Streetwise Professor

August 4, 2014

As the World Burns

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 3:08 pm

Before departing on his I’ll Golf While the World Burns Vacation and Birthday Party, Obama gave an interview for The Economist. It is beyond belief.

Here is what jumped out at me (from a Reuters article summarizing the interview):

President Barack Obama dismissed Russia as a nation that “doesn’t make anything” . . .

Obama downplayed Moscow’s role in the world, dismissing President Vladimir Putin as a leader causing short-term trouble for political gain that will hurt Russia in the long term.

“I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything,” Obama said in the interview.

“Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking,” he said.

Obama told Putin last week that he believes Russia violated the 1988 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty designed to eliminate ground-launched cruise missiles.

Speaking of Russia’s “regional challenges,” Obama said in the interview: “We have to make sure that they don’t escalate where suddenly nuclear weapons are back in the discussion of foreign policy.”

Of all the Obama idiocies, this has to rank near the top.

Of course, some are cheering the fact that he dissed Putin and Russia. Big. Fucking. Deal.

Those who cheering are missing the import of his remarks. This is Obama’s way of saying that Russia doesn’t matter, and hence its depredations can be ignored. In the long sweep of history, it is doomed to oblivion. So why worry? Ukraine? Temporary issue. This too shall pass.

To quote Keynes: In the long run, we are all dead. Or in the short-to-medium run, if you are Ukrainian (and maybe Lithuanian, Estonian, Georgian, etc.)

I would note that the Mongols, Huns, Vandals, Goths, etc., etc., etc., didn’t make anything either. Aggressive powers are heavy on the destruction, not the production. Their inability to make is one reason why some peoples and nations strive to take. That is exactly why they have to be stopped.

What’s more, “making stuff” is certainly a source of power, it is neither necessary nor sufficient. Putin has proven masterful at exploiting Russia’s pumped and mined, rather than manufactured, wealth to exercise power and influence.* Indeed, Russia’s energy wealth is the primary weapon that Putin has used to intimidate the Europeans into impotence: note that the last round of sanctions, allegedly so harsh, excluded gas, and Gazprom remains untouched. Russia, for all its alleged economic primitiveness, has been far more successful at exercising power using energy than Germany has with all its manufacturing prowess.

By condescendingly criticizing Putin’s short-termism, and apparent failure to understand Russia’s interests as well as he does, Obama overlooks the fact that a short-sighted leader can wreak tremendous carnage in pursuit of those allegedly short-destructive goals.

By dismissing Russia’s importance, and leaving the fate of every bordering country to It Will All Work Out in the End When Russia Collapses, Obama is basically washing his hands of the region.

If Obama’s diagnosis is correct, and Russia is really an aggressive but weak power, his prescription is all wrong. A weak power can be stopped by the application of power by an immeasurably stronger one, before it runs amok. But Obama just wants to stand back, and let nature-or history, actually-take its course.

But it gets worse. Note Obama’s remarks on the nuclear issue. In not so many words (because in using so many words before regarding Syria, he created a huge mess), he drew a red line: as long as Putin doesn’t “escalate where suddenly nuclear weapons are back in the discussion of foreign policy”, it’s OK! More of a green light, than a red line, actually.

So just don’t use nukes, Vlad, and you are good.

Putin will read this interview, and will then rub his hands with glee. Obama clearly expressed his extreme unwillingness to confront Putin in any meaningful way, and by saying implicitly that escalation short of the threatened use of nuclear weapons will draw no US response, Putin has every incentive to escalate.

This frivolity, this egg-head approach to foreign policy that focuses on long run trends while ignoring short run imperatives and the nature of our adversary, is exactly why the world burns.

*I would also take issue with the implication that mining and oil and gas production are somehow technologically backwards and less economically productive than manufacturing. Jed Clampett to the contrary, oil does not just flow from the ground. Nickel and gold are not lying around for the taking. Both require tremendous applications of technology and capital.

I wonder if Obama will denigrate Canada as a country that “doesn’t make anything”?

Never mind. It would be quite in character.


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  1. Sure, Russia doesn’t make anything except creating geopolitical chaos; corruption schemes in order to divide and rule; invading sovereign countries like Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine.
    One could tell the same about Obama – he does nothing to help US partners. He left them all alone to fight against their enemies and to eventually die. Thank you, Obama!
    P.S. Obama’s US ambassador to Bulgaria is useless and not helpful just during the days when Bulgaria suffers the most from Putin’s Russia (South Stream anyone).

    Comment by Europeo — August 4, 2014 @ 9:03 pm

  2. Europeo:

    Don’t feel bad. Obama treated his own Ambassador to Libya & 3 American heroes the same way. Don’t take it personally. It is who he is.

    But don’t forget, also, that he was re-elected by a populace that was FULLY aware of these facts. Now THAT, my friend, should scare you.


    PS Scare? Perhaps ‘offend’ is a better word.

    Comment by Vlad — August 8, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

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