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Russia in perspective

The coming dark age: This column today attempts to put the present economic shape of Russia into context with the rest of the world. Russia does not come off well.

According to the International Monetary Fund’s most recent data, the Russian economy is approximately the same size as Australia and slightly smaller than South Korea. As an exporter, it is now less important than Belgium, Mexico, and Singapore. And it is poor. The World Bank ranks Russia’s GDP per capita below Lithuania, Equatorial Guinea, and Kazakhstan. A larger proportion of its population lives below the poverty rate than in Indonesia, India, or Sri Lanka. It is ranked 67th in the world in the Global Competitive Index and 66th in the UN’s Human Development Index.

I find this news very disturbing and worrisome. As much as I might consider Russia a competitor to the U.S., I also want it as a nation to thrive, because otherwise it can only be a threat to the rest of the world. If Russia can’t figure out how to be a successful, competitive, and vigorous first world capitalist nation, it can only become something none of us will like. These are the same circumstances that made the rise of Hitler and Mussolini possible.

Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about Russia’s ability to turn things around. When they had the chance after the fall of the Soviet Union, instead of encouraging free competition, the people who remained in power divided the country and its industries up like Prohibition-era gangsters, and stamped out anyone who tried to move in on their territories with new ideas. Those people remain in power, and have acted to further consolidate their power by recreating the Soviet model of centralized control from the top-down.

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  • Cotour

    If you listen to the John Batchelor show at all, besides China and its military antics he regularly gets into how we (the Obama state department / Hillary/ Kerry) have been pushing hard for some sort of forced military confrontation.

  • Mitch S.

    Batchelor’s Russia guy, Prof Stephen F. Cohen, is pretty much a Putin mouthpiece but I do agree US policy toward Russia has been illogical and unnecessarily provocative. This goes back to GHW Bush and continued from there. Particularly the expansion of NATO which sets up a pre WWI like set of alliances that can trigger greater war.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Russia’s economic circumstances, feeble though they be, pale in comparison to its demographic circumstances. The Russian fertility rate may well be the lowest on the planet. The low fertility rate, combined with decreased life expectancy and an aging population means the Russian population is shrinking by at least a million a year and this rate is likely to increase markedly over the next two decades. There are no longer millions of potential draftees for the Russian army, making even continued defense of the homeland problematical, to say nothing of any aspirations Russia may entertain of once more indulging in foreign adventures.

    The Russian arsenal is still worrisome, but it is also still shrinking. The Russian navy, for example, is a shadow of its former Soviet self. The newest generations of Russian nuclear subs have been plagued with development problems and cannot be produced in more than token numbers. Similarly, the Russian ICBM force, once numbering in the thousands, now numbers in the hundreds and much of it is obsolete and of questionable readiness. As with the navy, development of new generations of weaponry has been slow and Russia’s limited financial resources makes extensive production runs impossible.

    Russia needs to be blocked in its aggression into its “near abroad” – especially in Ukraine – and simply left to wither and die. At current rates of decay – and barring some “twilight of the Gods” scenario in the meantime – Russia will no longer be a credible threat to much of anyone by century’s end.

  • Dick Eagleson wrote: “Russia needs to be blocked in its aggression into its “near abroad” – especially in Ukraine – and simply left to wither and die. At current rates of decay – and barring some “twilight of the Gods” scenario in the meantime – Russia will no longer be a credible threat to much of anyone by century’s end.”

    All this appears likely, but it is not something we should be celebrating. There are a lot of people in Russia, and the nation, gigantic in size, holds enormous and valuable resources. Should it wither, it will not die, but will become something that will likely threaten civilization world wide. I could easily see it become another haven for Islam under these circumstances.

    This by the way was another theme I noticed at CNAS, a generally favorable and supportive view of China and a generally hostile and destructive view of Russia. I do not understand this dichotomy. Both need to be watched. Both need to be be encouraged towards freedom and the rule of law. Damaging either does us in the U.S. no good.

    What works is to make these nations viable and prosperous free nations, not forcing them “to wither and die.” That we Americans seem to not understand this anymore is in itself another sign of the coming dark age.

  • Greg Jones

    This misreading actually works both ways. Vladimir and Dmitry run Russia, and if they had any brains – any brains at all – they would see that instead of an adversary, the U.S. / etc. is potentially Russia’s greatest friend / ally possible. I guarantee that the U.S. has no plans or designs to somehow grab Russian territory and / or Russian national assets generally. The U.S. has no plan(s) to “encircle” Russia in any way. The American people have not made the best political decisions lately, but on these issues, I / we would not tolerate this sort of thing. We have enough problems, generally self-inflicted!

    If Vladimir and Dmitry put on their thinking caps, they would see PRC China as the greatest medium / long term threat to Russia. Paragraph two here

    has a raw number. This article

    is eleven years old. I don’t see how Vladimir / Dmitry don’t freak out that the North Korean empire – roughly fifty miles from Vladivistok – plays with nukes. Vladivistok sure looks like an important tactical / geostrategic resource, but what the hell do I know? I’m only an ignorant American.

