THE GREAT AMERICAN DELUSION – JUST THAT ONE GUY

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

In my career I used to participate in regular meetings with an American intelligence agency. I – we – were always fascinated by their obsession with individuals. One time they proudly presented each of our group with a chart showing the Boss’ associates distributed into three groups. I’m sure creating this had cost a lot of time and money, but what use was it? Did it allow us to predict better, understand better? Of course it didn’t. Quite apart from the absurdity of thinking that an individual was 100% in one group and 0% in the other two – least one fitted two groups equally well – the truth was that they were a team which made decisions and outsiders had no idea what went on inside the process. The three-group division just led to more ungrounded speculation – if some decision were imagined to be to the benefit of one group, then a flurry of speculation about who was up and who was down would erupt. Theorising in the absence of data: a labour of crackpots. Lots of money, time and promotions but very little understanding. On another occasion their predictions at a leadership change were entirely personal – if X, then this, if Y, then that. (And the person who actually did succeed wasn’t on their list.) My group’s approach was to try and describe what constraints the as-yet-unknown successor would have to deal with. We were trying to work out the context; they were talking personalities. But there is an objective reality: and the most powerful and strong-willed individual can only shape the future within the existing possibilities. The American assumption seemed to be that the boss had unconstrained choices. Now it’s true that they thought of the country as a “dictatorship” but never even in the greatest tyranny has the ruler been able to do anything he wanted to. No wonder they have, over the ensuing twenty years, been invariably wrong. The simple-minded and ignorant obsession with personalities leads nowhere.

Did it begin with the Calvinists of Plymouth Rock and their division of humanity into the saved and the damned? Was it reinforced a century and a half later by the conviction that King George single-handedly caused “repeated Injuries and Usurpations” and urged on “the merciless Indian Savages”? Or is it of more recent origin? Hollywood’s rugged individuals saving the day at the end of the movie? Who can say, but it seems to be hard-wired into the American view of the world – or at least their view of the rest of the world. And the news media play along every time: the problem is Leader X, if we replace him, all will be better.

I have just finished a book about the CIA which mentions the Kennedy Administration’s obsession about Fidel Castro. “‘We were hysterical about Castro,’ Defense Secretary Robert McNamara acknowledged”; there were innumerable assassination plots. The missile crisis seems to have brought Kennedy to his senses and, a couple of months before his assassination, the CIA principal had to tell the mobster he had picked to organise it that the plot to kill Castro had been terminated. None of it amounted to anything and, in the words of one player “so much of the goddamn stuff was really juvenile.” Sixty years later, Fidel Castro is gone but Cuba remains – still defiant.

Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran was a problem; after he was overthrown Iran was not a problem for a while but today it’s an even bigger problem; and they still resent his overthrow. Ngô Đình Diệm in Vietnam was a problem; but his death just led to more war. Mohamed Farrah Aidid of Somalia was another who had to go, but after the Battle Of Mogadishu it was the Americans and NATO who went; Somalia, much now as it was then, has faded from the news. Slobodan Milošević was the Butcher of the Balkans until a court found that he wasn’t so guilty after all. Saddam Hussein was a pretty comprehensive problem, the NYT informed us; now he’s gone and Iraq is still a problem – can’t win it, can’t leave it. Kims in North Korea come and go; it remains the same. And so on and on – Assad, Maduro, Qaddafi, Arafat, Daniel Ortega and Yanukovych; all individuals who were imagined to be the single roadblock in the path of… The Better, Progress, Democracy and all other Good Things.

But the two biggest are Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinpeng. I have written enough about the crazy American obsession with Putin: five years ago I wrote A Brief Compendium of Nonsense About Putin. Since then he has grown in monstrosity: election rigger, computer hacker, serial poisoner, “Russia under Putin poses an existential threat to the United States and other countries of the West, Russia’s neighbors, and his own people” is a typical effusion. Note the personalism: the “existential threat” is “Russia under Putin”, not “Russia”. If only Putin could be got rid of…

The author of this piece goes on: “China will be at the top of the to-do list”. And the Atlantic Council has emitted The Longer Telegram: Toward A New American China Strategy written by Anonymous. Clearly it is supposed to echo Mr X’s (George Kennan’s) Long Telegram. But some differences: this is longer – much longer, grinding on for seven times the length of Kennan’s essay. Secondly, Kennan himself didn’t think that his recommendations had been well followed and was utterly opposed to NATO expansion and Western triumphantasies. I will certainly not waste my time reading this midden of prolixity (one wishes an ex-PFC Wintergreen had binned it), the summary is more than enough – and it’s longer than Kennan’s essay. The very first sentence puts us on familiar ground

The single most important challenge facing the United States in the twenty-first century is the rise of an increasingly authoritarian China under President and General Secretary Xi Jinping.

“China under President and General Secretary Xi Jinping”, “Russia under Putin”. Back to personalities.

…Xi has returned China… quasi-Maoist personality cult… systematic elimination of his political opponents…. Xi has used ethnonationalism… Xi’s China… Xi has demonstrated… China under… Xi is no longer just a problem for US primacy. He now presents a serious problem for the whole of the democratic world…

He is the problem and “All US political and policy responses to China therefore should be focused through the principal lens of Xi himself.” No Xi, no problem; no Putin, no problem; no Saddam, no problem; no Qaddafi, no problem. Away we go again.

Better informed people point out that Xi Jinpeng’s policies have a context: we start with Deng Xiaoping’s strategic guideline “hide capabilities and bide time”. Once capabilities could no longer be hidden, they moved to Hu Jintao’s “Actively Accomplish Something”. That something – or rather, those many somethings – are being actively accomplished by Xi Jinpeng. Far from a polity captured by a personality, China has a collective leadership focussed on a long-term strategy.

But that is only one voice in the background and the personality-obsessed (Very Much) Longer Telegram comes from the Atlantic Council which has a far greater influence on US and NATO activities. As it is engummed in personalism, so are they.

What do the personality-obsessed suggest be done to get rid of Xi? Well, this is a little more difficult than other cases: bombing got rid of Saddam and Qaddafi but China is too strong. Economic measures, as even someone as dim as Anonymous realises, might hurt the USA more than China. Stripped of nostalgianism (the US must “retain collective economic and technological superiority”), delusion (“Dividing Russia from China in the future is equally [critical]”) and degraded touchstones (“current rules-based liberal international order and, critically, its ideological underpinnings, including core democratic values”), the strategy offered is pitiful.

