Russia Follows China’s Lead

Grind for December 29th, 2018
“He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.”

– Leonardo da Vinci

Good Idea

The Headline

Trump visits soldiers in Iraq

The Grind

President Trump and his wife on Wednesday paid a surprise visit to American soldiers stationed at the al-Asad Air Base, located in western Iraq near the Syrian border.

It was Trump’s first visit to a military combat zone.

While speaking to troops, Trump defended his recent decision to withdraw soldiers from Syria and Afghanistan.

“The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world,” he said, adding that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “wants to knock out ISIS.”

Troops responded to the surprise visit with cheers and requests for autographs, while Iraqi lawmakers opposed to American interference referred to the visit as an “arrogant act.”

The Implication

Trump’s visit to Iraq is in line with surprise visits by his predecessors to troops stationed overseas during the holidays – such as George W. Bush’s visit to Iraq on Thanksgiving in 2003.

But more importantly, the visit follows demands from GOP Senator Lindsey Graham and others that Trump visit a war zone.

Graham, who has made 50 visits to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, has called on the Senate to hold immediate hearings on Trump’s plans to pull troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

During his visit, Trump confirmed there were no plans to withdraw from Iraq.

US troops returned to Iraq in 2014 after ISIS seized the city of Mosul.

Tread Carefully

The Headline

Russia tests new weapon; considers abolishing presidential term limits

The Grind

Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated Christmas this year by testing a new hypersonic weapon he claims is impossible to intercept.

“The Avangard is invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defense means of the potential adversary,” he said, confirming the weapon would be available to the Russian military in 2019.

The Avangard, which was developed in response to the United States’ missile defense capabilities, has an intercontinental range and can travel 20 times faster than the speed of sound. During a test on Wednesday, the missile was successful in hitting a target 3,700 miles from its launch point.

The new weapon is an “excellent New Year’s gift to the nation” that will secure Moscow’s safety for years to come, said Putin.

The Detail

Earlier this week, Russian lawmakers proposed a change to the constitution that would enable Putin to stay in power past the end of his term in 2024.

Considering the Kremlin’s level of control over the political system, such a change would be easy to accomplish if backed by Putin.

Russian officials in recent days have also warned the US not to interfere in Saudi Arabia’s royal succession following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The murder has largely been blamed on Prince Mohammed, who is next in line to replace 82-year-old King Salman. US lawmakers have suggested the prince be replaced by King Salman’s brother Ahmed.

The Takeaway

Russia’s push for a place on the world stage comes amid poor relations with the US and an economic slowdown at home.

Strained tensions with the US are a result of the war in Syria, accusations of election meddling, Russia’s annexation of Ukraine and Trump’s planned withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Making matters worse is a Russian populace frustrated with high unemployment and a stagnant economy.

Maybe what we are seeing here is Russia trying to compensate. This could be dangerous, and Trump would do well not to let his admiration for Putin blind him to the dangers Russia poses to the United States and our allies.

As outgoing Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis noted in his resignation letter, the US must remain “resolute and unambiguous” in our approach to authoritarian countries like China and Russia “whose strategic interests are increasingly in tensions with ours.”

Did you know… According to scientists, the color of the cup that we’re drinking from can alter our perception of the actual taste of the drink.