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SMART DIPLOMACY: China has already lost the trade war. Here’s why.

ANOTHER WAY TO COUNTER CHINA’S BELT AND ROAD IMPERIALISM: Jeff Goodson says we’re in a New Cold War that requires strategic thinking “analogous” to Cold War containment. The Belt and Road initiative requires pushback because it’s “debt-trap diplomacy.”

Smart thinking isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when most people contemplate Washington. But while China puts lipstick on its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, smart thinking on what to do about it is starting to settle in.

He cites Burma as an example of the kind of State Dept./USAID “SWAT team” pushback needs to employ:

…at the tactical level, one of the best ideas in years has been operationalized by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Under the leadership of Administrator Mark Green, USAID recently pulled together a high-octane team of interagency technical specialists to help the government of Burma review plans for a multibillion-dollar Chinese-funded deep water port and industrial zone. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the team included USAID and State Department economists, diplomats and lawyers working as a public investment planning SWAT team of sorts. UK and Australian expertise also worked on the effort.

Read the entire essay.

I HAD BEEN ASSURED THAT TRUMP’S ABANDONMENT OF THE IRAN DEAL WOULD LEAVE US ISOLATED AND FRIENDLESS IN THE MIDDLE EAST: U.S. Arranges Secret Talks Between Israel, U.A.E. Over Iran. “Washington prods longtime adversaries on intelligence sharing, military cooperation against a common threat.”

The meetings were convened by Brian Hook, the State Department’s top official for Iran, and are the latest sign of a steady thaw between Israel and Gulf Arab nations, largely brought about by their shared antipathy toward Tehran and its attempts to spread its regional influence.

A first meeting took place this spring and a second was held more recently, a U.S. official said. The exact dates and locations of the unpublicized meetings couldn’t be learned. Their existence was known to only a handful of people within the U.S. government, officials said.

Israel has diplomatic ties among Arab states only with Egypt and Jordan. Historic disagreements remain with those two as well as other Arab nations, particularly over the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

But covert, and occasionally overt, contacts between Israel and Gulf Arab nations have increased rapidly in recent years as concerns grew about Iran’s nuclear program and its role in conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Smart Diplomacy™.

SMART DIPLOMACY: Spend more on defence or we move troops to Poland, U.S. envoy tells Germany.

SMART DIPLOMACY: July migrant apprehensions plummeting 25%, Mexico’s help credited.

SMART DIPLOMACY: Even the New York Times is noticing. “As he tries to tackle the greatest challenges to American power in Asia, President Trump is overturning policy toward China and North Korea that for decades was as canonical as Confucian ritual. . . . The shifts were prompted by internal changes in each country, combined with Mr. Trump’s unorthodox instincts and the views of his senior Asia advisers. The administration now has growing bipartisan support in Washington to widen an emerging global conflict with China and build diplomacy with North Korea. . . . the aggressive approach to China has drawn many supporters, including some Obama administration officials and Democratic leaders.” First Trump was Hitler. Then he was incompetent. Now. . .

MEANWHILE, OVER AT VODKAPUNDIT: Iran’s Long Game, and Trump’s Too.

UPDATE: Also read Richard Fernandez this morning. “US energy independence has given Washington a far more powerful option than merely reprising an updated version of Preying Mantis. From a position of self-sufficiency Trump might use the prospect of oil disruption to organize ‘international convoys’ among the energy dependent as a kind of FONOPS in the Gulf. Or it could harness the fears of the Asian giants to add teeth to its sanctions regime against Iran. Either outcome would be both devastating to Tehran yet nonkinetic.”

Now that’s what I call smart diplomacy.

NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL SMART DIPLOMACY: Trump Admin Sanctions Iran to Disrupt Arms Network. “Iran running $100m arms-smuggling operations in Iraq.”

SMART DIPLOMACY: Trump: Agreement reached with Mexico over Central American migrants, tariffs ‘indefinitely suspended.’

SMART DIPLOMACY: Moscow Meeting May Break Venezuelan, North Korean & Ukrainian Stalemates.

SMART DIPLOMACY: U.S. seizes North Korean ship suspected of violating U.N. sanctions.


SMART DIPLOMACY: Richard Grenell, Trump’s top ambassador, ‘delivers again,’ blocking Iran.

A top Trump ambassador is winning kudos for his part in convincing Germany to ban Iranian airline Mahan Air amid allegations it ran weapons to Syria.

Officials said that Richard Grenell, U.S. ambassador to Germany, played a key role and scored his latest victory since landing last May when he warned, “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”

Since arriving in Berlin, Ambassador Grenell has literally hit the ground running delivering on the president’s priorities,” said a key ally and senior Senate Republican aide.

“At the top of that list has been to ensure Europe doesn’t circumvent President Trump on Iran,” said the aide, adding, “Today is a massive win for President Trump. Because of Ambassador Grenell’s perseverance, this Iranian airline will no longer be able to fly to the largest economy in Europe. Make no mistake, Ric Grenell has become President Trump’s go-to diplomat in Europe. He delivers.”

I’m a fan.

SMART DIPLOMACY: Wow: U.S. reaches deal with Mexico to have asylum applicants wait across the border.

DIPLOMACY: Trump Wields His Energy Weapon.

The tip of the spear when it comes to President Trump’s diplomacy is not the tongue of the diplomat, but the power of the pipeline.

The United States is now the world’s No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas, eating away at Washington’s past dependence on foreign producers and oil cartels. And that means the influence of petrostates like Iran and Russia and autocracies around the world.

Trump calls it “energy dominance,” and the freedom it provides has undergirded many of the president’s decisions, from moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem to re-imposing sanctions on Iran, according to administration sources.

“It allows us to impose these sanctions and not upset the world oil market very much,” said Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette. “It’s a fundamentally different posture to be in, in regard to our foreign policy. … It just gives us leverage.”

In negotiations with European, Chinese, and other world leaders, the president has made energy a central theme. Earlier this year, Trump even taunted NATO members at a summit in Brussels, calling them “captives” to Russian energy.

Above all, the comment was aimed at Germany, which is working with the Russian state-run energy firm Gazprom to build the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

I remember when The Smartest President Ever told us that we couldn’t drill our way out of depending on our enemies for energy.

ANGELO CODEVILLA: Diplomacy 101 vs. Politics Writ Small.

The high professional quality of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s performance at their Monday press conference in Helsinki contrasts sharply with the obloquy by which the bipartisan U.S. ruling class showcases its willful incompetence.

Though I voted for Trump, I’ve never been a fan of his and I am not one now. But, having taught diplomacy for many years, I would choose the Trump-Putin press conference as an exemplar of how these things should be done. Both spoke with the frankness and specificity of serious business. This performance rates an A+.

Well. A performance depends on its intended audience. If the intended audience was the U.S. political class, then Trump gets an F. So who was Trump’s (and Putin’s) intended audience. Audiences?

Meanwhile, some lefties are warning about the anti-Trump hysteria: Steve Vladeck writes: Americans have forgotten what ‘treason’ actually means — and how it can be abused: We are willfully turning a blind eye to the sordid history of treason that led to its unique treatment in the U.S. Constitution. If you cheapen the definition of treason, you had better be ready to be called traitors, and perhaps treated as such.

Likewise, Jay Michaelson in The Daily Beast: Stop Saying Trump Committed ‘Treason.’ You’re Playing Into His Hands.

Treason is clearly defined in the Constitution, which states, in Article III, Section 3: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

This definition does not apply to Trump. He is not levying war against the United States, and to be an “enemy” requires that a state of war exists between the United States and the foreign nation in question.

That does not exist in the case of Russia. Congress has not declared war, and Russia’s alleged cyberattacks, while they may constitute acts of war in the abstract, have not been regarded as such by the United States. (Last year, the European Union announced it would begin regarding cyberattacks as acts of war.)

Even when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, they weren’t charged with treason, because the Cold War was undeclared, and not a formal “war.” Nor were other Russian spies such as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen.

In fact, the only indictment of treason since World War II was of American-born al Qaeda supporter Adam Gadahn. Unlike Russia, al Qaeda is a formal “enemy” of the United States, because Congress authorized war against it. And in fitting with war, Gadahn was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2015.

Perhaps the domestic political class was Trump’s intended audience, and he intended them to go batshit crazy. In that case, A+.

Meanwhile, Roger Kimball writes: What Critics Missed About the Trump-Putin Summit.

As becomes more and more clear as the first Trump Administration evolves, this president is someone who is willing, nay eager, to challenge the bureaucratic status quo, on domestic issues as well as in foreign policy.

Trump inherited a world order on the international front that was constructed in the immediate aftermath of World War II and has subsequently amassed a thick, barnacle-like carapace of bureaucratic procedures. Perhaps those procedures and the institutions that deploy them continue to serve American interests. But what if they don’t?

