Politics & Policy

Trump’s Energetic Presidential Welcome in Poland

Yes, there are times when President Trump seems too easygoing, naïve, or oblivious about the nature of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. But then again, you don’t choose to go to Poland and give a speech like this if you’re a stooge of Moscow:

President Donald Trump on Thursday visibly enjoyed the praise showered on him by large crowds of flag-waving Poles in sun-splashed Krasinski Square. And the President, outside the United States for his second foreign trip, reciprocated by giving Polish leaders what they wanted: Public validation of their leadership and concerns over Russia.

Trump, in his most forceful terms to date, reaffirmed the United States support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“To those who would criticize our tough stance, I would point out not merely with words but with its actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment,” Trump said. “Words are easy but actions are what matter and for its own protection, and you know this, everybody has to know this, Europe must do more.” . . . 

Looking beyond Polish history, Trump pledged energy cooperation with Poland in a not-so-subtle knock against Russia’s use of energy as a coercive power.

“We are committed to securing your access to alternative sources of energy so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy,” Trump said.

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Poland’s ambassador to the U.S., Piotr Wilczek wrote:

America’s renewed interest in our region is also visible in last month’s delivery of American liquefied natural gas to Poland. Central and Eastern Europe have long been dominated by an energy monopoly left over from the Cold War era. We no longer have to be victims of geopolitics. Thanks to the newly constructed LNG import terminals on the Baltic coast and a system of interconnected pipelines, LNG delivered by ship to Świnoujście, Poland, can be transported throughout our region and beyond. These terminals allow us to exert greater energy independence, and we look toward our American partners for continued LNG gas exports.

In fact, we may be looking at an era in which the United States is an increasing superpower in the world’s energy markets.

The Easily Overlooked Boom in U.S. Oil Exports

The Failing New York Times notices that the United States is becoming a bigger and bigger oil exporter.

Oil exports grew slowly through most of 2016, but this year there has been a surge reaching 1.3 million barrels a day — roughly 15 percent of domestic production — which even at today’s depressed prices is worth more than $1.5 billion a month. . . . 

The United States still imports far more oil than it exports, and probably will continue to do so for many years. But since many American refineries were designed for heavy crudes from Mexico, Venezuela and Canada, the light shale oil from Texas is an awkward mismatch. Meanwhile, that oil is coming out of the fields in a record gush, and despite persistently low oil prices, the Energy Department projects that domestic production next year will top 10 million barrels a day, an all-time high. . . . 

Much of Texas has been in an economic slump in recent years, having lost about 100,000 oil jobs since late 2014, when the price of oil fell from over $100 a barrel to less than $50. But because of the exports, the job losses have been stemmed and there is the promise of new jobs to come. Oil executives said that if weren’t for exports, so much oil would be stockpiled in already flush domestic inventories that the American benchmark price would be $10 to $20 below the current $45 a barrel, making most new drilling uneconomical.

Even with exports and the U.S. need to refine heavy crude, gas prices at the pump this Independence Day weekend were the lowest since 2005. That’s an economic stimulus that touches just about every American, whether they drive or simply purchase goods that are transported by land. And as the U.S. exports more, that creates more jobs:

Many more jobs may be on the way. Ray Perryman, a leading Texas economist and president of the Perryman Group, a consulting firm, estimated that expanded crude exports will add more than 30,000 jobs in Corpus Christi over the next couple of decades. For the nation, 484,000 jobs could be added, nearly 60 percent of which will be in Texas, even if oil prices remain moderate to low, he estimated.

What Brad Thor’s Use of Force Does So Well

As mentioned earlier, I’m a huge fan of Brad Thor’s thriller novels, so it almost goes without saying you should go out and buy or download his latest, Use of Force, at your earliest convenience. There are a lot of good thriller writers out there, but I don’t think anybody else has Thor’s consistency of quality — of pacing, scope, real-world details, dynamic characters, twists, action, and exploration of the world’s less-tread corners.

