Judging by some news reports today, things are getting very heated between the US and North Korea. President Trump has called for a meeting of Congress, and the North Koreans are making ever-more threatening speeches, including suggesting the possible use of nuclear weapons.
Fairly normal events, like the visit of a US submarine to South Korea, something that happens often, are being seen as ‘escalation’ by both sides. North Korean artillery exercises, said to be a ‘celebration’ of the army, are seen as displays of aggression. China is getting nervous. They have asked the US directly not to attack the DPRK, which shows at least some belief that they expect the Americans are about to do just that. China suggests approaching the United Nations, and asking for their approval for military action. Russia has been quiet about the escalation in the region, at least today.
So, what can we conclude? Is Mr Trump really going to launch an attack on Pyongyang, and military targets such as airfields and installations around that country? That appears to be becoming more than a possibility, which makes it a probability. Will the North Koreans retaliate? (Always assuming they have a chance to) That’s almost a certainty. Should the rest of us be worried? Potentially.
If this was two dogs fighting on a hot summer day, someone would throw a bucket of water over them.
We are going to need a lot of water…
After my recent post about the cost of using cruise missiles in Syria, the Americans have now used a ‘MOAB’. This is a ‘Super Bomb’, nicknamed ‘The Mother of All Bombs’, a corruption of the bomb’s acronym, which stands for ‘Massive Ordnance Air Blast’. The actual designation of the device is GBU/43B, which doesn’t float well as a headline in quite the same way, does it?
This enormous explosive device is the biggest non-nuclear weapon ever detonated, according to some reports. However, during WW2, slightly larger bombs weighing 22,000 lbs were used and known as ‘Grand Slams’. The MOAB was developed at a cost of an estimated $300,000,000. This also included the cost of the 20 bombs delivered. Each one is estimated to have cost $16,000,000, and the logistical costs involved in the deployment and delivery this week are believed to be close to $1,000,000.
On this occasion, I will refrain from speculating what better use could have been made of that money. However, it is worth looking at the result. The bomb detonated just above a tunnel complex, believed to be used by insurgent fighters in the region. The blast could be felt almost two miles away, but reports say that no civilians were injured. The claim is that 36 fighters were killed by the bomb, confirmed by Afghan soldiers, and US Special Forces personnel on the ground.
The sum is simple enough. $17,000,000 divided by 36 = $472,222. That’s what it cost to kill each man in that tunnel complex. Current estimates agree that ISIS has around 20,000 fighters in Syria alone. Other sources estimate that the Taliban has a force in excess of 35,000 operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, if we use the same cost basis to destroy every one of those 55,000 remaining soldiers, we are left with a pretty big bill, one that America has to fund. $25,972,221. (Yes, almost 26 BILLION dollars)
Compared to the cost of the cruise missile attack that only killed six people, that’s very good value, I suppose. A bargain.
When you look at news reports of the fighting in Mosul, it is easy to overlook some of the basic facts about this huge city. Until recently, it had a population of almost 1.9 million people, and is the second largest city in Iraq after Baghdad. This makes it almost twice the size of Birmingham, England’s second largest city, and more than three times larger than Boston, in the USA.
Just imagine if those well-known cities were under occupation by a well-organised army of religious fundamentalists, and being attacked by forces from their own country helped by the US or a foreign power, as well as being bombed by British and American aircraft. Think how difficult it would be to deal with the potential for causing civilian casualties, or choosing which of the people you encounter is friend or foe. The maze of streets, the apartment blocks, rooftops, factories, industrial areas, and large airports. A major river, numerous bridges, shopping areas, markets, schools, hospitals, religious buildings, and administrative offices. Every wall or fence a potential hiding place. Every rooftop or balcony a spot for a sniper, and the ability for the enemy to hide in plain sight among crowds of distressed non-combatants.
For almost three years, this city has been a battleground between warring factions; international interventionists, and government troops. If you live in a city, or have ever lived in one, then you can only try to imagine what this must be like, as I do. Even allowing for the large numbers who have fled Mosul, it is estimated that more than 750,000 civilians remain there, possibly 1 million. That is still much larger than the population of Boston, and countless other western cities. By comparison, the largest city close to where I live is Norwich. This is the biggest city in the whole county, and covers a substantial area, including many suburbs, and an international airport. I cannot imagine fighting on the same scale happening there, yet the population is only 133,000.
Another fact overlooked, is that many of the residents remaining in Mosul actually welcomed the forces of Islamic State as liberators. They had previously suffered religious persecution from Iraqi government troops and sectarian militias, and were happy to have the intervention by the fundamentalists. Many joined them willingly, and some still fight alongside them to this day. Of course for many others, living under IS was unacceptable, as they were cruelly treated for many reasons, including religious ones. But as parts of the city are recaptured by the Iraqi army, their foreign allies, the police units, and the ‘Golden Brigade’, many civilians have been arrested, detained without trial as suspected members of IS. Many others now live in fear of reprisals by the army and militia units, as the old enmities between Sunni and Shia Muslims resurface in the ‘liberated’ areas of the city.
