Tag Archives: global politics

Obama Needs to Play The Honest Broker in the Mideast

babelMy Comments: It’s Friday, I’m looking forward to the weekend, and yet the world keeps spinning and I can’t keep up. I’ve found myself turning off the TV when I find airheads talking about Isreal and Gaza, not because it isn’t important, but because I’m tired of hatred that has no other rationale than “my God is better than your God”.

Long ago I came to terms with my relationship with a God, if one indeed exists. Some would have me rethink this in light of my increasing years, but I’m not going to.

So here we have an opinion piece from Great Britain, once the world’s policeman and while hard to accept by some, describes the US right now. We, the public, have made it clear to whomever is making decisions that we are tired of war, and if this means other stupic people are intent on killing each other for the reason described above, so be it.

On the other hand, there is a time for rhetoric, and the commitment to follow it up with a swift kick in the ass. And despite our current aversion to using our military, it might be time to deliver a message.

By Edward Luce July 27, 2014

The rote quality of America’s role masks changes taking place on the president’s watch

Here we are again. Benjamin Netanyahu is reacting like the avenging angel to rockets from Gaza. US President Barack Obama is torn between wanting to censure Israel and the desire not to reward Hamas for its aggression. The response is an exercise in futility. At some point, a sullen ceasefire will be struck and the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue on its downward trajectory. Wounds will deepen and fester. For all his frustrations with the Israeli prime minister, Mr Obama will have to keep biting his tongue. Such is the logic that imprisons him.

But the rote quality of America’s role masks changes taking place on Mr Obama’s watch. For decades, Washington has kept up the pretence of being an even-handed broker in the Arab-Israeli dispute. The policy rested on two pillars. For the most part, Israel’s governments have paid lip service to the two-state solution, and in some cases (notably that of Yitzhak Rabin), genuinely desired it. Whatever the tragedy of the moment, this made it far easier for the US to back the only bona fide democracy in the Middle East.

Second, US-Jewish support for Israel has almost always held strong. This is illustrated by the near-legendary power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, often ominously referred to as the “Jewish lobby”. The only real exception was President George Bush senior, whose secretary of state, James Baker, said: “They [Jews] didn’t vote for us anyway.” President George Bush Junior did his best to rectify that. But his father’s administration was an aberration. For decades, unquestioning US support for Israel has been as close as you come to an iron law of global relations.

Both pillars are showing cracks. On the first, Mr Netanyahu has mocked Mr Obama’s attempts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He killed Mr Obama’s initial effort by continuing to build settlements in the West Bank. He challenged and outplayed Mr Obama on his home turf in a speech at Aipac’s conference in Washington.Mr Obama is sometimes criticised for a lack of warmth but not often for open dislike. Mr Netanyahu is the exception. Rarely have relations between a US president and an Israeli prime minister bred such antipathy.

By all accounts, relations have grown far worse in the past few weeks. Not only did Mr Netanyahu cripple another Obama effort to foster talks – this time led by the nuclear-fuelled John Kerry (who had to abandon them earlier this year after almost a year of Sisyphean exertion). This month the Israeli leader said out loud what most people knew he thought all along: he does not believe in the two-state solution. “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan,” he said. In other words, the West Bank would never control its own defence or foreign policy. Unless he reneges on that stance, there is no point in any more US-led initiatives other than trying to broker ceasefires.

The second pillar is also showing signs of wobbling. In previous crises, the US media was often accused of pro-Israel bias. This time, it is nearer the reverse. Aipac and other groups have complained bitterly about the television networks’ emotive coverage of the deaths of women and children from Israeli shelling at UN protected schools and other facilities in Gaza. Many have kept score sheets of Israeli deaths (more than 40 at the time of writing) versus Palestinian (more than 1,000). A majority of the US public still support Israel’s right to protect itself by targeting Hamas militants, even if it results in heavy civilian deaths. But the numbers reverse for younger Americans. According to Gallup, 51 per cent of millennials disapprove of Israel’s actions versus 23 per cent who approve.

It is too soon to conclude Aipac’s power is waning. It remains one of Washington’s most formidable advocacy groups. But it is losing its monopoly on the debate. At moments such as this, it commands reflexive support; the US Senate voted 100-0 in support of Israel’s response to the rockets. Its sway has notably waned in other areas, however. It failed in February to persuade Congress to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. And its recommendation for a bill authorising force against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria looked set to be rejected last year.
Aipac and Mr Obama were saved by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other groups, such as J Street, which promotes “moderate and sane” (as opposed to blind) support for Israel, are growing in influence.

The odds are that, once the dust settles in Gaza, Washington will let the situation drift. It is arguably the fourth of Mr Obama’s Middle East crises after Iraq, Iran and Syria. Why waste more capital on it? The answer lies as much within the US as in the Middle East. Unless Mr Obama is prepared to play the role of a genuinely neutral broker, talks are always likely to fail. If, as a growing number of American Jews and a brave minority of Israelis argue, Israel is digging its grave by undercutting moderate Palestinians, it is time for more thoughtful friends in the US to speak out. Why should Aipac be the one with the megaphone?

Peter Beinart, a leading backer of J Street, recounts a story where a senior Democrat made precisely this point to Mr Obama. “ ‘I can’t hear you,” Obama replied. My friend began repeating himself,” writes Mr Beinart. “The president cut him off. ‘You don’t understand,’ Mr Obama said. “I . . . can’t . . . hear . . . you.’ ”

Moscow’s Moves and Your Investments

My Comments: Geopolotical events almost always influence the world of investments. Today, global economic health, or lack of it, dictates to some extent how we invest our money, where we invest our money, and what we can expect going forward.

All of us saw recently how the ISIS jihadists in Iraq caused the price of gas at the pumps in far away Gainesville to jump upward. That means that if your business involves moving stuff from point A to point B, somewhere in the continuum from start to finish, the cost of transportation increased. Either you absorbed the increase, meaning you made less money, or you passed it on the next guy, which means somewhere in the chain, the final price went up also.

Don’t for a minute disregard the events going in Russia and the Ukraine. That doesn’t mean we should obsess about it, but it will affect our lives, and the lives of those around us. If you ignore it, that too will have consequences, however small. It’s just that the outcome in Ukraine is and will remain a part of the fabric of our financial future.

By Dmitri Trenin / July 1, 2014

Russia needs people and should think of the Eurasian Union as a Nafta, says Dmitri Trenin. It needs to build a nation, not an empire.