We are invited to be “laser focused” on the assumption that Xi’s so-called one man rule is resented by many in China; if a wedge can be driven into the leadership, Beijing will return to the happy pre-Xi state when

China, under all five of its post-Mao leaders prior to Xi, was able to work with the United States. Under them, China aimed to join the existing international order, not to remake it in China’s own image. Now, however, the mission for US China strategy should be to see China return to its pre-2013 path—i.e., the pre-Xi strategic status quo.

One is reminded of Napoleon’s delusion that Russia’s nobles could be wedged away from Alexander and the undying conviction that one more targetted sanction will make Putin’s henchmen kick him out. But, enough of Anonymous’ fancies – they have no base in reality: the USA out-sourced its manufacturing to China long ago and won’t be getting it back, wokeism is killing its education system, its politics are broken, its military is losing everywhere and doesn’t realise it, a tsunami of debt has built up. Most absurd of all, after years of needless hostility to Russia, Washington has no hope of separating Moscow from Beijing. And Xi Jinpeng is not some rogue who seized control – he is the top of a robust pyramid.

The only significance of this paltry effort is that it gives us another – and depressingly influential – example of the curious American obsession with personalities – everything in Chinese-US relations was going along swimmingly until Xi. But actually, as anyone capable of seeing reality knows, China is much, much more than one man.

China/Russia/Iran/Iraq/insert-name-of-country was happy to accept its place in the Rules-Based International Order until that nasty Xi/Putin/Ayatollah/Saddam/insert-name changed everything; get rid of him and it will all fix itself.

When are they going to understand that it’s a whole country, not just one guy?

LAB RATS TO THE FRONT!

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

We sleep soundly in our beds, because rough men stand ready in the night to do violence on those who would harm us.

George Orwell

NATO contemplates Kaliningrad: “We think through those plans all the time, and… if that would ever come to fruition, we’d be ready to execute.” It would be “a multi-domain, very timely and effective capability”. “The best Polish military units, numbering 30,000 soldiers, should take part in the quick offensive“. Multi-domain, best Polish; in the imaginations of the strategists of Laputa, the Russians passively await the blow. But now we must leave the empyrean realms of pure thought and float down to earth; there we find that “The largest headquarters military exercises Winter 2020 in Poland ended with the complete defeat of Polish troops: on the fifth day of the virtual conflict, the enemy reached the banks of the Vistula and surrounded Warsaw“.

Moscow has just told us (in the guise of a “suggestion” from two scientists) what it would do while NATO was polishing its multi-domains. Andrei Martyanov summarises it. Russia knows that US/NATO attacks start with a heavy air bombardment. And very effective it is too. Against Iraq or Libya which had poorly-coordinated, poorly-maintained, obsolete air defence systems. Or against Afghanistan which had none at all. Went well until the Serbs sent the F-117 into premature obsolescence. But Russia has excellent air defences. But more to the point, which is what our two professors are talking about, it has a host of highly effective missiles, many of them hypersonic and it knows where to aim them.

In order to disrupt the bombardment and frustrate ground-based operations, the analysts say, Russia should launch a colossal counter or pre-emptive strike to wipe out enemy hardware. This could be achieved, they argue, with the combined use of drones, missiles, cyber warfare and new weaponry, destroying Western equipment before it can even get airborne.

As soon as Moscow decided that a real war was inevitable, there would be a rain of hypersonic missiles which would swiftly overwhelm NATO’s mediocre air defences and destroy airfields, aircraft hangars, ammunition dumps, logistics and C3I facilities. And the Defence Minister has just ordered more of them. The “Sulwaki Corridor” would be the quietest place in Europe. Russians, through their brutal experience, know Orwell is correct: war is about destruction and killing.

In the West, however, other matters predominate. An American Rear Admiral heads a group to “have a deeper inclusion and diversity conversation in our Navy“; it will “acknowledge all lived experiences and intersectional identities of every Sailor in the Navy“. The German Army is far ahead as are many Western militaries. “America is stronger around the world when it is inclusive“. “Diversity, inclusion and respect are at the heart of the British Army’s values and ethos“. Diversity makes the Canadian Armed Forces stronger. NATO has “mainstreamed” “gender balance and diversity“.

Is transgenderism a “mental disorder” with very high suicide risk as at least one credentialed psychiatrist says, or is it a perfectly normal position on a flexible spectrum as many other credentialed psychiatrists say? Whatever, let’s try it out in the military and see what happens. Women have gradually moved to full combat roles in the US military. And, no matter how one might want to play with the meaning of the word “stronger”, men are physically stronger than women. And the infantry have to carry heavy loads: one of the more famous efforts was the Royal Marines’ “yomp” in the Falklands – 90 kilometres, three days, average load 36 kilograms. It is said that modern soldiers in the British Army are loaded down with even more. Perhaps weight itself should be made gender-neutral: “The Army Combat Fitness Test, ordered gender-neutral three years ago, is under evaluation by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command“.

Western militaries are lab rats for the latest woke diktats. But there are consequences: “Overall, 11 percent of female service personnel scheduled to ship out were not able to in the previous year because of a pregnancy.” “Research suggests that veterans who identify as members of marginalized populations (e.g., women and racial/ethnic minority groups) carry far greater risk for developing PTSD.” “Sexual violence remains pervasive. In 2018, 20,500 service members were sexually assaulted or raped including 13,000 women and 7,500 men. The rate of sexual assault and rape jumped by almost 40% from 2016 to 2018, and for women veterans, the rate increased by over 50% to the highest level since 2006.” Meditate on the corrosive effect on morale and trust of this: “Of women who reported a penetrative sexual assault, 59% were assaulted by someone with a higher rank than them, and 24% were assaulted by someone in their chain of command.” At some point, the US military will no longer have the levels of trust, cohesion, morale and readiness that distinguish a real fighting force from a parade army.

Lots of money spent, little to show for it. Weapons seem to have been designed to produce cost over-runs, not victories. The US Navy’s latest aircraft carrier, long over due and over budget still has “problems getting jets off the deck and issues with the landing systems“; problems indeed for an aircraft carrier. “[T]he F-35 currently has 871 software and hardware ‘deficiencies’.” The years-long and stunningly expensive super destroyer program has fizzled out: three built without the weapon they were originally designed around. Brand-new military equipment unuseable in Germany. Engine troubles in the UK’s new warships. AEGIS ships that don’t know where they are: HNoMS Helge Ingstad, USS Lake Champlain, USS John McCain, USS Fitzgerald; or maybe it’s only bad seamanship. German aircraft not ready. USAF bombers ageing out. Cost over-runs in Germany. USAF training ranges inadequate. A third of the RAF’s fighters unfit to fly. F-35 not very ready. Crumbling skin on F-22. NATO air defence is inadequate (vide this). “Only five of the U.S. Army’s 15 armored brigade combat teams are maintained at full readiness levels“. Where is the money going? Into woke projects like tanks with solar power? (Bit of a heat signature, but more money can be squandered fixing that.)

