Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

They Said It:

Ever since Voltaire found Newton’s universe an admirable improvement over Christian polity, writers on man as a political animal have envied science its success in reducing the chaos of sense-experience and the varying fables of common sense to uniformities permitting prediction and therefore control.  Ambitious Newtons of politics . . . have arisen, but none have quite been accepted in their chosen rôles.  Doubtless, this connection between science and political thought has been fruitful enough.  The natural order which the eighteenth century borrowed from Newton certainly helped men to a moral if illogical condemnation of the old regime as unnatural and hence encouraged them to action . . . Yet a plausible case could be maintained for the statement that the influence of the physical and biological sciences on the study of man in society has been in part evil. 

Crane Brinton, English Political Thought in the Nineteenth Century, 1949.

 

FOREIGN POLICY 2018:  YEAR TWO OF THE NEW, NEW WORLD ORDER.

When we sit down to write these annual first-of-the year prediction pieces, we begin by looking at the previous year’s efforts.  This gives us a chance to measure the ongoing importance of various issues a full 365 days after we had judged them to be vital.  What mattered then?  Does it still matter today?  Were we right back then?  And more to the point, must we change our expectations, given the events that have transpired between then and now?

Looking back on last year’s foreign policy forecast (which you can find here), we were fairly spot on, both about the direction that American foreign policy would take under its new president and the manner in which other nations would respond.  Among other things, we predicted that Russia and China would not act rashly as some folks were then predicting, but would take some time to gauge his real intentions; that North Korea would desperately demand the world’s attention; and that the United States would re-establish itself as the protector and chief ally of Israel.

Finally, we forecast that America and Russia would begin dividing up responsibility for the violent factions in the Middle East, with the Russians taking the lead with the Sunni radicals, while Americans turned their attention – at long last – to Tehran and the Shiite millenarian fundamentalists.  The early stages of this final prediction are, we think, starting to become apparent in the streets of Iran.

If you get all of your news from the likes of CNN or the New York Times, you may not be aware of it, but the people of Iran are, once again, out in the streets, marching against their totalitarian leaders, demanding an end to the mullah-cracy, and risking their lives to let the world know that they have had enough both of their fanatical religious government and of those global leaders who, by their silence, tacitly bless their oppressors and their thuggery.

Of course, this is not the first time that the Iranian people have taken to the streets to express their displeasure and to test a new American president’s commitment to his own nation’s founding virtues.  Eight years ago, they rebelled against their leaders and, in particular, against the fraudulent reelection of their corrupt president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  They took to the streets en masse.  They shouted “death to Khamenei.”  They begged for the Western world to hear their screams and to help them throw off the shackles of their oppressors.  And Barack Obama did nothing.

In retrospect, we know that the Obama administration’s noble-sounding complaint that it didn’t want to interfere in internal Iranian politics or to step on a uniquely Iranian moment were mere cover for the President’s grander ambitions.  He wanted – he always wanted – to secure his legacy by making peace with the Islamic world.  And he knew that his grand accomplishment would be diminished considerably if he had no one with whom to make peace.  So he sat quietly, patiently waiting for the storm to pass and for the Khamenei regime to resume the dialogue that had secretly begun before Obama even took the oath of office.

Things are different today, in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons – which brings us to:

Forecast #1:  The political landscape of the Middle East will change dramatically over the next year.  The Radical Sunni threat in much of the region will be all but destroyed.  But new leaders will emerge and cause trouble, even as the old leaders face new and unparalleled threats.

Over the last year – the first year of the Trump administration, and thus the first year after eight years of Obama – the Middle East responded impressively to the change in American policy.  For starters, the Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga – aided and directed by their American allies – largely destroyed the so-called Islamic caliphate of ISIS.

