Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Continued Embarrassments in US Foreign Policy: Steamrolling Israel and Lip Service for Ukraine (Update: Russia Moves To Shut Down US Space Program)

My experience with the State Department has convinced me that it has never proven itself to be particularly effective no matter what the administration, and it continues to fall to the level of my expectations.

John Kerry, in comments leaked from a meeting of the Trilateral Commission from last Friday, declared:
A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative – because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens, or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.
This is the first time an American official has used the word "apartheid" in reference to Israel, with current estimates of 400,000 Israeli settlers and some 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank area.  It is certainly not the first time that the Palestinians have used it, and it plays right into their propoganda campaign:

Perhaps Kerry should seek some guidance from Obama, back when he was a new junior senator running for President:
There's no doubt that Israel and the Palestinians have tough issues to work out to get to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, but injecting a term like 'apartheid' into the discussion doesn't advance that goal.  It's emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and that's not what I believe.
Apartheid in Israel is what Jimmy Carter holds to, though.  Perhaps jealous that Obama is stealing his limelight as the worst President in history, Carter went so far as to write an entire book on the subject.

Kerry uttered the indelicate remark in frustration that he would have to impose a settlement on the two parties:
We have enough time to do any number of things, including the potential at some point in time that we will just put something out there.  "Here it is, folks.  This is what it looks like.  Take it or leave it."
John Kerry imposing a peace settlement on the two parties – exactly how would he go about accomplishing that?  The two factions, perhaps the most diabolically opposed on the planet, meekly submitting to the demands of … John Kerry?  Would he accomplish this through UN Ambassador Samantha Powers' earlier suggestion that we deploy troops – a "mammoth protection force" – to separate the factions and monitor developments in an imposed peace settlement, meaning foreign troops (likely our own) keeping tabs on Israeli army units inside their own country?

To add insult to injury, Kerry's remarks came just before the Israeli observance of Holocaust Day.  (Just like Powers' gushing over Jane Fonda just before Veterans Day.)  This is quite a team.

Kerry issued a statement on Monday about how he "regrets" the comment, that he should have used other words.  His apologists are focused instead on attacking the messenger, Daily Beast reporter Josh Rogin, and questioning how he obtained the recorded remarks.  Kerry's comments were supposed to be somehow protected because of the stipulation within the Trilateral Commission meeting that all remarks are off the record, but this is a distraction from the fact that Kerry actually said them.

Kerry's frustration stems from the fact that Israel withdrew from talks with the Palestinian Authority.  Mahmoud Abbas skillfully played a proclaimed concession that the PA would consider recognizing Israel, though not as a Jewish state.  He immediately thereafter agreed to a unity pact with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and which also is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.  Israel cannot agree to negotiate with terrorists such as Hamas, yet it is nevertheless portrayed as reneging on talks after a major concession by Abbas.  Kerry's reaction was what Abbas expected.

In other developments (if 'development' can be used to convey a sense of non-accomplishment), the State Department continues its feckless blithering about the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, and doing so in a manner that is ludicrous to any reasonable observer, which clearly excludes such people as spokesperson Jen Psaki.

(I have never had the inclination to see the movie American Pie, but frequent references to it since its release has made me aware of the goofy character Michelle ["One time … at band camp …"].  That image never fails to come to mind when I see Psaki.)

As if to reinforce my impression, Psaki has launched a hopelessly naïve social media attempt to cover the Russian provocations against Ukraine, creating the Twitter hashtag #UnitedForUkraine and posting a challenge to the Kremlin and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

Capitalizing on this sophomoric approach, she then flashes her support with a photo that just about says it all:

Gerard van der Leun of American Digest catches the flavor of the pep-rally campaign with his sarcastic headline:

This wet-noodle approach fits nicely with our economic sanctions against an 'escalating' number of Russian politicians, and each time the number has been less than the one leaked to the press beforehand, drawing attention to the Europeans who dilute the already pathetic threat, who talk a good game yet fear economic repercussions from Russia.  Photos of Putin hugging his friend, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, at a birthday bash that Putin threw in his honor capitalize on the fact that the West has no unified front, and the Russians want to take every opportunity to demonstrate that.

"Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Tovarishch!"

Every day brings more examples.  Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin, one of the original eleven sanctioned Russian officials on our list (and who publically laughed about it), is also the official in charge of the Russian space program.  He is thus not only the gateway we must pass through in order to continue to launch our astronauts to the International Space Station (seeing as how we have abandoned our manned space program under Obama), but we are also dependent on him to supply the rocket engines necessary for our launches of satellites by Delta IV and Atlas V launch systems.  Yes, our own rockets now have to use Russian engines.

And that gateway just slammed shut.  In retaliation for sanctions against export of some high-tech items to Russia, Rogozin just announced that henceforth "the United States delivers its astronauts to the ISS with the help of a trampoline."

Our sanctions against the Russians also don't touch our contract for them to supply attack helicopters, with parts and maintenance contracts, to the Afghans.  Yes, we are paying the Russians to supply and maintain some 90 attack helicopters against the day that we abandon Afghanistan altogether.

So, do you believe that Obama has lived up to his claim that the world respects us more with him in the White House?  You just gotta believe in the power of hashtag.

Update:  The Russians make good on their threat to retaliate against what remains of the American space program.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tornadoes, And 'The Bell Tolls For Thee'

Those of you who know me understand why I am habituated to keeping up with the news (the real news, or at least the closest we can come to it what with all the pop issues that dominate it).  I naturally tuned in the usual news channel as I prepared to go to work, and listened on the radio on the way in.  The dominant story this morning has been the devastation of the tornadoes that swept through the South and Midwest.

My natural reaction (more than most, with my background) is a reflection that this is another tragedy on a long, constant list of such reminders that life is nasty, brutish, and short, as Thomas Hobbes would describe it.

