Thursday, March 27, 2014

Off topic. Bill O'Reilly: Many Americans are blatantly ignorant and lazy. Apathy in America is through the roof.

I am Bill O’Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight. Why Americans are confused about President Obama?  That is the subject of this evening’s Talking Points.

Memo. New Poll from CBS News says 53% of American adults believe President Obama has strong qualities of leadership . 45% say he does not. This is actually up three points from November’s poll.  How can that be possible? With all the problems in Obamacare and dire situation overseas? Once again  today the President got nowhere with our European allies who are reluctant to punish Putin for ceasing Crimea.  Nevertheless Obama put a happy face on it:

[Obama] “ I want to commend the EU for the important steps taken already to make sure Russia feels the cost of its behavior in Ukraine. By implement visa bans,  freezing assets and designating individuals for sanctions as well as cancelling a number of engagements with Russia”

Uggh.. Talking Points wants to be clear. There is no reputable foreign affairs expert who says America and Europe are being tough on Putin.  No one with any credibility is saying that. So why do most American adults, according to CBS, think the president’s leadership is strong? The answer is twofold. First the poll is taken among adults, not registered voters, not likely voters. Just folks. And the harsh truth is that many of us are blatantly ignorant and lazy. We simply will not pay attention to the world around us. We get information from other people who may be as dumb as we are.  I am sorry to be so blunt , but that is the truth. Apathy in America is through the roof. Second. Ideologues, as Arianna  Huffington  admitted last night,  will never they will never turn against their guy.  This is the same on the left and or the right. So President Obama can count on core support from very liberal people who put theory over reality . After more than five years in office the facts are these: The American economy still in troubled, the affordable healthcare law a mess, poverty on the rise, income for working Americans  falling. And overseas America has lost credibility almost everywhere. In the face of those facts 53% of Americans still believe  that Barack Obama is displaying strong leadership? Almost unbelievable!  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ze'ev Maghen: Shi'ite Eschatology and the Iranian Nuclear Crisis

I just came across this paper which disagrees with Bernard Lewis, Raphael Israeli, Mathias Kuntzel, Reza Kahlili  and others on the messianic,  apocalyptic character of the Iranian Twelvers.  One more reason why a conference of scholars of Islam on Iran would be a good idea.

But it seems that MAD is very much dead nevertheless: 

Thus, though a willingness to risk the  deaths of millions of members of the Iranian population as a result of a nuclear counterattack cannot (so this study will argue) be derived from Shi'ite eschatology, it  could still conceivably be sought in Shi'te martyrology

Ze'ev Maghen: Shi'ite Eschatology and the Iranian Nuclear Crisis

The Scribd doc seems to have distorted the pdf so you can use the link directly:

Note: you can press the  scribd  full screen button at the bottom right corner to read more easily  

Prof. Ze’ev Maghen

Ph.D., Columbia University
M.A., Columbia University
B.A., University of Pennsylvania
Ze’ev Maghen is Professor of Persian Language and Islamic History and former chairman of the Department of Middle East Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He received his B.A. at the University of Pennsylvania and his M.A. and Ph.D. at Columbia University. Maghen’s areas of expertise include Revolutionary Iran, Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic law, and Jewish-Muslim relations. He has published two books and numerous articles on these subjects, and is currently working on a comprehensive monograph entitled The Mind of the Ayatollahs: Iran, Shi‘ism, and the World.
Maghen speaks fluent Arabic, Persian, Russian, English and Hebrew, and has lectured widely in the United States, Europe, Turkey, Russia, the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, India, Panama, Guatemala, and Israel. He served in the Tank Corps of the Israel Defense Forces until his discharge from the reserves in 2005.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Since when does Ya'alon have to apologize for saying that 2 + 2 = 4?

Two years ago I wrote:

I can only conclude that the American press is just incapable of handling the truth about the Iranian threat and chooses to ignore it. The frankness displayed by the Ya’alon interview in Ha’aretz is just too much for the uninformed and sleepwalking US public to handle.

Now we see that the Obama administration is even less capable of handling the truth. Both the Obama administration and the American press live in a fantasy world they take for reality. 

Ari Shavit: But the Iranians are rational, and the use of nuclear weapons is an irrational act. Like the Soviets, they will never do that.

