I recently conducted an interview for a managerial position and one question I wish I had asked was "Describe a day in the life of this role".
I thought of this later as I was driving, but I really like this question for a managerial or leadership type role since it allows the interviewer to hear the candidate's understanding of the responsibilities and expectations of the role. On the flip side, it also allows the interviewer to clearly communicate expectations and responsibilities to close any gaps or identify discrepancies.
A discussion around this hypothetical exposes bits and pieces of a candidate's experience as well such as how the candidate has contributed to teams in the past, how the candidate structures a work day, and the type of workload a candidate has had in the past and how he or she expects that workload to be in a new position.
It achieves the above in relatively concrete terms as it asks a candidate to lay out how they imagine they will function in a particular role and environment and how they envision their time being spent.
This is definitely one to include in your repertoire.
Dangerous Times Lie Ahead
The crux of my postulation is that Russia is using the US to ignite a war with Iran. You are sitting there asking yourself why that would be the case; after all, aren't the Russians and the Iranians allies?
Yes, this has traditionally been true, but since Obama took office, he has taken a completely different tone with Iran. Remember when he spoke to the Islamic world shortly after taking office?
In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically- elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.
Yes, he brought sanctions on Iran to force their hand on their nuclear ambitions, but last year, he also upheld his promise and lifted sanctions on Iran, once again allowing Iranian oil back onto the open market and opening economic ties with Iran, including a multi-billion dollar deal with Boeing for aircrafts and parts.
What results is that Iran is now competing with Russian oil and natural gas in the EU market, where Russia is the number 1 supplier of coal, oil, and natural gas. The amount from Iran is not what is significant but rather that for Russia to maximize their commodities, they need to disrupt the global supply and Iran presents the perfect opportunity for them to leverage the US -- given the right pieces in place.
By all accounts, if you analyze the actions of Obama from the perspective of oil, you can only conclude that he has weaponized the price of oil. When he took office in 2009, the price per barrel of crude oil was around $100 and crashed due to the glut on the market after the recession, but climbed steadily as the global economy recovered.
In 2012, as the price of gas continued to climb, Obama threatened to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to shock the speculative markets. And then in 2014, the US sold 5 million barrels as a warning to the Russians:
The United States will hold the first test sale of crude from its emergency oil stockpile since 1990, offering a modest 5 million barrels in what some observers saw as a subtle message to Russia from the Obama administration.
The Energy Department said the test sale had been planned for months, timed to meet demand from refiners coming out of annual maintenance cycles. But oil traders noted that Russia's effort to take over the Crimea region from Ukraine has prompted calls for use of booming U.S. energy resources to relieve dependence on Russian natural gas by Europe and Ukraine.
Obama realized long ago that the price of oil could be weaponized to weaken our enemies. Russia, Venezuela, Iran, much of the Middle East -- if you drive down oil prices, you can gain the upper hand.
In the mean time, domestically, despite early indications that Obama would be a left leaning environmentalist (recall Palin's chants of "Drill baby, Drill!"), he has proven to be the exact opposite when it comes to domestic oil production. His EPA has taken no federal action on fracking, largely leaving it to states to impose their own regulations. This domestic boom served two purposes for him: first is that it aided jobs numbers and oil jobs are rather high income. Second is that it pushed down the price of oil as production ramped up, giving the US supreme leverage over traditionally tricky areas of the world. We've seen Venezuela practically collapse on itself as Obama -- a Democrat -- not Reagan, not Bush Sr., not Bush Jr, allowed US oil exports for the first time in 40 years in 2014.
There were surely many reasons for this; for Obama, it was surely bittersweet but ultimately beneficial for his geopolitical goals.
The Iranians Come Around
Not surprisingly, we see a corresponding collapse of oil prices in 2015 as a result of this and, not surprisingly, Iranians give in by July of 2015:
VIENNA — Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States reached a historic accord on Tuesday to significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions.
The deal culminates 20 months of negotiations on an agreement that President Obama had long sought as the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency. Whether it portends a new relationship between the United States and Iran — after decades of coups, hostage-taking, terrorism and sanctions — remains a bigger question.
The sanctions combined with the tumbling price of oil absolutely devastates the Iranian economy to the point that Liberals are calling him out for being too cold-hearted and punishing the average Iranian.
Obama achieved a flawless victory by getting Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions and also punishing Russia for Ukraine by further pushing oil prices down; they would reach just under $30/barrel by the time Obama leaves office. You can bet that Putin and his inner circle are absolutely fuming.
But the Iranian resolution poses a different problem, especially for Russia. You see, for years, Iran, Iraq, and a handful of other oil producing countries have been planning a pipeline straight from Iran to the EU. Wouldn't you know it? That pipeline would have to pass through Syria and Turkey. It's known colloquially as the Friendship Pipeline:
The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline (called the Friendship Pipeline by the governments involved and the Islamic gas pipeline by some Western sources) is a proposed natural gas pipeline running from the Iranian South Pars / North Dome Gas-Condensate field field towards Europe via Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to supply European customers...
A framework agreement was to be signed in early 2013, with costs now estimated at $10bn; construction plans were delayed by the Syrian civil war.
The pipeline would be a competitor to the Nabucco pipeline from Azerbaijan to Europe. It is also an alternative to the Qatar-Turkey pipeline which had been proposed by Qatar to run from Qatar to Europe via Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. Syria's rationale for rejecting the Qatar proposal was said to be "to protect the interests of [its] Russian ally, which is Europe's top supplier of natural gas."
It would be amazing; finally, a project that would unite a good chunk of the Middle East with a common goal. It would be an economic force that would even garner the interest of NATO as a critical piece of infrastructure for the economic well-being of the EU members. It would give them an option from the grasp of the Russians.
You can see how to the Russians, who export no cars, no electronics, no clothing, no food, no anything but oil, weapons, drugs (heroin), and alcohol; this is a Big Fucking Deal. They will do anything, including helping Erdogan and getting a tight grip on the Syrian conflict, to ensure that this pipeline cannot come to fruition.
Of course, this implies that Turkey is also in on this with the Russians since that pipeline either terminates at a Syrian port or goes through Turkey straight into the EU. And of course, this is more than likely as the Russians are surely backing Erdogan. Erdogan's moves are practically right out of Putin's playbook. Recall that the Turks shot down a Russian jet. What came of that? Nothing. What is the lives of two pilots compared to the billions at stake?
Obama's biggest mistake is not sensing this and stepping in to disrupt Erdogan's power grab (admittedly, probably too "dirty" for his tastes) and immediately crushing Assad. Had he assisted Iraq and Iran in securing a throughway for this pipeline to Europe, we could be looking at a very different Middle East 10 years down the line.
The Russian Gambit
So not only has Obama crushed the price of oil, coordinated sanctions on Russia for their role in the Ukrainian conflict, he also allowed Iranian oil to hit the open market and further put a cap on upwards pressure on oil prices. Furthermore, Iran doesn't play ball with OPEC after years of being locked out of the oil markets:
Less than six months after the lifting of Western sanctions, Iran is close to regaining normal oil export volumes, adding extra barrels to the market in an unexpectedly smooth way and helped by supply disruptions from Canada to Nigeria.
But the development will do little to repair dialogue, let alone help clinch a production deal, when OPEC meets next week amid rising political tensions between arch-rivals Iran and oil superpower Saudi Arabia, OPEC sources and delegates say.
The Russians are not happy about this because not only are they under Western sanctions, but the price of oil is collapsing and the US managed to pull it off without seemingly much effort. Putin is likely even more incensed by the fact that he played his part by agreeing to sanctions on Iran which, in his plan, would have taken their supply off the market and been a boon for Russia; he mis-played his hand and Obama won. By 2016, the Ruble has basically collapsed and the Russian economy is looking pretty bad:
Low oil prices and international sanctions have crippled Russia’s economy. The country has been operating at a deficit since 2012, and its Reserve Fund is slated to run out by 2017. Last week, the World Bank warned that the poverty rate in Russia is rising sharply.
Read that paragraph carefully; do you see an important date? If Hillary Clinton comes into office and brings forth another 4 years of Obama policies with regards to Russia, the Russian oligarchy will collapse as the economy is left in tatters; there will open revolt as the people start to feel the economic sting. They are in a no-win situation in Syria because they lose if they give up and they lose if Clinton wins and they stay engaged.
The Russians have one shot and one shot only: they need to get someone on their side into a position of power in the US; they need to be able to peddle their influence to lift the sanctions and, more nefariously, cause the price of oil to rise. Remember how Obama weaponized the price of oil by driving it down through his geo-political actions? If you're a country that heavily relies on oil exports to prop up your economy like the Russians, you weaponize by increasing the price. Now there's really only two ways that the price of oil can go up: the first is that there is a global economic boom that drives up consumption of oil. The second is to disrupt the supply of oil on the market. The first is hard since some rich people have to give up some money (taxes, wages), but the second is easy: they are going to let Iran get slaughtered.
To achieve this, they will need a very easily compromised candidate. Kasich? Cruz? Graham? Bush? None of those guys can be compromised easily because they are principled and despite their disagreements with Democrats, still believe in rule of law, the Constitution, and the world order we live in. Guys like Cruz graduated from Harvard law; they're not stupid. Donald Trump on the other hand...he could be had.
We now know that there is a Trump Dossier from a highly trusted former MI6 source that basically outlines how Trump has been compromised by the Russians. The Russians used this dossier, but more importantly, they used Trump's ego to egg him on. It is likely that they promised him nothing more than their aid in pursuit of the prestige of the office and not even any piece of the bigger pie. In exchange, the Russians get to install key actors in the Trump administration: Manafort, Carter Page, Bannon, Flynn, Tillerson whom will be the real power centers and call the shots.
If we examine the actions of Trump like the pedalling of Ivanka's brand or the doubling of fees at Mar-a-Lago, do these actions seem like those of a man who just hit the jackpot with Russian petro-Rubles? Or do they seem like those of a man trying to make a buck? This is the sad/scary part: Donald Trump is not in on the Big Game.
The Price to Pay
What is the price for the Russians to achieve this? Surprisingly low. Through their experience with the invasion of Ukraine, their assistance of Erdogan in Turkey, and of course their historical propaganda wars, they only need a relatively small investment to win this. Hackers, fake news sources, bots -- all cheap compared to American tactics. Where Bush spent trillions to install democracies, Russia likely spent far, far less to fight an information war using America's own cracks in its democracy. The Russians prototyped the campaign with Brexit and then applied the refined tactics to the US. They used the disaffected white male to achieve their goals by pushing propaganda and stoking racism, nationalism, and hatred. They hit the jackpot to end all jackpots: full control of all three branches of the US government.
However, they will need to pay big bucks for a few insiders in Washington.
Guys like Flynn, Tillerson, and Bannon are surely "in". I'm not convinced that guys like Chaffetz are "in"; Chaffetz is entirely fungible, a tool that happens to align with their goal.
After the Trump victory, as we now know, there were immediate contacts with Russian counterparts by Flynn, which lead to his abrupt resignation on February 13, which caps an amazingly idiotic set of actions starting from the call itself to statements that implicate the whole administration since Pence is also pulled in now based on conflicting statements.
Honestly, I was quite shocked; up to this point, I felt that they would not let him fall because he was "in" and huge liability if cut loose; they misread his qualifications and his shrewdness. But perhaps they have a different view of him now: that he's a straight up idiot. After all, only an idiot would think that diplomatic communications were not being monitored in the age of WikiLeaks and the NSA. The heroic Sally Yates had warned the Trump administration as early as last year. Will Flynn talk and spill the beans? I doubt it; my guess is that his life and the life of his family is at stake given how good the Russians are at "suiciding" people.
Now they are turning the same tactic on Europe to fracture the EU to increase their bargaining power.
Setting the Stage
Now we get to the role of Bannon. In an unusual move, Steve Bannon -- a man with no qualifications for the position -- is placed as a principal on the National Security Council. Why does Bannon -- a story teller, a master of the narrative, a liar -- need a seat at the table that discusses key intelligence and policy decisions? What purpose could he have in that role?
The answer is pretty straightforward: his role is to use the intelligence to craft a story in much the same way the Bush administration crafted the story for the invasion of Iraq. Remember our friend Nigerian Yellowcake? Yes, Steve Bannon's role is to precisely create another incident that will allow war with Iran.
With this in mind, now think carefully about the travel ban and what the ultimate goal is. Surely, Bannon, et al are not dumb; they know that it will not pass muster and will not pass the SCOTUS if it were to come to it. But that's not the point; the travel ban is a sleight of hand that serves two purposes: the first is to rile up the extremist Muslims and show them that America is who they thought they were. The second is far more nefarious: it is a setup to knock down the judiciary, moderate Republicans, and Democrats.
Steve Bannon and Flynn were likely -- my guess -- working out how to allow another 9/11 to occur. You see, they need one to trigger a war with Iran. Flynn -- the perfect, rabid dog for this role -- was ousted from the Obama administration in 2014 because he took a far too aggressive stance on attacking the Muslim world:
Flynn said he favored a more aggressive approach to defeating ISIS than that of the Obama administration. He repeated his hard-line approach at the Republican National Convention in July.
He went on to criticize the Obama administration for reducing the United States’ influence in the world, worrying about being politically correct and acting too hesitantly when it came to using military force.
Bannon, the story teller, is the second piece of the puzzle.
They will then fabricate or twist intel or just make up a narrative that the perpetrators of some horrific event would have been stopped had everyone listened to Trump and upheld his ban. The fabrication has to be so good that it will cause Republicans and Democrats to forget the disaster of Iraq and vote to authorize war with Iran; they will shame moderates, Democrats, and those paid liberal protesters into supporting a war by pointing to their resistance to Trump's ban. Of course, this is why they need a storyteller of the caliber of Steve Bannon. Al Jazeera has it right on: Trump and company are seeking a 'Reichstag Fire':
Donald Trump and his top Islamophobe nomenklatura gathered at the White House, now led by the militant crusader Stephen Bannon, are on a desperate lookout for their "Reichstag Fire" and their favourite propaganda outlet, Fox News, is franticly searching for it - even in Canada.
"Reichstag Fire" was an arson attack on the Reichstag, the German parliament, in Berlin on February 27, 1933. The incident was soon abused by Adolf Hitler and his gang to demand a suspension of civil liberties in systematic preparation for his putsch for total fascist power.
It has already started. Trump has slapped new sanctions on Iran:
President Trump’s decision Friday to quickly slap new sanctions on Iran after it conducted a ballistic missile test signals the hard turn the new administration intends to take with Tehran.
It capped a week in which the fiery rhetoric from Team Trump highlighted rising tensions between the two countries.
The new sanctions were cheered by Republicans, who had pushed former President Obama to respond more muscularly to Iran’s provocations.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that Iran President Hassan Rouhani "better be careful" after Rouhani was quoted as saying that anyone who speaks to Iranians with threats would regret it.
If you still support the Trump administration at this point, ask yourself: do you want a war with Iran? I want to make it clear, I'm not making an argument for Clinton; I'm making an argument against Trump and his crew. I would prefer anyone at this point: Graham, Kasich, Romney, Bush, Cruz, Rubio -- heck, even Ben Carson (yuck!) -- any one of these guys will not lead us into war with Iran with malicious intent.
Mikhail Gorbachev has it right in his December piece in Time magazine:
Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war.
For any real American, it should no longer be about God, guns, gays, abortion, and taxes; the future of our nation is in serious jeopardy if we engage in another war with Iran. Another trillion or more in debt, American lives, Iranian lives, the high cost of oil...now is the time to put aside some of our differences and get Congress to act to prevent this scenario from unfolding!
Jason Chaffetz has basically come out and stated that there's nothing to see here, nothing worthy of investigation. And thus the pieces are now set: it will be the Republican brigade in the legislature and the executive versus the judiciary, the press, and the CIA and NSA. And it looks like there is hope that the latter is now trying to gain the upper hand. The longer the Republicans in Congress delay action, the worse this is going to look for them as more and more information starts to leak from the CIA and NSA.