As I’ve said, the best way to understand the Trump presidency is as the renegotiation of the post-World War II institutional structure. Naturally, the barnacles don’t like that. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, but the intensity of their screaming indicates their emotional (and livelihood) investment, not who’s right.

Meanwhile, if the argument is that Trump is a Putin stooge, the arguers have to deal with the fact that Trump is clearly harder on Russia than Obama was, or than Hillary, by all appearances, would have been. Even NeverTrumper Eric Erickson writes: Remember, Trump’s Policies Against Russia Have Been Tougher Than Obama’s.

We’ve been killing Russian mercenaries in Syria. We have expanded and enhanced NATO’s footprint in Eastern Europe over Russian objections. We have sold military weaponry to Ukraine. We have been indicting Russians for interfering in our elections. We have imposed sanctions on Russian oligarchs. We have imposed sanctions on Russia itself. We have actively been aiding Britain and other governments that have seen a Russian presence with targeted assassinations. “We” being the United States under Donald Trump. (See also this thread by James Kirchick)

The media and left would have you believe Donald Trump is captive to Russia. Lately, they’ve been pushing the idea that he may be some sort of sleeper cell Manchurian candidate who Putin owns and controls.

A fellow law prof (of the lefty variety) was even speculating the other day on social media that Melania was Trump’s KGB control agent.

As Walter Russell Mead wrote last year:

If Trump were the Manchurian candidate that people keep wanting to believe that he is, here are some of the things he’d be doing:

Limiting fracking as much as he possibly could
Blocking oil and gas pipelines
Opening negotiations for major nuclear arms reductions
Cutting U.S. military spending
Trying to tamp down tensions with Russia’s ally Iran

That Trump is planning to do precisely the opposite of these things may or may not be good policy for the United States, but anybody who thinks this is a Russia appeasement policy has been drinking way too much joy juice.

Obama actually did all of these things, and none of the liberal media now up in arms about Trump ever called Obama a Russian puppet; instead, they preferred to see a brave, farsighted and courageous statesman.

So I don’t know if Trump knows what he’s doing. (As proof that his remarks were dumb, he’s already walked them back.) American presidents have historically done badly in their first meetings with Russian leaders, from Kennedy at Vienna to George W. staring into Putin’s soul. And as a general rule, Presidents don’t criticize their own intelligence agencies while at meetings with foreign adversaries. But then, as a general rule, U.S. intelligence agencies aren’t supposed to be involved in domestic politics up to their elbows, as has clearly been the case here. And don’t get me started on John Brennan’s disgraceful comments, which Rand Paul correctly calls “completely unhinged.” Brennan, like his colleagues Comey and Clapper, has made clear the rot at the top of important intelligence agencies, and people like Peter Strzok suggest that the rot extends some ways down from the head. So maybe the general rules don’t apply any more, and Trump is more a symptom than a cause of that.

So maybe his approach to Putin is disastrous, maybe it’s smart. But the most important thing Trump can do is get a better class of people in charge of the institutions where the rot is worst. I don’t know if he can do that at all.


SMART DIPLOMACY! Trump has done what Obama didn’t: Scare NATO into closer tracking of defense spending. “He wasn’t the first to raise concerns: President Barack Obama had frequently lamented NATO members’ failure to spend enough on defense. But it was Trump’s undiplomatic rhetoric that got the issue to the top of the group’s agenda this week, when NATO’s members are expected to accept the idea of public report cards to make sure everyone’s meeting the requirements of the alliance.”

Maybe effective diplomacy sometimes calls for undiplomatic rhetoric.

“SMART DIPLOMACY:” A LAST WHIMPER. ‘Empty words’: Samantha Power’s apology for this Obama-era offense is ‘too little, too late.’

ACTUAL “SMART DIPLOMACY” IN ACTION: “White House officials said Mr. Trump took a personal interest in her case…. He just said, ‘Let’s bring her home.’”

It’s hard — isn’t it? — for the liberal media to give President Trump credit for anything, but they should gracefully give him the credit he genuinely deserves. Imagine what the NYT would look like if President Obama had brought Aya Hijazi home! Trump was portrayed in a negative light for cozying up to Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, but the Obama administration tried and failed to bring Hijazi home. . . .

Let’s talk about which is better, Obama’s words or Trump’s words? Do Trump’s words seem ridiculous and clownish — calling Sisi “fantastic” — when we see that Trump got results? . . .

Successful action is camouflaged in verbiage about things that have been said. Some of his words may sound like confusion, but that doesn’t mean Trump is confused about what he is saying. Maybe he knows how to use words. There’s an awful lot of evidence that he does. You can look down on him and call him confused, but when the results come in, you ought to question your analysis of what he is doing with words.

Acknowledging that would interfere with the smugness.

THE MESS OBAMA LEFT IN SYRIA: It wasn’t smart diplomacy.


SMART DIPLOMACY: Team Trump is already kicking butt at the United Nations.

AFTER EIGHT YEARS OF “SMART DIPLOMACY,” AN IMPORTANT EXPLAINER: What’s the actual difference between a hydrogen bomb and an atomic bomb?

Related: The Unexpected Return Of ‘Duck And Cover.’

IT’S AN IMPORTANT QUESTION AFTER EIGHT YEARS OF “SMART DIPLOMACY:” How far away would you need to be to survive a nuclear blast?

Related: The Unexpected Return of “Duck and Cover.”

THE NSC REORGANIZATION KERFUFFLE: In terms of organizing and sizing the National Security Council, Trump can do just about anything he wants. The NSC works for him. He can staff it to meet his needs. To say he can’t is Fake News.

The UPI dispatch covers the basics.

Trump also has pared the council to six deputy national security advisers, compared to the 23 on Obama’s council.

Long overdue. Obama stacked his NSC with cronies. Loyalty to him came first. Having political chums or relatives in the mainstream media was an additional qualifier. It sure wasn’t military experience or other types of rubber-meets-the-road national security experience.

Last night Glenn fisked Susan Rice’s latest act of naked hypocrisy. “The troika made up of Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and Hillary Clinton was perhaps the most disastrous foreign policy crew in American history.” Glenn was elaborating on this post at

Trump has decided to downgrade NSC participation by the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, they are statutory advisers. Former SecDef Robert Gates is concerned about that.

“My biggest concern is there are actually, under the law, two statutory advisers to the National Security Council, and that’s the director of [national] intelligence, or the DNI, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff,” Robert Gates, secretary of defense for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told ABC News. “They both bring a perspective and judgment and experience… that every president — whether they like it or not — finds useful.”

However, the mainstream media and usual suspects are acting like the DNI and Chairman JCS are out of the loop. They aren’t. The BBC reports they’ll attend NSC Principals Committee meetings when discussions pertain to their areas.

This ABC News headline indicates we’re dealing with another anti-Trump tantrum. “Trump Gives Controversial Adviser Bannon Seat at Security Council Principals Meetings.

However, ABC does concede that Trump’s reorganization isn’t radical at all:

The invitation-only status of the Joint Chiefs chairman and director of national intelligence is similar to a policy instituted under President George W. Bush.

Another Bush-era policy re-instituted in Trump’s memorandum is separating the Homeland Security Council from the NSC, which President Obama had previously merged.

While it’s not abnormal for presidents to restructure the makeup of their National Security Council, the addition of Bannon, the former publisher of Breitbart News, to the Principals Committee has brought scrutiny over the adviser’s influence in Trump’s inner circle.

I think the Dems and their media pals have gone tantrum-tilt because Trump wants Steve Bannon to serve on the NSC. During the campaign Dems and the mainstream media committed themselves to the narrative that Bannon is Rasputin and Hitler and etc. Is he a political adviser? Yes. However, Bannon was also a naval officer. The UPI release mentions that George W. Bush barred Karl Rove from attending NSC meetings. OK. Rove was a political adviser but he never served in the military. Bush was a USAF reserve pilot. Bush combined political experience and military experience. Like Obama, Trump has no personal military experience. Bannon has political savvy and military experience. In this light Bannon very likely meets a need Trump perceives. So Trump hires him. Did Obama perceive a similar inadequacy in himself? Of course he didn’t. Obama, the purveyor of Smart Diplomacy, was always the smartest guy in the room. Obama’s national security record? Why, it’s dismal. Perhaps he could have used a Steve Bannon.

8 YEARS OF “SMART DIPLOMACY:” Russia’s Arctic Military Buildup in One Map.

SMART DIPLOMACY: It’s Obama, Not Trump, Who Snuggled Up To Putin: Broader aims on Middle East realignment led the outgoing president’s efforts at two-track diplomacy. One track was misdirection. The other handed the region to Russia and Iran.

Is Donald Trump a Russian secret agent? Did he pay FSB hookers to pee on the bed the Obamas slept in at the Ritz in Moscow, overlooking the Kremlin? It’s silly season, so any drunk on a fat oppo-research expense account can write down any crazy foolishness they want and Buzzfeed will let you decide if it’s true because that, as Buzzfeed’s editor, Ben Smith, solemnly explained to The New York Times, is where American journalism is at in 2017. Duly noted, Buzzfeed. Enjoy the golden showers.

