22 April 2017

Is This the Beginning of the End for Erdogan?

The results of last week's referendum in Turkey were rather unexpected.

While some polls predicted the 51-49 split, most of them and almost all of the pundits thought that the gap would be much larger, something like 60-40.

This anticipation is understandable since the referendum took place under extraordinary and extraordinarily unfair circumstances. To begin with, emergency rules were (and still are) in effect.

Secondly, co-leaders and many of the MPs of the pro-Kurdish HDP were in jail, therefore unable to campaign.

Ironically, one of the opposition parties (MHP) campaigned for a Yes vote even though the party's base was overwhelmingly against the changes. The sole voice for No (CHP) was blocked from appearing on TV or other media outlets.

Moreover, clerics declared Yes a religious duty.

Erdogan, the supposedly neutral head of state, campaigned relentlessly and equated a No vote with terrorism and moral deficiency.

And most importantly, he maintained throughout that, unless he was given these new powers, the country would be lost as there were too many looming crises.

Make me the leader of all three branches of government and you will be saved, he intoned.

Well, now he has got those powers and he will have to face these crises.

Let me make a bold prediction, no one, especially not Erdogan can fix what is broken in Turkey. And with him at the helm, the task is nothing less than Herculean.

This is not because the problems in question are insurmountable. It is because Erdogan damaged all the state institution that can tackle them. The only thing left standing is him and his sycophantic advisers. And they are not up to the challenged. Not by a country mile.

This does not mean that he will leave anytime soon. Quite the contrary he will cling to power like never before. And he will double down on his victim-bully strategy. But sooner or later, serious economic crises and the institutions he destroyed will make crisis management impossible and will lead to his demise.

And maybe that of the country.

Dysfunctional Economy

Turkey's sovereign debt is cut to junk status by Moody's last Autumn, making borrowing prohibitively expensive and foreign direct investment a thing of the past.

Last year Turkish Lira lost over 20 percent of its value.  Indicating deeper structural issues, the Lira's loss of value was not accompanied with a rise of exports:
Turkey's trade deficit increased to USD 3.69 billion in February of 2017, compared to a USD 3.21 billion gap a year earlier. Exports fell 1.9 percent, dragged down by manufacturing while imports rose 1.6 percent, boosted by mining and quarrying.
Unemployment has reached 13 percent and if you add people who have given up looking for a job in the last four weeks that figure goes up to 19.6 percent. Youth unemployment hovers around 25 percent.

Inflation has risen to double-digit levels (11.29% in March 2017), the highest since 2008.

New investments have stalled since the comical coup attempt last July.

Tourism sector, which accounts for 13 percent of GDP, imploded after the Russian jet downing debacle and with Erdogan's recent name calling of Europeans, the number of incoming tourists is expected to decrease further.

Current account deficit is likely to reach a historic high this year:
In the first two months of 2017, the current account deficit widened to USD 5.29 billion from USD 4.17 billion in the same period of 2016. 
Against this dismal picture, you have Erdogan calling Turkey's biggest trading partner, the European Union, Nazis and fascists and threatening to re-introduce the death penalty to ensure the cancellation of Turkey's membership bid.

This is nothing short of economic suicide since the new constitutional system (along with the death penalty) might also lead to the expulsion of Turkey from the Customs Union (CU).

CU is not just about EU regulations governing production and trade, it also requires general compliance with EU rules and principles. Indeed, this one was one of the prerequisites of the 1995 Agreement: it was signed only after Turkey passed a series of reforms of the criminal justice system and scrapped undemocratic laws.

No one knows how a country can be ejected from CU or you might dispute whether the EU has the political will to do so; but with Erdogan upping the ante, European politicians might turn Turkey's expulsion into a winning electoral platform.

If that happens, I expect a colossal economic collapse.

What is perhaps worse than the looming economic catastrophe, after years of frontal assault by Erdogan, there are no properly functioning state institutions.

Crumbling Institutions

From the get go, Erdogan was so worried that the secular bureaucracy and army might block his Islamist Sultan aspirations that he appointed his ally Fethullah Gulen's highly educated Islamist cadres to the top echelons of state apparatus.

This was largely because Erdogan's followers, like himself, are mostly graduates of vocational religious schools (Imam Hatip schools) with little or no managerial skills. Or skills of any kind other than delivering Friday prayer sermons.

The process started out with the judiciary and the police as the first targets. At some point, many of the prominent prosecutors and judges belonged to Gulen's Islamist Calvinist movement, Hizmet (Service).

As part of the mission given to them by Erdogan, they launched the first purge of the military, the infamous Ergenekon and Sledgehammer prosecutions, indicating in the process that they would cynically manipulate the law whenever they could.

AKP base was happy and supportive, since they were on the winning side. The opposition was bewildered and in disarray as they have never seen the Turkish military so vulnerable. But most importantly, the erosion of trust in the judiciary was near universal.

Gulenists also took over key economic management posts and strategic positions in the bureaucracy. For instance, the main architect of AKP's economic miracle, Ali Babacan, was almost certainly a Gulen sympathizer.

Through Abdullah Gul's efforts, another likely Gulenist, one of the strongest state institutions, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs saw most of its senior diplomats gradually removed from key positions and its corporate memory disappear.

After Abdullah Gul, successive ministers continued to purge secular diplomats and to promote Gulenists. Since it takes time to move someone up in foreign service, for a while, important capitals remained in the hands of experienced diplomats but they were now getting their instructions from Gulenists in Ankara.

As a movement that emphasizes education, Gulen supporters also established a strong presence in many academic institutions.

In the second part of 2013 Erdogan and Gulenists became rivals and eventually enemies. Since Gulen supporters controlled the police and the judiciary, they assumed that they could easily topple Erdogan.

On 17 December they leaked several audio tapes in which Erdogan was giving orders to his son Bilal to get rid of tens of millions of euros stashed in his residences. They were also pre-dawn raids to the houses of AKP ministers which uncovered millions of dollars in shoeboxes and many very expensive luxury items.

Erdogan did the unexpected: he launched a massive attack on Gulenists and ordered their dismissal from state institutions. Instead of denying or acknowledging the massive corruption hinted at in those tapes, he declared himself the victim of a huge conspiracy. His followers ate it up and Gulen lost his bid to overthrow Erdogan.

From that point onwards, it was open field for all state institutions, In successive waves, the last of which began after the botched coup attempt, Erdogan removed many qualified personnel from state bureaucracies and academic institutions.

When you look at the whole process a clearer picture of the devastation emerges. The first purge replaced secular bureaucrats with Gulenists destroying institutional traditions and corporate memory. The second replaced Gulenists with highly unqualified and unskilled Erdogan supporters hampering the proper functioning of these institutions.

The Central Bank provides the best illustration.

When Erdogan came to power, there was already a Governor in place, so he appointed a Gulenist, Erdem Basci, as Deputy Governor (2003). In 2011, Basci became Governor. As he was a reasonably competent economist, he became a target for Erdogan after 2013 and in 2016, he was replaced with Murat Cetinkaya.

Cetinkaya holds a B.A in International Relations, has no macro-economic qualifications but he is the perfect candidate as he has some background in Islamic finance and he is a disciple of Erdoganomics which maintains that high interest rates are responsible for high inflation.

By all accounts, he is useless. And he has a critical role in steering the economy.

In any event, the worst affected institution by this systematic cleansing was the military. As I recently pointed out, the once formidable Turkish army is now incapable of accomplishing basic tasks after it lost half of its senior officers and a good chunk of its pilots and non-commissioned officers (NCO).

