Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Committing our traditional and familiar mistakes in Obama's Non-War War in Iraq and Syria

Über-Realist Stephen Walt is disappointed, though not especially surprised, at the course of Obama's Non-War War in Iraq and Syria.

In Uncle Sucker to the Rescue Foreign Policy 10/16/2014, he writes:

A recurring problem in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy has been the insistence that no problem can be solved if Uncle Sam isn't leading the charge. ...

The final error -- sadly, one all too typical of recent U.S. foreign policy -- is that we are promising the moon and delivering moon pies. The Bush administration promised that the invasion of Iraq would be short, easy, and would pay for itself. Bush also told us the United States would eliminate all "terrorists of global reach." Trying to eliminate a particular tactic used by many diverse groups was a fool's errand, especially when U.S. military intervention tends to reinforce the extremists' narrative and helps them replenish their ranks with new recruits. The United States is still in Afghanistan today -- and so are the Taliban -- and it is congratulating itself on convincing the Afghan government to let us stay for a few more years. And now we are headed back into Iraq. Osama bin Laden may be dead and gone, but the endless war that he foresaw would sap U.S. strength and weaken existing Arab governments is still underway.  [my emphasis]
He also recalls important aspects of the Cheney-Bush Iraq War, which I've come to think of as Phase 3 in the Thirty Years War in Iraq.

Walt:

Ever since the first Gulf War, U.S. leaders have routinely exaggerated the threat that the United States faced in Iraq and/or Syria. Even though much of Iraq's military power was destroyed in 1990 to 1991 and was never rebuilt, the Clinton administration continued to portray that country as a dangerous threat to vital U.S. interests. Hence the continuation of sanctions that may have killed as many as 500,000 Iraqis and the misguided strategy of "dual containment," which forced the United States to keep thousands of troops in Saudi Arabia and helped convince Osama bin Laden to order the 9/11 attacks. After 9/11, of course, the Bush administration ratcheted up the threat even more in order to justify a preventive war. Aided by mendacious or gullible journalists, they convinced the American people that Saddam had active WMD programs and was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden, even though neither claim was true. [my emphasis]

George McGovern oral history interview 2009

After my encounter with the ghost of Nixon at the Nixon Library, I discover they have some pretty good YouTube videos there.

Like this one, Nixon Library's Oral History with George McGovern 08/26/2009 interview:


Monday, October 20, 2014

Partisan history at the Nixon library

I visited the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, for the first time this past weekend.

It was definitely interesting to see. The visual displays are good quality. The text of the signage, not so much. And there are life-size statues of world leaders with whom Nixon dealt that to me were the most interesting displays in the main museum. The Library is in the back of the house where Nixon was born. The house itself has been renovated and stocked with much of the furniture that was there at the time Nixon lived there as a child. The graves of Richard and Pat Nixon are also on the grounds near the house.

The docent I heard giving some of his tour added some extra authenticity to the tour. Because he was a guy in his late sixties or so who sounded pretty much like a Nixon partisan from 1969 or 1974. I arrived a little late for the start of the docent's tour. But the main reason I only heard some of it was that his anecdotes were so lightweight and he was so grossly partisan and his presentation was so painfully superficial that I just dropped back from the tour after a few minutes. Also, if I had followed his tour all the way through, I would probably have passed out from hyperventilation.

Nixon, me, Zhou Enlai

When I read the signage on the Alger Hiss display, I thought it was pretty shaky for a serious historical presentation. And I'm one who thinks that Hiss really was a Soviet spy. This signage on the 1950 Senate campaign against Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas managed to not even mention the term "pink lady" so far as I could see. And I looked for it. And that is known as the Pink Lady campaign. You wouldn't know that term from this signage:


You also wouldn't know that's where he picked up the nickname "Tricky Dick" that stuck to him ever after. Not that I saw that anywhere at the Nixon Library, either.

Thomas Reeves gave a far better, brief description of the 1950 campaign in The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy: A Biography (1982):

In California, Congressman Richard Nixon ran against liberal Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas for a Senate seat. Boasting of his own record with HUAC [the House Un-American Activities Committee], Nixon referred to his opponent as the "Pink Lady" and falsely claimed that she was "a member of a small clique which joins the notorious Communist party-liner Vito Marcantonio of New York in voting time after time against measures that are for the security of this country." Douglas fired back, "On every key vote Nixon stood with party-liner Marcantonio against America in its fight to defeat Communism," and she called Nixon and his followers "a backwash of young men in dark shirts." She spoke of"smears" and warned that "McCarthyism has come to California." But the fiery wife of actor Melvin Douglas was no match for Nixon. He distributed more than a half million leaflets (printed on bright pink paper and thus dubbed "pink sheets") titled "Douglas-Marcantonio Voting Record," alleging that the two had voted the same way 354 times. If Mrs. Douglas had had her way, he told audiences, "the Communist conspiracy in the United States would never have been exposed." ...

President [Harry] Truman spoke publicly about the elections only twice during the fall contests, once in defense of Helen Gahagan Douglas during a news conference. In a St. Louis speech a few days before the balloting he charged that those who employed the Communists-in-government issue had "lost all proportion, all sense of restraint, all sense of patriotic decency." Republicans, he said in disgust, were "willing ... to undermine their own government at a time of great international peril." (pp. 332, 334)
This display shows the infamous "pink sheet" ("Douglas-Marcantonio Voting Record"), much of it obscured by two other leaflets. For whatever reason, it comes out looking much pinker in the my photo here than it appeared to me in the case. I knew it was the "pink sheet" because I had read about it before. But the top of it was faded to almost white, and you had to look closely to see the pink tint at the bottom.


This display goes along with the partisan message in the text shown above. The leaflet on the left is pro-Douglas and accused the Nixon campaign of practicing the "big lie" technique: "Hitler invented it/Stalin perfected it/Nixon uses it." (So see, Douglas accused Nixon of being like Stalin, too! Both sides do it! And the Democrats started it!)

That sign is indicative of other aspects of the museum exhibit: it isn't so much that it's wrong - Douglas' Democratic primary opponents red-baited her, too - but it leaves a very incomplete impression of the historical significance of the campaign in Nixon's reputation and career by what it omits.

I'll give the Nixon library website credit for providing a more meaningful sense of the why that campaign made Nixon "Tricky Dick" ever after at the page on "The Senator" as of this writing:

In 1950, he defeated Democratic Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas to win California's vacant Senate seat by more than half a million votes. The campaign was fierce: Nixon, who thought the former actress was too sympathetic to left-wing causes, said Douglas was "pink right down to her underwear;" in response, Douglas labeled Nixon "Tricky Dick."
Even I don't recall having heard the "pink right down to her underwear" line before!

Stephen Ambrose in Nixon: Volume 1 - The Education of a Politician 1913-1962 (1987) described Douglas' politics this way:

Helen Gahagan Douglas, a former opera and Broadway star and the wife of movie actor Melvyn Douglas. An active New Dealer, she was first elected to the House in 1944, after attracting the attention of California liberals in speeches at labor rallies. Although generally regarded as a left-winger, she had spurned Henry Wallace's Progressive Party in the 1948 election, which was a litmus test for fellow travelers. On domestic issues she was a New Deal Democrat. But on foreign affairs her record was mixed. Although she had been critical of the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communists, she had voted against the Truman Doctrine program of aid for Greece and Turkey on the grounds that the effort should have been linked to the United Nations. She had also voted against HUAC appropriations, and had been one of its severe critics. One of her supporters was Ronald Reagan, a leader in the Screen Actors Guild and a registered Democrat. [my emphasis]
Yes, St. Reagan himself supported the candidate Nixon called "pink right down to her underwear."

