Wednesday, May 24, 2017

NATO Summit Ahead: Setting Expectations at Super-Low

The leaders of NATO countries are assembling in Brussels this week, and the likely outcome of the meeting will be a loud "meh."  Meh for the new building, which this summit will celebrate, as it is very costly, took too long, and may not have a bowling alley (the last one is the only thing that is unknown).  The output of the summit itself will also be underwhelming

Why?  Because the US has, dare I say it, not been leading lately.  Yes, so much was written about whether Obama led enough, but that all pales in comparison to Trump's "leadership."  To get stuff done at a NATO summit requires a great deal of work done by a great deal of staff with much coordination.  Because neither the US Department of State nor the US Department of Defense are staffed (unstaffed is a better description than merely understaffed), there are few people who can work the phones, do the messaging, and provide the guidance to the US representatives to push an agenda.

Indeed, it was not that long ago that worstSecState (that's his title) Tillerson planned to blow off the NATO Foreign Ministerial--a key meeting of the members' foreign ministers--that helps to set the agenda for the summit.  And when he did show up, what did Tillerson push?  Insistence that each member come up with a plan to get their defense spending up to 2% of their GDP.  Easy to come up with plans, hard to implement that.  Overseeing implementation is not something that the lazy, ignorant and unstaffed Trump administration is likely to do well, so I have encouraged countries to make up plans and worry about Trump's ire later. 

Anyhow, unlike the Warsaw Summit last year with serious plans to consider (reminder that decisions are not made at summits but the meetings force countries to decide beforehand), there is no big plan at work to be released this week.  Other than Trump's effort to turn NATO into a protection racket, there will be discussion of counter-terrorism.  NATO has done plenty on this file since 9/11: protecting American cities via NATO AWACS planes, having a fleet in the Mediterranean interdict terrorist activities/networks, there's that whole Afghanistan thing, and more.  Does the current Iraq mission need to be a NATO mission? No.  Will countries be willing to make it and/or Syria NATO missions? Probably not.

So, the real focus is not on the usual NATO "deliverables" as there will be no communique that is a long list of what NATO decided.  Instead, the focus is on whether and how Trump blows his temper, gets stuff wrong and alienates allies.  He is supposed to assure the allies of the US commitment to them. But given that these folks have been hard to assure for, um, generations, that Trump spills allies' secrets to the Russians, his campaign is under investigation for colluding with Russia, and Trump has literally said "I don't stand by anything I say," count on this one deliverable not to be delivered.

Thus, expectations are set on super-low. As long as Trump does not piss in his pants or slap anyone, the American media will call him Presidential.  I just hope that the international media gets a chance to ask some tough questions. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Latest Odds with Some Additions

Thanks to joking about proposition bets about Trump, I now get regular updates from a sportsbetting site.  The latest:

  • Trump serves full term?
    • Yes is -200 (1/2, 66.67% implied probability)
  • Trump impeached during first term? 
    • No: -250 (2/5, 71.43% implied probability)
    • Yes: +210 (21/10, 32.26% implied probability)
  • Next Trump appointee fired/to leave job?
    • Sean Spicer: +300 (3/1, 25% implied probability)
    • H.R. McMaster: +450 (9/2, 18.18% implied probability)
    • Steve Bannon: +650 (13/2, 13.33% implied probability)
  • Next Supreme Court nominee? 
    • Thomas Hardiman is currently favored at +300 (3/1, 25% implied probability)
  • Next Senate Confirmed FBI Director? 
    • Joe Lieberman: +250 (5/2, 28.57% implied probability)
    • Richard McFeely: +450 (9/2, 18.18% implied probability)
    • Mike Rogers: +650 (13/2, 13.33% implied probability)
  • Will James Comey testify before Congress by 11:59 PM EDT on June 30, 2017? 
    • Yes: +250 (5/2, 28.57% implied probability)
    • No: -300 (1/3, 75% implied probability)
  Handy footnote:

Note: Not familiar with the betting lingo? A negative number (generally representing the "Favorite") = how much you have to bet to profit $100. A positive number = how much you profit if you bet $

Which would I bet?  The best one here is Comey testifying before the end of June. That seems pretty close to a lock.  The other bets at the website have slightly longer odds for Susan Rice testifying by the end of June and then longer still for Obama by the end of the year. I would pound the No on that last one--would have to bet $600 to win $100.

