New York Times Customer Service

I have a problem with the New York Times “customer service.” My tablets and phone cannot access the electronic edition. They have dropped, one by one, over the past six months. I have tried to interface (!) with their phone representatives, but to no avail. What follows could sound trivial and mean spirited. So I dedicate it to the memory of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger. Diminished by the times, the Gray Lady is still worth saving.

Customer service is outsourced to “EGS Customer Care Incorporated”, who have the helpfully unavailable website, (click to enlarge):

That it is unavailable may be no accident, as their phone number, (563) 285-2753, does not accept incoming calls. It actually has a voicemail that explains this, and helpfully asks the caller to “Please hang up.” My phone number received two calls from this number.  I was not there to answer the phone. The caller promised to call later, but she did not.

This was preceded by two calls by me, one in the daytime and one at night, when I patiently tried to explain the problem. The first representative had the demeanor of a traffic court clerk. When, with icy tones, she asked me if “there is anything else I can do for you today?”, I was tempted to reply, “Please don’t bang the cell door when you lock it.” It seemed as if she had successfully dealt with the first problem:

Password cannot be changed.

But rather than allow me to change it, she went away and did something on my behalf, or so I thought. Had I known the perfidy of her solution, I might have gone (verbally) postal then and there. She “solved” the problem, without telling me, by appending the digit string “1234” to my existing email address. Now it was an email for nobody. But it took me several days to discover the deed.

Edit (5/31/17):  With the apparent interest in this post, I’m adding some detail. On closing, the dialog with the above lady went like this:

Me: What about the tablets? They have me stuck on trial. After my 10 free articles...  Her: Are you talking about the app or the browser?  Me: The app.  Her: You have to log into the browser first. Then you can log into the app.

Perhaps, in her Lewis Carroll world, the above is correct. It isn’t in mine. But she wore me down and disposed of me. Success! Time for a smoke.

The following evening, the rep was more down-home and more responsive. He instructed me to send a screenshot to, assuring me that, even without reference, they would know what it was for. So I did (click to enlarge):

The actual screen at the time said, “Unknown error.” So there is slight progress. We have an identifiable error. But NY TImes Customer Care does not assign case numbers. The following day, I received an email from Customer Care asking (paraphrased) “Why did you send this? What is your problem?” They had no way to reference it to the conversation of the previous evening.

Now “Carolyn” kicked in, calling from the EGS Corp. number that does not accept return calls:

Good morning. This is Carolyn with the New York times, and I was given your name and some information that you're having some problems with your replica addition and that you haven't been able to log into the new York times. I'd like to talk to you and walk you through and make sure we could get you going on this. I apologize. I'm not able to reach you this morning. I will keep trying through the day as I get some time because I would like to help you get this resolved. I will like I said call you. I'm trying to think maybe a couple hours are try again. I don't know if you work outside your home or are out doing errands, but I will try again a little bit later. I only work til 2 o'clock. As again I said I apologize for reaching you please have a great rest of the day, and thanks for using york times. Bye. Bye.

Replica Edition? That is way down on the list. If only I could get my tablets to work!  Caroline did not try again that day. Her standards are a little loose. Instead, she called the morning of the following day:

Good morning. This is Carolyn with the New York times. I'm calling you again and leaving a message this time. I apologize. I have missed you. I'm trying to help you get. Your replica addition first of all not all the information you've received is correct. if you use your home delivery dot and log in and select replica addition in the lower two thirds of the page you can you don't have to do anything special, but if you're trying to use the device which is what I've read from several of the emails. You need to make sure you have the login from press reader and the information that on press reader can provide you and you talked about having an exit in executable file for that. You can contact newspapers direct by emailing them at New York times at support dot newspaper They do only answer emails. They are in Canada, but they do respond very well we've had several subscriptions within our group that we use just to check that out and they do respond as well again. I apologize it was not able to reach you today. I am still going to try to reach you so I can talk to you, but I wanted to give you this information so we can get you started. I also reset your password so that I could make sure that you were able to use the website to get to your replica Dishan, and so your password is now 1 2 3 4 5 6. but you can login with that and change it at my account. Please have a great rest of the day, and thanks for using your time. Bye. Bye.

More yada yada about Replica, a latter part of my wish list. She reset my password. With anticipatory sadness, I accessed my profile to see if magic had occurred (click to enlarge):

I now have two conflicting accounts. Nothing works. I had actually received a customer survey, which I answered like a sympathetic sap, because I didn’t want another job to go to Mumbai. I gave it damnation with faint praise. Now I would go with straight damnation.

