Saturday, November 11, 2017

War Clouds Gather -- track all the signs.

Today we’ll update you on the many puzzle pieces that (surely) some in our military and intel services are putting together, about our looming War With Iran. These pieces include Donald Trump's recent swerve away from confrontation with North Korea and China... along with Jared Kushner's Riyadh visit to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, followed immediately by the latter’s Saudi power putsch. 

Here I’ll lay out the implications of Vladimir Putin’s recent trip to Tehran, followed by Putin’s personal tete-a-tete today with Donald Trump, much of it beyond the reach of cameras, in a communist dictatorship next to the Gulf of Tonkin. And now the Saudis are ordering all their citizens out of Lebanon, and several other places, as well.

More on all of this below.  But first…

Are you frustrated seeing neighbors — and yourself — trapped in tired ideological rifts and fixations? I've revised my famed questionnaire to probe beneath clichés like "left-vs-right," illuminating why you feel as you do about modern issues... and why other smart humans weirdly disagree. 

Take the survey. Have your friends and crazy uncles take it! Like Socrates, I hope questions will provoke new thoughts.

== Turmoil and consolidation among our Saudi masters… while our Kremlin masters prepare for the next phase ==

Is it disturbing that Jared Kushner was in Riyadh, consulting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, just days before the latter staged a major power putsch? Or that Donald Trump’s praise of that coup was instantaneous? Is this just another example of Trumpist collusion with a foreign power who long meddled in U.S. political affairs?

Or is it about finalizing a long-planned war vs. Iran? See my earlier list of how many forces want this, from the Saudis and Trump/Breitbart to Putin and the Iranian mullahs. But like one of Glen Beck’s conspiracy corkboards, I keep finding threads to connect -- only with blatant facts, not innuendos. For example…

Not covered by the U.S. news services: Russian President Vladimir Putin, visited Tehran on November 1.  That proves nothing, but it is consistent with the scenario we’re building here, and it leads to an important test, which we’ll get to, in a moment.

First, back to that secret meeting between Jared Kushner and Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The image of an orthodox Jew dickering with the Saudi leader... might a silver lining to all this be an Arab-Israeli rapprochement? Discussions have been going on since early in the Obama Administration. Strategically, it makes sense for the Sunnis to make peace with Israel, though any deal will go nowhere without a real Palestinian solution. 

Indeed, one alternative or supplement to an Iran war would be such a peace deal, giving Trump a victory to crow about. And I'd be the first to cheer... if that's all it were.

But consider Saudi Arabia’s Great Big Purge, which toppled foremost Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men. Media reports cite him as a major investor in CitiBank and other western institutions. Alas, few mention the holding that mattered most. Long before the Russians or Chinese or gambling lords or even Wall Street meddled on behalf of the GOP, there was Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News empire could never have grown so, or survived several crises, without the reliably endless backing of Murdoch’s #1 partner — Alwaleed bin Talal. Not even Vladimir Putin played a greater role in the deliberate destruction of American political process.

Alwaleed recently made the mistake of insulting Trump, tweeting “I bailed you out twice,” but now calling DT mentally ill. Big Mistake. 

I have one knowledgable friend who claims that bin Salman is the liberalizer -- who propelled the Yemen war that's killed half a million civilians, so far but who is now ousting Wahhabbist fanatics and backers of terrorism. Another friend proclaims Alwaleed the liberal modernist! (Despite his links to Rupert Murdoch.) What seems clear is that the grandsons of ibnSaud are charming, persuasive... and dangerous... fellows.

So should we celebrate? Frankly, I don’t care about their internal power struggles.  What I fear is they are clearing the decks - eliminating all Saudi elements who might resist war.

== All God’s chillen want this ===

“They got guns; we got guns; all God’s chillen got guns!” – The Marx Brothers

When judging a conspiracy theory, one should always (1) beware of concocting a scenario you want to be true, (2) start with all the facts and see if they are consistent, and (3) be open to alternatives. And I will offer up an alternative, toward the end.

Alas, though, the facts seem compelling. No one in the media or politics seems able or willing to list the powers who will benefit from a US-Iran War. I did, in an earlier posting.  But summarizing - all the world's despots and fanatics are salivating for this:

The Saudis want the Iranian military hit, but above all seek high oil prices, which will skyrocket when the straits are closed.

The Breitbart-Fox-Trumpists have been openly slathering for war with Iran for years, and it would distract from Trump's domestic political troubles. Remember GW Bush's "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq? Expect some kind of pretext event. Perhaps finalized today, in that meeting by the shores of the Tonkin Gulf.

Some of the dumber factions in Israel want it.

...And the Iranian Mullahs, themselves! They won't be harmed by a hundred tomahawks going pippety-poppety in a few places. It will give them an excuse to crush modernists and young people all across Iran, who are the real threat to their theocratic power.  And if the Army is badly wounded, leaving the Republican Guard comparatively stronger? That's well and good, too.

Anyway, what I’ve seen no one point out is that the Tomahawks will stop the very instant that the mullahs call on Putin to step in and protect them! That is the thing our own crazy GOP warmongers never consider. Russia is right next door. They can stop such a “war” any time they like.  All it would take is positioning Russian diplomats and aid workers and observers at every likely target site.

Above all, Vladimir Putin wants a U.S.-Iran War. The resulting high oil prices will save his regime. And Russia will gain a new, Persian dependency under Kremlin "protection" -- the warm water satrapy they've always wanted, going back to the Czars. And if the Iranian military is wounded, and Iran becomes more dependent on Russian protection, all the better. (That simple fact is so blatant, I used it to get several officers to flip on this issue.)

Let’s return to that November 1, visit to Tehran by Vladimir Putin. And this is a key telltale! If Putin’s aim were to prevent war, he would have announced the Russian umbrella for Tehran now. In advance.

“We will protect our dear neighbor, Iran.”

With that declaration, the Tomahawks would be deterred. U.S. missiles simply would not fly. 

 But Putin wants a wave of U.S. Tomahawks to fly, and so do the Ayatollahs!  Just one round, going bing-bing-bing, raising oil prices and unleashing the mullahs to crush their own democrats, while doing little lasting damage. Oh, and it will let Kremlin observers measure our missiles’ parameters… 

Then Vlad steps in, announcing the umbrella, acting as peacemaker and protector while America fumes and waffles, falling back in toddler rage and impotence. 

Indeed, Iranian President Rouhani could short circuit this whole cycle and stymie the warmongers by simply announcing the Russian protection agreement. Just announce it! All these schemes would be hampered, if not foiled.

Let me couch this as a challenge. Name one way that we - our open and democratic/scientific civilization - can even conceivably benefit from an Iranian War. Name one way that despots won’t see asuch a debacle as their win-win. But especially Putin, who calls the shots in U.S. foreign policy. And who just met with President Donald Trump, with private exchanges, in communist Vietnam.

Who doesn't want a Iran war?  Not the sane/sober members of the U.S. military who would be sent to fight it. 

Others will benefit! Enemies of our civilization. But not us. 

== Vlad our impaler ==

Lest you dismiss me as a Glen Beck–Alex Jones style conspiracy nut, let me commend your attention to an important report by the Defense Intelligence Agency on the rising Russian military and its new, highly aggressive doctrines. Take this excerpt from the section on Cyber and Propaganda Warfare:

“Information confrontation,” or IPb (informatsionnoye protivoborstvo), is the Russian government’s term for conflict in the information sphere. IPb includes diplomatic, economic, military, political, cultural, social, and religious information arenas, and encompasses two measures for influence: informational-technical effect and informational-psychological effect.

 • Informational-technical effect is roughly analogous to computer network operations, including computer-network defense, attack, and exploitation.

 • Informational-psychological effect refers to attempts to change people’s behavior or beliefs in favor of Russian governmental objectives.

 IPb is designed to shape perceptions and manipulate the behavior of target audiences. Information countermeasures are activities taken in advance of an event that could be either offensive (such as activities to discredit the key communicator) or defensive (such as measures to secure Internet websites) designed to prevent an attack.

… The variety of techniques for disseminating Russian propaganda include pro-Kremlin “news” websites and TV and radio channels such as Russia Today and Sputnik News, bots and trolls on social media, search engine optimization, and paid journalists in Western and other foreign media…

Trolls. Russia employs a troll army of paid online commentators who manipulate or try to change the narrative of a given story in Russia’s favor.

Bots. Another way Russia manipulates the information space is through automated pushers of content on social media. These bots can continuously push content or imitate real life patterns

== The DIA report continues… ==

Major themes of Russian propaganda include:

The West’s liberal world order is bankrupt and should be replaced by a Eurasian neo-conservative post-liberal world order, which defends tradition, conservative values, and true liberty.

The West demonizes Russia, which is only trying to defend its interests and sovereignty and act as an indispensable nation in world affairs.

The United States is determined to interfere with and overthrow sovereign governments around the world.

Now mind you, as many on today’s Confederate right will point out, there are certain angles and degrees to which we must admit some truth to these accusations! 

The expansion of NATO, the earlier memic-meddlings funded by George Soros, that helped shatter the old USSR – and especially the way Obama and Clinton helped democracy activists in the Ukraine get free elections, ripping that nation out of the Kremlin’s orbit – plus frustration over the rise in secular individualism all over the world – these re-ignited Russian traditions of paranoia and commitment to feudal hierarchy.

