Sunday, September 28, 2014

TSA agent: We must laugh at underwear and toothpaste terrorists

This one deserves to be reposted in full, because too many Americans are susceptible to the craven U.S. media's attempts to spur us to support military action (and an anti-civil rights intelligence apparatus) ostensibly meant to keep us safe from non-existent threats -- bumbling terrorists with soggy shoes, crotches on fire, and the like.

And as a frequent international traveler let me say, I'm sick of it!  It's all because of unaccountable, CYA, security-apparatus bureaucrats in DHS and TSA whose only concern is, "Not on my watch!", statistics, facts and our comfort be damned.

Read on!

By Jason Edward Harrington
September 28, 2014 | Guardian

The other day in Syria, the US conducted air strikes on a relatively unknown and possibly non-existent entity called the Khorasan group, which sounds more like a job-killing consulting firm than a people-killing al-Qaida spinoff. It was a surprise plot point in the campaign against Isis that left the kind of Strangelovian headlines that have become par for the course in the War on Terror. Take this one, from the Independent: “Syria air strikes: Khorasan Group ‘were working to make toothpaste bombs and explosives that could pass through airport security’”. Or this one: “Khorasan Group plotted attack against US with explosive clothes”.

This isn’t the first time the plane-flying public has gotten word of cavity-fighting and/or sartorial threats to international airliners: the concept of the toothpaste bomb first surfaced during the Sochi Olympics earlier this year, and the clothes-dipped-in-liquid-explosives menace came to attention back in August 2013. And of course, just a few months ago, there was speculation about the need for airline passengers to fear an iBomb. The only thing that changed between then and now is that anonymous officials slapped a name on the alleged masterminds behind these absurd plots, and then dropped bombs on them.

Now that the global aviation system has been menaced by a shoe bomber, an underwear bomber, a hypothetical “Frankenbomber” and even ecologically friendly bombers, pretty much any western government could conceivably spout the results of a terror plot-generating algorithm and successfully sell it to the public as casus belli:

Common item + bomb + plot = justified military action and hassle at airports. Deodorant bomb plot? Sure, why the hell not? Sounds scary. Send in the drones, confiscate all the Old Spice.

There have been conflicting reports as to how “imminent” the Khorasan group’s aviation attack really was. But regardless of whether these alleged terrorist masterminds had their favorite sweaters weaponized and ready to blow, or were just sort of thinking about it, exactly what are we supposed to feel when confronted with news of such counter-terror campaigns carried out on our behalf? Relief and fear? Relief that our military may have neutralized a tube of toothpaste, and fear that the next Hollywood-ready plot is still imminently lurking out there?

Having worked for the Transportation Security Administration for six years, I actually think laughter is one appropriate response. It’s hard not to see the funny facets of a never-ending campaign against a nebulous enemy (Axis of Evil a decade ago, Network of Death today) in which you are issued a terror intelligence memorandum detailing the standard operating procedure for the confiscation of cupcakes. (“Cupcakes have got to have a reasonable level of icing to be allowed onto a plane,” one TSA manager advised us.)

My former co-workers and I are not the only ones who found some of this stuff funny. In 2012, the international relations scholar Charlotte Heath-Kelly argued in a paper in the European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research that the War on Terror can be viewed as the lovechild of Franz Kafka and Monty Python as much as that of any vice president and foreign minister.

“The War on Terror undermines itself by narrating a liminal space where its claims of security appear ridiculous,” Heath-Kelly writes. “A failure to laugh consolidates the War on Terror discourse and the joke it is playing on us by taking it seriously.”

If we could get Catch 22 out of World War II, and Dr Strangelove out of the Cold War, it should come as no surprise if the more skeptical among us laugh when our governments inform us, with a straight face, that we just launched a unilateral air strike so as to eliminate a guy who maybe had explosives in his dopp kit. Perhaps the best way to show our leaders that we’re no longer buying the chimerical terror threats sold to us as justifications for war is by laughing those claims right out of the room.

As Thomas Jefferson said long before the TSA made you walk around barefoot and beltless with a bunch of strangers, “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.”

Many would say the plots of the supposedly deadly and ingenious terrorists upon whom we’re dropping bombs would be no laughing matter if brought to fruition. But a few people bearing analogues to these hypothetical threats have actually made it aboard planes in the past, and the results comprised a relative comedy of errors:
  • Security experts still argue whether the liquids plot of 2006 – the reason we’re not allowed to bring a container filled with more than 3.4 ounces of liquid aboard planes in the US – was even plausible: Turns out, mixing hydrogen peroxide, sulfuric acid and acetone is difficult even in the calm of a science lab, let alone an airplane lavatory. 
Real-life, successful terrorist plots tend to be too mundane to fit the narratives of big-budget Hollywood thrillers. Attempts at the movie-level terrorist plot end up playing out more like Benny Hill than Sergeant Brody.

I believe that it’s healthy to openly ridicule politically expedient, overblown terror threats such as this Khorasan group – that known unknowns, fashion menaces, underwear bombers and other political hobgoblins should be feared about as much, if not less, than a cab ride to the airport. But there is at least one deadly serious aspect to odd new turns and mysterious enemies in the War on Terror: real people die when missiles go flying in retaliation for absurd, hypothetical threats, and from the rubble of those missile strikes rise new waves of anti-western sentiment. The aspirations of the terrorists we bomb into existence may be grounded in gritty realism, as opposed to slapstick comedy.

And that may turn out to be no laughing matter.

War Nerd: ISIS threat is still overblown

The War Nerd maintains that Islamic State is indeed the JV team, albeit with good PR and a penchant for child rape, yet certainly not an existential threat to the U.S. or indeed Iraq or even the Kurds.

Check it out!

