Tough Guys

This weekend, I listened to CNN tough guy Jim Acosta use his entire broadcast to ask a series of gue
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  1. Whole lot of $200k+ folks think the families in the <$50k class should go fight in a war. The smart set/pajama class seems to echo this tough guy rhetoric when it costs them nothing. Funny that.
  2. Thank you for making it clear. I knew we didn’t want an escalation, and I knew we had rhetoric flying around everywhere in the airwaves that it could be cut with a butter knife. The sanctions were really impressive, it felt that we needed to keep the momentum going.

    This line is the money shot:

    NATO involvement in Ukraine is the only thing that allows Putin to mobilize Russian public opinion for a wider conflict.

    NOW I GET IT. We did what we could, and we just need to wait. Not everything needs to be done at Twitter speed. By doing more we shoot everyone, including ourselves, in the foot.

  3. I am not Russian but I speak some and my wife and almost her entire family are Russians who fled the country as refugees either in the early 90s in the years immediately following Soviet collapse, or as journalists who pissed off powerful people in the last 5 years. They are very anti-Putin. Some observations.

    1. Putin’s fabrication of an alternate reality has been very successful. At least two close family members still in Russia apparently actually believe the state narrative - that the war is in response to genocide of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, and Putin is trying to “de-nazify” Ukraine (even though their president is Jewish?!). They are apparently being told that the horrific attacks against civilians are being conducted by Ukrainian “fascists.” One of the believers includes someone who makes regular visits to America, and so is not entirely trapped in the Russian alternate reality.

    2. There were differing opinions on whether the sanctions would work. The two closest to the banking industry were far more skeptical. Putin knows the West’s playbook and the Russians are quite proficient at money-laundering and evading sanctions and it will do nothing but impoverish the people. On the other hand, this financial pariah status does seem more extreme. A debate broke out about this at dinner: if the people that are running his regime start to resist because of the financial ruin inflicted them, then maybe it could work. On the other hand, Putin has been so effective at persecuting resistance that most people who have the desire or ability to resist have already fled the country.

    3. My father-in-law estimates a 90% chance that some type of nuclear strike will occur (though not necessarily that it will escalate into a wider nuclear conflict.) Given the lack of preparedness that has become evident in the early fumblings of the invasion, there is now the question of whether Putin is losing touch with reality (perhaps he has started to believe in his own constructed narratives), which had not been questioned up until this point. I am more skeptical of this - he is certainly cruel enough, but surely he must realize that a nuclear strike could easily provoke total ruin of Russia and himself (putting aside what would happen in the wider world)?And he surely cares about trying to avoid that…right? Right?!?

    Honestly, I think (and my Russian in-laws more or less agree) NATO’s best options right now militarily is to do nothing at all with any conventional military, but possibly covertly support an insurgency that turns Ukraine into a second Afghanistan for them Charlie Wilson’s War style over the course of years. This is the only type of conflict with them that can possibly avoid nuclear war. It has enormous risks - including nuclear war, but I think significantly less than direct conflict - not to mention being cruel to the Ukrainian and Russian people. The other problem with this is - who are the factions to support in the insurgency? Similar to Afghanistan, there are probably going to be some bad dudes we have to work with and that could come back to bite us as it did in Afghanistan.

    But I am even more afraid of a world where powers can use nuclear threats to avoid punishment for unjustified aggression. If Putin “gets away” with this in the eyes of the world, will China escalate against Taiwan? China escalate against the US? India vs. Pakistan? Israel vs Iran? What Putin is doing is a total game-changer in the narratives about nuclear deterrence. Nuclear deterrence used to be a defensive notion - Putin has made nuclear deterrence an OFFENSIVE notion. That’s very very not good. So I think the play is to beat Putin without making it look like we were even playing.

  4. Afghan war in the 1980s birthed Taliban and Alqeada.
    Afghan war in 2000s weaponized Alqeada.
    Iraq war in 2000s birthed ISIS
    Libya war in 2010s created Alqeada and affiliatesin north and west Africa.

    Today, western governments are happy to fund and train nationalists like Azov and volunteer regiments in Ukraine. Would today’s freedom fighters become tomorrow’s terrorists?

    Only time will tell.

  5. This is absolutely a risk and that is part of why I do not like to make the suggestion. But I’m worried there is a conflict between short-term and long-term interests presenting itself, where, short and long term interest are opposed, but short-term takes precedence because without protecting short term interests, there might not be a long-term. The long-term interest is in avoiding empowering or even creating evils to deal with later. But the short-term problem is trying to avoid allowing the creation of a world where first-use nuclear strike is considered acceptable, and that’s an existential issue, if I’m not being too hyperbolic.