The experience of fighting “forever wars” – two decades of bombing and shooting from safe distances, kicking in doors and hoping there are no IEDs on patrols – have sapped preparation for a real war against first-class enemies. The truth is that Western militaries have been fighting – unsuccessfully – against minor enemies. They strike from secure bases confident in air supremacy and assured communications. (Can the Russians spoof GPS signals? What will that do to all the systems relying on GPS?) NATO is not winning against determined poorly-armed enemies; what makes it think it’s ready for determined well-armed enemies? And who wants to join a losing army? No wonder only one British infantry battalion is fully staffed.

The “forever wars” have enormous morale effects. In 2019 the US Army asked “how has serving impacted you?” and got back a host of answers about suicide and PTSD. The US military now publishes an annual suicide report: about 700 members and family a year. But, it says, deployment doesn’t increase the risk; no, that comes afterwards: over 6000 US veterans commit suicide every year. There are similar results in allied forces: German and British. Not surprising really: wars that last for generations without visible success are bad for morale: “For Afghanistan, 58 percent of veterans said that fight was not worthwhile“. NATO has already spent twice as long in Afghanistan as the USSR did and there isn’t anything to suggest it will be leaving: despite the agreement to be out by 1 May 2021, “no decision”. Meanwhile, NATO wants more troops in Iraq. Can’t end them, can’t win them. But NATO keeps looking for more: add China to the list.

Given skilful diplomacy and policies that didn’t threaten neighbours these things wouldn’t matter very much. Your inclusive and intersectional army would give good parades and your air force noisy flypasts, your navy could glisten at the dock. But the USA and NATO are not such: they believe they should be everywhere, interfere everywhere and enforce everywhere.

NATO is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military power to undertake crisis-management operations… in cooperation with other countries and international organisations.

Has NATO ever solved any dispute, anywhere, any time with anything but bombs and threats? Certainly not since the USSR went down: bombs in the Balkans (22 years), Afghanistan (20 years), Iraq (19 years), Syria (9 years), Libya destroyed, run out of Somalia. Its principal member has 800 military bases in 70 countries. Here is the famous meme that Russia must want war because it puts its country close to our bases. (Not just a meme, actually, NATO complains about “provocative military activities near NATO’s borders“; or, as others might say, “inside Russia”.) Iran, a country that last attacked somebody in 1795, also. The British Navy joins the US Navy in “freedom of navigation” cruises in the South China Sea. Both navies would suffer from shortages in a real war. Maybe better to stay at home and let Beijing worry about freedom of navigation to and from China. Not content with the fact that the USA has no competent icebreakers, Washington is contemplating FON cruises in the Russian Arctic. The US regularly flies B-52s near countries it wants to overawe – “sending a message” they call it. Some message – 31 were lost in Vietnam. Or was it 34? At any event, given that it’s spent years thinking about what to do if the USAF comes, it’s unlikely that Tehran sees two B-52s as anything other than a derisory provocation.

Some US generals get it – World War II loss rates. Maybe even most generals get it, but they’re not making the decisions. People who call it “the greatest military in the history of the world” (Obama) “best trained, best equipped, and strongest military the world has ever known” (Hillary Clinton) with the “greatest weapons” (Trump) part of “the most powerful military alliance ever assembled“, “America’s forward operating base for democracy” do. And, just as if the last twenty years had not been a record of overextended failures, here’s a cheerleader calling for more of the same: A Superpower, Like It or Not.

NATO isn’t a paper tiger, it’s a paper pussycat. Lab rats in the latest woke experiment; bad morale and fading cohesion; low readiness levels; exhausted by forever wars; expensive weapons that don’t work; pawns in the fantasies of belligerent braggarts: that’s a recipe for catastrophe.

NATO would be severely defeated in a war with Russia or China and probably with Iran. If it can’t secure Afghanistan or Iraq after two decades, if it takes 226 days to overthrow Qaddafi, 79 days in Kosovo, what makes it think it can casually provoke countries that know they’re on the hit list and have been preparing for two decades? Do the Polish players in Winter 2020 still think it will be “timely and effective“?

THE WEST IS LOSING ITS SOFT POWER

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

“Soft power” is a useful concept whose invention is attributed to Joseph Nye in the 1980s. “Hard power” is easy enough to understand: it’s the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay or Marshal Zhukov in Berlin. But soft power is more subtle and seductive: in Nye’s words: “many values like democracy, human rights, and individual opportunities are deeply seductive.” There are two commonly used ranking lists: Portland – Soft Power 30 – and Brand – Global Soft Power Index. Portland’s top ten in 2019 were France, UK, Germany, Sweden, USA, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Australia and Netherlands. Brand’s in 2020 were USA, Germany, UK, Japan, China, France, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden and Russia. The first rating is very Eurocentric, the other includes Russia and China. Another difference is the position of the United States, but that doesn’t really make much difference to the point of my essay which is about soft power then, now and in the near future.

The Second World War brought the true flowering of the USA’s soft power; from the cargo cults of Melanesia to the cargo cults of Europe, GIs brought the dream to everyone. The USA won the war in a way that no other power did – it emerged immensely stronger and richer into a world in which its natural competitors had been impoverished. At Bretton Woods and San Francisco it shaped the new world to a degree that no other power could. And, understandably, it shaped it to its own benefit, quite convinced that it had every right to do so as the victor and exemplar of the better future. Only the USSR and its sphere grumpily disagreed.

These were the glory times of American soft power. I often think of the movie Roman Holiday in which the American reporter is civilised, polite, doesn’t take advantage of her but gives her confined life a moment of fun and freedom. The best kind of propaganda. (And, interestingly, one of the screenwriters had been blacklisted. Which gives another layer to this intensely pro-American movie, doesn’t it?)

To a friend who grew up in England before and during the Second World War, everything about the USA was exciting. That was soft power in action: bright new future. I would argue that American soft power stood on four pillars: the attractiveness and excitement of its popular culture, its reputation for efficiency, rule of law and the “American Dream”. Every American could expect that his children would be better off – better off in every respect: healthier, longer-lived, better educated, happier, richer – than he was. Some of this was image and propaganda but enough of it was true to make people believe. The wrappings of freedom, wealth and excitement made the package almost irresistible.