Naturally, I am no supporter of Islamic State. This horrible organisation has no place in the modern world. But we need to look behind the news reports, the five-minutes of combat footage, and the talking heads interviews, and to be aware that replacing one form of terror with another might well be what we are helping to achieve. Not only in Iraq, but in Syria too.
I was very pleased to receive this guest post from Ed Westen in America. It is always good to hear some opinions from the other side of the Atlantic. Especially when they are well-informed, and from the heart.
“Your REDFLAGFLYING post today, “Trump and May and Corbyn,” got me to thinking, especially your last question: “Or is Democracy only good when you get what you want?” In the US, we say that our Constitution exists to protect the minority (read: those out of power) while working the will of the majority. In the UK, you enshrine minority protection with the concept, actualized, of “a loyal opposition.” The whole idea is that policy changes should neither disenfranchise those who lost an election nor make it impossible for them to gain power the next time. So, there are limits on the power of the majority. Under the US Constitution there are limits as to what the majority (winner in the last election) can do in policy area, vague and ill-defined limits, but limits none-the-less. I should think completely privatizing medicine and health care in the UK would breach one of those policy limits; but cutting away at it might be possible. In the US, overt discrimination would breach a limit; but imposing, say, voter registration requirements blacks and other minorities might find difficult to meet may, in some carefully worded laws, pass successfully given the right composition on the courts.
It turns out that neither of us live in a democracy. Rather we live in “moneyarchies.” Those with the money pick candidates for office. The rest of us pick from the choices the moneyed elite present to us. Those with money are on the Right. That is they are a conservative force in our societies. Their control over elections, media and commerce (especially jobs for the rest of us) gives them almost complete control over policy. A large segment of our populations, for reasons of class, race, simply being “rich wannabees” or having been brainwashed by what they are allowed to see, becomes their voter support.
However, make no mistake about it, even the candidates the moneyed class offers us on the Left will largely do the bidding of the moneyed elites. The moneyed elite is not a uniform oligarchy. No, it is divided by the same quest for power over each other as they have for power over us. Think of their conflicts as similar to the Wars of The Roses—a lot of foot soldier causalities, and very few royals hurt.
Strangely, the moneyed classes do not quite understand the nature or source of their wealth. By that I mean they do not know how money is created. They do not know that the more people active in their capitalist markets, the more wealth is actually available to them. They do not know their insistence on dominating politics with their choices of candidates to offer us retards the growth of their and our wealth.
Public policy in your and my countries is based on a tug of war involving what will be funded and who will pay. It is largely viewed as a zero-sum game. Take from one group to pay for something for another. What very few see, is that largely it is the rich taking from the rest of society. If the Right wins, one group of rich people get policy preference. If the Left wins another group of rich people get a slightly different set of policy preferences. This state of affairs will continue as long as private money dictates who the candidate for public office are. AND, as long as money is created by funneling it through the rich. Make financing public elections with private money illegal and democratize the creation of money and you not only change the rules of the game, you will change the policy outcomes.”
Ed Westen, 2017.
You can read more about Ed’s ideas here.
And his entertaining daily blog, including fiction and photographs, is here.
Well 2016 was a year wasn’t it?
So we started 2017 with a US President that apparently nobody wanted, a British Prime Minister who got her job more or less by default, and a Labour Party leader whose own colleagues continue to try to depose. Add to that the rise of the Right across Europe, the squabbling over Brexit and the referendum continuing, and the media-inspired panic about Russia’s intentions and China flexing its muscles. It is looking as if this year is going to be an unmitigated disaster for the world, and will change everything as we know it.
Or will it?
Like it or not, Trump was elected. I don’t like him, but I had little time for Sanders or Clinton either. He has started to do exactly what he said he would do, much to the consternation of those who never believed he would go through with it. So he sends silly tweets, and shows off about the numbers who attended his inauguration. He isn’t very statesmanlike, and still looks somewhat surprised that he is really the president. No surprises there. He may not be allowed to get many of his policies past Congress, but at least he is trying to deliver what he promised, whether we like it or not.
Theresa may won the leadership election and stepped in after Cameron chickened out and left the game like a spoilt child, taking his ball home. Her party was never elected on the basis of her being its leader, and she was firmly against leaving the EU in the past. Yet she stepped up, got on with the job, knuckled down to negotaiting with the EU, and even going so far as to hold hands with Trump, hoping for a beneficial trade deal. Now that’s dedication. I would never vote for her party unless I had senile dementia, but given the alternatives at the moment, she has got to be the best of a bad bunch.
Jeremy Corbyn continues to behave with great dignity, despite so many of his so-called colleagues and former friends doing everything but stick a real knife into his back. That bunch of Tony Blair wannabees are more interested in personal power, than in the integrity of their own, supposedly Socialist, party. But the membership, the real people, those without any political influence, they still believe in him. Unless the whole constitution of the party is changed by the plotters within, they are likely to keep him in charge, so that we might continue to see real policies like nationalisation of industries, free university education, and a properly funded health service. Because once he has gone, you can bet your life his successors will be getting out their neutral coloured ties, and matching them with nice blue suits, as they water down everything to appeal to the confused middle classes.
