Don’t Get Me STARTed

Uncle Volodya says, "He is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong."

The distinct possibility that the Republican-dominated (apparently, all it takes is one Republican for that situation to prevail) U.S. Senate may refuse to ratify the new START treaty negotiated by President Obama’s administration provoked a flurry of posts both for and against. For that reason I figured I’d give it a miss, because it had been done to death. Or so I thought, until I saw this.

I suppose, on reflection, that reading the opinions of those almost totally disassociated from a given field isn’t time wasted, as long as you understand it’s purely a diversion, and that any accurate forecasting is likely to be a coincidence or something broadly self-evident. For example, if someone calling himself the Streetwise Toaster Repairman advised you to set up a margin account so you could go short on General Motors stock, you probably wouldn’t take it very seriously. If the Streetwise Piano Tuner leaned over your shoulder when you and your buddy were playing chess in the park and whispered, “I’d recommend the Panov-Bottvinik Attack”, you’d likely have a hard time not telling her to shut her pie-hole and go away.

Why, then, would you go to an economist for foreign policy analysis? Oh, quite a few people who have no background in military affairs or foreign policy feel quite qualified to comment on them, and their analysis is often rendered more credible by citations of professional opinions on the subject. You don’t have to know anything about the applications the latest Apple IPhone will run, for example, if you cite a prominent programmer or software engineer who describes them in layman’s terms, or include a link to the company’s marketing website. Trusting you see my point, let’s move on.

The reference article cites a single source; the hardcore-conservative Washington Times. You know; the paper started by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church to “spread the word about God to the world”. The one that ran a photoshopped photo of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan wearing a turban, opposite an hysterical story that suggested Kagan was part of an “ominous campaign” to bring Sharia law to America. For the record, Kagan was born and raised in New York City, and is Jewish. The Washington Times was started specifically to promote a conservative agenda, has lost money every year it has been in operation and is currently down to a circulation of less than 38,000.  The population of Washington, DC is just under 600,000.

That shouldn’t suggest reporter Bill Gertz is a know-nothing – during the latter days of Bill Clinton’s administration he was able to come up with some fantastic reports, owing to a leaker in the administration. Why, here’s Bill now, telling us how Russian Special Forces used truck convoys to move Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction out of Iraq and into Syria, Lebanon and probably Iran while the U.N. kept everyone distracted with its stalling. Oooo… and here’s the Roland missile story again, a perennial favourite. At least Gertz has enough sense not to cite the bogus story provided by U.S. Army Intelligence Officer Lt. Greg Holmes (which is where the Gertz story actually comes from) that French Roland missiles were found in an underground bunker, and that serial-number information revealed one of them was manufactured in 2002. In fact, the Roland production line shut down in 1993, and no more were made. The Roland 2, which was exported to Iraq, was last produced in 1988. Poland, whose soldiers discovered the missiles, apologized to France for the error. But here’s Bill Gertz, still pushing the serial-numbers-don’t-lie head fake. I particularly like the way the interview went a few paragraphs later, where the caller on the show asked why Saddam hadn’t used the weapons he did have, and Gertz informed her it was because the Russians and the French convinced him the U.S. would not invade, that they (Russia and France) would block the invasion in the U.N. There is absolutely nothing to substantiate this, and the U.S. had announced it would unilaterally invade if it could not gain consensus; France and Russia could have done nothing to stop it. No restrictions were placed on Saddam’s conventional weapons, and the short-range weapons Gertz describes are not weapons of mass destruction. Does Gertz believe nobody else can read? Does he think Saddam Hussein managed to rule over the country for years with an iron fist while having a brain of purest marmalade?

Anyway, be sure to pick up a copy of his book, “Enemies: How America’s Foes Steal Our Vital Secrets – And How We Let It Happen”.  Be assured he knows what he’s talking about – subpoenaed to reveal his sources in the espionage trial of Chinese engineer Chi Mak for revealing secret U.S. Navy information to China, he refused to testify, and his earlier participation in the violation of Grand Jury secrecy almost wrecked the state’s case.

Well, let’s not get bogged down in details. The entire premise is silly, because what the Washington Times is talking about is Missile Defense, not START.  Although both involve missiles, they are separate issues, like Catholicism and Aerobics. Russia is suspicious that Ballistic Missile Defense located in Poland, the Czech Republic or elsewhere in the region could not really be focused on Iran – a suspicion probably founded on the maximum range of Iran’s longest range missile, at 1,300 – 1500 km.  From Iran, that could reach Israel – and, judging by Israel’s noises about it despite nobody else expressing worry that they are a target, Israel would be the most likely target. The Arrow ABM system is already sited in Israel and deemed adequate to deal with the Shahab 3 threat, although Israel has apparently convinced the USA that it needs the even more advanced Arrrow 3, with the SM3 Standard missile.

The Shahab 3 cannot reach anything in Europe/Eurasia the USA cares about, except maybe Georgia, which would be the logical place to site an ABM tripwire against such an unlikely possibility. If the Shahab 3 could achieve double its present range, it couldn’t reach Warsaw or Prague from Tehran. All ABM systems in production to date, regardless what the computer-generated simulations show, experience a considerable degradation in probability against a crossing target – therefore, their highest accuracy is achieved against a target directly approaching on a steady bearing.

What might Iran be shooting at whereby the ideal defense would have the Iranian missile closing more or less directly on Poland or the Czech Republic? Why wasn’t Georgia a possibility? God knows Saakashvili would jump at it. And if the USA is so worried about Iran getting a nuclear weapon, why are they brokering an agreement to supply Iran with higher-enriched uranium that Iran has in its current stockpile?

