OUR PREDICTIONS FOR ANNO DOMINI 2015
"As 2014 comes to a close, the Financial Times once again engages in a harmless bit of soothsaying. As ever, we invite some of the FT’s experts and commentators to dim the lights, dust down their crystal balls and predict what the next 12 months will bring on topics ranging from the British general election to the outlook for wearable technology.
This is a hazardous enterprise, of course. Looking back at last year’s essay in New Year forecasting, there were a few predictions we would rather not talk about. Chris Giles said the Bank of England would raise interest rates in 2014. Simon Kuper predicted that Brazil would win the football World Cup. Clive Cookson predicted that Virgin Galactic would launch its first successful commercial flight this year.
Some colleagues should take a bow. Victor Mallet correctly declared that Narendra Modi would win India’s general election; Jonathan Ford was bang on about Scotland voting No to independence (even if that looked shaky before the poll); Gideon Rachman foresaw wins for both the French National Front and Britain’s UK Independence party in the May European elections.
Of course, an exercise such as this is only partly about providing the right answer to a given question. Much of the skill lies in choosing the correct question in the first place. Last year, it did not occur to us to inquire whether Vladimir Putin would invade Ukraine, whether a shady group called Isis would become a strategic threat in the Middle East or whether Cuba would come in from the cold. It will doubtless be the same in 2015. Things will happen in the theatre of global news that none of us can — as yet — imagine".
James Blitz, "FT Predictions: the world in 2015". The Financial Times
. 30 December 2014, in www.ft.com
"Tu ne prévoir les évènement que lorsqu'ils sont déjà arrives
". ['You can only predict events which have already happened'].
Jean Ionescu. Les Rhinocéros
. Act Three. (1959).
While I doubt that my predictions will come out as well as those of the superior intellects of the Financial Times
, I still believe that it will be a worthwhile endeavor to hazard a few surmises as to what will come out in anno domini 2015. So, here goes:
i) That the regime crisis: a combination of an economic and political crisis in matushka Russia will proceed as predicted in this space for while now. That the Putin regime will prove incapable of doing anything else other than papering over the cracks in its
crumbling economic framework. Something evidentially visible as per to-day newspaper 1.
ii) That the situation in Ukraine, both political and economic will gradually improve.
iii) That the American economy and indeed America's overall position in the world will improve. Look for an overall growth rate of at lease three and half to four percent in the upcoming year. Memories of the boom years of the late 1990's will return in full force.
iv) That the price of oil will remain subdued for the entirety of anno domini 2015, not rising any further than sixty to seventy dollars a barrel. As the economic boom in the United States is not matched by any other region or group of countries elsewhere.
v) That the European Union will struggle onward in the seemingly eternal muddle that is its economic and political framework. More or less along the old, pre-Great War Viennese adage that: 'the situation is hopeless but not serious'.
vi) That Peking's geopolitical situation will continue to decline, as it continues to alienate its neighbors by its aggressive policies in the South and East China Seas
vii) That Britain's current coalition government will be returned to power, in some guise or other. With the opposition Labour Party failing to take advantage of the overall less than positive national mood. The UK Independence Party will prove to have been a damp squib, but failing to win more than five seats in the new Parliament.
viii) That Mme. Hillary Clinton will decide to run for the Presidency of the United States.
ix) That ex-Governor Jeb Bush will also decided to run for the Presidency of the United States.
x) That the ferocious violent ISIS grouping will gradually lose both territory and influence as it is pounded from both the air by the Americans and their allies as well as on the ground by among others: the Assad Regime, the Kurds of both Syria and Iraq, by Jordanian forces with American assistance on the ground as well.
Perhaps my predictions are too optimistic. But I prefer heroic optimism rather than realistic pessimism. In any case we shall soon enough see the validity of my skills as a predictor of the future or lack thereof.
1. Kathrine Hille, "Russia takes steps to prop up struggling companies". The Financial Times
. 31 December 2014, in www.ft.com
. See also: Sergei Aleksashenko, Mikhail Krutikhin, & Yuval Weber "What Should We Do About the Weakening Ruble, Lower Oil Prices and Sanctions?" Carnegie Moscow Center
. 23 December 2014, in www.carnegie.ru
THE CUBAN-AMERICAN RAPPROCHEMENT: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?
"WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past” and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.
The surprise announcement came at the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis and concluded by a telephone call between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro. The historic deal broke an enduring stalemate between two countries divided by just 90 miles of water but oceans of mistrust and hostility dating from the days of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis.
