May 11, 2006

And while the party in power spends its time worrying about sluts and homos...

...Russia is engaging in a little signalling:

The main themes of Putin's speech were the importance of the Russian army and the need to increase the country's birthrate, calling the persistent population decline one of the most serious problems facing the country.

Putin also called for Russia to focus on investment and innovation to win its deserved place in the world economy. He also called for more work to tackle alcoholism.

Devoting much of the hour-long speech to defense, Putin stressed that Russia needs a strong military not only to guard against terrorism and attacks but also to resist political pressure from abroad. He noted that Russia's military budget was 25 times lower than that of the United States.

"Their house is their fortress -- good for them," he said. "But that means that we also must make our house strong and reliable."

"We must always be ready to counter any attempts to pressure Russia in order to strengthen positions at our expense," Putin said. "The stronger our military is, the less temptation there will be to exert such pressure on us."

Putin said the government would work to strengthen the nation's nuclear deterrent as well as conventional military forces without repeating the mistakes of the Cold War era, when a costly arms race against the United States drained Soviet resources.

"Our response must be based on intellectual advantage, it must be asymmetrical and less costly while increasing the reliability and efficiency of our nuclear triad," Putin said, adding that the nation will strengthen all its components -- long-range aviation, land-based strategic missile forces and nuclear submarines.

He said Russia would soon commission two nuclear submarines equipped with the new Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles -- the nation's first since Soviet times -- while the land-based strategic missile forces will get their first unit of mobile Topol-M missiles.

Ah, but maybe there is common ground after all. Putin did issue a "plea for more babies.

Posted by binky at May 11, 2006 01:22 AM | TrackBack | Posted to International Affairs


Shorter Putin: "We need more guns, and more people to carry guns."

Seriously, I'm honestly a lot more scared of Russia (and it's associated military-industrial complex) and/or China (and it's associated military-industrial-economic complex) than I am of however many thousand Al Qaeda nutjobs hiding in Iraq or Afghanistan. Am I alone in this?

And I'm not even getting into Pakistan.

Posted by: baltar at May 11, 2006 01:31 AM | PERMALINK

If Russia wants to (re)build up enough of a military to play at great power games, that's annoying, but not a dire threat, and it won't even be annoying for some years yet. An Islamist nutball loose in America with a WMD is still more acutely worrying to me.

As an aside, I don't think China will prove to be stable long-term. That should worry me, probably, but I think that'll mostly be an internal mess.

(Did you get the package I sent? I just realized I forgot to include the "happy doctorhood" note -- it's sitting here on my desk.)

Posted by: jacflash at May 11, 2006 01:25 PM | PERMALINK

Russia already has enough nukes to play a great power game; they lack conventional forces to do so, but that's what Putin is talking about. That's why it's worrying.

I'm very, very suspicious of the whole "Islamist nutball with WMD" canard. Where would one get a WMD? I don't really believe that any state would give a WMD (if they had one, and only Pakistan, at this point, could give one to a terrorist) to anyone. Thus, I find state threats more compelling than group (i.e., Al Qaeda) threats. I could be convinced, but I'd have to see evidence.

China could certainly prove a greater threat to internal security than external, but their military is modernizing like gangbusters (with our money, no less), and given recent anti-Japanese riots in major cities and diplomatic efforts in East Africa to secure energy sources, they are becoming an issue in an international security sense.

Yes, I got the package. I'll try to call later (or tomorrow) to chat.

Posted by: baltar at May 11, 2006 03:37 PM | PERMALINK

An Islamist nutball loose in America with a WMD is still more acutely worrying to me.

A "patriot" nutball loose in America with a WMD is still more acutely worrying to me.

Posted by: binky at May 11, 2006 05:19 PM | PERMALINK

Islamist nutball or "patriot" nutballs are worrying, but they are much smaller on a scale threats than the less likely but extremely more fearsome possibility of what could go wrong with Russia, Pakistan or North Korea.

I still think the Bush team (with an extremely enthusiastic assist from the "liberal" media) did a masterful job in blowing up the terrorist threat all out of proportion. That way they could create a brand new rationale for the foreign policy follies they wanted to pursue (which would have been laughed out of DC as the ramblings of madmen with the terrorist threat), and escape any culpability for their utter and complete failure to address terrorism pre-9/11 (see the threat is so horrible and vast and fundamental that in the grand scheme of things our de-prioritizing of it didn't really make any difference).

