While his detractors chase the shiny things from his daily Twitter feed, US President Donald Trump has revolutionized American foreign policy.
More than a century of the interventionist-warfare state than began under Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson appears to be on the retreat – at least for now – under a president that few believe has any guiding principles.
Much to my surprise, US President Donald Trump quietened down the drums of war from beating out of control. After the first conventional, peace-time attack on a US military base since Pearl Harbour, Trump had cases belli for war with – or at least major strikes against – Iran. As much as Trump claims Iran “blinked,” it was in fact his decision to take a pass at a retaliation that he must have know would spiral into a regional war.
Trump’s decision to pass up a (somewhat) justifiable cause to go to war marks perhaps the clearest sign yet that he is unlike any president since Herbert Hoover in pursuing a non-interventionist, or non-imperial foreign policy.
Every American president from both both parties since the Second (and almost First) World War have fallen into two camps: dove-interventionists, and hawk-interventionists. For the most part, the former have been Democrats, and the latter Republicans. While Democrats pay more lip service to peace, they have shown little hesitation in projecting American power at the behest of a military-intelligence-industrial complex that traditional Republicans have heeded (just with more jingoistic bravado).
Trump falls into a camp more closely resembling presidents before the First World War. What he calls “America First.” Rather than a dove-interventionist or a hawk-interventionist, he is a hawk-non-interventionist. He believes in a robust military to defend American interests, but has little time for playing the role of World Policeman so adored by George Bush Sr.
This radical shift in foreign policy was unlikely to come from the traditionally more warlike Republicans, but it did not begin with Trump. It began (mostly) with Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 Republican presidential campaigns. Paul ran not as an “America Firster,” but as an isolationist, as the backers of F.D.R. would call him. Paul campaigned not just on levelling the size of America’s domestic government, but in dismantling the military-intelligence-industrial complex outright. This was perhaps too radical even most anti-war supporters, and was probably a major reason that his campaign did not succeed.
But his radical foreign policy did change the conversation in the longer-term, especially for Republicans. By 2015, it was no longer seen as unpatriotic for conservatives to oppose the warfare state and America’s endless foreign entanglements. Trump picked up this mantle and ran with it.
While less influential in the long-term than Paul, the presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot in 1992 re-planted the seeds of an anti-interventionist in the Republican Party, and more closely resemble the America First policy of Trump today.
Fighting the foreign policy establishment in both parties, Trump remolded Paul’s radical non-interventionism into a more palatable America First, militant-non-interventionism. This policy has cost him a long list of traditional Republican advisors and cabinet members; most notably, super-hawk John Bolton.
In contrast, few major party candidates for president have ever been as beholden to the American establishment as Hilary Clinton. She showed few hangups about supporting the Second Iraq War in 2003, and changed her position only as public opinion made it untenable for a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.
Her record as Secretary of State saw foreign US interventions in Syria and Libya to remove (or attempt to remove) rouge regimes, without being willing to fill the power vacuums they created.
Iran’s actions over the last two weeks have given the United States (and now possibly Canada and Ukraine) at least some justification for war. It is highly probable that if Hilary Clinton was president today, that the US and its allies would already be bombing Tehran.
Donald Trump may have blinked first with Iran, but he seems satisfied that the missile attacks on its bases in Iraq were not damaging enough to warrant further retaliation; a retaliation that would most likely lead to a large, regional war.
Strong evidence pointing to the destruction of a civilian 737 from an Iranian missile attack hours after the Iran ballistic missile strikes was about as surprising as learning that the security cameras outside of Jeffery Epstein’s cell were temporarily out of order.
While tragic, it would have been at least understandable if an Iranian anti-air defence unit mistook a plane flying into its borders from Iraq or Afghanistan, and pulled the trigger too eagerly. Iran was probably on the highest alert at that hour for an American retaliatory strike.
But this plane took off from Iran’s main airport in Tehran, and was destroyed minutes after taking off. It is hard to believe that this mass murder of civilians was anything but intentional.
The embassy-drone strike-missile attack, tit-for-tat between the US and Iran, could have been relegated by the Western and Sunni Arab allies as the usual American power play. The murder of 176 civilians makes this an attack on the international community, and gives Trump another cause for escalation, if not war.
But – as yet at least – he has not taken Iran up on its death wish. While he rises to the bait of insults on Twitter or Saturday Night Live, he has not risen to the bait of war. If Iran continues to bait the United States (and now its allies), Trump may yet have a breaking point, and reasonably so. But that point appears to be much less trigger happy than that of his recent predecessors, or Hilary Clinton’s.
Trump’s detractors may finally start to figure out what many of us have understood about him for a long time: his bluster is an intentional and entertaining distraction from his revolution of American policy.
MORGAN: 10 days of living free south of the border
“Canada remains in a state of absurd regulation and induced panic.”
Back in 1987 I had the opportunity to tour parts of the Soviet Union during its waning days as an empire. The experience contributed greatly to the political outlooks I hold today. There is nothing like a good dose of seeing extreme socialism firsthand to develop an aversion to that broken ideology.
The creaking, groaning Aeroflot jet deposited us on the Moscow airport runway with a slam. While the jet was serviceable and Aeroflot’s safety record was safe — as far as we were allowed to know — it was truly a no frills ride. The service was gruff, the interior dilapidated, and the flight rough. It was much like everything else in the Soviet Union. You got the bare basics in service and had no other provider to compare the service to.
Customs were typical and thorough as all of our bags were searched. What was unusual was the contraband the customs agents were searching for. Rather than drugs or weapons as is typical at borders, what the Soviet agents sought were books, magazines, and cassette tapes.
The top priority for Soviet customs agents was the prevention of outside information getting to the eyes and ears of the citizenry.
Citizen defections were growing along with general unrest against the state. As news from the outside world trickled in, people in Soviet Russia began to realize they didn’t need to live as they had been.
Nobody was starving when I toured Russia. People weren’t homeless or unemployed. It was indeed a socialist paradise as far as providing basic human needs was concerned. Life was drab and miserable though. Everything from the endless rows of apartment towers to the dull standardized clothing was unremarkable and depressing. Food was plentiful but it was bland and without variety. You ate to survive, not to enjoy yourself.
People in Soviet Russia had become accustomed to having their lives controlled. They accepted the reality that the state would tell them where to work, how to live, and where they could travel. They all shared fear of all authority figures. Police carried no weapons as nobody would dare defy them for fear of the repercussions from the state later.
People in the Soviet Union were not living; they were surviving. The only thing keeping the empire from crumbling was the maintenance of the illusion it wasn’t better anywhere else. As long as citizens didn’t know how life was outside of the Communist Bloc, they remained content, though unhappy. This was why the government worked so hard to ensure the populace never knew any better. In the German “Democratic Republic” (East Germany), the regime did its best to block the radio and television signal from just a few blocks away.
Eventually, the dam broke. Information and consumer goods continued to leak into the Soviet Union despite the best efforts of the government. Pressure from within finally brought the USSR to an end as citizens realized they no longer had to live this way and a better world existed outside of their borders.
While Canadians are hardly living in conditions as miserable as those of the Soviet Union, we are living under severe restrictions and within a fear-filled and unhappy existence right now while many, if not most, don’t realize it doesn’t have to be this way.
I just returned from a 10-day road trip throughout the United States. Aside from seeing the sporadic and voluntary use of masks, it was hard to tell that to the north governments acted as if it was a wartime emergency. People were relaxed while dining together, events were at full capacity and conversations are actually being held on matters unrelated to COVID-19. Life is damn near how it was two years ago down there and their world isn’t ending because of it, at least in the states I visited.
COVID-19 still exists in the United States and they are still experiencing challenges due to it. Infections are being watched and health care facilities are under pressure. Political battles between authoritarians and libertarians are going on and some people are still fearful of the virus. Overall though, people in much of the United States have moved on with their lives and are no longer letting the COVID-19 pandemic dominate every aspect of their existence. It was so refreshing to live like that again, if only for a scant 10 days.
Canada remains in a state of absurd regulation and government/media induced panic. Legacy/mainstream media continues with the most negative of headlines and works its hardest to maintain a state of induced terror. Governments jealously cling to the control they have taken in the name of controlling COVID-19 and maintaining the narrative of doom and gloom. They cling to the fiction COVID can be defeated like an enemy state signing a treaty of surrender.
The dreaded Omicron variant has thankfully turned into a dud. It hasn’t overwhelmed hospitals and fatalities are at a level akin to the common flu. The way Canada is responding, though, one would think leprosy is making a reappearance among the public. The population is divided while the hysteria, prejudice, and even hate against the unvaccinated have reached appalling levels.
Much of why the government and its authoritarians backers are getting away with this in Canada is because the public doesn’t know any better. They don’t realize a free, enjoyable world exists but a short distance away.
Border restrictions at this point are downright useless. Omicron is spreading like wildfire and no restrictions or vaccinations are doing a thing to hinder the transmission. What the border restrictions do accomplish, however, is keeping Canadians from bothering with traveling outside the country. The testing requirements are a pain the ass and a person could find themselves quarantined at their own expense for a variant that has proven itself to be quite mild. What information Canadians do receive from south of the border, is framed by the government’s proxies in the media as a selfish frenzy built atop a mountain of dead bodies.
There were no restrictions going into the USA by the way. That exchange at the border only took a couple of minutes and vaccinations or testing never even came up. It’s only in coming back to Canada where all the grief is occurring.
So why haven’t the border restrictions been lifted?
I suspect the government wants to keep the number of Canadians going into and returning with news of the outside world as limited as possible. Yes, we can see the packed football stadiums in the USA and can find out just how unrestricted they are down there with even some cursory internet research. Nothing beats having a friend or family member tell you directly how nice it is to live free again though. Those sorts of exchanges between people foster discontent.
Things won’t change until Canadians stand up for themselves. Governments never willingly relinquish the control they have taken. We can’t allow ourselves to fall into a docile existence plodding along through a mediocre life under government control as people in the former Eastern Bloc did.
Canadians need to know it’s better outside of the borders. Even the UK is dropping restrictions while we aren’t even discussing easing our own.
Ignore the government statements. Turn off the mainstream media and reach out to a family member or friend who is or has been outside of Canada lately. You will hear the same story I’m telling.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
As soon as enough Canadians get that message, we will be able to start fighting our way back to normal living again.
Cory Morgan is Assistant Opinion & Broadcast Editor for the Western Standard
MAKICHUK: Russia’s ‘ball of hate’ is rolling toward Ukraine
“A normal exercise requires notification 42 days in advance if you’re talking about 9,000 troops, right? Normal – and 13,000 requires international observers. That’s what normal looks like. What this is, is something entirely different.”
The ball of hate.
That’s what they called, NHLer Pat Verbeek.
Let me say that again. The ball of hate.
Trust me, when he was on the ice you didn’t want to be there. He made your life a living hell.
He shoved sticks into your teeth, he shoved elbows at your jaw, he slammed you into the boards, he did anything he could to defeat you, and then some.
Strangely enough, the man spent as much time celebrating goals as sitting in the penalty box.
Think Gordie Howe was tough?
According to NHL.com, the native of Sarnia, Ont., finished his 20-season NHL career with 522 goals and 2,905 penalty minutes, by far the most of any member of the league’s 500-goal club.
And get this … the New Jersey Devils selected Verbeek in the third round (No. 43) of the 1982 NHL Draft.
He made his NHL debut against the New York Rangers on March 21, 1983 and scored his first goal three nights later against the Washington Capitals.
Bang! Not only could he score, but he could also run your head into the boards and leave you wondering WTF happened.
He played “on the edge” and made no apologies for his chippy style.
The Zebras didn’t like this, of course and did what Zebras do.
You can’t play like that anymore in today’s NHL. The bleeding hearts have changed the game.
The same goes for politics and foreign affairs — we have become soft. Very, very soft. And by we, I mean the West.
We are so busy trying to be politically correct, we forgot how we got here in the first place.
And this is exactly why another ball of hate, a far more infamous one — an iron-handed dictator who calls himself a president, Vladimir Putin — is exploiting those Western weaknesses as I pen this.
I mean, it couldn’t be more obvious, could it?
According to Joseph Trevithick at The Drive, the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed that six amphibious warfare ships that left the Baltic Sea this week are heading to the Mediterranean Sea, where they say these vessels will take part in “naval exercises.”
Clearly, this amphibious flotilla could potentially swing north into the Black Sea, which would put them in a position to support a possible large-scale Russian intervention into Ukraine.
The language the Russian ministry of defense used to describe these naval drills is similar in many respects to how the Kremlin has described the nature of large-scale exercises in Belarus that are scheduled to start next month.
The massive deployments of troops and materiel, including Iskander short-range ballistic missiles and combat aircraft, associated with those drills have drawn concern.
Speaking to reporters this week, a senior US State Department said: “What concerns us is the total picture, right? [Russia] is … amassing 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders combined with moving forces into Belarus over the weekend, it is — it is — these numbers are beyond, of course, what we would expect with regard to a normal exercise, right?
“A normal exercise requires notification 42 days in advance if you’re talking about 9,000 troops, right? Normal and 13,000 requires international observers. That’s what normal looks like. What this is, is something entirely different.”
As part of the build-up, Russia deployed more aircraft closer to the border, which raised fears of a significant air component. Two to three dozen Sukhov-34 fighter jets have joined helicopters positioned near Ukraine, CNN reported.
As if to confirm this action, Britain’s capable MI6 intelligence service revealed it has discovered a plan by President Putin to install a pro-Moscow puppet leader in Ukraine, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said this weekend.
As Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of a ‘”large-scale war,” Truss said that Yevhen Murayev was being lined up to run the country as a satellite of Moscow.
Murayev, a media owner, lost his seat in the Ukrainian parliament when his party failed to secure 5% of the vote in the 2019 elections, BBC News reported.
He has roundly denied the report.
“It isn’t very logical. I’m banned from Russia. Not only that, but money from my father’s firm there has been confiscated,” Murayev told The Guardian.
There are other troubling indicators:
Diplomatic talks between the US, European allies and Russia ended last week without a clear path to de-escalate tensions, media outlets reported. Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, called the talks a “dead end.”
Some military experts believe this was what Putin wanted all along — setting it up to fail by making unrealistic demands, beyond just keeping NATO out of Ukraine. All it did was buy time for the Russians to set up their “false flag” invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.
Canadian special forces operators have also been deployed to Ukraine as part of an attempt by NATO allies to deter Russian aggression and to identify ways to assist the Ukrainian government, Global News reported.
The unit has also been tasked with helping to develop evacuation plans for Canadian diplomatic personnel in the event of a full-scale invasion, sources said.
They wouldn’t be doing that if they didn’t have good intelligence from the US.
To staunch the inevitable bloodbath, the defense ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania announced they received approvals from Washington to send US-made anti-tank weaponry to Ukraine, BreakingDefense reported.
Estonia will provide Javelin anti-armor missiles, while Lithuania and Latvia will provide Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and adjacent equipment. Latvia will also send military meals ready-to-eat for the Ukrainian forces.
While Ukraine has already been building a stockpile of Javelin weapons, the inclusion of Stingers represents a new capability for the Ukrainian military, one that could take out Russian helicopters if needed.
Britain also said this week it had begun supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons, along with a group of around 30 elite British troops, Sky News reported.
The members of the Ranger Regiment — part of the army’s newly-formed Special Operations Brigade — flew out on military planes that also airlifted a total of some 2,000 anti-tank missile launchers to the country.
The US State Department has also approved the transfer of five Russian-made Mi-17 Hip helicopters that had belonged to the now-defunct Afghan Air Force to the Ukrainian armed forces, according to CNN.
The CIA continues to operate an intelligence collection training program for Ukrainian special operators and intelligence officials, current and former officials familiar with the program said. The program was first reported by Yahoo News.
The threat of further sanctions — in fact, a green light for the Russians, if anything — has forced the Biden administration to weigh new options, including providing more arms to Ukraine to try to raise the costs for a potential invasion.
The recent confusion over statements made by President Joe Biden on Ukraine haven’t really helped either.
Is it a price, Putin is willing to pay? We shall know, soon enough.
For their part, Ukrainian officials are vowing to fight.
“We prepared a response for each scenario,” an official told CNN.
“We are going to fight if something happens. Our people are ready to fight. Every window will shoot if [Russians] go [in].”
God help them.
Dave Makichuk is a Western Standard contributor.
He has worked in the media for decades, including as an editor for the Calgary Herald. He is also the Calgary correspondent for ChinaFactor.news and has written about military affairs for decades
NICOLA: Investment outlook: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times — is the glass half-full or half-empty?
Let’s separate apply these perspectives of positive and negative and consider how they may apply to today’s investing environment.
By JOHN NICOLA
We’ve just emerged from a tumultuous and challenging 2021 which provided good results financially for many investors while being a significant emotional and psychological drain as the fourth COVID-19 wave became a reality.
As I was thinking about how we as investors want to approach 2022 and beyond. I’m reminded of the first lines from Charles Dickens classic about the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities. To me it begs the question, “is the glass half full or half empty?” And the answer seems to be both. Let’s separately apply these perspectives of positive and negative and consider how they may apply to today’s investing environment.
It’s imperative to understand the current investment and economic environment and then assess how existing factors will impact major asset classes.
Glass Half Full
There are a number of factors that create optimal investment opportunities and give us reason to view the new year and investments in a positive light. The public markets and residential real estate are at all-time highs in a number of markets in Canada and across North America. COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and deployed in record time. The “fourth wave”/Omicron appear to have significantly lower levels of serious illness or death.
In light of major issues such as climate change, investment opportunities pertaining to environment, social, and governance (ESG) are accelerating rapidly. The cost and evolution of renewable energy is improving exponentially.
On a global scale, we have seen notable drops in levels of poverty, hunger, and illiteracy (Marian Tupy – 10 Global Trends.) Further, global population increases are slowing and likely to peak within 30 years at about 8.9 billion.
Finally, any rises in interest rates are likely to be measured and spread out over time. If that occurs, does that mean that any negative impact on asset prices would be modest?
Glass Half Empty
In the interest of seeing the whole (objective) picture, it’s important to observe and assess the other side of the coin. The new year does not come without challenges.
We’ve seen massive increases in corporate and government debt to weather the pandemic and finance acquisition of assets (Evergrande as an example.) The end result is a combination of higher inflation and corporate defaults.
Dysfunctional politics are a concern across the globe. We continue to witness geo-political tensions such as China/US and Russia/NATO, and the rise of populism in the US, in particular.
Equity prices (primarily in the US) are at near record valuation levels which has many questioning their sustainability. Higher interest rates and inflation could create a significant impact on residential housing.
Finally, the pandemic rages on. Faster infectious rates for Omicron lead to increased and extended lockdowns, globally.
Asset allocation is the key
Whether you are leaning to one perspective or another, or somewhere in the middle, how you invest and diversify your capital is going to play a vital role in helping you mitigate any volatility 2022 may bring.
The asset allocation model that we recommend to most of our clients is roughly divided into three major classes: Public/Private Equities, Real Estate (income and development), and Fixed Income (private and public).
Typically, we distribute 35% to fixed income assets (public and private), 35% to equity (public and private), and 30% to real estate (hard asset properties). Depending on views of both the opportunities and the valuation levels each of these asset weights could change plus or minus by 5%.
There have been a number of studies to support this type of asset allocation. Perhaps the strongest endorsement of this model is that the asset mix of some of the largest pension plans in Canada (considered by many to be amongst the best institutional investors in the world) which choose to allocate their capital in this way. If you look carefully you’ll see the pensions such as OMERS, CPP, BCIMC, AIMCO, and Ontario Teachers use some variation of the model above.
We subscribe to a similar approach. A chart on the Nicola Wealth site (Nicola Wealth vs. The Marketplace) demonstrates if you compare our average client returns since January 1, 2000 with other indices such as the S&P 500, TSE, and a compilation of balanced portfolios aggregated by Morningstar. In all cases our clients have had better results with less volatility (considerably less than any of the equity indices).
The acid test for a good asset allocation model is how well it performs during bear markets for public equities (which themselves are usually connected to a crisis or a recession or both.) The last two bear markets were the Great Financial Crisis of 2008/2009 and, of course, the COVID-19 market meltdown in the spring of 2020. In both cases, stock prices dropped in most public markets by 35% or more from their prior peaks.
Employing the balanced model above meant the drop in value of our client portfolios was 7.5% in 2008 and about 5% in 2020. That reduction in volatility fosters for far better investor behavior (another great topic we will explore in a future column.)
Notwithstanding that the right asset allocation model can make a big difference in risk-adjusted returns, each of these asset classes will be impacted in some way in a rising inflation and interest rate environment. In our next column we will explore how we believe that might unfold.
John Nicola, CFP, CLU, CHFC is a financial columnist for the Western Standard and is the Chairman of Nicola Wealth
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