U.S. Surrender In Afghanistan

By Paolo von Schirach – 

WASHINGTON – The historic news is buried in short articles inside major newspapers. If you did not pay attention, you probably would not even notice that the American war in Afghanistan –the longest American war– is finally coming to an (unhappy) end. America is negotiating its departure from Afghanistan. A draft deal sketching a timeline for US troops withdrawal and subsequent Afghan Government-Taliban negotiations has been hammered by US Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban.

Good news? Not really. This is a U.S. withdrawal following defeat, not victory. Let’s be clear. America has not come to this point after negotiations from a position of strength with a badly bruised, demoralized Taliban. America negotiated an exit from a war that it could not win against a relentless enemy. Make no mistake, whatever the wording of the final agreement, in essence this is a U.S. surrender.

Inglorious
end

Indeed, it
is clear to all observers that America is negotiating with the Taliban from a
position of extreme weakness. The other side, the Taliban, is winning on the
ground, and we simply cannot take this nightmare of daily attacks followed by
feeble and ineffective Afghan responses anymore.

Sadly, this is the inglorious end to a terribly ill-advised October 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, followed by an ill-conceived military occupation, and an even worse economic development strategy concocted under the assumption (bordering on lunacy) that America and its NATO Allies had the resources, the will and the skills to transform an extremely backward, war-torn Afghanistan into an at least passable modern, working democracy.  

A
bad idea

Sadly,
this negotiation with the Taliban is the end of the American poorly planned and
poorly executed adventure in Afghanistan. The occupation of Afghanistan was and
is a bad idea doggedly pursued for almost 20 years by national leaders who
should have known better; or who at least, after a few years of failures, could
have paused and thought the whole thing over again.

Foreign
policy mistakes unfortunately happen. But Afghanistan is much worse. This is
about hatching a completely unrealistic plan and then clinging to its mistaken
assumptions and failed policies, year after year, in the vain hope that
–maybe—someday things will improve, without any evidence whatsoever that the
situation on the ground was getting any better.

It
all started after 9/11

Let’s go
back to the beginning of this sad story, and that is 9/11. After it became
clear that this major terror attack against the US homeland had been directed
by Osama bin Laden, the founder of al Qaeda who had found sanctuary in
Afghanistan, the Bush administration decided “to
go get him”.
However, Washington almost immediately decided
also on a much more ambitious agenda. Indeed, the Bush administration decided
that it had to punish not just the al Qaeda leadership, but also its Afghan
willing hosts, that is the Taliban government.

Therefore
the more narrowly focused “punitive
expedition against Osama and al Qaeda”
almost immediately morphed
into “regime change”
for Afghanistan. This rather grandiose objective was in fact an act of
vainglorious superficiality. In so doing, Washington, while trying to get Osama
who was hiding somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan, (without any success,
by the way!), at the same time declared to the world that it needed to “fix” Afghanistan once
and for all, so that in the future this sorry country would become a
responsible, modern democracy, and no longer the friendly home of terrorists.

Insane
policy

In
principle, this may sound sensible: “Clean
up the place and engage in a bottom up make-over”
so that in the
future Afghanistan will not be used as a base for Islamic terrorists. In practice, anybody
with a brain at the time would have been able to see that this –“fixing Afghanistan”–
was a next to impossible task, at least within any reasonable time frame.

Anybody
with an even scant knowledge of decades of failure in trying to promote
sustainable development in Africa and other underdeveloped regions of the world
through large amounts of outside assistance could have pointed out that this
was mission impossible.

Indeed, if promoting development in Africa is extremely challenging even under “normal” circumstances, it should have been clear to all top decision-makers in Washington that engaging in a development effort in an extremely poor, and completely ruined post-conflict Afghanistan would take extraordinary resources, and many, many decades.

A
dauntingly tall agenda, by the way, even assuming peace and a cooperative
society willing to buy into this rapid modernization strategy hatched and
dished out by outside experts.

Impossible
goals

Again, everybody knew or should have known that at the end of 2001 Afghanistan was an incredibly backward, tribal country that lacked almost all the underpinnings necessary to even start moving on a development agenda. And the basic underpinnings would include: some meaningful productive activities, (no, poppy cultivation and heroin should not be on this list), at least some basic infrastructure, a modicum of electricity generation capacity and transmission lines, at least some reasonably modern health care facilities, some functioning schools, a somewhat educated middle class, and a reasonably competent government and public administration.

Sadly, at the end of 2001 Afghanistan had almost none of these prerequisites. On top of that, the country was exhausted. it had suffered for years under a communist dictatorship, then it had to endure the Soviet invasion which was followed by a bloody war against the Soviets, and then civil strife, followed by the truly medieval Taliban regime.

A
record of failure

Anyway, in
the end the whole US-led Afghanistan enterprise that began at the end of 2001
failed –miserably. This is well documented. A key feature of this systemic
failure is that, to this day, the US government has no idea of what happened to
billions of dollars targeted for development in Afghanistan. The money simply
vanished.

The biggest failure was and is in the strong resurgence of the Taliban and the utter inability of the US-trained and equipped Afghan military and police to even hold their ground –let alone go after the Taliban insurgents and defeat them.

Right now, the Kabul government is unable to guarantee even a modicum of security almost anywhere in the country. Up to the signing of the recent preliminary agreement and semi-ceasefire that should lead to the finalization of the final peace agreement, The Taliban could hit almost any city, including well defended targets in Kabul itself.

On top of that, in the last few years, other extremists and terror groups have found fertile ground in Afghanistan. On a daily basis, there are attacks, bombs, suicide missions, and what not. And this is happening after 19 years of American and NATO military assistance to the Afghan Government, combined with gigantic development packages aimed at building a modern government, and eventually new prosperity.

The
negotiations with the Taliban

I guess this is why the Trump administration FINALLY decided to cut America’s losses and get the residual US troops home. The fig leaf here are the almost concluded bilateral “peace negotiations” with the Taliban. Through this charade hosted by Qatar, Washington would like to convey to the world that this is no “cut and run”. On the contrary, Washington will implement an orderly and careful incremental drawdown of US forces –but only if and when the Taliban will meet certain non-negotiable conditions.