The “secret talks” blasted here refer to a draft 10-year agreement to establish a Missile Defense sub-working group, which would allow the two nations to begin to cooperate on missile defense without affecting either nation’s missile defense arrangements in any way. It was not classified, and the Russians had already said they were not interested. I can imagine scenarios that more closely fit the “secret” mold without trying very hard.

Anyone who read all the way through the cited reference could not fail to notice the statement “Both gave speeches threatening that Russia would develop new offensive weapons unless Russia was included in a joint missile defense program with the US.” makes no sense at all. In the closing paragraph, as I already mentioned, Russia said in spring 2009 that they were not interested in being a part of a joint Russia/US missile defense agreement. But now they’re threatening to develop new offensive weapons if they’re not included in the program they said they had no interest in?

In fact, as Der Spiegel points out correctly here, Russia wants a ban on further expansion of missile defense to be included in the treaty. If that’s not the polar opposite of Russia arguing that they’ll piss in the pool if they don’t get to be part of missile defense with the USA, it’s at least 179 degrees out.

Finally, let’s look at the suggestion Obama is struggling to “get something, anything, that can be portrayed as an accomplishment in the aftermath of an electoral debacle”. If he is, he’s not struggling alone. Urging the ratification of START are The Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (both appointed by a conservative Republican president) and the entire uniformed leadership of the American military.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Republicans and their supporters would allow that the military knew something about military affairs. Once upon a time, in fact, you were a traitor if you argued that the U.S. should get out of Iraq instead of listening to the advice of “our Generals on the ground”. Suddenly, those generals know bupkis, compared with political popinjays like Senator James Inhofe, almost too stupid to breathe without close adult supervision, who believes global warming is caused by the sun; Senator Jim DeMint, who the Spartanburg Herald quoted as saying “an unmarried woman who sleeps with her boyfriend shouldn’t be allowed in the classroom”, and Senator Bob Corker, who expressed pleasure that the bailout of the Big Three U.S. automakers was on hold (when such was the case). All three are on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and committed to going against the advice of America’s professional military. The three of them have a combined total of one year’s military experience (James Inhofe, U.S. Army, 1957-1958. Perhaps he was part of some military experimental program that attempted to field soldiers so stupid that soldiers of other nations would feel pity for them, and surrender to them).

The lunatics are running the asylum. And some people apparently think the best way to manage lunacy – or perhaps cure it – is to listen to lunatics, and take them seriously.

Update: This article would appear to confirm Streetwise Professor’s contention that Russia does, in fact, insist on being involved in Missile Defense. Moscow’s position remains resistance to further expansion of the concept; that notwithstanding, if accurate he is absolutely correct to say Russia has reversed its disinterest in being a part of the initiative. In light of previously expressed intent to not participate, threatening talk about a new arms race is indeed inappropriate on Russia’s part, and not constructive.

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74 Responses to Don’t Get Me STARTed

  1. Alexei Cemirtan says:

    You make great points Mark,

    But Republicans being… well Republicans, is one thing. What I simply cannot understand is why on earth are Democrats so meek in pointing out that they do actually have THE most authoritative group in this question, the military, on their side? Since Obama got elected there just seems to be a trend of, not Republicans winning, but rather Democrats constantly shooting themselves in the foot. What is wrong with them? Are they masochistic or just too stupid NOT to lose?

    • marknesop says:

      Both, I’m afraid. Barring actual fistfights in the Senate (which I wouldn’t rule out), you can’t get rolled unless you let it happen. Who made the decision that even mundane pieces of legislation must pass by supermajority? What made the Democrats confident that they could enforce the sort of party discipline that would let them get a supermajority every time?

      Republicans are actors, and Democrats are thinkers – constantly tormented by self-doubt and overanalysis of the trivial. They simultaneously project a picture of indecisiveness and of the weakest beast in the herd, trailing a wounded limb. If not for the fact that Democrats are the party that more often initiates legislation (not always) that is in the national interest rather than just another rapacious scheme to line politicians’ pockets and those of their business cronies (which is pretty much pages 1 to index of the Republican political playbook), I’d celebrate their demise. Politicians who date back to when there really was no higher calling than public service would spin lathe-like in their graves fast enough to turn table legs if they could see what the institutions of government have become.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        A possible explanation for the weakness of US Democrats can be that they are a too heterogeneous group. Please note that the possible excessive heterogeneity is just an hypothesis, not something I can say for sure, because I don’t know enough about them. I base my hypothesis on the similarity between the US Democrats and the Italian center-left party PD (Partito Democratico) behavior. The PD is very heterogeneous, resulting from the mixing of parts of the former Communist party (PCI) and the former Christian democracy party (DC). Until recently, both gay activist Grillini and Catholic bigot Binetti were in this party. They never take a clear-cut decision, not because they are thinkers, but to avoid to displease someone among themselves. They are always self-engaged in discussions whose result is a compromise unsatisfactory for their electoral base.
        Sometimes, I pity PD leader Bersani, he is honest and showed to be quite capable, but he can’t say anything that’s not just “down with Berlusconi”, because half of his party would bark at him.
        And when PD and allies, that make the center-left even more ineffective, win the elections they try to find a compromise with the center-right on many issues, because they don’t trust themselves.
        I’m fairly sure the Democrats behave the same, and suspect that the cause is similar, but I have too few leads (like Liebermann and the “Blue Dogs”) to be sure.

        • marknesop says:

          The Republicans don’t know how to take “Yes” for an answer, they always have to make it look like they beat a concession out of the Democrats, while the Democrats don’t know how to say “No”. Quite a few of the Republican representatives are frighteningly stupid, but they know how to recite talking points (Obama’s a socialist, he wants to raise your taxes and take away your guns), and that’s all their constituencies seem to expect from them these days.

