Friday, March 14, 2014

Fools and Blowhards

My answer to Charles Krauthammer's op ed of 13 March:

Krauthammer starts from the false premise that Putin has an expansionist agenda. That in itself precludes any intelligent resolution to the Ukrainian crisis. The point is that Putin simply used Crimea as a negotiating chip to make the EU / US stop the support for the Kiev coup d'etat by thoroughly unsavoury characters. Putin hoped to restore the uneasy (but workable) status quo ante by allowing noises in Crimea about separation. The West would not play, thinking perhaps at the start that Putin was bluffing. He was not bluffing and the result of the Sunday's referendum in Simferopol is a foregone conclusion. Crimea will go back to Russia on short order and that's that.. Nothing president Obama can do about it with or without Charles Krauthammer's unsolicited help. The second stage of Putin's plan is open at this point but will not be much different from the first scenario. The West will either abandon doing mischief in Russia's backyard and agree on a mutually acceptable compromise, or Russia will annex the eastern regions of Ukraine. Again, my reading of the Kremlin strategy that this is going to be done swiftly, before anything in a way of an military opposition can be cobbled up to thwart it or make it long and ugly. Russia will swallow the economic consequences which will be harsh but not catastrophic, given that it has now alternative oil and gas markets in the East. Once the carveout is complete, Putin will sit on his hands and let the new bubble burst in Kiev, much like he did with Yuschenko between 2004-2010. Lesson for the fools and blowhards ? Well, Charles will tell you there will be none.

Left - Right Chasm Destroying US Democracy

Americans appear to live in a bubble. As I noted in my first blog here, some things US politicians do are so far in the left field that one would normally inquire about theirr sanity. Carter's mission to save the hostages in Tehran, Reagan's "joke" about outlawing the evil empire, Madeleine Albright's radio appeal in ridiculously accented SerboCroat to the people of Serbia to topple Milosevic, Dick Cheney travelling to Baku to convince Aliev to stop selling oil to Putin,  these are all exhibits, not of simply bad judgment but an astounding lack of  grasp of how the world operates.  There seems to be a large blind spot in the Americans' view of the world (and their own place in it), which sometimes translates into what the British socialist historian E.P. Thompson described as "dangerous craziness".  I am mentioning the political affiliation of the eminent academic to make a point : my best guess is that most Americans would instantly dismiss such a view of themselves as coming from an ideological adversary and/or an avowed America-hater. It is the property of their cultural blind spot that any negative view of America - or aspects of it - can be explained  by envy or a hostile animus to democracy.  There is no valid external view of the US if it is critical.  Write an op-ed piece to NY Times criticizing American "exceptionalism" and you are a KGB thug even though you cried at the funeral of Soviet dissident because you recognized him as a great Russian patriot.

    Problem is, Solzhenitsyn, who defined the archetypical Russian patriot's attitude to communism, distrusted America about as much as Putin does.  Why ?  It is simple.  If you are an American University graduate you would be revolted at a Saudi cleric's green light to marrying off a nine-year old. But you can't understand why the rest of the world is revolted by American politicos with average personal wealth in millions going berserk over a piece of legislation which guarantees that when a person is sick the first concern of a health-care industry would not be the prospect of making money off him or her.  You can't understand the revulsion because you are an American Idiot, who does not grasp the external view of himself.  You can't grasp why caring for the sick and helpless cannot be just another business, the same way a religion-obssessed paedophile can't grasp that a nine year-old is not a piece of ass. 

    There is yet another problem that compounds the issue.  If what passes for the liberal point of view these days had a corrective effect, perhaps there would be hope for America. But it doesn't. All it does is provide an irreconcilable alternative political fantasy. In the US foreign policy this projects as the absurd "humanitarian" wars, in which a part of country can be cleansed ethnically from people falsely accused of practicing ethnic cleansing, or a dictator in a country with a quarter of its population displaced by internal strife, accused of violating laws of war, at a moment he appears to be winning. 

   Domestically, of course, this supplies the run-away political platform which does its part in shredding the political fabric of the country.  For example, it was absolutely unnecessary and politically destructive for an American president to weigh in on one side of issues like gay marriage, the so-called Zero-ground Mosque in New York City,  or even inserting himself into an open judicial process in the trial of a killer of a black teenager. 

  I have attached Robert Reich's "Treason" pamphlet above as an example of the complementing demagoguery.  Note the hyperbolic narrative designed to set off political rage: "a small group of extremely wealthy people [seeking] to systematically destroy the US government",  "finding and bankrolling new candidates",  "intimidating or bribing many...senators and block all [sic] proposed legislation",  "taking over state governments",  "running a vast PR convince...of certain big lies", "buying up the media, so the public cannot know the truth".  It is not just the conservatives but also the majority of liberals who should be turned off by this inane rhetoric. How is this different from Vyshinski's denunciations during Stalin's Moscow show trials of 1930's ?  The GOP are painted as mad dogs, wreckers, enemies of the people.