  6. Noah Rothman over at Commentary wrote a great piece last week (paywalled now) that asked a question nobody had ever imagined two weeks ago: what happens if Russia loses? The prospect of them losing, either short term or long term, is actually more frightening than if they had simply stormed in, taken over, and turned Ukraine into Crimea 2.0. Because had they won swiftly and decisively we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. There would be no talk of NFZ, arming Ukraine, or resupplying Poland as they send MiGs into battle with a fig leaf Ukrainian flag hastily painted on the wings.

    That this has gone so disastrously wrong for Putin probably ends up as less of a stumbling block as it would otherwise be. And it probably results in a lot more casualties. So now instead of the West sitting back while a brief skirmish is followed by regime change, we’re forced to watch a brave and heroic effort by a free people dying in the streets in order to preserve that freedom for a little longer. We’re forced to watch Ukraine slowly bleed out. And that is the thing that opens the door to more Western/NATO involvement. Because on a base level most of us want nothing more than to see F/A-22’s screaming into battle and vanquishing the Reds in less time than it takes for Amazon to deliver us a new toothbrush. We want to see the wicked repelled and then punished for their acts of barbarism. We want some version of justice to be done and for Zelensky to see the day that his people are once again free. We want the pictures of him hugging his kids, not his kids crying at the memorial that’s held a week after he’s assassinated. And the people who want war know this about us. They know what this all feels like for everyone watching. They know how to manipulate us and make ~74% of us say ‘yes’ to a NFZ when a pollster asks us. That feeling you have in the pit of your stomach when you think about what’s happening now, in our lifetime, on ‘our watch’? That’s called impotence. And it’s a powerful motivator (just ask Pfizer!) and it can be used to sway an entire population of otherwise (relatively) rational people to do crazy things…like start WWIII with a nuclear power.

    Doing nothing is unfortunately the right thing, but it still can feel wrong.

  7. Iraq, and Afghanistan, but hopefully not Ukraine.

  8. Ha ha —you said money shot.

    That was the line that jumped out at me as well!

    We need to stop buying their damn energy though. It almost makes one wonder - if the cost benefit analysis was done and negotiated before the invasion even took place.

  9. The hardest thing to do is always to do less. Even a small look at the events of 2014 in Ukraine vis-a-vis the US involvement in the Maidan ‘coup’ is sufficient to convince that the US was complicit. I just can’t see how arming Mexico, Canada, or Cuba by the Russians would not be considered as an existential threat by the US, and yet, our funding the Ukrainians arms is OK.

  10. I’m not sure I buy the arguments that the reasons like “NATO expansion” and “western-backed coup” are anything but pretexts.

    If we are to believe that Putin and other Russian elites actually entertain the crackpottery of Aleksandr Dugin’s geopolitical determinism as expressed in “The Foundations of Geopolitics” - Ukraine was always going to be invaded, sooner or later. Here are some quotes:

    The existence of Ukraine within its current borders and with the current status of a “sovereign state” is identical to delivering a monstrous blow to Russia’s geopolitical security, which is tantamount to an invasion of its territory.

    The continued existence of unitary Ukraine is unacceptable. This territory should be divided into several zones corresponding to the gamut of geopolitical and ethnocultural realities.

    The Ukrainian problem is the main and most serious problem facing Moscow. If the problems of the North and the “polar trapezoid” are connected with the distant future of Russia and Eurasia, if the development of Siberia and the battle for Lenaland are important for the near future, if, finally, the positional strategy of reorganizing the Asian South is relevant for Russia, the geopolitics of the West and the center of this geopolitics, the “Ukrainian question”, requires Moscow to respond immediately, since it is a matter of delivering Russia a real strategic strike, which the “geographical axis of history” simply does not have the right to respond to.

    Given that the simple integration of Moscow with Kiev is impossible and will not give a stable geopolitical system, even if this happens despite any objective obstacles, Moscow should be actively involved in the reconstruction of the Ukrainian space according to a unique logical and natural geopolitical model.

    There also exists the mundane fact of mere cupidity. As I understand it, Russia and Ukraine are both beset, and partially governed by, oligarchs who act as subsidiaries of literal gangsters, who are, in fact, a part of the Russian government. The gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine seem to tell a story.

    A large amount of the gas Russia supplies to Europe flows through Ukraine, and Ukraine has a history of stealing that gas, thereby depriving the organs of state corruption of their full-measure of profits.

    Now, I don’t know what’s going on in Putin’s head, or why he decided to invade Ukraine, or why he thought it was a good idea to do so now.

