Streetwise Professor

May 12, 2015

Samantha Power, Magical Thinker–Like Her Boss

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 12:45 pm

This administration has a well-documented track record for making delusional statements, but this one by Samantha Power (in an interview with Charlie Rose) is in the running for Most Delusional:  “I think you’re going to see a push on diplomacy in the coming weeks, and it is our hope that perhaps also, if the nuclear deal can go forward and we get the terms that we need in that space, that you’ll start to see a shift in Iran’s posture [on Syria].”

Why? First, because “Iran is stretched” by its commitments to Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

Um, the $50 billion “down payment”, with more to follow, will unstretch Iran quite a bit. It will provide a lot of wherewithal that they can pump into Syria, and elsewhere. That Iran has spent such large sums on Syria at a time when it is desperately burdened by sanctions demonstrates clearly the high strategic value that the mullahs place on Assad, and controlling Syria. The deal which Powers is flogging will increase Iran’s capability to achieve its strategic objectives. The clear implication is that Iran will increase dramatically its support for Assad once a deal is done, not withdraw it as Powers fantasizes.

Second, she claims that Iran “wants to be part of the international community.” Typically idiotic transnational progressive projection. No. The mullahs don’t crave to be liked by Samantha and the transnatprog set: countries that screech daily about exterminating Israel aren’t all that concerned about their image in the West. Indeed, these theocrats despise the West. That they say they want to be part of the international community just tells you that they have figured out that Western elites lap up that bilge.

Iran wants to be free to pursue its objectives without constraints from the international community. Its role in Syria has nothing to do with the constraints it currently faces, and once the sanctions are lifted, there is zero possibility that other constraints will be imposed because of its role in Syria.

Now let’s turn to reality. There are reports that Assad’s chief of the National Security Bureau has been arrested. Why? For plotting a coup. The reason for his dissatisfaction? Iran’s increasing control over the Syrian government:

The role being played in the war by Iran, Syria’s regional ally, is said to be at the heart of the arguments, with some of the “inner circle” afraid that Iranian officials now have more power than they do.

Iran’s influence has been crucial in bolstering Syria’s defences against the rebels, but even that has been crumbling in the face of recent rebel advances in the north.

So Iran is just going to drop Syria because it wants to be popular at Davos? Obviously not. It is intent on controlling Syria, and a nuclear deal will enhance its ability to do so.

Like with so many other things, this administration’s view of reality is totally inverted. Obama and his minions say the Iran deal will cure every ill in the Middle East. In fact, it will exacerbate almost all of them because it will dramatically enhance the resources and capabilities of a revisionist power that threatens virtually every other nation in the region. The conflict in Syria will become more intense and protracted, not less, when Iran gets its hands on billions with the potential to make billions more. And conflicts with Gulf countries are much more likely in a post-deal world. It is also likely that a resurgent Iran would raise deep alarm in Turkey, especially given that Turkey is adamantly anti-Assad. Thus, conflict with Turkey is more likely too.

This deal is a Pandora’s Box. With one difference. I don’t think that hope is inside of it.


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May 11, 2015

Merkel in Moscow: A Laudable Sentiment, A Misguided Message, and a Lost Opportunity

Filed under: History,Military,Russia — The Professor @ 7:17 pm

Angela Merkel tried to walk a thin line on VE Day. She traveled to Russia, but did not attend the atavistic, militaristic, and jingoistic parade on the 9th. Instead, along with Putin, she laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the 10th. She also met with Putin, and criticized him for Crimea and Donbas.

Merkel said this to explain her visit:

“We cannot close the book on our history,” Ms. Merkel said in her weekly video message May 2. Despite deep differences with Russia over Ukraine, she said, “it is important for me to lay a wreath on May 10 together with the Russian president in remembrance of the millions of dead for which Germany is responsible from World War II.”

Those are laudable sentiments, but she could have done things differently, and better. Indeed, her Russian-centric approach is deeply flawed, and has implications for current events.