What’s being obscured by this grotesquerie is the origin and the actual substance of U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, which in turn affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people living in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Or, to put it another way: Is Donald Trump likely to continue the policies of his predecessor, which set the Middle East on fire and led to 500,000 deaths in Syria, and to Putin biting off large chunks of the sovereign nation of Ukraine? Or is he likely to reverse those policies? Or can he, even if he wanted to?

The single-mindedness with which the White House and the remnants of the Clinton campaign have pursued the idea that Donald Trump is a pawn of Vladimir Putin is not based on silly stories about peeing prostitutes or secret computer servers that connect the Trump organization to the Kremlin. Rather, it’s an attempt to manufacture more smoke to obscure the reality of Obama’s own determination to collaborate with a hostile Russian leader in Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Obama had “more flexibility” after the election in 2012, and he used it.

SMART DIPLOMACY: U.S. Surrendered More Than $10 Billion in Gold, Cash, Assets to Iran.

Senior Iranian officials late last week confirmed reports that the total amount of money paid to Iran over the past four years is in excess of $10 billion, a figure that runs counter to official estimates provided by the White House.

The latest disclosure by Iran, which comports with previous claims about the Obama administration obfuscating details about its cash transfers to Iran—including a $1.7 billion cash payment included in a ransom to free Americans—sheds further light on the White House’s back room dealings to bolster Iran’s economy and preserve the Iran nuclear agreement.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi confirmed last week a recent report in the Wall Street Journal detailing some $10 billion in cash and assets provided to Iran since 2013, when the administration was engaging in sensitive diplomacy with Tehran aimed at securing the nuclear deal.

Ghasemi disclosed that the $10 billion figure just scratches the surface of the total amount given to Iran by the United States over the past several years.

Barack Obama kept the Iranian terrorist regime on financial life support long enough to get his reckless nuclear deal — and the sanctions lifted.

“SMART DIPLOMACY:” White House On Defense After Being Exposed as Architect of Anti-Israel U.N. Action.

UH OH: Leaked Document: U.S. Colluded With Palestinians 10 Days Before UN Settlements Vote.

Related: Transcript claims to show US worked with Palestinians on UN resolution: Report published in Egypt has Kerry and Rice advising senior Palestinians on strategy at UN and after Trump takes power.

This is a big deal. Is it true? The State Department denies it, natch, but it fits. And the leak is quite damaging. This is what you get when you spend eight years ignoring communications security and then try to pull a fast one. I guess that’s called “smart diplomacy.”

UPDATE: Even National Journal says Obama’s just helping Trump win in 2020 here: Obama’s Parting Shot Against His Party: By thumbing his nose at Israel as he leaves office, the president shows he didn’t learn anything from this year’s election.

Obama never cared about his party except as a tool for his own ambitions. In fact, he’s better off with a Republican in the White House and a weak Democratic Party. Democrats are just beginning to figure this out. . . .

THE WAGES OF “SMART DIPLOMACY.” The U.S. Is Now a Country That Can Be Ignored.

“SMART DIPLOMACY:” How the Obama administration pushed Turkey into Russia’s arms.

MICHAEL TOTTEN: Almost Everyone Got The Arab Spring Wrong. “How did so many journalists, diplomats, academics, and analysts get Egypt so wrong? It was partly the result of hope and naiveté. But the Muslim Brotherhood also waged a brilliantly effective campaign of deception at home and abroad, hoping to convince as many people as possible that it was a politically moderate organization with a broad and diverse base of support. It wanted to earn the trust of Egyptians who weren’t yearning for an Islamist theocracy, and it feared a hostile reaction from the West, so it mounted a full-court press in the Egyptian, European, and American media. The Washington Post even published an op-ed from one of its leaders, Abdel Moneim Abouel, who wrote that the Brotherhood ’embraced diversity and democratic values.'”

Plus: “Washington gave the Brotherhood one pass after another, and a bewildered Morsi eventually felt that he was free to do and say whatever he wanted without being challenged. The Obama administration, for its part, seemed blissfully unaware that its well-meaning diplomatic outreach looked to Egyptians like an alliance with the Islamists against secularists.”

I think that’s what they call “smart diplomacy” in this Administration. Related: Former Nobel committee secretary regrets awarding the peace prize to Obama.

SMART DIPLOMACY: U.S., Western Allies Push Iran on New Measures to Bolster Nuclear Deal.

The U.S. and its Western allies are pressing Iran to take steps to sharply cut the amount of radioactive material it holds in a bid to shore up last year’s nuclear deal and discourage the incoming Trump administration from abandoning it, Western officials said.

The discussions about reducing Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium started months ago, officials said, and are among a number of measures the Obama administration has been examining to fortify the accord in its final months in office. But the initiative has taken on new urgency since the election of President-elect Donald Trump created fresh uncertainty around the deal.

If agreed upon, the plan could reduce the odds of a sudden flashpoint between the U.S. and Iran over Tehran’s implementation of the deal once Mr. Trump takes office, Western officials say, by reducing its enriched-uranium stockpile well below the cap agreed to in the 2015 accord.

A better time to ask for this might have been before lifting the sanctions and turning over pallets full of cash.

“SMART DIPLOMACY:” Russia tells U.S. to get out of the way in Syria.

UNEXPECTEDLY: Obama Leaves Israel With a Security Nightmare.

As Richard Fernandez noted in September, “The Era of Hope and Change has been one prolonged act of suicide. If anyone had said that Obama would manage to alienate Israel and the Philippines, lose Turkey, pay Iran a hundred billion dollars, preside over the loss of a won war in Afghanistan, lose billions of dollars in military equipment to ISIS, watch a consulate burn, restart the Cold War with Russia, cause Japan to re-arm and go the knife’s edge with China would you have believed it? If someone had told you in 2008 millions of refugees would be heading for Europe and that the UK would leave the EU after Obama went there to campaign for them to remain would you not have laughed? He promised ‘smart diplomacy’ and the restoration of American prestige in the world. How did it come to this?”

Of course, things could get even worse after Obama leaves office, but his legacy — a nuclear-armed Iran — continues steaming forward.



“SMART DIPLOMACY” UPDATE: Malaysia Cozies Up to China. “Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is in Beijing this week to sign off on the purchase of Chinese patrol vessels, the first major defense deal between the two countries. As the New York Times notes, the visit is another blow to the Obama administration’s Asia policy.” And if the Times is noting it the week before an election then you know it’s bad.


Najib’s overture to China is spurred in part by anger over U.S. Department of Justice investigations into the country’s scandalous sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB. That controversy has damaged Najib’s international reputation and sent him straight into Beijing’s arms, as China has helpfully agreed to buy the fund’s power assets. Now, that gesture is starting to pay off. China and Malaysia started joint military exercises last year, and reports suggest that Najib will sign agreements on high-speed rail and port projects during his trip to Beijing.

The Malaysian pivot to China is especially embarrassing given President Obama’s clear efforts to court Najib. In 2014, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Malaysia in nearly 50 years; later that year, Najib was the president’s golf buddy during his vacation in Hawaii. Yet that personal outreach cannot disguise the fact that the promises of the Obama administration’s pivot, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), have failed to come through. Like Duterte, Najib has apparently made the calculation that Beijing has more to offer than Washington—and unlike Duterte, this decision cannot be dismissed as the impulses of an anti-American demagogue.

They see China as the strong horse, and America as fundamentally transformed.

ANNALS OF SMART DIPLOMACY: As Duterte Pivots, Uncertainty Reigns in Asia.

Duterte has upended the balance in Asia, and it remains unclear where the chips will fall in his wake. The Philippine president has had a busy diplomatic schedule of late, with trips to Japan, Vietnam, Laos and Brunei, plus an upcoming visit to Malaysia. So far, these countries have largely adopted a “wait and see” approach toward Duterte, neither endorsing nor condemning his China policy, but the climate of uncertainty is not good news.

According to regional leaders, the United States shares some blame for the uncertainty in the region. . . .

Washington must attend to these regional dynamics if it hopes to be a credible player in Asia. The problem is bigger than Duterte. Obama’s pivot to Asia was good policy in theory, but the follow-through has left something to be desired. Consider the current track record: one of Washington’s strongest Asian allies is led by an anti-American demagogue, China and the Philippines are working toward a mutual understanding on the South China Sea, Malaysia is leaning toward China, and the landmark Pacific trade deal supported by the U.S. languishes due to populism at home.

Relax. Obama and Kerry are on the job.

ANNALS OF “SMART DIPLOMACY:” Why the Middle East knows not to trust the United States.

HOW’S THAT “PIVOT TO ASIA” GOING? Duterte Threatens to Scrap Defense Pact (Again).

