, are fully vanquished.

Thus, for the Party of War, which now dominates Ukrainian political discourse, the struggle for Ukrainian independence has really only just begun.

Is it any wonder that many ordinary Ukrainians view the situation as tense or explosive?

Article Link To The National Interest:

Ukraine’s Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace

The Kremlin Really Believes That Hillary Wants To Start A War With Russia

An American embedded within Moscow’s top foreign-policy brain trust explains why Putin and his cadres are backing Trump.

Foreign Policy
September 8, 2016

If Hillary Clinton is elected president, the world will remember Aug. 25 as the day she began the Second Cold War.

In a speech last month nominally about Donald Trump, Clinton called Russian President Vladimir Putin the godfather of right-wing, extreme nationalism. To Kremlin-watchers, those were not random epithets. Two years earlier, in the most famous address of his career, Putin accused the West of backing an armed seizure of power in Ukraine by “extremists, nationalists, and right-wingers.” Clinton had not merely insulted Russia’s president: She had done so in his own words.

Worse, they were words originally directed at neo-Nazis. In Moscow, this was seen as a reprise of Clinton’s comments comparing Putin to Hitler. It injected an element of personal animus into an already strained relationship — but, more importantly, it set up Putin as the representative of an ideology that is fundamentally opposed to the United States.

Even as relations between Russia and the West have sunk to new lows in the wake of 2014’s revolution in Ukraine, the Kremlin has long contended that a Cold War II is impossible. That’s because, while there may be differences over, say, the fate of Donetsk, there is no longer a fundamental ideological struggle dividing East and West. To Russian ears, Clinton seemed determined in her speech to provide this missing ingredient for bipolar enmity, painting Moscow as the vanguard for racism, intolerance, and misogyny around the globe.

The nation Clinton described was unrecognizable to its citizens. Anti-woman? Putin’s government provides working mothers with three years of subsidized family leave. Intolerant? The president personally attended the opening of Moscow’s great mosque. Racist? Putin often touts Russia’s ethnic diversity. To Russians, it appeared that Clinton was straining to fabricate a rationale for hostilities.

I have been hard-pressed to offer a more comforting explanation for Clinton’s behavior — a task that has fallen to me as the sole Western researcher at the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Better known by its native acronym, MGIMO, the institute is the crown jewel of Russia’s national-security brain trust, which Henry Kissinger dubbed the “Harvard of Russia.”

In practice, the institute is more like a hybrid of West Point and Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service: MGIMO prepares the elite of Russia’s diplomatic corps and houses the country’s most influential think tanks. There is no better vantage point to gauge Moscow’s perceptions of a potential Hillary Clinton administration.

Let’s not mince words: Moscow perceives the former secretary of state as an existential threat. The Russian foreign-policy experts I consulted did not harbor even grudging respect for Clinton. The most damaging chapter of her tenure was the NATO intervention in Libya, which Russia could have prevented with its veto in the U.N. Security Council. Moscow allowed the mission to go forward only because Clinton had promised that a no-fly zone would not be used as cover for regime change.

Russia’s leaders were understandably furious when, not only was former Libyan President Muammar al-Qaddafi ousted, but a cellphone recording of his last moments showed U.S.-backed rebels sodomizing him with a bayonet. They were even more enraged by Clinton’s videotaped response to the same news: “We came, we saw, he died,” the secretary of state quipped before bursting into laughter, cementing her reputation in Moscow as a duplicitous warmonger.

As a candidate, Clinton has given Moscow déjà vu by once again demanding a humanitarian no-fly zone in the Middle East — this time in Syria. Russian analysts universally believe that this is another pretext for regime change. Putin is determined to prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from meeting the same fate as Qaddafi — which is why he has deployed Russia’s air force, navy, and special operations forces to eliminate the anti-Assad insurgents, many of whom have received U.S. training and equipment.

Given the ongoing Russian operations, a “no-fly zone” is a polite euphemism for shooting down Russia’s planes unless it agrees to ground them. Clinton is aware of this fact. When asked in a debate whether she would shoot down Russian planes, she responded, “I do not think it would come to that.” In other words, if she backs Putin into a corner, she is confident he will flinch before the United States starts a shooting war with Russia.

That is a dubious assumption; the stakes are much higher for Moscow than they are for the White House. Syria has long been Russia’s strongest ally in the Middle East, hosting its only military installation outside the former Soviet Union. As relations with Turkey fray, the naval garrison at Tartus is of more strategic value than ever, because it enables Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to operate in the Mediterranean without transiting the Turkish Straits.