          Democrats always come into office with big plans for sweeping social changes, many of which probably would be good for the country. But they invariably try for bipartisanship and to get Republicans to go along with their plans. The Republicans say, “Fuck, no; we’re not doing that”, and while the Democrats are looking aghast at each other and squeaking, “He said the “F” word, Cyril, did you hear that??”, the Republicans are putting together an attack ad that makes it look like the initiative the Democrats are rolling out is another socialist program to benefit people who are too lazy to get a job, and also everyone’s personal freedom is at risk. The terminally ignorant and incurious dolts that make up the electorate (or at least most of it that shows up to vote) fall for it every time, like dummy catnip, and get themselves into a state of walleyed fear and rage, and the Democrats start proposing compromises and gutting the most effective parts of their plan. When there’s nothing left but a useless shell, enough Republicans (those who aren’t up for reelection that year) will grudgingly sign on, and the Democrats weep with gratitude. Lather, rinse, repeat.

          The only difference now is that the Republicans are even more intransigent than usual, because their goal is to make sure Obama doesn’t get a second term. If the economy has to tank, if national security has to fall apart, if working people can’t get jobs and can’t get unemployment benefits – all worth it, as far as the Republicans are concerned. They’ll rush back into office, start throwing taxpayers money around like they discovered a secret vault of it somewhere, and before you know it it’ll be business as usual and they’ll have their snouts back in the trough.

          The funny part is that the Democrats didn’t know how to use their strength when they had it. They wanted to reach out to the beaten Republicans, dust them off and buy them a beer, and be friends. The Republicans always kick them in the crotch and rub snot in their hair when they’re curled up on the ground, but they never learn. If the Democrats ever won an election with a presidential candidate who was a ruthless despot who fired every weakling ass who didn’t do as he said, enforced party discipline with an iron fist and ripped out a Republican’s heart and ate it raw every couple of weeks just to keep them scared – but who was at the same time absolutely incorruptible – the Democrats would have a Fourth Reich. Trouble is, all the guys like that (and some of the women) are Republicans. Oh – except for the incorruptible part.

          • Alexei Cemirtan says:

            And this is precisely my point. It doesn’t make sense to blame Republicans for acting according to their nature. That is just what they are and they, at least, can do something (horribly deluded, completely wrong and harmful to their own country most of the times), but there is at least that. Democrats, on the other hand, seem to be incapable of making ANY decisive decisions, no matter how necessary or even popular they are.

            • marknesop says:

              No, I suppose you’re right. I guess what irks me the most about it is watching the electorate play Charlie Brown kicking the football to the Republicans’ Lucy snatching it away just in time to make him fall on his ass. It encourages so many unlovely things – the triumph of stupidity, a perpetual state of victimization and even the continued greedy venality of the American political system (not that it’s worse than many others).

              I saw the electorate’s stubborn abandonment of its best interests thus described on the Washington Monthly site, just after the midterms increased the malevolent influence of the Republicans – ” …like a crack-addicted whore running away from rehab to go back to her abuser”. I couldn’t have said it better than that.

              You’d think people would know better by now than to fall for a sucker play like “never mind what the Democrats, and pretty much every economist worthy of the name, told you about the seriousness of the situation. Tax cuts work. Let us run things, and don’t ask questions, and I promise everything will be better than okay”. But people are simple, and I suppose if you can get them to believe in The Rapture, it shouldn’t be too hard to make them believe you can squeeze a turd until it turns into a diamond.

              What’s such a pity is that whenever the people have a brief window of clarity, hand the keys to the Democrats and say, “here – drive the fucking thing”; the Democrats always want to give it a quick tune-up first, and ask the Republicans if they’d like to help. So in a way, the Democrats – for all their vaunted intellect – are stupider than the electorate they seek to rule.

              • rkka says:

                “So in a way, the Democrats – for all their vaunted intellect – are stupider than the electorate they seek to rule.”

                Exactly. the humorist Will Rogers had the Democrats summed up with “I am not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

                Truly, the Democrats form a circular firing squad at every opportunity. Just look at what they had in early 2009- A people desiring change after the many visibly disasterous failures of Dubya, a popular Presedent-elect, a Senate majority the likes of which they hadn’t seen in several decades, and a crushing majority in the House of Representatives.

                To be fair, Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, was a very effective leader, passing a great deal of mostly needed legislation, for naught. Obama’s tender concern for republican sensibilities sabotaged it all. It was like he learned nothing at all from the savage republican effort to destroy President Clinton, and failed to even notice when the republicans started up a similar effort to destroy him.

                As you say, a lot of Democrats, and President Obama, are just stupid in their belief that republicans will ever be anything other than vicious, power-crazed representatives of the plutocrats.

                • Yalensis says:

                  Last time Americans had a great Democratic prez, it was FDR. I read that he was particularly effective against the plutocracy because he himself came from a wealthy family and was a bona fide member of the ruling class; hence, he knew all their wiles and ways. FDR was reputed to have said, “I know these people like the back of my hand, and I know how to defeat them.” Whereas Obama is a parvenu from the lower middle class and simply does not know these people. Many intelligent Americans voted for a black man hoping he would be a real bad-ass and kick Republican butt. Instead, they got this pathetic wimp! I feel sorry for them.

                • Misha says:

                  Yalensis

                  Whether on the American left, right or center, there’s displeasure with the American political process. This includes the idea of a one party state divided in two.

                  Countries with several reasonably influential political parties have critics as well. Such criticism usually takes the form of a gridlock effect, with nothing getting done – a complaint found in relation to American politics.

                  Theoretically, it’s not completely out of line to believe that a one party state can have factions which hypothetically are as much if not more diverse than what’s evident in some multi-party countries.

                  BTW, in the US, there’s thought that the Tea Party has way too many establishment strings attached to it, which will limit its perceived independent stand. Upon hearing this view, I couldn’t help but think of the commentary on how non-United Russia parties in the Duma are manipulated.