By Gary Brecher
September 28, 2014 | Pando Daily 

How Putin is treating Crimean Tatars worse than Stalin did

This is how Russia's "anti-Fascists" have behaved as soon as they took over Crimea. They're despicable, not to mention hypocritical.

By Leonid Rogozin
September 27, 2014 | Buzzfeed

Eric Holder is no darling of the Left

Here are two strong critques from the left of Eric Holder's term as Attorney General:

By William K. Black
September 26, 2014 | Al Jazeera

By Trevor Timm 
September 26, 2014 | Freedom of the Press Foundation


Saturday, September 27, 2014

What we know about IS leads back to Iraq debacle

According to this report, the top three leaders of Islamic State are Iraqis: one from Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI); and two Sunni ex-generals from Saddam's army.

The leader and religious figurehead of IS, born Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, (aka Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim), was captured in 2004 or 2005 and released in 2009 under "unknown" circumstances.  (Smooth move!)

The two Sunni generals, we can surmise, almost certainly lost their jobs after Dubya's Coalition Provisional Authority issued an order on May 15, 2003 to dissolve the 250,000-man Iraqi army, a day after the order to implement "De-Ba'athification" of all public and government posts.

So it's still correct to blame Bush.

By Nick Robins-Early
September 27, 2014 | Huffington Post

News digest / Catching up on news (09.27.2014)

Here are some more stories over the past 3 weeks that I haven't had time to give their due comment. Enjoy!

"Mr President, will you tell us the truth? 8 questions we must ask Obama about secret war," By Trevor Timm, September 27, 2014. Guardian. URL: -- TOO BAD NEITHER PARTY WILL ASK OBAMA THESE QUESTIONS!

"Carl Bildt: Putin Must Face Mothers Of Fallen Russian Soldiers In Ukraine Conflict," By Nathan Gardels, September 26, 2014, WorldPost. URL: -- TURNS OUT RUSSIAN MOTHERS ARE THE SCARIEST FOE PUTIN HAS FACED THUS FAR

"How ISIS Is Using Us to Get What It Wants," By Alistaire Crooke, September 25, 2014, Huffington Post. URL: -- AS BILL MAHER SAID, ISIS IS SELLING FEAR AND WE'RE BUYING 

"Kansas Is So Broke That It Has To Auction Off Sex Toys," By Samantha Lachman, September 25, 2014, Huffington Post. URL: -- THANK GOD THIS MAD TEA PARTY EXPERIMENT HAS BEEN CONTAINED TO SPARSELY POPULATED, RURAL KANSAS!

"The fight against the Islamic State must include Iran," By Fareed Zakaria, September 25, 2014, Washington Post. URL:  -- BUT WAIT, SEAN HANNITY TOLD ME THAT IRAN, HAMMAS AND ISIS ARE ALL ONE IN THE SAME, SO WHAT GIVES??...

"Walmart police shooting: 911 call to Ohio dispatcher – video," September 26, 2014, Guardian. URL:  -- GET READY TO SEE MORE OF THESE MISTAKEN SHOOTINGS AS OPEN CARRY AND CONCEALED CARRY BECOME MORE COMMON

"Europe's New Frozen Conflict," By Judy Dempsey, September 22, 2014, Carnegie Europe. URL:  -- WHAT PUTIN IS DOING IN UKRAINE IS NOTHING NEW FOR RUSSIA, SADLY

"Crimean Tatar Mejlis given 24 hours to leave," By Halya Coynash, September 19, 2014, Human Rights in Ukraine. URL: -- THIS IS HOW 'ANTI-FASCISTS' BEHAVE ?!

"Russia cries foul over Scottish independence vote," By Luke Harding, September 19, 2014, Guardian. URL:  -- LOL!  I'M SURE THE UK IS WORRIED

"To Foil Russia's Food Ban, Imported Ingredients Go Incognito," By Corey Flintoff, September 19, 2014, NPR. URL:  -- CORRUPT RUSSIAN CUSTOMS OFFICIALS AND MOBSTERS TELL EU, 'THANKS FOR THE NEW RACKET, THE SMUGGLING BUSINESS IS GREAT!'

"Amid Scotland's refendum poll shows quarter of Americans back secession from US," September 19, 2014, Guardian. URL:  -- TRANSLATION: 24 PERCENT OF AMERICANS PROUDLY DECLARE THEY ARE IDIOTS

"BBC journalists attacked and equipment smashed in Russia," By Tara Conlan, September 18, 2014, Guardian. URL:

"Killing Comes Naturally To Chimps, Scientists Say," By Scott Neuman, September 18, 2014, NPR. URL:  -- INDEED, WOMEN ARE THE PEACEMAKERS... EXCEPT WHEN THEY ARE SO ANNOYING THEY MAKE YOU WANNA GO RAY RICE ON THEM (KIDDING)

"Black Lung Disease Rates Skyrocket To Highest Levels Since 1970s," By Dave Jamieson, September 15, 2014,  Huffington Post. URL:  -- BACK TO THE GOOD OLD DAYS!

"The Surprising Reason Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals," By Macrina Cooper-White, September 11, 2014, Huffington Post. URL:

"U.S. should not be a silent partner to Israeli settlement expansion," By Jeremy Ben-Ami, September 8, 2014, Los Angeles Times. URL:  -- WRITTEN BY A SELF-HATING JEW, NO DOUBT

Putin could destroy NATO, and NATO knows it (Forbes)

Gregory's description of Putin's possible next move -- a hybrid war in the Baltics that could fall short of an Article 5 attack, if NATO wants it to -- is frightening to read, even more so knowing that NATO and the West, collectively, would like nothing more than to appease Putin and hope he's happy with his bloody spoils in Crimea, Donbas, not to mention South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria.

