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Streetwise Professor

November 21, 2014

Swatting the Gold Bugs

Filed under: Economics,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:41 pm

There are idiots. There are morons. Then there are gold bugs. It would be a full time job fighting their insanity, and doing so is like kicking a manure pile: it raises a stink and a cloud of flies. But sometimes it just has to be done.

Recently it was reported that Russia has been buying gold at a furious rate. Gold now represents almost 11 percent of the country’s reserves.

The gold bugs buzzed in glee. To them, it represented another nail in the coffin of the doomed dollar, and Putin was an economic genius making a decisive move in his war against the US. And of course, Zero Hedge peddled this line (by posting an article by a bug site):

Russia’s central bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina told the lower house of parliament about the significant Russian gold purchases. She is an economist, head of the Central Bank of Russia and was Vladimir Putin’s economic adviser between May 2012 to June 2013.

This announcement is unusual and to our knowledge has not happened before. The announcement by the Russian central bank governor was likely coordinated with Putin and the Kremlin and designed to signal how Russia views their gold reserves as a potential geopolitical and indeed financial and currency war weapon.

(The comments are priceless.)

Here’s another, from July:

Reserve Currencies In History – Dollar’s Demise Cometh

Central banks continue to be buyers of gold at these attractive price levels. As sanctions, economic war and currency wars intensify we expect Russian and Russian ally buying of gold reserves and selling of dollars to intensify. Aggressive buying of gold and particularly silver by Russia will likely lead to defaults on the COMEX gold and silver futures exchanges and potentially an international monetary crisis.

See important guide to Currency Wars here Currency Wars: Bye, Bye Petrodollar – Buy, Buy Gold

The truth, of course, is much different. This is actually another symptom of Russian economic desperation, rather than a diabolically brilliant blow against the dollar:

Russia’s central bank has been forced to step up its gold buying this year to absorb domestic production that Western sanctions are making it hard for miners to sell abroad, and to boost liquidity in its foreign reserves, sources said.

Most Russian gold mine production is sold to domestic commercial banks, such as Sberbank or VTB, which can then sell the metal on to either the central bank or to foreign banks.

This year, sources say, foreign banks are holding off buying Russian gold after Western powers implemented sanctions against the country over the Ukraine crisis.

The central bank has therefore had no choice but take domestic mine production that cannot be sold to foreign banks, two sources said, and has bought most of the metal that commercial banks had available.

. . . .

While the sanctions do not expressly prohibit them from buying gold, Western banks are cautious over any business done with their Russian counterparts, sources said.

What’s more, the Russian CB can pay for the domestically-produced gold with rubles. It’s the only way it can really bolster reserves without selling rubles for dollars or euros.

Thus, rather than a blow against sanctions, it is yet another action forced on the Russians by them.

It’s also interesting to note that gold hasn’t been a great investment for the Russians. Gold purchase data is available on a quarterly basis. Assuming that Russia purchased gold in a quarter at the average price during those three months, based on IMF data and the current spot price of gold, I estimate that Russia has lost well over $1 billion on the gold purchased since 2009.

Speaking of Russia’s reserves, this piece by Anders Aslund is well worth reading. When he breaks down the numbers, Russia’s vaunted reserves look much less impressive. In particular, Anders points out that the National Wealth Fund and the Reserve Fund are not under control of the Central Bank, and committed to supporting pensions and the federal budget. Moreover, sharks like Sechin are already laying claim to big pieces of it. Further, Russia’s large external corporate debt cannot be refinanced due to sanctions, and payment commitments over the near to medium term will rapidly draw down the remaining reserves, and the current account surplus will fall substantially due to lower oil prices.  

One last gold item. ISIS are gold bugs. They have announced the creation of a currency, based on circulating gold, silver, and copper coins. They really believe the gold bug stuff. They are aficionados of ZH and currency warrior James Rickards (whose mug pops up everywhere, including on mainstream media websites like WaPo, in advertisements for his buy gold, buy a bunker, for the end is nigh book).

I was particularly amused by this:

 The gold and silver purchases are strange enough, he said. “But what is striking is how elements of the organization have seized power transmission cables and other copper components,” Obeidi said. The fighters are burning the insulation off the cables and harvesting the copper [to fashion into coins], he said.

So they’ll have metallic coins but no electricity. Which may be OK with them, given how much they want to live a 7th century lifestyle.

