Saudi Arabia

How well do Americans know their Defense budget?

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The US spends more than the next 9 countries combined when it comes to defence. What is probably lost on many Americans is the spiraling cost of funding the veterans who served. The US is forecast in 2020 to spend almost as much on the Dept of Veterans Affairs (VA) as China does on military spending. The direct cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has driven the indirect costs of treating those who served almost 5-fold since the war began. US politicians have passed increase after increase.  Have these increases been thought of in context of the trend? Or do annual increases just get signed off as a reflex action?

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If we put the VA budget next to the defence budget, the former has grown from 14.8% of the latter to around 29% between 2000 and 2020. The number of veterans receiving disability compensation has grown 2 million in 2000 to 4.3 million in 2016. A total of 7.2 million veterans are actively seeking services or payments from the VA, up from 5.5 million in 2000.

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Spending per veteran by priority group also reveals sharply higher costs. This is not an exhaustive list of priorities, but the main 7.

Priority 1

• Veterans with VA-rated service-connected disabilities 50% or more disabling
• Veterans determined by VA to be unemployable due to service-connected conditions.

Priority 2

• Veterans with VA-rated service-connected disabilities 30% or 40% disabling

Priority 3

• Veterans who are Former Prisoners of War (POWs)
• Veterans awarded a Purple Heart medal
• Veterans whose discharge was for a disability that was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty
• Veterans with VA-rated service-connected disabilities 10% or 20% disabling
• Veterans awarded special eligibility classification under Title 38, U.S.C., § 1151, “benefits for individuals disabled by treatment or vocational rehabilitation
• Veterans awarded the Medal Of Honor (MOH)

Priority 4

• Veterans who are receiving aid and attendance or housebound benefits from VA
• Veterans who have been determined by VA to be catastrophically disabled

Priority 5

• Non service-connected Veterans and non-compensable service-connected Veterans rated 0% disabled by VA with annual income below the VA’s and geographically (based on your resident zip code) adjusted income limits
• Veterans receiving VA pension benefits
• Veterans eligible for Medicaid programs

Priority 6

• Compensable 0% service-connected Veterans.
• Veterans exposed to ionizing radiation during atmospheric testing or during the occupation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
• Project 112/SHAD participants.
• Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.
• Veterans of the Persian Gulf War who served between August 2, 1990, and November 11, 1998.
• Veterans who served on active duty at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.
• Currently enrolled Veterans and new enrollees who served in a theater of combat operations after November 11, 1998 and those who were discharged from active duty on or after January 28, 2003, are eligible for the enhanced benefits for five years post discharge.

Priority 7

• Veterans with gross household income below the geographically-adjusted income limits for their resident location and who agree to pay copays.

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Countries have an obligation to look after the troops that sustain injury, physical, mental or otherwise. The question is whether politicians are cottoning on to the mounting relative increase in healing the veteran community to the spending on weapons of war?

There are 19.6 million veterans in the US. By 2045 this is expected to dip below 12 million. With 2.1 million serving active duty military personnel and reserves, the overall costs of healing may not come down anytime soon.

What it does say is that there is a massive need to work out how to reduce the costs to the VA without impeding improving healthcare and benefits for veterans.

Do arms suppliers have a moral compass?

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40 murdered children in Yemen.  The Saudi logic behind the attack was that the Houthi rebels were training these kids as soldiers. A far-fetched claim. Yet where has the condemnation of Saudi’s role on the UN Human Rights Council been? Countless civilian deaths in Yemen at the hands of the Saudi military are nothing new. Where was the outrage then? The decades long proxy war has only accelerated since the assassination of former Yemeni dictator President Ali Abdullah Saleh in December 2017.

CNN looked to put the blame of this latest tragedy at the feet of US defence companies. Surely the Europeans are just as blameworthy for selling the Tornado or Eurofighter aircraft that likely dropped the American ordinance on these kids? Mattis has openly criticized the Saudi attack in this instance.

Arms deals are a dirty business. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Unfortunately these dangerous toys rarely come with a “please use responsibly” section inside the box of instructions. Some might argue that in certain cases users are not of the appropriate age bracket to play with them. Bribery scandals (aka incentives) are often more notable than the weapons deals themselves. Yet have there been incidences of arms suppliers turning down multi-billion dollar contracts?