Moshe  Ya’alon:  “A Western individual observing the fantastic ambitions of the Iranian leadership scoffs: ‘What do they think, that they will Islamize us?’ The surprising answer is: Yes, they think they will Islamize us: The ambition of the present regime in Tehran is for the Western world to become Muslim at the end of a lengthy process. Accordingly, we have to understand that their rationality is completely different from our rationality. Their concepts are different and their considerations are different. They are completely unlike the former Soviet Union. They are not even like Pakistan or North Korea. If Iran enjoys a nuclear umbrella and the feeling of strength of a nuclear power, there is no knowing how it will behave. It will be impossible to accommodate a nuclear Iran and it will be impossible to attain stability. The consequences of a nuclear Iran will be catastrophic.”

Ya'alon apologizes to US for inflammatory comments

LAST UPDATED: 03/20/2014 00:28

Comments not intended to express opposition, criticism or offense to US, says Ya'alon to Hagel following wave of backlash from Washington.

Moshe Ya'alon John Kerry
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon Photo: REUTERS
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon found himself apologizing for the second time in recent weeks for harsh comments made about the US government.
In a phone conversation with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Wednesday night, Ya'alon said that his comments "were not intended to express opposition, criticism or offense to the United States," adding that maintaining strong ties with the United States is Israel's utmost priority.
Ya'alon expressed his appreciation for the close relationship Israel shares with the United States, and emphasized his full commitment to cooperation between the two nations.
Hagel thanked Ya'alon for his clarification, acknowledging that some of the comments may have been taken out of context.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu already began his efforts at damage control earlier in the day.
Hours after senior US officials slammed Ya’alon for his latest criticism of American policy, Netanyahu told the Knesset on Wednesday the US remained Israel’s greatest ally.
“We also appreciate the very high security and intelligence cooperation, including during the incident with the Iranian arms ship [the Klos C, which the Israel Navy seized on March 5],” Netanyahu said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Netanyahu on Wednesday to protest Ya’alon’s comments, stopping short of calling for his resignation, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
“Clearly his comments were not constructive,” Psaki told reporters at her daily briefing. “It is certainly confusing to us.”
Psaki added that Kerry does not believe Ya’alon’s comments “reflect the view of the government of Israel.”
Ya’alon was quoted by Haaretz as saying at a Tel Aviv University event on Monday that America’s aid to Israel needed to be “seen in proportion,” and that it was not a one-way street.
“It isn’t a favor America is doing, it’s in their interest,” he said. “They get quality intelligence and technology.
We invented [the] Iron Dome [anti-rocket system]. The wings of the F-35 stealth fighter – we invented. We invented the Arrow [anti-ballistic missile system].”
Ya’alon’s comments and other remarks he made critical of US foreign policy triggered withering criticism from a senior US official.
“We were shocked by Moshe Ya’alon’s comments, which seriously call into question his commitment to Israel’s relationship with the United States,” a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night. “Moreover, this is part of a disturbing pattern in which the defense minister disparages the US administration, and insults its most senior officials.”
Ya’alon, in his speech at Tel Aviv University, said that in light of the US’s policies in the Middle East, with China and with Russia, it has developed an image in the world of “feebleness.”
“The moderate Sunni camp in the area expected the United States to support it, and to be firm, like Russia’s support for the Shi’ite axis,” Ya’alon said. “I heard voices of disappointment in the region. I was in Singapore and heard disappointment about China getting stronger and the US getting weaker. Look what’s happening in Ukraine, where the United States is demonstrating weakness, unfortunately.”
Ya’alon criticized the US for showing weakness globally.
“If you sit and wait at home, the terrorism will come again,” he said. “Even if you hunker down, it will come.
This is a war of civilizations. If your image is feebleness, it doesn’t pay in the world. Nobody will replace the United States as global policeman. I hope the United States comes to its senses. If it doesn’t, it will challenge the world order, and the United States is the one that will suffer.”
On Iran, Ya’alon said that “comfortable Westerners prefer to put off confrontation. If possible to next year, or the next president. But in the end it will blow up.” The US was being out-negotiated by Iran, and that “on this matter we have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us, but ourselves,” he said.
The US official told the Post that “given the unprecedented commitment that this administration has made to Israel’s security, we are mystified why the defense minister seems intent on undermining the relationship.”
The comments came two weeks after Ya’alon was criticized for saying in a private conversation that Kerry’s diplomatic efforts stemmed from an “incomprehensible obsession” and “a messianic feeling.” The State Department demanded an apology for those comments, which Ya’alon delivered at the time, at Netanyahu’s insistence.
Sources in Ya’alon’s office said that he discussed the latest incident with the prime minister on Wednesday, and that the defense minister would clarify his comments to the Americans.
Meanwhile, Ynet quoted sources close to Ya’alon as saying that some in the Obama administration were “trying to hurt” the defense minister’s “legitimacy and his great popularity.”
One source said that “the Americans are calling him a ‘hard nut to crack’ and an ‘extremist,’ but in actuality he is standing firm facing what he identifies as a danger to the state and the security of its citizens.” Staff contributed to this report. 