This is great news. If a shambolic Iraqi military can’t destroy the Islamic State, economic mismanagement based on wacko gold bug theories might achieve that result instead. I suggest that the CIA carry out a mission to translate Rickards’ Currency Wars into Arabic, and clandestinely distribute it in ISIS-controlled lands. A very cheap, but very effective, form of subversion.

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November 20, 2014

How Do You Know That Zero Hedge is a Russian Information Operation? Here’s How

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:41 pm

I have frequently written that Zero Hedge has the MO of a Soviet agitprop operation, that it reliably peddles Russian propaganda: my first post on this, almost exactly three years ago, noted the parallels between Zero Hedge and Russia Today.

A few days ago ZH ran a post that illustrates perfectly how it spews Russian propaganda that slanders the United States and other enemies of Russia, such as Ukraine: “Ukraine Admits Its Gold Is Gone: “There Is Almost No Gold Left In The Central Bank Vault.”

The lurid post highlights a statement by the head of Ukraine’s Central Bank, to the effect that almost all the gold in Ukraine’s official reserve is gone. It states that this is news, a stunning revelation, which confirms a story that ZH reported a few weeks after the triumph of Maidan: that soon after Yanukovych fled, the gold had been spirited out of the country in the dead of night by airplane. It closes by stating the the disappearance of the gold occurred at the time that US State Department official Victoria Nuland was in Kiev. The implication is obvious. The US stole it:

In any event, now that the disappearance of Ukraine’s gold has been confirmed, perhaps it is time to refresh the “unconfirmed” story that a little after the current Ukraine regime took power the bulk of Ukraine’s gold was taken to the United States.

Wow. Quite a tale.

And one that overlooks crucial details. Most importantly, the Ukrainian CB’s “admission” of that the vaults are empty is not news. At all. A mere few days after Yanukovych fled, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenuk disclosed that the country’s gold reserves had been looted:

Speaking in parliament, Yatsenyuk said that the former government had left the country with $75bn of debts. “Over $20bn of gold reserve were embezzled. They took $37bn of loans that disappeared,” Yatsenyuk said. “Around $70bn was moved to offshore accounts from Ukraine’s financial system in the last three years,” he claimed. [Emphasis added.]

The US dispatched  FBI and Treasury investigators to assist Ukraine in an investigation.

Funny how ZH left out that history, which appeared in virtually every mainstream publication at the time, and made it seem for all the world like the Ukrainian Central Bank’s revelation hit the world like a thunderbolt, nine months after Yanukovych’s flight. That distortion of history makes it plain that the ZH story is not information, but an information operation.

Shortly after Yatsenuk disclosed the theft of the gold, stories started appearing on the web, first on a Russian website, claiming that the gold had been spirited out the country: including on ZH, which quoted the Russian web story. This obviously serves a Russian purpose: it presents a counter-narrative that blames the theft of the gold not on Yanukovych, or the Russians, but on the new Ukrainian government and the United States.

This is the classic Soviet/Russian agitprop MO that I noted 3 years ago. A story appears in an obscure publication, typically outside the US or Europe, where it has been planted by Soviet/Russian intelligence. It is then picked up by another, more widely read publication, in Europe or the West. Maybe it works its way through several additional media sources. It then gets disseminated more widely in the west, sometimes making it to prestige publications like the NYT.

In the era of the web, the information weapon needn’t make it that far. Getting into a widely-read web publication like Zero Hedge which is then linked by numerous other sources and tweeted widely ensures that the lie goes viral.

ZH is an important transmission belt moving the story from Russian propagandists/information warriors to western news consumers. It happens a lot. This is a particularly egregious example, but the transmission belt runs almost daily. ZH is as much a part of Putin’s information warfare as RT. If you follow closely enough, it’s as plain as the nose on your face.

So why does anyone take Zero Hedge seriously? And believe me, many do. Many people who should know better.

And what is the US’s counterstrategy? Marie Harf’s Twitter account. I say again: we are so screwed.

 

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November 17, 2014

Obama Draws Another Red Line–On Pluto

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:12 pm

Obama has identified a condition under which he would commit ground troops to fight ISIS: if ISIS gets a nuke.

The headline on the YouTube video is misleading. Read literally, it means that Obama has identified an ISIS nuke as a necessary condition for a commitment of US ground troops. He has instead stated a sufficient condition. There may be other sufficient conditions. Perhaps he would commit ground pounders if ISIS were to ally with space aliens whose ship landed in the Syrian desert. Or maybe if ISIS creates a zombie army. So an ISIS nuke isn’t necessary, exactly.

