Getting to War


This cartoon by Vitaly Podvitski made the rounds in Russian social media circles a few years ago. It’s par for the course in most domestic Russian media depictions of what’s “really” happening in Ukraine, where an evil Uncle Sam toting a NATO suitcase, fresh from murdering the residents of other apartments, has now knocked on the wrong door.

Twenty-five years ago I wrote a book called Getting to War. The full title is Getting to War: Predicting International Conflict with Mass Media Indicators, which gives you a sense of what it is – a dense academic book that tenure-track professors publish lest they perish. It’s been out of print forever, of course, but I went on Amazon this morning to see if it still had a listing … LOL. As befits the 5,799,744th best-selling book on Amazon, you can get a Kindle edition for the low, low price of $69.95 (I guess the Univ. of Michigan Press licensed Kindle versions of their back catalog?) and – get this – a used hardcover copy for the low, low, low price of $2,077.36 from some dude in San Marcos, Texas. Honestly, I have questions. Why the 36 cents? Why the additional $5.02 for shipping with a March 10 estimated delivery date? Anyhoo. Please do not buy Getting to War! I’m sure there are tens and tens of academic libraries that have a copy deep in the stacks if you’re really desperate to read it, and one of these days I’ll rewrite the book as a proper book.

The book deserves a rewrite, because buried within the unreadable academic forms of formal modeling and data appendices are three truths.


Truth #1 – All governments, no matter the country or the type of government or the time period, make an effort to mobilize domestic public opinion before doing something risky like starting a war.

Truth #2 – All efforts to mobilize domestic public opinion, no matter the language or the ethnicity or the culture, share a distinctive and measurable grammatical structure.

Truth #3 – The real world of politics or economics is made up of discrete events, not smooth processes, and these events are decidedly not independent of each other, which means that most models used to predict the political or economic future will be quite wrong in quite predictable ways.


I’m going to save Truth #3 for another day, even though in many respects it’s the most important and fundamental of the three. Truth #3 is one of those things where if you know, you know … but there’s a fair amount of exposition required if you’re coming at it from a cold start.

But we all get Truths #1 and #2. We all see them happening, right now with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

And yes, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is happening right now. Or rather, the final go-decision in Moscow to invade Ukraine was made weeks if not months ago. What we are seeing today with the ongoing diplomatic negotiations in Paris and Berlin is part and parcel of that invasion. There’s nothing bona fide about the negotiations in the sense that they could result in Russia just bringing the troops home and calling the whole thing off. That cannot happen.

The international “negotiations” are 100% designed for domestic Russian consumption. They are as necessary a part of successfully invading Ukraine as mobilizing troops and tanks.


Russian officials not optimistic but willing to keep communication open after US makes no concessions on Ukraine.


That’s how Western media is describing the current state of play in the negotiations, based on the Russian characterization of the talks.

Look at the grammar of the Russian framing!

“not optimistic” … we were cautiously optimistic coming into this negotiation process, because our position is so obviously just, but our hopes for the West to come to its senses and pursue a path for peace have been cruelly dashed.

“willing to keep communication open” … a sensible party might well have shut the door on more NATO lies and intransigence, but we want peace so badly that we will go the extra mile and allow our patience to be tested still further.

“US makes no concessions” … sadly, NATO expansionism and aggression have pushed us into a corner and our backs are against the wall; the only possible path forward is for the US to retreat publicly from its war-mongering policies.

None of this is an actual bargaining position. There is no overlap between the reservation price for peace on the Russian side (publicly bar former Soviet states from future NATO membership, halt military modernization/expansion in Central Europe and Baltics) and what is politically possible in the West. I mean, can you imagine what would happen in domestic American politics if the Biden Administration agreed to this? It would make the Afghanistan fiasco look like a gentle spring rain.

Biden holds first press conference of 2022

In his marathon press conference last week, Biden suggested that the US might not respond as forcefully to a mild invasion of Ukraine, sparking furious White House backtracking and damage control efforts as everyone on the American political spectrum went absolutely ballistic. You think this White House is going to open themselves up to the Abandoning Our Allies! TM narrative – AGAIN – by making “concessions” to the Russians?

Now as a quick aside, I think our current NATO expansion policy is nuts. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous for the United States to have a mutual defense pact with Lithuania. Or Montenegro. Or Slovenia. Or even Poland, for that matter. In the immortal words of Henry Kissinger, “when you’re allied with everyone, you’re allied with no one”, and that’s exactly what NATO has become – an alliance of everyone and no one all at the same time. I think it would be good policy to limit both future NATO membership and current NATO modernization efforts in Central Europe. But that cannot happen as a result of Russian demands.

And Russia knows this. Russia knows full well that American domestic politics will not allow “concessions” to the Russian demands, and yet they make the demands anyway. Why?

Because the demands are not being made as part of an international political game, but as part of a domestic political game.