Update April 12, 2014 : We often are unaware where the expressions we use come from.  I am reading Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis and was surprise to read this:

Lord Fisher did not like the idea of a naval programme . On February 13, 1912, he wrote:

We are asses now for not building a 16 – inch gun as Sir E. Wilmot told you in the letter I sent you – but you can’t help yourself any more than you can help deliberately laying down ships for the Line of Battle that go less than 30 knots – there are certain things that even God Almighty can’t help! (let alone you). He for instance can’t help two added two being four!...

Netanyahu orders IDF to prepare for possible strike on Iran during 2014

Despite talks between Iran and West, senior officers tell MKs 10b shekels ($2.9b) allocated to IDF to prepare for possible attack.
By Barak Ravid | Mar. 19, 2014 | 1:06 PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have ordered the army to continue preparing for a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities at a cost of at least 10 billion shekels ($2.89 billion) this year, despite the talks between Iran and the West, according to recent statements by senior military officers.

Three Knesset members who were present at Knesset joint committee hearings on Israel Defense Forces plans that were held in January and February say they learned during the hearings that 10 billion shekels to 12 billion shekels of the defense budget would be allocated this year for preparations for a strike on Iran, approximately the same amount that was allocated in 2013.

Some MKs asked the army’s deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, and planning directorate official Brig. Gen. Agai Yehezkel whether they felt there was justification for investing so much money in those preparations, said the MKs present at the meetings, who asked that their names be withheld because of the sensitivity of the issue. They said some lawmakers also asked whether the interim agreement reached between Iran and the six powers in November 2013, and the ongoing negotiations for a full nuclear accord, had caused any change in the IDF’s preparations.

The IDF representatives said the army had received a clear directive from government officials from the political echelon – meaning Netanyahu and Ya’alon – to continue readying for a possible independent strike by Israel on the Iranian nuclear sites, regardless of the talks now happening between Iran and the West, the three MKs said.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit declined to respond to questions by Haaretz on the matter, as did the Prime Minister’s Office.

Ever since the interim accord between Iran and the six powers was reached, Netanyahu has stressed that Israel will not consider itself bound by it. In the last few weeks, as talks on a permanent accord have resumed, Netanyahu has upped his rhetoric on the Iranian issue, and is again making implied threats about a possible unilateral Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear sites.

“My friends, I believe that letting Iran enrich uranium would open up the floodgates,” Netanyahu said at the AIPAC conference earlier this month. “That must not happen. And we will make sure it does not happen.”

Ya’alon recently indicated during a speech at Tel Aviv University that his view has shifed and he is now likely to support a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran, in light of his assessment that the Obama administration will not do so.

“We think that the United States should be the one leading the campaign against Iran,” Ya’alon said this week. “But the U.S. has entered talks with them and unfortunately, in the haggling in the Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better. ... Therefore, on this matter, we have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us but ourselves.”

The second round of nuclear talks opened in Vienna on Tuesday, with the participation of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Jawad Zarif and senior diplomats from the six powers. This was followed by a session involving the Iranian delegation and representatives of the six powers, and by separate meetings between Iranian representatives and representatives from each delegation. The U.S. and Iranian negotiating teams also met.

After the first day of talks, Ashton’s spokesman, Michael Mann, described them as “positive, serious and substantive.” Iranian media reported that officials with the Iranian delegation said this round of talks will focus on how much uranium enrichment Iran will be permitted as part of a final accord, along with the future of the heavy water plant at Arak and the lifting of sanctions.

In an opinion piece in Britain’s Financial Times this week, Zarif argued that his country is not seeking nuclear weapons and said the West’s suspicions will threaten Iran’s national security. Nuclear weapons are a tool of the past, Zarif argued, writing: “Israel’s nuclear arsenal was of little help in Lebanon in 2006.”