Hence, I don’t call Putin evil, per se. He is a savvy warrior for the ancient human mode of governance. He cleverly arranged an anti-western alliance stretching from Ankara and Minsk and Moscow across the great steppes all the way to Manila, and now including millions of nostalgist-romantics in North America, all of them aiming at the destruction of our Great Experiment and a return to 6000 years of feudalism. 

He's quite open about it. Moreover, from Putin's perspective, there are real grievances! Take this from Vladimir Putin’s address to the Russian Federal Assembly following the referendum on annexation of Crimea, 18 March, 2014:

“The USA prefers to follow the rule of the strongest and not by the international law. They are convinced that they have been chosen and they are exceptional, that they are allowed to shape the destiny of the world, that it is only them that can be right. They act as they please. Here and there they use force against sovereign states, set up coalitions in accordance with the principle: who is not with us is against us.”

Yes. From his perspective, Obama and Hillary Clinton were very aggressive, pushing western values of liberty, democracy, freedom, individualism etc., e.g. in stealing the Ukraine from the Russian Sphere. Hence his devotion to defeating her and putting in his own puppet. Again, from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency on their open war against us via cyber and propaganda and sabotage:

“Major themes of Russian propaganda include: The West’s liberal world order is bankrupt and should be replaced by a Eurasian neo-conservative post-liberal world order, which defends tradition, conservative values, and true liberty.”

== Not the hero of this story ==

You can tell a lot by what your adversary says, in order to make himself out to be the hero. According to the Putin Doctrine:

“The West demonizes Russia, which is only trying to defend its interests and sovereignty and act as an indispensable nation in world affairs. The United States is determined to interfere with and overthrow sovereign governments around the world.”

And yes! We should squint to see how they see themselves as heroes and the injured party!  Well. Except that:

1) Their complaint boils down to growling that we have interfered in their traditional right to repress others. Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles and so on. All the former Warsaw Pact subject nations desperately wanted NATO to move in. They applied every lever to arm-twist Obama’s reluctant consent.  What Putin leaves out is that the subject peoples that we “stole” from his realm do not want a Russian boot on their necks, anymore.

To reiterate, it was never U.S. policy to expand NATO. It was invited - even demanded - by people living in desperate fear.

2) Blatantly, the U.S. could have destroyed the USSR and then Russia at any point across 70 years, especially the last 20. We… did… not. That bald fact is the overwhelming refutation of Russian reflexive paranoia. But that's not all. It's also clear that they would not have been so restrained, were the role ever reversed. Ask the Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles and so on. If the Putinists lose this struggle, they will lose only their current political model - rule by mafiosi-oligarchy - in favor of democracy. 

If they ever get the upper hand, we will lose all freedom. Possibly all our lives.

3) The system they want the world to return to – “traditionalism” and top-down command hierarchy -- was tried for 6000 years and utterly failed. Governance in every such society ranged from crappy to horrendous and progress was negligible. The Periclean-democratic experiment was spectacularly successful – if unstable – way back in 500 BCE. At its second trial run, democracy has been even more successful at delivering every single metric of human success, for 250 years in America and for all of those who followed our lead. More successful at every measure than all feudal hierarchies, across 60 centuries. All of them, combined. 

That comparison puts a steep burden of proof on Traditionalists.

4) Were he to allow his people a consistently fair and open choice, VP knows they would drift our way.

5) His use of "international law" is ironic. The one thing all despots fear is transparent application of the rule of law. Every time I am invited to speak at a Washington DC "alphabet agency," I focus on what should be the one topmost fact of international strategy: 

All our adversaries are lethally allergic to light. 

Western institutions are not; they generally improve under light. Hence, while we do still need tactical secrecy in order for our intel and military services to function, our only long-term victory condition is a world awash in vastly pervasive transparency and lawful accountability.

If/when that happens, the result can be summed up in two words.

We win.

== The fundamental refutation of Putin’s accusation ==

But the ultimate answer to Kremlin rationalizations - and to our own re-ignited Confederacy - can be found in human history. Across time, wherever there were urban and agricultural societies, there existed one of two conditions:

(1) An imperial power or “pax” enforced peace, though often at a cost of oppression.

(2) Ceaseless chaos and war between petty nations.

Past empires – Pax Romana, Pax Sinica (China), Pax Brittanica and so on – featured countless crimes by the dominant power! Crimes that fostered resentment, then hatred and finally the regime’s fall. But along the way, most people were able to get on with their lives, doing business and raising their families in peace. 

Wherever situation #2 reigned, cities burned. Brutally and often.

When it became clear that the USA was about to become the pax power for the second half of the 20th Century, some real geniuses – George Marshall, Acheson, Dulles, Truman, Eisenhower – put serious thought to doing things differently. The empire gets to set the trade rules, for example. And so, instead of the usual imperial mercantilism that cheats the periphery in favor of the capital, Marshall & co. broke with every past empire to set up a counter-mercantilist trade pattern that favored industrial production in less developed nations. The incredible result was that the US consumer has uplifted almost every nation in the world!

Our core "imperial" project has been to shout at the world: "We'll buy trillions of dollars worth of crap from you! Your factories will hum and your kids will get electricity and schooling. And you can't stop us!"

Under Pax Americana, most nations’ expenditures on defense plummeted from a historic norm of 50% of budget to 5% or less freeing up vast funds for development…. while the U.S. continued at roughly a 50% level, maintaining the pax, or peace. And please, before you howl, just ask any thoughtful European – especially in the east – whether they resent that, or feel deeply grateful. Ask the Japanese, or Koreans.

Do all empires commit crimes? Excesses and over-reactions? Abuses of power? Every single time a nation or people was tempted by great power, they did such things! We're human! There's much to atone for, e.g. in Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, and especially Southeast Asia. But still, compare to any and every other empire. The ratio of good to bad deeds was never anywhere near as high as under Pax Americana. 

Ask folks in Vietnam or Chile if they hold a grudge, or instead want to come to California, to visit or to live. Yes, there are special cases -- they shriek “Death to America” in Iran and Iraq. But for the most part, we are the least hated empire in history and even mostly liked! Find one other people who were ever tempted by imperial power, who did better. One. Find one. Just one ever.

Even one.

 Does that let us off the hook for crimes of empire? For brashly stomping around all holier than thou? No. But we are the first paramount nation to raise generations of its own kids to be self-critical. Critical of their own country, the way you are, right now! Simmering and seething at my words, eager to point out mistakes and crimes made by your own empire. 

If anything proves we are above average, it's you. Because criticism is the only known antidote to error. And we train our best and brightest to criticize.

Should we come to an era when there are no empires? When a calm and mature humanity rules itself fairly, without need for order to be imposed from above? Absolutely! That dream – portrayed in Star Trek (and undermined in StarWars) – is one that we have pushed through our national propaganda system called Hollywood. And again, you are an example. 

Only dig it, there has never been such rapid progress toward that goal, as under Pax Americana, the “empire” that dreams of an era without empires.  For 70 years, poverty has plummeted, science has skyrocketed. Per capita, there is less violence than ever (though islands of horror persist). Technologies offering abundance loom. We are learning the secrets of the brain-mind and sanity. And never before have so many cared so deeply about learning the art of planetary management and care.

If all of this is too-little, too-late, then it will be barely. And if we squeak by, to a better future, it will be because of the overall plan enacted by George Marshall and the other geniuses. And because we Americans prevailed over another recurrence of confederate madness in this phase eight of the American civil war, and came out able to lead for a few more decades, till a "pax" is no longer needed.

Look back on those accusations issued by Vladimir Putin! Notice that they are couched in terms that we taught the world. But they boil down to “under Pax Americana we don’t get to oppress others!”

Violins of pity and sorrow, Vlad.

== Yes, there are other possibilities  ==

In due diligence, let me point you to an Al Jazeera article that claims the drumbeat for an Iran War is just for show.

It’s possible!  Unlike most conspiracy theorists, (1) I have real world evidence and (2) I pray to be proved wrong! And there are agencies of our civilization who are fighting, right now, to make the insanely stupid scenario not happen.

There is a scenario I briefly alluded to, before... that also fits the facts I've listed here. Putin may have gone to Tehran to get the mullahs to agree to peace. Kushner's Riyadh visit might have been about an Arab-Israeli settlement, followed by bin Salman toppling all the hardliner's who would block it. Perhaps followed by an alliance against Hezbollah.

What a glorious victory for Trump to announce, reversing his fortunes! I mention it as an alternative hypothesis that fits many of the observed facts... but that does not fit any of the personalities of the secretive, viciously aggressive players. Nor does it satisfy any of the needs of Vladimir Putin.

Still. Never think for a moment that Putin and Murdoch and the Kochs are the only masters of today’s GOP. There’s one that’s pulled the strings for decades.

Now is the time to be wary, fellow citizens of the renaissance. Watch for that pretext. Gunboats in the Gulf of Tonkin... I mean Hormuz. Or a Reichstag Fire. Better fretfully watchful than sorry.


This article in Rolling Stone looks at some of the same events, drawing conclusions in the same general direction, but leaving out all Russian/Putin/Iranian motives. 


brian t said...

About "Death to America" talk in Iran, I have my doubts whether that is the genuine feeling among the people of Iran, as opposed to the regime in power in Iran. How much popular support do they really have? Which is not to say that a popular uprising is likely, though, even in the event of war.

