American Foreign Policy Is Broken. Suleimani’s Killing Proves It.

A properly functioning National Security Council would never have let it happen, for good reason.

The targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and four others in a precision strike by an MQ-9 Reaper drone at Baghdad International Airport was an impressive display of American military prowess. And it liquidated a destabilizing figure: The general was the commander of the Quds Force, which is responsible for Iran’s covert and extraterritorial military operations. In the scheme of things, he had it coming. Yet killing him made little strategic sense for the United States. In some ways, the most significant thing about his death is what it shows about the breakdown of American foreign policymaking.

President Trump ordered the strike directly, prompted by the death of an American contractor on Dec. 27 in a rocket attack by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-sponsored Iraqi Shia militia. Mr. Trump did not bother to consult congressional leaders. As with his other displays of martial fiat, his immediate impulse was probably to shock the liberal domestic audience, vicariously make himself feel tough, and assert raw executive power by going around the normal channels of decision making.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had considered taking out General Suleimani but rejected it — not for lack of nerve, but for fear of undue escalation and an unnecessary war with Iran. The fundamental facts on the ground have not changed, and in the kind of robust interagency, national security decision-making process that the National Security Council staff is supposed to supervise, such concerns would have been systematically raised, dissected and discussed, and a consensus reached to inform presidential action. No such process seems to have occurred here.

The Pentagon has claimed, facilely, that General Suleimani was hit because the Revolutionary Guard was planning attacks on American targets in the region. But in a proper interagency review, the intelligence community could have pointed out that “decapitation” is a patently unreliable means of pre-emption — particularly when the organization in question is the Revolutionary Guard, an integral part of a well-honed security state with considerable depth of command talent.

In addition, the State Department might have noted that next to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, General Suleimani was arguably the country’s most powerful and venerated figure, and that when the target was such a senior and esteemed official, his countrymen were likely to perceive his killing as outright assassination. The State Department would also have emphasized that assassination was a flagrant casus belli, or provocation for war.

Had the Justice Department argued that targeted killing is distinct from assassination, which has long been proscribed by executive order, a raft of other government agencies might have noted that perceptions matter, perhaps anticipating Mr. Khamenei’s response to the deadly strike: “His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands.”

The National Security Council would have undoubtedly asked the intelligence community for a detailed assessment of Iran’s possible responses to the strike. Analysts would have underscored the inevitability of lethal attacks on Americans and American interests: terrorist attacks on embassies or other civilian or military facilities in the Middle East and farther afield, military escalation on the ground in Syria or Iraq, cyberattacks, the closing of the Strait of Hormuz, Hezbollah attacks on Israel, further operations targeting Gulf States’ oil infrastructure, and accelerating movement toward nuclear breakout.

Drilling deeper, intelligence analysts could have stressed the possibility that the strike on General Suleimani might encourage a new strain of transnational terrorism. While acknowledging that the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in the Middle East, has largely resisted venturing outside the Middle East for the past 25 years, they would have stressed that it is considered the most capable nonstate armed group in the world, the A Team to Al Qaeda’s B Team — a force that was shaped and nurtured by General Suleimani himself.

What’s more, such an official would have warned, Hezbollah has fiercely demonstrated its willingness to prosecute Iranian interests, against Israel and in Syria. If Iran so asked, the assessment might have continued, Hezbollah would turn outward, as it did in 1992, when it bombed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and killed 29, and in 1994, when it bombed a Jewish community center there and killed 85.

An appropriately functioning National Security Council would have asked: How does this fit in the administration’s overall foreign policy?

The State Department would have underlined that a chief objective of the administration’s Iran policy, including its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, was to roll back Iran’s nefarious regional activities — in particular, intervention in the Syrian civil war, political intrigue in Iraq and support for the Houthis in Yemen — and that General Suleimani oversaw them.

In response, the C.I.A. would have observed that taking out the general would deprive Iranian moderates, like President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, of any leeway for compromise, enabling hard-liners to co-opt them. Thus, the agency would have reasoned, the killing of a hard-line national hero would most likely dissolve any hope — dim even beforehand — that Mr. Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach would move the Iranians to renegotiate the nuclear deal; it might instead stir vengeance in the Iranian leadership, which would intensify rather than subdue those activities in his name.