The USA owed a great deal of its pre-eminence to sheer luck. Sitting on immense natural resources far from enemies, almost all of its wars were wars of choice and usually wars against greatly inferior forces. But, as Stephen Walt argues, its long run of luck may be ending. “The result was a brief unipolar moment when the United States faced no serious rivals and both politicians and pundits convinced themselves that America had found the magic formula for success in an increasingly globalized world”. Walt is also dispirited about the American reputation for competence which he believes to have been severely damaged by COVID-19. One man’s opinion, to be sure, but he’s not alone. COVID-19 has greatly injured the USA’s and the West’s reputation for efficiency: no better illustration can be given than comparing the confident expectation of October 2019 that the USA and the UK could best handle a pandemic with what actually happened. A big blow to the soft power assumption that the USA and the West were the places where things functioned properly.

One of the biggest casualties has been the promise of the “American Dream”. One graph alone blows this pillar to bits. Until about 1972 wages and productivity were linked – everybody was getting richer together. Since then, the curves have diverged: productivity keeps rising, wages are flat. That’s not what was supposed to happen: the rising tide was supposed to float all boats, not just a few super yachts. The richest one percent owned six times as much as the bottom fifty percent in 1989, now it’s 15 times as much. More significantly, the 50%-90% have seen their share drop seven and a half percentage points. No, your children won’t be better off than you are; and probably not healthier or longer-lived either.

James DeLong discusses the erosion of another soft power pillar with his analysis of Amazon’s decision to deplatform Parler. His conclusion is:

a friend in the investment community likes to remind me that America has a big competitive advantage in the form of the rule of law, or “the insiders aren’t allowed to rob you blind!”. Amazon has decided to prove him wrong.

In the US, and the West in general, you are supposed to know where you are – you’re not subject to the ephemeral whims of a tyrant, as in less lawful regimes: transactions are grounded in law and transparent procedure. Perhaps DeLong is making too much out of something small here, but I don’t think he is. We’ve already seen the boasted principle of innocent until proven guilty disappear the moment Navalniy decides to accuse Putin of something; in the revenge of the present US Administration we will see more arbitrary tyranny justified by exaggerated exigencies. If 6 January was a new Pearl Harbor, extraordinary reactions will be said to be justified. But this is becoming the Western norm: where exactly is the rule of law with Meng in Canada, Sacoulis and Assange in the UK, or Butina in the USA? Will more lawfare against Trump strengthen the image of stability and rule of law?

Neither will the 2020 US election and its consequences advance the American reputation of democratic leadership. Some cheerleaders of “American leadership” like Richard N Haass are quite despondent:

No one in the world is likely to see, respect, fear, or depend on us in the same way again. If the post-American era has a start date, it is almost certainly today [6 January].

Consider the image that Biden’s inauguration sent. Rather than using the COVID excuse to plan a modest ceremony, the full panoply was undertaken. But with no supporters and with soldiers everywhere: note the motorcade pompously passing only people paid to or ordered to attend. It looked like the enthronement of a dictator after a coup. Especially now that the opposition is being censored (deplatformed, as they call it); re-labelled as “domestic terrorists“, possibly under the direction of the arch-enemy Putin; “extremists” must be removed from the US military; the Enemy in already inside Congress. Fence-in the Capitol. The soft power claim of the USA to be the citadel of freedom has taken a hit and will take more.

American movies were one of the vehicles of soft power. Consider, for example, 1939’s Mr Smith Goes to Washington in which a straightforward American, James Stewart, successfully overcomes a corrupt Washington with decency and determination. Many Americans, especially Senators, didn’t get it and railed against the movie – but Spain, Italy, Germany and the USSR understood that it was a powerfully pro-American movie and banned it. Its message was that, even corrupt, the USA is better. Frank Capra made a number of movies about ordinary Americans prevailing with their Everyman decency. A very important part of soft power broadcasting decency and freedom against a background of, to much of the rest of the world, an inconceivable prosperity enjoyed by the ordinary citizen. But in today’s Hollywood’s movies there are no more decent Americans showing the way, just comic book automatons blowing each other up. No message there and no soft power either. If, as this piece wonders, China is Hollywood’s future – it’s already the largest market – then why would you need Hollywood at all? There’s no American soft power in Godzilla vs Kong.

Popular culture, competence, justice and values and the dream of betterment may have been the pillars on which the USA’s soft power was based, but the ground upon which those stood was success. Success made the others attractive; success is the most powerful attraction. The West is losing its aura of success – endless wars, divisive politics, COVID failure, financial crises, debt. And ever more desperate attempts to hold power against ever bolder dissent. It’s just beginning. And not just the USA, the West doesn’t present well any more: protests in Amsterdam, London, Berlin; a year of gillets jaunes in France. The world is watching. Not efficient, not attractive, not law-based. Not successful.

As for success, I recommend this enumeration of China’s achievements. One after another of first or second in numerous categories. And it’s all happened in the last two or three decades. What will we see in the next two or three? That is success. That is what used to happen in the USA. But it doesn’t any more. According to numbers provided by the World Bank, the levels of extreme poverty declined significantly in the world (2000-2017), quite dramatically in China (2010-2016), significantly in Russia (2000-2010) but actually increased in the USA from 2000-2016. “Deaths of despair” are not success. Soft power will inevitable follow as other countries – probably not the West, it’s true – try to imitate China’s stunning success. To a large extent, the West is living on its capital while China is increasing its.

In retrospect, the recent Davos Forum may turn out to be an inflection moment: Putin’s speech was a blunt statement that what he foresaw at Munich in 2007 has come to pass – the patent failure of the “Washington Consensus” and unilateralism. Xi Jinpeng echoed it. Even Merkel promised neutrality between China and the USA.

Soft power is packing up and getting ready to move house: success attracts, failure repels.

OBAMA.3

(Answer to a question from Sputnik)

Given that we have a video of Obama saying that he’d like a third term if he had a front man with an earpiece and given what we know of his role in moving the Democratic primaries for Biden, it’s a safe assumption to say that we are now in Obama.3.

So some deductions – START – which he extended, has been extended. Washington will try to re-do JCPOA, negotiated on his time, but Tehran may not be willing, so that could be harder to do. There is every reason to expect more hostility to Russia, more Ukraine, more Syria. Same wars. Less anti-China rhetoric. And, as with Obamas 1 and 2, benefits to the “three B’s” – bankers, billionaires and bomb makers. So the extension of START is probably the last thing that will make Moscow happy.