If the Maidan protests and their aftermath did not disabuse Russia of the hope of a Eurasian Union that includes Ukraine, the signing last week of EU association agreements on economics and trade with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova should have done so. Three former Soviet republics are now linked, however loosely, to the EU.

President Vladimir Putin is discovering that the “Russian world” he often refers to is a soft-power category – geocultural rather than geopolitical or geoeconomic, and that Ukrainians and Russians are not “one people”.

At this point, rather than worrying about what it sees as its losses, Moscow should consolidate its gains.

It has managed to reincorporate Crimea, arguably the only part of post-Soviet Ukraine that had a strong affinity with the Russian state. It should work hard to turn the peninsula, particularly its southern coast, into a thriving region, economically on a par with the Greater Sochi area, making it a showcase of Russia’s capacity to develop depressed areas with significant potential for tourism.

It also needs to keep Crimea’s diverse population happy, including the ethnic Russian majority; the ethnic Ukrainian minority (about 25 per cent); and, particularly, the Crimean Tatars (more than 10 per cent), Muslims who regard the territory as their ancestral homeland.

Next, its main strategic interest lies in keeping Ukraine out of Nato – and here the prospects are good. Washington has to balance its global commitments, from the South China Sea to Iraq, and Ukraine is nowhere near the top. Berlin and Paris are adamant neither Ukraine nor Georgia and Moldova should join. London sees no reason to extend the borders of common defence to Russia’s heartland.

Moscow should shift to a longer-term approach to relations with Kiev, switching from using armed rebellion in the eastern region of Donbass as a means of protecting its interests to a broader political strategy involving all of Ukraine. As the Russian defence industry’s ties with Ukrainian contractors grow unreliable, it should seize the chance to create a fully sustainable defence industry within own borders. Russia will also need to adjust its overall trade relations with Ukraine, and do so in full compliance with World Trade Organisation norms and principles.

One clear gain, besides Crimea and Sevastopol, may be the Ukrainians who cross the border into Russia. Sharing a common language and culture, they can be perfectly integrated. Rather than gathering further lands, Moscow needs to gather people from the former Soviet Union who would help it build a motivated and younger workforce, and a greater consumer base. Such a policy should favour those who can contribute the most to its wellbeing – primarily the engineers and other workers producing aircraft engines and missiles, enterprises that used to be important to Russia but face contraction or extinction as Ukraine adapts to the EU’s trading requirements.

The Russian Federation needs to continue its transition from an empire to a continent-size nation state. While it needs more people, it does not need more land. It should not think of the Eurasian Union as a replica of the EU but rather as a kind of North American Free Trade treaty. Economic interest, rather than common ethnicity or shared history, is the glue to seal the new association.

Moscow’s longing, in the past quarter century, to be admitted into the west has suffered a setback: it should see this as a blessing in disguise. With its occidental option closed for now, its choices are clearer than ever. If it embraces a “fortress Russia” concept and practises economic isolation and political repression, it will head for a catastrophe on the scale of the Soviet Union’s. If it turns east, it will make itself a raw materials appendage and a tributary of China, destroying its self-image as a strategically independent power.

If it wants to stay in the game of global competition, it has no choice but to work towards becoming a civic nation, a rules-based polity and a modern economy.

Countries, like people, often do the right thing when all other options are closed. For Russia, the choices have rarely been starker.

The writer is director of the Carnegie Moscow Center

Removing Saddam Hussein Did Not Cause This Crisis

global econMy Comments: The price of oil is increasing. The news is full of both the World Cup and Iraq. How will any of this affect our investments? And, of course, as always, it depends.

At first glance one might dismiss the author as expressing a self-serving platitude. On second glance, you remember he rose to prominence in global politics because he is intelligent, charismatic and a formidable thought leader. You don’t last ten years as the political leader of a major world player if you don’t have your act together.

It would be nice if we could simply let the folks in the middle east solve their own problems, but it’s more complicated than that, and I, for one, have no clue how to force a resolution. There probably isn’t one. But I add my voice to those who say NO to further military involvement by the US without a clear threat to our national best interests.

By Tony Blair / June 22, 2014

The Middle East’s problems lie in the toxic mix of bad politics and bad religion, writes Tony Blair

For the avoidance of doubt, of course the Iraq of 2014 bears, in part, the imprint of the removal of Saddam Hussein 11 years ago. To say otherwise, as a recent editorial in this newspaper implies that I do, would be absurd. However, there are two important points that must also be recognised.

We cannot ignore the fact that Isis, the jihadist group advancing across Iraq, rebuilt itself and organised the Iraq operation from the chaos in Syria. Isis and other al-Qaeda-type groups in Iraq were flat on their back four years ago, having been comprehensively beaten by a combination of US and UK forces and Sunni tribes. The civil war in Syria allowed them to get back on their feet.

So the first point is that non-intervention is also a decision with consequences. In the case of Syria those consequences have been dire, and as security chiefs in the UK and Europe are warning, they pose a real threat to our security.

Second, no analysis of the Middle East today makes sense unless we examine the impact of the Arab revolutions overturning the old regimes. It is odd to argue that revolution would not have come to Iraq. And surely Saddam Hussein’s response would have been more like that of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, than that of Hosni Mubarak. Whatever decision had been taken in 2003, in 2014 we would be facing a major challenge.

There is a tendency to write off the Saddam Hussein time in Iraq as if he were a force for stability and peace. Just to remind ourselves: he began the Iraq-Iran war in which there were more than 1m casualties, many dying from chemical weapons, something which then played a part in pushing Iran towards its nuclear programme; he invaded Kuwait; he used chemical weapons in a genocidal attack against the Kurds; he excluded the Shia majority; and he persecuted the Marsh Arabs. The region’s problems are the result of deep-seated issues that, with the removal of those regimes, have now come to the surface.

That is the point I am making. I am not seeking to persuade people about the decision in 2003. I am trying to convince them that the fundamental challenge is not the product of that decision or indeed the decision in Syria. It is a challenge of immense complexity that has not originated in anything we have done since this challenge burst fully on to our consciousness after the attacks of September 11 2001. Its origin lies in the toxic mix of bad politics and bad religion that is not confined to Iraq or Syria but is spread across not just the Middle East but also the world.

The reason we got into such difficulty in Iraq, as in Afghanistan, was precisely because once the dictatorship was removed, extremist Islamist forces then made progress extraordinarily difficult. That is their hideous impact the world over. The fundamental challenge today arises not from the decisions of 2003 or those of 2014. It is the challenge of Islamist extremism and it is global.