The public message is: “This is no unilateral withdrawal. We are negotiating an honorable and sound peace agreement. We Americans shall make sure that the interests of the Afghan people are protected. We shall also make sure that the new (and still fragile) Afghan democratic institutions will be safeguarded and will continue to define the country long after the last American soldier has departed”.

Of course,
this is pure fiction.

Whatever they may say now, the Taliban leaders deep down do not believe in either democracy or power sharing. The notion of a well-functioning future coalition government featuring the current (extremely fractured, by the way) Afghan leadership and the Taliban –all working together for the benefit of the Afghan people– is ridiculous. Which is to say that these US-Taliban negotiations are only about saving face. Whatever you may want to call this process, in essence this is an American surrender. America failed –in a spectacular way– and now we are finally leaving an impossible situation that cost US taxpayers hundreds of billions, not to mention the dead and the wounded U.S. troops. No more good money after bad.

What
do we make of all this?

So, what do we make of this absurd tragedy?

Sadly, the only plausible conclusion is that in the highly charged, emotional days after 9/11 our national leaders literally lost their minds. There is no doubt that the terror attack America suffered on September 11, 2001 was unprecedented in scale and loss of American lives.

But 9/11
was not the end of the world. The notion that America, in order to prevent
future attacks and be safe, had to “redo
Afghanistan”
was megalomaniac, vainglorious and stupid. Going after
the bad guys, the masterminds of 9/11, was absolutely justified. But the notion
that creating a new country in Afghanistan was necessary in order to guarantee
future US security was fatally flawed.

And,
by the way, let’s not forget: even the more focused mission of capturing or
killing the al Qaeda senior leadership responsible for 9/11 FAILED, TOTALLY.
The US forces were there, on the ground in Afghanistan. Osama and his cohorts
were on the run. And still we failed to capture Osama, for more than a decade.

That said,
the Afghanistan operation was the beginning of the “War on Terror”, an ill-defined, grandiose
strategy that created what was ultimately an unreachable goal: identifying,
pursuing and neutralizing all terror organizations around the world.

“War
on Terror” does not mean anything

Terrorism is not“a place” you can attack and conquer or a clearly identifiable enemy located in one place. Terrorism is a modus operandi that can be and is adopted by several small groups, or even isolated individuals all over the world. Terrorism is about dramatic violent actions that will gain a great deal of publicity. It can spring almost anywhere, without any notice.

If you call this fight “a war”, how do you “win” this war? How can you ensure that all the bad guys, and the would-be bad guys, have been apprehended or killed? This is impossible. You can and should do your best to monitor and infiltrate terror cells. You should prevent possible acts of terror, and go after the bad guys when something bad tragically happened.

But this is mostly about doing your best to manage an elusive threat using intelligence services and special forces. You cannot “win” this conflict once and for all; just as police forces, even the best ones, cannot inflict a final defeat on all criminals and all criminal activities.

There are more than 7 and half billion people on this planet. Even if the smallest fraction of this large world population engages in terror plots, you still have a terror problem. And yet this open-ended, grandiose goal –Fighting and Winning the War on Terror— became the fundamental pillar of U.S. foreign policy under President George W. Bush. America was committed to fight this Global War on Terror to the very end, and we would not rest until the last terrorist had been killed or apprehended. This was and is an impractical, in fact fatuous goal.

No doubt,
terrorism is serious business, to be treated seriously. And this is why we have
sophisticated intelligence services and trained Special Forces. But terrorism
is not an existential threat that justifies making it into our number one
national security priority, engaging in a global war in which the entire world,
by the way, had to actively participate in order to show that they are with us.

Wrong
policies continued under Obama

But here is the thing. The stupidity of this Bush administration policy did not disappear when President Bush left office. What is bizarre and unexplainable is that, even though George W. Bush left the stage in January 2009, and no one talked about his War on Terror anymore, the failed Afghanistan project that was an integral part of the initial War on Terror strategy kept going, and going.

Indeed, President Obama declared that the war in Afghanistan was the “good war” of necessity that had to be fought, as opposed to the “bad war” in Iraq that was discretionary and ill-advised. And so Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, kept going and going in Afghanistan even though, based on years of failures, he and his national security team should have known better.

After all, they were not bound to justify and continue on the basis of a flawed commitment created by the previous Republican administration. And it took Trump, the president elected with the open pledge to end all the stupid “endless wars” started and continued by his predecessors, more than two years to finally come to grips with the need to end this madness.

Taking
stock

So, here is the balance sheet. It took more than 18 years to finally recognize a colossal foreign and security policy mistake. How could America be so wrong for such a long time without any serious debate on this record of failure followed by more failure? How could this happen?

I am not entirely sure. Still, as a minimum we need to recognize that there is a nefarious inertia, combined with mental laziness, enveloping the upper layers of the analytical and decision-making centers of this nation.

Alright, we can allow for mistakes. But bad policy judgment and errors could explain only the beginning of the problem. However, after a few years, how can we explain and justify that Washington, despite a solid record of failure in Afghanistan, kept going and going, year after year, without anybody in a position of power and responsibility pausing and asking the most elementary question: “Is this really working as intended?”

American policy-makers lost the ability to reflect

In Afghanistan, America started something big and expensive with all the wrong assumptions regarding the size and scope of the undertaking and without a realistic time frame to achieve the stated goals.

Here is my
conclusion. As a nation, notwithstanding hundreds of billions of dollars spent
every year on intelligence gathering, scenario planning, and war games, not to
mention the largest defense budget in the world, we seem to have lost even a
modicum of self-reflection ability.

An outside observer looking into this mess might find this record of systemic failure by the leaders of the most advanced country on Earth, and the attendant epic waste of resources stemming from totally misguided policies, quite funny.

But it is in fact tragic. In the end, finally getting out of an untenable situation in Afghanistan is a good thing. But I am not sure that America’s leaders learnt any enduring lessons.

