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Will Donald Trump rein in US’s military’s overreach?

Whilst Donald Trump has spoken of reducing waste in the US military procurement system, ultimately if his administration is going to bring defence costs under control it needs to draw back from the US’s excessive military commitments.

Alexander Mercouris

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One of the most striking – though unreported – aspects of Donald Trump’s interview with The London Times and Bild-Zeitung is what Trump had to say about the state of the US military and of the US defence budget.

It is hardly a secret that the US has completely lost control of its defence spending, and as a businessman conscious of the importance of controlling costs, Trump has homed in on this.  His immediate target has been the troubled F-35 fighter bomber programme – about which he has tweeted repeatedly – whose costs have spiralled out of control, and whose capabilities are questioned by many experts.

Here is what Trump had to say about this issue, and about the way he obviously thinks chronic mismanagement has degraded the effectiveness of the US military

Afghanistan is, is not going well. Nothing’s going well — I guess we’ve been in Afghanistan almost 17 years — but you look at all of the places, now in all fairness, we haven’t let our people do what they’re supposed to do. You know we have great military, we’re gonna have much greater military because we’re gonna have — you know right now it’s very depleted, we’re gonna have great military, but we haven’t let our military win.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin are you know big contractors for this country and we have an F-35 program that has been very, very severely over budget and behind schedule. Hundreds of billions of dollars over budget and seven years behind schedule. And, uh, they got to shape up.

(bold italics added)

It is striking that the person Trump is putting in charge of the US Defence Department is not a civilian administrator with close ties to the US defence industry but a military officer – General James Mattis – who has a reputation for being at one and the same time both something of an intellectual and a forceful combat soldier.  It seems that Trump does not trust the military industrial establishment to reform itself, and has turned to a combat soldier to do it.

Whether Trump is right to think this is another matter.  Combat soldiers do not always make the best managers and the US’s military industrial complex has always up to now successfully resisted every attempt at reform.

There is also a good question whether the waste and corruption within the military industrial complex is the ultimate source of the problem, or is rather the result of a more profound problem.

It is striking how two completely different articles by two completely different writers – the Saker and Christopher Preble writing in The National Interest – coming at the problem from different directions, come to the same conclusion: the US military is far too big, and is trying to do far too much, which is the real reason its costs are spiralling.

As the Saker puts it

I submit that the purpose of a military force is to achieve a specific political objective. Nobody goes to war just for the sake of war and “victory” is not a military, but a political concept. So yes, war is the continuation of politics by other means……

So, if the purpose of a country’s armed forces is to achieve specific and political objectives, this directly implies that saying that some country’s armed forces can do anything, anywhere and at any time is nonsense…..

Yet, what we see, especially in the USA, is [this wrong approach]. It goes something like this: we have the best trained, best equipped and best armed military on earth; no country can compete with our advanced stealth bombers, nuclear submarines, our pilots are the best trained on the planet, we have advanced network-centric warfare capabilities, global strike, space based reconnaissance and intelligence, we have aircraft carriers, our Delta Force can defeat any terrorist force, we spend more money training our special forces than any other country, we have more ships than any other nation, etc. etc. etc. This means absolutely nothing…..

Yes, the US armed forces are huge, bloated, they are the most expensive on the planet, the most technology-intensive and their rather mediocre actual performance is systematically obfuscated by the most powerful propaganda machine on the planet. But does any of that make them effective? I submit that far from being effective, they are fantastically wasteful and amazingly ineffective, at least from a military point of view…..

(italics in the original)

Or as Preble puts it 

There is a wide and growing gap between what officials in Washington demand of the military and the resources made available to execute its missions…..

We can afford to rethink our foreign policy and reorient our military, because primacy, the strategy that the United States has pursued for decades, isn’t necessary to defend vital U.S. interests, and will become increasingly difficult to sustain, given low public support for it. The American people have consistently questioned the need for a vast, forward-deployed military, focused on defending other countries, most of whom can and should defend themselves. The latest polls merely confirm what we’ve known for a long time…..

Even if President Trump does not carry through on his promises to focus on “America First,” and even if he doesn’t revisit our global military posture, he can still fulfill his pledge to make the Department of Defense operate more efficiently. This will not be easy. It will require him to take on entrenched interests that defend the status quo.

However, the obsession with eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, though widely popular (who, after all, is a member of the “Waste, Fraud and Abuse Caucus” or gives money to the “Waste, Fraud and Abuse PAC”?), shouldn’t divert our attention from the central dilemma: America’s overly ambitious and under-debated grand strategy.

What is fascinating is that what Preble suggests as the solution for the US military’s over-stretch crisis is a military posture which is strikingly similar to the one which according to the Saker Russia’s military is already following: a concentration on the defence of the homeland combined with an ability to project power to defend vital national interests when this is actually needed.

Here is how the Saker describes Russia’s existing military posture

For one thing, their mission, to defend Russia, is commensurate with the resources of the Russian Federation. Even if Putin wanted it, Russia does not have the capabilities to built 10 aircraft carriers, deploy hundreds of overseas bases or spend more on “defense” than the rest of mankind combined. The specific political objective given to the Russian military is quite simple: to deter or repel any attack against Russia.

Second, to accomplish this mission the Russian armed forces need to be able to strike and prevail at a maxial distance of 1000km or less from the Russian border. Official Russian military doctrine places the limits of a strategic offensive operation a bit further and include the complete defeat of enemy forces and occupation of his territory to a depth of 1200km-1500km (Война и Мир в Терминах и Определениях, Дмитрий Рогозин, Москва, Вече, 2011, p.155) but in reality this distance would be much shorter, especially in the case of a defensive counter-attack…..

Numerically, the Russian forces are, indeed, much smaller than NATO’s or China’s. In fact, one could argue for the size of the Russian Federation, the Russian armed forces are rather small. True. But they are formidable, well-balanced in terms of capabilities and they make maximal use of the unique geographical features of Russia….

……the Russian soldier also knows that the use of military force is not the first and preferred option of his government, but the last one which is used only when all other options have been exhausted. He knows that the Russian High Command, the Kremlin and the General Staff are not hell-bent on finding some small country to beat up just to make an example and scare the others…..

This means that in spite of being tasked with an immensely difficult mission, to prevail against any possible enemy along the 20’000+km of the Russian border and to a depth of 1000km, the Russian armed forces have consistently shown that they are capable of fulfilling the specific political objective of either deterring or defeating their potential enemy, be it a Wahabi insurgency (which the western pundits described as “unbeatable”), a western trained and equipped Georgian military (in spite of being numerically inferior during the crucial hours of the war and in spite of major problems and weaknesses in command and control), the disarmament of 25’000+ Ukrainian (supposedly “crack”) troops in Crimea without a single shot fired in anger and, of course, the Russian military intervention in the war in Syria were a tiny Russian force turned the tide of the war…..

At the end of the day, the outcome of any war is decided by willpower,…..

There are plenty of things the Russian military cannot do, but unlike the US armed forces, the Russian military was never designed to do anything, anywhere, anytime (aka “win two and a half wars” anywhere on the planet)….

(italics in the original)

Compare this to what Preble recommends for the US military, and it looks exactly the same as what the Saker’s claims for the Russian

The United States needs to make better choices. The Department of Defense is misnamed. If we were serious about defending the United States, we could have a very different military, with very different missions. It would be a smaller military, based in the United States and its territories. It would deploy to places as needed, not attempt to be everywhere, all the time. A different grand strategy, what I and others call restraint, would involve the U.S. military in fewer wars. And a restraint-oriented military, while still the finest in the world by a wide margin, would be far less costly than our current one.

We can afford to rethink our foreign policy and reorient our military, because primacy, the strategy that the United States has pursued for decades, isn’t necessary to defend vital U.S. interests, and will become increasingly difficult to sustain, given low public support for it. The American people have consistently questioned the need for a vast, forward-deployed military, focused on defending other countries, most of whom can and should defend themselves. The latest polls merely confirm what we’ve known for a long time.

The point the Saker and Preble are making is that because the US is currently accepting no limits to its “defence” commitments, it can never match those commitments with actual resources, which will always fall short however far they are increased, leading to systematic budgetary overspending combined with a lack of actual military achievement.

It is a hyper variant of Frederick the Great’s famous dictum that “he who defends everything defends nothing”.

Note also the importance that both the Saker and Preble give to will-power.  Both question the willingness of the respective populations of Russia and the US – at present the world’s two strongest military powers – to sustain a hegemonic posture involving unlimited military commitments and imperial overreach anywhere and everywhere, whilst emphasising the populations’ willingness to support a military posture focused on defending the homeland and the nation’s real interests.

Whilst it is fascinating that two such different writers have reached the same conclusions, the extent to which a Donald Trump administration would be prepared to undertake the massive exercise in military retrenchment that both the Saker and Preble in their different ways think would be best for the US, must in the final analysis be open to doubt.

Donald Trump has however spoken at times as if he might think in this way.  It will interesting to see if he is willing to put such ideas into effect, and if he does whether the US foreign policy and military establishment will let him do so.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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