A Philippine decision to ax the EDCA would deal another major blow to the Obama administration’s Asia rebalance. The bilateral defense agreement, signed in 2014, was strategically designed to make the Philippines a major staging area for projecting U.S. naval and air power in the Pacific. Last November, Obama travelled to the Philippines to make the case for the EDCA as the Philippine Supreme Court questioned its constitutionality. The agreement cleared that hurdle in January, but with Duterte’s latest diatribe its future is in doubt.

When Duterte threatened to tear up the pact earlier this month, the Pentagon downplayed his comments. But his latest threat, together with his cryptic words about staying in power long enough, have renewed uncertainty about U.S.-Philippine security cooperation. The timing of his comments is particularly awkward coming on the heels of a U.S. diplomatic visit meant to smooth the waters, and ahead of Duterte’s trip to Japan, a major U.S. ally.

Remember when our smart, universally-loved commander in chief was going to run America’s diplomacy so much more smoothly and intelligently than that dumb cowboy Bush?

THE WAGES OF “SMART DIPLOMACY:” Duterte aligns Philippines with China, says U.S. has lost.


Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Goa, India this weekend at the annual BRICS summit, where the big announcement was that Igor Sechin’s Rosneft had bought a controlling stake (49 percent) in the Indian Essar Oil company. At a press conference for the announcement yesterday, Putin was asked if Russia would consider softening its counter-sanctions against the United States and the European Union. “Screw them,” he said. . . .

The bravado was surely music to the ears of his Russian audience. But Putin was sounding a distinctly different note two weeks ago, when he submitted a law to the Russian Duma withdrawing Russia from a long-standing plutonium disposal agreement with the United States. Among the preconditions for the resumption of the treaty named in the document one in particular stands out: “The United States must pay for the damages incurred by the Russian Federation as a result of the aforementioned sanctions, including any costs born from counter-sanctions the Russian Federation was forced to undertake.” (This language was of course not mentioned in Russian coverage of Putin’s bill. What the Russian people instead heard on TV was that Putin Almighty was sticking it to the United States.)

The economic reality is harsher. The Russian Government, looking ahead to a future where oil prices stay at around $40/barrel, recently announced that it will slash its budgets for next year, including a cutting its health care budget by one third, down to $6 billion for 126 million people, which includes spending on research. And yet all these budget cuts still have the Russian Government running a deficit well into the future. Russia’s reserve fund is expected to drop to $15 billion by the end of the year by some analysts, and could run out as early as mid-next year. Though the IMF is predicting that the Russian economy will return to growth next year, it maintains a gloomy outlook for the next few years out, arguing that growth “remains subdued given long-standing structural bottlenecks and the impact of sanctions on productivity and investment.”

EU Foreign Ministers are meeting this week, and Russia is on the agenda. New European sanctions seem unlikely—Austria today joined Hungary, Cyprus, and Greece in signaling opposition—but recent developments in Syria appear to have forestalled any talk of easing the sanctions currently in place. For his part, Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday announced that the United States was mulling imposing additional sanctions on Russia in connection with Syria. We will see if anything comes of it.

President Putin is indeed screwing someone over, but it’s not the West; he is screwing over his own people, over and over again, millions of whom are paying the price for their leader’s personal ambitions and interests. Critically, however, Putin’s decisions are also hurting those in his inner circle, and his regime is suffering and weakening.

We, on the other hand, hold a strong hand and are playing it badly. That’s called “smart diplomacy.”

THE WAGES OF “SMART DIPLOMACY:” Walter Russell Mead: What Erdogan’s Pivot to Putin Means.

Obama handling of Syria continues to become more incoherent and more damaging to American interests. Putin has not only, thanks to White House dithering and irresolution, managed to reinsert Russia into Middle East politics in a spoiler role and his gains have not just included a deepening and commercially beneficial relationship with Iran and the weakening of the European Union and Merkel’s leadership in it over the refugee issue; he has also, thanks to the incoherence of American policy, managed to drive a thick wedge into NATO by further alienating Turkey from the West and, especially Washington.

As for what a naive and vainglorious President Obama once (back in those days when he collected Nobel Peace Prizes and was hailed as the second coming of Abraham Lincoln by a clueless and infatuated press corps) identified as a central goal of his foreign policy—the reconciliation of America with the Muslim world—his callous abandonment of the Syrian Sunnis to their increasingly genocidal foes has done as much, if not more, to tarnish America’s reputation among Sunni Arabs than anything any of his predecessors managed to do going back to Harry Truman.

The issues in Syria are difficult and the alternatives are few, but President Obama’s Syria policy is one of the shabbiest and sorriest displays of serial ineptitude that has unfolded in world politics in all these many years. That his emissaries and representatives attempt to cover the nakedness of their policy with grandiose rhetorical denunciation of the crimes that Obama’s incompetence has enabled merely underscores the horrifying moral and political emptiness of the President’s approach to world politics.

Obama could hardly have accomplished more harm if he were trying to ruin America’s position in the world.


RESET: Russia’s top spin doctor in nuclear warning.

“A Russian takes a long time to harness a horse, but then rides fast,” said the news anchor, quoting a famous Russian saying.

By “riding fast”, Kiselyov was referring to a string of recent Russian military deployments:

•Last week, Moscow sent three warships from the Black Sea Fleet to the Mediterranean: on board, cruise missiles that can carry nuclear warheads

•Russia deployed nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles into the Kaliningrad region bordering Poland

•The Russians announced they would send 5,000 paratroopers to Egypt for military exercises

•Moscow also suspended three nuclear agreements with the United States

Kiselyov said that in recent days there had been a “radical change’ in the US-Russian relationship.

Moscow was taking action, he said, because of “the loud talk in Washington of a ‘Plan B’ for Syria. Everyone understands what this plan means: direct military force in Syria against President Assad’s forces and the Russian military”.

In Washington, the US state department said last week it was continuing internal deliberations about “non-diplomatic” options regarding the war in Syria.

I came of age politically during one of the tensest parts of the Cold War: From the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, through the KAL 007 shootdown, to the Pershing II missile deployment.

And I can’t recall Moscow ever talking like this before.

Much more of this Smart Diplomacy and we’re going to find ourselves in a shooting war with Russia over Syria.

“SMART DIPLOMACY:” Politico: Obama administration becomes target of Russian ridicule: Taunted by Moscow, Kerry chooses to look the other way while pursuing a diplomatic dialogue. It’s hard to hold a “dialogue” with people who hold you in contempt, as Putin clearly does Obama and Kerry.

“SMART DIPLOMACY:” “America’s loss of control over the eastern Mediterranean is a self-induced disaster.”

SMART DIPLOMACY: How the Nuclear Deal Enriches Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

In short, whether its internal security, foreign adventures, or large corporate ventures, the IRGC plays an outsized role in Iran’s internal power structure. Established in 1979 to consolidate the Islamic revolution and fight its enemies, the IRGC has evolved over the years into a full-fledged conventional army, conducting and directing terrorist activity abroad. The Guard has also become a political power broker, an economic conglomerate, and an agency in charge of nuclear and ballistic-missile proliferation.

The interaction among military, economic, and political power is critical in understanding the centrality of the IRGC to Iran’s current system. The Guard exploits its influence and capabilities in one realm to increase its presence in another. Its growing economic clout is both an end in itself and a tool to advance its other agendas. Thus, IRGC revenues from economic activities yield the necessary resources and political leverage to place its members in positions of power. Conversely, the Guard’s political power serves the economic enterprises it owns, and both its political and economic weight in turn advance its military projects.

That’s just from the online introduction. The full report is available in PDF format, and is both dry and damning of the Obama Administration.

THE SYRIAN MESS ON OBAMA’S WATCH: Syrian and Russian aircraft attacked an aid convoy and destroyed 18 aid trucks. The hapless John Kerry claims it’s too early to say the casefire he negotiated with the Russians has collapsed. Ah, Smart Diplomacy.


The Era of Hope and Change has been one prolonged act of suicide. If anyone had said that Obama would manage to alienate Israel and the Philippines, lose Turkey, pay Iran a hundred billion dollars, preside over the loss of a won war in Afghanistan, lose billions of dollars in military equipment to ISIS, watch a consulate burn, restart the Cold War with Russia, cause Japan to re-arm and go the knife’s edge with China would you have believed it? If someone had told you in 2008 millions of refugees would be heading for Europe and that the UK would leave the EU after Obama went there to campaign for them to remain would you not have laughed?

He promised “smart diplomacy” and the restoration of American prestige in the world. How did it come to this?

Well, for starters, he was an unqualified community organizer who never much liked the country he was elected to run.

ANNALS OF “SMART DIPLOMACY:” Report: China blames America for Obama embarrassment.

Chinese officials say it’s America’s fault that President Obama had to awkwardly exit Air Force One as he arrived in China for the G20 summit meeting, Reuters reports.

“I think if only the American group had respected the working arrangements first made with China then this wouldn’t have occurred,” China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reportedly said in Beijing on Monday.