For the better part of his second term, Barack Obama talked about defeating ISIS and saving the Middle East for those whom he considered “true” Muslims.  But as with so much else, Obama proved all talk, no action.  Many of Obama’s former staffers and confidants complain today that Donald Trump is getting credit for the victory for which they developed the plans and strategy.  This is undoubtedly true.  Nevertheless, Obama did NOT implement the strategy and plans that his Pentagon crafted, and, according to numerous military sources, insisted on micromanaging the war effort, rather than simply allowing the generals to do their jobs.  Donald Trump, by contrast, recognized his own deficiencies in the military arena and gave the military men free reign to conduct military operations.  And the results speak for themselves.  Consider, for example, the following, from a Fox News report about a post-Christmas Pentagon briefing on the state of affairs in Iraq and Syria:

ISIS has lost 98 percent of the territory it once held — with half of that terror group’s so-called “caliphate” having been recaptured since President Trump took office less than a year ago, U.S. military officials said Tuesday….

The latest American intelligence assessment says fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters now remain in Iraq and Syria, down from a peak of nearly 45,000 just two years ago.  U.S. officials credit nearly 30,000 U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and regional partners on the ground for killing more than 70,000 jihadists.  Meanwhile, only a few thousand have returned home.  The remaining ISIS strongholds are concentrated in a small area along the border of Syria and Iraq.  ISIS, at one point, controlled an area the size of Ohio.

The collapse of ISIS has created a whole host of both opportunities and problems.  In the case of the former, the emergence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the model for a new generation of Arab leaders is, perhaps, the most hopeful of them all.  Little is known, so far, about the scope and the commitment of Salman’s efforts to root out corruption and decadence in the secretive desert kingdom.  But what we do know is cause for cautious optimism.  Young Salman is under no illusion about the threats facing his nation and its royal family; and, perhaps even more importantly, he is not bound by the old alliances and delusions that have governed the Arab world for most of the last century.  In a piece last month for City Journal, Myron Magnet explained the case for both optimism and caution:

How extraordinary to see a world-historical revolution unfolding before one’s eyes and not know how it will turn out: that’s what’s happening right now in Saudi Arabia.  Mohammad bin Salman, a 32-year-old too young to be a partner in most law or finance firms, has managed, by intrigue not yet fully disclosed, to supplant his cousin Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef as heir to the throne and to carry out a purge of the royal family breathtaking in its sweep.  Imagine: not only did bin Salman order the arrest of at least ten other princes and a score of former government ministers, now held in luxurious restraint in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton; he also supposedly had Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men and a major shareholder of 21st Century Fox, Citigroup, Apple, Twitter, and a host of other giant Western corporations, hanged upside down and beaten in an “anti-corruption” investigation.

No matter that “wasta”— corruption, kickbacks, and cronyism — has long governed Saudi Arabian business dealings.  Now, the kingdom’s economic crown jewel — Aramco, the Saudi state oil company — is headed for sale on the public stock markets, and the financial future of the kingdom and its oligarchs is on the line.  Sadly for the Saudis, Aramco is no longer as valuable, economically and geopolitically, as it once was.  Natural gas from fracking has displaced oil as the fuel of the Western economy, with the result that OPEC (and, less critically, Russian oil) can no longer hold anybody’s economy hostage.  For the Saudi government, moreover, no longer can cartel-inflated oil revenues pay for the gigantic welfare state that supports so much of the population in non–working, gilded, state dependency.  What can’t go on, won’t, said economist Herb Stein sagely; and MbS, as the new crown prince is called, saw this reality and stepped in to take precautionary measures before a rapidly collapsing economic order sparked social anarchy, with an outcome no government could foresee or control.

Economic modernization and diversification, the prince saw, were essential, and they required social liberalization as the first order of business, beginning with allowing women to drive cars, the royal road to women’s liberation.  Already, Saudi women are casting off the hijab and seizing modern social pleasures.  The important point is that half the kingdom’s potential workforce will become free to produce, with hugely positive consequences for the economy.