Use of Force is the 17th book in Thor’s Scot Harvath series. So beyond the basic question of whether the book is any good — which it is — perhaps we should explore the question of how Thor keeps his protagonist and world exciting and dynamic and fresh after so many stories?

For starters, Harvath is indeed aging, albeit slowly. His mentor is succumbing to old age, the appeal or even need for a family is tugging more urgently at his heart. There’s a sense that he can’t keep doing what he’s so good at, hunting down the world’s most dangerous men, for much longer . . . but the work is never really finished.

I’m not spoiling much to say that by page four, Use of Force has set up a dramatic scenario where you’re already wondering what’s going to happen. In one of those “I can’t believe no one has thought of this already” concepts, Scot Harvath is hunting down a potential suicide bomber at the Burning Man Festival, a loud, crowded, visually overwhelming, anarchic environment that makes looking for a needle in a haystack look easy-peasy by comparison.

In a thriller, there’s always a question of how much your villain should succeed, in order to demonstrate the severity of the threat. Hans Gruber and the terrorists in Die Hard make short work of the LAPD and are one step ahead of the FBI. Several times in 24, the terrorists’ bombs went off, despite the best efforts of Jack Bauer. In a real thriller, the creator has to dispel the audience’s instinctive assurance that everything will turn out okay, an assurance conditioned by previously watching dozens or hundreds of happy endings. There has to be a real sense of risk. In the recent Superman movie, Man of Steel, the audience instinctively knows General Zod isn’t going to succeed in his plot to destroy the earth; there would be no room for a sequel. But in The Dark Knight, it’s possible the Joker could manipulate the passengers on one of the ferries to blow up the other. Life would go on for most of Gotham, but the Joker would have “won” by proving his point about human nature and the selfish, even savage instincts of people who think of themselves as being “good.”

In Use of Force, an ISIS-affiliated terror mastermind with considerable military and police experience manages to score some wins as Harvath is still looking for clues. It’s pretty clear from early on, the stakes are high and there is no guarantee the good guys will win. The bad guy may not destroy the world, but he can commit another Beslan, another Bataclan, another Ghouta.

You can tell Thor has done his homework on the experiences of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa, hoping to start new lives — and in some cases, wreak new havoc — in Europe. Thor credits the journalism of Barbie Latza Nadeau for shining a light in this dark corner of a beautiful world.

A key portion of Use of Force takes place in northern Libya, with fleeting references to the Benghazi attacks. (The Thor books take place in a world a lot like ours, but the president is different — generic and mostly “off screen” – and there are occasional references to the dramatic events of previous Scot Harvath stories. The world seems to have recovered so thoroughly from that Ebola-like plague outbreak unleashed in Code of Conduct that no one feels the need to mention it.) I can’t help but get the feeling that Thor wanted to depict how things should work when another small group of Americans is under fire from all directions in Libya and they call the U.S. government for help. Only one person out of roughly 150 was ever brought to justice for the Benghazi attacks.

Finally, Thor takes a villain that most readers probably thought had retired — the mafia and Italy’s organized crime — and brings us into their modern world of nightclubs, gangs, prostitution, migrant-smuggling, gunrunning, illegal horse-racing, and other vicious vices. Thor paints a vibrant but disturbing portrait of their world, suggesting he’s been able to see into those little-noticed corners or Southern Italy . . . or at the very least, taken a lengthy stay in Italy as a tax-deductible research business expense.

ADDENDA: Speaking of thrillers . . . 

Ships chartered by two oil traders responsible for a significant share of Iran’s fuel exports last year failed to transmit their location and the origin of their cargo — red flags for governments seeking evidence of evasion of sanctions on Tehran.

The ships’ radio-signal tracking systems were often not in use and occasionally indicated the ships had sailed from countries other than Iran, a Wall Street Journal investigation found.

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