NATO's members surely know that Putin could destroy their alliance -- not physically, but rather by crossing the all-important "red line" of Article 5, the sine qua non of NATO. Once Article 5 is breached, say, in Latvia, without a NATO military reaction then all bets are off and it's every country in Eastern Europe for itself.

But of course... who cares about NATO? We should concentrate on bearded loonies riding around in the desert on captured American hardware, making threats at us on YouTube from 6,000 miles away....

By Paul Roderick Gregory
September 23, 2014 | Forbes

Bergen: 'Jihadist threat is quite inconsequential'

Here's how CNN's Islamist terrorism expert Peter Bergen sums it up:

The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that the threat posed by jihadist organizations around the globe is quite inconsequential when compared with what the West faced in the past century.

Why? First, because there aren't that many of them:

If we tally up the low and high estimates for all these groups, we can begin to have a sense of the total number of jihadist militants that are part of formal organizations around the globe. We found that on the low end, an estimated 85,000 men are fighting in jihadist groups around the world; on the high end, 106,000.

And secondly, because:

The vast majority of the estimated 85,000 to 106,000 militants fighting with militant jihadist groups around the world are fighting for purely local reasons, for instance, trying to install Sharia law in northern Nigeria or trying to impose Taliban rule on Pakistan and Afghanistan, while only a small number of these militants are focused on attacking the West.

So maybe we shouldn't be shitting our pants with fear, and itching for another Mideast war without a chance of victory or timeline?

By Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider
September 26, 2014 | CNN

Thursday, September 18, 2014

U.S. should stay out of bloody Mideast religious wars

Hear, hear!  Before we insert ourselves in a sectarian conflict of Sunni vs. Shia in Syria, Iraq and beyonjd, Hoffman asks us to consider what bloody horrors we "reasonable, rational" Europeans inflicted on ourselves during our sectarian wars [emphasis mine]:

The agreements reached in Westphalia followed 130 years of strife, including the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, when Protestant Queen Elizabeth I of England beat back Catholic King Philip II of Spain’s rampage across Europe to put down heresy. Other rulers fomented mob violence with incidents such as the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France, when the Catholic king targeted well-born Protestants. The king’s assassins murdered nobles in their beds while commoners knifed and strangled Protestant neighbors in the streets.

One-quarter of Europe’s population was killed during the devastating Thirty Years' War (1618-48), another bloody phase of the Reformation. Brutal punishments included burning at the stake and pouring excrement down the throats of captives, a torture known as the “Swedish drink.” War spread famine and bubonic plague across Europe. Like now, greed complicated religious conflict, as combatants wrestled over lands and gold.

Exhausted, Protestants and Catholics finally agreed to negotiate. Gathering in separate towns, they sent messengers back and forth to avoid seeing one another’s despised faces. After five years of argument, the Peace of Westphalia concluded the tragic wars of religion. Separation of church and state took hold.

By Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman
September 16, 2014 | Reuters

Gessen: What comes next 'will be bloodier and more frightening'

Here's the meat of Gessen's essay [emphasis mine]:

This narrative [of essentially blaming the Ukraine crisis on Western-NATO expansion into Russia's traditional sphere of influence] is not without merit. The bombing of Yugoslavia enabled an unprecedented rise in nationalist politics in Russia. And NATO expansion confirmed Russians’ worst suspicions about the West. Ukraine’s attempted move westward last year terrified the Kremlin, as did everything that has happened in that country since the protests began in Kiev last November.

But the sleeping-bear story is missing two essential components: the role of Ukraine and its people, who have been fighting to choose their own destiny – indeed, this story tends to ignore the existence of Ukrainians altogether – and, ironically, the fact that Putin has his own agency.

It is tempting to view Putin as merely the embodiment of Russia’s reaction to the actions of Western powers. It creates the illusion that he can be managed, or contained. If all he wants is a buffer zone between Russia and NATO, then the way to prevent a large European war is to give it to him, whatever the people of Ukraine might want. Let him keep Crimea, make Ukraine grant significant autonomy to its eastern regions and promise not to enter into any military alliances – and the Nobel Peace Prize is on its way.

The only problem is that portraying Putin as an unlikable but, essentially, Western politician – one who formulates his strategic objectives in a way Western analysts can understand – misses the point entirely. Russia’s behavior over the past week of a fragile cease-fire in eastern Ukraine has shown this very clearly. Russia kidnapped an Estonian security officer on Estonian territory – the Russians claim he was arrested on Russian soil while spying – and is holding him in Russia. It has re-opened Soviet-era desertion cases against a large number of Lithuanian men. And Russia has ratcheted up its nuclear saber-rattling.

All this points to the possibility that, rather than the beginning of the end of the conflict, the cease-fire is a stepping stone to the next stage of the crisis. That stage may or may not involve Ukraine, but it will definitely involve the use of force and, as it always happens in warfare, it will be bloodier and even more frightening than what came before.

First, brava to Gessen for an important point about the Maidan Revolution and Russia's ensuing military action in Crimea and eastern Ukraine: many analysts and journalists dismiss the role of Ukrainians altogether, and portray them as helpless pawns of either the West or Russia. What do most Ukrainians want their government to do; and what kind of country do they want to live in? These basic questions often get overlooked, because we've become accustomed to thinking of Ukrainians as pawns in outsiders' game.

Second, contrary to what some have argued, Putin did have a choice whether to invade Crimea and destabilize eastern Ukraine with weapons and fighters. His hand was not forced. This is what Gessen meant by "Putin has his own agency."

Third, kudos to Gessen for acknowledging that Putin "isn't like us" in the West. To many Western leaders' recent astonishment, Putin has no compunction telling one lie today, and a contradictory lie tomorrow. Why? Because he is a former KGB agent and homo soveticus; for him lying is like breathing: second nature. (See Russian writer Mikhail Shishkin's excellent essay on this topic.) 

