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The Silver Lining of Thanksgiving Past

2015 November 26
by Ian Welsh

I had originally intended to write a rather cynical Thanksgiving weekend post – pointing out that the Indian tribes who helped the pilgrims in that first Thanksgiving feast made a big mistake by helping Europeans figure out how to live and prosper in the new world. Their reward, ultimately, was slavery, scalp bounties, smallpox (sometimes deliberately spread) and, in the end, genocide. But it turns out the story has an interesting twist:

The Puritans were religious radicals being driven into exile out of England. Since their story is well known, I will not repeat it here. They settled and built a colony which they called the “Plymouth Plantation”, near the ruins of a former Native village of the Pawtuxet Nation. Only one Pawtuxet had survived, a man named Squanto, who had spent time as a slave to the English. Since he understood the language and customs of the Puritans, he taught them to use the corn growing wild from the abandoned fields of the village, taught them to fish, and about the foods, herbs and fruits of this land. Squanto also negotiated a peace treaty between the Puritans and the Wampanoag Nation, a very large Native nation which totally surrounded the new Plymouth Plantation. Because of Squanto’s efforts, the Puritans enjoyed almost 15 years of peaceful harmony with the surrounding Natives, and they prospered.

At the end of their first year, the Puritans held a great feast following the harvest of their new farming efforts. The feast honored Squanto and their friends, the Wampanoags. The feast was followed by 3 days of “thanksgiving” celebrating their good fortune. This feast produced the image of the first Thanksgiving that we all grew up with as children. However, things were doomed to change.

Until approximately 1629, there were only about 300 Puritans living in widely scattered settlements around New England. As word leaked back to England about their peaceful and prosperous life, more Puritans arrived by the boatloads. As the numbers of Puritans grew, the question of ownership of the land became a major issue. The Puritans came from the belief of individual needs and prosperity, and had no concept of tribal living, or group sharing. It was clear that these heathen savages had no claim on the land because it had never been subdued, cultivated and farmed in the European manner, and there were no fences or other boundaries marked.

The land was clearly “public domain”, and there for the taking. This attitude met with great resistance from the original Puritans who held their Native benefactors in high regard. These first Puritan settlers were summarily excommunicated and expelled from the church.

I had assumed that those who had been saved, had been helped, by the natives, had turned against them. It seems that wasn’t the case.

Later on different types of Thanksgiving days occurred:

In 1641, the Dutch governor of Manhattan offered the first scalp bounty; a common practice in many European countries. This was broadened by the Puritans to include a bounty for Natives fit to be sold for slavery. The Dutch and Puritans joined forces to exterminate all Natives from New England, and village after village fell. Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, the churches of Manhattan announced a day of “thanksgiving” to celebrate victory over the heathen savages. This was the 2nd Thanksgiving. During the feasting, the hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets of Manhattan like soccer balls.

The killing took on a frenzy, with days of thanksgiving being held after each successful massacre. Even the friendly Wampanoag did not escape. Their chief was beheaded, and his head placed on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts — where it remained for 24 years. Each town held thanksgiving days to celebrate their own victories over the Natives until it became clear that there needed to be an order to these special occasions. It was George Washington who finally brought a system and a schedule to thanksgiving when he declared one day to be celebrated across the nation as Thanksgiving Day.

Pleasant, no?

I don’t generally dwell on the fact that the US and Canada are countries based on the destruction of the original inhabitants of the land. Genocide, for all that we act as if it were suddenly invented in the 20th century by the Nazis, or perhaps by the Turks, is nearly as ancient as recorded history. The Roman destruction of Carthage, perhaps the most famous genocide of ancient history, was hardly the first. Nor is modern weaponry necessary, as both Genghis Khan, who had entire cities slaughtered, and the Hutus, with their slaughter of half a million to a million Tutsis, primarily with machetes, could attest. Sharp objects don’t run out of bullets, after all.

Yet, no question, the natives would have been wiser to have never helped Europeans learn how to survive the new world, even if one can argue that in the end, the result probably would have been the same.

Still, I come back to this, the Puritans who were helped by the Indians resisted to the point of excommunication the destruction of their benefactors. Such a penalty, at the time, was the equivalent of being ostracized from their communities, other puritans were forbidden to have any civil comunication with them whatsoever, including eating with them.