Posted by: Armand at May 11, 2006 05:27 PM | PERMALINK

Baltar: so why does Putin want conventional forces, then, if not to increase Russia's perceived weight and influence (and self-image, perhaps)? I can see him trying to project power as the US does from time to time, but from a fat-dumb-and-happy-USA perspective that sort of thing still falls under "annoying" unless he decides to try to close Hormuz or something. Where's he going that's so "worrying"? He's a looooooooong way from being able to directly confront the US militarily.

I am extremely skeptical of the proposition that China will be able to project force farther than Taiwan anytime soon. If they get close to being capital-T Troublesome, Japan will start building nukes. How long do you think it'd take the Japanese to build several dozen theater-deliverable 250kt warheads? An afternoon, maybe? I don't think China wants to go there.

As for Islamists with WMDs, the device doesn't have to be provided by a state actor. Remember the sarin in Tokyo? Say half a dozen guys willing to die pop some nasty-gas in six corners of the 42nd St station at rush hour. Assuming they learned from Aum Shinrikyo's mistakes, they could get 9/11 fatality numbers and many more "injured". (Or maybe they do it in six Vegas casinos instead, for variety, or for that matter in the food court at the Mall of America at lunchtime on a rainy Saturday.) I suspect the reason they haven't done it yet is because their willing volunteers are getting ground up in Iraq, but I dunno.

Binky, maybe this is the difference between living in Massachusetts and living in WV, but I think the idea of a "Patriot" nutball doing anything on a large scale is laughable. To the extent that they're organized enough to do anything more than piss their pants, I think they're far more likely to try to knock off "anti-freedom" politicians than they are to try to kill large quantities of civilians.

Armand, they are smaller threats to be sure, but I did say "acutely": when I catch myself thinking twice before taking my kids to Boston for the day, it's not China I'm worried about.

By the way, the Bushies may or may not be evil incarnate, but the Islamists did get three thousand civilians on 9/11 (and would have gotten exactly the same number had Gore won the election), so it's not like there's been nothing to worry about. And just so we're all on the same page, what exactly did Bush's team utterly and completely fail to do in the eight months they were in office before 9/11 that Gore would have done instead (with only partial staff in place, remember, and with a hostile Congress) to protect us all from the baddies?

Posted by: jacflash at May 11, 2006 08:42 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: binky at May 11, 2006 11:17 PM | PERMALINK

Putin's rebuilding of Russian conventional military power isn't a direct threat to us (he, or whoever is his successor won't be militarily confronting us directly), but gives Russia more freedom of action in terms of being able to project force to wherever it wants (which may be places we don't want). In a very hegemonic sense, any state that gains the ability to globally use power (granted, Russia is only approaching a regional use, and global is a ways off, but you get the drift) is a threat to the US - again, not directly, but in what that ability does in the minds of other states/leaders that the US attempts to negotiate with.

China has (verifiable) ICBMs, and has since the 1980s. Japan hasn't responed, yet. Thus, I don't know what would provoke a Japanese response. China is clearly showing signs of being more "global" in it's military presence than before; whether that's enough to worry us is a different question. I'll certainly grant that China isn't a global threat today: the larger question is where they will be in 5, 10 or 15 years (note: and the time to worry about that isn't in 5, 10, or 15 years, when whatever response would take years to build and deploy, but now. This isn't a call to revamp the military to confront the PRC, but to try to decide whether they are friend or foe sooner rather than later).

