Aleppo, Clinton, ISIS & Trump

Photo from The World Bulletin Syria doctors plead with Obama over Aleppo siege.
Mahmoud Rashwani in The Guardian, read hereI have become an expert in pulling people out from wreckage, in distinguishing how deeply buried under rubble the screaming victims are, how to spot them in the chaos – they look very much like statues covered in dust  Those tight, shocked hugs that I get from the kids I carry out of the ruins of their homes won’t ever be erased from my memory. Nor can I clean their blood from my T-shirts. … After one of the latest air force attacks inside the city, I found a mother hugging a young girl’s leg, just a leg, and shouting: “I found it. It’s my daughter’s leg. I won’t lose it, it’s hers.”

Everyone agrees what’s happening in Aleppo is a tragedy – the civilians caught in the fighting who accuse the US of not doing anything to deter civilian casualties, the Assad government who blames rebels for starting the conflict, the Russians dropping the bombs to try and stabilize the Syrian government and fight ISIS, POTUS Obama who no one would suggest is not a softhearted liberal (or would they?), and last but not least and most important for the future: candidates Clinton and Trump.

Clinton’s position:  The rebels deserve more aggressive (military) support, which she argued for in Libya and just about everywhere else when Secretary of State.  It seems likely the rebellion in Syria started with the belief that the US would almost immediately provide air support as it did in Libya.  But it did not, as Obama choked.

Note:  The pro-rebel position is made less clear by the fact that Aleppo is defended by a coalition of US-backed rebels and the al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate (or former affiliate if you trust them) which may or more likely may not have changed its ideological goals about things like the imposition of Islamic Sharia Law.  They even changed their name to Jabhat Fateh al Sham (see CNN article) which means “Front opening Sham.”  Sham is a Caliphate term for Damascus, Syria or the Eastern Mediterranean generally, suggesting the same “Caliphate” goals as ISIS.  Perhaps, since most of these terrorists are pretty fluent in English, it is an open admission the name change “is a sham”?

Trump’s position:  We do not know what’s best for these countries and are causing problems by meddling.  We should focus on the US (and implicitly, lead by example).  Some of the meddling likely contributed to the development of ISIS (or said with typical Trumpian flare, Clinton & Obama “founded” ISIS).

Trump has no political record.  As for his business record, we know that by the minimum attribution of others, he’s done decently from the starting point obtained from his father.  He does not chase lost causes but cuts them off (via bankruptcy, a normal business practice), and as a result has left some contractors bitter about unpaid bills.  Kind of like leaving rebels bitter about unmet expectations of support?  We are left to guess.

Clinton does have a political record, as the 2nd most influential person over US foreign policy for four years as Secretary of State.

Does Clinton’s political record contain evidence for Trump’s contention?  I’ve asked this question in a particular way, so that it is factual, but not conclusive.  If one asks “Did Clinton [unintentionally] foment ISIS, and are her policy views consistent enough going forward to suggest future similar mistakes?”  Then, the answer likely depends on who is selecting and interpreting facts from the record.  But the way I have asked it is just to determine if there are supporting facts in the record, not to conclude whether they are even sufficient, much less forward determinants.

Something unexpected emerges, however, which reminds me of Sarah Palin resigning as governor of Alaska, and makes me wonder if Hillary will have staying stamina as president.  I’ll just let that come out as it comes out, and you can decide if it means anything.

Most of the following points are summarized from the Wikipedia article on Clinton’s tenure as Sec. of State.

