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Thursday 17th of January 2019

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The Latest Daily PodCast can be found here on the Front Page of the site

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[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!] Is it perfume from a dress @TSEliotDaily

[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

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"Tell Me How This Ends" America's muddled involvement with Syria By @Harpers' Charles Glass
Law & Politics

In January 2017, following Donald Trump’s inauguration, his national
security staffers entered their White House offices for the first
time. One told me that when he searched for the previous
administration’s Middle East policy files, the cupboard was bare.
“There wasn’t an overarching strategy document for anywhere in the
Middle East,” the senior official, who insisted on anonymity, told me
in a coffee shop near the White House. “Not even on the ISIS campaign,
so there wasn’t a cross-governmental game plan.”

I have observed the Syrian conflict off and on since it began, in
2011, filing stories from Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Palmyra, the Turkish
border, and other zones of contention. But the story as seen from
inside Syria seemed as incomplete as the Trojan War without the gods.
In the conflagration’s eighth year, I flew to the Olympian heights of
Washington to ask the immortals what they were doing while an
estimated half million of Syria’s twenty-­three million inhabitants
were dying, millions more fled the country, and some of civilization’s
most precious monuments were destroyed.

The mandarins’ disclosures, along with their published memoirs and
position papers, made me sympathetic to the Trump staffer’s claim that
the Obama team left nothing to clarify its Syria strategy. In fact,
there was no strategy. There were debates, options, discussions,
anguish, orders, counterorders, and actions. In his recent book on his
years as Obama’s deputy national security adviser, The World As It Is,
Ben Rhodes portrayed White House deliberations as group therapy more
than strategic planning. “I felt the burden on Obama,” he wrote, one
of many examples of his and his colleagues’ feelings overshadowing
circumstances. “He had to respond to this awful event in Syria while
bearing the additional weight of the war in Iraq. . . . ” But isn’t
that a president’s job?

The men and women around Obama’s conference tables and via video links
claimed that, more than anything else, they wanted to do the right
thing. In Rhodes’s case, anything. “Even though I had misgivings about
our Syria policy,” he wrote, “I was glad we were doing something.”
Obama’s strategists sought to make Syria better. As they admit now,
they didn’t.

The year 2010 neared its end with the Middle East mired in stasis. The
United Nations Human Development annual report for that year concluded
that the Arab states suffered the world’s greatest democracy deficit,
the highest number of human rights violations, and the world’s most
pronounced “gender disparities in reproductive health, empowerment and
labour market participation.” Arab dictators had their populations
under control, while they pillaged the public purse to enrich
themselves and purchase American weaponry. Palestinian–­Israeli peace
was going nowhere, and Iran appeared determined to acquire nuclear
weapons to match Israel’s.

But stasis shifted toward dynamism in December 2010, when the
self-immolation of an unemployed and desperate young man named Mohamed
Bouazizi inflamed Tunisia. Mass demonstrations forced the flight of
President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, inspiring similar protests
elsewhere in the Arab world. “They were the heady days of the Arab
Spring,” said Michael Dempsey, Obama’s deputy director of national
intelligence and chief intel briefer. Citizens massed in the thousands
in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya, exploding the myth of a supine
Arab world.

The vulnerable regimes in early 2011 were in the American camp, a
coincidence that the Syrian president, Bashar al-­Assad, interpreted
as proof that the Arab Spring was a repudiation of American tutelage.
As Russia’s and Iran’s only Arab ally, he foresaw no challenge to his
throne. An omen in the unlikely guise of an incident at an open-­air
market in the old city of Damascus, in February 2011, should have
changed his mind. One policeman ordered a motorist to stop at an
intersection, while another officer told him to drive on. “The poor
guy got conflicting instructions, and did what I would have done and
stopped,” recalled the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, who had
only just arrived in the country. The second policeman dragged the
driver out of his car and thrashed him. “A crowd gathered, and all of
a sudden it took off,” Ford said. “No violence, but it was big enough
that the interior minister himself went down to the market and told
people to go home.” Ford reported to Washington, “This is the first
big demonstration that we know of. And it tells us that this tinder is

“The first really serious violence on the opposition side was up on
the coast around Baniyas, where a bus was stopped and soldiers were
hauled off the bus. If you were Alawite, you were shot. If you were
Sunni, they let you go.” At demonstrations, some activists chanted the
slogan, “Alawites to the grave, and Christians to Beirut.”

Bassam Barabandi, a diplomat who defected in Washington to establish a
Syrian exile organization, People Demand Change, thought that Ford had
made two errors: his appearance in Hama raised hopes for direct
intervention that was not forthcoming, and he was accompanied by a
military attaché. “So, at that time, the big question for Damascus
wasn’t Ford,” Barabandi told me in his spartan Washington office. “It
was the military attaché. Why did this guy go with Ford?” The Syrian
regime had a long-standing fear of American intelligence interference,
dating to the CIA-­assisted overthrow in 1949 of the elected
parliamentary government and several attempted coups d’état afterward.
The presence in Hama of an ambassador with his military attaché
allowed the Assad regime to paint its opponents as pawns of a hostile
foreign power.

Obama said something, on August 18, 2011: “For the sake of the Syrian
people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Where
Assad sensed a plot to depose him, the opposition envisioned
American–­NATO commitment, as in Libya.

Fred Hof told me, “Our view in the State Department was, fine, if this
is the judgment the president comes to, that Assad should step aside,
then what we should really have in place is an interagency strategy to
make it happen.” Hof regretted that the White House did not develop
that strategy, on the assumption that “this guy [Assad] is toast.

Tunisia’s tiny army was not a decisive political actor and the country
had staged only one coup in its history, Ben Ali’s in 1987. Government
institutions could function without him. In Egypt, Mubarak was the
face—called derisively by Egyptians “la vache qui rit,” “the laughing
cow”—of a military regime that could survive with any general as its
figurehead. In Syria, Bashar al-­Assad was the regime. His father,
Hafez al-­Assad, had come to power in November 1970 as the survivor of
nearly annual military putsches in the 1950s and 1960s. At his death
in June 2000, he bequeathed his son an edifice that had prevailed over
thirty years of failed coup plots, assassination attempts, wars with
Israel, and Islamist insurrections. To depose the son, the opposition
had to undermine a fortress state to which many Syrians were loyal, or
at least acquiescent.

Obama imposed economic sanctions, primarily on members of the regime’s
inner circle, and he asked the Russians to pressure Assad to leave.
Phil Gordon, who accompanied Hillary Clinton to meetings with the
Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said, “Lavrov would say,
‘It’s not up to us.’ . . . The Russian view was, ‘Look, we don’t love
Assad. We don’t care about him, but it’s not up to us to determine
Syria’s fate.’” Lavrov also warned Clinton that removing Assad would
lead to chaos and jihadism. “They had a fair point in saying we didn’t
have a plan for Syria if we got rid of Assad,” Gordon admitted. “And,
to be honest, I don’t think we were ever in a position to convincingly
say, ‘No, no, no, if Assad falls, it won’t be like Iraq or
Afghanistan.’ ”

And Salafist fighters terrified many Syrians who, while dismissive of
Assad, did not welcome his replacement by religious fanatics with long
beards. Hof said, “I’m not just talking about the entourage and
members of the [Assad] family, but ordinary Syrians, Syrians I’ve
known for decades, who would tell me, ‘Fred, we’re going to stick with
the regime.’’’ Hof said they stuck with Assad, despite having “no
illusions about the corruption, incompetence, and brutality of the
regime.” Others who did not fight against the regime were the
minorities—Alawis, Ismailis, Druze, Arab Christians, Armenians, and
Yezidis, all of whom the jihadis wanted to eliminate—as well as Sunnis
who preferred a secular dictatorship to a theocracy.

A former US ambassador to the Middle East told me, “The ‘red line’ was
an open invitation to a false-­flag operation.”

The net effect was not, as Phil Gordon hoped, to “accelerate the
process of Assad’s departure.” In fact, Gordon conceded, it was the
opposite: “I think that what we saw was that the more we did for the
opposition, the more the backers of the regime did for the regime.”
Iran’s Lebanese surrogate, Hezbollah, sent more fighters from Lebanon
to back Assad. The Russians came to Assad’s rescue with troops and air
power, while the Iranians introduced units of Iraqi and Afghan Shias.

His conclusion was that the United States should change the objective,
because “it wasn’t realistic to get rid of Assad. I didn’t see a path
of doing so without a major US military intervention that would
escalate the conflict. And even if it succeeded, [it] could be a
version of catastrophic success, where you create a vacuum that
extremists would fill.”

One of Biden’s closest advisers said that the vice president told the
emir, “If you gave me a choice between Assad and Nusra, I’ll take
Assad.” Biden went public at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on
October 2, 2014:

Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks
. . . the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were
so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy
Sunni–­Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of
dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would
fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied
were al-­Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis
coming from other parts of the world.

US strategists underestimated Russia’s commitment to Assad. Syria was
the only one of the twenty-­two members of the Arab League in the
Russian camp, dating to its first purchases of Soviet arms in the
mid-­1950s. Assad’s survival was a test of Russian credibility.
Russia’s air force and army intervened in September 2015, and by
December 2016 they helped drive the rebels out of the eastern half of
Aleppo. Many regarded that as the war’s turning point, after which
Assad could no longer lose.

Syria proved to be Russia’s redemption in the Middle East. Putin
became a regional power broker, for the first time selling
anti­aircraft systems to Turkey, a NATO member; sending military
delegations to Iraq; and organizing discussions about Syria among
Turkey, Israel, and several Arab states.

Regime victories followed the triumph in Aleppo, as Russia enabled the
Syrian Army, with Hezbollah and Iran, to advance into rebel territory.
The insurgents either fought to the death or accepted “reconciliation”
that allowed them to go with their families and small arms to their
last redoubt in the northern province of Idlib. The negotiators
deciding Idlib’s fate included Russia, Turkey, Assad, and most rebel
leaders—but not the United States.

The result of US meddling in Syria was failure on all counts. It did
not depose Assad, who looks like he is set to hold on to power for
years. It did not expel Iran and Russia, whose influence and
footprints in Syria expanded. It did not break the Syria–­Hezbollah
alliance. Nor did it ameliorate civilian suffering, as refugees either
stay in exile squalor or return to demolished homes. It had the
unintended consequence of turning Turkey from a traditional ally into
a regional adversary. Syrian conspiracy theorists claim the US goal
was to destroy Syria, as it did Iraq, to protect Israel. Only if that
were true could the United States be said to have achieved any

“What have I done?” Colonel Nicholson’s final act, after trying to
save the bridge he built for his Japanese captors, was to fall on the
detonator and blow it up. Then, he died. In Washington, they go on to
think tanks and academe to await the call to serve again.

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OCT 15 :: Let us return to UNGA, where Putin set out his stall and I quote: "I cannot help asking those who have caused the situation, do you realise now what you've done?"
Law & Politics

Within 24 hours of delivering that speech, Russia instructed that the
US should vacate Syrian Air Space. This message was not delivered to
Ashton Carter by his Russian counterpart Shoigu.
It was delivered to the US Embassy in Baghdad. And pretty soon after
that message was delivered, Russia began its intervention on the side
of President Bashar Assad of Syria.
You could hear the squealing start immediately from Ankara to Riyadh,
from the GCC to Washington. All these capitals have assets on the
ground in Syria, and what is clear is that Russia is not making a
distinction between IS or the ‘’moderate opposition fighting Assad’’
[which really means ‘’our’’ terrorists].
Lavrov said: “If it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a
terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a
terrorist, it’s a terrorist, right?”
Putin fancies himself the fly-catcher and syria the fly-trap. The
speed of execution confirms that Russia is once again
a geopolitical actor that will have to be considered. It is a
breath-taking rebound.

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The former president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto @EPN took a $100 million bribe from Joaquin Guzman Loera, the infamous crime lord known as El Chapo @nytimes
Law & Politics

According to Mr. Cifuentes, Mr. Peña Nieto first reached out to Mr.
Guzmán about the time he was elected president in late 2012, asking
the drug lord for $250 million in exchange for calling off a
nationwide manhunt for him.
But Mr. Guzmán made a counteroffer, Mr. Cifuentes added, saying he
would give Mr. Peña Nieto only $100 million.

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Chinese military official, General Li Zuocheng, told the head of the United States Navy, Admiral John Richardson, in a face to face meeting that Beijing would defend its claim to Taiwan "at any cost". @zerohedge
Law & Politics

"The Taiwan issue is an internal matter of China, concerns China's
fundamental interests and the national feelings of the Chinese people,
and no outside interference will be tolerated," Li Zuocheng said in a
statement released by the Ministry of Defense, cited by the AFP.

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.1388
Dollar Index 96.12
Japan Yen 108.91
Swiss Franc 0.9914
Pound 1.2877
Aussie 0.7157
India Rupee 71.315
South Korea Won 1122.045
Brazil Real 3.7373
Egypt Pound 17.925
South Africa Rand 13.7322

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Crude Oil 6 Chart INO 52.02

Emerging Markets

Frontier Markets

Sub Saharan Africa

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No Currency, Just a Currency Crisis: Zimbabwe's Woes Deepen @economics

Not having a currency of its own hasn’t stopped Zimbabwe from sliding
into a currency crisis.
A scarcity of foreign exchange has led to long queues for fuel, bread
and medicine and sent prices surging. Protests erupted across the
southern African country on Monday, leaving possibly five people dead,
after the government more than doubled gasoline prices to $3.31 a
liter ($12.58 a gallon) over the weekend, the highest in the world,
according to data on GlobalPetrolPrices.com. The roots of the pain lie
in Zimbabwe’s decision to scrap its own currency a decade ago and
adopt a basket of foreign units, with the U.S. dollar being the most
widely used. The central bank then printed quasi-greenbacks to fund
rampant government spending.
The result is a convoluted system of exchange rates, with consumers
charged different prices depending on whether they pay in real
dollars, electronic money or so-called bond notes -- even though the
government insists all three have the same value. It undermined that
argument by saying that foreigners could still pay the old price for
fuel of $1.32 a liter if they used cash dollars.
“There is a system of smoke and mirrors going on,” said Stephen
Bailey-Smith, senior economist at Danish money manager Global
Evolution Funds AG, which invests across Africa. “It makes it
extremely difficult to understand the real situation with the
The crisis is a major headache for President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a
76-year-old former spy chief who promised better times for Zimbabweans
when he won elections in July. Those were the first after
long-standing ruler Robert Mugabe, under whom the economy began its
descent, was ousted by the military in late 2017. Mnangagwa was close
to Mugabe and served as his vice president.
Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said on Jan. 11 he’d introduce a new
currency within a year. But he gave few details, beyond that the
central bank was building reserves, which currently cover barely two
weeks of imports. He’s also trying to restructure billions of dollars
of defaulted multilateral debts so that Zimbabwe can obtain new
international loans.As violence unfolded on the streets, Mnangagwa
traveled to Russia. He’s also scheduled to visit Kazakhstan, Belarus
and Azerbaijan before flying to the World Economic Forum in Davos,
Switzerland later this month in an effort to attract investment.
Meanwhile, many Zimbabwean manufacturers are closing down. The chief
executive officer of Surface Wilmar, the biggest producer of cooking
oil, said in an interview last week he had no choice but to shut the
company because it couldn’t find the $6 million it needed each month
to pay suppliers.
“Manufacturers are suffocating and unless something happens urgently,
we could see the country grind to a halt,” Sifelani Jabangwe, head of
the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, told reporters on Jan. 10.
The nation’s biggest brewer, Delta Corp Ltd., which is 40 percent
owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, struck a deal with the government
this month to get more foreign exchange from the central bank for
imports. In return, it pulled plans to reject payments in bond notes
and electronic dollars, known as Real Time Gross Settlement, or RTGS.
Still, plenty of firms are offering discounts, sometimes of as much as
70 percent, if customers use real greenbacks.
“Everyone’s running their business like a corner shop these days,”
said Eliphas Wabata, who sells car parts in Harare, the capital. “Even
big retail chains. Offer to pay in cash and the price drops through
the floor.”
Bond notes now trade on the black market at 3.2 per dollar, according
to the Harare-based ZimBollar Research Institute. RTGS$ units are
worth even less.
The stress has also spread to financial markets, with locals piling
into equities to hedge against price increases. While official
statistics say inflation is running at 31 percent, Steve H. Hanke, a
professor of applied economics and expert on hyperinflation at Johns
Hopkins University in Baltimore, reckons it’s much higher: 186
Zimbabwe’s main stock index has climbed 72 percent since last March,
easily the most globally. Foreign investors -- who struggle to get
their money out the country due to capital controls -- have written
down their holdings to more realistic levels. They measure how out of
whack prices are by taking the difference between the Harare and
London shares of Old Mutual Ltd., Africa’s largest insurer. The Harare
stock is now five times the price of that in London, when converted to
dollars, double the gap of six months ago.
Hanke of Johns Hopkins says Zimbabwe should stick with the dollar
because it won’t be able to protect a new currency, but scrap bonds
notes and RTGS$. The government could do that by accepting payments,
including taxes, in those two at the same rate as the dollar. That
would quickly bring down the discount for cash dollars to around 5 or
10 percent, he said.
But Global Evolution’s Bailey-Smith argues the government should rein
in spending and work quickly toward creating a new currency. It could
build confidence in the unit by using additional reserves and hiking
interest rates -- something it can’t do as long as it keeps the
dollar, he said.
“The dollarization for Zimbabwe is a sub-optimal policy decision,” he
said. “They should have a currency that allows the flexible use of
monetary policy.”

