Friday, February 20, 2015

Memory lane...

Have you guys ever gone back and read some of what we've written here?

Look, I'm not saying we've beat Shakespeare or Hemingway with our collective intellectual vomit... but some of it is damn good, and a very little bit has even been correct.

I'm still perusing 2010's posts, and I'm enjoying the hell out of it.

"Resuscitation" defined...

Resuscitate:  verb   re-sus-ci-tate  "to bring back to a conscious or active state again"

F Ryan recently sent a text asking the question:  "If Saddam were still in power, does ISIS happen?"

If that isn't a Bund-quality conversation starter, I don't know what is.  So, here goes...

My reply was (and still is) absolutely not.  The power vacuum left by Saddam's removal was the ONLY means by which ISIS (and all its previous incarnations) could take hold in a region as a real political player.  F Ryan posited that the de-Ba'athificantion of Iraqi infrastructure (including the Army) was what provided the means for the failure of the post-US-led Iraqi government.  I can't agree more, but the question (in my opinion) is deeper still... can the blame for ISIS really be placed on US intervention in Iraq?

ISIS, and its al-Qaeda roots, go back to the very first days of US intervention in Afghanistan after 9/11.  al-Qaeda traces its hatred of the US and the West back to the early 90's and the US-led removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

To try and "resuscitate" this forum, I'm asking where do we draw the line between actual "interventionism" for the sake of short-term gains and genuine "defensive" actions wherein the US is spending time, money and blood to defend herself or her actual allies from catastrophic harm?

Can anyone think of a more inflammatory topic to kick-start this forum?

In the last year (about the time this blog started to s&!t the bed), I have come to the conclusion that US intervention in the region (i.e. Middle East) has done next to NOTHING to make the US safer since 1991.  I take '91 as the start point because I think the liberation of Kuwait was the last 100% legitimate action the US has taken that wouldn't be considered "self defense".  I do put the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the category of "self defense", since they had ample opportunity to distance themselves from al Qaeda prior to the invasion in 2001.  US intervention in Iraq (beginning in 2003), Syria, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Yemen have all made the situation worse and done NOTHING to increase US security either regionally or domestically.

If "boots on the ground" or "total war footing" are the ONLY way to bring about western-style stability in the region, do we have the a) means to achieve it and b) right (moral/legal/ethical) to attempt it?  When does a nation/state need to take responsibility for its own stability?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bunding from Lancaster PA

Yep... deep in the heart of Amish country, I'm posting to the Bund.  On vacation with the family in a beautiful part of the country, seeing the rolling farmland and (literally) countless barns, wagons, covered bridges and vegetable stands.  We've been to Hershey Park (exhausting but fun), a huge Amish buffet, the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire (doubly exhausting, unbelievably fun... and crushingly expensive) and we've found at least one REALLY good winery (six bottles down).  Today we're going into Lancaster and visiting the famous Central Market... charcuterie, baked goods, produce, crafts, wine and beer... what more could a family need?

Liz might not want to leave here...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Roughing it... Gangnam-style, and other observations

My son Jacob and I went "camping" last night.  We set up the tent in the backyard, piled in a bunch of blankets and pillows, lit a fire, roasted some marshmallows, looked at the stars, then went to bed.  We weren't roughing it by any stretch of the imagination, of course... he brought a laptop for a "scary movie" and I brought my phone and my Kindle.  The battery crapped out in our camp light, so we "plugged in" a lamp from the house with the extension cord for the pool.  It was a good time... a few hiccups but nothing big enough to get in our way.

Now, sitting here having coffee as the sun burns off the morning fog and the fire is just getting stirred back to life, I'm compelled to write about just how freaking cold it got last night!!!!

It is July 25th!  We are in the middle of summer, literally... yet the temperature dropped to 47 degrees last night!  Even now... at 7:20am, it is only 50!  I'm no longer the "jackpine savage" that I was in my youth, but I have enough experience with camping to know that you should expect the dew to fall and collect on the tent walls if your fly isn't all the way to the ground.  I know that fog can make things damp and sticky... but that wasn't the problem, either.  It was the cold.

I'm sorry, people... I don't recall 50 degree is July, even from my youth on the shores of Lake Superior!  It is beautifully clear and bright, now that the fog is burned off... and with breakfast under our belts (bacon, muffins, eggs, and pancakes) it is still only 55!

Perhaps the Holocene really is ending?  Are the ice sheets going to march across continents?

I'd have sworn to it last night!

Friday, July 11, 2014

I don't love Tom Brady...

... but I get your point.  I love his shows.  Carlin, I mean... NOT Brady.

