Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

When Somebody Called “Mad Dog” Is The Only Adult In The Room

When Somebody Called “Mad Dog” Is The Only Adult In The Room

In the last few days it has come to pass that twice US Secretary of Defense, James “Mad Dog” Mattis has shown himself to be the only adult in the room in the Trump administration.  His first such exhibition of adulthood came during the bizarre spectacle of Trump’s first full televised cabinet meeting.  Trump openly demanded verbal obeisance from those assembled, promptly delivered by all but one in the room, with some of them embarrassingly effusive, such as Reince Priebus declaring it to be a “blessing” to serve Trump.  Ugh.  Even SecState Tillerson chimed in with a relatively perfunctory bit of praise for Trump.  Only Mad Dog Mattis refused to go along, making a statement praising US military personnel around the world without a single word about Trump.

And then we have the under reported event yesterday that I saw on Juan Cole’s blog that Mattis signed a $12 billion dollar deal for F-15s with Qatar.  Now I am not in general a big fan of  these Middle East arms deals with anybody, but in this case this blatantly goes against Trump’s absolutely stupid and probably corrupt (Saudis paid $270,000 in hotel bills at Trump’s hotel in Washington since Trump took office) support for the Saudi move to blockade Qatar and pressure it into  going along with Saudi aggression in Yemen and more generally against Iran.  Both Tillerson and Mattis made verbal statements last week arguing for a more balanced approach there, only to have Trump double down on supporting this very stupid policy.  Tillerson is  not able to cut deals independently supporting Qatar, but Mad Dog Mattis has just done so.
Maybe Trump will fire him, but I kind of think that maybe even he is  not quite that stupid in the current circumstances.  So there we have it, having to thank somebody nicknamed “Mad Dog” twice in a few  days for being the much=needed adult in the room.

Barkley Rosser

Comments (15) | |

A Personal Observation On Trump’s “Infrastructure Week”

A Personal Observation On Trump’s “Infrastructure Week”

Yes, folks, you may have already forgotten it, but this has officially been Trump’s “Infrastructure Week,” highlighted by his proposal to privatize air traffic control in the US, and his trip to Cincinnati where he in general terms talked about the supposed virtues of privatizing highways, bridges, and airports, While he claims he wants to provide up to $200 billion in federal funding to draw forth a supposed $800 billion in private funding, the last time I checked his proposed budget supposedly cuts infrastructure funding.  So much for that big infrastructure boost!

As it is I want to comment on the proposal to privatize highways.  I shall briefly note that privatizing air traffic control might not be a bad thing, assuming that it is done properly.  Canada did so some years ago, and most reports have it that this has worked out pretty well.  Maybe it would in the US as well, although my confidence in Trump not to mess it up is pretty low.

Anyway, back to highways.  There has been some effort to do this in some states recently, with decidedly mixed results. But my observation is that over the longer haul it seems that outside of gated communities or private property, this does not work very well.  The historical record in the US is that if one goes back a few centuries, one finds many roads that were originally build and run by private companies.  Nearly all of these eventually reverted to some sort of government control at one level or another.  In particular in Virginia where I live, there were quite a few build in the 1700s, but during the 1800s they pretty much all reverted to some sort of government control. The private sector just did not do all that good of a job running them.

So, where is the personal angle in this? Last weekend I learned that the street behind my house here in Harrisonburg, VA, Bruce Street, a minor street that is one way and in my block only has houses backing up to it, was once one of these privately owned highways that was later taken over by the city.  I learned this while visiting with my daughter Sasha the oldest building in Harrisonburg, the Thomas Harrison House, which was originally the private residence built probably in 1770 of the person for whom the city is named.  It is a small limestone structure that has not been previously opened to the public like this, but the city has taken ownership of it from the Methodist Church across the street that had owned it for a long time (it had been used as a law office most recently).  The city is planning on turning it into a museum, and they have had archeologists from James Madison University excavating its basement, which was used as a kitchen during the days the structure was a house (up until the 1840s).  Anyway, they decided to open the basement up for the public to see as well as the many objects they have found there, including lots of animal bones.  So, visiting daughter and I made the visit to check it out.  The main archeologist, Carole Nash, is a good friend and gave a most informative talk.

And

Comments (6) | |

Trump Blows Up The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

Trump Blows Up The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

Well, maybe it has blown itself up, but Trump’s supposedly triumphant visit to Saudi Arabia looks to have exacerbated underlying tensions within the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), whose members include Saudi Arabia (KSA), Kuwait,Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman. This was the part of Trump’s overseas trip that most US media has accepted as being a nearly great performance without any goofups (the trip steadily going downhill after that), with him getting over $100 billion in arms sales to the Saudis, and, aside from theatrics like sword dancing and holding glowing globes, getting to lecture 50 Muslim Arab leaders about what to do about terrorism, while also supporting their Sunni animus against Iran, this last part being what has led to the most recent problems. What has happened most recently, is reported by Francis Ghiles of OpenDemocracy as linked to by Juan Cole, with even more serious details reported by Washington Post reporter Kristen Coattes Ulrichesn (this link is to Marginal Revolution Monday assorted links, go to the one called “The cut-off that is Qatar,” sorry original WaPo link not working for me). This is also a followup to my earlier post here about Trump’s Saudi visit.

