Dear Partners in thought:
You will forgive my facetious use of Agatha Christie’s famous line even if we are not dealing with a mystery but a tragedy…
The victory Twitters and laps of Donald Trump about having won against ISIS in Syria and bringing the boys and girls home to fit the America First ethos were bound to create a strong reaction and pushback from all quarters, including the Republican legislators usually faithful to him. One could only listen to 40 year old ex-veteran Illinois congressman Adam Kinzinger who was actually speechless about the news or Lindsey Graham who felt that the honour of America was under real threat.
DT’s declaration and decision went against many statements put out by the various departments earlier in the week, including the DoD that the fight was going on, even if ISIS had been mortally wounded, and that there was no discussion about this. It was not also that a withdrawal of 2,000 servicemen would change the face of battle (it could not) but it would change the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East leaving both Russia, Iran, not to mention the Assad regime a free hand. A withdrawal at this stage and time from one of the hottest war-torn regions with competing influences would also signify a withdrawal of America on the stage of world affairs – perhaps indeed a fit for what Lindbergh would have liked decades ago. Oh yes, America First too. It was not hard to imagine that Jim Mattis, the eminently professional and level-headed SecDef would resign in protest in a move that says it all given its magnitude that goes far beyond the Department of Defense.
For those who don’t follow the amazing choreography of the Trump administration with its comings and goings (the goings are harder as the potential cast gets thinner as we approach 2020, particularly among those in their thirties with a career ahead of them), Jim Mattis was the adult in the room (or the house, you know the one with the white painting). I recommend you reading my Book Note on “No better friend, no worts enemy” by Jim Proser who tells you more about the an and indeed the Marine.
With Mattis gone, after many of his ilk, we seem to be left only with loyalists who are precisely selected for that reason and accept the job without being really well known as they are usually not the top of the crop in any of their disciplines (so to it’s a great on the job training scheme as long as the loyalty factor is assessed to be strong). We now have a Trump team without the usually skilled experts seen in the US administrations who are respected for what they have done and can do. There is one exception with Jay Powell, actually an erstwhile Trump appointee at the Federal Reserve Board, but he is badly failing the loyalty test and has had to make grand speeches about the independence of the Fed and “doing the right thing”. In a preview of things to come, you will have noted that the potential replacement of Nikki Haley at the UN was an ex-Fox News presenter with little experience of International affairs before she got the role of Spokeswoman at the State Department (It also shows how critical the UN is for DT, which is unsurprising but should make the nominee reflect about why she was rumoured for the job). It’s going to be an interesting ride now there is only one pilot in the plane and we know who he is.
On a silly note, we learn today that both the US… and the UK (yes!) are behind accusations that are likely true that China (or Chinese) are behind cyber attacks on critical assets including the US Navy, NASA and other key infrastructures arguably in a drive to steal intellectual property and related secrets to advance their global leadership rise. The truth, that may be sad, is that nations spy against each other, including the US on its allies as we saw during the Obama Administration. It is a fact of life and it is highly likely that both the US and the UK are spying on China too. It does not mean that the West should not react and defend its interests as it should. It is just amusing that the news erupts at a time when Jim Mattis is resigning and Ms. May tries to show an independent and viable UK soon ruling the waves. Everything is linked and timing is never innocent even if the point behind the news is perfectly valid…
Serge Desprat- Dec 22, 2018 (Prague)