Free Markets, Free People

Foreign Affairs

Cantor, cheese and other stuff

So Eric Cantor went down in flames in the Virginia Republican primary I see.  I can’t say I’m the least bit chagrined.  Cantor is the quintessential establishment Republican.  And like most of that ilk, he was more worried about what the press thought of him than doing what was right by his principles.  I notice the media spin doctors are immediately claiming that he really didn’t lose because of his stand on immigration (i.e. a hard lean toward “amnesty” for illegals although he tried to deny it).  After all if they admit that immigration reform was a reason for his defeat, then they have to admit that its dead for this year (as, given this lesson, no Republican running for reelection in the House  – that would be all of them – is going to touch it with a 10 foot pole).  The spin doctors also know that if it is dead for this year, it may be dead, at least in its present form, for good, if Republicans win the Senate.  One also assumes that Republicans are aware of the polls out there that place immigration reform as a low priority issue for voters right now (yeah, surprise, they’re much more interested in jobs and economic growth than illegal aliens).

I think another reason for Cantor’s loss is a deep dissatisfaction with Republican House leadership – such that it is.  Add his lack of popularity within his own district and an acceptable alternative candidate and you have the prefect electoral storm. Finally, Tea Party candidate Dave Brat’s win signaled, much to the annoyance of the left, that the Tea Party is hardly “dead”.  It’ll be interesting to see how the establishment Republicans react to this upset.

On another subject, yesterday we saw where the FDA had unilaterally decided that it might be necessary to ban the centuries old tradition of aging cheese on wooden shelves.  Because, you know, there’s been such an epidemic of sickness from such practices here lately and over the ages. What?  There hasn’t?  There hasn’t been any real problem at all?  However:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an executive decree banning the centuries old practice of aging cheese on wooden boards.  One bureaucrat within the FDA, without surveying all of the scientific literature, and without public commentary, has rattled hundreds of small businesses across the United States.  Consumers who eat any kind of aged cheese should prepare for a potentially catastrophic disruption in the market for artisan, non-processed cheese.

Now that was yesterday.  Today, yeah, its cave in time.  There has been such an outcry from cheese makers, the public and just about anyone else that could find a forum that the FDA is hastily backing down.  Overlawyered brings us up to date:

Following an enormous outcry from cheese makers, commentators, and the general public, the agency beats a hasty retreat. Commentator/ Pepperdine lawprof Greg McNeil has the details at Forbes (and his earlier commentary on the legalities of the agency’s action is also informative). Earlier here.

In a classic bureaucratic move, the agency denied it had actually issued a new policy (technically true, if you accept the premise that a policy letter from its chief person in charge of cheese regulation is not the same as a formally adopted new policy) and left itself the discretion to adopt such a policy in future if it wishes (merely declaring itself open to persuasion that wood shelving might prove compatible with the FSMA).

McNeal:

This is also a lesson for people in other regulated industries. When government officials make pronouncements that don’t seem grounded in law or policy, and threaten your livelihood with an enforcement action, you must organize and fight back. While specialized industries may think that nobody cares, the fight over aged cheese proves that people’s voices can be heard…

Yes, true.  But … there’s always a ‘but’, Overlawyered points out something that is true and often overlooked.  You have to be willing to fight for it all, not just the popular stuff.  You have to be willing the challenge all the nonsense bureaucrats put out there:

There is a less optimistic version, however. It happens that a large number of editors, commentators, and others among the chattering classes are both personally interested in the availability of fine cheese and familiar enough with the process by which it is made to be un-cowed by claims of superior agency expertise. That might also be true of a few other issues here and there — cottage food sold at farmer’s markets, artisanal brewing practices — but it’s inevitably not going to be true of hundreds of other issues that arise under the new Food Safety Modernization Act. In a similar way, the outcry againstCPSIA, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, rose to a politically effective level only on a selected few issues (publishers and libraries got a fix so that older children’s books would not have to be trashed; youthmotorsports eventually obtained an exemption, and so forth) but large numbers of smaller children’s products and specialties whose makers had less of a political voice simply disappeared.