In short, thanks to Erdogan and his personal survival struggle, Turkey is facing a whole host of serious problems without being able to count on its highly damaged state institutions.

Besides its economic woes, Turkey has to deal with a long standing Kurdish insurgency, an increasingly risky Syrian involvement, a volatile region in which Sunni-Shia rivalry might engulf the country and countless geopolitical issues involving Russia, the US and EU.

The problem solver and crisis manager in all of this, is a graduate of Imam Hatip high school with a fake university diploma and an army of advisers who are mostly temperament fluffers, to use Graydon Carter's apt expression.

How likely is that they will prevail?

And how likely is that they will take the country down with them?

Time will tell. But I am not optimistic.

26 March 2017

Intelligence Agencies Are Gunning for Trump

Have you noticed how damaging stuff about Trump's connection to Russia comes out slowly but regularly?

It is a constant drip, drip, drip motion.

It is as if someone is trying to build a critical mass after which even the most ardent Trump supporters will be convinced of his guilt.

I have an idea who that someone might be. After the golden showers dossier, I suggested that The Donald should make nice with the intelligence agencies as they had his number.

He didn't. And he continued his feud with them.

To paraphrase him, bad idea. Very bad.

The latest drop is former CIA Director James Woolsey claiming that Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn met with Turkish officials to discuss the kidnap and rendering of the reclusive cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Now this is bigly.

And it comes on the heels of fresh allegations that Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort was paid large sums by, Oleg Deripaska, a Kremlin oligarch to influence US policy:
Under his $10 million annual contract, Manafort pursued policies to “greatly benefit” Putin’s government, according to the AP report.
Moreover, Manafort did not file the proper forms to disclose this arrangement, which makes it a crime.

In fact, this is not the first incident that links ex-campaign manager to Russia. He had to resign from the campaign because New York times reported that secret payments were made to him for his undeclared work to support Ukraine's ousted pro-Russian president Victor Yanukovych.

Manafort's reluctance to file lobbying forms seems contagious among Trumpistas.

His former National Security Adviser also forgot to disclose his half a million dollar contract with the Turkish government, which ended three days before he was sworn in.

Also common is the staffers' selective memory when it comes to contacts with Russian officials.

Michael Flynn had to resign because he couldn't remember talking to the Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

Attorney General and all-around garden gnome Jeff Sessions was also victim of failed memory.

His contacts with Kislyak completely slipped his mind and forced him to commit perjury during his confirmation hearing.

Upping the ante was FBI Director James Comey's tight-lipped testimony to Congress.

After that, informed observers predicted that bad days were ahead for President Trump:
What is clear is that this was a very bad day for the President. In it, we learned that there is an open-ended Russia investigation with no timetable for completion, one that's going hang over Trump's head for a long time, and one to which the FBI director is entirely committed. 
In case you've forgotten, Comey was the guy who threw the election to Trump.

The pattern is so clear that Foreign Policy recently ran an article entitled "Trump knows the Feds are closing in on him".

To me the clearest sign that the intelligence agencies are gunning for Trump is the unexpected Woolsey interview which I mentioned at the outset.
In a video interview, Mr Woolsey told the Wall Street Journal he was present at a discussion about removal methods beyond the legal extradition process. 
The meeting took place last September at a New York Hotel. 
Those present included Mr Flynn, then an adviser on national security to the Trump election campaign, the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, according to the WSJ (paywall). 
Remember that this is coming from an ex-CIA Director who endorsed Trump last September and defended his cavalier attitude about national security briefings.

Why would he come out now and claim that he personally witnessed Trump campaign people planning criminal activities, like kidnapping and rendering an ageing cleric in cahoots with a foreign power?
[H]e told the WSJ: "There was serious discussion of finding some way to move Mr Gulen out of the US to Turkey. 
"You might call it brainstorming. But it was brainstorming about a very serious matter that would pretty clearly be a violation of law."
How do you like them apples?

Right after this, Foreign Policy ran an uncharacteristically short piece in which they put forth a theory.
Reading the headlines over the last couple of days, it seems to me that part of what is going on isn’t that the Trump camp communicated directly with WikiLeaks (though some may have), but rather than at some point last year, Russia’s Federal Security Service representatives had a bunch of e-mails and other stuff that they didn’t know what to do with, and someone in the Trump camp advised them to take it, directly or indirectly, to WikiLeaks.
Now, this is intriguing because this has never been discussed as a possibility before. If I were to venture a guess I'd say that some little bird whispered to Thomas E. Ricks, the author of the piece, that this is indeed what happened.

Notice how this new theory absolves Russian intelligence and incriminates Trump campaign?

On that basis, Ricks also made a very pointed prediction:
I think this Russia story is never going to go away. And because the Trumpistas are in extreme denial, it will continue to drip out. I would not be surprised by criminal charges down the road — perjury at first, perhaps tax fraud later.
If you ask me, the Orange Man is toast.

20 March 2017

What Will Happen in Turkey After the Referendum

My friends ask me about the upcoming referendum and its results as they wonder about the potential consequences of a Yes or a No vote.

I usually respond that the results do not matter much as Erdogan's playbook will be the same either way. They are almost always puzzled by my answer.

You see, Erdogan is a cunning and clever politician, which is why he survived at the top for 15 years and weathered coup threats, social upheavals, electoral setbacks and even a small civil war.

Such a man would not roll the dice and accept the verdict of a referendum. But unlike others who would make a Plan B under similar circumstances, Erdogan developed a long term Plan A which works either way.

Let me explain.

Take Over By Taking Out Rivals

Erdogan's goal has always been to abolish the current parliamentary system and establish a presidential system with no separation of powers.

A sultanate with a fig leaf of electoral legitimacy.

How do you achieve that?

Well, by neutralizing and eliminating any group, force, party or institution that has the potential to block such plans.

The first target was the media. Starting from 2008 he systematically placed major media outlets under state receivership to be sold to his cronies. Or he would simply confiscate them (placing them under trusteeships) and appoint one of his henchmen CEO.

Those he cannot grab, like the Dogan group or Cumhuriyet have been constantly threatened.

As a result:
According to Serdar Sement, an analyst with S Informatics Consultancy, a research company that issues annual reports on the state of Turkish media, 70% of the print media is now a government mouthpiece. “Erdogan’s control of the media has expanded steadily since 2008,” Sement told Al-Monitor.
According to Sement, 85% of Turkey’s news channels are currently under government control, again an all-time high.
When it comes to news agencies, Turkey has five national ones, the biggest of which — the Anatolia news agency — is a public institution run directly by the government. Among the private ones, the Ihlas news agency is pro-government, while Cihan was placed in trusteeship along with Zaman. Thus, government control in this sector has reached 60%.
As for the few remaining independent media outlets, they are too afraid to be critical of government: as of January 2017, 170 journalist and media workers are being detained on terrorism charges and another 21 were convicted. That places Turkey ahead of China as the biggest jailer of journalists.

Erdogan also made sure there was no effective opposition.

The two opposition parties, CHP and ultra nationalistic MHP have been so accommodating at critical juncture that many observer wonder whether they are being blackmailed. Since the former leader of CHP was caught on tape in flagrante delicto this would not be unprecedented.

The only party that challenged Erdogan's authority was the pro-Kurdish HDP.  Its co-leader Selahattin Demirtas was charismatic and outspoken. He was unimpressed with the Bully-Victim playbook. He could not be blackmailed as he was not corrupt . And he claimed to speak for the country's 20 million Kurds.