P.S. -- U.S. conservatives keep crowing that "Romney was right!" and Obama was wrong to criticize him when Romney said in March 2012 that Russia was "without question our number one geopolitical foe."  They have some cause to gloat... although I didn't hear their concern back then, or until March 2014, about Russia's intentions. My only clarification here would be that Russia is not Putin. On the world stage, for all intents and purposes, the two are now one in the same. Yet it is not destiny that the West finds itself opposed to Russia, it is because of Putin

Let's recall that in March 2012, Putin was Prime Minister and Dmitry Medvedev, his protege, was President. Putin had not yet become President again in May 2012, although many feared he would when Russia amended its constitution in 2008 to extend the president's term to six years. Nor had Putin yet cracked down on Russian mediaNGOsopposition political figures and public events. Prior to 2012, there was some hope among liberal Russians that Putin would let a new generation of modern, pragmatic politicians reform Russia. When Putin didn't, there were the most massive and violent street protests that Russia had seen in many years. 

Even former Kremlin insiders say that, since 2012, Putin has become more insular, impulsive and unpredictable. And it wasn't until 2014 that Putin started describing the "Russian World" and Russia's "right to protect" ethnic Russians and Russian speakers wherever they may be; when he started substituting the word russkiy (ethnic Russian) for rossiskiy (regarding matters of Russian state and national interest). 

Essentially, in Russia we are witnessing the frightening metamorphosis of a young, semi-reformist autocrat into a paranoid, bitter old dictator. Indeed, Putin first came to power in 2000. If we count Putin's term as ministerial "gray cardinal" under Medvedev and his likely re-election in 2018 and 2024Putin will have been in power almost as long as Josef Stalin, and outlast at least three U.S. Presidents.

By Masha Gessen
September 15, 2014 | Reuters

M. Shishkin: Thanks to Putin, post-war Europe is now pre-war Europe

I can't think of anything to add this essay by famed Russian writer Mikhail Shishkin except my regret that, in addition to Russians in Russia being zombified and primed to revert amazingly fast to their self-deceiving Soviet ways, so too have many Russian-Americans, including U.S. academics in Russian and post-Soviet studies. 

Emotionally, not intellectually, they have felt the need to take sides, and sadly they have taken the side of the ex-KGB dictator because he's "theirs." 

Moreover, among Russian thinkers and elites there has always been a feeling of chauvinism and superiority vis-a-vis their "little Slav brothers" in Ukraine. I suspect but cannot prove that many Russian "liberals" are jealous of Ukraine's Orange Revolution and Maidan Revolution, and so they seek to discredit both, either as nefarious anti-Russian plots organized and funded by the U.S. (in both cases, they charge) or a neo-Fascist coup by an un-elected "junta," in the latter case.

By Mikhail Shishkin
September 18, 2014 | Guardian

I remember that as a child I read about black holes in a popular science magazine about space and it scared me. The idea of our world being sucked into these breaks in the universe kept bothering me until I realised that it all was so far away that it would not reach us. But then a black hole tore our world very close to us. It started sucking in houses, roads, cars, planes, people and whole countries. Russia and Ukraine have already fallen into this black hole. And it is now sucking in Europe in front of our eyes.

This hole in the universe is the soul of one very lonely ageing man. The black hole is his fear.

TV images of the demise of Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi were messages that fate sent him from exotic countries. Protest rallies that gathered hundreds of thousands of people in Moscow ruined his inauguration and signalled approaching danger. The disgraceful flight of Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year set off alarm bells: if Ukrainians could oust their gang, it could serve as an example for the brotherly nation.

The instinct of self-preservation kicked in immediately. The formula for saving any dictatorship is universal: create an enemy, start a war. The state of war is the regime's elixir of life. A nation in patriotic ecstasy becomes one with its "national leader", while any dissenters can be declared "national traitors".

Before our eyes, Russian TV was turned from a tool of entertainment and misinformation into a weapon of mass destruction. Journalists became a special part of the arsenal, maybe the most important one, more important even than missiles. The desired world view formed in the infected minds of a zombified nation: Ukrainian fascists wage a war to annihilate the Russian world on orders from the west.

"There are no Russian soldiers in Crimea," Vladimir Putin claimed to the world with a wry grin in the spring. The west could not understand: how can he tell such blatant lies to his nation's face? But the nation did not take it as lies: we ourselves understand everything, but deceiving the enemy is not a sin, rather a virtue. The fact that "Russian soldiers were indeed in Crimea" was later admitted with such pride!

We are back to the Soviet times of total lies. The government renewed the social contract with the nation under which we had lived for decades: we know that we lie and you lie, and we continue to lie to survive. Generations have grown up under this social contract. These lies cannot even be called a sin: the power of vitality and survival is concentrated in them. The government was afraid of its nation, which is why it lied. The nation participated in the lies, because it was afraid of the government. The lies are a means of survival for a society built on violence and fear.

But just violence and fear cannot explain such an all-encompassing lie.

Why did the father of the Russian paratrooper who lost his legs in Ukraine write on Facebook, "My son is a soldier; he followed orders, which is why, whatever happened to him, he is right and I am proud of him"?

He keeps his mind off the idea that his son went to kill brotherly people and became disabled not defending his motherland from real enemies, but rather because of an insipid colonel's panic-stricken fear of losing his power, because of the ambitions of a clique of thieves swarming around the throne. How can he admit that his country, his motherland is the aggressor and that his son is the fascist? Motherland is always on the side of good. This is why when Putin lies in his nation's face, everyone knows that he is lying, and he knows that everyone knows, but the electorate agrees with his lies.