Absolutely true.  I think of those who want to drink raw milk for instance.  Where does the government get off saying you can’t drink something you choose to drink if you’re willing to take the risk and suffer any consequences?  Something that, until pasteurization, everyone drank?  But since those who prefer raw milk don’t have a large lobby, they’re subjected to government bullying and laws prohibiting them from making that choice.

Choice is freedom.  Limiting of choice is limiting freedom and government is in the freedom limiting business.  The premise is you’re not able to make good choices yourself, so government must keep you from doing so.  Question?  If aging cheese on wood was dangerous to our health and it had been the reason from many deaths over the centuries, how do you suppose the market for such cheeses might have been effected by now?  Right.  It certainly wouldn’t have come down to some government bureaucrat making a unilateral decision in 2014, that’s for sure.

In Iraq, Mosul has fallen to terrorists.  Nightwatch brings us up to date:

ISIL has been trying to take Mosul since earlier in June, but only lately assembled enough forces to rout the security forces and overrun the city.

ISIL now controls two major cities in the Sunni region of Iraq: Fallujah and Mosul. Its fighters tried to overrun several other cities, but failed. Its aim is to create an Islamic emirate that joins Iraq and Syria.

The group had been affiliated with al Qaida for many years, since the time of Abu Musab Zarqawi, according to the National Counter Terrorism Center. In February al Qaida disavowed all links with ISIL because its actions were more extreme than al Qaida and it would not follow orders to stop fighting the al Nusrah Front in Syria, which al-Qaida supports.

On Sunday in Syria, ISIL fighters clashed with the al-Qaida-affiliated al Nusrah Front in eastern Syria, while its Iraq wing fought to capture Mosul in Iraq. This is a formidable group. Only the Syrian Kurds stand in the way of ISIL consolidating large areas in Iraq and Syria under its control.

Mosul’s capture reinforces the judgment that Iraq has re-entered civil war. ISIL is more than an insurgency because it has an effective organization and is conquering territory. By force of arms, it has created a power-sharing arrangement with the government in Baghdad and fragmented the country. A statement by the Muslim scholars association today encouraged ISIL to hold Mosul and to set up an administration. It urged the youth of the city to defend it against the Baghdad government.

ISIL’s control in Syria seems tenuous and contested by other opposition groups. In Iraq, it is the dominant anti-government force and it has broken Iraq, for now.

My position?  If Iraqi’s want a free Iraq, they’d better fight for it.  They’ve been given the time, the equipment and the training.  Now, it’s up to them.

Finally, yesterday I literally had to laugh out loud when I read something Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor, had written on his Facebook page.  It simply demonstrates how effing silly – and dangerous to your freedoms – these people are:

President Obama announced steps yesterday he said will make student loans more affordable. It’s probably all he can manage with a grid-locked Congress, but it’s still tinkering with a system of college financing that’s spinning out of control. What’s really needed is to make college free of charge and require all graduates to pay 10 percent of their earnings for the first 10 years of full-time work into a fund that pays the costs (additional years of graduate school means added years of payments). That way, nobody graduates with debts; young people from lower-income families can afford to attend; graduates who go into high-wage occupations in effect subsidize those who go into lower-wage work; and we move toward a system of genuinely equal opportunity. What do you think?

Right … free college for all.  Graduate with no debt!

Question: How in the world does this dolt think that making all graduates pay “10 percent of their earnings for the first 10 years” to fund “free college” doesn’t equal being in debt?  Oh, and who would keep track of all this?  Why the IRS of course – another in a long line of ideas to further centralize control of all aspects of your life at the federal level and add to the federal bureaucracy’s reach and power.

