Streetwise Professor

September 24, 2009

My Dog Ate My Strategy

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 3:26 pm

In late March, with much fanfare, Obama announced that after an extensive review he had settled on a new strategy for Afghanistan:

Today, I am announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This marks the conclusion of a careful policy review that I ordered as soon as I took office. My Administration has heard from our military commanders and diplomats. We have consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments; with our partners and NATO allies; and with other donors and international organizations. And we have also worked closely with members of Congress here at home. Now, I’d like to speak clearly and candidly to the American people.

Nota bene: “a comprehensive, new strategy” that resulted from a “careful policy review.”

But that was so March, which was so long ago.   Today, when confronted with a recommendation from the theater commander General McChrystal for more troops, Obama says: “Strategy, what strategy?   Ohhhh.   THAT Strategy.   My dog ate it: I have to redo it.”   Think that’s too harsh?   Read this and decide:

“Let’s do a soup-to-nuts re-evaluation, focusing on what our original goal was, which was to get al Qaeda, the people who killed 3,000 Americans,” Obama said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Or this:

Obama is equivocating, saying: “One of the things I’m absolutely clear about is that you have to get the strategy right, and then make a determination about resources.” He has ordered yet another review of strategy, a review which the chairman of the joint chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, said was going back to “the first principles, if you will.”

So, a few questions. The “comprehensive” analysis completed all of six months ago didn’t start from first principles?   What was missing, the soups, or the nuts?   (Probably the soup, knowing this crowd.)   It didn’t get it right the first time?   Why not?   What changed?

And the biggie: how can you make a decision on strategy independent of an analysis of resources?   Obama’s assertion of strategy first, resources later in the previous quote implies a disjunction between the two issues.

This is nonsense.   Strategy is all about meshing objectives and resources; goals and capabilities.   No minimally competent strategist says: “OK, here’s my strategy.   Let me figure out what I need to carry it out.”   Strategy is all about how to apply resources to achieve objectives.   If the objectives appear to demand an excessively costly commitment of resources, you choose different ones.

The new spin is that the administration is shocked! shocked! to learn in the aftermath of the recent election that Afghanistan is corrupt.   What changed in Afghanistan over the last 6 months to warrant such a U-turn.   Hell, what has changed in Afghanistan in the last couple of thousand years?   If you read histories of Alexander the Great’s adventures in what is now Afghanistan in about 325 BC you’d still probably recognize the place.   It is a tribal society (read Arrian) with an overlay of the most primitive variety of Islam that has changed little in recorded history, let alone the last six months.

And even if you ignore that history, presumably a “comprehensive” strategic review should have included a detailed analysis of the capacity of the Afghan government.   If the recent election result completely overturns the results of that analysis, it must have been shockingly inept.   A failure of intelligence–in many senses of the word–on all levels.

This whole fiasco is yet another episode of “What’s Worse: If he’s lying or telling the truth?”   If he’s lying, well, that speaks for itself.   If he’s not he’s a blundering incompetent.

Robert Gibbs should be replaced as press secretary by Maxwell Smart: “Would you believe. . . ?”

Truth be told, Obama used the Afghan “war of necessity” rhetoric to pose as someone tough on defense and cover his flank against charges that he was a coward because he wanted to cut and run in Iraq. I guess “necessity” ain’t all that it used to be. His equivocation proves that his rhetoric was just another pose meant to secure his election, to be replaced by another pose when the old one proved inconvenient.   Like now.

Bill Clinton was a man who posed to conceal his lack of a center.   Barack Obama is a man who poses to conceal his very real center.   But sometimes we can see behind the pose, as at yesterday’s speech before the UN General Assembly.   There, speaking in transnational internationalist code, Obama revealed that at his core he is deeply hostile to the United States and its history.   It is something to be apologized for and changed fundamentally, rather than something to be praised and improved upon.