“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal, he added, will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”
The president outlined the steps the United States would take to “end an outdated approach” and begin to normalize relations with Cuba. In doing so, Mr. Obama ventured into diplomatic territory where the last 10 presidents refused to go, and Republicans, along with a senior Democrat, quickly characterized the rapprochement with the Castro family as appeasement of the hemisphere’s leading dictatorship. Republican lawmakers who will take control of the Senate as well as the House next month made clear they would resist lifting the 54-year-old trade embargo.
“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and son of Cuban immigrants. “All this is going to do is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.'"
Peter Baker, "U.S. to Restore Full Relations With Cuba, Erasing a Last Trace of Cold War Hostility". The New York Times
. 17 December 2014, in www.nytimes.com
The Cubans are now under some pressure to shift their policies. They have managed to survive the fall of the Soviet Union with some difficulty. They now face a more immediate problem: uncertainty in Venezuela. Caracas supplies oil to Cuba at deeply discounted prices. It is hard to tell just how close Cuba's economy is to the edge, but there is no question that Venezuelan oil makes a significant difference. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government is facing mounting unrest over economic failures. If the Venezuelan government falls, Cuba would lose one of its structural supports. Venezuela's fate is far from certain, but Cuba must face the possibility of a worst-case scenario and shape openings. Opening to the United States makes sense in terms of regime preservation.
The U.S. reason for the shift is less clear. It makes political sense from Obama's standpoint. First, ideologically, ending the embargo appeals to him. Second, he has few foreign policy successes to his credit. Normalizing relations with Cuba is something he might be able to achieve, since groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce favor normalization and will provide political cover in the Republican Party. But finally, and perhaps most important, the geopolitical foundations behind the American obsession with Cuba have for the most part evaporated, if not permanently than at least for the foreseeable future. Normalization of relations with Cuba no longer poses a strategic threat. To understand the U.S. response to Cuba in the past half century, understanding Cuba's geopolitical challenge to the United States is important....
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Castro lost his patron and strategic guarantor. On the other hand, Cuba no longer threatened the United States. There was an implicit compromise. Since Cuba was no longer a threat to the United States but could still theoretically become one, Washington would not end its hostility toward Havana but would not actively try to overthrow it. The Cuban government, for its part, promised not to do what it could not truly do anyway: become a strategic threat to the United States. Cuba remained a nuisance in places like Venezuela, but a nuisance is not a strategic threat. Thus, the relationship remained frozen.
George Friedman, "The Geopolitics of U.S.-Cuba Relations". Stratfor
. 23 December 2014, in www.stratfor.com
With the resumption of something approaching 'normal' diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, the Americans have
intelligently put aside an extremely outdated aspect of the 'Cold War'. With the collapse of Sovietskaya Vla
st more than twenty-years ago, there is absolutely no sense in the economic embargo that the Americans have (or should we say 'had') on Cuba. Whatever else said sanctions may have done, they certainly have not lead to a situation in which the Castro Dictatorship has been overthrowned. Indeed, it may in fact be the case that the albatross of the embargo has solidified rather than the converse the rule of the Castro Brothers. In any case, the fact of the matter is that aside from the ultra self-interested Cuban, émigré community in South Florida, no one has any real interest in Cuba. The times are long gone when the island's resources could be said to have any
economic importance. Cuba's importance in any real sense of the term ended circa 1992
. Nothing has occurred since that time to reverse this state of affairs. By keeping a diplomatic and economic embargo on an island territory of absolutely no strategic importance, the Americans have merely given out another instance of their diplomatic maladroitness
. Indeed, it could be said of the entire South and Central American zone, that strategically speaking, its only importance derives from a negative rather than a positive attribute: denying it to other powers outside of the American continent
. In short, by endeavoring to re-establish normal relations with Cuba, the American President, whatever else one may say of him, has certainly made an intelligent move on the diplomatic chessboard.
PUTIN SPEAKS OUT: A COMMENT
“Our bear should just relax and sit quietly and eat berries and honey. What they’re trying to do is chain the bear. What they are trying to do is take out his fangs and claws. This is the nuclear deterrent. “
“If they take out the bear’s fangs and claws the bear will not be able to do anything. It will just be a stuffed animal. What we’re trying to do is maintain our sovereignty.”
“25 – 30 per cent of our problems are due to the sanctions.”
“Do we want our bear to become a stuffed animal and just sit there?”
“That is the choice and it has nothing to do with Crimea.”
