Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

Russia’s economic crisis and the danger of war

December 17, 2014

Russia is in an economic crisis—the result of U.S.-led sanctions, the Saudi attack on oil prices and the underlying weakness of the Russian economy.

With the collapse of the Russian ruble, Vladimir Putin has been backed into a corner with few options—all of them bad.

World-Nuke-Graph-with-Info-082814

Click to enlarge.

My question is:  Is it a good idea to deliberately bring about a crisis in a nation with 8,000 nuclear weapons?

Only a small fraction of Russia’s nuclear arsenal would be needed to reduce American cities to rubble.   Yet the U.S. government treats Russia with less caution than it does North Korea.

I do not think that Vladimir Putin would intentionally launch a nuclear war, any more than Barack Obama would.  But I think their policies bring about a situation in which an unintentional nuclear war is highly possible.

I think President Obama is more to blame for this than President Putin.  For the United States, the stakes are geopolitical advantage.  For the Russian Federation, the stakes are the independence of the nation.

The United States command and control systems are much more lax than they were in the era of Curtis LeMay and the Strategic Air Command.  I don’t know about the Russian Federation, but it wouldn’t surprise me if things were just as bad or even worse over there.

Nuclear war was narrowly averted several times during the Cold War through good luck and cool heads both on the US and Soviet sides.  The world can’t count on being lucky forever.

And even if the worst is averted—this time—the world will never be safe until the world’s nuclear powers disarm, starting with Russia and the USA.   The current crisis has eliminated the possibility of disarmament for at least a generation.

President Putin is a tough and ruthless statesman, but a sane one.  If he is driven from power as a result of the crisis, his replacement may not be so sane.

I do not think that President Putin would throw his nation on the mercy of the US-dominated International Monetary Fund for a financial bailout.  The history of IMF bailouts shows that they involve a loss of national independence, and public sacrifice in order to pay off international creditors.

I think it far more likely that he would throw Russia on the mercy of China.  This would throw open Russia as well as Central Asia to be hinterlands of natural resources to support China’s growing industrial power.

President Putin some years back, which he was seeking recognition of Russia as a respected great power, proposed an integrated European market stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok.   That’s no longer on the table.   Now the most likely prospect is a Chinese-dominated integrated Eurasian market stretching from Beijing to Berlin.

∞∞∞

Russia Tries Emergency Steps for Second Day to Stem Ruble Plunge by Ksenia Galouchko, Vladimir Kuznetsov and Olga Tamas for Boomberg News.

It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy: It’s Putin by James Miller for The Interpreter.

The bleakest winter by Ed Conway for Medium.  The six downward steps in a typical currency crisis.  Russia is at step four.

Eurasian Integration vs. the Empire of Chaos by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.  (via the Unz Review)

How did Washington lose touch with reality?

December 10, 2014

When I was younger, I thought the great competitive advantage that democracy had over dictatorship was the reality check.

An absolute dictator such as Stalin did not have listen to what he does not want to hear—such as, for example, that his ally Hitler is planning to attack him.

Leaders of a democracy, so I thought, were saved from disconnect with reality by a loyal opposition forcing them to justify their actions, and by the fact of being accountable to the voters every so often for the state of affairs.

How is it, then, that the leaders of the United States have become so committed to a foreign policy that manifestly does not work?

Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov, on his ClubOrlov web log, listed all the ways in that American foreign interventions during the past 15 years have led to the opposite result from what was desired.

With his usual sarcastic wit, he said the USA has added Defeat Is Victory to George Orwell’s War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery and Ignorance Is Strength.

The elder George H.W. Bush, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, stated that the United States would use its unchallenged power to create a “new world order”.  But everywhere that the United States has intervened, the result has been death, destruction and arenas of lawless violence in which terrorism can thrive.

Albert Einstein allegedly said that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.  Why do policy-makers in Washington keep doing the same thing and expect different results?

One minor reason is the “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone” mentality.  Too many people in government fail to look beyond their own personal careers and the next term of office.

Another is the drift away from the idea that American patriotism is loyalty to the Constitution rather than loyalty to the government.

Yet another is the unquestioned assumption that cruelty and ruthlessness are inherently more realistic than obedience to law and to codes of honor.

The most important reason, I think, is that the United States of America is too rich and powerful for our own good.

Wealth and power shield you from the consequences of your actions—up to a point.  If you’re rich enough or powerful enough, you can do stupid and morally wrong things and get away with them—up to a point.