Had there been a distinguished senior career State Department officer on hand — there used to be many, but their numbers have dwindled in this administration — he or she might even have provided the big strategic picture: that the Trump administration’s one major contribution to American foreign policy has been to refocus attention on great-power competition. And while Russia and China are great powers, Iran really isn’t one. Pick your fights, they’d have said.

A discreet official, of course, would have elided the fact that Mr. Obama’s rebalance to Asia and diplomatic approach to Iran appreciated this reality, cutting straight to Mr. Trump’s own antipathy to committing military resources to the Middle East. But that official might well have commented, for emphasis, that the former national security adviser, John Bolton, was dismissed in part over his hawkish insistence on coercive regime change in Tehran.

That adviser could have argued that for an administration looking to manage great-power competition, it is patently illogical to elevate a regional spoiler to great-power status, antagonistically martyr one of its leaders, gratuitously invigorate nonstate militants, and set the United States on a path toward war in a region it had hoped to calm.

And a really enterprising confidant might have intimated that a sensational military operation could scan as a cynical effort to divert attention from impeachment, as well as an example of the same brand of self-interested autocracy with which the House’s articles of impeachment charge the president.

It seems like none of these points were carefully considered, revealing the abject dysfunction and deterioration of the national security process under Mr. Trump. The killing of General Suleimani arose outside of any coherent policy context, and without adequate contemplation of near- or long-term strategic consequences. Mr. Trump’s move looks like either an impetuous act of self-indulgence or, somewhat more probable, a calculated attempt to bury his domestic political troubles. Whatever the precise reason, the act itself is irreversible, and will have serious consequences — precisely why it merited the systematic deliberation that it clearly did not receive.

Stratechery: Concepts

Aggregation Theory

Defining Aggregation Theory

Smiling Curve

Distribution and Transaction Costs

Commoditizing Suppliers

Owning Customer Relationship

Platforms vs Aggregators

Disruption Theory

The Innovator’s Dilemma

Disruption

Modular versus Integrated

The User Experience

Incentives

Making Money

Company Culture

Strengths=Weaknesses

Company Structure

Facing Change

Technology and Society

Antitrust

Privacy

Politics

Ethics and Mores

The Post-War Order

Unintended Consequences

Evolution of Technology

History

The Future

The Social Epoch

The Mobile Epoch

Media

Obsolete Business Models

New Media

Future Media Business Models

The Internet and Media

Strategy and Product Management

Premium Strategy

Using Leverage

Customer Acquisition

Platforms and Ecosystems

Horizontal versus Vertical

Advertising

Software-as-a-Service

Goals vs Tactics with a16z’s Marc Andreessen at Disrupt SF

10:20
do you do that to a company yeah so a
lot of this is actually you can actually
borrow concepts actually from military
strategy on this which is sort of the
difference between sort of strategy and
tactics right at a difference between
goals and tactics so I think it’s
incredibly important to have a really
vivid clear idea about where you want to
get in the long run that you stick to
and that you’re very solid on and that
everybody agrees to and then I think you
want to be very very flexible in the
tactics and I think the problem is you
it’s a dichotomy right it’s a it’s a
contradiction so you have to you have to
think about terms you have to think it
from a long-term standpoint but also you
have to think in terms of day-to-day
tactics and this is where you know I’ve
been very critical in the past to this
idea of like fail fast because like I
always things like fail fast is like the
key word in there is not fast it’s fail
and failure sucks and success is awesome
and we should be trying to succeed not
fail and I think the fail fast thing is
people thinking because I think fail
fast makes a lot of sense on tactics if
the tactics Network doesn’t work find a
different tactic I think fail fast is
catastrophic if it’s applied to strategy
and if it’s applied to goals and I think
a lot of founders frankly even still
like talk themselves out of what are
going to be good ideas in the long run
because they’re not getting immediate
traction and so again it goes back to
long term like we just ruled by data and
what cited by their gut that’s actually
so that is actually a racing point so
that is one of the things that happens
which is in the old day in the old days
when I when I was running short pants
you just didn’t hat you didn’t have all
the data it was much harder to get a
sense of how well you were doing and so
like on the one hand you you you felt
less concrete connection to what you’re
doing but on the other hand you didn’t
have this cascade of data coming at you
and now is you know like in all of these
businesses today you have daily weekly
if you want you have data to the minute
to the second to the microsecond of how
well or poorly you’re doing and it’s
really easy to get distracted by that by
that short term data and it’s really
easy to draw a long term
Lucian’s based on short-term data and
you do see companies that have gotten in
real trouble over that mm-hmm
conversely you see companies you know
that worked for a very long time on
something that people think is just
completely nutty and they get heavily
criticized along the way and by the way
sometimes those work and sometimes they
don’t but when they do work that is how
you do something like for all this whole
thing about how everything’s supposed to
be speeding up it still takes a decade
or more to build something really
significant I mean it you know in this
world like it still really does so when
it comes to like interesting products
that seem to be sort of jerked around by
their own data or were for a long time