The criticism of the speech from conservative circles has been understandably hostile.   But some commentators, even some usually sensible ones, missed the basic points because they didn’t interpret Obama’s code.   One example is Charles Krauthammer, who criticized Obama’s statement that “no nation should try to dominate” others.   Krauthammer concluded that this revealed Obama’s naivete:

I will buy the “should try to” as kind of adolescent wishful thinking. But “no [one] nation can dominate another”? What planet is he living on? It is the story of man. What does he think Russia is doing to Georgia?

But that’s not the point at all.   Especially read in the context of the rest of the speech, and understanding the leftist, transnational mindset and the code in which it is communicated, what Obama was saying was that he believes that the US has tried to dominate others, and that it wouldn’t do so anymore.

For we are in Year One, AO (Anno Obama).   We have left the benighted years, BO (or, if you prefer, BOE–Before the Obama Era).   According to Obama, all that went before is disgraceful and must be changed, root and branch.   Before him, America was wrong; he is here to redeem our sins: Just look at the miracles he’s worked in 9 months!   America must be subsumed in the mass of nations, bound by the ties of the UN, to prevent it from wrongfully dominating others.

A combination of strategic ineptitude, messianic delusions of grandeur, and a fundamental disdain for the American experiment.   We are in for a helluva ride–in one direction, and it ain’t up.

September 22, 2009

The Patrimonial State

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:31 pm

Early Russia (Muscovy, actually) was a patrimonial state, in which everything–everything–theoretically belonged to the Tsar. I read something quite disquieting today that suggests that Obama–or at least some officials in his administration–has a similarly patrimonial attitude towards the United States (beyond his affinity for Czars):

Mr Obama has rejected the Pentagon’s first draft of the nuclear posture review as being too timid, and has called for more far-reaching options consistent with his goal of abolishing nuclear weapons, European officials say.

The options include:

– Reconfiguring the US nuclear force to allow for an arsenal measured in hundreds rather than thousands of deployed strategic warheads.

– Redrafting nuclear doctrine to narrow the conditions under which the US would use nuclear weapons.

– Exploring guaranteeing the reliability of nuclear weapons without testing or producing a new generation of warheads.

The review is due to be completed by the end of the year.

One official said: ”Obama is now driving this process. He is saying these are the President’s weapons, and he wants to look again at the doctrine and their role.”

I’ll give you a minute to absorb that.

“These are the President’s weapons.”

Uhm, no, not really.  Indeed, I have never even heard anyone at any time suggest that, even metaphorically, any piece of the US military or the US government is the President’s real or chattel property.

It is deeply disturbing that an administration official would view things in this way.  It reflects a very perverted view of the role of the executive, and the role of the individual holding the supreme executive office, in an ostensibly constitutional republic.  I would hope that Obama does not hold these views personally, but I would hardly be surprised if he does.  Indeed, the “He is saying” formulation lends itself to that interpretation.

Now, the substance of the proposals reported above is bad too, but that’s a subject for another day.  I don’t want to distract attention from the truly extraordinary nature of this characterization of Obama administration views.

Another random example of patrimonialism redolent of Russia old and new:  It was widely reported that Obama is actively working to force David Patterson from the governor’s race in New York.  Now, Patterson is indeed pretty embarrassing, but that’s hardly a disqualification for a governorship in the US; he has a lot of company.  And I know that Obama is not the first president to attempt to influence state politics.  But it is yet another example of the extent to which Obama inserts himself in political and business matters that are not part of his official responsibilities.  And it brings to mind the fact that one of Putin’s most important steps on his march to centralize power in Russia was to make governorships an appointed, rather than elective, post.

[Of course, there’s potentially another explanation for Obama’s desire to force out Patterson.  It was rumored some weeks ago that Hillary was considering resigning as Secretary of State to run for governor of New York.  She has been marginalized–to put it mildly–in the Obama administration, and no doubt Obama would be quite willing to be rid of her yesterday, given that her selection as SoS was almost certainly just part of a bargain to secure her agreement not to take the nomination fight to the convention last year.  So, an Obama already well practiced at heaving friends under the bus would have no compunction about doing the same to Patterson if it would allow him to get that Clinton woman out of his hair.  LOL.]