As for WMD for terrorists, I'm still unconvinced. I read an academic article that argues they won't ever use them (too destructive; their use would make any group a pariah, and hence would lead to the group's destruction because no one would shelter/help them), though I'm not fully convinced of that (especially given the findings of Al Qaeda manuals in the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan). I have two (separate) issues here: availablility of WMD (what kind they use) and use of WMD. I really don't buy that terrorists can get anything but primitive chem/bio WMD. And by "primitive" I mean "able to affect only a few people in a very local area". Thus, by my assumptions, any terrorist would not really have any great affect by use of WMD. Most of the articles I have read argue that the reason most staets have given up chem and bio weapons is that they were just ineffective on the battlefield. I doubt they would be any more effective than regular explosives in terrorist use (and harder to use/deploy). Hell, my copy of the "Anarchist Cookbook" has some primitive bio/chem weapons in it, so I assume the global terrorists have some formulas as well. They could have used them in any one of several attacks in many years, but haven't. Bottom line: WMD are "scarey", but only the nukes (which terrorists can't manufacture, and any state would be insane to pass off to terrorists); chem and bio make good press, but aren't actually tactically effective.

I'm not going to play "counterfactuals" with Bush/Gore. I'll agree that 9/11 would likely have happened under either president (the execution of the plan was long since begun in January of 2001); the argument is what either Bush or Gore would have done given 9/11. In other words, what would Gore have done different from Bush, given 9/11. At a bare minimum, we would have avoided the Iraq war.

Posted by: baltar at May 12, 2006 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

The bit about Gore was intended to question Armand's Kos-diarist-like "utter and complete failure to address terrorism pre-9/11" comment. And yes, we would have been spared the Iraq war under Gore, but Saddam might have created some ugly mischief instead. We'll never know.

Posted by: jacflash at May 12, 2006 07:50 AM | PERMALINK

Read Richard Clarke's book - he'll say it better than I ever could, as he was the NSC Counter-terrorism chief under both Clinton and Bush and was in a uniquely qualified position to compare the two. He surely didn't love Clinton, but dismay and frustration seem to be how he considered his tenure under Bush/Cheney/Rice.

But if you want specific examples - Bush and Rice demoting terrorism from the status it had had at the NSC under Clinton is a start. Another key example - the fact that there wasn't a principal's committee meeting on terrorist threats until September of 2001.

I still think the clearest indictment of Bush's inability to seriously confront the terrorist threat is the fact that 3 or HIS OWN first 4 counter-terrorism chiefs resigned in disgust - and one (Beers) went on to serve as the top foreign policy advisor for Bush's opponent in 2004.

And personally, I don't think Gore would have been as cavalier about a terrorist threat, that while not on the same scale as the threat posed by Pakistan, was obviously acute from the day Bush was elected (I mean the Cole had almost been sunk, and several American sailors had been killed, just a couple weeks before the election). Gore was hardly a dove, either in intra-administration planning under Clinton, or while he was in Congress.

Posted by: Armand at May 12, 2006 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

To be blunt, there's just no chance that I will ever read Richard Clarke's book, so I'll have to take your word that it's more than the prissy chest-puffing self-justifying highly selective recounting of bureaucratic infighting that these things tend to be, generally speaking. You (and presumably Clarke) are packing an awful lot of blame into eight months, though, and it's very hard to believe that that's an objective analysis.

Posted by: jacflash at May 13, 2006 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Well, just who is going to be as qualified to be a source on what the Bush administration was doing on terrorist issues pre-9/11 than the guy who was actually in charge of those policies? Plus if you are going to take that route to its logical end we shouldn't be interested in what any bureaucrat or politician says about anything, ever, b/c it's all self-serving. You seem to be a well-read guy. You can look at spots and see what you think seems not right and worth looking into other sources to explain. That's what I do. This guy had the crucial White House job on terrorism - so what he has to say seems relevant to me. It's a very quick read, and actually most of the book doesn't address the Bush White House (perhaps b/c his bosses were so disinterested in the topic and slow to act that there's not much to write about). After the first chapter, it runs forward through time, starting with activities under President Reagan. I thought it was a pretty interesting book.

Posted by: Armand at May 13, 2006 06:29 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't read Clarke, but the political autobiography clearly isn't useless. Of course, any politician (and Clarke is halfway between one and a pure policy wonk) will try to make themselves look better (who wouldn't? That's human nature.), but their stories do tell us something about the policy debates and decisions. And what the reviews of Clarke's book indicate is his main story line (Bush's neglect of terrorism) isn't far from the story by Woodward, several reports in The Atlantic, Packard (Assasin's Gate), and others. Thus, Clarke cannot be discounted.

Posted by: baltar at May 14, 2006 12:15 AM | PERMALINK
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