Category Archives: Politics: International

Wait for It

Hashish with Putin’s picture captured in northeast Syria in 2022 (via Middle east Eye)

Given the nature of the propaganda war around the real and tragic war in Ukraine, and given especially the bizzaro nature of President Putin’s televised ‘live’ (but really on tape) pre-war meeting with his nervous and bemused Security Council, I’ve been thinking it was only a matter of time before someone tried spreading a rumor that Putin had syphilis or something.

I was close: Comes now China Talk, a podcast and newsletter by Jordan Schneider, who describes himself as a China tech analyst at The Rhodium Group, host of Lawfare’s ChinaTalk Podcast, and a fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

The latest edition features Chris Miller, an Associate Professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts. While talking with Prof. Miller, Schneider says this,

Jordan Schneider: It wouldn’t surprise anyone right now if Putin was on drugs. No doctor is going to say he should cut back a little bit if Putin asks for sleeping pills.

…. Putin’s starting a world war apparently because the entire nation is ruled by drug addicts.

It would not surprise me at all if we end up finding out five or 10 years later that this is the case.


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Don’t Be a Dinosaur

(Click the arrow to play the actual video.)

Posted in Global Warming, Politics: International | 3 Comments

Real or Onion?

Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., questioned Tuesday if the United States should rethink its diplomatic relationship with Australia given its strict, military-enforced COVID-19 lockdowns…

“You know, you guys, look what’s going on in Australia right now. You know, they’re enforcing, after a year and a half, they’re still enforcing lockdowns by the military.”

“That’s not a free country. It’s not a free country at all. In fact, I mean, I wonder why we would still have the same diplomatic relations when they’re doing that. Is Australia freer than China, communist China, right now? I don’t know. The fact that that’s even a question tells you something has gone dramatically off the rails with some of this stuff.”

So, real or Onion? You decide, then click through for the answer.

Continue reading

Posted in COVID-19, Florida, Onion/Not-Onion, Politics: International | Comments Off on Real or Onion?

France Should Not Have Been Surprised by Australia-US-UK Sub Deal?

USS Georgia (U.S. Navy photo)

The news has been full of French anger and petulance over the US swooping in and stealing its sub deal with Australia.  French anger has been described as a combination of loss of a deal (the French, I suspect, are more used to stealing other people’s arms sales than having the rug pulled out from under theirs) and the sense that their Pacific Ocean/Asia policy has just taken it on the chin.  Most US news coverage has operated in the frame that the news of the US sub deal came a surprise to France, thus motivating the somewhat, er, energetic reaction.

For this reason, I was intrigued to see a very different narrative offered by the blog Balding’s World. I can’t endorse it, or this analysis, as it’s not my area, but this certainly isn’t what I’ve been seeing in my newspaper or my news feed:

First, this appears to first and foremost be a commercial and bilateral dispute between France and its naval construction company and Australia. Despite the best attempts of France to broaden it to a European or Asian coalition dispute, there is little evidence this is happening. The commercial dispute stems from disagreements over progress, cost, and strategic importance of the subs France would be building. While France has talked about compensation, reports state, and I would be surprised if it was otherwise, that there are clear exits within the contract that do call for specific compensation but are clearly defined by time and work product. Despite what France may say, there is little strategic change from France opting out of cooperation with Australia, the UK, or US to the Indo Pacific region. It would of course be better if they joined the burgeoning coalition but there is little downside risk to them leaving.

Second, this break up appears to have been a long time in the making. While France may claim they were completely blind sided by Australian discontent, there were public reports of meetings at the highest level going back years about Australian discontent. The most recent in June gave the French side until September (now) to turn around the project. There were issues of massive cost increases, the strategic value of the dated subs by the time they would be delivered, delays in delivery, technology transfer, and how much would be locally produced in Australia just to name a few. These are just the issues about which there are public records. This should not have been a surprise.

Third, one widely overlooked point is how much the broader geopolitical landscape has changed from when this deal was first initiated. Signed in 2016 with likely years of planning before hand, for simplicity sake let us assume 2012 when Xi Jinping came to power, Australia finds itself seeking very different naval capabilities from 2016 to 2021. That is not France’s fault that is simply the reality. An underlying factor here is Australia believing they needed significantly greater capabilities than the French models offered.

Fourth, the reports are that Australia initiated the conversation seeking merely to do a basic swap out of the existing class of subs they would purchase from France for US/UK models. However, it quickly evolved into a significantly broader and more significant upgrade of Australian naval capabilities. There are a couple of sub reasons this is important. For instance, this appears to be a coalition of the willing of 5 Eyes essentially becoming 3 Eyes with increased security integration and access to resources. This is building out a coalition of countries willing to cooperate with an eye towards China. Additionally, this (and I should say this is somewhat speculative) appears not to be the Biden administration jumping in to try and snag a deal but rather being approached and putting something together to work with an ally. The reason that matters is that I would not expect this to become a pattern of hard ball real politik for the Biden administration. I would hope I am wrong and that they would do more deals like this but I doubt that is likely. One final sub note is that the exact timing remains somewhat unclear here so if I am wrong, I will gladly correct. Some reports have talks on this commencing 12-18 months ago and some have the talks initiating 6 months ago. For something of this complexity, I’m guessing 12-18 months ago but that would again provide different implication in that the Biden team is receiving a hand off and sealing the deal rather than managing the deal themselves front to back. Again the details here remain a little murky but something to watch.