    Vladimir is cool and everything, but cool is not leadership. Americans can’t quite bring themselves to admit that we found that out the hard way. So far . . .

  • Alex

    The rescue for Russia (as well as for Germany) is the following measure: The natural partner for Germany is Russia, not USA. That was also stated by US’ Stratfor. A deep cooperation, which help both countries, but feared by USA. Germany should leave US’ hegemony soon as possible.

    German know-how and technology combined with Russia’s men power and natural resources can be called a force. A threat to USA. USA did in last 100 years all what was necessary to prevent the German-Russian cooperation/axes, including the support of Hitler’s rise and of Russia (Soviet Union) in WWII.

  • Alex

    Hi Dick Eagleson: Let us hope that US empire, which chokes the world, will die in same manner that have foreseen for Russia.

  • Cotour


    I think that Germany and Russia each individually have tremendous potentials but when you boil it down the Germans would never become subservient to the Russians and visa versa, one would have to dominate the other. How long would true cooperation continue in your scenario?

    And as far as your wishing the U.S. “empire to die in the same manner”, you confuse morality and strategy. Someone must be the “Alfa dog” in the world, it is not wise to trade the power, that will certainly be abused, away because of a moral uncomfortability. You then begin to sound like the moral literalist, Obama.

  • wodun

    Is Alex one of those people hired by Putin to make comments on the internet?

    Russia doesn’t need a vassal Germany to prop it up or to conquer its neighbors. They just need to deal with corruption at all levels of society, embrace capitalism and rule of law, and stop trying to invade their neighbors.

    It’s not magic, just adopting the most successful ideology in human history.

    Should Russia do that, they will find many friends but if they don’t, they will continue to be viewed as a threat by all rational human beings.

  • Laurie

    Mitch S: Putin’s mouthpiece? Someone needs to counter the current administration. It’s just that ridiculous.

    Alex: I don’t want the US or the Russians to die – they both need reforms … we all do, of course.

    Dick Eagleson: Russian aggression? Kerry had the audacity to say that the “annexation” was against the Ukrainian constitution and international law … and fomenting, facilitating, and arming a violent coup is what, exactly? Crimea didn’t trust the neo-fascist white-supremacist anti-semitic russian-haters Washington installed in Kiev. Yes, they are all that and more. Whatever else might be true, the people of Crimea voted to secede. It was Kiev that promptly bombed, shelled, and shot-up the urban areas of eastern Ukraine, not the other way around.

    Cotour: I completely disagree. Absent a moral foundation, a balance over power is all that safeguards the nations, not some “exceptional” state or power.

    Bob: Thank you – I would add that a nation’s people are it’s most valuable resource, not its holdings. As for “a generally hostile and destructive view of Russia,” this is not a surprise, it’s unrelenting Washington propaganda at work.

  • Cotour


    Alex is willing to trade away U.S. power because he sees it as being “unfair”. We are the 800 lb gorilla, it makes him uncomfortable, just like Obama. We are oppressors, and to some degree we are.

    As an example, in order to make the world “fair” they both apparently are willing to arm Iran AND fund their military with billions of dollars without any hard, concrete written concessions or guarantees of their changed or good behavior. That IMO is foolish and weak (assuming that we know most of what is known about the deal, which we probably do not).

    The U.S. comes to power from a more moral perspective, even from a benevolent perspective because of what our government is based on, the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights. But even with that pedigree, power always results in abuse, always. Alex wants to give away what needs to be guarded and used wisely because he is a “moralist”. I am not saying that we should not be moral but you do not disarm yourself in the real world because you have a moral need to “fight fair”. That may indeed be the definition of insanity.

    Also, at this moment in time the U.S, even in its weakened state, is probably more militarily and economically powerful then both our adversaries combined (China and Russia), we are still the big dog. Which means more related to our economy and conventional military power then with nukes, no one wins if it gets to that point. Our continuing perceived weakness due to Obama’s policies increases the chance that it does get to that point. IMO.

    Our projecting weakness, which is what Alex and Obama insist on because it makes them “feel good”, makes the world a much more dangerous place. So in this kind of situation we ARE exceptional, but we are also moral and we are also benevolent. To encourage some other nation or group of nations to take our place is just plain foolish, even treasonous to my mind. Which is what Alex and the likes of Obama propose through their words and actions.

    I think you meant “Balance of power”.

    When you possess overwhelming power over your opponent you never give your advantage away, you use it wisely to your advantage, even to empower your opponents, if it makes sense and if it is within reason. (Unless you are some idealistic internationalist / leftist / Marxist looking to further the “One world order / One world government” and determined to diminish the United States sovereignty and Constitution.)

    Thank you for your comment.

  • Edward

    “As much as I might consider Russia a competitor to the U.S., I also want it as a nation to thrive, because otherwise it can only be a threat to the rest of the world. If Russia can’t figure out how to be a successful, competitive, and vigorous first world capitalist nation, it can only become something none of us will like.”

    As the article says, they have already “punched Georgia in the nose, took back the Crimea, invaded Ukraine, flew bombers through NATO airspace, built military bases in the Arctic, and generally flexed and posed like an oiled, aged, but still buff, body builder.”