In fact, Erdogan's hatred for Demirtas stems from his promise: "we will not let you become the President."

He was dangerous and he proved it in June 2016 elections. Erdogan suffered his first ever electoral setback after Demirtas got HDP into parliament with 80 MPs.

So Erdogan proposed a constitutional amendments to lift legislative immunity and had it passed with the active support of MHP and CHP. Now both co-leaders of HDP and half of their MPs are in jail on bogus charges.

The next target was the army.

If the constitutional changes that are the subject of the current referendum were tabled last year this time and the country was facing so many economic and political problems, the army might have intervened.

So the army had to be neutralized. As I recently wrote, you organize a comical coup and, presto, you have licence to get rid of tens of thousands of commissioned and non-commissioned officers (COs and NCOs).

More importantly, by prosecuting privates, enlisted soldiers and NCOs who were simply obeying orders, Erdogan ensured that subordinates would no longer obey orders they find suspicious. The fact that this affect chain of command and esprit de corps negatively is not his concern.

Finally, Erdogan made sure that large companies would remain silent by changing government tender laws. He is now the sole authority who decides who gets what project and for how much. Any company he suspects of not liking him is excluded from government contracts and audited.

Others might see their assets seized without due process and sold to Erdogan cronies.
Some $10bn in assets was seized from businessmen accused of being loyal to Mr Gulen. For more than a decade, those same businessmen prospered when Mr Gulen and Mr Erdogan allied themselves against the secular elites, winning contracts from the government.

Now, with Mr Gulen and his followers declared terrorists, their businesses belong to the state, to be auctioned to bidders eager to proclaim their loyalty to Mr Erdogan. Galip Ozturk, owner of a bus company with a market capitalisation of about $100m, aims to bid for the assets of Koza Ipek, a conglomerate whose listed units once had a market cap of nearly $6bn. His biggest qualification: his desire to please Mr Erdogan and to do his will, he bragged to local media.
In short, there is no party or institution left to challenge him.

Despite all of this and his recent desperate attempt to create outside enemies, there is a chance that the referendum might fail.

What Will He Do After the Referendum?

What Erdogan will do regardless of the referendum results is to call fresh elections in the Fall.

Why would he do that, you might ask.

Well, to have a supermajority in parliament.

You see, he knows that MHP base is so disillusioned with their leader that they will sit this one out and MHP will not be able to get the 10 percent it needs to get into parliament.

HDP with its leaders in jail and Kurdish population in the southeast completely cowed after a ruthless and murderous military campaign will also fail to get over that threshold.

Turkey's peculiar proportional representation system dictates that the votes of these parties will benefit AKP disproportionately. And the resulting legislative body will be composed of AKP and CHP with a roughly 70-30 distribution.

If the referendum brings back a No result, that AKP supermajority will give him any constitutional amendment he likes without another referendum.

If the referendum brings back a Yes result, this is his chance to become the sole ruler with the legitimacy of a docile legislative body behind him. He might never get such a shot.

Either way, Plan A is for him to become the Dear Leader.

14 March 2017

Is There A Backlash Against Women Political Leaders?

I am curious to find out if this is an actual trend.

In the UN there was a campaign to get a woman elected secretary general for the first time in the organization's seven decade history.

There were several highly qualified and competent women.

The member states selected a man instead.

In the US, everyone expected a woman to finally occupy the position of the President of the United States.

The female candidate was very qualified and vetted. Politifacts ranked her as the second most honest politician in the US.

Her male rival was a racist, misogynist walking conflict of interest who was ranked as the least honest politician in the US.

And the voters chose him.

In Brazil, President Dilma Roussef was impeached unceremoniously for dubious crimes. She was accused of using a special maneuver to make the budget deficit look smaller.

That is it.

As she protested at the time all her male predecessors did the same thing and no one batted an eye.

Her successor is accused of getting millions of dollars but somehow no one cares.

In South Korea, another woman president was impeached. Again for dubious crimes.

Park Geun-hye was accused of being influenced by her best friend Choi Soon-sil.

It is alleged that Ms Choi approached some companies and used her friendship with Ms Park to persuade them to donate money to some charities.

Show me a male leader who did not do worse.

How about Steve Bannon and The Donald's strange relationship.

Choi might be an unpleasant character but what she did is routine in the US: look at people like Michael Flynn who get paid huge sums for influencing the president.

Notice also that Ms. Park is not accused of anything, just to have a friend who was into influence peddling. But that was enough to get rid of her. Because the subtext was that as a woman she was not strong enough and allowed herself to be manipulated.

There is also the former president of Argentina Cristina Fernandez Kirchner was indicted almost as soon as she left office.

Now Merkel seems vulnerable.

I wonder if it is the Zeitgeist.

Curiouser and curiouser, cried Alice.

12 March 2017

Turkey's Referendum and Why Erdogan Is Tilting At "Nazi" Windmills

Turkey's once bombastic and currently embattled president is in a fight for his political life.

As you might have heard, he wants to change the constitution in a way to ensure that he will be the Dear Leader and his past and future actions will never be questioned.

The list of proposed changes is too long but in a nutshell the new constitution abolishes the separation of powers and puts the president in charge of the legislative and judiciary branches, allows him to appoint everybody, including judges or rectors and deans and makes him unaccountable for anything he does.

In case you think I am being unfair this is how Venice Commission of the Council of Europe summarized it.
The Commission notes that by removing necessary checks and balances, the amendments would not follow the model of a democratic presidential system based on the separation of powers, and instead would risk degeneration into an authoritarian presidential system. 
Conclusions of the opinion include the following:

• letting the new President exercise executive power alone, with unsupervised authority to appoint and dismiss ministers, and to appoint and dismiss all high officials on the basis of criteria determined by him or her alone;
• allowing the President to be a member and even the leader of his or her political party, that would give him or her undue influence over the legislature;
• giving the President the power to dissolve parliament on any grounds whatsoever, which is fundamentally alien to democratic presidential systems
• further weakening the already inadequate system of judicial oversight of the executive.
• further weakening the independence of the judiciary.
To put it another way, what Erdogan is proposing is Viktor Orban and Jaroslaw Kaczynski's wet dream.

Erdogan first pushed the proposal through parliament in a short period of time (and in the process bulldozed minor technicalities like secret ballot). He also got opposition parties CHP and MHP to agree to lift legislative immunity for MPs so that he could incarcerate pro-Kurdish HDP's charismatic leader Selahattin Demirtas, eliminating the only politician who could oppose him effectively.

Since then he has been campaigning very hard to get AKP and MHP voters to his side.

The Yes platform is debated everywhere but the No position is not allowed to be presented. Rallies are cancelled, TV stations are warned about allowing proponents to make their point and Erdogan has been calling the No side every name imaginable including terrorist, traitors and coup plotters.

After all this hard work, he realized that according to many opinion polls a substantial portion of MHP and AKP supporters are planning to vote No.

Now we all know from recent failures like Brexit that polls could get it wrong. But Erdogan and his lieutenants must have solid data to show that this might not be the case this time. Otherwise, he would not become more strident everyday and he would not order a publication ban on poll resuts.

So he is now doing what he does best to get his voters back.

Bully - Victim Playbook

You see, Erdogan's past popularity is based on a simple strategy, something he learned from the GOP. I call it the bully-victim playbook.

This is what you do.

You aggressively confront your adversaries. In the process, you call them outrageous names and accuse them of horrible yet fictitious crimes.

Your expectation is that they would be so shocked and scandalized by your lies and name calling that they would respond aggressively.