Two weeks ago, Putin redoubled his commitment to Syria by conducting airstrikes with strategic bombers from a base in northwest Iran — a privilege for which Russia paid significant diplomatic capital. Having come this far, there is no conceivable scenario in which Moscow rolls over and allows anti-Assad forces to take Damascus — which it views as Washington’s ultimate goal, based in part on publicly accessible intelligence reports.

Clinton has justified her threatened attack on Russia’s air force, saying that it “gives us some leverage in our conversations with Russia.” This sounds suspiciously like the “madman theory” of deterrence subscribed to by former President Richard Nixon, who tried to maximize his leverage by convincing the Soviets he was crazy enough to start a world war. Nixon’s bluff was a failure; even when he invaded Cambodia, Moscow never questioned his sanity. Today, Russian analysts do not retain the same confidence in Hillary Clinton’s soundness of mind.

Her temper became legendary in Moscow when she breached diplomatic protocol by storming out of a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov just moments after exchanging pleasantries. And the perception that she is unstable was exacerbated by reports that Clinton drank heavily while acting as America’s top diplomat — accusations that carry special weight in a country that faults alcoholism for many of Boris Yeltsin’s failures.

Cultural differences in decorum have made the situation worse. In Russia, where it is considered a sign of mental illness to so much as smile at a stranger on the street, leaders are expected to project an image of stern calm. Through that prism, Clinton has shown what looks like disturbing behavior on the campaign trail: barking like a dog, bobbing her head, and making exaggerated faces. (To be clear, my point is not that these are real signs of cognitive decay, but that many perceive them that way in Moscow.)

Another factor that disturbs Russian analysts is the fact that, unlike prior hawks such as John McCain, Clinton is a Democrat. This has allowed her to mute the West’s normal anti-interventionist voices, even as Iraq-war architect Robert Kagan boasts that Clinton will pursue a neocon foreign policy by another name. Currently, the only voice for rapprochement with Russia is Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump. If she vanquishes him, she will have a free hand to take the aggressive action against Russia that Republican hawks have traditionally favored.

Moscow prefers Trump not because it sees him as easily manipulated, but because his “America First” agenda coincides with its view of international relations. Russia seeks a return to classical international law, in which states negotiate with one another based on mutually understood self-interests untainted by ideology. To Moscow, only the predictability of realpolitik can provide the coherence and stability necessary for a durable peace.

For example, the situation on the ground demonstrates that Crimea has, in fact, become part of Russia. Offering to officially recognize that fact is the most powerful bargaining chip the next president can play in future negotiations with Russia. Yet Clinton has castigated Trump for so much as putting the option on the table. For ideological reasons, she prefers to pretend that Crimea will someday be returned to Ukraine — even as Moscow builds a $4 billion bridge connecting the peninsula to the Russian mainland.

Moscow believes that Crimea and other major points of bipolar tension will evaporate if America simply elects a leader who will pursue the nation’s best interest, from supporting Assad against the Islamic State to shrinking NATO by ejecting free riders. Russia respects Trump for taking these realist positions on his own initiative, even though they were not politically expedient.

In Clinton, it sees the polar opposite — a progressive ideologue who will stubbornly adhere to moral postures regardless of their consequences. Clinton also has financial ties to George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations are considered the foremost threat to Russia’s internal stability, based on their alleged involvement in Eastern Europe’s prior “Color Revolutions.”

Russia’s security apparatus is certain that Soros aspires to overthrow Putin’s government using the same methods that felled President Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine: covertly orchestrated mass protests concealing armed provocateurs. The Kremlin’s only question is whether Clinton is reckless enough to back those plans.

Putin condemned the United States for flirting with such an operation in 2011, when then-Secretary Clinton spoke out in favor of mass protests against his party’s victory in parliamentary elections. Her recent explosive rhetoric has given him no reason to believe that she has abandoned the dream of a Maidan on Red Square.

That fear was heightened when Clinton surrogate Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, recently accused Putin of attempting to rig the U.S. election through cyberattacks. That is a grave allegation — the very kind of thing a President Clinton might repeat to justify war with Russia.

Article Link To Foreign Policy:

Iraq Militia Fighters Join Battle For Syria's Aleppo

By Angus McDowall and Ahmed Rasheed
September 8, 2016

An Iraqi Shi'ite militia said on Wednesday it had dispatched more than 1,000 fighters to the frontline in neighboring Syria, escalating foreign involvement in the battle for Aleppo, the biggest prize in five years of relentless civil war.