Will the Russians invade Ukraine tomorrow? I doubt it.

Will the Russians invade Ukraine soon enough? I have no doubt. Because they already have.

Or rather, the decision to invade Ukraine has already been made. All we’re seeing now is the mobilization of forces to give that invasion the best chances of success, both a troop mobilization for the international political requirements of the invasion AND a public opinion mobilization for the domestic political requirements of the invasion.

That’s how we get to war.



To learn more about Epsilon Theory and be notified when we release new content sign up here. You’ll receive an email every week and your information will never be shared with anyone else.

Comments

  1. Insightful as always Ben, this helps me understand that geopolitical puzzle
    thanks

  2. “Biden suggested that the US might not respond as forcefully to a mild invasion of Ukraine,” Wasn’t that the trail balloon? Easier to walk back the comment and make the correction that we support our allies after the temperature in the room is taken.

  3. Avatar for JohnE1 JohnE1 says:

    Thank you for the insight. I agree with your Kissinger reference but, that opens up a whole other can of what ifs. Would Russia have not invaded Crimea if we adhered to a limited NATO position? Would Putin be satisfied as the premier example of a self important dictator with Russia staying within it’s borders? Would the EU be stable? There are a host of potential domestic narrative possibilities on all fronts with this.

    Alas, we are where we are. So, the question is how do we limit the damage for the future?
    As somewhat of a Trekie, I’m fond of Captain Kirk’s management of the Kobayashi Maru test. He changed the program (or if you will, the narrative). I wonder if Europe and the US have the long term stomach to impose real financial solutions to Russia’s aggression and, if so, do we/they have the ability/foresight to create a different narrative outcome? That leaves one other question. What should the outcome be?

    Ah, if life could just be black and white… wait, is that racist…:slight_smile:

  4. Thanks Ben, great as always! I think Putin has fallen into a trap here. This is not good news for the average Russian soldier or the average Ukrainian solider/civilian, alas.

    Biden’s press conference moment of saying “well, maybe a wee bit off the Eastern part would be ok” was a bit of a “hot mic” moment. Not in the sense of calling a Fox News reporter a nasty name not realizing he’d been heard but in the sense of man used to discussing matters well above everyone else’s pay grade. You forget a bit what you sound like when you talk “inside baseball” all the time.

    NATO wants an old-school, Soviet-era proxy war as a solution for Putin. And that’s perfect, as Putin wishes to be the Sectretary General the Soviets never had, but while keeping the billion$, thanks. It will be a slow grinder affair that after a month rarely makes the front page of anything or the first block of Fareed Zakaria GPS, but that features a lot of smouldering Russian equipment and weeping mothers in Moscow. And it doesn’t want NATO soldiers involved unless they’re riding white tanks and handing out candy to kids who will run out to greet them.

    Ukraine is bordered by 4 Nato members, connected seamlessly to the rest of mainland European NATO by the frictionless-ish highways of the EU. In short, I don’t need to Berlin-Airlift anything in, or wait for container ships. I can send things across the border 24/7. As an ex-army logistics guy, I wish it were always that easy.

    As you point out, the invasion die is cast. Perhaps Putin was looking for an off-ramp that Biden would help build, he’s always been a high risk gambler who almost always wins. And given the leeway he had with messaging with Trump, I can’t blame him for testing it.

    But the narrative has gone in 2 new directions since these “high level meetings.”

    1. I see a lot of “embassy waiting room” press (NYT, FT, etc) doing stories on how shiny the Russian army is now, not like a decade ago. The release of this “revelation” was so targeted and concentrated, well, here’s my golf clap for the team at Edelman or whoever does Putin’s PR work here. Message received, thanks for the big foam “Da!! #1 Army!!” finger, too. In truth, most serious analysis shows just the European component of NATO could overwhelm Russia in a full scale European war, so long as nukes are kept out, of course. It’s mainly just will and math.

    2. Diplomatic slapstick. The “reaction” of NATO members is predictable given their easily seen domestic issues. Germans worried about energy? “Here, Ukraine, you’re cool an’ all but we don’t really wanna get involved. Have 5,000 helmets.” Really? I feel like that was German Chancellor Dom Deluise faking a fainting spell for the jewelry store clerks while smiling, gum chewing NATO Secretary General Burt Reynolds is cleaning out the safe in back. It needed a laugh track. And “NATO in disarray!” always plays well on RT. (Right behind “Is Israel behind NATO’s disarray?” on the top links)

    But Russia’s shiny new army will meet NATO’s 10+ years of Afghanistan-driven assymetric warfare “innovation.” The only goal is that it looks ugly in Russia, because the home front is Putin’s achilles heel. Yes, there will be pearls clutched in Prague. Bosoms will heave with sadness in Brussels. Many sweet and sour communiques from the world’s capitals will be issued into the Reuters/Bloomberg void at odd hours. “God, is that IT? Have we heard from EVERYone in NATO now? What’s Trudeau saying? Wait, Canada has 200 special forces in Ukraine? Sorry, 200 “trainers” in Ukraine? When did THAT happen? …6 years ago??..really???”