    Russia is already something none of us like: a bully. But then, they have a military that is built up enough to bully many of its neighbors, and they don’t seem shy about doing it.

    On the other hand, if Russia becomes a thriving member of the world community, she will have less reason to bully other nations, as she will have or will be able to buy all that they need. Like most democracies, her people probably will not like getting involved in wars or bullying other countries.

    Between Russia, Germany, and the US, the US has been the least imperial. Please explain why you believe the US to be an empire.

    I need specific examples, but you may choose your definition from above (I recommend against the variety of apple, though).

    I do not believe that the US is governed by an actual emperor, although sometimes it may seem that way, as the current president ignores the Constitution, the laws, and the Congress too much. I do not believe the US has sovereignty over any other country, though the United Nations behaves as though it does. And I do not believe that the US has supreme control or absolute sway over any other country, otherwise votes at the UN would go our way much more often.

    It is one thing to *say* a country is an empire, especially when you are jealous of its success, but it is another thing to show why you say so.

    Further, left to itself, the US has thrived in ways that no other country has, much less choked and died. Four centuries ago, what is now the US was a colony that literally could not feed itself (due to its experiment with socialism), but once it started a free market capitalist economy, it thrived into a world class powerhouse. Argentina can also say the same, however it devolved into a corrupt dictatorship, more than half a century ago, and never recovered.

    The increasingly socialist US government *is* choking us to death, as socialism has done everywhere it has been tried, even Russia The free market capitalism upon which our nation is based has brought prosperity everywhere it has been tried, including India and China, which are turning toward that economic system after socialism failed them so miserably.

    Since you have previously stated that you are not Russian, I would like to know what country you are from so that I can be mean to you and hope for its demise — although I suspect that it is a socialist country and is already choking and dying, as all socialist countries do.

    That socialism is not working in your country is no excuse for your jealousy that the United States has found a better economic system. It *is* an excuse to insist that your country abandon socialism and adopt free market capitalism so that you can thrive and prosper, too, and then you will have no need to be jealous of other people’s prosperity.

    Give free market capitalism a chance. Try it; you’ll like it!

    wodun asked: “Is Alex one of those people hired by Putin to make comments on the internet?”

    (Yes, but don’t let him know that we figured it out. He might get embarrassed and stop commenting here. Each time he does, I figure out more about what is so great about America and what is so bad about Russia.)

    Glad you finally escaped from Crazyfornia and made it home. I hope you had time in DC to enjoy some of the sights. When I was there, last fall, we spent a lot of time in the Air and Space Museum, including the Udvar-Hazy hanger on the far side of Dulles Airport. We also found some nice places to eat and visited the site of the First Battle of Bull Run (or First Battle of Manassas, depending upon which side you were on).

  • Laurie

    Not to be disagreeable, but with the following, I’ll bow out:

    So in this kind of situation we ARE exceptional, but we are also moral and we are also benevolent.

    I agree with my wife; she would answer, “There are no good guys.”

  • Dick Eagleson

    As Yoda would say, “Ummm, touched a nerve you have.”

    Cotour: I don’t listen to Batchelor except for his segments with ZimmerBob and Dr. Livingston so I’m unfamiliar with his opinions on anything non-space-related. If Batchelor really thinks the Obama administration is trying to get us into a military confrontation with anyone – especially with Russia – he’s delusional. Cutting and running has been the order of the day ever since Obama took office. Their only regret is that they haven’t been able to complete the bug out in either the Mideast or Afghanistan or to turn Guantanamo back over to the Cubans. Still, if, as Mitch says, Batchelor is using Stephen Cohen to get his information about Russia that would explain the delusion.

    Mitch: If Batchelor gets his opinions on Russia from Stephen Cohen that would go far to explain Cotour’s comment. Stephen Cohen, a noted “Kremlinologist” up until the events of 1989-91, has always been a commie fellow traveler and shameless shill for whatever crude aggression the Soviet Union pursued back when there still was such a thing. He was a popular TV talking head pre-Soviet collapse. I can remember the progressive shell-shock on his face as the Soviet Empire unraveled from the outside in during 1989-91. He, along with most others in the academic and Washington establishments, always assumed that the Soviet Union was immortal and here it was dying, dying, in front of his very eyes! In the intervening quarter century, Cohen has been a lot less visible but he’s apparently still stooging for Russia the same as he always did for the Soviet Union. No doubt, like Putin, he regards the Soviet collapse as the worst geopolitical disaster of the 20th century and, also like Putin, hopes for at least a modest Soviet comeback.

    As for the U.S. being “provocative” toward Russia by expanding NATO, the Russians always regard anything that interferes with their perpetually imperial ambitions to be “provocative.” The formerly captive nations of the former Warsaw Pact were frothingly anxious to join up in the wake of the Soviet collapse and President GHWB obliged most of them. He and his successors should probably have indulged a few more. Having spent nearly the previous half-century as unwilling conscripts into the Soviet Empire, these nations were understandably interested in buying all the insurance they could get against a Soviet resurgence. The Russians aren’t the only ones with long memories in that part of the world. Russia has always been an expansionist power. Putin is merely the latest “czar” to essay an attempt at brutalizing and cowing its neighbors. I don’t blame those neighbors in any way for doing everything they possibly can to avoid falling prey to Russia yet again.