If we go back in history, the Americans refused to release the source codes to the Saudis in a potential multi-billion dollar US jet fighter sale that would have allowed certain weapons (the US weren’t prepared to supply) to be fired. Even if the Saudis bought the US jets and sourced the banned weapons on the black market they wouldn’t be able to be fired.  Instead the Saudi’s bought the Panavia Tornado because the Europeans were happy to sell a similarly capable platform that the US refused to sell. UK defence contractor BAE Systems won a long term maintenance contract known as Al-Yamamah as a result of this Tornado deal. Why not bash the Brits for taking advantage of the US putting regional security ahead of arms sales in Saudi Arabia?

Perhaps we could question the moral fibre of the US refusing to sell the F-22 Raptor attack fighter to the Japanese. The Japanese top brass pleaded for the plane but US Congress refused to approve it claiming the billions required to redo all of the computer systems and source codes to ensure it had a lower capability than the USAF plane. The reality was more likely to prevent a leakage of its capability (something that had occurred when the Japanese ordered Aegis destroyers). The result was Japan didn’t get them even given its peaceful history post WW2.

Should we bash the Russians for supplying military hardware has been behind the deaths of over 100,000 Syrians? Or Ford for making the car that ran down people in Westminster?Or should we question the operators of these tools?

If we really want to get petty the Paveway Mk-82 bombs responsible for killing these kids were sold to the Saudi’s in a deal made in 2013 under the Obama administration. Was it Obama’s fault in allowing the sale? CM doesn’t believe he is but interesting that CNN left the period of sale out. Easier to attack the $110bn arms sales going forwards.

40 dead children is a tragedy. Arms deals are far from if ever holy. The instruments of death are sadly not always deploy in manners which are either moral or ethical. The Iranian backed Houthi almost sunk a French made Saudi frigate in the Red Sea at the beginning of last year. Several Emirati patrol boats have been severely damaged by the Houthi in the same area, the most recent incident occurring  last month. There are countless skirmishes along the Yemeni/Saudi border.

Unfortunately the Saudis and several other gulf states are key allies of the US in the proxy war against Iran/Russia. Do not expect a wholesale change in US arms deals with Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future.

In closing perhaps people might question China’s new interest in the Middle East? Many may have missed it has deployed 5,000 troops (including special forces) in Syria since 2017. Geopolitics seldom look to protect the rights of anyone other than the home side. Don’t pretend it does otherwise.

Musk to be investigated by SEC over tweets

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CM has always thought that Elon Musk is the ultimate salesman. CM has also wrote that the biggest risk to being a short seller was then”cult” status of the company. On any rational investment grounds the stock is ridiculously priced but as the old adage goes, “the market can stay irrational longer than you can remain solvent!

Tesla is a car company that is worth more than GM, Ford & FiatChrysler combined. One that trades at 5x Daimler in valuation terms, a luxury competitor that is in the sweet spot of its product line up and rudely profitable.

Back in June, Musk bought $35mn worth of shares in Tesla. The whole idea that someone is willing to fork out $75bn on a whim seems somewhat implausible. Is it safe to assume that all of 100s of lawyers, bankers and brokers would need a little bit of time to prepare the necessary documentation to cement such a ridiculous sum? Or is money now just so free and easy that a billionaire deploys a vault full of cash loaded full of Zero Halliburtons into a private jet after a few phone calls?

SEC enforcement attorneys had already been gathering general information about Tesla’s public statements on manufacturing goals and sales targets. Now SEC attorneys are investigating whether his tweets about securing funding were factual.

CM is not accusing Musk of insider trading albeit as a matter of course the SEC should investigate when he knew about his mega financier. One wonders how it is that we know so little about the buyer, the term sheet, the question of shareholder approval and how “secure” it is? Taking it private will remove the lens of quarterly reporting but it doesn’t remove the fact of how dreadfully the company is run or how amateur production is. Even if public scrutiny is removed, the problems of profitability don’t disappear and the need for funds, credit ratings etc if he taps public markets for debt capital remain.

If Musk pulls it all off and the company becomes a roaring success then CM will gladly eat a whole humble pie and openly admit it was wrong.

As to the SEC investigation let’s hope it has learnt the lessons of its bumbling incompetency over Bernie Madoff and doesn’t miss anything that might be bleeding obvious.