But it’s clear that Obama is making it plain that he would only contemplate ground troops under the most extreme circumstances. He has drawn a red line, without using the term. And learning from his Assad-uses-chemical-weapons red line blunder, he has drawn this one so far, far away that the probability it will be overstepped is vanishingly small, certainly in the two years remaining to Obama’s presidency. This red line might as well be on Pluto. Which is exactly Obama’s intent.

A reasonable interpretation of Obama’s remarks is that even though nukes are beyond the pale, chemical and biological weapons are not.

Note that the ground operation that Obama envisions is a commando raid to secure the weapon, rather than a persistent troop presence.

Further note the supercilious tone with which he delivers his statement. As if it as a nearly unbearable impertinence for someone even to broach this question.

There is a continuum of ways in which ground troops can be deployed. Obama’s scenario is about at one endpoint of that continuum. Moving close to the other endpoint, no one has seriously raised the possibility of deploying a force even remotely resembling what was on the ground in Iraq from 2003-2011. The deployments that Dempsey and Odierno and others have mooted are not far from Obama’s proposal, but would facilitate the two main pillars of American strategy, such as it is: an air campaign and relying on local troops to roll back ISIS. Ground controllers and special forces are tremendous force multipliers in an air campaign, especially when intelligence is hard to come by and avoidance of civilian casualties is vital and the battlefield is very complex. Moreover, the effectiveness of Iraqi and Kurdish troops would be greatly increased if US advisors were present at the front, at the battalion level and below. Training them in bases at the rear and then having US advisors wave goodbye as they send them off to get their asses kicked, again, is an exercise in futility. Every Iraqi battalion needs American officers embedded, and special forces should deploy with Iraqi troops at the point of the spear. These Americans can provide tactical guidance, buck up wavering Iraqis, collect intelligence, and facilitate coordination between ground units and between ground units and coalition air forces.

But no. Obama’s mulish insistence on no ground troops absent nukes/aliens/zombies substantially hampers the effectiveness of the limited resources he has grudgingly committed to the battle. He has imposed irrational limits on an already limited strategy and operational concept.

It would be reasonable to conclude that he wants to fail, because the constraints he has imposed make failure highly likely.

 

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November 12, 2014

Is the Next Invasion Coming in Ukraine? It Looks That Way

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:54 pm

It is clear that things are heating up in Ukraine. Nato commander Breedlove stated that Russian troops and armor have moved into the Donbas. Even the blind OSCE has noticed their presence. There are nine battalion combat groups on the border. The intensity of combat between “rebels” and the Ukrainians is increasing. Ukraine has put its troops on alert, telling them to expect an assault.

I have predicted that the conscription cycle and the need to open a land route to Crimea would lead Putin to launch an attack soon. When the ground is reliably frozen, but before winter fully sets in, would be the optimal time. That would be very soon.

I think an attack is likely, especially since the west (Obama, Merkel, etc.) continue to avert their eyes and pretend like nothing is going on. “Leaders” who will not utter the word “invasion” even though that is clearly what has transpired obviously have no stomach for confrontation, and Putin is betting on that continuing.

I think it will proceed as follows. The “rebels” will be committed to attacks throughout Donbas to fix and attrit the Ukrainian forces. They will be cannon fodder. Once the Ukrainians are fixed in place, and their units become combat ineffective due to losses, or at least lose significant numbers of personnel and equipment, the Russian regulars will slice in to deliver the coup de grâce.

Then the castrati in western capitals will express concern, and have meetings, and end up doing nothing.

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November 1, 2014

Laying the Groundwork for the Next Phase of Putin’s Novorossiya Campaign: The Price of Pusillanimity

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 12:04 pm

Ukraine held successful, and remarkably pro-Western, elections last Sunday. The result was a rebuke to Putin, and provided further proof of the adage that you catch more flies with sugar than with gall. Tomorrow, the rump/puppet statelets of Donetsk and Luhansk will hold Soviet-style sham elections, which the Kremlin will duly recognize in violation of the Minsk Protocol signed in September.

Ominously, there are numerous reports of an escalation in the intensity of combat throughout eastern Ukraine (the cease-fire being something of a joke, of course). Further, there are reports of movements of large quantities of new Russian equipment, including SAMs (e.g., S-300s) and MLRS systems considerably more advanced than the scattershot Grads that have been used indiscriminately. There are also indications that the fractious and thuggish rebels are being replaced at key points by Russian regulars.