Ukraine and Belarus suffered far more, proportionally, than did Russia during WWII. Not that Russia got off lightly. Clearly not. But in terms of loss of life, and in terms of German war crimes, Ukraine and Belarus were ground zero.

Merkel could have and should have gone to Kiev to participate in Ukraine’s far more restrained and somber commemoration. She should have laid a wreath there, in remembrance of the millions of dead in Ukraine for which Germany is responsible. Then she could have gone to Moscow on the 10th.

By going to Moscow only, and not Kiev, she implicitly accepted Russia’s assertion that it is the heir to the Soviet Union; that to Russia is due the honor and the glory for defeating the Nazis; and that Germany owes apologies to Russia, or that at least Russia accepts apologies on behalf of all other ex-Soviet peoples. This implicitly subordinates Ukraine, Belarus and other former-SSRs to Russia. By going to Russia only, she implicitly stated that Russia is the first among nations spawned from the collapse of the USSR, and that the others are inferiors.

This is a particularly dangerous message to be sending now, when Russia is quite explicitly attempting to subordinate these other nations by force, economic pressure, and subversion. Merkel is effectively validating Putin’s belief that Ukraine is not a “real country,” and that Ukraine’s independence is illegitimate and a historical injustice.

By visiting Kiev, Merkel could have sent a very different message. She could have paid homage to those that Germany victimized from 1941-1945, while also saying that the lesson and legacy of the Second World War should be that large aggressive nations should not dominate small and weak ones.  Should could have implicitly upbraided Putin, given support to those he wants to dominate, and made amends for wrongs that Germany inflicted on non-Russians.

Merkel walked a thin line, but she could have walked a much better one.

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May 7, 2015

No Buts. Period.

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 6:48 pm

A few words about Garland.

First, the traffic cop who blew away two Islamist would-be mass murders is a total badass. He took out two guys who surprised him and were spraying him with assault weapon fire: pictures from the scene show dozens of evidence markers on the ground, most of which are likely indicating ejected brass from their assault weapons. His assailants were wearing body armor, which means he took them out with freaking head shots while taking rifle fire. With a service pistol. If that isn’t coolness and courage under fire, I don’t know what is.

I wonder if the guy has a military background, because most cops are not noted for their marksmanship. That was some serious shooting under the most disadvantageous and stressful conditions possible. He must spend a lot of time at the range, and must be thanking God that the freaks who attacked him apparently didn’t, going with the tried-and-true Muslim spray and pray thing. There are a lot of Salafists pushing up rocks in Iraq and Afghanistan because of that. I hope they keep it up.

Second, the American-born leader of this suicide mission had been convicted of a terrorism-related offense, and was on a watch list. So how the hell was he able to get his hands on weaponry that was fortunately too powerful for him and his Pakistani buddy to handle? The FBI watched this guy about as well as he watched Tamerlan Tsarnaev. (So yeah, Al Sharpton. Let’s federalize all law enforcement. Here’s a case-excuse me, another case-where the feds fucked up, and the local yokel saved the day.)

Third, this event has provoked the left into paroxysms of rage . . . at Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders, for having the audacity to engage in politically incorrect speech. As in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, I’ve lost count at the number of talking heads and pixel stained wretches who condemn the violence but . . . The “but” involves some variant on the theme that Geller engaged in hate speech, and had it coming, or at least the government should constrain such offensive speech to prevent such unfortunate events from recurring.  Indeed, the “buts” are more frequent and insistent here, because the Hebdo staff were hard core leftists, and Geller and Wilder are most definitely not.

As my father would say when I would try to talk my way out of something: No buts. Period.

I will not spend a millisecond discussing Pamela Geller’s words or beliefs, because they are utterly irrelevant. Utterly, completely irrelevant. The government’s powers to limit speech are extremely limited, and rightly so. Geller’s speech and actions are clearly within the protected zone, and for good reason, particularly for speech with political or religious content.

What is “hateful” or “offensive” is inherently subjective. Giving the government the power to censor or silence or punish speech because someone might be offended, or because he or she might deem words to be hateful, is to give it virtually unlimited power to oppress its political opponents. It is an instrument of social and political coercion and control.

