How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

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How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Sun Mar 15, 2015 11:35 am

This post has been brewing for quite some time, I guess. Still putting thoughts into order, but here it goes.

My mom used to be the single most apolitical person I knew. Beyond wishing well to all the countries where she had friends and relatives, and firm-but-vague pro-Israel views ("because I'm Jewish and it's our country"), she had no identifiable political views on anything. She asked me questions sometimes about this or that event that appeared especially puzzling to her, listened to explanations and invariably responded with a variation of "I still don't understand". Her most common saying on the subject was "the world has gone completely mad and I don't try to understand it anymore".

Ukraine changed that.

Mom watches a lot of Russian TV - mostly entertainment and fashion shows, but her husband is a news junkie, and she watches the evening news with him. They live in Germany but, as most immigrants their age, watch almost exclusively Russian state news (my mom occasionally tunes into the Russian immigrant channel RTVi for Israel-specific news when she is particularly worried about me).

Last winter I realized to my complete surprise that my mom was successfully brainwashed by the Russian propaganda. She fully believed that the people who ousted the pro-Russian President Yanukovich were uniformly anti-Semitic neo-fascists out to oppress the Russian minority. She refused to believe that the well-armed "little green men" in army uniforms sans insignia riding military trucks sans license plates were Russian troops. "They're locals, she said, "Self-defense militias. I saw interviews on TV".

So I tuned into the Russian TV. I have not watched Russian TV with any consistency for 20 years, and was going on my second year with no cable at all, but an app called Parom TV allows one to watch Russian TV channels online. I was instantly reminded why I cut the cord in the first place. The Russian Channel One was awash with horror broadcasts. Ukrainian nationalists from the "Right Sector" burning people alive in a building in Odessa. Torch marches with portraits of Nazi collaborator Stephan Bandera. Crying Russian women and children. Heavy editorializing in news broadcasts without even a pretense of objectivity. Classic propaganda stuff that made me cringe with the sheer shamelessness of it. Westerners really have no idea how much madness one can cram into a TV broadcast. But it hypnotized my mom on the spot. She believed every word.

"Crimean people don't want to be governed by Ukraine," mom said. "They're Russians, so they are rebelling".
"They're Russian troops, mom," I said. "They're wearing Russian uniforms, and those heavy machine guns, trucks and APCs didn't just wash out on the Yalta beach, you know."
"But Putin just made an official statement that they are not Russian troops! He said you can buy Russian uniforms in any army surplus shop, and their weapons are from raiding police armories and from Ukrainian army deserters! Why would Russia send troops into Ukraine? They would risk a war with the rest of the world!"
"Well, that's why Putin says they're not Russian troops, mom. If he admits to an invasion openly, it will put pressure on Obama and the Europeans to respond. Neither of them wants to fight Russia, so they'll use any excuse to stay out and not do a damn thing. Putin just gave them the excuse, that's all."

My parents are divorced. When I come over, I stay some of the time at mom's place and some of the time at dad's. My father has deliberately cut himself off Russian TV fifteen years ago because he believed that it would help him perfect his German language faster (which worked). He gets his world news primarily from the German TV and Russian-language edition of international news websites (BBC Russian, Der Spiegel etc). Dad holds Russia in deep and passionate disdain. He never had much respect for the bizarro world of the Soviet Union (he has a lot of stories from that time that reliably short-circuit a typical Westerner's brain) and he does not believe that things have improved much over there, or that they ever will.

"Of course they're Russian troops!" dad said as he ran a Google search for me on Russian army equipment. "look, Pecheneg machine guns are not exported to Ukraine, where would "Crimean self-defense forces" get them? And in the 50 years that I lived in that country, I've never seen ballistic helmets for sale at the army surplus store. Who would buy them? What are they good for in civilian life? These guys are GRU Spetsnaz and Naval Infantry."

Two months later, with Crimea officially annexed, Putin freely admitted on live TV that yes, those "little green men" were really Russian troops. Channel One no longer talked about suppression of Russian culture, but rather saying that "Crimea was always Russian", and that it was annexed just in time before the evil NATO moved in and threatened Russia from Crimean land.

"It's not an invasion," my mom said. "Crimea was always Russian. I remember vacationing in Alushta when I was young, everyone there spoke Russian, always. I don't understand about NATO though. I live in Germany. NATO is us. How can they believe that Germany wanted to threaten Russia? It makes no sense..."

"It's an anschluss," my dad said. "Putin is following in Hitler's footsteps. They will need land access from Russia to Crimea now, so they will have to conquer Ukraine itself. All that talk about Kerch strait bridge is nonsense; it would block navigation from the Sea of Azov, and it could be destroyed with a single bomb. And how will they provide electricity and gas? That new "rebellion" in Donetsk is Putin's next war, obviously, but America and Europe will stop him. They will impose sanctions."
"Dad," I said, "Obama's America can stop nobody. They're not into stopping anybody. Look at how they messed up with Syria. They will impose toothless sanctions and that'll be it. And Europe is too dependent on Russia to do much of anything."
"You'll see," dad said. "Watch the Russian rouble tumble. Once the people in Russia starve, they'll riot, and Putin's finished."
"Dad," I said. "We lived through the 90-s, when lots of people starved. Nobody rioted. No government was overthrown by the people."
"That was then. They're used to the good life now. They won't starve again".

"There are no Russian troops in Donetsk!" mom insisted around August. It was in the middle of the Gaza war so anything that directed her mind away from reports about missiles being fired on Tel Aviv was a welcome change of subject for me. "It's a real rebellion. The Ukrainian government is a bunch of fascists, nobody wants to be ruled by them anymore".
"Mom," I said. "Remember us talking about Crimea a few months ago? Did you know that Putin admitted on live TV that Russian troops were in Crimea? Come with me, I'll show you on Youtube".
"I didn't know. But it's different this time. And there is no proof."
"Just open up the laptop, mom. I'll show you proof. There are reports about dozens of fresh graves on the military graveyard of the 76th Airborne division in Pskov. That's the same division 10 of whose soldiers were taken prisoners in Ukraine and Russia claimed that they "got lost" and crossed the border by accident. The same division that was just awarded the Order of Suvorov for courage and heroism. What does it tell you, mom? There are photos of a huge convoy of ambulances making its way from St. petersburg's Pulkovo airport under heavy military escort. Everybody knows its "cargo 200". See, this is the search window. Type keywords into it and it finds you news items and such."
"I am bad with computers, you know that. But maybe you're right, so what? Ukrainians are still bombing cities, killing innocent people! Why do they have to do that, why not just let people live?"
"You know, mom, lots of people are saying that about Israel bombing "innocent" Palestinians in Gaza right now."
"That's different. They are shooting rockets at you."
"Well, what do you think the "rebels" in Donetsk are doing? They are waging war on Ukraine, just like the Palestinians are waging war on us. What do you expect Ukraine to do, not fight back at all?"
"But they're bombing people from the air! At least the rebels don't have air force."
"Neither do the Palestinians, mom. Doesn't make them innocent, or better people".

"I need to talk to you," mom said a couple of weeks later. "I found the rebels' websites, started reading."
"And?"
"They are repulsive, murder-minded savages. I don't think they want anything good for their people. And oh my God, how disgustingly anti-Semitic!"
"Mom, I thought Ukrainians were the anti-Semitic ones?"
"They are both disgusting really. I just sympathize with the people being bombed now. And you know, I talked to aunt Alla and uncle Mark, and I'm in shock. They believe every word on the TV!"
"Uncle Mark believes everything they say on the TV? Seriously? He was a bigger skeptic than my dad!"
"I know! They still think there are no Russian troops in the Ukraine, can you imagine? How can anyone just swallow Putin's lies and not verify anything?"
"They've been locked into Russian TV all their lives, mom. They don't have any other perspective. You have RTVi and German news, and me. They don't."
"Yes, but they have the Internet! How can they be so blindly pro-Putin? and not even try to verify what he is saying?"

That was a question to ponder.