The primary source of cognitive dissonance I experience when evaluating Obama’s governance style is his deference to his boyars–the Democrat Congressional leadership–in advancing major elements of his agenda.  But, inasmuch as these boyars seem to share his mania for centralization, perhaps that is not so contradictory after all.

Calling Bullsh*t on Obama and Gates

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:35 am

Last Saturday I expressed disbelief at SecDef Gates’s assertion that Russia did not enter into the administration’s calculations to drop perfunctorily the BMD sites in the Czech Republic and Poland; Obama reiterated the same view on his Sunday talk show marathon.  Today Stratfor’s George Friedman is similarly agog, figuratively rubbing his eyes while echoing the view that it is hard to imagine what would be worse: if Obama and Gates are lying when they claim thoughts of Russia never entered their pretty little heads, of if they weren’t.  Welcome to the party, George:

If Gates and Obama are to be believed, the decision to halt deployment in the Czech Republic and Poland was made without any consideration of Russian views whatsoever. It was simply the result of technical and military analysis, and the question of how the major power in the region — Russia — might react simply wasn’t considered.

That is difficult to believe — or more precisely, if it is true, it is startling in the extreme. On Oct. 1, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany will be meeting with Iranian representatives. According to decisions made last April, in which Obama participated, the United States will advocate intense sanctions against Iran, absent significant progress with Tehran over its nuclear program. Without Russian cooperation, those sanctions would have little effect. Therefore, the Russian view of the United States matters.

The United States was facing the choice of either abandoning the idea of effective sanctions — a move with significant consequences on a number of levels — or inducing the Russians to collaborate. The idea that no one in the senior ranks of the administration ever considered, during discussions of the BMD issue, that eliminating BMD systems in Poland and the Czech Republic was a core Russian demand stretches credulity. [Or, stomps, pummels, and eviscerates it.]

The issue is not, as the president has put it, one of Russian paranoia. The Russians might well be paranoid, but that paranoia is not a matter of incidental importance to the United States. Unless the United States is abandoning the idea of sanctions and moving to accept Iran as a nuclear power, or has already made the decision to strike Iran, Russia — paranoid or not — is important to the United States. We suspect that it crossed someone’s mind that in making this move now, the United States would be capitulating to a major Russian demand.

Certainly, it could not have escaped the administration’s attention that the decision, regardless of how it was made, would be seen by all as a response to the Russians. This is how the Poles and Czechs saw it; it is how the Russians saw it; it is how any reasonable observer would have seen it. That’s because this was a core Russian demand and because the announcement came two weeks before the meetings on Iran.

In foreign policy, it is always important to be prepared to pretend that the elephant is not in the room. But there has to be a touch of plausibility to the pretense. In this case, the problem is that the administration’s description of how it made this decision indicates breathtaking incompetence. In saying they took the decision without considering diplomatic consequences, U.S. officials are claiming the administration doesn’t know how to play major league ball — and seem proud of that.

Obviously, the administration knows how to play the game and obviously, officials were extraordinarily aware of the impact the decision would have in Moscow, Warsaw and Prague — and in Tehran. The timing of the move certainly was not calculated without consideration of its effect on the Russian position, come Oct. 1. The only thing we can figure is that the administration didn’t anticipate the effect in Washington, where there was substantial congressional unease over the matter. Perhaps Gates and Obama were trying to deal with that rather than with foreign reaction.

In any event, it was a very strange set of statements. “Plausible deniability” emphasizes the term “plausible.” This was merely denying implausibly. [Emphasis added throughout.]

Key phrase: breathtaking incompetence.  Friedman is being too kind.

With the ongoing implosion in Obama’s Afghanistan policy, where his cheap talk of the campaign and his stirring speech in March about a “war of necessity” is colliding head-on with his visceral dislike for the exercise of American power; the bankruptcy of his Iran policy, where  Ahmadinejad openly mocks the US; the futility of his dreamy  initiatives in the Israel-Palestine conflict; and his habit of embracing foes (while getting nothing in return) and shafting friends; the Obama foreign policy will soon have us pining wistfully for the halcyon days of Jimmy Carter.