Zepp Jamieson said...

I would note that Trump was very quick to congratulate Turkish president Erdoğan for his consolidation of power last year. Erdoğan is deeply antipathetic to the Kurds, and will help negate their ability to avail themselves of a power vacuum both in Iran and northern Iraq in the event of an American/Israeli attack on Iran. Most likely his reward would be a large chunk of northern Iran and/or the ability to expel the Turkish and Iraqi Kurds.

Alfred Differ said...

My suspicion regarding the Saudi visit is that the purge was pre-announced to Trump through a backchannel he would trust. It's never a good idea to surprise the hegemon with a power shift in a major area of interest to them, so letting Trump now makes some sense.

Alfred Differ said...

Historically speaking, the Kurds have been divided between the Ottomans and the Persians. This has produced a people who actually don't get along with each other much beyond their basic desire to not be dominated by anyone. If they ever get free, there is a strong chance they will divide into two or three smaller nations.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | (from last thread)

You all are very welcome to try to think several moves ahead in what might seem to be a chess game, but I play chess and know how quickly plans can flop. One MUST have a strategy in mind before arriving at the mid-game or an otherwise inferior opponent will crush you, but one must also recognize that strategies are based on loose heuristics which don’t involve looking ahead all that far. Pawn walls, connected pawns, passed pawns, and even singleton pawns dictate which strategies give the best chances, thus which pieces are worth defending and which are worth trading. Bishop pairs, connected rooks, and space ownership can quickly dominate, though, and turn one kind of game into another.

Chess is a pretty simple game, though, compared to Civilization. Chess is extremely fractal in the sense of moves altering chances of winning, but the dimensions of the problem aren’t all that large. The number of possible moves is huge, but most of them are stupid if one intends to win, thus they can be quickly eliminated. Civilization is much, much more complex. I can imagine that many THINK they are better equipped to think several moves ahead, but I don’t believe for a second that they actually are. (Me included.) What they might (unlikely, but possible) do is find a slightly better heuristic we can all use to turn a horribly complex problem into something simpler that we can at least agree to try on for size.

“Life as a chess game” is as fraught with problems as an analogy as Duncan’s “economy as an engine” is. We don’t have much choice but to apply the heuristics we know, but it is folly not to leave a lot of room for people who are willing to take risks to find better ones or point out the dangers of worse ones. We leave them that room by maintaining our own humility and respecting the virtue of Temperance. We might discover a useful truth expressed by someone with a gift that might not have been used otherwise.

presumption that the happy path is sure to work out as long as we don't allow ourselves to believe otherwise

Heh. I don’t actually believe that, but I can see how I would come across that way. There is nothing mystical about this. It’s just that I know willful action starts with desire. If I want to make the world a better place, I’m already part way toward making it happen. The next step is huge, difficult, and rare, but it NEVER happens without Want. If one wants a job, one is a step closer to finding or making one. If one wants to help someone, one is a step closer to reciprocity. If one wants to persuade an optimistic libertarian the world isn’t heading for a human utopia, well… that’s pretty easy. Utopias don’t have real humans in them because real humans Want.

Alfred Differ said...

@Jon S | Unless you believe the essential nature of humanity has changed dramatically over the past 150 years or so, you should acknowledge the results of the experiment we've already run.

The essentials of individual humans have not changed in that time frame. The way we are educating them HAS changed, though. We’ve been making a shift from teaching concrete things to more abstract knowledge. This has had an impact in that time frame.

As a result of this and the continued liberalization project of this civilization, the essentials regarding human communities HAVE changed a bit in that time frame. Therefore, I reject your suggestion that the old experiments you correctly point out continue to apply. We need to keep those old experiments in mind, but not accept them as definitive.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Wouldn't it make more sense for the Saudi Ambassador simply swing by the WH and tell them? Powerful as they are, they aren't in the position to summon a top American aide as if he were a servant.
No, the role of the administration was instigatory -- they SENT Kushner with a specific goal in mind.

LarryHart said...

@Alfred Differ,

I don't mean to give the impression that I see myself as Professor Moriarty. Just that some times, a particular pitfall seems to become likely, and I think it's a bad idea not to have thought about what to do in that situation. I thought Barack Obama could lose right up until the night he got elected in a landslide. I also thought Hillary Clinton could lose right up until she did. Not saying I'm always right by any means, but in the first case, being wrong was a good thing and didn't hurt at all.

You've mentioned that you play in the IT world, so you should know what I'm talking about. For many years, I was in 24x7 application support. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I would wake up for no particular reason and realize, "Something's wrong on the system." I would dial in from home and see that a batch job was indeed down. I'd be working on fixing the problem already by the time Batch Operations called to wake me up. I can't explain the intuitive leaps which led me to know something was wrong before I really did know it, but I've learned to trust the instinct.

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin,

While war between Saudi Arabia and Iran seems both terrifying and imminent, I do have to wonder why the master manipulators behind the scenes who know stuff aren't ramping up the price of gas. You'd think with Saudi and Iranian sources threatened at the same time, we'd be up to at least the $4.50 or so per gallon that we (in Chicago) saw back in aught 8. That I could fill my tank this morning for $2.75 must mean something.

David Brin said...

LH: "I would wake up for no particular reason and realize, "Something's wrong on the system.""

That's just our simulation having glitches. Go back to sleep, Lord Larry.

" I do have to wonder why the master manipulators behind the scenes who know stuff aren't ramping up the price of gas."

Because they are clever? They'll rake in trillions so why jump the gun for the sake of mere billions? Besides, look at futures contracts.

David Brin said...

My friend who knows Alwaleed says: "He was jailed along with the other two owners of three major broadcasters in the country. I think it was a matter of taking over the national media. Pure Putin."

Hm, well. So much for bin Salman the "reformer." Everything is consistent with the top despots having something Big on the near horizon.

Alfred Differ said...

Royals do what Royals gotta do.

I think I'm paraphrasing some old Italian guy. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@Zepp | I imagine the WH is too leaky for that in the opinion of someone planning a purge. I might be wrong, but I don't think I'd send an ambassador if I was the person about to do it.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Good point. Trump has completely alienated the entire State Department, including the ambassadors. With only a 40% occupancy rate in the ambassadorial ranks, we might not even HAVE an ambassador to KSA, let alone one loyal to Trump.

David Brin said...

A variation would be an attack just upon Hezbollah. But only Israel is nearby and equipped for it. They have no pretext. And it would need bot US and Saudi okay. e.g. a Peace Deal. And it has none of the aforementioned advantages to Putin. Or oil prices.

David Brin said...

Trump Team Begins Drafting Middle East Peace Plan

Troutwaxer said...

They're definitely up to something. I can feel it. Don't know what, of course, but your guess is pretty decent.

As I see it they can attack all the known Iranian nuclear installations w/special forces, bunker busters, even nukes if they use them "intelligently," by which I mean "away from populated areas and underground," (which describes much of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure.) Then they do whatever is necessary to kill as many Iranian physicists as possible - possibly bomb the universities, or use huge bombs on the houses/apartments of the physicists, just to make it clear that the U.S. is pissed. If they do that, they can also send a very strong message to N. Korea without any worries that Seoul will be shelled!

If I were stupid enough to invade Iran in the first place that's how I would do it. And when Trump fires Mueller, nobody will notice.

Of course, being the kind of idiots who think that there's a difference in mental acuity between Caucasians and Persians, the Trumpists will have forgotten that the Iranians have some very ugly options available, including attacking the Saudi oil extraction infrastructure and using Russian missiles on the naval ships in the Gulf.

David Brin said...

Troutwaxer hi & welcome. Alas, you are assuming this would be a military-led intervention, involving actual planning. There'd in fact just be a wave of tomahawks to hit Republican Guard speedboat bases, missile sites and maybe a nuclear lab or two. The oil ports. Let the Saudis take a few hits, then Putin plays the hero, steps in and ends it. We look like impotent fools.

Troutwaxer said...

Thanks Dr. Brin. Unfortunately, the problem with your theory is that wars have a way of getting out of hand, even when choreographed, and expecting Trump & Co. to execute as planned is... problematic at best. The question with all involved is not, "What will they do," but "what do they think they can get away with?"

Do the Iranians imagine they can get away with taking out a carrier group before Putin swoops in to "save" them?

Does Trump think he can get away with clobbering the Iranian nuclear sites and sending a message to N. Korea?

Do the Israelis want to play too? What do the Saudis imagine they can get away with?


And if you're correct about the general plan, what about the fact that they're touching it off now? This would be a climactic piece of realpolitik by any measure, and they're touching it off before Putin's puppet has been in office for a year? What does this say about anyone's assessment of Trump's staying power?

Lastly, it's important to remember that attacking/invading Iran is the SECOND piece of foolishness we're confronted with. The first piece of foolishness is the assumption that anything in the Muddled East will go as planned...

David Brin said...

Troutwaxer I agree. What made you think that I considered this plan to be smart or workable? I never said it would work well, only that all the world's despots were salivating for it.

I call them canny and conspiratorial. I do not call them smart.

David Brin said...

See the desperate efforts by Rex Tillerson and the ravaged State Dept to reduce this scenario:

Troutwaxer said...

Dr. Brin, I was arguing more with the idea that there would " a wave of tomahawks to hit Republican Guard speedboat bases, missile sites and maybe a nuclear lab or two. The oil ports."