“You saw that all the other country leaders all used the stairs that China provided. So why was it only the United States that didn’t? These were the stairs the United States requested.”

Speculation has been that Chinese officials intentionally embarrassed Obama at the Hangzhou airport on Saturday by failing to give him a proper staircase to disembark his aircraft.

Tensions were exacerbated on the tarmac when a Chinese official was reportedly antagonistic toward National Security Adviser Susan Rice and U.S. officials were scolded for trying to help American journalists get better access to Obama.

Then the Twitter account of the Defense Intelligence Agency caused more friction with a tweet.

“Classy as always China,” the tweet read, linking to a New York Times article about the confrontation on the tarmac.

The DIA, a spy agency within the Pentagon, deleted the tweet quickly, issuing an apology.

It’s a jayvee administration all the way.

ANNALS OF “SMART DIPLOMACY:” Obama plays down China airport row.

Related: US spy agency tweets China ‘classy as always,’ apologizes.

For an administration whose foreign policy motto was supposed to be “don’t do stupid shit,” they sure seem to do a lot of stupid shit.

“SMART DIPLOMACY:” Row on tarmac an awkward G20 start for U.S., China. “The same official shouted at a White House press aide who was instructing foreign reporters on where to stand as they recorded Obama disembarking from the plane. ‘This is our country. This is our airport,’ the official said in English, pointing and speaking angrily with the aide.”

WAGES OF “SMART DIPLOMACY:” Legendary General James Mattis Warns US Influence ‘At Lowest In 40 Years.’

“SMART DIPLOMACY:” Biden’s remark on Japan Constitution raises eyebrows.

A recent remark by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that America wrote Japan’s Constitution is raising some eyebrows in Japan.

A popular front-page column in the national Asahi newspaper said this week that the comment “was unprecedented in its insensitivity” and “could even be considered arrogant.”

Biden, appearing Monday with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, attacked Republican candidate Donald Trump for saying that Japan might need to consider obtaining nuclear weapons in the future.

The vice president said, “Does he not understand we wrote Japan’s Constitution to say that they could not be a nuclear power?”

It’s no secret that U.S. forces occupying Japan after World War II drafted the constitution, though Japanese scholars were involved in reviewing and modifying it before adoption.


THE REAL PRICE OF THE IRAN RANSOM: Whether ransom or quick “return of Iranian assets,” it appears the Iranians associate the $400 million they received via airlift with holding hostages. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce: “Hundreds of millions in the pockets of a terrorist regime means a more dangerous region, period. And paying ransom only puts more American lives in jeopardy.” The report adds: “Since the cash was airlifted, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has arrested two more Iranian-Americans.” Remember, in 2008 Obama promised “Smart Diplomacy.”

“SMART DIPLOMACY:” NATO’s Southern Flank Is Unraveling. “The last 48 hours have blown the hinges off NATO’s southern door. The European Union was relying on Turkey to stand between it and the chaos of Syria. Now the wall is threatening to collapse on Frau Merkel. The chaos she sought to keep at bay may have moved one country closer to the heart of Europa, a Europa which the French security failure suggests is defenseless against the fire which it, itself, has started within its borders.”

LIEUTENANT-GENERAL MICHAEL FLYNN SCORNS OBAMA’S WAR RECORD: As well he should. Obama’s Smart Diplomacy has a losing record. Media speculate LTG Flynn (ret) is on Trump’s VP list. From Flynn’s essay in The New York Post:

We’re in a global war, facing an enemy alliance that runs from Pyongyang, North Korea, to Havana, Cuba, and Caracas, Venezuela. Along the way, the alliance picks up radical Muslim countries and organizations such as Iran, al Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic State.

That’s a formidable coalition, and nobody should be shocked to discover that we are losing the war.

If our leaders were interested in winning, they would have to design a strategy to destroy this global enemy. But they don’t see the global war. Instead, they timidly nibble around the edges of the battlefields from Africa to the Middle East, and act as if each fight, whether in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya or Afghanistan, can be peacefully resolved by diplomatic effort.

This approach is doomed. We have real enemies, dedicated to dominating and eventually destroying us, and they are not going to be talked out of their hatred. Iran, for example, declared war on the United States in 1979 — that’s 37 years ago — and has been killing Americans ever since. Every year, the State Department declares Iran to be the world’s primary supporter of terror. Do you think we’ll nicely and politely convince them to be good citizens and even (as President Obama desires) a responsible ally supporting peace? Do you think ISIS or the Taliban wants to embrace us?

I’ll wager LTG Flynn also fully understands the operational and strategic damage done to US national security by Hillary’s criminal mishandling of classified information.

I THINK HILLARY CALLS IT “SMART DIPLOMACY” OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT: Bill Clinton Declares War on Poland: Who on Team Clinton thought offending a close American ally—and 10 million Polish Americans—was a good idea?

The exact role former President Bill Clinton plays in his wife’s presidential campaign is sometimes difficult to pin down. He has never excelled at keeping a low profile—it’s difficult to imagine Mr. Clinton as a retiring, camera-shy First Gentleman come January—and it’s long been obvious he’s a lot more popular with most of the Democratic base than his wife.

This explains why Hillary Clinton at times publicly offers her husband big jobs in her putative administration. Last weekend she indicated Bill would be in charge of getting our economy going again. “My husband, who I’m going to put in charge of revitalizing the economy, ’cause you know he knows how to do it,” Ms. Clinton told an audience in Kentucky. What exactly that means is subject to interpretation. Will Bill Clinton head up the new Department of the American Economy next year? How is that different from the existing Department of Commerce?

Details aside, Ms. Clinton needs all the help she can get on the campaign trail, as evidenced by her squeaker of a victory on Tuesday in Kentucky, where she beat out Senator Bernie Sanders by half a percent of Democratic voters, despite a big ad buy and a hard campaign push in the Bluegrass State, and despite the fact that she beat Barack Obama in the 2008 primary there by 35 percent. That Ms. Clinton is having considerable difficulty defeating a 74-year-old socialist who represents a state with two-tenths of a percent of the U.S. population does not bode well for her chances in November. . . .

The exact role former President Bill Clinton plays in his wife’s presidential campaign is sometimes difficult to pin down. He has never excelled at keeping a low profile—it’s difficult to imagine Mr. Clinton as a retiring, camera-shy First Gentleman come January—and it’s long been obvious he’s a lot more popular with most of the Democratic base than his wife.

This explains why Hillary Clinton at times publicly offers her husband big jobs in her putative administration. Last weekend she indicated Bill would be in charge of getting our economy going again. “My husband, who I’m going to put in charge of revitalizing the economy, ’cause you know he knows how to do it,” Ms. Clinton told an audience in Kentucky. What exactly that means is subject to interpretation. Will Bill Clinton head up the new Department of the American Economy next year? How is that different from the existing Department of Commerce?

Details aside, Ms. Clinton needs all the help she can get on the campaign trail, as evidenced by her squeaker of a victory on Tuesday in Kentucky, where she beat out Senator Bernie Sanders by half a percent of Democratic voters, despite a big ad buy and a hard campaign push in the Bluegrass State, and despite the fact that she beat Barack Obama in the 2008 primary there by 35 percent. That Ms. Clinton is having considerable difficulty defeating a 74-year-old socialist who represents a state with two-tenths of a percent of the U.S. population does not bode well for her chances in November.

Read the whole thing.

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE UPDATE: Assad siege of Aleppo could be ‘imminent,’ experts warn.

A government encirclement of the Syrian rebel stronghold of Aleppo could be “imminent,” according to military and humanitarian observers, some of whom point to United Nations-sponsored peace talks as having given the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad maneuvering room.

If Syria’s largest city is surrounded by government troops, the strategic situation in Syria could change very rapidly for the worse, not only for Syrians, but also for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—and for the Obama Administration, which has banked heavily on the crumbling peace talks to end five years of civil war and an expanding presence for ISIS amid the chaos.

The encirclement would also be a major strategic advance for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has drawn his forces in Syria, but has also been helping the Assad regime conduct more focused military operations under a two-month “cessation of hostilities.”

Smart Diplomacy™


For someone who preaches the importance of diplomacy and outreach, even to longtime enemies, President Obama can be awfully tough on his friends.

In recent months, he has offended most of the United States’ Persian Gulf allies. “All I need in the Middle East is a few smart autocrats,” he joked privately, according to a recent profile in the Atlantic magazine. Publicly, he has said he “weeps” for Saudi and Kuwaiti children.

The United States’ European allies, he complains, have grown too dependent on American firepower to keep them safe.

Even the United Kingdom, a U.S. “special” partner, has received criticism. Obama seemed to blame the postwar chaos in Libya on British Prime Minister David Cameron, who he said “became distracted by other things” and didn’t do enough to bring order to the fractious country.

* * * * * * * *

Still, when Obama is standing with the Saudi king, the British prime minister or the German chancellor, talking about their countries’ enduring alliance, it’s possible that some may be thinking back to an interview the president did late last year with comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

“How many world leaders do you think are just completely out of their mind?” Seinfeld asked Obama.