When Putin tells blatant lies in the face of western politicians, he then watches their reaction with vivid interest and not without pleasure, enjoying their confusion and helplessness. He wants Kiev to return on its knees, like a prodigal son, to the fatherly embrace of the empire. He is sure that Europe will boil with indignation, but eventually calm down, abandoning Ukraine to brotherly rape. He offers the west the chance to join the social contract of lies. All it has to do is say that Putin is a peacekeeper and agree to all the terms of his peacekeeping plan.

The sanctions imposed by western states against Russia represent a timid hope that economic hardship will make Russians resent the regime and nudge them towards active protests. Alas, it is an idle hope. Russians have a proverb: beat your own so the others fear you. It is hard to imagine officials in Berlin or Paris summarily banning food imports. The entire nations would burst in indignation that same day.

In contrast, in Russia such a move boosted the ruler's already sky-high rating. Putin knows the difference between the power he enjoys and the power of European democracies. Democratic governments are liable to their electorate for the people and their future, whereas under a dictatorship, one is only liable to follow orders. Every dictator hopes he is immortal, but since it is impossible, he is ready to drag everyone he despises into the black hole. And he despises everyone – both his own people and everybody else.

Putin knows that the west cannot cross the red line that he himself has long crossed and left behind. The red line is the willingness to go to war. It is hard for a human mind to switch from a postwar to a prewar time. The means of mass informational terror in Russia helped Russians to make the switch. Moreover, Russia is already in a state of war, an undeclared war against the west. Coffins with fallen Russian soldiers have started coming to Russian cities from Ukraine. Europe has fallen behind; it is still enjoying the relaxed prewar peace.

Europeans are not ready for the new reality that has set in. Leave us alone! Return everything to the way it was: jobs, gas, peace! No supplying weapons to Ukraine! One cannot start an armed conflict in the age of nuclear weapons because of some Mariupol! Should the world perish in a catastrophe because Ukraine was to be part of Europe? It is just because the Americans want to cause us to quarrel with Russians! It is all the fault of US imperialists and European bureaucrats! Why do we need sanctions that would hurt us too? The French are ready to take to the streets to protest at the American ruling that forces France to abandon the sale of Mistral warships to Russia. Moscow just protects its interest in Ukraine! And maybe fascists are indeed in power in Kiev? It may have started as a public uprising, but then a Nazi junta took over. Then why should we support them and fight with Russia? Putin offers peace! We want peace!

Putin's calculations are proving correct: it is more likely that citizens of western states, scared by economic woes and the possibility of war, would elect new governments, replacing Putin's enemies with more amenable politicians, than Russians would start to protest because of devastation and rising food prices.

Putin offered Europe his social contract. And with every new person willing to accept it, the black hole will grow and expand.

One needs to realise: postwar Europe is already prewar Europe.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Former UK Defence Sec.: ‘Putin as bad as Stalin'

[HT: AU].  Here's the most relevant bit in my view, as it goes for the U.S. as well as EU and NATO [emphasis mine]:

No sensible person wants, in the face of the many other challenges, to be forced to find money for increased spending on arms. No one wants the economic consequences that extensive sanctions against Russia will have on our own economies, but Putin will not be deterred by resolutions passed at Nato or EU summits.

So unless we want to gamble that this systematic aggression will fizzle out in the face of inactivity, and history tells us that doesn’t happen, we must find effective ways to deter him.

Both Nato and the EU have made a start but the small and reluctant steps taken so far sadly are not likely to be nearly enough.

All Nato countries should commit to reverse the recent decline in defence spending.

At the European level there is an urgent need to develop a strategy to decrease our heavy dependence on Russian energy.

Finally, Europe is realizing that Russia is not a reliable partner, since there is no separation of business and politics in Russia -- where everything is political, and politics is subordinated to one man, Vladimir Putin. Europe cannot abide the whims of one man in the vain hope of ensuring its economic and military security.

By Paul Dale
September 15, 2014 | The Chamberlain Files

Monday, September 15, 2014

'Putin is winning' (Maclean's)

So here is Ukraine's defeat in a nutshell [emphasis mine]:

Putin’s willingness to continually escalate Russia’s intervention in Ukraine presented Poroshenko with a dilemma of his own. [Poroshenko] knew Ukraine’s armed forces could not defeat those of Russia, and NATO wasn’t coming. So he agreed to the ceasefire. The agreement, while providing for prisoner exchanges and amnesty for some fighters, does not outline what an eventual political settlement might look like. It is difficult to imagine one that both sides would accept. Poroshenko has already promised to protect Russian language rights and to decentralize political power. None of this has satisfied the separatist leadership or their patrons in Moscow.

If Poroshenko can take any comfort from the predicament in which he finds himself, it might be that he never really had any good options. The much-ballyhooed rapid reaction force that NATO announced is meant to protect existing members of the alliance. And not only has the West not provided meaningful military aid to Ukraine, it has also failed to mobilize sufficient financial resources to support Kyiv....

Let me underline that: Now that Ukraine's government appears willing to address the grievances given by the rebels and terrorists for starting their "civil war" in eastern Ukraine -- protection of Russian language; and special self-government status -- it's no longer enough for the pro-Russian separatists. This tells me that my instincts, (and the instincts of most Ukrainians), were correct: These issues were a red herring to begin with. Putin is pulling their puppet strings.

Alas, Western support for Ukraine against Russia has been too little, too timid. As former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer warned, the real danger of "escalation" may be in Western appeasement that emboldens Putin to go even further. And who will stop Putin if he decides to do so?  