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08-OCT-2018 :: One Domino that has suddenly tipped over is Zimbabwe

Reuters reported that People again formed long queues to fill up their
cars in the capital, with others panic-buying basic goods like
cookingoil and sugar. There are $9.3 billion of Zollars in banks
compared to $200 million in reserves, official data showed, a mis-
match that creates a premium for the U.S. dollar and fans the black
market. On the black market, the premium for the U.S. dollar spiked to
a new record on Saturday, reaching 165 percent from 120 percent on
Monday, traders said that means buying $100 in cash via a bank
transfer cost $265, up from $220 earlier this week. The Government’s
‘’Voodoo Economics’’ where it spent $1.3b pump-priming the economy
ahead of the election [money it did not have] was the straw that broke
the camel’s back.

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India-Africa trade touches $62.66 billion for 2017-18, increases 22% via @FinancialXpress H/T @LopesInsights

Among the key imports from Africa to India, petroleum products
dominated India’s import basket during 2016-17, with a significant
share of 52 per cent of India’s total imports from Africa.

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Kenya's deadly hotel attack: A timeline of how it occurred AP

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — It began with cars exploding and several armed
young men, wrapped in ammunition belts, sauntering onto the scene. It
was declared over nearly 20 hours later with at least 14 people
killed, 700 people evacuated and the Islamic extremist attackers
“eliminated.” Overnight, scores of frightened people hid in washrooms,
offices and elsewhere as gunfire popped and security forces hunted the
gunmen. Here’s a rough timeline of what occurred in the deadly attack
on a luxury hotel complex in Kenya’s capital.

Tuesday, 3 p.m.
Reports begin to spread of an explosion and gunfire at the Riverside
Drive complex, which includes a hotel, shops, restaurants and offices
in Nairobi’s upscale Westlands neighborhood. Several cars are ablaze
in a parking lot as security forces stream in and people run or are
carried from the scene. Police quickly call it a terror attack.
4:30 p.m.
Plainclothes police with guns drawn hurry from shop to shop to look
for trapped civilians and an unknown number of attackers. A black
plume of smoke rises from the scene. Sporadic gunfire continues.
5 p.m.
The Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab claims responsibility and
says its members are still fighting inside. Survivors rushing from the
scene, some in tears, report seeing bodies.
6 p.m.
Kenya’s national police chief says special forces are trying to flush
out the attackers and look forward to “bringing the situation to
normalcy in the shortest time possible.” Kenyans watch the police
response closely after officers took hours to respond to a deadly
attack on the nearby Westgate Mall in 2013
7 p.m.
A Kenyan police officer among the first responders says “there was no
time to count the dead,” with bodies seen in restaurants downstairs
and in offices upstairs. Gunfire continues.
8:30 p.m.
Kenya’s national police chief gives the first official details of the
attack, saying it began with an explosion that targeted three vehicles
outside a bank while a suicide bomber blew up in the hotel lobby,
severely wounding bystanders. He calls the operation “still ongoing.”
11 p.m.
Kenya’s interior minister says all buildings have been secured and
security forces are in the final stages of “mopping up.” There is
still no official toll of dead or wounded.
11:30 p.m.
Kenya’s Citizen TV airs what it calls surveillance footage that shows
four attackers, young men in ammunition bandoliers, splitting up as
they calmly walk across an outdoor area of the complex.
Wednesday, 1 a.m.
Some family members say loved ones are still trapped inside even after
Kenyan authorities called all buildings secure. One woman says her
brother is hiding with over 10 other people.
2 a.m.
A Kenyan police officer says 15 bodies have been taken to the morgue.
Anguished family and friends gather there.
4 a.m.
Kenya’s interior ministry says “no further threat to the public
exists” and that civilians who had been “secured” in one building have
been safely evacuated.
6:45 a.m.
Another explosion and gunfire are heard, shortly after scores of
survivors who had still been holed up in part of the complex are
freed. They reunite with relieved friends and family and recount a
long night of cowering in hiding places while listening to nearby
9:00 a.m.
Bursts of gunfire are still heard from the complex.
10:30 a.m.
Kenya president says 14 “innocent people” are dead and declares the
attack over, saying all the terrorists have been eliminated.”
3:30 p.m.
A new blast is heard at the complex, 24 hours the attack began.
Witnesses say security forces are conducting a painstaking sweep for
any explosives the attackers left behind in a final attempt at

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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January 2019

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