 




Can Tesla Make It?

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Tesla’s recent massive stock price rise has no rational explanation. Believe it or not, electric vehicles (EVs) manufacturer Tesla now is worth more than the combined value of General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler. It is worth almost the same as Volkswagen and BMW combined. And yet the company produced only 500,000 cars last year, and has yet to be consistently profitable for at least a year. How is this possible? Clearly many of those who buy and hold Tesla’s stock are part of something akin to a cult, rather than savvy, rational investors. And yet, Tesla is no cult or joke. Far from it.

There is something there

There is definitely something “there”, there. But the something is not what most normal people are looking for: that is a well-structured manufacturing company that has a credible business plan that demonstrates when and how this car maker will become consistently profitable, this way rewarding its investors.

With Tesla, the usual parameters do not apply. And yet, at some point the company will have to become profitable. Yes, of course; but it is not clear when this will happen. Thus far, Tesla’s faithful investors are willing to believe that this will happen “soon”. Even though they do not know when, they are willing to believe this. So, is this EVs manufacturer a hallucination, a dream, or –worse– a hoax?

The fact is that nobody knows for sure what Tesla is.

Musk broke all the rules

That said, what we do know for sure is that Elon Musk, Tesla’s co-founder and CEO, successfully broke all the rules, and single handedly upended the entire automotive industry. And this is most welcome.

All analysts would agree that, before Tesla, electric vehicles were a dream, at best a concept, something we could think about, but whose time had not come yet.

Making EVs a reality

Well, Elon Musk made the EV dream a reality. Starting from scratch, his company designed and made appealing, interesting electric vehicles that people actually wanted to buy. Sure enough, he smartly took advantage of politically motivated subsidies in the form of federal and state tax brakes that increased the appeal of EVs. That was a big help, especially at the beginning.

Still, it is a fact that Tesla over time managed to design and produce models that are becoming cheaper, more efficient, with increased mileage per battery charge. In other words, thanks to Tesla, EVs are much closer to becoming truly competitive vis-a-vis even the most efficient, traditional internal combustion engine vehicles.

The battle is still on

I realize that the epochal battle for market dominance has not been won yet. Especially at a time of very low oil prices, and consequently cheap gasoline, the challenge to make EVs that are more cost-effective than traditional gasoline powered cars is huge. But it seems that Tesla is constantly working on refining its products. Can they make better, cheaper, more efficient batteries? Can they further reduce production costs? I have no idea. And I truly believe that nobody really knows for sure.

Musk is a genuine innovator

But I would like to bet on Elon Musk’s abilities. Whatever you can say about his bluster, braggadocio, exaggerations, wild predictions and what not, this successful South African immigrant is an extremely welcome addition to an uninspiring American industrial scene made out of unimaginative leaders who in most cases are at best capable of tweaking and fine tuning old stuff.

Think about it. The internal combustion engine is a more than 100 years old invention. It is most disappointing that no truly radical innovation has been produced by the major brands that have been designing and producing cars for decades.

It took Elon Musk –an immigrant and a complete outsider, with zero prior experience in the automotive sector– to shake up the entire industry. For that alone Musk deserves a great deal of credit.

Tesla opened a new chapter

Tesla opened a new chapter. It creatively linked renewable energy, automotive technology, sophisticated electronics, and more into a new way to think about personal transportation. Whatever your opinion about Tesla’s viability as a profit-making company, we should all welcome bold innovation.

Of course, being bold and daring does not always mean being right. Eventually the numbers will have to validate the new formula. However, for the time being, most Tesla investors are willing to suspend judgement. They are willing to believe the seemingly impossible, if not outright absurd. And, in the end, they may be proven wrong.

But, whatever Tesla’s future, I still believe that Elon Musk is a genuine trail blazer. With zero assurances of success, he dared to go where no one else would. That by itself is a great achievement, and (I hope) a powerful source of inspiration for all the would-be innovators in the United States.

Same old, same old does not do it anymore.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




America Unprepared To Deal With A Pandemic

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – For very understandable reasons, millions of Americans are now focused on the progress of the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic and on any assessments/prognostications about its virulence and ability to expand in a significant way beyond China.

Low threat

As of now, nothing much has happened in the US. The only known cases of coronavirus are related to very few individuals who contracted the disease while in Wuhan. In one case, the husband of a woman who got infected while visiting China got it from her after she returned. Not surprising.

So, no reason for panic, it seems.

Bad practices when it comes to basic hospital hygiene

True. for the moment at least, we are not facing any coronavirus emergency, here in the US. However, as some noted experts in epidemics have indicated, this potential crisis should be a wake up call to face the reality of the grossly inadequate prevention practices that prevail in most American hospitals.

When it comes to basic hygiene, most US health facilities do not follow elementary precautions, and so hospitals have become the breeding ground for viruses and deadly bacteria. It may sound crazy, but, according to the data, about 70,000 Americans die every year because of diseases contracted while in the hospital. And this –let me stress– occurs under “normal” circumstances, without the pressure and confusion caused by a sudden pandemic.

Tragic but preventable

Think of that. This is tragic. But almost completely preventable, assuming the adoption of and compliance with basic prevention and safety protocols. I have no idea as to why health authorities, hospital managers and other senior people in charge of medical care in America are not doing much to reverse this awful state of affairs.

This is not rocket science. This is about making sure that, while in the hospital, patients are properly isolated, so that they will not communicate potentially deadly pathogens to medical personnel and other patients. This is rather elementary. And yet, somehow, it is not done –at least not done on the scale that would be necessary.

For sure, adopting known best practices can be onerous, expensive, and time consuming. You have to create special “airtight” facilities within hospitals. You have to make sure that all relevant health care workers wear protective suites, masks, goggles, and what not, all the time. Yes, this is onerous; but it is the only way we know to prevent the spreading of pathogens within hospitals. It is a sad irony that patients may be and are indeed killed by diseases contracted in the place they went to in the hope and expectation to be healed.