   I call Reich's conspiratorial scenario inane because it promises no effect other than fostering a climate of distrust and loathing. It is not that it is completely false view of the political Right in the US, it is just that is articulated in a manner to that it ceases to be a  a political viewpoint within a civilized political dialogue. Instead it becomes an ad-hominem harangue whose sole purpose is to declare a dissenting political platform repugnant and destructive.        

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The End of the Politics of Mindless ?

        It seems pretty clear by now that no one of any political weight in Washington or  Ottawa reads my blog. Which I would say is sad given that I offer an essential point of view that describes me, as the Soviet dissidents under Brezhnev used to say, inakomyslyashiy.  Curiously, the Mainstream Media in the West, is now the official POV of the nachalniki (ie. the big cheeses), and no-one pays any attention to those "thinking differently" except for the Department of Homeland Security analyzing the NSA intercepts of their smart phones. 

        Of course, in the eyes of the average Joe and Jane, as in the Eastern Europe of my youth,  the mainstream media are professional liars, starting with their describing themselves as "mainstream".  The only difference is that the average anglo today does not have access to intelligent, consistent political viewpoint to shed light on the two official versions of the same political drool. If, for example, I do not believe in equating homosexual partnerships with traditional institution marriage, it instantly disqualifies me in one camp as a pervert who would deny gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered folks their civil rights. In the other version naturally I would be a closet fairy who would give them every civil right except the rights of parenthood if they are not parents.  Strange as it may seem, on a certain level these two political stances are equivalent - in being vacuous.  Like in the former USSR, the different personal creeds and obsessions, do not obstruct the party line (though sometimes they were at variance with it).  Dick Cheney may be a supporter of gay marriage, but his view of the Maidan putsch in Kiev coincides with that of Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and president Obama. It was not a putsch: it was a revolution of Ukrainian people in revolt of Putin's henchmen who would deny them the pearly gate of EU.  All of them deplore the thugs in Crimea who deny the OSCE observers (the verb derived from the Czech word obsírati - to 'pooh around') access. None of them would so much as peep for an investigation into the identity of the Maidan snipers who apparently were picking their targets equally among the rioters and the riot police !  Imagine the scandal if they were to be linked to the legitimate government of Ukraine which put out an international arrest warrant on the former president Yanukovich for mass murder.

       Henry Kissinger may have difficulty reading some aspects of the current conflict, but I don't.  The happenings in the Ukraine were prefigured by the Western posture in Libya and Syria, and had I been asked, I would have predicted that Putin would react forcefully if confronted by the meddling and bungling US-led shit-disturbers in his back yard.    Kissinger's reading of course is right on many points, and his viewpoint stands in stark contrast to the bluster and bleating heard everywhere west of Dnieper. He understands the importance of Ukraine to Russia and that it far exceeds any political gambits that Putin may have had in mind.  Above all,  good old Henry understands that this issue far surpasses whoever might be sitting in the Kremlin. Had some strongman (like the late general Lebed') been in power, Russian tanks would have been in Kiev before the Sochi Olympics' closing ceremonies.  The former player of the China-card (which somehow ended in Putin's hand too)  is also sharply critical of the EU's handling of Ukraine, anabashedly accusing its 'bureaucratic dilatoriness' with turning negotiations into a crisis. All good !  Kissinger, in my view,  however does not quite grasp the Crimea power play by Putin.  It is a carefully chosen piece of strategy, which I believe is calculated to extract a price for the West's repeated unprovoked harrassment of Russia and to dissuade Washington and Brussels from trying the heavy-handed tactics again. It is also a revanche for the ugly assault of the West on Russia's traditional Balkan's ally, Serbia, and the forceful separation from its cultural cradle, Kosovo. It happened under Yeltsin who was the friendliest Russian leader to the West since Catherine. The unilateral proclamation of Kosovo independence in 2008, on Putin's watch, left the Russians slighted and humiliated but also resolved.  It might have happened to the Serbian holy land around Kosovo Polje; it will not happen to Russia's holy land of Kievan Rus. There are powerful motivators for Putin to make the West eat the humble pie. 
       The US policy makers would do well to take the another look. Hillary's sophomoric parallels won't do.  Is it possible that she is so out of touch she does not know the type of argument she deploys has been a staple of ridicule known as the Godwin's Law ? Incidentally, also someone apparently forgot to tell Madam Secretary that the United Kingdom still holds Munich to be a valid agreement, based on the unalienable right of a people to self-determination. In the unapologetic view of Whitehall, it was Hitler who abrogated the treaty when he took over Bohemia and Moravia in 1939. 