Israel to deduct terrorist salaries from PA transfers

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No sooner had Australia announced it would no longer give money directly to the Palestinian Authority (PA) than the Knesset put into law a previous bill that sought to deduct terrorists’ salaries from the roughly $130 million in monthly tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of them. PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh said,

The Palestinian presidency strongly refuses to accept this severe decision, which damages the foundations of the relations since the Oslo Agreement to this day…If this decision is implemented, it will prompt important Palestinian decisions to deal with it.”

How is it that even with the Oslo peace process coming into effect in 1993 that the PLO carried out 4,000 attacks till 1999. The Israelis so desperate (under Ehud Barak of all people) for peace gave the PLO 95% of their territorial demands yet they still kept up the attacks killing more than 1,000 Israelis, a total exceeding the previous 25 years combined. So the foundations of the Oslo Agreement remain flakey at best. 

What Abbas’ spokesman is technically saying is that they openly admit to spending money on terrorist salaries (nothing new) when their very own people want monies to be allocated on services (education, sanitation, water, electricity, healthcare) that benefit the whole. The press doesn’t report the 1,000s of Palestinians treated in Israeli hospitals.

While Israel remains an open, democratic and multi-ethnic society the PA has proven itself to be an intolerant, corrupt and self-serving dictatorship which has little interest in serving its constituents as the comptroller of its first ever audit revealed. International aid money lined the pockets of the leaders of the PLO. The French money laundering authorities discovered that Arafat’s wife’s bank account had amassed $3bn over 20 years. It is ironic that most of the original founders of the PLO didn’t live in the Palestinian Mandate when Israel was created. Arafat was born in Egypt. 

At the time of the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, 90% of Palestinian Arabs lived in Transjordan. At the time there was no movement to create a Palestinian state. It is somewhat ironic that no Arab outrage ensued when Jordan annexed the West Bank (what we know as the occupied territories) in 1950 blatantly disenfranchising the Palestinian Arabs in the process. Even then they never fought for self-determination. In fact it wasn’t until the PLO was first established in 1964, a time the West Bank belonged to Jordan, that they started to pursue it.

The irony of many leaders in Palestine is the blatant hypocrisy. In 2014, during the last conflict, former Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh sent his daughter across the border to Israel for emergency medical treatment. On what grounds does a father trust his daughter to his mortal enemy to save her? Yahya Sinwar, a prisoner in an Israeli jail for murdering 12 Israelis was given life saving surgery after being diagnosed with cancer. He was released in a prisoner exchange in 2011 and took over from Haniyeh as leader of Hamas yet swears “we will tear out their hearts” of the very people who saved him.

What might have escaped many is that in the last few months terrorists have burnt more than 30,000 dunam (7,400 acres) of land near the border with Gaza. Israel’s honey industry has almost been wiped out. Israel is under pressure to do something to stop such destruction. Iran is the biggest headache for Israel at present. Despite digital diplomacy, the last thing the country wants to invite is a conflict with Iran-backed Hamas.

However do not be surprised if some skirmish kicks off on the border in coming months to contain the fire bombing of farmland. It will have nothing to do with cutting out payments to terrorists and martyrs although don’t be surprised if that pretext is used.

Israelis truly want peace. Yet the PA will only accept one which requires the destruction of the Jewish state. Ask yourself whether you would sign an agreement with that as a clause? Exactly.  Even Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, said several months ago,

In the last several decades, the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after the other and rejected all the peace proposals it was given…It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the table or shut up.”

Israel – myths and realities

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You’ll never understand Israel until you visit it. Almost everything you read in the media is a falsehood. Nadav Tamir, former advisor to the late Prime Minister Shimon Peres, sarcastically quipped this week, “if Moses had possessed GPS there is no way he would have picked Israel as it is the only place in the Middle East without oil.” It might explain why this nation has had to work so hard to be innovative in order to survive. It has no natural resources. It had to invent drip irrigation so it could turn the arid chalky soil into fertile green pastures. Much of the technology inside your smart phone was designed in Israel. Household names Intel, Microsoft and Apple have all established their core R&D centers in the tiny nation state. Israelis are pragmatic and know too well that necessity is the mother of invention. Perhaps the great grandmother might be more apt.