Some time before that, in the first days of the Gaza war, my girlfriend called me at 3AM, distraught to the point of crying. Normally very far from politics, she stumbled upon a Facebook discussion where Israel was bashed with the level of venom she found incomprehensible. She wrote to that person that she visited Israel and found it to be a wonderful country and she did not understand why people hated it so much. The hater hit back back with the kind of viciousness typical for the anti-Israel camp - by sending her a photo of a completely charred baby corpse. My girlfriend is a nurse who has seen a lot, but she was shocked and traumatized.

My first reaction was to ask her to send me the picture and do a Google image search. Sure enough, the picture was not even from 2014. The child's death was claimed to have happened in every year since at least 2009; I stopped after the first 17 search pages so it could be older still. He was claimed to have been killed in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq - by white phosphorous, chemical weapons, F16 missile or Syrian barrel bomb. It was a classic case of a recycled dead baby. Dead baby photos are an inexhaustible, infinitely recyclable Internet resource, ever-so-handy for fanatics who like to make their point by shocking people. It's quite effective though. It could have worked on my girlfriend or on my mom, especially as a sustained campaign rather than a chance encounter. Had someone like my girlfriend been placed in an environment in which Israel is discussed negatively all the time and dead baby photos make frequent appearance, she could be swayed. It would not work on me because I was already immunized to the method.

But other things did work on me, now that I think about it. I've been trying to recreate my trajectory from largely intuitive opposition to the idea of Israel withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza to supporting the Gaza withdrawal when it was taking place, and pinpoint what precisely swayed me. And I can't think of any single event ot chain of events. There is no "X happened, and my eyes were opened and I saw the light". I spent most of the time when my views have changed in the Tel Aviv university. There were, as it occurs to me now, endless reiterations of the ideas I did not agree with, until the sheer persistence began making a dent, and there was an environment of people most of whom agreed on something that I didn't. There was an increasing feeling that the truth could not be so radically different from what the majority of obviously intelligent people believed. In other words, my mind was changed not through reasoning but rather by a kind of osmosis. I never moved as far left as the majority of my friends at the time were because of previous immunization - people from the Perestroika generation rarely become left-wing idealists. But I internalized that being right-wing was wrong and being center-right was better.

This has some rather disturbing implications regarding how discussions of politics actually work, and how people's minds really get changed. I'm still not entirely coherent on the conclusions, so to be continued.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Jnyusa » Tue Mar 24, 2015 9:30 am

This was an interesting ramble, Storyteller. Sorry that it has gone without replies. I'm on a term break now and can think a little bit about what you've said, though I'm afraid that my own thoughts about how change happens are not very solid.

Westerners really have no idea how much madness one can cram into a TV broadcast. But it hypnotized my mom on the spot. She believed every word.


So your mom didn't recognize it as madness either, even though she's not a Westerner. ;) Why do you think she was so easily persuaded by the propaganda? There must be some background to this ... usually we believe without reflection only those things that fit our preconceptions.

Me personally, I am prejudiced against Ukrainians ... this is true ... because their anti-Semitism is so infamous. And I had experience with a Ukrainian professor that was not very pleasant at the personal and professional level. So if I meet a Ukrainian (and it doesn't happen very often) they are in an uphill struggle to make me like them. I like Russians much better, generally speaking, because my experience with Russian and other Eastern European students and colleagues has been universally good. I am sure that this colors my thinking to some extent where Crimea is concerned. I'm curious if you thought much about the background to your mom's original opinion and also her reversal?

But other things did work on me, now that I think about it. I've been trying to recreate my trajectory from largely intuitive opposition to the idea of Israel withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza to supporting the Gaza withdrawal when it was taking place, and pinpoint what precisely swayed me. And I can't think of any single event ot chain of events. There is no "X happened, and my eyes were opened and I saw the light". I spent most of the time when my views have changed in the Tel Aviv university. There were, as it occurs to me now, endless reiterations of the ideas I did not agree with, until the sheer persistence began making a dent, and there was an environment of people most of whom agreed on something that I didn't. There was an increasing feeling that the truth could not be so radically different from what the majority of obviously intelligent people believed. In other words, my mind was changed not through reasoning but rather by a kind of osmosis. I never moved as far left as the majority of my friends at the time were because of previous immunization - people from the Perestroika generation rarely become left-wing idealists. But I internalized that being right-wing was wrong and being center-right was better.

This has some rather disturbing implications regarding how discussions of politics actually work, and how people's minds really get changed. I'm still not entirely coherent on the conclusions, so to be continued.


Well, just as a preliminary thought, a lot of identity-formation takes place among students in university, and part of that process entails temporary adoption of ideas that are more extreme than the end result in the mature person is likely to be. Peer influence remains strong throughout our lives, of course, so exposure to diverse ideas is important to our flexibility and imagination as adults. Unfortunately, university is the last time that most of us get that opportunity.

You seem to think that the logic of your peers had little to do with your own shifts in thinking. That's not particularly encouraging (independent of whether you moved farther to the right or farther to the left). I'd like to think that people who become more conservative or more liberal do so because they are exposed to a different point of view, a different interpretation of the facts, or even 'new' facts they didn't know before. There doesn't have to be an 'aha moment,' but there can be a gradual realization that one's previous position is not as optimal as one thought.
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Billobob » Thu Mar 26, 2015 2:48 pm

Propaganda: It can make people hate, rebell, submit, love, etc. This shows why you need to be careful to think of both sides of the conflict before you make a desiscion :( .
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Faramond » Thu Mar 26, 2015 4:24 pm

But other things did work on me, now that I think about it. I've been trying to recreate my trajectory from largely intuitive opposition to the idea of Israel withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza to supporting the Gaza withdrawal when it was taking place, and pinpoint what precisely swayed me. And I can't think of any single event ot chain of events. There is no "X happened, and my eyes were opened and I saw the light". I spent most of the time when my views have changed in the Tel Aviv university. There were, as it occurs to me now, endless reiterations of the ideas I did not agree with, until the sheer persistence began making a dent, and there was an environment of people most of whom agreed on something that I didn't. There was an increasing feeling that the truth could not be so radically different from what the majority of obviously intelligent people believed. In other words, my mind was changed not through reasoning but rather by a kind of osmosis. I never moved as far left as the majority of my friends at the time were because of previous immunization - people from the Perestroika generation rarely become left-wing idealists. But I internalized that being right-wing was wrong and being center-right was better.


I would think of this as 'tribal conversion'. There is, I think, a really strong drive in humans to conform to what others in the tribe are thinking. The tribe is whoever we identify with, or begin to identify with. If we begin to identify with people then there is a strong emotional need to agree with those people, at least in part. I don't think logic has much to do with how we change our minds and viewpoints. I think it has been shown that for a lot of decisions we first make the decision and then afterward rationalize it. Reason is used to support the emotion and identity-based decision, not to make the decision.

What a person's tribe is can be a very imprecise concept, of course. There are various levels of identification. It can even happen over the internet -- people's crazy views are reinforced by seeing other people with those same crazy views.

I'm afraid what I've said here is rather imprecise and sort of vague but it's a very interesting topic and post and I wanted to make a start at replying.
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Jnyusa » Thu Mar 26, 2015 6:37 pm

And yet attitudes, including social mores, do change over time. Whether because of individuals who took unpopular positions, or maybe because of tribal warfare of the sort we see now in our Congress ... what is acceptable does change, and the overriding influence during the past four hundred years has been liberalizing, humanizing, and more logic-based than all that came before.
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Billobob » Fri Mar 27, 2015 1:14 pm

I think I know what you're talking about Faramond but it's slightly more complicated than that. The reason Story teller couldn't correct his mother is that she wasn't used to having to see beyond a politicians and she wand she wanted to see the Ukrainian rebels as the bad guys because they were anti semitism and since she was jewish this was the only thing that stood out to her. So in the end She wanted to believe that the Ukranians were the bad guys and the Russians were the good guys. Sorry for the rambling.
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Sat Mar 28, 2015 8:25 am

Jnyusa wrote:So your mom didn't recognize it as madness either, even though she's not a Westerner. ;) Why do you think she was so easily persuaded by the propaganda? There must be some background to this ... usually we believe without reflection only those things that fit our preconceptions.