I feel sorry for an American institution which is trying so hard to fill its quintessential role, sabotaged by an “EGS Corp.” whose principal talent is disposing of loyal customers. Objectively,

  • Without case numbers, it is impossible to follow up.
  • Customers are never escalated to second level support. Maybe there isn’t any.
  • EGS Corp. hides from contact by phone or website.
  • The system they have devised gives the appearance of diligence, but is actually a fraud.

But the New York Times is not innocent. That one of the greats of investigative journalism could miss this issue suggests internal decay.  Nobody is asking the right questions of the right people. The Gray Lady is getting old.

This experience goes with the  zeitgeist  exemplified by U.S. Airways, Wells Fargo, VW Emissions, GM ignition switches, “let-em-die” healthcare, meaningless slogans like “customer support your way“, clip-art representing nonexistent people, and so forth. The collective “We” matters little. But perhaps it’s always been a fiction. The question deserves debate.

I’ll wait another week till I the end the subscription. I’ve subscribed since 1996.





Sharing Intel with the Russians – Laptop Bombs

CNN: Inside the US effort to keep laptop bomb intel secret.

The secret has to do with one of the two cities under ISIS control. Following custom, I will not name the city(s). You can look at a map.

CNN has behaved with admirable restraint, far more than Seymour Hersh, when he blew billions by revealing the mission of the Glomar Explorer. But the current situation involves lives, not money.

Since the executions of the Atomic Spy Case, the U.S. has dealt leniently with spies and traitors. A sharp distinction is made between compromise of secret information such as the adversary would want to know, and the lives of our agents. Although capital punishment is no longer the norm,  Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, whose actions caused the deaths of many U.S. agents, are spending the rest of their lives in Supermax.

Information that would enable an adversary to roll up a spy network, and in this case, lead to the deaths of Israeli spies, is the most secret information there is. This is why the disclosed intelligence is kept in a special White House compartment, a kind of vault. This is why (Jerusalem Post) Israel is furious. The Trump Administration holds the lives of Israeli spies  in their hands, and they fumbled.

If ISIS has the time to act on the disclosure, they are busy killing everybody who lives in, next door, or is remotely connected with who they think the spies are. The victims may not be the actual spies. The carnage could be terrible — except, perhaps, in comparison to the norm under ISIS, which is already unimaginable.

It is customary in the U.S. to elect chief executives who come into office with little or no knowledge of what the job entails. This is the case in other Western democracies as well, but elsewhere, there is a closer proximity of career civil servants. In France, civil service is literally a class of people with a lifelong vocation. This class distinction retards innovation, but it might have prevented the initial error, on March 31, five weeks prior to Trump’s  disclosure-to-Russia. Quoting CNN,

The intelligence behind the US ban on laptops and other electronics is considered so highly classified that CNN, at the request of US government officials, withheld key details from a March 31 story on the travel restrictions.

 CNN has behaved with admirable restraint. But the source for the story made a serious error. The information CNN was requested to withhold never should have been provided to CNN in the first place. Information about friendly human sources should never be compromised for any reason, regardless of whether they belong to us (C.I.A.) or Mossad.

The key information is not the name of the city in which the bombs are manufactured. Nor is it the involvement of Israel. It is that the intelligence was collected in a city under ISIS control. It tips off ISIS that there are spies in “their” city, of which there are  two choices. More experienced official(s) would have cloaked the information source with a fictitious story: that it was provided by a refugee,   a defector, or a wiretap. That it wasn’t cloaked is an astonishing lapse. They should have hired a used car dealer, who would have the necessary skill set.

 Why did administration source(s) reveal this information to CNN?

  • The Trump Administration  has some awareness of the widespread perception of  xenophobia-focused-on Islam, amplified by successful court challenges to the travel ban.
  • The laptop ban particularly impacts users and creators of media, whose cooperation is required to sell the ban to the public.
  • Airplane travel has become hell. The effect of the ban is amplified by the stressful environment.
  • Source(s) in the administration, with the crucial need to sell the ban to the public, felt pushed against the wall. With strained credibility, particularly among the kind of people who use laptops on planes, they reached for a credibility enhancer.
  • The enhancer was the information, leaked to CNN, and five weeks later, disclosed by Trump to the Russians.

