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At least, surely more so than Obama, winner of 2009′s Nobel Peace Prize.

Let’s do it by the numbers. Russia under Putin fought one war, in response to Georgian aggression against Ossetians with Russian citizenship and UN-mandated Russian peacekeepers. In contrast, Obama has participated in two wars of aggression: the Iraq War he inherited from G.W., and a new one in Libya. The latter is a war of aggression because NATO clearly exceeded its UN mandate to protect civilians, instead conducting a campaign clearly aimed at regime change. So Obama has presided over two more wars than Putin, and crucially, has participated in two wars of aggression to Putin’s zero.

If you insist on counting the Second Chechen War, then one must also tally the dozen or so countries in which the US is currently waging shadow wars involving drone strikes on terrorists – or to be more accurate, suspected terrorists. But at least Chechnya was an internal affair and presented a truly direct threat to Russia, with armed bands raiding over the borders. There is far less of a case to be made why the US has the right to prosecute an international “war on terror.”

This is why the adjudicators of the Confucius Peace Prize, in awarding it to Putin, proved themselves far less dishonest than the Nobel Committee. The ridicule they have been subjected to by the Western media is a compliment to their integrity.

Update: Mark Adomanis raises some additional points on this matter.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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Sorry for not posting on either of my blogs for almost a week now and being slow on responding to the emails. I’ve been rediscovering the pleasures of old-fashioned book reading after purchasing a Kindle. I’m very happy with it. When faced between the choice of surfing the interwebs or reading a paper book, the former has been winning almost all the time in the past two years (see here for why h/t Oscar). The Kindle has somewhat rebalanced the equation.

Never fear. I’ve got a whole lot of post ideas in the chute, which will be forthcoming in the days ahead. But for now, I want to draw attention to an interesting dynamic in the Persian Gulf region. The rich Arab oil states – the UAE, Iraq, and now Saudi Arabia – are buying huge American arms packages. What the media has failed to cover is that the sales are at what are almost certainly massively overinflated prices.

Under the threat of Iranian missile attacks in the event of war, the UAE “concluded a $3.3bn Patriot missiles arms deal with the US” in December 2008 and is now looking for a $9bn deal for more air defense and Black Hawk helicopters. As a major oil export hub, this is much in its interests.

Then, coinciding with the US withdrawal of most troops from Iraq, the country concluded a $13bn deal to purchase American arms and military equipment, including “18 F-16 Falcon fighter jets as part of a $3 billion program that also includes aircraft training and maintenance”. Two years ago, Romania bought 48 F-16s for $4.5bn (half new, half used and modernized). That comes out at $95mn for each plane, whose current unit cost is now about $45mn. Iraq is now buying 18 F-16′s for $3bn, or $170mn for each. Anyone care to guess what percentage of that are kickbacks to Iraqi officials?

But if you think that’s impressive price gouging, take a look at the recent $60bn deal with Saudi Arabia. A modernized F-15 for the USAF costs about $60mn, including spares & support. About double that for export customers. So 84 F-15′s are $10.1bn. 70 upgrades to existing Saudi F-15′s. Let’s be generous and say it costs $80mn per plane, or 2/3 the cost of a new one. That’s $5.6bn. The unit cost of a Black Hawk helicopter is $14mn and of an Apache is $15.4mn. Let’s assume it’s around $30mn for export customers. In that case, 72 Black Hawks and 70 Apaches cost 4.3bn. All together, that’s around $20bn.

Of the $60bn deal, half of that will go just for the 84 F-15′s. That’s a cool $360mn for each one. That’s more than twice the unit cost of the fifth-generation F-22 Raptor! More even than its prospective export cost, which is about $250mn!

(Furthermore, note that the F-15′s are “monkey model” exports: due to Israeli concerns, “advanced sensors on the new Saudi F-15s will have technology built in to prevent them being used against their Israeli equivalents.”)

So in effect, the Saudis are paying $60bn for a package whose stand export price should be about $20bn. Massive profits to the US MIC (which will help it remain in the black despite Gates’ planned procurement cuts for budget reasons). Brilliant!

It’s not as if both Iraq or Saudi Arabia couldn’t have gotten better deals by shopping around elsewhere. A quick Internet search would show that there are plenty of fourth-generation planes available for well under $100mn per unit. For instance, since 2005, Venezuela has bought 24 Sukhoi-30MK’s, modernized 4.5+ generation fighters, for $1.6bn, after the US refused to supply F-16 spares to Chavez. (The whole $4bn package also included 50+ helicopters and missile defense systems). And I very much doubt that the US reputation for good after-sales maintenance can explain this big of a chasm.

So there must be ulterior forces at work, though as in the case of Iceland’s mercenary army, I can’t say which. Simple corruption on the part of Iraqi and Saudi officials? The influence of an occupying power? (The US, with its heavy military and intelligence presence in the Middle East, can easily pressure its client states, and what better way than to get their oil rich members to subsidize its MIC?). Rational calculation of national interests, i.e. maintaining good relations with the US? Discuss.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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Watching the US presidential candidate debate this Friday has only further confirmed my belief an American would have to be either a moron or a traitor to vote for him.

What he would do as President:

1) Stay on in Iraq

And leave Russia (and every other competitor) a free hand. Even the success of the Iraqi campaign depends on the continued quiescence of the Sunni tribes that were bribed into becoming America’s friends. If relations further deteriorate, it would not be unimaginable to envisage Russia selling Iran S-300′s, which in turn could escalate anti-US attrition in Iraq from under that umbrella.