   Putin is an exceptionally shrewd politician who knows how far he can go. I don't think it was his plan to annex Crimea outright, but to hold it as a bargaining chip to make the US and EU more amenable to his point of view.  When he was snubbed, he opted for plan B.  The referendum may still be an open-ended play. If Russia gets what it wants : most importantly the implementation of the accord signed by Yanukovich with the West (Putin has already indicated he does not expect him to return),  recall of the new "governors" in the East, repeal of the despicable language edict, and the absurd "lustration" laws which in effect bar Russian speakers from political office, the plebiscite may be postponed and the region will eventually settle for quasi-independent status with no political satraps from Kiev and Ukrainian military on the peninsula.  But Russians will not de-escalate since from their point of view it was not they who escalated the situation in the first place.  I think secretary Kerry has some leg-work to do.  Let's hope someone at the State Department can decipher the riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Preferably someone who knows the correct Russian word if you want to be friendly with them. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mike Duffy's Ethical Charter

Mike Duffy's Monday's speech to Senate was a real eye-popper. Mr Duffy informed the chamber that he had hailed from a hospital where was undergoing cardiac tests. "My doctors say the stress of this proceeding is toxic to my heart", he said in his update on the particulars of the conspiracy aganst him by his former friends. 

Hmmm.....  Just exactly who do you think you are kidding, Senator ? 

      I assume Mr Duffy suffers from a common problem among politicians which can be defined as the inability to gauge how far one can go with utter bunk before he or she can be called out on it.  That will-to-blindness prevents him from seeing that blaming his heart condition on an attempt to defame him is just too bizzare given the convincing evidence of immodesty in his lifestyle.  And how can one call  the PMO solution to one's reading of Senate trough rules "a monstrous consipracy", if one is a willing participant in it ?  How can Mike Duffy triumphantly wave a second cheque as proof of Harper government's fraudulent duplicity if the cheque is made out to him (again) ?   Does that make Mike Duffy a victim ? 

     No, it doesn't. He has blindly blown the whistle on himself !  The Nigel Wright's faux pas belongs to the low level, tolerable corruption, found in any government, and in my reading of the Senate mini-scandals, it has preoccupied the media simply because the established outlets are desperate to find something comparable in size with Harper to the sponsorship swill that sank the Liberals.  To that end, Mike Duffy's claiming his PEI house while staying in Ottawa, Pamela Wallin's charging the Senate on questionable travel, and Bev Oeda's orange juice expense, will have to do, given that Mr Clean from Alberta has been notoriously unwilling to get mixed up in the bigger schemes. So, Mike Duffy can help in upsizing the scandal he himself wrought. 

     Assuming he is telling the truth,  had Senator Duffy had a sense of integrity , he would have refused point blank to be implicated in a pathetic coverup concocted by the PMO. If he had evidence that what he claimed was ok by the Senate rules, he would have said 'no' to Nigel Wright.  He did not have anything to hide. So why to repay anything ?  Why would he have agreed to a stupid, self-incriminating ploy, if his claims sheet was clean ?  The tale just simply does not make any sense. By accepting the PMO hush money, Mike Duffy more or less agreed to stain his senatorial reputation. He pleaded guilty to a crime he did not commit to get his partners to pay for it.  And that is about all there is to the affair.  He could not keep his nose clean. He has become a part of the conspiracy he himself called "monstrous" and should be kicked out of the Senate.  

Sunday, September 29, 2013


    Mark Steyn knows whereof he speaks.  The Right's funny man (and his insights into the foibles of the Left are truly hilarious) often gets his facts right, which is refreshing these days when willingness to stay true to reality strains most commentators and politicos beyond their capacity. The phenom that first drew notice with president Reagan who at times cast events from his motion pictures into history, has become sort of a sport nowadays.  After the heap of factual gaffes from Joe Biden, it hardly is worthy of mention that Ted Cruz placed Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler (to which Cruz compared the GOP handling of the president's Health Reform) in the forties.  No, Ted, the Munich Agreement was signed in 1938. 

   It is then to Steyn's credit that he distinguishes politically between Europe and North America when assessing the merits of national health policy.  In his latest op-ed Steyn bores into Europeans and "progressive" Americans (progressive in quotes)  for  rag[ing] at the immorality of of the U.S. medical system (no quotes around immorality).  Well, not all Europeans would be given to rage, but as a group they would sure deplore the U.S. not recognizing universal access to affordable medical care, if not as a fundamental human right, then simply as a hallmark of a modern Judeo-Christian civilization. Truly, Europeans of no political stripe would feel comfortable with this particular American exceptionalism.  To them national health is not a question of political beliefs or social justice but one of cultural hygiene.  This is about who we are. We don't look at sickness and decrepitude and see bona fide commercial opportunities.