  • Mid-January 2011:  Clinton makes 4-country trip to Middle East, criticizing Arab governments’ failure to move more rapidly vis à vis reform in unusually blunt language.
  • January 29, 2011:  Obama puts Clinton in charge of sorting out administration response to Egyptian protests.
  • January 30, 2011:  Clinton combined appearances on all five Sunday morning talk shows – stating publicly for the first time the U.S.’s view that there needed to be an “orderly transition” to a “democratic participatory government”and a “peaceful transition to real democracy”, not Mubarak’s “faux democracy.”
  • Mid-February 2011:  Beginning of Libyan civil war.
  • Early March 2011:  Clinton stated the administration’s position that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi “must go now, without further violence or delay“.
  • Mid-March 2011:  In CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer during her post-revolution visit to Cairo’s Tahrir Square [Clinton stated] that she had no interest in becoming Secretary of Defense or vice president or of running for president again.
  • January 26, 2012:  In a State Department town hall meeting Clinton [again] indicated her desire to remove herself from “the high wire of American politics” after twenty tiring years of being on it and added, “I have made it clear that I will certainly stay on until the president nominates someone and that transition can occur.”
  • Summer 2012:  Clinton developed a plan with CIA Director David H. Petraeus to send arms to, and perform training of, vetted groups of Syrian rebels, using the assistance of a neighboring state.  Obama rejected the idea.
  • July 2012:  Clinton visited Egypt for the first time since Mohammed Morsi became the first democratically elected president of the country.  As she arrived in the country, her convoy was met with a protest and had shoes, tomatoes and bottled water thrown at it, although nothing hit either Clinton or her vehicle.  Protesters also chanted “Monica, Monica”, in reference to the Lewinsky scandal.  She also faced conspiracy theories (in a country that tended towards them) that the U.S. was secretly aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • September 11, 2012:  An attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi took place, resulting in the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans
  • November 6, 2012:  Obama was re-elected for a second term as president. Clinton said shortly before the election that she would stay on until her successor was confirmed, but that “this is not an open-ended kind of time frame.”
  • Mid-December 2012:  Clinton fell victim to a stomach virus contracted on a trip to Europe. She subsequently became very dehydrated and then fainted, suffering a mild concussion. As a result, she cancelled another trip and scratched an appearance at scheduled Congressional hearings on the Benghazi matter.
  • December 30 2012:  Clinton admitted to New York-Presbyterian Hospital for treatment and observation after a blood clot related to the concussion was discovered.
  • January 2, 2013:  Clinton was released from the hospital.  She returned to work at the State Department on January 7, when co-workers welcomed her back with a standing ovation and a joke gift of a football helmet featuring the department’s seal.  The illness did, however, put an end to her days of travel in the job.
  • January 23, 2013:  Clinton … gave more than five hours of testimony on the Benghazi matter before hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

These events made no impression on me at the time, as I suffered an important personal loss, and was spending a lot of time traveling (to Ukraine, Russia, Turkey).  During this time I met my wife and was getting her into the country and getting married in the fall of 2012.  It was only in retrospect, researching this article, that I saw the events laid out in the timeline.

The “context” of my analysis is having grown up during the cold war, in which stability was accepted as preferable to revolution, at least “communist” revolution.  Oddly, I eventually married someone who voted communist in the 2012 Russian election and argues eloquently that the reform in Russia was a mistake.  Perhaps she has influenced my views.  I do not care for Putin’s repression, but his platform was to avoid “color revolutions” as too disruptive of society, and to evolve instead.  Some campaign signs were painted as graffiti on buildings, and here is a photo I took of one:


In said context, agitating for dramatic change in the form of government in Libya, Egypt, Syria and other countries would be assumed to run a high risk of resulting in chaos and unending civil war, or, if it ended, with some interests in power who were much more inimical to the US (and to the style of treatment of citizenry we favor) than the ones they replaced.

Let it be said that, in my opinion, Clinton did not cause war or unrest in the Middle East.  Some of that has been going on since … well, almost as long as we have records, certainly since the dramatic end of Bronze Age stability in about 1250 BCE (just over 3000 years).  Nor was it the existing governments, to tell the truth, as they had all been there for some time.

The proximate cause for the “Arab Spring” was some financial shenanigans with bundled mortgages pulled by Wall Street banks.  How, you ask?  I was struck when visiting Ukraine in 2009-2010 how they complained of being hard hit by the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis.  We hardly even trade with Ukraine.  But we trade with the EU, their largest trading partner, and the world trades with Russia, a major supplier of oil and a big Ukraine trading partner at the time.  Since Ukraine’s trading partners got hit, they were slung about like the tail end of a rope and their economy smashed, which as we saw later led to a bloody conflict there, as they tried to join the EU and Russia and some regions resisted.

The man who immolated himself in Tunisia to set off the Arab Spring did not shout any religious or anti-Western slogans.  He did shout something, though.  “I just want to work!”  He supported a number of relatives, the sole worker, and his fruit vending cart was confiscated by police for lack of a license one too many times.  Unemployment was over 25%.  Just like Ukraine, they were whipped about and given undeserved “lashings” at the tail end of the economic trade rope – that Trump wants to cut or restrain.  Oh yes, we hear all about the benefits of trade, but never mind the fact that a region of the world that has supported itself for 5000 years is devastated and foments a major US enemy (ISIS) because of newfound and unmanageable connections to the new global economy.  “What economy?” the unemployed ask.  They aren’t getting any benefit.

Clinton herself cannot be blamed for this “root cause” of the Arab Spring.  Or can she, by association?  Is she a member of a class of people who believe in and routinely foster unstable global connections?

There have been several eras of global trade.  I already mentioned the end of the Bronze Age, an era noted for extensive trade between the then four main empires, destabilized by migrants (the Sea Peoples) among other things and falling flat in a mere 25 years.  The Assyrian Empire was thought to have destabilized and emerged more militant because of rapidly expanding trade contacts.  The Arabs and then the Ottomans obtained a stranglehold on the East-West trade from about 400 AD (or CE, if you prefer) to the end of World War One.  The European diaspora of “exploration” appears like a bunch of ants running in any direction imaginable (including some infeasible ones) to find a way around that blockage.  By 1900, for purposes of trading with the European empires (especially Britain) the US adopted the “gold standard,” and by 1914 the first World War began.  Add to that a technological revolution (automobiles and radio in the 1920s) along with a severe debt crisis (Germany’s war debt due in gold) and you have a recipe for another World War and the development of nuclear weapons.