I certainly don't dwell on each story – I would have little to do besides, considering the multiplicity of such stories, those which merit attention of the press beyond the myriad others.  But the background hum in my mind is that all victims are equal in the eyes of God, who set up the universe and our place in it based on immutable natural laws of His creation, which is the only way that everything can be held together.  All things under God are thus imperfect and have an end commensurate with their beginnings.  We must all function in this world and live with a knowledge that we must overcome the evil wrought by Man and our vestigial animal nature, focused by conscious choice on our relationship with God and how we must live until we are finally brought nearer to Him.

Like many people, stories of this sort continue in like trend until our attention is brought up short by a connection.  As I opened my computer to start my work day, I saw a notice from Family Life, a mission service started up by the impressive Campus Crusade for Christ (now 'Cru').  It gave notice of the death of Rob Tittle, 48, and two of his daughters (Tori, 20, and Rebekah, 14) as a result of the tornado that struck Ferndale, Arkansas.  Rob's family, his wife and nine children, barely had time to huddle in their makeshift shelter under the stairs when the tornado obliterated their house, leaving only the concrete slab.

Surviving daughter Whitney, 19, found shelter soon thereafter where she posted the news on Facebook:
This is Whitney from a friend's house, my mom, and my six brothers/sisters are alright.  We have lost three of our family … Dad, Tori and Rebekah, prayers would be appreciated.  The house is gone stripped from the foundation.  The Lord Gives and the Lord Takes Away, Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
The surviving Tittles were taken to a nearby hospital, where all but three remain.  Whitney hopes to see her mother soon but had not been able since the night before.

Another Family Life family in nearby Mayflower saw the tornado coming and had time to crowd into their closet/shelter, which held against the storm although the rest of the house was shattered.  Dan and Kristen Gaffney and their six children were then trapped inside the shelter until neighbors, finally alerted, could work for thirty minutes to free them, a situation made all the more expedient by the smell of leaking gas.  When they emerged, they took in the devastation around them which included a car leaning against their shelter.

The large families are indicative of how seriously the parents take their ministry – some of the children are adopted.  One of the Gaffney children understandably lamented the loss but a daughter, 10, with prosthetic legs, responded that they should think upon the good things.

Drawn now to the story, I soon read of a couple which lost their two boys, aged 9 and 7.  This is the worst tragedy to my mind – a parent losing a child.  Nothing can compare to it, though everyone's grief is their own.

I did not know these people personally, only through their ministry.  Yet the news brings home the reminder that although we cannot ceaselessly ponder upon the limitless tragedy that lies around us, we must heed the occasional reminder that Life can change in an instant, and we all live within the shadow of the Tower of Siloam.

A parting word from Whitney Tittle:
Dear friends, Do one thing for me.  Hug your dad.  Hold him tight and don't let go, that man is the greatest gift God gave to you.  Tell him you love him, tell him you will always love him.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Western Front Is ‘Going Wobbly’ on Russia

The Daily Telegraph portrays an effort by Obama to ramp up support for potential economic sanctions and retaliation in case Russia continues its roiling threats to open a second front of occupation against Ukraine, this in the eastern region, the Donbas, using essentially the same successful tactics that it used in acquiring Crimea: send in a steady stream of agents provocateurs to agitate the ethnic Russian communities to stir up pro-Russian sentiments, then react with military forces either because the Ukrainian government does or doesn't try to quell the unrest – it doesn't matter either way.

"Now that I'm in my second term, I can be more flexible."

Obama’s effort is off to a slow start.  Speaking by phone from South Korea during a lull in his Asian tour, Obama spoke with Britain's David Cameron, France's François Hollande, Germany's Angela Merkel and Italy's Matteo Renzi, among others, to try to forge a "tougher united front against the Kremlin".

Within the article lie some telling limitations that spell out that Obama's effort will likely be as successful as his earlier foreign policy forays, i.e., not very successful at all.

Obama stuck with his major strength: he gives speeches.  "What's important is laying the groundwork so that if and when we see greater escalation, perhaps even military incursion by Russia into Ukraine, we're prepared for the sort of sectoral sanctions [targeting specific parts of the Russian economy] that would have even larger consequences."  In other words, if the Russians use military force – again – we will respond with economic sanctions.  Can anybody volunteer an example of when that has been successful?

Even better, despite Obama's call for shovel-ready sanctions, he's not likely to get that either, certainly not in a unified manner, which is precisely what Putin has been planning on.
The US has singled Germany and Italy as being particularly reluctant to impose [a] new round of sanctions on Russia.  Germany is particularly vulnerable to Russian retaliation as it imports around 50 per cent of its gas supplies from Russia.

Britain likewise has limited enthusiasm for further measures because of the extent of Russian investment in the City of London.  However, Washington has said it would much prefer to act in concert with the EU rather than on its own.

Mr Obama acknowledged that it had been difficult to achieve consensus among EU member states for a new round of sanctions, saying: "There's some variation inside of Europe."
Really?  This has all the earmarks of being as successful as our policy on Syria.

During the spin-up to the First Gulf War, while George H W Bush was putting together an initial response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, Margaret Thatcher was coincidentally in Washington during an official state visit.  As Bush interjected a question into his group of advisors, Thatcher took it as a possible show of equivocation: "Now's not the time to go wobbly, George."

Obama and the EU could use a bit of Thatcherite advice, assuming that it would be considered.  This falls well within the bounds of a 'pay me now, or pay me later' conundrum, as Putin will push right up to the point where we demonstrably say 'no'.  At any rate, the amount of American investment in Russia is far smaller than the major players in Europe, which is likely why Obama can so glibly make a threat.  If Putin can expect to ride out a string of sanctions from Europe, what makes Obama think that our threat would carry any weight? 

We simply can't get to 'no' from where we are right now, no matter how stirring a speech that Obama can spin.  'He's got no game.'