Power not only corrupts.  It makes you stupid.  But no person and no nation, no matter how rich and powerful, can escape the consequences of stupidity forever.

 

U.S. Mideast policy: Links & comments 12/5/14

December 5, 2014

Malarkey on the Potomac: Five bedrock Washington assumptions that are hot air by Andrew J. Bacevich for TomDispatch (via the Unz Review).

The five false assumptions are:

  • The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.
  • The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.
  • Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.
  • The interests of the United States and Israel align.
  • Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

I strongly recommend reading Bacevich’s whole article.

41 men targeted for U.S. drone strikes, but 1,147 killed by Spencer Ackerman for The Guardian.

A sixth false assumption is that flying killer drones are a safe, precise and effective way to wage war.  In fact, the U.S. government is making enemies at a faster rate than it is killing them off.

Iraq’s 50,000 ‘Ghost Soldiers’ by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent (via the Unz Review)

A seventh false assumption is that the U.S. government can use foreign fighters as proxies for American troops.  Either the foreign fighters have their own aims, which may not be identical with U.S. interests, or they are more interested in collecting pay than fighting.  In Iraq, certain military officers and contractors collect pay for troops that don’t even exist.

U.S. to Use Psych Tests to Vet Syrian Rebels for Moderateness by Peter Van Buren.

This may seem like satire, but it isn’t.

 

War and peace: Links & comments 11/24/14

November 24, 2014

Washington Plays Russian Roulette by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The great threat of nuclear war is not that some crazy Islamic terrorist will someday obtain a nuclear weapon.  The threat is that decision-makers in Russia, the only nation with enough nuclear weapons to wipe out the United States, will think the USA is attacking or about to attack their nation, and their only choice is to retaliate or strike first.

I don’t think that the decision-makes in Washington, wicked and foolish as some of them seem to be, really plan to attack Russia.  But they sure are doing things that give Russians reason to fear.

First, by expanding NATO to Russia’s borders.  Second, by bringing an anti-missile defense system to Russia’s doorstep, which, if it worked (it probably won’t), would negate Russia’s ability to retaliate or defend itself.  Third, by a reckless policy in Ukraine, which Pepe Escobar described pungently in this article.

During the Cold War with the Soviet Union, there were a number of times when American and Soviet defenders received false indications that their countries were under attack, and the decision-makers held back on retaliating.   To count on this happening every time in the future is truly the same as playing Russian Roulette.

Dumbing It Away by “Spengler” for Asia Times.

The Chinese don’t believe in Heinlein’s Rule.  They think U.S. government reduced the Middle East to chaos on purpose, in order to disrupt the world’s oil supply and strengthen the U.S. position as an energy producer.  As evidence, they point out that the Islamic State (ISIS) is led by Sunni Arab officers armed and paid by General David Petreaus during the “surge” in 2007-2008.

David P. Goldman, writing as “Spengler,” would like to send the Chinese leaders copies of Why We Lost: a General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars by Daniel P. Bolger.   General Bolger showed that U.S. policy was actually the result of a sincere effort to reach impossible goals by means of an unworkable strategy.

Malarkey on the Potomac by Andrew Bacevich for TomDispatch

Andrew Bacevich, a political scientist and retired military officer, said U.S. policy in the Middle East is based on five false assumptions:  (1) U.S. forces in the Islamic world help stabilize the region and enhance U.S. power, (2) the Persian Gulf is vital to U.S. security, (3) Egypt and Saudia Arabia are valuable U.S. allies, (4) U.S. and Israel’s interests coincide and (5) terrorism is an existential threat.  Bacevich explained clearly and briefly why none of these beliefs is true.

 

Veterans Day and the Great War

November 11, 2014

Veterans Day, which is called Remembrance Day in Canada and other Commonwealth nations, was originally called Armistice Day.  It honored the Allied troops who died in what then was called the Great War or the World War on the anniversary of the official end of hostilities during the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

The following is from the Notes to Ponder web log.

When the first war called, Charlie Perkins and 4 close friends left the serenity of Fraser Valley farmland. Charlie, a flight instructor with the Royal Flying Corps was the only survivor.

Charlie's TreeOn his return in 1919, he honored fallen comrades by planting ivy at the base of a massive Douglas Fir, a tree close to the swimming hole they frequented – a simple act of remembrance.

The following year fire ravaged the 210 foot behemoth Fir – the Perkins family managed to save some of the tree.

Ivy unscathed and flourishing, Charlie’s tree rested quietly until 1960 heralded the Trans-Canada Highway.

