Carp Diem

They just can’t help themselves:

Michael McFaul was the American Ambassador to Russia under Obama when US-Russian relations collapsed to new lows. According to Wikipedia:

As ambassador he was often controversial, meeting with Russian pro-democracy activists and commenting frequently on Twitter in English and Russian

It doesn’t surprise me this idiot didn’t know the difference between diplomacy and activism. After all, his boss didn’t know the difference between politicking and governance. Nowadays McFaul spends his entire time carping from the sidelines about Trump, being fawningly retweeted by elitist tossers like Oliver Kamm.

The fact is, the ruling classes can’t bear to see Trump even attempt something they failed at, let alone succeed. The BBC ran a headline yesterday calling him “the biggest loser” from the collapse of the talks. The sneering is obscene. Nobody has managed to make any tangible progress on the North Korean problem since 1953, and everyone has either tried and failed or ignored it altogether (e.g. Obama). Trump is at least trying something new and, as Natalie Solent points out over at Samizdata, walking away from a bad deal is not a sign of weakness, let alone something to be sneered at.

That said, I don’t like this at all:

I suspect – and fervently hope – Trump is using flattery as a negotiating tactic to try to achieve a breakthrough, and doesn’t actually believe this. While this may be worthy of criticism, his overall efforts are not. That they are subject to such scorn and contempt from establishment figures says much more about them than Trump.


When Cultures Clash

Take a look at this video of a Muslim athlete’s reaction to a scantily-clad woman:

This reminded me of something I witnessed back in 2005 when I was in Korea. I’d been sent out there with a Venezuelan colleague called Juan working with a Kuwaiti client and a Korean engineering team. The Kuwaiti delegation was made up of about 6 or 7 men, one of whom was a little Pakistani whose name I’ve forgotten so I’ll call Wasim. He had a long pointy beard, huge ears, a big nose, and sharp eyes which always seemed to be accusing you of something. He wore his trousers a few inches too short exposing the ankles, and after seeing this a few times around the Middle East someone told me that, when Muslims die, Allah will pick them up by the ankles and lift them to heaven; wearing your pants at half-mast makes his job a little easier.

Wasim was a pain in the arse to work with because he saw it as his job to contest every last point and extract every single concession possible from the Korean engineers. Not five minutes would go by without him raising a finger and with a thick Pakistani accent say: “Ah, wait a minute, my friend. What if…” and spend the next hour arguing over something utterly trivial. His colleagues, young Kuwaiti men, also thought he was a pain in the arse. They told me the Kuwaitis were quite relaxed about religion: those who wanted to be devout could be, and those who weren’t could do as much as they pleased without pressure to do more. But the Pakistani immigrant workers changed that: they turned up and, eager to ingratiate themselves with their new masters, started banging the Islam drum around the offices, demanding to know why Kuwaitis were not taking things as seriously as they were. Wasim was a leader in such rabble-rousing, meaning Kuwaitis could no longer eat at their desks during Ramadan without risking a bollocking from their hierarchy (who’d much rather have just let it slide). Muslim solidarity prevented them openly criticising him, but they’d roll their eyes whenever he went off on one.

As our first week together wore on, we soon realised the Koreans didn’t know much about Islam. We’d be taken to a restaurant in Seoul by our hosts and the Kuwaitis, in broken English, would ask the waiter if the dish contained pork. The waiter couldn’t understand a word that was being said but, in order to save face, would just say yes or no regardless. If the Korean engineers were able to intervene to help out they decided not to, but I suspect they were as confused as the waiters were. It wasn’t just a language problem: I don’t think the Koreans could understand for the life of them why anyone would ask such a question. As such, the Kuwaitis and Wasim found themselves eating pork dishes without knowing. Now this is not a problem from a religious point of view: if a Muslim inadvertently consumes pork he’s still going to be plucked by the ankles and lifted to heaven, assuming his trousers are short enough. But it did make me grin a little watching Wasim dribble a soup full of obvious pig parts into his beard. Actually, that’s a lie: I was laughing like a drain.