This is the point in an essay where I’d normally draw a lesson, but I don’t know that I have one. What I do know, from my own personal experience is that many people aren’t even as thankful as those pilgrims – helping someone often creates resentment. And certainly one should never expect thankfulness to extend to those not directly helped, even if they indirectly benefit. But the effect of gratitude runs both ways. As a child one of the first full novels I ever read was Ernest Thomas Seton’s “Rolf In the Woods” about a white teenager effectively adopted by an Indian in early 19th century America. The Indian helps him, and then, as Seton notes, feels both kindly towards him and a sense of responsbility for the young man’s continued wellbeing.

We tend to look well upon those we’ve helped, especially if they respond with gratitude and make good use of what we’ve given, be it knowledge or material goods. Helping people makes us feel better about ourselves. Empathy, the ability to feel another’s pain, is as naturally human as is callousness, let alone the actual enjoyment of the pain of others, empathy’s dark twin. Feeling another’s pain we either wish to relieve it, or we close ourselves off to the other person. To do so requires making that person, or those people, into something other than ourselves. It’s much easier not to feel for those who aren’t like you, who are lesser, who are, indeed, nothing but uncivilized beasts or savages, little more than animals.

The Puritans who had personally been helped by, feasted with, and befriended by the Indians couldn’t do this. And the natives who had befriended the Puritans couldn’t do it either. They had been made aware that both sides were like them, were human. The Puritans felt grateful, the Indians, benevolent.

But those who came afterwards, those who benefitted from the knowledge the Indians had given, but never dealt with them as humans, they could feel superior. They could know, not that they had needed the Indians help and that it had been given, and that in exchange they were able to help the Indians by giving or trading them steel and iron goods and other advanced European items, but that the Indians were nothing but animals, who didn’t own the land and were savages fit for death.

There was no room for empathy, or for a bond of thankfulness to occur. For the reciprocity of favors and affection that leads to friendship.

And so those Indian tribes were virtually destroyed. And yet we still pretend we are thankful for what they gave, when the record shows that the only people who were thankful were a few hundred Puritans who were rewarded for their faithfulness by excommunication.

Every Thanksgiving I’ve thought of those who died, a sour smile on my face. But in Thanksgivings to come I’ll think also of those who didn’t break faith. A bitter silver lining perhaps, but I find in such things the true gold of the human spirit, untarnished even in failure.

(Originally published for the 2007 Thanksgiving.)

Examining Turkey’s Shoot Down of a Russian Jet

2015 November 24

First, the ostensible reason for this incident is the Turkmen rebels in Syria. Erdogan summoned the Russian ambassador earlier this week to warn against strikes against the Turkmen in Syria.

Second, it’s worth considering that much of this is about Turkish domestic politics. Erdogan is playing to the crowd, in the same way done by jingoistic politicians all over the world.

Then there is Putin’s statement:

This event is beyond the normal framework of fighting against terrorism. Of course our military is doing heroic work against terrorism… But the loss today is a stab in the back, carried out by the accomplices of terrorists. I can’t describe it in any other way. Our aircraft was downed over the territory of Syria, using air-to-air missile from a Turkish F-16. It fell on the Syrian territory 4km from Turkey.

We will analyse everything, and today’s tragic event will have significant consequences, including for Russia-Turkish relations. We have always treated Turkey as a friendly state. I don’t know who was interested in what happened today, certainly not us. And instead of immediately getting in contact with us, as far as we know, the Turkish side immediately turned to their partners from Nato to discuss this incident, as if we shot down their plane and not they ours.

So, Putin is saying that Turkey is the “accomplice of terrorists.” Because the preponderance of evidence is that Turkey has been keeping supply lines open for ISIS, I would tend to agree. But something being true, and something being stated by the leader of a Great Power are two different things. Putin calling Erdogan an accomplice of terrorists is a big deal.

Russia can retaliate in a number of ways, from the obvious (shooting down a Turkish jet in a “tit-for-tat”), to the brutal (cutting Turkey off from natural gas this winter) to the subtle (taking the Turkish PKK under wing and becoming their new sponsors, while providing the Turks in general with equipment such as man portable anti-air missiles and anti-tank weapons).

Bear in mind that the Turkish military is very large, with a pile of tanks. They have, however, spent their recent history mostly in anti-insurgency efforts (burning Turkish villages, rape and torture, the usual), and anti-insurgency tends to degrade militaries.  It is also an open question how much the purges of the officer corps have affected the military.

NATO and President Obama have both made supportive sounds, so Russia and Putin are likely to lump in the West with Turkey in this matter.