“A sizable percentage,” the president replied without missing a beat. “Some of these people, you meet them, you’ll just be chatting and you look in the eyes and go, ‘Oh, this guy’s gone.’”

And just imagine what the Washington Post would be writing about the guy if they weren’t completely in the tank for him.

Related: As Austin Bay noted last month, Obama Needs to Get Over His Self-Serving Guilt Trip.

SMART DIPLOMACY: More foreign spies in US than ever.

The 1980s called, and they want their foreign policy back.


The fallout from President Obama’s indiscreet remarks in Jeffrey Goldberg’s landmark Atlantic article has begun. One day after the article dropped, reports of the President dissing major world leaders and close allies fill the London papers, which highlight Obama’s belittling of David Cameron. The Times of London‘s headline blares, “Obama Lays Blame for Libya Mess on Cameron,” . . .

Expect more shoes to drop—and the anger in London and Paris will be less damaging than the fallout in other parts of the world. For instance, the Iranians are starting to weigh in. . . .

The Iranian trumpeting of Obama’s position will almost certainly not be warmly received in Riyadh, Dubai, and Amman.

This sets up an odd duality: the President in the interview is reflective, thoughtful, making a strong case for why he is wiser and more far seeing than other people. But on the other hand, running your mouth and being openly contemptuous and dismissive of fellow leaders to a journalist is the mark of a careless and clumsy amateur. As so often is the case with this President, there’s a wide gap between the cerebral processes and the ill-considered actions. This would be somewhat explicable in the rookie year of a presidency, but it’s very hard to understand in the final year of an Administration.

Obama is a failed president, and the consequences of his failed presidency will fall upon many innocents. He, however, will always find someone else to blame.

“SMART DIPLOMACY:” Iran nuke deal now found to prohibit nuclear watchdog org from reporting on possible violations.

DON’T WORRY, WE’VE GOT OBAMA/KERRY “SMART DIPLOMACY: ON THE JOB! Daniel Drezner: I don’t mean to alarm anyone about China, but . . . Not a lot of good news is coming out of the Middle Kingdom in 2016. Obama and Kerry will do for the Middle Kingdom what they’ve done for the Middle East!

Seriously, what worries me is how worried the Chinese leadership is acting. They probably know more than we do (though probably still not enough to address their problems!) and worried dictatorships tend to behave badly.

UPDATE: China to secure ‘de facto’ control of S. China Sea. Thanks, Obama!

THE WAGES OF “SMART DIPLOMACY:” Beijing Hurries to Cash in on Perceived U.S. Weakness:

The Wall Street Journal explains that SIPRI’s analysis suggests both that China’s military strength is growing and that it is willing to allow, and even to support, a regional arms race—one that the United States is not happy to see.

Alas, it’s not surprising to see that China has become increasing aggressive under President Obama’s tenure. It isn’t all his fault. Many Chinese read the 2008 financial collapse as a sign of the coming end of American hegemony. And, on the other side of the ledger, the pivot to Asia was launched as an attempt by the administration to assert an American presence in the area.

But as the Obama presidency has progressed, and particularly since Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rule began in 2012, it’s become clear that China’s leaders don’t consider Washington’s repeated threats very threatening. U.S. dithering on the South China Sea last year made the eventual freedom of navigation operations near Chinese-claimed islands less effective than they could have been, and it didn’t help that the first attempt may have implicitly acknowledged China’s territorial claims. Meanwhile, Beijing has been watching America’s (lack of a) strategy in the Middle East, and getting the sense that this U.S. administration isn’t any more likely to respond to challenges from Beijing than it is likely to respond to direct challenges from Moscow.

One thing that people like about Trump — as a major contrast to Obama, and also to Hillary and Sanders — is that whatever his other flaws, he appears to believe in America.

“SMART DIPLOMACY” IN THE ERA OF HOPE AND CHANGE: How Badly Has the U.S. Been Humiliated? Let’s Count the Ways.

HEY, HILLARY, HOW’S THAT “RESET” BUTTON WORKING OUT FOR YOU? Smart Diplomacy: For 1st Time, Putin Officially Names the U.S. as a Threat. If only it were true.
. .

Related: Moscow’s current tone is “reminiscent of Soviet days”; If anyone is stuck in the Cold War mentality, it is the Russians. Hey, Barack, the 1980s called — they want to know if we’d like to borrow their President.

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE UPDATE: China Steps Up the Pressure on Japan.

Among the world’s top powers, the Japan-China rivalry has the most potential to launch a major war. But until this incident, there was relative quiet in this dispute. China had been calming the waters, smoothing over tensions in its relationship with Japan. If Beijing is now going to raise the stakes in the standoff over small islands, 2016 could see Asian tensions hit new highs. More aggressive Chinese policy in the East China Sea would be an ominous sign for the new year, indeed.

No worries, we’ve got Smart DiplomacyTM on the job!


Another crisis that the Obama Administration thought it had successfully relegated to the back burner appears to be furiously bubbling up again. . . .

When Obama came to office, he promised to pull out of Iraq and focus on fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, which he said was the necessary war, the one we needed to win. And yet Afghanistan is currently another example of the dangerous world Obama will leave behind. Unless things change pretty dramatically next year, some thick and urgent dossiers will await the next inhabitant of the Oval Office. The world the President is preparing to leave behind him increasingly doesn’t look like the one he promised on the campaign trail in 2008.

Expiration date, reached.


U.S. officials yesterday announced that there would be no more “Freedom of Navigation” drills around disputed atolls in the South China Sea for the rest of the year. The United States sailed a guided missile destroyer within 12 miles of Subi reef in the Spratly island chain—an outcropping that is above water only at low tide, but which Chinese forces have built up into a military outpost—last October, and officials had been planning to do so again this month. No longer. . . .

The Pentagon officially refused to comment.

The apparent discord between the White House and the Pentagon is deeply troubling. With naval officials signaling one thing, and the Administration signaling another, it’s hard to imagine that Beijing is taking the United States very seriously at the moment. It would be one thing if this were the first sign that military commanders aren’t on the same page as their civilian overseers. But it isn’t. Indeed, it really is remarkable that, after seven years in the White House, the President still cannot keep his ducks in line—whether one believes he is right to be cautious or not.

He’s a JV president.

SMART DIPLOMACYTM UPDATE: Obama & Kerry: Such a Fine Line Between Clever & Stupid.

Let’s put it bluntly: Kerry tells us that certain acts of mass terror are not as bad as others if the terrorists have a “legitimacy” or a “rationale” understandable to your average progressive elite moron, one that said moron “could attach to.” You find encapsulated here the self-loathing that progressives feel for Western society, a loathing so deep that they are willing to “attach” themselves to those who would kill us in cold blood as long as the killers had an understandable reason, of course. This is the same sort of “cool detached intellectualist logic” at work, say, when Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland, Stalin conducted his murderous purges, Castro and Che ran their firing squads 24/7, as Chavez/Maduro dismantle democracy in Venezuela, or as thugs take over universities in the name of “tolerance” and “black lives” etcetera, etcetera . . .

For the progressive the victims at Charlie Hebdo, of course, had committed the crime of treating Islam to almost the same level of mockery to which they subject Christianity, Judaism, Israel, and conservative politicians. They violated the Molotov-Von Ribbentrop Pact that exists between Islam and progressivism. It was too bad they had to die, but it was understandable.

Ouch. Plus: “Unfortunately for Western civilization, the Obama misadministration is not a fictional mockumentary. This is real. The disaster is real. The blood being spilled by Muslim crazies is real.”

“SMART DIPLOMACY:” In 2015 US denies oil market access to its ally Canada but grants access to Iran.

HOW’S THAT “SMART DIPLOMACY” STUFF WORKIN’ OUT FOR YA? (CONT’D): Top Obama Cyber Security Adviser Quietly Leaves Post at White House.

One of President Obama’s top cyber security advisers has left the White House after two years, a move that the administration has barely acknowledged.

The Federal Times reported that Ari Schwartz, who served as the National Security Council’s senior director for cybersecurity, left his post Wednesday after working in the Obama administration for a two-year term.

The White House has been quiet about his exit, but an Obama official said that Schwartz had planned on leaving after two years. The administration also confirmed Schwartz’s exit to The Hill.

Schwartz first served as Obama’s director for cybersecurity privacy, civil liberties, and policy when he joined the administration in 2013. In March of the following year, he ascended to his latest role.

The move comes as the United States endures increased cyber security risks, especially from attacks originating in China and Russia.

Chinese sources were responsible for the large cyber attack on the Office of Personnel Management computer systems that compromised personal data of about 22 million Americans. Russia recently launched a sophisticated cyber attack on the Pentagon’s unclassified email system used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sources in both countries have also waged cyber attacks on commercial targets.