Zarif said Iran must convince the West that it is not seeking nuclear arms, citing the fatwa ostensibly written by supreme leader Ali Khamenei that forbids the production of nuclear weapons. The exact language of this fatwa has never been made public.

“Few now doubt that the only way to ensure that Iran’s nuclear energy programme will remain exclusively peaceful is to reach a mutually acceptable agreement,” wrote Zarif. “This shift did not occur overnight. It was prompted by the realisation that coercion, pressure and sanctions only result in more centrifuges, more resentment and deeper mistrust.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

CIA suspends chief of Iran operations over workplace issues

Veteran officer Jonathan Bank is placed on leave amid a rebellion against his management style, current and former officials say.

March 16, 2014, 7:54 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The CIA's chief of Iran operations was placed on paid administrative leave and sent home from agency headquarters after an internal investigation found he had created an abusive and hostile work environment that put a crucial division in disarray, according to current and former officials.

Officers and analysts in the Iran operations division, which coordinates spying on Iran and its nuclear program, were informed at a meeting last week at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., of the decision to suspend Jonathan Bank, a veteran officer and member of the senior intelligence service.

Three former officials said the Iran operations division was in open rebellion to Bank's management style, with several key employees demanding transfers.

"Iran is one of most important targets, and the place was not functioning," one of the former officials said.

In 2010, Bank was pulled out as CIA station chief in Islamabad after newspapers in Pakistan, India, England and elsewhere published his name in connection with a court case, and the agency said he had received death threats. U.S. officials believe Pakistan's intelligence service leaked the name in a dispute over CIA drone attacks in the country's tribal belt.

Bank, now 46, previously served at CIA stations in the Balkans, Moscow and Baghdad, former agency officials said. He also was a top assistant to James Pavitt, who from 1999 to 2004 headed the CIA's operations arm, now known as the National Clandestine Service.

The former CIA officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a personnel matter. Bank is technically undercover, but his name has been public since the 2010 incident. He did not respond to email messages requesting comment.

Dean Boyd, the agency's chief spokesman, said he could not comment on a personnel issue.

"As a general matter, the CIA expects managers at all levels to demonstrate leadership skills and foster an environment that helps their employees perform at the highest levels to achieve agency objectives," Boyd said. "Whenever that doesn't happen, we examine the situation carefully and take appropriate action."
Several former CIA officials said they could not remember a senior manager being suspended over workplace issues, but management problems are a recurring challenge at the agency.

According to a Los Angeles Times report in July, an internal CIA workplace survey in 2009 found that those who left the spy agency frequently cited bad management as a factor, particularly in the clandestine service. In interviews, former officers said they felt poor managers suffered no consequences.

Ya'alon shifts stance, leans toward Israeli operation in Iran

Defense minister says Obama administration is acting feebly and demonstrating weakness the world over, from China through the Mideast to Ukraine.