Russian Federation President Valdimir Putin. "Live blog: Vladimir Putin’s annual press conference". The Financial Times
. 18 December 2014, in www.ft.com
As predicted, Russian President Vladimir Putin held to his 'hard line' as per the economic crisis which has engulfed Russia in the past few weeks. Rather than following the advise, nay the hopes of the more cosmopolitan of his advisors and the general Russian elite, Putin staked out a confrontational approach which all but ensures that Moskva will not relent as per his policies towards Ukraine and the West in general. A stance which I for one predicted in this online journal the other day. By stating that the crisis will be over in a mere two-years time, Putin is endeavoring to bolster his position with his domestic audience by giving them the
(false) hope that by being caged into something approaching a siege-economy, that conditions will eventually improve and get
better 1. In fact, in the absence of a marked upswing in oil prices, there is absolutely no hope that conditions will improve anytime soon in Matushka Russia. Anno domini 2015 looks to be a year of full-blown economic crisis, with the Russian GDP set to decline by close to six-percent and with massive unemployment in the offing. And all of this is due to the hubris of one man and his clique: Vladimir Putin
. As one liberal, ex-deputy minister, noted yesterday:
“There is no time. We need to act, and act radically,” said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister turned opposition politician, warning that Russia is stuck in a liquidity and debt crisis, a budget crisis and a crisis of investor confidence. “From a political point of view, a change in government and central bank leadership doesn’t help because all three crises are the work of one man — the current president, Putin,” he wrote in a blog post. “His resignation is indispensable to overcome these crises because, after 15 years in office, trust in him is gone 2
The real question is who will go first: Putin, his clique and 'Putinism' or the entire Russian state apparatus. Involving massive suffering by the poor Russian narod. For their sake, one hopes that Putin and Putinism will soon disappear forever more.
1. "Putin: Russian economy will rebound". Deutsche Welle
. 18 December 2014, in www.dw.de
2. Kathrin Hille, Courtney Weaver and Jack Farchy, "Through the looking glass: the Kremlin struggles to restore calm". The Financial Times
. 19 December 2014, in www.ft.com
THE CURRENCY CRISIS IN RUSSIA: TURNING INTO A 'REGIME CRISIS'?
"The next four or five years will be very difficult if not critical for Russia, and the Russians, in Putin’s view, absolutely must meet the challenges and win. The alternative, although he did not say it, of course, is dire.
Putin’s address was directed first and foremost at the Russian people. It has often been assumed that Russians are at their best when things are worst for them, and certainly the economic situation today is very precarious. Putin has decided “not to waste a good crisis,” and wants to use the challenge of Western sanctions and the low oil price as leverage for the country's economic revival. For years, the Russian government only talked about “getting off the oil needle,” but it is only now that it has run out of easier options and has to start doing something about it. Will it be able to do perform that feat?
Vladimir Putin’s most serious and glaring weakness in his 15 years in power has been his failure to come up with a realistic strategy of economic development. He—and Russia—were instead helped by high and rising oil prices, which of course did not create a momentum for reform. Now, the relatively low and falling prices appear to create such a momentum, as Putin’s pro-business initiatives indicate. However, these initiatives will be devalued if not backed up by genuine political will to make the legal system produce justice for all, and by a sustained effort to severely reduce institutionalized corruption. Government transparency and accountability is another indispensable condition."
Dmitri Trenin, "Putin’s Urbi et Orbi". Carnegie Moscow Center
. 5 December 2014, in www.carnegie.ru
"Belatedly, financial markets have realised that July 16 was Russia’s Lehman moment. On that day, the US imposed sectoral sanctions on Russia because of its military aggression in eastern Ukraine. Two weeks later the EU introduced similar sanctions. However, it was only in December that the markets recognised the severity and tenacity of the financial sanctions.
Since July, Russia has received no significant international financing — not even from Chinese state banks — because everybody is afraid of the US financial regulators. Like most of the world after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers investment bank on September 15, 2008, Russia suffers from a liquidity freeze. It will not end until the US financial sanctions are lifted....
The current financial meltdown is bound to cause major damage to the Russian economy. On December 15, the CBR forecast a GDP decline of 4.5-4.7 per cent in 2015 if oil prices remain at $60 per barrel.
Since the root cause is the western financial sanctions, the only realistic cure is to have these sanctions lifted. The Kremlin can accomplish that by fully and credibly evacuating its troops and armaments from eastern Ukraine. No other action is likely to have a significant economic effect".
Anders Aslund, "The only cure for what plagues Russia". The Financial Times
. 17 December 2014, in www.ft.com.