But I expect that foreign affairs will take a back seat to the predominant efforts of the Biden/Harris Administration of tightening control over “misinformation”, trying to grind Trump and his followers into the dust and the embarrassments of the 25th Amendment. Then the midterm elections will roll the dice again.

THE ARCTIC OCEAN IS A RUSSIAN LAKE

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

In 2007 a Russian submersible planted a flag on the sea floor at the North Pole. This sparked a flurry of pearl-clutching in the West and idiotic concerns for Santa Claus’ safety (but keep calm, Canada will defend him!) drowning out the rational comment of Christopher Westdal,a former Canadian Ambassador to Russia:

In the Arctic, for a start, Mr. Putin is playing by the same Law of the Sea rules we endorse. The truth is that if we could have, we would have, long ago done much the same thing the Russians have just done. We were not amused, but Russia’s gambit was an entirely legitimate use of an impressive technology that we wish we had to highlight a claim.

The operative statement here is “if we could have, we would have”. The truth is that only Russia can and that means that the Arctic is essentially a Russian lake, or, if you prefer, a Russian skating rink. First of all, about 160 degrees of the circle – or 43% – is Russian, quite a bit more than Canada at 22%, Denmark/Greenland at 19% or the USA and Norway at 8% each. But it’s not just that more of it is Russian, the main point is that Russia can and the other four can’t.

Most of the Arctic is frozen most of the time and icebreaker ships are necessary. According to this list of operational icebreakers, Canada has six, the USA four, Denmark three, Norway two. Russia has more than seventy. Russia’s fleet is modern, the others are old. Russia has the only nuclear-powered icebreakers – eight in service according to Wikipedia. The Arktika is the world’s largest and most powerful icebreaker capable of operating through three metres of ice; there are three more in the works. But an even larger class is coming: four metre ice; construction began in July. Russia’s icebreaker capacity is so enormous that one of them spends its time running tourist cruises to the North Pole. None of the other Arctic countries has anything like this. The USA is planning to build more to replace its elderly fleet; Canada is “exploring options“.

The principal reason for Russia’s construction of such powerful icebreakers as the Project 10510 (aka Leader or Лидер class) is to turn the “Northern Sea Route” into a year-round useable shipping route. The route runs from Murmansk (ice-free year-round and therefore accessible to world shipping) along the top of Russia, through the Bering Straits into the Pacific Ocean – a much shorter route than anything else. At present, its potential is offset by the facts that it has very thick ice at the eastern end and that current icebreakers move slowly at their icebreaking limits. The intention is that the Leader class icebreakers will be able to move through the heavy ice at normal ship speeds (about 12 knots). All this is explained in here by John Helmer.

There are considerable geostrategic implications – this route is not just a way for Russia to earn transit fees. At present Chinese goods bound for Europe travel south, through the straits in Malaysia and Indonesia, through the Indian Ocean and on either through the Suez Canal, Mediterranean and Gibraltar or round Africa. This route has many narrow passages that can be interdicted by hostile powers; much of it is within reach of NATO. If the Northern Sea Route became routinely useable throughout the year, China would be able to more quickly and cheaply ship goods to its European markets. Using the Northern Sea Route will also put these goods far from the reach of the US Navy and its interminable “freedom of navigation” patrols. Likewise, goods coming to China – especially energy from Russia – will be out of reach of hostile powers. The Northern Sea Route, when added to the fast rail network being built by Beijing through Mackinder’s “World Island“, will be a geopolitical fact of no small significance: a response, if not checkmate, to the five-century power of Mackinder’s “world islands”. Both Beijing and Moscow routinely look farther into the future than Western capitals do and Moscow’s work in the Arctic is an example of this forward planning.

The Arctic is thought to have a great deal of natural resources, particularly petroleum. In such a large and inhospitable territory there is much to be explored but already there are many estimates: one ten-year old source estimates that 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas reserves (most in the Russian Arctic) and 13% of its oil reserves may be there. Another source reports that more than 400 onshore oil and gas fields have been discovered north of the Arctic Circle, more than two-thirds are in Russia. One of the largest Russian petroleum sources is in the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Region from which over half of Russia’s oil comes but there are many other oil and gas fields in the Russian sector. Modern technology has made it more possible than previously to tap these resources and Russia is in the forefront of the exercise: Rosneft has just begun what promises to be an enormous operation in the Taymyr peninsula,

Given the inaccessibility of the Arctic, the most efficient way to transport natural gas is to liquefy it. Norway appears to have pioneered LNG technology in cold climates with its plant at Hammerfest that started operations in 2007. Two years later Russia opened its first LNG plant in Sakhalin (52 degrees north). In 2017 another plant was opened in the Yamal Peninsula at 71 degrees north (the same latitude as Hammerfest but much colder weather). To carry this LNG to its customers a fleet of icebreaking LNG carriers has been built in South Korea; the first, the Christophe de Margerie, completing a voyage from Norway to South Korea in August 2017 without needing the support of icebreakers. As of December 2019 the fifteenth and final of the fleet had taken on board its maiden cargo at the Yamal LNG port bound for China. That was the 354th LNG cargo from the port in the first two years of its existence. Once again we see that the country that supposedly “doesn’t make anything” actually makes big plans and executes them. Work on the plant begun in July 2012, it opened for business in December 2017 in time for the appearance of its fleet of specialised ships. The owner, Novatek, is building a third LNG plant in the Yamal region. Rosneft is building its own fleet of icebreaker LNG carriers for its Arctic LNG 2 project. Meanwhile an LNG plant for Alaska has been in concept since 2014 and thus far seems to have produced nothing expect planning permission. In Canada there are “feasibility studies“.

Petroleum supplies are by no means the only natural resources in the Arctic: there are many minerals there as well. In all these areas Russia is well advanced in exploration and exploitation. For many years Russia has maintained a coal mine in Spitzbergen, the Taymyr Peninsula has large coal reserves that India is interested in, there’s a large gold mine in Chukotka and Norilsk has been a producer of nickel, copper and palladium for years. Russia’s Arctic helium production is the the subject of a breathless NYT piece. But these are just samples of what is likely there and the Northern Sea Route, when it is routinely operational, will open more areas for exploration, exploitation and transport.

The Arctic is a formidable environment and work, let alone mere survival, requires enormous amounts of energy the sources of which may be far from the sites. Moscow has an answer for that too – nuclear power stations. Specifically floating, and therefore moveable, nuclear power stations. The first of these, the Akademik Lomonosov, has been operating for more than a year in Pevek, Chukotka. A second is under construction and the current plan calls for seven in total. But, if the project succeeds – and so far so good – there will likely be more. Again, none of the other Arctic nations has anything like this, even though the USA actually pioneered the concept.