Trump probably knew what CNN had been told. Not familiar himself with classification schemes, he may have felt empowered to follow the example of the March 31 disclosure. While CNN is an American news organization, and exemplifies the defense of the Republic, there is little technical distinction in risk between a leak to CNN, and a leak to the Russians. CNN is not a high security organization. It cannot be presupposed that the communications of CNN, and even the staff, are secure from Russian penetration.

Predating Trump’s error, some administration officials terribly miscalculated. What they do not know, Mossad  will now teach.

It has been suggested that Israel will shrug off the lapse, because “they need us more than we need them.” This just isn’t possible. Their  agents are precious patriots, who gave up every semblance of a normal life as an Israeli for an alien, dangerous, fictitious existence. Only in old age can they reap the rewards of self respect for their sacrifice.

Now they may not grow old.

Laptop Bombs on Planes, Conclusion

Baby steps…we conclude.

Let’s address the other big reason why electronic devices are such a security pitaWe can thank Steven Jobs for a major part of this. Super salesman that he was, he invented needs that people never had, touted in his bio, The Journey is the Reward. The idea that we need a battery that doesn’t come out is  a really nefarious concept. The sealed laptop, tablet, and phone make reliable inspection impossible with current technology.

It is impossible because the battery is a big gob of organic chemicals markedly different from the other materials of the device, but not so different from a bomb. If the battery were separately presented to the scanner, there would be little trouble verifying that it is a battery. Recall the Mogadishu case: (CNN) the laptop bomb that passed x-ray inspection in Mogadishu, exploding on a Somali airliner on 2/2/2016. Quoting,

McGann told CNN that when modern multiview X-ray systems are used alone there is a chance the clutter in the X-ray image caused by the laptop could lead operators to overlook anomalies flagged by the technology. “Single view X-rays, on the other hand, would be totally reliant on a very vigilant screened at best — and TNT concealed in a laptop could be easily missed,” he added.

McGann is paraphrasing “Detection of organic materials by…” It’s a hard problem.

By one report, the Somali laptop bomb was concealed in a DVD drive from which parts had been removed. Scanner operators are ordinary people, challenged by very clever terrorists. Batteries and explosives are large, low density objects containing organic materials. They are not chemically similar. But when both are embedded in a gadget, discrimination beyond simple density is required. Battery or bomb?  The quoted sources suggest it cannot be done reliably. This is because the “signatures” provided by conventional x-ray augmented by an extra detector, and even a CAT scanner with spectroscopic detector, are confused by the superposition of  the large variety of materials  in electronic gadgets.

Removing the battery simplifies inspection, because then, inside the gadget, something that looks like a battery, isn’t. What about the battery pack itself? If  inspected separately, could it still conceal a bomb?The battery by itself is a smaller, less complex unit, easier to visualize for inspection. Additional certainty would be offered by a removable inspection cover.

A basic principle: The smaller the volume that is sequestered by a “closed”, non accessible design, the greater is the mitigation of the threat.

We’ve been relying entirely on high-tech, indirect inspection. But to make a gun “safe”, you open the breech, remove the magazine, and visually inspect. With some redesign, our gadgets can be made amenable to a combination of indirect and direct modes inspection, providing a degree of security not provided by either mode by itself. Consumer product life cycles are brutally short. The changes could be implemented in less than two years.

It’s time to stop hugging our gadgets like bling. The alternative is terrifying. At least you don’t have to fly naked.

This documentary is relevant to the current threat climate.

Laptop Bombs on Planes Part 2

The scanner for carry-on luggage is a sophisticated shadow box. An X-ray tube,not dissimilar to the one in a dental office, throws a “spotlight” on the gadget as it travels the belt. Opposite the tube are two sheets of material that glow when exposed to x-rays. The sheets show shadows, like a finger puppet show from a bedroom lamp.

The two sheets are separated by a slab of metal that acts like a “color filter”. This provides the equivalent of two-color vision. One color is for dense objects, made of metal or ceramics. The other color is for low density: plastics, liquids, organics. The intensity of each color corresponds to how much X-ray is blocked by each item. To help things stand out, the operator has an enhanced, “false color” view.

The above scheme can’t say specifically what carry-on luggage contains. Some carry-on scanners have an additional detector that is sensitive to more “colors”, enough to identify a material.  But it is imprecise.  Checked luggage is examined with the much more sophisticated CAT scanner.  Theoretically, a CAT scanner can perform material identification of the entire contents of a bag.