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ukraine: Blaming the Victim, and With Some Justification

To extend my previous comments (here and here and here and here and here and here) about the Ukrainian crisis, let me point out some detail of the corruption that has led Ukraine and its military to this sad situation.

Corruption would seem to be a social icon of Russian culture, not so much suppressed in the past but controlled and exploited for the needs of the tsar/party/state by often ruthless means, a symbiosis of government and crime that would awe Tammany Hall and Chicago.  Our political corruption comes from mere gangsters; the Russian version comes directly from Genghis Khan.  Russian culture extends through many of the former Soviet republics, through Ukraine and Belarus by way of a shared heritage, through the Central Asian republics through export and grafting.

But there is corruption and then there is corruption.  On the Russian side, the collapse of the Soviet empire saw the reins of power in the hands of the only functioning alliance that could be left, a combination of the nomenklatura that knew the pathways and connections of the government – the knowledge – and the Russian mafia who had the muscle.  Corruption on the part of the Russians saw them consolidate the only real political goal worth having: power, and the means to expand and retain it.

The Ukrainians have been no less corrupt, but they were cast by geography as a buffer between the slowly and cautiously expanding NATO to the west and Russia proper to the east, thus their corruption took on a different form.  A buffer state has value only to the extent that the powers on either side see it as a benefit, protecting one side against the other.  But if one side (Russia) sees no real threat from the other (NATO), then the buffer (Ukraine) loses its value as a tripwire for a threat of a much larger conflict.

Ukraine becomes even more of an easy target when the form of its corruption derives from its inability to see that the three-way balance of power has changed.  The internal consolidation of power, Russian-style, was interrupted by the 2004 Orange Revolution, but whichever party held sway (principally Yanukovych before and again after a five-year interregnum) were unencumbered by the responsibility of providing for an adequate defense, lacking (or so it would seem) a viable enemy.  The military immediately became a source for looting funds in order to divert them to other, more lucrative uses, and it quickly withered to a state that was barely able to muster up a decent parade, this despite the fact that it still maintains an arms industry that produces only for export, because that is where the money is.

The Washington Times has made an effort to add some details:
The woeful state of Ukraine's military can be blamed on corruption, Kiev's shaky commitment to national defense and a policy of selling the best weapons to gain cold hard cash….

[T]he leadership's neglect is backfiring.  It could not stop Vladimir Putin's front-line troops from conquering Ukraine's Crimea region and, analysts predict, cannot prevent Mr Putin from annexing the Russian-speaking eastern region [Donbas] or from storming the capital….

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych hollowed out the force to put money into internal security….

Since Ukraine's independence, …a succession of governments as a matter of policy decided that building a robust military to repel a Russian invasion was not a priority.
The American obligation to support Ukraine does not find a mention in legally binding treaties or agreements, though some would argue a moral imperative nonetheless.  Ukraine is not part of NATO (unlike Poland and the Baltic States [see notes]), but neither are we obligated under the 1994 Budapest Agreement, which is mentioned in confusing press accounts (not that I'm surprised by that).  The agreement was forged principally as a means to assure Ukraine, then with the third largest stockpile of nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that it could transfer (read "sell", as in Russia would buy it and we would pay to move it) its stockpile and divest itself of any nuclear weaponry, in exchange for an obligation on the part of the US, the UK, and Russia to seek the approval of the UN Security Council to respond in case Ukraine was a victim or object of aggression "in which nuclear weapons were used".  We are under no obligation otherwise, and the part involving the UNSC renders it essentially neutered anyhow.  Not only that, the agreement was never ratified in the Senate, so that is a moot point.

But can we respond, actively or in part and in kind?  We have no real ability to effectively back up our own troop commitments to Europe at the moment, much less anybody else's, either now or in the near future.  As I mentioned before though, if we are in this for the long game, which would require political will which is grossly lacking in Washington, we could slip some elements of the US Army 10th Special Forces Group into western Ukraine to train up the traditionally effective Ukrainian partisans to prepare to take on the potential Russian invasion, but that would first require the Ukrainians to purge or control pro-Russian personnel and isolate the training in a secure area – no mean feat.  The Ukrainians have a history of deadly effective partisan warfare, best known in World War II when different groups fought the Nazis and the Soviets (still an open sore on the body politic), and Special Forces, particularly the 10th Group, were created for this express purpose.  You may remember that Special Forces did a rather admirable job in the early stages of the Afghan War in 2001 and 2002. (True, different war and different place but the lesson is learned nonetheless).

A purge of this sort would have to include leaders, leaving those we can trust and the Ukrainian people can rally round as a way out of the corrupt morass they have been left with.  That, of course, is up to the Ukrainians.  Like I said, that is the long game, but we would provide some significant measure of support not just to the Ukrainians but to the world as to our commitment, and would establish a block to forestall Putin's future moves.

It's a long shot, but it's likely the only shot we have.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Putin's Mentor: Ronald Reagan (Update)

The major story in world news these past weeks has not been the missing Malaysian airliner, despite CNN's round-the-clock coverage.  Once a one-dimensional story such as that takes over, I ponder about what other news coverage is being ignored because the press is running out the clock with the latest pop fascination.  Allow me to return to the true story that should have our attention – the return of Putin's Russia as a threat to national sovereignty in Eastern Europe, and his likely strategy based on the event that had an enormous effect on him: the collapse of the Soviet Union, what Putin calls the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, as engineered by Ronald Reagan.

The press coverage of the Ukrainian crisis has been adequate but not with great depth.  The Maidan demonstrations, the overthrow of Yanukovych, the slow yet inexorable (re)annexation of Crimea, has moved on to the point now that we are looking at a massed Russian military front along the eastern border, some 40,000 to 50,000 troops at the current best estimation, with all the necessary support elements to sustain a thrust into the arguably Russian-dominated Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.  At the same time, there are increasing "spontaneous" demonstrations in several cities in the area, with a significant if not a majority of popular support, now involving troops that are attired in the same sort of barely sanitized uniforms (what the Ukrainian government spokesmen are now calling "little green men") that we saw in the lead-up to Crimea.  Prudent predictions indicate a continuation of Putin's incursions, into the Donbas or even linking up with Transdniestria, because he has done this before into the latter, and Georgia, and now Crimea, all predicated on "protecting ethnic Russians", what I can safely call the Putin Doctrine.