After a period of relative isolationism – at least the Eastern bloc traded mostly unto itself, and the Western bloc had relatively high tariffs – a re-globalization era was initiated after WWII, thinking that trade would bind nations together and prevent world war.  This eventually became the WTO, EU, NAFTA, TPP (yet to be signed), etc.

Ah, yes, WWIII has [so far] been avoided, at the cost of whipping about the weaker coupled nations and creating things like the Arab Spring.  Clinton can be found in association with her husband in the adoption of NAFTA, and 20 years later advocating the TPP which could lead to the largest loss of American jobs ever.  To be sure Republicans are not found wanting, as Nixon initiated relations with China, and Bush let them join the WTO in 2001.  However the process was begun and fostered from 1996 by a Clinton administration that saw only exports to China and failed to see the overwhelming wave of imports.

There is nothing to suggest Hillery Clinton’s thinking has changed since then, or differs substantially from her husband’s.

So, we can associate Clinton legitimately with trade forces that caused [most directly if not entirely] the Arab Spring, which in turn permitted chaos to develop in Syria, where ISIS was in fact able to form under the protective umbrella of a standoff between the US and Russia – supported aggressively and actively by Secretary Clinton – which created an ungoverned territory favorable for ISIS’ development.

Certainly Clinton is not the sole cause, as Bush instigated the war in Iraq, which most people now realize was a mistake – an “add on” to the war with the Taliban and Al Qaeda under pretenses about WMDs that were either mistaken or misleading.  Incidentally, Bush promised less intervention in foreign affairs during his campaign.  Presidents do change their minds.  We have no guarantee about Trump.  We do have repeated reliable performance from Clinton.  We know she will intervene and aggressively pursue globalism without a thought as to any of its negative consequences, except insofar as they are brought up by opposing candidates.  She’ll have four years with no opposing candidate.

That is the data I promised to present.  You can stop here and draw your own conclusion.  Now there are two loose ends, if you care to see them tied up:

Staying power – Clinton either doesn’t have it, or isn’t honest.  The strain of the failures in Libya and elsewhere seem [this is interpretation and opinion] to have gotten to her.  She is no Iron Lady.  The final five or so of the points above show her collapsing and retreating from politics.  Either that or as some would say, she might be lying about her true motives.  Take your pick.  Either one portends a risk.

Trump’s insight – Say what you will about him personally.  Almost no one likes the man except those who profess to be close to him (actually, this is “normal” except for celebrities, who are often intolerable to those close to them).  But he either came up with his insights on globalism and trade, or listened to someone carefully when it was not in vogue to listen to that point of view.

What we CAN conclude – While we might only conclude that there is some evidence in Clinton’s record on the matter of her contribution to ISIS, but that the weights are “in the eye of the beholder” so to speak, some other conclusions are more definite:

  • I wrote my first book analyzing the negative side of trade (it’s in the Equity Premium Puzzle) during the government furlough of 2013, long before Trump announced his ideas.  And he certainly didn’t get them from me.
  • Clinton’s predilection for globalism was in evidence before that, and aside from campaign hedging, she is vocal in that it has not changed.
  • Trade and globalism are connected to the Arab Spring and the formation of ISIS (and Al Qaeda before, as bin Laden was widely known to be opposed to the dissemination of Western culture through trade).  Clinton contributed to these problems not only in the obvious way through advocacy of interventionism and meddling in the affairs of other countries, but also in her positions on trade and excess inter-dependency.
  • Trump is therefore more likely to advocate and implement policies in concurrence with my own prior findings than Clinton, findings which I believe will lead to more stability, more even distribution of wealth, and greater happiness for more people generally, than “trade-trade-overthrow governments.”

These policies likely may sacrifice the maximum possible economy, what would we call it, not domestic product, it’s global.  World Total Product – WTP?  Does that even sound like something we want?

MIT now says that diverse teams are the most successful (see article), but not the most happy.  Even the Commission for Racial Equality admits that its own research shows that diversity does not lead to happiness.  Could it be that a globalized world is a bit like a diversified team – leading to the most success in economic terms, but not really enjoying it?

If that is true, and here we have two approximate if not exact studies, one from a source so unexpected as to be absolutely unimpeachable, then arguments that Trump’s policies will not lead to maximization of WTP are not actually negatives, but positives.  After all, last time I checked, only humans are allowed to vote in elections, and most humans, if pressed, will choose happiness over WTP.  Or any other acronym for that matter.



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