September 20, 2009

Condemned By His Own Words

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 3:30 pm

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is shocked! shocked! that people would think that Russia had anything to do with the decision to scrap the Polish/Czech BMD facilities:

“Russia’s attitude and possible reaction played no part in my recommendation to the president on this issue. Of course, considering Russia’s past hostility toward American missile defense in Europe, if Russia’s leaders embrace this plan, then that will be an unexpected — and welcome — change of policy on their part,” he said.

Please, Dr. Gates, don’t insult our intelligence.  Or, if you’re not insulting our intelligence, you are damning yours, Hillary’s, and Obama’s and that of anybody else that had a hand in this decision.

Such decisions are deeply embedded in a political context.  You can no more make these decisions in a political vacuum than you can suspend the law of gravity.

Let’s stipulate–though this premise is arguable–that the proposed Polish/Czech-based system is inferior to alternatives.  That is the essence of Gates’s argument, so I’ll grant it.

Even given that stipulation, the decision, and the way in which it was executed and revealed was a colossal blunder.  It was a blunder because it incurred unnecessary costs and threw away achievable benefits.

Rule 1 of decision making: leverage your decisions.  The proposed BMD system clearly drove Putin, his ilk, and the Russian military nuts.  The reasons may be conjectured: they thought it a legitimate threat (it wasn’t really, but given their paranoid tendencies, quite plausible); or, they just objected to the extension of American military presence into what they consider Russia’s “zone of privileged interests.”  The reason is immaterial, though. The fact is that the Russians were willing to give up something tangible in exchange for the suspension of the initiative.

In turn, the US, and those it supposedly considers its allies and friends, are interested in some things from Russia.  These include a moderation of the belligerence in the ex-Soviet space, and assistance with Iran and Afghanistan.

In other words, given the stipulation, there were gains from trade here.  So trade.  Make a deal.  One that is verifiable, and enforceable, or self-enforcing.

Just giving it away in an episode of The Hope and Change Innocent Abroad is beyond foolish.  It is a chump move.  I can guarantee that’s not the way they do it in Chicago.  All the Aldermen and all their pinkie-ringed men would be guffawing uncontrollably if the mayor had made such a unilateral concession on a dreamy wish and a prayer that such generosity would be reciprocated.

Memo to Obama: when dealing with the Russians, imagine yourself negotiating with the most hardcore ward heeler.

It’s not like we don’t have a historical example to emulate.  Reagan played Gorbachev and the Soviets like a violin when it came to missile defense.  Saying no is sometimes the best way to get to yes.  Saying yes before the negotiations even begin is idiotic.

This is only one of the blunders involved here.  When your friends have taken risks in cooperating with you, you don’t unilaterally reverse course and leave them exposed and resentful.  You cooperate with them in altering course.  You’d think Mr. Hopey Changey Anti-Bush would avoid unilateral policy reversals that treat other nations that have taken huge political risks, and shed blood alongside Americans, as irrelevancies to be tossed aside when convenient.

And you don’t inform them with last minute phone calls (presumably because the decision had already leaked and it was necessary to get in front of the news).  And you don’t do it on a day of great, historical sensitivity.

It’s hard to think of such an important decision being made and announced in such a callous, undiplomatic, hasty, impolitic, and clumsy way.

But perhaps the biggest blunder is to think–as Gates suggests–that such a decision can be depoliticized. Such decisions are inherently political, and will be interpreted as such.  Duh.

Thus, it is necessary to consider how others will interpret the decision.  Given the salience that Russian petulance had given the BMD installations in Eastern Europe, it was as inevitable as the eastern sunrise that this would be interpreted as a concession to Russia, and as a choice of Russia over the Poles, Czechs, Balts–and Ukrainians and Georgians, etc.