Something is building here. The timing likely reflects the conscription cycle that led to the faux withdrawal some weeks ago that gave faux hope to those in the west who saw what they desperately wanted to see. Moreover, the passivity of the West, and the distraction of Obama by ISIS (not that he was ever really engaged with Ukraine anyways) give Putin every confidence that another strike would be met with indignant blasts of hot wind from the west, and little else. His prize of Crimea (My precious! My precious! to Gollum-Putin: it’s basically all he has to show for his Herculean labors this year)  is also barely supportable now without access to supplies from the mainland, but will be all but isolated when the slender thread of waterborne transport is frozen shut in a few weeks. Putin needs to open the land routes through the Ukrainian mainland. This requires taking Mariupol, and then continuing to advance west to Kherson.

Russia has markedly increased the intensity of its aerial aggression against Nato countries (including Turkey, which is interesting) and Japan. (Over the summer it carried out mock nuclear strikes on Denmark (!!!) , like those simulated against Sweden and Poland in previous years.) It has bullied Finnish research vessels. (For someone who fulminates about the expansion of Nato, Putin is its best recruiting sergeant.)  It recently tested two nuclear missiles, a Bulava SLBM (which is apparently finally over its serious teething problems) and a Topol ICBM. Putin’s recent rantings in Valdai included sort-of veiled nuclear threats and warnings that “the bear isn’t asking anyone for permission.”

These are all warnings to the west to stand back and not even think about interfering when Putin mounts the next phase of his Novorossiya campaign, likely in the next 10 days-two weeks. These are the wages of the west’s feckless dithering for the past 9 months. This is the price of pusillanimity.

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October 29, 2014

Did Putin Have the Hackers Insert Malware Popups Saying “Who’s Your Daddy?”

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 6:54 pm

Although this has been rumored for weeks (due to the dogged reporting of Powerline), yesterday the White House admitted that hackers, likely Russian (I’m shocked! Shocked!), had compromised the (allegedly non-classified) computers of the Executive Office of the President.

Did Putin have the hackers insert malware that triggered a popup saying: “Who’s Your Daddy?”

But here’s the best part (and per usual, “best” means “worst”). We didn’t discover this ourselves. An “ally” informed us.

It would be so hilarious if the “ally” is Israel. (Germany would be a close second in hilarity.) It would also be so karmic.

But I guess this isn’t possible, because a confidential administration source said the information came from an ally, and we know what Obama, Kerry, etc. think of Israel, and “ally” isn’t the first word that trips off the tongue.

The hits just keep on coming, don’t they folks? But yes, by all means let’s hear some more lectures about how since “you didn’t build that” we need bigger government, delivered by the least competent administration ever.

 

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Who are you who are so wise in the ways of science?

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 6:23 pm

In his latest disquisition on Ebola, Obama plumbed new depths of incoherence. Which for him is saying something. He  responded specifically to questions about how to rationalize the military’s policy of quarantining returning servicemen and women from West Africa (though they don’t say the q-word), while adamantly opposing quarantining of civilians. He offered two justifications (I won’t call them “reasons”). The first was that civilians and military personnel have different levels of exposure due to the nature of their work in West Africa:

Well, the military is in a different situation, obviously, because they are, first of all, not treating patients.

So let me get this straight. People with more exposure to infected patients require fewer precautions upon their return. Rrrriiiiiggghhhttt.

The second reason is that the military works for him, so they just have to suck it:

Second of all, they are not there voluntarily.

It’s part of their mission that’s been assigned to them by their commanders and ultimately by me, the commander in chief. So, we don’t expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians. They are already, by definition, if they’re in the military, under more circumscribed conditions.

When we have volunteers who are taking time out from their families, from their loved ones and so forth to go over there because they have very particular expertise to tackle a very difficult job, we to want make sure that, when they come back, that we are prudent, that we are making sure that they are not at risk themselves or at risk of spreading the disease.

Last time I checked, military people were volunteers (and have been since 19-freaking-73), taking time out from their families and loved ones and so forth on extended deployments because they have very particular expertise to tackle difficult jobs. Oh, and in doing so, especially for the last 13 years, have done so in most of the earth’s hell holes at great personal risk.

But I guess they’re not doing God’s work, so they just need to embrace the suck.

If you ever wanted to understand Obama’s true feelings about the military in two paragraphs, now you have it. They start at scorn and go downhill from there.

Don’t think this won’t be noticed, all the way from E-1 to O-10. And there might be some O-11s spinning in their graves.