    ZimmerBob: There are, indeed, still a lot of people in Russia, but fewer than formerly and, as I noted, dwindling more every day. Demographics may not be 100% correlated with destiny, but the correlation is pretty high. Russia is suffering from a serious wasting disease and its prognosis is not good.

    Exactly what the future may hold is uncertain. Russia, once it falls past some unknown demographic tipping point from beyond which its rulers realize there is no coming back, it may decide to use the tattered and elderly rump of its nuclear arsenal in a “Gotterdamerung” strike against those it blames for its terminal illness, including the U.S. The U.S. must remain vigilant and build up its active defenses against such an eventuality.

    But you are also correct that Russia has a lot of resources, many of them in thinly-populated Siberia. China will have its own reverses during the remainder of this century – many of which will be demographically driven as well – but will still likely be much better off than Russia a few decades hence. As I don’t see any basis upon which to assume a long-term improvement in Russia’s endemic poverty, perhaps a future “czar” would decide to buy at least some short-term relative prosperity for the wizened remainder of European Russia by selling off Siberia to the Chinese as his ancestors sold off Alaska to the U.S. If China has overthrown its own Communist regime by then, it may well be in a position to make quite a generous offer for Siberia.

    As for jihadist Islam, it will remain a problem for Russia but probably not an existential one. I expect jihadist Islam will have been dealt with well before Russia reaches some demographic point of no return.

    The harsher attitude toward Russia, as opposed to China, at CNAS I attribute to Russia’s high-profile embarrassment of DC-based conventional wisdom, especially the serial foreign policy stupidities of the Obama administration. Russia has simply refused to behave as Obama and the State Department wonks expected. As an ever-present reminder that Obama’s worldview is delusional, Russia is in bad odor. China isn’t living up to Obamian expectations either, but it’s being quieter and more gradual in its depredations, deploying no troops in generic uniforms into other sovereign nations and shooting down no civilian airliners. So long as their noses aren’t forcibly rubbed in contradictions, the DC conventional wisdom will preserve its illusions about China.

    Exhortations about liberty and the rule of law will simply be ignored by the ruling elites in both Russia and China until, and unless, they are overthrown by genuine grass-roots revolutions. I would rate the chances of this happening in China as moderately good. I would rate the chances of this happening in Russia as asymptotically close to nil. As for “damage” to both countries, I am aware of no active effort to damage China, despite their many and continuing efforts to damage us. With respect to Russia, there are the current sanctions. But even if these did not exist, Russia would be barely better off as its real current problems derive from the worldwide petroleum glut largely due to increasing American self-sufficiency via fracked oil and gas. That was going to happen regardless of what Russia did or didn’t do in Ukraine.

    We, in the U.S., simply don’t have the wherewithal to make either Russia or China viable, prosperous and free. I don’t view failing to remake entire large societies over which we have decidedly limited leverage as presaging a dark age. Attempting King Canute-like exercises in futility via “diplomacy” and other forms of magical thinking, ala Obama, is definitely a path toward darkness, but one from which we will soon, one hopes, be delivered. The future fates of Russia and China are largely out of our hands unless one or the other or both are so incautious as to provoke a genuine military confrontation with the U.S. There are certainly elements within both countries that would like to do this, but I don’t see them being able to actualize their wishes soon or possibly ever.

    Greg: Generally agree. My short version of what U.S. foreign policy should be is roughly this – “We don’t want your land and we don’t want your stuff. We have plenty of land and we’ve already got more and better stuff. We just don’t want you beating up your neighbors to get their land and stuff, okay? Oh yeah, we might want some of your good-looking women, but we won’t invade and occupy you to get them. We’ll just offer them modeling contracts or screen tests like we always have. Sincerely, the U.S.A.”

    Alex: You’re nothing if not a constant source of amusement. Perhaps you would be so good as to identify the parts of the world the putative U.S. Empire is choking.

    The really funny stuff, though, is your Germany-Russia axis idea. As noted, memories are long in Eastern Europe and the motto of the Balkans also applies – “forget nothing, forgive nothing.” Russia has hated and feared Germany for pretty much as long as it has been a recognizable nation. Russia has always been Orthodox. Germany was Catholic and then it was Protestant but it has never been Orthodox. The Russians still remember the invasion of the Catholic Teutonic Knights 800 years ago. That’s why Alexander Nevsky, who stopped them, is still a Russian hero. Of course there was also that brief unpleasantness between Germany and Russia in 1941-45 in case anyone in Russia needed a refresher course in Germano-Russian enmity. The idea that only evil machinations by the imperialist Americans have prevented the rise of a Russo-German axis to challenge the U.S. is simply goofy.

    Nor is the supposed basis of this putative entente real. Germany certainly has know-how, but Russia no longer has manpower so it’s hard to see what Russia would actually bring to the fictional party. The U.S. has things to legitimately fear but Russia ganging up with Germany against us is emphatically not one of them.