The long and short of this is simply put by saying that you (and I and all of the rest of America) are used to the mainstream manner in which opposing points of view are presented:  Two people slugging it out in a 3 minute sound byte but accomplishing nothing and resorting to personal slights and slanders, OR two (or more) people in complete rapturous agreement bashing everyone that isn't agreeing with them.  Even "alternative" news and commentary (i.e. Beck, or Wilkow, or Savage, or Mike Church) have stopped being objective and started presenting selected information to make their points, rather than to inform a broader public.

Carlin (and other podcasters... there are hundreds) follow a more old-school approach to political/historical commentary.  Carlin's is the best, though... he poses a question, then finds a possible answer and expects YOU, the listener, to come to your own conclusions.  He doesn't say his solutions/answers are the ONLY ones, or even the best ones... he simply presents as "devil's advocate" and starts the discussion.  You don't have to buy his facts (although I have checked and checked, and his sources are solid)... but he can't be dismissed without counter facts, and if you can't find those... then you can't be right, right?

I do recall the episode where he spoke of a MAD deterrent for every state if every state had a nuke.  It wasn't his contention that his idea was the only idea, or even the best idea... he said that at least twice.  He was positing the proposition to change the perspective that has been the norm since 1948... that the nuclear club was CLOSED and everyone worried about being attacked by nukes had only to associate in one way or another with one of the two (later three) developing "umbrellas" of protection that the superpowers provided.

More to the point, I think the general question was "Is NATO valid now that the USSR is no longer a threat to regional and global peace?"   Specifically, he was asking if the US public would support the expense of lives, treasure and prestige if Russia "invaded" a NATO member in the way that they sent troops into the Ukraine.  I know Ukraine isn't a NATO ally... but it very nearly was.  And Latvia is.  As is Poland.  If the time would ever come when Russia does (and we did nothing to stop them in the Crimea, or Georgia, or Chechnya, or Moldavia...), would we be willing to send the same weight of effort to defend them that we would have to save Western Europe from a Warsaw Pact invasion in 1985?  I don't think we would have.

So perhaps your point is valid... Russia hasn't attacked a NATO ally, and possibly that is because they are NATO allies.  NATO has not shown a "unified front" in every situation that has arisen since 1999, though... does that factor into your defense of the alliance?  At least two did not endorse the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Two did not support (or allow their airspace to be utilized) when Reagan bombed Tripoli, either... and that was at the height of the Cold War, and in clear violation of treaty grounds.  We were attacked in 2001... no one disputes that... yet only four nations in NATO vowed military support for operations in Afghanistan prior to the invasion in 2001.  The rest simply said "good luck".  Is the possibility that the US would be the ONLY nation defending Poland or Latvia if Russia moved in acceptable to you?  Does it still validate the existence of the organization?

Again, I'm not saying he's right... or that he is wrong.  I am simply saying that the fact he has gotten us talking about the question at all is a very good thing.

You "love" Dan Carlin?


As my New England Patriots loving son would tell you, the only time it's okay for one man to tell another man he loves him is when one of those men is Tom Brady.

Look, I know you're about one burrito away from seeing Carlin's image in a tortilla, but there are some serious flaws within the two Common Sense podcasts I've listened to thus far. Now don't fret, I am not at all commenting on Hardcore History, as I haven't listened to them yet, but respecting your standards for accuracy and detail for history as I do, I'm optimistic about that series.

Neither am I retracting my previous statements that I love the way he first frames every issue within their historical context. My problem is the conclusions he draws after that framework of historical context  is set up. His "solutions" leave much to be desired in my estimation. In his defense he does often say that he's not saying point A or B is right or wrong, just that we should be asking ourselves these questions. But when he does make a finite statement I find we are in wild disagreement. I'll address the two to which I am referring.

1) Episode: Riding the Chaos to Stasis (the Mid East problem/solution podcast you recommended):

He takes two contrary points without realizing it, or at least without acknowledging it. First of all, neither I nor he said the large Pan-Arab State (or caliphate) was good for us because we could defeat that state militarily (although we could). What he and I said was we have a better track record out maneuvering, manipulating, or in his words "using a carrot and stick" to illicit preferable behavior from nation states, unlike our experience in quelling insurgents. But to my point - he made it very clear that "of course you end up with a Saddam using Stalinist tactics" in Iraq because the cobbling together of three very distinct vying groups into one nation post WWI was a mistake. He went on to say that an iron fist naturally follows such a cobbling because it's the only style of governance that could maintain peace and order in a country made up of so many distinct, vying factions.

He then goes on to say (which you echoed in your post) that a massive Pan-Arab state (or quasi caliphate) would be good for the US because (among other things) when you have so many different, vying factions being ruled by a single government that the government would have to moderate its'  positions in order to maintain peace and order.

Wait, what?

I thought cobbling together groups that are have religious, ethnic and clan based differences required an iron fist to rule? And what's worse is he thinks that a US lead conference that sets this in motion could peacefully expedite what would otherwise occur in war. Isn't that sorta what the UK and France did after WWI that he so (rightfully) decries as unworkable?