We focus on Wuhan coronavirus, but we ignore basic protocols

So, here is the thing. For the time being, here in America no real threat from the mysterious Wuhan coronavirus, even though the spread of this novel disease is continuing, and therefore we should stay on the alert. This is relatively good news.

However, the ongoing and well documented tragedy of tens of thousands of Americans dying unnecessarily, year after year, because of carelessness and lack of proper hygiene in hospitals across America is a scandal that is essentially ignored.

We are unprepared for a major outbreak

Quite clearly, assuming that nothing or just a little will be done to improve the basic prevention/hygiene conditions within our hospitals, should we face a real health emergency like a virulent pandemic, we would be in real trouble.

Lacking adequate isolation facilities, overwhelmed “dirty” hospitals would become places of contagion, rather than cure. I really hope that all those in charge note all this and start taking action.

Given the state of most of our hospitals, we are not prepared to face a pandemic. Our national disease control policy cannot be just the hope of being lucky.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




Millions Can Hardly Get By In Full Employment America

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Especially if compared to barely alive, anemic Europe, America’s GDP and employment growth rates look absolutely sensational. As always, even if there is little or no justification, the incumbent president (Donald Trump in this case) takes all the credit, witness his recent Davos speech.

Millions US workers make very little

However, if we look under the hood, the picture is far, far less attractive. In a recent Letter to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, (January 23, 2020), Martha Ross, an economist who works at the prestigious Brookings Institution, a major Washington, DC think tank, pointed out that “53 million Americans –44% of workers aged 18-64– earn low wages, with median earnings of $ 10.22”. Got that? 44% of US workers make a little more than $ 10 an hour. And, Martha Ross adds, these are not just kids starting out in life using low wage jobs as entry points into the labor force. These are ordinary adults, folks trying to make a living.

Insignificant wages growth

Sure enough, it is a good thing to note real, inflation adjusted, wage growth. However, as Martha Ross points out in her letter, this growth means that for non supervisory retail workers the bump amounts to an increase from an average of $ 16.28 an hour to $ 16.81. Not exactly a sensational jump.

Here is the thing. A single adult, with no children or other dependents, may be able to get by with such meagre earnings. But a family cannot. As Ross concludes: “Despite a recent uptick in wages and a low unemployment rate, tens of millions of Americans earn barely enough to live on”.

Indeed. And this is a national tragedy; even though not talked about much because the overall picture looks rosy. The US economy is growing at more than 2% a year, the stock market jumps from record to record, there is hardly any inflation, and the unemployment rate is at 3.5%, a historic low.

Low wages tied to bad education

So, why is it that in the midst of a booming economy millions of Americans are paid so little? One of the reason must be that millions of Americans can compete only for low paying jobs because they have no marketable skills since they received a truly bad or mediocre education. Sadly, our American public schools system is a disaster. This has been proven time and again through countless domestic and international academic tests.

Sure enough, America can be proud of being home to many excellent private schools and most of the top ranked private universities. However, these prestigious institutions are accessible only to the wealthy and the super gifted who may receive merit scholarships. For sure, these young people, once they graduate, will have access to good or excellent jobs that will launch them into great careers.

All the others, however, the millions who could enroll only in mediocre to bad high schools, combined with all those who did not manage to finish school and obtain a high school degree, get only the scraps. Hence the sharp socio-economic divide and the sad, in fact dramatic, statistics cited by Martha Ross in her letter to the WSJ.

Two tier America

So, here is the thing. For all practical purposes, we have two separate countries here in America. In the upper tier, young people receive a good or excellent education. Armed with that, they can aspire to highly rewarding careers.

In the lower tier we find instead the unlucky ones who were stuck in inner cities and did not have access to a good or even decent education. In fact, many of them, even those who received a high school diploma, received almost no real education. And the unlucky ones in this lower tier tend to be mostly minorities and poor.

Which is to say that in our America, the country that used to be admired across the world as an “open access to all society” and for its “upward mobility”, nowadays “birth is destiny”, just like in Europe in the Middle Ages.

Indeed in today’s America, if you were born poor, in a bad neighborhood, your chances of getting the education you need to climb the socio-economic ladder are close to zero. Therefore, even in a growing economy with full employment, millions can only get dead-end jobs that pay a bit more than $ 10 an hour.

This is a national disgrace.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




Free Markets, Anybody?

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Let’s be honest. The free markets that we learn about in school do not exist. They never did and never will. What we have instead are very imperfect approximations. What we have, at least in some parts of the Western world, is a declared intention to have a level playing field in which different corporations try their best to offer products and services, without enjoying any special advantages. For this purpose, governments established, (among others), antitrust authorities tasked with the goal of preserving free markets and fair competition.

Gaming the system

But this is an effort, a goal, an aspiration. In reality, most big corporate players do their very best to game the system in their favor. The dark secret of all true blue free market capitalists is that they all aspire to have and keep an impregnable rent position, whereby they will continue to dominate their market sector, hopefully for ever.

In pursuit of this anti-free market goal, US companies and trade associations spend larger and larger amounts of money on Washington, DC-based lobbyists whose only mission is to obtain, via legislation or specially designed regulations, set-asides, tax breaks, quotas, restrictions on imports, and whatever else may make it easier for their clients to protect their market positions and fend off competitors.

A semi-market

Therefore, what we have in America is a semi-market. In many ways there is competition, access and opportunity for new comers to come in and do their best to offer their products and services. But this system is quite imperfect.

And, again, the thriving, in fact almost monstrous, lobbying industry in Washington, DC illustrates how everybody, from dairy farmers to sugar growers, from the auto industry to the film industry, is trying to get special favors from Congress, the Executive Branch and all sorts of regulators, or prevent their competitors from getting them.

Europe pushing champions

That said, it seems that in Europe they are about to take this game up one level. Afraid of losing not just a few battles but the actual war on innovation and competitiveness, the Brussels-based European Union technocratic elites are now dreaming of creating EU Champions in leading tech sectors, (batteries for electric vehicles, telephony, artificial intelligence, robotics, you name it). This will be done by creating partnerships between the private sectors, national governments and EU institutions.

Well, this is a lot more than just lobbying. This is about openly subsidized new conglomerates created for the specific purpose or carving pieces of markets now occupied by American and increasingly Chinese tech giants.

Airbus worked

There is, of course, an illustrious (and remarkably successful) precedent to all this. And this is the Airbus consortium created back in 1970 by the Europeans to compete against America in the critical sector of passenger jets, and more. At the time, US companies dominated world markets. Europe had nothing.

If the intent was to carve a space for European companies, the notion of different companies in different European countries (France, Germany, Britain and Spain), enjoying varying degrees of state aid, being capable of designing, manufacturing, and selling state of the art jetliners for the global market seemed truly preposterous.

Indeed, many skeptics predicted that this Airbus consortium would turn out to be a gigantic waste of time and money. To begin with, the business model seemed most improbable, since it rested on the willingness and ability of various corporate entities located in different countries, with distinct agendas and corporate cultures, to successfully cooperate in a major effort aimed at designing, producing, and selling state of the art jetliners.

Success

Well, surprise! it worked. In fact it worked extremely well. Nowadays, Airbus is the undisputed number one or number two (depending on the year) manufacturer of jetliners. However, Airbus, especially in its early years, managed to survive because, beyond its now undisputed ability to make good airplanes, it enjoyed various subsidies. Could Airbus have survived without them, especially in the difficult early years? May be not.

Of course, Boeing, the US aerospace conglomerate that suffered the most on account of this new, well heeled competitor, cried foul. How can a US private sector company compete against a European conglomerate that benefits from various states aid, while its customers (the airlines) could obtain extremely generous finance terms for purchasing Airbus products?

The Airbus reply was that Boeing enjoys its own subsidies. It gets a lot of business from the US Defense Department. With those profits it can finance its civilian airliners sector.

However, even though there is some truth in the argument that Boeing is not a pure private sector company fighting against many competitors, it is absolutely clear that Airbus could not have been conceived without the massive state subsidies that gave the company the staying power (especially in its early years) it needed in order to consolidate its fragile market positions.

More subsidized consortia in the EU?

So, is the EU idea now to repeat the Airbus formula, extending it to different critical industrial sectors? Can this be done? Will it work? Well, it seems that this is the only idea that might work in Europe. The European private sector, (assuming we can talk about a EU-wide private sector), is just not capable of doing important, ground-breaking things on its own. And this reality has critical implications. Europe is already falling way behind in tech innovation. If nothing happens, the competitiveness war will be lost very soon. Europe will be an industrial backwater.

China, the emerging world economic power, does not have any problems pushing its own national champions, be they state owned enterprises, or nominally private enterprises, (think Huawei), that clearly enjoy special status as favored companies. Clearly China is not a market economy.

Free markets are an abstraction

Alright. The above tells us that truly free markets, with open and unfettered competition, are an abstraction. In varying degrees, everybody is exhibiting rent-seeking behavior. Everybody is trying to game the system via carve-outs, set-asides, protectionism, ad hoc regulations, and other non-tariff barriers in order to keep the competition out, or at least in a disadvantaged position.

More lobbyists in Washington, DC

Comparatively speaking, the US seems a bit better. However, do not expect the armies of Washington, DC lobbyists to disappear any time soon. If anything, they are becoming bigger, more sophisticated, and more expensive. And this is a worrisome trend. We preach free markets. Some politicians may actually believe in them. But corporations currently enjoying a dominant position are not really committed to this idea.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




Trivializing Impeachment

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – The Democrats who hold the majority in the US
House of Representatives did their best to present their vote leading to the
start of an impeachment process, potentially leading to the removal of
President Donald Trump from office, as a solemn and sad moment dictated by the
gravity of the charges and the urgency of the constitutional crisis created by
a criminal president.

Solemn moment

With solemn voices accompanied by serious demeanor they told the nation that
while impeaching Trump is the last thing they wanted to do, they simply “had
to”
. The gravity of the situation left them no choice. They recognize
the profound implications of this move. They are fully aware that the US
Constitution contemplates impeachment as an extreme remedy for extreme
circumstances in which a president must be removed from power, without waiting
for the end of his four years mandate. But they had no choice.

Guardians of the Constitution

As they told America, in their constitutional role as guardians of our
institutions, the House Democrats could not ignore a president who has
deliberately and consciously broken his Oath of Office. On this Ukrainian
matter, he clearly abused his power as president, this way acting in open
disregard of the Constitution. And so the Democrats in the House, conscious of
their solemn constitutional obligations as public servants, simply had
to act.

Swift action

Furthermore, they had to act swiftly; because the evidence shows that this
president is busy engaging in unconstitutional conduct on a daily basis. He is
such a menace that he needs to be stopped, now, lest he
destroys the entire fabric of our cherished democratic institutions.

Exaggeration

Well, this narrative presented by the House Democrats is outlandishly
exaggerated. By inventing this notion of Trump as a monstrous creature living
in the White House, intent on shredding our American Constitution, the House
Democrats have turned this impeachment process into a farce. Many Americans
(may be most) have seen through this manufactured drama and concluded that this
impeachment process is nothing but “politics”, and not a
serious constitutional crisis, and so they have tuned out.

Real charges against Trump

Let me be clear. This is not an invented story. Ample evidence, now
corroborated by multiple witnesses who have first knowledge of the “Ukraine
military and economic aid matter”
conclusively proves that President
Trump tried to twist the arm of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, (by
threatening to withhold aid for Ukraine already voted by Congress), so that
Zelensky would commit to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, this way
helping Trump’s to get re-elected.

All this is beyond dispute. And it is bad. Really bad. It is most
inappropriate for any US President to mix the foreign policy of the United
States with personal electoral politics. President Trump acted most
inappropriately; and in so doing he tarnished his office.

Impeachable offense?