It is perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the world. Sadly also one of the most misreported countries on the planet. Make that the most. Israel wants peace with its neighbors. Yet the mainstream media will not report the fact that Israeli hospitals are treating wounded Syrian troops of Assad as CM writes, The media won’t report that the local Druze population is livid that their fellow Israelis are doing this. Where are the media reporting the fact that hospitals not far from the Gaza Strip are caring for children who can’t get proper access to medical attention because Hamas is only concerned with spending on more rockets and building tunnels using the supplies given to it by the people supposedly oppressing it? Unfortunately the press seem to be stuck in the “if it bleeds, it leads” narrative.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has launched a program of soft force. PM Benjamin Netanyahu launched a website in Farsi with full details of how to overcome drought gripping Iran through drip irrigation for free. While Iran shouts “Death to Israel”, Israelis shout, “we want to give life to the Iranian people.” Who is the aggressor? The Foreign Ministry is also gaining huge traction with Iraqis with an Arabic Facebook page discussing Iraqi-Jewish history. It launched in May 2018 and has 34,000 followers. Israel believes that the ‘digital embassy’ is an impactful way to get around the hatred often espoused by the regimes.

Then people miss out on news of amazing people like Tanya Oziel,  CEO of the Trans Tasman Business Circle who led a delegation from Australia & NZ to investigate tech fusion in Israel. Tanya, a Sydney based Jew of Iraqi origin, is someone of such passion and foresight that she arranged for AFL legends like Ron Barrassi to come to Israel to train local and Palestinian kids to play a game with a ball they’d never seen in mixed teams. All of a sudden the noise of the two peoples supposedly at each other’s throats was replaced by a sense of common purpose. While some of the Palestinian kids have been pilloried by some quarters in their community they still remain actively engaged with Tanya. They look beyond the hateful rhetoric so often fueled by the media. She has every right to be proud. The idea that this is some sort of jackbooted police state is engaged in apartheid and genocide is patently untrue.

Apartheid is a strange word to be used in an Israeli context. In a tiny country of just under 8 million citizens, the country’s 1.5 million Arabs, whatever challenges they may face enjoy full freedoms, voting rights and serve in the Knesset and the Supreme Court. Ask yourself how many Jews serve in any capacity (much less live) in Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Iraq, Algeria or many other countries? Egypt had 75,000 Jews once upon a time. Algeria 140,000, Iraq 135,000 Jews. Syria 30,000 Jews. Next to none now. Where is the apatheid? Where are their Jews?

Palestine is often a point of deep criticism. At the time of the State of Israel in 1948, 90% of Palestinian Arabs lived in Transjordan. A movement to create a Palestinian state never existed at the time. In fact it wasn’t until 1964 that the PLO was first established at a time the West Bank belonged to Jordan.

What is conveniently forgotten is that of the c.4mn refugees scattered across 60-odd refugee camps, the Palestinians have automatic rights to Jordanian citizenship yet they only covet Israel. Even though 21 Arab nations share a common language, they won’t offer asylum to Palestinian refugees which seems rather calculated. It provides a convenient excuse to maintain hostilities to Israel using the suffering of Palestinians as the bait.

Jordan doesn’t actively push Palestinians to take up citizenship which is their right to do so. While Israel remains an open, democratic and multi-ethnic society the PA has proven itself to be an intolerant, corrupt and self-serving dictatorship which has little interest in serving its constituents as the comptroller of its first ever audit revealed. International aid money lined the pockets of the leaders of the PLO. The French money laundering authorities discovered that Arafat’s wife’s bank account had amassed $3bn over 20 years. It is ironic that most of the original founders of the PLO didn’t live in the Palestinian Mandate when Israel was created. Arafat was born in Egypt. 

How is it that the army of Jordan’s King Hussein murdered thousands of PLO militants in 1970 yet the PLO has never called for the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy? How is that even with the Oslo peace process coming into effect in 1993 that the PLO carried out 4,000 attacks till 1999. The Israelis so desperate (under Ehud Barak of all people) for peace gave the PLO 95% of their territorial demands yet they still kept up the attacks killing more than 1,000 Israelis, a total exceeding the previous 25 years combined. 

Arafat was presented with an outcome he did not want – peace with the State of Israel. Despite this serious peace offering Arafat accelerated the intifada. These are sad truths.