By Barak Ravid | Mar. 18, 2014 | 4:28 AM |

Based on his evaluation that the United States isn’t going to do anything to frustrate the Iranian nuclear program, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday he’s changed his mind and now leans toward supporting unilateral Israeli action against Iran.
“We had thought the ones who should lead the campaign against Iran is the United States,” said Ya’alon, speaking during an event at Tel Aviv University. “But at some stage the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better.”
If Israel had hoped others would do the job for it, this is not about to happen, Ya’alon said: “Therefore, on this matter, we have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us but ourselves.”
His words attest to a sea-change in his attitude regarding how Israel should contend with the Iranian nuclear program. Under the previous government, Ya’alon had led the opposition in the security cabinet to a solo Israeli attack on Iran, even exchanging sharp words on the issue with the defense minister at the time, Ehud Barak. Ya’alon had taken the position that “the work of righteous men shall be done by others” – meaning the United States should be the one to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Evidently he longer believes this is going to happen, and is nearing the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who signals the belief that Israel should be behaving as though it’s on its own, right now.
Ya’alon was sharply critical on Monday of Washington’s behavior regarding Iran, even hinting that U.S. President Barack Obama would prefer to pass the hot potato to his successor at the White House. “People know that Iran cheats,” Ya’alon said. “But comfortable Westerners prefer to put off confrontation. If possible, to next year, or the next president. But in the end, it will blow up.”
From Iran being “on its knees” thanks to economic pressure and onerous diplomatic isolation, from fearing an internal eruption and military threat, Iran cleverly led a “smile offensive,” Ya’alon said, extracting itself from crisis.
“There have been delays in the nuclear program, but the [interim] agreement [signed between Iran and the superpowers in Geneva] is very convenient for the Iranians,” Ya’alon said. “They’re settling down at the threshold and can decide when to make the breakthrough to a nuclear bomb.”
Ya’alon’s criticism of Obama’s foreign policy didn’t stop with Iran. The minister repeated a number of times during his address that Washington has been showing weakness everywhere in the world. “The moderate Sunni camp in the area expected the United States to support it, and to be firm, like Russia’s support for the Shi’ite axis,” Ya’alon said. “I heard voices of disappointment in the region. I was in Singapore and heard disappointment about China getting stronger and the U.S. getting weaker. Look what’s happening inUkraine, where the United States is demonstrating weakness, unfortunately.”
If the American government persists in demonstrating weakness on the international front, the United States’ own national security will be badly damaged, Ya’alon said. “If you sit and wait at home, the terrorism will come again,” he said. “Even if you hunker down, it will come. This is a war of civilizations. If your image is feebleness, it doesn’t pay in the world. Nobody will replace the United States as global policeman. I hope the United States comes to its senses. If it doesn’t, it will challenge the world order, and the United States is the one that will suffer.”
Discussing the relations between Israel and the United States on the security and diplomatic fronts, Ya’alon said that U.S. military aid to Israel needs to be “seen in proportion”.
“It isn’t a favor America is doing, it’s in their interest,” he said. Israel not only takes from Washington, the minister added — it also gives. “They get quality intelligence and technology,” he said. “We invented Iron Dome. The wings of the F-35 stealth fighter – we invented. We invented the Arrow,” an anti-ballistic missile.
Ya’alon also took aim at the Israeli left, implying that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was encouraging international elements to apply pressure to Israel. “We have a serious problem of self-accusation,” he said. “There are circles where Israelis and Arabs meet. The Arabs accuse the Jews and the Jews accuse themselves.”

Hinting plainly at Livni, Ya’alon said, “There are elements within the government that have lost their equilibrium, and blame us” for the failure of negotiations with the Palestinians. “They say, why are we building? [Settlements.] Why don’t we give more? Then it becomes very convenient for everybody outside to pounce on us. We have too much self-accusation, which attracts fire, and causes people to press us and demand concessions.”

'Mystified' US slams Israeli defense minister Ya'alon's criticism of Obama

Senior US administration official tells 'Post' that White House is shocked by comments minister made Tuesday when he said Obama has a "feeble" image in world.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (R) looks into Syria on tour of Golan Heights
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (R) looks into Syria on tour of Golan Heights Photo: Ariel Hermoni, Defense Ministry spokesman
WASHINGTON -- The United States is using unprecedented language to condemn Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon after he continued weeks of criticism of US President Barack Obama, and members of his foreign policy team, on Tuesday.
“We were shocked by Moshe Ya’alon’s comments, which seriously call into question his commitment to Israel’s relationship with the United States," a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night. "Moreover, this is part of a disturbing pattern in which the Defense Minister disparages the US Administration, and insults its most senior officials."
Ya'alon said on Tuesday that, in light of developments on crises in the Middle East, relations with China and with Russia over the annexation of Crimea, Obama's "image in the world is feebleness."
Ya'alon sensed "disappointment" in the world community, he said at Tel Aviv University.
"Given the unprecedented commitment that this administration has made to Israel’s security, we are mystified why the Defense Minister seems intent on undermining the relationship," the official continued.
The defense minister also implied that US policy on Iran was pushing Israel to plan for war, should talks over its nuclear program fail in Vienna.
"At some stage the United States entered into negotiations with [the Iranians], and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better," Ya'alon said.
Ya'alon's criticism of the US administration was extensive: he suggested the White House "come to its senses," or else risk new terrorist threats from around the world.
"Look what's happening in Ukraine, where the United States is demonstrating weakness, unfortunately," he continued.
The comments come just weeks after Ya'alon was criticized for calling US Secretary of State John Kerry "messianic" for his fervent pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The State Department demanded an apology for those comments, which he delivered at the time at the insistence of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

This would be funny it were not serious. This American official thinks he is Captain Renault from Casablanca: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

