The Parallax Brief

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

US Occupation of the USSR 1952-1960

The Parallax Brief loves counter-factual history — especially when it revolves around the what-ifs of a potential Warsaw Pact–NATO conflict. So much is he interested in NATO and Warsaw Pact military history that he was even willing to degrade himself by reading a Tom Clancy book, Red Storm Rising. (Never fear, it was a one off, and the Parallax Brief used protection). Imagine his glee, then, when via Matthew Yglesias’s mind-meltingly great blog, he found the pictured, October 1951 front cover of long deceased American Magazine, Collier’s.

Titled Preview of the War We Do Not Want, Collier’s devoted their whole 130 page October issue to how a war with the USSR might ignite and how the US – and its allies from the UN – would win that war. And it seems as if Collier’s took the whole thing very seriously, enlisting government help and even going so far as to tap Edward R Murrow, famous for his wartime broadcasts from London, to write an article titled A-Bomb Mission to Moscow, in which he is implanted into a B-36 bomber crew on a mission to nuke Moscow.

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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.

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Special Relationship Put to Test by Brown’s, Obama’s Gifts

At least now the Parallax Brief knows he isn’t the only one to suffer the toe curling holiday season embarrassment of receiving a hugely expensive or deeply thoughtful gift, and having to present in return some cheap tat picked up at the local bric-a-brac store at 7.30pm on Christmas Eve.

Or the crushing disappointment giving a girlfriend a Christmas gift so breast-quiveringly romantic it could have won a place in Elizabeth I’s bed chamber, only to be handed a 10 pound Woolworths gift voucher in return.

From National Review Online:

“British prime minister Gordon Brown thought long and hard about what gift to bring on his visit to the White House last week. Barack Obama is the first African-American president, so the prime minister gave him an ornamental desk-pen holder hewn from the timbers of one of the Royal Navy’s anti-slaving ships of the 19th century, HMS Gannet. Even more appropriate, in 1909 the Gannet was renamed HMS President.

The president’s guest also presented him with the framed commission for HMS Resolute, the lost British ship retrieved from the Arctic and returned by America to London, and whose timbers were used for a thank-you gift Queen Victoria sent to Rutherford Hayes: the handsome desk that now sits in the Oval Office.

And, just to round things out, as a little stocking stuffer, Gordon Brown gave President Obama a first edition of Sir Martin Gilbert’s seven-volume biography of Winston Churchill.

In return, America’s head of state gave the prime minister 25 DVDs of “classic American movies.””

Nothing goes right for poor Gordon. Let’s just hope the Anglo-American special relationship lasts better than did the Parallax Brief’s own special relationship after the Woolworth’s voucher incident.

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , , , , ,

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.
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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:

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The Next Shoe to Drop on the Road to financial Armageddon?

In an enlightening speech to the American press club on December 8th, Paul Krugman was asked if there were “any more shoes to drop?” He responded that “in this kind of crisis, anything that can go wrong usually does go wrong.”

Certainly, a little over two months after the conference, the situation has worsened considerably.

But what other shoes are likeliest to drop? Well, as Krugman said, everything, but the Parallax Brief has two main contenders.

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Filed under: Economics, , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , ,

World Economy at One Minute to Midnight

Over the last week, portents of doom have enveloped the Parallax Brief. Increasingly, a Great Depression of the Twenty Tens looks to be the fate of the world. Lest we forget, the economic turmoil between 1914 and 1945 led to political upheaval almost unimaginable now, and unleashed the horrors of total war on the developed world.

Why do I feel so pessimistic?

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Filed under: Economics, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , ,

Recession 101: How the Vicious Cycle Works

A friend yesterday emailed me an excellent story from the Wall Street Journal. It’s a smart concept: to look at one family forced to make cutbacks after redundancy, and examine how their diminished spending affects their whole community.

This is a elegant way of demonstrating how a recession becomes a self perpetuating cycle downward, and why we need stimulus right now.

Recommended reading for anyone interested in the real effects of the current economic turmoil.

Filed under: Economics, , , , , ,