It is a challenge we cannot avoid. Its outcome will dramatically affect our own security. We may be war weary and want to disengage but the people we are fighting do not share that weariness. Leave aside Iraq or Syria; look at Pakistan today. It has powerful institutions; it has a functioning democracy. Yet be in no doubt, the struggle it is waging is existential. Nigeria was two decades ago a model of religious tolerance. Today it is on the rack of extremism. Even in western societies, there are tensions that are real and dangerous.

The bad news is that this issue is not going away. That is why I am speaking about it. Since leaving office I have spent a large part of my time studying it and through my foundation trying to counter it.

Short term, we have to do what we can to rescue the situation in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, without inclusive government this will be hard to do. The US is right in demanding political change as the price of its engagement. In Syria, an outright win for either side is no longer sensible; the majority of Syrians just want the torment to end.

Long term, we have to have the right mixture of soft and hard power responses, which fights this extremism wherever it is conducting its terror campaigns. We must deal with the root cause of the problem which lies in the formal and informal systems that educate young people in a closed-minded approach to religion and culture.

The good news is that this extremism does not represent the majority of Muslims. As the recent elections in both Iraq and Afghanistan show, where despite threats, violence and terror, people came out to vote in their millions.

These people want to be free: free of dictators and free of terror. We should help them. It is in our interests that they succeed.

The writer was prime minister of Britain from 1997 to 2007

Generation Z, the world’s saviour?

bruegel-wedding-dance-ouMy Comments:
1)  call me slow, but I’ve not heard of Generation Z.
2)  does the world need a saviour?
3) never mind the spelling; this comes from the Financial Times, which comes from London.
4) I was once in the 16-25 age group and look at me now.
5) without Eric Cantor, who is going to be in charge of the GOP contingent in the House?

By Brian Groom / June 2, 2014

Alcohol-related crime is declining.

Can “Generation Z”, or whatever label you want to put on today’s 16 to 25-year-olds, be the superheroes who save the world? Surely somebody needs to. Raised in the shadow of recession, they seem a hard-working, ambitious bunch and notably less hedonistic than their predecessors. Boring, some say.

Binge drinking is down in the UK, while the numbers of those who do not drink alcohol at all have risen. Young people smoke less and take fewer recreational drugs. Violence is falling, as it is in many developed countries, possibly in part because of the lower alcohol intake.

After the counterculture fad of my generation and the clubbing and boozing habits of those that followed, it seems a welcome relief. No doubt it is a necessity for many. “I can’t lose my job,” said a 24-year-old woman who works for a fashion magazine in London. “I’ve had to fight to get it and I know that, if I sauntered into work smelling of booze, I’d just be replaced.”

For others, it is a form of rebellion against the previous generation’s excesses. Those who belong to the Straight Edge subculture, for example, say they do not smoke, drink or take drugs. “The only thing I go to the pub for is to watch rugby, not to pull and not to get wasted,” said a 20-year-old student.

Could this generation apply its self-denying approach to cleaning up public life? So much needs doing, it is hard to know where to start. Take sport. The most recent allegations that secret payments helped Qatar to win the bid to host football’s 2022 World Cup is the latest in scandals from drug-taking in athletics and cycling to spot-fixing in cricket.

Or finance. Last week Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, said progress on building a safer financial system was too slow because a “fierce industry pushback” was delaying reforms, despite scandals including money laundering and manipulation of the London interbank offered rate.

As for politics, last week’s surge of support for populist parties in the European Parliament elections was a howl of protest against establishment parties, immigration and austerity.

Expecting Generation Z to sort this lot out may be optimistic. They are a collection of individuals, not a movement. They are also young, and many choose not to vote, so their influence is limited. Reform, in any case, is needed well before they grab hold of the levers of power. So this is, for now, one of those “questions to which the answer is no” that journalists love. Yet this generation has a long-term interest in a cleaner, better world. After all, its members will have to work until they are at least 70 before receiving pensions, and many will live beyond 100.

On the right track
This month brings anniversaries of two of England’s most-loved poems, Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop (1914) and Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings (1964), which both involve trains. In Thomas’s poem, a steam train carrying the poet made an unscheduled stop on a hot afternoon at a Cotswolds hamlet: “No one left and no one came.” Its evocation of rural England carried overtones of the coming first world war, in which Thomas died three years later.

Larkin’s poem describes a journey from the east coast city of Hull to London on Whit Sunday, when couples often marry. He notices wedding parties joining at each station: the poem mordantly depicts glimpses of England, the couples’ separate yet parallel lives and their futures. It will be celebrated on Friday with a 200-mile onboard performance involving actors and the author’s favourite jazz tunes. I am not sure what Larkin, a famous grump, would have made of this.

Reverse ferret
Ferrets used to be kept mainly for hunting rabbits but are increasingly kept as pets – and they are divisive. Bill de Blasio, New York’s new mayor, seems poised to repeal a 15-year ban on domesticated ferrets after officials said that, though they can bite, they were no more dangerous than other pets.

New York City’s ferret ban was introduced in 1999 by Rudy Giuliani, then mayor, who entered into a memorable spat on the radio with David Guthartz, executive president of the organisation New York Ferrets’ Rights Advocacy. “There’s something deranged about you,” Mr Giuliani told Mr Guthartz. “You should go consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist, and have him help you with this excessive concern, how you are devoting your life to weasels.”

Obama: Prevaricating On Foreign Policy

My Comments: It’s hard not to be tired and uninterested in the speeches of a President now well into his second and last term as President. Never mind that I voted for him twice and have a generally favorable opinion of his efforts on our behalf.

Foreign policy is not something that does much for the economic fortunes of those of us in the great unwashed middle class of America. Not unless and until we find ourselves at war with various groups across the planet who have vowed to bring us to our knees and have us die a painful death.

When that happens, I get more involved. Like it or not, we are the world’s policeman. We’ve been that since the end of the Cold War and Russia dissolved into something resembling a third world country. But the death of American lives in support of those around the planet who, for the most part simply argue their God is better than my God, is not something I want to see.

As a financial planner, I’m accustomed to thinking about the future and what is likely to be in my clients best interests, things they have little use for as they live and work today. Same with the President. It’s not just who is trying to kick someone else’s ass today, it’s who is likely to be kicking who tomorrow and whether that will impact the planet to our detriment.

I don’t know the answer, and it appears as if Obama and his team don’t either. At least they don’t seem to, and I find that troubling.

