Trump’s ​War Policy in Syria

LONDON – Clearly, the last word has not been said about the chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province, Syria, on April 4, which left 85 dead and an estimated 555 injured. But three points – concerning responsibility for the attack, the United States’ military response to it, and the episode’s effect on the course of Syria’s civil war – need to be made.

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Russia’s Nonprofit Spies

LONDON – Nothing so riles Western opinion about Russia today as its law on foreign agents. Enacted in July 2012, the law requires all non-commercial organizations (NCOs) engaged in (undefined) “political activities” to register with the Ministry of Justice as “carrying functions of a foreign agent.” A follow-up measure in 2015, the “Undesirable Organizations” law, required any such NCO to identify itself publicly as a “foreign agent.”

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Economists in Denial

LONDON – Early last month, Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, blamed “irrational behavior” for the failure of the BoE’s recent forecasting models. The failure to spot this irrationality had led policymakers to forecast that the British economy would slow in the wake of last June’s Brexit referendum. Instead, British consumers have been on a heedless spending spree since the vote to leave the European Union; and, no less illogically, construction, manufacturing, and services have recovered.

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Another Reset with Russia?

LONDON – The question of the West’s relationship with Russia has been buried by media stories of hacking, sex scandals, and potential blackmail. The dossier by former British spy Christopher Steele about US President Donald Trump’s activities in Moscow some years ago may turn out to be as credible as the claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction – or it may not. We simply don’t know. What is clear is that such stories have distracted attention from the task of bridging the diplomatic chasm now dividing Russia and the West.

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Slouching Toward Trump

LONDON – The Republican establishment has gone into overdrive to present President-elect Donald Trump as a guarantor of continuity. Of course, he is nothing of the sort. He campaigned against the political establishment, and, as he told a pre-election rally, a victory for him would be a “Brexit plus, plus, plus.” With two political earthquakes within months of each other, and more sure to follow, we may well agree with the verdict of France’s ambassador to the United States: the world as we know it “is crumbling before our eyes.”

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The Case for UK Import Substitution

LONDON – The most dramatic economic effect of the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote has been the collapse of sterling. Since June, the pound has fallen by 16% against a basket of currencies. Mervyn King, the previous governor of the Bank of England, hailed the lower exchange rate as a “welcome change.” Indeed, with Britain’s current-account deficit running at over 7% of GDP – by far the largest since data started being collected in 1955 – depreciation could be regarded as a boon. But is it?

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The Scarecrow of National Debt

Most people are more worried by government debt than about taxation. “But it’s trillions” a friend of mine recently expostulated about the United Kingdom’s national debt. He exaggerated a bit: it is £1.7 trillion. But one website features a clock showing the debt growing at a rate of £5,170 per second. Although the tax take is far less, the UK government still collected a hefty £533.7 billion in taxes in the last fiscal year. The tax base grows by the second, too, but no clock shows it.

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