I don't think it's that predictable. This is more like the bit about "the world's best swordsman." You and I can both proven that we can plan an attack on Iran "intelligently," (if we must attack,) but we can't figure out what a thoughtless boob will do in our place or what everyone else will do in response.*

* This resembles the Schrodinger's Coyote problem in Cartoon Physics. Using classical reasoning we can know that Wiley Coyote wants to attack the Roadrunner and will do so using a high-tech solution. But until the cartoon quanta have settled into their new state, we can't know what he will order from ACME or how the technology will fail. Substitute "Trump" for "Wiley Coyote" ... etc.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Here's the latest developments in Lebanon, presently the focus of KSA encroachments.

NoOne said...

Adding to the info in David's post: Note that the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri unexpectedly resigned on Nov 4th. In a recorded message airing on Saudi media, he criticized Iran for interfering in Arab affairs and criticized Hezbollah as well (for holding his country captive). Considering that the Saudis and Iran have been fighting a proxy war in Lebanon for the past ten years (since the Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006 in Lebanon), something is definitely up. Where I differ from David is on whether the Saudis are acting from a perception of weakness or strength. That's not clear.

Zepp Jamieson said...

A friend of mine emailed me this morning, saying,
"Trump is more like a fantastic bad guy out of a Kilgore Trout story than any other president our great nation has had. Listening to Donald Trump talk during the campaign about the supposed efficacy of torture, the wonderful inventiveness of torture, reminded us of a Kurt Vonnegut essay from 1971, “Torture and Blubber,” in which Vonnegut — who as a survivor of Dresden knew far more about what happens when you bomb the shit out of them than Donald Trump will ever understand — explained, 45 years before the advent of “President” Trump, the flaw in the man’s thinking.

Agony never made a society quit fighting, as far as I know. A society has to be captured or killed–or offered things it values. While Germany was being tortured during the Second World War, with justice, may I add, its industrial output and the determination of its people increased. Hitler, according to Albert Speer, couldn’t even be bothered with marveling at the ruins or comforting the survivors. The Biafrans were tortured simultaneously by Nigerians, Russians and British. Their children starved to death. The adults were skeletons. But they fought on. "

I replied, "Yeah. Vonnegut got it.

I was raised in post-war London, and there were still ruins and cases of scabies. The lesson I learned from that was bombing never lessens resolve, and neither do deprivation or overwhelming odds.

The US should have learned that from Vietnam. they didn't."

David Brin said...

Troutwaxer the first wave of a surprise attack often goes exactly as planned. It's what happens next...

Zepp I agree that attacks upon the civilian population seldom have the intended effect of demoralizing them and stopping war work. People dig deep and work as never before. Still, too much is made on the other side of the argument. Speer planned to quadruple war production and barely managed to keep it flat... and toward the end it utterly collapsed.

And one small raid on Cairo in 1973 ended public support for the offensive.

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

Your scenario ends with Russia giving Iran their “umbrella” without explaining of what this umbrella consists. In politico-military terms an umbrella usually refers to territorial security guaranteed by nuclear weapons so I assume you meant that Putin would announce that if Iran is attacked then Russia would defend it by nuclear means. Unfortunately you stopped there. Since the flavor these days is intrigue, duplicity, conspiracy, betrayal and generalized “Game of Thrones” behavior, I decided to take your scenario to its conclusion.

Let’s say Russia gives Iran its nuclear umbrella. If that happens then it is safe to say that the US in reaction would extend its umbrella to Saudi Arabia. This brings up an interesting scenario. We know that Russia has as official doctrine of using nuclear weapons early in a war to cause the other side to give in and that the US has been studying ways of countering this tactic by using the “tit for tat” principle. Russia has thought about using their doctrine in the Baltics but it is a little too risky. It might piss off the Germans too much and Russia doesn’t want to do that. They want to be friends with Germany after all but to test it in a region far away might be tempting for them. For the US, testing its “tit for tat” response in a region far away from Western Europe (or the US itself for that matter) might also be tempting. So we have a situation where both countries expand their respective “protective nuclear umbrellas” to Iran and to Saudi Arabia.

Now it becomes very interesting because a Saudi attack on Iran results in a Saudi oil installation being nuked which results in an Iranian oil installation being nuked in return and so forth until Russia and the US call a truce because what they were fighting for, Iran and Saudi Arabia, no long exist. The end result is that 1) Russia and the US end up the dominate oil producers in the world since oil from the Gulf is now radioactive and make out like bandits 2) The two branches of radical Islam have taken a huge hit ( radical Islam equals getting nuked ) , 3) Chinese hopes for control of their oil supply evaporates. They are screwed by the white devils once again and have to buy oil at very inflated prices, and 4) high oil prices encourage renewables and the world turns green thereby saving the planet. Everyone benefits except for the Saudis and the Iranians but in any case we don’t like them in this blog, don’t we?

David Brin said...

Deuxglass you haven't thought this out.

1) All Putin has to do is station Russian "aid workers" all over Iran and we'd risk killing Russians and enflaming Russia, after the world has already declared us the bully. Even if the US kept attacking, every pop would raise oil prices, delighting Putin and making him able to afford massive aid to Iran, locking them into his embrace.

2) You forget, Putin has a puppet in the White House. If he wants DT to suddenly back down, he figures he can get that.

He might not! DT is unstable, mercurial, childish, emotional... the whole scenario could collapse into flames. But for now, this would look like an utter win-win-win-win for Putin.

Deuxglass said...

I think the Iranian Mullahs would remember to beware of Greeks bringing gifts and that Putin or the US for that matter are there for their own reasons and that those reasons do not necessarily benefit Iran or Saudi Arabia.

The search for a warm water port by Russia is weird in this day and age. As far as I know Russia has no problem exporting and importing whatever it wants without a warm water port and if it needed one, why would one in the Persian Gulf be useful in any way? It can be blockaded as easily as any other port in Russia. It is an idea from the 19 Century and has no relevance now.

Troutwaxer said...

Dr. Brin, I think we're mostly in agreement. By the way, the most interesting word in the post is the second word.

To everyone, I think Dr. Brin is on to something. This is worth amplifying if you've got a place you can use for the purpose.

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

Stationing fake aide workers no longer works and hasn't worked for a long time. We bombed the Hell out of the Caliphate and didn't worry too much about the women and children underneath. It is just like in WW II. If you try to use civilians as human shields then they will be killed. If the Russians put in their fake workers then the fault would be on them. It would not deter any of the actors especially if they feel that their country was under an Existential menace.

Secondly you assume that trump is a Russian agent and that he would jump to do Putin's bidding and you are entitled to your opinion. I for one am not impressed by Putin at all. In the important things he has really fucked up notably in the Ukraine. Can you imagine how he turned a country of 45 million who are the closest to Russian in shared history, similar language and institutions into a mortal enemy? Russia without the Ukraine is permanently handicapped and Putin managed to do it. NATO was an alliance without mission until Putin started rattling his saber. Now NATO's spending has shot up and Sweden and Finland are effectively members now. Way to go Putin! And for the FSB's antics what we see is all Western governments countering its propaganda. We are on to their game now. He has a long list of failures and I hope he continues. He reminds me of Napoleon III of France who at the time was considered to be a genius in foreign relations. The British called him the "the Sphinx of the Tuileries" because he was impenetrable. I am sure they thought he played chess too and rode horses bare-chested. It only became apparent later on that he had no clue, no plan and had no idea what to do. I hope Putin stays in power a long time. He is just wasting Russia's declining resources and that is to our advantage.

matthew said...

Deuxglass - Russia cannot project power without a warm-weather port. In order to threaten American hegemony Russia needs a navy to project power or else they must stay constantly defensive. Russia can launch bombs across the world to a degree but they cannot move troops or material off of their continent(s). As long as their navy is hobbled, they remain a regional or existential threat only.

Deuxglass said...


Do you think a port on the Persian Gulf would suddenly make Russia a naval power? They don't have the money to build decent navy to begin with let alone pay for the long logistics arm to support military operations from Iran. It would be a white elephant and easily neutralized in time war just like the German East African colonies were in WW I.

David Brin said...

Bah, you guys don't get it. The chief objectives of Putin in all this are:

1- oil prices
2-Making the west look inept and stupid
3- oil prices
4- consolidating his position as the leader of all non-democratic nations
5- oli prices
6- intel on US missiles and other systems
7- oil prices
8- shattering western alliances
9- oil prices

10 - wrecking American and western morale.

oh... and higher oil prices.

Treebeard said...

No order imposed from above in Star Trek? As I recall, Starfleet was essentially a centralized dictatorship trying to expand its Pax across the galaxy. It was a great metaphor for mid-20th century Pax Americana imperial liberalism; the moral of every episode being that a benighted universe awaits our blessings, we being the goodest guys in a universe full of Putin-type Romuland and Klingon baddies. Apparently even the god-like races are morally inferior to us in this 'verse. Hilarious, fantastical stuff, except when nutty fanatics try to apply it here on Earth and consider it some kind of blueprint for the future.

matthew said...

The warm water port is a necessary precondition for building a blue water navy. With the oil price raise that our host points out building such a thing becomes possible.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"1) All Putin has to do is station Russian "aid workers" all over Iran and we'd risk killing Russians and enflaming Russia, after the world has already declared us the bully. Even if the US kept attacking, every pop would raise oil prices, delighting Putin and making him able to afford massive aid to Iran, locking them into his embrace."