As surely as day follows night, when being offended is grounds to call on the government to silence those who oppress those giving offense, the ranks of the offended and aggrieved will metastasize like the most virulent cancer. The ins will use “hate speech” as a club to bludgeon the outs. It will stifle all public discourse, as the circle of offensiveness will grow ever wider, like a drop of oil on still water. The most insistent and fanatical and politically driven-who are the most easily offended, and the most willing to opportunistically claim to be offended-will have a veto over what can be said, and will use it ruthlessly to enhance their power.

Cliff Asness asked on Twitter where the leftists who were die-hard advocates of free speech back in the ’60s and ’70s went. The answer to that question is almost trivial. When the left was seeking power, free speech served its interests as a way of undermining the establishment that it hated and wanted to displace. As its power grew, its interest in free speech contracted accordingly. What was a weapon that it could employ against the establishment became a threat as it became the establishment. Put differently: the left’s interest in free speech varies inversely with its power.

This can be seen in the time series, but particularly in the cross section. The institutions that the left dominates are the most hostile to free speech. Just look at any university if you doubt this. Conversely, they are most insistent about contrarian voice and speech in those institutions that they do not control, such as churches.

Insofar as those whom the left is rallying to defend in the Geller/Garland affair-that is, Muslims-are concerned, they outdo themselves. In defending Muslims, they infantilize and patronize them: apparently they believe Muslims are so incapable of self-control that they must be shielded from any hateful words, because they are liable to go on a murderous rampage if they hear them. And since when was the left so solicitous of the sensitivities of the religious? Well never, actually, including now. Muslims, and the phantom phenomenon of “Islamaphobia”, are merely battering rams that the left can use to attack its real enemies, i.e., anyone to their right, religious Christians (n.b., one of whom I am most definitely not) and Jews, Jacksonian Americans, traditionalists, libertarians, etc. (The left’s “other” is quite diverse.)

The fact that a local traffic cop was the only thing that saved hundreds from the homicidal plans of two Islamist fanatics (one of them a native born American citizen) is deeply concerning. But what is far more disturbing is that this isn’t what disturbs what I would wager is a clear majority of the chattering class. What disturbs them (or what they opportunistically claim disturbs them) is speech that they disagree with, and which they are hell-bent on limiting the rights to engage in such speech. They are not targeting hate speech: they are targeting speech and speakers that they hate.

Fine. As we say in Texas: Come and take it.


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May 4, 2015

The Return of the Five O’Clock Follies? The Military Is Risking Its Credibility In the War On ISIS

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 4:07 pm

The US military’s credibility is at serious risk due to its don’t-worry-be-happy disclosures about the war against ISIS. Much independent reporting today strongly suggests that ISIS is in control of a substantial portion of the Baiji refinery, and that the small Iraqi garrison is in danger of being overrun: and you know what ISIS does when that happens. But the military’s Kevin Bacon-esque take couldn’t be more different:

 While Beiji and Ramadi in Iraq remain contested between Iraqi security forces and extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants, ISIL is experiencing setbacks, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said Friday.

If things are going so swimmingly  in Baiji, why the relatively intense air activity there today?:

Near Bayji, eight airstrikes struck one large and five small ISIL tactical units, destroying five ISIL fighting positions, three ISIL buildings, an ISIL command and control facility, an ISIL mortar system, and an ISIL VBIED.

Remember Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dempsey (who can’t leave soon enough to suit  me) declared that Baiji (in contrast to Ramadi) is strategically important. Then why are there only 200 Iraqi police and special forces there, hanging on for dear life?

Further, the military has been extremely slow in responding to accusations by the very dodgy Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (which appears to be one guy in a flat in London who is a conduit for Islamist agitprop) that US airstrikes had killed 64 civilians in a town near Kobani. All coverage of this event takes Syrian Observatory’s account as gospel. This is a very damaging charge, and the US should have responded quickly and authoritatively immediately, rather than letting this portrayal go around the world unchallenged. The military should also investigate the Syrian Observatory very closely and report what it learns about its sources, methods, and connections. If, as it appears, it is an information war outlet, it is unconscionable that we are letting it go unchallenged as the authoritative source on events in Syria that independent reporters cannot observe.