New footage emerged of civilians choking in the aftermath of an apparent attack with poison chlorine gas on an opposition-held district as the battle for Syria's biggest city approaches what could be a decisive phase.

Aleppo has been divided for years into government and rebel sectors, but President Bashar al-Assad's army has put the opposition areas under siege and now hopes to capture the whole city in what would be a devastating blow to his enemies.

Government forces are backed by Russian air power and battle-hardened Lebanese and Iraqi Shi'ite militia fighters under the apparent oversight of an Iranian general.

The arrival of reinforcements from Iraq, where Shi'ite militia are fighting their own war against the Islamic State group, shows how the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts have leapt borders, to become a broad sectarian war across the Middle East.

Hashim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi Shi'ite militia Harakat al-Nujab, said its fighters would reinforce areas captured from the rebels in southern Aleppo.

The militia's Twitter account showed pictures of its fighters at the Syrian front with Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for the elite Revolutionary Guards, who has led operations by Tehran's allies in both Syria and Iraq.

Rebel commanders said they are preparing to launch their own counter-offensive aimed at breaking the siege of the city, which was reimposed in recent days following weeks of intense fighting around a military complex.

Rebels lost the complex of military colleges to pro-government forces on Sunday near the Ramousah area of southwestern Aleppo, where they had opened a way into the city.

Five years after the multi-sided war began, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and 11 million - half of Syria's pre-war population - displaced. But there is little sign that any party is poised for victory or can restore stability, and foreign powers are becoming more involved.

In recent weeks, Turkey has sent its troops across the border to combat Islamic State and Kurdish fighters. The United States, which is trying to negotiate a ceasefire with Russia, has backed Kurdish forces advancing against Islamic State.

Meanwhile, the plight of some 250,000 civilians trapped in rebel-held districts of Aleppo has spurred international efforts to agree a new humanitarian truce. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have not reached agreement over the details of a ceasefire.

Poison Gas

Western countries, Turkey and most Arab states oppose both Assad's government and Islamic State, while supporting other anti-Assad factions. Russia and Iran support Assad.

The latest apparent poison gas attack adds to a litany of what Assad's opponents say is deliberate targeting of civilians, often with banned weapons, to force rebels to surrender.

Footage of the apparent chlorine gas attack on the Sukari district, near Aleppo's main battlefield in the city's southwest, showed crying children being doused with water and then lying on hospital beds and breathing through respirators.

Rescue workers in the rebel-held area said army helicopters had dropped the chlorine in incendiary barrel bombs, an accusation the government has rejected.

"We have not and will not use at any point this type of weapon," a Syrian military source said, accusing rebels of making false accusations to distract attention from their defeats.

However, the government has a history of being accused of similar attacks. An inquiry by the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) seen by Reuters last month said the Syrian army had been responsible for two chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015.

In 2013 Western countries accused Assad's government of attacking a Damascus suburb with nerve gas. At the time, Assad fended off a threatened U.S. bombing campaign only by agreeing to give up his arsenal of chemical weapons, later destroyed by the OPCW. But Syria still possesses chlorine, which is used for water purification and other legitimate industrial processes.

Ramousah, its surroundings, and the countryside between it and the village of Khan Touman seven km (four miles) to its southwest were the site of intense bombardment by Russian jets and attacks by Shi'ite militias in recent weeks, rebels say.

On Tuesday night, jets bombed Khan Touman and neighboring areas, and intense clashes took place in Ramousah and its surroundings, with rebels targeting an army tank, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitor reported.

Rebels also shelled government-held residential districts in western Aleppo, the Observatory reported.

"All the (rebel) factions are trying to prepare themselves to launch a new attack on the regime positions in Ramousah. It's not over," a senior source in the insurgency said.

Article Link To Reuters:

Thursday, September 8, Morning Global Market Roundup: Asia Shares Near One-Year Top, China Trade Improves

By Wayne Cole
September 8, 2016

Asian shares held within one-year peaks on Thursday as Chinese trade data topped forecasts and imports recorded their first annual rise since late 2014, a promising sign for global demand that gave the Australia dollar a lift.

Beijing reported imports rose 1.5 percent in August from a year ago, confounding forecasts of a 4.9 percent drop, while exports from the Asian giant dipped 2.8 percent.