So, something bad happened and the president did it. However –and this is
the critical question– is this an “impeachable offense“?
The country is deeply divided on this. Most Democrats hate Trump as a matter of
course, and so they would like to see him gone, whatever it takes. Most
Republicans believe he is OK. The independents are divided.

That said, notwithstanding the anti-Trump media hype, most Americans who
live outside of the Washington, DC bubble do not care much about the complex
constitutional arguments dished out by legal experts appearing non stop on
cable TV.

The charge of “abuse of power” against this president for
most people is an abstraction that few are willing to dig into in order to
determine whether or not this particular instance of abuse rises to the level
of an impeachable offense that warrants removing a president from office,
especially when president Trump can be removed from office via regular
elections scheduled to take place this coming November. “You want to get
rid of Trump? Well, vote for the other candidate come November”.

For sure, most Americans would agree that they do not want “a
criminal”
in the White House. However, the “crime”
the president is accused of has to be something most people can relate to.
There is no clear majority that would agree that Trump’s conduct regarding the
whole Ukraine messed up affair clearly constitutes “criminal
behavior”
. Bad behavior, most probably; but not something that rises
to the level of an impeachable offense.

Inflated case against Trump

In other words, it is not that the House Democrats “invented”
a case against Trump. Far from it. There is plenty of evidence that there is a
case. Their political miscalculation has been to inflate the
dimensions of the “Ukraine story” up to ridiculous proportions.

Yes, President Trump behaves in an erratic, often bizarre fashion. He says
plenty of outlandish things. And in this Ukraine case he tried to use the
considerable power of his office to obtain from another head of state something
that would probably benefit him politically by threatening to withhold a large
package of economic and military aid duly approved by Congress that the
Executive Branch was obliged by law to deliver to Ukraine.

But to assert that Trump needs to be removed from office, RIGHT
NOW
, as opposed to allowing the voters decide in the upcoming November
elections, because the future of America as a viable constitutional republic
hangs in the balance, is silly.

No, we are not about to fall into an abyss. You may have plenty of reasons
to dislike Trump; but he is not in the process of dismantling the US
Constitution.

Impeachment trivialized

The end result of this rushed impeachment process based on significant
evidence of serious misconduct which however does not jump at you as obvious
criminal behavior is to have trivialized impeachment. Impeachment should be
viewed by all as an extreme remedy for truly extreme circumstances. And this is
not the case right now.

By labeling Trump’s abuse of power as an impeachable “high
crime”
, the Democrats ended up with the unintended consequence of
trivializing impeachment. Do not be surprised if in the future, whoever will be
in the White House, a hostile House majority will threaten to impeach another
president whom they profoundly disagree with.

I do not believe that the Founders decided to include impeachment provisions
in the US Constitutions as just another tool to fight inevitable political
battles. For that purpose we have free elections held at regular intervals.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the
President of the Global Policy Institute,
a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International
Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in
Washington, DC.




Raising The Temperature In The Middle East

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – After the unexpected airstrike that killed IRGC General Qassem Soleimani, right outside the Baghdad airport, analysts began speculating what Trump’s end game may be. In other words, is this just an ill-conceived, spur of the moment decision? Or is this targeted assassination of the master mind of all the Iran-led irregular forces operating with impunity in the Middle East part of a carefully orchestrated US “plan”?

Recalculations about America’s will are in order

I have no idea. However, I would say that this brazen attack that eliminated the most significant and most revered leader of Iran’s international mischief will probably cause some rethinking on the part of those who have come to believe that America is a hesitant giant, essentially impotent when targeted by non state actors.

Well, not so impotent, it turns out. I would speculate that Soleimani was killed in some measure because he got used to traveling from Iranian fiefdom to Iranian fiefdom, (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen), without too much concern about his own safety. In other words, being at the head of a victorious and unchallenged unconventional military force, made Soleimani arrogant. It made him believe that he was invincible, that he could safely move around almost anywhere in the region.

Here is the thing. Going forward, the accepted narrative of a rather passive and impotent America, incapable of reacting to stealthy attacks that do not leave clear footprints, no longer applies. Not just Iran, but all America’s enemies should take all this into account.

Making things worse in the Middle East?

Sure enough, this sensational killing caused all sorts of speculations regarding possible reverberations on the volatile Middle East, already torn by conflicts and insurrections. Trump has been accused by Joe Biden, would be Democratic nominee for the presidency, of having thrown a stick of dynamite into a powder keg, or something like that.

Sure, this American action raises the temperature in the region. But the most feared consequence of a major Middle East crisis, sky rocketing oil prices, will not happen. As Holman W. Jenkins noted in a recent piece in The Wall Street Journal, the unrelated American fracking revolution, by substantially increasing US oil production, completely transformed global oil markets.

There is plenty of oil

In other words, today the world should not be overly concerned with any disruption of the flow of oil passing through the Strait of Hormuz. The difference between 10 0r 15 years ago and today is that America –until not long ago a major oil importer– is now the largest oil producer in the world. Yes, the US produces more oil than Saudi Arabia or Russia. While America still imports oil, it buys most of it from Canada, not from the Persian Gulf.

This fantastic increase of America’s oil production has had and will have significant geopolitical consequences. A very big one is to have down graded the strategic importance of the Middle East as an oil producing region, and therefore the possible negative impact of Iranian actions targeting Middle Eastern oil facilities on the world economy.

Nothing happened after Iran attack Saudi oil facilities

If you recall, a few months ago, the Iranians launched a surprise attack against major Saudi oil installations, knocking down with one shot about 50% of Saudi Arabia’s oil output. Well, what happened? Not much. Yes, oil prices went up, for a few days. But then, when the analysts were reassured that there was plenty of extra supply in global energy markets, oil prices went down again.

I am not suggesting that the Middle East has become irrelevant, far from it. What I am suggesting is that Iranian threats and possible attacks against oil are not as dangerous as they used to be in an era of tight supplies and enormous needs for imported oil on the part of the United States.