It’s not just me that is appalled by the Pentagon’s performance. The authoritative and respected analyst Anthony Cordesman rips the Pentagon’s recently released report on the progress of the “counter-ISIS” operation. This sentence suffices, but read the whole thing:

To put it bluntly, it seems to be far more of a public relations exercise than a serious attempt at reporting on nature and success of Operation Inherent Resolve.

We need to be honest and be real, and not repeat the self-defeating performance of the “Five-O’Clock Follies” of Vietnam infamy. Credibility is vital, and methinks it is being squandered to protect an administration that is only half-heartedly  (if that) committed to destroying ISIS. Reality will rear its ugly head sooner or later, and better to confront it now when something can be done about it.

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May 3, 2015

Does the CIA Believe in Unicorns and Faeries Too?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 9:30 pm

Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell made a rather stunning admission that the US intelligence community believed that the Arab Spring would be the death knell of Al Qaeda:

“We thought and told policy-makers that this outburst of popular revolt would damage al-Qaeda by undermining the group’s narrative,” Morell wrote in the book, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post ahead of its release later this month.

Instead, “the Arab Spring was a boon to Islamic extremists across both the Middle East and North Africa,” he said. “From a counterterrorism perspective, the Arab Spring had turned to winter.”

Do they also believe in unicorns and faeries at the CIA? Revolutionaries exploit political turmoil: the vast majority of political upheavals in the developing world have empowered radicals, rather than neutered them. And since when did a revolutionary situation in the Middle East in particular result in the emergence of a stable, peaceful state? The region’s nations have see-sawed between anarchic strife and repressive regimes. The region’s history is fodder for cynicism and world weariness, not flights of political fancy.

Neocons were rightly savaged after the Iraq invasion for their naive belief that Saddam’s overthrow would lead to the creation of a stable, peaceful, and democratic Iraq, and that this in turn could provide the foundation for a democratic Middle East. We all know how that worked out, which makes the naiveté of the CIA almost a decade later astounding.

Arab societies are deeply broken, and as Iraq demonstrates, throwing off the shackles of an authoritarian regime is almost certain to result in chaos and anarchy that provides opportunities to Islamist radicals. Indeed, the failure of the CIA in 2011 is more damning than the neocon failure in 2003 because the former had the benefit of the sad example of Iraq, which should tempered greatly any temptation to indulge in flights of optimism.

And God spare us from anyone who bases policies on “narratives,” or believes that the roots of Salafism in the Middle East are so shallow that it will wither and die because a few aging dictators are overthrown. Islamism is deeply embedded in Arab societies, and to believe that the fall of a Mubarak or a Khaddafy will transform Islamists into Jeffersonians is delusional.

It must also be noted that this benign view of the effect of the Arab Spring on Al Qaeda was very politically convenient for the administration. Especially in the aftermath of the elimination Osama, it supported Obama’s campaign pitch that “Al Qaeda is on the run.” This raises the possibility that the CIA slanted its analysis to benefit its political masters.

In brief, this is an intellectual failure of the first order. What confidence can we have that the mindset that led to this failure is not still exerting a baleful influence on intelligence analysis today? The CIA’s intellectual failure is particularly troubling given the extremely fraught situation in the Middle East. We need all the penetrating analysis we can get, and the thought that those charged with providing such analysis have very recently have proved to be naive fantasists is deeply troubling.

During the Cold War, Reagan’s dissatisfaction with the analysis provided by the CIA led him to form a Team B to give an alternative viewpoint about the USSR. In light of Morell’s admission, something similar is desperately needed now. But we all know that the likelihood we will get it is somewhere between zero and nil.