We need only look at the siege of Masada, the tale of the final revolt of the Jews against the Romans in 73CE. It truly points to the stoic nature we see today. Despite burning the citadel atop Masada and the killing of their families to evade capture, the Jews left the grain and food stores untouched as a way to tell the invaders that they were never at risk of starving but preferred death to being bonded in slavery. It typifies their pride and refusal to submit to persecution.

Jerusalem, the nation’s capitol, holds deep significance as it has been for millennia. CM’s grandfather stood by the Western Wall in 1940. The Jewish people who saw his picture felt a sense of deep gratitude that he helped defend her. The walls were built around the summit of Mount Moriah, where biblically, Abraham offered his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. In 1948, the Jordanians took control of the wall and it was only in 1967 that Jews were able to pray at the foot of the Temple Mount again. To witness prayers on the Sabbath is something powerful. There is not one whiff of hatred. The chants, songs and prayers resonate throughout the walls. There is nothing but love in what they do. There is no extrapolation of the ancient texts to take extreme measures to murder in the name of their religion.

To witness Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the one city, one can honestly sense and feel similarities than differences. Think of the prophets. Abraham to the Jews was known as Ibrahim to the Muslims. Same for David/Daoud, Mary/Miriam and so on. Indeed if the Jews were as intolerant, racist and deranged as made out surely they would use the pretext to flatten the Al Aqsa mosque built over the Temple Mount ruins and restore it to its former glory.

Modern day history has been tough for Jews. The horrors of the Holocaust are documented at Yad Vashem. Trans Tasman Business Circle leader Johnny Weiss told the tale of how one of the guides showed a series of pictures of supposedly murdered Jews. One of them was his mother who is still alive at the ripe age of 94. What is more amazing is that she cut the guide off to say that “You are wrong. I know that girl is still alive. She is me!” After revealing her tattoo the entire tour group were floored by the revelation. Powerful beyond words. Living history as it were.

So when people wonder why the Jewish state take such measures against those that threaten to “drive them all into the sea” forgive them for doing their best to protect themselves. The last time they did not push back, 6 million died. It has taken 70 years to replenish those stocks. 70 years!

CM could go through the depths of innovation that was the key tenet of this tour. The sheer intelligence of those kids who learn advanced computer coding from age 7. We could discuss a 35 year old university doctor who has over 20 patents to his name but there is so much more to Israel. Its history has forced it to be the most advanced nation on earth. The start up nation is exactly that. When PM Benjamin Netanyahu says “we want your business” at a cyber conference speaking of the $50bn sunk cost in critical cyber infrastructure in the Negev Desert, he means it!

To sum up two weeks in Israel with this simplistic blog doesn’t do it justice. Israel is a proud country. Often brutally direct. Israelis will argue that if you think you’re the smartest in the room then it is time to change rooms. They are confident in their future because they back themselves explicitly. Failure is a good thing. Failing big is even better. Israelis think that experience is a hard teacher: they get the test first and the lesson afterwards. They believe that hard work, persistence and thinking outside the box is what counts. The education ecosystem breeds brilliance. There is no other word for it. This is deeply cultural and exceptionally hard to master.

Perhaps the highlight (there were too many to count) from the trip came on the final day. A photographer at a Tel Aviv flea market showed a picture (above) he took which chronicled a security checkpoint in 1990. The Israeli soldier and Palestinian female look tired of the situation. Things are not like that today. It feels no different to Japan. Not for one second has there been a nervous feeling about personal safety and security. Everyone who visits Israel for the first time will leave with the opposite preconceptions that they came with. It is by no means perfect but name a country that is.

It is with deep regret CM must board a flight tomorrow and leave a country that surprised on pretty much every level. It really is that amazing. Forget what you read in the papers. It is seriously fake news. See it with your own eyes and be prepared to blow your mind. Do it,

What happens when you poke a Russian bear?

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As written earlier in the week, regardless of one’s views on the righteousness of any attack on Syria, Putin is being faced for the first time in a long time, a leader of a foreign nation (nations as it turns out) prepared to stand up to him. Obama fled the Syria battlefield after being given a two hour window when Russia first went to the aid of Assad. If that wasn’t the ultimate sign of a bully in the Kremlin it is hard to think of what is. While sanctions may have bitten to a degree post Ukraine and the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines flight, Syria is essentially a testing ground for Putin to weigh up Western (specifically Trump’s) resolve. If we look at Russia’s response post the Syrian strike,

The worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard…A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences…All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris…Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible.