The initial reaction was muted, in part because markets have come to distrust the veracity of Chinese data over the years, though the Aussie did nudge up a touch to $0.7683 AUD=D4.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was still down a slight 0.2 percent. That followed four days of gains which took it to the highest since late July last year.

South Korean stocks .KS11 eased 0.2 percent, having also touched a one-year top this week, while Shanghai .SSEC was a fraction softer.

Japan's Nikkei .N225 lost 0.2 percent, easing away from a three-month top in the face of a firm yen.

There was little in the way of a lead from Wall Street. The Dow .DJI ended Wednesday down 0.06 percent, while the S&P 500 .SPX lost 0.02 percent and the Nasdaq .IXICadded 0.15 percent to eke out a record high finish.

Apple (AAPL.O) shares rose 0.6 percent, after the biggest company by market value unveiled its new iPhone.

The main event later on Thursday will be the European Central Bank's regular policy meeting.

Nearly all analysts polled by Reuters expect rates to remain unchanged on Thursday, though there was more uncertainty on whether the ECB would announce an extension of its 80 billion euro of monthly asset buys.

If it were to make that call, it would likely reinforce speculation of more easing before year end and could pressure the euro.

The single currency was parked at $1.1255 EUR= on Thursday, just off the week's top of $1.1269.

It jumped earlier in the week when a disappointing reading on the U.S. services sector seemed to diminish the chance of a rate hike from the Federal Reserve and slugged the dollar across the board.

Neither was there much urgency to tighten in the Fed's latest Beige Book report on the economy, which was littered with the words "modest" and "moderate".

In particular, there was little sign of the wage pressures that the Fed is counting on to push inflation higher.

Futures markets <0> imply only around a 15 percent chance of a rate rise in September, climbing to 42 percent for December.

The dollar was off 0.1 percent on a basket of currencies at 94.832 .DXY, having touched a one-week low of 94.690.

The yen remained firm at 101.63 per dollar JPY= due in part to talk the Bank of Japan's board was struggling to agree on a common front for more easing at its policy review later this month.

In commodity markets, U.S. crude extended an overnight bounce after U.S. inventory data showed what might be the largest weekly stock draw in over three decades.

U.S. crude CLc1 climbed 82 cents to $46.32 a barrel, while Brent futures LCOc1 rose 77 cents to $48.75. [O/R]

Article Link To Reuters:

Oil Extends Gains After Data Shows Huge Stock Draw

By Osamu Tsukimori
September 8, 2016

Oil prices extended gains by more than 1.5 percent on Thursday after industry data showed what might be the largest weekly drawdown in crude stocks in over three decades.

U.S. crude stocks surprisingly plunged by 12.1 million barrels last week, data from the American Petroleum Institute showed after market settlement on Wednesday, compared with expectations for an increase of around 200,000 barrels. [API/S]

If official data released from the U.S. government later on Thursday confirms the draw, it would be the largest one-week decline since April 1985.

London Brent crude for November delivery had climbed 75 cents to $48.73 a barrel by 0400 GMT, after settling up 72 cents on Wednesday.

NYMEX crude for October delivery was up 79 cents at $46.29, having ended the previous session up 67 cents.

U.S. crude stocks have been at record highs in the last two years, thanks in part to the shale oil boom that boosted output. Some analysts said Tropical Storm Hermine, which threatened the Gulf Coast refining region late last week before moving to the U.S. East Coast, may have skewed the figures.

"I'm surprised at the big draw," said Tomomichi Akuta, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting in Tokyo. "Despite a possible temporary effect (from the tropical storm), it raised concerns of supply/demand tightening significantly."

Analysts said a large decline in U.S. gasoline stocks also supported oil.

Gasoline stocks fell 2.3 million barrels, compared with expectations for a 171,000-barrel decline, the API data showed. Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose 944,000 barrels, compared with expectations for a 684,000-barrel gain.

Crude was also supported by robust Chinese trade data. China raised its crude oil imports by 5.7 percent in August from a month earlier, while its August imports marked the first rise in nearly two years.

Oil hit a one-week high on Monday after Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed to cooperate on stabilizing the oil market. Prices have since fallen due to uncertainty over a possible deal by producer nations to freeze output, particularly after a meeting in Doha in April ended without such an agreement.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC producers such as Russia are expected to discuss the issue at informal talks in Algeria from Sept. 26-28.

Article Link To Reuters: