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Expelling Russian diplomats: tokenism in Europe; petulance in Washington

US expulsion looks like a delayed reaction to Russia’s huge expulsion of US diplomats last July

Alexander Mercouris

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Before discussing the decision of the Western powers to expel Russian diplomats, it is necessary re-emphasise the total lack of logic behind the decision.

Though the decision is being presented in the media as an expulsion of “Russian spies”, it is also being linked to the Skripal case.

The Skripal case however is still ongoing.  The British police investigation is still underway.  No suspect has been named and all the indications are that the British police still do not know how Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned or who poisoned them.

The OPCW has only recently become involved in the case, and only because the Russians insisted on it.

The OPCW has not yet identified the chemical which was used to poison Sergey and Yulia Skripal.  Supposedly identification by the OPCW of the chemical is weeks away.

Meanwhile people like Craig Murray and John Helmer have pointed out that evidence submitted by the British authorities to the High Court suggests that the identification by Porton Down scientists of the chemical used to poison Sergey and Yulia Skripal as a Novichok may not be as conclusive as the British authorities have been leading everybody to believe.

That is hardly surprising since it is difficult to see how the Porton Down scientists would only need days to identify a chemical agent as a Novichok when that will take the OPCW’s experts several weeks.

For the record, I personally think the chemical used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal probably was a Novichok.

However I cannot personally see how that is conclusive of anything given that there is now abundant evidence that Novichok agents have been produced in at least test quantities in any number of countries, including the US and Britain, and not just in Russia.

As many have pointed out, saying that because Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned with a Novichok means that Russia must have been involved in the attack on them is rather like saying that because Kim Jong-un’s brother Kim Jong-am was poisoned with VX – a chemical agent developed by Britain – that means that Britain must have been involved in the attack on him.

As for Russia’s motive in seeking to murder Sergey Skripal, no-one has come up with any motive that looks to me in the least convincing.  Some of the motives suggested – eg. that Russia wanted to send a signal to Britain by poisoning Skripal with a deadly chemical or that Skripal was poisoned in order to deter other defectors – look to me frankly speculative and rather like conspiracy theories.

Nothing perhaps illustrates the chaos and muddle of this affair then a story which was given widespread coverage in the British media over the weekend.

This claimed that Sergey Skripal had supposedly written a letter to President Putin asking for a pardon and permission to return to Russia.

The story disintegrated after the Kremlin denied ever receiving such a letter.

In reality the story was obvious nonsense.  Skripal had already been pardoned by President Medvedev before he came to Britain and since he was still a Russian citizen he was free to return to Russia whenever he wanted.

Not only is the Skripal case still ongoing, and the case against Russia far from made, but Britain, the EU and Western government even admit as much.

Though in her statement to the House of Commons of 14th March 2018 British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the British government deemed the Russian state ‘culpable’ for the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal, that claim since then has been retracted.

Western governments, including the US, the EU and the British government, now say no more than that Russia is “highly likely” to have carried out the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

As I have previously pointed out, that comes nowhere close to meeting the standard of proof used in Britain in criminal cases, which is “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Yet notwithstanding all this, and notwithstanding that the investigation into the case is still going on, that the case against Russia is far from made out, and that the US, the EU and the British government admit as much, the US and a score of other Western countries have now joined Britain in expelling Russian diplomats.

The logic of this escapes me, unless it is intended – as I have said previously – to be a message to the British investigators and to the OPCW that any finding other than one which can be spun into saying that Russia is responsible for the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal will not be tolerated.

What then of the expulsions themselves?

The expulsions of Russian diplomats which have take place in Europe and in a number of other non-European and non-EU Western countries like Australia, Canada and Norway, have about them a token quality.

None of the countries has expelled more than four diplomats, a level of expulsions which is not going to effect the operation of any Russian embassy in any serious way.

Not only were the expulsions in Europe of a token character, but it seems that no European country is capping the number of diplomats the Russians can post to their embassies.

That means that after a decent interval the Russians will be able to replace all the diplomats who have been expelled.  The small number of diplomats who have been expelled means that the Russians will have no difficulty doing this.