Horrified the tree he tended for 40 years was about to fall beneath asphalt, Perkins appeared before highways Minister Phil Gaglardi.

Perkins efforts go down in Canadian history as the only time a major highway was diverted to protect a tree.

Traveling east on Highway 1 between 176 & 200th St. – the Trans-Canada takes a noticeable bend at Charlie’s memorial.

via Charlie’s Tree | notestoponder.

Most historians now think that the First World War was a terrible mistake, in which all combatant nations were losers to greater or lesser degrees, and from which all nations that had a choice would have done better to stay out.

The First World War was supposed to be the war that ended war.  It was supposed to be the war that made the world safe for democracy.  But it gave rise to Bolshevism, fascism and an economic crisis that led to the Great Depression, and set the stage for the even more bloody Second World War.  It was one of history’s greatest tragedies.

Yet the patriotism and sacrifice of the troops who fought is worthy of honor.  They did not send themselves.  They were serving their countries and their fellow citizens as best they knew.

I think most wars are tragic mistakes and many of them are crimes.  Yet if my own country, the USA, did not have citizens who were willing to fight for it at different periods of history, the United States would not be an independent nation, it would have been broken up in order to preserve slavery, the Axis powers would have dominated the world and (maybe) the Soviets would have done so, too.

Germany’s Chancellor Otto von Bismarck said there was one criterion for deciding whether a war was just.  Could the leader who decided to fight the war tell the wife, mother or sister of the soldier who was killed what the soldier’s death accomplished?

I think the best way to honor the troops is to refrain from using their patriotism and sense of duty in a cause that isn’t worthy of it.  And to not abandon them when war is over.

Putin’s important speech deserves an answer

November 1, 2014

Vladimir Putin gave an important speech last week calling for respect for international law and strengthening of international institutions, and rejecting the U.S. claim to world leadership.

Putin_Valdaiclub.jpegAddressing the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, he expressed a willingness to co-operate with the United States and the European Union on the basis of equality and recognition of Russia’s legitimate interests.

The speech has largely been ignored in the U.S. press, but it deserves a response by President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry.

I do not admire President Putin, nor Putin’s Russia.  When I think of all the ways the United States is going downhill, the world “Putinization” comes to mind.

Russia is a country in which a corrupt government and a corrupt financial oligarchy interlock, the surveillance state is unchecked and independent journalists are persecuted and even killedOpponents of the regime have been murdered.  The United States has a long way to go before we catch up with the authoritarianism and corruption of the Russian Federation.

Having said all that, I also have to say that Putin’s statements and actions, are rooted in reality, which I can’t say that for President Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry.

In dealing with American statesmen, Putin seems like the only adult in the room.  He is like a Mafia don talking to a juvenile delinquent street gang.

Here are excerpts from Putin’s Oct. 25 speech, followed by links to the full transcript.

The Cold War ended, but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards.

This created the impression that the so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests.  If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances in place got in the way of these aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition. [snip]

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Vladimir Putin’s ambitions and Ukraine’s future

October 29, 2014

I don’t know Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Ukraine, but I don’t see anything that threatens the United States or is worth risking war over.

_77307916_ukraine_voters_regions_624mapUkraine held elections Sunday which evidently were won by anti-Russian, pro-European parties.  But the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Lugansk districts did not take part, and will hold their own elections this coming Sunday.

The government in Kiev objects to the Donetsk-Lugansk vote, but spokesmen for the Russian government say they’ll honor its results.

A smart Ukrainian-American friend of mine said Putin’s policy to Ukraine is the same as Hitler’s policy toward Czechoslovakia.  Hitler’s demand was to annex the Sudetenland border region, where Germans were in the majority.  But Hitler went on to annex the whole of the country and then to attack Poland, launching the Second World War.

In the same way, he said, Putin’s aim is to first annex Donetsk and Lugansk, then take over the whole of Ukraine and then move against Poland and the Baltic states.

worldaccordingtoputinAnother friend, who speaks Russian and watches Russian television, agrees with this assessment.  She said Putin is an extreme Russian nationalist and imperialist.  Russians despise other nationalities, and especially look down on Americans as naive and weak, she said; it is important to stop Russia in Ukraine and nip Putin’s ambitions in the bud.

