Tag Archives: Russia

Requiem for a Lightweight

Trump did not win. Ms. Inevitability lost.  It was inevitable. The only surprise is that so many refused to see what was so obvious until it was too late. I saw it coming and said so; first in September, 2011, then in  June, 2013, and again in June, 2016.  However, there is a much more profound consequence of this election that remains ignored in the post-election ruminations of the media.  I will touch on that later, but first, the postmortem.

Did the Russians steal the election from  her?  No.  Whatever they may have done was minor to what she did to herself long before.   Hillary, paranoid of right-wing conspiracies long before Russian hacking became a national security threat,  dismissed security concerns when she was Secretary of State. She dismissed security concerns regarding her own personal server(s).  Her campaign dismissed security concerns as if they had no prior knowledge of her email vulnerability, and no prior exposure to ‘third rate burglaries’.  How much more damage could the Russians have done to her than she and her dream team had already done to themselves?

Did the leaked emails kill her?  Probably not.  If there were any smoking guns revealed, I’m not aware of them from what was reported in the press.  Most of it was a lot of embarrassing but petty, small-minded trivia erupting from her camp followers and hangers-on which reflected the shallowness and self-serving mentality that many of us associate with the political culture in general.

Did Comey and the Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight do her in?  She may be convinced that he did, but I would give equal credit to Willful Bill, who just had to stop by the AG’s plane to discuss grandkids for 45 minutes. That may not have justified Comey’s subsequent actions, but in the current take-no-prisoners climate, it must have upped his need to protect Number 1, not wishing to be Lynched for his boss’ poor judgement and not knowing her loyalties.  Between a rabid Congress and incompetent Justice, he didn’t have any good choices.  Only responsibility.

Hillary didn’t lose because of Comey. She didn’t lose because of the email server. She didn’t lose because she’s not likable enough.  She lost because she was an inferior candidate,  a fragile ego hiding behind a brittle mask of toughness, and unwilling to acknowledge her own weaknesses; a striver who could not calibrate her ambitions to the dimensions of her abilities; a closet Republican wearing the mask of a liberal; a chameleon  who struggles to blend in but only manages to stand out and irritate with every tone-deaf effort to justify herself;  a panderer to minorities who did not understand that elections are won by majorities; a self-styled political operative who failed to grasp that the ultimate election was the Electoral College and not the popular vote; a candidate so seriously flawed in image and limited in substance that her flacks had to re-brand  her every two or three weeks as the New, Exciting Hillary, only to experience serial failure.  All the Queen’s horses and All the Queen’s men couldn’t put Hillary together in the end.

But the real story of Hillary’s loss is not that she won by nearly 3 million of the popular votes.  It is that she didn’t win by far more and that she lost the ultimate race, the Electoral College, by so much and against an opponent as deplorable as hers.  Hillary’s real measure of loss is the votes that were cast against her and the votes that stayed home. If one adds the 4 million votes for Gary Johnson, most of which we can presume would have gone to Trump or stayed home, she would have lost the popular vote or been in a dead heat, and still lost the Electoral College.  Voter turnout over the prior election appears to have increased by at least 7 million.  Voter registration is reported to have significantly increased for this election.  If we assume that the Democrats were largely the beneficiaries of registration growth, but she only won by 3 million votes, what does that suggest about how much of her base eroded, like the out-going tide of public mood pulling grains of sand from under her feet while she stands at the water’s edge,  contemplating the view of the horizon, only to discover herself pulled out to sea by the undertow she didn’t know was there.

But it would be unfair to blame Hillary’s loss on Hillary alone.  It takes a village.  In this case, the Democratic party.  Consider that after her amateurish campaign against a relatively unknown newcomer in 2008, the Democratic Party is handed a victory that it  largely did not earn as a party, and then proceed to lose ground in two consecutive mid-term elections in which it should have built on momentum to solidify its gains, but basically left Obama to swing in the wind.  And now it has the temerity to insinuate, if not charge, that it lost 2016 because Obama ‘didn’t do enough’.  I hope that when Mr. Obama writes his memoir, he devotes a chapter of rebuttal entitled ‘The Audacity of Dopes’.

     *  *  *

This election has been a collection of ironies.