But speak to a true GOP patriot, or Mark Steyn, about virtues of a profit motive in dispensing health care and you may as well be talking to a Saudi cleric about the conjugal fitness of a nine-year old schoolgirl.  There will be something missing in the viewpoint, some essential insight that says, no, this cannot be right today, even if it may have been tolerable before. Why is America opposing universal, simple, national Health Care one-hundred and thirty years after Bismarck ?  Glad you asked because it's the wrong question.  The question should be, who in America opposes that ?  The answer of course is, first it is those who make big money from commercialized medicine as it is today. Who else ?  Those who will act as their advocates (for some of that money,  of course).  Who else ? Those who can be persuaded by the ones who benefit from the status quo and their selfless campaigners,  that the prospective users of health care benefit from paying way too much for what is provided to them. That's about it, folks.  Everyone else must be, pace Steyn, an un-American alien or a liberal stooge. 

And yet the case against the commercial health insurance is fairly simple to understand.  It is, frankly speaking, an institutionalized robbery. There can never be fair market value in the provision of health services, because the effects are imponderable.  When you insure a house, a vehicle, family jewellery, the object is specific and the covered losses are specific.  You don't cover a workshop machinery wholesale against general, non-specific breakdowns.  There is no point of doing that since most of the hardware will break down sooner or later and the accumulated premiums need to assure the insurer a return on investment. The insurer would have to plot claims losses over indefinite service life of the machines, and the risk of their breaking down rises exponentially as the workshop ages. This would make the premiums too high in the early years of the coverage to compensate for the latter years.  The insurance scheme would not be attractive for the buyer if there were scores of insured parties coming into the picture, subsidizing the older workshops, without guarantee of return if the party goes out of business.  It is, as Steyn says of Social Security, a Ponzi scheme. (He of course liberally overlooks the small detail that no Charlie Ponzi is actually stealing from Social Security).  As long as you, the insurer, can build up clientele, you are ok. As soon as the workshops start to break down, they no longer present a viable risk. Statistically, they will continue to break down with an ever-increasing frequency. If you don't get enough healthy workshops to pay for the sick ones, you are out of business. 

If health insurance is a commercial contract then a gas station holdup is a commercial contract. You empty the cash register; the robber lets you live. Fair exchange, isn't it ? What's a few bucks compared to human life ?   Whoa, the market economist will protest:  a business transaction assumes a voluntary exchange. How could a holdup be fair business if one side is forced to transact by threats against their life ?  Good observation, I say, and one that directly addresses commercial health services.   So, what is voluntary about health insurance ?  Do you want to pay us, ma'am, or would you prefer to kick the bucket ?  It's up to you, hey, no pressure.  How about not insuring your kid ?  Hey, don't get all worked up about it !  It is clearly a commercial option if your kid has just had a bone-marrow transplant operation. Your premiums are going to go through the roof !  Think it over !

Yes, the element of fraud is built deeply into the medical insurance business. People who need medical insurance the most are by definition the least attractive customers to the providers.  Neither side actually wants to transact business over anyone's health. A person with a pre-existing condition knows his buying insurance only hastens his bankruptcy (which of course would make him eligible for Medicaid) and an insurer knows that such a person does not ask him to be a an "insurer" but a benefactor.  Both parties will have a built-in interest to defraud the other, by misrepresenting on the one hand, the state of one's health,  and on the other, the benefits of the policy. 

Steyn becomes laughable when he affects that a National Health Care system is impossible in the USA logistically because it is a country of over three hundred million. Really ? 

I am entirely ok with the assessment that Obamacare is a dud that lacks the thing that Obama lacks: strength of conviction.  It will be a bureaucratic nightmare, no doubt. It will be a confusing Byzantine labyrinth, full of loopholes. People and companies will be forced into exchanges that are inferior to plans they have today.  Steyn has the right gut feeling about this.  Where we differ is that I believe that the the hope for a true health care reform in the US was destroyed the moment the president abandoned the public health insurance option. A single-payer system is the way to go, and a robust national health policy probably cannot be effected without it.  The government-run insurance, competing with private providers, is a much simpler and much more effective tool, doing what governments around the world have been doing for decades and in a number of areas other than health care. Setting minimum standards, modus operandi, ensuring funding through income tax, or payroll tax provisions.  All this of course is doable in a country that figured out how to put people on the moon.  One cannot get rid of government bureaucracy but one can right-size it. A government-run national health service in this regard would be much easier to administer (and police) than multi-tiered government subsidies, a myriad of local "marketplaces" and co-ops, state-run programs, Medicaid and Medicare. No, the problem with Obamacare is not that National Health Plans are too complicated for a country like the US as Steyn argues.  It is simply that you cannot effect a health reform in the US  if you are willing to underwrite a political compromise that surrenders its most effective tools.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thinking the Unthinkable about the Ghouta Massacre