But that’s only part of the social revolution that the prince’s economic transformation entails.  Crucially, the royal family will find it harder to fund the radical Wahhabi Islam that OPEC has let grow like mushrooms.  It’s hard to imagine that this well-established, well-fed worldwide network of terrorist-supporting fanatics, in their opulent mosques and madrassas — and especially in the more Spartan ones in Pakistan — will go quietly; little wonder that the prince has surrounded himself with a repressive security apparatus reminiscent of the Shah of Iran’s.  He appears to be a quiet but inexorable foe of Muslim extremism, and consequently it is uncertain that he will emerge from his heroic and visionary remaking of the Saudi order with his head intact on his shoulders.

To be blunt, we are not as sanguine about Salman as Magnet, largely because we don’t know enough about him, his plans, or his relationship with the radical elements of his faith.  We do know, though, that his response to one of the riskiest and boldest recent moves by an American president was encouraging.

Early last month, when President Trump announced that he would move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem – a promise made and broken by Trump’s three predecessors in the Oval Office – the conventional wisdom predicted that the Arab street would “erupt” and cause all sorts of havoc.  It didn’t.  And a key reason that it didn’t was the Saudi response to Trump’s announcement, which was calm, cool, and more or less disinterested.  The Palestinian leaders took the announcement in their usual overwrought style.  They hollered and screamed and jumped up and down, insisting that no greater injustice had ever been done to any people anywhere in the history of man.  Meanwhile, the rest of the Arab world, led by Mohammed bin Salman and Egyptian President el-Sisi, told their excitable brethren, in essence, to pipe down.

As fate would have it, however, while the Arab leaders were reacting calmly to President Trump’s announcement, Turkish leaders were not.  One of the greatest challenges posed in the post-ISIS Middle East is the emergence of Turkish President-for-life Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a would-be Ottoman sultan.  While the Arabs reacted cautiously, Erdogan – who sees himself as the new leader of the world’s Sunni Muslims – behaved like a typical bully.  He stomped his feet, called the other kids names, and promised that one day, real soon, he’d do something just as mean back to the Americans as they were doing to the Palestinians.  In practice, Erdogan called Israel a “child-murderer” state and promised to counter Trump by putting a new Turkish embassy for the Palestinian territories in East Jerusalem.

All of this, we note, comes on the heels of countless other provocations by Erdogan and his newly radicalized Turkish state.  As the notoriously anti-Trump editorial board of the Washington Post noted last October, “Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, a NATO member…appears well on its way to becoming an outlaw state.”  Indeed it is.  Erdogan has taken American hostages from the U.S. consulates in Turkey.  He has had his men beat protestors ON AMERICAN SOIL.  He has tried desperately to damage or destroy the emerging Kurdish state.  He has allowed an anonymous business ally to place a bounty on the heads of two American former Pentagon officials.  And he has, according to German media, allowed members of his inner circle to fund Turkish criminal gangs in Germany.  With respect to the latter, PJ Media reported the following just last month:

An explosive report has revealed that close associates of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and officials of his AKP Party are funding and arming criminal gangs in Germany.  This information reportedly was leaked by German intelligence to several media outlets, which subsequently published the allegations.

German-language outlet ZDF reported that German intelligence wiretaps revealed AKP Party officials transferring money to leaders of the “Osmanen Germania” (Ottoman Germany) biker gang.  The money was for purchasing weapons and directing attacks on critics of Erdogan’s increasingly tyrannical regime in Turkey among Germany’s sizable Turkish population.  Two AKP officials figure prominently in the reports…. According to German authorities, the “Osmanen Germania” biker gang is composed of 2,500 members and 40 chapters, mostly in the North Rhine-Westphalia.

Interior Minister for North Rhine-Westphalia Herbert Reul submitted a report to Parliament in October stating that “Osmanen Germania” was operating as a “counter-terrorism” unit of the MIT Turkish intelligence agency, and harassing Erdogan’s perceived enemies in Germany…. Germany and other European countries also opened investigations into Turkish intelligence’s use of mosques funded by Turkey’s religious ministry to spy on political opponents living in Europe.  Some of those Turkish-funded mosques were found to be distributing material denigrating other religions and glorifying “martyrdom.”

Erdogan has also demanded that Germany approve more visas for Turkish citizens to relocate there, threatening to send more waves of refugees if German Chancellor Angela Merkel didn’t comply.

