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Russia


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 18 Jul 14

This week, Michael, and Dale talk about The Malaysian Airlines tragedy, Obama, and aggressive policing.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.


So how are those sanctions against Russia going?

Ask France:

France will press ahead with a 1.2 billion-euro ($1.66 billion) contract to sell helicopter carriers to Russia because cancelling the deal would do more damage to Paris than to Moscow, French diplomatic sources said on Monday.

France has come under pressure from Washington and some European partners to reconsider its supply of high-tech military hardware to Moscow. It had said it would review the deal in October – but not before.

However, French diplomatic sources said on Monday the 2011 contract with Russia for two Mistral helicopter carriers, with an option for two more, would not be part of a third round of sanctions against Moscow.

“The Mistrals are not part of the third level of sanctions. They will be delivered. The contract has been paid and there would be financial penalties for not delivering it.

“It would be France that is penalized. It’s too easy to say France has to give up on the sale of the ships. We have done our part.”

And, we can’t have the sanctions hurt France, can we?

One of the attack helicopter carriers will be deployed in the Black Sea, where all the trouble began:

The first carrier, the Vladivostok, is due to be delivered by the last quarter of 2014. The second, named Sebastopol after the Crimean seaport, is supposed to be delivered by 2016.

How does France justify its intention to provide the ships?

“We are not delivering armed warships, but only the frame of the ship,” the source said.

That, of course, misses the entire point of sanctions. It is a punishment for wrong behavior. It is supposed to be a way one side teaches the other not to do what it has done. And the Western powers agreed that “strong sanctions” be imposed because of Russia’s unacceptable behavior. Now we see the exceptions being made – exceptions that Russia will, rightfully, view as weakness.

Additionally, that “frame” the French are dismissing as inconsequential will give Russia access to advanced technology. And these “frames” have quite a potent capability. The Mistral can carry up to 16 attack helicopters, such as Russia’s Kamov Ka-50/52; more than 40 tanks or 70 motor vehicles; and up to 700 soldiers.

As for leadership from the US insisting that the French not provide the Russians with advanced weaponry?

A French government source said at no point had the U.S. officially expressed any concern over the sale …

Another example of why “strong sanctions” is, in reality, an oxymoron, especially when the Western powers are concerned.

~McQ


Russia, Afghanistan and the US: A changing of the guard

Earlier in the week, former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld had some rather harsh words to say about the current administration’s relationship with Afghanistan.

“Our relationship with Karzai and with Afghanistan was absolutely first-rate in the Bush administration,” Rumsfeld told Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren on Monday. “It has gone down hill like a toboggan ever since the Obama administration came in.”

Rumsfeld pointed to the fact that the Obama administration has failed to get Karzai to sign an agreement that would allow some U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, when combat ends.

The U.S. has status of forces agreements with more than a hundred countries, Rumsfeld noted. “A trained ape can get a status of forces agreement,” he said. “It does not take a genius. And we have so mismanaged that relationship.”

Now I’m not going to go for the troll about that being a “racist statement”.  Neither of our SecStates or SecDefs were/are black and that’s who would be charged with getting a SOFA agreement.  Rumsfeld’s right.  The relationship has dramatically and drastically changed.  And he’s also right about why:

“And what happened is, the United States government — and I realize these are tough jobs, being president or secretary of state. But, by golly, they have trashed Karzai publicly over and over and over — (Richard) Holbrooke, the special envoy did, Vice President Biden did, Secretary Hillary Clinton has. The president has been unpleasant to him.

“And it seems to me they pushed him in a political box where he really has very little choice. I think there is probably not a politician in the world who dealing with the United States, instead of having the United States deal with him privately through private diplomacy, came out repeatedly, publicly, in an abusive, unpleasant, manner. And I personally sympathize with him to some extent.”

Again, he’s precisely right.  This administration did all it could … in public … to poison the relations.  And yes, Afghanistan is likely corrupt and Karzai as well, but that’s nothing new there.  Karzai was installed by the Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga (assembly).  He’s their president.  It’s a tribal culture.  Figure it out for heaven sake … oh, and keep in mind the big picture instead of playing small ball.

