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Goodbye ‘President’ Trump; hail ‘President’ Mattis

US Defense Secretary Mattis takes effective charge of US foreign policy, but leads US down a blind alley

Alexander Mercouris




Back on 16th February 2017, shortly after the forced resignation of President Trump’s first National Security Adviser General Flynn, I spoke of the extraordinary power that US Defense Secretary General Mattis appeared to be wielding within the Trump administration

General Mattis is becoming a dominant figure within this administration.  As a much decorated former combat officer who is also considered to be a genuine intellectual, Mattis appears to have quickly asserted his authority over the Joint Chiefs of Staff with whom civilian Defense Secretaries have previously often had uneasy relationships…..

All in all General Mattis appears to be gathering more and more of the threads of power into his hands.  If this trend continues, and if he uses his position skilfully, Mattis could end up becoming one of the most powerful Defense Secretaries the US has had since the Second World War.  Whether such a concentration of power in the hands of a soldier is a good thing is another matter.

These comments were written in anticipation of Vice-Admiral Bob Hayward, a military officer known to be close to General Mattis, being appointed President Trump’s National Security Adviser in place of General Flynn.

In the event Admiral Hayward declined the post, but the person who obtained it instead – General H.R. McMaster – is yet another military officer who seems to be working as closely with General Mattis as Admiral Hayward was expected to do.

Since the appointment as White House Chief of Staff of General Kelly, like General Mattis a former Marine officer, General Mattis’s influence extends not just to the National Security Council but to the White House staff.

As I have discussed recently, with the ousting of Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former Chief Strategist, and the purge of officials associated with Steven Bannon from the staff of the National Security Council, there appears to be no significant figure within the White House staff or the National Security Council who is capable of standing up to the military.

In the context of the Trump administration rule by the military means rule by General Mattis, who not only now has friends in charge at the White House, the National Security Council, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but who also heads the Department of Defense, the only department of the US government concerned with national security and foreign policy which is functioning properly.

This is because the two other agencies that traditionally have a big input on US foreign and security policy – the State Department and the CIA – are essentially crippled; the State Department because President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson have still not filled most of the vacancies caused by the clear-out of State Department staff which took place at the start of the year, and the CIA because it is distracted and locked in conflict with President Trump over the Russiagate affair.

The result is that the foreign policy of the US is being decided to an extent unique in US history by a former military officer – General Mattis – who does not hold elected office, but who does sit on top of the US’s gigantic defence and national security bureaucracy.

That it is General Mattis who is increasingly deciding matters is becoming increasingly clear from the direction US policy is taking.  Here are some examples:

(1) Middle East

That it is General Mattis who now all but runs US policy in the Middle East is shown by the fact that he is the senior official of the US government who far more frequently than any other visits the Middle East.  By way of example, General Mattis has just completed another in his seemingly endless series of fact finding trips to the region, this time to Jordan and Turkey.

In this case the fact that General Mattis has pushed out the civilians is actually on balance a good thing.

As a trained soldier it is clear that General Mattis has no time for regime change adventures in Syria which might result in a military confrontation with the Russians, and that he is unenthusiastic about confronting Iran, a policy which also comes with very high risks.

Back in June two Flynn holdovers in the National Security Council – Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Derek Harvey – are known to have pushed for the US to “confront” Iran and its “proxy forces” in Syria, a proposal which had it been implemented would have risked a head on clash in Syria with the Russians.

General Mattis would have none of it, and both Cohen-Watnick and Harvey have now been sacked.

Harvey incidentally was also one of the strongest voices within the Trump administration in favour of the missile strike on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base in April.

The end result is that the Trump administration has not backed out of the nuclear agreement with Iran as many expected, whilst in Syria General Mattis has quietly redirected the US effort away from trying to achieve regime change towards its stated goal of destroying ISIS.

(2) Afghanistan

If General Mattis is what passes in the US for a ‘realist’ on the Middle East in that he wants to avoid a head-on confrontation with Iran and Russia there, on Afghanistan he is a hawk.

He has pressed for all constraints on US military operations in Afghanistan previously imposed by the Obama administration to be lifted, and for the US military campaign in Afghanistan to be continued indefinitely, with no end date, and even escalated.