At the end of the second week the Koreans decided to bus us all out to some place across town and treat us to a spectacle. We entered into an enormous arena with restaurant-style seating looking down on a central stage. We were ushered to tables piled high with booze; obviously nobody had told the Koreans that Kuwaitis don’t drink either. There was much fuss when Wasim demanded a table which wasn’t littered with bottles of Johnny Walker, but eventually they did enough to make a space which wasn’t haram and all the Kuwaitis and Wasim sat down. Juan and I joined the Koreans and started drinking heavily. The food was served and after the usual pantomime of asking what was in it and the waiters looking confused, we all started eating. Oink oink!

Then the show began. First we had twenty minutes of traditional Korean dancing: lots of drums, ribbons, and colourful costumes. Good, wholesome stuff your granny would like. Then a pair of trapeze artists came out, a Russian man and woman, who did stuff which made me hold my breath. With no harness or safety net these two swung around five metres above tables laden with bottles, glasses, and crockery with supreme coolness. Occasionally the girl – a tiny thing in a spangly leotard – would pretend to slip, and the whole place would gasp. At one point the man – who was topless and looked to be carved from marble – was hanging with his legs out straight while his partner sat on his shins. I don’t think I’ve seen upper-body strength like it.

When they were done, the music got a bit more modern and fifteen or twenty women in loose-fitting costumes came on stage. The first thing I noticed was they were white, some sort of eastern European. They started dancing, showing lots of leg. The Koreans loved it, but poor old Wasim was getting agitated. I looked back to the stage, then at the Koreans, and nudged Juan.

“I think I know what’s gonna happen here,” I said.

As the music reached a crescendo the girls whipped off their tops to reveal a line of perfect young tits the sort of which Wasim only thought he’d see if he martyred himself. He let out a scream which was drowned out by the roars of approval from the Koreans and covered his eyes. Stumbling around in the dark with his hand over his face, he ran for the exit, tripping over feet, trolleys, and table legs. Two Kuwaitis followed close behind him, also covering their faces, and the others left more slowly, one copping a last look as he went through the door. I was laughing so hard I thought I’d die.

But one Kuwaiti stayed behind and, having made sure his colleagues were safely gone, he joined us at our table. He helped himself to a glass of whisky and settled in to join the rest of the show.

“The thing is,” he told us. “Most of the other guys aren’t bothered, but they can’t be seen to be drinking or watching this show, especially in front of Wasim. It’s not about what you do, but who sees you doing it.”

“Are you not worried about being seen?” I asked him.

“No, I don’t care,” he said, and grinned.

It was a good show.


Saving Face in Korea

From The Guardian:

North Korea’s main nuclear test site has partially collapsed under the stress of multiple explosions, possibly rendering it unsafe for further testing and leaving it vulnerable to radiation leaks, a study by Chinese geologists has shown.

The findings could cast doubt on North Korea’s sincerity in announcing last weekend that it would stop testing nuclear weapons at the site ahead of Friday’s summit between the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in.

Why would the findings cast doubt on North Korea’s sincerity? I’d have thought it would confirm them.

Of course, what The Guardian is saying is that North Korea is only pledging to stop nuclear testing because the site is unusable, and they may be right. However, it probably doesn’t matter. What this does is give Kim Jong-un a way of saving face in front of both his adversaries (who are glad nuclear testing will be stopped) and his subjects back home (who will see it as a smart trick, conceding something they no longer have). Saving face is of immense importance in Asian cultures, and Korean is no exception: if one side will lose face, chances are there will be no deal. If this is a route to there being no more nuclear testing in North Korea and all sides are happy, who cares how it comes about?