    You have denied being Russian. Are you, perhaps, a Russophilic German? Perhaps an unreconstructed Ostie from the late and unlamented – except possibly by you – East Germany? I’m curious.

    Wodun: Agreed.

  • Jason Lewis

    In his book, “The Next 100 Years,” George Friedman (of Stratfor), seems to think Russia will almost certainly have another collapse, and that it will happen fairly soon (within the next 5-10 years if I remember correctly). This time, it will be a more complete collapse than before, and that that Russia itself may break apart. Friedman gives many of the reasons mentioned by Dick Eagleson.

    I also agree with Dick’s assessment of Stephen Cohen. I’ve wondered why John Batchelor uses him as his expert on Russia. Batchelor could at least let the audience know that he’s a pro-Russia commentator. For what it’s worth, Cohen is married to Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation.

  • wayne

    Dick Eagleson:
    Absolutely brilliant commentary! (We need to get you on the John Batchelor Show!)

    >Lengthy article in the WSJ today, on Russian venture-capital fleeing the Country & their Central Bank having recent difficulty selling debt into world capital markets.

  • wayne

    Jason Lewis (& Dick Eagleson):

    Thanks for the info on Cohen.
    >Did not realize to what extent he was a fellow-traveler. It explains a whole lot– “it’s all clear to me now.”

    Alex: highly suggest you check out “America through the eyes of former soviet agitprop artist Oleg Atbashian.”

  • wodun

    Whatever else might be true, the people of Crimea voted to secede.

    In a rigged election after they were invaded.

  • wodun

    But you are also correct that Russia has a lot of resources, many of them in thinly-populated Siberia.

    One of the most promising things I have seen out about Russia since the end of the USSR was the recent story about homesteading the Far East Federal District. Although, they probably need to allocate more land.

    Who knows whether or not it will happen.

    People living further away from their corrupt government could be good for Russia in the long term.

  • Laurie

    All right, it’s not my intention to insult or anger anyone, but…

    Wayne: “Thanks for the info on Cohen.”

    I see what borders on character assassination but little actual information. I’ve listened to him (Cohen), and I’m open to listen to anyone – well almost anyone. I’m not advocating any specific position, just asking that you not dismiss the argument because some don’t like what the man says.

    wodun: “In a rigged election after they were invaded.”

    If you’ve any articles/resources documenting rigging, I’d honestly like to see them. Was there coercion and manipulation? Doubtless, but the Russians don’t have a monopoly on such things. Absolutely the Russians came out in force – I didn’t like it either, but they weren’t without both Crimean advocacy and some justification. Don’t misunderstand me, both sides have made a mess.

    Lastly: “If Batchelor really thinks the Obama administration is trying to get us into a military confrontation with anyone – especially with Russia – he’s delusional. Cutting and running has been the order of the day ever since Obama took office. Their only regret is that they haven’t been able to complete the bug out in either the Mideast or Afghanistan or to turn Guantanamo back over to the Cubans.”

    Someone’s delusional. The administration is poisoning the geopolitical environment for what appear to be highly dubious objectives. Clearly the above assertion simply doesn’t match the facts. For instance, Obama campaigned on remaining in Afghanistan during the ’07 primaries, and has subsequently increased Afghan deployments more than once. The Iraq-Syria strategy seems to have been to collude with the Saudis and Turks in arming the Salafists and (yes) other extremists for the overthrow of Assad. Maybe I’m reading this all wrong, but American boots on the ground would (or so it would seem) complicate those efforts (after all, McCain knows those people and talks with them all the time). Russia has, repeatedly, interfered with ousting Assad; all the rhetoric and posturing has *everything* to do with that fact.

    Allowing the narrative to settle upon scapegoating the Russians is a very serious mistake.

    ‘Night all.

  • LocalFluff

    Russia inheritad a broken economy from the commies. They have two sectors, export of raw materials and an advanced weapons industry. One cannot find Russian consumer products in any shops and Russian cars have never been a hit. It is natural that they build upon their strong sides, unfortunately that means weapons and the corruption and international politics which come with it.

    The Russian leaderahip is only interested in making money, not war. With the US completely incompetent and irrelevant, the EU breaking up and I don’t see any conflicts with China, Russia has a very successful foreign policy. They have close cooperation with Germany which I think will develop into a military alliance when the EU and NATO disappear any year now.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Laurie: I’ve been watching Cohen and reading his stuff for 40 years. He has been an abject apologist for Soviet adventurism and, now, Russian adventurism that entire time. Much of what he’s written over the years is available on-line so you needn’t take my word about anything. There’s a non-trivial Stephen F. Cohen archive on Youtube too. What I said about him isn’t “character assassination,” it’s merely an accurate description of the man’s work.

    The administration is poisoning the geopolitical environment for what appear to be highly dubious objectives.

    I agree, though you probably have a different understanding of “poisoning” and “highly dubious objectives” than I do.

    Obama told a great many fibs during the primary campaign. At that time he favored the Afghanistan intervention and opposed Hillary Clinton’s idea of an individual health care mandate. He flip-flopped on both things, and much else, once in office.