    But aside from those Canadian boots on the ground, NATO soldiers will be safe and mainly not even forward deployed. If I wanted to create a “Putin-killer” scenario, this is what I’d do. Hell, even China has weighed in with “support” for Russia, which looks more like “If this Ukraine concept of vassal state holds, can we talk Taiwan now? We are with you in spirit. Vlad, do you need helmets? I’ll match Germany one for one…”

    Like I said, sadly, it will fall heaviest on the average Ukrainian civilian and average Russian front line soldier.

    I think it’s important to keep in mind, at this tender juncture in human history, that in 20 years, all these players - Trump, Biden, Putin, Xi, etc etc – will likely be dead, in their beds or otherwise. What will fill the vacuum?

  5. Hello Miss Confirmation Bias, Meet Mister Realism:

    I married into a Russian family from Kazakhstan and have spent hundreds of hours reading and studying the history of that fascinating part of the world. My wife’s family joined millions of Russians who were — so to speak — left behind. When the Soviet Union collapsed, and several countries within its former orbit became independent nations, millions of Russian peoples found themselves living in lands no longer run by fellow Russians, or by those ideologically or culturally aligned with them. My wife’s mother remains living in northern Kazakhstan to this day — and, truth be told — she adores the current President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. The reason is simple to grasp: Putin has told those Russians left behind that he will not allow poor treatment of them anywhere within his reach. With media attention now focused on Ukraine, I’ll merely share this bit of realism: In 2014, Russian military forces suddenly occupied the entire peninsula of Crimea, which had been under Ukrainian control. At the time, the demographic makeup of the entire peninsula was 68% Russian and 16% Ukrainian. What Russian leader would ever allow Crimea to remain in a country intentionally attempting to join a powerful military alliance (NATO) that targets Russia as its sole enemy? —Clearly, that is a rhetorical question. Until proven otherwise, I believe if NATO never extends an invitation to Ukraine to join its alliance, Putin will find little motivation to attack; and eastern border areas can come to a negotiated settlement. The Biden Administration is intentionally playing with fire by not confirming that reality. Not long after the collapse of the USSR, Mr. X, George Kennon, told us not to pursue the extension of NATO further toward the Russian border. We were unwise not to listen. We’ll be further unwise to test Putin’s resolve to put an end to NATO expansion at the Polish, Slovakian, and Hungarian borders.

  6. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    @bhunt, thanks for this. The cartoon at the top, like Gaiman’s Corinthian, will vaguely disturb me for years to come.

    Is it possible to use a similar analysis, ie apply your Rules 1 and 2 +/- the Narrative Machine, to discern motives on the American side?

    Eg, can we infer by American Powers That Be efforts to mobilize public opinion things like how badly our military industrial complex actually wants a war with Russia or what the Biden administration is actually planning to do?

    Or are American motives at this point too diverse to discern much with these methods?

  7. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Phenomenal note, Trevor. Thank you!

  8. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Oh, for sure!

    (and the Corinthian is my fave-in-a-totally-disturbing-way metaverse character, too)

  9. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    That is what is being forged here. The ideology, the political form of a future set of nations. Whosoever will have the ears of their nation will be talking to people who lived this time. Our feelings about this episode will matter. Our future memories are
    a strategic object. Great men have few victories to win in the present, it is legacy that titillates their minds.
    Your children will not know how to process todays complex facts without interpretation. A simplistic visual language will be imprinted upon them as they grow.
    An mpeg file will hold greater dominion than a trillion in capital.
    Everyone on this forum already knows this.

  10. Good point, James. I’m looking to two different eras for guidance on that.

    Is it 1938…or 1989?

  11. Thanks Ben. Another great piece.

    Part three, which is yet to be covered, took me straight to Harold James - The End of Globalization. The subtle economic and political movements before war are hardily ever noticed, yet they are important.

    As an example, Zerohedge ran an article the other day stating that large quantities (100+) of vital medicines are running low in the US. I am unaware of the accuracy of this, however the point that the article made was these medicines (along with everything else) is made in China.

    Forget about defending Taipei if we should awake one morning to a change in management, Do you really want Grandma dying back home from a lack of access to heart medicines just because of some island “over there?”

    Now China’s strategic stranglehold on supply chains, is also a very powerful weapon for Putin. No doubt that he and Xi are in lockstep. Neither wants to act rashly however if one acts, so must the other. It would make kinetic warfare a non starter for the West, outside of the beltway. It would be the end of " The pivot to asia" before it’s even started and it would leave NATO impotent and Europe vulnerable to kinetic or economic reprisals.

