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.