All of this suggests that Erdogan has serious delusions of grandeur.  He sees himself as the new Sultan and Turkey as the center of a new caliphate – which explains, in part, why he was desperate to see the Islamic State’s caliphate destroyed.  Erdogan will continue to be a thorn in the side of the American government and anyone, anywhere who disagrees with him for much of the foreseeable future.

All of that said, he and his provocations are unlikely to draw much American attention this year, largely because the Americans will be focused on…

Forecast #2:  As part of the new paradigm in the Middle East, the United States will turn its attention – some forty years late – to Iran and to the facilitators of the worst of Islamist radicalism and violence.

As we noted above, the people of Iran are currently in revolt against their Islamist masters in Tehran, Isfahan, and Qom.  As we go to print, the regime itself acknowledges that at least 11 civilians have been killed in clashes with government forces.  Given the reliability of Iranian government sources, we suspect that number is much higher.  Various reports suggest that the regime was caught off guard by the size, scope, and vehemence of the protests.  If this is, in fact, the case, then Ali Khamenei and his minions are foolish men who have no understanding of the forces coming into alliance against them.

For years now, the Sunni Arabs – led as always by the Saudis – have complained loudly about Iranian adventurism in Arab lands and especially the Iranian regime’s arming and funding of rebellious Shi’ite Arabs.  Slowly but surely, many in the Sunni world have come to recognize that they have, over the last few decades, allowed themselves to be distracted by perpetually aggrieved factions in their midst.  Those factions, many of which have ties to the Iranian regime, have sought only to foment enmity between the Sunni Arabs and their natural allies against evangelical, millenarian Shi’ism.  Iran’s support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories has long aggravated Israeli-Arab relations.  And only now are the Saudis and their allies waking up to the damage this distraction has done and the havoc it has allowed the mullahs to wreak.

The Saudis know – particularly in light of their miserable military performance against Iranian-backed Houthi Shi’ites in Yemen – that they cannot defeat the mullahs on their own.  Moreover, they know that the only nations in the world with the capacity and the will to help them in their struggles are the United States and Israel.  This explains the recent but sustained Saudi rapprochement with Tel Aviv.  Add to that the new administration in Washington and its new priorities, and Khamenei and his regime should have expected that dark times lie ahead.

We have no way to prove this, obviously, but we suspect that the current unrest in Iranian is something less than purely grassroots.  Indeed, we would not be surprised, even in the slightest, to learn that both the CIA and the Mossad are helping to stir up trouble in Iran and then to exacerbate it.  And please note here for the record, that we do not say this in the dark, conspiracy-minded, anti-Semitic way that the likes of Ali Khamenei say such things.  Rather, we say this in a hopeful, but mostly matter-of-fact way.  If the CIA and the Mossad are not involved, they really should be.

There have been scattered reports that protestors are chanting their disapproval of the regime’s support for the Palestinians.  The Times of Israel, for example, reported over the weekend that “The slogan ‘Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, I Give My Life for Iran’ has been repeated in protests across the country.”  This suggests to us at least that the Israelis and the Iranian people share some of the same aspirations.  Additionally, the Times noted the following, just yesterday:

US intelligence agencies have given Israel the green light to assassinate the senior Iranian responsible for coordinating military activity on behalf of the Islamic Republic in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, according to the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Jarida.

For the past 20 years or so, Qassem Soleimani has commanded the Quds Force — the branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards responsible for military and clandestine operations outside of the Islamic Republic…. Three years ago, Israel came close to assassinating Soleimani near Damascus, al-Jarida quoted unnamed source as saying, but the Americans tipped off the Iranians against the background of intense disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem.

That was during the Obama administration, which, according to reports at the time, was so focused on securing the 2015 Iran nuclear accord that it chose to overlook and even obstruct efforts to clamp down on Iranian-backed terror organizations.  It’s not clear if the reported tip-off was related to efforts to secure the Iran deal.