    Not to mention what that would do to markets, inflation and belief in global Central banks. Try hiking you way out of that Madame Inflation.

    All in all, I’m glad I’m no longer fit for duty. I do worry for every mid aged teenager out there though. I’m not sure that spending their gap year off from study, in the Donbass was what they hand in mind when they said Contiki tour of Europe.

  12. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    I have no idea how likely this scenario is, but it’s scary as hell.

    Also, the punchline makes for a sublime meme that could be delivered to and embraced by both sides of The Gyre in different ways:

    “Outsourcing our industrial base is a threat to national security.”

    I wonder what would happen if this narrative took hold in the Zeitgeist.

  13. In my shadow life I spend a lot of time studying pharmaceutical chemical manufacturers, and most of them are in China. People are always surprised when I explain to them that most of their medicines comes from a little town called Wuhan. I’ve been explaining this for a full two years now and people still seem shocked. The supply chain for US pharmaceuticals is heavily reliant on Chinese chemicals and India processing facilities, many of which have a fairly casual attitude towards safety and cleanliness. It’s a miracle that more people aren’t dropping dead from tainted medicine.

  14. That’s kind of similar to Hitler’s arguments re Lebensraum. Of course you can’t compare the situations except in so far as to notice that back in the 30’s, Volksdeutsche were the same as these forgotten Russians.

    A point not understood by the West at all. A issue that could be problematic for peace. Wars have been started for less.

  15. Great piece. In regards to vacuum filling, I’m sure that there are enough middle aged Russians who are sympathetic to Putins schemes, after watching their menfolk drink themselves into early graves during the 90’s. Question is, can the powers who pull the strings in Russia get so lucky as to find another Vladimir and train him/her up to take over the throne, in a time sensitive manner?

    Although your argument is solid, it doesn’t take into consideration the fragility of the western societys, especially post covid. Personally I think that’s vitally important. Please don’t take offence, none is ment.

    Example, how many Italians are going to support the war effort or support the government back home after Drahgi just came out calling all unvaccinated people non members of society. I just don’t see the social cohesion required to pursue such an endeavour.

    As for kinetic versus thermonuclear warfare, Putin recently openly admitted that Russia cannot maintain a conventional fight against the West in Europe. He also said that in his opinion, they lead the world in nuclear and wouldn’t be afraid to use it.

    Bluffing… who knows. He does high stakes brinkmanship well. I’m not sure I would want to find out.

  16. Nice note.
    Has anyone here read Ben’s book? I see even the $2500 version is gone :slight_smile:

    Putin is playing the biggest gamble of his life on live TV. Quite interesting to watch.

  17. I used to think he did it well too. But I think there’s a concerted effort now, transnationally, to, if not sack him with a 15-yard loss, then at least make him scramble enough times to throw an INT later. At stake is the coming throwdown over oil’s “managed obsolescence.” With the exception of the US (because it’s a quasi-democracy from birth despite the PR and because of that 1.2 firearms/human) I’m not worried about “western societies.” They create and absorb upheavals that predict their demise at pretty regular intervals.

    But let’s use Canada’s recent shenanigans as an example. Here’s a country that’s one of the world’s top-10 largest economies and by all observations an open, pluralistic, democratic society… and by most measures, a far less corrupt government than here. It has one province, Quebec, that has voted on leaving Confederation twice (0-2). Alberta keeps making noise about that too, but that will last as long as oil’s permanent demand destruction allows. Pour a couple of drinks into any Newfoundlander and many of them will say they were actually never meant to be part of Canada and they were snookered in 1949. Our on-the-ground politics, at all levels, is far more full-contact and harsh than Mitch, Nancy, AOC or MTG could stomach. You wonder how such a fractious place could continue to exist, what with the world’s shining example of democracy right over the “world’s longest undefended border!” ™.

    Yet it does. But not because of America. In spite of it. (Also, re separatist types - from Montreal to Edinburgh to Barcelona, revolutionaries know it’s far more lucrative to threaten to leave than to leave)

    Because our national narrative tells us to loathe America. Not AmericANS. AmericA. It’s our bogeyman. America is the hideous mask your face freezes into if you don’t making a ruckus back there on a family trip. It’s the hair you’ll get on your palms from too much masturbation. Why? We believe our system is better. And, frankly, it is. At least it can’t be overtly purchased by oligarchs. Political parties rise and fall around populism etc but then there’s always a sensible reversion to mean.

    Not because we’re so nice and polite (we’re assuredly not) but because we’re sensible… because we’re unlikely to get shot for trying to reason with our most extreme elements. And because whatever your viewpoints today, you will get realtime feedback (As we have many political parties) from your neighbors on their views on it. Because sensibility leads to peace, or at least a durable truce. That makes it very hard for a loud minority who secretly thinks they’re a majority (Thanks, Facebook!) to take outsized control.