While the Obama administration has hinted at sanctioning entities for the cyber attacks, no sanctions have been announced.

But wait, there’s more: Over the last 10 days, Obama’s top advisers on cyber-security, ISIS, and Russia have all resigned. Luckily for them, there are so many failures that that no single debacle really stands out.

ANNALS OF SMART DIPLOMACY: After Four Years of Failure in Syria, Obama Looks to Russia and Iran for Help.

ANNALS OF SMART DIPLOMACYTM: Finger-Pointing, but Few Answers, After a Syria Solution Fails.

By any measure, President Obama’s effort to train a Syrian opposition army to fight the Islamic State on the ground has been an abysmal failure. The military acknowledged this week that just four or five American-trained fighters are actually fighting.

But the White House says it is not to blame. The finger, it says, should be pointed not at Mr. Obama but at those who pressed him to attempt training Syrian rebels in the first place — a group that, in addition to congressional Republicans, happened to include former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

At briefings this week after the disclosure of the paltry results, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, repeatedly noted that Mr. Obama always had been a skeptic of training Syrian rebels. The military was correct in concluding that “this was a more difficult endeavor than we assumed and that we need to make some changes to that program,” Mr. Earnest said. “But I think it’s also time for our critics to ‘fess up in this regard as well. They were wrong.”

In effect, Mr. Obama is arguing that he reluctantly went along with those who said it was the way to combat the Islamic State, but that he never wanted to do it and has now has been vindicated in his original judgment. The I-told-you-so argument, of course, assumes that the idea of training rebels itself was flawed and not that it was started too late and executed ineffectively, as critics maintain.

Either way, it underscored White House sensitivities about the widening Syrian catastrophe.

Out: The Buck Stops Here. In: I’m Passing This Buck Anywhere I Can. Worst. President. Ever. And with language like this, even the New York Times seems to be starting to acknowledge his failure.

“SMART DIPLOMACY:” Panetta: Iran Deal Is Bad. Pass It and Prepare for War. “Let’s face it, given the situation in the Middle East, empowering Iran in any way seems like a dangerous gamble.”

Since Panetta’s “bright side” depends on Obama behaving more aggressively against Iran, I think we can write that off.

“SMART DIPLOMACY” UPDATE: Beijing: What Pivot?

Washington harbors doubts about China’s June 30 announcement that it had completed its land reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands, according to the WSJ. The article also makes clear that the Pentagon thinks China is still on track to militarize the artificial atolls (not excluding the suspiciously airfield-shaped one, notably). What’s more, the report highlights how Beijing has persisted in its strategy of expanding its territory incrementally. According to the Pentagon, as of May China had reclaimed 2,000 acres, and by June it was up another 900.

It looks like Beijing isn’t too worried that any U.S. pivot is going to get in the way of its regional ambitions. As we’ve said before, however, China may be gravely mistaken if it assumes that the U.S. won’t ever take more drastic measures to oppose its aggression. In the meantime, President Xi’s visit with President Obama in Washington next month may be rather tense.

Well, it won’t be tense if Obama doesn’t care. Related: Scary Signs From The Korean Peninsula. Obama’s interested in consolidating power at home, and doesn’t much care what happens to American interests abroad. The Chinese, and the North Koreans, know that.

SMART DIPLOMACY’S ENDGAME: Administration Abandons Failed Syria Program:

The Obama Administration may quietly be dropping its commitment to the failed, U.S.-run fighter scheme in Syria, which was the cause of much derision recently when 23 of the only 60 men the program trained were captured. . . .

Seeing officials finally move to distance themselves from the training program, even if only in an off-the-record manner, is heartening. The first step to solving a problem, as the saying goes, is to admit you have one, and America’s policy with regard to Syrian forces has had a serious problem lately. As a “senior defense advisor” told The Daily Beast, “I don’t understand why we are still training, other than to inoculate criticism. … [The administration] cannot admit it is a complete disaster.”
But a pivot to the YPG would be far more complicated than it is presented here as being, largely because of our new alliance with the Turks. They have no intention (to put it mildly) of allowing the anti-ISIS fight to create a new Kurdish power in the region. In fact, as Dov Friedman has argued in our pages, Ankara seems to see the campaign against ISIS as an opportunity to crush Kurdish regional aspirations. So the Administration’s trial balloon in this case proposes something completely at odds with its recent move to cooperate with Turkey in Syria.

Among the groups that can field real fighters in Syria, Kurdish forces are in many ways the most aligned with America’s interests.

It’s no wonder that the administration has treated them so shabbily.

ANOTHER MEMBER OF THE ZIONIST CONSPIRACY AGAINST OBAMA SPEAKS OUT: Saudi Prince Bandar: The U.S. nuclear pact with North Korea failed. The Iran deal is worse. “Writing for the London-based Arabic news Web site Elaph, Badar suggests that President Obama is knowingly making a bad deal, while President Bill Clinton had made a deal with North Korea with the best intentions and the best information he had. . . . The Saudi prince says the new Iran deal and other developments in the region have led him to conclude that a phrase first used by Henry Kissinger – ‘America’s enemies should fear America, but America’s friends should fear America more’ – is correct.”

Smart DiplomacyTM!

AUSTIN BAY REMEMBERS A WHITE HOUSE WITH ACTUAL DIPLOMATIC SKILLS: Very Smart Diplomacy: Creating Desert Storm’s Effective Coalition.

ANNALS OF SMART DIPLOMACY: CNN poll: Majority rejects Iran deal, 44/52.

Plus: “Speaking of 2016, the economy numbers in this poll don’t look very good for Democrats, either, and that will matter in the upcoming election cycle. The overall state of the economy only gets a 41/59 overall, 37/62 among independents, and 39/61 among women. Almost every demo except Democrats and liberals has a majority rating the current economy as poor or very poor, and almost no one is undecided on that point.”

SMART DIPLOMACY: Obama’s Age Of Nuclear Chaos.

In the old nuclear age, the US-led West had a system for preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It had three components: sanctions, deterrence and military force. In recent years we have witnessed the successful deployment of all three.

n the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, the UN Security Council imposed a harsh sanctions regime on Iraq. One of its purposes was to prevent Iraq from developing nuclear weapons. After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, we learned that the sanctions had been successful. Saddam largely abandoned his nuclear program due to sanctions pressure.

The US-led invasion of Iraq terrified several rogue regimes in the region. In the two to three years immediately following the invasion, America’s deterrent strength soared to unprecedented heights.

As for military force, the nuclear installation that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad built in Deir a-Zour with Iranian money and North Korean technicians wasn’t destroyed through sanctions or deterrence. According to foreign media reports, in September 2007, Israel concluded that these paths to preventing nuclear proliferation to Syria would be unsuccessful.

So then-prime minister Ehud Olmert ordered the IDF to destroy it. The outbreak of the Syrian civil war three years later has prevented Assad and his Iranian bosses from reinstating the program, to date.

The old nuclear nonproliferation regime was highly flawed.

Pakistan and North Korea exploited the post-Cold War weaknesses of its sanctions and deterrence components to develop and proliferate nuclear weapons and technologies.

Due to American weakness, neither paid a serious price for its actions.

Yet, for all its flaws and leaks, the damage caused to the nonproliferation system by American weakness toward Pakistan and North Korea is small potatoes in comparison to the destruction that Tuesday’s deal with Iran has wrought.

That deal doesn’t merely show that the US is unwilling to exact a price from states that illicitly develop nuclear weapons. The US and its allies just concluded a deal that requires them to facilitate Iran’s nuclear efforts.

It’s almost as if Obama supports the notion of a nuclear Iran.

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE UPDATE: Global Public Opinion on Territorial Aggression Not So Global After All.

Pew has released the Spring 2015 Global Attitudes Survey, its latest worldwide poll of what worries whom where. Overall, the survey found that problems seen as global cause the most fretting; climate change took gold and ISIS silver, while economic instability came in third. Further on in Pew’s report, in a section titled “Territorial Tensions Remain within Regions,” we find out why geopolitics doesn’t even make the podium, so to speak. . . .

On the face of it, this all seems pretty sensible. Each of the top three concerns listed above is a serious threat that citizens and policymakers will have to stay aware of and in some cases adapt to. And it’s obviously reasonable that countries closer to Russia and China should fret more about territorial aggression than other countries. “Threatened countries feel threatened” shouldn’t be a revelation.

But the rest of the world shouldn’t yawn at the tensions in East Asia and in Russia’s environs. It’s not that respondents should care about the problems of others’ regions out of empathy but don’t. Rather, it’s that they are wrong to see these problems as merely regional (which they perhaps do because a complacent post-Cold War media has not quite realized that geopolitics has returned). A quarter-century after the fall of the Berlin wall, the instability of something so abstract and remote as the ‘world order’ may seem unimportant. But it isn’t; the end of history is over. And the tensions in Asian waters and those between Russia and its Baltic neighbors are a real threat, and a global one at that.