Obama plans to send more combat brigades to Afghanistan. I am not sure about the wisdom of this, considering the historically-based chances of long-term success in that region of the world are around zero. I also don’t think hunting down Osama is worth tens of billions of dollars. If I were a US policy-maker I would reduce military spending and global over-extension to focus on a) preserving the nuclear deterrant, b) intensively developing the RMA, c) maintaining a small expeditionary force so as to be able to protect national interests in small, weak countries and d) spend more on cultivating positive perceptions of the US. But since I’m not in the running to be President the choice is between Obama and McCain, and on that note a planned withdrawal from Iraq to focus on terrorism is somewhat better than continuing massive, costly deployments in Iraq and “muddling through” in Afghanistan.

Of course, given the current financial crisis which by some measures rivals the one preceding the Great Depression, questions have to be asked whether even Obama’s more modest imperial ambitions are sustainable in practice, and on that note…

2) Refuse to raise taxes

As house prices and the derivatives tied to them continue to plummet, bank liabilities soar and we are seeing bankruptcy after bankruptcy. Considering that there’s still plenty of distance before they hit the ground with a thud, things will get worse before they get better. And this isn’t just a financial problem. Faced with liquidity problems, the credit system have gone into cardiac arrest, with interbank lending drying up and “Main Street” businesses facing difficulties borrowing. Portents of recession are sprouting up all over, the latest indication being a 4.5% drop in durable goods orders for August, declining home sales and rising unemployment. If I were to guess, this is going to be comparable to Sweden’s severe recession in the early 1990′s (albeit if energy prices continue rising as fast as they have been during the past 7 years, there appears the spectre of a long depression).

Now generally speaking raising taxes during a recession is not a good idea, but with the budget deficit, debt levels and international confidence in the dollar as they are, there is little room for manouvre. (Not to mention the potential cost of the bail-out and falling revenues due to the looming recession). Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on the super-rich and closing corporate tax loopholes is far better than McCain’s potentially catastrophic continuation of the Bush-Cheney line. Aggressive investments into revitalizing the decrepit infrastructure and modernizing the energy system is costly, but vital for long-term strength and cannot be avoided any longer. McCain’s proposal to drill in Alaska is nothing but a populist gimmick, which will only make a pinprick upon US dependency on foreign oil, and even that only in a decade or so. Meanwhile the confrontational foreign policy and dearth of investment into alternative energy sources under a McCain Presidency would help contribute to soaring oil prices, and we all know who that will benefit.

3) How to lose friends and alienate people

The same qualities that induce moronic rednecks to vote for McCain repel America’s West European partners, its most important allies. And I don’t even want to think about what Sarah will get up to. Without them firmly on board, all it has left to counter Russia are the likes of The Medvedev Doctrine and American Strategy, the US now faces four geostrategic choices:

1. Attempt to make a settlement with Iran that would guarantee the neutral stability of Iraq and permit the rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces there. Iran is the key here. The Iranians might also mistrust a re-emergent Russia, and while Tehran might be tempted to work with the Russians against the Americans, Iran might consider an arrangement with the United States — particularly if the United States refocuses its attentions elsewhere. On the upside, this would free the U.S. from Iraq. On the downside, the Iranians might not want —or honor — such a deal.

2. Enter into negotiations with the Russians, granting them the sphere of influence they want in the former Soviet Union in return for guarantees not to project Russian power into Europe proper. The Russians will be busy consolidating their position for years, giving the U.S. time to re-energize NATO. On the upside, this would free the United States to continue its war in the Islamic world. On the downside, it would create a framework for the re-emergence of a powerful Russian empire that would be as difficult to contain as the Soviet Union.

3. Refuse to engage the Russians and leave the problem to the Europeans. On the upside, this would allow the United States to continue war in the Islamic world and force the Europeans to act. On the downside, the Europeans are too divided, dependent on Russia and dispirited to resist the Russians. This strategy could speed up Russia’s re-emergence.

4. Rapidly disengage from Iraq, leaving a residual force there and in Afghanistan. The upside is that this creates a reserve force to reinforce the Baltics and Ukraine that might restrain Russia in the former Soviet Union. The downside is that it would create chaos in the Islamic world, threatening regimes that have sided with the United States and potentially reviving effective intercontinental terrorism. The trade-off is between a hegemonic threat from Eurasia and instability and a terror threat from the Islamic world.

McCain basically wants all of the above – the war against terrorism, the war against Iran, the war against Russia (and against drugs, against China, against Chavez and Castro, etc). Obama shows signs of being able to compromise with Iran to reinforce positions in eastern Europe (i.e. No.1 and No.4).

Granted this essay makes simplistic assumptions, namely that Russia is intent upon reclaiming an empire, and I’m not really sure how the presence of US forces in eastern Europe are going to hinder Russia if it indeed is. (Even Yushenko is against foreign bases, including NATO/American, on Ukrainian soil, at least for now, and in any case the war there is fought via the media). But it does demonstrate well how cringeworthily McCain’s bark is much worse than his bite

In conclusion, McCain’s blustery toothless rhetoric can be laughed off, and even should he succeed in kicking Russia out of a few international institutions would be no great injury. Meanwhile, his neglect of investment in improving infrastructure and human capital and pathetic attempts to “muddle through” America’s geopolitical problems are going to supercharge US relative decline and should pave the road to the tombstone of American power on the Eurasian World Island within another decade.

As such, and rather paradoxically, Russia’s hawks are actually McCain’s best buddies. And they have the WMD to help him win. They can proclaim support for Obama.

Granted, I predicted in my other blog that Obama will almost certainly win. But of late I’ve been having my doubts. The whole sordid Palin affair has led to me believe that I have overestimated the intelligence of the American electorate. Obama may well be crushed between the Scylla of the Republican propaganda machine and the Charybdis of the Bradley effect. By praising Obama and condemning McCain, Putin, Medvedev and their buddies (Ahmadinejad, Chavez, etc), could tighten that vice on longterm American power even tighter.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.