Russia and Iran do have a pact. I don't know if it's a mutual defence pact, but it's certainly a mutual aid pact. Implementing it would give Putin almost direct control over Iran, long a Russian dream.

Plus all the reasons you subsequently mentioned. Did you include "oil prices"?

Ahcuah said...

And now I see (today's NY Times) that Rex Tillerson wants to offer inducements for lower level diplomats to retire. Just when we really, really are going to need them and their expertise, they'll be gone. (Just another battle in the war on expertise.)

Alfred Differ said...

Lots of groups have dreamed of controlling the Persians. Only one empire ever did, though.

It takes a lot more than aid workers and gets to David's point (elsewhere) about the Mullahs. They aren't thinking about 'Iran'. They are thinking about their identity group and they are just one of many in Iran.

David Brin said...

Bob Neinast, do you have a link re Tillerson?


Alas, our loony ent never shows any perspective at all. Notice what he does… that almost all confeds do. His attacks upon liberal, future-oriented, scientific, egalitarian, individualistic, non-prejudiced, open, minimally coercive and accountable/diverse society is to accuse liberals etc of NOT living up to those standards.

Of course we don’t live up to them as well as we want, or should. And an essential element of our world view is self criticism — it’s what has enabled us to keep getting better at all of those things. Indeed, when George Marshal, Truman and the others saw we were about to become the world’s pax empire, they studied and critiqued all past top nations and designed the world order to avoid such a long list of mistakes. (Example: setting up a counter-mercantilist trade system that uplifted 5 billion people out of poverty.)

Hence, notice the trick. Blatantly we live by those standards… liberal, future-oriented, scientific, minimally coercive, egalitarian, individualistic, non-prejudiced, open and accountable/diversity… vastly better than any other society. Better than all of their best aspects combined! But being self-critical, we will nod when we are told that we don’t!

And of course that hurst. Hence, though the Federation of Star Trek goes on and on - ad nauseam, sometimes — preaching for liberal, future-oriented, scientific, egalitarian, individualistic, non-prejudiced, open minimally coercive and accountable/diverse ways, Treebeard actually thinks he can get away with proclaiming: “They’re the OPPOSITE of all that!”

Har. That trick may work elsewhere bark-skin man, but not here, and not in an increasing amount of places. We’re realizing that imbeciles yelling “You’re the OPPOSITE of everything that you ARE!” is actually the reflexive yowling of morons.

Catfish N. Cod said...

How Corporations and the Wealthy Avoid Taxes (and How to Stop Them)

The Helvetian Inquiry continues. As predicted in EARTH, more and more questions are being raised about tax havens and offshoring of funds... motivated in part by how blatantly the would-be world nobility is using them for the payoffs to minions. (Manafort got his pay through a Cyprus bank also used for tax shelter purposes, for instance.)

Of course, it could be that the DEEP conspiracy is selling out the rest of the rich.... *do de do do, do de do do....*
The Ent apparently never saw the episodes in which the black-ops intelligence branch of Starfleet, Section 31, actually did try to set up a dictatorship. And Starfleet officers, once they discovered the deception, resisted lt as you'd expect liberal-democrats to do. As Quark observed, Hoo-Mans are still quite capable of
Savagery even in the Trekverse; they've just built a society where they don't *need* to be.

Russian warm water port quests have always had certain geographic targets out of necessity:

1) Subversion or control of Turkey to give control of the Dardanelles -- the strategic imperative behind the supposedly religious quest for Constantinople;

2) Influence in the Mideast from Iraq all the way to Pakistan, and including Iran and all the 'stans;

3) Confounding naval powers in Europe that could threaten the Baltic and Black Seas.

Today we have a fourth strategic plan:

4) Encourage enough global warming that Archangelsk and St. Petersburg become all-round warm-weather ports.

That 4) is insane is obvious -- the world would be too destabilized by then -- but that's won't stop Putin.

As for KSA, I expect an attempt at a pan-Sunni alliance with tacit Israeli support. We'll see how successful that is, especially with KSA's new boy wonder demonstrating the Saudi incompetence in Yemen.

Tony Fisk said...

David's put down of TB shows his argument to be yet another example of how projection works.

Trekkieverse is a vision, not a mirror.

Ahcuah said...

State Department to Offer Buyouts in Effort to Cut Staff

Alfred Differ said...

The only warm water port(s) that make geopolitical sense for Russia are those on the Sea of Marmara. Good luck with that.

Iran is a mountainous bridge. Support of a Russian fleet in the Persian Gulf would be prohibitively expensive. If someone else took on the costs, though, and had just enough asset to be a serious pest to oil shipments, THAT would make sense to support.

@matthew | The warm water port is a necessary precondition for building a blue water navy. With the oil price raise that our host points out building such a thing becomes possible.

If that is what Putin wants to try, I'd just smile and make market bets for another Russian bankruptcy. The US Navy is really, really huge. Add up all the other nations and you don't catch up to us. It makes no sense for Russia to try to compete with us that way because they won't do any better than they did last time.

Nah. Putin would be better off just making our lives hellish while he pockets a bunch of cash to fund destabilization efforts along their border where we pushed forward in the 90's.

Catfish N. Cod said...

The logistics problems of warm water ports for Russia are of the same general type as all of Russia's logistics problems: too damn much land, both in physical distance and in traversal difficulty.

There is a great STRATFOR geostrategic analysis that lays this out, but it has been appreciated since Mahan. Most of Russia is very wide and very flat; there are few natural borders and yet the rivers are not well suited for water transport. Result: logistics are relatively expensive, yet absolutely necessary as there's nothing to stabilize faction borders. Hence the Russian paranoia against chaos. It's not fear of *external* chaos that generates their anxiety. It's *internal* chaos, the fear that anything other than a unifying empire will lead to civil wars of indefinite duration. China has the same dynamic but not as thoroughly; there are hills and major rivers breaking up the huge China Plain. North America is saved from this dread fate by the domination of the Mississippi River and Great Lakes systems, which provide cheap transport and choke points for strategic control.

Since Russia has to be obsessed with land transport anyway to survive, the issues with transport to distant warm water ports are par for the course -- even despite *knowing* how much better water transport is.

That said, Putin would be pleased as punch for global warming to solve his warm-water port problems.... but the amount needed for Archangelsk to melt would upend the whole rest of the planet too much. So he's stuck with the old puzzles of breaking out of the Baltic or the Black Seas.

And remember that Russia doesn't have to "rule the waves" as Britain did and the US does. The issue is trade, and more specifically, trade costs and blockades. The Kattegat and Dardanelles are too easily blocked, and Russia can't throw capital at the problem the way China is doing with artificial islands and "One Belt, One Road." Hence the sneakiness. A unified Europe can block cheap Russian trade whenever they choose, and China will eventually dominate the Silk Road corridors again.

Note, though, that Russia has another reason to encourage continuing Mideast chaos beyond oil prices and the Great Game. As long as holy wars are attracting bombers to the Mideast and the West for interfering, they are *not* bombing Moscow or Grozny.

drf5n said...

Dr. Brin, Have you seen It is a russian twitter-bot tracking site. It seems like the sites like pushing stories that fuel the outrage instinct you speak of.

Alfred Differ said...

@Catfish | I was an avid reader of those geopolitical descriptions of particular nations at Stratfor. China is effectively an island. Russia is effectively cyclic. Anyone wanting to tangle with Iran REALLY should read the Stratfor description of them because it would be very easy to misunderstand their geopolitical imperitives. 8)

Russia does have one set of rivers that flow the right way and could be useful IF they owned the Sea of Marmara. If they could do that, however, they’d suddenly have the imperatives the Ottomans had along with Russia’s need for depth in Northern Europe. That is an interesting/challenging mix in any simulation war game I’ve ever played.

Russia IS a land power. All they really have to do is dominate Northern Europe and then hold along a Carpathian and Caucuses border. No one is coming from the east in the near future. It’s easy to describe, but terribly expensive, thus the need for higher oil prices. So, I don’t think much of concerns about Russia getting Iran under their umbrella for naval purposes. It makes more sense from a crude oil futures market perspective.

Speaking of which, I don’t see any war expectations priced into crude oil futures in the next year. Anyone who believes the scenario laid out by our host could certainly take a financial position to prove their conviction. 8)

LarryHart said...

Jim Wright's latest covers "Starship Troopers" :

I met a man who despised me.

He called me fascist, murderer, and a dumb blunt tool.

I didn’t take it personally – though a younger me might have.

I didn’t meet him in the flesh, like most of my social interactions these days I encountered him online. He surfaced on a well known author’s Facebook page during a conversation regarding a certain well known classic science fiction novel.

The novel was, of course, Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

But really it doesn’t matter which author or what novel or exactly where the conversation took place. The conversation and the novel which inspired it aren’t relevant to this essay, other than as a starting point. Suffice it to say the novel and the reputation of its author is such that fully six decades after it was written it still has the unerring ability to generate violent conflict and powerful emotions. Mention it in any conversation about government and/or military service and the sparks will fly.

It’s one of those books you either love or hate.

Not sure if the "famous author's blog" was this one, although I think I'd have noticed if it was.