Moreover, it is necessary to think very specifically about how key players–notably the Russians and Iranians–would interpret the decision.  Anyone knowing the slightest about the Russian, zero-sum, old-school, power-politics mindset would know that Putin et al would interpret this as an admission of weakness, and a clear signal that Russian truculence and revanchism would result in concession and retreat.  Thus, anyone with such (even slight) knowledge would predict that the likely response to this decision will be a more aggressive, aggrieved, and demanding Russia, not less.

This line from Gates is beyond belief: “if Russia’s leaders embrace this plan, then that will be an unexpected — and welcome — change of policy on their part.”  Well, no sh*t they are going to “embrace the plan.”  Hell, they’re going to rejoice; we gave them what they wanted, and demanded nothing in return.  But “embrac[ing] the plan” (i.e., “accepting a gift”) and “changing policy” are two different things.  It’s cringe-making to read such silly statements from those responsible for US national security.

The Iranians, for their part, almost certainly interpret the decision in the same way.  And Obama has given them–and North Korea–myriad other indications that the more difficult that they are, the more accommodating Obama tries to be.

Thus, Gates’s statement that the decision was not political, and was made independently of any calculation of the Russian reaction, is almost as embarrassing as the decision itself.  You don’t get to choose the context of a decision, or how others interpret it.  And in politics and diplomacy, those things are vitally important.  To paraphrase Clauswitz, national security is politics carried out by other means.  There is no such thing as a purely military or technical strategic choice.  Indeed, such a concept is ridiculous.  National security is all about making decisions to advance a nation’s political interests.  The political consequences and costs must be weighed.

It was inevitable that this entire decision would be viewed universally through the prism of US-Russian relations.  To act otherwise is utterly foolish.  As a result, the US incurred large and unnecessary political and reputational costs, and frivolously discarded real benefits, in making a hasty, unilateral decision that willfully attempted to ignore the real and obvious political context of the decision.

Gates–and by implication Obama–is either lying by denying that the political implications of this decision were irrelevant, or is not competent to make such weighty security judgments.

September 19, 2009

Black Humor Break

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

Noted humanitarian and business ethicist Igor Sechin has pronounced on the cause of the Sayano-Shushanskaya dam disaster:

“There is something wrong with corporate ethics here,” Sechin told journalists late yesterday in Abakan, capital of the Khakassia region of Siberia where OAO RusHydro’s Sayano- Shushenskaya station is located. “RusHydro needs to address this issue and probably certify its personnel on ethics.”

Pardon me while I gag.  For Igor Sechin to lecture anybody on corporate ethics is the height of chutzpah.  Indeed, it’s Orwellian.  One can only imagine Khodorkovsky’s thoughts upon hearing this.

But maybe Sechin is onto something.  In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Putin stated that a nationwide campaign of infrastructure safety inspection was desperately needed.  The logical inference from Sechin’s remark is that he believes that no, a nationwide campaign of ethics inquiries and instruction is needed instead.

This is quite true, but it would be a labor that would daunt even Hercules.  Cleaning the Augean Stables in a day would be a picnic by comparison.

Lucy Tees Up the Football

Filed under: Energy,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:54 pm

Russia has invited OPEC to an oil summit in Moscow, and Charlie . . . I mean OPEC has accepted:

Abdalla El-Badri, secretary general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, accepted the invitation in a phone conversation this week, Russian Energy Minister  Sergei Shmatko told reporters in the Siberian city of Abakan today.

“We agreed that Russia and OPEC are still interested in developing partnerships in the near future,” Shmatko said.

Deputy Prime Minister  Igor Sechin told OPEC in December that the government was ready to limit output to support prices. Russia has since ramped up exports of crude oil and refined products, overtaking Saudi Arabia and causing Qatari Energy Minister  Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah to say he was “fed up” with non-member producers. OPEC didn’t invite Russia to attend its last meeting in Vienna on Sept. 9, breaking with tradition.

“We will continue to cooperate with OPEC, while keeping our own national interests” in mind, Shmatko said today.

That last sentence is priceless.  Let’s see how Shmatko defines “cooperate”:

Russia, fresh from a record month of oil production, will be able to invest in new fields at current crude prices and makes no apologies to OPEC for refusing to rein in output, Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said.