Some basics on the realities of terrorism

Martha Crenshaw of Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies has a brief article, "The Long View of Terrorism," in Current History Jan 2014, that summarizes some of the major characteristics of terrorism as we know it today. Its observations are a reminder of how things could have been different after the 9/11 attacks. And should have been, if the Cheney-Bush Administration had not been so determined to use the Global War on Terror (GWOT) as an excuse to invade Iraq and expand the already massive level of military force and interventions.

As she writes, "Cycles of retaliation and escalation are not inevitable." The United States had choices on how best to respond after the 9/11 attacks. And made some really, really bad ones. And is still making them, with Obama Non-War War in Iraq and Syria a continuation of it.

Here she provides some basics about terrorism that easily get lost in the squawking hysteria over the Islamic State in which our politicians and media are currently indulging themselves - when they aren't in squawking hysteria over Ebola. She defines terrorism specifically as "a form of violence that deliberately rather than inadvertently targets civilians." The definition of terrorism itself is contested, of course. Partisan warfare in support of a conventional war effort has included sabotage of bridges and other facilities, guerrilla attacks on enemy troops and assassination of hostile local officials. But the definition Crenshaw uses is probably close to how most Americans think of terrorism today.

Those basics that she brings forward include:

  • It was an act of terrorism in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that set off the First World War - in that case because "considerations of prestige and reputation augment territorial and resource rivalries among great powers" came into play around it. A nice way of describing the imperialist, bandit mentality of the great powers in Europea at the start of the First World War.
  • Terrorism in her sense was also practiced by radical groups, notably anarchists, in the 19th century. Here her definition perhaps slips a bit as she notes, "Assassination has been a favored tactic from the anarchist terrorism that arose in the 1880s ... to the present day." Heads of government or senior officials like Franz Ferdinand were civilians, but ones with major roles to play in war and the starting of war.
  • Counterterrorism is largely a matter of "effective law enforcement and intelligence cooperation rather than offensive military force."
  • She designates the 1983 attack on US Marine in Lebanon in 1983 as the starting point of suicide attacks. But she notes 19th century precedents, noting that "Russia's early revolutionaries also prided themselves on dying with their bombs or refusing leniency if apprehended." She specifically makes the argument in that connection that it's incorrect to think of suicide bombings as justified only by "radical Islamist beliefs that justify violence by emphasizing the rewards of martyrdom." Other ideologies and causes have served that role as well. Robert Pape in his 2005 study Dying to Win pointed to nationalism in defending one's homeland as the most common factor motivated suicide bombings. And she warns, "There is no reason to think that future terrorists, of whatever ideological persuasion, will abandon suicide missions."
  • The only known terrorist attacks with a "weapon of mass destruction" was the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo's sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways in 1995. That attack was deadly but failed to produce the mass casualties the cult had anticipated. It may be that an anti-government group in the civil war was responsible for the chemical weapons attack on civilian areas in Syria, though Crenshaw states as a fact that the Syrian government was responsible for it. From what's in the public record to date, it's still an unresolved question.
  • It remains important to combat the ideologies used to encourage and justify terrorist acts.

Crenshaw may place too much faith in drone warfare, writing, "Military force is always an option, from the British in Ireland to Russia in Chechnya to the United States in Afghanistan. Drones and special forces are likely to be the measures of choice in future counterterrorism operations, especially if there is worldwide proliferation of drone technology."

The other side is that drone warfare can also create chaos that provides the potential for escalation. And while propaganda against IS may emphasize its terrorist aspects, the Obama Administration has obviously decided that drones aren't enough to combat it. We also have to continue the Thirty Years War in Iraq and have expanded it to Syria.

Crenshaw also notes:

Before 9/11 hardly anyone in the scholarly or policy worlds thought that terrorism posed a serious threat to national or international security, yet its dramatic repercussions during the "global war on terror" included the invasions of Afghanistan and then Iraq, a profound reorganization of US security institutions, and the implementation of a strategy
of worldwide drone warfare.
Or, in other words, the United States reacted to the 9/11 attacks by adopting what is in practice a policy of permanent war.

The United States is powerful enough to keep up such actions for a while. But, as we should have learned long ago, American power has its limits. And there are costs and many complications associated with war. Every technological innovation that is supposed to make war quick and painless for Americans - drones are the current favorite, as we see in Crenshaw's article - fails to take the risk out of war.

The sooner we adopt a more restrained, realistic foreign policy and manage to significantly reduce our reliance on war as an instrument of foreign policy, the better off we will be.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Argentina's first satellite

Argentina has just joined the geostationary satellite club, which they now share with China, the European Union, India, Israel, Japan, Russia and the United States.

The Buenos Aires Herald reports, Argentina is first country in the region to build and run a geostationary telecom satellite 10/17/2014:

Argentina yesterday became the first Latin American country to build and operate a geostationary satellite, joining a select club of countries with that achievement and marking a seachange in the telecommunications sector for the country and its neighbours. ...

The first in a series of three satellites for the so-called Argentine Geostationary Satellite Telecommunications System, Arsat-1 was developed by state-owned firm Arsat and designed and manufactured by Río Negro province’s INVAP. It will provide television services, Internet access and data and telephone services, for a price tag of US$270 million that includes manufacturing costs from 2006, shipping to French Guiana, launch costs and international insurance.

Rural areas that previously had limited telecommunication coverage will benefit from the satellite’s orbit.
Javier Lewkowicz reports on the successful satellite launch in Al Infinito y más allá Página/12 17.10.2014) "Arsat-1 demandó una inversión de 270 millones de dólares por parte del Estado nacional," he writes ("Arsat-1 required an investment of $270 million on the part of the national government").

President Cristina Fernández claimed the satellite launch as an accomplishment of kirchnerismo, noting that the project stemmed from a decision her late husband and then-President Néstor Kirchner took in 2004. (“Los satélites no se pueden derogar” Página/12 17.10.2014)

The Casa Rosada provides a video of Cristina's statements on the satellite launch, 16 de OCT. Declaraciones de Cristina Fernández tras el lanzamiento del ARSAT-1 16.10.2014:



TV Pública argentina has this series of three video reports on the event from 10/17/2014. They are titled as though there are four installments, but only three seem to be available at this writing on YouTube.

678 - Histórico: Argentina lanzó su primer satélite al espacio - 16-10-14 (1 de 4); this one includes some other news items toward the first:



678 - Histórico: Argentina lanzó su primer satélite al espacio - 16-10-14 (2 de 4):



678 - Histórico: Argentina lanzó su primer satélite al espacio - 16-10-14 (3 de 4):



From Euronews, Argentina launches first satellite 10/17/2014


Germany and the eurozone depression

"I woke up this morning/And none of the news was good" - Steve Earle, "Jerusalem"

The business press is paying more attention lately to the euro crisis. A report by Stefan Riecher and Simon Kennedy, The European Central Bank May Have to Defy Germany Bloomberg Businessweek 10/09/2014 provide an interesting example of reporting stuck in a narrow model - though not as narrow as German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "ordoliberalism." They seem to think that only central bank action counts as legitimate public stimulus:

The ECB boss [Mario Draghi] ended Europe’s sovereign debt crisis by promising in 2012 to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. Investors ask if he’s willing to do the same to save the economy. That leaves Draghi under pressure to introduce a full-bore quantitative easing program, one that would make more money available for cheap lending by having the ECB buy government bonds held by the banks, companies, and others. [my emphasis]
What the ECB ended in the summer of 2012 was an acute phase in the euro debt crisis, not the whole thing. Greece, Portugal, Spain and probably Italy are likely to have to take debt haircuts, in the case of Greece about as certainly as such things can be, with the debt-to-GDP ratio up in the 170%-plus range.