And of course, there was the obligatory condescending invocation of Science!, this from a guy who despite his resemblance to Urkel never struck me as a guy handy around the Bunsen Burner:

But we don’t want to do things that aren’t based on science and best practices, because, if we do, then we’re just putting another barrier on somebody who’s already doing really important work on our behalf. And that’s not something I think any of us should want to see happen.

And for a bonus Science! lecture, Jocylyn Elders emerged from obscurity to deliver it. (If you guessed “dead” in “dead or alive”, sorry: you lose).

These constant sneering references to Science!, clearly intended to intimidate the peasants into silence, are beyond insufferable. Because whenever Obama speaks about Science!, all I can think of is this:

 

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October 28, 2014

An American Space Disaster, With a Russian Connection

Filed under: Military,Politics,Snowden — The Professor @ 7:48 pm

An Antares spacecraft operated by Orbital Sciences and contracted to NASA to carry supplies to the International Space Station exploded on liftoff in Virginia. A failure for the American space program? Yes. But the major failure may be due to the fact that this craft, like most others operated by US companies, relies on Russian engines. Soviet engines, actually. I mean literally built in Soviet times. They have been refurbed, but Orbital Sciences was supposedly concerned about quality:

The NK-33 engine that powered Antares’ first flight was built decades ago by Russia’s Kuznetsov Design Bureau and is no longer in production. Further, Orbital is uncertain about the quality of Aerojet‘s remaining stockpile of 23 NK-33s, beyond those set aside for NASA’s CRS-1. Aerojet Rocketdyne is Orbital’s primary subcontractor and overhauls the old NK-33 engines into a configuration for Antares, dubbed AJ-26.

The fraught relationship with Russia, and Russian threats (uttered by Rogozin the Ridiculous, true) to cut off supplies of engines to the US has spurred efforts here to develop an American engine. Maybe NASA and the Pentagon should expedite those efforts.

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The Joint Chiefs Lay Down a Big Ebola Marker

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 6:43 pm

The uniformed military has laid down a major marker in the tussle over Ebola quarantines. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended a 21 day quarantine from all service personnel returning from West Africa:

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that all troops returning from deployments in West Africa to combat the Ebola virus be quarantined for 21 days, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, delivered the service chiefs’ recommendation to follow the Army’s lead on the policy of 21 days of isolation, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.

On Monday, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, ordered 21 days of isolation and “enhanced monitoring” for Army Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams and 11 other troops who were returning to Italy from leading the initial efforts by the military to contain the Ebola virus in Liberia.

The Army has already ordered a quarantine of its personnel, and Hagel has stated that he will not overrule that decision. Now he has to decide whether to order a quarantine policy for all services:

Kirby said Hagel “supports the decision the Army leadership made” while stressing that Hagel had yet to reach a decision on whether the 21-days isolation rule should apply to all services.

The Pentagon press secretary said there was no timeline for Hagel to make a decision but added that one was expected soon.

Given the administration’s  obvious and almost frenzied opposition to any quarantines or travel bans, this is a major repudiation of Obama policy and judgment. I suspect it reflects a judgment on the civilian leadership that transcends the Ebola issue.

For his part, Obama strode to the WH lawn to tell us that quarantines and travel bans were bad because, Science! And because health workers were doing God’s work. Well, doing God’s work is not incompatible with taking prudent precautions to prevent said workers from infecting God’s children. Quite consistent with it in fact.

Meanwhile we learned some suspiciously suppressed facts about Quarantines are Bad poster nurse Kacia Hickox. Some very interesting facts. Such as that she worked/works for the CDC. And that she was miraculously able to retain a high-powered civil rights attorney almost immediately after being quarantined, and that this said attorney is connected to the White House. There are no coincidences, comrades.

Hickox raised alarms in my mind with her stridency and sense of entitlement, and failure to even acknowledge that as a public health worker, there might be a public health case, rather than a Kacia Hickox case, for quarantining her. How warranted those concerns were. So if you are wondering what Ebola Czar Ron “Flounder” Klain has been doing out of the public eye, wonder no longer.

Back to the JCS. Now Hagel is well and truly between a rock and a hard place. The uniformed military is almost certainly livid over the way the campaign against ISIS is being waged, and the events over the past several years that have led up to it. To have Hagel cave on Ebola to pressure from Obama would only stoke  that anger. Obama has done serious damage to many institutions in this country. Civil-military relations could be yet another.