In theory! , which was worked out by Arthur Compton in 1923. For material identification, a CAT scanner has two detectors. But quoting from  (pdf) Detection of Organic Materials by Spectrometric Radiography Method,

...the specified design of the dual-energy detector array do not allow detection of all potentially dangerous substances with sufficiently low error probability.

(Note: The “dual energy detector” is actually a “full color” spectrometer. Even with “full color vision”, it has a problem.)

A checked bag is a blizzard of items that camouflage each other. How well a checked baggage CAT scanner works against current and future threats is a closely held secret. With all due respect for the political process, this should be the inquiry, not the really lousy experience of modern airplane travel. How good can it be when you’re thankful just to get there?

The political drama distracts. And the above might have put you into overload. So we’ll take “baby steps.”  After you’ve absorbed the above, refreshed yourself, had a cocktail,..the Solution.

Baby steps…

Laptop Bombs on Planes Part 1

Reuters: Expansion of ban on larger electronics on airlines likely: U.S. Since this blog is about foreign affairs, I’m skipping the latest brouhaha. Let’s go straight to the threat. All issues deserve political attention. But eventually, the debate about  laptop bombs should move to the technical, because that is where the solution lies.

CNN opinonator Bruce Schneier doesn’t like this. He doesn’t like being inconvenienced. The 865 words of a previous opinion piece  by Juliette Kayyem make no mention of the technical issues. Both pieces misidentify bombs on aircraft as a political problem, or something they are resistant to, because they are not naturally technical people.

These articles follow the trend in our society to politicize technical problems. It is understandable that global warming has been politicized, because it impacts all mankind. But the laptop ban penalizes the elite for the few hours of their lives that they’re actually flying.

A counterargument  lies  in the fact that the laptops in checked baggage are hazardous even if they don’t contain bombs. The hold of an airliner does have a fire suppression system, but those in use are considered inadequate to extinguish a lithium battery fire. To do so, a large source of inert gas would have to be carried. SkyBrary states that even for a single exploding aerosol can,

The FAA has developed minimum performance standards for these systems and it has been demonstrated that although water misting alone is unable to pass the exploding aerosol can fire test, a combination of water misting and inert gas (nitrogen) discharge may be more effective. However, for such a solution to be viable, a means of on-board nitrogen generation will be needed.

A lithium battery is much more difficult to extinguish. Onboard nitrogen generators are not currently deployed. Two cargo jets have already been lost to lithium fires.

Moving the laptops, and other large electronic devices to the hold is a reactive, not proactive, response. The valid reason is that bomb makers are not thought to have developed the means to remotely detonate a bomb in the hold. But do they need to?

The original chemical timer, the “time pencil”, was developed during World War II. Once activated, a corrosive acid dissolves a wire holding a mechanical detonator under spring force. These are still used today, but would be difficult to conceal. But electronic alternatives exist, as we have seen with the ubiquitous use of cellphones as detonators of IEDs. Timers are actually quite simple.

The ban is the best possible reactive response.  A good hacker would have no trouble devising a way to detonate an electronic device in the cargo hold. We have been saved so far by the self selection process by which a person becomes a terrorist. It tends to exclude that kind of talent. But not absolutely. At an unpredictable moment in the future, the threat may encompass electronic bombs that do not require manual detonation by a terrorist.

The ban may fail to provide protection, unannounced, at some unpredictable time in the future. There is no timeline.

Why are electronic devices a particular hazard? Not because they are electronic, but because they are made of combinations of metal and plastic, and contain voids, empty space, and near-voids, solids, liquids and gels; parts of low density, like batteries – and maybe, bombs. To understand why this is a problem, we’ll next consider how  the two types of airport scanners work.

To be continued shortly — with a solution.








Correction to North Korea ICBM Estimate

Dear Reader,

This blog seeks to empower readers to do their own intelligence analysis, with simple, accessible tools. The calculation of  North Korea’s ICBM test Succeeds  is something you could do on a napkin while waiting for your sushi. And unlike the news, it outlasts the event itself, as something you can use at a later time. It would be really cool if I could give you a feeling for the physics with something so simple. Alas, it misleads.

The outside estimate of range is given by the Union of Concerned Scientists, as 4800km = 3000 miles, short of the 4800 miles required to hit the U.S. The distance from Pyongyang to Anchorage is 3723 miles. If Anchorage is expendable, Seattle is 4700 miles distant.