They recognize that an economic solution for the eurozone depression would involve an increase in inflation. Duh! They're on the verge of deflation if not already into it. But Riecher and Kennedy seem to think only the mystical arts of the central bank can bring such needed inflation that would accompany economic growth:

An ECB program of government bond buying, by making even more cheap credit available, would promote spending, which in turn would nudge inflation upward. Because of the lower yields on sovereign debt, ECB bond purchases would encourage a weaker euro as investors seek higher returns elsewhere. A soft euro would make exports more competitive and increase the likelihood of inflation as imported commodities such as oil became pricier. It would also help improve the balance sheets of banks. Draghi may have to act soon: How many more back-to-back recessions can Europe take?
Of course, the main barrier to even that modest kind of effort is Merkel and her Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economics:

The stumbling block is Germany, which doesn’t want the ECB conducting bailouts in disguise. Buying sovereign bonds — as the U.S. Federal Reserve and a string of other central banks have done — is anathema to the Germans. The ECB, by buying sovereign debt from the member states of the European Monetary Union, would come very close to financing individual governments, something the founding treaty of the EMU bans. And if the ECB did buy that debt, it would also likely lessen the pressure on countries such as Greece and France to put their budgets in order and make their economies more productive. , president of Germany’s Bundesbank, has already spoken out against bond purchases and objected to some of the ECB’s recent stimulus steps. If Germany’s economic weakness worsens, the resistance to the program may diminish. The latest data from Germany show a severe contraction in its manufacturing sector. [my emphasis]
Jens Weidmann was an Angie-bot, but he now may be more hardline than Merkel, though not because Merkel has started acknowledging basic macroeconomics.

This is a Euronews report on Germany pressuring France to tighten austerity, EU finance ministers aim to defuse Paris, Berlin row 10/13/2014:



Interest rates on Greek bonds spiked last week, after the ruling New Democratic Party staged a confidence vote as a political stunt to boost their pitiful standing. Niels Kadritzke refers to polls showing that SYRIZA is showing more support right now than the two government parties combined. SYRIZA party leader Alexis Tsipras has made it clear that as head of government he would push for a relief from the draconian economic policies that Merkel has imposed on Greece via the shamelessly compliant EU.

Elaine Moore et al report for the Financial Times (Market turmoil casts further doubt over Europe revival 10/16/2014):

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/62a7ef66-553c-11e4-b616-00144feab7de.html#ixzz3Geo4Gvo7

For the first time this year, Greece’s benchmark bond yields rose above 9 per cent as mounting political instability raised doubts about Athens’ ability to sustain its heavy debt burden. European countries hit hardest by the eurozone debt crisis also saw their borrowing costs jump at rates not seen for a year. ...

Across wider Europe, global investors moved to reallocate their money away from debt issued by countries at the region’s periphery into German bonds, considered the safest and most liquid debt market.

The move sent the yield on 10-year German Bunds to 0.72 per cent during the day – a historic low. Yields on equivalent Italian, Spanish and Portuguese debt rose by about 30 basis points in the morning before falling back.
But Angie loves her some Hoover/Brüning economics, so she's demanding that the eurozone stay the course, as Old Man Bush and Shrub too liked to say when they were Presidents. Stefal Wagstyl and James Politi report (Financial Times 10/16/2014):

“All member states must accept in full the strengthened rules,” she told the German parliament.

As well as rebuffing French president François Hollande and Italian premier Matteo Renzi, who are demanding that Brussels allow them more budget flexibility, Ms Merkel seemed intent on calming the world’s financial markets, which saw some of their sharpest sell-offs of the week on Thursday, including a steep drop in Greek bonds. ...

Paris and Rome have argued that their embrace of structural reforms, such as a recent Italian move to overhaul a sclerotic labour market, should afford them some relief from the fiscal rules.

As the EU’s biggest economy, Berlin has always had the key say in that debate and has privately been urging the European Commission to take a tough line. Ms Merkel said the financial crisis in Europe was “not permanent” but neither had it been “sustainably overcome”.
Merkel is worried about fighting the bond vigilantes and further slam down the purchasing power of eurozone citizens to coax the Confidence Fairy into her long-delayed arrival.

Fighting the eurozone depression? Not so much.

That report gives the Italian debt-to-GDP ratio as 134%. Possibly sustainable with economic recovery, unsupportable in a continued depression.

Horand Knaup and Christian Reiermann write about pressure on Merkel in Out of Balance? Criticism of Germany Grows as Economy Stalls Spiegel International 10/14/2014:

[Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble:] "In Germany, we have shown in recent years that solid finances and better growth are not contradictory -- they are necessary complementary elements," he said on Monday in Luxembourg, where he was for a meeting of euro zone finance ministers. He added that calls for state spending were "old fashioned."

Criticism of Schäuble's position is also mounting in Germany. "The decision to balance the budget is a risky one," says Marcel Fratzscher, the head of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin. "If the economy continues to weaken, that goal will no longer be sustainable."

If the government were to stick to its guns, he argues, it would have to implement budget cuts that would further hasten the crisis. Instead, he argues, the finance minister should take advantage of the "wiggle room" provided in the balanced budget amendment to Germany's constitution "to increase public investments." Under the law, which was approved by parliament in 2009 and goes into full effect in 2016, the federal government is permitted maximum annual borrowing of 0.35 percent of gross domestic product, the equivalent of about €10 billion next year. "That would send a strong message to the German business community and to Europe that Germany takes its responsibility seriously," Fratzscher says.

But Merkel's government seems set on achieving a balanced budget. Even worse, the current government made the very decisions that are now robbing it of the means it would need to counter a possible economic downturn. [my emphasis]



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Not only are we going to train Syrian moderate "ARVN," we're going to recruit the soldiers, too!

Aaaa-aand in today's news, we're dumping the "moderate" Syrian fighting force we have and building a whole new one.

Well, at least we had the old one, the Free Syrian Army, on the paper and digital pixils of press releases.

Hanna Allam reports for McClatchy Newspapers, "John Allen, the retired Marine general in charge of coordinating the U.S.-led coalition’s response to the Islamic State ... said the United States’ intent is to start from scratch in creating a home-grown, moderate counterweight to the Islamic State." (It’s official: U.S. will build new Syrian rebel force to battle Islamic State)

I think they should call themselves the "Army of Revolution, Victory and Nation" so they could have the English initials ARVN.

Because we're not just repeating the stock exercise of training the South Vietnamese Army, as we did in Iraq. This time we're recruiting all the soldiers, too!

I mean, it's like the Very Serious Person David Ignatius said back in August 2003 during that phase of the Thirty Years War in Iraq, "America's job is to give Iraqis the tools to create a modern, secure country -- and then get out." (Think Strategy, Not Numbers Washington Post 08/26/2003)

And that's what we did. Except, you know, the getting out part proved to be harder than expected.

Allen's comments are really striking:

For most of the three years of the Syrian conflict, the U.S. ground game hinged on rebel militias that are loosely affiliated under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, or FSA. Their problems were no secret: a lack of cohesion, uneven fighting skills and frequent battlefield coordination with the al Qaida loyalists of the Nusra Front.

This time, Allen said, the United States and its allies will work to strengthen the political opposition and make sure it’s tied to "a credible field force" that will have undergone an intense vetting process. ...

The Syrian arena is important, Allen said, but to the U.S., "the emergency in Iraq right now is foremost in our thinking." There will be a simultaneous training-and-equipping campaign for Iraq, where the U.S.-trained military collapsed during the Islamic State’s summer offensive.

Allen said the new training program is “for those elements of the Iraqi national security forces that will have to be refurbished and then put back into the field,” with the ultimate goal of reclaiming Iraqi territories seized by the Islamic State.