First, that Ms. Experience should be severely challenged by a virtually unknown quantity in Mr. Sanders for the second time in her illustrious career and survive not on her merits, but on her careful engineering of the backroom Democratic machinery in an undemocratic manner.

Second, that the chief strategies of Hillary and Trump were to debate each other’s deplorability, and against all reasonable assumptions, she lost.

But the greatest irony is that she was defeated by a candidate who  attacked her for being a pawn of the elite, and who is proving day by day to be a more corrosive agent of middle class economic and social decline than Hillary would ever be.

How did this come to be?  The ultimate blame belongs to the electorate.  We pay more attention to sports, reality TV and the Kardashians than to the politics that influence our daily lives.  We are a society that embraces the cheap and easy  and frivolous at the expense of quality and durability, and it shows in our political choices as well as our clothes and food.

We don’t want a President.  We want Santa Claus, who will fulfill our every wish with no effort or sacrifice on our part.  Many of us, especially Democrats, expected the newly elected Obama to do it all, and we turned our back on him like yesterday’s meatloaf when  he couldn’t fix everything in the face of a Congress of indifferent Democrats and largely rabid Republicans led by the treasonous Mitch McConnell and the gutless John Boehner.

The American public, programmed by the media for cultural ADD and narcissism, turned on Obama for failing to meet its expectations and now turns to Trump with the same level of hope that it first projected on Obama, but hope resting on a dubious foundation.

I suspect, based on the anecdotal knowledge from my small sphere of acquaintances but with  no statistical foundation for the assertion, that many who voted for Trump view him not as a leader but as a hammer.  They have few expectations that he will  ‘make things better’.  Rather, they hope that he will ‘drain the swamp’ and break the system that they feel has done so much for so long to put their well-being at risk.  They are willing to take the risk that out of the rubble that Trump will create,  they can fashion a better life for themselves. That is likely an ill-conceived calculation.

Ironically, many of these people are professionals whose well-being is tied to the very system they hope Trump will dismantle.  They seem to embrace a detached sense of cause and effect, seemingly dismissing effect. Many of these people in my acquaintance are analytics in fields of finance and management and medicine and engineering where facts matter and have consequences, and image is to be viewed with professional skepticism. But they see the current system as beyond redemption, and in need of recycling.  I share the view that the current system is seriously flawed, but if Trump is the cure, I’d prefer the illness and a search for a credible remedy.

   *  *  *

There remains one critical question for the economic elite and their political gofers to contemplate.  When Trump’s masses discover in the next year that he is the Hillary they feared, what will they do?  When they discover that he and his wrecking crew have stripped them of the few remaining benefits and safeguards that the current political  order provides and they have taken for granted, what will they do.  Can Trump put back in the bottle the anger he has released, or will he be its next victim, but not its final victim? When the Tea Partiers and Occupiers realize that they are not each other’s enemy, but that they share a common enemy, what happens next?

   *  *  *

I voted for Hillary Clinton, much as I distrust her.  I deemed her less dangerous and destructive and more subject to control and containment than Trump.  I did not do so gladly, but I considered the option of not voting a dereliction of a citizen’s duty. Even among two genuinely lousy choices, one is usually less lousy than the other, if only by a hair’s width. I hope that this requiem for Hillary’s political life does not become a requiem for our great national experiment.

I am reminded of Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics:

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates’ debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at it you lose

Bookends  1968.

Not much has changed.

But everything has changed.