The actual math for the range of a ballistic missile is complicated, unrevealing, and useless to the readers of this blog. I did a somewhat more involved calculation to see if there is something you can put on your napkin the next time North Korea launches a missile almost straight up.  This is the new rule-of-thumb for use on cocktail napkins:

The range of the missile when used as a weapon is approximately twice the height it can reach when aimed almost vertically.

This is for public use, to understand the news better, and does not replace or challenge estimates based on engineering calculations.


North Korea’s ICBM test Succeeds

Reuters: North Korea fires missile that lands in sea near Russia.

The distance of the impact point, 430 miles, is irrelevant. The height it reached, 1245 miles (=2000km), indicates it was a test of of part of an ICBM.

Physics for poets: You can travel 430 miles in a rowboat. It requires little of what physics calls “work.” But how high can you jump? The height requires energy, which is roughly proportional to the height reached by the missile. North Korea tested the energy of the missile by launching it almost straight up.

We can tell how much energy the missile had by the height it reached. This then tells us how fast it would have flown in the more horizontal trajectory of an ICBM.  Your precocious high school physics student will tell you to use this relationship: P.E. = K.E., potential energy = kinetic energy.

An ICBM does not have to reach orbital velocity. It needs to reach about 15,000 mph = 24000km/hr = 6.7 km/second The energy required by an ICBM is about 65% that of a missile that achieves orbital trajectory.

Did the missile have enough potential energy at the peak height of 2000 km to qualify as an ICBM? Equating kinetic energy with potential energy, which we know from the height, let’s calculate the height the missile could reach if it were an ICBM with a speed of 24000 km/hr:

1/2*m*v^2 = m*g*h. Spelling out,

1/2 X (mass of missile) X velocity of missile squared =

mass of missile X gravitational constant X height


“m”, what you might call the “weight” of the missile, cancels out. It makes no difference.

g is the gravitational constant, 9.8 meters/second squared.

h = the height the missile reached.

v^2 = 2*g*h. Now solve for h.

h = 2290  km, which is very close to the reported height of 2000km. It indicates a missile with enough range to reach some targets in the U.S. A little faster, and it could hit anywhere.

Conclusion: North Korea has tested a rocket which, for all intents and purposes, the “practical truth” of journalism, is an ICBM.

Pundits will probably try to buy us a few more minutes of peace by pointing out that it has not been demonstrated with all the pieces in place, an “end-to-end” test. That will happen when the missile is fired in a flatter trajectory. It may also reveal the uncomfortable truth about missile defense systems: none of them satisfy a benefit analysis.

To clarify, let’s make it concrete. Suppose the calculation is for a bitter war in which you are attempting to defend the battlefield from a missile attack. Since this is war, your forces might be attrited (reduced) by 50% in a week, or, in the case of nuclear war, in a day. In this case, a missile defense that works 90% of the time can markedly reduce the attrition of your forces, so that at least some of your soldiers are alive when those of the enemy are mostly dead.

Now consider what 90% means with New York City. Every time the enemy lobs a missile, there is a 10% chance NY will be destroyed. We solved this problem better with the various doctrines related to MAD, “mutual assured destruction.” But the assumptions of MAD require that the adversary is more like us than different.

About an ICBM test, Donald Trump said, (NY TImes) “It  won’t happen.”  

Now it has.

Looking for a Gig; Korea-Russia-Nuclear-Putin-KGB-China Sea

(Click to Enlarge)

“The Predictors”, 20″x16″, oil on canvas, the first painting I know of devoted to open source intelligence.

I’m looking for a gig. The string of keywords in the title is just to get it on your radar.

Since I began writing this blog in June of 2014, it has acquired the most intelligent, select readership on the planet. You must be, because I make no compromises in the material of the presentation, save a slightly folksy style, and the occasional joke. The jokes are included because I don’t feel the reader should have to feel desperately miserable from reading.

As deeply intelligent as you are, you are limited in number. The desire to extend one’s reach is natural. With the web,  multiple presentations, to reach different audiences, are easy.

You may have the suspicion that the writing is the work of multiple individuals, or that I am a leaker,  a back channel, or a front. None of these are remotely true. When I appear to pull a rabbit out of a hat, it is because I have a unique fund of knowledge geared to the task, I have my ear to the ground, and a mindset. Many try this, but I hear more acutely than most. With almost 300 articles over three years to examine,  almost 300,000 words, you have ample opportunity to search for a cant, bias, or agenda. There isn’t any.