Does Trump Have a Middle East Policy?

(Visit: http://www.uctv.tv/) The Trump Administration has an anti-ISIS military policy but has zeroed out reconstruction support for areas that have been liberated from ISIS in Syria. It has an anti-Iranian policy both rhetorically and economically, but it leaves containing the spread of Iran and the Shia militias in Syria to Israel and to the Russians and leaves Israel on its own to deal with the Russians. It has declared it will present a peace plan for the Israelis and Palestinians but at this point is unable to deal directly with the Palestinian Authority. In all these areas, there are elements of a policy but inconsistencies as well. The gap between objectives and means remains wide. Can it be bridged? Will we see an effective strategy for the area? And, what would an effective strategy look like? Dennis Ross will cover all this in his lecture. Recorded on 10/21/2018. Series: “Herman P. and Sophia Taubman Endowed Symposia in Jewish Studies” [2/2019] [Show ID: 34373]

‘He takes no ownership — that’s just Trump’: President eschews responsibility for a shutdown he once craved

The Debrief: An occasional series offering a reporter’s insights

In 2014, Donald Trump sued to have his name taken off a pair of Atlantic City casinos he built three decades earlier that had gone bankrupt.

It took the president just 10 days this month to remove his name from something else he once proudly owned but that wasn’t going great — the federal government shutdown.

After threatening a shutdown for months over border wall funding and vowing last week that he would “take the mantle” of responsibility, Trump tried to shift the blame Friday, just hours before a government funding bill expired at midnight.

“The Democrats now own the shutdown!” he wrote on Twitter.

.. “You own the shutdown,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded in a tweet, adding a video clip of his meeting with Trump and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the Oval Office in which the president declared: “I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”

.. The rhetorical Kabuki offered another example of a president who routinely contradicts himself without regard for the consequences. It also illustrated a chief executive who had brought Washington to the brink of a self-inflicted governance crisis with no clear strategy of how to manage the shutdown — or win it.

“It’s really indicative of how we all know he thinks so in-the-moment and so off-the-cuff that it winds up being dangerous,” said Jack O’Donnell, former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, one of the properties from which Trump removed his name.

.. “The whole idea of once things are going wrong, he takes no ownership — that’s just Trump,” O’Donnell added. “He does not own anything that goes wrong. The problem is, he’ll blame anybody. Obviously, it’s the Democrats in this situation.”

.. He alternated between insisting that Mexico would pay for the wall through a convoluted, and false, interpretation of a new trade deal and suggesting that the U.S. military and other agencies would find money in their existing budgets to build the barrier if lawmakers failed to deliver — despite restrictions on federal agencies reprogramming funding.

.. And the president even began rebranding “the wall,” parrying Democratic denunciations of a concrete monolith at the U.S.-Mexico border by announcing that his administration would build “artistically designed steel slats.” That quickly prompted widespread derision.

.. He even appeared to be conspiring with prominent conservative talk show hosts to help guide him. Rush Limbaugh boasted that Trump had “gotten word to me” that he would shut down the government if he failed to win the wall funding.