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May 2, 2015

Doing a Slow Burn

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:56 pm

I have read and re-read these remarks by Brett McGurk, “deputy special presidential envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL” (counter?-that tells you all you need to know) more times than I can count, and I still can hardly believe my eyes:

 Well, you certainly hope for such a tipping point, but our plan is for a long, steady, slow-burning campaign against Daish.

I have read more military history than I should have, and I cannot recall ever reading anything like this. I keep shaking my head. The closest thing that comes to mind is the Johnson-McNamara “gradual escalation” strategy, and if that’s the best comparison, it’s very bad news.

“Slow-burning” is the antithesis of pretty much every basic military principle. I remember one quote from Reef Points from my days at Navy, from Bull Halsey: “Hit hard, hit fast, hit often.” We are doing the reverse: hitting ineffectually, hitting slowly (by McGurk’s admission) and hitting infrequently. I further remember Napoleon: “The reason I beat the Austrians is that they did not know the value of five minutes.” Speed and initiative put the enemy on his heels. “Slow-burning” gives him the opportunity to prepare an dig in and marshal resources.

And that’s exactly what ISIS is doing, especially in Mosul. It is delusional to think that the Iraqi Army will be able to take Mosul, especially the way that ISIS has burrowed itself, literally and figuratively,  into every nook and cranny of the city. The Iraqis had a helluva time taking Tikrit, which was held by a few hundred ISIS fighters. Mosul will be orders of magnitude more difficult, no matter how many excavators we blow up.

The chance to keep ISIS out of Mosul was lost last June, when ISIS was exposed on the roads and deserts around the city. But Obama stayed his hand.

“Slow-burning” also allows ISIS to slaughter at its leisure, including hundreds of Yazidi prisoners who were massacred yesterday. By the time our slow-burning is over, will there be anyone alive left to save?

ISIS is actually on the offensive in places like Baiji and Ramadi. The US military is trying to spin that this is the last gasp of a force facing defeat:

While Beiji and Ramadi in Iraq remain contested between Iraqi security forces and extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants, ISIL is experiencing setbacks, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said today.

Speaking to reporters in the Pentagon via teleconference, Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder provided a weekly update on Centcom’s operational highlights in the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

In central Iraq, Iraqi security forces continue to conduct operations to secure the city of Karmah, and they have retaken territory around the Tigris River canal, Ryder said.

“We’ve seen these efforts help isolate ISIL fighters who are in the town, and this has helped choke off their lines of communication,” he said, adding that from an operational perspective, such gains help to secure ISIL approaches to Baghdad.

Iraqi Forces Hold Ramadi

There have been no significant changes from last week’s operations in Ramadi, a city in western Iraq, where Iraqi forces continue to hold onto key ground while ISIL forces try to keep territory they captured in the eastern part of the city. “We expect Ramadi to remain contested,” Ryder said.

ISIL also continues to contest the Iraqi forces’ hold on Beiji’s oil refinery, he said.

“ISIL has shown that Beiji and Ramadi are strategically important to them, and they are committing a significant amount of limited resources to secure these locations,” Ryder said.

ISIL wants to “score a win” after suffering numerous recent setbacks, most notably in Tikrit, he added. “Because of this, both cities are expected to remain contested for some time,” he said.

Sorry. Not buying it. Most other information strongly suggests that the Iraqis are hanging on by their fingernails in both places. The initiative is with ISIS, not Iraq. At best, US airpower is keeping ISIS at bay and saving the Iraqis from another massacre. That’s not defeat, but it sure as hell ain’t victory. It’s sad to see the the military spinning so pathetically in defense of a campaign that you know deeply offends their professional and patriotic sensibilities.

In other embarrassments, the United States is telling citizens in Yemen: “Good luck! You’re on your own!”

That’s not true, exactly. The State Department is setting up the equivalent of a ride sharing program. Not exactly civis romanus sum, is it?

And there’s more! Iran seized a cargo ship in one of the most strategically important waterways in the world, the Straits of Hormuz, during a period of heightened tensions in the region: indeed there is an ongoing proxy war between Iran and the Saudis in Yemen. The Iranians are using some flimsy legal pretext to justify the seizure, but we all know that Iran is sending a message.