Allen sounded confident that the United States and its allies could juggle two massive training efforts even as the Islamic State has shown itself to be resilient under weeks of coalition airstrikes.

“We have the capacity to do both, and there is significant coalition interest in participating in both,” Allen said of the twin force-building efforts in Iraq and Syria.
The plain meaning of what the article reports him saying is, the effort to train the Iraqi Army has failed badly, and we're having to redo it. And redoing in Iraq what we failed to do in years of direct US occupation is going to be given priority over creating a pro-American, American-directed Sunni Syrian guerrilla group to replace the Free Syrian Army (FSA) whose main accomplishment seems to have been to train a few Sunni guerrillas who took their weapons and training and joined Islamic State.

And that's just the level of failure we know about from the public record.

Given these failures, it's worth paying attention to this more recent piece by VSP Ignatius, which reads like a White House press release repurposed as a Washington Post column, Obama faces growing pressure to escalate in Iraq and Syria 10/14/2014. It reads as like a list of pending escalation actions:

  • Using Apache helicopters, presumably flown by Americans, in direct combat to assist Iraqi forces to counter IS troops in Anbar province.
  • "Stepping up airstrikes over Iraq and Syria" by up to ten times the previous level.
  • "Accelerate the training of the Iraqi army and a new Sunni national guard." Because our extensive training program in Iraq for years was so very successful, one must suppose. "Hundreds of foreign trainers, drawn from the special forces of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and other nations, will be working with the Iraqi military. A similar effort is needed for the Sunni guard." Traning the Sunni "guard" sounds suspiciously like the support for Sunni militias and death squads that was the centerpiece of The Surge. Which also produced so obvious long-term benefits.
  • "Create a border strip in northern Syria that’s safe from air attacks by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad," which has been a key goal of Turkey, which would serve their priorities of, in order, keep Kurds (allies of the Syrian regime) out of Turkey, help overthrown the Assad regime, and provide a base of operations against IS.
  • "Speed the training of the moderate Free Syrian Army so it can battle the Islamic State’s militants." I guess that one's out now! "Some officials argue for doubling the planned force to 10,000 and speeding completion of training camps in Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia." Training sounds so benign in this context, doesn't it?
  • "Warn the Assad government that the U.S.-led coalition won’t permit attacks on the moderate opposition. Given the reluctance of the United States, Turkey and other nations to send ground troops into Syria, and the popular hatred of Assad’s army, the FSA represents what generals call the “defeat mechanism” against the extremists. Assad must stop assaulting these forces that can liberate Sunni areas from the Islamic State." What? Two days ago the FSA was the "'defeat mechanism' against the extremists"? And today they're out of the picture. (Also, Also, if the Sunni ARVN is going to be the new "'defeat mechanism' against the extremists," which presumably means IS - doesn't that mean the new moderate Sunni ARVN is going to be effectively fighting for New Hitler Assad if they're going to prioritize the war against New Hitler IS? We're on so many sides in this Non-War War, it's really hard to keep up!
The last option he describes:

Finally and most painfully, authorize U.S. advisers to join the “assault echelon” when Iraqis go into battle against the extremists. This will be the hardest recommendation for Obama to accept, because it fuzzes his pledge not to use combat troops in Iraq. But one official says putting U.S. advisers “in harm’s way” will be crucial in stiffening Iraqi resolve. Dempsey said Sunday that the “decisive” battles for Mosul and other extremist strongholds “will require a different kind of advising and assisting” from what Obama initially advocated.
Back to direct combat on a larger scale that spotters on the ground to help target airstrikes or Apache flights in support of Iraqi forces. And if "putting U.S. advisers 'in harm’s way' will be crucial in stiffening Iraqi resolve," doesn't that mean its an American war?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Angie-nomics versus arithmetic

"The idea that Germany is a useful role model depends on Ordoarithmetic — the view that what we need is for everyone to run enormous trade surpluses at the same time." - Paul Krugman, German Weakness 10/12/2014

Everyone running trade surpluses is a great idea. Or would be if those annoying laws of arithmetic didn't get in the way!


"Ordoarithmetic" is Krugman's mocking phrase about Merkel's hard-right "ordoliberalism," which I typically refer to as Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economics, because that's basically what it is in practice.

I discussed ordoliberalism here in Angela Merkel and "ordoliberalism" 12/06/2011.

I quoted there from an article on the original incarnation of ordoliberalism, also known as the Freiburg School, by Carl Friedrich, "The Political Thought of Neo-Liberalism" The American Political Science Review 49/2 (Jun. 1955). Discussing the book Ortsbestimmung der Gegenwart by one of a leading ordoliberal of the day, Alexander Ristow, Friedrich commented on the anti-democratic bias of the theory:

There is a good deal of elitist thinking among these neo-liberals, with little appreciation of the role of the common man. Many of them - although not Ristow - confuse the common man with the mass man, in the manner of Ortega y Gasset. Although their idea of the constitution as the creative act of instituting the free market economy requires an elaboration of their image of man along democratic lines, showing that he is capable of much "common sense," they do not see democracy in this perspective. There is a general tendency to confuse constitutional democracy with the anarchic majoritarian democracy that the Jacobins read into Rousseau, and to see totalitarian dictatorship as its inescapable fruit. [my emphasis]
Krugman cites Wolfgang Münchau's Germany’s weak point is its reliance on exports Financial Times 10/12/2014. Short version of Münchau's piece: Angela Merkel and her SPD toadies luu-uuve them some Lesser Depression. And that plan to keep it going as long as Heinrich Brüning would have. For Brüning, other political events intervened.

Also from the Shrill One: "We are by no means out of the Lesser Depression." (Krugman, 1937 10/15/2014)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cenk Uygur on militant atheism and Islamophobia

There has been some attention lately in the progressive media to the Islamophobia promoted by outspoken atheists like Bill Maher and Sam Harris.

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks has a half-hour interview here with Muslim religious scholar Reza Aslan on the topic, Reza Aslan - Bigotry, Fundamentalism and Neo-Atheism in the Media 10/13/2014:



Digby in QOTD: Reza Aslan Hullabaloo 10/14/2014 links to an interview by Jesse Singal with Aslan, Reza Aslan on What the New Atheists Get Wrong About Islam New York Magazine 10/14/2014. Aslan says there:

This is going to sound odd to say, but probably nothing, because when you are dealing with that kind of level of certainty, whether you are talking about a religious fundamentalist, or an atheist fundamentalist, which is precisely what someone like Sam Harris is, it’s really a waste of time to try to argue either data points or logical reasoning, because they have already made up their mind and it becomes kind of useless to have that kind of conversation.
Digby is somewhat surprised by the Islamophobia coming from atheists.

I'm tempted to attribute the Harris/Maher kind of Islamophobia to the kind of testosterone poisoning that women have sometimes encountered in the "skeptical" movement that debunks pseudo-science and attracts science-minded atheists. Skeptic star Michael Sherman, the Founding Director of Skeptic magazine and a longtime monthly columnist for Scientific American, has been accused of being a nasty twit (and worse!) in his behavior toward women. He also has a fondness for Friedrich Hayek/Ayn Rand type "Utopian-free-market economics (which isn't exactly reality-based).

Rand herself was also very much an atheist, to the embarrassment of her fans like Paul Ryan. But that didn't stop her from being on the bandwagon of Cold War opposition to Communism, which was routinely and prominently condemned for its "godlessness" - which Rand presumably shared.

I can't help but think that some of the atheist Islamophobia is based on ideological affinity. If you're an atheist who loves the Republicans for being free-market, damning Islam is a way to identify with them on something religious without claiming to be Christian. There's also some ideological piggy-backing on the politics: Christians are likely to dismiss atheist arguments directed against the *Christian* God. But if you show religion is evil by criticizing the barbarian Moon God Allah and his fanatical brainwashed polygamous beheading followers, you might get a hearing among conservative Christians.