    But the pursuit of power, strategic control of people and industrial areas, greater control over gas profits, and belief in unifying a greater Russia to deprive other “blocs” from controlling Ukraine are enough reasons for me to doubt the sincerity of Russia’s given reasons for invading Ukraine.

    None of this implies that the US is not hypocritical, or that US and NATO were not arrogant, or that the US and Europe should escalate further.

    But I don’t think the given reasons for Russia’s invasion make a lot of sense.

    I am not an expert on geopolitics or international relations, but I just can’t see how Russia has “legitimate” concerns that had to be solved by military conquest - or, at least not by the values that the “West” professes (even if it does not always practice them).

  11. To be fair we really aren’t. Based on the latest moves in Urals crude nobody is buying their oil. The EU is most certainly still buying their gas, but that’s not due to malice but rather gross incompetence. I feel like you could lay about 80% of the blame for this invasion’s lead-up on the doorstep of the Germans and you wouldn’t be wrong.

  12. I watched an interesting lecture from John Mearsheimer from c.2015 re Crimea. Gave me some context I didn’t have before:

    • the NATO 2008 statement that Georgia and Ukraine WILL join NATO was a trigger
    • Ukraine joining NATO is as offensive to Russia as Mexico/Canada entering a military accord with Russia would be offensive to US (agree with @viktor K here)
    • Russia’s statement post the 2008 statement was very clear. something along the lines of ‘This will not end well’.
    • Hence Georgia, Crimea, and now Ukraine
    • Putin’s goal could simply be to wreck Ukraine to deter NATO expansion.
      In short - what we are seeing should not be a surprise.
  13. From the State Department Cables Leak — possible that denying Georgia’s access to NATO was a “green light” for Putin to invade. Renouncing NATO membership is not any sort of guarantee for Ukraine.


    Ukraine and Georgia had been denied a Membership Action Plan at NATO’s summit in Bucharest in April 2008, but were told that they “will become members.”

    Volker discusses the split between NATO allies over why Russia acted in Georgia: “The German-led allies argue that the Bucharest decision on eventual membership provoked the Russian aggression, while most others (including the new members and Canada) see it as we do: that Russia interpreted the denial of MAP [Membership Action Plan] as a green light for action against Georgia.”

    I think that responsibility for aggressive war lies squarely on Russia - whether it can be justified from the perspective of a “great power” controlling its borders is a question that does not have a definitive answer, IMO. It depends on how you see the world, and whether there should be a moral dimension to armed conflict and the imposition of hegemony.

  14. Interesting and quality analysis of the current state of table pounding.

    I give the Ukrainian president credit for 1. staying in his country and 2. using social media/media to get the story out despite Russia’s efforts to the spin this.

    Meanwhile, I continue to be disappointed by irresponsible commentary from politicians and pundits.

    Let the sanctions work. Let commerce leave Russia.
    If the KSA serves as example after Khashoggi, Russia will face a lack of Western investment for their actions times 10.

    Ex. Russia’s oil/gas production infrastructure requires high tech machinery, instrumentation, and other products that are rated to operate in harsh service. It’s capital intensive. Starve it. For money. For supplies and services. Let the weather and sanctions be our friend.

    No need to send in the Masked Drones, Mr. Hannity.
    (Masked Drone = Boeing drone with the Boeing logo X’ed out.)

  15. Something just occurred to me regarding the nuclear option. Does it really work for Putin’s alternate reality?

    If the narrative Putin needs to justify this war domestically is, “I am protecting ethnic Russians from genocide and putting a stop to the mayhem and destruction NATO is causing,” can he really be the one to go nuclear first? Its hard to imagine nuking a city could be played as a reasonable reaction to that narrative. I’m going to protect ethnic Russians…by wiping them off the face of the Earth? I’m going to prevent NATO from raining down death and destruction - by raining down the ultimate death and destruction? The fact is that the Russia is a nuclear power and Ukraine isn’t, and I presume the average Russian knows that. I guess Putin would have to do it and then also somehow try to claim it was NATO that did it first? That seems like a really tough sell even in the Russian alternate reality, but I might be naive.

  16. I don’t think the nuclear threat from Putin is against Ukraine; rather it is primarily against the Baltics, Poland and furthermore, Western Europe. As Ben says, he is using the nuclear deterrent as cover fire for his offensive in Ukraine, as in, “get in my way, and the consequences will be worse than anything in your history” or whatever he said.