    The precipitous, and disastrous, bug-out from Iraq is a matter of record. The results of that were so horrendous that Obama didn’t dare try it a second time in Afghanistan, though he cut troop levels there repeatedly against the advice of the field commanders in charge of operations, only reluctantly agreeing to partial reversals of those cuts when sticking to his “out by 2017” schedule caused him too much political heat.

    Obama’s Syria policy has been much too incoherent to deserve a straightforward description such as “collusion.” In the case of the Turks and Saudis, in particular, relations between both countries and the U.S. have never been worse. The Obama administration wanted to back non-salafist opponents of Assad, but found there were very few and most of those were killed off while Obama dithered and procrastinated. Doubtless the Turks and Saudis have been arming salafists as they are the only organized opposition remaining to Assad inside Syria. The salafists are no friends of either Turkey or Saudi Arabia, but they do share adherence to the Sunni branch of Islam with the leadership of those two countries and share the general Sunni view that Assad’s Alawite regime is a tool of the hated Shia – a view which happens to be true, for whatever it’s worth.

    The Russians, for their part, have been happy to set up an air base in Syria and fly missions in support of Assad because Iran also backs Assad and the Russians would dearly love to sell a pile of military hardware to the Iranians now that the latter are out from under the former sanctions regime and are flush with newly unfrozen cash. The Russians also like being seen as players.

    As for the Russian incursions and annexations in Georgia and Ukraine, these are straight out of the Adolf Hitler playbook. Hitler annexed what is now the Czech Republic using the excuse that the minority of German ethnics in the Sudetenland were being mistreated by the Czech regime. Putin asserted exactly the same excuse when grabbing two provinces in Georgia, the Crimea in Ukraine and instigating the less successful attempted land grabs in eastern Ukraine. One long-term consequence of this is that Russia’s near neighbors, particularly the Baltic states, are going to be strongly incentivized to expel their ethnic Russian populations.

    LocalFluff: Russian foreign policy is certainly more successful than U.S. foreign policy, but that’s a pretty low bar to get over ever since Obama took office. The EU may well come apart, but NATO isn’t looking nearly as shaky.

    The Russians have a commercial relationship with Germany – they sell the Germans a lot of natural gas. But a lot of Germans worry about the leverage this gives the Russians. They are right to be concerned as Russia hasn’t hesitated to use withholding of gas supplies in its dealings with other nations as “incentives” to do Russia’s bidding.

    Given that Russia faces no military threat in Europe and the only military threat Germany faces is from Russia, there seems little basis for any kind of Russo-German combine, especially a military alliance. Germany’s military is a token force these days – their participation in Afghanistan was more like adventure tourism than a military deployment – and Russia’s military is still crumbling as it has been since the Soviet collapse so it’s hard to see any mutual benefit to be had here.

    Jason Lewis: I read Friedman’s book about a year ago. I think he’s a bit off on the next Russian collapse. I’m of the opinion that it is unlikely to happen until Putin dies or – much less likely – is forcibly removed. Given his age and seeming general good health, Czar Vlad may well have as much as three more decades of running Russia in front of him. In his wake there will almost certainly be several weak pretenders, none of whom will command sufficient power to succeed Putin unopposed. The next Russian collapse could easily be a descent into civil war.

    Some of the other stuff in the book is just – weird. He thinks the Poles will try to replace imploded Russia as regional hegemon, for example. He also thinks the biggest long-term problem the U.S. will face in the Pacific is a resurgent Japan. I’d say events, even in the relatively short time since Friedman’s book was published, pretty much demolish these strange fantasies.

    I don’t think I’d bet the rent on either Stratfor or Friedman being right about very much of the actual next hundred years.

  • Cotour


    ” “There are no good guys.” ”

    From my view, America is the best of the bad. In the context of the top governments on the planet casting their power, interests and influence over the face of the earth we all as a rule get very, very dirty. At these levels morality is optional, its the ends that are important. The means are just the dirty details.

    Dick: I have many times noted Cohen’s praise for Putin, he makes him sound like a regular guy. I do not know if you are aware of the most recent information out of the State Department from Kerry’s underlings, they seem to be demanding that the U.S. attack Assad and by extension attack Russia. I would be interested in you take.

    Is this real? Is this some kind of threat / leverage being created?

  • wayne

    Reference Stephen Cohen–
    I should have been more clear, “Thanks for the info, the guy spouts commie-loving stuff all the time, I just never knew the extent of his commie & Putin-loving ways. This puts it all in perspective.”

    On an infinitely lighter note—The John Batchelor Show is now the #1 radio talk-show in NYC for the time slot, which is no easy feat.
    I enjoy his author-interviews & focus on Space tremendously, but JB is no Mark Levin, by a long shot.

  • LocalFluff

    Dick Eagleson,
    Germany and Russia are perfect complements in international trade. Germans are tired of the constantly failing EU, due to its cheating members, with its euro crises and migration crises and what failure next. If they could simply import natural gas from Russia they would have no other foreign policy problems. The EU is more anti German than it is anti Russian. Today the UK leaves the EU and next spring the fascist LePen will become president of France, in a wave of nationalism sweeping across te continent. EU is history, as is its islamically bought lakej Merkel who will be replaced next autumn.

