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Western Powers Attack Syria

by John Brian Shannon

The International Order is Broken

We know this because the world’s politicians are using military means to solve what are essentially political problems they don’t know how to solve.

As the Syrian crisis rolls into its 8th year no clear winner has emerged, other than ISIS has been degraded by Western and Russian forces operating throughout Syria.

Not that Russia and the West are working together to destroy ISIS, rather, Western countries are working to destroy the evil entity to prevent it from spreading across the Middle East and the Western world, while the Russians are tearing ISIS apart because it represents an internal threat to Syria, its longtime ally.

Which are reasonable and noble goals.

But at any time since the Syrian conflict began in 2010, Western, Russian and Syrian diplomats could’ve worked out a plan to solve the terrorist problem inside Syria and could’ve wrapped up the whole mess within 24 months with relatively few civilian casualties. But they didn’t. Or they couldn’t.

The very definition of broken-ness, right there.


“No problem can be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it.”
Albert Einstein


Why Are We Broken?

When the interests of several countries align — and they still can’t put together a unified coalition — it’s a textbook case of a broken international order.

Which is how we stumbled into WWI, WWII, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, the Afghan War, and several other conflicts, such as the Rwanda genocide that killed 800,000 people in a matter of days. And we know how those wars turned out, and we know how many people were killed in total in those 20th-century conflicts.

The failure of politicians and their diplomats to find better solutions and thereby prevent those wars is appalling beyond any scale that humans can understand.


“All war represents a failure of diplomacy.”
Tony Benn


 Sometimes, very complicated problems can stem from a very simple problem.

FOR EXAMPLE: The neighbourhood’s troubled teen filling your car’s fuel tank with water overnight — although a simple act in itself — can cause serious problems after the car is driven the following morning. Such a simple act can cost a vehicle owner hundreds of dollars to repair and cause major inconvenience.

And likewise, every war fought in the 20th-century was caused by an astonishingly simple misunderstanding of human psychology by the world’s politicians and diplomats.

We are broken because those politicians believed that employing ‘Win-Lose’ thinking to solve problems was the preferred path, instead of realizing that ‘Win-Win’ thinking is a higher form of thinking that only humans can employ to solve problems.

Every war since 1900 is the direct result of employing ‘Win-Lose’ thinking to solve political problems. Another way to say it, is that every single death and injury caused by war in the 20th-century is 100% on the heads of the people who practiced politics and diplomacy in that century — because their thinking wasn’t up to the task.

Never in human history had anyone seen bungling on the scale of 20th-century world leaders.

Therefore, as the ‘default mode’ for politicians in the 20th-century was to employ ‘Win-Lose’ thinking, every serious disagreement inexorably turned into war and mega-millions died as a result.

Because the politicians of the day resorted to their animal instincts, over 250 million people were killed in war and in famines caused by war in the 20th-century. Some might call that number a conservative estimate of the total death toll.

Sobering, isn’t it?


Aren’t We Better Than That?

Apparently not. Because even today we’re still using bombs to solve the problems we’re not smart enough to solve. Problems that humans created aren’t being solved, because we’re not using the right methods to solve our problems.

So we bomb our way out of problems.


Using ‘Win-Win’ Thinking to Solve Our Problems

There are few examples of the world’s politicians using ‘Win-Win’ thinking to solve our very human psychological problems.

Ending the Cold War is the stellar achievement for diplomats in the 20th-century. And just in time, because the civilization that humans built over thousands of years came dangerously close to annihilation many times during the Cold War.

Another example of ‘Win-Win’ thinking occurred when the world’s politicians and scientists came together to sign the Montreal Protocol to eliminate chlorofluorocarbons from our supply chains; chemical compounds that were rapidly destroying the Earth’s ozone layer. The Montreal Protocol has been called ‘the most successful accord in history’.

Yet another example of ‘Win-Win’ thinking occurred when the Allied Powers joined forces after World War II to rebuild Europe using the Marshall Plan to fund food aid, reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, and to help establish a fairer world order based on peaceful relations. In postwar Japan, the Allied Powers facilitated the country’s rebuilding by purchasing billions of dollars of Japanese goods which benefited the Allied Powers as much as it benefited the former Axis Power.

Without the assistance of these, the most brilliant minds that ever lived, humanity may have become extinct long before the year 2000.

The ‘Win-Win’ thinkers who ended the Cold War, the ‘Win-Win’ thinkers who ended the use of chlorofluorocarbons, and the ‘Win-Win’ thinkers who invested in the former Axis Power economies during the postwar era, changed our world for the better (at the very least) and may be responsible for saving all life on the planet (at best).

Those examples prove ‘Win-Win’ thinking can work to solve our problems and that we don’t need to retain ‘Win-Lose’ thinking as our default problem-solving method.


