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Trump draws back on criticism of Russia

Succession of tweets from Donald Trump appear to dilute criticisms made earlier

Alexander Mercouris

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It has been an utterly fascinating day for followers of Donald Trump’s tweets.

The day began with Trump responding in his usual overblown way to a needlessly provocative comment from the Russian ambassador to Lebanon, who is reported to have said that the Russians would shoot down all and every missile the US launched against Syria.

This statement – by a relatively junior ambassador in Russia’s diplomatic hierarchy – goes far beyond what other far more senior Russian officials – notably Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia – have been saying, and is almost certainly untrue.

I have discussed how Russia would respond to a US strike on Syria on numerous occasions.

Briefly, so long as any US strike does not endanger Russian personnel in Syria, or threaten the existence of the Syrian government, or interfere in Syrian army operations against the major concentrations of Jihadi fighters, the Russians will not act to prevent it, though as they showed following the US strike on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base last year, that does not mean that they will not respond to it at all.

Only if a US strike crosses these red lines have the Russians said that they will take counter-action.

The Russians have spelled out their red lines in Syria on numerous occasions, and I have no doubt the US understands them.

The comments of the Russian ambassador to Lebanon went far beyond these red lines, and should not therefore be taken seriously.

However unsurprisingly these nuances were lost on Donald Trump, who typically tends to overreact to what he perceives as challenges – he has done repeatedly in response to comments by Kim Jong-un –  as every Russian diplomat should by now know.

I suspect that the Russian ambassador in Lebanon is now on the receiving end of some pretty tough reprimands from Moscow.

The result of his foolish comments has been an incendiary tweet from Donald Trump purporting to respond to Russia’s apparent challenge, which has rocked the whole world, causing markets to crash and leading to talk on the BBC about the coming of World War III.

Vladimir Putin for his part however moved quickly to calm the situation, using a meeting with foreign ambassadors at the Kremlin to utter some carefully chosen emollient words

Today, the role of diplomacy and the diplomat has taken on special significance. Indeed, the state of affairs in the world is a cause for concern. The situation in the world is becoming more chaotic, nevertheless we still hope that common sense will eventually prevail, and that international relations will take a constructive course, and the entire world system will become more stable and predictable.

In the meantime, roughly 30 minutes after his first tweet, Donald Trump followed it with a far more conciliatory one

Shortly after there followed an even more conciliatory tweet, one which not only lamented the bad state of relations between the US and Russia, but which – with great justice – put most of the blame for this on the Democrats and the phoney Russiagate scandal

What explains this strange behaviour?

Some people see these contradictory tweets as further evidence of Donald Trump’s insanity.

In my opinion they are the product of a mixture of injured pride inflamed by the Russian ambassador to Lebanon’s foolish comments, and extreme stress caused by the truly disgraceful Cohen affair.

The barrage of tweets in fact comes shortly after media reports were suggesting that the US might be intending a more limited response to the Douma incident than some earlier reports had suggested.

What looks like a well-sourced article in The New York Times suggests that there is actually little enthusiasm within the Trump administration for the sort of all-encompassing and highly dangerous air and missile campaign against Syria that some are worrying about

Administration officials said they expected any new strike to be more expansive than last year’s, but the question was how much more. Possible options included hitting more than a single target and extending strikes beyond a single day.

But even so, Mr. Trump remained reluctant to deepen American involvement over a longer term…..

Heavily backed by Russian air support and Iranian ground forces, Syria is in a different league than adversaries in other places where the United States is at war. Unlike the Islamic State in various parts of the Middle East, the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Shabab in Somalia, the Syrian government has extensive air defense and missile systems capable of shooting down foreign planes.

Sending bombers and fighter jets, with American or French pilots, to strike Syrian airfields or other facilities is considered risky because it could deepen the conflict if a pilot was shot down. That is why the Pentagon is looking at the same sort of retaliation used last year when two Navy destroyers unleashed a fusillade of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Al Shayrat airfield that was believed to have been used to launch chemical attacks.

This came alongside an interesting and also apparently well-informed article in The Times of London (since taken down), which suggested that the British government – wary of provoking a British public deeply skeptical of further interventions in the Middle East – was advising the US administration to hold back until the OPCW inspectors had confirmed that a chemical weapons attack in Douma had actually taken place

Perhaps the most authoritative comment of all suggesting that only a limited strike – essentially a larger version of last year’s strike on Al-Sharyat air base – is planned came from President Macron of France

Our decision will not target allies of the regime or attack anyone but rather attack the regime’s chemical capabilities

That goes out of the way to make clear that no attack on Russian or Iranian troops in Syria is planned, and that no all-out air offensive against Syria is planned either.