 If they had the acting FBI head, I'd consider that.  Inertia is a powerful force, especially since McFeely has dropped out.  Against a longer list, the odds of Field (none of the above) getting to be FBI director is +450, which is not bad at all.  

I'd be tempted to bet McMaster simply because he has better odds than Spicey, althouh Spicey has the honor of most non-Trump bets--lots of possibilities for Spicey.  Spicey/McM odds -250/+210, Spicey/Bannon -350/+300, meaning that Spicey is favored to get ousted before either but McM is seen as more likely to be ousted than Bannon.  The longer list has NIkki Haley as second least likely to be ousted next after Pence.  I'd bet on Sessions just because he is the most dangerous and want him to go more than anyone.  Of course, that kind of betting strategy leads to bankruptcy.

There are other propositions at the website, with the odds changing from No +400 that Trump is President at the end of September dropping to -150 by Jan 2021, suggesting that he will not finish his term, but soon, not so much. The odds of resigning are +250 for yes, -300 for no.

Too bad there is no bet on:

  • Next strange object Trump holds with foreign leaders.
  • Which country's history Tillerson gets wrong?  Not on the board since "next one" would get all of the money.
  • How many meetings does Trump miss due to a lack of stamina?  I'd bet the over as long as the over/under line was set at seven or less for this trip.  
  • Hard to measure, but which meeting goes the worst?   I would bet on NATO simply because it is towards the end and requires maximum patience.  
  • TeamStroke.  Nor any 25th Amendment shenanigans.
One thing to keep in mind: the odds are set not just on the likelihood of the outcome but which way the money is going.  As people bet on one side, the casino changes the odds to get folks to bet the other side.  So, when one thinks of these odds, it is not just what is likely but what people beyond the casino see as likely and, in these cases, perhaps want to happen.

If I were Trump, I would put lots of my money on these bets and then make them happen.  Why? Because Trump is greedy and corrupt so firing Nikki Haley would make big bank.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Oprah and Alliance Politics

I have been too busy transcribing notes from super helpful interviews in Brazil to blog much about the shenanigans in the US.  But Trump's giving away of Israeli intel to the Russians has me thinking about Oprah, Dr. Phil and other relationship advisers.

One of the things that most struck me way back when and continues to do so when I talk to military folks is how often they sound like Oprah.  Combat requires more than just training to shoot one's weapon--it requires trust that the people alongside of you as well as those dropping bombs or shelling the beach will do as expected.  That much of war comes down to relationships and especially alliance warfare. 

If you don't trust your allies, if you have a lousy relationship, people will get killed unnecessarily and it might even prevent allies from going into the field with you.  The best example of this from Afghanistan is from the first prison break in Kandahar (alas, we have to specify which one):
In 2008, there was a massive prison break, so the Afghan military ordered reinforcements.  The units mentored by the French moved towards Kandahar but without the mentors.  The French troops that were observing, mentoring, liaisoning (called OMLT's or omelets) the Afghans had to wait as they needed permission to leave their sector.  That phone call went all the way to the top, to President Sarkozy.  He did say yes, but while that process played out, the Afghan unit was needed.  So, the Canadian commander found some US Marines and plugged them into the Afghan unit.  That unit went into battle and broke, fleeing.  The next day, the same unit was reassembled and given their French mentors, and it succeeded.  Why the different outcomes?  Because the Afghans did not trust the mentors they did not know but did trust the mentors they did know.
When it comes to intel, trust is huge.  It really cannot be overstated--allies will only share intel if they think that their pals will not reveal the info.... especially if revealing it might give away how the intel was collected.  One can lose not just one spy but the entire network of spies (or an entire form of intel collection) if the info gets out.  Famously, the British did not prepare for the bombing of Conventry despite it being the home of many families of those breaking German codes... because doing so might have revealed that the British had broken the German codes (well, maybe).

That Trump would give away intel to the Russians was very predictable.  I am sure I tweeted about it, but I can't see to find any of my blogposts mentioning it.  One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist or even focus on Trump's love of the Russians.  No, one just has to understand that Trump is thoroughly unqualified and has no self-control.  He matkes me look discreet.  So, yeah, predictable.