So what am I saying?
In short, just let them get on with it. ‘Special Relationship’ or not, America is a foreign country. Just because some of them sound a bit like us, and they use an approximation of our language, doesn’t make their business our business. Let Trump rise or fall doing what he said he would do, and history will judge him.
As for Prime Minister May, she seems to be doing well enough, at least for a Conservative. I didn’t want her government, but I am stuck with it. So leave her alone to get on with what we voted for, getting us out of the EU.
And whatever you think of Corbyn, the Labour Party would be a grey place without him in it, and the policies would be hard to separate from those of the government. Besides, the members voted for him, so he should stay. That’s democracy, isn’t it?
Or is Democracy only good when you get what you want?
I doubt that anyone was more surprised than Donald Trump himself, when he became president-elect of America this morning. The current trend for overturning the expected, and making a mockery of the opinion polls has reached across America. Once again, it would seem that the silent majority has chosen to become the outspoken majority.
Of course, less people actually voted for Trump than for all of his opponents combined. But the electoral college system, much like the first-past-the-post system we have in the UK, is no respecter of majority voting. Whatever the arguments behind the system, he has won. It was a surprise to me, as I had always expected Clinton to get almost 60% of the vote. It is not the first time this year that I have been surprised at the outcome of a vote.
Although I voted to Leave, I was still overwhelmed by the decision of UK voters to reject the EU. That same silent majority, many who didn’t normally bother to vote in any election, have sent a clear message to the Establishment, in both countries. Ignore the ordinary people at your peril, or you will eventually reap what you have sown. Of course, I am no fan of Donald Trump. Then again, I wasn’t that happy with the alternative. But I am not an American, and it is not for me to tell them what to do with their country. However, that country does have an impact on what happens in the rest of the world, so it is understandable that outsiders may have opinions and concerns.
It is early days yet. Despite the rhetoric, Trump cannot just steamroller his plans, and some of his more bizarre ideas, through the American political system. He has to get laws approved, and policies agreed and funded. To presume that he is a one-man band is naive, as it is to believe that he will go ahead with his electoral promises. There is unlikely to ever be a wall built along the border with Mexico. Though immigration laws might become tougher, and we could well see a drift back to a more isolationist country, with the introduction of trade tariffs and increased import taxes.
But the dollar rules in the USA, and in most of the western world too. Sooner or later, big businesses will carry on behind the scenes, allowing Trump to do what is best for them, if not for the workers who mainly voted for him. There is unlikely to be a re-birth of the American Dream. For the rest of us outside of that country, once the streamers have fallen to the floor, the balloons deflated, and the cheering can no longer be heard, it will be situation normal in America.
For those of you unfamiliar with this expression, it means ‘no choice at all’. For the historical definition, please click on this link. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobson%27s_choice
In November, the people of America will be making their choice. The two candidates are finally confirmed, and depending on what you read, or who you believe, it will be a close outcome. For those of us across the Atlantic, it seems almost incredible that it has come down to these two people. Are they really the best that a nation of 320,000,000 (est.) can offer?
One one side, the self-publicising, strangely-coiffured Donald Trump. He plays the whole thing as if he is making a spoof documentary about the worst possible candidate for the job. Blatant racism, ridiculous statements, a wife who looks like a terrified android, and stumbling, ranting speeches ending in phrases such as, “I love you all”, or “Let’s make America great again”. Does anyone look at this man and seriously believe that he has one iota of credibility? Apparently so. He is said to have ‘connected with the dispossessed’ in the forgotten areas of that vast country. They should be aware that they will soon be forgotten for good, if he ever gets into the White House. Does admiration for wealth really drive people on the poverty line to vote for this man? It seems that it might. In a country that still believes that anyone can be the president, that statement may well come to haunt them.
Trump’s Democrat opponent, Hilary Clinton, looks likely to become the first woman president of the USA. She is mired in double dealings, and the former machinations of her husband, and others in the Democratic Party. Her reputation is far from good, let’s face it, and if she was up against anyone other than the vile Trump, she might well lose. What do you get, if you choose Hilary instead of Donald? More foreign wars, more CIA/NSA controls, more involvement from big business, more control by foreign money, and the other big players on the world stage. What you won’t get is a better deal for women, the poor, and the underprivileged. Just because Hilary is female, don’t think that will change anything.
So what to do? How should the American voter react, faced with this ‘no choice’ choice? You could decide not to vote. Then whoever wins will have no real mandate from the people to govern. But that won’t matter to them. They won’t care a jot. You could vote for Hilary so you don’t get Trump, that might be the lesser of two evils. She might even be counting on you to do that. If she wins in November, it will not be because people wanted her, but because they couldn’t face life with Trump as president. I have no suggestions. To be honest, if I was an American, I would be thinking about moving.