Streetwise Professor

July 21, 2014

I’m Battling Confirmation Bias, But Obama and the Euros Make It Damned Hard

Filed under: Economics,History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:45 am

Last night I said to bet on form, and that Putin would be doing so. And indeed, it seems that everyone is reverting to form.

The Euros are talking tough and angry, but when it comes to actually doing something, pretty much nothing. As is their wont, they are squabbling over how to divide the costs. No major country will agree to sanctions that require it to bear a greater burden than other EU members. So the response is, as usual, driven to the least common denominator. Cameron proposes that future arms sales to Russia be stopped: but that conveniently lets the French proceed with the Mistral sale. Other proposals involve adding a few more names to the lists of sanctioned individuals, but no companies, and certainly no level 3 sanctions.

Perhaps taking a cue from the Europeans, to whom he has largely deferred, Obama spoke this morning and just hit the replay button. Russia risks becoming more isolated. Unless Russia acts to de-escalate, “the costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase.” Yadda, yadda, yadda. A remake ofGroundhog Day, with Obama threatening costs and isolation replacing “I Got You Babe” in the soundtrack.

Check out that last phrase. Note the passive voice. Very telling. Just who, pray tell, is going to impose these costs, and how? God? Santa Claus? More seriously: The “international community”? The “community of nations”? What is the US going to do? What are you going to do, Barry?

There is no way this pablum is going to induce panic in the Kremlin. Quite the reverse. Doesn’t Obama realize that repetitions of vacuous statements unaccompanied by serious action only embolden Putin, and are exactly why we are where we are?

That question was completely rhetorical.

The only people who would panic when hearing such empty statements directed at them are those more timorous and craven than those uttering them. If such people exist.

Another disturbing fact that strongly suggests that Obama is shying away from any robust action. His statement focused disproportionately on access to the crime scene, rather than who carried out the crime itself. Although Obama has hinted at Russian culpability in the past, this statement made no connection between Russia and the shootdown. He just made a brief remark about getting the facts out there and holding people accountable.

Look. The public record makes the guilty party obvious for all to see. Obama, with access to US intelligence sources, certainly knows far more. The fact that he continues to be reticent is damning. Five days after KAL007, Reagan had given a national address from the Oval Office (not a quickie on the WH lawn), laid out in detail the case for Soviet guilt, and played tapes of intercepted Soviet communications. We are five days out, and if anything, Obama is being less forthcoming about US information on Russian responsibility.

The crime scene issue is pretty much done with now, anyways. Moreover, it is relatively easy for Putin to make pleasant noises on this issue, now that his thugs have be in control of the place for 5 days.

Further on the panic meme, this article from Bloomberg has gotten huge play. It claims that the Russian economic elite is horrified by Putin’s course in Ukraine. Maybe they are, but the article just quotes some think tank guy who claims that’s what the business class is thinking.

And it’s not as if it matters. Even if they are horrified, will they challenge Putin? Their silence-not a single one was quoted-speaks volumes. If these individuals united in opposition, perhaps they could threaten Putin. But they show no signs of doing so, and some basic game theory says they almost certainly will not. They face a coordination problem. Who will go first in opposition, and lose everything with virtual certainty?: better to stick with Putin, and take a big hit to one’s wealth but be left with something. Including one’s freedom (and maybe one’s life). Everyone  will play Alfonse and Gaston, letting the other guy go first. Trying to conspire secretly is extremely dangerous, given the inability to trust anyone and the omnipresent surveillance and informants.

So even if the business elite is horrified, and indeed panicked, this means exactly squat politically.

One last thing about playing to form. The Russian Ministry of Defense gave its X-Files versions of the causes of the destruction of MH17. The only thing that surprised me is that they did not blame HAARP, for which they have blamed crop failures, earthquakes, and the loss of a space probe. Maybe they’re holding that one in reserve, just in case the other stuff doesn’t pan out.

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  1. At this point, Hans Brix was a more intimidating figure in terms of imposing penalties for actions. At least he was willing to use strong words.

    Comment by Blackshoe — July 21, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

  2. That it was the Australians who have taken the lead in pushing Putin to start cooperating tells you everything you need to know about the pusillanimity of the Europeans and US on this issue.

    From what I have read, it was Prime Minister Abbott who was the one to read the Riot Act to Putin.

    Comment by Ex-Reglulator on Lunch Break — July 21, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

  3. @Blackshoe. TFF, and too true.

    I wonder if VVP is ronery.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 21, 2014 @ 5:34 pm

  4. @Ex-That’s my understanding too. Aussie oi! For a while I thought that Australia was the only country other than the US with grit anymore. Now I think it is pretty much alone in that, at least as long as Obama is president.

    Canada has been standup too, but again, too small a country (population/economy, not surface area) and too far away to have much of an impact on the Euroweenies.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 21, 2014 @ 7:25 pm

  5. Just heard on the (local Australian) radio that PM Tony Abbott has now accused ‘someone’ of ‘evidence tampering on an industrial scale’ with regard to the crash site! Go Tony!

    I’m quite pleasantly surprised, actually. The leftist media in this country has with some success painted Tony as overly aggressive, so that, domestically anyway, in order not to confirm this prejudice he has often been quiet and reserved in the face of rather outrageous behaviour by the centre-left, the far left and the bizarre Palmer United Party.

    Yes, true, we are too small and far away for Tone to have much of an impact. However, with hope two things will happen: 1) he will demonstrate to the pusillanimous of the world what strong-spined intestinal fortitude looks like; 2) his strong stance will carry over to his communications and policy-making in the domestic sphere.

    In passing, Tony has struck up strong friendships with Canada’s PM and Japan’s PM, both of whom are quite vigorous in pursuing their interests and promoting their values. Birds of a feather, etc.

    Comment by Ex-regulator on lunch break — July 22, 2014 @ 2:22 am

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