    If a resurgent NATO is required for Putin to maintain his narrative at home, then why would it be required that NATO intervene via NFZ? We are already supplying his enemy with weapons and supplies through the NATO countries that border Ukraine. That’s plenty of pretext to bomb a convoy on the Polish side of the border or something similar. He can claim that the trucks carrying food (or antitank weapons, take your pick) were actually carrying chemical weapons, or were gaswagens on their way to exterminate ethnic Russians that the Ukranian “Nazis” have rounded up. The point is, it doesn’t really matter. The longer this goes on, the more likely it becomes that something exactly like what I have described will take place. In other words, if Putin needs a war with NATO, he will get one- unless we step back from our “not one inch” mantra, and lets see how “doing nothing” goes over at that point.

    What I think a lot of people advocating the “do nothing” approach fail to realize is that Putin has set something in motion that can’t be undone. The article 5 obligation will be invoked, because as Putin sees it, the only thing enabling the Ukranians to resist is material support from NATO… So to achieve his goals he MUST broaden the conflict. If doing nothing is really the best option, then we should stop sending weapons and food and let him take Ukraine. Then we will have bought ourselves another year or two before WWIII. But it happens either way.

  17. Agree - we need to let the cake bake & stop checking on it every minute. The sanctions have effectively isolated Russia from the rest of the world sans China, and they are even publicly stating that the fighting should cease. Even if its not true, the story that 10,000 hackers world-wide are working together to cripple Russia aught to give Russia pause. I can’t see that either side wants to fighting to continue, and Zelensky took NATO off the table today. His previous words of re-nuclearizing Ukraine were not helpful, but not a deal breaker if they can work out a cease-fire and an agreement that keeps NATO out. Vlad says he wants to de-militarize Ukraine, for Russian security reasons. All we can do is wait & see if that’s true. Our politicians are always in “do something” mode. Per “Mish”: Shedlock -
    “Rule of Nothing – In any given political system, the best outcome one can reasonably expect generally happens when politicians do nothing.”
    Corollary #1 – When politicians attempt to fix any problem, they are highly likely to make matters worse.
    Corollary #2 – Politicians almost never do nothing. It’s why we have a messed up healthcare system, education system, public pension system, etc. ~ Mike “Mish” Shedlock

  18. Generally, I think your right about the narratives as usual, Ben.

    BUT…Putin is looking for a “NATO attacks” narrative period. Do javelins and stingers count? Yes. Do Polish MiGs? More pronounced, yes, but hardly different. The logistical steps to get the Polish fighters to Ukraine might be a more pronounced place for Putin to point, but I he’s going to make something up, period. Like the “Chechen” apartment bombings or anything else, Putin will find a reason to accuse NATO of starting a war when it suits him.

    So the narrative we are talking about is more about whether we believe ourselves when we say we did not enter the war. An NFZ definitely is over the line, but I don’t think Polish MiGs are.

    Maybe your point is we should dial it down to zero military aide. Maybe you are right, but I think Putin will find a way to tell the narrative he wants either way.

  19. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    I hear you. Polish MiGs are a moderate escalation, not a dramatic escalation. But they ARE an escalation. A true and verifiable escalation that will provide cover for 100 bullshit and untrue escalations that Putin will now claim.

    The MiGs are Putin’s motte. Everything else is Putin’s bailey. This is how we lose the narrative war.

  20. I think you are right Ben about not escalating and bright lines. George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” written in 1946 outlined that the West could beat the communist ideology by wearing them down economically and we could just do it again. I think the tradeoff here is going to be that if Ukraine doesn’t hold out then we should safely assume all non-NATO countries will eventually get reabsorbed into “Greater Mother Russia” and then Cold War 2.0 (2.1?) for maybe another 50-70 years.

    Many commentators here are guessing “Will Comrade P do this or do that?” “Leaders” of authoritarian/totalitarian states do whatever they want. The fact that he needs a pretext to act is the giveaway. Russia/Ukraine information war - #12 by BrianCann. If NATO is the problem then why doesn’t he just say that? Because with good propaganda and a little dose of the “old ultraviolence”, Comrade P will have his citizens dancing to whatever tune he plays. I read somewhere that over about 4 decades, most of the Warsaw pact countries were seeded with Russians while forcibly removing some of the existing population (ex Far Eastern Ukraine). Having an already well placed Russian diaspora is a great head start to internally agitate later. “Country X is full of Nazis eating Russian babies? Comrades we must (re)invade and save them!”

    Speaking of Nazis. It seems those Ukrainian Nazis (sarc) are quite stupid because apparently they handed over their nukes to Russia.

