Cumberland Advisors Market Commentary – Turkey & Trump

Author: David R. Kotok, Post Date: October 19, 2019
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Here is an updated report from Al Jazeera on the Turkey ceasefire and related developments. While it reflects network leanings, they are much different from the CNN-Fox distortions, and more facts may often be gleaned.

Market Commentary - Cumberland Advisors - Turkey & Trump
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/turkey-military-operation-syria-latest-updates-191017051518215.html

Next we have the presidential tweeter’s self-proclaimed brilliance, hard on the heels of Pence and Pompeo’s trip to Ankara to meet with President Erdogan. He tweeted this at 2:17 PM on Thursday:

“This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this ‘Deal’ for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!” (https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1184895160871571456)

President Trump also remarked that the Kurds “didn’t help us in the Second World War. They didn’t help us in Normandy.” Actually, the Kurds were our allies in both World War I (http://www.kaiserscross.com/304501/407043.html) and World War II (https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/10/9/1891413/-The-Kurds-did-help-the-Allies-in-WWII). In both conflicts they fought with distinction in the Iraq Levies, which were troops recruited by the British to fight on the soil of Iraq, Palestine, Cyprus, the Persian Gulf, Albania, Greece, and Italy.

And here’s a personal statement from and report about a 100-year-old Kurd who fought with the allies in WWII: https://www.rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/13102019. Ahman Mustafa Delzar responded to the ill-informed tweet: “Trump was not born then – that is why he does not know that the Kurds participated in the war.” He explained, “The Levies were mainly Assyrians and Kurds and a smaller number of Arabs. I was the 8,000th Kurd who joined the Levies during the Second World War.”

The bottom line is well-summarized by this Washington Post article: “Trump’s retreat in Syria turns into a mess” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/10/14/trumps-retreat-syria-turns-into-mess/).

The following Atlantic piece by Joseph Votel and Elizabeth Dent provides additional trenchant detail on the negative effects of Trump’s decision to withdraw: “The Danger of Abandoning Our Partners,” https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/10/danger-abandoning-our-partners/599632/. (General Votel is currently a nonresident Senior Fellow on National Security with the Middle East Institute (MEI). As commander of CENTCOM, General Joseph Votel oversaw U.S. military operations across the Middle East, including the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, from March 2016 to March 2019. Elizabeth Dent is likewise a non-resident fellow at MEI, focused on counterterrorism, and worked in various capacities at the State Department for the US Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS from 2014 to 2019.) The authors conclude that Trump’s Syria policy reversal “threatens to undo five years’ worth of fighting against ISIS and will severely damage American credibility and reliability in any future fights where we need strong allies.”

Nevertheless, the president declared on Saturday, Oct. 19 that “We’ve had tremendous success I think over the last couple of days,” adding, “We’ve taken control of the oil in the Middle East” – a claim that observers had difficulty in connecting with the situation in Syria.

Dear readers, there is no rational way to seek an investor path through the bewildering twists and turns of present American foreign policy, if policy it be. It changes continually; and its disruptiveness, accompanied by constant, corrosive hyperbole, makes macro-dependent investing a high-risk adventure.

Here’s our position. We don’t own the Turkey ETF. We see the entire Middle East as a risky place. Think about it. Saudi gets attacked, and drones disable 5% of global oil production. Then nothing happens. Next, two missiles hit an Iranian tanker. Still nothing happens. Now, hundreds of ISIS fighters have escaped, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrian Kurds are at risk. What will happen next?

US policy seems to be lurching toward isolationism in fits and starts, in deadly counterpoint to domestic political turmoil. Remember, Senators McConnell and Graham have both strongly repudiated Trump, as did over two thirds of House Republicans when they joined all the Democrats in an anti-Trump vote on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

On Oct. 14 McConnell said, in part, “For years, the United States and our Syrian Kurdish partners have fought heroically to corner ISIS and destroy its physical caliphate. Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS. And such a withdrawal would also create a broader power vacuum in Syria that will be exploited by Iran and Russia, a catastrophic outcome for the United States’ strategic interests.” (https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/2019/10/14/mitch-mcconnell-issues-second-major-statement-syria-crisis/3977983002/). McConnell followed that statement with further remarks on Oct. 16. They can be viewed here: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/2019/10/14/mitch-mcconnell-issues-second-major-statement-syria-crisis/3977983002/.

Senator Graham expressed his views in a series of tweets on Oct. 16 tweets, at https://twitter.com/LindseyGrahamSC. He minced no words: “The worst thing any Commander in Chief can do is to give land back to the enemy that was taken through blood and sacrifice. I fear those are the consequences of the actions being taken right now.”

We remain overweight domestic US oil production, exploration, and natural gas. We remain fully invested in our domestic US ETF strategy and in our quantitative strategies (three of them).

Now a personal note.

My family members served in one branch of the military or another for several generations and during multiple wars. I personally attended a special NATO multi-country officers’ course in the 1960s. The British were the hosts. My task partner happened to be a Dutch colonel. I met and worked with WWII veterans in uniform and worked with others who served in their countries’ underground networks, fighting the Nazis.

Alliances matter. Long-term, tested alliances matter a lot.

Experienced leaders know that trustworthy allies are hard to develop and easy to lose. You don’t throw them under the bus. And you certainly don’t brazenly recite insults based on a false understanding of history, offending your friends and emboldening your enemies.

David Kotok, US Army. In memory: Leslie Kotok, US Navy. In memory: Sam Serata, US Air Force. In memory: Oscar Hacker, US Army. I’ll stop there. There are several more.

David R. Kotok
Chairman and Chief Investment Officer
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