Iran is not the winning champion

Yes, after the stinging loss of Soleimani, its revered military leader, we should be prepared for something really nasty coming out of Iran. But let us not forget that Iran is not Stalin’s Soviet Union, or Nazi Germany at the height of its power.

Iran is an impoverished police state, stricken by US economic sanctions. It is a country in which an increasingly recalcitarting population, notwithstanding the obvious threats of imprisonment, torture or death, still engage in spontaneous protests against the high cost of food and other basic necessities. While we should not underestimate its resourcefulness, today’s Iran is not exactly an unbeatable champion.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC




War With Iran?

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – The killing of General Qassem Soleimani, the legendary head of the Iranian al Quds force, is a game changer in America’s creeping hostilities with Iran. I wrote recently http://schirachreport.com/2020/01/02/iraq-is-lost/ that unless the US wants to engage in a conflict over Iraq, this poor, war-torn country is lost to us, on account of the solid Iranian grip on it. Large pro-Iranian Iraqi Shia military forces and pro-Iran Iraqi political parties make it almost impossible –short of an all out war– to dislodge the Iranians from what is now their vassal state.

Iraq is still lost

The killing of Soleimani changes nothing in this regard. If anything, it will lead to a formal request on the part of the Iraqis that all US forces currently in Iraq, supposedly to guard against any possible ISIL come back, leave immediately. I am not quite sure how this major political crisis with Iraq can be handled by Washington so that it will have a smooth end. Highly unlikely. Forget about working with any Iraqi government on anything at all.

Escalation with Iran

Regarding Iran, with this sensational assassination of the leader of all Iranian terror forces, now Washington has escalated the conflict with Tehran. The loss of Soleimani, a cult figure in Iran, stings badly. Iran will have to do “something” in response to this humiliation, possibly something very big. And this will inevitably cause a US retaliation.

Prior to the killing of Soleimani, notwithstanding countless Iranian provocations, President Trump repeatedly indicated that the US does not want “war” with Iran. But as of now, with this assassination of a key Revolutionary Guard leader, arguably the US is at war with Iran. An undeclared war; but war nonetheless.

Is Washington ready?

And this presents significant challenges for Washington. America is not very good at fighting unconventional conflicts in which our wily adversaries engage in asymmetric warfare. We are rarely proactive, hitting our opponents before they hit us, this way putting them on the defensive.

We are usually waiting for the next hit, whenever our adversary chooses to strike, and then do our best to retaliate. Which means that the other side, the bad guys, always retain the initiative.

The killing of Soleimani represents a major change. For sure the Iranians did not expect this, as they are used to moving around in contested territories with impunity. Does this mean that the US has now taken the initiative? Is America planning more strikes? Not clear at this early stage.

Big question

While the situation is still quite fluid, if we try to piece what we know together, here is the big question. “Is President Trump, in this critical 2020 election year, willing to engage in an undeclared war of attrition with Iran which will inevitably entail more terror attacks, possible disruption of oil flows in the Strait of Hormuz, strikes against Israel, and a lot more?”

Can Trump convince America that he has a good plan?

In other words, is America ready to absorb the blows that will inevitably come from Iran and its proxies, and forcefully retaliate in kind, whatever it takes, for as long as it takes? Furthermore, can the Trump administration present a credible “plan” that includes a clear path to something looking like “victory” against Iran?

Until yesterday, the plan was to exert maximum pressure against Tehran via economic sanctions, hoping that the significant pain inflicted by the sanctions would convince the Iranians to come back to the negotiating table and agree to whatever Washington demands.

Now it is different. After this assassination of a key Iranian military leader, forget about negotiating anything with Tehran. This being the case –open ended hostilities with Iran– if we continue with this tough stand against the Ayatollah’s regime, how is US public opinion going to react to all this? Will this escalation with Iran help Trump get reelected?

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC




Iraq Is Lost

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – Let’s not kid ourselves, Iraq is lost. Yes, totally lost. The events of the last few days make this crystal clear. We know that US forces retaliated against attacks by Kataib Hezbollah on military installations in Iraq in which there are some American troops and contractors. These frequent attacks against Americans have been directed by pro-Iranian militias, such as Kataib Hezbollah, trained and armed by Iran that are now part of the Iraqi armed forces. Furthermore, pro-Iranian Shiite political parties are in the Iraqi parliament and support the coalition government.

Assault against the US Embassy in Baghdad

Right after the US forceful retaliation (after attacks against US forces) that killed several members of the pro-Iranian militias, an Iraqi umbrella organization of pro-Iranian groups, called the Popular Mobilization Forces, organized an attack against the US Embassy in Baghdad.

This was done ostensibly to protest against the killing of members of the Iraqi forces by the wicked Americans. While the well-organized assault against the US compound was underway, the Iraqi military, according to international law responsible for guaranteeing the safety of all diplomatic facilities in the country, stood by and did nothing.

Along with this open display of anti-American sentiment, the same pro-Iranian groups now strongly demand the expulsion of all foreign (read American) military forces from Iraq. To make this even worse, Ayatollah Sistani, the most revered senior religious authority for all Iraqi Shia, added his powerful voice to the chorus of anti-American condemnations.

Iraq is controlled by pro-Iranian forces

So, this is the picture. The net result of the US March 2003 invasion of Iraq that ended up costing us a fortune, not to mention thousands of dead soldiers and tens of thousands injured, some of them horribly, is that now, at the beginning of 2020, it is quite clear that Iran controls Iraq. May be not totally, but almost.

The US, the supposedly friendly military power that ostensibly freed the Shia majority from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and his Sunni minority government, is viewed by most pro-Iranian Iraqi Shia as a hostile occupying force. And this is so because, after the US 2003 invasion, over time Iran managed to increase its influence within the Shia majority, so that today Tehran controls large Iraqi militias, and Iraqi Shia political parties heavily represented in Parliament.

This is not fixable

Let’s be real. In Iraq America has been defeated by a clever opponent. This is not fixable. We are outnumbered and outclassed in a country where most people do not like us. Short of a welcome but unlikely collapse of the wicked regime of the Ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guard in Tehran, something that would cause the collapse of all Iranian efforts aimed at controlling the Region, there is no way that the US can win this fight.