Fifth, it is very hard to see French complaints. The business case was pretty clear for quite some time that Australia was very unhappy with the project. When, as it appears, Australia reached out to the US and UK, they brough much larger, broader, and deeper resources to the table to help Australia. On a strategic level, though France is talking of multilateralism, it needs to be emphasized that they are using that word very differently. They have pointedly refused to join the US and other countries in seeking to challenge China preferring almost a more go it alone strategy that has hall marks of the US, UK, and Australia but pointedly not joining with those countries over China. They have actively sought to increase trading links with China through among other initiatives as the CAI to the consternation of the US and even the Parliament. Now France is a sovereign state and pursue whatever policies it feels are in its interest but when your entire foreign policy is labeled “strategic autonomy” it is difficult to take seriously calls for a return to multilateralism.


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Greenbacks vs Gunboats

Money down the drain

© 2011
Licensed via CC BY 2.0 license.

So we spent about $2.26 trillion over two decades in Afghanistan–not to mention the US, allied, and Afghani lives lost or damaged by injuries, and the cost of various sorts of devastation to the Afghan people, and future costs of lifetime care for veterans and future interest on money the US borrowed for the war–and all we got is a Fall of Saigon on steroids.

I may be a broken record here (see bulleted links below), but if you consider that the population of Afghanistan is circa 27 million (it was less 20 years ago, but let’s take that as our back of the envelope number), then we could have paid every Afghan circa $4,185 a year for twenty years instead of invading.

That $4,185 a year is less than the average salary of $18,500 per year [a number I suspect reflects urbanized participants in the modern market economy plus some oligarchs who raise the average], but well above the modal salary of $1,000 per year. If we take the Afghan GNP to be circa $19.5 bn per year, that GNP works out to about $722 per Afghani per year. So our annual $4,185 for every woman, man, and child is about 5.8 times the average GNP per person per year. [While these numbers may seem odd, they may be due to an agrarian country with a child-oriented demographic skew.]

I would bet that the prospect of payments over four times the modal salary and 5.8 times the average GNP per person could have bought you quite a lot more than what we got–had we been able to find a way to pay it to the average Afghani. Those would have been terrific bribes in a country that is not unused to the concept. Might even have bough some serious political reform; it certainly would have paid for a lot of education for girls (and boys) and for construction, driven by bottom-up demand rather than erratic top-down supply.

But that’s not how we roll.

Incidentally, that $2.26 trillion equals about $788 annually, for twenty years, per US taxpayer (using the current 143.3 million number as a ballpark divisor).  I find it much easier to grasp $3,152 last year for the four taxpayers in my immediate family as representing US’s out of pocket costs than some number of hundreds of billions, not to mention the trillions over time.


Posted in Politics: International | 1 Comment


Today is the 5th anniversary of the UK’s decision to pull out the EU. I remain convinced that in the long run this will clearly be seen as one of the dumbest decisions a democracy ever made. Maybe not quite as dumb as electing Donald Trump, but one with much greater long-run consequences.

Meanwhile, however, views on the ground still differ: BoJo is still gung-ho — while many pro-Brexit voters say even if it did hurt them, it was worth it. Analysts and interest groups say it has harmed the UK, including importers, exporters, exporters again, UK expats in the EU, UK TV and filmakers, UK touring bands, pigeon fanciers, you name it; yes it’s all very complicated. Meanwhile the EU view is somewhere between ‘meh‘ and ‘good riddance’, although Timothy Garton Ash argues that the EU is worse off without the UK.  (FWIW, I half agree, but note that the EU also reaped great benefits, in that the disaster in the UK destroyed all the nascent EU separatist movements in other EU members.) Lurking in the future is the unresolved status of Northern Ireland — will it be in the EU economic zone and hence outside the UK (as agreed in the Brexit deal), or outside the EU thus avoiding a border with the rest of the UK…but creating one with the Republic of Ireland in violation of the so-called Good Friday agreement.

For the UK this anniversary also raises the specter of divorce — or divorces: If the UK can’t sort out the Northern Irish trade issue, there’s a chance that re-unification with the Republic might become more popular.  Meanwhile, Scotland likely will have another referendum on independence in the next few years, and the argument that leaving the UK would allow Scotland to rejoin Europe might well carry the day.  In the end all that would be left of the UK would be England and Wales.

In local news, today is also my 32nd wedding anniversary. Still going strong.

Posted in Brexit, Personal | 5 Comments