Regardless of the Method we Choose, we Must Stand Up for Our Principles

President Donald Trump today authorized 3 military strikes inside Syria to hit suspected chemical weapon sites and chemical research and development facilities ostensibly used by the Syrian military.

The president cited Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution in his justification for the attack saying that Syria represented an area of strategic importance to the United States. However, there almost isn’t a place on Earth that is of less strategic importance to the U.S. and its allies, as Syria.

It may be the president misread his teleprompter — because Syria isn’t a strategic place from the U.S. viewpoint — and if he sticks to that view he will spend days or weeks defending this military action to members of the Congress and Senate.

What is of strategic importance to the United States (and what would work for members of Congress charged with upholding the U.S. Constitution) is that preventing the proliferation and use of chemical weapons is of strategic importance to the United States, and therefore, President Trump’s authorization of use of force is justified and necessary, and in the best interest of the United States.

In that way the president’s use of force is legal and justified under the U.S. Constitution, and may also serve as a deterrent to a Syrian regime that seems bent on destroying significant numbers of its population and has refused any chance to allow them escape to another country.


Choosing Humanity vs. Hubris: Why We Fight

Exterminating your own citizens because they have a different political view isn’t acceptable and no doubt President Trump is privy to images and videos from Syria that are marked classified because they’re too horrific for U.S. television viewers to see.

And let’s be honest, seeing those images hastened his decision to veer hard towards military action rather than continuing to employ so-called ‘Soft Power’ to bring about a diplomatic solution to the Syrian debacle.

It may be that punishing Syria each time it uses chemical weapons against civilians or terrorist entities will serve as an effective deterrent. However, Syrian forces may become more adept at hiding such attacks from Western eyes and ears.


“We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized.”
Theresa May


Syria’s plan seems to be to kill every terrorist, every non-combatant family member of terrorists, or anyone stuck in areas known to contain terrorist entities.

While this may seem normal to dictators, it is highly offensive to civilized people. Even Syria’s ally Russia, abhors attacks on civilians and non-combatants — and Russian citizens seem extremely offended when chemical attacks are used to solve what are, in the final analysis, human problems for which the diplomats haven’t yet found solutions.


Short-term Deterrence or Long-term Mutual Success?

Whether Tomahawk missile attacks act as a deterrent to Syrian chemical weapons attacks inside Syria, or not — at least President Trump can say that America and its allies didn’t stand idly by and let it happen without challenging it.

Yet, the long-term way to solve this crisis is to show these heinous acts on every television in the world, to explain what is actually occurring there, to make chemical weapons use anywhere unacceptable to everyone, and to use ‘Win-Win’ thinking to save our broken, but still human, civilization.

When we finally adopt ‘Win-Win’ thinking as our default option to deal with human-caused problems, that will be the day that human beings finally surpass the animal kingdom in every way on this planet. And if we don’t, our short break from the threat of Cold War-style Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) will soon be over.

How a Tiny Tariff Could Change America

by John Brian Shannon

As the debate heats up over President Trump’s 25 per cent steel tariffs and 10 per cent aluminum tariffs (some countries are exempted by Presidential Order) it’s interesting to look at other scenarios that might play out better for the United States — and for other countries too.

First, let’s look at the scale of the American trade deficit problem, then we can compare different methods to adjust trade flows to help the United States avoid a projected $880 billion trade deficit with the rest of the world by FY 2019. No country, not even the mighty United States of America can withstand annual trade deficits of that magnitude.

At the moment, America’s biggest trade deficit is with China ($215 billion/yr) followed by Japan ($68 billion/yr) and Mexico ($65 billion/yr) while many other countries run double-digit trade deficits against the United States. In totality, such trade deficits are simply unsustainable for the U.S. and President Trump is right to address the issue, however, there’s always more than one way to accomplish a thing.


Total value of U.S. goods and services imports 2000-2017.

The timeline shows the total value of international U.S. imports of goods and services from 2000 to 2017.

U.S. Imports: The timeline shows the total value of international U.S. imports of goods and services from 2000 to 2017. In 2017, the total value of international U.S. imports of goods and services amounted to 2.9 trillion U.S. dollars. Image courtesy of Statista.


U.S. Exports. Total value of U S goods and services exports 2000 to 2017.

U.S. Exports chart. Total value of U S goods and services exports 2000 to 2017.

U.S. Exports: The timeline shows the total value of international U.S. exports of goods and services from 2000 to 2017. In 2017, the total value of international U.S. exports of goods and services amounted to 2.33 trillion U.S. dollars. Image courtesy of Statista


The Nature of the Problem

America’s trade deficit is an astonishingly simple problem that has developed over four decades — because when a thing evolves without proper guidance and oversight, eventually it becomes the thing that eats you — which is what’s happening to the United States in the 21st century.

