Odds on Trump delivering Regime ChangeMon 14 May
North Korea 85/40
None of the above 8/1
There was more to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign than wall erection, swamp maintenance and locking her up. We – there is still safety in numbers – failed to hear very real and achievable promises on foreign policy. I am surprised but shouldn’t be at the trashing of the Iran Nuclear deal. John Hannah, writing in Foreign Policy, just yesterday, said that we can “say what we will about the president, but he’s been true to his word. Campaign promises made; campaign promises kept.”
Retrospection can be cruel: regime change in Iran has been on the cards since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Nearly four decades on it is now imminent. I would give odds at 8/11 (which demonstrates an implied probability of 57.89%) that US forces will be “victorious” and occupying Tehran before the close of 2019. The supreme leader of Iran, the ayatollah, Ali Khamenei will be gone but not his ideology. How the invasion and subsequent occupation will pan out is unclear but I fear another protracted and pernicious “intervention” just like Iraq’s.
The National Security Advisor, John Bolton, gave a chilling and now infamous speech to the Grand Gathering of Iranians on 1st July last year saying that, “There is a viable opposition to the rule of the ayatollahs and that opposition is centred in this room today”. The opposition in the room were members of People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK). The EU recognised the MEK as a terrorist organisation until 2009 and the US until 2012. Its leader Maryam Rajavi (wife of the former leader Massoud) was arrested in 2003 in Paris on terrorism charges and her husband’s disappearance in 2013 remains unsolved. Also present at that gathering were Rudi Giuliani, attorney to the president, former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, as well as Prince Turki of the House of Saud.
Post invasion we should expect a regime much like the one that existed under the Shah, an Iran sympathetic to US oil and US situations. Amnesty International awarded the pre ‘79 Iran with the dubious accolade of having the worst human rights record on the planet.
Just today, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo declined to rule out sanctions against European companies conducting business with Iran. The United States pulling out of the 2015 Iran Nuclear deal should be viewed as highly provocative and Europe’s leaders insistence that it is so, should be duly noted. Iran’s increasing influence in Syria is unquestioned as is its support of Hezbollah but recent quarrels with Israel should be viewed as forming a bigger picture. Trump’s track record on delivering on campaign promises is an enviable one, the dissolution of Obama Care and import tariff implementation are happening. The invasion of Iran is probable and if it goes ahead it will be without the need for sexed-up dossiers – American Exceptionalism will be enough. 8/11? Too generous.
Recent spats between Washington and Pyongyang feel a little stage managed. If a resolution is to be reached, it needs to be one that can be presented as glorious for the peoples of North and South Korea as well as the United States. I am surmising, but in a world of information overload it is a luxury I will permit myself. The last six months of dialogue has more than a stage-managed feel to it.
North Korea would need to do little to invite US aggression. Prestige is a great motivator in the continuation of conflicts. Had the US been able to withdraw with grace from Vietnam, they would have done so but even Henry Kissinger couldn’t mastermind that. Between 1954 and 1975 the Vietnam conflict claimed 2,450,000 lives.
A ceremonial dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear test facility will apparently be witnessed by western journalists at the end of May. This will have preceded the summit in Singapore between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. But the North Korean leader has said nothing about giving up the nation’s current nuclear arsenal and the leader’s promise to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula (once they feel safe) has been heard before. “Feeling safe” means a withdrawal of US troops from Japan and the end of the threat posed by the US-South Korea alliance. The leaders are new: the rhetoric is not.
Bookmakers are amongst many who are looking to the 2020 election and if the incumbent is to be re-elected he’ll need to start playing the statesman. Summits are good for that. (I think 6/4 are the right odds for a Trump second term). A halt to further proliferation of nuclear weapons by the North may be all that is gained from the Singapore meet-up. An assumption that Kim Jong-un has enough WMD to continue to be a nuisance can be made. 85/40 represents an alarming implied probability of 32% of regime change.
At 3/1 is Venezuela. Like Iran it’s a case of “when” not “if”.
Venezuela’s oil reserves are the world’s largest but the price per barrel hit the floor in 2008 bottoming at around $40. By 2015 the price rose to $125 but by the end of 2015 crude was back to $40. Such fluctuations are problematic for an oil economy intent on ending poverty. (The recent skirmish between Washington and Tehran has contributed to a rise to about $70). Petroleum revenues account for 50% of Venezuela’s GDP and for almost all its exports. Oil prices are largely determined by OPEC with the blessing of the United States. Demand is secondary in influencing price.
Hugo Chavez, elected president in 1998, embarked on a program of social change but he knew that without control of the country’s oil, poverty would continue to flourish. So he sacked the directors of PDVSA, the Venezuelan oil producer, and nationalised it.
Profits from oil through the first decade of this century paid for socioeconomic reforms and there were many successes. Mortality rates fell, literacy rose and the elderly received pensions. The “revolution” caused outrage among the traditional elites and the US sought to dismantle the Chavez-led government in 2002. The tumultuous first three years of Chavez’ Venezuela divided the country. Protests led to a coup. But 48 hours after the ousting of the president he was returned to office. The people, this time in support of the president returned to the streets and surrounded the presidential palace. The US has always denied involvement.
John Adams said: “There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by sword. The other is by debt.” To this day Venezuela is one of the few nations on Earth that meet their obligations on time and have until now resisted IMF loans. But continuing sanctions, hyper-inflation and growing unrest make fertile grounds for regime change. Chavez died in 2013 and was succeeded by Nicolás Maduro. He is struggling. His days look numbered.
Neighbouring Columbia is the US’s beachhead in Latin America. Coverage of Columbia in western media is largely favourable, at least in comparison to Venezuela. Military aid exceeds that given to Afghanistan and America’s justification for a continued presence has, since the virtual end of communism and the apparent end to the “war on drugs” been unclear. The Marxist FARC have surrendered and there have been three seasons of Narcos on Netflix. What could they possibly want there? Venezuela would seem to be that justification. Should a second attempt at a coup fail in Caracas a land invasion from Columbia isn’t that unlikely.
8/1 represents only an 11.11% probability of none of the above nations falling to the might of America. It is with a heavy heart that I believe these numbers.
Article by Long Shot.