Obama is behaving like a deer caught in the headlights. He just cannot grasp the magnitude of the Iranian threat and there is where his weakness is the most dangerous. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Off topic: Raw propaganda

STARK CHOICE: A poster appearing around Crimea calls on people to vote in the referendum on Sunday, portraying the choice as between Nazis or Russia. Pro-Russian advocates have accused the new government in Kiev of including ultranationalists who sympathize with Nazi ideology. Reuters       

And a flashback to Soviet history (cartoon by Clifford Barryman):

Apropos Stalin, here is a paragraph from Vasily Grossman's  Life and Fate  (p 21) which somehow crystallized what went on there, more than all other sources.

Getmanov's life had been relatively uneventful. He had not taken part in the Civil War. He had not been hunted by the police and had never been exiled to Siberia at the decree of a Tsarist court. At conferences and congresses he usually read his reports from a written text. Even though he had not written them himself, he read these reports well,  expressively and without hesitation. Admittedly, they were by no means difficult to read – they were printed in large type, double-spaced, and with the name of Stalin always in red. As a young man, Getmanov had been intelligent and disciplined; he had intended to study at the Mechanical Institute but had been recruited for work in the security organs. Soon he had become the bodyguard of the secretary of the kraykom, the area Party committee...

Жизнь Дементия Трифоновича была довольно бедна внешними  событиями.  Он
не участвовал в гражданской войне. Его не преследовали жандармы, и царский
суд его никогда не высылал в Сибирь. Доклады на конференциях и съездах  он
обычно читал по рукописи. Читал он хорошо, - без  запинок,  с  выражением,
хотя писал доклады не сам. Правда,  читать  их  было  легко,  их  печатали
крупным шрифтом, через два интервала, и имя Сталина выделено на  них  было
особым красным  шрифтом.  Он  был  когда-то  толковым,  дисциплинированным
пареньком, хотел учиться в механическом институте, но его мобилизовали  на
работу в органы безопасности, и вскоре он стал личным охранником секретаря

Since we are taking about the USSR, perhaps it is appropriate to mention the most knowledgeable American diplomat on the USSR – George F. Kennan

On Congressmen  meeting Stalin, page 291:

I cannot recall the tenor of the discussion between the Congressmen and Stalin (the Washington archives, I am sure, would show it); but I have a vivid memory of our approach to this occasion. The interview was scheduled, I believe, for 6 P.M., in Stalin’s office in the Kremlin. Just prior to it was scheduled a visit of the congressional party to the Moscow subway system. Having seen the Moscow subway on a great many occasions, I decided not to accompany them on that last venture, but arranged to pick them up, at 5:30 P.M., at the exit from the Mossovyet subway station, where their tour was to end. I came there at a proper time and waited until well after 5:30. To my growing concern no Congressmen appeared. Inquiry elicited the information that the part was being entertained at “tea” somewhere in the bowels of the subway system.  I never discovered the premises in which this repast was being served, but frantic indirect messages finally brought my compatriots to the surface, at about ten minutes before six. To my horror I discovered that the “tea” served to them by their genial hosts of the Moscow subway had, like he tea in Novosibirsk, been not only of the nonalcoholic variety: varying amounts of vodka, depending on the stoutness of character and presence of mind of the individual concerned, had been poured into my charges while they were on the verge of their interview with the great Soviet leader.

We tore away, in two limousines, in the direction of the Kremlin, I riding in the front seat of one of the cars. As we approached the Kremlin gate, protected but what was the most vigilant and elaborate system of guarding  of any place in the world, I was horrified to hear, from the interior of the car behind me, raucous voice saying: ”Who the hell is this guy Stalin, anyway? I don’t know that I want to go up and see him. I think I’ll get out.” Elaborate arrangement had been made, including even the submission of every passport to the Foreign Office, to assure admission of the party to the Kremlin, and I knew that if anyone were missing, things would be royally gummed up. So I said with great definiteness: “You will do nothing of the sort. You will sit right there where you are and remain with the party.” There ensued the formalities at the gate. Doors were opened, identities were established,  seats were looked under. A car full of armed men was before us, and another one behind. Thus guarded, we drove off up the short incline to the heart of the Kremlin. At this point the same raucous voice became audible one more behind me: “What if I biff the old codger one in the nose?”  My heart froze.  I cannot recall what I said, but I am sure that never in my life did I speak with greater   earnestness. I had, as I recollect it, the help of some of the more sober   members of the party.  In any case, our companion came meekly along. He sat  in Stalin’s office at  the end of a long table, facing Stalin, and did nothing more disturbing than  to leer and wink once or twice at the bewildered dictator, thus making it possible for the invisible gun muzzles, with which the room was no doubt  studded, to remain sullenly silent.'"   