Because policymakers allowed this monster to grow, it means the U.S. will import $557 billion more than it exports in 2017, instead of maintaining a normal balance of trade like other countries. And 2018 is projected to produce an $880 billion trade deficit for the United States, with a $1 trillion trade deficit sure to arrive by FY 2020 if action isn’t taken to address this catastrophe.

President Trump claims that the American trade negotiators of previous decades were ‘weak’ and got ‘out-negotiated’ by other countries and blames them for the present (uncomfortable) moment. But that isn’t accurate. However, it plays well with voters, and media outlets especially, thank Donald Trump for that characterization.

What happened is that America opened trade with China and other developing nations beginning in earnest in 1974, allowing generous trading terms to add impetus to America’s trade liberalisation goals. American policymakers assumed that once those developing nations got a real economy going, citizens of those countries would then purchase billions of dollars of American goods and the gamble would pay off handsomely. And therein lies the problem. Not every country reciprocated America’s largesse.

China, Japan, and other countries simply grabbed the Americans by their largesse and began exporting evermore billions of dollars worth of goods and services to America without buying much of anything from the United States.

Note: In Japan’s favour, the country’s carmakers aggressively lobbied Washington to be allowed to build factories throughout the United States and Canada which provided thousands of jobs across North America every year since 1987. Also, Japan bought hundreds of billions of dollars worth of U.S. Treasury Bills to help maintain the American economy. These wise actions ameliorated the concerns of U.S. legislators about Japan’s trade imbalance with the United States from 1987-2017.
Which should qualify Japan for a ‘Free Pass’ from all steel and aluminum tariffs IMHO, as Japan was led to believe by American legislators that their actions neatly covered any trade negatives in the U.S. / Japan relationship.


Asleep at the Switch?

If someone in America had been ‘on this’ it would have never gone this far. But someone in America was asleep at the switch and that’s why we are where we are, in 2018.

The problem, therefore, isn’t that America got ‘out-negotiated’. The problem is that certain countries took advantage of America’s generous trade terms but were reluctant to accept imports from the United States.

Whoever was in charge of international trade in the U.S. from 1990 until 2018 should have Fried in Hell for not raising the alarm and writing some appropriate ‘fair trade’ legislation that would serve as a check and balance against such one-sided trade flows.


The $10 Billion Tripwire Method

Countries that run trade surpluses of less than $10 billion/yr with the U.S. shouldn’t face American tariffs as those numbers typically go up and down many times over the course of a decade and can even reverse direction to America’s benefit, and in any case, rarely become double-digit or triple-digit trade imbalances.

But once a country hits the $10 billion trade deficit threshold with the United States, it should trigger alarm bells from Alaska to Maine and appropriate tariffs (like Donald Trump’s high-ish steel and aluminum tariffs) should automatically apply on exports to the U.S. from any country that surpasses the $10 billion tripwire.

It’s such a good idea that every country should do it.


The 5% Method

If the United States charged a truly nominal 5 per cent tariff on every foreign good and service it would raise $150 billion per year which is a substantial amount of money for any country, even a superpower.

The U.S. could use that money to subsidize American companies hit hard by low-priced imports since 1990 (maybe by providing financing assistance to allow them to build newer, more energy-efficient factories for example), to improve transportation corridors throughout the country (especially near America’s seaports), to upgrade the actual port facilities to allow for faster and more efficient throughputs of American products being shipped overseas, and to enhance security at every single U.S. port of entry.

This too, is such a good idea that every country should do it.


Balancing an Unbalanced Equation

If the United States adds a nominal 5% tariff to all foreign goods and services, and then on top of that tariff penalizes (with industry-specific tariffs) only the countries that run more than $10 billion trade deficits with the U.S., the entire problem will be solved within 5 years and the American economy will boom like never before.

Also, in a booming U.S. economy, countries like China will find that orders from America will increase and any losses felt now will be recovered within a year or two.


‘Corrective’ Tariffs Need to Replace ‘Punitive’ Tariffs

The only way to conduct international trade is with respect, with proper checks and balances, with mild tariffs designed to make corrections to uneven trade flows resulting from poor policy in previous decades, and none of it needs to be confrontational or nasty.

For the sake of its hard-working citizens, American policymakers must address these imbalances in a businesslike way — not to punish other countries — but rather, to ensure that every country that trades with the U.S. is doing so in a fair and transparent manner.

To Xi With Love, from Donald Trump

by John Brian Shannon

President Xi Jinping of China was awarded a second term in office by the Communist Central Committee of China just days ago (and doubly rewarded because term limits no longer apply to Mr. Jinping) has received communication from the Trump administration that steel exports to the United States will now face a 25 per cent tariff and aluminum exports to the United States from China will have a 10 per cent tariff added.