There is a slant, which is different. It has to do with using the methods of analysis, and mindset I used to compile an outstanding record as an open source analyst with the IARPA crowd-sourcing intelligence program, Forecasting World Events. My methods and articles compliment these viewpoints already represented in the  press:

  • The unabstracted, visible here and now
  • Diplomacy and international law
  • Conflict and deception
  • The physical world
  • Historical perspective
  • Domestic politics

All these frameworks are internally consistent, yet in constant conflict with each other. When one framework dominates, experts provide analysis within that framework. But when the dominant mode changes, or the story straddles more than one of the above, the real story is often lost. I work with fusion, with outstanding results in open-source intelligence. Kovach and Rosenstiel, authors of Elements of Journalism, state (American Press Institute) that journalism seeks  “a practical and functional form of truth.”  In the intelligence community, this is referred to as product. In journalism, it’s story. With open-source intelligence, the only subject of this blog, they are one and the same.

The just completed piece, Meeting between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un ? John Ciliza, and hyperlinks,  is a good example. It ties together apparently unrelated fan-dancing by world leaders. It offers a reasonable story that fills a void, though historical certainty must await future presidential historians.

For immediate validation of this process, consider the article “Understanding the Mother of All Bombs“.  By reference to three simple tables, from BATF, FEMA, and CDC, the article shows that  the so-called blast radius of the MOAB could not have been even a substantial fraction of the size trumpeted by major media sites. The enthusiasm for things that go “boom!” overpowered the real story.  Meanwhile, Reuters and CNN actually sent teams to Afghanistan to look at the site. They found — nothing. What was the real story? The reaction of Hamid Karzai, who mimicked the overblown and inaccurate media descriptions of the bomb with expressions of graphic political horror.

It may be true in journalism, as it is with some other fields, that the writing of which you are most proud is not that for which you are most recognized. In January of 2016, I wrote a five part Address to Davos, and one article in January 2017. It disappoints that they received much less attention, even from you, my esteemed readership, than articles about the machinations of our geopolitical rivals and enemies.

With Davos, I indulged myself. But a modern news organization also has to interest the reader. What can I do for you, without imposing my perhaps overly sophisticated approach in a way not appropriate to your reportorial activities?

  • To a story resembling a stone, polished by custom into a smooth, unrevealing, boring object, I can help you add enticing glints to it, all the while staying within, or tightening, the envelope of journalistic, practical truth. And we don’t have to magnify the Boom! of bombs and missiles to do it.
  • Demystify technology as it applies to world conflict. Example: In July of 2014, in “Pentagon’s big budget F-35 fighter ‘can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run’”, I predicted that the F-35 would be a success. Was I right? See The Aviationist article  F-15E Strike Eagles unable to shoot down the F-35s in 8 dogfights during simulated deployment.
  • Serve as a congenial but disruptive influence to ingrained patterns of thought, both humanistic and technological. My affinities are to both the humanistic and technological spheres. This is how I achieved the predictor rank of #9 out of 4460 in the IARPA Forecasting World Events program.
  • Write and edit at supersonic speed.
  • I’m an artist. I work in oils. This should suggest interesting reserves.

So I’m looking for a gig that allows me to write, and/or provide editorial input and inspiration to other writers. I am signatory to no covenants. My requirements are simple:

  • Independent, western based media, with an exception for the BBC.
  • The highest ethical standards, either in tradition (NY Times), or explicit, as with the Reuters Trust Principles.
  • There is no third.

I am in Manhattan frequently.






Meeting between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un ? John Ciliza

CNN: Why Donald Trump floating a meeting with Kim Jong Un is a very bad idea.

It could be a bad idea, if it stems from naivete, which is certainly possible. Most infamously at the Yalta Conference, an American president, FDR, also relied on his people-judgement of Stalin, ceding Eastern Europe to Soviet domination.

It could also be futile, or it could be for show, which is most likely. But a meeting with Duterte is actually possible. And Duterte demurs, as too busy, which is actually quite telling. John Ciliza’s narrative of “why” is based on a presupposition of Trump as a simple, visible person. This contrasts with the other popular view of Trump, as a devious, maneuvering person. The two views contradict.