By Friday, a desperate Trump had seized on the “nuclear option” proposed by congressional border hawks to discard the Senate’s long-standing filibuster rules and approve with a majority vote a House-passed spending plan that included the $5 billion.

.. Aides announced that he had indefinitely postponed his winter vacation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in south Florida, which was scheduled to begin Friday evening.

.. In the case of his casinos, Trump had divested himself of control of the properties five years before he sued the new owners, having retained a 10 percent stake for the continued use of his moniker.

In his lawsuit to remove his name, Trump asserted that the properties, which twice under his management had faced bankruptcy, had fallen into disrepair and tarnished a Trump brand that “has become synonymous with the highest levels of quality, luxury, prestige and success.”

.. To O’Donnell, the episode was “classic Trump.” The president, he said, had taken ownership of the shutdown in the televised showdown with Schumer and Pelosi to demonstrate his toughness to his base — without a plan to deal with the aftermath.

“That’s really what this was: ‘I’m a tough guy. Don’t think I can’t handle the heat,’ ” O’Donnell said. “The fact is, he can’t handle it.”

Mitch McConnell Is the Master of Confirming Judges

He outmaneuvered Chuck Schumer last year, making the path clearer for this year’s high court nominee.

Mr. McConnell adopted as his top priority as Senate majority leader an ambitious effort to make the federal courts more conservative—from top to bottom. There’s only one way to do this—fill every judicial vacancy with a conservative.

For Mr. McConnell, this is a war. Justice Gorsuch was D-Day. Judge Brett Kavanaugh is the slog across France. Mr. McConnell is a general in a hurry to keep winning, since Republicans could lose the Senate majority in November.

.. When Justice Gorsuch sailed through, Democrats and the left were reeling from Donald Trump’s election. Their opposition was inept. The vaunted “resistance” to anything associated with Mr. Trump was pathetic. Now Democrats are committed to blocking Judge Kavanaugh, and they’re serious. But they still have Chuck Schumer as their leader, and they still can’t do it without Republican help.

.. Mr. McConnell is experienced in outmaneuvering Mr. Schumer. By the time the Democrat offered his deal, Mr. McConnell had recruited former Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire as Judge Gorsuch’s sherpa as he visited senators. Ms. Ayotte pointed Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski to Judge Gorsuch’s record, which didn’t reveal a yearning to kill Roe. After listening to Judge Gorsuch, the two senators were leaning in his favor. Mr. Schumer was too late.

..  Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski are back. Same issue. Democrats seem to think every GOP judicial nominee is hiding a passion for overturning Roe. In truth, some may be. But it’s awfully hard to prove it.

.. Why is Mr. McConnell so successful in getting Republican judges confirmed? He’s a big-picture guy. He plays a long game. He must have a home-state agenda for Kentucky, but you rarely hear of it. He’s not out for himself.

.. As Republican leader, he has little interest in popularity. He’s secretive and a self-described introvert. “He never tells me anything,” a close Senate ally says.

.. “In a city where concealing ambition behind a cloak of righteousness is the norm, this refusal is one of his more underappreciated virtues,” Mr. McGuire wrote. The majority leader’s willingness to oppose popular issues like the tobacco settlement and campaign-finance reform show he’s no political weakling.

.. Mr. McConnell isn’t particularly popular. But he’s respected. He says the only real power he has as majority leader is control of the Senate floor. When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, Mr. McConnell said the Senate wouldn’t take up a nomination in President Obama’s last year. Democrats screamed, but neither Mr. McConnell nor Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley flinched. The result: Justice Gorsuch.
.. Among Mr. McConnell’s unusual traits are patience and a sense of when to call a vote. He’s willing to delay a vote for months waiting for precisely the right moment. Last spring he twice canceled votes to confirm an appeals court nominee. When he felt the time had come, he held a quick vote. The judge was confirmed handily.
.. No one is better at the game, now or probably ever.

Content isn’t king

subscription streaming has more or less ended the strategic importance of music to tech companies. In the past, any music you bought for your iPod had proprietary DRM and could only be played on Apple devices

.. Your music library kept you on a device. With streaming these issues mostly go away.

