Quick Look at Wall Street Journal, 19 April 2018

NOTE: I took longer to finish writing this one than I intended, which is why it’s up today and not the 19th.

19 April 2018

My Wall Street Journal subscription is resumed! I’d let it expire for about 3 months for financial reasons, but with their excellent student deal, I have my treasured 6-day a week, hard copy newspaper again. <3 I just finished reading several of the most stand-out articles from today’s issue, which I’ll discuss below.

Before that: about half an hour ago I got back from RIT, where I enjoyed an optional question and answer session with some of our ROTC program’s MSIV’s (seniors) about their experiences at Advanced Camp last year. Among the protips:

  • Build your credibility by being a subject matter expert on the radio, combat life saving, setting up OE-245 radio antennas, etc.
  • Be sociable, learn names, learn colleges, learn majors: know your fellow Cadets. Don’t be fake about it, but building that rapport will pay off when it’s your turn to be Platoon Leader, everyone’s tired and cranky after rucking around the boonies in wet socks all day, and you need support.
  • Always be making decisions. Even if your decision turns out to have a bad outcome, the Cadre grading you want to see that you’re at least always assessing, thinking, and acting, and have reasons for what you do. You should never be at a loss for what you’re currently doing, Be a leader. Lead. You’re not going to have perfect information or someone to confirm your decision in the real Army either.

There were many smaller, but important tips, and funny anecdotes. I’ll talk more about my preparation for camp later.

Today, I’m focusing on what I read in the good ol’ Journal. Here, I’ll give brief summaries of what I saw as three of the most interesting or important stories, and my thoughts on them.

  1. Yet another Islamist group is rising in Syria. (Original article by Sune Engel Rasmussen.) They call themselves Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, meaning “Organization for the Liberation of the Lavant.” They’re an offshoot of the al-Nusra Front, the former al-Qaeda franchise in Syria. Their main area of operations is the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, right on the Turkish border. They boast “thousands” of fighters, and are fortifying their position in the province, after overrunning (by their claims) 25 villages and capturing tanks and other armored vehicles. Like any other Islamist terror group, they’re enforcing stricter forms of Sharia than the locals want, including shutting down mixed-sex university classes, and prohibiting salons from using makeup. According to the article, there’s pushback from the locals on all that, who are understandably more concerned about having food, water, and electricity than on strict religious observance. Addressing those material concerns, al-Sham has a “civil affairs” type organization called the Salvation Government, that charges people to provide them electricity and water and win over hearts and minds.

My take: I am not shocked by the appearance of yet another new Jihadist group in Syria. With the collapse of ISIS (which the group has also fought against,) it was inevitable that someone else would fill the void. The strength of Good Guys for the U.S. to support in Syria is smaller than ever. Syrian Democratic Forces are squeezed by both Islamists on the one side and “Animal Assad’s” (what a fun Trump-ism!) regime on the other. The further displacement of refugees from Damascan suburbs surely isn’t helping, as unemployed, hungry, pissed off young men tend to be more likely to join radical groups, especially if they have family dependent on them earning some sort of living.

And all this at the same time as the U.S. is winding down from Syria as quickly as possible, concerned chiefly with ISIS being gone, and Assad not using chemical weapons. At this point, and I’m no expert, but I think most likely that Assad, with Russian and Iranian help, is going to retake most of Syria, and we’ll see Jihadist groups, Kurds, and moderate rebels all pushed to the fringes and unable to openly control territory. In this scenario, there’s less risk to the U.S. and other targeted countries from ISIS-type groups, but, Iran’s and Russia’s influence grows, and a horrific tyrant stays on the throne. Basically, we’d get Lawful Evil instead of Chaotic Evil.

Otherwise, especially if we do intervene more to keep the rebels going, we’ll get more of what we’ve had in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, which is a power vacuum with endless bloodshed among dozens of sectarian groups all backed by different regional powers, with millions of hapless civilians caught in the crossfire. It’s hard to see the ideal U.S. outcome (Assad steps down and is replaced with a U.S.-friendly, fairly democratic, inclusive, and competent government) occurring without a massive American invasion and occupation of the country, and between Russia, Iran, and our experience trying that in Iraq, it ain’t happening.

And so, the never-ending game of whack-a-mole continues.

2. European trade debates. (Original Germany/Russia article by Andrea Thomas and William Boston, Europe/U.S. article by Valentina Pop and Bojan Pancevski.) Germany is trying to get the U.S. to exempt some major German corporations, including Siemens, Daimler, and Volkswagen, from America’s latest Russia sanctions. While the U.S. Congress implemented sanctions on Russian individuals as punishment for Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, many German companies do a lot of business in Russia, and don’t want to be punished by American law for continuing existing relationships.

Meanwhile, the E.U., apparently spooked by Trump’s tough talk on trade and tariffs, is looking to quickly complete an agreement that would be a smaller and simpler version of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Obama negotiated that deal, but never concluded it or got it ratified. Issues on the table include tariffs on cars, agriculture, and industrial machinery. Essentially, Angela Merkel is trying to use the E.U. and U.S. shared concerns about Chinese trade practices as a common cause to get the Transatlantic deal through. France is more hesitant about any such deal, wanting to see Trump give more in exchange, such as the U.S. re-entering the Paris Climate Accord.

If Trump’s proposed steel and aluminum tariffs are allowed to take effect in two weeks, it appears that the E.U. has retaliation plans in the works.

My take: The Germany/Russia thing is no surprise. I’d like Germany to take a stronger stand on solidarity with the U.S. on the whole Russian meddling issue, but I completely understand that their largest corporations have big business in Russia, and can’t easily give that up. So, yup, there’s going to be a conflict there. I expect the U.S. will quietly grant exemptions, since so many Americans are invested in German companies and Germany is a good ally, but we’ll see. I don’t expect it to get much time on cable news or social media either way.

On the Transatlantic deal, I take this as further evidence in support of the theory that Trump’s hardball negotiation tactics are working in furtherance of his strategy of a trade balance that favors U.S. exports. We see President Xi in China similarly taking a more conciliatory tone towards foreign investment and trade after Trump raises the tariff threats. (More on that next.) While Trump’s borderline mercantilist policies on trade may hurt international relationships long term, for now, they appear to be gaining him leverage.

It’s early to give a conclusion, however. I’m going to reserve judgement until we see what trade policies are implemented, and how they’re affecting the American GDP and unemployment numbers, several months to a year from now.

3. Tesla successfully bucks Chinese rules for its new factory. (Original article by Tim Higgins)

The Chinese government announced that they’ll let Tesla Inc build electric cars in Shanghai without doing the usual 50-50 joint venture with a local company. This is part of China phasing out that requirement by 2022. By being able to build in China, Tesla will benefit by not having Chinese tariffs slapped on its cars as imports. The plan is to churn out 200,000 vehicles a year from the new Chinese factory.

My take: Awesome. I hope that Trump’s tariff threats helped bring this about. I love Tesla, I admire Elon Musk, and I’m excited to see how this can help them grow and beat the naysayers.

Other interesting news: U.S. shale oil growth is slowing, the U.S. conducted evacuation drlls for American citizens living in South Korea, and American banks have excellent earnings reports and diversified portfolios lately.

Overall thoughts from today’s news:

Mostly good. The American economy is continuing to grow, and, as far as I can tell, it’s based on real sustained production and consumption, rather than price bubbles. Trump’s…unconventional tactics on trade may be helping American companies, but we’ll still need more times to see the long-term results.

 

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