David Brin said...

Putin's goals go far, far beyond "warm water ports." He knows that his alliance must untterly destroy the Western Enlightenment, much as oligarchy destroyed the Periclean enlightenment in Athens. If it isn't done NOW, the blatant effects will be

- locked in English as the world language, with all its embedded assumptions, which include...

- individualism,appreciation of eccentricity and suspicion of authority,

- increasing application internationally of the rule of law,

- democratic processes that limit the power and terms in office of even successful demagogues, and above-all

- transparency, the light that is lethal to tyrants and all hope of re-establishing traditionalist feudalism.

What use is an Iranian fresh water port if those things prevail? We must be destroyed.

Laurence said...

If Trump really wanted war with Iran, he's got the perfect excuse already. An Iranian vasal (Iraq) has just attacked America's allies in Kurdestan, effectively giving Iran two puppet states - Iraq and Syria. Trump's response? "we're not taking sides". Of course if war breaks out between Iran and Saudi Arabia America may well get drawn in, but there doesn't seem to be a grand conspiracy to do anything in Washington, there's just chaos as a bunch of cynical careerists vie for the favour of an overgrown bratty todler.

The main one to watch in the middle east is Al Nusra - essentially ISIS with brains. While ISIS tried to implement their programme imediatly, and attacked every rivial in the region at once, Al Nusra have been playing a long game, forging temporary alliances, building up their strength, keeping their more radical positions on the back burner until the time is right. This is the strategy pursued by Pol Pot, and with a dissafected Sunni ppulation already suffering from anti ISIS reprisals carried out by the Iraqi government, there's likely to be a goundswell of potential support for Al Nusra in the near future.

Alfred Differ said...

Yah. It is way too late to contest us for the oceans. Littoral waters can be challenged, but Russia has little need for that and we gain little pushing them that way.

locked in English as the world language

That ship has sailed too. The biggest bloc of English speakers live in China. Ain't THAT an historical irony? 8)

The only way for the Russian oligarchy to destroy us is if we help them.

What? Really? (Reaching for my blue kepi again. )

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

Putin does have a problem getting oil prices up and he has tried about everything and until now nothing has worked so why not fomenting a war that would close the Hormuz Straight but a spike in prices would not do much good. Russia needs prices that stay high for a long time and for that it needs the Straight to be closed for a long time but who would that hurt the most? Iran’s exports would fall to zero while Saudi could still export a good amount through the Red Sea. That situation would last only as long as it would take for US forces to open it again which they would. There are many more oil consuming nations than oil producing ones and that the consumers have much more arms than the producers. Prices would spike up and then collapse back as they did in 1990-1991. The loser would be Iran and they know it and they know that Russia cannot protect them. Russia just doesn’t have the means. Now Russia could encourage Saudi Arabia to attack Iran but the truth is that the war cannot go too far because they do not share a land border. The war would just be Saudis shooting down what is left of Iran’s air force and Iran sending missiles to blow up parts of Saudi. It would be a stalemate. If the US comes in then Iran would just hunker down and wait. Neither side can give the other a knockout blow and they are aware of that. Both sides are also well aware that outsiders would reap the benefit from the war and would love to see it happen. They are not fools. Incidents will happen but war will not break out and Putin can’t do anything about it. The Saudis have started to understand that oil is a declining resource and are trying to adapt. Putin has not yet understood that and still believes he can KGB his way to higher oil prices. The Russians are not 10 feet tall and all covered with hair. The FSB and the KGB before it have been failing miserably for decades now. Russia is a second rate state with nuclear weapons. Pretty soon we will see South Korea and Japan going nuclear and then Russia will be just another also ran.

LarryHart said...

For some comic relief, I love that even Newsweek titles are getting snarky now:

Doomsday Conspiracy Theory: David Meade Reschedules Apocalypse for October After World Didn't End

David Brin said...

Deuxglass: that is why Putin needs more than a straits closure but US Tomahawks to his Iranian oil export wharves.

"The loser would be Iran and they know it and they know that Russia cannot protect them..."

Wrong. Oh sure, the scenario sees Iranian oil production crashed by Tomahawks for a year or more, with Russian companies contracted to rebuild them. But the mullahs get to crush their modernists and that is worth a couple of years' oil pain.

Russia CAN deter anything more than a wave of tomahawks. They already did it in Syria.

Finally, I did not claim Putin's plan would succeed! Only that it all looks like a win-win-win at all levels to his malignant cabal of tyrants. Did I ever say they governed well? Show me where I ever said that? Their current overconfidence endangers us all.

Alfed: "The biggest bloc of English speakers live in China. Ain't THAT an historical irony? 8)"

You need people who THINK using English language assumptions. Or it's not locked in.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@David: Notably, he doesn't have to destroy the United States or any European nation physically. He just has to corrupt them away from Enlightenment. This is driven not by his external concerns (what I have been talking about on this thread up to now) but his internal ones. Russia is uniquely dependent on its cities, and Moscow above all, due to its need to tightly centralize and organize logistics.

The Color Revolutions absolutely terrified Putin. Seeing Yanukovych fall next door in Ukraine (which includes Russophone "New Russia") -- despite having a pet American, Manafort, in place to give advice -- was the last straw. He fixated on Hillary because, like all Russian autocrats, he fundamentally can't really believe in his heart of hearts that a political movement doesn't have to be under hierarchical central control. He took out Hillary, but that won't save him.

Nonetheless he knows enough that he has a pan-Western strategy. A nationalist-fascist Poland may still resist Russia physically, but it won't seduce his capital out from under him. Large numbers of Russians will never want desperately to be Poles in the same way that Americans will never desperately want to be Brazilians. But Russians could want to be free, to be part of the pan-European project, to become the great-power node in the vast world-governance project that GHWB and WJC hoped in the early '90s -- to become a Quadrilateral. Didn't happen then. Doesn't mean it can't.

Remember, Putin doesn't do this out of strength. He does it out of weakness. All those conservative peasants out in the hinterlands who support Church and Tradition won't be enough help if the bourgeois get enough resources together and can command or neutralize the military. It's why he smashes any oligarch that shows the slightest hint of independent thought: they could be the nucleus, just as Yeltsin was the nucleus that aborted the coup against Gorbachev (who was no angel, but who didn't deserve what happened to him).

So Putin turns to the elements that have always served the Kremlin well: spies and lies.

English is the dominant language now, but it still might fall to second-tier if it can be dislodged before India fully matures into a Great Power. Once that happens, it's hopeless. And it's not to try to spread Russian ideas in its place. Knowing English is the key to reading literature in English, including all the great philosophies of freedom... some of which are also available in Spanish, French, and German, but none as completely as English. To Putin, the Arabs, Chinese, and the other peoples of Asia must not get in the habit of reading English!

If the Chinese can be levered into the hegemony, the other parts of international governance can be finessed or at least neutralized long enough for feudalism to sprout again. There's time on that front. But the creeping approach of liberalism has to be killed NOW, or Russian autocracy is doomed.

And if you listen to Putin, THAT is his obsession. Trade and warm water ports and such are just the physical means to support his efforts.

David Brin said...

Catfish... very cogent. In my more paranoid fantasies, Putin has already sold much of Siberia to China.

Alfred Differ said...

Okay. I get the point of having to think in English to make it really work, but I think there is an intermediate step that has already happened meaning the ship has already sailed. One can live the great philosophies of freedom without reading them and still get it. De Toqueville pointed out how disinclined Americans were to read the philosophy that underpinned what we believed way back when. I don't think that has changed even though our beliefs have drifted.

Thinking in English isn't a sure bet for our Enlightenment civilization to prosper. Some people are inclined to miss the point and think our documents are too damn sacred. The urge toward traditionalism can and DOES dominate even when they read them and think they understand them. We LIKE making things sacred. Ugh. I think one has to look deeper than our spoken languages to see the real danger to the old order, though.

My mother tried to get me to understand some of this when I was a kid. She tried to get me to understand a science fiction novel that struck a chord with her, but I was way too young and shallow. No doubt someone here can name it, but all I remember is one character grew up with a language that didn't have a first person personal pronoun. Obviously, he saw the world different and the story followed that idea. I couldn't imagine it (obviously), so this here kid just got confused.

Many, many years later I came back to the idea watching James Burke in the last episode of The Day The Universe Changed. He was looking at two human approaches to change, namely East and West. 'The West' traced back to certain Greeks and we expect Change. Our traditions are built around this expectation. 'The East' traced back along another path that didn't see the Universe as changing. They had the answers they needed. The episode focused upon the potential for tolerance in our coming technology revolution. He advocated for it by waving a little microchip at us near the end, but he also pointed out that EVERYTHING could blow wide open. Fast forward to the early 21 century and it is pretty easy to see what happened. The East is changing and coming to grips with the need for it.

That means we've already won. They are already living the underlying needs whether they've read Enlightenment philosophy or not.

It's not the spoken language that drives this. It is our ability to see and talk to each other. We dance like successful honeybees. See? I'm rich enough to spend my time worrying about climate change instead of whether my baby is going to die of malnutrition. See? I just thought up a way that might make me richer and no one is stopping me from having a go of it. See? Yes? I'd be happy to tell you about it if you help me have a go at it.

English helps. First person, personal pronouns help. Enlightenment concepts help. It's the honeybee dance that does it, though.

duncan cairncross said...