Kind of says it all really – Russia hasn’t been insulted. Putin has. He must have a glass jaw  like Trump! Two bullies flexing muscle. In a show down Should Putin wish to pick a direct conventional fight against 3 nuclear powers (explicitly mentioned), he knows that ‘mutually assured destruction’ is the very last option in the drawer and next to no chance of being selected despite all of the media beat up. On a conventional basis, Putin wins more battles by stirring up the hornet’s nests in other regions. Lending more support to Iran, Lebanon and Yemen. Destabilize Saudi Arabia and antagonize Israel.

CM wrote,

It is worth nothing that Syria is Rosoboronexport’s (Russia’s military export wing) 2nd largest customer after Iran. Putin is sick of having the West try to remove his clients. Assad is key to Russia’s foothold in the Middle East. With an essentially pro-Iran Iraqi government and Syria as well as Hezbollah Putin has a geopolitical doormat from the troubled separatist states to Russia’s south to Lebanon.

Some arguments have been made about the risks of the American, French or UK strikes killing Russian troops or civilians on the ground in Syria handing Russia free will to attack its enemies. Scroll back to November 2015 when the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter it claimed entered its airspace. Two Russian pilots were killed in the shooting and subsequent rescue. The Russians were incensed but President Erdogan is still in power and Ankara isn’t flailing after seeing its capitol turned into smoldering rubble.

This argument that the Russians weren’t given advance warnings of the attack is ridiculous. Had the Russian defence forces been on proper alert (they most definitely weren’t passed out behind their radar screens after a vodka binge) they would have detected the missile launches. Wind back to the 59 missile launch earlier last year against Syrian chemical facilities. We didn’t hear a peep from Putin. Why now? Of course he is incensed over the booting of diplomats on the nerve agent scandal but this is a showdown of ego.

Think of the long geopolitical chess board here. Should Trump have backed down on Putin’s threats, wouldn’t China’s Xi feel equally empowered to annex Taiwan by telling POTUS that he risks ‘grave reprisals if he meddles with Chinese sovereign territory’?

For all the initial snubbing of Trump by Macron on his historic election win in France, there is no way he would have gone in alone to attack a chemical facility without the guarantee of the military might of America. It is unlikely Theresa May would have done it either. So for all of the ‘unhinged’ lunatic rhetoric bandied about by the media, foreign nations don’t gamble their own sovereignty lightly, especially over something like Syria.

General Mattis has said they plan no further strikes at this stage. Does Putin order his forces to sink a US destroyer in the Mediterranean which launched those missiles? Highly unlikely. He does have the best weapon available to do that (the ‘Sunburn’) but sending US naval vessels to the bottom of the sea on a strategic strike would seem a big response to a targeted hit.

Let there be no mistake. There is a new sheriff in town. Russia has a bloody nose it didn’t think it would find itself. Putin miscalculated that Trump isn’t all Twitter-fueled bluster. Uncertainty in foreign leaders is always a risk for enemies. Trump has shown Putin he won’t be bullied like his predecessor.

Putin doesn’t want a hot war with America. The best way to strike at the US is like the last 6 decades. Undermine her at every opportunity. Supply her enemies. As mentioned before, if the Russians didn’t think it worth hitting back at Turkey for deliberately targeting its fighters, it is unlikely that Putin, no matter how ‘insulted’ he might feel will take a strike not aimed at Russians as a pretext to pick a fight with Trump. Putin has worked out the US president’s measure. He miscalculated. He won’t make that mistake twice.

For the media, running all the scare campaign stories is not only highly irresponsible (as it did over Yemen’s attacks on Saudi Arabia) but proving the lack of depth of analysis. They can beat Trump over the head all they wish but should note the actions of Macron and May following him into the region as a tacit approval of the US leader. Was he the madman they portrayed him as in the first place they would have stayed well out of it.

Watch for Putin’s response (unlikely but will threaten it will come when the evil Americans least expect) and think deeply about why it is important that the real despots (Putin, Xi, KJ-U, Erdogan) around the world no longer have the ability to exercise free will in knowledge that the worst they face is a slap on the wrist from the UN.

Sounds more like grounds for congratulation than censure. 