Finally, something Trump and Reagan have in common

A couple of months ago I had this exchange on Twitter with a lefty Irishman who I follow mainly because he is so consistently wrong on just about everything. The subject was Ronald Reagan:

I don’t doubt this chap did engage in several years of intensive post-graduate study of Russian history and politics, but I suspect he went in with his mind made up on Reagan and no amount of evidence was going to change it. If his research really did reveal that the Soviet decision-making process which led to the end of the Cold War was based on Carter-era policies while the election of Reagan only made things worse, he’d have written a book on it, and would be lecturing history somewhere. He didn’t, and he isn’t.

The left’s re-writing of history to deny Reagan any credit for ending the Cold War is important in the context of this story:

Friday’s summit between the leaders of North and South Korea was a “historic meeting” paving the way for the start of a new era, North Korea’s media say.

The North’s Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in of South Korea agreed to work to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons.

In a rare move, state-run TV and the official KCNA news agency hailed the talks and the leaders’ commitment to seek “complete denuclearisation”.

The summit came just months after warlike rhetoric from the North.

It saw Mr Kim become the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

The two men warmly shook hands and then stepped symbolically over the military demarcation line to the North Korean side.

Firstly, let’s not get carried away. I don’t believe for one minute that North Korea has given up its nuclear ambitions and so far nothing has been agreed. But in the context of the conflict between North and South Korea, these developments are huge steps forwardYes it might be just theatre but theatre has a certain importance, particularly when North Korea is involved, a country which is as much theatre as anything else. That the North Korean media are reporting this visit is extremely important, meaning this visit is not just for the benefit of western hawks and South Korean doves.

The two leaders said they would pursue talks with the US and China to formally end the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with a truce, not total peace.

If that happens, it will be the biggest diplomatic coup of the century thus far. So how much of this is down to Trump? Well, quite a lot. It was he who refused to bend to North Korean threats, instead responding with threats of his own with a dose of outright mockery thrown in. And it was he, thankfully via mediums other than Twitter, who put pressure on the Chinese to reign in their rogue puppy, convincing them it was in everyone’s interests to do so. Others have played their role for sure, namely the South Koreans, Chinese, and even Kim Jong-un himself, but this would never be happening without Trump. If the Korean War officially ends as a result of this, he will have pulled off a geopolitical triumph orders of magnitudes more important than Obama’s sucking up to Cuba and throwing money at Iran in a desperate attempt to secure his “legacy”.

However, you can be sure the global elites, the media, and Trump’s ideological enemies at home and abroad will do everything in their power to downplay, ignore, or misrepresent Trump’s role in whatever progress is made on the Korean peninsula from hereon. Like those who can’t bring themselves to accept that Reagan’s policies were instrumental in bringing about the end of the Cold War rather than leading to nuclear Armageddon, those who claimed Trump was recklessly endangering the world will be incapable of acknowledging he’s probably made it safer. How much safer remains to be seen, but let’s recall Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for doing absolutely nothing except winning the presidency after George W. Bush. Nobody is ever going to award the Nobel prize to Donald Trump even if he permanently eliminates war and suffering by tomorrow night, but Obama could at least gift him his.


Perhaps more newsworthy than Stormy Daniels

Me in January, on the subject of Donald Trump and North Korea:

His detractors won’t see it this way, but after Obama’s flip-flopping and prevaricating, Trump is injecting some much-needed clarity into the situation. Everyone knows the Russians and the Chinese would not tolerate a nuclear attack on their interests and allies; Trump is merely restating that the same is true for the US. Personally, I think this makes the world a touch safer than it was.

Me 2 days later:

Kim Jong Un has done the only sensible thing left open to him: back down. We’ll have to wait and see whether this is the start of a new era of North Korea being relatively benign, but I’m hoping it is. If so, we can be sure everyone will line up to say this is despite Trump’s bellicose approach, not because of it.

Me in March:

A couple of months ago we were told Trump’s rhetoric on North Korea and juvenile tweeting was bringing the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. Turns out bitch-slapping Rocketman has given him pause for thought.