The currency crisis in Russia in the past three weeks has grown into a full-scale economic crisis. As Aslund Anders
Russian Central Bank is predicting that unless the price of oil increases to something more than sixty to sixty-five dollars a barrel in the very near future, the Russian economy will decline almost five percent of GDP. Unless and until American & European economic sanctions are lifted, there is every possibility of a major solvency crisis occurring in Russia within twelve to eighteen months time. With major bankruptcies looming for every large Russian multi-national which has accumulated dollar or euro debts. As the Economist
notes, while Russia has a foreign exchange reserve of almost Four-Hundred Billion dollars, the total amount of Russian external debt in dollars is more than Six-Hundred Billion 1. In short, in the absence of a concerted turn to (for lack of a better expression) 'neo-Stalinism', the Putin regime is will soon be in the throes of a major regime crisis following from the soon to be major economic crisis 2. The real conundrum at present is if the Russian President will be willing to climb-down by withdrawing Russian forces and armaments from eastern Ukraine or not? A withdrawal at this point in time, would be a major diplomatic defeat for the regime and for Putin personally. On the other hand, it is quite doubtful that the inner circles who assist Putin in running the country, are as enamored of the Putin's va banque
policy, now that state bankruptcy is staring them in the face. In that respect, former Premier Kasyanov's statement to-day that: "Russia is going into decline...2015 is a year in which Putin must make a 'principle' decision
", may signal the beginnings of a change in elite opinion 3. To-morrow Putin will make his annual Presidential speech. It will be interesting to see what he says and if a hint at climbing down from his anti-Western policies is announced. I for one, predict (unfortunately for Russia's poor people), that Putin will stubbornly refuse to change course and thus look for a full-scale regime crisis by the middle of 2015. As Timothy Ash
a leading 'Emerging Market' analyst at Standard Bank cogently notes:
"Putin Inc. needs a new and different model. But over his 15 years in power, the regime has appeared unwilling or unable to tolerate the kind of radical reforms now needed, because they likely challenge the very underpinnings of the regime itself 4."
1. "Russia’s rouble crisis: Going over the edge". The Economist
. 20th of December 2014, in www.economist.com
2. Kathrine Hille, "Rouble crisis opens up Vladimir Putin to attack". The Financial Times
. 17 December 2014, in www.ft.com.
3. Timothy Heritage, "Opponent calls for Putin's exit as Russia slides into crisis". Reuters
. 17 December 2014, in www.reuters.com
4. Timothy Ash, "Beyondbrics: Hello 2015: having failed in Ukraine, Russia will turn inwards". The Financial Times
. 17 December 2014, in www.ft.com
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STRATEGY & TACTICS OR WHY THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO DID NOT MATTER
"Waterloo was instead that most definitive of defeats: an irremediable loss at the level of grand strategy. It was in this sense an intellectual defeat for Napoleon himself: had his mind been working properly, he would not have been at Waterloo that day, or on any other battlefield, because by June 1815 the coalition ranged against him comprised the Habsburg Empire, the Duchy of Brunswick, the Kingdoms of Prussia and Hanover, the Duchy of Nassau, the tsarist Empire of all the Russias, the Kingdoms of the Netherlands, Portugal, Sardinia, Sicily, Sweden and Spain, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Swiss Confederation, and the French monarchists with their loyalist troops, as well as the British and their empire. The 118,000 troops actually at Waterloo, from the armies of Prussia, the Netherlands, Hanover, Brunswick and Nassau, along with 25,000 British soldiers and 6000 of the King’s German Legion, were quite enough to outnumber the 73,000 French soldiers, yet they were only a fraction of the total troop strength of the coalition....
In the end the shortcomings of Marshal Ney as a tactician made no difference. If Wellington was right, the balance in the field might have been tilted by exceptionally good tactics, but that would merely have delayed Napoleon’s final defeat until the next battle, for the coalition would not have seen a tactical defeat as conclusive. The same is true at the operational level: if de Grouchy’s 33,000 soldiers, once thrown into battle, had succeeded in breaking Wellington’s array, driving off the Prussians, Napoleon’s Waterloo would have come in some other place, as soon as the coalition could reassemble to fight, with the added forces that could not be deployed in time for Waterloo.