Of the five Arctic nations, only three seem to operate military bases in the true Arctic area. The USA has a number of facilities in Alaska but all of them are south of the Bering Strait but it does operate a significant air base at Thule in Greenland (76 degrees north) (Google maps). Canada operates CF Station Alert at 82 degrees north; but it is a relatively small huddle of buildings reachable only by air: (Google Maps). A naval facility is being constructed at the top of Baffin Island and is expected to become operational in 2022. This paper describes Canada’s efforts in its 22% of the Arctic and admits “Significant gaps remain between its current abilities and desired end-state, yet there has been a steady improvement in its basic skill sets”. Two of the Arctic nations – the USA and Russia – operate fleets of nuclear-powered submarines which can travel under the arctic ice but only Russia has submarines actually based in the territory at Polyarnyy in the Kola Peninsula.

By far the largest military force stationed in the Arctic is the Russian Northern Fleet. Not only does this include considerable surface and submarine elements but it fields a strong aviation component and coastal troops complete with shore defence missiles and air defence assets. To say nothing of nuclear forces – here are four Bulava ICBMs being fired from an SSBN in the White Sea. Altogether a very strong and balanced force with direct exit into the polar ocean. The Northern Fleet is continually exercised as the Russian MoD site shows. The other Arctic nations have nothing to compare: they may make occasional excursions into the Far North but only Russia is there all the time.

But where Russia really has a military presence in the Arctic are the bases that it has built. In no way can CFS Alert’s huddle of huts be compared to the amazing Trefoil base on Alexandra Land at 80 degrees north (Google maps.) It is said to be able to provide “comfortable” living for up to 150 soldiers for a year and a half. Another base, the Northern Clover base (250 troops) on Kotelny Island, is in operation, equipped and exercised. Another base is being built in Tiksi. There are at least five airbases on the Russian Arctic archipelago. And it’s not just troops and aircraft – a couple of years ago Arctic-adapted vehicles were shown in the Victory Day parade – they include air defence systems, all-terrain vehicles and armoured fighting vehicles. A version of the T-80 tank is being refurbished for Arctic service. Meanwhile, in 2013 Canada was testing a snowmobile but nothing seems to have happened with it.

The reality of Russia’s possession of its Arctic territories is met with the usual hyperventilation in the Western media “Russia sees its assertive military posture…”; “What Is Behind Russia’s Aggressive Arctic Strategy?“; “Arctic Aggression: Russia Is Better Prepared for a North Pole Conflict Than America Is: Not good“; “Meeting Russia’s Arctic Aggression“; “Putin is making a power grab for the Arctic“. And so on. “Assertive”, “aggression”, “power grab” are the words of the propagandist: what Russia is actually doing is defending and exploiting its territory. Just as we would. If we could.

In President Putin’s Arctic policy statement of March 2020:

Russia’s main national interests in the Arctic are as follows: to ensure Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; preserve the Arctic as a territory of peace and stable mutually beneficial partnership; guarantee high living standards and prosperity for the population of the Russian Arctic; develop the Russian Arctic as a strategic resource base and use it rationally to speed up national economic growth; develop the Northern Sea Route as a globally competitive national transport corridor; and to protect the Arctic environment, the primordial homeland and the traditional way of life of the indigenous minorities in the Russian Arctic.

A bit of propaganda there, but mostly cold hard national interest.

Russia has made the plans and followed through – the other Arctic nations mostly talk about it or complain.

To repeat Christopher Westdale:

“If we could have, we would have.”

STILL THE US ELECTION

(Answer to question from Sputnik — what if Trump refuses to leave?)

The question is misleading. First, Trump has said that, if the Electoral College vote goes against him, he will leave. But that has not yet happened and won’t until January when a joint session of the new Congress, under the Vice President, formally counts the votes. Because a number of states have sent two sets of Electors, this will not be straightforward.

Another matter that could affect the outcome is the Executive Order of September 2018 on foreign interference in the election. The Director of National Intelligence is supposed to present a report in 18 December and the government has extensive powers should interference be discovered. However, as of writing, it appears that this report is unlikely to refer to the central issue which is the assertion that the voting machines, with foreign involvement or ownership, rigged the election.

So, it’s not over yet.

The situation could become very fraught – already polls indicate that between a third and a half of the population believe the election was fraudulent and Trump won.

Whatever happens, we will likely find ourselves in a race between the internal decay of the USA and the warmongering tendencies of an Obama administration redivivus.

THE US ELECTION IS NOT OVER

(First published at Strategic Culture Foundation

President Putin is correct not to congratulate Joe Biden on being elected. There are two reasons. The first is that the complex US election process has not finished; therefore, as Trump has not conceded, there is no “President-elect”. The second reason is that the results may be overthrown by reason of fraud. In which case, Putin will, at the end of the story, look smarter than those who rushed to congratulate Biden before the process was complete.

The hearing in the Pennsylvania Senate and the lawsuits filed in Georgia and Michigan in the last week of November were the first public appearance of the fraud arguments and their supporting evidence – although the alternate media had been on the case from the beginning. Contrary to the utterances of the news media, it was only then that the case was presented in its fullest – the previous legal actions having been only preliminary manoeuvring. The evidence for fraud falls under four heads: eyewitness accounts, improbabilities, statistical analysis and the matter of voting machines and their software. It’s difficult to make up numbers – there are relationships and patterns the fraudster may not know about: better to just make up a final percentage à la the USSR. This piece gives a summary of some of the difficulties with the published results; this piece describes some of the “statistical aberrations”.

Parenthetically, one might observe that the US government declares foreign elections to be fraudulent on a mere fraction of this evidence. Or even, as in the case of Belarus, with no proffered evidence at all: no exit polls, no blurry films; nothing at all.

There are now hundreds, if not thousands, of eyewitness accounts of strange happenings – sudden arrivals of ballots, observers kept away, counting stopped but apparently continuing in secret, suspiciously pristine postal ballots, stacks of ballots with only Biden’s name filled out, Trump votes destroyed, suspicious ballot “curing”, signature problems, backdating postal ballots, wandering USB drives, dead people voting, computer “glitches” sending Trump votes to Biden. Many of these are incorporated into affidavits in the lawsuits and may be read and judged by the public. Many eyewitness accounts, of course, can be dismissed for one valid reason or another, but there are too many now, with more appearing, for casual dismissal.