We also know that Obama is pretending not to hear. Again the Pentagon carried his water, issuing several mealy-mouthed statements to the effect that we aren’t sure whether the Maersk ship was in international waters, and that the US is under no obligation to defend a Marshall Islands flagged ship, despite the fact that the US has treaty obligations to that nation:

The Government of the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense matters in or relating to the Republic of the Marshall Islands. (b) This authority and responsibility includes: (1) the obligation to defend the Federated States of Micronesia and its people from attack or threats thereof as the United States and its citizens are defended;… (c) The Government of the United States confirms that it shall act in accordance with the principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations in the exercise of this authority and responsibility

And even if the US had no treaty obligation, for centuries-and especially since WWII-it has been a stalwart defender of the freedom of navigation. Twice (in 1981 and 1986) Reagan dispatched carrier groups to the Gulf of Sidra when Khadaffy claimed that these waters were off-limits to foreign ships. When the Libyans insanely challenged the carriers, F-14s splashed several of their fighters. When the Iranians began attacking tankers in the Persian Gulf in 1987, foreign tankers were put under the US flag, and escorted by US ships. Later, the US shelled and destroyed oil platforms that the Iranians were using as command and control facilities to coordinate their attacks on tankers.

By the way, the Iranian seizure of the Maersk Tigris has to be viewed against the background of this history.

But Obama is hell-bent on doing a deal with Iran, and he will sacrifice pretty much any American policy principle and alliance to get it.

All of this has me doing a slow burn.

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April 20, 2015

A Russian Troll Trolls From the Land of Trolls

Filed under: Climate Change,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:22 pm

Trolls are characters from Scandinavian folklore who inhabit desolate islands, so it only seems fitting that Rogozin the Ridiculous trolled Nato from a desolate Norwegian island. Rogozin, who is banned from traveling to Norway due to sanctions, showed up on Svalbard (formerly Spitsbergen), which is sovereign Norwegian territory (though Russians have residence and commercial rights there under the Svalbard Treaty). Rogozin obnoxiously (but I repeat myself) tweeted that “the Arctic is Russian Mecca.” The Norwegians are not amused. Nor should the US. But we seem unfazed.

Wouldn’t you know, the United States is assuming the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Canada. In the face of Russia’s quite in-our-face assertion of control over the Arctic (of which the Ridiculous One’s “Russian Mecca” Tweet is just an example), and its dramatic increase in its military activities and presence in the Arctic, what is John Kerry’s priority for the Council? You guessed it: climate change. You know, for the polar bears.

Back to Rogozin, last seen here performing so marvelously in his role as commissar of the Vostochny Cosmodrome. His intervention into the management of the troubled project (including threats to “rip off the heads” of those holding up construction) has worked wonders. Well, mainly, it has resulted in a spread of strikes protesting lack of pay. And to save costs, the construction of infrastructure to support manned launches is being deferred, resulting in at least a two year delay in the use of the facility for such purposes. Well played, Bozo! The mind boggles at the thought of what you’ll accomplish in your icy Mecca.

Believe it or not, Rogozin has intense competition for the title of most insane Russian official today. His competition is Nikolai Rogozhkin, Putin’s representative in the Siberian Federal District. (Hey. Rogozin, Rogozhkin: pretty similar! Lame attempt at a pseudonym? Or is “Rogoz” a Russian prefix meaning “moron”?) Siberia is beset by wildfires already, and there are fears that this summer will make 2010 look like child’s play. So whom does Rogozin-sorry, I mean Rogozhkin-blame? Saboteurs, of course! Wreckers! Fifth Columnists! Oppositionists! As for his reasoning, check out the most outrageous flouting of Occam’s Razor I have ever seen:

Rogozhkin said he had flown in a helicopter and seen fire sites in “places where a normal person cannot go, even one who is well-prepared.”