    I think comparing a Canada/Mexico military accord threat to Ukraine in NATO are false equivalences. It’s highly unlikely that either country is just itching to become a vassal to a totalitarian state that has a historical reputation for mass murder. In all the media clamor, we forget that democracies don’t usually (if ever) make war on each other and don’t mass murder their own citizens. Authoritarian and totalitarian (including communist) states have done that as SOP. Two of the top ten mega murderers of the 20th century were Stalin and Lenin. 20TH CENTURY DEMOCIDE (Genocide and Mass Murder)
    One also shouldn’t forget that TODAY some/many Ukrainians are willing to put their life on the line to say no to being back under the Russian jackboot. Their vote carries 20x the weight of some TV pundit.

    Honestly Russia wants to be a superpower again? They already swing way above their weight if you remember that Russia (commanded by one person) has an economy smaller than Canada (or NY).

  21. My family is originally from Minsk (now Belarus). They moved to Poland in the 19th century. We have potential claims on family properties in Warsaw which were assimilated after WWII. These legal proceedings have been actively going on for nearly 15 years. Today, I gave up on any possibility of ‘re-privatization’ of these properties. In fact I gave up…

  22. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    90% agree.

    My deeper dive into Long Telegram. This is really, really important for perspective I think.

    Communism was always a red herring. It’s an abstraction that obviously was never workable. We had our eye on the wrong ball. The paranoid expansionism of Russian leaders, no matter their title, is the primary geopolitical issue going back hundreds of years. Kennan saw this.

    The 10% I’m not sure about is the “Russian sleeper cell” issue. My understanding from my family in Latvia is they get along pretty well with the recently transplanted Russians. Currently waiting to hear more from them on this. Zhelensky himself is ethnic Russian-speaking Jewish and was elected by 70% of the vote.

    Thesis: The problem is not the Russian people. They have been duped by their paranoid leaders, who need to be paranoid to maintain their vast empire.

    Seeing this is the key to winning this war without fighting. How? I don’t know yet.

  23. I wasn’t really thinking of it this way though it’s not impossible (see Eastern Ukraine breakaway areas), just that it can be used as a pretext. I don’t know for sure how true the transplant story even is but it would be an excellent LT strategy.

  24. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    just that it can be used as a pretext

    Gotcha and 100% agree. Another fig leaf for paranoid expansionism.

  25. Unfortunately It has always been that way. The only way that changes is when the children of the pajama class have a taste of the horrors of combat themselves. By taste I dont mean in a John McCain (I fucked up as a pilot and became infamous as a result) kind of way.

    Let me paint you a purely fictional scenario that might change the cultural zeitgeist. I’ve deliberately tried to make this a bit rough so if easily offended, maybe skip this.

    The United States wants to set up a NFZ in Ukraine however it doesnt want to risk world war III. So in its wisdom it reheats the Soviet Korean war playbook and sends its best fighter pilots to Ukraine in order to pilot local fighters incogneto. How the Ukrainians have these fighters left at this stage is unknown.

    One of those going is Chelsea Clinton. Much to youre collective amasement, shes not just a Raccoon of the highest order. Shes also a Top Gun and shes going over to teach those pesky Ruskies a lesson.

    She gets there, does a handful of sorties and pulls a McCain. Unfortunately for her, she’s captured not by Russian regular army units, shes fallen into the lap of DPR / LPR millitias.
    Promptly identified, shes handed over to some nasty individuals from the Russian security apperatus imbedded with the millitias.

    Tortured daily, in a break your bones / waterboarding kind of way, repeatedly gang raped and generally degraded, this is all captured on video and leaked via some messed up internet site. Deliberately leaked or otherwise, doesnt matter.

    Chelsea, credit to her, has mental fortitude like non other. She doesnt break. Months later however, a local kindergarden is bombed and the locals are pissed. They drag her out of her cell, attach her to the rear of a Russian Infantry mobility vehicle via a winch cable and drag her through the streets. At this stage the locals catch up and stomp on her until shes dead. Again all recorded and leaked online.

    This no doubt has the western world frothing from the mouth. I mean its a pretty bad situation. Yet despite knowing that this happened, the powers that be can’t do a thing, as these pilots werent supposed to be there in the first place.

    Its situations like this, again purely fictional, happening again and again that might have the shock factor to awaken those in society, whos children are “too good” to die such a violent death. Something tells me the Clinton family wouldnt be happy with a few medals and a folded flag. By the way, Im not picking on them specifically. Could be Hunter Biden for example, if he could put down the crack pipe for long enough.

    In my opinion, this is the only way to change the psyche of those in question over the long run. In the same manner that the firebombings of German cities turned one of the most militant cultures in the world pacifist for 80 odd years. The firebombing of Dresden specifically comes to mind.