I feel I should point out the obvious, once more. Russia is still a nuclear armed state with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world multiple times over. A confrontation between NATO and Russia is not acceptable to anyone even remotely sane.

Finally, there is the question of whether or not the Russian jet was in Turkish airspace. The Turks claim it was (for a few seconds), the Russians claim it wasn’t. I certainly don’t know which is true.

But over-fussiness about a few seconds strikes me as absurd. The US routinely violates virtually every country in the world’s airspace. Turkey and everyone else in the region routinely violates Syrian airspace, while Russia actually has permission to be there.

I believe that countries should not violate each other’s airspace. And I would be willing to support that principle in a world where that was the practice, but it is not.

That said, the real rule of airspace is: “Can you shoot me down?” And Syria’s answer is: “No.” But Russia’s answer Russia is: “Yes,” and Russia could decide to defend Syria’s airspace from Turkey at the request of the Syrian government.

All of this is vastly complicated by geography. Turkey can close off the Black Sea from the Mediterranean any time it wants. This means that Russia’s supplies to Syria must go through either Iran and Iraq, or it must come the long way around from the Baltic Sea.

By and large, however, this entire exercise stinks of hypocrisy. The fact is that despite all the screaming and the rhetoric almost no one actually wants to defeat ISIS. Turkey definitely doesn’t want to, the US doesn’t want to because its allies like Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Israel in varying degrees support ISIS, and the West in general doesn’t want to (as with France bombing empty depots in response to the Paris attacks; sound and fury accomplishing nothing.)

Russia wants to support the Syrian government, and the first thing Russia wants to do is seal the Turkish border in order to cut off ISIS’s main supply line and source of recruits.

That is what this is really about. Turkey wants what remains of the Syrian state to collapse or to become a puppet (thus “Assad Must Go”).  The goals of the two states are in direct opposition. And Erdogan has just made it clear in how much direct opposition.

This particular incident is about ISIS only indirectly, but be clear: The only people who really want to defeat ISIS are Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, the Kurds, and Iraq. No one else of significance does.

Your deaths in Paris and elsewhere, children, whatever hypocrisy Western leaders like Hollande may spew, are acceptable collateral casualties to your masters. They will turn Europe into a police state in an attempt to root out ISIS cells (and because they wanted a police state already and this is a great excuse), but they are not actually serious about defeating ISIS.

(Addendum, Obama’s statement:

President Obama noted that it was important to ensure that Russia and Turkey continue to talk to each other, but went on to say: “This points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operation, in the sense that they are operating very close to the Turkish border and going after moderate opposition supported by Turkey and a wide range of countries.”

Anyone who says “moderation opposition” is either abysmally stupid or lying. (Again, no Western country is serious about defeating ISIS.))

(Addendum #2, Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy:

Now the General Staff is elaborating additional security measures for the Russian airbase.

First: All the activities of the attack aviation will be carried out only under cover of fighter aircraft.

Second: Air defence will be reinforced. For that purpose, the Moskva cruiser equipped with air defence system Fort analogous to the S-300 one will go to the shore zone of Latakia. Russian Defence Ministry warns that all the potentially dangerous targets will be destroyed.

Third: Contacts with Turkey will be terminated at the military level».)

Ouch. AKA, “Don’t try that again unless you want an actual fight.”)

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Turkey Shoots Down Russian Jet

2015 November 24
by Ian Welsh

Turkey claims it was in Turkish airspace, Russia claims it was in Syrian airspace.

Remember, ISIS gets a lot of its supplies and recruits through the Turkish border, which the Turks have kept open for them.  Remember also that Turkish air strikes in Syria have primarily hit Kurds fighting ISIS.

Turkey is not “anti-ISIS,” quite the contrary.

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If You Wanted to Ban Foreigners from the US to Stop Terrorist Attacks—

2015 November 19
by Ian Welsh

you should ban French and Belgian visitors.

Because, as Marcy points out, all the Paris attackers were Europeans. None of them were Syrian refugees.


Bombing, Air Power, and “Winning” in Syria

2015 November 17
by Ian Welsh

Let us speak today of what should be done if someone wanted to actually bring peace to Syria.

First: Airpower not in support of ground troops is largely, though not entirely, worthless. This has been demonstrated over and over again since, and including during, World War II. It does not significantly degrade the your opponent’s fighting ability, and disproportionately harms civilians.