By Michael Petrou
September 15, 2014 | Maclean's

Motyl: Ukraine must build a 'Mannerheim Line' in Donbas against Russia

Here's how Motyl concludes his op-ed about a future partitioned Ukraine:

[T]he Donbas enclave is finished, and, as deindustrialization continues, depopulation will proceed apace. Whoever inherits the mess caused by Putin and his proxies will have a ball and chain on his leg. Fortunately for Ukraine, it doesn’t—and in all likelihood will not anytime soon—control the enclave. Rightly or wrongly, justly or unjustly, legally or illegally, the burden of control, and the burden of governance, will fall on Putin. Bully for him. The day is not far off when the economic disaster that is the Crimea and the Donbas will burden Putin, and he will be hard-pressed to claim that his imperialism has served Russia well.

So, sure, let Kyiv proclaim that it will never ever give up its sovereign territories. But then let Kyiv build The Wall, beef up its defenses, and get down to the business of fixing the country. Kyiv has time on its side. As I’ve frequently suggested, Putin’s fascist regime is doomed. Let it choke on the Donbas and the Crimea. Let it degenerate into an exclusively repressive regime. Let its economy decay thanks to Western sanctions. And let it remain isolated from the rest of the world and Ukraine. And then, when Russians reestablish a democracy, as one day they surely will, The Wall can come down. 

By ceding any of Ukraine's sovereign territory, President Poroshenko will be vulnerable to opportunistic attacks from political rivals who will declare "no retreat" from Donbas and "no surrender" to militarily stronger Russia, even if the Ukrainian army doesn't stand a chance against Putin's mercenaries and armed forces.

By Alexander J. Motyl
September 15, 2014 | World Affairs Journal

Friday, September 12, 2014

Vanden Heuvel's vile apologia of Putin

Not to get too personal, but Katrina vanden Heuvel's husband is Prof. Stephen F. Cohen of NYU, the most prominent Putin/Russia apologist in the U.S. Here's how the Kyiv Post described Cohen:

Cohen represents the part of the American left that used to admire some aspects of the Soviet Union and transferred their allegiance to Putin, who has increasingly appealed to the Soviet legacy. While Cohen criticized some Soviet policies, he was an ardent fan of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and a vehement critic of anti-communist President Boris Yeltsin.

In 2008, Cohen asserted that Putin “ended Russia’s collapse at home and re-asserted its independence abroad.” He has paid little attention to problems with free speech, freedom of assembly, rule of law and separation of powers in Russia, as well as to pervasive corruption that has only worsened since Putin came to power.

Cohen has also accused Ukrainian authorities of “war crimes” while ignoring numerous reports on kidnappings, torture, rape and murder by pro-Russian insurgents.

So now to vanden Heuvel's apologia in the Washington Post of Putin's 7-month war of aggression in Ukraine. In it she accuses "NATO leaders -- including President Obama" of having "escalated tensions, while dismissing opportunities to bring the conflict to a reasonable conclusion quickly."  Vanden Heuvel continued:

There would have been no civil war if the European Union’s leadership had not insisted on an exclusive association agreement that prejudiced Ukrainian industry in the east and trade with Russia, or if the United States and European nations had used their influence with the demonstrators to abide by the Feb. 21 agreement then-President Viktor Yanukovych signed, which would have handed more power to parliament and called for elections in December, or if the United States and Europe had been willing to work with Russia to restore the Feb. 21 agreement and calm worries in Crimea and the east about the rights of Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

Instead the U.S. and E.U. have encouraged the most radical elements in the Kiev government in their campaign to subjugate the east with military force — to seek a military solution to what is essentially a political problem in a deeply divided and economically fragile Ukraine.

In a few sentences vanden Heuvel throws out several mistruths -- coincidentally, this paragraph is the Russian propaganda line, verbatim.

Mistruth 1: Negotiations between the EU and Ukraine (headed then by pro-Russian President Yanukovych) caused the civil war. Let's recall that those negotiations were ongoing since February 2008, after Ukraine's admission to the WTO, after which Yanukovych's government made public and private announcements to EU leaders that it certainly intended to sign such an Association Agreement (AA) and enter into a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU. So, if the EU had "insisted" on the AA, then it did so very patiently with a very willing partner, while painstakingly negotiating the 1,200-page draft document.

Of course President Yanukovych and his team led by Arbuzov understood that the AA would have been a net economic benefit to Ukraine. Yanukovych's government only changed its position on the AA on the eve of signing because of Russian threats of retaliation -- higher gas prices, WTO-violating trade sanctions against Ukraine, etc. 

For more info, read some of the myths surrounding the Association Agreement here; much more recent explanation of the EU's position, offers of macro- and technical assistance to Ukraine, post Feb. 21, here; and the EU's Guide to the AA here.  

Mistruth 2: The U.S. and EU used their influence to nix the agreement on Feb. 21, 2014 between then-President Yanukovych and political leaders representing the Maidan protesters. In fact, Russia, which was involved in those negotiations, refused to sign the Feb. 21 agreement, yet today Russia calls for all sides to abide by it!  And in fact, on Feb. 22, President Yanukovych, without a word of explanation, fled Ukraine and surfaced a few days later in Russia. Meanwhile, Ukraine's new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced that $37 billion had gone missing from Ukraine's state coffers -- certainly the reason Yanukovych fled in the first place, to avoid prosecution. Despite Yanukovych's theft and absconding from Ukraine, Ukraine's opposition continues to abide by the Feb. 21 agreement. To quote the EU:

Violence in the capital ceased and protesters withdrew from public buildings; a Law reinstating the 2004 constitution has been adopted; a comprehensive constitutional reform envisaged along with new electoral laws and a balanced Central Electoral Commission; democratic and inclusive Presidential elections have now taken place. Investigations into acts of violence have been ordered by the new Prosecutor General, with expert advice of the Council of Europe's International Advisory Panel, inaugurated on 9 April.

More recently new Parliamentary elections have been called for October 26, giving all Ukrainians yet another opportunity to have their voices heard. 