In Iraq, we have almost no real allies. The only groups that are still sympathetic towards Washington are the Kurds in the north and some Sunni factions in the North West that clearly do not like the prospect of being dominated by Iran-backed Shias. But they are not going to coalesce in order to wage a bloody fight aimed at kicking Iran out of Iraq. This is impossible.

Can anything be salvaged?

So, there you have it. While this may be a bit oversimplified, the net result of the brilliant Washington plan hatched by President George W. Bush in early 2003 to engineer “regime change” in Baghdad with the goal of creating democracy in an Arab state is to have turned Iraq –at the time clearly an enemy of Iran– into a subsidiary of Tehran.

I have no idea as to what, if anything at all, may be salvageable at this stage. I suspect almost nothing, since Iraq’s politics and most of its military forces are dominated by our Iranian enemies.

The killing by a US airstrike at the Baghdad Airport of General Qassem Soleimani, the almost legendary head of the elite Iranian Quds force, is symbolically important; but it does not change the overall balance of forces in Iraq.

Of course, Soleimani will be immediately replaced, and the Iran-led anti-American campaign, in Iraq and everywhere else in the Middle East, if anything, will be intensified as a way to avenge this loss.

Unless President Trump just decided to have another Middle East War, with massive deployments of US forces in Iraq with the purpose of engaging and destroying all pro-Iranian militias, the killing of a major Iranian military leader will not change the overall picture –a picture that does not favor the US.

And, in case of a US escalation, we can rest assured that Iranian forces and their proxies will do their best to hit US targets and US allies anywhere they can. This will not be just about Iraq.




Cyber War Happening Now – We Are Not Ready

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – We are at war. Aggression which one day can take devastating dimensions is targeting America on a daily basis. I am talking about cyber warfare. Unfortunately, it is very hard to label cyber war as “war”, simply because it is vastly different from the “conventional war” we are used to study, discuss and prepare for.

Intellectual obstacles

Sadly, our ability to think intelligently and proactively about this potentially fatal form of aggression is seriously hampered by our old-fashioned categories. Much to our disadvantage, when it comes to warfare, we are still prisoners of largely obsolete concepts, scenarios, international law definitions, strategies and tactics that do not allow us to fully comprehend the extent of unconventional warfare, in particular cyber war.

The UN Charter allows self-defense

All students of international law know that Article 51 of the UN Charter clearly affirms the right of self-defense that can be exercised by any UN Member, irrespective of any action that may or may not be taken by the UN Security Council to deal with that specific breach to international peace. It sounds right. Self-defense is an inherent right of all sovereign nations. Except that Article 51 specifies that self-defense is justified “if an armed attack occurs”.

Armed attacks

And here –in this narrow and quite frankly obsolete definition– is our problem. This classic definition indicates that an illegitimate war of aggression has occurred if and when there is an “armed attack”. And we know what that is. This is Pearl Harbour. This is Nazi Germany moving into Poland on September 1, 1939. We picture armies shooting their way across internationally recognized, sovereign boundaries. We know a war of aggression when we see one.

Deliberate obfuscation in semi-conventional conflicts

But today we are confronted with a vastly different universe when it comes to warfare. Even when we are dealing with quasi-conventional conflicts, in recent years the lines have been deliberately blurred by bad actors who do their best to muddy the waters, with the goal of denying responsibility for their actions.

Indeed, Crimea was taken over in 2014 not by the Russian Army but by “Green Men” whose uniforms did not have any insignia. Likewise, officially no Russian forces are taking part in the bloody conflict in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. The Iranians have proxy forces in Iraq and Syria, trained and armed by them. But they are not technically part of the Iranian Army. And we could go on and on.

When there is no armed attack

While it is not that complicated to see through these disguises in semi-conventional conflicts, when it comes to cyber operations, cyber attacks, and cyber terror, we are in uncharted waters. To start with, it is often hard to determine that there was an attack, let alone who the attacker is. Whatever they are, these actions are not “armed attacks” as defined by Article 51 of the UN Charter, and as most practitioners think about acts of aggression.

We do not recognize cyber war as war

And here is our main problem. Our weakness as a society, and I suspect this includes key policy-makers, is that we have a psychological resistance in recognizing that cyber attacks are pure “acts of war”, simply because they do not look like the conventional aggressive military operations we are used to.

Furthermore, since cyber war is relatively new, we still do not have the intellectual and technical tools to fully comprehend the extent of this threat, and how devastating large scale cyber attacks could be. Are we talking about a few cyber probes here and there? Are we talking about discreet actions of cyber theft or cyber espionage? We know about all of them. But is this really war? Yes, it is.

Prepare for the worst scenario

And it will get worse. Count on it. There will be new, stealthy and deadly tools. It would be foolish, if not criminally negligent, not to think about all this and try to prepare for the absolute worst. I mean well coordinated cyber attacks that could cripple our country, (for instance, attacks that would completely and permanently disable our national power grid), without a single shot being fired by enemy forces.

Our problem

And here is our problem. Right now we are at the very beginning of a very dangerous new era in which cyber tools are used as weapons. To date, aggressive cyber capabilities are probably still relatively modest. But they will inevitably grow, along with the growth of cyber science and the numerous new applications that will be created. And the temptation to do bad things is very strong. Hostile forces can always hope to hide behind anonymity.

We sort of know all this. But in a rather nebulous way. Most of all, there is no real sense of urgency, most likely because these acts of aggression take place in this intangible cyber space, whose dimensions and relevance are generally unknown to most of us and that would include policy-makers who do not have the sophisticated technical background that would allow them to immediately grasp the dimensions of this ominous threat.

The challenge

So, here is our challenge. How do we mobilize all relevant policy and scientific resources against a war we are already involved in that does not look at all like the wars we are used to? How do we mobilize and sustain national efforts aimed at countering invisible cyber attacks that may soon be replaced by much bigger, perhaps fatal attacks?