Today, the Trump and Netanyahu administrations see eye to eye on Iran.  Just four days ago, the two countries signed a joint memorandum of understanding laying the groundwork for full cooperation to deal with Iran’s nuclear drive, its missile programs and its other threatening activities, an Israeli TV report said recently.

The source was quoted by the paper as saying that Soleimani’s assassination would serve both countries’ interests and that US authorities have given Israel the go-ahead to carry it out.

Now, we are fully aware that many throughout the world have concluded that Donald Trump is a bumbling fool who will lead the United States into disaster after disaster.  These people, we believe, have spent a little too much time reading the mainstream American press and not enough trying to understand who Trump is, what he intends to do, and how he goes about getting what he wants.  Donald Trump is not Barack Obama.  And if that doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of Ali Khamenei and the rest of the Iranian ruling class, then they simply haven’t been paying attention.

Forecast #3: Europe will get ugly(er) in the new year.  Islamist terrorism will continue to claim European lives and, eventually, Europeans will begin considering whether it’s too late to fight back.

If you have a photographic memory, you may recall that we made this exact same prediction last year.  We guess, we tend to repeat ourselves when it comes to Europe.

The bad news is that we were right about this last year.  From London to Manchester, from Paris to Stockholm, Islamist extremists did their very best to disrupt life in Europe and to kill as many infidels as possible at the same time.  The worse news is that we have reason to suspect that we will right again this year, possibly on an even more deadly scale.

Let us explain

Above, we quoted Fox News reporting that “The latest American intelligence assessment says fewer than 1,000 ISIS fighters now remain in Iraq and Syria, down from a peak of nearly 45,000 just two years ago.”  That’s great – for Iraq and Syria – but it doesn’t really tell the full story.  The other 44,000 ISIS fighters were not all killed.  Many of them fled.  Some of them were allowed to flee and possibly to return home.  Indeed, it is quite possible that many thousands of them are still at large – somewhere.  Six weeks ago, London’s Daily Mail reported the following:

British jihadis are feared to be among hundreds of foreign fighters allowed to escape Islamic State‘s former stronghold Raqqa under the noses of coalition forces.  Almost 4,000 IS militants and their families were reportedly allowed to leave in a four-mile convoy as the group were defeated in the city in Syria last month.

Witnesses said it included ‘huge’ numbers of foreign fighters – including some English speakers – who are said to have since spread out across Syria and into Turkey, potentially en route to Europe.  This was despite the coalition being assured that no foreign fighters would be allowed to leave and previous US pledges that they would all be killed rather than allowed to return home.

The exodus is understood to have been agreed to spare Kurdish forces, the BBC reported.  They were leading the fight against IS on the ground and it would have required a fight to the death to clear the last surviving jihadis from the capital of their self-declared caliphate.  A truce was negotiated with local leaders to allow the remaining fighters and their families to leave.  A Western coalition officer was present but not actively involved.

The convoy, also said to have been carrying tons of weapons and ammunition, left on October 12 bound for a camp further north in territory still held by IS.

Intelligence estimates suggest that nearly 1,000 members of ISIS were also British citizens.  An estimated 4,000 additional fighters came from continental Europe.  If even half of these survived their futile conventional war, then they are now poised to wreak havoc on the Islamist terrorists more successful battlefield, the unconventional, asymmetric battlefield of terrorism.

In the face of this potential influx of trained and radicalized Islamist fighter into Europe, some experts have consoled themselves, noting that in past years, they expected more ISIS fighters to return than they actually saw.  That’s all well and good, we suppose, but it’s not especially comforting.

There are, we think, at least three problems with this assessment.  First, these experts presume that they are or will be able to sense the secret return of secret fighters that are now part of secret terrorist cells.  We’re not as convinced as they seem to be.  Second, these observations were made before the defeat of ISIS and thus before the final, mass exodus from the “caliphate.”  It’s hard to tell when and where the members of the ISIS diaspora will turn up, but it makes sense that the greater the number of terrorists fleeing the Levant, the greater the number that will slip through the military and law enforcement cracks.