    Your imaginations about Russias military crumbling may feel comforting, but it is imaginary, untrue. They are stronger than ever in relative and actually operable terms, and Europe weaker than ever. That is why they do what they want in Ukraine. They meet no counter force. Putin is certainly a bit dense in his head, but he is way way smarter than all european politicians. Way more. I mean, what has any EU politician achived this millenia? What? Nothing. They are all completely inept, a passive decoration just to be disregarded as meaningless. Europe has one leader today, and that is Putin. If he is confronted by LePen, well congratulations! Do you Americans want to come help us europeans from ourselves again? Or should webeg the chinese for help next time.

  • Mitch S.

    I only became aware of Cohen from Batchelor but no surprise.
    Times I laugh out loud at his Putin polishing.
    Still, he sounds good on the radio and offers the world from Russia’s window.
    That’s why he fits on Batchelor’s show. What I like about the show is Batchelor brings various guests often with conflicting views. Batchelor flatters them and makes them comfortable to reveal their true view.
    It’s left up to the audience to determine what is reality.
    Unlike NPR or the NY Times, Batchelor doesn’t seek to program his listeners, just offer thoughts to stimulate their minds.

    Problem with bringing those nations into NATO is they aren’t all stable budding democracies.
    Some are run by rough characters.
    NATO is a mutual defense org. When some of the tinpots feel secure as NATO members and decide to poke the tiger do we fight for them and risk greater war or do we back off and destroy NATO’s credibility? When do you kick someone out of NATO (has it ever been done)?
    There are other ways to support the new states and there are other ways to rebuke Russia.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Cotour: The memo from the 51 State Dept. staffers is real, but its significance is not large. These are not policy makers, they are the poor schlubs tasked with carrying out what have turned out to be contradictory and, basically, impossible policy dictates from the White House. They’ve been watching Syria melt down for five years now and they are understandably frustrated by how things have gone from bad to worse. They’d like to fix that. I sympathize with their frustration, but their solution won’t work. Being career diplomatic types, these people are all about subtlety and nuance and finely graduated responses. They think that military force is amenable to being used in this same way. It isn’t.

    That said, the web site you linked to isn’t going to tell you much useful about this memo and its actual significance. Their headline suggests that the U.S. State Dept. wants to launch a war on Syria and Russia. News flash – there’s already a war going on in Syria. Several of them, in fact. The U.S. is already fighting in one of them. These state department memo signatories want the U.S. to get involved in another of the wars in Syria. I think doing so would have different effects than what these folks seem to think it will, but what they think is barely more important in the larger scheme of things than what I think. This memo isn’t going to have any effect because Obama isn’t going to attack Assad, never mind the Russians. Assad’s an Iranian stooge and Obama’s all about keeping the Iranians happy these days.

    Far from being the work of a “neocon” cabal, this memo is simply the distilled frustrations of State Dept. careerists who find it galling to have no leverage over events. Welcome to the world almost all the rest of us live in is what I’ve got to say about that.

    “Neocon,” by the way, is simply a curse word popular in certain precincts of the fringe political fever swamps. State Dept. types are essentially all liberal Democrats. It seems unlikely that any actual neocons remain in any executive branch department given the political ethnic cleansing that the Obama administration has carried out since its earliest days. Hillary Clinton is certainly no sort of “con,” neo or otherwise, but the folks at “Era of Wisdom” seem to think she is. That ought to tell you a lot about the usefulness of their peculiar worldview right there.

    It’s difficult, in fact, to figure out exactly what this site’s take on the world is. It seems fairly syncretic. Much of what I see there seems consistent with anarcho-syndicalism, though they also have a video clip of Ron Paul up and they link to sites about the absurd “chemtrails” meme that seems to be the favored madness du jour of the tinfoil hat crowd. And they don’t like vaccines. They’re also very exercised about eugenics.

    LocalFluff: Germany and Russia are, indeed, “complements” in international trade if you take the mathematical meaning of that word. In binary, for example, ‘1’ is the complement of ‘0’ and vice-versa. Russia, as noted, exports almost nothing but natural gas and weapons. Neither of those businesses is exactly in robust good health at the moment. The Germans, on the other hand, export a great deal in great variety and quite successfully.

    It is certainly true that the structure of the EU has not been designed to advantage Germany. As I’ve already noted above, it’s designed primarily to benefit France. As the EU unravels and the Euro is abandoned, Germany should do well in the aftermath.

    As for continuing to get natural gas from Russia, Germany could do that, but the U.S. may well be able to offer a better and more reliable source. U.S. gas production is rising by leaps and bounds. Less than 5% of current U.S. production could replace what Germany buys from Russia. Obama would never countenance such a deal, but he’ll be gone soon and his successor – unless it’s Hillary – may be more amenable to reason on the subject.

    I don’t follow European politics very closely. Perhaps one of the Le Pens (father? daughter?) will win the French presidency. If so, it will be because the French established political class has failed the French rank and file as badly or worse than our own political class has failed America. Seems to be a lot of that going around lately. In Germany, I suspect you are right that Merkel will be toast come the next election. Personally, I’m hoping that Hillary Clinton is no more successful trying to sell open borders here than Merkel has been in Germany.