So, if you want to do something even remotely productive or effective in Syria, you need ground troops.

However, foreign ground troops have not been able to bring peace to Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s safe to say that Western ground troops, while good at open field battle, are terrible at creating peace. The reason for that is too long to go into, but let’s not pretend otherwise; there is an extensive track record.

Right now, the French are bombing abandoned buildings in Raqqa (doing nothing of significance).  If they actually tried to bomb ISIS they would kill civilians, a non-productive response to ISIS killing French civilians.

So, air power must be used in support of ground troops. The other consideration, if you want to defeat ISIS, is that you have to support its enemies. This means supporting the Syrian army, Hezbollah, the Kurds, Iran, and Iraqi troops.

Notice that this is essentially the strategy Russia is pursuing.

You also can’t play both, or all sides. Being against Assad and against ISIS, and allied with Turkey, who hates the Kurds and bombs them (when the Kurds are some of the most effective people fighting ISIS) is crazy.

Make an alliance and stick with it.

The West is caught between multiple allies with different interests. The Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel all want Assad gone, for different reasons.

But Assad wasn’t executing terrorist attacks in France, was he? Nor was he bombing those nations who have supported ISIS and various al-Qaeda affiliates, the people who are sponsoring attacks in the West.

Strategic confusion is the core problem. The West wants to eat its cake and have it too. The people who are fighting ISIS are people the West mostly doesn’t want to support, the people supplying ISIS are mostly people the West regards as allies.

The West is confused. Does it want ISIS (and al-Qaeda) defeated more than it wants to be rid of Assad or not?

This is a choice which must be made. The West can’t have both.

(Nov 18: Article corrected to indicate French bombing empty facilities.)

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Do Not Ask Western Leadership to Fix Anything

2015 November 16
by Ian Welsh

Why are people calling for Western leaders to “fight terrorism”?

Global deaths from terrorism:

2002: 725

2010: 13,186

2014: 32,727

Those attacks mostly weren’t hitting the West. Now, a tiny fraction are.


Without the US arming and organizing the Afghani Mujahideen in the eighties there is no Al-Qaeda.

Without the US and British invasion of Iraq, there is no ISIS.

Understand this: Widespread global terrorism exists because of the US’s actions specifically and the West’s generally.

Let us turn now to economics. Inequality has been increasing since the 1970s. It has become worse every decade, with only minor reversals. After the financial crisis, it became so bad that more than all the productivity gains in the environment went to the top three percent.

This happened in large part due to various financial, economic, and legislative “reforms.” It was deliberate, in other words. Inequality is a result of deliberate action by US leadership.

Austerity is, likewise, the result of deliberate action by Western elites, generally. They decided to deliberately impoverish their citizens and have done so.

This is not unique to the West. India claims much economic progress, but the average number of calories eaten per capita has gone down over the last thirty years. The average Indian is worse off than they were when India was run on frankly socialist principles.

The leadership classes are chosen for their ability and desire to become leaders. If that overlaps with an ability and desire to make their society good for the majority of the population, that’s great, but in most countries right now, that’s not how or why they are selected.

These people are selected by oligarchs, for oligarchs, and their skillset is pleasing oligarchs. This is done through a system that selects candidates before they get to voters, even primary voters or the equivalent. In most cases, you do not get a choice of a leader who will put ordinary people’s interests first.

To see what happens when someone does slip through, take a look at how UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has been treated by the Press. I have never seen such libelous coverage of a political leader. One UK headline yesterday read “Corbyn and his friends must choose what side they are on” with respect to the Paris attacks.

Here is what Corbyn said, by the way:

“Today, all our thoughts and sympathy are with the people of Paris.

“What took place in the French capital yesterday was horrific and immoral.

“We stand in solidarity with the people of France – as with all victims of terror and violence.

“I have cancelled my engagements today to hold discussions on events in France with shadow cabinet colleagues and be briefed by Downing Street security officials.

“It’s vital at a time of such tragedy and outrage not to be drawn into responses which feed a cycle of violence and hatred.

“We are proud to live in a multicultural and multi-faith society, and we stand for the unity of all communities.”

This is an eminently sane, statesmanlike statement that simply says our response should not make the situation worse, but Corbyn is being vilified for it.

This sort of propaganda works, Corbyn took over the Labour leadership with negative favorability ratings, virtually unheard of. He did so because he had been endlessly smeared by the Press.