Finally, the numbers don’t really matter all that much.  It only takes one escaped ISIS fighter to launch a deadly attack.  Heck, it only took 19 al Qaeda goons to kill more than 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  These fighters are the diehards, which is to say they are the ones who held out the longest and presumably believed most fervently in their mission.  They didn’t leave ISIS because it was yucky and dirty and not as glamorous as they’d hoped.  They left in a last-ditch attempt to save their ideology and to preserve their eschatological fantasies.  They left only when compelled to do so.  And they will now attempt to take their dreams of martyrdom and heroism in the name of their faith back to their homelands.

As a footnote here, we will note that last year we were fairly sure that the escalating violence in Europe would come exclusively from Islamist extremists.  But we also noted that home-grown violence was on the uptick.  Among those we quoted to this end was our old friend Daniel Pipes, a bona fide world-renowned expert on Islam, and the son of the Richard Pipes, a bona fide world-renowned expert in his own right.  Based on his examination of polling data assessing Germans’ desires to integrate more “harmoniously” with their new Islamic migrant guests, Pipes concluded that “Yes, Islamism is making advances [in Europe].  But anti-Islamism is growing more rapidly and so, I predict the latter will prevail.”

We continue to believe that the anti-Islamist forces will remain fairly quiet for the time being, but a day is coming, we suppose, when the backlash against the Islamification of some parts of Europe will intensify.  Just this past weekend, the Daily Express detailed the conclusions of a report published by the Institute for Global Change, a think tank run by the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair:

Eurosceptic parties across the continent will keep gaining momentum in 2018, a report by Tony Blair’s think-tank predicts.  The report, commissioned by the ex-Prime Minister, points to the rise of anti-EU parties in Italy, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Mr Blair’s Institute for Global Change said populism could become the “new normal” in Europe and “transform public policy in radical ways”.  Research found the share of the vote taken by populist parties has almost trebled since 2000, rising from 8.5 percent to 24.1 percent.  Over the same period, the number of European countries with populist parties participating in government has doubled from seven to 14.

The report explained: “In many countries, the trend line suggests that populists will continue to gain strength in the next round of elections.  “Populists could drive European politics into a more nationalist and protectionist direction.  The basic norms and institutions of liberal democracy would remain intact.  “But governments would move decisively towards restricting net migration flows; make access to some social benefits conditional on citizenship status; and undermine minority rights in key respects.”

In years past, we might have used such a report as the impetus to predict (yet again!) the collapse of the Eurozone.  But that’s not our primary interest at this time.  Rather, we’re waiting to see if the backlash against Islam and Islamic migrants continues to gain momentum.  If it does, then the violence in Europe could become even uglier than it already is.

Forecast #4:  Meanwhile on the other side of the world, the long-awaited and much-ballyhooed “pivot to Asia” may finally take place.  And it is quite possible that when it does, the Chinese will find themselves the odd-man-out.

For years, Barack Obama promised to “pivot to Asia,” which is to say that he intended to focus American attention on the Far East, rather than on the ever-chaotic Middle East.  He never quite made that pivot, though – in part because he knew it would be uncomfortable and in part because the Middle East was far too contentious to permit him the opportunity.

His successor has both different opportunities and different priorities.  With the war against the physical caliphate of ISIS winding down, and with Russia and Saudi Arabia likely to pursue their own interests in taming the Sunni radicals in the region, President Trump has a chance to do what Obama couldn’t or wouldn’t.  And therefore we expect the pivot finally to take place.

There are, we think, many ways in which we could describe how that transition might take place.  But for our purposes today, we’ll focus principally on South Korea and Japan.

To say there is no love lost between these two nations would be a dramatic understatement.  Indeed, the depth of the enmity between them is still front-and-center today, some seventy-plus years after the end of World War II.  South Korea continues to fume about Japanese brutality during the war, while Japan continues to believe that the South Koreans are merely attempting to squeeze blood from the proverbial turnip, to punish the Japanese for crimes for which they atoned long ago.