    So, to Ottawa today. I didn’t agree with the emergency measures act invocation, not for a problem solvable with robust but firm enforcement of existing laws. It’s poor leadership. Trudeau should have met with them, on camera, got spit on, cursed at, etc. that’s my view on leadership. But no, Glibertarians, no one is taking away your right to assemble or your right to free speech. Like your at-will employment you could lose here by doing public things that make your employer cringe, you do NOT have the right to apply those rights whenever and wherever you like without consequence. Your right to hold a press conference and threaten the prime minister while “allowing” opposition parties to form a coalition government with you, a bunch of unelected protestors (5 months after an election!) does not trump my right to call 911 and ask them to “send some guys down to this protest and kick their teeth in, because they’re making me crazy, and that’s what my tax money is for.” And yeah, that press conference is damn close to sedition in any democracy, albeit a moronically sad coup attempt. You don’t want a Mountie and a crown prosecutor at your door asking you to explain what you meant? Don’t hold a press conference. Stick to Parler/Telegram/Whatever.

    This diversity of political opinion, and political options, means Canadians are free to vote for what they want, not against something the other guy might do. In America it’s simple - you can’t vote Democrat, they kill babies. You can’t vote Republican, they kill black people. That just devolves into derivatives of derivatives until, fast-forward to 2020, when one of those 2 parties had no platform or agenda at all, just “get us elected and you’ll see.”

    Because there is this realtime feedback on even untasteful political opinions, Canadians are quick to lose political patience. We’ve discussed this, we say, maybe we’ve compromised, maybe we haven’t…maybe you lost, but you were heard. Keep talking and your welcome is worn right the F out. We weren’t born in revolution. It’s not our DNA, I guess. “This isn’t America, we decide things here.” It’s how a socially conservative culture like Newfoundland becomes the first jurisdiction in the country to allow gay marriage. Yes, there will be push back from holdouts on the right, but the now-overwhelming majority have spoken after much discussion.

    Which is why we loathe America. You never close anything. You never move on. Because not moving on makes fundraising easier. You’re obnoxious about it. Exceptionalism! God given rights! Yeah, we’re right here, you don’t need to shout. Same rootstock of Europeans settlers. Same historic time periods. Better per capita income and health outcomes.

    (This leads to Canadian schadenfreude which I can’t stand, BTW. I have told Canadians that cheering as America fails is a bad look…as you’ll be the one with a failed state on your only international border)

    So I predict Trudeau comes out of this looking good. Why? He’ll tie protests to American money, GOP politicians, America’s general malaise right now, throw Russia in there too, maybe Russia via American because American halfwits are easily swayed. etc etc etc. I’ve protected you from the bogeyman, Canada, I looked under the bed for you.

  18. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Great thread, @tcurwin, and I agree with this.

    So I predict Trudeau comes out of this looking good. Why? He’ll tie protests to American money, GOP politicians, America’s general malaise right now, throw Russia in there too, maybe Russia via American because American halfwits are easily swayed. etc etc etc. I’ve protected you from the bogeyman, Canada, I looked under the bed for you.

    I dunno. All of what you describe would be SO much easier to implement ex-Emergency Powers invocation. Any politician who is that clueless … well, I don’t think they’re likely to focus on the winning political strategy you lay out here.

  19. @bhunt Yes, you could be right. The kneejerk reaction of Canadians is to be anti-American, but that’s never enough. What I love about the parliamentary system though is, like the Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole learned last week, I’m willing to let the Liberal Party’s front benchers decide if Trudeau is mortally wounded or not and let them do the wet work.

  20. Thanks for the well thought out reply. Appreciate it.

    I have had no exposure to the realities of being North American, in any sense. With the exception of the stories that a friend shares about living in the suburbs of Atlanta as an African American, and just how terrible that is compared to living in south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

    As a result your post was interesting and informative. You see, most Aussies if asked how the see Canadians, would say that they are our cold weather equivalents.
    Adaptable, tough, fair and reasonable and unlike us, patient and polite to the point of being problematic. However if those gloves come off, you better run.

    Or at least that used to be the story we told ourselves about ourselves (and Canadians by extension). A throwback to times when Canadians were landing in Normandy and Aussies were in Tobruk and El Alamien, because why the hell not. It sounds like an adventure and if my (insert best mate / brother / father etc) is going, then so must I.

    When it comes to “emergency” measures and succession, we have had that here as well. Keeping it short, let’s just say it’s educated people to the realities of state power. It’s not just police in collectivist nations that like kicking citizens in the head. Victoria Police have a new found taste for it. Boy do they like it. Mind you this is the same outfit that was known at one point for “shoot first and ask questions later”. So I’m hardily surprised.