“We never had any obligations (to OPEC). When we were communicating, we never promised anything,” Shmatko said late on Thursday. “To say that we do not abide by the rules is not correct.”

Russian oil output hit a record monthly high in August, nearing 10 million barrels per day, as the world’s second-largest crude exporter launched a major new field in the Arctic and grabbed more market share from OPEC.

OPEC Secretary-General Abdullah al-Badri, speaking after an OPEC meeting in Vienna on Thursday, said the lack of any tangible cooperation from non-member Russia in the group’s output cuts “not encouraging.”

Russia took a hit when oil prices plunged last year, stripping the country of a vital source of budget revenues. A bounce in the oil price since has brought early signs of economic recovery.

“One always wants something better. One can always say that, at a higher price, some projects will be more profitable, but today the price of oil does not set any limits for the oil industry’s development,” Shmatko said.

Shmatko also said Russian oil producers would be able to avail themselves of a zero duty on exports from 13 oilfields in East Siberia by the end of September. No time limit has been set for the tax breaks.

This is not at all surprising.  And, as I’ve said before, I’m all for Russia ramping up its output and undercutting OPEC.  I bring this up mainly to make the point that only fools expect any kind of reciprocity from Russia; only buffoons think that Russia will do anything but ruthlessly exploit any opportunity they are given.

The White House would have done well to heed the lesson that Russia gave OPEC before announcing its decision to shut down the Poland-Czech missile defense initiative in the hope that this wold induce cooperative reciprocity from Russia.  Instead, it has ignored it, raising the distinct possibility that fools and buffoons are in charge of American foreign policy.

September 18, 2009

You’re right, Mate

Filed under: Commodities,Derivatives,Economics,Exchanges,Financial crisis,Politics — The Professor @ 3:49 pm

The CEO of the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) hit the nail on the head.  Hell, he drove it right through the board:

The chief executive of the Australian Securities Exchange has criticised the Obama administration’s planned regulatory reforms of the US financial system, arguing they are “draconian” and out of touch with market developments.

Robert Elstone, head of the  ASX, said the reforms were too broad, targeting parts of the securities markets – such as the over-the-counter swaps market – that had not been big contributors to the global financial crisis. [Emphasis mine.]

Emphasized, because true.

More truthiness:

The best hope for regulators and governments, he said, was to develop market-oriented people and market-oriented skills to stay abreast of developments in the securities industries.

The OTC swaps market was already transparent, he said, adding that to compel that market to come “on exchange and be centrally cleared” was “overkill”.

“Compel” is the key word.  If somebody builds it, and the market comes, more power to them.  It’s the compulsion in the near complete absence of a plausible, let alone convincing, identification of a market failure that is deeply troubling–and the recipe for future trouble.

Legislators should be forced to watch this line played before their eyes, A Clockwork Orange-stye, until it penetrates their skulls:

“I think that the notion that any corporate or government regulatory agencies are always going to be one or two steps ahead of the market is a flawed notion.”

That’s worth repeating:

“I think that the notion that any corporate or government regulatory agencies are always going to be one or two steps ahead of the market is a flawed notion.”

Right now our generals in Washington are assiduously deconstructing the last war.  Not a good way to prevent the next one.  Especially inasmuch, as Mr. Elstone notes, they aren’t even properly deconstructing the last one.

Where’s our Robert Elstone?  Nowhere to be found.  Not in DC anyways.  And today, that’s where it matters.

That Didn’t Take Long

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:32 am

Yesterday I predicted that the Russians would respond to Obama’s unilateral concession by saying “Thank you very much.  What else are you going to do for me?”

Right on cue, here’s Putin asking for more, and not with a timorous, Oliver Twist mien either:

Prime Minister  Vladimir Putin called for trade concessions, including an end to restrictions on high-tech transfers to Russia, following U.S. President  Barack Obama’s decision to abandon a missile shield in Europe.

