One Dumb Mistake Away

by John Rubino

There’s always a war going on somewhere — frequently, alas, with the US either instigating or providing the weapons. But lately the tension has risen to Cold War levels, with lots of different people driving the action.

In Syria, Russia is forcing the American Empire to play catch-up:

U.S. Weaponry Is Turning Syria Into Proxy War With Russia

(New York Times) — Insurgent commanders say that since Russia began air attacks in support of the Syrian government, they are receiving for the first time bountiful supplies of powerful American-made antitank missiles.With the enhanced insurgent firepower and with Russia steadily raising the number of airstrikes against the government’s opponents, the Syrian conflict is edging closer to an all-out proxy war between the United States and Russia.

The increased levels of support have raised morale on both sides of the conflict, broadening war aims and hardening political positions, making a diplomatic settlement all the more unlikely.

Syria’s neighbors are being pulled into the conflict by ISIS:

Turkish officials claim ‘concrete evidence’ of Isis link to bombings

(Guardian) – Turkish officials said they had firm evidence linking Islamic State to the twin suicide bombings that killed scores of people at a peace rally in the country’s deadliest ever terrorist attack.Officials also hit back at accusations that the state was responsible for the massacre, saying 2,000 security personnel had been deployed to protect the peace rally, and rejected accusations that the ruling party sought to exploit the violence to bolster its chances at snap elections due next month.

Turkish government sources told the Guardian there was “concrete evidence” linking Isis to the bombing, and that they had established links to a July bombing in the southern border city of Suruç that had also been blamed on the militant group. Officials said that at least 97 people had been killed in the bombings, although rally organisers put the death toll at 128.

The Israel/Palestine conflict has gone from simmer to boil:

Israelis killed in Jerusalem bus stabbing and car ramming

(Guardian) – In an almost simultaneous attack in a Jewish neighbourhood of the city on Tuesday morning, an assailant rammed a car at speed into a bus stop before stabbing bystanders, killing one and injuring two others.Footage showed those waiting at the stop thrown into the air and the driver, a man in a blue T-shirt, running from the car with what appears to be a meat cleaver and hacking at one of the people knocked down. He moved on to start attacking an older looking ultra-orthodox man before being shot by a security guard.

By 1pm local time three Israelis had been killed in four separate attacks and more than 20 injured, half a dozen of them seriously, as Israeli security forces moved to swamp Jerusalem. There were also two reported stabbing attacks in the central Israeli city of Ra’anana.

Amid calls by Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, to seal Palestinian neighbourhoods of the city, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, ratcheted up his rhetoric at a special session of the Knesset on Tuesday evening.

“Israel will settle scores with those who are killing and those who are encouraging them. Anyone who raises their hand against us will have their hand cut off,” he told the session.

Iran, just weeks after signing a nuclear deal with the US, tests an apparently-banned missile:

U.S.: Iran missile test ‘likely’ violated U.N. resolution

(CNN) – Iran’s test this weekend of a new surface-to-surface ballistic missile “likely” violated a U.N. resolution, an administration official told CNN on Monday.Based on information the administration has so far, the test appears to be in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, which stipulates that Iran cannot engage in any activities related to ballistic missiles.

The Emad (Pillar) surface-to-surface missile, designed and built by Iranian experts, is the country’s first long-range missile that can be precision-guided until it reaches its target, said Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan, Iran’s defense minister.

China’s territorial demands pull the US into a game of chicken:

U.S. Tells Asian Allies That Navy Will Patrol Near Islands in South China Sea

(New York Times) — The United States has been briefing its allies in Asia on plans to conduct naval patrols near artificial islands built by China in the disputed South China Sea, a move that could escalate tensions with Beijing after President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Washington, American and Asian officials have said.The “freedom of navigation” patrols, which would come within 12 nautical miles of at least one of the islands, are intended to challenge China’s efforts to claim large parts of the strategic waterway by enlarging rocks and submerged reefs into islands big enough for military airstrips, radar equipment and lodging for soldiers, the officials said.

Though China claims much of the South China Sea as sovereign territory, the 12-mile zone around the new islands is particularly delicate because international law says such artificial islands do not have sovereign rights up to the 12-mile limit.

And lest South Americans feel left out:

Colombia and Venezuela Trade Barbs as Ties Fray

(Wall Street Journal) – Colombia’s President Juan Manual Santos, in his harshest words yet amid an escalating border crisis, dismissed the Venezuelan government’s claims that Colombia is to blame for Venezuela’s economic troubles and rampant crime.“The Bolivarian Revolution is self-destructing,” said Mr. Santos in a speech Wednesday, referring to Venezuela’s socialist system, which is named after 19th Century icon Simon Bolivar. “Problems in Venezuela are made in Venezuela, not made in Colombia,” he said.

His comments came three weeks after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro began closing key border crossings and forcing thousands of Colombian immigrants out of Venezuela.

The closure has left thousands of people along the normally porous border in limbo, with families separated and cross-border commuters unable to get to work. More than 20,000 people, most of them poor Colombians clutching bags of clothing or carrying appliances, have flooded back across the border into Colombia after being deported or forced to leave by Venezuelan soldiers, the United Nations says.

Horrible stuff, most of this. But not surprising. Badly-run countries tend to look abroad for enemies to distract from their domestic mismanagement, and since pretty much everyone is mismanaged these days, saber rattling and worse is to be expected.

Still, it’s been a while since nuclear powers were fighting on opposite sides in the same theater and playing bumper cars with aircraft carriers. History teaches that big wars frequently start with small miscalculations, and right now China, Russia and the US are giving themselves and each other lots of chances to screw up.

It might seem trite to bring monetary policy into what for millions of people is a life-or-death struggle. But this is a finance blog and geopolitical crisis has traditionally been met with easy money. So today’s world-gone-mad is yet another reason why the (quickly-vanishing) talk of higher interest rates will soon give way to tax cuts, negative interest rates, and massive new spending…and capital controls, wealth confiscation and the banning of cash. Living far from the Middle East does not mean you’re safe.

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