When they do, you pretend to be horrified by their uncivil tone, their harsh response and you lament how they victimized you and your people.

And to complete the circle, you tell your supporters that the terrible response they gave to your initial accusations showed how right you were in the first place.

Done properly, it is foolproof as it is a tautological and circular playbook. You just need to be shameless in your accusations and be able to lie with impunity, the rest is almost automatic.

Incidentally, this is a blueprint elevated to an art form by the GOP. Attack, lie, accuse and when your opponent opens their mouth express outrage while clutching your pearls and reaching for smelling salts.

And Erdogan is probably the best implementer of this playbook in the world. (so much so that an English journalist is convinced that Trump is now imitating Erdogan).

That is probably because Erdogan expanded considerably the GOP playbook. For instance, he has changed his position on many issues without ever acknowledging the aboutface. He has refused, even after 15 years in power, to admit that some decisions might be erroneous. He has always maintained that all of Turkey's problems were caused by its internal and external enemies and they would all be solved by him controlling more levers of government.

If you think this sounds like Donald Trump, a man who once claimed that the US labor statistics were the biggest hoax in history, now showing them as his own achievement, you get what Erdogan has done for the Nixonland playbook and why this British journalist might be right in her characterization.

Erdogan was so good at this that he convinced his pious base that he was the only thing between those terrifyingly powerful secular forces and their impitoyable army which are deadset to overthrow him in order to make them give up their religious beliefs and practices.

He even succeeded is presenting the pitifully weak CHP, the main opposition party, as a very powerful and scary adversary.

So far so good.

New Enemies for the Perpetual Victim

But now, for the first time in Erdogan's political life this victimized finger pointing is not working.

This is primarily because since the ridiculous coup attempt he became so powerful that even his followers do not believe that he could be victimized by any institution or group in the country.

He bombed Kurds into submission killing 2000 of them and turning their cities into "empty moonscapes", according to UN.

He singlehandedly destroyed the mighty Turkish army in two successive purges, leaving it a shadow of its former self.

He got rid of hundreds of thousands of civil servants, police officers, judges, teachers, professors. He confiscated hundreds of large companies and threw their owners to jail. He closed many media outlets, schools and universities.

And all of this was done with a stroke of pen with absolutely no judicial recourse.

In short, he is just too powerful to play the victim card even for his usually uneducated and gullible followers.

This was fine while polls showed him ahead. But with No passing ahead he had to do something.

Hence the decision to start a fight with EU countries. With them the pearl clutching at home would work.

Erdogan is fully aware that European governments are worried about their populist movements and if he provoked them they would not be able to take it lying down, even if this was their preference. They are more or less obliged to respond aggressively.

Erdogan targeted two EU countries with conservative governments under attack from their right and facing imminent elections.

He first had a German journalist (of Turkish descent) who had been working in Turkey charged with terrorism and placed in custody. This earned him, as to be expected, loud condemnations from German media and political parties.

He then announced that he would travel to Germany and Holland, which have sizeable Turkish minorities, to campaign for a Yes vote.

He knew that both the Dutch PM Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel could not afford to have the image of Islamist crowds in Holland or Germany chanting for a foreign leader splashed on TV screens.

This would be the kind of thing that would push more people to vote for the peculiarly coiffed  Geert Wilders, aka the Dutch Donald Trump or Frauke Petry the leader of AfD.

Consequently, both governments arranged for local municipalities to withdraw previously given rally permits on the basis of security concerns.

Erdogan's response was this:
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Germany on Sunday of "fascist actions" reminiscent of Nazi times in a growing row over the cancellation of political rallies aimed at drumming up support for him among 1.5 million Turkish citizens in Germany.
Now, obviously Erdogan's goal was not to convince Merkel to re-issue rally permission. He knew that his name calling would make the German government and all others much more intransigent and get them to respond in kind.

When Germany's sharp rebuke came it became big news in Turkey with blanket coverage about those infidels dissing Turkey and its Islamist government. Any observer would tell you that this is a very acceptable narrative among Turks in general and AKP and MHP voters in particular.

He then asked his minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu to address a rally in Rotterdam. Understandably, the Rutte government facing general elections this Wednesday (15 March) asked him to postpone his rally until after elections.

Cavusoglu simply refused, again with the goal to get Rutte to react aggressively.

On that note, Rotterdam's Muslim mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb cancelled the rally permit on security grounds.

Yes a Dutch of Moroccan descent by the name of Ahmed Aboutaleb banned an Islamist rally in his city.

Erdogan reacted to this decision by calling Dutch people "Nazi remnants."

Then Cavusoglu announced that he would travel to the Netherlands anyway and if the government were to stop him he said "Turkey would retaliate with harsh economic and political sanctions."

And he hopped on a plane to go to Rotterdam.

The Dutch government responded by revoking Cavusoglu's landing rights and returning his plane.

While this was taking place in the air, Erdogan had his Minister of Family Fatma Betul Kaya Sayan try to enter Holland by car.

Border authorities wanted to get her to turn her around, she refused and proceeded to go to the rally arena. She was then detained and deported to Germany.

As you can guess, Erdogan and his entire cabinet are now howling bloody murder 24/7 and these incidents are given wall-to-wall coverage in the Turkish media, all with the same bully-victim meme.

Besides nationalism, the latter incident is being portrayed as a disrespectful and rough treatment of a defenseless woman to stroke the patriarchal macho sentiment prevalent in Turkey.

Germany and Holland are now called fascist, racist Nazi governments and Erdogan is threatening them with serious sanctions.

If you ask my opinion, this wholly fabricated row will give Erdogan what he was looking for: a surge in Yes votes.

And this was why he is tilting at "Nazi" windmills.

11 March 2017

Trump Adviser Was A Foreign Agent for Turkey

I don't know if you remember the brouhaha during the election campaign about foreign governments making donations to the Clinton foundation. 

On an almost daily basis The Orange Man and his surrogates claimed that the deals were shady and Clinton was corrupt and crooked and needed to be thrown to jail.

In fact, retired general and future National Security Adviser was a fierce advocate of "locking her up"  stance and he went much further than the other Trumpkins.
“Lock her up! Yes, that’s right, lock her up!” Flynn shouted, his visage amplified to colossus dimensions by the huge video screen behind the podium at the Republican National Convention, where he was calling for the imprisonment of his former colleague, ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Before millions of television viewers, Flynn led the chants of a raucous crowd during his speech endorsing Donald Trump. “Lock her up! Lock her up! Damn right! Exactly right!” Flynn encouraged the chanting crowd. “There is nothing wrong with that!”
It turns out, while encouraging the lynching of Hillary Clinton for allegedly peddling influence for money, General Flynn himself was doing exactly that.

And he was doing it for the Turkish president.
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired in February after lying about his contacts with the Russian government, has formally registered with the Justice Department as a “foreign agent” and admitted that he had lobbied on behalf of the Turkish government as recently as November 2016.
He was paid $530,000 between 9 September and 15 November 2016.

Why would anyone pay half a million dollars for two months of lobbying? Tellingly, the contract ended just three days before he was appointed National Security Adviser.

In that capacity, Flynn penned an op-ed in the Hill, in which he defended all the suppressive and authoritarian measures introduced by Erdogan.

He also sided with Erdogan about the role Fethulllah Gulen allegedly played in organizing the botched coup on 15 July 2016:
In the op-ed, Flynn pushed a baseless conspiracy theory that Gülen and his movement were “a dangerous sleeper terror network” and criticized the Obama administration for being “hoodwinked by this masked source of terror and instability nestled comfortably in our own backyard in Pennsylvania.”