That is where we find ourselves at the moment, and with questions about the viability of a Ukrainian response, considering the pathetic shape into which its military has fallen; the ability of Russia to seize and retain the Donbas against the historic Ukrainian guerilla tradition, honed in World War II against both the Nazis and the Soviets (thus the occasional Russian reference to the "fascists" in Kiev/Kyiv); what the Americans can do – if anything – that will have an actual impact on Putin; how significant are the Russian hints about ethnic Russians elsewhere in its 'near abroad' such as Estonia and Latvia, now members of NATO; and what can NATO do – if anything – that would deter or repulse possible Russian incursions there; and finally, does the West, in the form of NATO or otherwise, have the will to impose and follow through with the few options that we have left ourselves?

Our options are stunted in the face of Putin's initiative, and this is precisely what Putin and his advisors, particularly Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have known all along after years of observing our decline.  Putin has been motivated by at least two events – the breaking off of Kosovo from Serbia by NATO in 1999 which established that a foreign entity could take military action against a country to influence its internal affairs, which infuriated the Russians and set them on a track to invade Georgia in 2008 after Kosovo declared its de jure independence; and the proclaimed support of the West, particularly the Americans, in the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine which overthrew Yanukovych the first time, interfering (to Putin's mind, a not unreasonable conclusion) in a sensitive area of the Russian sphere of influence, tacitly established between Russia and the US after Joe Biden went hat in hand, within days of Obama's inauguration, to shut down our establishment of a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic so that the new Reset Initiative could be forged.  This yanked the rug from under our new allies, who had shown courage in standing up to their former oppressor, but they were tossed aside in a bumbling attempt to curry favor with Russia during the initial phases of Obama's World Apology Tour.

Lavrov is laughing at you, Hillary, not with you
First consider that Putin's strategy has been established from the likely study of the victory of the West in the Cold War.  Ronald Reagan saw correctly that ramping up our military and defensive posture, modernizing our country's strategic capability after its withering after Viet Nam and the Carter presidency and re-orienting it to the future, would drive the Soviets into a race that it couldn't win.  Reagan, aided by such leaders as Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, demonstrated the will to do so, and he further motivated enough of the political establishment in Washington to go along.  He never suffered from an exaggerated sense of nuance and was constantly accused by the Sophisticati of being simple.  "You want simplistic?" he smilingly asked his chief foreign policy advisor, Richard Allen, when talking of the Cold War.  "We win and they lose.  What do you think of that?"

Reagan hung tough through the first two years of an economy staggered by the change in direction, but he and his advisors knew that it would turn around and benefit from the plan, and it did.  The economy accelerated and continued into the George H W Bush administration before it began to waver with Bush I's fatal flaw of increasing taxes after promising no to, in a deal with the Democrats to cut spending, which never happened.  But the die had been cast, and by Christmas of 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev announced the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its flag was hauled down from its post over the Kremlin.

Stung by the collapse of the empire he held so dear and the philosophy which was its foundation, Putin could not fail to learn a very hard lesson indeed, the type of lesson that has the most impact.  Through this experience, what has he seen in the intervening years which he could exploit?

He sees an America since then that now bites at the apple of an amorphous "peace dividend", gutting its power in order to plow more money into other political bonanzas.  The decline was forestalled after 9/11 by a world-wide counter-attack against a radical Islamist crusade, and America and its allies spent years and fortune battling what Russia sees as a common enemy, but they were content to let us pin down the threat while they handled its manifestation (like the Chechens) within its own borders.  But with such factors as the Sequester, that power decline has been re-imposed and is accelerating.

America's economy hit the skids with the housing bubble collapse in 2008, practically a carbon copy of the similar crisis that hit Japan in 1990.  Russia surely saw the parallel, as did many others, as well as our response that also mimicked the Japanese and their barely-growing economy ever since.  The election of a Democrat administration and its bread-and-circuses approach to giving their voters what they want without a plan for how to pay for it (other than the partial answer to take it out of the hide of the military) was an answer to a Russian prayer.  Coupled with the even greater tendency in Europe to sacrifice their militaries, covered as they have been since the end of World War II by an American security umbrella which enabled them to shore up Social Democrat economies, Putin has seen a steady and voluntary decline in the power of the West. (Don't think for a moment that China doesn't see the same thing, but that's a story for another time.)

The Reagan and Bush I administrations warned Europe of the consequences of a reliance on the growing Russian oil and gas exports, with Russia building a series of pipelines into Europe and offering cheaper gas but at prices that pumped up the Russian economy while prices increased and competition decreased.  The American resurgence in that industry despite, not because of, the Obama administration's obstacles, are still in the beginning stages and our infrastructure is not developed enough to support the amount of export to Europe, even if Europe had prepared its infrastructure as well. Europe relies on up to 40% of its gas for heating from Russia, and Putin has shown before and now again that he is willing to play games with shutting off supplies to Ukraine, just as easily as he could to the rest of Europe, in order to gain concessions. We can talk of shipping more gas to Europe in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG), but how many years and how many cold winters will Europe be able to endure before we can affect that capacity in any meaningful way?

The Putin that George W Bush first met in 2001 was a leader saddled with a Russian economy still clawing its way back up from the Soviet collapse and with Russia's main export of gas and oil suffering from low world market prices, which partially explains Bush's comment about getting a "sense of [Putin's] soul".  But Russia since has greatly benefited from the increase in prices and Putin can now afford to flex his muscles with his investments in his economy and military.  (By the time of the meeting between Bush and Putin at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the atmosphere had markedly cooled. Putin told Bush that Georgia's Saakashvili was hot-headed and that he – Putin – was hot-headed too.  Bush replied, "No.  You're cold-hearted.")