My impression of Vladimir Putin is that he is a tough and ruthless, but realistic.  He may lie, but he doesn’t deceive himself.  As a Russian nationalist, he no doubt regards himself as the protector of Russians wherever they are, including Russians in Ukraine and northern Kazakhstan.  Putin is trying to organize something called the Eurasian Union, an economic bloc consisting of the republics of the former Soviet Union, as a rival to the European Union.  No doubt, like all Russian statesmen before him, he thinks it essential that Russia have access to the Baltic and Black seas.

I don’t see anything in this that threatens the interests of the United States or the European Union, and certainly not anything worth risking war over.

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Why the Iraqi army won’t fight

October 21, 2014

The Iraqi army is retreating, often without firing a shot, from the forces of the Islamic State (ISIS), which they vastly outnumber.

This comes after a decade in which the U.S. government spent $25 billion to train and equip the Iraqi troops.

It is not necessary to know a lot about the Middle East to understand why.  Troops won’t put their lives in danger for someone to whom they feel no loyalty.  They will feel no loyalty to a government that is completely corrupt.  Any government that is set up to serve the interests of a foreign power (the USA) is almost inherently corrupt.

These are not problems that could have been solved by keeping a token American force in Iraq for a few years longer.   They might possibly have been solved if the existing Iraqi army had not been dissolved right after the U.S.-led invasion.

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Investing in Junk Armies: Why American Efforts to Create Foreign Armies Fail by William J. Astore for TomDispatch (via The Unz Review).   Highly recommended.

The Iraqi Army That Never Was by Kelly Vlahos for The American Conservative.

Fear of showing weakness is itself a weakness

October 17, 2014

armingsyrianrebels

Why is President Obama arming proxy armies in Syria to fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Assad government, despite warnings from his advisers that such policies have not worked in the past?

I think he is following in the footsteps of American presidents for the past 50 years, who have waged war and sponsored covert operations not to protect the American people and not in all cases to further the interests of U.S.-based corporations, but to avoid the appearance of seeming week.

Take the Vietnam Conflict.  Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson are now known to have had misgivings about military intervention in Vietnam.  What they feared was the effect on American prestige of suffering a defeat, and the effect on their own popularity of having “lost” a country to Communism.

When Richard M. Nixon was became President in 1969, he inherited the Vietnam War, he was not responsible for the hopeless situation, yet he kept on fighting nevertheless.  What was wanted, according to Henry Kissinger, was to save the USA and the Nixon administration from humiliation by having a “decent interval” between the withdrawal of the last American troops and the triumph of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese.

Our country would have been better off if Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had never committed the United States to defending South Vietnam, or if President Nixon had wound up the war quickly.  Our nation would not have been so divided, our military would not have been demoralized and our leaders would not have been preoccupied for the next 40 years with wiping out the humiliation of that defeat.

Or take the 35-year cold war waged by the United States against Iran.  I see no inherent conflict of interest between the governments of Iran and the United States.  In fact, Iran and the USA share common enemies in Al Qaeda and its successor, the Islamic State (ISIS).  But for the United States to reconcile with Iran would seem weak, after the humiliation suffered by the taking of U.S. embassy personnel as hostages by Iranian radicals in 1979.  It is that, more than any public interest or business interest, that prevents the United States from seeking peace with Iran.

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Going to war for oil doesn’t make any sense

October 9, 2014

infographic.ime.oil.gas

One of the justifications for going to war in the Middle East is to make sure we Americans have access to oil.

During the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War, Secretary of State James Baker said the issue was “jobs, jobs, jobs.”  He didn’t explain, but what I and other Americans took him to mean that if Saddam Hussein cut us off from the oil of Kuwait, our industrial machine would falter.

But there was no danger of that happening.  Saddam Hussein was perfectly happy to sell Iraq’s oil, and would have been perfectly happy to sell Kuwait’s oil.

oilcorridorThe oil-producing nations have just as much need to sell their oil as the oil-consuming nations have to buy it.

U.S. interventions in the Middle East have reduced American access to oil, not secured it.  The sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, the continuing sanctions against Iran and the new sanctions against Russia have been intended to prevent these nations from selling their oil and natural gas.  The invasion of Iraq destroyed much of that nation’s oil-producing capability, which is only now recovering.

All this made oil and gas prices higher, not lower.

The only time U.S. access to Middle East oil was cut off was during the OPEC oil embargo of 1973.  But the embargo was broken without military action.  It was broken by the international oil companies who sold the oil to whoever wanted to buy it.  [1]

Since then there has never been another threat to U.S. oil imports.  The most strongly anti-American leaders, Libya’s Qaddafi and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, never refused to do business with the United States.  Politics was one thing; business, another.

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