By Richard Haass / May 29, 2014 6:38 pm

US president’s speech tells us what he opposes not what he favours, writes Richard Haass

Barack Obama’s long-anticipated speech on Wednesday at West Point, the US Military Academy, was designed to answer a growing number of domestic critics of his foreign policy, who believe he is not doing enough to advance American interests around the world. It was also intended to push back against the growing tide of isolationism in a country preoccupied with domestic challenges and disillusioned with the results of long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the address was meant to reassure America’s friends around the world.

Not surprisingly so ambitious a speech, aimed at so many audiences, failed to meet any, much less all, of its goals.

A big part of the problem resulted from a speech that told us more about what the president opposed than what he favoured. He is against too much military intervention, but he is also against too little of it. America must avoid choosing between realism and idealism in its global conduct. It must be multilateral, except when it must act alone. All arguably true, but such generalities are more fitting for someone starting out in office than for an incumbent in his sixth year.

It did not help that, one day before the speech, Mr Obama laid out his new policy toward Afghanistan. US military forces are to come down to just below 10,000 by the end of this year, and to be removed entirely a month before he leaves office in early 2017. But this is a calendar-based policy, not one determined by conditions. It is an exit without a strategy, one that increases the odds the new Afghan government will struggle – much as has happened in Iraq in the aftermath of the complete US military departure from that country.

It would have been far better for the president to make the case for long-term presence in which the probable results justified the anticipated costs. This calculation is what lies behind the wise decisions to maintain US forces in Europe, Japan and South Korea for more than half a century. Instead, Mr Obama reinforced the very trend towards avoiding responsibility that he criticised a day later.

Elsewhere, the president did suggest that he favoured providing more help to those countries surrounding Syria that risk being overwhelmed by the flow of refugees. And he declared he would approach Congress to increase help to those opponents of the Assad regime that held agendas the US could live with. This is to be welcomed, although details were left unsaid.

Mr Obama is smart to limit direct military involvement in Syria’s civil war, but he has not made the case why the US has done so little indirectly over the past three years. Nor has he said why it should not use military force when Syria’s government clearly violates international norms, as it has done by using chemical weapons.

The president also neglected to mention Libya, where a modest military intervention by the US and others helped to create a vacuum, now mostly filled by terrorists. What we were to learn from this, Mr Obama did not say.

The president defended his policies towards Ukraine and Iran, although major tests lie ahead for both. In the meantime, he largely ignored the part of the world most likely to shape this century, the Asia Pacific.

What makes this omission more glaring is that in his first term Mr Obama called for a pivot, or rebalancing, of US foreign policy towards that part of the world. This makes great strategic sense given US interests and commitments, the rise of China, the surge in local nationalism and the weakness of regional diplomatic arrangements. One part of this pivot is a commitment to increase the presence and role of US military forces, the ostensible subject of Wednesday’s address. This has yet to happen. For now, the pivot remains mostly rhetorical. On this occasion it was not even that.

Another part of the pivot also went unmentioned – the goal of bringing about a regional trade pact. Here the greatest problem might not be in the region but back at home, where Democrats and, to some extent, Republicans in Congress have abandoned the country’s commitment to free trade. Protectionism and isolationism tend to go hand in hand, and here, too, an opportunity to make a point as to the strategic and economic benefits of expanding trade was forfeited.

The president is right to warn against the folly of isolationism in today’s world, that what happens beyond the country’s borders can and will affect what takes place within them.

And he is right to suggest that American leadership is indispensable, that international order will not come about without it.

However this requires that the American people are prepared to back such a role for their country, and that American friends and foes alike see it as predictable and steadfast.

Unfortunately, Mr Obama’s statements this week will do little to help accomplish these tasks.

The writer is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of ‘Foreign Policy Begins at Home’

Keeping the NSA in Perspective

snoopingMy Comments: This won’t interest some of you, which is OK. Others will recognize it as part of the cosmos that includes our economy and our political environment. These things contribute to the process that results in the amount of money we have to live our lives the way we want to.

I’ve long said that in the 21st century which we inhabit, having more money is better than having less money. So your understanding of as many variables as possible helps make that possible. Or at least it does for me.

My wife and I are gone to my 55th high school reunion this weekend so don’t expect a post tomorrow or Monday. We should be back on Tuesday. Have a great Memorial Day.

Editor’s Note: The following Geopolitical Weekly originally ran in July 2013. We repost it today in light of the April 21 awarding of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for public service to The Washington Post and The Guardian US for their reporting on the National Security Agency’s large-scale surveillance programs.

By George Friedman | Tuesday, April 22, 2014
In June 1942, the bulk of the Japanese fleet sailed to seize the Island of Midway. Had Midway fallen, Pearl Harbor would have been at risk and U.S. submarines, unable to refuel at Midway, would have been much less effective. Most of all, the Japanese wanted to surprise the Americans and draw them into a naval battle they couldn’t win.

The Japanese fleet was vast. The Americans had two carriers intact in addition to one that was badly damaged. The United States had only one advantage: It had broken Japan’s naval code and thus knew a great deal of the country’s battle plan. In large part because of this cryptologic advantage, a handful of American ships devastated the Japanese fleet and changed the balance of power in the Pacific permanently.

This — and the advantage given to the allies by penetrating German codes — taught the Americans about the centrality of communications code breaking. It is reasonable to argue that World War II would have ended much less satisfactorily for the United States had its military not broken German and Japanese codes. Where the Americans had previously been guided to a great extent by Henry Stimson’s famous principle that “gentlemen do not read each other’s mail,” by the end of World War II they were obsessed with stealing and reading all relevant communications.

The National Security Agency evolved out of various post-war organizations charged with this task. In 1951, all of these disparate efforts were organized under the NSA to capture and decrypt communications of other governments around the world — particularly those of the Soviet Union, which was ruled by Josef Stalin, and of China, which the United States was fighting in 1951. How far the NSA could go in pursuing this was governed only by the extent to which such communications were electronic and the extent to which the NSA could intercept and decrypt them.

The amount of communications other countries sent electronically surged after World War II yet represented only a fraction of their communications. Resources were limited, and given that the primary threat to the United States was posed by nation-states, the NSA focused on state communications. But the principle on which the NSA was founded has remained, and as the world has come to rely more heavily on electronic and digital communication, the scope of the NSA’s commission has expanded.

What drove all of this was Pearl Harbor. The United States knew that the Japanese were going to attack. They did not know where or when. The result was disaster. All American strategic thinking during the Cold War was built around Pearl Harbor — the deep fear that the Soviets would launch a first strike that the United States did not know about. The fear of an unforeseen nuclear attack gave the NSA leave to be as aggressive as possible in penetrating not only Soviet codes but also the codes of other nations. You don’t know what you don’t know, and given the stakes, the United States became obsessed with knowing everything it possibly could.