I’m counting on other decisions to follow this correct and brave decision, including the complete elimination of restrictions on cooperation with Russia and on transfers of high technology to Russia as well as an intensification of World Trade Organization expansion to include Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan,” Putin said at a business forum in Sochi today. [Emphasis mine.]

Note the plural “decisions.”  Very nice.  I especially like the “I’m counting on it” part.  When I say jump, Obama . . .

Translation: we expect you to be the gift that keeps on giving.  We’re counting on it.

And Putin has every reason to think his expectations are realistic.  Once a chump, always a chump.

Want another illustration of Obama’s unique ability to make Jimmy Carter look like Chuck Norris?: his refusal, contrary to the example of every previous occupant of the Oval Office, to meet with the Dalai Lama.  So as not to offend the Chinese.

How nice.

Is there any thug before whom this man will not cringe?  The Iranian despots kill, beat, imprison and rape opponents–Obama is virtually silent until shamed into a barely acceptable response.  Conceding to Kim Jung Il on bilateral talks.  Bowing to King Abdullah of the medieval Saudi “state.”  Joining the Chavez book club.  Responding to criticism of the United States–you know, the country of which Obama is president–by pipsqueak punk Danny Boy Ortega by whining that he couldn’t be blamed for things that happened when he was young.  Now sucking up to the Chinese and the Russians.  All the while stiffing long time allies from Israel to Honduras to Poland.

One would hope that Putin’s gleeful rubbing of Obama’s nose in it would have some effect.  I am sadly convinced that such hopes would be in vain.

September 17, 2009

Children, Fools, Drunkards–and Obama?

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:34 pm

To say I think that Obama has made a serious mistake in pulling the rug out from under Poland and the Czech Republic on missile defense would be an understatement.  It is both a crime, and a blunder.

I am skeptical of the proposed alternatives.  I’m a Navy guy all the way, but even though the alternative scheme mentioned by Obama puts the Navy’s Aegis cruisers and the SM-3 missile center stage, there seem to be serious problems.  Where would the ships operate?  The Persian Gulf is not the optimal place to intercept Iranian missiles headed for Europe.  And what’s more, the Gulf’s waters are very constrained and ships operating there face substantial risks from a variety of threats (subs, mines, missile attacks, suicide operations, and on and on).  The Black Sea would be a better place for an intercept, but the Montreux Convention basically rules that out.  And no way Russia would want US ships there anyways, so we would just be trading one dispute for another.

One of Obama’s military advisors said that Turkey and the Balkans would be better sites for land based interceptors than Poland or the Czech Republic.  Uhm, anybody noticed that relations with Turkey have been testy since at least 2003?  And do you think that Turkey just might try to extract as much from us as possible in exchange for the privilege?  I do.  And who’s to say that the position there wouldn’t be a constant source of potential Turkish blackmail?  I’d also like to know just where in the island of stability that is the Balkans that we would want to put such a sensitive and expensive installation.  And would the Russians be any less paranoid about an installation there–especially inasmuch as they view the Balkans as part of their zone of special interest?

So, the decision is not defensible on purely military grounds, IMHO.   It is even less defensible on political and diplomatic grounds.  Indeed, on these grounds it is offensive.

The spin being put on this is that it is part of a strategy to get the Russians onside with putting pressure on Iran.

As if.

They’ll just pocket this unilateral concession and ask for more and more.  Hell, we gave them this in exchange for nothing tangible just because they’ve been throwing a tantrum, so the lesson that they will take from this is that being difficult is the way to get what they want.  What’s more, (a) there’s considerable room for doubt that Russia could seriously pressure the Iranians if it had the will to, and (b) it might not have the will to, because Russia benefits from the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East for a variety of reasons.