Even this level of token expulsions was too much for some countries.  Austria, Belgium, Greece, Bulgaria, Portugal, Slovakia and Cyprus failed to announce expulsions, as have all the former Yugoslav republics apart from Croatia.

Some countries, notably Austria and Bulgaria, have made known their disagreement with the expulsions.

Turkey – still despite everything a member of the NATO alliance – has made its disagreement clear also.

Even within some of the countries which have expelled Russian diplomats, the decision to do so has been controversial.

In Italy Matteo Salvini – the man most likely to become Italy’s next Prime Minister following the recent election – has made clear his strong disagreement with the expulsions.  According to Reuters Salvini has tweeted the following

Boycotting Russia, renewing sanctions and expelling diplomats does not resolve problems, it aggravates them

The expulsions of Russian diplomats in Europe have not just been token affairs.

They have also highlighted the growing division within the EU about policy towards Russia.  In Italy as Salvini’s comments show they may have even hardened feeling against the EU’s anti-Russian sanctions policy.

It is doubtless alarm about this growing division within the EU over policy towards Russia which explains the recent call from Germany for the abolition of national vetoes in EU Council decisions on foreign policy.

Why then if the expulsions were of a token character did they happen at all?

For an answer to that one must look to the completely different reaction in the US.

Here the expulsions of Russian diplomats is far from token.  Not only have 60 diplomats been expelled – as many as all the other expulsions (including the British expulsion) put together – but in what may be an illegal move 12 Russian diplomats are being expelled from Russia’s UN mission even though these diplomats are accredited to the United Nations and not to the US.

Why this disproportionately large number of expulsions in the US, which is so much greater than that any of the expulsions carried out by the US’s allies?

There are various theories about this, including one which I consider farfetched, which is that the expulsions were supposedly forced on President Trump by his advisers as some sort of ‘punishment’ for his decision to ignore General McMaster’s advice not to telephone President Putin to congratulate him on his election victory.

In my opinion there is a far more likely explanation, which is that the expulsion is belated US reaction to Russia’s gigantic purge of US diplomats and staff from the US embassy and consulates in Russia last summer.

This purge attracted extraordinarily little attention, even though it was by far the biggest single expulsion of diplomats and embassy and consular staff to have happened in modern history.  Here is what I wrote about it at the time

The Russians order to the US to reduce the staff at their embassy and consulates in Russia by 755 persons is in fact unprecedented.  As the BBC rightly says, though a large part of the reduction will no doubt be accounted for by non-diplomatic staff, the Russian announcement still constitutes what is by far the single biggest expulsion of diplomats in modern history

The decision to expel staff was made on Friday, but Mr Putin has now confirmed the number who must go by 1 September.

It brings staff levels to 455, the same as Russia’s complement in Washington.

This is thought to be the largest expulsion of diplomats from any country in modern history, says the BBC’s Laura Bicker in Washington.

The number includes Russian employees of the US diplomatic missions across Russia, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Moscow adds.

Staff in the embassy in Moscow as well as the consulates in Ekaterinburg, Vladivostok and St Petersburg are affected, she says.

Moreover the Russian decision now establishes the principle that the number of personnel at US embassies and consulates in Russia will in future be held to the same level – currently 455 – as the number of personnel at Russian embassies and consulates in the US.

That means that any future expulsions of Russian diplomats in the US – or any US refusal of visas to Russian diplomats to fill vacant posts at the Russian embassies and consulates in the US, as has apparently been happening – will be matched exactly equal expulsions of US diplomats from Russia, and refusals of visas to US diplomats seeking to fill vacant posts in US embassies and consulates in Russia.

That this is a heavy blow to the US is highlighted by one interesting fact.  It turns out that the number of personnel working at US embassies and consulates in Russia was almost three times greater than the number of personnel working at Russian embassies and consulates in the US.

That begs the question of what all these extra US personnel were doing there?   Perhaps US embassies and consulates are less efficient than Russian ones.  However I suspect that the Russians believe that many if not most of these extra people were actually engaged in intelligence gathering and “democracy promotion” activities.