Oh, a Westerner would not have fallen for the Russian propaganda... the way it is shown to the Russians, anyhow. It's crude, unvarnished, over-the-top, without the slightest attempt to mask the propaganda nature of it. It's the kind of thing they only get away with because of their monopoly on information - 90% of Russian citizens get their information about the world beyond their hometown from state TV.

My mom fell for it because for my mom, too, Russian Channel One is the main source of news. Her German isn't good enough to watch German TV for her enjoyment, she isn't from the Internet generation, and the only Russian TV channel that's not state-controlled- RTVi - is inferior in general programming. Mom's favorite fashion and music shows are all on Channel One, so that's what she watches.

My mom is also not naturally skeptical of TV in the way my dad is. She doesn't separate the video from the commentary, she can't spot tendentious editing in a video and she just doesn't expect the news to lie to her. A lot of TV-reliant people are that way.

I also think that people whose main source of news is text-based (printed newspapers or internet) rather than video-based are more critical towards the information they receive. Processing a text requires more effort and attention, whereas video consumption is much more passive in nature and prompts less analysis.

Personal bias plays a role as well. My mom grew up in the USSR and for her, the separation between Russia and Ukraine is not natural, and neither is Ukrainian nationalism. It's not how things were for most of her life. On some level she agrees with the concept of Crimea - and Ukraine itself- as part of the "Russian world" that Putin is talking about. When she wonders why Russians and Ukrainians can't get peacefully along she essentially wonders why Ukrainians refuse to be part of the "Russian world" the way they 'always were".

Well, just as a preliminary thought, a lot of identity-formation takes place among students in university, and part of that process entails temporary adoption of ideas that are more extreme than the end result in the mature person is likely to be. Peer influence remains strong throughout our lives, of course, so exposure to diverse ideas is important to our flexibility and imagination as adults. Unfortunately, university is the last time that most of us get that opportunity.

I have to say that I would not classify my time in the university as "exposure to diverse ideas". More like "relentless bombardment by a particular set of ideas".

I studied movies and TV in the Tel Aviv university. The demographics of my faculty were about as follows: out of some 6-0 students, 3-4 were Russian-Jewish immigrants like myself, one was an American girl, one girl from a development town in the south, and the rest were upper-class Tel Avivian kids, almost universally left-wing in their views. Our lecturers, with one exception, heavily pushed various versions of Marxism on us. I got myself into hot water with some of them over my skepticism, and during one class there was a mini-rebellion when a lecturer spoke about "diversity of ideas" in the faculty and even the upper-class Tel Avivian kids cringed and commented that it felt more like different spins on the same idea.

Generally speaking, in the TAU the humanitarian faculties are dominated by the Marxist professors, and their students are predominantly left-wing and extremely active politically (the student union of the university was for a long time dominated by HADASH). Exact science faculties are much more diverse in both staff and student views, but they rarely get involved in matters political.

You seem to think that the logic of your peers had little to do with your own shifts in thinking. That's not particularly encouraging (independent of whether you moved farther to the right or farther to the left). I'd like to think that people who become more conservative or more liberal do so because they are exposed to a different point of view, a different interpretation of the facts, or even 'new' facts they didn't know before. There doesn't have to be an 'aha moment,' but there can be a gradual realization that one's previous position is not as optimal as one thought.

That's what you like to think. The more I observe discussions of politics and participate in them, the less I am convinced that people's political views have much to do with rationally processing information. People are not rational in other areas of life, that's a scientific fact confirmed by a multitude of behavioral studies. There is no reason that it would be different in politics.

It is also worth noting that anyone making their living off persuasion - advertisers, political campaigners etc. - do not appeal to the audience's reason but rather to emotions and impressions. I suspect that these people know what works and what doesn't.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Fri Apr 03, 2015 8:42 am

Faramond was on to something with "people's crazy views are reinforced by seeing other people with those same crazy views".

The Guardian povides a glimpse into the way Russia handles propaganda in the Internet age. Granted, the existence of an organized government-funded Russian troll army is only news to those who weren't paying attention (my dad told me about coordinated mass invasions by pro-Russian trolls in the comment sections of Der Spiegel and Deutsche Welle years ago, and in the Russian-language media, even the guidebooks and the specific per-comment pay rates have been leaked.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Portia1 » Sat Apr 04, 2015 5:07 pm

Storyteller wrote:It is also worth noting that anyone making their living off persuasion - advertisers, political campaigners etc. - do not appeal to the audience's reason but rather to emotions and impressions. I suspect that these people know what works and what doesn't.


That is certainly true, and it is the source/cause of a lot of my skepticism. I got immunized to it by reading a LOT of "persuasive" material and trying to write it, too.
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby portia » Mon Apr 13, 2015 2:07 pm

Hmmm.
I seem to have reverted to my original name. I guess it was a problem with my computer--Lord knows what--but I had it in for service, and here I am, again!
Aren't computers wonderful!!
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby White Shadow » Mon Apr 13, 2015 11:04 pm

Off-topic:

Portia, if you have any more trouble, just get in touch with Daefaroth directly, and it should get sorted. :) Glad it's all back to normal now.

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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Fri Apr 17, 2015 7:55 am

I've been trying to find a full version of the brand new Russian "documentary" about the annexation of Crimea with English subtitles. Unfortunately, the full version only exists on Youtube in Russian, and only previews (like this one are available with subtitles. It's not very "documentary", to be sure. It's more of a cinematic illustration to a long interview with Putin, featuring some actual documentary footage, more crude reenactment of events as they supposedly took place, and an occasional interview with the people involved. But it's a real eye-opener with some shocking insights into both the events themselves and the way the Russian government wants them interpreted.

One of the more interesting parts is the degree to which it is shown as Putin's personal, hands-on micromanaged project. Putin himself modestly comments that the incredible efficiency of Russian military action was due to his personal supervision. From cutting off Ukrainian army's secure communications ahead of the takeover to smuggling the Bastion coastal defense missile batteries into Crimea in case US Navy attempts to intervene, everything except the legwork on the ground is credited to Putin personally.

There's a lot of interesting stuff in the documentary. The statements that made some waves in the Western media were the admission that Putin personally ordered and supervised the extraction of the overthrown pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovich out of Ukraine and the declaration that Putin was ready to initiate a nuclear standoff over Crimea had the need arisen. Yes, really.

The episode that went completely uncommented anywhere outside of Russia was the way the Russian military threatened US Navy Destroyers USS Truxtun and USS Donald Cook, that were sent into the Black Sea during the events as a strategic reassurance to American allies in the area. According to Putin's interview, when USS Truxtun was spotted moving in the direction of Crimea in March 2014, he ordered a Bastion coastal defense missile battery deployed and locked onto the destroyer, which promptly beat a hasty retreat (according to Putin's amused description, the destroyer did "the tightest figure 8 ever seen in the Black Sea"). In April, USS Donald Cook was buzzed by a Russian bomber jet, which made 12 passes over the vessel, ignoring attempts at radio communication. Putin claims that it was not his personal order but rather one of his underlings "having a little fun" on their own initiative, but appears pleased as he described how ten sailors from the ship asked to be discharged from duty due to the trauma from the incident as soon as the ship docked in Romania. The USA and NATO is spoken about in the movie with much more derision than fear.

Movie-making is a very important Russian information control method. New movies in response to the government's ideological needs are produced with remarkable speed. They are currently releasing a number of Crimea-themed blockbusters set during World war I and World war II, designed to solidify the idea that "Crimea is Russian". At the same time, Hollywood movie "Child 44" was banned from screening in Russia on the grounds that the movie - takes place in the the 1950-s Russia - "distorts history and portrays Russia and Russians negatively".