“From Turkey’s point of view, Washington is harboring Turkey’s Osama bin Laden,” Flynn wrote.
That's how Michael "Lock her up" Flynn earned his money.

Moreover, as the contract was offered by a Dutch firm owned by a Turkish citizen with close ties to Erdogan, he lied about it initially and denied that it had anything to do with Turkey.

But recently his counsel had to file new documents with the Justice Department in which he gridgingly acknowledges that the work done “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey”

It is much more explicit than that.

According to Politico, the focus of the contract was Fethullah Gulen and Flynn' task was to convince the public opinion and the next POTUS that Erdogan's claims were to be taken at face value.

To recap, Hillary Clinton was corrupt because she considered (and eventually rejected) a diplomatic passport request for a person who accompanied President Clinton to North Korea to liberate an American journalist.

And she should be locked up for this.

Retired General Michael Flynn, who supported the above motion, was paid half a million dollars for a two-months work to defend an autocratic leader who is destroying his country and representing that point of view before the new POTUS.

You can see how clear-cut this is.

Lock her up.



08 March 2017

Trump Gets 38 Trademarks in China: IOKIYAR

Donald Trump's brand is his name.


He cannot sign it over to his sons or to someone else. The man makes money by slapping his name on things. All the rest is bluster.

On his stated business, like real estate development or casinos where people walk in and hand you their money, he is not very good.

In fact, do you know how many times, Donald Trump, the savvy businessman, filed for bankruptcies?

He did it six times.

And he lied about it when "crooked Hillary" brought it up.

So now he applied for 38 trademarks in China while campaigning for the presidency.

According to the Government of Canada, in China, the recently streamlined process of approving trademark applications takes "approximately 18 months."

Today The Donald's trademark applications were approved.

It didn't even take six months.

Now, it is clear that China knows what it is doing.

And more power to them.

Now watch how Trump will soften his aggressive rhetoric towards China in the coming weeks.

Also watch how conservative pundits will argue that there is absolutely no conflict of interest here.


And, also too, "lock her up."

05 March 2017

How Turkey Destroyed Its Formidable Army

The corporate memory of modern armies are embedded in two groups. 

One is the senior commissioned officers (COs), you know, your lieutenants, colonels and generals. 

The other is the Non-commissioned Officers (NCOs), your lance corporals, master sergeants and petty officers.

If you remove a significant proportion of the COs you will weaken your military know-how, your strategic planning and your decision making structures.

If you remove a significant proportion of your NCOs you will reduce your technical expertise, your ability to implement complex orders properly and your retention of lessons learned.

Turkish army was a formidable force not because it was the second biggest army in NATO but because it accumulated a tremendous amount of warfare expertise from its four-decades long civil war with the PKK. 

While that civil war was terrible, pointless and misguided, it turned the Turkish Armed Forces (known by their Turkish acronym TSK) into a remarkable fighting machine. They learned about guerilla warfare, adapting to difficult terrains and responding to and deploying tricky tactics.

All of this changed when Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party AKP came to power in 2002.

The First Purge

Because of its Islamist platform, AKP has always been suspicious of the secular bias of the Turkish Army.

And for good reason. For a long time, belonging to an Islamist political movement was s serious offense punishable with long prison sentences.

A few years before AKP came to power Turkey's first Islamist government, Necmettin Erbakan's Welfare Party was overthrown on 28 February 1997 by the TSK through what is known as the postmodern coup. They made him sign an anti-Islamist decree and urged him to resign. The army didn't even leave its barracks.

Hence the postmodernity moniker.

After the AKP came to power, it relied on the much more educated members of the Gulen movement to infiltrate the judiciary and national police. They also insisted that the army dropped its practice of eliminating Islamist officers during its annual review and promotion board meeting.

In 2010, the Gulenists in the judiciary launched the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations against sitting and retired senior officers of TSK. Hundreds of officers (including a newly retired Chief of the General Staff) were arrested and detained for years while their trial continued. It is now widely accepted that much of the evidence was fabricated and those trials were a sham [pdf].

In the end 237 of these officers were convicted and given lengthy prison sentences.

The numbers may not seem to be too high for an army with 600,000 personnel but it had a tremendous impact on the army's standing and morale. A large portion of those convicted were senior officers. And for a while it looked like any general in the army was fair game for the prosecutors.

Moreover, in a country like Turkey where the military occupies an exalted position as the ultimate guardian of the state institutions, the picture of three star generals in handcuffs made the TSK look weak and vulnerable, especially in the eyes of the secularists. They secretly hoped that the army would overthrow AKP and "save" its officers and its honor.

To their chagrin, it never happened. Which in turn, reinforced the weakened image of the army.

This first purge mostly targeted the COs and as such, it badly affected TSK's strategic planning and decision making abilities.

The Second Purge

Last July there was a comical coup d'etat attempt in Turkey.

I say comical because it consisted of a handful of privates led by a couple of COs and NCOs blocking one side of a bridge in Istanbul, a few officers reading a confused declaration on a state-owned TV channel that no one watches and a special forces team that flew to a southern resort to arrest President Erdogan.

The special forces were ordered to fly to their target five hours late giving Erdogan just enough time to depart ahead of them towards Istanbul. With all other flights being grounded, Erdogan's plane was shadowed by a couple of fighter jets but they did nothing. They did not shoot at it nor do they force it to land to a military base.

Another fighter jet allegedly dropped a bomb on the Presidential place in Ankara but somehow his computer-guided missile missed the 1000-room building by a full block and ended up cratering a city street.

Intriguingly, all of this took place not in the wee hours of the morning as it is customary for such operations but right after dinner in the evening.

So unlike the proverbial revolution, the coup was televised on prime time.

It was at best amateur hour, at worst someone conned a handful of not very bright officers to join a non-existent plot. Either way, the attempt did not have any significant participation within Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and consequently was doomed to fail.

In fact, within two hours of the attempt, I posted that it was more of a joke and should not be taken seriously. And one of these days I will write more extensively about this incident.

But this comical attempt was used by President Erdogan to undertake a massive purge. And I mean massive.

As of last December, 8334 military personnel were either sacked, arrested or forced into retirement. 16,409 students in commissioned and noncommissioned officer schools were kicked out.

But these figures hide a very damaging picture. TSK's command structure and its corporate memory are decimated. This was the situation right after the coup.
Of the 325 generals in Turkey's army, air and naval forces, 149 (45.8%) were discharged on July 27, including two four-star generals, seven lieutenant generals, 27 major generals/vice admirals (12 army, 11 air force and four navy) and 126 brigadier generals/rear admirals.
That means almost half of the generals and admirals were gone.

By December 2016, the tally for the army was 91 generals, 1560 COs, 669 NCOs and 642 enlisted men.

For the navy, 27 admirals were either arrested or expelled as were 137 NCOs and 9 seamen.

The air force suffered the biggest losses. 39 generals and 190 NCOs are under arrest and 474 officers were sacked. According to Der Spiegel the air force lost 265 of its 400 fighter pilots. This is a staggering figure.
The shortage of air force personnel has become so acute that nine pilots are currently flying sorties in Syria who were placed in temporary detention over the summer as alleged members of the putsch. They aren't actually allowed to leave the country and they are required to report to the police before and after each mission
Can you imagine that?

They are so desperate that, for serious military operations, they have to use pilots who were accused of plotting against the government and detained by the police.