"one character grew up with a language that didn't have a first person personal pronoun"

Samuel Delany - Babel 17

Well worth a read

sartar said...

There is a way to spread ideas – teach the intellectual elites of those countries by having them study in your universities. The USA used to do so, but its profit-based education system (the real one, not the public-founded faux one) has been aiming for exclusivity for too long to be inclusive enough.

Offering affordable study environments to people from all over the world would be a shrewd move. Unfortunately, this clashes with the War for Stupidity (aka War Against Science) favored by the oligarchs.

On a visit to North Cyprus – a state unrecognized by any other but its Turkish “protector” has taken steps to build up an international university for students from muslimic countries in a mostly laicist and fairly modern environment in an islamic state. The networks they are building there might get them enough influential people in those countries to receive diplomatic recognition some time in the future.

Being a former British colony, North Cyprus universities teach in English. A point for the West?

If there is substance to liberal values being inherent in English language (a plot device used in 1984 and in the Uplift novels), I wonder how prevalent it is. 1984 didn’t so much praise English as a language carrying those values but showed how a degradation of that language could lead to an inability to express opposition in a cogent way. (I wonder whether there are experiments on social networks attempting to alter youth language in such ways, using echo rooms and payload-spreading bots.)
In the Uplift novels the ability to express contradicting or vague facts and instructions in English was named as one of the strengths of the Earthers.

It is perfectly possible to teach English with a selection of English language literature de-emphasizing those values – that didn’t happen to me, though. As a non-native speaker of English, I have been fed literature which encourages the western mindset early on in the school-taught literature (and quite little of that), most prominently Orwell’s Animal Farm. I had to catch up reading the classics out of my own initiative and according to my preferences, which spared me from over-analyzing poems which need hard introductions into the frame of society, then prevalent and then modern thinking, and an introduction into the universe of parables used in them. (Bullfinch’s mythology, or a wikipedia version thereof, is required to decode throwaway Greek names...)

From my ten days of exposure to the English public school system (with Twelth Night being the subject of the English lessons) I got the impression that teaching methods and choice of classics taught in class were not that different from what I got exposed to in German back home.

David Brin said...

Alfred see a summary of “Anthem” by Ayn Rand….

Paul SB said...

This little discussion could use some linguistic wisdom. I only had a couple classes in linguistics and a long time ago, back when there were still glaciers in the LA region, but I do remember the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, and something of its nuances.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is the theory that an individual's thoughts and actions are determined by the language or languages that individual speaks.


There is a "hard" deterministic version of this and a "soft" more sensical version, akin tot he Strong and Weak Anthropic Principles, where the Strong version is an epistemological exaggeration. In the linguistic case the "hard" version is just another supposedly scientific justification for ethnocentrism. It's not that people who speak a different language cannot understand the ideas of people who were raised with a different language, but it can take some creative translation to get there. It's really more about subtlety and shades of meaning that don't translate well. English is no better or worse a language for comprehending the values of the Enlightenment - don't forget its originator was French, though he did speak English and lived in England for several years. What makes English a little different is that it simply has more words than most languages, that make it easier to convey subtle meanings. You would think that if the 'hard" version of Sapir/Whorf were reasonable, there would be no sexism among the Chinese, since they have and frequently use a genderless pronoun. In English we either assume everyone who matters is male and say /he/ or we have to get more elaborate and say /he or she/ or some such. But sexism is quite engrained in Chinese culture, no less than any other state-level culture.

It's interesting to read Alfred making a structural argument after he has gone so totally superstructural (vis. McCloskey) on the nature of the economy. He is right in this case. What anthropologists call "lived experience" often does much more to shape our beliefs and behaviors than the things we claim to believe. A great example of that is the strong anti-birth control sentiments among Catholics. The very first nation on Earth to reduce their population growth to zero was Italy, a 99.something-or-other% Catholic country. Since the average woman can bear around 30 kids over her reproductive lifespan, it's pretty obvious that absolutely everyone practices worth control in some form (who do you know has 30 kids?), but people will go so far as to kill for a belief that they don't actually follow.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Alfred see a summary of “Anthem” by Ayn Rand….

I was hoping that wasn't the book he was talking about. Thankfully, it probably isn't.

Tacitus said...

War with Iran? Of course it is a possibility, and a nasty, loathsome one at that. Lets hope not. But a bit of perspective. David, you made a similar prediction a decade or so back when W was sending task forces to the Persian gulf region. You were wrong then. You, I and all sane sapients hope you go 0 - 2 on this prediction.

BTW, I am re-reading Startide Rising for the first time in....well, not sure how long, a generation I guess. It was - no, it is - a very well told tale.

It makes a good metaphor for the times we find ourselves in. Planet bound but with some resources to look around us we see odd flashes in the sky and get garbled transmissions from the epic battles going on somewhere outside our awareness. Something is happening. It will end somehow, perhaps well, perhaps badly. We have to be careful and clever to make things end better or at least to not end in disaster.

As the spinner of this parable of course you could pull all the strings, create all the narratives, understand all the players who were after all simply little shards of your imaginative powers. You knew exactly what the Gubru and Soro were up to. Perhaps this assumed mantle of omniscience - which you wear well as a writer - bleeds over into your bedrock certainty as to what our current GOPru and Soros are really doing behind the scenes.

Watching the flashes in the sky.

Tim Wolter/Tacitus

Zepp Jamieson said...

Paul SB wrote: "The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is the theory that an individual's thoughts and actions are determined by the language or languages that individual speaks."

I would say "influenced" rather than "determined." Islam mandates a single language in order to create a more homogenous mindset, but the Islamic world has just as many schisms, dichotomies and cultural rifts as does the Western world.

And of course there's the old joke: The French are a bunch of socialists who hate capitalism because they have no word for 'entrepreneur'.

Darrell E said...

Yeah, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis specifically, and linguistic determinism more generally, has been very thoroughly shown to be wrong, starting pretty much right after it was first proposed. It is taken as given now in cognitive sciences and linguistics that people do not think in the language that they speak. Can language affect peoples' thoughts? Surely it can. But does language structure peoples' thoughts and limit or constrain what thoughts they are capable of? A lot of very solid evidence emphatically shows the answer to that to be NO.

Will sharing the English language with other cultures enable them to be able to think like Americans? Perhaps in some indirect way, but not because it enables them to literally think in ways they were not able to before. Other people have other values because of customs and culture, and learned behavior. The way to share values is by sharing your culture. That's what makes the internet so dangerous to some countries' leaders. Google could translate all of the US and other Western stuff on the internet to the native readers' language and it would have the same effects as if they learned English and read / listened to the stuff in the native English.

raito said...

Darrell E,

Sharing culture? Why do you hate diversity? :)

But seriously, it's why I'm a melting-pot guy, not a diversity guy.

An indirect side benefit of the melting pot is that cultural appropriation becomes an impossibility.

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, I think you will enjoy this video in which a former co-founder of the Evangelical Movement goes to town against the Dominists. It's around 9 minutes but well worth watching and best of all? Was a news program. And you know something? After hearing that I have to say I feel slightly better because it's nice to see word about what these assholes want getting out there in multiple media platforms.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Tim W have you read my riffs about the "self-preventing prophecy"?

One of the reasons we write "This could plausibly happen!" and "This paranoid connecting-of-dots might be true!" is to try (and hope desperately) to get enough people listening to deter the monstrous thing from happening.

I'd love to be wrong about this! As I was wrong on several occasions before... one of which I was TOLK by folks in the know that I helped to prevent.

But there's another side. I have cred in this world because pretty darn often I do prove right. And if this scenario unfolds as I predicted, then I'll have more credibility... and a target on my back.

Darrell E said...


Uhgg. I've come to hate phrases like "cultural appropriation" and "diversity." Generally speaking I love diversity, which in reality is not remotely incompatible with sharing and mixing cultures. But, as usual, some people just have to push things to the extreme. I loathe the redefinition of "diversity" as something that requires partitioning people into separate groups that are not allowed to co-mingle. It's a new rationalization to take us back to ancient, persistent, tribal ways.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan | That's the one. I remember holding the book and puzzling over it, but never quite 'getting it' back then.

@David | Heh. For some strange reason, my mother skipped exposing me to Rand. I can't imagine why. 8)

@Paul SB | The deterministic version of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis could have been dreamed up by Lysenko (if he had chosen a different field) as far as I'm concerned. Maybe in some alt.Universe it was. Big pile of steaming #$^@^ 8)

I go superstructural when I think there is a useful heuristic to learn and proselytize. (I know the two go hand in hand, but I love finding decent heuristics. No doubt that is why I walked the theory path through grad school.) For example, the particular lived experience I'm talking about wouldn't exist if the Dutch hadn't done something strange a few centuries ago. Few realize what that strange thing is, but I think McCloskey put her finger on it in the first of those three books. Her linguistic background made it much more interesting to read about how 'prudence' translates between latin and germanic languages.

Zepp Jamieson said...

I prefer "cultural propagation" or "cultural assimulation." What people denigrate as "cultural appropriation" is a vital and essential part of cultural dynamicism.