Putin with Defense Minister Marshall Sergei Shoigu, observing military training maneuvers. Can you imagine Obama doing the same with General Dempsey?

The Russian armed forces of today is far smaller than the Red Army of before (Russian officers that I knew still referred to it by that name, wistfully), but size matters not against what it used to be, but against the attenuated NATO militaries – including of course our own – that it would face during a period of "heightened tensions".  It certainly is far more than a fair match against the Ukrainian remnant of a military should it go toe to toe in a sudden pitched conflict, particularly if it were limited, an escalation of what we have already seen with the seizure of Crimea played out in the Donbas of eastern Ukraine or an amphibious landing to further secure connections with Transdniestria and possibly include tossing the seizure of the important port city of Odessa into the bargain.  What further pressure can he put on the Baltic countries of Estonia and Latvia, with significant ethnic Russian populations, to keep NATO even more off balance?

The only Russian concerns would be how to contain a possible Ukrainian insurgency that resulted (aided by a porous border that doesn't exist with the Crimean chokepoint) as well as a prolonged Western economic response, which Putin can affect by pitting the European interests (far more invested with Russia) against the American.  Economic sanctions – the only real tool in our bag so far – take time to have any real effect, if any, and time is on Putin's side.  He would want some solid agreements at some point with Ukraine, a variety of European countries to undermine a coordinated NATO, or even with the US, to secure his gains and tie down the opposition, but at the very least he can sit and watch the kettle boil – watching the West argue – as long as he controls the heat.

He needn't worry about a military response: beyond the simple accounting of size and capabilities and geographic limitations, the Obama administration repeatedly and publically declares that we will have no military contribution whatsoever to Ukraine, not even in sharing intelligence or sending small scale equipment (other than sleeping bags, rations, and helmets – all "non-lethal" – which will really come in handy if the Ukrainians are over-run).

But rather than telegraph his next move, Putin can simply continue to apply pressure like he has been doing, waiting for the Ukrainians or the West to make a move that he has already anticipated.

The Russians have always emphasized the control of the operational tempo of an engagement, and on a strategic scale they are more aware of the dictum of Carl von Clausewitz that "war is a continuation of political intercourse carried on by other means."  Putin's long-range goals foresee increasing the advantage over the West, a combination of maybe faltering (two steps forward, one step back), steady, or even accelerating progression.  In the area of demographics, for example, Russia has a similar problem as the West in its growing minorities and immigration and their effect on the native culture, with birth rates far exceeding those of the declining national host.

The West is slowly realizing that the accommodation of some of these foreign elements, while ideologically satisfying on a superficial level, is having a far more serious effect on the culture than they anticipated, particularly in Europe.  Radical Islamists (and we hear precious little from whatever 'moderate' elements exist) insist that our sense of diversity be mutated into an outright acceptance of their law and lifestyle that is damaging to our core beliefs, but then our Sophisticati, dining on lotus, are content to slough off core beliefs in this post-modern age.

Russia has had a head start with this problem.  The Soviets were officially proud of their diversity too, but the many minorities understood that living in the Soviet Union meant that the predominant culture was Russian.  Any minority that tried to expand its native culture into everyday life beyond what the Party allowed was suppressed, often ruthlessly, as if they were rudely taking advantage of the Russian hospitality.  This is the kernel of the new Putin Doctrine, protecting ethnic Russians no matter in which country they may reside.  In the modern US we can entertain inane questions about why the terrorists hate us, as if understanding their murderous motivation will make everything all right.  But with Putin, we see his statements leading up to the Sochi Olympics pertaining to potential terrorist attacks, when he said that the solution is to "annihilate" them.  That makes a lot of sense to a Russian, and frankly over here too as a viable way to deal with fanatics, but Putin is counting on the West flailing with that problem to a far greater extent than he.

America under Obama is unprepared for this task of a resurgent Russia, and we are determined to remain so in the short term, meaning the remainder of Obama's administration.  Putin sees this window as an opportunity to do what he can while still preparing the long game for after Obama's departure.  He saw how the Iranians humiliated a prostrate Carter administration before the inauguration of Reagan, and he can be sure to take advantage of the intervening time between now and January 2017, assuming that America sees fit to elect a new President that can change course against a tide of Russian opportunity.  Mitt Romney and others were castigated by the Democrats and the press (but I repeat myself) for saying that Russia was this country's greatest geopolitical threat, and the Democrats seem determined to hold fast to that attitude.  Obama still seems blissfully confident that he can talk his way out of this and other problems, despite the fact that he has zero accomplishments on that score.  They insist that we are not seeing a return to the Cold War but that remains the most likely scenario to unfold.

Reagan won the Cold War, after all (and the phrase about "the collapse of the Soviet empire" still strikes me as some sort of alternate fantasy world), but there is no reason to think that we cannot have a resurgence of it.  Reagan saw the declining competitive ability of the Soviet Union and their Communist philosophy built on a foundation of sand, and put forth the effort to overwhelm it and toss it on the ash heap of history, knowing that the Soviets were unable to match our pace.  But the Soviet Union was more than the vanguard of the world Communist movement; it was also a nationalistic Russia, and that part survives intact, with Putin doing what he can to inspire it even more.

It is true, after all, that Woodrow Wilson and the Entente Cordiale won World War I, but the world was embroiled in a far more devastating conflict only twenty years thereafter.  What prevents the same thing from occurring with a second Cold War?  No one wants an all-out war on the scale of the carnage of the twentieth century, and that certainly includes Putin, content to ensure that he needn't worry so much with winning an unlikely 'hot' war than in not losing his present control of the situation.  And our current dithering, our feckless support of Ukraine, our laughable threats to restrict foreign travel of a platoon of Russian officials – doesn't that strike you as a parallel to the Sitzkrieg of 1939-40?