After the first purge in July and August, pilot-to-seat ratio was 0.8.In mid-February with the number of sacked air force pilots reaching 551 that ratio now stands at 0.4.

This is simply a level unheard of in any NATO country. Instead of having two pilots per seat, the Turkish air force has fewer pilots than it has planes.

Experts estimate that the chronic pilot shortage cannot be alleviated for at least ten years.

And even then, the new pilots will have been trained by subpar instructors because all the experienced once were discharged. This is another way of saying that Turkey will not have a well functioning air force for at least a decade or longer.

Moreover, the successive waves of purges primarily target those officers who held degrees from abroad, getting rid of the best and the brightest.

So much so that NATO's supreme allied commander Curtis Scaparrotti said that the purge significantly weakened the alliance's capabilities.

Syria Exposed Much Diminished Fighting Capabilities

All of this explains the dismal performance of the Turkish army in Syria while implementing the infamous Euphrates Shield.

Erdogan announced on 24 August that the TSK was going to take over al-Bab, a small town in the Aleppo directorate. And then it was going to move to Manbij which is controlled by Syrian Kurdish forces and after that it would be the turn of Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State.

Take a look at the map.

Afrin on the left side is a Kurdish canton. The rest of them are on the right side. The Kurdish aim is to unify these cantons.

Turkish goal is the opposite, namely to push YPG (the military arm of Syrian Kurds) and its ally Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to the east of Euphrates, which is in the middle of the map. And to do this they would have to take al-Bab first and force SDF out of Manbij.

The problem was they couldn't take al-Bab until 24 February, a full six months after the operation began. In other words, the mighty Turkish army was blocked for six months by a bunch of thugs from the suburbs of Brussels and Paris.

What is even more telling is the fact that, in the process, it has lost 64 troops and 54 tanks and armoured vehicles. Much higher casualties and equipment losses than any other state actor in that theater.

This is hardly surprising.
The losses on the ground are "higher than they need to be" because the air force is no longer capable of providing sufficient support, says one fighter pilot dismissed from his position by the government. 
The Turkish air force is in such a bad shape that the military had to beg the US and Russia to provide air support to their ground forces.
The tremendous loss of fighter pilots restricts the Turkish Air Force operational tempo which in turn caused Turkey to urge US/European Allies to support operation in Al Bab. In fact, so dire is the situation that Turkey resorted asking “New Strategic Ally – Russian Air Force” for close air support marking a highly unusual military partnership between a NATO member and Moscow
I have two observations.

One is the fact that there is no discussion of this extraordinary situation in Turkey. In fact, all I could find were jingoistic pieces about how much stronger TSK became after the purges. Whereas if you Google the same topic in English or French you find hundreds of articles about how bad things are for the Turkish military.

Since it is simply impossible that half of the generals and admirals of the Turkish army were involved in that botched coup attempt, such a drastic weakening of the military should be of concern to politicians and civilians.

Astonishingly, it is not.

Even though these purges are rooted in one man's fear of losing his power and his desire to eliminate the only potent danger to his rule, no one seems to care that he is, in the process, destroying the nation's defenses.

My second point is that a weaker army will have unintended consequences for Turkey. It will significantly affect its regional status, its relations with NATO, its bargaining power with the US, its desire to join Eurasia power formation and its dealings with the Kurds.

And I don't see any upside in any of these areas.

But that is a subject for another post.

02 March 2017

How Austerity Policies Destroyed Economies

In the early years of this blog I was rather obsessed with what should be called the callous Greek austerity experiment.

It wasn't just Greece of course. The so called PIIGS countries (Portugal Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) all had to go through the same cruel process.

The blueprint was simple: banksters, facing excess liquidity, gave these countries what seemed like "free money" (in the case of Greece they even showed them how to hide it from the EU) and encouraged them to spend it on construction. The infamous real estate bubble.

When the bubble burst, they had a huge exposure, approximately $900 billion for PIIGS countries. So to get their money back without a "haircut" they put into motion a number of tactics.

They pushed their governments into pressuring PIIGS countries, they launched a PR campaign which insinuated that these greedy and lazy people grabbed hardworking taxpayers' money and were now refusing to pay it back.

They also tried to trick PIIGS governments to guarantee private banking debt. The con worked in Ireland and bankrupted the country overnight. As part of the racist campaign about lazy people stealing money, EU members, led by Germany began insisting that PIIGS countries should drastically cut their spending until they paid what they owe.

Any macroeconomist can tell you that when you face such a crisis you either spend more or cut interest rates to near zero as a way to stimulate your economy. In this case, the second option was not available to them as it was outsourced to Brussels. And cutting spending when your economy is contracting is a recipe for disaster.

In fact, this is how they (cough Germany cough) destroyed the healthy and diversified Spanish economy even though it had one of the lowest debt to GDP ratios in the EU.

But the Greek case was especially egregious.

After years of dumping money on its service-based not so diversified economy with the full knowledge that they could never pay it back, banksters were worried about their huge exposure. Deutsche Bank and Societe Generale alone were holding over one fifth of the Greek debt of $500 billion.

If, at the time, the Greek government simply announced that it could not pay this amount and it was defaulting, the EU and the Euro and especially would be in deep trouble. And nothing terrible would have happened to Greece. Actually, I was one of the early and lonely voices to advocate this solution.

It was quite clear that, if they could go back to Drachma, they could print their way out of the crisis. Especially since the crisis coincided with the growing terrorism problem in the Muslim-majority countries around the Mediterranean and Greece was well placed to become a huge tourist destination. It was a no-brainer.

Somehow Greek politicians chickened out or were blackmailed into submission. And despite howling protests from Krugman and a handful of economists, the conservative politicians and a few right wing economist made austerity into axiomatic measures that cannot be questioned.

Rubbish idioms like living within your means or tightening your belt coupled with overtly racist suggestions about lazy and greedy Greeks were used to convince everyone that austerity was the only logical way out of the debt crisis for Greece.

So they applied their painful medicine destroying its economy and a whole generation along with it. All of this might have been okay if the bitter pill led to recovery and lower debt burden.

Take a look at the chart below which I posted two years ago and it was already clear that austerity policies were producing very different results than the ones predicted by their proponents. The line above is IMF projections and the one below is what happened.

Now there is a new study that confirms these preliminary results and show what happened when austerity measures were implemented.
[A]usterity was as big a disaster as its biggest critics said it was.

That, at least, is what economists Christopher House and Linda Tesar of the University of Michigan and Christïan Proebsting of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne found when they looked at Europe's budget-cutting experience the last eight years. It turns out that cutting spending right after the worst crisis in 80 years only led to a lower gross domestic product and, in the most extreme cases, higher debt-to-GDP ratios. That's right: trying to reduce debt levels sometimes increased debt burdens.
The study compares the actual results of PIIGS economies with realistic economic models if different policies were implemented or if they their own currencies.
According to this, the hardest-hit countries of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain would have contracted by only 1 percent instead of the 18 percent they did if they hadn't slashed spending.
If they had their own currency that they could devalue, their economies would have shrunk by only 7 percent.

What about the debt-to-GDP ratio?
[They] would have seen their debt-to-GDP ratios rise by eight percentage points instead of the 16 they did if they hadn't tried to get their budgets closer to being balanced. In short, austerity hurt what it was supposed to help, and helped hurt the economy even more than a once-in-three-generations crisis already had.
The irony is that when the whole crisis started Greece's debt-to-GDP ratio was 130 percent.