That is how the logic of strategy works. Its different levels might be thought of as the floors of a building. Nothing can be achieved at the operational level of strategy without adequate tactical capacity below it – there’s no point in moving units around in clever manoeuvres if they cannot fight at all – just as there is no capacity at the tactical level if there are no supplies and no weapons. The technical level of strategy is just as essential, for all its simplicity as compared to the mysteries of unit cohesion, morale and leadership which largely determine tactical strength. But this edifice of several storeys has a most peculiar feature: there are no stairs or elevators from the operational level, where battles are fought, up to the level of grand strategy, where entire wars are fought with every political and material strength or weakness in play, including alliances and enmities. Absent overwhelming superiority to begin with, no war fought with the wrong allies against the wrong enemies can yield victory, even if a hundred battles are won. By 1814, that was Napoleon’s predicament, as it would be for Germany in both world wars: German forces fought skillfully and often ferociously to win again and again in battles large and small, but nothing could overcome the consequences of siding with the decrepit Ottoman and Habsburg Empires against the British, French, Japanese and Russian empires the first time around, or with Bulgaria and Italy against all the Great Powers but Japan the second time....
In retrospect the fight against Napoleon seems to have engendered a new strategic method, later employed against Germany in two world wars and against the Soviet Union thereafter. The French might call it the Anglo-Saxon encirclement strategy. Its essential aim was to avoid direct combat with a formidable enemy, or at least to limit engagement to a minimum. Instead of confronting one vast army with another – at Waterloo there were only 25,000 British troops – the Anglo-Saxon approach was to take on the big beast by assembling as many neighbourhood dogs and cats as possible, with a few squirrels and mice thrown in. With the obvious exception of the Western Front in the First World War, that is how the two world wars were fought, with an ever longer list of allies large, small and trivial (e.g. Guatemala, whose rulers could thereby expropriate the coffee plantations of German settlers), and that is how the Soviet Union was resisted after 1945, with what eventually became the North Atlantic Alliance. Like the anti-Napoleon coalition, Nato was – and remains – a ragbag of member states large and small, of vastly different capacity for war or deterrence, not all of them loyal all the time, though loyal and strong enough. Like the challenge to British diplomacy in the struggle against Napoleon, the great challenge to which American diplomacy successfully rose was to keep the alliance going by tending to the various political needs of its member governments, even those of countries as small as Luxembourg, whose rulers sat on all committees as equals, even though they could never field more than a single battalion of troops.
Now it is the turn of the Chinese, whose strength is still modest yet growing too rapidly for comfort, and who are inevitably provoking the emergence of a coalition against them; the members range in magnitude from India and Japan down to the Sultanate of Brunei, in addition of course to the US. Should they become powerful enough, the Chinese will force even the Russian Federation into the coalition regardless of the innate preferences of its rulers, for strategy is always stronger than politics, as it was for the anti-communist Nixon and the anti-American Mao in 1972. China cannot therefore overcome its inferiority to the American-led coalition by converting its economic strength into aircraft carriers and such, any more than Napoleon could have overcome strategic encirclement by winning one more battle.."
Edward Luttwak, "A Damned Nice Thing". The London Review of Books
. 18 December 2014, in www.lrb.co.uk
While finding his more than occasional obiter dicta
to be annoying as well erroneous historically speaking, the amateur historian and commentator Edward Luttwak, does on occasion rise, nay more than rise to the occasion by way of profound and penetrating analysis. His piece in the current issue of the London Review of Books more than qualifies. In a very cogent and learned review article, Luttwak amply demonstrates once again, why the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo did not matter in the least. That even if Bonaparte had beaten the British and the Prussians in the later part of June 1815, that victory would not have mattered. That with the overwhelming predominance of Allied forces over the French in both numbers and elan
, the outcome was inevitable. It was merely a question if that outcome would occur sooner (in late June) or later (sometime in August) in anno domini
1815. In retrospect, it is clear that Bonaparte had sold the pass back in the second quarter of 1813, by refusing to agree to the modus vivendi
offered to him by Graf von Metternich
. That by holding out for everything, Bonaparte inevitably ended up with nothing 1. Similarly, as Luttwak points out, the Germans in both the Great War and in World War II, regardless of their (occasional) brilliance at military tactics, made their defeat inevitable by the gross stupidity at both war-time diplomacy and overall strategy. As the British scholar Alexander Watson points out in his new book on Austria and Imperial Germany during the Great War, the so-called 'Central Powers' entered with war, with heavily outmanned in terms of armed forces, population numbers and economic & financial strength 2. Something which the entry into the war of Japan, Italia, and the United States did not make any better. In the case of World War II, Hitler's own stupidity in attacking first Sovietskaya Vlast
, then in declaring war on the United States, speaks for itself. And, while the Cold War did not see Sovietskaya Vlast
commit so egregious errata in either strategy or diplomacy, the original discrepancy in overall economic and military power vis`-a-vis the United States and its allies was never really over-come. With the effort made to match the Western powers resulting in the economic exhaustion of the Soviet Union. As per what may occur with the Peoples Republic, all one may say is that given the blundering diplomacy that Peking has engaged in these past half dozen years with its neighbors, one may not be very surprised at a repeat `a la Luttwak's surmise in the future.