Well, don’t worry. We’ve got Smart DiplomacyTM on the job.

NEWS FROM THE WORLD OF “SMART DIPLOMACY:” Front Page Of NY Post On Iran: “They’re Laughing At Us.”



Some say it is more of a “Winter Thaw” than a “Burma Spring”, but what used to be a pariah nation—the darkened house in the neighborhood—is changing. Just down the road from where Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was held prisoner in her home for more than 15 years, a luxury development with penthouses, a swimming pool, restaurants, and indoor golf is now opening. Rangoon street kids who used to tap on car windows to sell strands of flower necklaces can now be seen hawking real estate listings. Though most people in the country are still scraping by on barely $2 a day, Burma now boasts gastro bars with wi-fi and satellite television. You can rent a cellphone at the airport and drink an iced latte at a copycat Starbucks. . . .

The Southeast Asia Games in Burma in 2013 were a coming-out party of sorts to celebrate the partially relaxed military rule. The opening ceremony was a lavish extravaganza with Olympic-level fireworks, largely paid for and stage-managed by China. The Chinese not only subsidized the opening and closing ceremonies; they also trained 200 Burmese athletes in China and provided 700 coaches to help make the local team look good. The $33 million in support was a tangible example of Beijing’s new efforts to enhance its soft power in Burma, where Chinese megaprojects have stirred increased resentment.

China is still a major player in this rapidly emerging country, despite steps the new, nominally civilian government has taken to show independence from the colossus to the north. Billions of dollars are at stake, but an even weightier question is which model will have the most influence in Burma’s evolution: China’s authoritarian state capitalism or a Western-style marriage of democracy and open markets?

Well, I’m sure the United States has Smart DiplomacyTM on the job here, so no worries.

SMART DIPLOMACY: Did Angela Merkel ‘ma’amsplain’ to a ‘manspreading’ Obama?

There’s a photo going around social media of German Chancellor Angela Merkel talking to President Obama. Merkel, arms outstretched, appears to be angry, or at the very least annoyed, about something. Obama, meanwhile, is sitting on a bench, his arms stretched out to his sides along the back of the seat. From what can be seen in the picture, it appears he is “manspreading” — the seating stance of men where they spread their legs.

Manspreading for me, but not for thee.

FORTUNATELY, WE HAVE SMART DIPLOMACYTM ON THE JOB, SO NO WORRIES: The Middle East Aflame: Sectarian War in Saudi Arabia?

fter ISIS struck two Shi’a mosques in Saudi Arabia with suicide bombs, the worst sectarian violence the Kingdom has seen in recent times, Saudi authorities have begun a security crackdown in the country’s Eastern Province. But that hasn’t reassured the country’s minority Shi’a population, who are now forming militias for protection. In turn, the authorities are alarmed by these volunteers, and report that some are already being arrested. In the midst of the Saudi war on the Shi’a Houthi in Yemen, anti-Shi’a sentiment within the Kingdom is on the rise. ISIS is making use of that feeling to recruit; as one expert put it, “Rather than going after foreigners in well-defended compounds, [young Saudis] are blowing up fellow Saudis, who happen to be Shia.”
When ISIS struck Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, we noted that, “An attack like this both strengthens ISIS’ claim to be a pan-Sunni, anti-Shi’a “defense” force and sows division within what ISIS would see as a rival for the leadership of the Sunni world, Saudi Arabia.” The development of the Shi’a militias would appear to show the early success of that strategy. Divide et impera is a universal principle, after all—and ISIS has thrived since its beginning on ethnic strife.

The dark hopes of groups like ISIS for a region-wide sectarian war have been having a good run lately, with local forces separating into religious camps from Syria to Yemen. In the absence of an American-guaranteed regional balance of power, such patterns are likely to continue.

You know, maybe Obama’s not crazy here. I remember back after Saddam fell, Josh Marshall worried that we hadn’t killed enough Iraqis to have the kind of psychological effect that World War II generated in the Germans and the Japanese, quelling further resistance. Perhaps the foreign policy geniuses in the Obama Administration have taken this advice to heart, and figure that a decade or so of bloody religious strife throughout the Muslim world will produce a renewed appreciation for secularism. I don’t know if this is their plan or not — I mean, if it were, they wouldn’t come out and say so, would they? — but if it is their plan, then congratulations on stellar execution.

ANNALS OF SMART DIPLOMACY: The Ugly Dilemma in Ramadi.

Following the fall of Ramadi to ISIS this weekend, Iraq is launching a counterattack spearheaded by Shi’a militias that had previously been uninvolved in the fighting. . . .

By all accounts, the Iraqi Army, or ISF, collapsed in the defense of Ramadi, just as it has time and again against ISIS previously, abandoning arms and armor to the enemy as it fled. The Shi’a militias are a more feared fighting force, and they outnumber the ISF by a significant margin. They had been held back, however, because Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, lies in the heart of Sunni Iraq—and the Shi’a militias have been repeatedly, credibly accused of perpetrating sectarian massacres. And there is also the inconvenient fact that many if not most of them have strong links to Iran.
Now the Obama Administration, not to say the Iraqi government, is on the horns of an ugly dilemma. If Ramadi is not recaptured, Sunni Iraq will have slipped to ISIS, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men may never be able to put Iraq back together again. On the other hand, if the U.S. backs the militias’ advance, it may well be party to ethnic bloodshed that will put the killings after the fall of Tikrit to pale. Thus, even if the militas do retake Ramadi the methods they employ could so deeply antagonize the non-ISIS-supporting elements of the Sunni population as to have the same result: no more Iraq.

While publicly the Administration and the Pentagon have started to sound a bit like Baghdad Bob, Administration officials have anonymously begun voicing their unease with the situation, in one instance describing Ramadi as a “powder keg” noting that there is a potential for things to go “very, very badly.”

Well, we’ve had lousy leadership since 2009.

ANNALS OF “SMART DIPLOMACY:” “Six years ago, Obama goes to Cairo. Proclaims a new era. Today, Arab leaders won’t come to Camp David.”

SO, HOW’S THAT “SMART DIPLOMACY” WORKIN’ OUT FOR YA? (CONT’D): Saudi Arabia Says King Won’t Attend Meetings in U.S. “Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday that its new monarch, King Salman, would not be attending meetings at the White House with President Obama or a summit gathering at Camp David this week, in an apparent signal of its continued displeasure with the administration over United States relations with Iran, its rising regional adversary.”


Poland announced yesterday that it would be buying Patriot missiles from U.S. manufacturer Raytheon in order to upgrade its missile defense shield, adding six batteries by 2022. And predictably enough—like clockwork, really—Russia bared its teeth at the announcement. Both Russia’s top general and its defense minister described the move as NATO aggression towards Russia and made threats towards Poland in response to the missile defense announcement. The Russian invective was also aimed at Romania, where NATO troops are currently holding military exercises and where a missile defense shield installation (of a different variety than the Patriot called Aegis Ashore) is in the works. . . .

The purchase of the Patriots is part of Poland’s pledge to spend more than $1 billion annually for its military modernization budget, which, as Andrew Michta noted in our pages yesterday, makes its projected expenditures “roughly equal that of all the remaining 11 ‘new allies’ who joined NATO from 1999 onward.” This makes Warsaw the top defense spender in the Baltic-Central European theater, a development which could, and hopefully will, push fellow European NATO member countries towards fulfilling their commitment to spend two percent of GDP on defense.

They should.

DON’T WORRY! WE HAVE SMART DIPLOMACYTM ON THE JOB! Oh, by the way: The U.S. and Iran may be headed for war off the coast of Yemen. Sink ’em all!

SEE, FOR THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW ABOUT SMART DIPLOMACYTM THIS MAY SEEM LIKE A SERIOUS RISK: Russia and America: Stumbling to War. But for those of us who are familiar with Smart DiplomacyTM . . . it looks like a really serious risk.

PROBABLY NOT WITH HILLARY AND OBAMA IN CHARGE: The U.S./Russian Diplomatic Debacle: Could It Have Been Otherwise?

Did the West bungle its relations with Russia after the Cold War? Was there a better way? This debate, now a quarter of a century old, will doubtless be with us for decades. The sides don’t seem to change much, nor do their arguments. Those who opposed the enlargement of NATO in the 1990s treat the war in Ukraine as proof that they were right all along. It was madness, they say, to challenge a core Russian security interest. Enlargement’s supporters, of course, claim vindication just as vehemently. For them, Putin’s aggression shows the wisdom of bringing new members into the alliance. Including Ukraine, they suggest, might have avoided the current crisis altogether.

While they differ in their policy prescriptions, these two sides converge on one point: their view of Russia. Great powers don’t change much, they tell us. Habits of domination are not easily unlearned. So expect a future full of potential trouble, and think carefully in advance about how to avoid it.

Centuries of conflict confirm such maxims.

Well, that was before we had Smart DiplomacyTM so naturally there’s nothing to learn from history.