Friday, May 18, 2018

Trump is going to give North Korea whatever they want

Trump needs to get a deal with North Korea. He has staked his foreign policy credibility on his claim that only he can get a deal with Kim Jong Un. He doesn't need any particular deal. It can be almost anything because whatever the deal turns out to be, Trump will call it a "victory."

The North Koreans know all that. So they are going to play hardball and threaten to cancel the talks to get what they want, and Trump will give them what they want to make sure that his dream of a Nobel Prize doesn't go away.

The times we live in

I'm guessing this is Qatar's primary strategy to end the Saudi/UAE/Egyptian embargo.

And it might just work.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Why Trump is not capable of imposing meaningful sanctions on Iran

Defenders of Trump's decision to break the Iran nuclear deal seem to think that Trump will prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons by unleashing harsh sanctions against the country. But can the Trump administration pull off sanctions?

There are reasons to doubt that they can. First, the U.S. has very little trade with Iran. Stopping American companies from investing in Iran will have almost no effect on the Iranian economy.

Second, just about every other country is not on board with Trump's sanction efforts. (Okay Israel is on board, but it has no trade with Iran to cut off). Now that Trump has removed its American competitors from the market, Russia is selling Iran a bunch of new planes. The EU has activated its sanction blocking laws (the same laws that allowed Europeans to continue to trade with Cuba despite the U.S.'s attempts to stop them) to allow its trade with Iran to continue. China has been investing heavily in Iran and has not made any indication that it plans to stop just because Trump is breaking the nuclear deal. It doesn't look like Trump's unilateral Iran sanctions will have much bite.

Third, it is not clear that the Trump administration is capable of maintaining a tough sanction regime on Iran. The Trump administration has eviscerated the State Department. While a lot of sanction enforcement comes from the Treasury Department, the DOS has several offices that make sure American sanctions are effective. The loss of personnel in State makes me wonder if they can effectively enforce any new Iranian sanctions.

Finally, Trump is just too addicted to handing out favors to maintain a consistent enough sanction regime. This week, Trump tweeted that he would give relief to ZTE.
What is ZTE? It is a Chinese telecom company that was caught doing business in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. The U.S. caught them and fined the company, but ZTE failed to pay so it is barred from doing business with American companies. But Trump wants to give ZTE relief, meaning letting them do business with U.S. companies without paying the fine, effectively forgiving ZTE for violating U.S. sanctions, apparently in exchange for China's agreement to fund a Trump resort in Indonesia. It looks like anyone who wants to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran or anyone else just needs to do a favor for a Trump business. That kind of corruption effectively blasts any number of potential holes in whatever sanction regime Trump imposes on Iran.

Put those four things together and it is not clear that Trump is capable of hurting Iran in any meaningful way with sanctions.

Nothing is more suspicious than a man with a baby

Have white people always called the cops on black people doing normal things in public and it is only now that the media is reporting when it happens, or is there an uptick in instances of white people calling the cops on black people for doing normal things? Are all these recent stories a product of a changing media environment (as enhanced by social media and the fact that almost everyone regularly carries a device that can make a video recording), or is this another symptom of Trumpism?

Tiger Beat on the Potomac Strikes!

Politico is trying to get John Bolton fired.

(Which is fine with me, but I can only imagine what the stable genius will do if anyone shows him this article)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

If these actually happen, I wonder if Trump will come out with his pants

Maybe there's a down side to telling everyone that you need to get a deal no matter what so you can brag about a Nobel Prize before the negotiations even start.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Celebration in Israel with Trumpworlders as the IDF kills dozens of people

The current State of Israel in a nutshell.

Has everyone noticed that just about everyone is a one stater now? The Israeli government might still give lip service to a two state solution (and not even that often. I mean, why bother? Trump doesn't know what that stuff means and the point of their former commitment to lip service was mostly just to keep the U.S. happy). There's not much in what is left of the Oslo process for Palestinians anymore. Viable options seem to be: (1) maintaining status quo no matter how awful it is for the Palestinians, or (2) some version of a single state with different levels of rights and/or misery for the Israelis or Palestinians, depending on who is in charge of the thing.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Still gaming this out

At this point it looks like there are two schools of thought of what will happen now that the U.S. is violating the JCPOA (aka "the Iran nuclear deal").