In order to collect data about nuclear attacks, you must also collect vast amounts of data that have nothing to do with nuclear attacks. The Cold War with the Soviet Union had to do with more than just nuclear exchanges, and the information on what the Soviets were doing — what governments they had penetrated, who was working for them — was a global issue. But you couldn’t judge what was important and what was unimportant until after you read it.

Thus the mechanics of assuaging fears about a “nuclear Pearl Harbor” rapidly devolved into a global collection system, whereby vast amounts of information were collected regardless of their pertinence to the Cold War.

There was nothing that was not potentially important, and a highly focused collection strategy could miss vital things. So the focus grew, the technology advanced and the penetration of private communications logically followed. This was not confined to the United States. The Soviet Union, China, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, India and any country with foreign policy interests spent a great deal on collecting electronic information. Much of what was collected on all sides was not read because far more was collected than could possibly be absorbed by the staff. Still, it was collected. It became a vast intrusion mitigated only by inherent inefficiency or the strength of the target’s encryption.

Justified Fear
The Pearl Harbor dread declined with the end of the Cold War — until Sept. 11, 2001. In order to understand 9/11’s impact, a clear memory of our own fears must be recalled. As individuals, Americans were stunned by 9/11 not only because of its size and daring but also because it was unexpected. Terrorist attacks were not uncommon, but this one raised another question: What comes next? Unlike Timothy McVeigh, it appeared that al Qaeda was capable of other, perhaps greater acts of terrorism. Fear gripped the land. It was a justified fear, and while it resonated across the world, it struck the United States particularly hard.

Part of the fear was that U.S. intelligence had failed again to predict the attack. The public did not know what would come next, nor did it believe that U.S. intelligence had any idea. A federal commission on 9/11 was created to study the defense failure. It charged that the president had ignored warnings. The focus in those days was on intelligence failure. The CIA admitted it lacked the human sources inside al Qaeda. By default the only way to track al Qaeda was via their communications. It was to be the NSA’s job.

As we have written, al Qaeda was a global, sparse and dispersed network. It appeared to be tied together by burying itself in a vast new communications network: the Internet. At one point, al Qaeda had communicated by embedding messages in pictures transmitted via the Internet. They appeared to be using free and anonymous Hotmail accounts. To find Japanese communications, you looked in the electronic ether. To find al Qaeda’s message, you looked on the Internet.

But with a global, sparse and dispersed network you are looking for at most a few hundred men in the midst of billions of people, and a few dozen messages among hundreds of billions. And given the architecture of the Internet, the messages did not have to originate where the sender was located or be read where the reader was located. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. The needle can be found only if you are willing to sift the entire haystack. That led to PRISM and other NSA programs.

The mission was to stop any further al Qaeda attacks. The means was to break into their communications and read their plans and orders. To find their plans and orders, it was necessary to examine all communications. The anonymity of the Internet and the uncertainties built into its system meant that any message could be one of a tiny handful of messages. Nothing could be ruled out. Everything was suspect. This was reality, not paranoia.

It also meant that the NSA could not exclude the communications of American citizens because some al Qaeda members were citizens. This was an attack on the civil rights of Americans, but it was not an unprecedented attack.
During World War II, the United States imposed postal censorship on military personnel, and the FBI intercepted selected letters sent in the United States and from overseas. The government created a system of voluntary media censorship that was less than voluntary in many ways. Most famously, the United States abrogated the civil rights of citizens of Japanese origin by seizing property and transporting them to other locations. Members of pro-German organizations were harassed and arrested even prior to Pearl Harbor. Decades earlier, Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, effectively allowing the arrest and isolation of citizens without due process.

There are two major differences between the war on terror and the aforementioned wars. First, there was a declaration of war in World War II. Second, there is a provision in the Constitution that allows the president to suspend habeas corpus in the event of a rebellion. The declaration of war imbues the president with certain powers as commander in chief — as does rebellion. Neither of these conditions was put in place to justify NSA programs such as PRISM.

Moreover, partly because of the constitutional basis of the actions and partly because of the nature of the conflicts, World War II and the Civil War had a clear end, a point at which civil rights had to be restored or a process had to be created for their restoration. No such terminal point exists for the war on terror. As was witnessed at the Boston Marathon — and in many instances over the past several centuries — the ease with which improvised explosive devices can be assembled makes it possible for simple terrorist acts to be carried out cheaply and effectively. Some plots might be detectable by intercepting all communications, but obviously the Boston Marathon attack could not be predicted.

The problem with the war on terror is that it has no criteria of success that is potentially obtainable. It defines no level of terrorism that is tolerable but has as its goal the elimination of all terrorism, not just from Islamic sources but from all sources. That is simply never going to happen and therefore, PRISM and its attendant programs will never end. These intrusions, unlike all prior ones, have set a condition for success that is unattainable, and therefore the suspension of civil rights is permanent. Without a constitutional amendment, formal declaration of war or declaration of a state of emergency, the executive branch has overridden fundamental limits on its powers and protections for citizens.

Since World War II, the constitutional requirements for waging war have fallen by the wayside. President Harry S. Truman used a U.N resolution to justify the Korean War. President Lyndon Johnson justified an extended large-scale war with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, equating it to a declaration of war. The conceptual chaos of the war on terror left out any declaration, and it also included North Korea in the axis of evil the United States was fighting against. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is charged with aiding an enemy that has never been legally designated. Anyone who might contemplate terrorism is therefore an enemy. The enemy in this case was clear. It was the organization of al Qaeda but since that was not a rigid nation but an evolving group, the definition spread well beyond them to include any person contemplating an infinite number of actions. After all, how do you define terrorism, and how do you distinguish it from crime?

Three thousand people died in the 9/11 attacks, and we know that al Qaeda wished to kill more because it has said that it intended to do so. Al Qaeda and other jihadist movements — and indeed those unaffiliated with Islamic movements — pose threats. Some of their members are American citizens, others are citizens of foreign nations. Preventing these attacks, rather than prosecuting in the aftermath, is important. I do not know enough about PRISM to even try to guess how useful it is.

At the same time, the threat that PRISM is fighting must be kept in perspective. Some terrorist threats are dangerous, but you simply cannot stop every nut who wants to pop off a pipe bomb for a political cause. So the critical question is whether the danger posed by terrorism is sufficient to justify indifference to the spirit of the Constitution, despite the current state of the law. If it is, then formally declare war or declare a state of emergency. The danger of PRISM and other programs is that the decision to build it was not made after the Congress and the president were required to make a clear finding on war and peace. That was the point where they undermined the Constitution, and the American public is responsible for allowing them to do so.