Then add the scam value of this.  Ride the gravy train for 3 or 4 years of free college and then walk away as a non-graduate.  Nothing to pay, right?  I mean the stipulation is that “graduates” pay, so why not hang out in a college dorm, eat in the chow hall, do your own thing while also doing barely enough to stay in school.  That way you can let these other dopes subsidize those years for you.  Then, move, apply to a new school and repeat.  Trust me, there are enough “professional students” in this world that I can promise that would be done.

Oh … and read the comments to the Reich post.  They’ll make you weep.

~McQ

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

Reaping the consequences of “Smart Diplomacy”

Another day another foreign policy gaffe or disaster.

This time we’re in the gaffe department where, as usual, this administration is in the act of further alienating our friends.  In this case it is perhaps the worst Secretary of State we’ve yet had to suffer’s turn … again:

Secretary of State John F. Kerry has stepped in it again — with a gaffe that this time not only makes him look foolish but makes a mess of U.S. foreign policy and destroys any chance he had of realizing his legacy pipe dream of brokering Middle East peace.

In a private meeting with senior international officials Friday, Kerry said that if the Israelis and Palestinians can’t achieve a two-state solution, Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state with second-class citizens.”

Israelis are aghast — especially with Kerry’s remarks being reported yesterday on Holocaust Remembrance Day — and have started issuing calls for his resignation. Foreign policy experts are stunned, saying Kerry’s racially charged statements are major setbacks to peace negotiations in the Middle East.

“No wonder our diplomacy in the Middle East is so wretched,” former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton told the Herald, calling Kerry’s remarks “outrageous and defamatory.”

Caroline Glick of The Jerusalem Post said, “Kerry’s remark was openly anti-Semitic. Apartheid is a crime of intent. There is no Israeli politician that will ever be in a leadership position that harbors any such bigoted intention towards the Palestinians. On the other hand, there is no Palestinian leader or faction that does not demand the ethnic cleansing of Jews from every inch of any territory that will come under Palestinian control.”

How to explain someone as inept and useless as Kerry rising to this position of power is unfathomable until you see who resides in the White House.  It’s all about politics and paying political debts.

Meanwhile, David Brooks, one of the millions of reasons we’re suffering under this atrocious administration (ask him who he voted for in 2008) today complains that “all around, the fabric of peace and order is fraying.”  Well it likely didn’t have to be this way, but it certainly was predictable when you and others voted to hire clueless freshman Senator as President of the US, Mr. Brooks.  A man who has no respect among other leaders in the world and certainly isn’t feared by anyone.  “Leading from behind” may be a clever way of saying “abrogating leadership”, but it didn’t fool those who are actually playing international hardball out there, did it?  So, unsurprisingly (history … try it some time) we now see them acting.  The phone’s been constantly ringing at 3am and no one — no one — is answering it.

And since the thugs and thieves of the world know no one is home, they’re beginning to take full advantage of the situation.

Wow.  What a freakin’ surprise, no?

Brooks consults an expert for an explanation of what’s going on and he gets an answer – one we’ve been talking about for years:

“The ‘category error’ of our experts is to tell us that our system is doing just fine and proceeding on its eternal course toward ever-greater progress and global goodness. This is whistling past the graveyard.

“The lesson-category within grand strategic history is that when an established international system enters its phase of deterioration, many leaders nonetheless respond with insouciance, obliviousness, and self-congratulation. When the wolves of the world sense this, they, of course, will begin to make their moves to probe the ambiguities of the aging system and pick off choice pieces to devour at their leisure.

Consequences of this nonsense?

“This is what Putin is doing; this is what China has been moving toward doing in the maritime waters of Asia; this is what in the largest sense the upheavals of the Middle East are all about: i.e., who and what politico-ideological force will emerge as hegemon over the region in the new order to come. The old order, once known as ‘the American Century’ has been situated within ‘the modern era,’ an era which appears to be stalling out after some 300-plus years. The replacement era will not be modern and will not be a nice one.”

We’ve certainly gotten a full ration full of obliviousness.  And the world certainly is moving toward a less modern and much more deadly era.  But the obliviousness (or “whistling past the graveyard” as mentioned earlier) is what drives the absurd self-congratulation that this administration tries to heap on itself while they hasten the “the American Century” to a disastrous end.

Realty is a bitch and she keeps slapping these clueless backslappers over and over. But they pay no attention. These petulant fools continue to spin “success” when to anyone with the IQ of a pear, it is clear almost everything in the foreign policy field (and domestically as well) has been an utter failure or foul up.  Behold:  “Reset”, lead from behind, Arab spring, UN, sanctions, “Smart diplomacy”, R2P, blah, blah, blah. They blew Libya, gave Egypt to the Russians, are giving Iraq back to the terrorists along with Afghanistan, reducing the military to pre-WWII levels and have thus signaled our withdrawal to all around the globe.

Unsurprisingly, the wolves of the world are beginning to feed on the sheep because the former shepherd has withdrawn while telling those that want to believe it that everything is just fine.  Just fine.  Peachy.  Trust them.  They’ve got it all figured out.  Nothing to see here. Nothing to worry about.  Move along citizen.  War is so … 20th century. And besides, we’ve blocked their Netflix account!

With all that nonsense circulating, why shouldn’t the wolves feel free to feed?

~McQ

The ‘Catch and Release” mandate

Here we are.

Quick hits on the last day you have, had, might have had, to sign up for your ObamaCare insurance.  Curiously a rush of people appeared to sign up that I predict the Administration will report will carry them over the 7 million lost policies, log ons , applications, enrollments payed policy holder goal line.  If anyone can recall 7 million was the original goal when this benevolent plan to help the uninsured portion of the population of the United States started.  We should overlook the percentages of likely to use older and less healthy participants versus the younger will pay and never use participants and the predicted cost curves and such.  If you have a plan and don’t like what they’re offering they promise you can keep your plan.  Ha!  Fooled you!  It’s okay though, your old plan sucked whatever it was and whether you thought it did nor not.

There’s a rumble of war in the east, the Russians will, they won’t, they can’t because we stood up to them, occupy Ukraine, or eastern Ukraine, and will maybe go so far as to establish casino dominance in the Crimea.  Take that Winstar Casino!  But Putin is now in a box owing to the stringent actions of the EU and the US to contain his aggressive ADHD driven tendencies.  And owing to the President’s our ever watchful eye we have Putin’s army where we want it now.

At the pump gas prices are consistently higher over time under the current administration than the previous administration.  But not the highest single spike and that’s what’s important.  We can assume the personal finances of the President are secure as it was a well documented fact during the Bush administration that upticks in gas prices are the result of the President’s holdings in oil companies and his desire to make sure his retirement fund is well padded.  Harry Reid said that when they rose under Bush, or someone said they heard Harry Reid say someone said that.    Meanwhile in another energy independent decisive policy act the President is going to render a decision on the job creating, oil providing,  Keystone pipeline at any moment.  If you click on those links, you might want to jot down the dates on the articles for reference and hilarity.  Continued samples of the brilliant ultra decisive actions we’ve come to expect from this President.

Environmentally the administration is rolling out a new plan to deal with global warming.    It’s likely this plan will establish policies to deal with dangers such as earth quakes, meteor strikes, comets and other ill portents all suspected to be linked to man made catastrophic global warming by the consensus science community.  Officially known as the American Economy Wrecking plan Climate Action Plan, they should consider calling it Obamafarts as a sort of short catchy handle that will appeal to the millenials almost as much as Pajama Boy did.

Speaking of American youth, they continued this last weekend to demonstrate their anger over being spied on, lied to and future taxed into oblivion by focusing on what’s important the same way the President uses his laser like focus to solve the country’s problems.   Such a trend could, in as little as 300 years, lead to as broad a nationwide protest to the current government policies as was seen in the 60’s and 70’s during America’s involvement in Vietnam,  though the former Soviet Union would need to rise up again and send us more campus agitators.

Finally the President’s 4 point approach to deal with America’s immigration problem is showing very positive signs in at least 2 of the 4 parts.    Coupled with his crack down on companies that hire illegals, it was shown over the weekend by an independent study of ICE’s activities that the President can safely add the title “Deporter in Chief” to his list of accomplishments.    We’re calling this latest ‘by Presidential order’  approach the “Catch and Release” mandate.   It’s thought highly likely that once the mid-term elections are over the Administration (and the Republicans) will step up their efforts on part 3, “Streamlining Immigration” by declaring any individuals, living or deceased, in the continental US, it’s states, or territories on Jan 1st 2015 be recognized officially as American citizens. The President may extend the deadline to January 15th 2015 for those who thought about coming to the US, but couldn’t make it before the cutoff date.

Have a great day America.

UPDATE – April 1st

As my two Great Danes could have predicted – “With daily volumes continuing to surge, analysts believe the final tally could approach or even exceed an original goal of 7 million”

Now, don’t let the fact that the system was down for a good portion of the day deceive you.   This “surprising” come back was destined, written, fated, according to prophecy, etc.

I wish the numbers in my checking account were as flexible as the numbers used by the Obama Administration.

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

The Crimea (and beyond)

When the Russians more or less militarily annexed the Crimea a couple of days ago , it was pretty obvious the West wasn’t going to go to war over it, any previously mumbled promises to Ukraine that implied we might aside.  It’s still obvious, not that avoiding a war is a bad thing and all.

Who can blame Europe for not wanting another war? They’ve hosted so many, and I’m reliably told if you wander about you can still find nostalgic bits of wreckage to prove it.   There are parts left over from wars everywhere. Castles, forts, the Kaiser Wilhelm church (what’s left of it) in Berlin.  Graves….lots and lots of graves.  Graves of local men, and graves of men who came from across the world, and graves of civilians.

In January of this year, in Euskirchen Germany, a bulldozer operator was killed by a bomb from WWII, and it’s not uncommon for unexploded ordnance to be found, some dating back to the big fandango they held 100 years ago this year.   The Europeans have done a super job of cleaning up the place, and I’m 100% certain they aren’t interested in having to do it again anytime soon.

This is why, no one, not even the allegedly crazy Russians, really wants to die for real-estate to get it back into Russia.  Maybe some Ukrainians are willing to die out of pride for Ukraine, but the Russians prefer it be done with the bare minimum of shooting, explosions and death.   Even ‘crazy’ ‘evil’ people understand that upsets folks, and the shooting, explosions and death get out of control, and pretty soon it’s happening everywhere in sight.   The Russians don’t want a war either, but they’re not averse to picking up (re-acquiring) some real-estate on the cheap.

For my entire life we, Americans, helped keep the Russians from taking over the joint by being in places they wanted to be before they could be there. Kudos to NATO and all for asking us to stay.  But everybody knew when we parked Americans in their path all across Europe and the Russians did drive tanks through Fulda Gap…if they did it over American bodies; America was likely to take a war-like exception to it.  Geo-politics and military science is brutally practical about things like that, and the Russians understood.  America was across the ocean and much harder for Soviet tank division to blitzkrieg than a quick push to the east bank of the Rhine.  We made it difficult for them by being where they wanted to be in ways that only war, or government over throw, could clear us out of.  We stood in Western Europe and they stood in Eastern Europe and we glared at each other.  The Europeans understood where the fight was going to happen if it happened.  If some were nicer to the Soviets (now the Russians) than we liked, it was probably out of practicality.   At times they glared at both us and the Russians.

The ‘other’ people further east, in the Russian zone, just had to live with the Russians because clearing them out would wreck the joint, and everybody knew that too.  They didn’t glare at anybody because they didn’t dare.  Then the Soviet Union/Eastern Bloc collapsed, they became Russians again and Ukrainians and Latvians and Estonians and Lithuanians and Moldovans and Serbs and you get the idea.

The Europeans don’t want a war, the Russians don’t want a war, we don’t want a war.  Having so much experience in wars, and cleaning up after wars, one can understand the reluctance to do the centennial anniversary reenactment of 1914 this year with live rounds.

Still, Russian occupation of the Crimea should never have happened if the West was sincere about helping the Ukrainians keep their lands (especially after the Russians vs Georgia take-down in 2008).   I have mixed emotions about our policing the world, and our commitments to far flung places. But our word has to mean something too, and if we bother to give it, we ought to keep it.  Not keeping it leads to where we are, drawing red lines and erasing them just as quickly, making threats on an international basis and then barring a couple people from Disney World to show how much we mean it.   There’s a whole set of posts that could be written on why we let down our guard in Europe.  A quick hit list, military use fatigue, the cost, the simple hope that the not Soviet Russians weren’t going to start up the ‘let’s take over a country’ club again, resurgent Russian pride, feckless American policy, and a new world order.

The biggest one we hear about is this inane belief in some new order that has taken hold.  A magic set of rules for countries came into being when we hit the millennium.  Who knew?   It’s not clear, to me anyway, why that is, must be a side effect of climate change or something because I don’t recall any burning bushes or Jewish prophets with stone tablets making the news recently.   I do know our Secretary of State thinks they exist ( I mentioned feckless American policy); Angela Merkel seems to think they exist.  But maybe no one forwarded the memos to Vladimir Putin, because all in all he seems pretty proud of using the old rules, and so are his constituents.

No, there is no magic set of new rules.  I can’t even say it would be nice, because not only is it not real, it’s not even clearly laid out what it means internationally.  Furthermore the old rules still work and still apply.  Power and vacuums of power.  In fact these new rules already seem remarkably ineffective against people who still use the old rules. As a result there aren’t any new magic formulas or methods for getting the Russians to give Crimea back now either.    They certainly aren’t going to do it because we in the West tell each other that Russia is naked in the eyes of the world.  They aren’t going to do it no matter how many times some idiot calls them ‘evil’.   They aren’t going to do it because they suddenly understand they’re violating the 21st century rules.

Just because the West doesn’t want to apply power doesn’t mean the Russians can’t and won’t.   When a country can take over a chunk of another country in a week, there really isn’t much threats that will take months to show effect are going to do to stop them.   Done deals.  Because people don’t want to wait that long for results (especially the Ukrainians in this case), and life, and business, and in Europe’s case, the need to heat their houses, goes on.

If the West is serious, and worried about the Russians moving into Kiev, park ‘non-threatening’ NATO forces in Kiev.  Not just visiting, full time. Park a ‘non-threatening’ contingent of ground troops in Estonia (note the date of that article, last year…). See if the other Baltic countries would like to have permanent physical NATO contingents with troops who are not local. Go beyond ‘air policing’. Put the equivalent of a guard contingent on the equivalent of the Rhine bridges before the Russians do the equivalent of occupying the Rhineland.

And hit our own damn power reset button. Drill like hell for natural gas and oil here in the US and export it to Europe to cut their dependence on Russia.  The Russians will understand, they’ll bitch, but they’ll stop because they really don’t want the same war we don’t want.  There can’t be a whole lot in Estonia the Russians want to die for.

Project POWER back into the vacuum we’ve created before Putin again proves the old rules, the same ones Hitler used so well, still work just fine.   Do it before Chamberlain calls to say he wants his ‘new’ rules back.

Not gonna happen, I realize.  We have ‘smart’ diplomacy now, we lead from behind.  We’re going to jaw about the new international rules the millennium brought us, and threaten the Russians with our economic power even while we struggle to keep that power turned on for ourselves.

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

It certainly gets harder to be an Obama cheerleader anymore ….

Not that some aren’t still trying their hardest to pull it off.  Face it, his has been one of the most dismal presidencies in history and it isn’t getting any better.  However, reading through the headlines about the Ukraine, I came across an Orwellian piece that declares, “No, American weakness didn’t encourage Putin to invade the Ukraine“.  Instead, it’s all about how the US has, in fact, broadened it’s power, expanding east, that encouraged Putin’s invasion.

No.  Really.  That’s the case that the author of the piece is trying to convey.  We’re not weaker, we’re not in retreat, in fact, we’re more powerful than ever.

Gee, how about that.  In the anarchy that is world politics, we now have the weak trying to counter the strong by invading another country instead of the more inuitive and usual reaction to a power vacuum caused by the retreat of a once great power.  The author claims that the expansion of NATO threatened Russia.  Wait, isn’t that 20th century thinking?  Aren’t we being chided for dropping back on those old cold war theories?

Well, not when you’re tying to defend “The One” and you haven’t much to work with in a particular case.

The fact remains that Putin did what he did because he knew he could and he knew the reaction would be loud, but the response would be tepid.  And, of course, when you look at a map of the pipelines that flow from Russia through the Ukraine and into Europe you know that any attempted sanctions will likely be met with counter sanctions by limiting fuel and, in the end,  imposing a much higher cost on Europe than Russia.

Putin is a 20th century cold warrior and he knows how to play this game, even in the 21st century.  Our leaders?  They’re in denial.

Putin knows when he’s faced by a weak willed, “can’t we all just get along” Western leadership.  He learned that with Georgia and Syria.  Why in the world would he fret about the West’s reaction to Ukraine?

But the apologists want you to know that it isn’t Barry’s fault.  He may have be weak willed and prefer “leadership from the rear”, but it realty the Ukraine was invaded beause we’re so strong and powerful.  And black is white, up is down and right is wrong.  The only 20th century date you can apply to this piece is “1984”.

~McQ

Why is Russia in the Ukraine? See Syria …

With the Olympics safely over, Vladimir Putin felt safe to invade the Ukraine and annex the Crimea.  Anyone want to take a guess why?

It has to do with “red lines” and words, not action.  Those red lines were first drawn in Syria.  And when they were crossed … nothing happened.  So:

“Putin smelled blood in the water when the airstrikes against the Assad regime were suddenly called off,” Oubai Shahbandar, a senior advisor to the Syrian National Coalition, the U.S.-backed opposition group, said of the Ukraine invasion. “We’ve seen this movie play out before, sadly, as Russian-supplied planes, tanks and even some mercenaries continue to arrive in Syria uninterrupted.”

“Hope won’t stop Russian aggression,” Shahbandar added.

Ah, but we’re talking about “hope and change”.  You know, the stuff that will calm the tides, still the wind and, well, fix anything.  All the Great One has to do is speak the words and the world trembles in fear. Our first post-modern President is of the ilk that believes talk equals action.  And he’s talked about it now, so its time to move on and bash Israel.
Meanwhile, all those red lines drawn and crossed in Syria rightfully have the Syrians leary of any promises from the US:

The Syrian opposition had long held out hope for significant U.S. support for their uprising, from heavy weapons and surface-to-air missiles to a no-fly zone. They argued that Assad’s main allies — Russia and Iran — had been steadfast in boosting his regime with arms and money, and in the latter case, with boots on the ground.

Many Syrians were deeply disappointed when Obama failed to enforce his famous “red line” on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons with air strikes — opting instead for a Moscow-initiated deal for the regime to give up its stockpile of chemical arms. “Do not develop strategies that are based on any assumption that the U.S. or EU will demonstrate assertive leadership to deter Russian aggression,” said Amr al-Azm, a U.S.-based member of the Syrian opposition and a professor at Shawnee State University.

And Ukraine, that treaty you have the the US?

“The last thing anybody wants is a military option,” Kerry said Sunday.

Seems to me Russia has already used in Mr. Kerry.

Do I want our military involved in another war?  Not under this leadership, no.  When the leaders are both gutless and clueless, our troops need to stay home.  But that’s really not the point here.  The point is the happenings in the Ukraine are a direct result of some of the worst foreign policy ineptness we’ve had to suffer under in a couple of centuries.  It almost makes one pine for Jimmy Carter.

~McQ