Reagan had the will and the wherewithal to bring the Soviet Union to its knees, calling their bluff and staving off the wet hens of the State Department until Gorbachev capitulated.  Putin, taking a page from Reagan, has the will and the sufficient means to press Obama to the point where he backs off, again.   There is an old Russian saying that Better is the enemy of Good Enough, and Putin has enough to follow through with his plans for the rest of the Obama term.   How deliciously ironic that must be for him, to use Reagan's own playbook against the West.

This morning brings news of some movement of a battalion of American airborne troops to be spread through Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (one airborne rifle company each, about 150 men) in training exercises, but now also to "show the flag" and emphasize our commitment to NATO.  The troops are from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team already in Europe, at Vicenza, Italy.  (If the reports are accurate and they are 'paratroopers', they are likely either the 1st or 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Regiment.)  A similar mission fell to the 82nd Airborne Division after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 in Operation Desert Shield, buying time for the rest of our then much larger military to build up an adequate defense of Saudi Arabia before shifting to an offensive capability, eventually launching Operation Desert Storm into Kuwait and southern Iraq.  These lead elements constituted what was called a 'tripwire' (and what we in theater called a 'speed bump') against a possible Iraqi continuation into Saudi Arabia, and for this battalion of the 173rd to perform the same mission, we have to have a credible follow-on force to back it up.  Looking at US Army Europe at present, it doesn't look like we have one tank remaining in theater.

Note that we emphasize that the training deployment is being performed through a separate bilateral agreement with each country, not as a function of NATO.  Several European members are not as enthusiastic as others, shall we say, in their understanding of their responsibilities.  A deployment such as this is nothing new, though the surrounding circumstances are: we had an airborne company training with an element of the 6th Polish Airborne Brigade only last February, and this deployment is expected to continue, with substitutions, through the end of the year.

As I said before, China is watching closely, focused as they are on territorial disputes with Japan, Philippines, and Viet Nam (and the lingering problem of Taiwan).  Our response to Russia in Europe factors into their decisions on their side of the planet, and an indicator is this morning's blast by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua: the US is a "sclerotic and myopic superpower ... dangerous and unsustainable".

Russia began a "snap" military response exercise in the region around Ukraine and is conducting joint air defense exercises with its ally Belarus, including dispatching Russian fighters to Belarusian bases.  The Belarusian mechanized tank brigade in southwest Belarus is also conducting exercises, if we want to ramp up the tension a bit more.

And of course Syria, previously the object of red lines and dead lines about its "unacceptable" use of chemical agents in its murderous civil war, has been completely unencumbered since the foreign policy humiliation that the administration suffered at the hands of Putin and Lavrov.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Duffel Blog: 'Protect Us From Veterans'

Duffle Blog is a web log for satire, sort of a military version of The Onion.  Its humor is usually so dry that it has not been unusual for some news service to pick up a story found there and pass it on as gospel.  (Buried therein is the question that, if supposed professionals can be fooled by satire, what and how much else is being bandied as truth?)

The site does not enjoy a more widespread popularity because the various writers focus on the selective audience of the military, with terminology, nuance and innuendo that someone of that culture would truly understand and appreciate, its humor sometimes lost on civilians.

Satire appeals to me because I have a rather pronounced and practiced sense of irony.  Satire can be the truth in clown face, but then clowns aren't real, are they?  Really good satire, as opposed to the cultural ridicule that is so popular at present, examines an ironic element of truth through a lens that is both appealing and morbidly fascinating.  It draws us in to examine an argument that would be otherwise left untested, as Chesterton explained, "A man is angry at a libel because it is false, but at a satire because it is true."

In "Lawmaker Introduces Bill Requiring Veterans to Warn Neighbors of Their Combat Service", the target is not the veteran but the clichéd notion that portrays them in the light of ticking time bombs, riddled with the new malady of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD – it has to be a full blown disorder, not just stress that one overcomes in time), assembling a pressure-cooker bomb or buying an 'assault weapon' at a garage sale while flashing again to dreams of fragging his lieutenant who makes them massacre innocent Taliban and Mujahideen of the Religion of Peace, yet not so unhinged that they are incapable of tracking down an area that gives a relative certitude of defenseless targets, such as schools and military bases.
The Fortify & Unite Communities to Keep Veterans’ External Threats Secure Act (H.R. 1874) which was introduced on Tuesday, would require military veterans to register with the Department of Homeland Security and periodically “check-in” with a case officer, in addition to going door-to-door in their neighborhood to notify people nearby that they are a powder keg of post traumatic stress, alcoholism, murder, and hate just waiting to blow….

For the safety of communities, the FCC would also direct cable providers to block access to violent war content popular among veterans, to include The Military Channel and Lifetime….

However, there’s been some controversy surrounding one part of the bill barring veterans from living within 1,000 feet of bars, gun ranges, or liquor stores, as critics claim this would be unfair to local businesses….
Read the whole thing, including the icon notes.  For background, don't miss "Veterans with PTSD Linked to Everything That Could Kill Your Children."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Casual Marijuana Use Harmful to Brain Development: Harvard

From what I can see, no other scientific question brings out the banshees so much as a study that finds that use of marijuana/cannabis is detrimental.  So too has been the reaction to Harvard Medical School research, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, that details permanent damage to the brain as a result of even casual use.  The study is hardly unique in its findings, such as this one, for example.

The study used 3-D imaging of subjects' brains to determine physical alterations and found a significant statistical correlation.  The test consisted of 40 college students divided into two groups of those who have used cannabis in varying degrees and who have not used it at all.  "The scientists found that the more cannabis the 40 subjects had used, the greater the abnormalities."