Anyway, these sorts of actions cause reactions and have consequences.  The latest?

Citing “the free will of the Crimean people,” Karzai’s office said, “We respect the decision the people of Crimea took through a recent referendum that considers Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.” To date, only Syria and Venezuela have taken a similar position.

Does it embarrass the US publicly?  You bet.  And that’s precisely why Karzai did it (or it is at least one of the reasons he did it).  And, there’s more:

“In Afghanistan, Russian officials point to their development activities as a counterexample to U.S. aid projects, which many Afghans criticize as wasteful and misguided. . . . Many Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai, praise the Soviet model even though they fought a bloody 10-year war against the country’s army, which invaded in 1979 to support an unpopular communist government.

“The Soviet money went to the right place. They were efficient in spending their money and doing it through the Afghan government,” Karzai said in an interview with The Washington Post this month.

Yes, there’s likely corruption. Yes the “Afghan government” is likely getting its hands on some of that money. But when in Rome, and looking for particular results, maybe knowing what to expect in such a culture and a willingness to play the game might turn out better results (and be cheaper) in the long run that trying to go around the incumbent government and forcing yourself on the population. You know, just a thought … which, apparently is more than our State Department commits to Afghanistan anymore.

Funny, in an ironic sense, isn’t it? “We welcome our former overlords”.

Outplayed by Russia … again.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 23 Mar 14

This week, Bruce, Michael and Dale talk about Russia, ICANN, and Bill Quick’s new novel, Lightning Fall.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.


Europe discovers its gas problem

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared the G8 to be dead, thanks to Russia’s take over of the Crimea:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared the Group of Eight leading nations defunct given the current crisis in Ukraine, in a clear message to Russia that the world’s seven other major industrialized countries consider its actions in Ukraine unacceptable. “As long as there is no political environment for such an important political format as the G-8, the G-8 doesn’t exist anymore, not the summit nor the format,” said Ms. Merkel, in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag. “Russia is widely isolated in all international organizations,” the chancellor said.

Ah, yes, the old “isolated in all international organizations” gambit.  And what have all the “international organizations” done in reaction to Russia’s Crimean takeover?  About what they did when Russia pushed into Georgia.  A whole lot of nothing. It is one thing to have international organizations that have teeth and are willing to do something in reaction to such a blatant act.  But when they mostly issue statements condeming the action and void the Netflix accounts of certain Russian officals, being isolated from those organizations isn’t such a big deal.  All it does is make further diplomatic efforts more difficult, not that it is clear that Russia is open to diplomatic overtures.

Another thing that is happening is Europe is discovering it has managed to put itself in an energy situation that isn’t at all to its advantage.  30% of Europe’s natural gas flows through Russian pipelines (Germany gets 40% of its natural gas supplies from Russia).

So the scramble is purportedly on to change that situation.

European leaders will seek ways to cut their multi-billion-dollar dependence on Russian gas at talks in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, while stopping short of severing energy ties with Moscow for now. EU officials said the current Ukraine crisis had convinced many in Europe that Russia was no longer reliable and the political will to end its supply dominance had never been greater. “Everyone recognises a major change of pace is needed on the part of the European Union,” one EU official said on condition of anonymity. As alternatives to imported gas, the Brussels talks will debate the European Union’s “indigenous supplies”, which include renewable energy and shale gas.

Now, one would think that such a situation would call for drastic and speedy action.  Anyone want to bet how long they dither and, should they decide to exploit their “indigenous supplies”, how onerous the rules and regulations will be?

When leaders of the European Union’s member states meet today and tomorrow (20-21 March) in Brussels, they hope to reach consensus on the EU’s long-term climate goals. But agreement appears unlikely because of deep divisions between east and west. Ahead of the summit, ministers from 13 member states signed a declaration supporting a European Commission proposal for an EU commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030 – up from a 20% target set for 2020. This ‘green growth group’ includes France, Germany, Italy and the UK. But Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia are wary of the target and the timeline, and are resisting any such commitment.

The latter group will most likely be all for moving ahead as speedily as possible to exploit “indigenous supplies”.  They’ll meet some pretty stiff headwinds, apparently, from the Western EU nations. You can almost see this train wreck coming.

Meanwhile in the pursuit of “green energy”, Europe is apparently ready to toss in the towel:

Governments across Europe, regretting the over-generous deals doled out to the renewable energy sector, have begun reneging on them. To slow ruinous power bills hikes, governments are unilaterally rewriting contracts and clawing back unseemly profits.

You have to laugh.  “Unseemly profits”?  They’re subsidies, sir.  Not profit.

It’ll be interesting to see if the EU has the will to sort this all out in the next couple of days.  If one is a betting person, you’d have to guess that the odds for success are long, given the EU’s recent history.

~McQ


Prepare for more foreign policy disasters

One of the foreign policy promises Barack Obama made was that during his presidency, America would have a “light footprint” on world affairs. Our first indicator of what that meant was the action in Libya when the US “led from behind”. The Obama administration belived that pulling back from our strong presence and position in the world would help mollify other powers and usher in a new era of peaceful cooperation with America as a partner and not necessarily the leader.

How has that worked out?

Ask Russia, China and a few others:

The White House was taken by surprise by Vladimir V. Putin’s decisions to invade Crimea, but also by China’s increasingly assertive declaration of exclusive rights to airspace and barren islands.

Neither the economic pressure nor the cyberattacks that forced Iran to reconsider its approach have prevented North Korea’s stealthy revitalization of its nuclear and missile programs. In short, America’s adversaries are testing the limits of America’s post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan moment.

“We’re seeing the ‘light footprint’ run out of gas,” said one of Mr. Obama’s former senior national security aides, who would not speak on the record about his ex-boss.

What we’re actually seeing is naivete in foreign policy head toward a predictable conclusion. Foreign policy isn’t bean bag and it has been established many times in history that the retreat of a great power from the world’s stage will see other seemingly lesser powers attempt to fill or take advantage of that power vacuum.

The “light footprint” didn’t “run out of gas”, the light footprint was foreign policy destined for failure from its inception. Mr. Obama and his foreign policy team were warned about that constantly and preferred to ignore both the warnings and history.

Mr. Obama acknowledges, at least in private, that he is managing an era of American retrenchment. History suggests that such eras — akin to what the United States went through after the two world wars and Vietnam — often look like weakness to the rest of the world. His former national security adviser Thomas Donilon seemed to acknowledge the critical nature of the moment on Sunday when he said on “Face the Nation” that what Mr. Obama was facing was “a challenge to the post-Cold War order in Europe, an order that we have a lot to do with.”

But while Mr. Donilon expressed confidence that over time the United States holds powerful tools against Russia and other nations, in the short term challengers like Mr. Putin have the advantage on the ground.

Mr. Obama is managing “an era of American retrenchment” he initiated.

It doesn’t look like a period of weakness to the rest of the world, it is a period of weakness that is compounded by our weak leadership. We’re engaged in bringing our military down to pre-WWII levels and we’ve made it clear that we’re not interested in fulfilling treaty obligations with the likes of the Ukraine. How else would one interpret our actions?

And, of course, one of the best ways we could address this particular crisis is to up our shipments of natural gas to Europe so they weren’t dependent of Russian pipeline supplies that flow through the Ukraine. That would give Europe some leverage because they wouldn’t be held hostage by their need for Russian petro supplies. But on the domestic front, the Obama administration has made building the necessary infrastructure to cash in on our growing natural gas boom almost impossible.

Are Russia and others testing the limits? You bet they are and all of those interested in those limits are watching this drama unfold. To this point, it appears Russia sees no downside to its action. Should that continue to be the case, you can be assured other nations will also “test the limits.”

This is Mr. Obama’s 3am phone call. And it appears he has let it go to the answering machine.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 02 Mar 14

This week, Michael, and Dale talk about the Ukraine, Free Speech, and guns.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.


Syrian summary

I think Marc Thiessen pens a fairly succinct one in today’s Washington Post:

We’re conducting foreign policy by faux pas. This entire episode has been driven not by deliberate strategy but by slips of the tongue. Obama’s declaration of a “red line” on chemical weapons was a slip of the tongue. So was Secretary of State John Kerry’s offer to have Syria give up its chemical weapons. There is no plan, no coherence to anything this administration is doing on Syria.

More embarrassing still, Obama is actually claiming that the diplomatic “breakthrough” is the result of his administration’s show of strength.

Excuse me?

Was it a show of strength when Obama went to the world’s nations and asked them to join him in enforcing “their” red line — finding only one country (France) ready to do so? Or when the British parliament rejected military action for the first time since the 1700s? Or when a U.S. official told the Los Angeles Times that any U.S. strike would be “just muscular enough not to get mocked”? Or when Kerry declared that any strike would be “unbelievably small” and would not really constitute “war”? Or when Obama used his prime-time, nationally televised address to call on Congress to do . . . nothing?

That’s not a show of strength. That’s an embarrassment.

Foreign policy by faux pas.  You have to cringe at that one. But it is certainly the truth.

In fact:

The idea that this sequence of events led Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to cower and agree to hand over his chemical weapons is laughable. Russia and Syria are playing us. And the administration, which was about to lose a vote in Congress, latched on to this diplomatic “solution” to save face.

It’s supposed to be the president of the United States who gives a dictator a face-saving way out, not the other way around. The sad fact is Obama needed this way out more than Assad.

To claim otherwise is simply laughable. And, added into all of this, it gave Assad room to do whatever it is he thinks he needs to do (not to mention legitimacy as Syria’s leader) and a chance to add his own condition to the mix – that the US stop supplying the rebels with arms. Watch for that to come into play at some point in the “negotiations”.

As the Wall Street Journal says when describing the debacle:

Through mixed messages, miscalculations and an 11th-hour break, the U.S. stumbled into an international crisis and then stumbled out of it. A president who made a goal of reducing the U.S.’s role as global cop lurched from the brink of launching strikes to seeking congressional approval to embracing a deal with his biggest international adversary on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And here we are. The clown car remains full and, unfortunately, will be leading the circus for the next 3 plus years. Hold on to your hats (and wallets).

~McQ

P.S. and no we won’t be saying anything about the shootings, er “workplace violence”, at the Navy Yard in DC until a whole lot more information comes in.


Syria: Humiliating, but probably the best deal possible

Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post, absolutely nails the magnitude of the debacle the Obama administration has suffered and the reason:

Sometimes a president does not have a communications problem. Sometimes a president has a reality problem.

President Obama’s speech to the nation on Syria was premised on the denial of reality. He claimed that the Russian/Syrian initiative resulted from the “credible threat of U.S. military action.” In fact, it filled a vacuum of presidential credibility. Obama had been isolated within the G-20 and abandoned by our closest ally, Britain. Americans overwhelmingly disapproved of a military strike for which the president clearly had no stomach. Obama was on the verge of the most devastating congressional foreign policy repudiation since the Senate voted 49-35 against entering the League of Nations in 1920.

This president’s biggest problem, other than a total lack of leadership ability, has been reality all along.   He’s always believed he simply has to speak and others will follow.  Yet, in reality he’s done precisely what Gerson claims he’s done – isolate himself and the US.  He has no close relationships internationally.  Our closest ally in everything we’ve done for centuries has abandoned us.  His credibility in the Middle East is hovering close to zero.  His “reset” policy with Russia has been a disaster.  And he remains reactive and indecisive at place in history that calls for decisiveness and leadership.  Consequently another nation is moving to take that lead he’s abandoned.

Vladimir Putin offered Obama an escape, which he gratefully took. But there are implicit costs. A U.S. military strike — something Putin thought inevitable just a few weeks ago — is off. Russia’s Syrian client, Bashar al-Assad, stays in power. The Syrian opposition is effectively hung out to dry. Russia gains a position of influence in the Middle East it has not held since Anwar Sadat threw the Soviets out of Egypt. This allows Moscow to supply proxies such as Syria and Iran with weapons while positioning itself as the defender of international law and peace. Iran sees that the United States is a reluctant power, with a timid and polarized legislature, that can easily be deflected from action by transparent maneuvers.

Other than this, ’twas a famous victory.

Speaking of credibility, to watch the spin-meisters attempt to call this a “famous victory” shreds what little they may still enjoy.  No one grounded in reality and at all concerned with their credibility would declare this any sort of a ‘victory’ for the US.

But hey we had a speech …

The resulting message was boldly mixed. Assad is a moral monster — who is now our partner in negotiations. The consequences would be terrible “if we fail to act” — which now seems the most likely course. America “doesn’t do pinpricks” — especially when it does not do anything. “The burdens of leadership are often heavy” — unless they are not assumed.

And here we are.  A shrunken giant, leaderless and adrift.  “Led” by an incompetent with coming negotiations headed by another incompetent (Kerry), both of whom have been badly played by the Russians and the Syrians.  There’s no reason to believe they won’t come out on the short end of this deal either.
As for the planned, then unplanned, then delayed, then put on indefinite hold strike that Kerry claims is the reason Syria came to the table – Charles Krauthammer lays that out for you:

That “strike Syria, maybe” speech begins with a heart-rending account of children consigned to a terrible death by a monster dropping poison gas. It proceeds to explain why such behavior must be punished. It culminates with the argument that the proper response — the most effective way to uphold fundamental norms, indeed human decency — is a flea bite: something “limited,” “targeted” or, as so memorably described by Secretary of State John Kerry, “unbelievably small.”

“Unbelievably small”.  Likely had ‘em shaking in their boots in Damascus.

Krauthammer also sums up the “deal” Obama et. al. are now trying to claim was their idea all along (not that anyone but the most gullible or partisan or both are buying that):

The hinge of the entire Russian strategy is saving the Assad regime. That’s the very purpose of the “Russian proposal.” Imagine that some supposed arms-control protocol is worked out. The inspectors have to be vetted by Assad, protected by Assad, convoyed by Assad, directed by Assad to every destination. Negotiation, inspection, identification, accounting, transport and safety would require constant cooperation with the regime, and thus acknowledgment of its sovereignty and legitimacy.

So much for Obama’s repeated insistence that Assad must go. Indeed, Putin has openly demandedthat any negotiation be conditioned on a U.S. commitment to forswear the use of force against Assad. On Thursday, Assad repeated that demand, warning that without an American pledge not to attack and not to arm the rebels, his government would agree to nothing.

This would abolish the very possibility of America tilting the order of battle in a Syrian war that Assad is now winning thanks to Russian arms, Iranian advisers and Lebanese Hezbollah shock troops. Putin thus assures the survival of his Syrian client and the continued ascendancy of the anti-Western Iranian bloc.

And what does America get? Obama saves face.

Some deal.

Indeed … some deal.

All of that said, it may end up being the “best” deal we could hope for given the ineptness and incompetence of this administration. Back to Gerson:

I am relieved that President Obama was given a reprieve from a devastating rejection by Congress, which would have wounded the presidency itself. We should hope (against hope) that a negotiation with Putin, Assad and the U.N. Security Council to establish international control of the world’s third-largest chemical weapons stockpile in the middle of a civil war is successful. And Congress should seek ways to strengthen Obama’s hand in negotiations.

But this remains a sad moment for the United States. We have seen a Putin power play, based on a Kerry gaffe, leading to a face-saving presidential retreat — and this was apparently the best of the available options.

Pretty bad when this is the best outcome one could hope for … a degree of face saving for a less that satisfactory president who still doesn’t realize how badly he was bested.

~McQ

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