    As to Russia’s alleged military prowess, it’s pretty much Potemkin villages all the way down. Russia’s strength in tanks and planes is barely a tenth what it was in Soviet times. Contra your assertion, the Russians don’t do as they like in Ukraine. They’d like to annex a substantial chunk of the country. After the Crimean walkover, the Ukrainians got a lot more stubborn about yielding ground and the Russians are now bogged down in their limited salient and going nowhere fast. If the Russians could break out, they presumably would. As they haven’t, I suspect it’s because they can’t. They are meeting considerable counterforce and not, I suspect, liking it very much.

    I have no idea what a putative President Le Pen of France would be confronting Russia about. Perhaps you’d care to specify?

    As for the U.S. pulling Europe out of another mess, that’s not going to happen unless said mess involves more Russian attempts at land-grabbery. I don’t see that as too likely. The dissolution of the EU and the Eurozone will, I think, be left pretty much to the Europeans to figure out for themselves. Nobody on our side of the Atlantic is, frankly, very interested in Europe’s self-inflicted problems. We’ve got too many of our own to worry about.

    I’d be very cautious about begging any help from the Chinese. Meddle not in the affairs of dragons for they are subtle and quick to anger.

    Mitch S.: More specifics would be nice. There are, indeed, some rough characters running places bordering Russia, but I don’t think any of them are likely to be useful additions to NATO. As you say, NATO is a mutual defense organization. None of its members has any obligation to help another perform unprovoked aggression outside its borders. Any nation that did so would be left to its own fate and correctly so. I think that is sufficiently clear to preclude anyone imagining he could use NATO as a platform from which to “poke the tiger” as you say. This is a non-issue.

  • Alex

    Dick Eagleson: The concept of German-Russian alliance is not my idea. Please listen to one your own man, what he have to say about this (specifically beyond 4:00 min:

    STRATFOR: The main goal of the US-Empire is to prevent the alliance between Germany and Russia

    To all the funny guys (I call them fairy tale tellers), whose does not “believe” that USA is an empire: US may different in enforcement its power (not by massive troops installation), but it’s an empire, because it is controlling the world’s flow of money and energy to large degree. The US empire is able to suppress its political will to nearly every other country in this world and USA is doing so. USA controls the most important air, space and sea (ways) of the world, beside its about 900 military bases abroad. USA try to install its so-called “culture” all over the world, as other empires tried to do also.

  • Edward

    Dick Eagleson wrote: “It is certainly true that the structure of the EU has not been designed to advantage Germany. As I’ve already noted above, it’s designed primarily to benefit France. As the EU unravels and the Euro is abandoned, Germany should do well in the aftermath.”

    So much for the symbiotic European Union. This certainly explains the Brexit vote.

    You have tried to explained to me why you believe the US to be an empire, but you haven’t yet identified to Dick Eagleson “the parts of the world the putative U.S. Empire is choking.” If you believe it to be true, please explain, because we funny guys (fairy tale tellers) don’t see it.

    I do not see your explanation of US empire as any better than the last time you tried to be convincing. Russia controls much of the energy used in Europe, and OPEC controls the energy used in the rest of the world. Even the US still buys from OPEC countries.

    If you mean that purchasing foreign goods and services is a means of controlling the world’s flow of money, that is hardly the action of an empire. Empires *direct* trade into, from, and within their empires, they do not negotiate trade within their empire. That is one of the major complaints the American colonies had with being part of the British Empire.
    The colonies wanted to trade directly with other nations, not trade only through Britain.

    Having control of international air and seaways is not being an empire. It means that we are able to protect our own shipping. Having military bases abroad shows that we have allies with mutual protection. Even the US does not have control over space; we cannot prevent launches into space or any attacks on any space hardware. You tried, before, to tell us that the US controlled space, under a post that linked to an article telling of a Russian anti-satellite test. It seems that Russia has at least as much control over space as the US, as Russia can “shoot down” space hardware.

    The US sells movies to other countries. This is not an attempt to “install its so-called ‘culture’ all over the world,” but if you think that is what is happening, then maybe the correct answer is that other countries like the movies that the US makes. Britain, Australia, France, and India sell movies in the US, but I missed the part where you thought that those counties were empires controlling the US.

    Once again, you have confused alliance, trade, negotiation, and culture for empire.

    You gave us that video clip before, and I don’t believe it now any more than I did then. Stratfor is wrong in his assertion about Germany and Russia. Not only did we have nothing at all to do with preventing Germany from joining with Russia or the Soviet Union during WWI, WWII, or the Cold War (Russia attacked Germany in WWI, Germany broke a treaty with the Soviet Union in WWII, and the Germans were pissed off at the Soviet Union for keeping a large part of Germany as part of its empire during the Cold War), but there are other countries that can most definitely threaten the US. China is higher on the list than an empire of Russia and Germany.

    Indeed, the Russian conquest of the Crimea and their attack on the Ukraine shows that it is Russia, not the US, that yearns for empire.

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