Onward

20161226

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Cyberwar’s Pearl Harbor

In the aftermath of the most recent invasion of our national data ecosystem, it might be worth contemplating where all of this might go from here, just in case anyone in a position of responsibility (as distinguished from a responsible person, because the two are not necessarily the same) might care to prepare for the possible, if not the inevitable.
We’ve heard a lot about attacks on our major financial and governmental institutions of late. No bank left behind. Suspicion that the Chinese are attempting to emulate the NSA by building a massive database with which to conduct further espionage, define the power hierarchy, and possibly co-opt key players with blackmail. The same kind of stuff the NSA might do abroad or at home, because, hey…what’s the difference. But I suspect that harvesting information overload is not the prize objective; and China, though never to be discounted, is a major threat, but not the primary threat.
Let’s get a little crazy here and contemplate a worst case scenario from which we can scale back.
First, who are the threats for conducting cyber warfare? The most obvious and capable are Russia, Iran, and China. At the risk of offending the Dear Leader’s self-esteem, we’ll forget about North Korea. Although cyber-vandalism is a game even the kids can play, cyber war takes some real chops, and needs to be scalable to effect, like any good marketing strategy.
And in what order of priority? My vote is Iran, because if the nuclear talks fail, it may be facing what it regards (whether we would agree or not, but that’s irrelevant) as existential threats from an extended embargo. An agreement might take them off that top spot, but they would no doubt continue to hone their options in this arena, particularly given their other ambitions in their neighborhood where we may stand as an obstacle.
Next up: Mad Vlad. Apparently getting more aggressive by the day. If things get out of hand in the Ukraine, or if he provokes further instability in the former satellites in the same manner he has in Georgia and the Ukraine, and if somebody miscalculates in a moment of confrontation (has that ever happened before?) then Vlad could decide to go Big Casino and pull what he considers to be a game changer.
Finally, there’s China. More paranoid than Vlad, and in a far more precarious situation economically and politically than we may know, it may fear that a strategic threat to its seeming dominance (such as the South China Sea) could trigger internal unraveling that would make its vulnerability apparent and invite attack. It may want to have in its back pocket a preemptive capability that can neutralizes strategic risk.
Which gets us to the question of ‘The Prize’. What is The Prize in Cyber Warfare? Is it data? Or dominance? And if it is dominance, how is that defined and achieved?
In nuclear war, dominance is defined as turning strategic areas of an adversary’s war-making capability into giant ashtrays. In cyber warfare, not necessarily. It is much easier and more beneficial to cripple than to destroy.
So, if dominance is the objective, how is it achieved? Not by stealing government HR files, or my medical records, or our bank records,. Rather, by strategically crippling the electric grid and other supporting energy and transportation infrastructure. Next, by crippling critical communications infrastructure.

Why is the energy network the prize? Because it drives everything else. Bring down energy, and you bring down the military, its supply chain and everything it depends on. Bring down energy and you bring down social stability and cohesion, and you force your adversary to focus inward to restore stability while knee-capping his capacity to project outward.
If the energy sector in general, and the electric grid in particular is the prize, why haven’t we heard more about incursions into their domain, as we have with financial and retail and health services? Precisely because it is the prize. What we know of past incursions in other sectors is that they have occurred gradually, laying penetration infrastructure well before the extraction, probing defenses and responses. It is safe to assume that they are doing the same thing with the energy sector and electric grid.
Logic would suggest that an adversary is not going to reveal its capabilities prematurely with token attacks. That is probably what the banks and Home Depot and Target are good for. Test grounds for generic attacks and to reveal responsive capabilities. Diversions from the real area of interest. Save the best for last.
How might such an attack evolve? Let us consider that Russia, a player on the front line of a warm conflict that could easily go hot, would be the logical first-mover. Consider that Iran, a client state with some degree of strategic dependence on Russia, might be a willing ally in such an attack, since rendering the Great Satan strategically impotent would be a major gain to its own strategic ambitions. And, while not necessarily chummy, Russia and China might agree that denuding the US of short to intermediate term strategic economic capability, and thus military capability, would give them sufficient time to achieve hegemony over their own spheres of influence in Europe and Southeast Asia for the long run.
Of course, there is the question of what capabilities the US has to deal with such an attack.

A. Do we have the intelligence to foresee it in time to prevent it?
B. Do we have the means to prevent it if intelligence informs us in time?
C. IF neither A or B, what is the likely extent of damage that can be done?
D. If nominal or critical damage is done, what is our capability of response?