1. For this see: Paul Schroeder. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848
. (1994), pp.459-471 & passim.
2. Alexander Watson. Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914-1918.
(2014), p.104 & passim.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE FIRING OF CHUCK HAGEL?
"Occasionally top jobs go to the best qualified people.
Ashton Carter’s likely nomination to replace Chuck Hagel as President Obama’s next Pentagon chief would be a stellar choice. In Donald Rumsfeld’s terminology, Carter is a known unknown. Carter “is the most important man in Washington nobody has heard of”, as Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, put it.
Having been deputy defence secretary and previously head of acquisitions, Carter knows the Pentagon inside out. In spite of never having worn the uniform — and in contrast to the twice decorated Mr Hagel — Carter is highly regarded by the military.
He also has a detailed grasp of the situation on the ground in Syria and Iraq, where his urgent focus will be needed. Moreover, he has the respect of John McCain, incoming chairman of the Senate armed services committee, which means his confirmation would probably be smooth".
Edward Luce, "Obama’s Pentagon favourite will lack the autonomy he needs." The Financial Times
. 4 December 2014 in www.ft.com
"At a superficial level, President Obama's firing of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary conforms to this pattern. With 54% of the public disapproving of the president's foreign policy, which has produced disasters in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine, among other places, someone had to pay the price. The problem is not that Hagel shouldn't have been fired — he was pretty much a nonentity as defense secretary. The problem is that firing him is not going to change much, if anything. Indeed, the reason he was jettisoned is precisely because he had so little influence on real decision-making, which is tightly controlled by a small coterie of White House aides such as national security advisor Susan Rice, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, deputy national security advisors Ben Rhodes and Tony Blinken and senior advisor Valerie Jarrett. That crew is responsible for steering the Good Ship Obama onto the rocks, but because they are so tight with the skipper, they remain at the helm.
Even when there were strong defense secretaries in charge, they found themselves endlessly frustrated by their dealings with imperious White House aides who mistook themselves for field marshals. Just read the memoirs of Bob Gates and Leon Panetta. Gates, for example, complained that the White House staff had “a presence and a role in national security decision making that I had not previously experienced.” That extended to White House staffers directly calling field commanders — an action that “would have been unthinkable when I worked at the White House,” Gates wrote, 'and probably cause for dismissal'."
Max Boot, "Chuck Hagel's firing won't help U.S. foreign policy ". The Council on Foreign Relations
. 24 November 2014, in www.cfr.org
Mr. Edward Luce of the bien-pensant
Financial Times is for once correct: American Secretary of Defence designate Ashton Carter is indeed all things considered (AKA political allegiances) by far the very best man to run the Pentagon. A position which requires more the talents and skills of a Chief Financial Officer and or Permanent Secretary of the State at the Treasury (in the United Kingdom of course), then a global strategist. It has been the singular misfortune of the Americans that almost every appointee to run the Pentagon, regardless of their prior career pattern and experience chooses to ignore the voluminous managerial challenges involved in running the Department of Defence, to indulge in bureaucratic infighting with the State Department and or the National Security Advisor. One merely needs to remember the names of Robert McNamara, James Schlesinger, Donald Rumsfeld (twice!), Caspar Weinberger, among others. Insofar as Mr. Carter, takes as his model former Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, then all will be well. As Secretary Gates, was exemplary in avoiding needless and wasteful bureaucratic battles. As per the real source of the problems relating to overall American strategy in the war against ISIS, which are evident to anyone who cares to examine the matter, it is foolhardy to expect that even in the unlikely event of a 21st century Field-Marshal Graf von Moltke the Elder
, occupying the post of Pentagon chief would be able to plot a coherent strategy, if he is faced with remorseless opposition from the White House. If not in fact the Commander-in-Chief himself, sotto voce
. The place to 'fix' the problems with current American strategy, both world-wide and especially in the Near and Middle East, is in the White House and not in the Pentagon. A perhaps unfortunate, or even annoying fact, but true just the very same.