Just last week, tensions flared anew between the two nations, when the South Korean President Moon Jae-in insisted publicly that the 2015 agreement on War-era sex-slavery and “comfort women” is “seriously flawed.”  Japan, in turn, responded by noting that the two-year-old agreement is “final and irreversible” and suggesting that the South Koreans were merely using the issue for domestic political purposes.  And so has it gone between the two for more than seven decades now.

In spite of all of this, the South Koreans and Japanese recognize that they share common enemies and therefore share a common purpose in twenty-first century Asia.  For years now, both nations have been part of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.  More than three years ago, both nations purchased the standard take-off F-35A.  And then last week, multiple reports surfaced suggesting that both nations are very interested in adding the F-35B, “short-takeoff” fighters to their arsenals.  Both are building blue water navies, and both deem the short-takeoff stealth fighter necessary for their long-term plans.

Needless to say, the Chinese are nervous about Japan remilitarizing, and more particularly about the fact they are doing so in conjunction with South Korea and with aid from the United States.   As CNBC noted last week:

Japan’s reported interest in using warships to launch the F-35B isn’t sitting well with Beijing, which this year went operational with its own fifth-generation fighter with stealth capabilities.  China also is preparing to move forward with its third aircraft carrier and has an advanced “carrier-killer” missile capable of threatening U.S. aircraft carriers in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We urge Japan to do more that may help enhance mutual trust and promote regional peace and stability,” Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, was quoted as saying Tuesday in state media.  She also said such actions by Tokyo would violate Article 9 of Japan’s 1946 constitution, which renounces war and technically the use of force.

Of course, the kicker here is that all of this – up to and including the new Asian arms race – is China’s own fault.  By bullying its neighbors on the seas and by refusing to rein in its nutcase client state in North Korea, China has forced the rest of the region’s collective hand.

Long-time readers will know that we are far more pessimistic about China’s prospects than are many of our contemporaries.  This is based on years of study of both organizational theory and the work of the great Austrian economists, all of which has led us to believe that the political structure of present-day China is not likely to foster the type of enduring growth that many others foresee.  We are even more pessimistic still when we factor in the serious and irreversible errors that China’s leaders have made over the past several years.

When they should have been courting their neighbors and trying to convince them that their interests were both peaceable and economically beneficial to the entire region, they instead were belligerent, aggressive, and overly militaristic.  Additionally, they have propped up their kooky client in North Korea for far too long and through far too many serious provocations.  Between their own bellicosity and the erratic violence threatened by North Korea, the Chinese have forced the rest of the region to abandon its post-World War II aversion to militarism.  Much of the region is rearming rapidly rearm in preparation for a future conflict, either with North Korea or with China itself.  This was a terrible mistake on the part of the Chinese and one which they likely cannot undo, no matter how hard they try.

…And speaking of trying to undo the damage the Chinese have done, we come at last to….

Forecast #5, Our “Out-of-Left-Field” Prediction:  One of these days, Kim Jong Un is going to wake up dead.

As is our custom, we close today with a prediction that is unconventional to say the very least.  In this case, we believe that we are swiftly reaching a point in the saga of North Korea vs. the World when the world finally says “enough.”  The “rocket man,” as President Trump has taken to calling him, has overplayed his hand and is likely very soon to find that there are serious repercussions for having done so.  We suspect that Kim knows this, which is why he has been trying to walk back some of his nuttiness the past few days, offering to begin a dialogue with the South Koreans and wishing them well as they host the 2018 Winter Olympics.

All of this is likely too little too late.  Kim Jong Un has made himself an international pariah and, more to the point, has caused his Chinese masters one too many headaches.  If he’s lucky, they (or we) will allow him to die peacefully in his sleep.  If he’s not so lucky, then…well…we hate even to imagine what the Chinese can or will do to him.

In any case, we suspect that China and South Korea have been making plans to deal with the flow of refugees from the North and to rebuild that broken land when the end finally comes.

We’d warn Kim to sleep with one eye open, but even that won’t save him.

Happy 2018, everybody!

 

Copyright 2018. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE  68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.