I would add that one particular source of international alarm – the reports about the US aircraft carrier Truman and its escorts steaming towards the Syrian coast – looks to me misjudged.

This appears to be a routine US naval redeployment planned many months ago.  The Russian Defence Ministry says the Truman and its escorting warships cannot reach the Syrian coast until the first week of May.  That makes it extremely unlikely that the Truman will take part in any operations against Syria.  If or rather when the US missile strike on Syria takes place, it will be launched by US and allied military assets already present in the area.

The result of Donald Trump’s cluster of tweets is that it is now politically impossible for the US not to launch a strike against Syria.  Moreover the political imperative means that this must be done within the next hours or days.

This is in every respect deplorable.  Not only does it interfere in the most gross way imaginable in the investigation the OPCW is planning to carry out in Douma, but it is a straightforward act of armed aggression against Syria, which is a sovereign state which is not threatening the US.

However it is important to remain calm and to retain a sense of proportion – as Russian President Putin is doing – and not to overreact to what is unquestionably a very bad situation.

Though something very bad and very wrong is about to happen, it is not the start of World War III.

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One more step toward COMPLETE de-dollarization

Over the past several months, sitting here in Moscow, it has become increasingly obvious that while the US Dollar is unquestionably the world’s leading and liquid reserve currency, it comes with an ever increasing high price (of sovereignty and FX) if you are not the USA.

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I have opined and written about the trend towards de-dollarization before, but with the latest US –Turkish spat it has hit the wallets, mattresses and markets of a number of countries, be they aligned with Washington or not. One thing they all have in common was that in this recent era of low cost available money, many happily fed at the US dollar trough.

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This serves as a further albeit loud example to many nations for the need to diversify to an extent away from the greenback, or risk being caught up in its volatile, sudden and unpredictably risky increasingly politicized directions.

The Dollar and the geopolitical winds from Washington are today as never before openly being used as policy, which can be called the “carrot and stick”, a distinctly Pavlovian approach. Sadly, few if any can make out where or what the carrot is in this recent US worldview branding.

Tariffs, sanctions, pressured exchange rates, the Federal Reserve loosening or tightening, trade agreements and laws ignored or simply trashed… there is a lot going on which seems to democratically affect America’s allies as well as those on Washington’s politically popular and dramatic “poo-poo” list.

Just now from a press conference in Turkey, I watched Russia’s foreign minister Lavrov say that through the actions shown by the US, the role of the US dollar as a secure global reserve currency for free trade will diminish as more countries switch to national currencies for international trade.

He clearly spoke for many nations when he said; “It will make more and more countries that are not even affected by US sanctions go away from the dollar and rely on more reliable, contractual partners in terms of currency use.” Putting the situation in a nutshell he went on to say “I have already said this about sanctions: they are illegal, they undermine all principles of global trade and principles approved by UN decisions, under which unilateral measures of economic duress are unlawful.”

Turkey, a long-standing NATO ally and a key line of western defense during the long cold war years fully agreed with his Russian counterpart. The Turkish foreign minister Mr. Cavosoglu openly warned that US sanctions or trade embargoes can and are being unilaterally imposed against any country at any time if they do not toe DC’s political line.

He said at the same press conference; “Today, sanctions are imposed on Turkey, and tomorrow they can be used against any other European state. If the United States wants to maintain respect in the international arena, then it is necessary for it to be respectful of the interests of other countries.”

What is happening in Turkey is symptomatic of the developed and emerging markets globally. When trillions of dollars of newly issued lucre was up for grabs, thanks to several developed country central banks, it was comparatively easy for governments and companies just like Turkey’s to borrow funds denominated in dollars and not their national currencies.

Turkey has relied on foreign-currency debt more than most EM’s. Corporate, financial and other debt denominated mostly in dollars, approximates close to 70% of it’s economy. Therefore as the Turkish lira plunges, it is very costly for those companies to repay their dollar-denominated loans, and even now it is patently clear many will not.

The concern rattling around the underbelly of the global markets is what can be reasonably expected for assets and economies that were inflated by cheap debt, the United States included. All this points not so much to a banking crisis as has happened eight years ago, but a systemic financial market crisis.

This is a new one, and I doubt if any QE, QT, NIRPs, or ZIRPs will make much of a difference, despite the rocket-high equity markets the US has been displaying.

One financial trader I spoke to, whom I have known since the early 1980’s (and I thought him ancient then) muttered to me “we’re gettin’ into the ecstasy stage, nothing but the high matters, everything else including the VIX is seen as boring denial, and not the warning tool it is. Better start loading up on gold.”

Meanwhile, de-dollarization is ongoing in Russia and is carefully studied by a host of countries, especially as the Russian government has not yet finished selling off US debt; it still has just a few billion to go. The Russian Finance Minister A. Siluanov said this past Sunday that Russia would continue decreasing holdings of Treasuries in response to sanctions.

The finance minister went on to say that, Russia is also considering distancing itself from using the US dollar for international trade, calling it an unreliable, conditional and hence risky tool for payments.

Between March and May this year, Russia’s US debt holdings were sold down by $81 billion, which is 84% of its total US debt holdings, and while I don’t know the current figure it is certain to be even less.

The latest round of tightening sanctions screws against Russia were imposed by the State Department under a chemical and biological warfare law and should be going into effect on August 22. This in spite of the fact that no proof was ever shown, not under any established national or international law, or with any of several global biochemical conventions, not even in the ever entertaining court of public opinion.

Whatever Russia may continue to do in its relationship with US debt or the dollar, the fact of the matter is that Russia is not a heavyweight in this particular financial arena, and the direct effects of Russia’s responses are negligible. However, the indirect effects are huge as they reflect what many countries (allied or unallied with the US) see as Washington’s overbearing and more than slightly unipolar trade and geopolitical advantage quests, be they Mexico, Canada, the EU, or anyone else on any hemisphere of this globe.

Some of the potential indirect effects over time may be a similar sell-off or even gradual reduction of US debt exposure from China or any one of several dozens of countries deciding to reduce their exposure to US debt by reducing their purchases and waiting for existing Treasuries to mature. In either case, the trend is there and is not going away anytime soon.

When Russia clears its books of US dollarized debt, then who will be next in actively diversifying their US debt risk? Then what might be the fate of the US Dollar, and what value then will be the international infusions to finance America’s continually growing debt, or fuel the funds needed for further market growth? Value and the energy of money has no politics, it ultimately trends towards areas where there is a secure business dynamic. That being said, looks like we are now and will be living through the most interesting of disruptive times.

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The End Of The US Unipolar Moment Is Irreversible

The United States is in the terminal phase of its unipolar moment.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The past weeks have shown how part of the American establishment is weighing the pros and cons of the Trump administration’s strategies around the world. I have a strong feeling that in the coming weeks we will see the destabilizing effects of American politics, especially towards its closest allies.

A disastrous flip of events appears to be on its way, in case Trump were to lose the November midterm elections (the House and Senate elections). If this were to happen, the Trump administration would probably exploit the Russia gate conspiracy claiming that Moscow had now acted in favour of Democrats. Trump could argue that Moscow was disappointed by the lack of progress in softening US sanctions against Russia; indeed, by Trump’s measures against Russia (expulsions, sanctions, property seizures) and its allies (China, Iran and Syria).

Trump would not hesitate to claim Russian interference in the midterms to aid the Democrats, citing intelligence reports. He would say that Russia aims to create chaos in the US by placing roadblocks in the way of attempts to “Make America Great Again” and handing the House and Senate to the Democrats. He would use the electoral defeat to blame his accusers of getting aid from Russia. In doing so, he would be accelerating the implosion of his administration in an all-out war with the establishment. The mainstream media would dismiss Trump’s accusations against the Democrats of collusion with Russia as a conspiracy theory of an unravelling presidency. All this, summed up, would lead to the Democrats having majority in both houses, easily proceeding to the impeachment of Trump.

Italy is piggybacking on the US, operating side by side with Washington to expand its role in North Africa, especially in Libya. However, Rome will have to offer something in return to please Trump. Evidence points to the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) as the quid pro quo, the US encouraging Italy to complete it in order to put pressure on Germany’s North Stream II project and undermine Russian gas deliveries to the EU. I have the impression that the only card available for Italy to play (and which interests Trump) is an endorsement of Washington’s positions on Iran, given that Italy already shares in common with Washington differences with Paris and Berlin on many issues. In this sense, Conte’s words about US intelligence info on the JCPOA paves the way for further decisions:

“”I didn’t take a specific stand. I said we are willing to evaluate the necessity to take more rigorous stances if the (nuclear) accord is shown to be ineffective. We are waiting to have elements of intelligence, Italy would like to evaluate it with its EU partners”

As evidence of Washington’s failed strategy towards Iran, India continues to buy crude oil from Iran, increasing the amount in the last month by 52%. China is also increasing its importation from Iran. Meanwhile, Iran is working with other countries to circumvent the US dollar in order to sustain their mutual trade within a new framework of agreements. Washington is especially disappointment with New Delhi, with American officials continuing to reiterate that India’s intentions align with Washington’s. Since November, with the imposition of counter-sanctions on countries that continue to work with Iran, Washington’s bluff will become evident to everybody, much to the disappointment of the Trump administration.

In the meantime, relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia have almost completely broken down on account of human rights. Ambassadors have been expelled and there is a continuing war of words, with trade between the two countries being brought to a stop. This is the latest example of the divisions manifesting themselves within the Western elites, with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration being in opposition to the likes of France, Germany and Canada.

What is also clear is that the issue of energy is central to Washington’s strategy. Between criticism of the German Nord Stream II and invitations to Italy to finish the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, it is clear that both the Trump administration and the policy makers of the deep state are strongly concerned about what actions allies and enemies could take to overcome the pressure brought to bear by Washington on the issues of energy, Iran, and sanctions. This shows that the US is very fearful of de-dollarization, especially coming from its allies.

Bypassing sanctions with currencies other than US dollar, or creating creative finance structures that bypass the SWIFT payment system, are the only means of maintaining relations between countries in spite of Washington’s sanctions. The US strategy is limited in the short term and certainly harmful in the long term for US Dollar financial hegemony.

That Washington’s allies are even entertaining such possibilities places US financial hegemony at great risk in the long run. This worries the American deep state a great deal, even without Trump, who in any case will not be in charge past 2024 (should he be re-elected in 2020).

One of the points of greatest tension is precisely this strategic difference between the Trump administration and the policy makers in the deep state (AKA Langley and Foggy Bottom). While the former can increase the pressure on allies (through NATO, the JCPOA, TTIP and TPP) to obtain immediate solutions and benefits, the latter must above all consider the effects in the medium and long term, which are often harmful for US interests. The imposition of sanctions on Iran, and the obligation of European allies to comply with this directive, is a prime example.

Another of Washington’s strategies revolves around the price of oil. The United States would have no problem seeing the price of crude oil skyrocket. Secretly, many in the administration hope that Iran will take the first false step by closing the Strait of Hormuz (Teheran will not make this move as things stand now); some even hope that the crisis between Canada and Saudi Arabia will have some impact on the cost of crude oil.

Even trade war and tariffs should be seen as part of Trump’s short-term strategy to demonstrate to his base that something is being done against countries that he thinks are taking advantage of the United States. In reality, Trump knows, or should know, that there is no way of stopping China’s growth, a result of globalization that has been the engine of free-market capitalism, making the western elite richer than ever before. Trump deceives his base with trade wars and tariffs, but in the long run the costs will be borne by American consumers, many of whom are Trump’s voters.

Trump thinks in the very short term, constantly aiming to present himself before his electors with a list of ticked boxes ( Peter Lavelle of Crosstalk gets trademark of this definition), confirming that he is fulfilling his electoral promises. In this way he hopes to win the midterms in November. To succeed in this endeavor, the economy must pick up to a gallop (for now this is happening thanks to a series of tax cuts and the continuous pumping of easy money from the Fed) and he must put pressure on his allies as well as aggressively confront Iran, Russia and China through sanctions, cutting energy supplies and forcing Tehran to negotiate once again the nuclear agreement.

What many analysts struggle with when trying to analyse Donald Trump is that there is no overarching strategy uniting his actions into a coherent policy. Trump acts extemporaneously, often with a very short strategic outlook and for internal political motivations.

Nevertheless, if there is something that worries the deep state, it is the long-term impact of tariffs, trade war, sanctions and impositions on allies; or, to put it most simply, de-dollarization. If there is anything that scares the Trump administration, it is remaining entangled in a destabilizing war with Iran that would lead to the early end of the Trump presidency and destroying its legacy, as Bush’s legacy was destroyed by Iraq.

In all this uncoordinated and inconsistent behaviour, there is the hope of a major rise in the price of oil that would help slow down China’s growth and transform the US shale-gas industry into an ultra-profitable business, further boosting the US economy and allowing Trump to present further evidence to his base of his ability to improve their lives.

The United States is in the terminal phase of its unipolar moment and is struggling to come to terms with the downsizing of its role in the world. Its ruling elite cannot accept the prospect of sharing power, preferring to oppose by all means possible the transition to a world order involving more powers. If this situation is already complex for any superpower enough to manage, a president has been elected who has little regard for compromise and mediation.

Ultimately, in addition to an obvious problem in defining Washington’s role in the world over the next few years, the United States finds itself with a president who is in almost open warfare with an important part of the US establishment. The deep state is still living on the hope of impeaching Trump to halt the loss of US influence, deluding themselves that things can return to how they were at the height of the unipolar moment in the 1990s.

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America’s Lengthening Enemies List

17th years in Afghanistan and America’s list of enemies continues to grow.

Patrick J. Buchanan

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Authored by Patrick J. Buchanan


Friday, deep into the 17th year of America’s longest war, Taliban forces overran Ghazni, a provincial capital that sits on the highway from Kabul to Kandahar.

The ferocity of the Taliban offensive brought U.S. advisers along with U.S. air power, including a B-1 bomber, into the battle.

“As the casualty toll in Ghazni appeared to soar on Sunday,” The Wall Street Journal reported, “hospitals were spilling over with dead bodies, corpses lay in Ghazni’s streets, and gunfire and shelling were preventing relatives from reaching cemeteries to bury their dead.”

In Yemen Monday, a funeral was held in the town square of Saada for 40 children massacred in an air strike on a school bus by Saudis or the UAE, using U.S.-provided planes and bombs.

“A crime by America and its allies against the children of Yemen,” said a Houthi rebel leader.

Yemen is among the worst humanitarian situations in the world, and in creating that human-rights tragedy, America has played an indispensable role.

The U.S. also has 2,000 troops in Syria. Our control, with our Kurd allies, of that quadrant of Syria east of the Euphrates is almost certain to bring us into eventual conflict with a regime and army insisting that we get out of their country.

As for our relations with Turkey, they have never been worse.

President Erdogan regards our Kurd allies in Syria as collaborators of his own Kurdish-terrorist PKK. He sees us as providing sanctuary for exile cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan says was behind the attempted coup in 2016 in which he and his family were targeted for assassination.

Last week, when the Turkish currency, the lira, went into a tailspin, President Trump piled on, ratcheting up U.S. tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel. If the lira collapses and Turkey cannot meet its debt obligations, Erdogan will lay the blame at the feet of the Americans and Trump.

Which raises a question: How many quarrels, conflicts and wars, and with how many adversaries, can even the mighty United States sustain?

In November, the most severe of U.S. sanctions will be imposed on Iran. Among the purposes of this policy: Force as many nations as possible to boycott Iranian oil and gas, sink its economy, bring down the regime.

Iran has signaled a possible response to its oil and gas being denied access to world markets. This August, Iranian gunboats exercised in the Strait of Hormuz, backing up a regime warning that if Iranian oil cannot get out of the Gulf, the oil of Arab OPEC nations may be bottled up inside as well. Last week, Iran test-fired an anti-ship ballistic missile.

Iran has rejected Trump’s offer of unconditional face-to-face talks, unless the U.S. first lifts the sanctions imposed after withdrawing from the nuclear deal.

With no talks, a U.S. propaganda offensive underway, the Iranian rial sinking and the economy sputtering, regular demonstrations against the regime, and new sanctions scheduled for November, it is hard to see how a U.S. collision with Tehran can be avoided.

This holds true as well for Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Last week, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Russia for its alleged role in the nerve-agent poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury.

Though the U.S. had already expelled 60 Russian diplomats for the poisoning, and Russia vehemently denies responsibility — and conclusive evidence has not been made public and the victims have not been heard from — far more severe sanctions are to be added in November.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is warning that such a U.S. move would cross a red line: “If … a ban on bank operations or currency use follows, it will amount to a declaration of economic war. … And it will warrant a response with economic means, political means and, if necessary, other means.”

That the sanctions are biting is undeniable. Like the Turkish lira and Iranian rial, the Russian ruble has been falling and the Russian people are feeling the pain.

Last week also, a U.S. Poseidon reconnaissance plane, observing China’s construction of militarized islets in the South China Sea, was told to “leave immediately and keep out.”

China claims the sea as its national territory.

And North Korea’s Kim Jong Un apparently intends to hold onto his arsenal of nuclear weapons.

“We’re waiting for the North Koreans to begin the process of denuclearization, which they committed to in Singapore and which they’ve not yet done,” John Bolton told CNN last week.

A list of America’s adversaries here would contain the Taliban, the Houthis of Yemen, Bashar Assad of Syria, Erdogan’s Turkey, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China — a pretty full plate.

Are we prepared to see these confrontations through, to assure the capitulation of our adversaries? What do we do if they continue to defy us?

And if it comes to a fight, how many allies will we have in the battles and wars that follow?

Was this the foreign policy America voted for?

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