The “new strategy” for Afghanistan the US announced on Monday shows that once again it is the views of General Mattis which have prevailed.  President Trump’s own original strategy – the one on which he was elected – of pulling out of Afghanistan, has been dropped.

Instead the US will continue and will escalate the war, and will even spread it to Pakistan, whilst any negotiations to end the war with the Taliban will be conducted purely on US terms.

The objective is less to achieve victory – something which Secretary of State Tillerson says is impossible, as General Mattis surely also knows – but to avoid even the appearance of defeat.

The motivation has been brilliantly explained by the Canadian academic Paul Robinson

So, the strategy is to use military power to create the conditions for a political settlement with the Taleban, even though it has so far utterly failed to achieve that, and even though ‘nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.’ And this is what constitutes ‘grown-up’ thinking? At the end of the day, Trump’s announcement amounts merely to a statement that withdrawing will bring untold disaster, and therefore we have to persist, because, well, you know, it will be bad if we don’t. There is nothing in this announcement which suggests how Trump or his advisors imagine that this war will end. They are as clueless as Obama and  Bush before them, and so are just carrying on doing the same thing over and over.

Why do they do this? The answer is that the financial costs of the war are dispersed over a vast number of people, so that nobody actually notices them, while the human costs are concentrated in a small segment of the population – the military – which the rest of the people can safely ignore (and at the current tempo of operations, the number of Americans dying in Afghanistan is quite low). Politically speaking, continuing the war is relatively cost-free. But should America withdraw, and something then goes wrong, Trump and those around him will be held to blame. It is better therefore to cover their backsides and keep things bubbling along as they are until the problem can be passed onto somebody else. This is a solution in terms of domestic politics, but it’s not a solution in terms of the actual problem.

Put another way, General Mattis does not want to be remembered as the soldier who presided over the US’s biggest defeat since Vietnam.  To that end he will keep the war in Afghanistan going indefinitely in the hope that something turns up.

(3) Europe

Though General Mattis grudgingly cooperates with the Russians in Syria – where the risks are too great to confront them head-on – he shows a positive eagerness to confront them in Europe, where he presumably believes that the risks of confronting them are minimal.

Thus in diametric contradiction to the policies advocated by President Trump during last year’s election, General Mattis not only outspokenly supports NATO but is pressing ahead with the anti-ballistic missile deployments in eastern Europe and with the provocative and unnecessary parades of token NATO forces on Russia’s borders.

As a military officer General Mattis surely knows that these forces are too small either to threaten Russia or to defend themselves in the event of a Russian attack (see the comments of retired US Colonel Douglas Macgregor in this article in Politico).  The fact that General Mattis is however pressing ahead with these provocative displays – deeply infuriating as they are to the Russians, to whom they serve as a constant reminder of the broken promises the US gave them when the USSR broke up – shows that despite all the overheated talk coming out of the US of ‘Russian aggression’ he does not believe that a war in Europe is imminent.

In an indication of how far General Mattis is prepared to go in provoking the Russians in Europe, that he is now talking openly of the possibility of sending arms to the Maidan regime in Ukraine, reversing the previous policy not to send arms, which was agreed upon by both Barack Obama and by Donald Trump.  Indeed Trump – the US’s constitutionally elected President – famously even deleted the proposal to send Ukraine arms from the Republican Party’s platform during the Republican Party’s Convention last year.

In floating this extraordinarily bad idea General Mattis is of course also ignoring the public opposition to it of the US’s most powerful ally, the German government.

The fact that sending arms to Ukraine will not change the military balance there (see the Saker’s excellent discussion of this subject), but does greatly increase the risk of war, appears not to worry General Mattis at all given that Ukraine is a theatre where the US is not directly involved.

(4) North Korea

Amidst all the overheated rhetoric of the last few weeks about a possible war with North Korea, it has gone almost unnoticed that General Mattis has ruled it out.

Again as a trained soldier General Mattis knows what the dangers of a war against a nuclear armed North Korea backed by China would be, and he has no intention of risking them.

That it is General Mattis who is once again the key decision maker, and that his known opposition to war with North Korea effectively rules that option out, is shown by how talk of war against North Korea basically stopped the moment he spoke out against it.

(5) South China Sea

Just as General Mattis is happy to confront Russia in Europe, so he is happy to confront China in the South China Sea, moving elements of the US Seventh Fleet to within short distances of territory occupied by China and provocatively flying US military aircraft there.

Here again we see the same pattern at work as in Syria and Europe.  Just as General Mattis is not prepared to risk a head-on clash with the Russian military in Syria, but is willing to act in the most provocative way imaginable against Russia in Europe, so General Mattis is not prepared to risk a head-on clash with China in the Korean Peninsula, but is willing to act in the most provocative way imaginable against China in the South China Sea.

As is the case in Europe, this is because General Mattis presumably doesn’t believe that the risk of an armed clash with China in the South China Sea is a real one.

This strange mix of policies – backing off from confronting the Russian and Chinese militaries in Syria and Korea where the risks are real, but aggressively seeking confrontation with Russia and China in Europe and the South China Sea where no risks are thought to exist, is exactly what one would expect of a US soldier.

They combine the extreme risk-aversion characteristic of today’s US military, with its longstanding habit of aggressive posturing where the risks of doing it appear to be minimal.

What is wholly absent is any sense of a larger strategy.

In no sense does General Mattis seem to have a policy either for Russia or China or for dealing with the separate crises in Afghanistan, Korea or the Middle East.

Instead he improvises reactively – as might be expected of a soldier – in each case doing so without any sense of the interconnections between the various crises which confront him, or of the paradox of the US seeking Russia and Chinese help in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula whilst simultaneously striking against Russian and Chinese interests in Europe and the South China Sea.

Needless to say, in respect to Grand Strategy – thinking about the Chinese-Russian alliance and looking for ways to respond to it – General Mattis can come up with nothing at all.  So far as he is concerned, it is enough that China and Russia are adversaries of the US, so he sets out in each case to confront them where he feels he can, without giving any thought to how this may make them work more closely together against US interests.

In my previous discussion of the rise of the US military to a position of effective political leadership in the US I pointed out that the closest parallel was with Germany in the run up to the First World War, where the dysfunctional political system also left the military in a position of de facto leadership.

In the case of pre First World War Germany the military also adopted an essentially technical piecemeal approach to Germany’s problems, alternating extreme aggressiveness with botched and ill thought out attempts at conciliation.  The result was that in 1914 Germany found that all the other important Great Powers of Europe except for Germany’s Habsburg satellite were ranged against it.

Under the de facto leadership of General Mattis the same appears to be in the process of happening to the US.

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Russia ranks HIGHER than Switzerland in these areas of doing business

Some curious things happened with several businesspeople who attended World Cup events in Russia.



Russian President Vladimir Putin

One of them was a distinctly renewed interest in doing business inside the country, and another was the realization to what extent perceptions have been tainted by media and political rhetoric directed against any real or imagined nastiness attributed to Russia these days.

These past few weeks have been invaluable, at the very least by affording a clear picture of Russia through which almost all anxiety-ridden preconceptions were illuminated and dispelled. More disturbing was the fact that the several businesspeople I was dealing with were furious. They were livid for being played for fools, and felt victimized by the dismally untrue picture painted about Russia and Russians in their home countries, both by their own politicians and the press.

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Most felt that they have been personally sanctioned by their own countries, betrayed through lack of clear unbiased information enabling them to participate and profit from Russia opportunities these past three growth years in spite of “sanctions”.

The door to doing good business in Russia has been and is open, and has been opening wider year after year. That is not just “highly likely”, but fact. Consistently improving structures, means and methods to conduct business in Russia sustainably, transparently and profitably are now part of the country’s DNA. It is a process, which has been worked on in the west for more than a century, and one, which Russia has only started these past 18 years.

True, there are sanctions, counter-sanctions, and regulations governing them that must be studied carefully. However if you are not a bank or doing business with those persons deemed worthy of being blacklisted by some countries “sanctions list”, in reality there are no obstacles that cannot be positively addressed and legally overcome despite the choir of political nay-sayers.

READ MORE: Russia just dumped $80 BILLION in US debt

The days of quickly turning over Russia opportunities into short-term cash are rapidly fading, they are a throwback to the 1990’s. Today the major and open opportunities are in the areas for Foreign Direct Investments. The nature of FDI is long term to make regularly recurring sustainable returns on investment.

Long term, Russia always was and increasingly confirms that it is a vibrant and attractive market. There is a significant consumer market with spending power, a well-educated workforce, a wealth of resources and the list goes on. The economic obstacles encountered have largely been imposed from without, and not from the dynamics and energies of the Russian economy itself.

Eventually sanctions will end, although the timeline is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile business continues, and any long-term engagement within Russia by establishing a working presence will yield both short and long-term investment rewards. These will only be amplified when the sanctions regimes are removed. In any event, these aspects are long-term investment decisions and one of the criteria in any risk assessment.

For some added perspective, Russia is ranked by the Financial Times as the No.2 country in Europe in terms of capital investments into Europe. It has a 2017 market share of 9% (US$ 15.9 billion) and includes 203 business projects. This is 2% higher than 2016 and better that 2014/2015 when sanctions were imposed.

Another item of perspective is the Country Risk Premium. All investors consider this when calculating the scope for long-term return on investments. What may surprise some is that Russia is no longer ranked as a very high-risk country. For comparisons sake: The risk premium for Germany is zero (no extra risk), the risk premium for Italy is 2.19%, and for Russia, it is 2.54%. When compared to politically popular investment destinations like Ukraine the risk premium is 10.4%  – food for thought. Bottom line is that the risks of investing in Russia are a smidge higher than investing in Italy.

Russia is ranked 35 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings. The ranking of Russia improved to 35 in 2017 from 40 in 2016 and from 124 in 2010. It may also surprise some to learn that as concerns protecting the rights of minority investors, paying taxes, registering property and some other aspects of the World Bank comparisons, Russia comes out better than Switzerland (See: Rankings).

From operational standpoints, establishing an invested presence in Russia does not mean one must adopt Russian managerial methods or practices. The advantages for established foreign companies is that their management culture is readily applied and absorbed by a smart and willing workforce, enabling a seamless integration given the right training and tools.

The trend towards the ultimate globalization of business despite trade wars, tariffs, sanctions and counter-sanctions is clear. The internet of the planet, the blockchain and speed of information exchange makes it so whether we wish it or not. Personally, I hope that political globalization remains stillborn as geopolitics has a historical mandate to tinker with and play havoc with international trade.

Russia occupies a key strategic position between Europe and Asia. The “west” (US/Europe) have long had at times rather turbulent relationships with China. At the same time the Chinese are quite active investors in both the US and Europe, and western companies are often struggling to understand how to deal with China.

The answer to this conundrum is Russia: this is where East and West will ultimately come together with Russia playing a pivotal role in the relations between the west and China. At the end of the day, and taking the strategic long-term economic view, is what both Chinese and Western companies are investing in when they open their activities in Russia.

If long-term commitment and investment in Russia were simply a matter of transferring funds then I would not be bothering with this opinion article. Without a doubt, there are structural issues with investing in Russia. A still evolving and sometimes unclear rule of law, difficulties obtaining finance for investments directed towards Russia, the unique language and culture of business in the country. Nevertheless, companies that have an understanding and vision of global strategy will manage with these issues and have the means to mitigate them.

Money and other invested resources do not and should not play politics; any investment case when evaluated on objective financial criteria will reveal its fit, or lack of, within a company’s global strategic business objectives. The objective criteria for Russia over any long term horizon is both convincing and strong. This has been repeated by all of the businesspeople I have met with these past few weeks. Without doubt we shall see some new companies coming into the Russian market and objectively exploring the gains their playing fair business football here will yield.

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Media meltdown hits stupid levels as Trump and Putin hold first summit (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 58.

Alex Christoforou



It was, and still remains a media meltdown of epic proportions as that dastardly ‘traitor’ US President Donald Trump decided to meet with that ‘thug’ Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Of course these are the simplistic and moronic epitaphs that are now universally being thrown around on everything from Morning Joe to Fox and Friends.

Mainstream media shills, and even intelligent alternative news political commentators, are all towing the same line, “thug” and “traitor”, while no one has given much thought to the policy and geo-political realities that have brought these two leaders together in Helsinki.

RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou provide some real news analysis of the historic Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, without the stupid ‘thug’ and ‘traitor’ monikers carelessly being thrown around by the tools that occupy much of the mainstream media. Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

And if you though that one summit between Putin and Trump was more than enough to send the media into code level red meltdown, POTUS Trump is now hinting (maybe trolling) at a second Putin summit.

Via Zerohedge

And cue another ‘meltdown’ in 3…2…1…

While arguments continue over whether the Helsinki Summit was a success (end of Cold War 2.0) or not (most treasonous president ever), President Trump is convinced “The Summit was a great success,” and hints that there will be a second summit soon, where they will address: “stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more.”

However, we suspect what will ‘trigger’ the liberal media to melt down is his use of the Stalin-esque term “enemy of the people” to describe the Fake News Media once again…


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While US seeks to up the ante on pressure on the DPRK, Russia proposes easing sanctions

These proposals show the dichotomy between the philosophy of US and Russian foreign policy



The United States last week accused the DPRK of violating refined petroleum caps imposed as a part of UN nuclear sanctions dating back to 2006, and is therefore submitting a proposal to cut all petroleum product sales to North Korea.

The Trump administration is keen on not only preserving pressure on North Korea over its nuclear arms development, but in increasing that pressure even as DPRK Chairman, Kim Jong-Un, is serially meeting with world leaders in a bid to secure North Korea’s security and potential nuclear disarmament, a major move that could deescalate tensions in the region, end the war with the South, and ease global apprehensions about the North’s nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, Russia is proposing to the UNSC sanctions relief in some form due to the North’s expressed commitment to nuclear disarmament in the light of recent developments.

Reuters reports:

MOSCOW/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia’s envoy to North Korea said on Wednesday it would be logical to raise the question of easing sanctions on North Korea with the United Nations Security Council, as the United States pushes for a halt to refined petroleum exports to Pyongyang.

“The positive change on the Korean peninsula is now obvious,” said the ambassador, Alexander Matsegora, according to the RIA news agency, adding that Russia was ready to help modernize North Korea’s energy system if sanctions were lifted and if Pyongyang can find funding for the modernization.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

China tried late last month to get the Security Council to issue a statement praising the June 12 Singapore meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and expressing its “willingness to adjust the measures on the DPRK in light of the DPRK’s compliance with the resolutions.”

North Korea’s official name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

But the United States blocked the statement on June 28 given “ongoing and very sensitive talks between the United States and the DPRK at this time,” diplomats said. The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi about the importance of sanctions enforcement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to informally brief U.N. Security Council envoys along with South Korea and Japan on Friday.

Diplomats say they expect Pompeo to stress the need to maintain pressure on North Korea during his briefing on Friday.

In a tweet on Wednesday Trump said he elicited a promise from Russian President Vladimir Putin to help negotiate with North Korea but did not say how. He also said: “There is no rush, the sanctions remain!”

The United States accused North Korea last week of breaching a U.N. sanctions cap on refined petroleum by making illicit transfers between ships at sea and demanded an immediate end to all sales of the fuel.

The United States submitted the complaint to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee, which is due to decide by Thursday whether it will tell all U.N. member states to halt all transfers of refined petroleum to Pyongyang.

Such decisions are made by consensus and some diplomats said they expected China or Russia to delay or block the move.

When asked on June 13 about whether sanctions should be loosened, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “We should be thinking about steps in that direction because inevitably there is progress on the track that should be reciprocal, that should be a two-way street. The other side should see encouragement to go forward.”

The proposals of both the United States and Russia are likely to be vetoed by each other, resulting no real changes, but what it displays is the foreign policy positions of both nuclear powers towards the relative position of the DPRK and its rhetorical move towards denuclearization. The US demonstrates that its campaign of increased pressure on the North is necessary to accomplishing the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula, while Russia’s philosophy on the matter is to show a mutual willingness to follow through on verbal commitment with a real show of action towards an improved relationship, mirroring on the ground what is happening in politics.

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