First, there is the view that this spells the effective end of JCPOA and Iran will now be free to pursue a nuclear weapon without the inspection regime (whether or not they do so is a different matter).

Second, there is the view that I expressed below that the JCPOA can continue without the U.S. Iran and the other five parties to the agreement could continue to follow it. While the U.S. will impose sanctions, the EU, Russia and China will not (citing the fact that under the agreement those sanctions only go into effect if Iran violates the deal and Iran has not violated the deal). Whether this can work depends on whether Iran thinks it is in its interest to allow the inspections to continue despite the return of U.S. sanctions.

Iran does not do much business with the U.S. or American companies, so the only real effect of U.S. sanctions will be the effectiveness of the secondary sanctions--that is sanctions against foreign companies that do business in the U.S. and then also do business in Iran. Those sanctions would keep big multinational companies out of Iran. The U.S. has a bigger richer economy than Iran and if given the choice between having access to the U.S. or Iranian markets, most companies would ditch Iran. But that means that there would still be opportunities for smaller European, Russian, or Chinese companies that are set up just to do business in Iran. It might also be possible for multinationals to disguise their presence in Iran through a series of shell companies. If that happens, then the deal could survive without the U.S. while also shutting American companies out of the Iranian markets.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Again, the Iran deal can survive without the U.S.

Like I said yesterday.

That's assuming Rouhani speaks for the government on this issue. He really needs to get the Supreme Leader to recommit. But Trump's actions just strengthen the hand of Iranian hardliners who never wanted the deal. So we shall see. If the Europeans and Chinese re-commit to the deal, it will probably continue, just leaving the U.S. outside the agreement and free to implement whatever ineffective sanctions it wants.

UPDATE: On the other hand:

Maybe someone should actually talk to this President Rouhani guy?

UPDATE 2: At least this one is directly from an Iranian source (Zarif is the current Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs and he negotiated the deal that Trump just announce he would violate):

Stop calling it "leaving" or "pulling out"

Hey everyone, if Trump does not waive sanctions on Iran he is not "pulling out" of the Iran nuclear deal, he is violating it.

The deal, in a nutshell, is that the U.S. and other countries agreed to either repeal or waive certain sanctions that they have previously imposed on Iran in exchange for Iran giving up specific nuclear materials and opening themselves up to an intensive inspection regime. I don't think there is any provision in the deal that authorizes any side to withdraw from it.

If Trump announces that he will re-imposes the sanctions today (as everyone expects he will), the U.S. will be violating the agreement. It is a breach, not a withdrawal.

Monday, May 07, 2018

They don't really understand what feminism is

Many conservatives seem to think that feminism is the idea that women should get extra advantages for being women. Which is why when they try to make feminist-based arguments it looks so silly and unconvincing.

The Iran deal will probably survive even if the U.S. pulls out

I keep thinking about what will happen when (and I do think it is a "when" not an "if" at this point) Trump "rips up" the Iran nuclear deal. the bottom line is that the deal was between Iran and 6 countries, not just the U.S. Those 6 countries (the "P5+1") could each make a different decision with regards to the deal.

Because the other five, China, Russia, UK, France, and Germany, have all said the deal is working, I think it is likely they will keep abiding by it. They won't re-impose sanctions so long as Iran abides by the inspection regime and the inspectors do not discover any new secret nuclear program. If the U.S. drops out, it can re-impose sanctions against Iran based on its nuclear program, but that won't matter very much because the U.S. has had so little business in Iran. Iran's trade with China and the E.U. could continue, which is essentially what it was like before 2009 (when Obama got the other members of the P5+1 to impose harsh sanctions to bring Iran to the bargaining table)

The net result is that Iran won't suffer any real pain from Trump's move. The Obama nuclear deal can survive without the U.S. Iran can continue to abide by the restrictions on its ability to develop nuclear weapons (its incentive for following the deal is to prevent sanctions from Russia, China and the E.U., the economies that Iran has significant trade with). But the U.S. will lose its ability to influence Iranian behavior. And it will also suffer a blow to its credibility as a power that honors its own deals.