There are improbabilities in the result. Biden received fewer votes than Clinton or Obama in most areas but many more in the “battleground states”. There were striking exceptions in “down-ballot” voting: in the key states there were large differences between the votes for Biden and for the Democratic Senate candidate. There are cases of historically high – almost Soviet-level – turnouts in key precincts in the “battleground states”. There were improbably high turnouts in nursing homes and in group homes. There are many cases where more votes were cast than voters registered. It was generally a bad day for Democratic candidates: seats were lost in the House and in state legislatures but we are expected to believe that Biden won a strong victory. Despite the spectacular difference in enthusiastic crowds, we’re told that more people turned out for Biden on the day. Perhaps any one of these can be explained but can all of them?

Statistical analysis comprises the next grouping of evidence. We see that votes for Biden, most of the time, and votes for Trump, all of the time, roughly accord with the curve of Benford’s Law. But in those areas where Biden needed the votes, they do not. Violations of Benford’s Law are commonly used by forensic accountants to indicate fraud. An analysis of moving averages over time shows a settled ratio of votes for Biden with a sudden jump in the hours when counting was “stopped”. In some cases votes seem to have been processed faster than physically possible. Other analyses point to suspicious spikes of votes for Biden. A number of statisticians have been attracted to the question and their analyses suggesting fraud are appearing. Again there are too many of these pointers – all of them in the same direction – to be easily dismissed.

Finally there is the whole collection of problems with some voting machines – especially Dominion – and their associated software. The argument is that the machines and software were specifically designed to produce fraudulent results: totals can be changed, votes switched from one candidate to another, incoming vote weighted in favour of one candidate and so on. There are affidavits to this effect. US Embassy cables and previous investigations had shown problems with Dominion machines but, nonetheless, they and the associated software were widely used in 2020. There is possible foreign involvement in these important machines: many parts are made in China; affidavits claim that voting tallies were sent to other countries on the Internet and were massaged there and that passwords into the system were widely available. A computer security expert attests that “hundreds of thousands of votes” were transferred from Trump to Biden by the machines. These issues are attracting computer programmers and hackers and there are now a number of videos on the Internet showing how easily the machines can be hacked.

In summary, the argument is that the machines were programmed to rig the vote in the key states (and perhaps everywhere) by an amount that was thought to be sufficient. But the Trump vote was so much greater than anticipated that the counting had to be “halted” in the “battleground states”; in the “halted” time, ballots were manufactured to compensate. The image of a smooth red curve being overtaken by a blue stepped curve has become the logo of those who believe there were such injections.

This is now quite a large heap of accusations, witness statements and assertions: can these charges be proved in a court (leaving aside the question of whether US courts can be trusted to rule on such a partisan issue – vide General Flynn’s experience)? Or, given the provisions of Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution – “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors…” – can sufficient state legislatures be convinced to select Trump-voting Electors? We will find out. But there are certainly too many things to be airily dismissed and there is nothing to suggest that either side will concede until the issue has been fought out to the end.

But, whatever is decided, half the population will be convinced that the election was stolen – indeed a Rasmussen poll in mid-November showed that nearly half the population – including 30% of Democrats! – already believes that “Democrats stole votes or destroyed pro-Trump ballots in several states to ensure that Biden would win”.

2020 has not been a good year for the United States: COVID-19 has wreaked havoc, the economic gains of the past few years have eroded, civil violence and rioting have been common. A disputed election leaving half the population thinking its candidate was cheated out of office will not make things more peaceful. Many are speaking of, if not outright civil war, severe civil strife.

And, in a condition of widespread civil strife and who knows what else, what is the future of the Imperium Americanum? Many pundits will quote Plehve’s alleged remark about the attractiveness of a “little, victorious war” to distract the population. But what little wars are there left? Afghanistan? Iraq? Hardly victorious. It is unlikely that overthrowing Maduro would be very short or, even if it were, that it would distract impassioned American rioters. A war with Iran would be neither little nor victorious. A really severe civil war would divide the US military and bring it home. The consequences of the November 2020 election, whoever winds up in the White House in January, will be long-lasting; the Imperium will have important concerns at home.

What from Moscow’s perspective? The ingathering of American resources to deal with problems in the homeland will be welcomed but the dangers of a nuclear state imploding will not. 2021 may make 2020 look like a blessed haven of stability.

AN EPITAPH FOR THE WEST

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

The United States dominated the Twentieth Century for four principal reasons. Its manufacturing capability far exceeded anyone else’s; perhaps the most dramatic illustration was its stunning production in the Second World War when it, for example, manufactured 300,000 aircraft, twice as much as the next place country. Its inventive capability was also immense: from airplanes to electricity transmission to assembly lines the USA was the inventor and, equally important, the adaptor of numerous world-changing innovations. Thirdly, unlike most of the non-Anglosphere world, it was politically stable: even under the strain of the Great Depression its political system held. Finally the “American Dream” had sufficient reality to be attractive. But what is left today of these four? Much (most?) of its manufacturing has been outsourced to China. What remains of American ingenuity? – a buttonless iPhone is not at the same level as the Apple 1. As to political stability, whoever sits in the White House at the end of January 2021 will be regarded as an interloper by half the population; that will have consequences on the street. The American dream that your children will be better off – by every measurement – than you were has collapsed: the children, crushed by unpayable debt and zero-hour contracts, hide in your basement. And as it goes with the West’s leader, so, ceteris paribus, it goes with the other Western countries. The outlook is poor, unstable and desperate.

How did it happen? There are many reasons but the principals are the usual pair: wars and spending. Too much war: during its rise to power, wars were good for the West but it doesn’t win them any more and it hasn’t lost the habit. Too much spending leading to too much debt: debt for investment is worthwhile but debt for consumption is not. It transpires that “history” has, in fact, resumed its movement.

In short, the West has lost its mojo”. “Mojo” or “magic” is an appropriate word: there certainly was a reality to Western power and authority but there was also a magical element because a significant amount of the West’s power rested on the conviction of the conquered and the awed that it could not be beaten.

There has been a loss of competence – an essential component of the mojo. I recommend Stephen Walt’s essay The Death of American Competence. As he rightly points out, one of the pillars of American power was “an image of the United States as a place where people knew how to set ambitious goals and bring them successfully to fruition.” He speculates on the reasons for the decline, suggests several, but he knows it has been a long development: “Over the past 25 years, however, the United States has done a remarkable job of squandering that invaluable reputation for responsible leadership and basic competence”.

The COVID-19 outbreak provides a sharp demonstration of the loss of mojo.