Juan Cole writes about Maher and Harris in Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s Muslim Problem Informed Comment 10/07/2014:

Maher’s and Harris’s charges against Muslims in general are ridiculous. Neither one has ever lived in a Muslim-majority society or knows the languages or cultures. They just retail invidious calumnies second-hand. Almost anything polemicists like Sam Harris say of Muslims can be said of others; i.e. they are just describing the human condition, unfortunate as it often is. In the 1990s an ABC poll showed that 10% of Americans sympathized with far right wing white supremacist groups like the Michigan Militia. My recollection is that polling showed that a significant proportion of Chinese sympathized with the 9/11 attacks and to this day only a third think al-Qaeda committed them (i.e. it wasn’t viewed as a fundamentalist act but as an anti-imperialist one [this point of view is execrable; I'm just reporting it]). Note that in this last instance, the attitudes have nothing to do with religion but rather with nationalism/ imperialism, a binary pair that explains the world much better than religion/atheism. The same statistics, if glibly given by Maher or Harris for Muslims, would damn the latter and their tradition; but what about the Chinese? Is Communist-Capitalism or the Confucianist heritage to blame here?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Vultures: birds and metaphors

Argentine officials refer to the hedge funds that bought defaulted Argentine debt as "vulture funds."

Some people don't like this. A naturalist group, Aves Argentinas (AA), thinks the term is insulting - to actual vultures.

They probably have a point. After all, carrion-eating birds do have a useful function in their ecosystems. It takes imagination to argue the same for vulture funds in the world economy!

Actual vultures: they don't try to impoverish whole countries

As Soledad Vallejos explains in Los buitres tienen defensores Página/12 13.10.2014:

Si se califica de buitre, es negativo. La repetición de la metáfora, a cuento de juicios y deudas, terminó por subrayar, o más bien afianzar, el uso coloquial nada positivo del adjetivo. Si “fondo buitre” es aquel inversor que compra barata deuda de un país o una empresa débil apostando a un futuro no lejano en el que hará juicio para cobrar lo que parece incobrable, ¿quién podría pensar algo lindo del animal carroñero de marras?

[To be designated as a vulture is a negative thing. The repetition of the metaphor in reference to judges and debts, winds up underlining, or rather strrengthening, the not-at-all positive colloquial use of the adjective. If a "vulture fund" is that investor who buys old debt of a country or an ailing business, betting that in the not distant future that he will go to court to collect what appears uncollectable, who could ever think anything nice about the carrion-feeding animal?]
Another thing to dislike about vulture funds. They're giving innocent birds a bad name!



Sunday, October 12, 2014

Argentina's Finance Minister on the state of the vulture fund fight #GrieFault #GriesaFault

Tomás Lukin interviewed Argentine Finance Minister Axel Kiciloff, who has been in Washington for the meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank there. (“El sistema financiero mundial está bajo reforma” Página/12 12.10.2014)

The title comes from something Kiciloff told him, "Hoy el sistema financiero internacional está bajo reforma por el caso argentino. Hasta el FMI cuestionó la interpretación que hizo el sistema judicial de Estados Unidos.” ("Today the international financial system is being reformed because of the case of Argentina. Even the IMF has questioned the interpretation made by the judicial system of the United States.")

He's referring, of course, to the radical decision by the Nixon-appointed zombie judge Thomas Griesa in favor of the vulture funds holding defaulted Argentine debt, a decision that would have forced Argentina into actual default, not just into the #Griefault, if they had been willing to go along with it passively and have the vulture funds pummel the Argentine economy because they found a senile judge, at least intellectually corrupt, to go along with them.

Argentina has a won a majority of countries in the US General Assembly to demand a reform of the sovereign debt system to prevent people like the vulture funds and Nixon zombie judges from doing crazy and massively destructive things like they tried to do this year with Argentina.

The IMF's Monetary and Financial Committee recently referred to the problem raised by the vulture funds' attack on Argentina - in bland bureaucratese, of course: "We welcome the work on modified pari passu clauses and strengthened collective action clauses, and call on the IMF, its member countries, and the private sector to actively promote their use in new international sovereign bond issuances." (Communiqué of the Thirtieth Meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) 10/112014; El FMI y “las fallas” de Griesa Página/12 12.10.2014)

A novel treatment of the pari passu clauses in the defaulted Argentine debt agreements was one of the features of the Nixon zombie judge's radical ruling.

IMF Chairwoman Christine Legarde addressed an issue related to the Argentine debt fight with the vulture funds at the IMF/World Bank meeting (The IMF at 70: Making the Right Choices—Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow 10/102014): "A world of large capital flows means that we need a large global safety net. Regional arrangements—including the new BRICs contingency reserve arrangement—certainly have an important role to play."

The IMF also formally recommends a reform of the sovereign debt restructuring process, as the Buenos Aires Herald reports in IMF calls for reforms to avoid holdout cases 10/07/2014:

The International Monetary Fund urged a rethink of how sovereign bonds should be structured to avoid future debt restructurings turning into a repeat of Argentina’s disruptive court battle with a few disgruntled creditors.

A detailed IMF paper laid out a series of recommendations that centred on enhancing so-called collective action clauses (CACs) embedded in most sovereign bond contracts, on modifying clauses on the pari passu equal treatment of creditors, and on the IMF’s role in promoting the use of such clauses.

The reports comes after United States District Judge Thomas Griesa’s decision to hold Argentina in contempt of court because of the country’s attempt to pay bondholders in Buenos Aires and change trustee. [my emphasis]
Enhanced CACs that allowed restructuring agreements reached by some specified percentage of the bondholders to be made binding on all bondholders would take away the kind of rent-seeking speculation opportunities of which the vulture funds availed themselves thanks to the availability of a compliant Nixon zombie judge and the willingness of the Roberts Court to let his radical ruling stand. The IMF proposal suggests 75% of the bondholders agreeing as the threshold for such CACs.

As the BAH article notes, "The absence of such a [collective action] clause in Argentina’s original bond contracts is what has allowed hedge funds NML and Elliott to pursue the country for full repayment on debt it restructured in 2005 and 2010. Those restructurings were accepted by 93 percent of bondholders."

IMF Supports Reforms for More Orderly Sovereign Debt Restructurings IMF Survey Magazine 10/06/2014:

The IMF is engaged in a number of reforms designed to reduce the costs of sovereign debt restructurings—for the benefit of debtors, creditors, and the system more generally. These reforms include possible changes to the IMF’s lending framework that are designed to give the IMF a broader range of policy responses in the context of sovereign debt distress. Separately, there is a recognition that, in circumstances where a sovereign and its creditors have reached the conclusion that a debt restructuring is necessary, the existing legal framework may not be sufficiently robust to prevent “holdout” creditors from undermining the restructuring process. Recent developments, including the Argentine litigation in the United States, have highlighted these vulnerabilities. The IMF recently endorsed reforms to sovereign bond contracts that are designed to address these issues. [my emphasis]

The IMF's report itself is Strengthening the Contractual Framework to Address Collective Action Problems in Sovereign Debt Restructuring Oct 2014. Pages 8-9 provide a chronology of the Argentina/vulture funds legal conflict and the decisions of the Nixon zombie judge.

Press Release on the report: IMF Executive Board Discusses Strengthening the Contractual Framework in Sovereign Debt Restructuring Press Release No.14/459 10/06/2014:

Directors acknowledged that the recent New York court decisions with respect to Argentina may exacerbate collective action problems, although most felt that the extent of their impact on the restructuring process is still unclear. Directors welcomed the recent modification of pari passu clauses in certain sovereign bond issuances to explicitly exclude the obligation to effect ratable payments. Accordingly, they supported the widespread use of these types of modified pari passu clauses in new international sovereign bonds so as to enhance legal certainty and consistency across jurisdictions. [my emphasis]
The "ratable payments" technicality was part of the Nixon zombie judge's ruling.