On Stalin, page 294:

Those of my colleagues who saw more of him than I did have told of being able to observe other aspects of his personality: of seeing the yellow eyes lit up in a flash of menace and fury as he turned, momentarily on some unfortunate subordinate; of witnessing the diabolical sadism with which, at the great diplomatic dinners of the war, he would humiliate his subordinates before the eyes of the foreigners, with his barbed, mocking toasts, just to show his power over them. I myself did not see these things. But when I first encountered him personally, I had lived long enough in Russia to know something about him; and I was never in doubt, when visiting him, that I was in the presence of one of the world’s most remarkable men – a man great, if you will, primarily in his iniquity: ruthless, cynical, cunning, endlessly dangerous; but for all of this -one of the truly great men of the age.     

(1) Our first step must be to apprehend, and recognize for what it is, the nature of the movement with which we are dealing. We must study it with same courage, detachment, objectivity, and same determination not to be emotionally provoked or unseated by it, with which doctor studies unruly and unreasonable individual.

What a difference a decade makes!  Putin in 2005:

You know, after the  disintegration of the USSR the Russian Federation lost tens of thousand of its ancestral territories . So what do you suggest now? Start partitioning everything again? Get us back Crimea, parts of the territory of other republics of the former USSR,  etc.?  Let's get back Klaipeda?    Let's start partitioning everything in Europe . Is that what you want? No, probably not. We appeal to the Lithuanian  politicians to cease engaging in political demagogy , and engage in constructive work. Russia  is  ready for such work.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

The wages of weakness

By Published: March 7

Vladimir Putin is a lucky man. And he’s got three more years of luck to come.

He takes Crimea, and President Obama says it’s not in Russia’s interest, not even strategically clever. Indeed, it’s a sign of weakness.

Really? Crimea belonged to Moscow for 200 years. Russia annexed it 20 years before Jefferson acquired Louisiana. Lost it in the humiliation of the 1990s. Putin got it back in about three days without firing a shot.

Now Russia looms over the rest of eastern and southern Ukraine. Putin can take that anytime he wants — if he wants. He has already destabilized the nationalist government in Kiev. Ukraine is now truncated and on the life support of U.S. and European money (much of which — cash for gas — will end up in Putin’s treasury anyway).

Obama says Putin is on the wrong side of history, and Secretary of State John Kerry says Putin’s is “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.”
This must mean that seeking national power, territory, dominion — the driving impulse of nations since Thucydides — is obsolete. As if a calendar change caused a revolution in human nature that transformed the international arena from a Hobbesian struggle for power into a gentleman’s club where violations of territorial integrity just don’t happen.

“That is not 21st-century, G-8, major-nation behavior,” says Kerry. Makes invasion sound like a breach of etiquette — like using the wrong fork at a Beacon Hill dinner party.

How to figure out Obama’s foreign policy? In his first U.N. speech, he says: “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.” On what planet? Followed by the assertion that “alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War” — like NATO? — “make no sense in an interconnected world.”

Putin’s more cynical advisers might have thought such adolescent universalism to be a ruse. But Obama coupled these amazing words with even more amazing actions.

(1) Upon coming into office, he initiated the famous “reset” to undo the “drift” in relations that had occurred during the George W. Bush years. But that drift was largely due to the freezing of relations Bush imposed after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Obama undid that pushback and wiped the slate clean — demanding nothing in return.

(2) Canceled missile-defense agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic. Without even consulting them. A huge concession to Putin’s threats — while again asking nothing in return. And sending a message that, while Eastern Europe may think it achieved post-Cold War independence, in reality it remains in play, subject to Russian influence and interests.

(3) In 2012, Obama assured Dmitry Medvedev that he would be even more flexible with Putin on missile defense as soon as he got past the election.