                  As the search for the best possible situation lingers on.

  2. rkka says:

    Yes, SWP is a piece of work. He confesses that he is totally at a loss as to how to solve Latvia’s problems, yet he is brimming with solutions to Russia’s, mostly involving the Russian government abjectly submitting to the whim of US conservatives, and will endlessly vituperate the Russian government when they don’t.

    He’s practically the Poster Boy object of Putin’s dismissal of the Russophobe Anglosphere punditocracy: “The dogs bark. The caravan passes.”

    • marknesop says:

      I hadn’t heard that before, but it’s a great turn of phrase.

      • rkka says:

        Actually, it wasn’t a pundit Putin was dissing, but US Congressman Tom Lantos and US Senator John McCain.

        “When asked at his January 31, 2006, press conference how he responded to calls by U.S. Senator John McCain and Congressman Tom Lantos to kick Russia out of the G-8, Russian President Vladimir Putin quoted an old Arabic proverb: “The dog barks but the caravan moves on.” This was Putin’s way of saying, “Who cares if some American senator thinks Russia is not up to the standards of the world’s richest democracies. Russia will do as it pleases and there is not much anyone can do about it. They need Russia more than we need them.”

        http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3996/is_200701/ai_n25137527/?tag=content;col1

        • marknesop says:

          And he was right, but Russia is always a convenient dog to kick when you are polishing your conservative chops for an appreciative audience. McCain is almost too easy to warrant a retort now, though – through the magic of the split screen, you can pick almost any relatively contentious issue, and see two John McCains in slightly different clothes (and sometimes a few years apart in age) expressing completely opposite viewpoints on the same question.

          • Misha says:

            A good number of Russians I suspect are sedated by this.

            I’m all for pitbull like replies back to the likes of McCain and Lieberman. This periodically happens.

            In key situations, there’re some folks who’re quite selective (put mildly) in their lectures (private or otherwise) on etiquette.

      • Yalensis says:

        “собака лает, караван идет.”

        “The dog barks, but the caravan moves on.” Supposedly an old Arabic proverb, then translated into Russian. Putin first used the phrase at a press conference at the G-8 in 2006, and it became one of his many quotable and repeated remarks.

        • marknesop says:

          What I like about Putin (well, one of the things) is that he never seems to lose his temper, and often tosses out a sardonic phrase to show how the constant baiting bores him. Oh, the press doesn’t see it that way, and frequently characterizes him as having ‘snapped’ at reporters or questioners during discussions or interviews – a classic example is the exchange with Shevchuk, in which Shevchuk supposedly goaded him into a fury with his probing, incisive questioning. I saw the interview (not live, of course), and saw nothing of the sort. Mr. Putin appeared patient and resigned, and if he showed any annoyance it appeared to be motivated by Shevchuk’s veering off the subject (although, to be fair, he did say Shevchuk could ask anything) and lack of manners. There’s a big difference between annoyance and fury, and anyone who is incapable of distinguishing between the two is invited to watch me drive in heavy traffic.

          • rkka says:

            “What I like about Putin (well, one of the things) is that he never seems to lose his temper, and often tosses out a sardonic phrase to show how the constant baiting bores him.”

            I’m convinced that the key to understanding Putin isn’t the KGB thing, but the 6th degree black belt in Judo thing. Discipline. Self-control. Careful observation of the opponent, and turning the opponent’s strength into weakness by deflecting his efforts and getting him off-balance.

            But for the Anglosphere punditocracy and foreign policy elite to see that they would have to acknowlege their own cluelessness, as well as admit that they don’t really stack up very well by comparison.

            • marknesop says:

              “But for the Anglosphere punditocracy and foreign policy elite to see that they would have to acknowlege their own cluelessness, as well as admit that they don’t really stack up very well by comparison.”

              Not even so much clueless, to my mind, as fond of projection and prone to report things the way they’d like them to have unfolded. The western press would love to see one of the liberal opposition reduce Putin nearly to tears of baffled rage, so that’s the way they report it. Maybe not quite so much exaggeration as that – except for La Russophobe, who couldn’t properly be called a journalist – but shading it enough that people who saw it will think maybe they misunderstood the forces at play in the conversation, and those who didn’t see it will believe every word because it suits what they want to believe. It’s easier for the press to convince you if you’ve halfway convinced yourself. Unfortunately, that cuts both ways, and it’s easy to listen to overoptimistic reporting about the pace of reform in Russia – for example – or the buildup of cash reserves, and believe it because it’s what you like to hear. I’ve been burned enough times that I’m now more likely to check an independent source for accuracy if I can find one.

          • Tim Newman says:

            What I like about Putin (well, one of the things) is that he never seems to lose his temper, and often tosses out a sardonic phrase to show how the constant baiting bores him.

            That’s what I liked about Dubya Bush.

  3. Misha says:

    Eagleburger, Shultz, Burt, Powell and Baker all support START.

  4. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    Exactly. the humorist Will Rogers had the Democrats summed up with “I am not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
    Interesting. In my previous comment there was an implied question about Democrat’s inability to use their strength when they have it. Is it due to stupidity and delusion about Republican’s real intentions, or is it due to different political positions inside the Democratic party? Humorist Will Rogers seems inclined to hold the latter opinion.
    I’d like to know the answer to my question from Mark, Rkka and others.

  5. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Giuseppe,

    Let me try to answer your question. Basically, you already did it in your previous comment, but as far as the 111th Congress goes, the point is that in 2008, the Democrats picked up 48 seats in districts where McCain beat Obama, meaning that they were very conservative districts. Consequently, these newcoming Democrats were Democrats mostly in the name. (By the way, nothing dramatic has happened on November 2: the Democrats simply gave away these seats back to Republicans, where these seats belong.) With all her efficiency, Nancy Pelosi had a majority that were almost ungoverned. It’s a testament to her unique leadership ability that she managed to achieve something as big as the vote “yes” for Obama’s health care.