Let me blunt. Anyone who wants our leadership to “fix” terrorism has either not been paying attention, is a fool, or is a tool who knows they’ll make it worse but expects to personally benefit in some way.

This situation is similar to the Iraq war in the sense that anyone stupid and immoral enough to invade Iraq could not be expected to run the war in a way which would lead to good results.  One can make a  theoretical case that an invasion of Iraq could have worked out well, but that can’t happen in the real world because no one who would invade Iraq in the first place would be competent or just enough to actually implement improvements.

Note, however, that the Iraq war was an immense profit opportunity and that a great deal of money was funneled to the right people. Again, this is one of our leaders’ core competencies, this is what they do well.

Years ago, Stirling Newberry told me that the job of modern politicians was to wrangle the masses for oligarchs. He was right. That is what they do. They are good at manipulating enough of the population, and they are good at giving money and power to those who already have both.

They are not good at anything else, and expecting them to do anything else is insane.

You do not want Hollande, Obama, and Cameron (let alone Erdogan) trying to fix the Middle East. You do not want the people who report to them trying to do so. You do not want western militaries trying to do so.

At least not if you want a reduction, rather than an increase, in terrorism.

The first rule of holes applies. The first thing you want the leadership to do is stop digging. Other than criminal investigations, you should want them to do nothing. No military action, no legislative changes. Military action hasn’t worked, legislative changes will just be more gutting of civil liberties, and that hasn’t worked either.

This is true of virtually everything. They cannot and will not fix inequality, because their raison d’etre is to create inquality. They cannot fix the financial system or the economy because it exists as it is to increase inequality. They cannot run a war because they were not chosen for that sort of competence.

If you want to fix any problem in the West, or have the West be helpful for fixing any global problem, you need to fix the Western leadership class. That means fixing Western media, education, corporations, etc, etc. The list is long, because they have deliberately broken virtually everything to turn it into an opportunity for a very few people to become richer.

If you are British, you have a decent, honorable man who actually wants to do almost all the right things: Corbyn. Get to work supporting him, however you can. If he goes down, the political class will take it as a lesson that trying to help ordinary people is a really bad idea. (Well, they have already decided this, so work to prove them wrong.)

But, in general, you need to retake control of the system which creates leaders, you need to restructure, bypass, or break the media conglomerates (or all three), and you will need to restructure society from the ground up so that it does not produce either such corrupt leaders or the people who enable them.

This is a goddamn big job. It is far harder than dropping some bombs on the Middle East, or sending in the troops again. But it is an actual solution to a whole series of problems.

In the meantime, don’t ask your leadership to “fix” anything. That’s not what they are there for. Whenever they want to do anything, your default position should be to oppose it–unless you are 100 percent certain it’s in your interest and have done the hard, cold research and thinking to support that conclusion. Sure, sometimes you’ll be wrong, but most of the time you’ll be right, because they are not in power to make your lives better, but to enrich a small class of people and impoverish the majority.

Any knock-on effects, like terrorism, are secondary to them, and even if they had the desire to fix such problems, they cannot–they do not have the ability. They will simply make them worse, even if it was possible they were sincerely trying to do good.

If you live in the West, the great danger to your life, health, and prosperity is your leadership. It is how your society is run. This is cold, hard, and true.

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Obamacare Failures Are by Design

2015 November 15
by Ian Welsh

Look, this is not a mistake by Obama. This is how Obamacare was designed:

for many consumers, the sticker shock is coming not on the front end, when they purchase the plans, but on the back end when they get sick: sky-high deductibles that are leaving some newly insured feeling nearly as vulnerable as they were before they had coverage.

“The deductible, $3,000 a year, makes it impossible to actually go to the doctor,” said David R. Reines, 60, of Jefferson Township, N.J., a former hardware salesman with chronic knee pain. “We have insurance, but can’t afford to use it.”

Obamacare was a way of bailing out insurance companies and for providing catastrophic insurance coverage, which is meant to protect hospitals. If someone requires many thousands of dollars of care in one go, the hospital doesn’t have to eat it.

Meanwhile the high deductible, plus the relatively low percentage of premiums which the plan should be designed to pay out, are intended to keep insurance companies in business, as they were becoming less and less profitable.

In-network vs. out-of-network rules and deductibles also make the insurance hard to use in many parts of the country, and, again, this was by design.

Obamacare was never designed to make sure everyone had health care, it was designed to help insurance companies and hospitals—to get money to  people who matter.