Ask yourself how well A and B have worked so far, either at the national or private level. At the private level, studies of recent break-ins suggest an appalling degree of managerial incompetence or indifference to knowable and preventable risks by private companies. Not unusual in the history of managing the security requirements of data resources.
And the role of the US Government? Well, if it can’t protect itself, how well can it protect anyone else? And if it could protect anyone else, the typical response from industry seems to be that it regards the US government as much an enemy as The Enemy. This may speak to private enterprise’s fear of revealing to the government things that it desperately does not want the government to know (assuming the government does not know them already).
If damage is likely, what kind of damage can be expected and with what impact? If critical control points of the electric system can be compromised to inflict critical damage on key generation and transmission points, particularly in a coordinated attack that creates cascading failures, one can imagine an unpleasant day in paradise. But we don’t have to imagine. We can recall two Northeast black-outs, as microcosms of what could occur nationally. We can recall the aftermath of Storms Irene and Sandy on communications and energy infrastructure in the Northeast. To the degree that major transformers could be fried, that major rail centers could be damaged by derailments, that major pipelines or their control centers could be done harm, short to intermediate term harm could be accomplished for adversaries to achieve their strategic objectives of crippling our capacity to project or sustain military force in areas of strategic importance. They would not have to fry the entire grid. Just enough to make an impact at critical pressure points.
And what damage could we do in return? No doubt we have the means to inflict comparable damage at some scale. Stuxnet proved that with the Iranian centrifuges. But our society is much more complex and integrated than Russia or China or Iran. In relative terms, it is probable that these potential adversaries would inflict much more relative damage on our day-to-day capabilities than we would on theirs, particularly given their autocratic nature.
Further, they will have neutralized our capacity to operate in their neighborhood far more than we will have neutralized their capacity to operate in their neighborhood. And that is the strategic gamble, the game changer, the prize. China would achieve de-facto control over Korea and Taiwan without firing a shot, and achieve effective allegiance to its will of the entire Southeast Asian rim from Malaysia to Japan. Is that important to us? Russia wouldn’t have to worry about us meddling in Europe, east or west. Do we care? Iran and its surrogates can pick off its adversaries at its leisure, escalating a war of attrition against Israel, to continue keeping the little people’s attention diverted from the real problems at home as they march onward in the name of Allah.
Would such a cyber war cause us to go nuclear? Not likely, and that’s what makes a cyber war a more credible threat. No other means can inflict as much damage with as great a possible payback, and as little risk in return. Not that there’s no risk; but, in the abstract, it is less frightening.
One of the ironies of a cyber war scenario is that the internet, a distributed communication infrastructure originally designed to be survivable to nuclear attack on any number of its nodes, is now the vehicle for attacks that can be simultaneously distributed in source and destination with devastating possibilities. And the core of that irony is that the western nations have used the internet to consolidate control of their operations, making them more vulnerable.in this context.
In such an attack, Google and Facebook would become worthless, no matter how many solar arrays they plant to make their server farms impervious to fluctuations of the grid. Amazon, not far behind. They would become worthless because their market exists on a grid based infrastructure. Their market, their reason for existence, is no greater than the grid its stakeholders depend upon. And in a post-cyber war society, the trivialities of social want that these and other highly centralized companies feed upon for their corporate sustenance will evaporate in the heat of more pressing concerns.
If this is indeed a real threat, what is the cure? Investing in information technology security and training on an unprecedented scale would be a good start. Reconfiguring the grid to be better partitioned for containment and more distributed in source and composition of power generation to diminish vulnerabilities from concentration would also be helpful. This will take a little longer, …like a lot longer. But the sooner we start and the farther we progress, the better. It might be good for all entities which depend heavily on communications and electrical networks to ask themselves how they would operation with either down for a month or two. Not that that would be the time frame of a post cyber attack recovery, but it’s a good start to get one in the mood. This will also compromise some of the economies of scale that companies strive for, but those seem to be elusive at best on a good day, and often more illusion than reality.
Is the scenario I’ve painted plausible? Recent history suggests that we have yet again unleashed tools and strategies for which we have not adequately anticipated and prepared for the blow-back. See ‘atom-bomb’ for historical perspective. Our delusional embrace of our exceptionalism likely induces complacency yet again in our leadership. Not the President necessarily, but the full complement of grand poobahs who must make things happen.
And what would the utilities and national security planners say to my ruminations? “Utter nonsense”. Damage will be nominal, at worst. The utilities are on top of it and have given the threat priority attention. And no adversary would dare launch a major attack on our infrastructure for fear of devastating reprisal. Like 911.
Why didn’t I think of that before? Could have saved a lot of pixels.
Don’t worry. Sleep well.
Onward.
20150607

Back in the USSR

Vlad, the Mad Russian, is back from the Olympics, feeling energized as never before.  What a success.