Now it is 180 percent.
Its ratio of debt to GDP - how much it owes compares to how much it earns - stands at an eye-watering 180% and its long term hope has to be that at some point at least some of that debt will be written off.
And the funny part is that the Troika (European Commission (EC), IMF and European Central Bank(ECB)) still refuses to change its prescription.

After years of repeating the greedy, lazy Greeks meme, the EC or rather prominent member states are unable to tell their taxpayers that without debt reduction there is no way Greece can overcome the current crisis.

IMF is fine with debt reduction but it wants structural reforms, such as further cuts in Greek pension plans. And ECB is not sure how to fix a problem it helped create.

The only upside to this sordid tale is that, after Brexit, the destruction of the Greek economy might become a problem that EU member states can no longer ignore. With a serious risk of the Union unraveling and the pressures on Euro, Germany might finally relent.

But they might also go for a two-tier union and leave PIIGS and illiberal democracies of Eastern Europe behind.

24 February 2017

Islamist Governments on Trump's Islamophobia

As I have written several times over the years, the Koran bans unequivocally any negative reaction to perceived or real insults to Islam, its prophet, or even to its deity.

There are no exceptions, no ifs or buts.

However, despite this very clear edict from Allah (whose voice is what Muslims hear in the Koran) there is not a single Muslim-majority country in the world without very strict and harsh blasphemy laws in its books.

In places like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries even expressing a mild disagreement with the pronouncements of the Ulema could cost you your life or at the very least your liberty for a very long time.

And elsewhere things are not rosier.

Take Indonesia, a multi-ethnic, multi-party, pluralistic country. Last year, Jakarta's Christian governor Ahok was charged with blasphemy for questioning some politicians use of a Koranic verse about Muslims not bound by the authority of non-Muslims. That was enough for massive uprisings by Islamists and a tearful defense by him in court.

The jury is still out. Literally.

These governments and their Islamist followers defend themselves by arguing that there is nothing more sacred for them than their religion and they would go to any length to protect it from any disrespect and insult.

Even disobey Allah in the process.

And that's a tall order in Islam.

Enter Donald Trump.

On the campaign trail, he constantly claimed that Islam was a violent religion and Muslims were terrorists, Islamist terrorism was the biggest threat to the US and he would take drastic measures to protect the American people from bloodthirsty Muslims.

Do you remember how the King of Saudi Arabia, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, reacted to these statements?

Me neither.

How about the two Sunni powerhouses in the region?

There is Erdogan, Turkey's bombastic president who is so touchy about the term Islamist terrorism. And Egyptian strongman al Sisi, a devout Muslim who is very close to the House of Saud.


Nary a peep.

And when Donald J Trump became president he implemented what he promised. He placed a complete travel ban for seven Muslim-majority countries.

And what did all these extremely touchy governments about perceived attacks on Islam?

Absolutely nothing.

Saudi Arabia was eerily silent.

Actually, that is not true, a Princess belonging to the Royal family went on TV to defend Donald Trump and the travel ban.

I guess they couldn't find a Prince to do this job.

How about Egypt?

Not a word.

In fact, they volunteered to help out the President-elect by trying to postpone a UN resolution critical of Israeli settlements when they knew that the US was not going to use its veto to spare Israel.

Yes, you read that right. They were assisting Trump to protect Israeli settlers.

United Arab Emirates?

Not only did they not say anything, actually, their foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed defended the ban and argued that it was not Islamophobic.

Turkey's President who routinely chastises any foreign dignitaries about the use of the term Islamist terrorism had no reaction to Trump using the very term to ban Muslims from travelling to the US.

Pakistan, where they frequently persecute and kill Christians for blasphemy, the government was initially mum about Trump's ban. But when rumors began to circulate that Pakistan could be next on the list, their Minister of the Interior meekly stated that the ban was not helping the Global War on Terror.

You have to wonder why Asia Bibi was sentenced to death but Trump could not even be criticized.

Indonesia and Malaysia?  They were not just silent, they actually urged their population to shut up about the ban.

This is why this blog always maintains that nothing is essentially about ideas, religion, morality or whatever.

As both Karl Marx and Bill Clinton put it:

19 February 2017

Putin vs The Military Industrial Complex: The Winner?

In the corporate media, Putin is always presented as a ruthless dictator, a cold blooded killer and an implacable enemy of  the US.

This is such a truism that if someone disagrees with this portrayal, journalists and pundits are completely thrown off as witnessed in the exchange between Bill O'Reilly and Trump.

When O'Reilly declared that Putin was a killer, Trump retorted:
“There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers,” Trump said. “Well, you think our country is so innocent?”

And unleashed a bipartisan storm of indignation. False moral equivalence, American exceptionalism etc.

This incident perfectly illustrates how narratives are created and maintained by the American establishment. In one corner there is the repugnant bloodthirsty autocrat, in the other there is a benevolent, avuncular president with a democracy and human rights agenda.

But this is rubbish. In fact, the New Cold War was designed and created by Eisenhower's Military Industrial Complex which needs enemies to continue to siphon off the greater portion of American budgets.

The problem for them is that while Putin is not the instigator of the New Cold War he seems well placed to win it.

Especially with the Orange Man as POTUS.

Let me explain.

Cold War 2.0: Poking the Russian Bear

If you are like most people, you probably don't remember how the new Cold War began.

In 1990, a year before the Soviet Union imploded, Helmut Kohl decided to unify East and West Germany.

No one knew how the Kremlin was going to react. To everyone's great surprise, Gorbachev nicely acquiesced.

In exchange, Bush père promised Russia that there would be no more enlargement of NATO and the US would not provoke Russia.

In 1999, the year Putin became the Prime Minister the first time, NATO accepted Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic as new members.

When Bush fils faced 9/11, Vladimir Putin did this:
In a stunning decision, the Russian president coordinated with central Asian nations to allow U.S. forces, for the first time, to use military bases of the former Soviet Union.
How did W respond?

Barely three months after the Russian goodwill gesture, he announced that the US was unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 ABM Treaty. Six months later, NATO had its second enlargement, this time the new members were Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

How is that for keeping your word or cultivating goodwill?

Then there were the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine which were perceived as US-instigated regime change activities within Russia's own backyard. In the case of Ukraine America's siginificant involvement is not even disputed.

This was followed by Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 and Bush's NATO invitations to Ukraine and Georgia. Since Crimea was part of Ukraine, a NATO membership would have meant Russia losing its only warm water naval base. The membership was blocked by France and Germany but by then Putin knew what the American message was.

The aggressive and snubbing narrative remained intact during the Obama presidency, despite the "reset" he announced at the outset. For instance, during his first visit to Moscow, Obama met with Medvedev and discussed all outstanding issues with him. He only paid a brief courtesy visit to Putin, even though Medvedev was the puppet and Putin the puppet master.

It was a deliberate snub.

Then, instead of engaging Putin on Syria and Iran, Obama and Clinton antagonized him at every step, constantly lecturing him on human rights.

The US envoy Michael McFaul was a vocal critic of Putin throughout his tenure and he very publicly cultivated opposition figures and rights activists.

Moscow was so unhappy with him that they pressured the White House to get rid of him before the end of his tenure. And once he was no longer the top diplomat, the Kremlin banned him from entering Russia.

That's pretty bad record for a diplomat.