All of the signals that the Russians gave last week, with the minor exception of a statement made by the almost certainly irrelevant Medvedev, suggest that they are not at all interested in helping on Iran.  Lavrov claimed to see much constructive in the Iranian letter which was, in fact, just a big FU.  (The Iranians might as well have hired John Cleese to read it from a castle wall, and cap it off with a big raspberrry.)  He also made the risible statement that Iran was not engaged in “Islamic terrorism.”  Besides being politically incorrect (ROP and all, dotcha know), the inclusion of the modifier “Islamic” is irrelevant and insulting.  Tell the Jews slaughtered in Buenos Aires about the fine distinctions between “Islamic” terrorism and whatever type Iran practices.  Iran is a major funder and supporter of terror and terror organizations, and for Lavrov to insinuate otherwise is an insult to our intelligence.

Russian revanchism, raging resentment of the United States, zero sum view of the world, and myriad other factors will mean that this unreciprocated, unilateral concession will not soften Russian behavior one bit.

To the contrary, this–plus the capitulation on the Opel deal–will just convince Putin, Lavrov, et al, that obstreperousness pays.  It will feed their aggressiveness.  They will respond to this by raising the pressure on Obama, not by breaking into a chorus of Kumbaya.

My prediction: When the Obama administration, with a hurt look, next complains about Russian uncooperativeness despite its unilateral gesture, the Russians will reply exactly the way that it did recently when OPEC complained about Russian double dealing: “We didn’t promise you anything.  Get over it.”  All take.  No give.

Obama should have been smart and learned something from Reagan and Reykjavik.  To get a deal, you need to have to be able to say no.  And to figure out how badly the other side wants to deal, and what they’re willing to give in return, the best thing to do is to walk and let them chase you down.  Why buy the cow, etc.

And the timing is absolutely, positively, appalling.  September 17, the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.  And after weeks when the historical sensitivities of Poland and other Eastern European nations were the subject of myriad articles and editorials in newspapers and magazines around the world–so it’s not like there’s any excuse for ignorance.   It is hard to know which would be worse: was this amazing timing a deliberate insult or just an oversight?  There’s no third alternative.

What better way to convey to Eastern European nations that they are again just Great Power trading cards? Small, far away nations populated by those of whom we know nothing, and couldn’t care about less.   It is yet another appalling American betrayal.  Appalling enough in substance. Trebly appalling in its callous and shabby execution.  Why should anybody trust us?  Hell, I don’t trust us.  Not now, anyways.

Obama, in short, has seriously damaged American interests.  He has given up a lot, and gotten absolutely nothing in return.  He has not advanced the efforts to slow the Iranian race to the bomb a bit.  But he has greatly increased the odds of serious problems throughout Eastern Europe, no doubt starting in Ukraine, but definitely not ending there.

Perhaps Obama is thinking that he is engaged in Bismarckian realpolitik.  But the only way Bismarck comes to my mind in this context is to recall his aphorism about a special providence for children, fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.  Obama seems hell bent on testing just how special that providence is.

We Have a Winner

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 12:22 pm

Comment #3000 came in when I was in Hong Kong.  And the winner is . . . (pause for ironic effect):

rkka.  LOL.  Proof that I don’t play favorites.

Now, I tried to email him to inform him of the good news, but the message bounced with the error “Domain name not found.”  So, since rkka apparently guards his anonymity so jealously that he registers with a dummy email address, I doubt he’ll be stepping up to receive his SWP t-shirt.

Pretty funny.

And perhaps funnier, is that comment #3001 is from Steve J. Nelson.  Hey Steve . . . if you want your shirt, let me know via email at [email protected] –but remember I only promised to ship in North America 😉

Comments #3002 and #3003 were also Steve’s.

So, unless rkka or Steve come out . . . that means the winner with comment #3004 is R.  Step right up!

In all seriousness, folks, I’d just like to say thanks for all the interest and the comments.  The volume and intensity of the comments has been a surprise, and a pleasant one.  To put things in perspective, comment #1000 came in March, 2009, or more than three years after I started the blog.  Comment #3000 came in September, 2009–6 months after comment #1000.  It’s been a rollicking 6 months.

Sometimes things get testy and rough, but that’s the nature of the beast.  All I can say is, pace the Supersuckers: “I like it all, man.”

Thanks again, and I hope you all continue to visit in the months to come.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Powered by WordPress