  26. Avatar for Jayay Jayay says:

    Ever since the U.S. took over the self-assigned role as the world’s “organizer,” we have gotten into one stupid war after another, and always lost:: Vietnam (stop communism and now a big trading partner), Iraq (weapons of mass destruction that never were) and Afghanistan. (invaded to dsmantle terrorist training camps and instead decimated the population). The Pajama Class initiated those wars, planned them, and bought all the equipment from the bloated offense industry. Then they sent the children of the lower and middle classes to do the killing and dying and suffer the PTSD and dismemberment. I have seen this time after time and nothing changes. The Tough Guys are doing it once again. Human Nature repeats and repeats and repeats. and repeats…

  27. Avatar for Pat_W Pat_W says:

    @acoates posted 10 days ago in the “getting to war thread:

    “ 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’.

    This plays to a facet of Russian character that I have yet to see mentioned. Russia envies, and therefore resents (sometimes to the point of hatred) the West, or originally just Europe.

    In Tsarist Russia the intellectual class sent their kids to Europe to be educated. They traveled there and admired the music, art, industry and enlightenment. Many hoped Russia could emulate Europe but of course that was impossible under a system of serfdom.

    Pile on this invasions from Europe. Leaven with ages of a population being told by their “betters” what to think, and it was easy for the Bolshevics to slip into the role of controllers of the narrative. Putin is playing a very old Russian melody and the people love it. Western media. Is cherry-picking stories to make us believe Russians will turn against Putin but instead family in Moscow turns against their own in Ukraine.

    Putin intends to destroy the Ukraine

  28. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    Putin is playing a very old Russian melody and the people love it.

    This is exactly right. This is one way the paranoid Russian leadership have maintained control for so long.

    Russia has had state police since the Oprichnik of Ivan the Terrible in the 16th Century. He deliberately divided his empire into two pieces and set one piece, Oprichnina, against the other piece, Zemschina, which were all the other Russians that did not 100% T-Total support Ivan… in Ivan’s own paranoid opinion.

    It’s so deeply ingrained that it’s hard to even find straight information about what your average Russian thinks online. Try figuring out the straight story behind Navalny, for example. The Western narrative presented in, eg, Time a few years ago is full of holes. Why did Putin (?) try to poison him but now lets him talk to reporters and ~use social media from prison? Is he a legit freedom fighter? Is he a psyop stooge of Putin? Is he a psyop stooge of the West? All of the above?

    Try to Google all this and get straight opinions from Russians and you’re in the same quagmire. They go all whataboutism on each other, just like they do on the US, on Ukraine, maybe on their own belly-button lint. Are the Russian opinions I see online about Navalny the work of Russian trolls? Are they the work of an American psyop? Are they just the legit opinions of fundamentally good people whose autonomy of mind has been violated by their paranoid leaders for generations? All of the above?

    Kennan would predict that even if Navalny is a legit reformer and ever took control of Russia, he too would sink into this quagmire and turn into the next Putin within a few decades, if some other tragedy did not displace him in the meantime. Indeed, many random Russians have already played this angle. Animal Farm already played this angle.

    I have no solution, I’m just trying to understand the primary problem. Agree that US chickenhawking and other interventionism over several decades has not helped. This is the only thing I can think of as an American to help Russians: speak out against our own chickenhawking and then wait to see what happens next.

    I think Kennan saw all this too.

    And but the more one studies these things, the more one stares into the abyss as it were. Reflexivity…

  29. I basically agree with everything written in this very good article. Perhaps my only small concern is that it takes for granted that not getting more involved at this point will stop Putin from further aggression.

    I noticed this article in the Guardian last night:

    Finland is as you all know, not a NATO member - though for obvious reasons they are now considering their options. Along with Sweden of course.

    These days I am thankfully quite removed from the far-right media narratives in the States, so I am subject to a lot less war mongering rhetoric. I remember this well from my years living in W.VA and CA from 1998-2006. Instead, today I consume endless soul-destroying narratives and stories about the humanitarian conflict unfolding in Ukraine and therefore Europe in general. I am reflecting on why this humanitarian disaster is affecting me more than those further afield (geographically speaking) but that is hardly the main concern at the moment.

    From a “narrative” point of view, you quickly discover the power of “seeing yourself” in the subject at hand. This photo has stirred emotions in me that I remember feeling when a much younger me read “Slaughterhouse Five” and “Catch 22”. War is truly absurd. As a side note, this is very much how my Scandinavian self would dress a toddler, as mundane and not relevant as that may seem.