The tariffs against China and selected other countries are scheduled to go into effect March 24, 2018.

President Donald Trump of the United States says there is a huge and historic trade imbalance between the U.S. and China and is using tariffs to counter that imbalance which has been pegged between 374 billion and 511 billion dollars, depending upon how those figures are calculated.

Further, Mr. Trump has asked President Xi to submit a plan to lower the trade deficit with the United States by 100 billion dollars as soon as possible.


Which Countries are Exempt from the Tariffs that Begin on March 24, 2018?

China, U.S., steel tariffs - affected and non-affected countries March 24, 2018

Image courtesy of Quartz.com. Click on the image to visit the Quartz image and article.


China has Responded to Trump’s Tariffs with Tariffs Against U.S. Goods

In response to Mr. Trump’s tariffs, China’s leader Mr. Jinping has responded with some mild tariffs against the United States.

China’s ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, said on Thursday that Beijing would retaliate against those tariffs on about $60 billion of Chinese goods.

“We do not want a trade war with the United States or with anybody else, but we are not afraid of it,” Mr. Cui said, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. “If somebody tries to impose a trade war upon us, we will fight. We will do whatever we can to defend the legitimate interests.”

The $3 billion worth of goods that Beijing plans to penalize represent just about 2 percent of U.S. exports to China, which amounted to $130 billion last year, according to Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“It’s not devastating economically by any stretch, but it’s certainly going to hurt those interests in the United States that are trying to export,” Mr. Bown said. He pointed out that the retaliation by China sends “a negative signal, that they are not seeking to de-escalate things.” — excerpt from the New York Times


All in All, Not a Trade War

Except that two superpowers are involved (which makes for great theatre) it’s not much of a trade war.

In fact, the Trump tariffs against Chinese steel (China supplies only 2% of U.S. steel) and Chinese aluminum (supplying less than 1% of U.S. aluminum) won’t amount to mega-billions of dollars.

Still, Trump has set the tone that countries that export to, and run huge trade deficits with the United States, will be addressed at the tariff level. Back in the old days getting your way in trade disputes was done by so-called ‘Gunboat diplomacy’ instead of the much softer tariff approach.

Thank goodness we’ve matured as a species!

Further tariffs may be levied on China and other countries by the Trump White House as the president seeks to balance America’s huge trade deficit across many nations that export to the United States.

The reason China has been singled-out is that it runs triple digit trade imbalances with America — not because anyone in the Trump White House has any particular enthusiasm to embarrass or anger China.

And although Donald Trump did make the numbers known to the public and did spend some time justifying his new tariff policy, it looks like the president sincerely wants a solution to the existing problem and doesn’t want a situation that escalates without resolution. We know that because he chose his words and his tweets very carefully.


Light at the End of the Tunnel?

What’s really at stake here is the long-term relationship between America and her trading partners.

China, Canada, Mexico, and the European Union are America’s largest trading relationships and in order for the United States to succeed it can’t allow huge trade deficits with every country it does business with.

If every country in the world ran a microscopic trade deficit of only 10 billion dollars with America, the U.S. trade imbalance would total 2 trillion dollars!

“To put that in perspective, if you stacked 1.9 trillion $1 bills on top of each other, the pile would reach about half way to the Moon.” — CNN

Not even the mighty United States of America can survive trade deficits of that magnitude.

China’s trade imbalance of ($374 billion to $511 billion in 2017, depending how you calculate it) is simply unsustainable for America, as are the double-digit trade deficits of several other countries.


This chart (unfortunately, from 2016) shows only the countries that have double or triple-digit trade imbalances with the United States (in millions of dollars)

Trade imbalances with the United States

Note: The European Union trade imbalance with the United States is 146 billion dollars, but some of those EU nations are also listed separately in this chart.


The Best Case Scenario?

As the tariffs go into effect, the best we can hope is that cooler heads prevail and that both the American and Chinese tariffs are seen as simple corrections to segments of the economy long neglected by policymakers on both sides of the Pacific.

Several countries that export steel and aluminum to the U.S. are exempt from the tariffs so American consumers will see very little change in prices. Consumers in China may see small price increases in certain foods that are imported from the United States.

The entire situation is an example that we should be mindful of our free trade privileges with other countries, neither exploiting them too much nor allowing ourselves to be exploited by them. Triple and double-digit trade imbalances don’t ‘just happen’ overnight! And they should be mindful of their free trade privileges with us.

If this in any way presages a shift toward fair trading rules between all nations — as opposed to unrestricted free trade — it means that international trade will be much more sustainable, and frankly, more easily welcomed by every country in the future.

Let’s hope this marks the beginning of the ‘Trump Doctrine of Fair Trade’ between nations.