The BBC today:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says he has suspended all missile tests and will shut down a nuclear test site.

“From 21 April, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the country’s state news agency said.

Mr Kim said further tests were unnecessary because Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities had been “verified”.

The surprise announcement comes as North Korea prepares for historic talks with South Korea and the US.

Mr Kim is due to meet his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in next week for the first inter-Korean summit in over a decade, and US President Donald Trump by June.

Both countries have been pushing Pyongyang to denuclearise and they reacted positively to the latest development.

If Trump keeps this up, Obama should gift him his Nobel Peace Prize.


Thanks to Trump, North Korea is talking

Well fancy that:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has hosted a dinner for senior South Korean delegates – the first time officials from Seoul have met the young leader since he took office in 2011.

The South Korean president’s office confirmed the meeting shortly after the delegates’ arrival on Monday.

The 10-member team is in Pyongyang for talks partly aimed at restarting dialogue between the North and the US.

Relations between the Koreas have warmed following last month’s Olympics.

In an unprecedented move, the South Korean delegation includes two ministerial-level envoys – intelligence chief Suh Hoon and National Security adviser Chung Eui-yong.

During the two-day visit, the South Korean group will focus on establishing conditions for talks aimed at getting rid of the North’s nuclear weapons as well as dialogue between the US and Pyongyang.

A couple of months ago we were told Trump’s rhetoric on North Korea and juvenile tweeting was bringing the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. Turns out bitch-slapping Rocketman has given him pause for thought.

This subject came up on BBC news this morning, and a discussion took place between the presenter and guest that went approximately as follows:

Presenter: Doesn’t this show that talking is more productive than threats?

Guest: Well, in all honesty I think Donald Trump has forced the North Koreans to resume talks.

Presenter: Really? But…

Guest: Yes, I think this is down to Donald Trump.

Presenter: But don’t you think it has more to do with the tightening of sanctions, and the UN?

Guest: Yes, but it was Trump that tightened the sanctions and brought the issue of North Korea to the UN to begin with.

Presenter: Oh. Really, but don’t you think…

Guest: Yes, really, I know it’s an unpopular view, but I think the reason North Korea is now cooperating is because of Donald Trump.

Presenter, looking as though she’s eaten a turd: Okay, well moving on…


Standing Firm

Well how about that?

North Korea has reopened a vital line of communication with South Korea, raising hopes of a diplomatic thaw days after Kim Jong-un said he would consider sending his country’s athletes to next month’s Winter Olympics, to be held just south of the border.

Hours after Donald Trump again baited the North Korean leader on Twitter – this time with a boast about the size and efficacy of his nuclear button – Pyongyang said it would reactivate a telephone hotline at the truce village of Panmunjom at 6.30am GMT on Wednesday.

For those of us who have managed to avoid going into meltdown, this isn’t tremendously surprising. The North Koreans have turned sabre-rattling into a fine art, threatening its neighbours whenever its economy is nosediving and it needs more foreign aid, or it senses a weakness in the loose coalition of countries against it, primarily the USA. With George Bush tied up with the War on Terror and Barack Obama being piss-weak, the last 15 years have been relatively unworrisome for the North Koreans, giving them the opportunity to develop the nuclear weapons they are now waving around. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that were the US to show weakness and lack of resolve at this point, the weapons development would increase in parallel with the rhetoric as the regime sought to extract maximum concessions from its neighbours.

This is why I don’t think Trump had much choice other than to state clearly that any nuclear attack by North Korea would result in a massive retaliatory strike that would annihilate his regime and half his people. After 15 years of permissiveness and dithering, it was time for some stiffness and resolve. Now there may be much to criticise in Trump using Twitter to convey this message, but I am certain the normal diplomatic channels are conveying the same sentiment. That said, Trump’s tweeting might also serve another purpose: it shows very publicly that he is serious, without his words being filtered into vague guff by some state-department press-release full of generic words like “concern” and “unacceptable” and “consequences”. A politician broadcasting exactly what he thinks is not a bad thing in a world where it’s hard to know what a politician thinks even after a lengthy career in office.