In what will probably be remembered as one of the most ironic events of the Twenty-first Century, the GHS Index in October 2019 assessed the countries of the world on their preparedness for an epidemic or pandemic. It ranked the USA and the UK as the two best prepared countries: the former with a score of 83.5/100 and the latter at 77.9/100. The world average was calculated to be 40.2/100. I think it is a pretty safe bet that no one a year later would say that either handled COVID-19 well: some might say that the two were among the worst in the world. According to at least one ranking, the USA was first and the UK fifth in deaths as of 14 November. Hardly the “best prepared”.

These kinds of rankings are very dependent on GIGO and unstated assumptions. And the cynic would not be especially surprised to see GIGO and assumptions manifesting themselves in the GHS rankings: the top fifteen contain nine NATO members and two close US allies. Who knew that geopolitical choices were so prophylactic? As to countries with – shall we say – less therapeutic alliances, China scored 48.2/100 and Russia 44.3/100. In the actual test of COVID-19, no one would suggest that Russia (216 deaths/million) or China (3/million) did worse than the USA (745/million) or the UK (740/million).

There is a lot to question about these numbers and how they are measured; consequently, they should only be considered as rough comparisons. They are drawn from the worldometer site and are, I believe, the numbers as generally reported. What’s counted as a “COVID death” varies, what’s counted as an “infection” varies; some countries (ours) are truthful and others (theirs) aren’t. So there’s room for much argument about this or that number. But, with respect to Russia and China as compared with the West, there is one clue to reality and that is the IMF projection for economic growth in 2020. Against a world fall of 4.4% China is projected to grow 1.9% and Russia to fall 4.1%. The IMF expects Russia will do better (less badly) than any in the Euro zone or G7; specifically, it projects the USA at -4.3% and the UK at -9.8%. Therefore, whatever the “real” COVID-19 numbers may be, the IMF at least assesses Russia and China to have done better (less badly) than the supposed winners of the GHS Index.

A poor result for the West and one to be meditated on. Prima facie, one would expect the USA and the UK to have handled COVID-19 much better than they did and therefore why they did so poorly requires some thought. And the same goes for many other Western countries. Given the long-time reputation and expectation of Western competence, COVID-19 has demonstrated that there needs to be some re-thinking about these assumptions.

COVID-19 revealed a lack of planning: none of these countries seems to have had a stock of PPE. In the USA destroyed stocks were not replaced. Neither were they in Belgium, Canada or the UK. There seems to have been a shortage in many other places. Not competent. How about hydroxychloroquine: is it a useful treatment or not? maybe in July; yes in July; no in July; yes in October; confused in October; yes in October; no in November; maybe in November. And so it goes: you’d think in a competent epidemiology environment there would be a pretty definitive answer – even if “only sometimes” – by now. How about face masks? In February “skip mask and wash hands“; March “If it’s a regular surgical face mask, the answer is no“; April “only useful for healthcare workers and patients who test positive“. Today, they are essential for all. Not competent. The Imperial College model… enough said. Not competent. The Gates Foundation, a strong proponent of vaccines, is a principal funder of the WHO, Dr Fauci’s organisation and the CDC. The CEO of Pfizer sold shares the day of the announcement that the company had a vaccine. Why would Fauci fund gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses in Wuhan? Conflict of interest? Coincidence? But certainly not competent.

Not competent. In the West today competence always comes second. It used to be normally first and occasionally second; now it is always second. Second to what? Second to diversity. The list of diversity categories that must be satisfied is ever-changing and ever-growing: race, language, gender, sexual preference, transgender – always expanding. And all of these categories have to be filled first. By competent people, of course. But only by whatever competency is left over after the primary demands are satisfied.

Gilbert Doctorow describes the state of affairs as it relates to Belgium in his essay which was the spark for mine:

The source of incompetence is called corruption, and corruption is built into the political system here by the ultra-sophisticated practice of power sharing that enables the two nations of Belgium, French-speakers and Dutch speakers, to spare one another’s throats and enjoy the fruits of governing without concern over competence or popular will. The problem is compounded by another ultra-progressive political principle built into the practice of governance – proportional representation, which encourages a proliferation of political parties, which in recent decades numbered already double what they had in the 1960s due to party organizations stopping at the linguistic borders. There is a constant search for a parliamentary majority through coalition building, where policy consistency goes out the window for the sake of nose-counting and finding bedfellows however ‘strange’ they may be.

He concentrates on Belgium’s “power-sharing” (a concept familiar to Canadians after years of official bilingualism). But I think his point can be expanded farther and that what he sees as peculiar to Belgium is now common throughout the West under the rubric of “diversity”.

First make sure that the ever-changing and ever-expanding diversity requirement is satisfied and then you can look for competence. This state of affairs can bumble along until reality bites and competence or the lack of it really makes a difference.

And reality, in the shape of the SARS-CoV-2, bit. I suspect that in China and Russia, to take two better performers, competency is still the common first choice.

Coincidental with this is the chaos in the US election, the signing of the RCEP and the report that two Chinese “carrier killer” missiles hit a moving target in the South China Sea.

So why has the West lost its mojo? I would propose this epitaph for the tombstone

Competence always came second

2020 US ELECTION — FIRST THOUGHTS

(Response to a question from Sputnik)

The first observation is that Biden has not been officially declared winner and may not be pending court cases, Elector choice and other potential developments.

Whoever is actually resident in the White House, my expectation is that the US domestic situation will become very tense because half the American population will regard the vote as stolen from them and the sitting president illegitimate.

If it’s Biden I expect the first year or so to be taken up with the painful decision of when to remove him on 25th Amendment issues.

This resulting condition of – what? – rioting? incipient civil war? combined with uncertainty over Biden’s future, recrimination inside the Democrat Party over their poor performance and a power struggle inside a Biden Administration will reduce the amount of energy devoted to foreign affairs.

As to Russia specifically, “Russiagate” will be confirmed as absolutely true, Strzok, Brennan, Clapper, Vindman and the others as heroes who saved the republic from Putin and investigations will cease. Biden has promised to be tough on Russia and relations will get worse.

So, it appears we are in a competition – a race? – between the internal decay of the USA into chaos and the warmongering tendencies of the Obama administration.

TODAY’S PUTIN QUOTATION

I would like to tell those who are still waiting for Russia’s strength to gradually wane, the only thing we are worried about is catching a cold at your funeral.

хочу сказать тем, кто ещё ждёт постепенного затухания России: нас в этом случае беспокоит только одно – как бы не простудиться на ваших похоронах.

Address to Valdai Club, 22 October 2020