I get that Putin is an autocrat, or a killer, or whatever else you want to call him. But I am not impressed with you lecturing him on human rights if you are simultaneously silent about all the terrible rulers in the Golf starting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Speaking of, well, you know, the devil, Obama Administration's next move was to browbeat the Kingdom to push oil prices down to crush the Russian and Iranian economies (and Venezuela as a bonus). The gambit paid off reasonably well and sinking oil prices slowed down Putin quite a bit. In the end Saudis relented because of their own financial problems and prices recovered to give Russia some breathing space.

But Putin knew that the US was gunning for him.

In case there was any doubts the missile shields debacle confirmed that conclusion. They were to be built first in Turkey and subsequently, in the Baltic states and Poland and Romania.

Not surprisingly, the move angered Russia and made it feel threatened. If you surround a nuclear power with anti-missile defence systems, you reduce the deterrence factor and essentially you increase their chances of launching a first strike. It is an incredibly stupid move which serves no purpose other than aggravating your adversary.

To top it off, last June, Nato had it biggest military exercises in Eastern Europe since the end of Cold War with 31,000 troops and thousands of vehicles.

As a follow up, this January, NATO started a massive military build-up in the Baltic states dispatching thousands of tanks and heavy equipment. Some of it were to be part of more war games at the end of January (and later in the Spring), others, including four battalions will be deployed as a permanent military force.

I know I am the resident contrarian but when you look at this picture can you honestly say that Putin is the bad guy and the US has done nothing wrong?

The Empire Strikes Back

Putin is a lot of things, including killer and dictator, but one thing he is not, is stupid. You "misunderestimate" him at your own peril.

Starting from 2008, he undertook a massive military modernization program and implemented a whole new doctrine which defined modern warfare as a "complex application of military, political, economic, information and other non-military means... applying indirect and asymmetric means of action."

Look at Russia's tactics in Crimea and Ukraine and its deployment speed and efficiency in Syria and you'll see what they mean by this.

Part of this new doctrine was an elite cyberwarfare program which recruited the best Russian hackers. And, as you know, there are many.

When no reset took place with the new Obama Administration, Putin went ahead with his new strategy and began using force swiftly whenever he was faced with a problem. He did it in Chechnya, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Not to mention his quickfire annexation of Crimea and his blindingly fast mobilization in Syria which altered the course of the civil war.

When the Americans leaned on Saudi Arabia to continue pumping oil to push prices down, Putin coolly doubled down on energy as he knew the House of Saud could not continue on that path given their regional wars and massive budget deficits.

When he faced economic sanctions from the US and EU, he moved to change the course of the Syrian civil war and eliminate any future possibility of a Pipelineistan, (a.k.a the Islamic State) the home of the Qatari natural gas pipeline. Given their dependence on Gazprom, Europeans made a swift U-turn and allowed the financing and construction of Nord-Stream II.

His military success in Syria made him an indispensable partner in the fight against ISIS and even the US reluctantly began to collaborate with Russia. He even forced a complete about face to Turkey's bombastic president Erdogan by making him drop his opposition to al Assad and get him to adopt Russian goals in the civil war.

But by far his crowning achievement was the complicated scenario he put in motion to establish a significant influence over Donald Trump.

There are a lot of shadowy details around that story and Russia cultivates them deliberately.

The hacking of DNC servers is not in any doubt but there is no actual evidence connecting Russian hackers to the breach. What is known is the fact that the same hackers also broke into GOP servers but elected not to make any of their information public.

When the US intelligence agencies declared that they had solid evidence that Russia was behind the attack, and said that they cannot make it public without jeopardizing their sources, Russia arrested two senior officers in their cyber-espionage unit. The odd thing about it was the very public nature of the arrest and the underlying message that it was about the Trump affair.

It was as if someone was trying to confirm the claim that Russian hackers were helping Trump while officially the Kremlin kept denying it.

That impression was strengthened by the fact that Russia had been making irresistible business offers to lure Trump. The corporate media reported that Trump did not take the bait but was it really the case?

Consider the case of Carter Page, the CEO of a oil and gas investment firm dealing mainly with Russia and one of Trump's foreign policy advisors during the campaign.
The dossier [compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele] claims that a representative from Trump’s presidential campaign, Carter Page, met last July with Igor Sechin, head of the Russian oil monopoly Rosneft and a senior Kremlin official. Sechin reportedly offered brokerage on a 19 percent stake in Rosneft in exchange for lifting sanctions, and Page was “non-committal in response.”
Page was also in Moscow five months later on Dec. 7, one month after Trump’s electoral victory, when Putin and Sechin announced on Russia’s national television that the country had sold to foreign investors 19.5 percent of Rosneft, almost exactly the portion cited by the dossier.
Curiouser still,
According to the dossier, Steele heard of the Page-Sechin meeting from a “source close to Rosneft president.” That source, Russia watchers speculated, was possibly a man well-known in intelligence circles, a former general at the KGB and its successor agency, the FSB, named Oleg Erovinkin. 
Erovinkin turned up dead in late December. He had been personally named by Putin to become Rosneft’s chief of staff. Sechin, too, a former deputy prime minister, was handpicked by Putin.
Carter Page is well known for his opposition to Russia sanctions.

Against that background another opponent of sanctions became Secretary of State. Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon-Mobil has no government or diplomatic service experience, yet, inexplicably, he was given the job. He is known to have excellent relations with Putin and he is likely to push for the removal of sanctions.

Michael Flynn, another person with extensive ties to Kremlin. That's him dining with Putin in December 2015.

In fact, he had to resign from his White House position because of these ties. That's another interesting tale.

After the election but before the inauguration, Flynn, as the future National Security Adviser of President Trump, talked on the phone three times with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak and they texted once. Apparently he suggested that sanctions are likely to be lifted once Trump was in office. Obviously, the conversation was being recorded by NSA.

They passed on the information to the FBI and the acting Attorney General Sally Quinlan informed the White House. Flynn denied it and so did the White House and the Vice President. When the transcript was forwarded to them it became clear that Flynn did make the suggestion and he had to resign.

There are two interesting points about this. One is the fact that Kislyak must be aware that his phone was being monitored. It is standard operation procedure. Everybody does it and especially the Americans. If he didn't want Flynn discussing sanctions on the phone he would have arranged for a meeting. Instead he held three conversations with him and when it became public he denied sanctions were mentioned. It was as if he was providing an alibi to Flynn after he exposed him.

The second point is that Flynn was not a rogue agent conducting foreign policy without the knowledge of Trump and the White House. Around the same time, Flynn was also working very hard (with other Trump aides) to prevent the UN Security Council to vote on Israeli settlements. Which is a breach of the 1799 Logan Act.

This carefully selected ambiguity is best seen in Putin's decision not to retaliate to Obama's expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats. When everyone was expecting harsh measures against US diplomats in Russia, including the closure of an international school where they send their children, Putin simply said that Obama was no longer his interlocutor and he was looking forward to working with President Trump.
“It is a very smart move,” Lukyanov says. “It will humiliate Obama even more.” 
Putin’s magnanimous gesture also eliminates any doubt as to the likely direction of Russia policy under the Trump administration. 
“Trump is now boxed in,” Frolov says. “He has become an unwitting Russian agent — everything he does now will be considered payback for this and earlier election services.” 
When pundits discuss whether Trump was helped by Putin or that he owes him something, they are missing the point.

Putin ensured that regardless of the veracity of the allegations thanks to the suggestive ambiguity surrounding them, Trump has no independent moves open to him: whatever he does will be seen either as a payback to Putin's favors or a reaction to the appearance of dependence.

As a good chess player, Putin seems to have taken the other side's queen hostage.

If I were part of the Military Industrial Complex, I would be worried.