    Although people are less obvious in their anger now, the damage that 2 years of emergency powers have done to societal cohesion is significant. National unity just isn’t like it used to be. Guess we need a reason to put it to the test. I do hope I’m wrong however, I’m more than concerned. Maybe I’m projecting our experience here onto the West as a whole and that’s wrong. Time will tell.

    Long before covid was a thing, Western Australia has wanted to leave (along with most of the nation’s mineral resources). Viewed as a cash cow for the Eastern States, they have always felt used. Truth be told, it’s the other way around. With the exception of the last 2 decades. (Due to the nations tax code and the Chinese financed resource boom.)

    Those of us in the east have held the view that if that’s how they feel, they can bloody well F’ off then. Covid lockdowns of state borders have proven that our federation is flawed and that we really don’t value each other that much. I think the only reason succession hasn’t happened is laziness.

    Linked below is a skit by an Aussie comedian playing the role of the late Victorian underworld figure “chopper” Reid, doing the weather report. Warning NSFW. The last 40 seconds illustrates the above point.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1L81Ki8rk0

    Your view on Facebook et al is shared here as well. Ben nailed it when commenting on Zuckerberg and his understanding of Narrative. If an organisation gets its culture from the top down, it speaks volumes about his character. Same goes for the rest of them.

  21. Trudeau is far from mortally wounded by this, for all the reasons that you (@tcurwin) described. I just saw the following from David Akin on Twitter, which I think is dead-on. Akin has been around the Hill long enough to know these things …

    The party has lots of experience manipulating public sentiment and this would take them a month at most to spin favorably … believe it or not there is still a large ‘Justin can do no wrong’ block of Canadians out there. Most Canadians who voted for him last election would vote for him again, or maybe shift to NDP, but not back to Conservative (the old Harper days). With no electoral reform of the current system I’d bet the Liberals would win another minority government if an election were called today and held in May. By this fall Liberal chances are likely to be even better.

    On the EM Act, Trudeau does not really make these decisions, the LPC board likely has the most influence on the political aspects but the Privy Council, CSIS and the RCMP and others all maintain active files regarding public safety threats from social and political activists. There have been real concerns over this for a long time and much planning on how to deal with it operationally has already been completed, so they’re likely inclined to want to test some of it out. Trudeau’s advisers review those files and hopefully other stuff too, consult with all the relevant federal agencies, etc., the party’s board likely weighs in with its politically motivated views, and in the end Trudeau does what he’s told.
    His father, Pierre Trudeau, was far more likely to make independent decisions and take actions but that mode of political leadership seems to have vanished, at least for now. The whole political machinery has become too complicated to leave to the judgement of any one person, in this case Justin Trudeau. Any leadership candidate unwilling to fall in line with the party protocol would never win the party’s leadership position, in either LPC or CPC, and the Block and NDP would in essence function the same way.

  22. Seeing the quotes of key players in this heightened anxiety from the perspective of
    “for domestic consumption “ makes it much clearer for me.
    Thanks Ben

  23. Funny how this has been the correct take for weeks - I’m watching people react to Putin’s speech and they’re puzzled by it, to me, this is because it’s geared for domestic consumption. It seems that some people are nurturing a delusion that this potential conflict in Ukraine is about American media, as absurd as that sounds (ok, my sample size of people I see on Twitter is not a scientifically rigorous measurement…).

    In any case, it’s amazing how the internet and social media allow you to take any event or piece of information and fit it into any other framework you choose.

  24. Trevor, Swindled, Siff, fascinating takes and why this site is a gold mine.

    This weekend feels like one of those “weeks where decades happen”. Probably not, but interesting to see how Putin and Trudeau have gotten everyone’s attention. Then to see CCP regulators cracking down on AliBaba tonight, with futures down around the globe, well, you just can’t make this stuff up.

    US 10 year has rallied to 1.85 %. Fed funds futures now backing off 50 basis point rate hike in March. Sure feels like we are getting close to Goldman, etc making another “Buy the Fucking Dip” call midday Monday, with the whole world short.

  25. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    The set-up began some time ago (Act I), the confrontation has been playing out this last month or so (Act II), we are now transitioning to the resolution (Act III).

  26. I fear it’s only partway through Act I.

  27. @tcurwin - Sadly, I think like you do…the Kyiv government may fold, but I don’t think the people will. It’s going to be a long play, might want to hit the restrooms now.

    Last night, we had the “Well, kids, you just witnessed a major change in the international order. It’s been coming for some time, but Pax Americana is now officially over” talk. Surreal.

  28. Yeah, I’ve been saying for well over a year now: It’s either 1938 or 1989…

  29. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    I know very little about foreign affairs or military stuff. I got real curious yesterday about how Russia was able to hide the movements of such a large army. Then I realized they didn’t, and the US government had actually called this back in December:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/russia-ukraine-invasion/2021/12/03/98a3760e-546b-11ec-8769-2f4ecdf7a2ad_story.html

    They were not predicting Thanksgiving’s coming, but observing it.