    I mentioned the health care reform on purpose. I do believe that all present and, perhaps, future, too, problems for the Democrats stem from Obama spending all his political capital on health care reform with nothing left for other issues, including START. It’s now up to him and later to historians to judge whether the reform was worth it.

    Regards,
    Eugene

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      Thanks for your answer Eugene. IMHO, the only way out of this Democratic impasse would be the breakup of the party, perhaps Obama should have used his political capital to achieve this goal, first and foremost. Is there any sign the Democrats are going to address the problem?

    • marknesop says:

      Agreed, Eugene, and a very astute, unbiased analysis. It’s not so much that Obama got nothing accomplished, because his administration racked up some notable achievements, and he’s certainly not a wimp. He, unfortunately, thought he could get some traction out of the concept that he would be “the president of everybody”, like every president says, although most are too realistic to take it seriously. He wasted an extraordinary amount of effort on bipartisanship, which Republicans told him up front was hopeless. His achievements were not talked up like those of other presidents have been.

      I doubt he’ll win reelection, which is a great shame, because he’s one of the few presidents in recent history who really wanted what was best for the country rather than what was best for special interests. Unfortunately, it seems Americans are more comfortable with the latter. Not to mention being disliked by the world, because Bush was hated while Obama is popular outside his own country. There seems to be a fairly significant group in America who interpret dislike as envy, and feel it should be sought after as a measure of national prominence, while foreigners having a better opinion of you just means they’re reveling in your weakness.

      • Alexei Cemirtan says:

        It is true that Obama did accomplish something, but what always interested me is the sustainability of these accomplishments. What are the chances, for example, of a meager shadow of a healthcare reform he pushed through NOT being repealed in a political scene dominated by Republicans(Congress, Senate, Presidency)?

        • marknesop says:

          Quite possible; it’s astonishing how often the American people vote against their own best interests. It’s also interesting that, in the information age, nobody is easier to fool with disinformation (you’ll go to jail if you don’t buy health insurance, the government picks your doctor for you, etc…)

  6. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Giuseppe,

    No, of course, this (the break-up of the Democratic Party) won’t happen any time soon. I don’t want to get too deeply into this subject on this Russia-oriented blog, but in my opinion, the ideological eclecticism of American political parties is a strength rather than liability of our political system. Besides, the Republicans will “address the problem” for the Democrats: now, they have in their congressional ranks a bunch of hot-headed ideological zealots supported by the Tea Party. These guy will create as much troubles for Boehner as the conservative Democrats have created for Pelosi. I suspect that in 2012, we may have a reverse of what we just had in November.

    Mark, I agree with you on Obama. However, I think it’s a bit premature to write him off completely. Sure, he’s in deep, deep trouble. But so are the Republicans with their sharp turn to the right. The Tea Party is unlikely to let the Republicans nominate anyone close to the center (at least, without a sea of blood). And if the Repiblicans will present Obama with a gift by nominating Sarah Palin, I suspect that Obama will survive — not because he’ll win, but because Sarah will lose.

    Thanks Mark, great post, great discussion.

    Best,
    Eugene

  7. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    It looks like a kind of delusion-disappointment cycle with a 2 year period.

  8. Tim Newman says:

    Mr. Newman – are you hinting to somebody we know?

    No. Learn to appreciate the English language – don’t be a dumbass redneck.

    • carpenter117 says:

      Oi, me stupid! Please, Mr. Newman, forgive dumb redneck from Russia! Of course, you got a supah-dupah education in England, and you know how to suck the oil from some countries you personally despise for transnational corporations.
      At the shortcomings of my knowledge of English please blame the lack of free enterprise, democracy and freedom of speech in Russia. And Dread Putin, of course – you brits hate him anyway.

      • Tim Newman says:

        If you are Russian and not too sure about the English language, I recommend you don’t use expressions like “limey coward” when trying to figure out a hidden message beneath what has been written.

        • Yalensis says:

          @Tim: My English language is fluent, but, like carpenter, I also didn’t get your joke about waging “passive war” and to whom you were referring? Please explain. Thank you in advance for your attention.

        • carpenter117 says:

          Ah, but Mr. Newman, I know very well the meaning of words “coward” and “limey”. And I also know what such words like “brit”, “russophobic” “hypocritical” “lying” “bastard” mean. And, belive me, Mr. Newman, I can type a coherent sentence using them.

          • Tim Newman says:

            I’m not accusing you of not knowing what certain words mean. My mild criticism merely alluded to your not knowing how to use them appropriately, and your not knowing the subtleties of the English language to the effect that you misunderstood what I wrote.

          • marknesop says:

            It probably isn’t a good policy to throw terms like that around unless you can provide citations to substantiate them. Some of them are in the eye of the beholder, such as “russophobic” and “hypocritical”, but others such as “lying” and “coward” require proof beyond opinion. They also seem to transcend simple disagreement.

            Criticism of Russian business practices isn’t necessarily Russophobia, and I don’t think too many Russians would be sorry to see some of the Soviet-era habits – such as the cronyism inherent in obtaining a building permit – go the way of the dodo. When I visited China in 1988, the western-oriented “Friendship Store” I shopped in for souvenirs wouldn’t accept direct purchase from the vendor – you had to go to the other side of the room and pay a separate clerk and obtain a chit that proved you paid, then take that to the vendor and get your item. I thought it was just about the stupidest system I’d ever seen, but that shouldn’t label me Chinaphobic.