And now its time to go back to the chess board and move a few pieces around, like maybe knights in heavy armor to, let’s say, the Ukraine, or some small part of it like Crimea, or maybe the whole, because Crimea is too small to satisfy an appetite. And besides, his ambitions need a matching bookend to Georgia on his geopolitical trophy mantle, just as his Olympic gold was a complement to his Super Bowl ring, courtesy of Bob Kraft.

What’s the West to do? Well, let’s start with the UN, doing a marvelous job in Syria, with no small resistance from Russia and China.  Don’t want to set any dangerous precedents that may come home to roost in the Ukraine or Tibet, do we?  Check!

Then there’s the EU, the ones closest to the action after Russia.  Victoria Nuland certainly had her thoughts on their posture. Not only was her directness and candor refreshing, if uncharacteristic among diplomats as a profession, but ratified by recent experience in other realms.

Then there’s the Old Boys’ Club of the US, and UK; the partnership that worked so well in Gulf War, the Sequel.  They can talk the talk, but with the bitter memories in their respective polities of that adventure and its lingering aftermath, they may both have trouble getting their respective homeland crowds to re-up for another adventure.

Reminiscent of Obama’s exhortation to the US Senate for support to use force if necessary in Syria, Mad Vlad has just asked the same of the Soviet Parliament, being the true democrat and servant of the people that he is.  It is anticipated that he will have less opposition securing that endorsement than did Barack. Those Soviets, (I meant, Russians) are so efficient!

Obama has warned Russia about Russian intervention in the Ukraine, much as Vlad warned Obama about the same in Syria. Of course, the Ukraine is in Vlad’s front yard, whereas Syria was merely a client. Neither are close to the US homeland, so one might reasonably ask just how invested we might be in the outcome, and what we’re willing to invest to influence.  And besides, it doesn’t help to carry a 44 Magnum if you’ve got an empty cylinder. Right, Harry?

*  *  *

Speaking or 44 Magnums reminds me that this week Secretary Hagel announced the reduction of our armed forces, consistent with our economic circumstances, and in line with our true defense requirements, as distinguished from our ‘aspirational’ defense requirements.  One of the casualties of that announcement was the A-10 Warthog, a so-called relic of Cold War strategy (you remember the Cold War, the one where we faced off against the Soviets?).

I’ve always been fascinated by things military.   The military manages to summon the kind of resources, planning, power and ingenuity for its deadly enterprises that we rarely seem to match in pursuit of the higher and beneficent purposes of the human spirit. Some of their weapons platforms exhibit a deadly beauty that is almost seductive if one can momentarily forget its purpose. The efficiency and devastating effectiveness is testimony to what human-kind can muster when it sets its mind to it.  Ironically, we exhibit our best for our worst, in terms of creativity and focus and drive. I’m fascinated by it all. I just hate to see it used.

The Warthog is a particularly deadly machine. Designed as a ‘tank-killer’ to leverage our limited boots on the European front, it also proved itself in both Gulf wars for close-in support of troops.  With its oversized engines it looks like an ungainly beast, incapable of loitering over a battlefield, but many of our troops were grateful to have it hanging out in their neighborhood.  More than just its good looks, its 30mm gatling gun packs a nasty sting, and its many wing weapons pylons can deliver a wide variety of death-in-a-can to any neighborhood event.

The sudden rise of tension on the Eastern Front suggests that the Warthog might yet be spared overdue retirement to the dry climes of Arizona’s Boneyard. But it would take more than A-10s or drones to confront Russia in the Ukraine. It’ll take boots. Whose boots?  Not ours, contrary to the fondest wishes of our own Mad John McCain, or his faithful side-kick Lindsey (who has his very own AR-15 in his private arsenal and knows how to use it–no desk-bound former JAG is he!)