Some Food For Thought
Trump's trips to Mar-a-Lago are seemingly innocuous. I don't want to talk about his time spent golfing or his cheap attempts to make a buck, but I want to propose that he is intentionally allowing Russia to listen in on diplomatic discussions. He held a meeting with Shinzo Abe regarding recent North Korean aggression in an open air setting. The dining area was lit only with flashlights so they needed to use their phones -- you know, those things that everyone uses as a camera these days -- to read documents. This is intentional because they are now aware that all communications from the White House and Air Force One are bugged by the CIA and NSA once Sally Yates warns them about Flynn; this is a ploy to circumvent this.
It must be extremely irritating for the Secret Service to watch their Commander in Chief actively passing information to the Russians (and who knows who else) right under their noses. It's no wonder the US intelligence community is starting to leak on Trump; the entire upper echelon of the administration is compromised to the fullest (with the exception of dimwits like Betsey DeVos). I wonder if McConnell and Ryan are compromised. It is quite amazing that Ryan's support never swayed from Trump.
If you've not been following, you may have missed the recent testimony from top American commander Gen. John Nicholson that there is evidence that the Russians are arming and training the Taliban in Afghanistan:
The top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, stopped short of detailing everything the U.S. knows about the Russian return to Afghanistan in an appearance before a Senate panel last week. But he did confirm some lawmakers' accounts of what U.S. intelligence has established about the relationship.
"If Russia is cozying up to the Taliban — and that's a kind word — if they are giving equipment that we have some evidence that the Taliban is getting ... and other things that we can't mention in this unclassified setting? And the Taliban is also associated with al-Qaida? Therefore Russia indirectly is helping al-Qaida in Afghanistan," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
"Your logic is absolutely sound, sir," Nicholson said.
"I think it's to undermine the United States and NATO," Nicholson said.
I add this because it should be clear: the Russians are not our friends. Repeat after me: they are not our friends.
I have a hunch -- just a hunch -- that the whole Republican stance on the "global warming is a hoax" deal is actually driven by the Russians. It's not that every Republican is being paid off by Russians, but that there is infiltration at high levels of Republican leadership that shape the agenda and messaging. After all, reduction in consumption of oil and coal is bad business for the Russians who really only export coal, oil, natural gas, vodka, and gnarly dashcam videos.
Trump's opposition to NAFTA is quite strange on the surface given that free trade is traditionally pro-commerce, pro-business and a stance of the Republican establishment. After all, if you can move your manufacturing to Mexico, you can defang the unions. I don't believe for one moment that Trump actually cares about American jobs; he's simply proven too self absorbed. The threat of a NAFTA repeal has also righly pissed off many businesses (agri-business) and Trump supporters like farmers who rely on NAFTA sanctioned visas for seasonal workers. Even CEOs of restaurant chains are probably quite upset as they brace for increased prices for avocados, tomatoes, limes, you name it.
After all, Mexico is one of the world's largest exporters of flat screen TV's and the source for 45% of tomatoes consumed in the US. It's really going to piss off a lot of businesses big and small that typically support Republicans.
However, if you put it within the framework of what I've highlighted above, it all fits together: Mexico and Canada are the #1 and #2 importers of crude oil to the US, accounting for about 35% of all oil consumed in the US. What happens if there is a 20% tariff on those imports of oil?
Americans have it all wrong on Democrats and coal. If you look at the table of solid fuel suppliers to the EU, the US has climbed steadily to third place. Yes, while domestic consumption of coal has declined, we've exported more and more coal to the EU. Obama isn't as green as the masses think he is.
I beg of you, watch this Rick Steves documentary on Iran. Iranians are good people; they are a natural ally for the US in the ME: relatively stable government, highly educated populace, home of the Green Movement, itching to liberalize, receptive to American goods (see Boeing deal), and despite our differences, worked out this nuclear issue. Yes, they fund groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, but these are largely regional agitators that are vying for control of land and not Islamic jihad as we see from the radical Wahhabists from Saudi Arabia who fund madrassas all over the world and support Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It makes no sense to align with the Saudis but not the Iranians.