            All the clerks used an abacus, too, and I’ve even seen a few of those in Russia. In China nobody complained during our visit, because nobody in our group, using a calculator, could reach a correct solution faster than the abacus-wielding clerks. Even with my deep internal hatred of mathematics, I wish I could grasp how those things work. Instinctively, I mean – not after hours of tedious instruction; Christ, you could probably teach a goat to do it if it had opposable thumbs.

            Tim appears to have substantiated some gross inefficiencies in Russian business practices, and I haven’t seen anything that would compel belief that he made them up, although I’m always willing to be convinced. Similarly, the global oil industry is what it is, and although the potential for usurious profit is great, the risks are typically downplayed. Also, he appears to be fairly low down on the decision-making tree. Accusations of sucking the planet dry might very fairly be directed at the industry, but I’d recommend setting your sights a little higher.

  9. tewonder says:

    To comment on both START and Obama’s chops as a leader, it seems to me that he’s left a little to be desired. I think he did a good job in drumming up support from all those former secretaries of state and defense; essentially finding anyone who did something mildly important in the national security field with half a brain. The rhetoric has been on point, accusing opponents of playing politics with national security and all that jazz.

    My problem is that Obama has basically let himself be held hostage by people like Jon Kyl, who’ve used their opposition to get concessions from Obama on their pet projects and just to score points off him. In Kyl’s case, Obama has thrown in $85 billion – $80 billion at first and then another $4 billion when Kyl still wouldn’t play ball – for nuclear weapons modernization and still Kyl refuses to allow the treaty to go to a vote in the Senate before New Year. Even though Kyl, as the minority whip in the Senate, wields a lot of power and influence, Obama should have told him to f- himself from the beginning and tried to get around him by making a concerted effort to appeal to individual Republican senators, which is what Obama and co. are trying to do now after wasting weeks on Kyl. Damning people for playing politics with the treaty and then engaging in political horsetrading to try to win those same people over doesn’t make sense and hasn’t worked.

    Don’t get me wrong, Republicans like Inhofe and Demint deserve the lion share of criticism, but I think Obama could’ve been more assertive than he has been and for that, he also deserves some of the blame.

    • rkka says:

      That’s O’Bambi for you. His playbook has two pages. On first down, he runs a play after discussing it thoroughly with the Republican defense in order to avoid being seen as “partisan”.

      On second down, he punts.

      Then he spites his fans for criticizing how he runs the game.

      • Yalensis says:

        I think Obama would have made good head of state in a parliamentary type system where the politics and day-to-day running of the government are done by the prime minister. He does not appear to be very good at political maneuvering. Some Russians have called him the “American Gorbachev”, and I think this is fair comparison. I feel very bad for African-Americans, they were so happy to see him elected; but after all those generations of being snubbed and having shit dumped on them, they deserved better than this guy.

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          I disagree. In parliamentary systems, like Italy, the head of state generally is someone that has maintained a low profile and is perceived as a bipartisan politician. Obama is seen as a socialist, crypto muslim that wants to give up the USA to UN control by the Republican half of the country. He is seen as a beautiful dream that turned out to be just a dream by most of the Democrats.
          IMO Obama is a moderate that hasn’t never been seen as such.

        • Misha says:

          Partly relates back to the Uncle Tom reference and your follow-up Quising point at another thread. To reach the upper portions of American political life, some views relating to ethnic pride and ethnic self respect are more equal than others.

          A noticeably pro-Israeli advocate has an easier time than others. In Maryland, there was a relatively long time Serb-American congresswoman who made it a point to address anti-Serb biases. She was promptly targetted by what amounted to an anti-Serb lobby, which became involved in her political defeat. I sense that experience left a message on others of Serb background in political office.

          When it comes to Russia, those categorized as “Russophobe” have an easier time over folks who’re classified as “Russophile.”

          • Misha says:

            So there’s no misunderstanding, my last set of comments is in reply to Yalensis’ comments about Obama as a disappointment among some within the African-American community.

            • Yalensis says:

              Thanks for comment, Misha. Just clarification: I would never presume to speak for African-American community. Maybe they are not disappointed? I just personally felt bad for them because they waited so long to get ethnic African in presidency, and they ended up getting someone who is not looking so successful right now.

              • Misha says:

                Without checking the polls Yalensis, I sense the African-American community to have a noticeable mix of pride and disappointment with O.

                Immediately after his presidential win, the African-American community was definitely more enthusiastic of O’s victory when compared to Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court appointment.

                One reason has to do with a Black having already served as a Sopreme Court judge (whereas O is the first Black US president). The other reason has to do with Thomas’ views (going into his Supreme Court appointment) being out of sync with many Blacks and the controversy Thomas had with Anita Hill.

    • marknesop says:

      A lot of people – mostly Democrats and moderate independents, are angry with Obama for caving on the Bush tax cuts for the rich, mostly because he swore early that he would not extend them, and then did. Reasoned analysis after this action, by those who know much more about it than I, suggests he might have gotten quite a bit in concessions for going along, and even some of the loudest detractors of the tax cuts say it was worth it. I don’t mind saying it enraged me, even though it doesn’t affect me in any way (although of course a strong American economy is critical to a country that sends 85% of its exports to the U.S.), but I may have overreacted to the hype.

      The press seems to dislike Obama, and nobody seems to want to see him succeed except hardcore progressives, some of whose demands are unrealistic in today’s political environment. However, I agree he could give up on negotiation much earlier with people who have already sworn publicly to destroy him. The American press and the public conspicuously adore forceful leaders – look at all the slack they cut Bush – and would respect Obama much more if he was nowhere near as conciliatory as he is. There’s no point in his trying to get along with the Republicans, and every advantage he gives them is immediately exploited against him. He’s a smart enough politician that he should know how to go around them, and use internal divisions to play them against each other. That’d make him no better than Bush, I suppose, but being a nice guy isn’t going to offer much comfort if he gets crushed after a first term of getting nothing much done. Even that’s not accurate, because he did get quite a lot accomplished – however (a) it doesn’t get the loving press coverage every Bush colour-coded alert did, and (b) the Republicans have sworn to roll back everything he did as soon as they have enough power to do so.