The influence of the likes of John McCain on foreign policy public discussion has always amused me. His lineage in a military family dynasty, truncated Jet Jockey career and admirable conduct as a POW do not qualify him as a military strategist.  Then there are the chicken hawks like Wolfowitz; Dick Cheney, whose career with firearms has claimed more friends than foes, and the list goes on.  They will all bloviate about the imperative of US action in the Ukraine, as they do in Syria, and did in Libya, with as much of a clue as Dubya as to how it all might end.  After all, it’s the thrill of the game, not the final score, that matters; unless of course we’re keeping score with money to be made by our favorite donors in the defense industry.

While Obama contemplates his limited options, which fall somewhere between lousy and none, it might be worth asking what we have done, and do do in comparable situations to Russia.  What would we do if Mexico cozied up to China, or the Chinese built a floating colony in the Arctic Circle to enforce its territorial prerogative, as with the South China Sea?  How do others look at our involvement in Columbia, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Chile, the Dominican Republic, (did I leave anyone out)?  Just keeping the peace, folks.  Nothing to see here.  Let’s move on.

*  *  *

If there must be boots on the ground for our A-10s to support, they will have to be European boots.  Chances of that happening are fewer than Obama’s options.  A community that lacks the means to summon economic resources to trump Vlad’s initial hand is unlikely to send boots and pay in blood to win the game. This enables Obama to invoke a policy statement I have seen prominently pinned on so many cubicle walls: “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an obligation to perform on my part.”

To which the mantra will emanate from the lips of the McCain/Lindsey  duo in two-part harmony: “The stability of Europe is in our strategic national interest!”  Yes it is, like so many other things.  But we can’t bluff our way through this one and hope that our broken military can somehow outlast Russia’s broken military in a head-to-head confrontation in its own backyard.

*  *  *

But there is one thing even more existential to Russia than its interest in the Ukraine: its energy ATM machine.  Herein lies a long-term, non-military strategy option that might well scare the bejesus out of Mad Vlad (if that’s imaginable)!

What if Obama took a page from The Great Communicator’s play-book and launched a Son-of-Star-Wars strategy; not with missiles, but with energy?  What if Obama called a conclave of European nations and said now is the time for Western Europe and the US to declare its independence from energy tyranny from any source, and launch a Marshall Plan equivalent of investment in renewable energy and energy-efficient technology with the same fervor that we launch wars? In the interim while we ramp up our research and deployment, Saudi America can pledge to support Europe’s conventional energy needs.

Vlad would quickly have to recalculate his interests, not only in the Ukraine, but elsewhere, because the countervailing  bargain would be that if Russia wants stable international energy markets to support its domestic kleptocracy in the near to long-term, then it must commit to certain international understandings of behavior.

To which cynics might counter that Mad Vlad would smile that Mad Vlad kind of smile and say:  there’s a bigger world market than Western Europe for our wonderful energy.  And that’s true, like China, right on its border, hungry for all the energy it can supply, and all those other lovely resources in warming Siberia, that China’s burgeoning populace and economy desperately need, even more than Russia needs the Ukraine. How long might it take Chinese cross-border ‘migration’ to create the same ethnic imperative pretext that the Russians seek to leverage in the Ukraine?  Maybe a decade, two?

The energy card is a long-term strategy to deploy, but if Vlad is half as smart as he thinks, he will appreciate its short-term possibilities in the markets.  Needless to say, it could unleash all kinds of intended and unintended consequences:

–  Even as Saudi America’s production ramps up to need, prices will likely escalate.

–  Price escalation will force further conservation, a good and necessary outcome that might not occur as quickly under other circumstances.

–  Environmental concerns will escalate in the intermediate term with escalation of carbon based energy production, but that will be a regrettable and unavoidable step on the way to a more efficient and renewable energy future, less subject to energy imperialism, more environmentally sustainable, and inevitable.

–  A united West might have indirect benefits in dealings with China, causing it to recalibrate its role in a world where it may no longer dominate a more united Western world.

–  Europe, no longer the post-WWII basket case of yore, would have to come to terms with its intrinsic security needs and put cash on the table to roll its own or Buy American, either way carrying its own weight, because we cannot and should not.  Their security cannot mean more to us than it does to them.  Or as Victoria would say….

–  Among negative consequences may be a switch to covert cyber attacks from Russia to dissuade or disrupt such a strategy among the weak of will.  But this too can have a positive outcome, forcing us to give attention to cyber security that we have failed to support sufficiently since the dawn of the technology.