(4) The Syria debacle. Obama painted himself into a corner on chemical weapons — threatening to bomb and then backing down — and allowed Putin to rescue him with a promise to get rid of Syria’s stockpiles. Obama hailed this as a great win-win, when both knew — or did Obama really not know? — that he had just conferred priceless legitimacy on Bashar al-Assad and made Russia the major regional arbiter for the first time in 40 years.

(5) Obama keeps cutting defense spending. His latest budget will reduce it to 3 percent of GDP by 2016 and cut the army to pre-Pearl Harbor size — just as Russia is rebuilding, as Iran is going nuclear and as China announces yet another 12-plus percent increase in military spending.

Puzzling. There is no U.S. financial emergency, no budgetary collapse. Obama declares an end to austerity — for every government department except the military.

Can Putin be faulted for believing that if he bites off Crimea and threatens Kiev, Obama’s response will be minimal and his ability to lead the Europeans even less so?

Would Putin have lunged for Ukraine if he didn’t have such a clueless adversary? No one can say for sure. But it certainly made Putin’s decision easier.

Russia will get kicked out of the G-8 — if Obama can get Angela Merkel to go along. Big deal. Putin does care about financial sanctions, but the Europeans are already divided and squabbling among themselves.

Next weekend’s Crimean referendum will ask if it should be returned to Mother Russia. Can Putin refuse? He can already see the history textbooks: Catherine the Great took Crimea, Vlad (the Great?) won it back. Not bad for a 19th-century man.


I must admit that sometimes I look at history through a somewhat different perspective.  To me Catherine the Great should be primarily thanked for inviting Euler back to Russia  and therefore advancing mathematics for the whole world. 

Leonhard Euler

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Off topic: Putin's Extra-Terrestrials



He [Putin] basically almost made fun of the whole world, because he was looking at the camera and so outright shamelessly said:  "These are not my troops. Some people purchased some, you know, military garbs, some equipment, you can get them anywhere, they look like Russian troops they behave like Russian troops, but these are not Russian troops they are some, you know,  maybe some extra-terrestrials  that just pretend and are masquerading to be  Russian troops."  But the reality is very clear – the guy that can lie like this in the 21st century is dangerous.

QUESTION: Mr President, a clarification if I may. The people who were blocking the Ukrainian Army units in Crimea were wearing uniforms that strongly resembled the Russian Army uniform. Were those Russian soldiers, Russian military?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Why don’t you take a look at the post-Soviet states. There are many uniforms there that are similar. You can go to a store and buy any kind of uniform.
QUESTION: But were they Russian soldiers or not?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Those were local self-defence units.
QUESTION: How well trained are they? If we compare them to the self-defence units in Kiev…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: My dear colleague, look how well trained the people who operated in Kiev were. As we all know they were trained at special bases in neighbouring states: in Lithuania, Poland and in Ukraine itself too. They were trained by instructors for extended periods. They were divided into dozens and hundreds, their actions were coordinated, they had good communication systems. It was all like clockwork.  Did you see them in action? They looked very professional, like special forces. Why do you think those in Crimea should be any worse?
QUESTION: In that case, can I specify: did we take part in training Crimean self-defence forces?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No, we did not.

ВОПРОС: Владимир Владимирович, можно уточнить? Люди, которые осуществляли блокирование частей украинской армии в Крыму, – в форме, очень похожей на российскую военную форму. Это были российские солдаты, это были российские военные?
В.ПУТИН: А Вы посмотрите на постсоветское пространство. Там полно формы, которая похожа на форму… Пойдите в магазин у нас, и вы купите там любую форму.
ВОПРОС: Но это были российские солдаты или нет?
В.ПУТИН: Это были местные силы самообороны.
ВОПРОС: Настолько хорошо подготовленные? Просто если мы сравниваем с силами самообороны в Киеве…
В.ПУТИН: Дорогой мой коллега, посмотрите, как хорошо были подготовлены люди, которые орудовали в Киеве. Их, как известно, готовили на соответствующих базах на сопредельных территориях: в Литве, Польше, и в самой Украине тоже. Готовили инструкторы, готовили в течение длительного времени. Они уже разбиты на десятки, на сотни, действуют организованно, с хорошими системами связи. Всё функционирует как часы. Вы видели, как они работают? Абсолютно профессионально, как спецназ. Почему вы думаете, что в Крыму должно быть хуже?
ВОПРОС: Можно тогда уточнить вопрос? Принимали ли мы участие в подготовке сил самообороны Крыма?
В.ПУТИН: Нет, не принимали.