    Maybe obvious to many here, but new to me as I don’t read the news that often. I believe I was busy climbing the COVID-19 Wall of Worry at the time.

    For me, the future of the past was the Narrative of The Industrially Necessary Military-Industrial Complex. (Rolls off the tongue, eh?) That’s the narrative given by the Russians in the above article.

    The future of the present is the Narrative of Legitimate Russian Aggression.

    I don’t know how I would’ve distinguished between these narratives in the past as a layman who was mostly disinterested at the time.

  30. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    The Russian narrative offensive on Ukraine (demilitarize and denazify) is pretty interesting to watch. I expect Chinese state media to pick this crap up any day.

    I also see that Russia has unearthed Scott Ritter as a mouthpiece. As an ex-con for child sex solicitation he was probably a cheap buy.

    image

  31. It is fascinating, watching war play out on twitter and the amount of mobile phone video that makes it out. It’s clear that Ukraine has won the hearts and minds of public opinion, keep seeing things regarding Putin losing because he’s isolated himself. Does that matter? It’s not like Putin was winning public opinion polls before this started, so does this change the calculus in his strategy? Or the strategy of the world in dealing with him? As much as I find myself rooting for a fairytale ending, still seems overwhelming probability that Ukraine falls within days.

    I think war may be similar to playing poker and trading markets in one aspect, the hardest thing to do, is nothing.

  32. I spoke with a Russian friend last night who emigrated to US only a few years ago. I just couldn’t understand what Putin’s endgame is and was wondering what have I been missing. His take was that the guy has gone bonkers and totally overplayed his hand and is out of touch with reality. He said anywhere between 5-20% of people in Russia actually want this war, which is why Putin seems to be trying (and failing) so hard to control the local narrative. There is a small but growing chance that he will be taken out by his own people.

  33. A lot of people assume, now that a boots on the ground invasion has begun, that the endgame is a Russian attempt at Ukrainian subjugation. Either by installing a client state or outright annexation.

    This would normally be a safe assumption, especially if looked at through the lens of manpower and equipment losses. Infantry is known as the Queen of the battle. She goes where she pleases, in order to take and hold ground, under any and all conditions, hopefully at minimal cost. As a result, she isn’t deployed if there is no perceived advantage.

    However having looked at this map, knowing nothing about the predispositions of the people, the layout of the landscape, the areas of strategic advantage, I find myself asking, what if that’s not so this time? Paradoxical I know!

    It’s clear that any Russia that is not a part of the current, yet challenged liberal world order, cannot accept a Ukraine that is in the orbit of its geopolitical competitors. Both the invasions by Napoleon and Hitler have seeded deeply into the Russian psyche the importance of having a buffer the size of Ukraine.
    Europeans in their eyes cannot be trusted.

    However it’s politically unacceptable to either occupy Ukraine, due to the heavy losses that would be accumulated over time or to have it disintegrate into a failed state on its borders. So what do you do?

    Again looking at that map (From my perspective if I were in Putins shoes) , it is clear that there is a part of Ukraine worth keeping (anything east of the Dnieper river) and the rest is an economic and political albatross that is best left as a problem for “someone else” to deal with.

    Perhaps you run the referendum and separation playbook again in those areas, including all along the Ukrainian coast until you reach Moldova/Romania.
    Manufacture the correct results in the referendum, recognise those states as protectorates of Russia, expell any non sympathetic Ukrainians east in order to minimise resistance, grant citizenship and reconnect essential services to Russian infrastructure whilst disconnecting from existing Ukrainian infrastructure.

    More carrots, less sticks especially to areas that might be more resistant to such plays, such as Kharkiv. An offer to reconstitute the capital of (newly founded Eastern Ukraine) there. That would imply increased status and standard of living to those who sign such a Faustian deal.

    Whilst you’re at it, bomb the Yamal transit pipe, blame it on the enemy and use force majeure for existing gas contracts. Since the Europeans have decided on sanctions and disconnection of some Russian entities from swift (as long as their precious energy needs are unimpinged) stuff them. Besides there are always other pipes for when the time is right.

    As for Western Ukraine, who cares. Let it become a part of NATO. Outside of Nuclear war, NATO has proven that all it was good for was its original intention. Keep the Americans in, the Germans down and the Soviets out.

    Thoughts anyone?

  34. I don’t think it’s Europe that’s his main concern judging by his speech.

    But do not be modest: the United States is still a great country, a system-forming power. All her satellites not only resignedly and dutifully assent, sing along to her for any reason, but also copy her behaviour, enthusiastically accept the rules he proposes. Therefore, with good reason, we can confidently say that the entire so-called Western bloc, formed by the United States in its own image and likeness, all of it is the very ‘empire of lies’.