Mistruth 3: The U.S. and EU did nothing to calm worries in Crimea and the east of Ukraine about the rights of Russian speakers. Vanden Heuvel is partly right: the U.S. and the EU did do almost nothing to counter the Kremlin's vile propaganda that Russian speakers would be forced to speak Ukrainian, or worse, be killed by roving bands of Right Sector "fascists." I witnessed this propaganda firsthand in Crimea, where many sincerely believed that battalions of Right Sector vigilantes were coming to kill them and rape their daughters for speaking Russian. With Russia's help, so called "self-defense militias" were formed to repel this non-existent threat; in the end these militias ended up rousting pro-Ukrainian citizens and kidnapping and killing Crimean Tatars and other "anti-Russian" citizens. Not a single attack or even appearance of Right Sector in Crimea ever occurred.  

Ditto in eastern Ukraine: Human Rights Watch, the OSCE and other observers have not documented the kind of anti-Russian pogroms that Putin's media fabricated on Russian TV channels and social media.  

Indeed, the sad irony of all these phony accusations is that the city of Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, is mostly Russian-speaking. The charges by Russia of fascism and discrimination were all a lie designed to lubricate the penetration of "little green men" -- Russian soldiers, spies, mercenaries and irregulars -- into eastern Ukraine.

Mistruth 4: The U.S. and EU have encouraged the most radical elements in the Kyiv government. Ask any pro-Russian who those radical elements are and they will tell you Oleh Tyahnybok's right-wing Svoboda party, and Dmitry Yarosh's Right Sector militia and political party. Vanden Heuvel doesn't offer any evidence of her accusation, and it's hard to imagine how she could, since these two parties do not represent Ukraine's President, Prime Minister; and only Svoboda has about 35 seats out of 450 in the Supreme Council (Parliament). One can only wonder what the vanden Heuvel thinks the devilish West must be doing in Ukraine behind the scenes?....

Mistruth 5: The U.S. and EU have encouraged a "military solution" in eastern Ukraine "to what is essentially a political problem."  Fact: Starting in March 2014, pro-Russian militias, headed by Russian agents and special forces, seized government buildings throughout eastern Ukraine. This looked like a repetition of Russia's Crimea scenario, where Putin at first denied (in March 2014) and then admitted (in April 2014) that most of the "local self-defense militias" were in fact Russian troops. A few days later, "little green men" were fixed in eastern Ukraine. 

As in Crimea, admissions in eastern Ukraine follow denials. Now rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine and in the Kremlin say Russian troops "on vacation" are fighting against Ukraine. But we need not rely on their admissions/denials: NATO has estimated that over 3,000  Russian troops are active in Ukraine. And in Russia, associations of soldiers' mothers, brave journalists and human rights activists have cataloged hundreds of secret burials of Russian regular troops KIA in Ukraine -- and met with harassment from the Russian government for revealing the truth.

Just imagine if NATO soldiers "on vacation" turned up fighting in the ranks of Ukraine's military -- what apoplectic fits of outrage vanden Heuvel and her husband would have!  But of course they are not, and the U.S. and NATO have so far refused to offer any lethal military assistance to Ukraine.   

Next, vanden Heuvel throws out a red herring, NATO: 
Our responsibility goes beyond the immediate crisis, too. There would not have been such a concerted Russian nationalist response to the crisis had the West not sowed the seeds of suspicion and mistrust over the past 18 years by growing NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe.

Yet by her own admission this whole "civil war" in Ukraine started over the EU Association Agreement that had nothing to do with NATO! So there's no real point in discussing it.

Later, vanden Heuvel writes [emphasis mine]:

[T]he hawkish outcry for a more confrontational stance toward Putin has yet to give way to common sense. Across the political spectrum, prominent figures are demanding harsher sanctions targeting Russia, as well as military assistance and NATO membership for Ukraine. These demands seem to increase regardless of what Moscow does and regardless of the fact that Russian cooperation is essential for the stabilization and rebuilding of the shattered Ukrainian economy. Never mind that Putin has just helped broker a long-sought cease-fire; sanctions, we are told, must be broadened and deepened. Punishing Russia is far more important than a political settlement in Ukraine.

Even most Russians would have to smile at, "Never mind that Putin has just helped broker a long-sought cease-fire..." since Putin is the one providing weapons and troops to fight Ukraine's military. So of course Putin can "broker" peace -- he only has to broker with himself!

Vanden Heuvel's denial of Russia's deep and sustained military action in Ukraine deprives her arguments of any credibility.

Indeed, vanden Heuvel also ignored the despicable Russian missile attack on MH flight 117 that killed 298 people, mostly Europeans, and how this attack hardened Europe's resolve to impose harsher sanctions against Russia for its aggression against Ukraine!

Now a final word about the ceasefire and "political reform" in Ukraine. As I've said before, President Poroshenko and just about every political party in Ukraine, including Svoboda (!), has come out in favor of decentralization of Ukraine's government, i.e. more local government control. But the kind of "federalized" Ukraine that Russia wants would be unacceptable; it would technically be a confederacy and make Ukraine ungovernable and disunited ... which is exactly what Putin wants.  

Again, vanden Heuvel ignores this, ignores the fact that such a confederate political structure exists exactly nowhere on Earth, and for good reason: both times it was tried in the United States it failed miserably, most tragically during the U.S. Civil War that took 750,000 lives.   

UPDATE (09.15.2014): My post drew a heated response from a few Russian academics that I know. (So far every Russian studies professor that I've come across is extremely defensive of Putin's policies in Crimea and Donbas. Funny how that works....).

First, I was criticized for daring to question Prof. Stephen Cohen's objectivity and "putting labels on people." 