Dangerous times. Neither economic/energy war nor cyber-war should be viewed as antiseptic alternatives to old style blood-and-bullets.  But this approach could have vastly better outcomes for all than a rush to McCain Madness to counter Vlad Madness.

Meanwhile, Chuck might want to consider rescinding his retirement order for the A-10s, and keep those Vulcan guns well-greased.  Just in case.

Onward.

20140302

Cool Hand Barach — The Sequel

In late 2010, I wrote the original post at the time of a showdown regarding tax cuts.  I suggested that Obama, who at that time was portrayed as weak and indecisive, was really playing rope-a-dope with the dopes in both the Republican and Democratic parties. I believe that subsequent history has confirmed that assessment.  I’m prepared to go out on a limb again.

This time, it is the threat to unilaterally use force in Syria.  It seems crazy for him to take this positions on the surface, with the utter failure of Iraq so fresh, the current failure of Af-Pakistan fresher still, and the questionable success of Libya highly debatable, and a cautionary tale for any intervention in Syria. Given his commitment to end both wars, and his reluctance for engagement in both Libya and Syria, his sudden if reluctant commitment to unilateral action seems inconsistent, to put it politely. But is it crazy, or calculating?  I have a sense that he is playing a very high stakes game of poker (or more appropriately, pool) with a very narrow window of opportunity.  Here’s how I see it.

1)  His primary tactical target is to neutralize Syria by way of….Russia.  He does that by means of threatening a strike which would put Russia in a very difficult position.  Russia knows he can do it.  Putin is just not sure if O is crazy enough to do it,…and that’s the problem.  Because if O is crazy enough, then what does Russia do in response?  It likely does not want to consider a reciprocal military response, for which it is likely not adequately positioned.  It could consider a cyber response, but that could get easily out of hand with no fun for anyone.  And to do nothing would be an insufferable political embarrassment.

2)  So the easiest way out for Putin (and let us be sure: it’s all about Vlad), is to lean on Syria and say ‘Cut out the chemistry lab stuff.  Go back to slaughter in the accepted conventional way that everyone has tolerated so nicely for the past 99,000 deaths’.  He then goes back to O and the UN and says that the great humanitarian state of Russia has negotiated a cessation of further gassing of the neighborhood, and we should all go back to concentrating on a further negotiation to end the more acceptable means of slaughter while that slaughter continues.

This seems like a great symbolic, do-nothing solution to everyone but the Syrians on all sides.  Russia saves face. O doesn’t have to pull a trigger for which there could be infinite unintended consequences. Life goes on…or not for some.

3)  But a message has been sent nonetheless that ripples out from the bloody streets of Syria.  Assad now knows the limits of his prime patron. Russia has been put in a smaller box than Obama.  And the dark eminences in Tehran also know the possible limits of  their prime patron. And that causes uncertainty about the limits of future support.

4)  But it’s not all about the Moslems. In Jerusalem the worries remain that the autocrats in Syria and Egypt could ultimately succumb to the Moslem extremists, who would not necessarily seize control, but could destabilize the  neighborhood.  While the Israelis wring their hands, Obama gently suggests to them that this might be the best, and dare we suggest last, time for them to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians so as to take that issue off the table for other Arab and Moslem militants, undermining Hezbollah and Hamas, and rendering Al Qaeda’s recruiting posters pointless.

5) With the Palestinians off the table, Iran has no remaining bogeyman to divert its population’s attention from its day-to-day plight but the distant Great Satan, and the populace can begin concentrating on contemplating the cost-benefit of endless investments in centrifuges at the expense of everything else.

6)  LATE BREAKING NEWS: OBAMA SEEKS AUTHORIZATION BY CONGRESS.  Perfect. He wins either way.  Either Congress pulls the plug, and lets him off the hook, or Congress authorizes and we’re back to Step 1.  If Congress pulls the plug, he lays the issue at the Security Council where Russia and China, with their own internal political problems, are called to task for aiding and abetting slaughter by stonewalling international intervention, of which they do not want to set even the most remote precedent for their own home-brew caldrons.  And how long will Congress debate this one, with the Republicans divided internally as much as Democrats, and Democrat doves forming an unlikely alliance with Rand Paul libertarians.