Defensible Origins, Dangerous Futures
The emergence of programs such as PRISM was not the result of despots seeking to control the world. It had a much more clear, logical and defensible origin in our experiences of war and in legitimate fears of real dangers. The NSA was charged with stopping terrorism, and it devised a plan that was not nearly as secret as some claim. Obviously it was not as effective as hoped, or the Boston Marathon attack wouldn’t have happened. If the program was meant to suppress dissent it has certainly failed, as the polls and the media of the past weeks show.

The revelations about PRISM are far from new or interesting in themselves. The NSA was created with a charter to do these things, and given the state of technology it was inevitable that the NSA would be capturing communications around the world. Many leaks prior to Snowden’s showed that the NSA was doing this. It would have been more newsworthy if the leak revealed the NSA had not been capturing all communications. But this does give us an opportunity to consider what has happened and to consider whether it is tolerable.

The threat posed by PRISM and other programs is not what has been done with them but rather what could happen if they are permitted to survive. But this is not simply about the United States ending this program. The United States certainly is not the only country with such a program. But a reasonable start is for the country that claims to be most dedicated to its Constitution to adhere to it meticulously above and beyond the narrowest interpretation. This is not a path without danger. As Benjamin Franklin said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The SWIFT way to get Putin to scale back his ambitions

My Comments: How many of you have heard of SWIFT? Do you recall it was used in 2012 with Iran?

I’ve commented earlier about the events in Ukraine and how they may effect us and our investments. Not to mention the bad feelings they generate in my head given my personal history.

While the talking heads imply there is little we can do about matters in Ukraine, and there is overwhelming reluctance to put boots on the ground, SWIFT has relevance and needs to be remembered.

By Gideon Rachman | Last updated: May 12, 2014

The disputed referendums in eastern Ukraine give President Vladimir Putin time to take stock and choose between two very different paths. The first involves grabbing more territory for Russia, attempting to rebuild an empire in the old Soviet sphere, and accepting a prolonged confrontation with the west. The second is more pragmatic – and involves attempting to pocket his Crimean winnings and rebuild relations with the US and the EU.

Which path he chooses depends on events on the ground and, crucially, on the resistance that he encounters from the outside world.

The Kremlin has reason to pause and take stock because future rounds of economic sanctions aimed at Russia are potentially very damaging. Western governments have the power in effect to exclude Russia from the world’s financial system. The key to that system is based in Brussels. It is the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, otherwise known as Swift.

Even the sanctions enacted so far have come as an unpleasant surprise to the Kremlin. After all, far more blood was shed in the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 than the annexation of Crimea. Yet the west barely reacted to the Georgian war. (America’s diplomatic “reset” with Russia came just a few months later.) By contrast, the annexation of Crimea swiftly provoked sanctions – with the threat of more to come.

Moscow has tried to give the impression that it is unconcerned by the travel bans and asset seizures enacted. Prominent Russians who are on the banned list profess to be delighted.
The reality is that some in Mr Putin’s circle are genuinely dismayed by the restrictions on their ability to travel and move their money. Even more important, there is real anxiety in the Kremlin about what a third stage of sanctions could entail. In particular, the Russians fear the kinds of measure that cut off Iran from the global financial system.

In private, officials fulminate against the possibility of being shut out of the Swift system of international banking payments, a measure that was taken against Iran in 2012 and that would hugely complicate efforts to do international business from Russia. Without access to Swift it will become extremely difficult to transfer money in and out of Russia.

Swift is a private institution, owned by its member banks, and based in Brussels. But, as the Iran case illustrated, it is susceptible to pressure from the EU and the US. European and American financial sanctions against Iran forced Swift to take action last time. Similar measures against Russia are on the list of possible sanctions.

Nonetheless, western officials are also aware of the downside of using the Swift weapon. It is advantageous to the west that such a significant part of the world’s financial structure is run from Europe – and indeed, based in the same city as the EU and Nato. The fact that Russian people and institutions use Swift for their financial transactions makes it easier for western governments to monitor how they are moving their money around. Cutting Russia out of Swift would cause chaos in Moscow in the short term.

In the longer term, however, it might hasten the day when Russia and, more significantly, China establish alternative systems for moving money between international banks. This is no easy task – otherwise it would have been done already. But it is something that the Russians and Chinese are known to be looking at.

Just as it is not in the west’s interests to fracture the governance of the internet, so it might be damaging in the long term to block the financial pipes that are needed to sustain a global economic system, particularly when those pipes are routed through the west.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin moved swiftly to annex Crimea, in the first land grab in Europe since the second world war, and the EU and US are worried over Moscow’s intentions elsewhere in Ukraine.

However, even if the US and the EU decided that including Swift in a stage-three sanctions package would be too drastic a step for now, there are other ways of hitting Russia with severe financial sanctions. Indeed, America could act alone, without the need for similar measures by the more cautious EU, by forcing international financial institutions to choose between doing business in Russia and doing business in America.

Even though Russia is the eighth- largest economy in the world, it is hard to think of any big financial institution that would voluntarily cut itself off from the dollar system so that it could keep its Moscow office open.

Would the US really go this far? Not as things stand. But if the Russian government is intent on annexing more of Ukraine and threatening other independent nations that were once part of the Soviet Union – such as Moldova, Georgia or the Baltic states – it is inevitable that there will be further sanctions packages. At some point on the ladder of escalation, serious financial sanctions, probably involving Swift, would move from pulp fiction to reality.

Of course, if Mr Putin really fancies himself as a new emperor, intent on reclaiming for Moscow the old territories of the Soviet Union – whatever the cost – then these kinds of risk will not deter him. However, the evidence of the Putin years suggests that while the Russian president is bold, he is not mindlessly reckless.

The west should now make it very clear to Mr Putin, preferably in private, just how damaging stage-three sanctions could be. Frank messages now may help the Russian president to decide which path to take.

Coastal Dwellers Should Take Their Own Chances

My Comments: When I graduated from college, I decided to stay where I had lived the past four years. I’ve never once regretted that choice.

Living in Florida and NOT on the coast might be a good thing, now that global warming is in our collective thoughts. But most of my life is now behind me, so higher high tides is not something I worry about. However, my friends and clients who live on the coast will sooner or later have to move. Or their children and grandchildren will.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that swimming in the ocean and having sand everywhere was never a priority for me.

By John Kay | January 7, 2014 | The Financial Times

It is hard to see why those who cannot afford sea views should subsidise those who can.