Many people have commented on the quiet atmosphere in which the recent Russian Presidential election was conducted.  Compared to the last Presidential election in 2012 there were no significant anti-Putin protests, no violent or embarrassing incidents, and Navalny’s call for a boycott was ignored.

No one so far as I know has made the connection between the quiet atmosphere of the election and the gigantic purge of US embassy and consular staff which took place in the summer of 2017.

Nor has anyone connected the quiet atmosphere of the election to the effect of Russia’s 2012 Foreign Agent law, which requires Russian NGOs which receive foreign funding and which engage in political activities to register as foreign agents.

Perhaps there is no connection between the quiet atmosphere of the election and those two things.

However if such a connection does exist – and I suspect it does – then it is not difficult to see why Washington’s powerful ‘democracy promotion’ lobby might have found President Putin’s triumphant re-election even more infuriating than it might otherwise have been.

If so then that might explain why the US appears to have seized on the Skripal affair to carry out such a disproportionately large number of expulsions.

In that case it is at least possible that the wave of expulsions in Europe and elsewhere were coordinated by the US in order to give cover to its expulsions.

What consequences will these expulsions have?

Firstly, it is a given that the Russians will retaliate with their own expulsions.  The days when the USSR failed to respond symmetrically to mass expulsions of Soviet diplomats from the West are long gone.

Other than that I doubt that there will be any significant consequences at all.

It is likely that some of the Russian diplomats who are being expelled have been engaging in intelligence work.  However I suspect that the days when Soviet intelligence operations were tied to Soviet embassies ended with the Cold War.

Some Russian embassies probably still have an SVR Resident, and some Russian military attachés probably still are GRU agents.

However today it is much easier for Russians to travel and communicate across borders than it was during the Cold War, and if only for that reason I doubt that most Russian agents are based at or communicate through Russian embassies, where they can be easily monitored by the West’s counter-intelligence agencies.

If so then the recent wave of expulsions of Russian diplomats is not going to disrupt the Russian intelligence effort significantly or even at all.

By contrast Western intelligence operations in Russia do seem still to be heavily linked to Western embassies and consulates, a fact which doubtless reflects the absence of Western visitors to Russia.

If so then reciprocal expulsions of diplomats will hurt the Western intelligence effort in Russia more than it will hurt the Russian intelligence effort in the West.

If the quiet atmosphere in which the Russian Presidential election took place is indeed, even if only in part, a product of the massive purge of US embassy and consular personnel which took place last summer, then this provides further confirmation of this.

Beyond this it is difficult to see what actually has changed.

Top level dialogue between Russia and the West continues.  Save possibly in Washington, Russian diplomats will be replaced.  US and Russian military officers continue to meet and talk to each other in Syria.  The German government apparently remains determined to press ahead with Nord Stream 2 (Theresa May admitted to the House of Commons that Nord Stream 2 was not even discussed at the EU Council meeting last week).  The only important Western government which refuses to communicate with Moscow at a top level is the British.

With so many EU countries unwilling even to expel Russian diplomats significant further EU sanctions against Russia look extremely unlikely, whilst the US has ruled out further significant sanctions of its own.

Possibly there will be more sanctions of individual Russian businessmen, companies and officials.  However an EU diplomat has apparently admitted that the EU has practically exhausted the list of such individuals to sanction.  Besides it’s difficult to see what those sanctions have achieved anyway.

Even in Britain – the supposed centre of this particular storm – the Conservative government remains unwilling to impose sanctions on individual Russian businessmen and companies, possibly because many of them give money to the Conservative Party.

As for talk of the world sliding into war I find that unwarranted and overdone.

The practice of treating diplomats as disposable pawns in a West versus Russia chess game began in the Cold War.  For any Russian diplomat posted to the West, and for any Western diplomat posted to Russia, being expelled is an occupational hazard.

The Russians scarcely ever initiate these expulsions, but for Western leaders expelling Russian diplomats is an easy way to play tough with Moscow and to strike a Churchillian pose without taking any real risks.

That the West is choosing to respond to the Skripal case by expelling Russian diplomats is not a reason to be alarmed or to worry about war.  On the contrary it is more reason not to take this ‘crisis’ entirely seriously.

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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