.. if you do switch to a different service you’re not giving up tracks you’ve paid money for, just a list of your favourites. Switching became easy.

.. Since music no longer stops people from switching between platforms, it’s gone from being a moat .. to a low-margin check-box feature.

.. A Taylor Swift exclusive for Apple Music might drive some iPhone sales, just as a cool new ad campaign might, but there’s no strategic lever here – no lock-in. 

.. whenever I talk to music people or book people, very quickly the conversation becomes a music industry conversation or a book industry conversation. What matters for music are artists and touring and labels and so on, and what matters for books are writers and publishers and rights and Amazon’s bargaining power in books and so on. These aren’t tech conversations.

.. The big tech platform companies rolled into these industries and changed everything, but then moved on to bigger things.

.. Amazon has a big ebooks business, but Prime and perhaps Alexa are the strategic levers.

.. Tech needed content to make their devices viable, but having got the content (by any means necessary), and with it of course completely resetting the dynamics of the industry, tech outgrew music and books and moved on to bigger opportunities.

..  the shows that are watched mainly because they’re broadcast at 8pm on Saturday will suffer, and so will the channels that are watched because they’re high up on the program guide. Channel brands, shows and episodes are unbundled. We’ve been talking about this in theory for over a decade, but finally, praxis is here.

.. Amazon and Netflix have entered TV content creation and ownership in ways and on a scale that no-one from tech ever did for music or books. Amazon did try to get into book publishing and has a significant self-publishing arm, but it had little success recruiting existing mainstream authors

.. neither Apple nor Spotify created a record label. In TV, though, Amazon and Netflix are already spending more on commissioning original and exclusive content than many traditional channel brands.

.. Cancel the subscription delivery service and you lose access to all Amazon TV shows.

.. For Google and Facebook, there’s no subscription to cancel – there’s no binary (renew/don’t renew, cancel/don’t cancel) decision you might take that would cut off your access to that great TV show. You don’t close your Facebook account – you just go there less. You might stop paying for the Youtube TV service, but that won’t cut off your access to any other part of Google – nor would anyone want it to – the purpose of these businesses is reach.

.. cancel Prime and you’d lose Amazon, but what do Google & FB have to cancel? Without some platform decision to lock you into, content is marketing, and revenue, but not a lever.

..  You pay an average of $700 or so every two years (i.e. $30/month) and Apple gives you a phone. Buy an Android instead and you lose access to the (hypothetical) great Apple television service. This is why people argue that Apple should buy Netflix.

.. From a pure M&A perspective, buying Netflix and immediately limiting its business to Apple devices would halve its value – why buy a business and fire half the customers? Buying it without such a restriction would have no strategic value – Apple would just be buying marketing and revenue.

..  Apple has always preferred a very asset-light approach to things that are outside its core skills. It didn’t create a record label, or an MVNO, and it didn’t create a credit card for Apple Pay – it works with partners on the existing rails as much as possible

..  it does so with nothing like the kind of negotiating power that it had in iPod days – Amazon and Netflix (if not also Google and Facebook) have seen to that.

.. Part of ‘content is king’ was the idea that (at least in theory) content companies can withhold access to their libraries entirely, and in the past one might have presumed that that meant they had the power to kill any new service at birth. In reality, rights-holders have always had too strong a need for short-term revenue to forgo broad distribution, and few of them individually had a strong enough brand to extract a fee that was high enough to justify exclusivity.

.. They always have to take the cheques – individually to meet their bonus targets, and collectively to meet their earnings estimates.

.. for a media company to give a tech platform exclusivity is immediately to build up that platform’s power over the media companies.

.. Similar problems apply to the somewhat chimerical idea that content companies should go direct to consumer – few of them have the skills, fewer have the brand and content, and fewer still, again, have a shareholder structure to allow the short-term revenue hit.

.. the device is the phone and the network is the internet. The smartphone is the sun and everything else orbits it. Internet advertising will be bigger than TV advertising this year, and Apple’s revenue is larger than the entire global pay TV industry.

.. This is also why tech companies are even thinking about commissioning their own premium shows today – they are now so big that the budgets involved in buying or creating TV look a lot less daunting than they once did.