    A Toddler’s Terror, as Families Flee Shelling in Ukraine | The New Yorker

    If I have point with this reply, it is a simple one. There are worse things out there than American power. As outlined quite well here:

    And some of those other things out there, may not act as rationally as we expect. And while it is important to show restraint and rationality - we shouldn’t easily forget the potential cost of bought time.

  30. Isn’t Catch 22 such a wonderful read. It’s a must for mid teenager’s.

    You’re right, the only thing that could of ended this before it started was direct military intervention by the west, even if it risked WWIII. I know Ben has been banging this drum loud. Rightly so. That would entail sending another generation of mostly Americans to war, because we all know the Europeans won’t God damn show up to protect their own security interests.

    Unfortunately that time has past. The world has seen that the west’s guarantees are not worth the paper they are written on. If I was Georgia or the Baltics, I’d be a bit concerned.

    Some are speculating that as a result, we are entering a new era, a great separation if you will. US, EU et al on one side, Russia, China, subcontinent, Middle East and South America on the other.

    I’m not sure that events over the medium term will play out so cleanly. That scares the buggery out of me. Not militarily, economically.

    I know this is an oversimplification however you have China and India, roughly a quarter of the world’s population as consumers and manufacturers of finished goods with Russia supplying a majority of the commodities that they need.

    If they decide that the west is no longer required, at least not like we were until recently, things get crazy quickly.

  31. Thanks for your comment.
    I don’t believe that early direct military action by Nato was called for here. Rather I see all of today’s events as being the result of the weakened state (perceived and otherwise) of NATO in general - following years of military misadventures and the collective soul-searching that followed.

    That the soul-searching was necessary and right does not take away from the fact that a strong western defensive alliance has been crucial for decades of relatively peaceful global affairs. Trump did more damage to the perception of NATO that most really consider. I am originally from Norway - a country wholly reliant on such an alliance for its own defence over and above the first 48 hours. Norway was always a natural NATO member country - not because of its size and geopolitical importance - but because of its very long coastline leaving a key member state (Britain) entirely vulnerable to an eastern advance.

    As for whether or not Europe will start to “show up to protect their own security interests” - this is an interesting one. I have been a believer in the EU as a trade organisation. For what has become fairly obvious reasons I never believed that a common currency was a net advantage but I truly believe in the concept of cross border trade relations lowering the likelihood of cross-border conflict. The EU (like most bureaucratic organisations) eventually got ahead of itself and started to entertain the idea of even closer alliances including military ones. But ultimately there was not need, we had NATO. Thankfully, as I do believe this would have brought conflict to Europe much much earlier.

    Today, despite Russian’s actions in Ukraine having the second order effect of bringing the importance of NATO back into focus - NATO and the US’ role in NATO is not as straight forward as once was assumed. Americans are (quite rightly) exhausted from the travesty that was Iraq/Afghanistan and has lost its appetite for international power relations. It’s not that this isn’t understandable, of course it is, but it is also a global risk. And for Putin, it has become a gamble he is willing to take.

    This was a very convoluted way of saying that I don’t believe an early military strike was called for. What was and continues to be needed is a healthy appreciation of the importance of a strong and responsible Western military alliance.

  32. I think the Poles would like to have a word with you. They have very quietly amassed one of the more impressively equipped militaries in Europe and don’t particularly care for the Russians. It’ll be interesting to see if GD delivers to them the first load of M1 Abrams tanks a little early this year…

  33. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Exactly right. Thanks for two great posts, Em.

  34. Man, the propaganda on my big screen and little screens certainly is powerful. It’s funny, as a trader for 30 years, toughest lesson is to remove the emotion. It becomes rather easy to just be robotic, especially as a short seller. My heart though, is in that 74% DY described above, when you see blood on a backpack with the teddy bear sticking out of it. This war has something for everyone, in terms of narrative world.

    Knowing full well that sanctions will work and escalation creates more risk, I still can’t shake thinking… It’s only the Olds Ukrainians that are dying. #WarisHell

  35. Technocrat academics justifying their grant.
    Propaganda and control of a population’s beliefs is not a new monster, but they define it as such.
    No mention of currency as an operational domain omits individual purposeful action in a transactional society, now that does scare me.
    The definition of their studies as the new gold and in context of state, with almost no regard to individual outcomes, nurtures in me a fresh fear of soft totalitarianism.

    ‘Oh, it’s too complicated for you. You just don’t understand. C’mon, It’s for you own good.’

  36. In their paradigm, telling a contagiously funny joke about the authority, or a superior or group of superiors in authority, is tantamount to treason.