“A specially trained person would be needed for this, and it would take at least 24 hours,” he said.

So rather than reason: “It is nearly impossible for a normal person to set these fires, so they must have a natural cause”, Rogozhkin the Almost as Ridiculous concludes that it isn’t a normal person after all. It is a specially trained person.

You literally cannot make up this stuff.

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April 19, 2015

More Obama & Wilson Parallels

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 3:57 pm

Watched a show on CSPAN3 (yes, it’s an exciting life I lead) involving a discussion of Woodrow Wilson and the Versailles Treaty and the League between Prof. Melvyn Leffler of the University of Virginia, and Oxford’s Prof. Margaret MacMillan, author of “The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914.” Leffler made two points that resonate today, when thinking about Obama. (This discussion is around the 1:05 mark of the video.)

First, Leffler pointed out that Wilson made many compromises in Paris, but adamantly refused to make any compromises with his domestic opposition. Leffler further noted that contemporaries noted the contrast.

Second, and relatedly, Leffler emphasized that Wilson hated and despised his domestic opponents, in particular Henry Cabot Lodge. MacMillan related some anecdotes about what she called Wilson’s “stupidity” in dealing with the opposition, in particular his very public scorn for the domestic opposition that just intensified their desire to defeat him. She said that Wilson didn’t just disagree with Lodge: he believed Lodge was evil, and wouldn’t do a deal with the Devil. MacMillan said that [I paraphrase] “Wilson believed if you disagreed with him, there was something morally wrong with you.” (This is around the 1:08 mark.) That is, Wilson’s refusal to compromise on the League (even though MacMillan claims that many of Lodge’s objections were reasonable) stemmed from a visceral hatred and disdain for his political opponents. This refusal to bend (indeed, Wilson instructed Democratic senators to vote against an amended treaty) doomed his beloved League to defeat.

The parallels with Obama are quite apparent. One wonders if the outcome will be as well, that is, whether Obama’s disdain for Republicans will doom his beloved Iran deal to defeat.

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April 18, 2015

Alfred E. Obama

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:37 pm

Obama reacted in his best Alfred E. Newman “what? me worry?” fashion to Putin punking him by selling S-300 missiles to Iran. Short version: “What took you so long, Vova?”:

President Obama said that he was “not surprised” Russia sold an advanced missile system to Iran in the midst of his negotiations with the Ayatollah to prevent Iran’s nuclear facilities from making a bomb. He went even further to say that he expected the deal to happen a lot sooner than it did.

“I’m frankly surprised that it held this long given that they were not prohibited by sanctions from selling these defensive weapons,” President Obama said on Friday.

Another example of the flexibility that Barry promised Vladimir via the whisper to messenger boy Dmitri.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but supposedly the big payoff to the Reset was Russian cooperation on Iran. But apparently Obama believes that the sell-by date of that cooperation has long passed. Or , he doesn’t really give a damn about keeping Iran in a box.

And look at what he did there. He totally buys the Russian and Iranian line that these are “defensive weapons”, and hence pose no problem: again, “what? me worry?” Is he that stupid? Does he not realize that a strong shield protects those who wield the sword? These AAMs dramatically undercut the credibility of any military response to Iran’s developing nuclear weapons: they thereby undercut the credibility of Obama’s vaunted deal. (Although that presumes that Obama actually intends to deprive Iran of the bomb. His actions repeatedly cast doubt on that presumption.)

If defensive weapons as so benign, why doesn’t Barry supply them to Ukraine? Indeed, the defensive weapons (e.g., ATGMs) that Ukraine is pleading for cannot serve the same strategic function as the S-300s supplied to Iran. They are truly useful only in local defense, particularly by an army like Ukraine’s that is hard pressed to hold its own ground, let alone attempt to project power. They can help make a Russian invasion too costly for Putin to undertake, but cannot provide a shield behind which an aggressive power can develop the means to carry out its expansionist schemes. So Obama should shove Putin’s words about the benignity of defensive weapons back in his botoxed face. “What’s good for Iran is good for Ukraine, Vlad.”