My problem with his avocation is this episode is that on the one hand he's saying it's destructive to maintain the Iraqi borders as one single nation because with so many varying sects you either get a strong man or perpetual civil war, when on the other hand  he says consolidating the various sects under one uber government's rule would result in moderate leadership and a chance for peace. I don't see how these two views can be held simultaneously.

2) Cashing The Doomsday Cheque:

This is a Common Sense episode I'm assuming you listened to, but if you didn't you should because it's right in your wheel house - Russia.

He flat our advocates that NATO should have been dissolved immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union.

I'm sorry.... WHAT? His reasoning is that "of course Russia feels threatened" because we keep slinging out NATO memberships in their neighborhood like a pitch dealer on a $3 snapper game. The problem here is two fold. One, Vladamir Putin's grand designs of a reemerging Russian Bear, if not Russian Empire, DO exist in a vacuum. They would not have been abated by a non existent NATO. Second, it is clear that a NATO membership is the only thing preventing you from getting invaded by the Federation. The Chechs, Ukranians and Georgians are not NATO members. Poland is. See any difference in the status of Russian troops within those three?

Carlin further points out that Americans won't initiate a WWIII over some nation they've never heard of like Latvia. Look, that may be true if you do a man on the street Q&A. However, it is clear that NATO is the line in the sand Vlad will not yet cross. I don't know if the Kremlin has a ball room, but they will build one to house the party that will be thrown if NATO suddenly dissolves. Oh, the Vodka will flow boys! Can you imagine the free reign to "annex" former satellite states Russia would feel if such a thing occurred?

And all of that is not half as bad as what he says - and he was being serious - he would replace NATO with, the "Carlin Solution" as he calls it. In a nut shell, post dissolution of NATO, he would give each of the former members (presumably we're talking about Eastern European nations) a nuke. This is so they would have the means to deter Russia - and their 2000 nukes - themselves. Uh huh, sure, that oughta do it. He then amended that to say that he would give them one nuke for every two nations and they'd have to both "turn the key" so to speak to use it, like some sort of nuke buddy system. Oh ya, that sounds workable. Everybody gets .5 nukes and Russia will stay home, everybody can relax now.

As an aside he thinks this is also the solution to world wide nonproliferation - every, and I mean EVERY nation (or every two) gets the bomb says he, including Iran because (he claims) our efforts at non proliferation among bad state actors has failed. Excuse me, no it hasn't. Nations that we don't want to have the bomb almost never get them. North Korea is the exception that proves the rule, and if you're screaming "Iran", believe me when I say Israel will never let that happen.

Back to my point - if you think that doling out NATO memberships has in essence provoked the "bear" to the point of an aggressive foreign policy, what do you think doling out nukes would do? Putin would go ballistic, maybe literally. The Ruskies flipped out when we wanted conventional missiles in Poland (which Bush advocated and Obama bailed on). Vlad might literally consider handing the Chechs a nuke, an act of war. And Carlin unequivocally advocated doing just that.

If it weren't so dangerous it would be silly.

Again, I do think he does an impressive job (better than any other pundit) of setting up the current event or geopolitical issue in a historical context prior to delving into "solutions." I like that contextual set up. It's detailed and serious, very solid work. But the solutions that then spring from that set up are thus  far lacking, well.... common sense.

On NATO...

I got a text from F Ryan saying he was not happy with the direction Mr. Carlin was going in a discussion on NATO.  I'd like to hear more on this.

If I'm not mistaken (and I may very well be), there was a Common Sense episode where he discussed the crisis in the Ukraine earlier this year.  Russia "invades" the Crimea, Kiev is in meltdown mode, protesters are being shot in the streets... it was very dramatic and painful to watch.  Carlin's comments were that Ukraine was... literally... about six months from joining NATO.  It wasn't until an election scandal derailed the process that the membership in NATO fell through.  He was asking:  What if Ukraine was a NATO member?

Would the US have committed troops and arms to the effort as its NATO membership required?  To treat the attack on the Crimea as an attack on the US itself?  Would it have been right to do so?  Is there a purpose to expanding NATO now that the Soviet Union is gone?  Russia is not the USSR, but it is still a major global power and still maintains a "sphere of influence" every bit as vital to herself as ours is to us.  Most of the former Warsaw Pact nations are now in NATO (at least the biggest are), as are several of the former Soviet republics... but to what end?  If Russia's next "grab" is for one or more of the Baltic states... will we commit 100% of our military and fiscal power to stop them?  Will any other NATO member?  If the answer is "No" then what is the purpose of the alliance?  What is the reason to expand if adherence to the treaty isn't a priority?

More importantly, would the American people support such measures?  Would they willingly support troops in places like Poland, Ukraine, Latvia or Slovakia?  If the answer, again, is "No" then what good is NATO?