From the intelligence perspective, the diagnosis of a world leader as “simple” can only be reached by exclusion, and rarely, if ever. It seems to go against having the job. Was Mahatma Gandhi simple, or devious? Quoting from Time Magazine,

The real man, if it is still possible to use such a term after the generations of hagiography and reinvention, was infinitely more interesting, one of the most complex and contradictory personalities of the century. His full name, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was memorably—and literally—translated into English by the novelist G.V. Desani as “Action-Slave Fascination-Moon Grocer,” and he was as rich and devious a figure as that glorious name suggests.

 The astute reader will note that Donald Trump is not a Gandhi. But neither is he a Dennis Rodman, the last sucker to be gulled by a psychopath. Trump’s genuine campaign naivete about the rest of the world has not continued, as shown by  fifty-nine cruise missiles.

Let’s now explore a theory that grants Trump a beneficially devious nature. For this, we need to do a quick evaluation of U.S. foreign policy since World War II, billions spent for influence, projection of power, and wars, on behalf of  noble aims:

  • U.S. Foreign policy since World War II had a single major success, the policy of Containment. Even with the consideration that Putin’s Russia has a spiteful desire to tear down anything with the fingerprint of NATO, things are still better than they were before.
  • A conditional success, with the creation of a great competitor, was the opening of China by Nixon and Kissinger. But it is arguably true that left in isolation, China could have evolved as implacably as North Korea, with mortal result.
  • All the rest of U.S. initiatives, pursued at great cost in lives and treasure, and even those of guile and cunning,  had negative or ambiguous result.
  • The above excludes some notably successful negotiations, such as SALT, excluded because they had zero or negative cost.

In the old days, U.S. policy was guided by a brain trust of  “old wise men”, some of whom appear in group photos of Henry Kissinger’s White House Years. Even though the old wise men (except for Kissinger, who wasn’t old at the time) are no longer with us, foreign policy receives constant input from those who think they are the current gray eminences. It’s natural for a political commentator to pattern his thoughts on what they might have done or said. It goes with the top hat and striped pants.

One of the most overused words of the foreign affairs vocabulary is “influence.” A commentary frequently ends a topic with the word. Nobody remembers what it’s good for. There is a similar word, “leverage”, that is far more topical. Firmly entrenched in business, everybody knows what it is. So let’s use it.

Trump may be the first president to understand how the rise of China  has diminished U.S. leverage in the Pacific. The problem of North Korea cannot be solved without more leverage than the U.S. has. Hence, the search for leverage.

Leverage was crucially lost with the defection of Duterte’s Philippines to the China orbit. The consequence of loss of this country is the disputed international status of the South China Sea, discussed in Trump White House vows to stop China taking South China Sea islands. The international status of the sea cannot be defended in any meaningful way by the transience of U.S. presence forced by Duterte. This is why, in Xi-Trump meeting; Long Range; North Korea, I concluded,

Since Trump’s concept of achievements is that they are fungible, he reconsiders the South China Sea.  There are things you want to keep, and things you want to trade. It’s key to streamlining a business….Maybe it’s trading material. I’ll finish this a little later.

Trading material, in the form of some compromise on the Sea, could take the form of the agreement-to-ignore-contradiction, as with Taiwan. This contradiction-in-formality, new to us, figures throughout the history of the Celestial Kingdom. But perhaps it is not enough material to enlist China in the only North Korea goal with a chance of success, regime change. The program requires, at the very least, China’s seamless participation with interdiction, isolation, blockades, and U.S. use of force that would otherwise have insufficient effect.

Trump may have inventoried our trading material, and discerned that it isn’t enough. But if he can pull Duterte back from the China orbit,  China’s certainty that they own the Sea lessens. It’s back in play. This is the likely reason for Duterte’s demurral on a White House visit. He’s not “simple” either.

The meeting with Kim Jong-un will not happen. Does Trump know this? John Ciliza thinks not. I think Trump floats it for show. But when considering someone’s “meetability”, it is worth noting that Mao Tse Tung’s Great Leap Forward killed, by one estimate, 45 million in four years. This was preceded by Mao’s Classicide of landlords,  with death estimates ranging from 1 million to 28 million.  This is twice the population of North Korea. So we cannot deny Kim Jong-un “meetability” simply because he is, along with the eminently meetable Stalin, one of the great mass murderers of history. Diplomacy makes liberal use of deodorants.

Perhaps Donald Trump is as devious as Mahatma Gandhi.