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October 23, 2014

Watch This If You Want to Understand Why We Are Where We Are in Iraq

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:08 pm

As you might guess, I’m usually not a big Frontline fan, given its rather monotonous lefty line on most issues. But I have to take my hat off to Frontline’s Losing Iraq. It presents a very balanced retrospective on events beginning with the fall of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad in 2003. Given the divisiveness of the topic, this is quite an accomplishment.

It is, unsurprisingly, a depressing picture. The bulk of the program focuses on the Bush years, but the most damning parts address the Obama administration’s willful mishandling of a bad but improving situation.

There are few heroes here. Generals Keene and Petraeus come off quite well. Perhaps because they tell their own stories. Rumsfeld and Bremmer come off terribly, which is only accurate. The picture on Bush is very mixed. His misjudgments and mistakes are discussed in full, and there were many: the de-Baathification and disbanding of the Iraqi army stand out. Yes, these were mainly Rumsfeld moves, but Bush signed off. But he is given credit for his courageous decision to double down-or as Petraeus put it, go all in-on the Surge. This redeemed a seemingly hopeless situation, and created the possibility for a good outcome in Iraq. Good by Middle Eastern standards, anyways. Overall, Bush comes off flawed, but human and earnest, and dedicated to doing the best for the country, by his lights. One odd thing is that Colin Powell is completely absent: I don’t even recall his name being mentioned.

One fascinating part relates to Bush and Maliki. Maliki was the accidental leader of Iraq, dredged from obscurity by an administration desperate for an Iraqi face to lead a government so that America could cede control of the country to the locals. Maliki demonstrated some of the tendencies that would later contribute to the current catastrophe, but through a combination of carrots and sticks, and perhaps most importantly, Bush’s personal attention, he was nudged in a more constructive direction and did not indulge his worst sectarian impulses. He wasn’t great, but by the standards of the Middle East, he could have been a lot worse.

Everything changed once Obama assumed office. The most telling scene in the film is from Obama’s speech at Camp Lejeune a mere 4 weeks after assuming  office. Obama acknowledged that Iraq had become a passably peaceful place. But instead of understanding that this peace had been hard-won,  was incredibly fragile, and required continued American military and political engagement to sustain, Obama asserted that the conditions were now right for the US to withdraw. He treated the peace as an inheritance, an endowment, rather than a tender thing that required continued nurturing.

One could spend much time contemplating why he arrived at this conclusion. It was a convenient excuse for him to do what he wanted-to get shed of Iraq, like yesterday. Moreover, to conclude otherwise would have required him to acknowledge that Bush had been right about the Surge, but as we know, Obama reflexively believed-believes-that everything Bush did was wrong, and perhaps evil.

The documentary points out that everyone in the national security establishment opposed Obama’s decision. Everyone believed that it was imperative for the US to retain military force in the country. But Obama decided otherwise and overruled them all.

The chagrin of the military is vividly captured in the face of Robert Gates when Obama completed his remarks and walked over to shake Gates’s hand. Those on stage during a presidential speech, especially one delivered in triumphal tones, are usually smiling and happy. But Gates’s face was stern and tense. You know he hated  being there. You know he believed that Obama was making a tragic mistake. You also know that Obama made a point of seeking him out first to assert his authority, and to make plain to the world that the defense department and the military were going to salute and execute, even though they believed to a man that the policy was a disaster in the making.

The most damning part of Losing Iraq is the recapitulation of the failed attempt to negotiate a Status of Forces agreement with Maliki. Well, failed attempt is not the right phrase, for the documentary makes it clear that Obama had no intention of getting an agreement. He made a demand-that the Iraqi parliament vote to immunize American troops against prosecution-that he knew-knew-could not be met. He made an offer that Iraq had to refuse, which is exactly what Obama wanted, because he wanted out of Iraq, come what may. Iraq of course did refuse, and we are witnessing what has come.

The film quickly covers the aftermath of the American withdrawal. Left completely on his own, Maliki indulged his sectarian devils. He gutted  the Iraqi military by placing reliable Shia cronies in all major command posts: the objective was not creating an effective military force, but creating one that would not pose a coup threat. Most crucially, he cut off the Sunni tribes in Anbar, thereby undoing what Petraeus had achieved at such cost. Into that chaos, ISIS plunged, to its profit.

This is why we are where we are. Yes, the invasion of Iraq was a blunder of historic proportions. But after doing the typical American thing of doing the right thing after trying everything else, the situation was stabilized and showed some promise. But Obama threw it all way out of arrogance, pique, and ideological blindness.

Losing Iraq is painful watching, but it is necessary watching if you want to know why we are where we are, and why that is not a good place to be.

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