Something else that never fails to fascinate me is the Russian news' take on events in the West. In January, I got to watch Russian coverage of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The view being advanced was a kind of disjointed triple-think. On one hand, mocking religion is unacceptable and the French government should have taken action against the cartoonists long ago. On the other hand, it shows that both France and Russia suffer from Islamic terrorism and should be allies, so why doesn't France drop sanctions against Russia right now? At the same time, though, it is the excessive European tolerance that is at fault for the murderers being able to immigrate in the first place (which was followed by a number of interviews with Europeans speaking out against immigration).

The newscast I just watched included a very sympathetic report about a car wash somewhere in Missouri which is being bullied and threatened over their refusal to wash gay people's cars. The "gay tyranny in America and Europe" theme is very common in Russian media and the people are quite receptive., In Russian internet discussions Europe is often referred to as "Gayrope".
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Sat May 16, 2015 6:05 am

As I watched the gleefully militarisn saturating Russia's coverage of the Victory Day on May 9 (and the run-up to it, and the follow-up to it), it occured to me that one thing that most sharply divides the Western (meaning USA and Western Euope) and the non-Western public is the subject of war. Westerners - especially those from countries that have not suffered truly devastating war effects for centuries - are viscerally terrified of war in the way in which non-Westerners- especially those for whom war is recent history - rarely are.

World War II had an incredibly devastating impact on Russia and Eastern Europe - both in terms of infrastructure and demographics. To a great extent, Russia is still climbing out of the yawning demographic hole punched in its population by the war losses. Western Europe - even Britain - wasn't nearly as affected. Not to disregard the damage suffered by France, Benelux countries etc. but scale wise, compared to losses of Russia or Poland, they got away with barely a scratch.

Conventional wisdom would have it that people who suffered the most from war would be most opposed to it. Russians, then, would be the population most opposed to the very idea of having to fight a war of all European populations. But in practice people most opposed to war are those for whom war is mostly a theoretical exercise in abstract humanism. People whose fathers or grandfathers have first-hand experienced war do not, on the whole, tend towards pacifism.

The Russians' psychological response to World War II appears to evolve into a mentality that the Westerners haven't the first clue about. On one hand, the fear of war does persist. It translates not into aversion to hardships that war might bring but rather into willingness to endure any hardship in order to make sure that invaders do not roll through Russian land again as they did in 1941. Whimsical tyranny of the government, oppression, food shortages, lawlesness - anything is better than being weak enough to be conquered or pushed around by hostile outsiders. What is feared, basically, is not so much war itself as defeat.

On the other hand, the high of victory also persists, giving the Russians feeling that, should they ever fight a war again, victory is assured. Since they've defeated Hitler - the biggest, baddest of them all - they can defeat anybody. They rarely if ever openly engage with Russia's history of military defeats, writing them off as rare exceptions in a long history of glorious victories. Virtually all Russian World War II movies focus on the events of 1944 and onwards; it is very rare to see a movie that deals with the defeats of 1941-42, and rarer still to see a movie about the disastrous Winter War with Finland (even "The Cuckoo", a Russian-Finnish co-production that was one of the bravest takes on the war in the history of Russian cinema and virtually the only movie to acknowledge that there was fighting with Finland and not just Germany, is set in late 1944). It also means that no matter the state of Russia's actual economy or even military, they feel that they are forever entitled to be counted among the world's great powers and perhaps as the greatest of them all. In that context, Russians are not at all afraid of war or of hardships that might be endured should one happen. Since it's guaranteed to be a winning one, bring it on.

I was recently reading an article about the canceled exhibition in Yekaterinburg called "Triumph and Tragedy: The Role of Allies in World War II". It was meant to be an exhibition about the contribution of the Western states to the defeat of Nazism. Photos of British children wounded by German bombs. American posters showing a smiling Soviet soldier labeled "This man is your friend. Russian: he fights for freedom." Bodies of American soldiers strewn across the beach at the Tarawa island. Data on enormous supplies of explosives, gunpowder, combat planes, tanks, food and quotes from Soviet generals and administrators on the role all of it played in Soviet war effort. The exhibition was shut down by orders from Moscow because it clashed with the myth of the go-it-alone Victory in which the Allies were at best a sideshow and at worst, opened the Western front mainly to deny the Soviet Union a victorious march all the way to the Atlantic. The comments to the article were mostly the usual patriotic nonsense and bickering with an occasional outburst of sanity, but there were some exchanges that were outright shocking.

Our former allies are trying to use the memories of past alliances against us. These reminders of events from the past are meant to weaken our resolve against their future aggression. Back then, it paid for them to be with us and it paid Hitler to be against us, but that does not change the fact that USA and Britain will be our enemies in the next war. Exhibitions like that should be banned because we must not have mercy to our enemies. In the next war, victims among civilian population will be much greater. How can we destroy the civilian population of USA and Britain by the many millions if we begin to pity their women and children? We will have to, despite any sentimentality. They themselves have already taken care of it, their people consider us enemies and feel no mercy for our people.

Can you guess the sole reply that the above comment elicited?

Don't exaggerate. NATO (meaning USA, the Europeans aren't even worth mentioning) know full well that if such a war takes place, they're toast. (We may be toast too, or maybe not, but they'll be toast for sure). They will not knowingly attack Russia, with Russia's modern military capabilities (thank Putin and the government, who have long understood that things are going towards war and took appropriate measures to modernize the army). War may begin unintentionally due to a mistake on one of the sides, that should not be discounted but by design- never. NATO knows they'll lose fast. The Europeans generally live in hysterical fear of the Russian army, they have no one to fight and nothing to fight with, see the Libya campaign when they ran out of bombs in a couple of weeks and begged the USA for help.

That's the mindset. And it's not just the Russian mindset. The "chickenhawk" cliche, imlpying that those who have not experienced war will be more likely to push for one is false more often than not, especially scaled up to large numbers. The trauma of war does not necessarily inspire fear of war in a population so much as fear of defeat. What inspires fear of war, it seems to me, is collective experience of war not as fighting, or even as defeat in fighting, but as powerlesness, as watching vastly superior forces trample through one's country back and forth and being unable to put up meaningful resistance. There is no point in fighting when your culture associates fighting with defeat.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Sat May 30, 2015 6:19 am

Catching up on Russian news just got harder as they have changed the way they broadcast their TV outside of Russia. Owners of satellite dishes in Israel, and those who watch through apps like I do, have lost the ability to watch Channel One.

News websites report some horrifying stuff though. Putin has just declared all information on military casualties - dead or wounded, wartime or peace time - to be classified information; disclosure is punishable by serious jail terms. It is officially claimed that this is not connected to the war in Ukraine.

Some opposition media report on a large grouping of Russian armed forces being concentrated near Ukrainian borders. Their soldiers often wear uniforms without insignia, and their vehicles have no identifying markings.

Russian military sources claim that Russian Air Force has chased away (again) American destroyer USS Ross from the edge of Russian territorial waters in the Black Sea. They also claim that in the similar incident during takeover of Crimea, a SU-24 warplane successfully disabled American destroyer's electronic systems.

Russia has handed the EU a "black list" of 89 individuals who are officially not allowed to enter Russia. The list includes mostly citizens of the Baltic states, Poland, Britain, Swden, as well as some members of German parliament.