About 70 per cent of the surface of the earth is covered in water. For billions of years, the boundaries between sea and land have been in flux. The volume of water has risen and fallen in parallel with rises and falls in the temperature of the earth. And the topography of the land has changed as a result of earthquakes, tectonic shifts, and the deposit of sediment. Parts of the world that are land today were once sea, and parts that were once sea are now land.

Until recently, minor shifts in the shoreline did not matter very much to the life of the planet. But now they do, for several more or less unrelated reasons. Some economic activities – such as building ports and catching sea fish – are necessarily conducted on the shoreline. The deltas of great rivers such as the Ganges, the Mississippi and the Rhine provide fertile agricultural land that supports a dense population. And people like living by the shore. Sea views and beachfront locations add greatly to the value of a house.

The worst sea flooding western Europe has experienced for 50 years is a reminder that even modest and temporary advances of the sea can have substantial costs. The 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean and Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy were damaging to property and life because so much economic activity takes place on the shoreline.

No one wants the sea to advance. But almost nobody wants the sea to recede either. True, Holland and Monaco have recovered valuable land. But the beautiful Belgian city of Bruges was for several hundred years one of the great commercial centres of Europe, and lost that status when it ceased to be a port. Occupants of beachfront and sea-view residences want beach and sea to stay just where they are.

So we have created powerful vested interests, businesses and property owners, who want the shoreline to remain unchanged in perpetuity. These lobbies want taxpayers’ money to be spent on achieving this outcome. Yet the history of the world tells us that this unnatural objective is likely to be formidably expensive even if it is technically possible.

When the sea defies mankind’s efforts to keep it in place, the shore people want these costs, too, to fall on the public at large. In the aftermath of a disaster, it is difficult to argue with such demands. Victims of Hurricane Katrina legitimately felt that the US government should have been there to help. When Hurricane Sandy hit, everyone rallied round. The world donated generously for the victims of the Asian tsunami. And while history tells us that archipelagos come and archipelagos go, we are understandably reluctant to say that to the inhabitants of the Maldives.

But when the storms have abated and calm returns, it is hard to see why those who cannot afford sea views and beachfront properties should subsidise those who can, or why commercial activities related to the sea should not meet the costs that proximity to the sea entails. (Full disclosure: I own a property with a sea view in France. French government arrangements mean that, in effect, the cost of flood insurance is pooled between all residents, whether their property is in the Alps or the areas of the Landes and Gironde, which are gradually disappearing into the Atlantic.)

It is almost impossible to reconcile the objectives of flood-control policy; solidarity in disaster, fairness between different home occupiers, spending neither too much nor too little on flood prevention, and discouraging people from building vulnerable properties. Different countries have adopted different solutions, and most are thinking of changing to something else.

The US has an insurance scheme similar to the French, but messier and more complex, and is controversially attempting to move to a more market-based approach. The UK has equally controversial plans to move in just the opposite direction. The Netherlands has socialised the whole system – flood insuranceis not available but the government has generally picked up the bills. With Dutch flood risks apparently well controlled, proposals have been made to move back to a private market.

(Further disclosure – I also own a property that is about as far from the sea as it is possible to be in England. I think both my properties should be rated according to the flood risk they pose.)

Uncertainty, Not China, is Replacing US Power

USA ChinaMy Comments: Do you lay awake at night, worrying about this? Me either.

But global political dynamics will influence our lives, and the lives of those we love, in ways that cannot be predicted. I’ve been part of the world of financial planning and investments for almost four decades and over that span, the extent to which we have invested our money outside the US has increased leaps and bounds. And going forward, that trend will continue.

Along with increased economic influence, what we used to call “emerging markets” now command global political influence. They are no longer teenagers, and fully capable of throwing their weight around. Much of it because we as a nation saw it as in our best interest following the end of World War II. We worked hard to help the rest of the world improve their standard of living. And it was OK that we got paid for it.

So to those who can only see gloom in front of them, help find a way for us to remain exceptional economically with a growing standard of living and equality. People who are afraid of immigration or try to stack the deck against minority voting are doing us no favors.

By Edward Luce / May 4, 2014 / The Financial Times

First things first. China is not about to replace the US as the world’s superpower. Last week’s news that China’s economy was close to overtaking that of the US on a purchasing-power basis marked a statistical milestone. But little more.

China is neither able nor ambitious to step into America’s shoes. It will be a decade or so before it overtakes the US in dollar terms. The story of our age is that the US is increasingly unwilling – and in crucial respects, unable – to continue in the role it has played for the past 70 years. After America comes multipolarity – not China. The question is, what type? Will it be based on a system of US-framed global rules? Or will it be “après moi, le déluge”?

The shift in geopolitics is already well under way at both ends of the Eurasian land mass. Last week Barack Obama returned from a four-nation Asian tour of China’s neighbours, all of whom fear an expanding regional hegemon. The US president spends much of the rest of his time trying to shore up unity among those living in Russia’s vicinity, from Ukraine westwards. They too fear an increasingly predatory regional power. Two generations ago George Kennan framed America’s famous “containment” strategy for the Soviet Union. Today, the US is stumbling into dual containment of China and Russia.

The demand for US leadership remains strong. But America’s ability to sustain a dual containment strategy is an open question.

The return of great power rivalry in Asia and Europe finds a close parallel in global economic shifts. The US remains much the top dog in dollar terms – the only measure that counts. Its per capita income remains five times that of China. It may take 40 years or more for China’s living standards to catch up. But the speed with which it is catching up is breathtaking. At the start of the century China accounted for barely 4 per cent of the global economy in dollar terms. Today it is about 12 per cent. The US has fallen from just under a third, to barely 20 per cent.

China will overtake the US sometime in the next decade. But it can never replace it. Therein lies the danger. The US will no longer have the capacity to uphold the global order, while China will always lack the legitimacy. In addition to being an autocracy, China is not built on immigration and has never sought to project universal values.

We are already in the early stages of a multipolar economic world. The postwar US global order was built around the international institutions that it launched – the UN, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and Nato. It was also founded on the successive world trade agreements that culminated in the Uruguay Round of 1994.

Since then the US has lacked the capacity to finish a new round. The Doha trade round is all but dead. Mr Obama’s big trade initiatives in Europe and the Pacific are foundering. Both were launched for defensive reasons – China was not included in the Transpacific Partnership and Russia is not part of the transatlantic talks. But the US lacks the clout to see them through.

The same applies to reform of the IMF. It is absurd that China’s voting share of the world’s top economic body is just 4 per cent – barely a third of its dollar weighting in the global economy.

Countries such as India, Mexico and Brazil are also woefully under-represented: Belgium still has a greater voting weight than either. Understandably they are beginning to drift away from the institutions the US built. To his credit, Mr Obama concluded the IMF governance negotiations that were begun under George W Bush and reached a deal to increase the emerging world’s representation. But even this marginal reweighting has been blocked by Congress, which is also blocking Mr Obama’s leeway to pursue his trade initiatives. The US is behaving like a declining hegemon: unwilling to share power, yet unable to impose outcomes.

The same influences are visible in America’s approach to tackling climate change. As the world’s richest country, the US cut a deal to subsidise carbon emission reductions in the emerging world. But the so-called “cash for cuts” strategy is missing a vital ingredient – cash.

Neither the US nor its partners will come up with anything like the $100bn a year in climate aid promised in the Copenhagen talks in 2009. Again, Congress is blocking America’s leadership.
Mr Obama is powerless to do much about it. Thankfully, China, India and others are beginning to see that energy efficiency is in their own interests. But they are making changes on their own initiative.

The die has not yet been cast. The US holds more cards than any other in shaping what the multipolar world will look like. It has more legitimacy than any potential rival – China in particular. But America’s ability to address these vast challenges is stymied by domestic paralysis. Central to this is the declining fortunes of America’s middle class – the foundation of its postwar global strength. Growing economic inequality across the US, and the political fallout in Washington, have killed the spirit of magnanimity that defined cold war American leadership. This loss is impossible to quantify. It is no less real for that.

America still has the power to set the tone of global engagement and negotiate outcomes that benefit both itself and the world. But it will require the US to retrieve the spirit of enlightened self-interest that once defined the nation. We must all hope that spirit is dormant rather than extinct.

Scorpions, Chiggers & Sand Fleas

My Comments: I wish I knew who wrote this and who sent it to me so I could give them proper credit. The closest I’ve come to “war” was my early years in England when the Germans were dropping bombs on the surrounding countryside near London. Intellectually I know that from time to time it’s a necessity, but I don’t have to like it.

Sometimes we are all very casual about waging war, even those who have experienced it first hand and suffered. People like John McCain who today would have us fight the Russians. I guess his having been there and survived gives him permission to encourage others to do the same.

Personally, I’d rather spend my time and energy finding ways for the willing to live a better life, both intellectually and emotionally. Time here is short enough as it is.

From a Recon Marine in Afghanistan.

“From the Sand Pit.”

It’s freezing here. I’m sitting on hard cold dirt between rocks and shrubs at the base of the Hindu Kush Mountains, along the Dar’yoi Pomir River, watching a hole that leads to a tunnel that leads to a cave. Stake out, my friend, and no pizza delivery for thousands of miles.

I also glance at the area around my ass, every ten to fifteen seconds to avoid another scorpion sting. I’ve actually given up battling the chiggers and sand fleas, but the scorpions give a jolt like a cattle prod. Hurts like a bastard. The antidote tastes like transmission fluid, but God bless the Marine Corps for the five vials of it in my pack.

The one truth the Taliban cannot escape is that, believe it or not, they are human beings, which means they have to eat food and drink water. That requires couriers and that’s where an old bounty hunter like me comes in handy. I track the couriers, locate the tunnel entrances and storage facilities, type the info into the hand held, shoot the coordinates up to the satellite link that tells the air commanders where to drop the hardware. We bash some heads for a while, and then I track and record the new movement.

It’s all about intelligence. We haven’t even brought in the snipers yet. These scurrying rats have no idea what they’re in for. We are but days away from cutting off supply lines and allowing the eradication to begin. But you know me, I’m a romantic.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This country blows, man. It’s not even a country. There are no roads, there’s no infrastructure, there’s no government. This is an inhospitable, rock pit shit hole ruled by eleventh century warring tribes. There are no jobs here like we know jobs.

Afghanistan offers two ways for a man to support his family: join the opium trade or join the army. That’s it. Those are your options. Oh, I forgot, you can also live in a refugee camp and eat plum-sweetened, crushed beetle paste and squirt mud like a goose with stomach flu, if that’s your idea of a party. But the smell alone of those ‘tent cities of the walking dead’ is enough to hurl you into the poppy fields to cheerfully scrape bulbs for eighteen hours a day.

I’ve been living with these Tajiks and Uzbeks, and Turkmen and even a couple of Pashtuns, for over a month and a half now, and this much I can say for sure: These guys, all of ‘em, are Huns, actual, living Huns. They LIVE to fight. It’s what they do. It’s ALL they do. They have no respect for anything, not for their families, nor for each other, nor for themselves. They claw at one another as a way of life. They play polo with dead calves and force their five-year-old sons into human cock fights to defend the family honor. They’re Huns, roaming packs of savage, heartless beasts who feed on each other’s barbarism, cavemen with AK-47’s. Then again, maybe I’m just cranky.

I’m freezing my ass off on this stupid hill because my lap warmer is running out of juice, and I can’t recharge it until the sun comes up in a few hours. Oh yeah! You like to write letters, right? Do me a favor, Bizarre. Write a letter to CNN and tell Wolf and Anderson and that awful, sneering, pompous Aaron Brown to stop calling the Taliban ‘smart.’ They are not smart. I suggest CNN invest in a dictionary because the word they are looking for is ‘cunning.’ The Taliban are cunning, like jackals and hyenas and wolverines. They are sneaky and ruthless, and when confronted, cowardly. They are hateful, malevolent parasites who create nothing and destroy everything else.

Smart. Pfft. Yeah, they’re real smart.

They’ve spent their entire lives reading only one book (and not a very good one, as books go) and consider hygiene and indoor plumbing to be products of the devil. They’re still figuring out how to work a Bic lighter. Talking to a Taliban warrior about improving his quality of life is like trying to teach an ape how to hold a pen; eventually he just gets frustrated and sticks you in the eye with it. OK, enough. Snuffle will be up soon, so I have to get back to my hole. Covering my tracks in the snow takes a lot of practice, but I’m good at it.

Please, I tell you and my fellow Americans to turn off the TV sets and move on with your lives. The story line you are getting from CNN and other news agencies is utter bullshit and designed not to deliver truth but rather to keep you glued to the screen through the commercials. We’ve got this one under control. The worst thing you guys can do right now is sit around analyzing what we’re doing over here, because you have no idea what we’re doing, and really, you don’t want to know. We are your military, and we are doing what you sent us here to do.”

Semper Fi “Freedom is not free, but the U.S. Marine Corps will pay most of your share.