The author of the study was Dr Hans Breiter, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinburg School of Medicine:
This study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn't associated with bad consequences.  Some people only used marijuana to get high once or twice a week.  People think a little recreational use shouldn't cause a problem…. Our data directly says this is not the case.
Areas within the brain that were examined involved emotion, motivation and addiction.  Anne Blood, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School:
These are core, fundamental structures of the brain.  They form the basis for how you assess positive and negative features about things in the environment and make decisions about them.
Jodi Gilman of the Massachusetts General Center for Addiction Medicine:
It may be that we're seeing a type of drug learning in the brain.  We think when people are in the process of becoming addicted, their brains form these new connections.
One detractor criticizes the size of the sample, "not big enough to draw conclusions".  Standing alone, that is a true if not necessarily accurate statement.  But a solid conclusion can be drawn if the differences between the two groups are significant, as this study alleges.

The appropriately named Professor Nutt goes on to say, "Whatever cannabis does to the brain its not in the same league as alcohol which is a proven neurotoxin." [sic]

Yet the study is not about alcohol, is it?  However often this tired distraction is dragged out, the fact that alcohol can be a toxic agent does not alter the fact that cannabis is pernicious.  Acute alcohol usage over time does destroy brain cells; use of marijuana in the young alters the brain structure in a malign way.

On the political side of the argument, that marijuana usage is a matter of free will and liberty, I have to argue – conservative that I am – that society has an obligation to protect itself from the more nihilistic aspects of human nature.  Liberty does not equate with license.  I have met more than a few purported Libertarians who are particularly focused on the issue of pot legalisation, but fade away on any other subject.  I question the quality of the woolen coverings of their canine appetite.

And as I began this piece, sometimes the quality of the argument is measured by the numbers of its stentorian enemies.  Let us not forget that a typical side effect of marijuana usage is pronounced paranoia.

As if by coincidence, today marks the anniversary (1943) of the discovery that LSD is an hallucinogenic drug.  Much like cocaine, it was initially proclaimed to be benign until overwhelming evidence finally prevailed upon the pop culture that it was anything but.

Update: The Economist also examines the Harvard study.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Obama Spikes the Football Over the IRS Success

Building on his previous victory speech in the Rose Garden about the success of ObamaCare, touting the eleventh hour surge of applications before the imposition of fines or penalties, Obama made some pen-and-ink changes to reprise his triumphalist tone about the linchpin of the imperial presidency, the Internal Revenue Service.

"The goal we've set for ourselves - that no American should go without [being taxed] ... is achievable!"

Annual photos of people and cars lining up in order to post their tax returns before the bell tonight will replace the pictures that the establishment press used of similar lines to prove the popularity of the 'Affordable' Care Act (though they skipped the appropriate use of ironic quotes).  "The debate is over!  The [IRS] is here to stay!"

The two systems are intertwined, of course.  The IRS will ensure the popularity of ObamaCare by ensuring that Americans are enrolled, otherwise a fine will be imposed.  The fact that the IRS is involved could be confusing, since Obama declared quite often that Americans won't see their "taxes go up one dime!"  (Perhaps as often as he spoke of shovel-ready jobs and keeping your doctor.)

Donald B Virrelli, the US Solicitor General, solved this conundrum during the arguments before the Supreme Court in the litigation of NFIB v Sebelius that set the 5-4 vote in favor of ObamaCare.  He first argued that failure to secure health insurance would impose a fine, thereby establishing that it was not a tax.  During the second part of the argument, he then argued that it would be a tax instead, in order to ensure the ability of Congress to have the authority for the law, in that Congress has the unlimited ability to tax.  Chief Justice John Roberts bought it.

As a celebration of the day, comedian Remy Munasifi of Reason TV tells us how "Happy" we should be:


Contact Juggling with Rings - Lindzee Poi

As a slight diversion, old friend Dave Moore provided a link to a French juggler (who is not a mime, Dieu merci) named Lindzee Poi of Angers, casting what he calls an "amelymeloptical illusion".

[Connectivity problems?  Try this link instead.]

A sample - check the link above

Yes, how does he do it?  Haven't a clue.  I can't find anything beyond this and some other examples of his contact juggling prowess, but he now has my attention.  Enjoy.

The tune, incidentally, is Comptine d'un autre été ("A rhyme from another summer") by Yann Tiersen, heard in the movie Amélie.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Get Your Ass to Mars

My sainted brother sent this brief reminder of the doldrums of our space program:

The gentleman in the photo, in case you've forgotten or, if you are a victim of public education and were never introduced, is Buzz Aldrin, who accompanied the late, great Neil Armstong in mankind's first landing on the moon.  And let us not forget that Michael Collins piloted their Apollo return vehicle that remained in orbit, fulfilling the mission requirement of President John F Kennedy that our national goal should be "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth."  Even as a young teenager, I thought it odd that he should include that specificity, as if someone might not read his precise intentions.  ("Oh, you want to bring him back too?  Well, that's a whole different kettle of fish.")

It is a pithy observation of the state of the US manned space program, which has ceased to exist, and Aldrin is part of a plan to revive it with his Unified Space Vision.
No giant leaps this time.  More like a hop, skip and a jump.  For these long-duration missions we need an entirely new spacecraft that I call the Exploration Module, or XM.  Unilke the Orion capsule, which is designed for short flights around the Earth and the moon, the XM would contain the radiation shields, artificial gravity, food-production and recycling facilities necessary for a spaceflight of up to three years.
The plan is set in five-year blocks that would include a visit to the fly-by comet 46P/Wirtanen, asteroid 2001 GP2, and then asteroid 99942 Apophis to investigate its chances of a collision with Earth in 2036.  The program would culminate with a landing in 2025 on the small and irregular Martian moon of Phobos, with a diameter of some 14 miles, providing "the perfect perch from which to monitor and control the robots that will build the infrastructure on the Martian surface, in preparation for the first human visitors."

Indeed.  Phobos is tiny compared to our giant moon (2136 miles in diameter) but orbits far closer to Mars, so that it's presentation from the surface is more pronounced than would be expected.