Earlier, two big splashes were made by Ramzan Kadyrov, governor of Chechnya who is considered Putin's most powerful and influential vassal. In one incident, after police forces from a nearby district killed an ethnic Chechen suspect on Chechenyan territory while attempting to apprehend them, Kadyrov declared that the Chechen police has his authorization to shoot and kill any non-Chechenyan police spotted operating on Chechenyan territory without his permission. That made serious waves as it drew attention to Chechnya's unique status inside Russia. Almost immediately after that, additional outrage was caused when the already-married 57 year old Nazhud Guchigov, head of Chechenyan ROVD (regional office of internal affairs, which controls the police), announced his intentions to marry a 17 year old girl from a small village. Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia's last independent newspapers, reported that the Chechen militia took the village into a veritable siege with roadblocks on all sides, and Guchigov told the girl's family that they would either give him their daughter or he would take her by force. When the news leaked into the media, Guchigov initially denied his intentions to marry the girl, but then his boss Ramzan Kadyrov announced the upcoming wedding at the regional government meeting, and gave his personal blessing. Support for the wedding of a married man with an underage girl was voices by Russian children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astahov, who said that girls in the Caucasus reach sexual maturity early and become "shriveled" by 27, so the bride's age was not an issue. The girl's family was not present at the wedding as it was being held, and she was accompanied by Kadyrov's right hand man Magomet Daudov instead.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Frelga » Sat May 30, 2015 9:42 pm

I hate to say it, but, well, what Story said. :(

It gets even more interesting if you also follow Ukrainian news. By Wash's definition of interesting.
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Sat Jun 13, 2015 7:55 am

So, in less Russia-related news, my point about the ease with which ostensibly rational and educated people fall for obvious falsehoods was rather spectacularly http://www.timesofisrael.com/radio-host-quizzes-jewish-candidate-sanders-on-israeli-citizenship/ confirmed by radio journalist Diane Rehm. While interviewing Senator Bernie Sanders (who is Jewish) over his plans to run for the White House, Rehm stated as fact that Sanders had a dual citizenship, American and Israeli. When Sanders denied being an Israeli citizen, Rehm did not actually retract but continued to insist that his name appeared on a "list they have gotten", and proceeded to question whether he knew of any members of Congress who were dual citizens. A simple Google search shows that all such lists originate exclusively from anti-Semitic sources.

That case is fascinating on many levels, not least the nature of explanation given by Rehm and by her radio station. Rehm herself claims that her question was triggered by a question suggestion she received on Facebook from a member of her audience named Ryan. One would've thought that, in preparing to deal with something quite so explosive it'd be prudent of Rehm to do some research, but from her apology it appears that she sees her error not so much in relying blindly on Facebook hearsay but rather in choosing to phrase it as a statement rather than a question.

Her radio station, meanwhile, does claim to have done some research. They "did not find a specific news article from a trusted news organization confirming that Sanders had dual citizenship, but did find references to dual citizenship held by members of Congress". Plus "the producer also found several articles in mainstream publications suggesting dual citizenship might create a conflict of interest or a perceived conflict of interest and thus was a legitimate issue for voters to consider." And that's what Rehm apparently ran with.

Aldous Huxley has famously observed that an unexciting truth may be eclipsed by a thrilling falsehood. Recycled dead baby photos, photoshopping, fabricated quotes and outright groundless lies work. Retweeted, reposted, shared, chain-mailed enough times, plastered on walls of college campuses and eventually front pages of news websites, they bend the world to the liars' will. They create feedback loops, ever-expanding circles of people for whom these lies match the deeply held preconceptions that they felt but could never confirm. The slightest appearance of confirmation legitimizes these preconceptions and frees them to speak their minds.

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Edited by White Council moderator - tidying up URL links
Last edited by heliona on Sun Jun 14, 2015 7:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Cleaning up urls.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Sat Jun 20, 2015 8:24 am

Huge thanks to tireless Heliona for tidying up my URLs :)

So Russia's got a new Internet law. It's modeled on the EU "right to be forgotten" except it's not.

The gist of it is as follows: any Russian citizen can force search system operators to remove any information about them that is over three years old.

"Search system operator" is defined in a way broad enough that not only search engines, but virtually any website qualifies.

Under the new law, any Russian citizen can send a request to any "search system operator" who provides information and /or advertisement directed at audience within the Russian Federation to remove any information about themselves that is:

A) Inaccurate
B) Accurate but relates to events that have been concluded three years or more before the date of the request
C) Accurate and recent but distributed in violation of existing Russian law.

And all they need to do is provide personal identification data (such as a copy of their passport). The "search system operator" then has 3 days to either delete all references to that information, or refuse to do so and be subjected to a fine of up to 3 million Russian roubles ($555 000). The Russian state censorship committee RosKomNadzor has the right to file similar complaints on behalf of any Russian citizen, with or without that citizen's actual request. The most beautiful part is that the "search engine operators" can be sued in the city or area of resident of the plaintiff, not of the defendant, meaning that any "search system operator" can be instantly flooded with lawsuits all over one of the world's largest states.

The precedent was set shortly before the law itself was passed. A popular Russian humour resource Lurkmore hosted a captioned photo featuring the singer Valeriy Sutkin. RosKomNadzor RosKomNadzor filed a lawsuit in Sutkin's name. Initially the court threw the claim out because RosKomNadzor did not obtain the power of attorney to represent the singer. Once that technicality was overcome, the court summoned as defendant... not the owner of Lurkmore, not the owner of the data center hosting Lurkmore's servers, but the representative of the Kingdom of Tonga, because Lurkmore website operates from the Tonga-registered domain. The defendant never appeared in court, obviously, which resulted in automatic win for the plaintiff.

The glaringly obvious purpose of the law is information control and concealment of past wrongdoings from the public by the state bureaucracy and other influential people, hence the 3-year limit. Plus the ability to destroy any internet resource at will by subjecting them to impossible demands.

The law is due to come into force in January 2016.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Salmacis81 » Tue Jul 07, 2015 1:35 pm

As an American of Christian Russian ancestry, I found it quite odd that your Jewish mom would be so quick to take the side of the Russian minority in Ukraine. Few of my immigrant family members are alive anymore, but just about all of them HATED Jews (as well as Gypsies). My grandmother (who was a nurse in the Red Army and was captured and mistreated by Nazi forces) even told me that while she didn't like Hitler, she felt that his treatment of JEws was justified, as they were the ones stealing all of the Germans money (again, her view). Also, many Russians do not consider their Jewish countrymen to be "Russians" at all, but another ethnic group entirely. As well, Russia has a history of treating it's small Jewish minority pretty poorly (pogroms, Stalin's state anti-Semitism), etc). So it's very weird to me that a Jewish person would be so quick to defend anything Russian.

I know it doesn't have much to do with the topic at hand, just thought I'd share it.
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Fri Jul 10, 2015 8:16 am

Salmacis81 wrote:As an American of Christian Russian ancestry, I found it quite odd that your Jewish mom would be so quick to take the side of the Russian minority in Ukraine. Few of my immigrant family members are alive anymore, but just about all of them HATED Jews (as well as Gypsies). My grandmother (who was a nurse in the Red Army and was captured and mistreated by Nazi forces) even told me that while she didn't like Hitler, she felt that his treatment of JEws was justified, as they were the ones stealing all of the Germans money (again, her view). Also, many Russians do not consider their Jewish countrymen to be "Russians" at all, but another ethnic group entirely. As well, Russia has a history of treating it's small Jewish minority pretty poorly (pogroms, Stalin's state anti-Semitism), etc). So it's very weird to me that a Jewish person would be so quick to defend anything Russian.

I know it doesn't have much to do with the topic at hand, just thought I'd share it.

Russian anti-Semitism is its own ugly story, but Ukrainians have a similarly ugly record in that department. In addition, during the USSR times, Russian Jews were overwhelmingly part of the Soviet intelligentsia (educated class) and prided themselves in being people of high culture. For lack of other choices (and due to the authentic Jewish culture having been eradicated, high culture in the USSR inevitably meant Russian culture. Many Jewish immigrants - even those from the former USSR areas like Ukraine or Kazakhstan which weren't technically Russia - feel connected to Russia because of the power of cultural attachment.

That, and my mom still has friends and relatives in Russia - St. Petersburg, Kursk etc. - whose lives may be affected by the anti-Russian sanctions, but no one she's close with in the Ukraine.


In other news, Russia - both the government and the people- displayed a very negative reaction to the recent USA Supreme Court ruling which effectively legalized gay marriage. Among other reactions, Putin's party United Russia (of which he is formally not a member - long story) responded by unveiling the brand new " real family" flag as a counter to the LGBT movement's rainbow flag. Problem is, it turned out that the flag in question shamelessly appropriated the logo of a French anti-gay marriage organization, La Manif Pour Tous, which is currently threatening to sue United Russia for 5 million Russian roubles over a breach of copyright.