I wondered in the fall whether allies would give Russia-related intel to the US with Trump as president. It turns out all that sharing any intel with Russia is problematic.  My guess is that the allies, including the other members of the Five Eyes (UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), will be far more cautious. 

Is this a problem?  Ironically, not really.  Having less intelligence to make decisions is only important if one uses intel to make decisions.  Since that is not the way of the Trump administration, the harm will be minimal in the short term.  However, in the long term, the damage is severe.  When future Presidents make intelligence-based decisions, will they have all that could be available?  I am not sure, as trust, once broken, takes a while to re-build.  Or so Oprah tells me. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Brasilia: A Trip Report

I spent the last week and a half in Brasilia as part of the large Dave/Phil/Steve project on the role of legislatures in democratic civil-military relations.  It was a very successful trip as I talked to about 25 people, ranging from foreign diplomats to military officers to Deputies (Representatives) and Senators (including one ex-President).  I am perhaps more confused than before about Brazil's civil-military relations as I heard much competing views about how stuff works here.  A foreign defense attache compared  Brazil to an onion, which I then translated into Shrek, and that is probably right.

I found Brazilians to be open, willing to talk and share their views even as I taped the interviews.  I did learn that the Ministry of Defense was wise to me, but I don't really know if it affected the number of interviews I had in Brasilia.  And no one, thus far, is running away from me in Rio (all 12 hours thus far).

As far as Brasilia, it gets much grief for being an artificial capital (created out of nothing, I guess, in the early 1960s).  The design of the city is supposed to look like a plane or a bird, but I only saw rectangles, heaps and heaps of rectangles.  Canberra, another invented capital, is mostly triangles. 
Actually, that is unfair. The center is very linear but some pretty cool buildings around it:
The Congress. The H = Senate offices. 
Much swankier than
the Deputies' which are off to the right.
National Archives, essentially--one floor with some docs for the
transition and one floor of two big art displaces
Supposed to be a flame,
in National Archive

Metropolitan Cathedral

Overall, it was a very successful trip.  I have much clarity now on key aspects of the project as it applies to Brazil and much confusion over stuff that is of much confusion here. Good times.  Seriously, I learned a lot, met interesting people, saw some interesting things, and ate well. I declare success!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Parade Goes On

The US and the world have been sucked into this parade of incompetence, grifting and shit for quite sometime.  The idea of Trump having intelligence was always scary---no, not that he might not be dim (he is dim and incurious)--that he might spill some secrets.  Did I imagine it would be directly to the Russians in the oval office?  Probably not. This stuff is very serious.

Last night, I tweeted my 9/11 story, focusing on how the officers I was with were determined to put the classified documents we were carrying to the State Department (there are rules for how they are carried--in a bag with a lock) back into a SCIF (Sensitive, compartmented info facility).   Which turned out to be a burning Pentagon.  Yes, we went back into the building.  Why?  Because taking care of classified docs is serious business and they didn't want to do the massive paperwork to explain why they took the docs home.

To be clear, these docs were all confidential or secret, certainly nothing at the code-world level.  I had a Top Secret clearance, which meant I got booted from the room whenever anything that was code-word classified--need to know--was being discussed.  As far as I could guess, this meant missing out on some signals stuff (NSA gathered intel was apparently classified at higher levels) or involving active Special Operations.  This all became more relevant a week and a day into my time at the Pentagon as counter-terrorism replaced peacekeeping as the US priority in the Balkans.

This is all to say FFS!!!  Telling the Russians anything like this is bad for anyone but for a president whose campaign/government is under investigation for its relationship with ... the Russians?  There was plenty of concern that Trump would be reckless and casual with the intel stuff.  I had kind of hoped that his lack of interest in the daily intel brief might serve to protect us all, but nope.  I had wondered whether American allies would share intel with us--one of the key ways the US gains from its alliances that Trump criticizes is getting intel from them--with Trump being so implicated.  Pretty sure that question is now being answered differently today than a couple of months ago.

Oh, and who is the ally who got screwed? No idea but the first call this morning is to Jordan, so:
Yes, a clue.

What we didn't need a clue about?  That Trump is profoundly unqualified to be President.  We knew that before November 8th, and pretty much everything that has happened since then proves it even more so.  Will the GOP do anything about it?  No.  Craven, they are.  So, buckle up as the ride is not going to get any less bumpy as we mix metaphors.