Meanwhile, the killing proceeds unabated.

If my inferences are correct, Obama may be playing a very high stakes game that could significantly alter the dynamics of the Middle East, but not necessarily its direction.

*   *   *

I believe that Obama, the community organizer, understands far better than John McCain and Hillary, the Elitists, the limits of what the US can do alone in the Middle East and elsewhere.  We may be the only superpower, but it does not make us all-powerful. We can influence events but we cannot control them and assure outcomes. And that is the ultimate point.  The best we can do in the long run is to watch and wait and see what emerges from the morass, and prepare to negotiate a relationship with whatever survives and appears to sustain. This is not ambivalence, or cowardice or indifference; it is pragmatism.

The Middle East today is a bastardization of history, gerrymandered by Western powers without regard to history and culture.  It is unsustainable in current configuration for that reason.  The Genie is out of the bottle. The pretense that we have a humanitarian mission when everyone suspects that our only motivation is to sustain access to oil does not compel our engagement in Syria, no matter how regrettable the human suffering.

The world is on fire, and the fires must burn themselves out, because their containment and curtailment by other means is beyond the resources, wisdom and will of the observers.  What we are witnessing is the disintegration of social and political systems, just as we have witnessed the decay and dysfunction of economic systems in recent years and of environmental systems currently.  How they re-constitute is anyone’s guess.

The rules of war that define decorum between armies in feudal contests of force between nation-states are becoming irrelevant as we move to conflicts between civilians and their armies within nation-states.  The organizing paradigm is transnational political and religious (same thing) movements.  The battle is between anarchy and authoritarian control. In the West, the question is whether democracy can coexist with security when the forces of disruption use democratic processes as a cover for anarchistic asymmetric warfare against established authority.  And, will Authority sustain security in concert with democracy, or at its expense for ulterior motives that become all too achievable in the specter of chaos. In the East and South, these questions are largely moot.

Meanwhile, back in the US of A, our own internal divisions and dysfunction are beginning to show disturbing signs of similarity to Egypt. The NSA, drug wars, gerrymandering voting districts, voter rights, erosion of public trust in public institutions, little armed ayatollahs of the religious and secular right .  We too are disturbingly close to the edge of the precipice, and the soil of a once firm civic footing is eroding under our feet.

*   *   *

The issue of chemical weapons, as horrific as they may be, is a side-show.  Does it really matter if we use chemical weapons or drones, or Abrams tanks, or M4 assault weapons, or napalm, or cluster bombs, or fry the grid and take a society back to the stone age with death by a thousand other means?  Dead is dead, maimed is maimed, and at the end of the day the body count is the inverse measurement of humanity’s progress from its ignorant and barbaric roots.  So far, the score doesn’t look good.

Onward.

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Georgia on My Mind

Cast a stone into the water and watch the ripples spread.  Russia's incursion into Georgia is such an event. Georgia just got stoned, and we will feel the ripples.  It is not just Georgia that is profoundly affected by this event.  It's not even the Ukraine, and Belorussia, and Finland, and Estonia and Lithuania, and Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, and all the other 'stans which are the remnants of the old Soviet empire. It's not even Poland which just signed a treaty to allow us to deploy anti ballistic missiles on its soil, and received a threat of nuclear attack from the Russian high command in response.

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Capitalist Papers 1 – Random Reflections on the Decline of Capitalism

This quote from the Wall Street Journal of 2008, April 3:
   

"BEIJING — China’s business establishment poses a
bigger obstacle to the country’s financial-sector reform agenda than
the global market upheaval, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said
Thursday.

Mr. Paulson also called on the Chinese government to
ease access to clean technology and confront the "daunting" task of
improving energy consumption and the environment. 

[Henry Paulson] I think that reform never moves in a straight line,
and I think the biggest threat to more reform in China is the strong
domestic industry that doesn’t want competition," Mr. Paulson told
reporters traveling with him on a two-day trip to Beijing."

        "Paulson Says Chinese Big Business Threatens Reform Agenda"

My first reaction was to conclude that Secretary Paulson had redefined the lower depths of chutzpah.  My more charitable side allowed that he must have been suffering from jet lag, and thought he was still in New York.

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