      • tewonder says:

        I think you’re exactly right about the media and the public liking strong, forceful leaders, at least in this political climate. Obama, for all his strengths, seems to view things in shades of gray when the dominant milieu of American politics today is painted in black and white. This puts him at a disadvantage immediately because black and white is easier to explain in the media. Expressing that your proposals aren’t exactly perfect (a pretty logical, reasonable position) is showing a fatal amount of self-doubt that people like Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck – people who wouldn’t know ambiguity if it hit them in the face – can run wild with. It’s a bad environment, but it’s the environment Obama finds himself in.

        He’s not been a great communicator either, for all the hype about his speech-making prowress during the election, and he hasn’t been able to effectively explain why his vision is better than the alternatives. Backing START treaty opponents into the very small corner politically where they belong should have been easy, but he doesn’t seem to have capacity, let alone the will, to do that.

        • marknesop says:

          Very perceptive and well-explained analysis. I still think Obama’s a great president, for all his faults, but he could have achieved a great deal more if he had stayed out of – to use your words – the “gray zone”. He seems to feel it would be lowering yourself to your critics’ level to defend yourself in print or in other media venues, but forgets that much of the electorate is uneducated and incurious, easily roused to anger by the suggestion its personal freedoms or way of life are in peril and prone to believe whatever it hears. This is a target-rich environment for hack journalism that has no basis in fact, and the success of the patently stupid “death panels” and “keep your gummint hands off my Medicare” serve as instructive examples.

          • Alexei Cemirtan says:

            I disagree that Obama is a great President. Obviously its not him who drafts all of the policies and legislation, various experts do that for all politicians. All that a politician has to do is then SELL these policies to the public. It does not really matter how he does it, as long as he does. Obama had an advantage from the get go, by having a lot of good will on his side, as well as policies which ACTUALLY benefitted most of the people and he still managed to screw it up. So how come he is still great after that?

            • marknesop says:

              I agree he has a pretty poor domestic image right now, but that’s not necessarily because he got nothing done, it’s largely because his accomplishments are not well known. The press seems reluctant to trumpet them the way they did for Bush. Obama is significantly more popular abroad, and although he’s lost a little of his rock-star shine, he still has a much easier time gaining cooperation for international initiatives that benefit the USA. Margaret Thatcher is an instructive comparison – still one of the best-known British leaders, widely respected internationally, but absolutely hated at home (at least during her tenure as PM) for her domestic policies. In fact, Obama can take comfort that he’s nowhere near as unpopular at home as Thatcher was.

              Bush remained wildly popular with the core of his base, although he was broadly unpopular at home, and he was loathed outside the USA. Consequently, it was difficult for him to sell the notion of America as partner in anything, because politicians – however they might have wanted to go along with him, for their own reasons – are accountable to their voters, and voters around the world hated him.

              • Alexei Cemirtan says:

                Well, being British I have to correct you, since the Thatcher’s legacy is a lot more complicated than that. Like Bush, she was a very polarising politician, but unlike Bush she NEVER lost the support of the major part, if not the majority, of the British people. There are plenty of those who hate her, but there are still a lot of people loyal to her and wistful of the time she was in power, which is why her policies are still relevant today. Like Bush, she as able to build up a very strong base supporting them, even after she herself was gone from power. Now lets look at Obama. Where is his base? The Right hates him. The Middle doesn’t care and the Left are feeling betrayed and disillusioned. So it doesn’t even matter if he had achieved something or not, at the moment his policies will not outlast him, which means that even Bush will win out over him (and if that is not a damning indictment of Obama’s abilities, than nothing is).

                • marknesop says:

                  Well, maybe you’re right. Time will tell. For now he’s still the president, and while everyone has an opinion, none of them mean anything because his legacy is yet to be written. There was no shortage of people who swore, during his first term, that George W. Bush was going to be the greatest president ever; that he would change the world. Well, they were right about the second part, although not for the better, but he turned out a disaster who left office in disgrace. Nobody knows right now what will become of Obama, but I still like him and feel he could have accomplished a great deal more were it not for theshoulder-to-shoulder obstruction of Republicans. Whether or not blacks eventually come to see that as a race issue (which, to my mind, it is) remains to be seen, but I don’t think the Republicans would have fought Hillary Clinton as they are fighting Obama. Maybe they would have – they certainly had a tickle-trunk full of material they couldn’t wait to drag out if she had won the nomination. But so far, their opposition of initiatives that would have benefited ordinary Americans has not resulted in any punishment from the electorate – in fact, they’ve been rewarded. If that continues, Obama will likely be defeated in the next election, or prevailed upon to resign for the good of the party. If Americans wise up and get behind the president, like they used to do whether they loved him or hated him, America is likely to recover and prosper. It’s nothing to me either way, except as I’ve pointed out before: 85% of Canada’s exports go to the USA, and we are their largest foreign energy supplier. I’m sure we could find new trading partners – especially from the Pacific Rim, for the west coast where I live – but it could never be as beneficial a trade arrangement as we have now because of associated shipping costs. But America is not in any position to withstand too many more hammer blows such as it has endured lately, and the Republicans’ answer to the problem is business as usual – tax cuts, more deregulation, and let the market take care of itself. That is guaranteed not to work. The funniest part of all of it, for me, is the way they have all become deficit warriors since Obama took over – having enthusiastically voted to establish and increase that deficit while their man was in the saddle.