You have to hand it to the Russians. They will not take 'yes' for an answer and they will not take the cover, that the deal they made Assad sign offers them as allies to a mass murderer.  It seems that Lavrov and Putin are hellbent on discrediting the "evidence" pinning the dreadful August attack in Ghouta on Assad's military.  Just exactly what you would not expect them to do if the balance of facts was really tipped the way the mainstream US media outlets are unanimous in saying it is - against Assad. And the reason why no TV panel or newspaper op-ed analyze with probity the likelihood  (even as a possibility) that the anti-Assad freedom fighters perpetrated the war's most revolting massacre, is not because it is impossible, since it plainly is possible, but because it is unthinkable. It is unthinkable to admit that the US was complicit in such a heinous deed. Unfortunately, the logic of the situation exludes the middle: it was either Russia or the USA whose proxies in the war wasted the lives of over fourteen hundred civilians and four hundred children to pursue their military and political ends in the war. It was either Russia or the USA who were ultimately responsible for a cold-blooded mass murder. It is clear that the Russians don't like that accusing finger pointed at them one bit.  

Yesterday, the deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov returned from Damascus with a new dossier given to him by the Syrians  ostensibly implicating the rebels in the atrocity.  This would add to their factual database, the existence of which as is not known to people who only follow the western media, includes samples of 'homemade' sarin bombs used by the rebels and collected by Russian experts in Khan al-Assal, earlier this year.  Despite litanies and protestations to the contrary, it could have very well been the FSA or any of the jihad groups who orchestrated and executed the attack.
The arguments for the Russian advance are clear and easy to follow:

1) It would have been strategically irrational for Assad to resort to large-scale chemical attack on an urban area: Almost everyone on both sides is agreed on this one.  The timing of the attack could not have been more improbable, given that since spring Assad and his Hezbollah and Iranian allies have been on the offensive and winning strategically important territory.  To risk an American intervention (to which president Obama pledged himself in December 2012 by issuing a 'red line' for the use of chemial weapons) would have been, as the surgeons say, counter indicative. It certainly would not have to help Assad any to launch (or to allow to launch) a mass attack targetting civilians at this particular juncture.  Western analysts attempted to talk around this issue by saying that it might have not been an action approved my the high command, or that it was an impulsive act by Assad's brother Maher, known for his ruthlessness. Still, even if such action is clearly a possibility it does not answer the argument satisfactorily.  The Japanese were known to resort to "banzai" suicide attacks in hopeless situations. They were not known to launch them during offensive operations.  The military effect of using gas unsystematically in attacks on an urban area where the positions of the adversary forces were largely would not have offset the risks and this certainly seemed to be the case, given the reported cases of dozens of poison Assad troops penetrating into the area.

2) Despite disingenuous assurances of the pro-rebel politicos and pundits,  the rebels have chemical weapons and used them elsewhere: The Russians claim to have proof that the rebels used "homemade" sarin-based munitions which do not originated from Assad's stockpiles.  It is assumed that Russia, as an ally would have been given the formula of the government munitions.  But it is not only the Russians who have made such a claim. Significantly, Carla del Ponte, a UN inspector said there were some strong (even if as yet inconclusive) indications that the rebels used sarin. The former Swiss prosecutor for war crimes in Yugoslavia can hardly be accused of championing Russian allies among war-crime perpetrators.  She is well remembered for her zeal in going after the Serbian war criminals, real and imaginary.  And of course, it's the rebels themselves who are making shambles of the claims of their chemical warfare innocence, made on their behalf.  They proudly display their chemical know-how and operational fitness on Youtube videos (here, here and here).

3) The UN report released on Monday (9/16/2013) does not do much if anything to dispel the suspicion: The Russians may be very clever in their disdain of the UN report on the use of chemical weapons in East Ghouta but it may be just they are seeing that while it nominally eschews "assigning blame" it actually does just that.  The decision, taken ahead of time, not to analyze the components to identify positively the origin of the munitions, seems to have been taken with the express intent to blame the Assad's army on a simple finding that sarin was used.  Mind you, even if they were positively identified, it would not remove the suspicion that the attack was staged, given the length of the conflict, porous borders and as many as twenty thousands foreign nationals involved, massive defections from Assad's military and the real possibility that scores of among military objects overrun was a chemical weapons depot. From an exchange between Russia's envoy at the UN and the head of the investigation, Ake Sellstrom, it has emerged that the weapons fired into the area were sophisticated missiles dispersing the payload prior to hitting ground.  Pace Samantha Power, this  is a smoking gun in Assad's hand but a level-headed assessment of such a finding would be that it could also be a sophisticated, planned military operation with either captured stock, or stock  imported into the country from elsewhere. The idea to restrict the UN mandate to a simple binary finding and then to use incomplete technical data of the finding for politically motivated conjectures, does not speak well of a sense of integrity.   The UN report actually does not shed any light on a slew of important issues most importantly if sarin was the only toxic material used, and was all of it delivered by a single method via single source, i.e. missiles.  Knowing this is crucially important, as evidently chemical agents were used by both sides, and in this case then the attack itself may have been "spoofed", or its scale purposly extended by planting toxic chemicals in civilian areas by means other than bombardment.