According to Ghiles, the split has opened up dramatically thanks to Trump siding strongly with the most hawkishly anti-Iran members of the GCC. Those nations happen to be Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of which are actively involved in the disastrously bogged-down war in Yemen, where evidence is weak that Iran is even providing anything significant to the Houthis who currently control northern Yemen and the capital of Sana’a and are Zaydi Shia. Many reports show a major humanitarian disaster unfolding in that nation, which appears to be in the process of splitting into at least three, if not four, failed pieces, with the UAE apparently supporting South Yemen secessionists who recently took control of the airport in Aden (not clear what Saudis think of that,; this last bit not in any of the linked posts). The key players are Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), and the Abu Dhabi Crown Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (Abu Dhabi one of the 7 emirates in the UAE), both of whom have gotten close to Jared Kushner. Another nation more or less in their camp, if not quite as close to Kushner, is Bahrain, home to a US naval base, where the ruling minority Sunni monarchy killed a bunch of peacefully demonstrating Shia a few days after Trump left Riyadh, having promised not to “lecture” them about human rights (although he was prepared to lecture US allies in Europe about all sorts of things).

Comments (16) | |

Some Saudi-US History

Some Saudi-US History

Given Donald Trump’s new commitment to support military adventurism by Saudi Arabia in Yemen and more generally against Iran, it might be worth reconsidering how this alliance developed.

The beginning for Saudi Arabia was in 1744 when a wandering radical cleric, Mohammed bin Abdel-Wahhab met up with a local chieftain, Mohammed bin Saud in the village of Diriyah, whose ruins are now located in the suburbs of the current Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh. Wahhab converted Saud to his cause of spreading the strictest of the four Sunni shari’as, the Hanbali code, throughout the world, and this remains to this day the ideology of the House of Saud, the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, with this ideology widely known as Wahhabism. The territory ruled by the early Saudis expanded to cover a fair amount of the Nejd, the central portion of the Arabian peninsula, but when they threatened control of Mecca in 1818, ruled by Egyptians under the Ottomans who collected the moneys gained from pilgrims visiting there, the Egyptian leader, Muhammed Ali, invaded the Nejd and destroyed Diriyah. The Saud family moved to the next village over, Riyadh, and reconstructed their small state, which expanded again in the mid-1800s, although near the end of the century they were defeated and exiled to Kuwait by the rival Rashid family from Hail to the north of Riyadh.

In 1902 the 27 year old family leader, Abdulaziz bin al-Rahman bin Faisal al Saud, reconquered Riyadh and would eventually establish the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) through marital and martial conquests, with its modern boundaries established in 1932, and Abdulaziz (known in the West as “Ibn Saud”) bearing the title of King and Protector of the Two Holy Places (Mecca and Medina), which he had conqurered in 1924. He would have 43 sons, and today’s king, 81-year old Salman, is one of the last of them, and Abdulaziz would die in 1953. It should be noted that Saudi Arabia was independent of the Ottoman Empire, and was one of the few parts of the Muslim world that did not fall under the rule of a European power, along with Turkey, Persia/Iran, and Afghanistan.

Comments (13) | |

“It’s The Economy, Stupid!”: The Iranian Presidential Election

by Barkley Rosser

“It’s The Economy, Stupid!”: The Iranian Presidential Election
“It’s the economy, stupid!” quoth James Carville back in 1992, adviser to Bill Clinton during his successful presidential election campaign then. And so quoth Stella Morgana in an informative piece written a few days ago prior to and about the Iranian presidential election as linked to by Juan Cole The Iranian Election: It’s the Economy, Stupid!. For those who have not seen it yet, incumbent President Hassan Rouhani has won decisively with 57% of the vote over his main rival, Ebrahim Raisi, who got 38.5%. Rouhani is viewed as a moderate in the traditon of former president Khatami, who is under house arrest, while Raisi was supported by hard line clerics and the supreme leader, Ali, Khamenei. Many view Raisi as a potential successor to Khamenei.

Comments (3) | |

Messing Up Badly In Korea

by Barkley Rosser

Messing Up Badly In Korea

In many areas where many were worried that President Trump would do this that or the other crazy thing he has held back for one reason or another.  But one very serious location where he has recently made a total botch of things has been in Korea, a series of unforced errors.  Of course before he got into it in Korea it looked like he might get in a shooting war with China, but then he decided that Xi Jinping is a great guy after the Chinese paid his family gobs of money and Trump realized that he needed to make nicey nice with Xi in order to deal with unquestionably serious problem of the North Korean nuclear weapons program, possibly the most dangerous situation in the world right now.

So then he proceeded to talk tough on North Korea, making noises about starting a war with them if they tested a nuclear weapon (which they did not, making a failed rocket test instead) with this supposedly being backed up by him supposedly sending the USS Carl Vinson to back up his threats, only to have it come out a few days later that the Vinson was sailing off into the Indian Ocean.  I gather it has finally shown up in the neighborhood, but now Trump has messed up with longtime US  ally South Korea, the only party involved in this arguably more important than China even.

Comments (4) | |