So Kim Jong Un has done the only sensible thing left open to him: back down. We’ll have to wait and see whether this is the start of a new era of North Korea being relatively benign, but I’m hoping it is. If so, we can be sure everyone will line up to say this is despite Trump’s bellicose approach, not because of it.

This is why I made this rather smart-arse comment on Twitter this morning:

I don’t know whether those wringing their hands are simply virtue-signalling, jumping on the anti-Trump bandwagon to show how sophisticated they are, or if they genuinely believe the self-serving appeasement adopted by Western leaders since the end of the Cold War will keep them safe. Either way, I’m rather glad such people are uncomfortable. It’s about time they were.


Trump’s MAD

I’m pretty sure they don’t teach this in diplomacy school:

Naturally, this has made the usual suspects terrified that he is about to start a nuclear war with North Korea. For once they might have a point, more so than when they squeal that he’s about to shut down the independent media or let Putin tell him what to do.

But for my part, I’m not worried. A central feature of a nuclear deterrent is a willingness of the owners to use them; if this is in doubt, or it is obvious they won’t, then it is useless. During the Cold War the willingness of the nuclear powers to resort to the use of nuclear weapons in the event of a first strike or a faced with an existential threat was never in doubt. In fact, the lines were so clear that the US and USSR could fight proxy wars with one another, safe in the knowledge a nuclear confrontation would be avoided. This meant both sides having to pretend there were no Russian pilots flying MiGs in the Korean and Vietnam wars, but it was a workable deception. The credible threat of massive retaliation was the basis of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

Since the Cold War, things have got a bit murkier. MAD only works if both sides have an interest in self-preservation; if one party is a suicidal lunatic, it doesn’t work. But whereas foreign policy experts point to countries like North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran as being the suicidal maniacs rendering MAD-doctrines unworkable, what nobody wants to talk about is the other side of the coin: piss-weak leadership in the West.

If London was on the receiving end of a nuclear attack during Obama’s presidency, does anyone believe he would have unequivocally supported Britain’s right to retaliate in kind and honoured his country’s Nato commitments to joining in? I have no confidence he would whatsoever, and I’d not be surprised if his first reaction was to tell Britain to suck it up and not do anything other than reflect on why it was targeted in the first place. This is idle speculation of course, but we can also look at Obama’s foreign policy record in office. Most damning of all was his infamous “red lines” remark about Syria’s use of chemical weapons. The worst part about it wasn’t that he failed to act when Syria did use them, it was that the threat was so damned vague. A whole bunch of chemical weapons? As Streetwise Professor said:

“A whole bunch of chemical weapons”?  ”A whole bunch”?  Really?  WTF constitutes “a whole bunch”?  Is he saying to Assad that he can move around and use a few chemical weapons, as long as he doesn’t cross the “whole bunch” line?  Wherever that is.

If you’re going to make threats, you need to be sure your enemy knows exactly what actions will cause you to trigger your retaliation. Speaking in such vague terms as Obama did only served to muddy the waters between what is acceptable and what is not.

The other thing Obama and Kerry used to do, which I found infuriating, was to react to major foreign policy events by telling their enemies what they weren’t going to do. Shortly after Russia annexed Crimea and attacked eastern Ukraine, Obama fell over himself to rule out military force in response. Now this was in itself very sensible – America doesn’t want to go to war over Ukraine – but why tell Russia that? The US is not obliged to share its military strategies with Russia, so why tell Putin he has a free hand? What made this so dangerous was it severely increased the risk of a miscalculation, whereby Putin – unsure of where the line was – might have accidentally stepped over it forcing the US to respond in a way neither side wanted. For example, by attacking Estonia. Or, now you come to mention it, shooting down a passenger jet operated by Malaysia Airlines. Obama also ruled out military intervention in Syria as well, giving Assad the confidence to go for broke. In my opinion, this behaviour from Obama was one of his major failings, and made the world very much less safe for everybody.