Axel Kiciloff in his interview said that nothing would come of further mediation under Daniel Pollack with the vulture funds. Argentina seems to no longer regard him as any kind of honest broker.

Página/12 asked Kiciloff if Argentina actually needed to go back to international bond markets. Kiciloff replied, "Una cosa es recurrir y otra es no tener la posibilidad" ("It's one thing to go back and another to not have the possibility.") In other words, Argentina is able to maintain its payments with the 92% of restructured bondholders and does not need to borrow more money now. But the current administration wants to preserve Argentina's credit standing by making good on the 2005 and 2010 agreements with the restructured bondholders.

Euro crisis not over yet

Paul Krugman reminds us that the euro crisis is still very much with us (Europanic 2.0 10/11/2014):

Not that long ago the austerians who had dictated macro policy in the euro area were strutting around, proclaiming victory on the basis of a modest uptick in growth. Then inflation plunged and the eurozone economy began to sputter — and perhaps more important, everyone looked at the fundamentals again and realized that the situation remains extremely dire.
The panics over interest rates on national bonds of eurozone members culminated in 2012, when the ECB finally stepped in with a promise to backstop the eurozone bond market. This was a creative stretch of its legal authority, but is something central banks are normally able to do with their currency zones, which are mostly individual nations.

It was one of the faults of the euro currency design that the ECB wasn't originally given such authority outright. German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposed the action right up until then, but she finally grudgingly relented, when it became painfully obvious that the speculation was weeks or even days from wrecking the euro.

Merkel's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is still worrying that ECB chairman Mario Draghi is dangerously stimulus-oriented. (Stefan Riecher et al, Draghi Clashes With Schaeuble Over Steps for Europe Bloomberg News 10/10/25014):

As the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting in Washington began, Draghi pledged anew to loosen monetary policy more if needed and called on those governments with the room to ease fiscal policy to do so. By contrast, Schaeuble warned against U.S.-style quantitative easing and urged continued budgetary discipline.

The differences demonstrate the lack of a common front in euro-area policy making as its economy continues to deteriorate and the IMF estimates there is as much as a 40 percent risk of a third recession since 2008.
As Krugman puts it, "Once the prospect of a cash shortage [that might force individual country defaults] was taken off the table [by the ECB's 2012 action], the panic quickly subsided, and at this point both Spain and Italy have historically low borrowing costs."

Krugman references a Frontline interview with the late economist Rudi Dornbusch, talking about the 1995 Mexican finance crisis, for the episode Murder, Money and Mexico: The Rise and Fall of the Salinas Brothers (1997).

YOU SAY IT WAS PREDICTABLE AND YOU DID SEE IT COMING. BUT WHY DID WALL STREET NOT SEE IT COMING?

Well, when it happened, it's a wide open question. An overvalued currency isn't tantamount to a crisis. The crisis takes a much longer time coming than you think, and then it happens much faster than you would have thought, and that's sort of exactly the Mexican story. It took forever and then it took a night. [my emphasis]
That sentence, "It took forever and then it took a night," is an important observation. Economic crises build up for a while, and then often take a sudden turn for the (much) worse. The eurozone has been visibly in crisis as a currency zone, which has extended and worsening the depression that began in 2008. In mid-2012, it was entering an "it took a night" phase. We're likely to see more of them. At least one more.

That 1995 Mexican crisis also had fixed exchange rates involved, as M. Angeles Villarreal describes in The Mexican Economy After the Global Financial Crisis 09/16/2010:

The Mexican economy suffered a financial crisis in 1995 that resulted from a number of complex financial, economic, and political factors. In response, the government abandoned its previous fixed exchange rate policy and adopted a floating exchange rate regime. Mexico’s currency plunged by around 50% within six months as a result, sending the country into a deep recession.
The gold standard was a type of fixed exchange rate for participating countries, and so is the euro.

Krugman describes the difference of the current situation to 2012, referring to the "zero lower bound." That term refers to very low interest rates. Nominal interest rates can't go below zero. They normally approach zero only in a weak economy, one that has lots of unused capacity, and therefore high unemployment. Neo-Keynesians like Krugman recognize that in such a situation, monetary policy can have only a very limited effect in promoting economic growth. (More orthodox Keynesians and post-Keynesians are more likely to question whether monetary policy can ever do much of anything to promote economic growth.) Krugman:

What’s happening now, however, is very different [from 2012]. It’s a slower-motion crisis, involving the euro area as a whole, which is sliding into a deflationary trap with the ECB already essentially at the zero lower bound. Draghi can try to get traction through quantitative easing, but it’s by no means clear that this could do the trick even under the best of circumstances — and in reality he faces severe political constraints on what he can do.

What strikes me, also, is the extent of intellectual confusion that remains. Germany still seems determined to regard the whole thing as the wages of fiscal irresponsibility, which not only rules out effective fiscal stimulus but hobbles QE, since it’s anathema for them to consider buying government debt.

And it’s remarkable, too, how the logic of the liquidity trap remains elusive even after six years — six years! — at the zero lower bound.
Merkel, whether from conviction or loyalty to German corporate bosses, is committed to her Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning for the eurozone. She's also approaching it in a nationalistic way, pursuing policies from which Germany as a national economy benefits at the expense of most of the rest of the eurozone. Her policies at the same time ensure that German workers benefit very little from the advantages of the national economy. The lion's share of the benefits are going to the German One Percent.

Given her nationalistic focus, the only kind of external pressure that could force a change in her policy would be a country like Greece or Spain being willing to leave the eurozone - and thus provoke its collapse more generally - unless Germany backs off and allows a counter-cyclical, stimulative policy for the eurozone.

Within Germany, if the SPD followed an actual center-left economic policy, they could present a real challenge to it. But that ship has sailed. If they were going to do that in any immediate future, they would have tried to form a government after the 2013 Bundestag election with the Left Party and the Greens instead of rushing to become the junior partner in a Grand Coalition government headed by Angela Merkel.

Krugman doesn't see a happy ending to the euro crisis:

Europe has surprised many people, myself included, with its resilience. And I do think the Draghi-era ECB has become a major source of strength. But I (and others I talk to) are having an ever harder time seeing how this ends — or rather, how it ends non-catastrophically. You may find a story in which Marine Le Pen takes France out of both the euro and the EU implausible; but what’s your scenario?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mearsheimer on the Obama Administration's policy on Ukraine

Über-Realist John Mearsheimer writes about US policy toward Russia in Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin Foreign Affairs Sept-Oct 2014. This article has a feature I haven't noticed or used before. The article is behind subscription, but you can send the full article to your Kindle for free.

"Russia's invasion of Georgia in August 2008 should have dispelled any remaining doubts about Putin's determination to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO," Mearsheimer writes.

I'm cautious about the theoretical framework that "realist" foreign-policy theorists like Mearsheimer use, because in the minds and hands of people like Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, it can produce some beneficial, pragmatic policies (normalizing relations with China, detente with the USSR) alongside cynical, foolish and destructive ones (prolonging and expanding the war in Indochina, getting up a coup in Chile). But the best of the Realists, like Mearsheimer, his sometime collaborator Stephen Walt, and the late George Kennan, provide valuable and unsentimental analysis that takes into account capabilities and intentions, aspirations and delusions.

In the United States, even the most critical foreign policy issues are publicly discussed by policymakers and elected officials in highly ideological terms, heavily influenced by an unreflective Cold War triumphalism. The latter of which was un-Realist and unrealistic to begin with, and now is fast approaching the clinically delusional. Mearsheimer and Walt also take into account a few years of history in looking at current foreign policy problems, something that our major media in the US, including CNN, have effectively lost the ability to do.

Intelligence analysts and foreign policy professionals and the occasional news junkie were aware of the background that Mearsheimer relates on Russia's resistance to NATO expansion. The Clinton and Bush II Administrations were always taking on a bigger risk with NATO expansion than the American public realized. We don't have to assume any benign motives on the part of Russian leaders for policymakers to have known that Russia was highly likely to eventually push back against it, as they have done in Georgia and Ukraine. Taking the former Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia into NATO was an especially questionable move. As Mearsheimer reminds us, NATO made Albania and Croatia full members in 2009.

As Stephen Walt has pointed out that NATO hasn't bothered to put in place the kind of forward military capabilities to effectively defend the Baltic countries against an actual Russian invasion, as Kennan predicted in 1998 in an earlier stage of NATO expansion (see below). So, in the world of war-gaming, what does NATO do if we want to go to war with Russia in non-NATO member Georgia but Russia simultaneously threatens the actual NATO allies in the Baltics?

Actually, such scenarios are a little far-fetched in Mearsheimer's view: "Russia's mediocre army, which shows few signs of turning into a modern Wehrmacht, would have little chance of pacifying all of Ukraine. Moscow is also poorly positioned to pay for a costly occupation; its weak economy would suffer even more in the face of the resulting sanctions." He judges that Vladimir Putin's "response to events there has been defensive, not offensive."

So whatever larger questions of virtue may be at stake, the US and NATO really seem to have underestimated the risks and real costs of the NATO expansion policy. And now the reliance on economic sanctions against Russia coincides with the continuing depression in the eurozone for which there is no end in sight under Angela Merkel's deflationary "ordoliberal" economic policies. The whole set of US-NATO policies on Russia needs more of a dose of realism, on both the theoretical and policy levels.

Mearsheimer notes that in addition to NATO expansion, the West established an Eastern Partnership initiative, "a program to foster prosperity in such countries as Ukraine and integrate them into the EU economy." He says Russia viewed "the plan as hostile to their country's interests." He writes, "In the eyes of Russian leaders, EU expansion is a stalking horse for NATO expansion."

Then there's Victoria Nuland and the dubious "democracy-promotion" efforts that have targeted Ukraine, Venezuela and other countries that, perhaps coincidentally, don't have the best relations with the United States.

The West's final tool for peeling Kiev away from Moscow has been its efforts to spread Western values and promote democracy in Ukraine and other post-Soviet states, a plan that often entails funding pro-Western individuals and organizations. Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, estimated in December 2013 that the United States had invested more than $5 billion since 1991 to help Ukraine achieve "the future it deserves." As part of that effort, the U.S government has bankrolled the National Endowment for Democracy. The nonprofit foundation has funded more than 60 projects aimed at promoting civil society in Ukraine, and the NED's president, Carl Gershman, has called that country "the biggest prize." After [former Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovych won Ukraine's presidential election in February 2010, the NED decided he was undermining its goals, and so it stepped up its efforts to support the opposition and strengthen the country's democratic institutions. [my emphasis]
The State Department website has the Congressional testimony of Nuland from last year before a Senate subcommittee, A Pivotal Moment for the Eastern Partnership: Outlook for Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan 11/14/2013:

The United States supports the sovereign right of these countries to choose their own future, and we welcome their closer relationship with the EU. We have been working in lock-step with our European Allies and partners to help Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia meet the tough conditions for a “yes” vote at Vilnius. We’ve also been aligning future U.S. assistance with that of the EU to ensure that these countries can continue on the politically difficult, but necessary, path of reform and economic adjustment, including after Vilnius. At the same time, we have been working with the EU and each candidate country to anticipate and prepare them for any negative reaction to their choice, whether it comes from inside or outside their countries. I would note in this regard that any form of pressure to prevent sovereign states from pursuing greater integration with the EU, or any organization of their choosing, would contravene obligations under the OSCE Helsinki Principles and the Charter of Paris. The message we are sending in the neighborhood is that all countries benefit when their neighbors open their markets and become more stable and prosperous.
Nuland presented US assistance in a very benign light:

Ukraine still needs to take three important reform steps to meet the EU’s conditions for signature at Vilnius including: passage of legislation reforming its Prosecutor General’s Office; passage of legislation reforming its parliamentary election code; and the release of jailed former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko for medical treatment. Since its independence in 1991, the American people have supported Ukraine’s transition to democracy and a free market economy with over $5 billion in assistance. In FY2013, our assistance topped $100 million, and much of it went to help Ukraine meet European standards in law enforcement, electoral reform, business climate and the judicial sector, including key support for Ukraine’s newly adopted Criminal Procedure Code. If Ukraine meets the EU’s conditions and signs in Vilnius, it will be able to export its goods to the largest single market in the world, tariff-free, by early 2014. This should provide a great stimulus to an economy which has been in a difficult recession for over a year. In the past few months, Ukraine has come under pressure from Russia, including bans on chocolate, stoppage of refrigerated goods at the border, and reductions in other key imports. We are working with the EU on options to help Ukraine make difficult trade adjustments and weather the EU implementation period if Ukraine makes the political decisions necessary to sign its AA at Vilnius.
When regime change from the elected if authoritarian-minded, pro-Russian Yanukovych government fell to an anti-Russian one. Mearsheimer even uses one of those f-words, saying that the new government "contained four high-ranking members who could legitimately be labeled neofascists."

And Mearsheimer explains why it's difficult to assume there was not a US-directed regime-change operation in play:

Although the full extent of U.S. involvement has not yet come to light, it is clear that Washington backed the coup. Nuland and Republican Senator John McCain participated in antigovernment demonstrations, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, proclaimed after Yanukovych's toppling that it was "a day for the history books." As a leaked telephone recording revealed, Nuland had advocated regime change and wanted the Ukrainian politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk to become prime minister in the new government, which he did. No wonder Russians of all persuasions think the West played a role in Yanukovych's ouster.
Russia's leaders, and apparently much of the public, see a Western alliance by Georgia or Ukraine to be very much against Russia's national interest. "Washington may not like Moscow's position," writes Mearsheimer, "but it should understand the logic behind it." Because, as it puts in a classic Realist tone, "it is the Russians, not the West, who ultimately get to decide what counts as a threat to them."

That other famous realist, George Kennan, warned in strong terms in 1998 when the Senate approved the first round of NATO expansion negotiated by the Clinton Administration, that it was a bad idea (Thomas Friedman, Foreign Affairs; Now a Word From X New York Times 05/02/1998; yes, Little Tommy Friedman once did some decent reporting):

"I think it is the beginning of a new cold war," said Mr. Kennan from his Princeton home. "I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs."

"What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was," added Mr. Kennan, who was present at the creation of NATO and whose anonymous 1947 article in the journal Foreign Affairs, signed "X," defined America's cold-war containment policy for 40 years. "I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don't people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.

... "It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are -- but this is just wrong." [my emphasis]
Mearsheimer sees a theoretical/ideological aspect to the Clinton Administration view on NATO expansion, a badly flawed view in Mearsheimer's opinion:

Most liberals, on the other hand, favored enlargement, including many key members of the Clinton administration. They believed that the end of the Cold War had fundamentally transformed international politics and that a new, postnational order had replaced the realist logic that used to govern Europe. The United States was not only the "indispensable nation," as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it; it was also a benign hegemon and thus unlikely to be viewed as a threat in Moscow. The aim, in essence, was to make the entire continent look like western Europe. ...

... Europeans were even more wedded than Americans to the idea that geopolitics no longer mattered and that an all-inclusive liberal order could maintain peace in Europe.

... NATO has expanded in the past because liberals assumed the alliance would never have to honor its new security guarantees.
Robert Parry has been providing a lot of critical coverage on the Ukrainian events since February at his Consortium News site, including:

Robert Parry, Neocons and the Ukraine Coup 02/23/2014:

Over the past several weeks, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was undercut by a destabilization campaign encouraged by Nuland and Pyatt and then deposed in a coup spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias. Even after Yanukovych and the political opposition agreed to an orderly transition toward early elections, right-wing armed patrols shattered the agreement and took strategic positions around Kiev.

Despite these ominous signs, Ambassador Pyatt hailed the coup as “a day for the history books.” Most of the mainstream U.S. news media also sided with the coup, with commentators praising the overthrow of an elected government as “reform.” But a few dissonant reports have pierced the happy talk by noting that the armed militias are part of the Pravy Sektor, a right-wing nationalist group which is often compared to the Nazis.

Thus, the Ukrainian coup could become the latest neocon-initiated “regime change” that ousted a target government but failed to take into account who would fill the void.
Robert Parry, Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine 02/26/2014:

Reasonable people can disagree about whether the EU was driving too hard a bargain or whether Ukraine should undertake such painful economic “reforms” – or how Yanukovych should have balanced the interests of his divided country, with the east dominated by ethnic Russians and the west leaning toward Europe.

But protesters from western Ukraine, including far-right nationalists, sought to turn this policy dispute into a means for overthrowing the elected government. Police efforts to quell the disturbances turned violent, with the police not the only culprits. Police faced armed neo-Nazi storm troopers who attacked with firebombs and other weapons.

Though the U.S. news media did show scenes of these violent melees, the U.S. press almost universally blamed Yanukovych – and took almost gleeful pleasure as his elected government collapsed and was replaced by thuggish right-wing militias “guarding” government buildings.
Robert Parry, A Shadow US Foreign Policy 02/27/2014:

The National Endowment for Democracy, a central part of Ronald Reagan’s propaganda war against the Soviet Union three decades ago, has evolved into a $100 million U.S. government-financed slush fund that generally supports a neocon agenda often at cross-purposes with the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

NED is one reason why there is so much confusion about the administration’s policies toward attempted ousters of democratically elected leaders in Ukraine and Venezuela. Some of the non-government organizations (or NGOs) supporting these rebellions trace back to NED and its U.S. government money, even as Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials insist the U.S. is not behind these insurrections.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with Ukraine joining with the EU or staying with Russia (or a combination of the two) – depending on the will of the people and their elected representatives – this latest U.S./EU plan was motivated, at least in part, by hostility toward Russia.

That attitude was expressed in a Sept. 26, 2013, op-ed in the Washington Post by Carl Gershman, the neoconservative president of the National Endowment for Democracy, which doles out more than $100 million in U.S. funds a year to help organize “activists,” support “journalists” and finance programs that can be used to destabilize targeted governments.

Gershman, whose job amounts to being a neocon paymaster, expressed antagonism toward Russia in the op-ed and identified Ukraine as “the biggest prize,” the capture of which could ultimately lead to the ouster of Putin, who “may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

The NED, which was founded in 1983 to do in relative openness what the CIA had long done in secret, listed 65 projects that it was financing in Ukraine, using U.S. taxpayers’ money. In other words, Gershman’s op-ed reflected U.S. policy – at least inside the State Department’s still-neocon-dominated bureaucracy – which viewed the EU’s snatching of Ukraine from Russia’s embrace as a way to weaken Russia and hurt Putin.

In late September, as the neocon drive for bombing Syria was petering out, neocon Carl Gershman, president of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), penned a Washington Post op-ed that called Ukraine “the biggest prize” and expressed hope that “Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

NED was founded in 1983 essentially to carry out the sorts of activities that traditionally were done by the CIA, i.e., supporting activists, “journalists” and other operatives who would be useful in destabilization campaigns against troublesome governments, all in the name of “democracy promotion.” NED’s annual report listed a staggering 65 projects in Ukraine.

By fall 2013, Kerry’s State Department was committed to prying Ukraine loose from Russia’s orbit, all the better to weaken Putin (and drive a wedge between him and Obama). At the forefront of this effort was Victoria Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century which famously pushed the case for invading Iraq.

Friday, October 10, 2014

De-politicization and permanent war

Permanent war and de-politicization go together. Here are three complementary observations about militarism, permanent war and the related de-politicization of the public.

John Blake, Is America on the path to 'permanent war'? CNN 11/24/2010:

John Cioffi, a political science professor at University of California, Riverside, says the nation's "increasingly unhinged ideological politics" makes it difficult for the country to extract itself from battles in Afghanistan, Iraq and Central Asia.

"The U.S. is not on the path to permanent war; it is in the midst of a permanent war," Cioffi says.
From Iain Boal, T.J. Clark, Joseph Matthews and Michael Watts, Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (2005):

The modern state, we would argue, has come to need weak citizenship. It depends more and more on maintaining an impoverished and hygienized public realm, in which only the ghosts of an older, more idiosyncratic civil society live on. ... Weak citizenship, but for that very reason the object of the state's constant, anxious attention - an unstoppable barrage of idiot fashions and panics and image-motifs, all aimed at sewing the citizen back (unobtrusively, "individually") into a deadly simulacrum of community.
From Tom Engelhardt, ISIS in Washington: America’s Soundtrack of Hysteria TomDispatch 10/07/2014:

The history of the demobilization of the American people as a true force in their own country’s actions abroad could be said to have begun in 1973, when a draft army was officially put into the history books. In the years before that, in Vietnam and at home, the evidence of how such an army could vote with its feet and through its activism had been too much for the top brass, and so the citizen army, that creation of the French Revolution, was ended with a stroke of the presidential pen. The next time around, the ranks were to be filled with “volunteers,” thanks in part to millions of dollars sunk into Mad Men-style advertising.

In the meantime, those in charge wanted to make sure that the citizenry was thoroughly demobilized and sent home. In the wake of 9/11, this desire was expressed particularly vividly when President George W. Bush urged Americans to show their patriotism (and restore the fortunes of the airlines) by visiting Disney World, vacationing, and going about their business, while his administration took care of al-Qaeda (and of course, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq).

In the ensuing years, propaganda for and an insistence that we “support,” “thank,” and adulate our “warriors” (in ways that would have been inconceivable with a citizen’s army) became the order of the day. At the same time, that force morphed into an ever more “professional,” “expeditionary” and “foreign” (as in Foreign Legion-style) outfit. When it came to the U.S. military, adulation was the only relationship that all but a tiny percentage of Americans were to be allowed. For those in the ever-expanding U.S. military-industrial-homeland-security-intelligence-corporate complex, terror was the gift that just kept giving, the excuse for any institution-building action and career enhancement, no matter how it might contravene previous American traditions.

In this context, perhaps we should think of the puffing up of an ugly but limited reality into an all-encompassing, eternally “imminent” threat to our way of life as the final chapter in the demobilization of the American people. Terror-phobia, after all, leaves you feeling helpless and in need of protection. The only reasonable response to it is support for whatever actions your government takes to keep you “safe.” [my emphasis]
Andrew Bacevich, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (2010):

A minimalist conception of citizenship that relieves individual Americans of any obligation to contribute to the nation's defense allows Washington wide latitude in employing U.S. military power.

... So the need for education - summoning Americans to take on the responsibilities of an active and engaged citizenship - has become especially acute. ...

Americans today must reckon with a contradiction of gaping proportions. Promising prosperity and peace, the Washington rules are propelling the United States toward insolvency and perpetual war. Over the horizon a shipwreck of epic proportions awaits.