World on the brink of WW3? Press on the blink more like it

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When you read a title like “world on the brink” it is easy to be misled to thinking this is a Trump/Putin related incident. The fact is the Iranian backed Houthi in Yemen have been lobbing ballistic missiles at Riyadh and staging border skirmishes for years. The Americans have been advising Saudi Arabia where to strike the Houthi in Yemen. This is a decades old fight and since the death (assassination) of former President Saleh last year the Houthi have become even more emboldened than they were during the Arab Spring 8 years ago.

Yet it is so easy to draw conclusions. Did the mainstream media report the sinking of a Saudi naval frigate in the Bab-al-Mandeb strait in Jan 2017 which took the lives of 176 sailors? Has the Israeli shekel collapsed since Trump and Putin exchanged verbal salvos? No. The Tel Aviv indices? No. Surely a relatively liquid financial barometer in a country that has been warned not to intervene by Putin too. Would quickly price in any fears.

The situation over Syria may be tense but if you look at what Putin is really trying to do he is weighing the size of Trump’s guts to call his bluff. We shouldn’t forget when Russia first intervened in Syria several years ago, Putin told Obama that US forces had two hours to get out of harm’s way. That is the warning one would give the Luxembourg armed forces, not the most powerful military in the world. Obama heeded Putin. Putin had carte blanche. That’s why nothing happened with the Ukraine. Sanctions were put in place but no one made any attempt to ‘change behviours.’

It is worth nothing that Syria is Rosoboronexport’s (Russia’s military export wing) 2nd largest customer after Iran. Putin is sick of having the West try to remove his clients. Assad is key to Russia’s foothold in the Middle East. With an essentially pro-Iran Iraqi government and Syria as well as Hezbollah Putin has a geopolitical doormat from the troubled separatist states to Russia’s south to Lebanon.

The problem Putin faces is if Trump yanks his chain, does he shoot US missiles down as threatened? He said they’ll attack launch sites which effectively equals sinking US naval vessels as that is how they are launched. This is perhaps the easiest way to escalate a skirmish out of Putin’s control. If Putin doesn’t do anything, Trump holds one over him. So Putin is hoping by the use of very strong language that Trump backs down. It is not exactly the best way to handle on either side but this is the first time in almost a decade where the US has a leader that won’t be pushed around. Unpredictablity is a strength not a weakness

Looking at history. The NVA was supplied by the Russians during the Vietnam War and the Afghans were supplied by the Americans in the war with Russia. Nothing new. The Russians returned the favour when the “Coalition” deposed Saddam and entered Afghanistan. Proxy wars have been fought for over 50 years.

The US is dispatching a carrier battle group to the Mediterranean. Theresa May is sending a UK submarine. The Russians are conducting military exercises with 11 warships in the same area. Of course scare stories are amock and clickbait media will report how we’re two seconds from a thermonuclear exchange.

It begs the question had Obama suggested to Putin he was bombing Syria, he would be praised for level headed genius. If Trump managed to bomb Syria with no Russian response then would we see the media have a mea culpa moment? Not a chance. It would be palmed off as a lucky break. If we go back in history, we can see good nations that did nothing let tyrants get away with murder. Have a look at Russia and China in the last decade. Man made military bases in territorial waters of other nations, early warning systems on the contested  Spratly’s and agreements in Vanuatu and Sri Lanka which provides naval ports for China. Putin is getting the old ‘union’ back together and there are plenty of willing despots happy to ride his coattails.

Putin is livid at the outcome of the nerve agent scandal seeing the expulsion of so many diplomats. He is not one that likes criticism as many an oligarch has found out the hard way. The question for those that fear what Trump might do should worry more about what will happen if he doesn’t. The downside is that the media likes Putin more than Trump. For a president with a glass jaw, his moves will be far more heavily scrutinized than Putin’s. He’s damned whichever way he turns. Putin on the other hand  willl be excused for being a dictator, whatever he chooses to do. The media will hope it dies down as they turn a blind eye and pillory their own governments for not taking in enough refugees.

Appeasement is an ever widening feature of governments in the West today. There are Neville Chamberlains everywhere. Who will stand up to Putin if Trump doesn’t? Whether Syria is the right battleground is beside the point. Because if it isn’t Syria it will end up being somewhere else.  The problem is only Trump “can” credibly shirt-front the former KGB officer.