4) Is there evidence of staging on the videos coming out of East Ghouta on the day of the attack ?:  There is no doubt that the horrific images of victims of mass chemical weapons on the whole depict real people and the effects of poisoning.  The problem is that at dozens of videos have emerged within hours from areas which were supposedly highly toxic, and were - by the evidence of the videos themselves -  lethal to life not protected against the effect of sarin. The implication of the video evidence is that if it was not orchestrated, dozens of people became aware independently or by communication with each other that a large scale chemical attack was launched against their neghbouhoods, determined which areas were affected, procured the necessary protection to go into these places (gas masks and suits), went into the targeted neighbourhoods, and removed the very sick, bringing scores of them to hospitals where people took the videos of convulsed bodies, and posted the footage on the internet...all of that within two or three hours.  The improbability of this happening must be appreciated.  In terms of human psychology, the shock following such a horrendeous calamity, and the fear of a toxic gas spreading would have overwhelmed the place, initially . However there is no evidence of this on the first videos; they seemed to have been taken with professional detachment, showing chaotic situations such as one would expect. But what one would not expect on them are samaritans handling the very sick themselves being unprotected or not adequately protected.  If these people were actually relatives of the victims bringing them for medical care, how did they achieve immunity from the effects of sarin ?  Some of the scenes will likely have been staged and cut into scenes of the brutal effects of actual poisoning. 

5) Large scale massacres by the opposition were perpetrated before by islamic rebels with the express intent to blame Assad for the atrocity:   The Houla atrocity was initially blamed on Assad also but given the MO of the assault (butchery, mutilations by cutting implements) and witnesses testifying as to actual sequence of events, few now believe Assad's forces were responsible. Merkel's reluctance to join Obama's punitive strike against Syria doubtless relates to German media, which is much more critical of the rebels' methods than the US outlets. Der Spiegel reconstructed the Houla massacre and it points to the rebels, little doubt.  It is interesting to compare the video shot by the rebels of the Houla masacre to the images of the Ghouta carnage. Note the awareness of those present of the likely effect of images of dead children and facial mutilations on the U.N. and the civilized world. Dead children are used prominently to provoke visceral disgust. However, the way of one of the people at the scene handles the lifeless body of a child with a cavernous wound to his face, all but gives the authorship away.

6)  Evidence of planned false-flag operation preceding the attack:   The two images above, are cut out of Daily Mail Online article run originally on January 29. 2013.  It was taken off the paper's pages four days later but was available through an Internet archive Wayback Machine until the page was disabled.  (You can still see the article for a few seconds but the pages is then pulled)  Why would anyone want to tamper with the record if this really was a canard, if the US has 'high confidence' in the intelligence that says it really was Assad, and the  UN inspectors' report really (as Samatha Power claims) implicate Assad ?  There have been other 'leaks' purporting to show that this was a CIA-run or CIA-vetted operation but I am content with showing the curious disapperance of what was once deemed news fit to print in a major British newspaper.  The ministry of Truth now denies it has ever been printed.   As a crooked cop called Whitehouse (I kid you not !) says to Mel Gibson's character whom he betrays in The Edge of Darkness :

"It is never what it is, Tom;  it is always what it can be made to look like".

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Putin's Osotogari

George Friedman, the chairmain of the global intelligence think tank Stratfor comes to some predictable conclusions in his latest op-ed (Syria, America and Putin’s Bluff, 10/9/2013). Almost from the moment that the Syrian foreign minister announced in Moscow on Monday that his government welcomes the Russian proposal, the reactions in the US were either excessively skeptical or outright negative. From the president’s understated “potentially positive development” (which was really should have been a “potentially the solution to the crisis”) to the CNN cynical panels whose members see the Russian proposal to transfer the barbaric weapons under international as a “sham” or a “ploy” or, perhaps most bizzarely, a stalling tactic.  I say bizzarely because had Obama been resolute in his conviction that Assad’s action merited at least 200 tomahawks, the Syrian dictator would have been by now scrambling to find some of his command posts and airfields in a hopeless rubble.  So the last thing one would want to do here is to accuse the Russians of seeking to delay the overt act of war. Unless of course, one likes to parade one’s lack of smarts. No, the Russians are not playing for time. They simply saw in Kerry’s letting the cat out of the bag an opportunity and acted on it. Swiftly. Decisively.   

       Friedman believes Putin is motivated by a desire to punch above his weight, insinuating that Russia is a world-power capable of brokering a political solution to the Syrian crisis.   In his analysis, Friedman sees Kremlin acting out a revenge against the US for the humiliation of its traditional ally Serbia, in chasing Milosevic out of Kosovo in 1999 and making the historical cradle of Serbia independent. Likewise, Putin is said to be  incensed by what he perceives as meddling in Russia’s internal affairs by the western-financed NGOs.  The encroachment on a Russian sphere of influence, both in the Balkans and in Ukraine little later created a deep sense of resentment, he argues. Friedman believes – not without justification – that Putin took his due on Kosovo in the Georgia conflict of summer 2008.  He smashed the US-trained military of Georgia and liberated the former ethnic enclaves annexed to Georgia during the Soviet days as a payback for the unilateral declaration of Kosovo independence that year.  Since then, the theory goes,  Putin wants to present Russia as a world-power, restoring its Soviet-era ties with Cuba and cozying to the leftist regimes in South America.   All of this projects to Russia’s attitude toward Syria, a Soviet client since 1970. Putin is trying to deny Obama a payback for beating up on “a US client” Georgia in 2008. He has resolved to keep Assad in power. It is a “core issue” for him to maintain the illusion of Russia as a world power.    What can one say about all of this ?  The Stratfor chief may have some points right but the overall analysis is poor and for all intents and purposes useless. In truth it is not as much an analysis as it is a statement of Friedman’s own perception of the US – Russian relationship as the continuation of the Cold War “zero sum” game. 

      The Stratfor chief is far from Metternich’s perception of Russia as a potentially key player in the “global concert” and very close to the traditional paranoid British view of Russia as the vicious bear wont to claw its way into the honeycombs of  its world Empire.  Both views, the latter infecting the US cold-war view of Russia, are deficient. Russia’s traditional preoccupations with stability and outward unity make it predisposed to reactionary backwardness. This may have been no problem for Metternich, whom was no apostle of progress and modernity. But it certainly will cause frictions with cultures and economies which are more dynamic, who will eventually see Russia’s water-wheel as one running on backwater.   The pro-western politicians in Russia itself (the last of whom is Medvedev) know this and seek to change the MO on which Russians operate.  Putin himself, despite Brzezinski’s perception of him as a Mussolini wannabe, attempts to straddle the traditional opposing forces in Russia.  He oscillates between pragmatism needed to make Russia  an economically viable modern power and traditional Russian patriotism rooted in a sense of the country’s special mission which formed with the fall of the Greek Christian Byzantium as Russia’s guide and spiritual protector.  There is, consequently, somewhat of an inner struggle within Vladimir Vladimirovich, which gets played out in his dealings with the West.   To his fans, his perhaps most endearing personal trait is what the Russians call ‘bodrostj’, a cheerful self-confidence and unabashed sincerity. I think this was picked up on by George W. Bush, who shares with Putin certain charming naivete. He certainly did not see in Putin a poseur in search of an empire,  someone overwhelmed by the designs of history and his own place in them.     

       Russia’s foreign policy post-Yeltsin seems to reflect Putin’s personal struggles.  One thing that makes the Russian president an attractive partner to the West is that his (and Medvedev’s) focus is unhesitantingly on internal development of Russia, its economy and prosperity. He is not an ideologue, a crypto-communist,  despite the remark that the Soviet Union downfall was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century, he made in addressing the Duma in 2005.  

      The remark was badly misinterpreted by Brzezinski and others. It reflects the patriotic, not the ideological side of Putin. He believes that the USSR for all its faults offered a sense of security and belonging to Russians.  He refuses to throw away the collective experience of suffering and the heroism of the Russian people in the Second World War (which in Russian has an internal marker, dating from Hitler’s attack in 1941 to his expulsion late in 1944, called the ‘Great Patriotic War’).  In the breakup and economic restructuring, tens of millions lost their livelihood, many among the Russian brightest and best educated reduced to the most horribly undignified existence. The remarks were also to convey Putin’s deepest concerns for the twenty-five-or-so million Russians caught during the breakup outside the borders of the Russian Federation. They were scapegoated by the new authorities for the ills of the Soviet system, denied citizenship, social services and schooling in Russian, equal access to justice, sometimes denied the right to practice Christian religion (in Islamic Central Asia). In addition to these, Russians were the victims of  violence at the hands of criminal gangs and nationalist paramilitaries. Hundreds of thousands of Russian ex-pats were expulsed or forced to emigrate by intolerable conditions.  Thousands were killed. The suffering of non-Russian ethnics in the breakup was even more intense and widespread as ancient national and religious animosities flared up in many places of the former Union.  It may not have been the greatest geopolitical catastrophe, certainly not greater than the world wars, but it was a huge social and humanitarian catastrophe, no doubt.  The civilizational collapse and widespread lawlessness that characterized the breakup of the USSR no doubt also figures hugely in Putin’s reading the situation in Syria and his estimates of what Syria post-Assad would look like.

     Unlike George Friedman, I observe that Putin is free of the pomposity and bluster that was so characteristic of the Soviet leaders after Stalin. Quite to the contrary: he seems to thrive on underplaying Russia’s power. It has been now fourteen years that Russia has belonged to Putin. During this time, there has been not a single instance on the international scene where Putin overplayed his hand, although opportunities there were plenty.  He could have, through his proxies crushed the Orange revolution in the Ukraine. He did not do that – preferring to let the anti-Russian rivals destroy themselves through internal fighting.  He could have attempted to force Poland and the Czechs out of the “shield” business making it simply too costly for them. He could have been much more forceful  the over the treatment of ethnic Russians when dealing with Estonia and Moldova. He could have walked into Tbilisi and forced Saakashvili to flee (which he was on his way to do, anyway). The American could not have done a thing, mired not just Iraq and Afghanistan, as Friedman notes, but in the midst of the biggest financial collapse since 1929. He didn’t.  But even before that, in the second war in Chechnya in 1999, as Yeltsin’s right hand,  Putin showed remarkable restraint. He  prevailed on the military not to use ham-handed frontal assaults like Grachev on Grozny in 1995 but instead profit from the superior numbers to deny the Chechen warlords lines of communication. The Russian army took their bastion, Gudermes, without nearly any fighting giving the jihadis a narrow corridor to escape.  This is not a behaviour of an self-obsessed satrap who imagines himself on the top of the world.  Stratfor analysts would do well to read some of Putin’s speeches in the parliament when he was prime minister fighting with the likes of Zhirinovski or Zyuganov.  He, unlike professional political idiots like McCain and Graham, knows where Russia stands among the economic powers and does not have any illusions about it.  Again, I am hard pressed to see grandiose master plan in what Putin does, or for that matter, any reasonable politician in Russia wants to do. As for Russia’s friendly relations with some of the leftist regimes I would not read anything more to that than Russia exercising its global options and searching for new markets.

      Russia’s policy toward Syria has been remarkably consistent, as it was during the Libyan crisis. For reasons explained above Putin abhors the kind of chaos created by a forceful removal of dictator. From his point of view, bad as Ghaddafi was, he posed no danger to anyone (any more). His misrule was preferable to a state of lawless anarchy and formation of another focal base of terrorist operations in the region.  Same as in Syria, except Russia has some strategic interests in Syria given its proximity to Caucasus and Russia energy supplies and routes. Her Islamic “problem” in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan is exclusively Sunni militancy, specifically Wahhabism that overshadowed in 1990’s the native mild forms of Sufism and Shiite practice (mostly in Azerbaijan) in the region. US anti-Assad alliance with Turkey and the Gulf states directly threatens vital Russia’s interests both political and economic. Russians  worked diligently to kill the Nabucco project and would not want to see it resuscitated or replaced by another “alternate” supply route that competes with Gazprom’s. Politically, Putin has pretty much cleaned up the North Caucasus of the dangerous militancy and has no intention to have another war there. Especially not now, when Kadyrov has built in Chechnya a working model of cooperation between the Federation and an Islamic state within its borders.  The Chechen autonomous republic has become one of the fastest growing regions in Russia.  

      Is there a Putin’s  “bluff” in Syria ?  I don’t think so.  Russia wants to have enough influence in the region to assure its baseline requirements for stability and prosperity. Despite the western media’s protestations, its foreign policy  is not welded to Assad’s regime, and there have been noises coming out of the Kremlin that Russia would like to see him go.  It is just that Putin does not want his departure to precipitate chaos and inter-communal mayhem that would surely follow, if he were to abdicate now. The danger seems even greater because the US State Department insists on a narrative that is simply not reflective of the current reality.  Even if the secularists among the armed rebels were numerically stronger, and this is far from certain now than it was eighteen months ago, the units and brigades are uncoordinated, led by commanders who are often at cross-purposes and, something that does not get much play time at CNN but is an ever-increasing part of the picture, often degenerate into criminal gangs bent on looting and taking hostages for profit.  The islamist rebel groups are often  enlarged by young men disillusioned by the lack of dedication of the more secular FSA units to the “cause”. 

    Putin understands that the chemical attack east of Damascus, whether hatched by the lower ranks within Assad’s military or as a provocation by the rebels, was a pretext for the US to tip the balance of power on the ground in favour of the regime opponents, now in retreat.  This is why Kerry’s “offhanded” remark in London basically shot that plan in the leg.  The Russians quickly prevailed on the Syrians to give up the chemical arsenal as they are strategically useless. Their existence can only be used to legitimize external aggression toward Syria. This was a masterful osotogari by Putin, effectively denying the military option to Obama as politically unsustainable.