  37. That’s interesting to consider. Unfortunately it is my opinion that the poles are not capable of representing Europe alone on the battlefield.

    Hate the Russians, I’m sure they do. Just look at their ambassador to the US calling for sanctions to last up to 15 years. No love there.

    Could they give conventional Russian forces a bloody nose, absolutely. However if you don’t have the manpower of France and Germany standing beside them, well as a betting man, I wouldn’t put my money on them. I just think that in a war of attrition one on one, they would succumb.

    Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

  38. (It looks more like ‘mostly peaceful’ to me.)

  39. You are welcome, certainly. Thank you for the hat tip.
    Impressed and disgusted are certainly not exclusionary - it’s possible to be impressed with a particularly artful and disgusting con being worked on someone. I think CW falls in that category.

    This is “Nudge” meets OODA; John Boyd’s Maneuver Warfare applied to the mind itself. That’s grim.

  40. Perhaps the 66% are thinking about Article 5 obligations? If you sign a treaty you have an obligation to fulfil what you signed up for in the treaty. If you can arbitrarily decide not to meet treaty commitments, what is the value of a treaty? And then what does the world become if it is impossible to develop treaties?

  41. After reading this note I ran across a quote by Napoleon Bonaparte. " Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." Napoleon had experience with Russia.

  42. “Know yourself and know your enemy.
    You will be safe in every battle.
    You may know yourself but not know the enemy.
    You will then lose one battle for every one you win.
    You may not know yourself or the enemy.
    You will then lose every battle.”
    Art of War 3:6:1–6

    What’s been interesting for me to watch is how little Americans understand what we’re dealing with here. I think part of it has to do that you’ve never really had a war on your soil from an external enemy (Pearl Harbour is far away from American mainland). The other part is that America is so extremely blessed. Land of lakes, rivers, mountains, plains for growing food, natural resources galore, welcoming climate, far away from any external enemies. The idea of war and any real hardship imposed on you by others is just… kind of abstract and statistical.
    I’ve spoken to a bunch of different people about this war, Russian, American, other European nationalities. Americans are the only ones who believe that sanctions alone would work against Russian people.
    Why? [my hypothesis] Because it would work against you! You’re a nation obsessed with the stock market, wealth creation and let’s face it - status as expressed in wealth symbols. You also believe that you have an impact. Your voice has an impact. Your vote has an impact. Your money has an impact.
    Russians don’t believe any of this, so sanctions are something that they view as outside of their control. They might be skeptical of their politicians, BUT they’re just even more skeptical of the Western politicians. Everybody’s a crook and everybody’s lying so you gotta watch out for yourself. They’ve endured so much over the last century and even before that. What’s another senseless war? What’re another hundred thousand or even a million lives? Their collective history is that of hardship seemingly assigned to individuals by a random generator, which is why as a nation they’re so very superstitious, fatalistic, and ultimately cynical. A lot of things are outside of their control, which is why civil society has never really been a thing. Like ever. Sanctions? Tell this to someone whose mother as a kid ate their newborn brother during WW2, because it was a choice between the entire family starving or parents slaughtering one of the siblings for food (this is a real story from one of my relatives).
    So Ben, you’ve been right on many accounts about American audiences, but here I just think you’re applying your American playbook to a nation with a vastly different collective psyche.

  43. This feels like the moment when old European money finally get what it wants. One step closer to the Federalization of Europe.

    Now the sons and daughters of Eastern European families can die on whatever hill Brussels deems appropriate. It’s one step closer to escaping the noose that is NATO.

    Europe will finally be able to position themselves on the global stage in a manner that suits them, I.e. not following Washington into every single mistep that the beltway manages to conjure.

    They have been playing both sides for awhile now, especially in regard to China. The United States won’t be happy about this and yet, Ironically it’s exactly what the US needs. A strong Europe with cheap energy is the only decent chance of realigning global industrial production to the extent that makes a conflict with China possible, that is in the eyes of the military industrial complex. To everyone else we know that such conflict is insanity.

    With this, Europe will be able to push for increased trade, specifically energy in Euro terms. It might just be the thing that saves the abomination known as the Euro.

    I personally think that they are a day late and a dollar short. Interesting none the less.

  44. I read Bill Browder’s “Red Notice” which jives closely with what you have written here. There was a fable he recites that really stuck with me.

    A Russian finds a magic lamp and the Djinn grants him one wish with the caveat that whatever he wishes for, his neighbor will get double. What does he wish for then? He asks the Djinn to put one of his eyes out.

  45. Bush has to go down as one of the worst presidents in history. That statement from NATO was a fudge to satisfy him

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