The Parallax Brief

Icon

Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Parallax Brief Savaged on Missile Defense

The Parallax Brief always hoped that his brazen subjectivity would incite some bare-knuckled debate, and his article on the US Anti-Ballistic-Missile shield seems to have done just that.

More Missile Shield Misunderstandings was forwarded by a reader to a former US Defense Department analyst, who has penned the following withering rebuke of the Parallax Brief’s argument. Although it was originally sent for approval for as a comment on the “About” page, the Parallax Brief believes it is too long for a comment, and well written and tightly argued enough for its own post. It is published in full and unedited. The author wishes to remain anonymous.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, Russia, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

More Missile Shield Misunderstandings

As a kind of appendix to the previous post regarding Charles Krauthammer’s woolly and often wantonly disingenuous Washington Post column on Obama’s missile shield stance, the Parallax Brief would like to explain just why Russia is concerned about the possibility of a US missile shield in Europe.

An argument the Parallax Brief often hears against Russia’s view of the missile shield as a threat is “what use are the ten interceptors against Russia’s thousands of missiles?” To a certain extent, that’s true: a few interceptor missiles as part of a US missile shield would be useless against a Russian first strike.

However, that’s not the issue. As far as the Parallax Brief can deduce, Russia is not concerned about its ability to perpetrate a first strike, but its ability to offer a credible deterrent against one.

To understand this, we need a better understanding of the various options available to the US and Russia in a potential nuclear war.
Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, Russia, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Krauthammering Away At Russia, Missile Shield

Charles Krauthammer is clearly a smart guy, which makes the Parallax Brief wonder seriously why he penned last week a combination of flab and fallacy on US-Russia relations, titled Obama’s Supine Diplomacy, for the Washington Post.

Krauthammer justifies the titular accusation thus: that Russia has already provoked the US on several fronts:

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, Russia, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Levine’s Lackluster Labyrinth

The Parallax Brief was last year so looking forward to the release of Putin’s Labyrinth that he pre-ordered it on Amazon and had a friend pick it up on a trip to the US. Its author, Steve Levine, had written a well respected account of the post-communist scramble for Caspian hydrocarbons, The Oil and the Glory, and penned consistently solid analysis on the activities of Big Oil for Newsweek.

But what a disappointment.

Weighing in at less than 200 pages, Putin’s Labyrinth is a shallow, banal examination of Putin’s Russia. The book suffers from tired writing, poor investigative journalism, personal subjectivity, a paucity of research and a seeming absence of understanding or experience of the subject matter, as well as an unwillingness to think in nuances rather than absolutes, on the part of the author: Nothing that hasn’t already been repeated ad infinitum is said, no new analysis is offered, no fresh insights are provided and the conclusions drawn are risibly passé and wholly, in the Parallax Brief’s view, wrong.

In fact, the Parallax Brief has been meaning for some time to get around to savaging Levine’s pathetic effort to chronicle modern day Russia, but after stumbling upon Stephen Boykewich’s review of Putin’s Labyrinth in the unlikely confines of the Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR), he decided that now was the time.

Written through the prism of his own experiences in Russia, Boykewich’s essay on Putin’s Labyrinth is sensational, and is so well written, tightly constructed and acutely observed that the Parallax Brief suddenly understood the difference between those who get paid for this stuff, and those who have to set up their own blogs on freeware platforms like WordPress in order to satisfy their burning ego.

Boykewich’s 5000 words contain more thoughtful and fresh insights into modern day Russia than Levine’s entire book – a damning indictment of Levine’s effort – and all those interested in Russian politics or foreign policy should click here for thoroughly recommended weekend reading.

Filed under: Foreign policy, Politics, Russia, , , , , , , , ,

Fresh Angle on US-Russia “New Era”

Sometimes the Moscow Times opinion editorial columns can be a little overbearing. While undoubtedly well written and informative, they are almost universally po-faced. Amid this environment of solemn political analysis and grave social policy, Mark H Teeter brings a delightfully light touch and sharp wit to his keenly observed bi-weekly columns on life and news in Russia.

Most weeks he addresses US-Russia relations through the prism of an American living in Moscow, and this week must have provided a bonanza for Teeter, as Barak Obama apparently “pressed the reset button” on US-Russia relations, and wants to reopen nuclear arms control talks with the Kremlin.

(Note to self: I do wish the press wouldn’t refer to the pressing of any kind of button when it comes to nuclear arms. It causes a certain… frisson. NTS2: And speaking of uncouth Obama press coverage, when will they stop referring to the fiscal stimulus bill as Obama’s stimulus package? How can I take this stuff seriously when I read things like, “Obama’s giant stimulus package was viewed for the first time by the Senate today,” and “Obama’s massive stimulus package was cut in size by a bi-partisan group of centrist Senators.”)

Anyway, back to Teeter: funny guy, sublime writer, irreverent vignettes on US-Russia relations and cultural differences through the eyes of a veteran American expat in Moscow.

Today, Teeter has managed to trump every single one of the major op-eds and foreign policy wonk notes I’ve read on the start of a another new ‘new era’ of Russo-Yankee relations. He notes that a cabal of experienced and baggage free Russia veterans sit waiting for Obama, if he chooses to use them, and outlines just what kind of benefit they can bring.

Click here for an engaging read.

Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, Politics, Russia, , , , , , , , , , ,

Balanced Analysis on Russia

Russia lost its empire and superpower status less than 20 years ago, and is still groping to find its new role on the world stage and in its former territories. Recently, that effort appears to have become more assertive and detached from western liberal ideals. But how can the West go about building a benign, mutually beneficial relationship with a resurgent and recalcitrant Russia? And how should Russia’s new role within its old sphere of influence develop?

These questions and more are explored by Timothy Garton Ash in a erudite and balanced article for the LA Times.

Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, Politics, Russia, , , , , , ,

Iran Satellite Launch no Barrier to Soft Power

Dealing with the Middle East is clearly President Obama’s most pressing foreign policy task, and the politics and complexities of the region also make it by far his most exacting. Obama must deal with the region as a whole, yet within the Middle East pot, he is faced with a broth of caustic, distinct, and often mutually repulsive ingredients seemingly always at boiling point.

It is the process of dealing with these ingredients individually while simultaneously managing the effects of doing so on the others that has made the Middle Eastern foreign policy soup hitherto indigestible for US presidents.

And Iran just made Obama’s task more difficult by launching its first homemade satellite into space.

If true, this is an extremely alarming development, as the technology for putting a satellite into orbit is directly adaptable the process of putting a warhead into orbit as part of an ICBM’s flight path. Developing ‘staged’ rockets is vital if Iran’s military is to extend the range of Iran’s Shahab missiles, which are currently limited to 1200 miles (2000km).

The news does nothing to aid Obama’s quest to strike a more conciliatory tone with the Muslim state. Demonstrating an understanding of the technology that could in theory allow it to target countries beyond its backyard provides ammunition to those who wish to see military action against Iran, or at the very least a continuation of the failed Bush policy of hard-line isolation and sanctions.

However, hope remains for those of us who believe that the Bush-era diplomatic freeze with Iran was egregious and monstrously counter-productive. First, on the domestic front, Obama has a tremendous mandate so soon after his election and following the deeply unpopular, ineffectual, and mostly incompetent Bush administration. In fact, pressure is on Obama to unveil policies which contrast to those of his predecessor.

Second, Obama’s worldwide popularity makes it far more difficult for foreign leaders to criticize him personally, or blame America for their woes, than was the case with the widely reviled Bush. Iran may already be struggling in the face of a more conciliatory tone.

Third, the administration’s efforts toward Iraq withdrawal are likely to garner further good-will in the Middle East, putting a quid pro quo back on the table, and, in combination with point two, making public opinion less of a problem for Middle Eastern countries dealing with America.

Finally, perhaps Iran could change soon, too. Iran’s economy is in a parlous state, and there is reason to believe that the Ahmadinejad belligerent, hard-line regime is not popular. Given elections in June, Obama and his team could be soon faced with a more moderate Iranian leader, such as Mohammad Khatami.

While it would be fatuous to assume the ayatollahs will decide to walk to road to Damascus and discover the wonders of capitalism and Jesus, there is reason to believe that the time is ripe for the US, led by Obama and Clinton, to gain traction with Iran for the first time in a decade.

Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, , , , , , , , ,

The Right is Against Fairness

A big problem with the extreme right wing of the Republican Party specifically, and the American conservative movement in general (and for that matter the extreme right-wing of the Conservative Party and movement in Britain, too) is that it is slavishly ideological. Anything is acceptable in the name of progressing the Right’s cause; nothing anyone outside the team ever does is ever good.

With this in mind, I found, via Matthew Yglesias’s consistently outstanding blog, a colossally idiotic article by James Besser concerning the possible appointment of a special envoy to aid the Israel-Palestine peace process:

“Some Jewish leaders say the very qualities that may appeal to the Obama administration — Mitchell’s reputation as an honest broker — could spark unhappiness, if not outright opposition, from some pro-Israel groups.

“Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “So I’m concerned,” Foxman continued. “I’m not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East.””

Abraham Foxman, the chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, should be ashamed: as Yglesias himself points out, the article is “incredibly stupid—nobody comes out against fairness.

But herein lies the problem with the pro-Israel lobby, and, I might say, the Right in general. They have a blinkered, ‘you’re either unequivocally with us, or you’re a sworn enemy’ approach to ideology that would make a jihadist proud, and simply can’t tolerate deviation from the play book on any matter at any stage, even if deviating is the right thing to do.

Nowhere is this tendency more evident than with Israel. So hysterical is the right’s defence of Israel, that it has become next to impossible to criticize Israel’s actions without being labeled as a terrorist sympathizer who wants to deny Israel the right to exist.

I’m nowhere near smart enough to disentangle the complex knot of issues that comprises the Israel question, but I would suggest one of the biggest roadblocks to peace is that both sides are primarily supported by absolutists who will brook no compromise or discussion. Of course, this kind of idealogical absolutism has been traditionally associated with Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Muslim extremists in general, but the sooner we realize that we have a very powerful contingent in the so-called Judeo-Christian world with similarly intractable, although diametrically opposed, views, the sooner we can sideline both sets of crazies, who would both rather see a continuation of scenes like the one depicted in the picture above than accept compromise.

That way, more reasonable types may be able to get on with the task of finding a “meticulously even-handed”, “fair” solution to what is ultimately an inhumanly destruvtive problem.

Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, , , , , , , , ,

Global System More Fragile than we Think

Much of my recent reading has been dominated by the financial crisis sweeping the world. Working in an investment bank at the moment feels rather like being a office cleaner for the Pentagon during the Cuban Missile Crisis: there is no respite from the torrent of apocalyptic news but there is little one can do to influence the situation.

However, while the effects of the current credit crisis and financial turmoil on economies, job markets, and businesses are difficult to underestimate, there is also a broader, global issue at play. Until recently, I had assumed that globalization was a new phenomenon, driven by modern developments in logistics and communication. But if you, like me, assumed this, you’d be wrong.

Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate for Economics takes up the story:

“…our grandfathers lived in a world of largely self-sufficient, inward-looking national economies — but our great-great grandfathers lived, as we do, in a world of large-scale international trade and investment.”

I first heard of this ‘first great globalization’ when watching Naill Ferguson’s excellent television series, The Ascent of Money. In it, Ferguson alluded briefly to a world which was, in relative terms, as financially interconnected as it is today.

Serendipitously, I stumbled on Krugman’s op-ed at around the same time, and what makes the first great globilization such a frightening story is the tightly corresponding similarities to the world of today: technological advances, increasing integration, and full blown globalization that fueled unparalleled economic growth.

Further, people of the time, like now, assumed that war would be so unprofitable and economically damaging that it would never happen. Of course, we now know understand the fallacy of this thinking, but the story has some sobering implications for the world of today. Krugman explains:

“But then came three decades of war, revolution, political instability, depression and more war. By the end of World War II, the world was fragmented economically as well as politically. And it took a couple of generations to put it back together…

Can things fall apart again? Yes… the belief that economic rationality always prevents war is an equally great illusion. And today’s high degree of global economic interdependence, which can be sustained only if all major governments act sensibly, is more fragile than we imagine.”

Certainly worth a read for those interested in history, economics, and geo-politics and foreign affairs. And something else that is of interest is Ferguson’s recent review of a book covering a related subject for the Financial Times.

The point I’m trying to make is that while we live in a stable, interconnected, increasingly prosperous world, it only takes one financial or economic shock handled in the wrong way to bring nationalism back into vogue in one or two places, encourage countries to pull up the barriers, and, at the very least, lead to a domino effect that sends us drifting away from the model of increasing integration and division/specialization of labour which has made the world more prosperous than ever before. Conflict is unprofitable, but it didn’t stop us last time, and to think it will this time is folly.

I would hope we would now be more mature, but I’m not so sure. It is well known, for instance, that the Smoot-Hawley Act expedited the onset of the Great Depression, yet China and Russia have both overtly sidestepped toward a more protectionist stance of late, and dark rumblings of an Sino-American trade war can be heard just over the horizon.

You have been warned.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign policy, , , , , , , , , , ,

Gaza Supplies Nauseating Reminder of the Cost of War

It would take a smarter man than I to disentangle the history, justifications, claims, emotions, propaganda and truth of the current conflict in Gaza. But while the pundits and analysts intellectualize the conflict, a war with terrible human costs is being waged.

A friend sent me a picture yesterday that beggars belief. It depicts a burnt baby being held up by an (understandably) hysterical medic. Clearly shown are the infant’s face, body, and bloody femur bones. I don’t know whether the picture is real or fake; whether it was staged or not. Neither do I apportion blame. However, it serves to remind us of the probable cost of this war.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Foreign policy, , , , , ,