I strongly suspect it was also intended to preempt the logical plan of simply extending Medicare to everyone. Obama went out of his way to make sure there would be no public option, as well, trading it away right at the beginning.

Obamacare is a corporate subsidy. Some ordinary people get helped, but that is a side-effect.

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Ethics and Responsibility in Relation to Paris

2015 November 14
by Ian Welsh

To say that the Paris attacks are terrible is easy. To follow the consequences of that statement is hard.

First, let us start with responsibility. Those most responsible are those who commanded the attacks take place, and those who carried them out.

This seems evident.

Let us make another statement: Absent the Iraq war, there would be no ISIS. If ISIS is responsible, then no Iraq war means no Paris attacks.

The Iraq war was an attack on a country which had not attacked the US, Britain, or any other coalition member. It did not threaten any coalition member. It did not have “WMD” in any meaningful sense of the words.

No Iraq war, no Paris attacks.

If you want to punish those responsible for the Paris attacks, on that list are George Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tony Blair, among others.

Nor can a case be made that they did something defensible which had unfortunate consequences. The crime they committed was the same one for which the Allies hung most Nazis: starting a war without caususbelli. At Nuremburg, that was held worthy of death because of all of the crimes that follow logically from war.

It’s hard to tell how many deaths the Iraq war has caused, but put it from hundreds of thousands to well over a million.

Those people are just as dead as the Parisians. Most of them were civilians.

It should be, but isn’t, an unexceptionable statement to say that the people most responsible for their deaths are the people who ordered those deaths, and the people who killed them.

“Just following orders” should be out of style as an excuse, but it isn’t.

Legitimate violence, to many, is violence sanctioned by a state. Since Bush and Blair were heads of state, their violence is legitimate.

Yet the International Criminal Court regularly tries and imprisons Africans for killing people with the power of the State.

This ethical spiral goes nowhere good. It is impossible not to conclude that what matters in violence is only who commits it. We kill civilians in large numbers. We say that our soldiers are only following orders. We are still killing large numbers of civilians in foreign countries.

We would never accept this excuse of someone who carried out the attacks in Paris, that they “were only following orders.”

There is no way to cut through this knot that does not involve an appeal to authority, that does not come down to: “We’re okay with killing people with whom we don’t identify.”

ISIS claims to be a state, and claims the right to order violence. It claims the right to kill innocents. So does the West. The history of medical sanctions or of direct attacks on civilian infrastructure like sewage does not allow the argument for “collateral” casualties to be taken seriously.

I am unable to see, on the basis of any ethics that isn’t tribal, particular, or supine to authority that the Parisian attacks are more worthy of condemnation than either similar attacks that occur regularly in the Middle East. I am also unable to see what difference it makes to the dead if they are killed by a “terrorist’s” bomb or bullet, or a bomb or bullet used by a “soldier.”

Either civilians are off limits, or civilians aren’t. Either war crimes that got Nazis hung are war crimes for everyone, including Americans and British (or French, in Libya) or the Nuremburg trials were simply victor’s “justice”; simple vengeance.

We should expect propaganda from the state. We should expect hysteria. But we should not allow our own thinking or sympathy to fall subject to it.

The Paris attacks are terrible. They are not more terrible, or less terrible than other attacks of similar sort, no matter who carries them out.

I will accord “the West” the ethical upper-hand when I see Bush, Blair, and their cronies on the dock for their crimes.

Because I will tell you this: While every life has value, and every murder is a tragedy, more murders are worse than less murders.

If we want to avoid the next Paris attack, we will try our own criminals and cease our violent meddling in the affairs of other countries.  Because, for the time being, we will not, the regularly scheduled tragedies, here and abroad, will continue.

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The Reason for the Paris Attacks

2015 November 14
by Ian Welsh

So, 128 dead so far, and over 200 injured in multiple attacks across Paris. ISIS has claimed responsibility, though nothing in their communique shows any knowledge not in the news, so it may or may not be them.

In a sense it doesn’t matter who it is. The task of any group which seeks minority support is to “heighten contradictions,” as the old Marxists used to say. You commit atrocities precisely because you want backlash against an identifiable minority. The more they are oppressed, the more they will turn to you, the less they will inform, and so on.

“Terrorists” and western Governments have become co-dependent. Many in the West want further excuses for internal repression (which is usually justified as just being against a despised minority, then spreads), and for more war.