I suspect the Kims looked at Obama and saw a man whose response to their waving a nuclear bomb about was weak, and understandably supposed he might be equally spineless if the bomb actually got used. This embolden Kim Jong Un, who until recently had been unsure of what he can get away with so kept pushing the boundaries. Trump is now telling him, albeit using a very inappropriate medium, that he and his nation will be annihilated if he launches a nuclear attack – confirming something which has probably been US doctrine since rumours first surfaced that North Korea had nuclear technology. Unless Trump is bluffing and is ignoring the imploring advice of his military planners (which I doubt) his words will have the effect of making a miscalculation on the part of Kim Jong Un less likely. His detractors won’t see it this way, but after Obama’s flip-flopping and prevaricating, Trump is injecting some much-needed clarity into the situation. Everyone knows the Russians and the Chinese would not tolerate a nuclear attack on their interests and allies; Trump is merely restating that the same is true for the US. Personally, I think this makes the world a touch safer than it was.


Trump at the UN

This tweet summed it up well for me:

And this was laugh-out-loud funny from the ever-reliable Iowahawk:

It’s also been rather amusing watching people fall over themselves to defend the Rocketman and the Mullahs because they hate Trump so much.


Let them eat rabbit

From the BBC:

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has devised a “rabbit plan” to counter the economic war he says is being waged against his government by “imperialist forces”.

The president urged crisis-hit Venezuelans to breed rabbits and eat them as a source of animal protein.

I’m going to be bone idle and just copy and paste this entire post I wrote in January 2007.


According to most of the major news sources, North Korea is considering breeding giant rabbits from Germany to help feed its starving population:

A German pensioner who won a prize and worldwide fame for breeding his country’s largest rabbit — Robert, a 10.5kg (23lb) bruiser the size of a dog — has been offered an unusual opportunity to exploit his talents overseas.

Karl Szmolinsky has been given a contract by North Korea to supply giant rabbits to help to boost meat production in the reclusive Communist country, which is suffering severe food shortages.

Kim Jong Il is not the first despotic communist leader to have the idea of breeding rabbits to stave off the starvation which communism inevitably brings.  In 1932 Nikita Khrushchev found himself as deputy to Mikhail Kaganovich and effectively running Moscow.  As William Taubman explains in his book Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (page 90):

Moscow’s working class, allegedly the apple of Stalin’s eye, was going hungry in 1932, and with his legendary concern for their welfare, the great man “suggested the idea of raising rabbits for food”.  Naturally Khrushchev was all for this plan and worked zealously to carry out his instructions.  Almost every factory, plant and workshop started raising rabbits to help stock its own kitchen.

Needless to say, the idea was a flop, although I doubt Khrushchev put it to his boss quite like that.  I have also no doubt that the latest North Korean attempt is being touted in the DPRK as the brainwave of Kim Jong Il and not the 75 year old idea of his father’s mentor.

As an aside, another of Stalin’s brilliant ideas for alleviating food shortages in the Soviet Union was to introduce the Pacific giant crab to European waters, specifically the Barents Sea.  Whilst these spiky crustaceans did little to silence the rumbling of Soviet bellies, they did adapt remarkably well to Europe and they now number more than 10 million and are slowly marching their way down Norway’s coast destroying all manner of marine life in their path.  Rumours that I have relocated to Sakhalin to collaborate with their leadership in their imminent invasion of the United Kingdom are completely unfounded.


Also worthy of attention is the comment made by Pootergeek under the original post. No, not the appalling pun which would earn a lifetime ban on less charitable blogs, but this link to “rabbit starvation”:

Protein poisoning was first noted as a consequence of eating rabbit meat exclusively, hence the term, “rabbit starvation”.