To which I replied:
Well, Cohen said that "the U.S. would go down in history as having blood on its hands" in Ukraine. That was an amazingly unobjective  statement considering that Russian troops and weapons are killing people in Ukraine, and not a single U.S. soldier or weapon is there!  Cohen can't even bring himself to say directly that Putin is fighting a war in Ukraine (check out 19:20):
Cohen is certainly knowledgeable but also clearly a russophile to a fault.
Also debatable -- in fact, unknowable -- is Сohen's assertion that Ukraine would still be in a civil war even without Russian interference. We can never know that for certain because Russia has been there from the start.  But I would say look at places like Kharkiv that seemed to be tipping toward Russia but then came back strongly in favor of Ukraine.  I have no doubt that now many people in Luhansk and Donetsk hate Ukraine after all the fighting and Russian propaganda, but I would wager that most of them want a return to нормальная жизнь, regardless of who can give it to them. 
Perhaps worst of all, he's from Kentucky and yet said that "we" fought for the South in the U.S. Civil War, which is false!
Second, I was challenged on the merits of what I wrote above. I won't write down what my interlocutor said, in the interest of space. You can glean it from my replies:
1) The EU certainly seemed to take [President Yanukovych] and Arbuzov at their word that they were serious about it. What they thought in private -- I don't know. The EU didn't realize what an unreliable counterpart Yanu was. More important, many Ukrainians took Yanu at his word that he intended to sign the AA. Even the folks who hated him and PR [Party of Regions] thought that at least Yanu was doing one thing right -- moving Ukraine toward the EU. And when Yanu broke that promise too, it was the last straw. I was there and you had to see the despair then anger of many Ukrainians who just couldn't tolerate Yanu's deceit toward the Ukrainian people.
This is of course what started Maidan, not Western NGOs, agents or any baloney like that. I hope you're not one of those people who believe such simple fairy tales. Again, I have friends who were joining up on Maidan via Facebook and VK when there were only a few dozen, and they thought that nobody would come. But eventually more people did come, and it was all driven by Ukrainians, not the West, mostly through social networks. I saw this movement evolve before my eyes on FB. So yes, "the whole thing started because of DCFTA," but for the reasons I just explained, because of the stifled will of the Ukrainian people.
What "consequences" did the EU threaten Ukraine with?  Besides that, it's elementary that Ukraine couldn't be part of the tomozhenniy soyuz and enjoy special trade status with the EU. 
2) There is no evidence that [President Yanukovych] was under threat; and anyway, he could have gone to another city to stay, for instance Donetsk or Simferopol, but instead he went to Russia. As policemen say, "If you're not guilty, why are you running away?" Yanu stole from Ukraine for years and he knew the new government would uncover it soon. He didn't want to go to jail so he ran away. No innocent and responsible president flees his own country; this is what African dictators do, not European leaders. 
3) The law on language was reversed and never implemented. Yes, the new gov't went too far there but cooler heads prevailed. Re: pogroms, numerous statements of Ukrainian Jews and rabbis have confirmed that there was no more anti-Semitism on Maidan than at any other time; in fact many Jews (I know them personally) were there; and even some Israeli Jews returned from Ukraine to participate.  So please let's not support this Kremlin myth with any more wasted words, since Russia has more anti-Semites and neo-Nazis than Ukraine by many times. 
By the way, I see you ignored that pogroms against Crimean Tatars started right away -- in fact Aksyonov was known in years past for clearing out Tatar samozakhvat. Tatars got the message when Putin named him acting PM of Crimea. The Tatars' "Nelson Mandela" [Mustafa Djemilev] is once again exiled from his homeland. Kidnappings and murders of Tatars, pro-Maidan activists and Ukrainian Orthodox priests in Crimea remain unsolved, and Putin's "brownshirt" militias still rove Crimea's streets. Anti-fascists indeed! 
4) Yarosh can say whatever he wants, it's up to reasonable people to assess the situation rationally. Vizitka Yarosha was the joke of the year. Putin needs a bogeyman and Yarosh is the closest thing.
5) Are you seriously denying that regular Russian troops have not been sent to fight in Ukraine -- that is, sent a second time, after Crimea? If you can't be honest about that then we probably cannot find common ground about anything else.
6) The plane [MH flight 117] was hit by an object moving at high speed. Of course it was a missile and the Ukrainians had no reason to shoot down an airplane over their own skies, since Russia has not yet sent aircraft to Ukraine. The terrorists were shooting down Ukrainian aircraft. And at first the rebels admitted on social networks that they shot down the plane, that they had the missile systems from Russia.  You must know about this but you choose to ignore it.  They are the culprits. Or do you believe it was a conspiracy to garner sympathy for Ukraine? Or do you believe what the Russian media says -- the first missing plane from Asia was diverted to the U.S., everybody onboard was killed by the CIA, then at the right moment the plane was sent over Ukraine to be exploded with a payload of corpses?  It's disgusting that such filth could be discussed on television, but that's Russia for you. 
7) I'm sure you understand what I was saying, but I'll explain. Putin may call it "federalization" but what he talked about -- autonomous economic and foreign policies for Donetsk and Luhansk -- is not a federation, it's a confederation. All federal systems have a strong central government that makes economic and foreign policy, period. So Putin can call a duck a zebra but we still know it's a duck.
I didn't call anybody subhuman, but all the Russian spies and soldiers fighting in Ukraine should leave or face death. Unfortunately Russia is the stronger country militarily and without Western help Poroshenko cannot defeat them, hence the ceasefire and negotiations.  This is a war by Russia against Ukraine. (Incidentally, many Russians say it's a war by the U.S. against Russia, but the logic is the same: Russia vs. _____.)

By Katrina vanden Heuvel
September 9, 2014 | Washington Post