We would forego another mission to our own moon (no race with China, for example) except in conjunction with other space powers in a consortium, taking on an attitude of "been there, done that", in order to focus on the grander vision of Mars.

After wasting our opportunities on our space program in atrophy, it is high time to claw our way back into space.  Neil Armstrong, just prior to his death, issued a joint message along with Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell, that condemned our abandonment of a manned space program and the general withering of NASA overall.  It is a melancholy fact that the twelve men who have walked on the moon will not live to see this or any other return to active space exploration.  Four have already died (Alan Sheppard, Neil Armstrong, James Irwin, and Pete Conrad) and the youngest, Charlie Dike, will turn 79 in October.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Brandeis University Shames Itself: Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Update: Here's What I Would Have Said at Brandeis)

I grew up with the euphemism "ivory tower", which described the attitude of the academics who were making pronouncements of how the world was supposed to be, as opposed to what the common peoples' experience and observation led them to discern.  The decrees that fluttered down to us from their hallowed battlements were to be considered holy writ, supplanting the scripture from a God not yet dead but surely mortally wounded, dying a death of a thousand cuts from men humans too smart to believe in Him.

Robespierre said as much, taking the Reign of Terror down the left fork of the Enlightenment.  Even before, Galileo was tried by the Roman Inquisition not because his observations violated church teachings but because they challenged the works of Tycho Brahe and the other scientists for whom the matter was already settled.

The ivory tower expanded into the ivory compound of our universities, carefully cultivating a mutual admiration society through the rule of tenure, and it grants guest membership to the pop culture who agrees with them.  The role of the university as a place of ideas holds true only if you agree to the accepted philosophies.  'Diversity' becomes one accepted view in a hall full of mirrors.

Brandeis University has become an emblem of the movement, and the irony is bitter.  Begun in 1947 as a place of higher learning that protects the Jewish community from anti-Semitism, named for the first Jewish supreme court justice, it came about primarily through the efforts of noted Zionist Rabbi Israel Goldstein.  Its transformation has been remarkable.

The university awarded an honorary degree to playwright Tony Kushner, who has been hostile to the idea of Israel at present, as opposed to what Israel should be in his mind.  Even its creation was a mistake, and "The biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community."  That surely includes some prominent Brandeis alumni, faculty, supporters, and students, but the award was granted anyway.  South African Bishop Desmond Tutu proclaimed Israel guilty of apartheid, yet he received an honorary degree as well.

But now an honorary degree was offered to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom I mentioned before in an article about the persecution of Geert Wilders.  Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia and eventually became a women's rights activist and writer.  Whereas one would think that those credentials would set her in the good graces of today's politicized academic community, they somehow overlooked the fact that she is a women's rights advocate as it pertains to Islam.

First seeking protection in the Netherlands, she became a member of parliament and initially became famous for writing the screenplay for and narrating Theo van Gogh's Submission, which condemns the treatment of women in Islamic society.  The film's release resulted in a furious response from the Islamic community and led directly to the murder of van Gogh in broad daylight, stabbed multiple times with the killer finally stabbing a note in place on Van Gogh's body which condemned Hirsi Ali to death as well.  Hirsi Ali went into hiding and finally emigrated to the US after a Dutch court found that she was "endangering her neighbors".  She now has a position with the American Enterprise Institute and has married historian Niall Ferguson, occasional columnist for the Sunday Telegraph and Newsweek.  She has written her autobiography Infidel and published Nomad in 2010.

After offering the degree, Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR condemned the move, whereupon the university discovered "certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values."  Imagine, a university not doing its homework.  The offer was withdrawn, since Brandeis' core values apparently don't stray far from political correctness.

Perhaps the Saudi funding for the Crown Center for Middle East Studies may have something to do with it.  Maybe it was a two-for-one shot that includes husband Ferguson, also of the AEI, whose works have coined the term 'Eurabia' to describe the Arabisation of Europe, and 'impire' to describe an empire that no longer reaches to its periphery and exports power, but is imploding in upon itself, to describe "post-Christian" Europe.  If not the money, it certainly adds to the idea of Jewish self loathing so prominent with the Left.

Update:  "Here's What I Would Have Said at Brandeis."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Simple Gun Logic

From the droll David Burge, known popularly as Iowahawk, now corresponding by Twitter:

Which places our military bases in the same category as our schools: gun-free, or free-fire zones.  That being the exact reason that the shooters have picked those areas, precisely because the victims cannot defend themselves.  We can talk about how mentally disturbed the shooters are, but at least they aren't so crazy that they have to start shooting up anything, anywhere; no, they wait and make the conscious decision to service the right target.

The right target includes a likelihood that a police response is not close at hand.  It took the police in the case of Ivan Lopez at Fort Hood some twenty minutes to respond to the exact location of Lopez, whereupon Lopez took the not unsurprising way out by killing himself.  Twenty minutes is a not inconsiderable amount of time (think upon how radically time slows when staring down the barrel of a .45) but it is an understandable time lapse for the MP to have arrived at the area post haste yet still have to find the shooter.  God bless the young woman who bravely confronted Lopez so that he could terminate the emergency.

As I have said before, the police only show after a crime is committed.  Relying on police alone, no matter how noble or well trained they may be, is simply an exercise in calculating how many casualties the authorities are willing to sacrifice in order to maintain the peeling veneer of security for our soldiers and our children.  The people who make such decisions are lumpen bureaucrats, who refuse to see that hope is not a course of action, but who see clearly that allowing the Second Amendment to apply to their captive audiences will require some added responsibility on their risk-averse part.  It is literally a passive yet lethal stance that feeds into the pop media culture that simply cannot trust our military to be anything but the underclass that is whipped to barely-latent murderous fury just waiting to be unleashed.  It is absurd, contemptuous, and deadly.

(H/T to the Daily Timewaster)