But instead, Obama (and the feckless Europeans) cringe before Russia’s freak outs about providing one bandolier, bullet, bayonet or trainer to Ukraine, or stationing one tank in the Baltics. Indeed, the Russians also went ballistic (figuratively) by threatening to go literally ballistic over Nato ABM systems.

Ponder the hypocrisy here. It is a thing to behold. Russia told Israel to lie back and enjoy it because S-300’s are purely defensive. But any Nato defensive missiles in Europe have become “objects of priority [Russian] response [i.e., they are now nuclear targets].” (General Dempsey has Obamaitis, apparently, saying that he’s “not surprised” by Russia’s rhetoric. This guy is becoming a daily embarrassment.)

Obama also channeled good old Alfred E. when he downplayed Khamenei’s insistence that sanctions would be eliminated immediately upon reaching an agreement, and that military sites were completely out of bounds to inspectors:

“It’s not surprising to me that the supreme leader or a whole bunch of other people are going to try to characterize the deal in a way that protects their political position,” Obama said in a news conference Saturday at the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

Talk about projection! What the hell has Obama been doing in the past three weeks other than “try[ing] to characterize the deal in a way that protects [his] political position”?

Obama is also demonstrating that his vaunted flexibility is not limited to Russia, saying that he is open to “creative” approaches to lifting sanctions early. He claims that he insists on “snapback” capability, but anyone who believes sanctions can be snapped back is out of his bleeping mind. Or is a liar that is “characteriz[ing] the deal in a way that protects his political position.” That is, saying anything to protect a deal that he wants, hell or high water.

If Obama is Alfred E. Newman, I am definitely not. Me worry. In particular, me worry that we are bumping against the limits of the amount of ruin in a nation that Adam Smith wrote about.

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April 14, 2015

Obama the Negotiator at Home and Abroad: Compare and Contrast

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 6:56 pm

We know that Obama knows how to play tough in negotiations. We know that he can engage in brinksmanship. We know he can draw red lines, and stick to them. Just look at past confrontations with Congressional Republicans, especially over budgetary issues, the debt ceiling, and Obamacare.

This contrasts starkly with his abysmal negotiating strategies with foreign adversaries. The unilateral concessions, by the bagful. The failure to extract any meaningful concessions from his interlocutors. The declaration of red lines, followed by at most mewling protests when the lines are crossed.

The Iran negotiations are of course the most prominent example. But consider the opening to Cuba. Indeed, it is really impossible to consider this a negotiation at all. Instead. Obama has just unilaterally undone a set of restrictions that have been in place for years, including today’s removal of Cuba from the State Department’s terror supporting nations list.

And Cuba has done what in return? Bupkis.

Whatever you think about the embargo and the terrorism list designation, we have issues with Cuba, notably its expanded cooperation with Russia (which last year Newsweek called “Partying like it’s 1962“), including the reopening of the Lourdes surveillance facility: note, that the Cold War is not over for everyone. To ease up on Cuba at the very same time it is increasing its cooperation with an aggressive and truculent Russia is astounding. Human rights is another issue.

So we have things that we should want from Cuba, and the means to extract them. Cuba is in dire economic straits, especially since its most recent patron, Venezuela, is circling the bowl at mach speed. So the US has leverage, just as it does with Iran. And the costs to the US of continuing the embargo are trivial. Threats to walk away-or to increase the pressure-are quite credible. There is a huge asymmetry in bargaining power here.

You know how Obama would play this hand with Republicans. We see how he plays it with the Castros and Khamenei. It’s not that he doesn’t know how to play hard ball: It’s that he doesn’t want to.

The question is why? I keep returning to the theory that he  believes that the exercise of American power abroad is illegitimate, and that in the cases of countries like Iran and Cuba, he actually believes that the US owes redress for past transgressions.

If you all have a better theory, I’d like to hear it. But your theory has to explain why a man who can be so obdurate in negotiations at home is so pliable-to put it mildly-in negotiations abroad.

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