  10. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    After reading the update, I think we should discuss to clarify some points about MD.
    IMO, there is some confusion about Missile Defense (MD), a confusion that is sometimes deliberate. MD can refer to theater/tactical MD or strategic MD. The former is against countries like Iran and North Korea, i.e. against an enemy mainly armed with ballistic missile with a range around 2000 km, and eventually against countries that can get this kind of ballistic missiles, like Libya. On this type of MD Russia has shown in the past the intention to get involved, for example the Gabala radar offer during the Bush term.
    Strategic MD concerns ICBM and SLBM, that is to say mainly Russia and the USA. On this subject the Russian position, as far as I know, has been and still is to ban it, that is to say to go back to the ABM treaty repelled by the Bush II administration. Failing a new ABM treaty, Russia reserves the right to repel the new START treaty if the US strategic MD threatens the nuclear balance.

  11. Oleg says:

    What I like about Putin (well, one of the things) is that he never seems to lose his temper, and often tosses out a sardonic phrase to show how the constant baiting bores him. Oh, the press doesn’t see it that way, and frequently characterizes him as having ‘snapped’ at reporters or questioners during discussions or interviews

    “If you want to become an Islamic radical and have yourself circumcised,
    I invite you to come to Moscow. Our nation is multi-confessional, we
    have experts in the field,” Putin said in response to a question from a
    reporter from the Le Monde newspaper.

    Putin was in Brussels for talks with leaders of the European Union.

    “I would recommend that he who does the surgery does it so you’ll have
    nothing growing back, afterward,” according to Putin’s remarks to a news
    conference Monday. Circumcision is a tenet of Islam for all males.

    The Russian president’s interpreters gave only intermittent translation
    during Putin’s remarks, which were delivered rapidly and with agitation,
    according to those who saw the outburst.

    • Yalensis says:

      My favorite Putin aphorism is:
      “мухи отдельно, котлеты отдельно …”
      which Putin supposedly remarked in context of Russian relations with
      Belorussia.
      Literal translation: “Please separate flies from cutlets.”
      Funnier translation: “I’ll have the cutlets, with the flies on the side.”
      Some attribute saying originally to Chekhov, but I don’t find it in his works. Others say it was just old joke of the “Waiter, there’s a fly in the soup” variety, but in this case, the flies were swarming in the cutlets, and the man asks the waiter to serve the flies separately from the cutlets.

      • Nils says:

        haha very nice one Yalensis. When are u supposed to use such an expression? Would be hilarious to use it in the presence of some of my Russian friends.

      • Nils says:

        Looked it up on google, it is supposed to mean something like the wheat must be sorted from the chaff….

        • Yalensis says:

          Hi, Nils, yeah, I think the meaning is the opposite of English expression, “take the bad with the good”. In other words, it’s “take the good” and “leave the bad”. But the deeper implication is that the bad stuff kind of belongs there too and you can’t wish it away, you just try to manage it by putting it on a side dish by itself.
          One possible usage with your Russian friends: Use it when you are in a Russian restaurant ordering steaks! I’m sure the waiter will get a kick out of it too… Cheers!

  12. rkka says:

    Mark, totally off topic I know, but your most recent venture over at Streetwise Professor has been entertaining, as your measured, fact-based argumentation stirred up a hornets nest of outrage among the blind Russophobes who are most of the audience there. A couple of years ago it wasn’t so bad, and even SWP himself was capabe of reasoned response on occasion, but now its well on its way to becoming a cesspool like the one Phoby runs.

    • marknesop says:

      Thanks, rkka; yes, it’s been entertaining for me, too. I only learned about SWP by way of LR’s regular and adoring citation of his material. He comes across as a very bright guy, and an excellent writer when he chooses material other than gratuitous mockery of Russia (his recent sports piece on the passing of Ron Santo is a nice example). But he’s extremely conservative in his thinking, and plainly approves of an America that is always kicking the shit out of somebody.

  13. rkka says:

    I think what unhinged him was Obama’s election. He started criticizing Obama’s ideas on Afghanistan before Election Day, having never before breathed a single word of criticism of the actual policy that was *visibly losing the war* It really was one of those “four legs (Republicans) good – two legs (Democrat) bad” things, straight out of 1984.

    Before that, he wasn’t bad at taking opposing views seriously.

    As to approving an America that kicks the shit out of somebody, yeah. Two of his heroes he has mentioned are President Andrew Jackson, who was a true fire-eater, extremely adept at perceiving slights to his personal and the national honor, and Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who was Treasury Secretary as the Great Depression started and deepened, and whose solution to it was “”Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate. It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up from less competent people.”

    It goes without saying that Mellon was one of the richest men in the world, and may have looked forward, as one of those “enterprising people” to an opportunity to buy assets at the market bottom.

    • rkka says:

      Gaah- Make that “four legs good-two legs bad” from Animal Farm.

      His propensity for “Two minute hate” against Democrats and Russia comes from “1984”.

      This is what happens when I post prior to caffeine.

      • Yalensis says:

        Anyone who quotes Orwell is fine by me, with or without caffeine! Can someone post the SWP link agaom, please? Somehow I missed that one, and I want to read, because it sounds like fun…

  14. Yalensis says:

    Okay, this one is for Nils, with my apologies to everyone; this is my all-time favorite “fly in the soup” joke:
    Man (in a fancy French restaurant): “Garcon, come here quickly, there is a fly in my soup!”
    Snooty French waiter: “qu’est-ce que c’est…” (pretending not to speak English)
    Man (pointing wildly): “A fly! Fly!” (thinks for a second, tries to remember French word)… “Mouche… le mouche…”
    Waiter (correcting him): “Non, non, monsieur, that’s LA MOUCHE. La mouche. Ze fly is feminine…”
    Man (staring closely at fly): Wow! You’ve got great eyesight…”

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