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"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Sun Oct 04, 2015 11:44 am

Latest sign of how the power balance in the world has changed: Russia ordering American forces to leave.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby portia » Mon Oct 05, 2015 10:29 am

Naked gall will allow one to say anything.
I could order the Russians to leave, too, with about the same effect.
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Mon Oct 05, 2015 11:43 am

portia wrote:Naked gall will allow one to say anything.
I could order the Russians to leave, too, with about the same effect.

They did have the fighter jets, so the gall wasn't naked.

And the heads of states who wanted to isolate Putin just recently don't want to isolate him anymore. He is suddenly part of the solution.

(Crimea? What Crimea?)
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Fri Oct 16, 2015 12:39 am

Something from the recent report from the European Council of Foreign relations: apparently the Russian military bombs more targets per day of operations in Syria than the US-led coalition does per month.

The Syrian war has become a proving ground for Russia in more ways than one. They're putting their military on display, showing off an ability to project power that surpasses that of the US. Russia can move a large expeditionary force fast, cheap and with an element of surprise, without putting their strategy up to months of loud public discussions. They can operate unopposed, having paralyzed any Western response with the sheer fear of armed confrontation. And they are, factually speaking, more effective on the ground as they aren't restrained by off-tangent considerations (let alone the need for personal approval of target lists by a good-for-nothing Commander in Chief).

All this reminds me uncomfortably of the Spanish civil war, which was exactly the same kind of proving ground prior to World War II (even with the Iran deal serving as a direct parallel of the Munich deal of 1938 and its impact on the civil war's outcome).
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby portia » Fri Oct 16, 2015 11:12 am

Well, of course, Russia can move troops fast. All they need is the "OK" of an impulsive, short term thinking man, who feels the need to double down on a client state even though the client is about to go under. Maybe that is his only option.
He can't even stop and think "Why do I need this person as a client?" What benefit do I get? Especially as compared with "letting the so-and-so sink?" How does that compare with the cost, and the potential loss of life (do you think that such costs mean nothing to Putin? I hope you are not right.) Having a discussion of plans is often a good idea; it keeps one out of "oh my, why did we do that?" situations.
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Fri Oct 16, 2015 10:30 pm

portia wrote:Well, of course, Russia can move troops fast. All they need is the "OK" of an impulsive, short term thinking man, who feels the need to double down on a client state even though the client is about to go under. Maybe that is his only option.
He can't even stop and think "Why do I need this person as a client?" What benefit do I get? Especially as compared with "letting the so-and-so sink?" How does that compare with the cost, and the potential loss of life (do you think that such costs mean nothing to Putin? I hope you are not right.) Having a discussion of plans is often a good idea; it keeps one out of "oh my, why did we do that?" situations.

Loss of life means nothing to Putin, obviously. But he can be relied upon to have done the cost-benefit analysis and followed the course that benefits him both at home and abroad.

As I've mentioned before, it's working well for him. Russia broke out of political isolation and forced the US and Europe to negotiate with him - read grant him concessions. The display of military might in and of itself is winning him political influence both foreign and domestic. Rhetoric to the contrary by Obama et al is sour grapes talk, designed to disguise having been defeated at every turn in managing the Syrian issue.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby portia » Sat Oct 17, 2015 8:48 am

I suppose there is a portion of the public that doesn't see this as last ditch effort to save a client that is sinking. last time he intervened, it worked and the client had enough control to obey. This time, there is no such control, and the client is holding on by his fingernails.
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby hamlet » Tue Oct 27, 2015 11:57 am

portia wrote:I suppose there is a portion of the public that doesn't see this as last ditch effort to save a client that is sinking. last time he intervened, it worked and the client had enough control to obey. This time, there is no such control, and the client is holding on by his fingernails.


That is assuming, of course, that Russia's intervention has much to do with the "client" at all rather than intended as a display for other parties looking on.
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Mon Dec 21, 2015 10:46 am

New Russian Air Defenses in Syria Keep U.S. Grounded

There is a new crisis for the international effort to destroy the Islamic State, created by the Kremlin. The U.S. has stopped flying manned air-support missions for rebels in a key part of northern Syria due to Russia’s expansion of air defense systems there, and the Barack Obama administration is scrambling to figure out what to do about it.

Russia’s military operations inside Syria have been expanding in recent weeks, and the latest Russian deployments, made without any advance notice to the U.S., have disrupted the U.S.-led coalition's efforts to support Syrian rebel forces fighting against the Islamic State near the Turkey-Syria border, just west of the Euphrates River, several Obama administration and U.S. defense officials told us. This crucial part of the battlefield, known inside the military as Box 4, is where a number of groups have been fighting the Islamic State for control, until recently with overhead support from U.S. fighter jets.

But earlier this month, Moscow deployed an SA-17 advanced air defense system near the area and began “painting” U.S. planes, targeting them with radar in what U.S. officials said was a direct and dangerous provocation. The Pentagon halted all manned flights, although U.S. drones are still flying in the area. Russia then began bombing the rebels the U.S. had been supporting. (U.S. manned airstrikes continue elsewhere in Syria.)

Inside the top levels of the administration, officials are debating what to do next. The issue is serious enough that Secretary of State John Kerry raised it with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met on Tuesday, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General John Dunford has discussed it with his Russian counterpart as well, a spokesman for U.S. Air Force Central Command told us.

"The increasing number of Russian-supplied advanced air defense systems in Syria, including SA-17s, is another example that Russia and the regime seek to complicate the global counter-Daesh coalition’s air campaign,” said Major Tim Smith, using another term for the Islamic State.

Smith did not deny the administration officials' characterization of the situation in Box 4. Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told us that the U.S. continues to fly manned and unmanned strike missions in the areas of Syria where the Islamic State is active, including strikes Wednesday in the northeastern towns of Manjib and Mara. He also acknowledged that Russia's recent deployment of air defense systems have complicated U.S. air missions there.

In Washington, top officials are debating how to respond to Russia's expanded air defenses, said another administration official who was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations. The administration could decide to resume flights in support of the rebels fight Islamic State, but that could risk a deadly incident with the Russian military. For now, the U.S. seems to be acquiescing to Russia’s effort to keep American manned planes out of the sky there and "agree to their rules of the game," the administration official said.

With U.S. planes out of the way, Russia has stepped up its own airstrikes along the Turkey-Syria border, and the Obama administration has accused it of targeting the rebel groups the U.S. was supporting, not the Islamic State. The Russian strikes are also targeting commercial vehicles passing from Turkey into Syria, the administration official told us. The Washington Post reported that the Russian strikes have resulted in a halt of humanitarian aid from Turkey as well.

These heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia on the ground run counter to the public outreach Kerry has been pursuing as part of his effort to kick-start a peace process between the Syrian regime and the opposition. In remarks at the Kremlin Tuesday, Kerry said he was “grateful for President Putin” and looked forward to cooperating with Russia on the fight against the Islamic State. Kerry will meet with Russian leaders again Friday in New York.

Kerry also said the U.S. is not pursuing “regime change” in Syria, comments that were seen by many as another step away from the long-held U.S. call for Assad to step down. The latest U.S.-Russia talks didn’t focus on Assad’s status, Kerry said, adding that he was working to establish a political process that would allow Syrians to choose their own leadership.

While the diplomacy drags on, the Russian military continues to place Assad in a stronger position and constrain the coalitions' operations, said Matthew McInnis, a former Iran analyst for U.S. Central Command and now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “The Russians are trying to create zones where they would have to give permission for U.S. flights,” he said. “The Russians are increasingly defining the military landscape by their actions.”

McInnis said he has heard other Western diplomats express concern about how much the U.S. may give in to the Russian and Syrian position to get a cease-fire. "There is definitely some nervousness about how far the administration is willing to go to accommodate the Russian position on Assad," he said.