Hollande has used language which indicates he may be about to invoke NATO Article 5. If so, he would presumably want significant Western military action where ISIS is—Iraq and Syria.

This is a potential disaster, given the Russian presence, and given that the Russian presence, in part, was to forestall a NATO “no fly zone.” With public opinion inflamed, the West may tell Russia to “step aside, or else.” What if Russia doesn’t?

Even if Russia does withdraw, welcome to another quagmire, ending in a failed state. (Yes, Syria is a failed state now, mostly, but if you think Western intervention will fix that you haven’t been paying attention.)

Let us hope sanity reigns. And let us remember that attacks of this magnitude are reasonably common in Iraq, Syria, and other failed states. To be sure, it is a tragedy. It is no more of a tragedy, nor less a tragedy, than a similar attack in Baghdad.

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Putin’s Secret Intent and How It Relates to Syria

2015 November 13
by Ian Welsh

Apparently Putin is difficult to understand:

Vladimir Putin Official Portrait

Vladimir Putin

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, created in 1949 to contain the Soviet Union, said it’s not sure what Putin is trying to achieve with either his actions in Ukraine or his weapons program.

“We cannot fully grasp Putin’s intent,” the alliance’s top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told Congress in April, according to the Defense Department’s website. “What we can do is learn from his actions, and what we see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent.”

I first studied economics back in the early eighties. The discussion of trade was perfunctory; trade was not considered particularly important to the US economy because, with the exception of oil, the US could produce pretty much everything it needed, and–just as importantly–most of what it wanted.

Modern orthodoxy maintains that trade makes one strong. This is fundamentally incorrect. Trade is necessary at times as a bootstrap up for industry, or to get things you truly cannot make yourself, but it can make you weak. The more you trade, the more vulnerable you are.

Russia is vulnerable. Putin turned Russia around by concentrating on hydrocarbon production and selling it to foreigners.

Commodity production is always a bad deal. No matter how rich it makes you, commodity prices are always boom or bust, and are always subject to technological obsolesence.

So, Russian defense spending:

Defense and the related category of national security and law enforcement now eat up 34 percent of the budget, more than double the ratio in 2010.

Putin signed documents creating what he called the “industrial battalions” program, which will give thousands of draftees the option of working in defense enterprises instead of joining the regular military.

After years of chronic funding problems for weapons makers, Russia has started to prepay for the goods and services it buys from the more than 1,300 organizations and 2.5 million people that make up the defense industry.

This is not hard to understand.

What part of Russian industry is most technologically advanced and does the world demand the most?


Russia needs to diversify what it exports. Military goods are the obvious market for which to do so. Really, there are only three sources for military goods: the West, China, and Russia.

Russia appears to have begun this strategy about 2012, before the oil price crash, the Ukraine, and so forth, but their vulnerability to oil price crashes was obvious. That the US was continuing to try to destabilize Russia’s near abroad and draw it into NATO was obvious as well.

Now, Syria.

What’s the problem with buying your weapons from the US?

Unless you’re a core US ally, the US is unreliable. If your government changes in ways the US doesn’t like, or if you are an enemy of  US core partners (Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc.), they will cut you off from parts and ammunition at the drop of a hat, as well as canceling pre-paid orders.

But: The US was able to say that they had the best equipment. No one could compete.

What is happening in Syria is a demonstration that Russia can be counted on to help its allies—meaning its customers. It is a demonstration that Russia’s new weapons, and particularly its cruise missiles and airpower, are comparable to US product, and maybe, even in the case of its most advanced fighter/bomber, better.

It is a demonstration that if you buy Russian you aren’t buying crap that US-supplied forces can roll right over any more.

The Syria issue is a trade policy issue.

That is not to deny the geopolitical element to it, there certainly is one. But most analysts are not catching that this is also economic policy in action.

Shove Russia against a wall, impose sanctions, drive down the price of oil, and of course they will reach for what else they do well, and can sell.

The failure to anticipate this, the failure to understand this at the highest possible levels of NATO, when Putin had been telegraphing his strategy for years, is a terrible indictment of our “leadership”‘s competence.

Now, add to first class armaments and reliable supplies, a proper payments and banking system with China’s aid. Add China’s industrial goods and willingness to build infrastructure, and you have a second vertical capable of supplying virtually everything the West can do, and one which doesn’t care about the internal politics outside its near-abroad.

That new world isn’t quite here yet, but it’s almost.

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