When I was a kid, people feared "the BBC effect" in which everyone in Great Britain would wind up speaking with the same accent and cadence of BBCs West London announcers.
Fifty years on, and regional dialects are just as strong and diverse as ever, and BBC presenters hail from all over the island, from the Orkneys to Abergaveny.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@David: Thanks for the reference to "Anthem". That was... within shouting distance of sane. Extreme, as you'd expect Rand to be, but with some of the themes of 1984 and THX 1138. But it doesn't seem to have the extraordinary Psuedo-Nietzsche concepts of the works she is better known for, just a strong condemnation of hyper-socialism.

@Paul, Darrell, Zepp: English's extraordinary facility for absorbing/integrating new words and concepts is precisely why it is such a good vector.... you can observe freedom of thought in many contexts with minimal extra effort, to see that it is NOT embedded as part of an alien culture, but one that can be introduced to your own.

Zepp Jamieson said...

I would note that German and Japanese have a similar adaptability. Granted, the German one is a fairly ridiculous one, in that it results in a lot of fifteen-syllable words! The Japanese simply adopt words (and concepts) and make minor modifications to accommodate local accents and cadence.

Despite l'Academie, French is similarly adaptable. I caught a French dubbed Star Trek a few weeks ago, and was amused to hear the Vulcan saying, "Ordinateur, donnez-moi les coordinates..."

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin -

Seems to me that you have dangerously minimized the role of Israel in all this. You wrote "Some of the dumber factions in Israel want it", which is only correct if you're really saying that the Prime Minister, the Government and the majority of the population that elected them constitute "dumber factions".

Israel has far more clout in the US Congress than the KSA. The only legislation that sails through congress with consistent bi-partisan support (other than the naming of Post Offices & Aircraft Carriers, as you have noted) are bills supporting Israel. Sheldon Adelson (R) and Haim Saban (D) are just two examples of political sugar-daddies for whom the interests of Israel are a high priority; there are many others.

It is no coincidence that many of the Neocons who conned the US into invading Iraq had previously worked with Netanyahu on the PNAC "Clean Break" project:

- Richard Perle
- Paul Wolfowitz
- Douglas Feith
- the Wurmsers

I'm not saying that Israeli influence was THE reason for the invasion, but it was certainly a contributing factor.

The same forces - and some of the same people - are now attempting to push the US to attack Iran.

We - Dr. Brin & I, at least - do agree that if we (USA) attack Iran, we will not win, even if we "win". Attacking Iraq was even "worse than a crime, it was a blunder". The USA squandered Trillions of dollars, our position as leader of the free world, our moral authority ( WE LEGALIZED TORTURE ), and more American lives than were taken in the 9/11 attacks. With Trump in the White house, "we" could easily be dumb enough to do it all over again.

- elkern

Alfred Differ said...

So... I want to steal a word for English to deal with how clunky 'mannersbit' sounds.
I've heard the French have a word, but English is (so far) just taking a German approach.
Any ideas? 8)

LarryHart said...


You knew exactly what the Gubru and Soro were up to. Perhaps this assumed mantle of omniscience - which you wear well as a writer - bleeds over into your bedrock certainty as to what our current GOPru and Soros are really doing behind the scenes.

I can't speak for our host, but if 'twere up to me, Tacitus gets post of the day for that one. :)

Jon S. said...

I'd never encountered the word "mannersbit" before. And if you're using the same word as the one I looked up, it seems odd to me - I was raised to believe that you indicated your pleasure with a meal by eating every last bit, not leaving any to "indicate abundance".

That may be why there's no current word in English for it, as it's not a universal concept in English-speaking countries. You might have to check in Arabic (I'm told that in several Arabic cultures, cleaning your plate is insulting, as it indicates the host didn't provide enough food), or possibly just invent something. (I do agree that "manners-bit" is more than a little awkward, as words go.)

Zepp Jamieson said...

I thought Soros was the evil genius behind the Democrats...

Tony Fisk said...

A little earthquake *may* have stymied the Iran scenario.

I mean, who launches a preemptive wave of tomahawks against a country with hundreds dead and thousands homeless? (this is a rhetorical question)

Acacia H. said...

Donald Trump would, claiming that God made it so they could strike at this moment by distracting the Iranian military. He'd probably also insult the Iranian President at the same time.

Rob H.

Susan Watson said...

"The one thing all despots fear is transparent application of the rule of law."

Yes. It isn't (just) about oil.

International cooperative quasi-judicial institutions were approaching the point of being able to hold international actors responsible; Of exposing and taxing their actual revenue.

That, not specifically lower prices for arms and oil, was the threat to the whole corrupt system imho.

Susan Watson said...

Re: mannersbit as a signal a state of satiety

I once encountered an anecdote about a meeting between two tribes with different traditions around feasting. The guests had a tradition that it was rude not to consume everything put before them. The hosts, that they had to continue serving until the guests said enough!

The feast went on and on with the horrified hosts depleting their winter stock until it was all but gone, the guests convinced they were being killed by food, each aide too polite to discuss what was happening.

I don't know a better word for 'mannersbit', but there is a signal; Place your knife and fork together on your plate and stop eating.

Susan Watson said...

Alfred Differ said "Thinking in English isn't a sure bet for our Enlightenment civilization to prosper"

This is the Babel-17/Sapir-Whorf hypothesis thoroughly put to rest by Chomsky more than fourty years ago.

Alfred Differ said...

@Jon S | I've seen the custom associated with clearing one's plate enough to know it is real, but this one involves clearing a shared plate. Think of hors d'oeuvres at a party. Think of the shared appetizer plate at a lunch with co-workers. Some of us have a reluctance to take the last morsel.

Hofstadter described this in his Surfaces and Essences book where he took us on a journey to the depths below dictionary definitions of our elements of language. The point of several chapters is that it is turtles all the way down. Analogies built on analogies built on analogies are what constitute us with dictionary definitions of lexical elements just being the very tip-top piece of a spoken language. Fluent English speakers might not have a word of their own for 'the morsel of shame', but we do have a blizzard of others not captured well in other languages. When we come up short, though, we return to English history and become again the pirates we once were. Nice word you have there! I think I'll steal it! No, no. I won't even pretend I'm borrowing it.

Maybe the French language has a good term for it. After all, it IS associated with hors d'oeuvres.

Jon S. said...

"When we come up short, though, we return to English history and become again the pirates we once were. Nice word you have there! I think I'll steal it! No, no. I won't even pretend I'm borrowing it."

Or, to quote James Nicoll:

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."

Susan Watson said...

I apologize for not reading all the comments before posting... Others had already mentioned Babel-17, Sapir-Whorf and tax havens.

I first fell in love with Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany when I was eleven years old. It is one of the few sf books that stands up to re- and re-reading and I also heartily recommend it.

Susan Watson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Watson said...

re mannersbit and common food source-

Do we also lack a word for the insincere question, as in "Anybody gonna eat that?" meaning "I want it", to which all are required to shake their heads "no".

This is not a rhetorical question because a response/permission is required from each person.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

The point of several chapters is that it is turtles all the way down. Analogies built on analogies built on analogies are what constitute us with dictionary definitions of lexical elements just being the very tip-top piece of a spoken language.

I mentioned this before, but I came to that realization while watching the Star Trek TNG episode "Darmok". The conceit of the episode was that the Enterprise crew had to learn to communicate with a species whose entire language consisted of metaphors and illusions. And it occurred to me that the writers were implying that we communicate that way too.

LarryHart said...

...that's metaphors and allusions.

Tony Fisk said...

The question was rhetorical for a reason, Robert :-)

Zepp Jamieson said...

Didn't Delany also write "Time Considered As a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones"? One of my all-time favourite stories!

David Brin said...



Brent G said...

I can't follow all the geopolitical minutia. It seems to cloud the real question.

What drives the faith, as seemingly held by Putin et al, in conservative feudalistic modes of government? Is it tradition? Indoctrination? Monomania and the need to be the supreme ruler? Pessimism about the future? Lack of imagination? Self-interest is inevitable, so that's not what I'm talking about. Where does the theory come from, and why is it so successful? Why isn't it dead by now?

Perhaps a case of needing to be different? Are there only two choices, then, and for oppositional reasons, the 6000-year-old model is the only apparent alternative to liberal democracy? Do all liberal democracies get along?

Are some political ideologies more antisocial than others? Are some people more anti-social? Are some societies more anti-individual (yes, I think so), and what inspires them to change?

Why is America turning its back on its progressive accomplishments? Could it be that those accomplishments didn't turn out to be as progressive as they thought? Or is there just a cultural group (majority, but maybe not for much longer?) that's feeling under-appreciated? Merely threatened by imminent loss of significance?

Is this the same thing that drives retrograde social movements around the world? The fear of being made irrelevant?

Something, some aspect of human nature or social phenomena, is standing in the way of social progress. People are societies are literally advocating the destruction of other people (and animals and even entire ecosystems). Either for gain, or for spite, or something else? If they weren't, we wouldn't have to worry about any of this. What drives these people, these social movements?

No, I'm not going to suggest its the devil or any such superstitious crap. It's origin is in human genetics and neurology. We are wired to fear too much change, and it leads to reactionary rejections of modern ideas. And maybe it is a valuable part of our makeup, but it's clearly an obstacle in a lot of key scenarios, and we're at risk of self-destruction (or at least, a serious slowdown in our development of widespread wisdom). It seems essential to understand this drive. I think it has a lot to do with the fear of self-knowledge, and lack of status as individuals and species. But I admit, I don't know.