Robert Ford, Obama’s former ambassador to Syria, said the Russians may have another motive in expanding their military operations in northern Syria: to put pressure on Turkey. Russian-Turkish relations have turned ugly since Turkey shot down a Russian plane near its border last month. Turkey is keenly interested in the Box 4 region in Syria because it supports the Sunni Arab groups fighting there, working covertly with the U.S.

“The Russians are doing this to squeeze the Turks," said Ford. "It’s going to cause problems for the CIA program."

The actual number of U.S. flights that were supporting Syrian groups in this area was not large. Officials told us that Defense Secretary Ash Carter had been resisting a more comprehensive air campaign in the area for two reasons: Some of the groups fighting there are not vetted and include Islamic brigades, including the al-Nusrah Front. Also, Carter prefers a strategy of supporting Syrian Kurds with weapons and having them take over the border territory.

But the Syrian Arabs and the Turks don’t want Kurdish troops to control Box 4, said Ford, because then the Kurds would then have a proto-state reaching all the way from the Mediterranean Sea to the Iran-Iraq border.

The success of any U.S.-led effort to bring Assad to the negotiating table will depend on squeezing the Syrian regime. Yet at this crucial moment, the U.S. is not only decreasing pressure, but acquiescing to Russian pressure. This benefits not only Assad and Russia, but also the Islamic State.


This is perhaps the starkest display of the breakdown of the existing world order. Russia imposes a no-fly zone on the USA, and the American administration essentially accepts the new rules of the game. They fear a shooting war with Russia, whereas the Russians do not fear a shooting war with the USA.

The Russians are not crazy, of course. They don't want an actual war, they simply exploit the new American cowardice for all it's worth.Turkey shot down a Russian plane, and no World War III followed; Russian reaction boiled down to more self-harming sanctions. Had the USA acted more assertively, they could have exposed Putin's geopolitical blitzkrieg as a bluff with ease, but so long as the USA is governed by the man who gifted Medvedev the misspelled reset button and who is intent to keep his pre-election promises, they will continue to get boxed in and squeezed out of global politics by inferior powers.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Storyteller » Fri Feb 12, 2016 9:45 am

Everything I've been saying, finally being said by someone other than me - the BBC, of all people. There's some killer irony in contradiction between the piece's subject matter and the author's inability to shed the very same scales from his eyes that he is describing the West as having, but heacknowledges the obvious on the BBC, and that's progress.

How President Putin is getting what he wants in Syria

Viewed from the West, Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, is in the diplomatic dog-house.

His annexation of Crimea and military involvement in eastern Ukraine broke the settled pattern of post-Cold War relations in Europe.

The Russian military's increasingly aggressive patrolling and exercises on the margins of Nato have raised genuine concerns - even in a country such as Sweden - that a conflict with Russia can no longer be regarded as impossible.

Reluctant Nato governments are slowly increasing defence spending, and the US is taking steps to reinforce its forward presence in Europe.

Russia, of course, puts the boot on the other foot and blames Nato's expansion for its increased military readiness.

But this is a government widely believed to have sent its agents to poison an opponent in London, leaving a radioactive trail across the city.

Curiously then, the prevailing Western response to Russia's engagement alongside President Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria has been to argue Russia and the West potentially share some common ground.

Russia - at least up to a week or so ago - was seen as a co-sponsor of the diplomatic effort to bring peace to Syria and a vital element in any solution.

Whether this view - in hindsight largely wishful thinking - will survive the onslaught by the Syrian Army and its allies on Aleppo remains to be seen.

It is Russian air power more than anything that has changed the fortunes of the Syrian government.

And this offensive - coming just as a new round of talks was getting under way - effectively poisoned the discussions before they really began.

Realpolitik object lesson

So might this be a moment when the scales will fall from Western eyes and Russia's true intentions become clear?

We are not talking here about morality or what is right - there is precious little of that to go round on any side.

Syria is an appallingly complex problem, and no single party can be blamed for the continuation of the war.

What we are talking about is Realpolitik. And here, Moscow has given Western capitals an object lesson in what can be achieved.

To the Western view there is no military solution in Syria, Moscow has effectively begged to differ.

It chose a side - a side credible militarily in the sense it had too much to lose if defeated.

That side had reasonably effective allies such as the Hezbollah fighters and various militias recruited by Iran and guided by Iranian commanders.

And Russia itself deployed sufficient resources to make a difference.

It took a little time, but the results on the ground are now clear.

Russia set for itself an achievable goal - to bolster the Syrian government and ensure it retained control over a significant part of the country.

In so doing, it has unleashed its air force largely against militia fighters backed by Turkey, the Gulf Arabs and the West, and it is winning.

Contrast the Western approach, beset by problems and contradictions at every turn.

The West backs so-called moderate militias - but who exactly are these moderates?

Many are being forced into alliances with groups close to al-Qaeda.

Yes, Washington and al-Qaeda are objectively on the same side - contradiction number one.

Of course, the West is largely in it to defeat so-called Islamic State (IS).

But is this the primary goal of its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey?

No, their chief goal is to secure their strategic stakes in Syria - ideally by destroying President Assad.

IS is their enemy, but in many ways a secondary one - contradiction number two.

Two enclaves


Then, of course, there is the Kurdish question.

The West's most effective allies on the ground are Kurdish fighters.

But the Turks see them as a threat and any nascent Kurdish entity as a nightmare to be avoided at all costs - contradiction number three.

By contrast Mr Putin's life is simpler.

It is often said he has the advantage over his Western peers of not having to worry about public opinion.

Thus, the downing of a Russian airliner created little of the waves of protest at government policy that might have happened if a Western plane had been destroyed.

But think this through logically.

Is anything about Western policy a reflection of public opinion?

The publics are as confused as their political masters.

How do you react to drowning refugees, terrible suffering, and apparently intractable conflicts in places at one and the same time far away but also so terribly close?

Mr Putin is not just achieving his military goals in Syria.

His success threatens to reduce the country to two enclaves - a coastal rump dominated by the Syrian government and the rest broadly in the hands of IS.
What will the West's choices be then?

Mr Putin has shown Russia remains a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East, just at a time when the Americans seem best characterised by vacillation.

He has shown Russia has a limited but nonetheless impressive expeditionary military capability, and he has given a runout to much of Russia's latest hardware.

So, for now, Mr Putin has a victory of sorts.

I suppose the question is how long will it last?

Russia's own underpinnings are shaky. And with low oil prices set to persist, can the president really afford to behave like a kind of throwback to the Soviet era?
But, make no mistake, the Syrian peace process is stillborn.

The fighting will continue, with so-called moderate forces squeezed between government forces and IS.

The Kurdish question will continue to rear its head.

And the refugee flow towards western Europe will continue unabated.

In unifying ends and means, Mr Putin knows what he wants. And, for now, he seems to be getting it.
"...Their aim in war with Germany is nothing more, nothing less than extermination of Hitlerism... There is absolutely no justification for this kind of war. The ideology of Hitlerism, just like any other ideological system, can be accepted or rejected, this is a matter of political views. But everyone grasps, that an ideology can not be exterminated by force, must not be finished off with a war.” - Vyacheslav Molotov, ""On the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union", 31 October 1939
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Re: How the world works: musings of a pessimistic hawk

Postby Jnyusa » Sat Feb 13, 2016 3:00 pm

Storyteller,

Watching events in Europe over the past six months I have to admit that my pessimism has been increasing and might soon be on a par with yours. However, this particular article felt pretty opaque to me. I think that we might be missing the point in a lot of our analysis, which is that "western interest" may not be at all what we think it is, and that the foreign policy of the west makes no sense because it has nothing to do with the self-interest of the people living in the west.

In the US, for example, in what scheme of things could we say that the invasion of Iraq was in the self-interest of a person living in Kansas? The one thing that might be in the self-interest of the person living in Kansas is getting rid of a ruler who is developing and intending to use weapons of mass destruction, but we know now (and government policy makers knew then) that this was not true of Saddam Hussein. That being the only thing of possible self-interest to Kansas, that story had to be invented, which tells me (in retrospect) that that war was not in the self-interest of US citizens and that those who waged the war knew it. They knew they needed a cover story, so they knew that the true story wouldn't sell.

So what was the true story? Well, I'm not sure. Beyond, "we wanted their oil," I have not heard this question asked or answered coherently. Or, let's say, I haven't heard it pursued comprehensively, to the point where a complete answer that rings true would emerge.

I'm looking at Angela Merkel's astonishingly generous offer to empty half of Syria into Germany, not into refugee camps which might make some kind of sense as temporary relief, but to simply adopt these people as if they were a lost tribe of Huns. The news reels on youtube are horrific. Crime is skyrocketing and the police force is being cut. This is so obviously not going to have a happy ending that one really has to ask whose interest Angela Merkel thinks she is serving as she persists with this decision, and what the heck are they blackmailing her with?

Backing up to a few of my own early posts in a related thread, I used assimilation within the United States as an example of the ebb and flow of conflict when a large number of immigrants are absorbed at one time, which has happened several times in US history but never destroyed us. The Irish, for example, for decades they used US resources to support a foreign war, to the point where Irish Catholics in the US were selectively 'persecuted' by the FBI because the role of US Irish Catholics in prolonging the war in Northern Ireland could be considered an international problem. However, we never had a situation where Irish Catholics in the US were saying that Protestantism had to be abolished in the US, that all Protestants had to be removed from our government, that our constitution had to be changed to make Protestantism illegal. They were never committing crimes against Protestants for being Protestants here, setting up Catholic militia in Irish neighborhoods and not allowing Protestants to enter. We never had something like that ... although one could argue I suppose that we came close to that in effect in the gang warfare that has always accompanied masses of immigration, whether you're talking about the Irish Catholics or the Tong or the Korean drug dealers, whatever. But,these events were self-limiting in that gangs tend to be pitted against one another and not against the entirety of the population, even within the urban areas where they proliferated. Irish Catholic is a good example because we've had one Irish Catholic president in our history and his potentially dual loyalty was an issue in that election. But there was never any real danger that our constitution would be changed to include loyalty to the Pope because there weren't masses of Catholics out in the country who wanted that. There were paranoids who were afraid of it but no real danger of it happening.

That does not appear to be what is evolving in Germany, however, Or in England, for that matter. The rate of criminal behavior and the nature of the behavior that is following in the wake of this immigration suggests an invading force more than it suggests a flight of refugees. Maybe that's in the nature of Islam, as those who follow Sam Harris believe. Maybe it's purely economic frustration coming to a head (in England it could be this). And maybe the US is in a better position to dilute the negative influences of immigration because of our size, so that comparisons don't really hold. But this immigration looks very different after its first six months from the immigration that the US has succeeded to absorb during its history, And I will add that even though we have huge immigration from Mexico on a continuous basis, and there is a lot of Republican angst over this, even that onslaught of ethnic, religious, and linguistic different-ness does not look anything like what Europe seems to be experiencing.

I keep trying to step back and look at first principles where self-interest is concerned. And there are a couple principles that I think emerge from the picture that we see unfolding. Setting aside Putin for the moment (I'll come back to him), it seems clear to me that the self-interest of western nations as such, i.e. the self-interest of the people living in the west and already assimilated to western culture, is not at all what is being served by the leaders of the western nations at this point in time. That's one. Two, a much older principle is being honored in its breach rather than in its observance. That is the principle that if people are distressed by the government they have, they have to get rid of it themselves. If they half-heartedly like it, and don't really want to do away with that system, then invading them and forcing them to adopt a new (better) system will not change anything. They'll keep returning to some form of the old system. So, you can't democratize the Islamic world by invading or bombing if the people are attached to the idea of theocracy. When you're all done you're just going to get more of the same, at best. And adopting the people of Syria so that they can live somewhere else is not going to democratize Syria. I don't see any point at all in approaching the problem that way.

Assad obviously is fighting back because his power is at stake, but who is fighting alongside him? The people in Syria? No ... apparently they are all moving to Germany! Where they are building their own little Islamic state, unfortunately, which is one thing when it involves preservation of native culture, language and religion for several generations, something else when it advocates overthrow of the state they have moved to.

But what is truly amazing about it, much more amazing than the fact that it is happening at all, is that the government(s) do not seem to perceive there to be a problem. Germany and England both refuse to increase their police forces, refuse in some cases to police at all in the troubled neighborhoods. They seem to have reconciled themselves to enduring whatever damage is to be endured; and that damage is of course being endured by ordinary people and not by government representatives of the people. This is what interests me about it most of all. Because that too is necessarily a self-limiting phenomenon, and we are now seeing in elections throughout Europe the predictable fascist backlash. That's not an evolution I anticipate with joy because whenever a Christian nation decides to hate some group of foreigners, the foreigners they always end up killing are the Jews.

Sort of anticipating your take on all of this, Storyteller, from your comments in another thread, I would guess that you are not surprised that Islamic immigration would proceed this way, whereas I do remain mildly surprised by it. And I also guess that you attribute it to liberal misunderstanding, or liberals refusing to face up to the threats we are confronting, whether from Russia or from Islam. Whereas I don't think it has to do with liberal softness, or goofy definitions of tolerance, or liberal altruism, or anything along those lines. I think it has to do with systematic misdirection by these governments. I don't think Margaret Thatcher or Helmut Kohl would have behaved differently, in other words, if they were facing whatever decision array Merkel and Cameron seem to be facing. There is an unvoiced objective being given priority over the good of the nation represented, and I wonder seriously what that objective might be. How are they evaluating the choices available to them on the world chessboard such that internal chaos is the least-worst choice?

Back to Putin or a moment. He's a special case, I think, because it's not clear that the self-interest of the Russian people was ever being maximized by the rulers of Russia, no matter how far back you go.That's not true, or not as true, for Europe and the US. We experienced a revolution in political/economic thought following the era of Adam Smith that caused us to think of the strength of the nation in terms of the wealth and well-being of its citizens. A revolution of that nature never really touched Russia. But one can argue coherently, I think, that if Europe had drawn a boundary for the expansion of the EU, the EMU, and NATO, it would be harder for Putin to march forward under a defensive aegis. Maybe it would not have changed anything; maybe Putin just wants to rebuild the USSR. But it's still true that if we are determined to intrude on eastern Europe, then Putin has the excuse he needs to intrude right back. And it would be a mistake, I think, to conflate our relationship to Putin with our relationship to Islamic immigration. The immigrants to Germany are not coming from Chechnya.

So when I look across the Middle East I do see a couple winners in this scenario. Short term winners, anyway. The monarchies are winners. Particularly Saudi Arabia. As far right as they are, their enemy is even further to the right. The cost of battling ISIS is on us, and on Russia let's say, and not on Saudi. The cost of Syrian agony is on Europe, absorbing the Syrian people to move them out of the way of the battle. And it's a battle between two parties where one really hopes that both of them will lose! So ... in a sense, why do WE care at all?

Is our government, and Germany's government and England's government and the mega-government in Brussels doing all this to serve the self-interest of Saudi Arabia? What blinking logic would that be? Unless all those guys in the government are playing a completely different game from the rest of us. And ... I mean, at some level that's always been true, and we've always known it, but to see 2/3 of the trilaterals thrown into disarray so the the House of Saud can remain in power a little longer? ... that's a disconnect that would be positively Strangelovian.

And then ... for those of us who are old enough to have really long memories ... where the heck is Jordan in all of this? Back in 1970, Jordan covered its eyes and said, "look, Uncle Sam, I'm invisible." And they've been invisible ever since. Apropos of nothing ... it's just another piece of the puzzle that puzzles the heck out of me - how Jordan succeeds to remain invisible.

Well, that was my rant. Doesn't really address your question in the thread, I suppose. Because although I'm increasingly pessimistic I am not increasingly hawkish. On the contrary, it seems to me that every time we use a military solution we make things worse. There's something in between militancy and throwing open the doors of the larder as Europe has done, and it is clearly NOT on the table for any of them.
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