  35. Just spoke to my friend again. Apparently, Putin maintains a strong grip over the local media narrative and it’s as oppressive as they remember it. People are still trying to establish whether war is really happening. Families don’t talk to each other anymore as they live in two different realities and people stay in their bubble. Anyone seen this before? BUT for the first time his approval rating is below 50% and that is with all the doctored numbers. I’d probably slash it in half. Wouldn’t be surprised if mass purges are coming.

  36. Remarkably & unfortunately— I’m only getting to Ben’s prescient ‘precision missile strike’ commentary today.

    Granted everything Ben says is true, but what stopped the US/NATO from putting ‘neutrality’ on the table in early February? If only to undermine the Russian narrative. Instead we only heard daily hysterical warnings about an imminent invasion. Was it code for “go ahead?”

    My sense is the West wanted this war & greenlighted it to Putin privately if not publicly with Biden’s typical gaffe.

    Why isn’t the most obvious sanction off the table; namely, boycotting Russian oil? Any lifting of the veil shows this is all about energy with the West compounding one bad policy decision after another making it irresistible for Putin to invade however ill advised. Meanwhile, the US is funding Putin’s aggression by continuing to import more Russian oil than even from the Saudis. Then no shame with Psaki facing the nation & claiming the Biden Administration can negotiate in good faith with Russia & Iran over oil sanctions & nuclear proliferation? REALLY???

    What about the narrative that Ukraine was always NATO’s sacrificial lamb to further entrench its perceived necessity? Perhaps it is in someone’s interest to promote the narrative Putin is running the table to cloak unfathomably dishonorable objectives.

    As some have pointed out, can you imagine polling Americans on willingness to die for Estonian independence or better yet what even Estonia is? My bet is our potential millennial recruits would think it is probably some future rave postponed because of Covid.

  37. Following a link off an Economist article, I “discovered” an alternative/independent news site within Russia. https://novayagazeta.ru/ I put the URL into a Chrome browser to get the prompt to translate to English.

    Let’s quote one article:

    And now this whole plan collapsed due to the presence of two unforeseen obstacles, one of which is called the Ukrainian people , and the other is the Ukrainian army.

    Is it possible that the narrative within Russia will turn against Putin’s official narrative?

  38. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    To address my own question above:

    Is it possible to use a similar analysis, ie apply your Rules 1 and 2 +/- the Narrative Machine, to discern motives on the American side?

    Why am I seeing this now?

    Money quote:

    Biden stopped short last week of saying Putin had committed a war crime. “We are following it very closely,” Biden said. “It’s too early to say that.”

    Also, John F Kennedy was not a Satanist.

    I get similar bad feels from this as I did before the Iraq invasion. Is this the analogous dance of the US to the one that “Getting to War” described for Putin?

    Sure hope not.

  39. Ask yourself why so many people polled support a no-fly zone. Then ask yourself if those people understand than an NFZ means almost inevitable escalation. (They probably don’t; most people have better things to do than keep tabs on all this stuff) So now why are we seeing so many media outlets discussing it? It’s not even in the room let alone on the table, so why is it being pushed? Does it have anything to do with the influence of former intelligence officials who now call cable news their home? Who’s behind this push, outside of a few braindead congressmen (looking at you Kinzinger)?

  40. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    I’m not a religious man, and I’ve always liked CS Lewis. This essay of his has been thrown around a lot over the past few weeks to support various things:

    I think it’s time I take his advice and try to focus on something else for a while. Because I just don’t see anything else to do here.

Continue the discussion at the Epsilon Theory Forum

Participants

The Latest From Epsilon Theory

DISCLOSURES

This commentary is being provided to you as general information only and should not be taken as investment advice. The opinions expressed in these materials represent the personal views of the author(s). It is not investment research or a research recommendation, as it does not constitute substantive research or analysis. Any action that you take as a result of information contained in this document is ultimately your responsibility. Epsilon Theory will not accept liability for any loss or damage, including without limitation to any loss of profit, which may arise directly or indirectly from use of or reliance on such information. Consult your investment advisor before making any investment decisions. It must be noted, that no one can accurately predict the future of the market with certainty or guarantee future investment performance. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

Statements in this communication are forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements and other views expressed herein are as of the date of this publication. Actual future results or occurrences may differ significantly from those anticipated in any forward-looking statements, and there is no guarantee that any predictions will come to pass. The views expressed herein are subject to change at any time, due to numerous market and other factors. Epsilon Theory disclaims any obligation to update publicly or revise any forward-looking statements or views expressed herein. This information is neither an offer to sell nor a solicitation of any offer to buy any securities. This commentary has been prepared without regard to the individual financial circumstances and objectives of persons who receive it. Epsilon Theory recommends that investors independently evaluate particular investments and strategies, and encourages investors to seek the advice of a financial advisor. The appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives.