Dare I Disagree With David Ignatius?

Yves here. It would be maddening, as well as stupidity-inducing, to try to follow the Blob’s hive mind on a regular basis. This post provides a tolerably small window into two hot issues via the prognostications of David Ignatius, the CIA’s mouthpiece1 at the Washington Post.

Rosser spares his readers full unadulterated Igantius. For those who are gluttons for punishment, you can read the source material here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/30/what-strange-things-does-2022-have-store-us-take-this-quiz-find-out/

Rosser circumspectly does not mention that the intel state might have a few too many college tuitions depending on hotting up a conflict with Russia.

By Barkley Rosser, Professor of Economics at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Originally published at EconoSpeak

In today’s Washington Post, intel columnist David Ignatius had a ten question multiple choice quiz about what will happen in 2022. He provided his own answers at the end, effectively forecasts. Many I agree with and some, speculative about tech developments and such like, I have no opinion on. However on two very important ones I think I disagree with him, if not overwhelmingly so.

One of these was about prospects for Iran and the US and others to put back together the JCPOA nuclear deal that Donald Trump removed the US from. I am burned as I expected Biden to quickly rejoin the deal with minimum fuss once he got back in office. But he did not do so, insisting on demanding all sorts of extra things out of Iran about missiles and this and that. No deal has been made and now Iran has a hard line government. Yes, formal negotiations have been restarted in Vienna, but to me they do not seem to be going anywhere, and Iran has now substantially expanded its nuclear capability. Ignatius forecasts that Iran will negotiate a deal under pressure from Russia and China. I am afraid I am skeptical, although I would love to see it.

The other one, where I am forecasting a more optimistic outcome has to do with the current Russia-Ukraine situation. Bottom line for Ignatius is pessimistic, that Russia will make cyberattacks on Ukraine that lead to people freezing this winter, will allow the Donbas separatists to attack Ukrainian forces and expand their territory of conrtrol, and then create broader chaos in Ukraine that will justify a full-scale invasion by Russia of Ukraine.

I think a more optimistic answer is more likely, although certainly not certain. This one says that Putin will gradually pull troops back after some sort of sufficiently face-saving deal is cut. This seems to be what people in Ukraine think, although maybe the generally astute Ignatious knows better. But I hope he is wrong for this coming new year.

Snovem godem (Russian for Happy New Year), you all!


1 Lambert suggested a less-family-blog-friendly depiction.

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  1. DJG, Reality Czar

    Yes, I read the original article at the Post, which might be described as an Inside Baseball quiz. Not knowing Yogi Berra’s life-time batting average, I lost interest.

    This piece of ineptitude stands out: The 42-year-old “Iran crisis”

    Unfortunately, the “Iran crisis” goes back at least to WWII, and in particular to the overthrow of Mossadeq in 1953–that is, 69 years ago. It seems that the genesis of the delusional hatred of Iran in the U S of A is a profoundly shallow understanding of Iran as a regional power for, ohhh, four thousand years, including a well-known rivalry with Rome–ask Trajan. Persian was the “French” of the Middle East–used as a court language in India and in the Ottoman Empire. But somehow the U S of A shows up, delivers the usual lecture and sermonizing and expects the Iranians to recognize their new masters. Biden is just one more deluded “foreign-policy expert.”

    Russia is playing chess. The U.S. foreign-policy establishment is playing checkers. See Iran, above. The Russians don’t have to invade Ukraine. Ukraine is so spectacularly badly governed that it will deteriorate all on its own. And our local experts, channeling the wisdom of Madeleine Albright and other remote-control warriors and warrioresses, will advocate hostilities–unfortunately not knowing anything about supply lines.

    Heck, it’s Napoleon as farce.

    Besides Ignatius: Heather Cox Richardson is always worth a look if one wants to know what the “intelligence community” wants. She plays a “historian” on the WWW.

  2. The Rev Kev

    David Ignatius should stick to writing novels and operas as he knows less of geopolitical affairs than I do – and that is saying something. I thought that I might suggest my own quiz based on the two main questions he posed-

    3) The Ukraine crisis will enter a new phase in 2022 as:
    a) Washington stuffs up.
    b) Washington goes back to the previous deal.
    c) Washington stuffs up.
    d) Washington stuffs up.

    4) The 42-year-old “Iran crisis” enters a decisive stage as:
    a) Washington stuffs up.
    b) Washington stuffs up.
    c) It is agreed that the Ukraine becomes a Neutral Zone so that it has a chance to rebuild itself.
    d) Washington stuffs up.

  3. Michael Ismoe

    Thanks for reading David Ignatius so that I don’t have to.

    My 2022 New Year’s resolution: Read nothing that appears in WaPo

    1. Tom Bradford

      Ah yes, the closed mind approach. If I don’t read anything that disagrees with me I’ll know I’m right.

      Far better, surely, to read the writings of those you disagree with than converse with an echo chamber. If you can identify where you disagree with the writer you’ve sharpened your argument. If you have to identify why you disagree you’ve sharpened you’re mind. If, God forbid, you find you have to agree with some of what they say, you’ve broadened your mind.

      1. juanholio

        Do you find there are enough hours in the day to read, and digest, all these various opinions, across the endless sources that are available?

        Even if it were possible, it sounds like disquietitude, for is own sake. Surely there’s better things to do with your time?

        It seems logical to employ Bayesian reasoning to weed out the untold column inches that aren’t really worth your time.

      2. Grebo

        I have found that reading the scribblings of the small minded rarely broadens my own. Sometimes it can be useful to be forewarned about some boneheaded policy or action they are planning.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          In the spirit of knowing the enemy . . . as in, knowing what the enemy is up to.

    2. Christopher Horne

      A total non-sequitur comment. Ignatius was the favorite horse of Caligula.
      He dressed the horse as a Senator and tried to make him a Roman
      consul. Fortunately for the history of politics, Caligula was assassinated
      first. Most Americans do not believe in rebirth, but if they did, they might
      suspect that David Ignatius is at least a partial rebirth of the same horse.
      I leave it to Naked Capital’s erudite readers to decide which part of the
      horse that would possibly be.

      1. ambrit

        Caligula’s erstwhile Equine Senator, (which might have been a bit of a pun in Imperial Rome, what with the castes, one being the Equites,) was Incitatus or “the swift one.”
        See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incitatus
        I prefer to see our estemed scribbling spy as closer to his name’s Latin meaning, ‘fiery.’ He does seem to be promoting death and destruction as a career.
        Alas, there are too many possible Incitatii in the Halls of Congress and the enabling cohorts today. And yes, they all do seem to be ‘fundamentally’ back a—wards in their thinking.
        Be Ye of good cheer.

  4. New Guy

    The ongoing discussions about Russia invading Ukraine omit several pertinent factors, including the US role in staging the 2014 coup, which precipitated the current mess, and what US objectives are. The Russians want stability and trustworthy relationships. The Russians are not narcissistically imbalanced children, as are western politicians. They have a plan. They know the US/NATO/EU cohort is incapable of negotiating or keeping their word and they know that the chances of sense or consensus from the West are nil.

    The only certainty is Russia, and maybe China, already know the next move. I surmise it will be totally unpredictable by the West, will not involve anything to do with Ukraine and will signal a further step in the decline of Western Civilization. Notably, it will not involve gas supplies. The rest is guess work.

  5. James Simpson

    As for Iran, my position remains as it has been: it has just as much right as Israel and the USA to possess as many of these devices as it feels it needs to counter the continuing nuclear threat from those aggressive governments. When those two have publicly destroyed their last nuclear warheads, then they can turn to demand the same of Iran. In the meantime, I urge readers to join CND.

    1. jefemt

      I had to google CND. On MY search, (BING/google- who knows?), the top three ‘hits’:
      #1 CND the global leading supplier in professional nail, hand, and foot beauty supplies
      #2 CND China Daily News (oh HO!?)
      #3 CND Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

      Please pardon my igruntz. Isn’t our commercial internet AMAZING?

    2. ptb

      Yep. There’s no moral argument to be made by nuclear armed states with a repeated record of wmd use, carpet bombing cities, and so on.

    3. LowellHighlander

      While I’m not thrilled about nuclear proliferation, I have to agree with you: if the only country on Earth to ever actually deploy these WMDs against civilians still has these weapons, and if that same country has never renounced the idea of an “Axis of Evil”, then the best safeguard for countries like Iran and North Korea is to build and possess such weapons. Wish it were otherwise, certainly.

      Where’s our [i.e. American] Gorbachev? Where’s our leader who will say, “We already have enough bombs to destroy the planet several times over; it’s time to start reducing our stockpile and stop threatening other countries with nuclear annihilation.”? The truth is, empires don’t produce such leaders or, if they do, they get rubbed out (remember the coup-d’etat of November ’63).

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        North Korea and Iran have different defensive prospects. NK can kill a whole bunch of South Koreans, but their force disposition has always been around a massive artillery barrage. They can’t cover enough water to disrupt international commerce or the fleets without nukes. Iran has a much smaller area to disrupt to bring Europe to the table quickly. Iran doesn’t need nukes. The Iran is six months away stories have always been bs, largely because they have a nuclear option we can’t fire a few dozen cruise missiles and solve.

        Even then a nuke in the strait means bye bye Tehran a long other places. Then the have to deal with radiation.

        1. Eric The Fruit Bat

          Let’s not forget that the United States is still the only country to have used nuclear weapons in anger – no one else has.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Please, no hyperbole. This was calculated. There were basically two rationales.

            One was what amounted to Yellow Peril. Even though Japan had been suing for peace through back channels since IIRC April 1945, Japan had also not surrendered despite the firebombing of 67 cities. Europe had not endured anything like the punishment Japan had taken. Some argued that Japan would have to be invaded, which was believed to involve high cost to the invaders, because Japanese soldiers were presumed to be madmen who would fight to the very last.

            The second was to show the USSR our stuff.

            1. ex-PFC Chuck

              As you note, there were the US military’s estimates that invasions of Kyushu followed by another on Honshu would incur 500k US casualties. These were said to be based on the experiences on Peleliu, Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

  6. Bart Hansen

    As for freezing Ukraine, Russia has been consistent in honoring long term gas contracts. We have probably urged several of these countries, 3B + PU, to opt out of those contracts and instead risk the higher priced spot market. But Russia would fear any backlash from cutting them off completely. Maybe Poland could send them part of their ration.

    I suppose if we manage to coax Ukraine to invade the Donbass Russia would retaliate in some way. But a total invasion of the country that Andrei Martyanov calls ‘404’ will not happen.

    What I worry about is that our Senate will not go along with Putin’s demands for some kind of treaty, thereby leaving us with a signed agreement from the Administration that will easily be overturned by the next president. Hatred of Russia is hard wired here.

  7. David

    Iran hasn’t “substantially expanded its nuclear capability”, at least in the ordinary meaning of that term. It has no “capability” to produce, let alone deliver, nuclear weapons, and is a very long way from having one. What it has done is to enrich uranium to a significantly higher level than was the case before.

    For Ukraine the situation is simple and always has been. The Russians are trying to create a de facto buffer state in the East, to prevent Ukrainian forces (and more importantly NATO forces) from deploying there. It doesn’t have to be an independent state (indeed I doubt whether the Russians would want that), it just has to be an area of the country over which the government in Kiev has little practical control.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Years ago I knew some Ukranians here who would regularly assure me that after the fall of the USSR Ukraine had kept a few dozen warheads. I suppose we should be grateful that this is almost certainly not true. Although if they had, they’d have probably sold them to someone by now.

      I see from another link that the Saudi’s seem to be quite serious about developing ballistic missiles and nukes. Wasn’t it always assumed that the Pakistani’s shared some of their nukes with the Saudi’s?

      On the subject of the Iran deal, I’ve been trying to work out why Biden didn’t just sign the deal quickly when he could – it would have been a quick foreign policy win for him. Is there something more complex politically going on?

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Biden’s stupid. He’s not dissimilar to Trump. He wants to look like a winner. I have two thoughts on the approach. Simply trying to restart the deal with more promises doesn’t play well with hawks, and they would be mean, making Biden in DC group think look like a loser. It would tie up his young Presidency’s hands when he could be doing stuff. Of course, those things he can’t do because he won’t be able to do the foreign policy items. Unlike domestic politics where there is an assumption Americans are more right wing than they are and Democrats openly act like they have a weak hand even for minor changes, the ethos of the DC elite is hyperpower!, and so they can’t conceive of treating others like equals or recognizing the weakness of their own hand.

        I also suspect he’s hands off until push comes to shove, so he likely just let it spiral in the hands of lunatics like Blinken. Would Biden have invited the Chinese and proceeded to insult them openly? From what I’ve seen, it’s unlikely. Would the “adults in the room” do this if they felt empowered? Yes.

        Like leaving Afghanistan, I wouldn’t be shocked if Biden did the right thing when forced to confront the issue as he likely has no preconceived notions beyond what he learned from watching Ted Koppel on Nightline.

        One bit that jumps out was Democratic leadership voiced concerns about the deal under Obama. It’s entirely possible the Iranians are demanding a reasonable concession prior to actually dealing and Biden won’t do that. It could be as simple as a congressional resolution. But the behavior of the future members of the #resistance was noticed. And despite Trump being super Satan, he wasn’t hit politically on the deal. If a treaty is not passable given the US political status, the Iranians might need a gesture of good will.

        1. ambrit

          The Persians are not stupid. They know that America is “not agreement capable” and thus, their best tool for international relations ‘normalization’ is to possess a viable nuclear capability. Something very much like the House Atomics of the book Dune is what is probable in the medium range future. In such an arraingement, there are no “Superpowers.” International peace and ‘lawfullness’ will be collectively enforced among the nations.

      2. ambrit

        The infighting between the Chickenhawks in the Administration and the Pentagon Old Guard must be intense. The Chickenhawk Brigade on Capitol Hill is a ‘teachable moment’ about the folly of allowing people who have never seen a war close up to make military oriented decisions.

        1. JTMcPhee

          But they played endless rounds of Game of Risk! and Call of Duty, and have had lots of briefings from the Blob, so those chicken hawks know all they need to know about war to feel supremely confident in ‘setting policy.’

      3. David

        After the fall of the USSR, both Ukraine and Belarus became involuntary nuclear powers, because they had ICBMs stationed on their territory. As such these weren’t usable military weapons, but there were several years of diplomatic comings and goings, as Ukraine, in particular, tried to extract some political concessions for agreeing to give them up. The tactical level weapons would almost certainly have been withdrawn, because they were under centralised control from Moscow, and indeed guarding them was one of the duties of the Special Troops of the GRU. There were various alarms at the time about “suitcase” bombs, intended to be used by Spetznatz forces, going missing, but apparently these were only rumours.

        I saw the same link about the Saudis. I don’t know the country first-hand, but from speaking to those who do, I’d be very surprised indeed if they had the technical capacity to develop and deploy even rudimentary nuclear missiles on their own. That said, Pakistan is, as you say, the obvious source for such technologies (some of which come in any case from China originally). Pakistani cooperation with KSA goes back many decades, and the Pakistanis have deployed training missions and operational units there frequently. But I can’t see why the Pakistanis would want to give them this technology, since they have nothing to gain from the Saudis being a nuclear power, and it would make them international pariahs if they did so. In any case, the Saudi system of government being, let’s say, unorthodox, custody of nuclear weapons would be a nightmare to ensure, and it’s not even clear to me what the decision-making process would be (MBS has a bad night?)

        On Biden I really have no idea, except that perhaps he, like his advisors, lives in a bubble where the real world doesn’t exist, where nothing has consequences, and only image matters. Perhaps he just decided to appear tough on something to placate some lobby or other. And of course history counts: Iran was a fundamental part of US strategy in the 60s and 70s, and I think that Washington folk memory has never forgiven the Iranians for overthrowing the Shah.

        1. Science Officer Smirnoff

          . . . The tactical level weapons would almost certainly have been withdrawn, because they were under centralised control from Moscow

          This raises the general question of loose nukes which put Nunn-Lugar in the news at least since 9-11. Nukes such as artillery shells. After 9-11 the prospect that, unlike suitcase bombs which have crypto-security, tactical nukes can be “hot-wired”, say by terrorists.

          I have lost track of where Putin’s threat of ceasing cooperation with the U. S. on rounding up formerly Soviet tactical nukes has taken us. How many of the 10-20,000 tactical nukes have been accounted for or rounded up (etc)?

        2. JBird4049

          >>>I think that Washington folk memory has never forgiven the Iranians for overthrowing the Shah.

          Like with the Cubans, the Persians had the gall to counter overthrow our chosen corrupt, but pliable, leader for life and be angry at us for the original overthrow. So the it becomes the Commies in Cuba and the Muslim extremists in Iran without the Americans and British acknowledging their own culpability. It’s a little more complex in Vietnam, but essentially the same pattern.

          Since our nation refuses to learn history, has leaders who can’t fail, but only be failed, and it is profitable for some in the Congressional-Military-Industrial Complex to the war drums going we are dangerous to everyone else especially so since we are not agreement capable.

      4. Thomas P

        PlutoniumKun, I think the general belief is that the Saudi’s have an option to collect a few nukes from Pakistan when they decide it is necessary, not that they have any right now. Whether Pakistan would honor such an request is an open question. Handing over nukes is risky since you could be held responsible if they are ever used.

    2. Polar Socialist

      AFAIK Russia would prefer Ukraine to take care of it’s citizens. All of them. And elect a government that is capable of doing so by fulfilling the Minsk 2 agreement.

      Gilbert Doctorow forwards the idea – mentioned in a Russian talk show – that Russia could do “surgical strikes” (a la Iran a year ago) against “NATO targets” in Ukraine. If they, like Iranians, give several hours of warning of the incoming strike, it’s as unlikely there will be many casualties. That would put NATO in a serious dilemma it’s probably would want to avoid like plague: escalate and have a war, sanction and suffer or de-escalate and show the clay feet.

      Doctorow even thinks that this was the message of the last, short call between Putin and Biden.

      1. chuck roast

        “…several hours warning.” I’m kinda bad at chess. My strategy is good, but my tactics suck and my gray matter is old. I’m guessing that even my fellow ossified brains at the Pentagon would be prepared to take this wonderful gift and strike first. This is high order BS that would get you hired by the MSM but fired at the Frunze Military Academy.

  8. timbers

    Regarding Ukraine, Iran, and NATO expansion/Russian “ultimatum”….

    Russia is claiming the US is training and preparing for a false flag gas/WMD staged event in Ukraine – a la Assad gassed his own people – as a pretext for what The Empire does – promote conflict. And doing this while Russia is seeking peace. That is about as subtle as a well thrown brick in terms of reveling Washington’s intentions regarding the de-escalation Russia is seeking and I hope the Russians realize just what a huge indicator that is, namely there will be no peace, that the US never ever back down or change it’s policy toward Russia, that the US will continue to attack Russia and will never ever negotiate in good faith and that Russia’s best option is military power and to prepare accordingly for that and know her overtures for peace with the US will never be accepted.

    Regarding Iran, the biggest and most pro war/anti peace decision Iran made was not to acquire nuclear weapons as quickly as possible. Everyone who made that call in Iran should never be allowed to assume leadership again. I’d say almost all Iran’s problems today flow from that mistake more than anything else.

    Washington understands only one thing, and under current conditions I can not see Washington ever changing it’s policies. Let’s hope the people leading Iran and Russia understand that.

    1. ambrit

      A cynic would interpret VV Putin’s recent spate of ‘comments’ as a “Put up or shut up” moment in international relations.
      The Russians usually play “the long game” in international relations. However, I am now anticipating some Israelii F-16s being shot down over the Mediterranean sea or perhaps Lebanon. The recent air attack on the Port of Latakia was a bit too close to the Russian air base at Khmeimim, Syria. The Israeliis, being essentially bullys, will push this for as much as they can get away with. Sooner or later, Russia will step in and say, some way or another, “That’s enough. Stop now or suffer serious consequences.”
      We live in interesting times.

      1. The Rev Kev

        The Russians could make the point to the Israelis by telling the Syrians that they have decided to upgrade their entire aerial defence network with more S-300s to replace the S-200s that they have.

      2. NotTimothyGeithner

        Putin seemed upbeat after their original one or two meetings. I suspect Biden, being an ignoramus, is fairly reasonable when he has to address an issue as he doesn’t suffer from preconceived notions. He was known for cramming in school.

        The rumor in DC is Biden sent Blinken to find a foreign policy win believing that would get his presidency back on track. Blinken is a dangerous man. I’m thinking Blinken is resorting to the usual suspects, and the Russians and Chinese simply aren’t going to deal with those people anymore. When Biden let them off the leash, Moscow and Beijing decided Biden needs to be addressed in clear terms and that they won’t be used for his domestic posturing. They know Obama started foreign misadventures when he lost the House of Representatives.

        The US isn’t a hyperpower anymore and doesn’t have control of local elites because they aren’t threatened by the spectre of an October style Revolution if the US doesn’t protect them. If they don’t get the latest Marvel movie on opening day, its not a huge loss. I suspect Biden hasn’t recognized he needs to negotiate differently. He held his goofy democracy summit. No one cared. It was dumb.

      3. timbers

        The situation today reminds me of a line from Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series when the Russians

        “Mr. President, who’s in charge of you military?” but today that might be “Mr. Biden, who’s in charge of your Administration?”

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      Iran has plenty of options that are likely more effective than a nuclear weapon. A few nukes could likely be destroyed prior to use. Knocking out a tanker and cutting the Saudis off would be far more troublesome for the world than having nukes but questionable delivery methods.

      In theory a nuclear deterrent might be cheaper in the long run, but getting to a point where you can count on hitting a target or aren’t making the cruise missile for a tent style exchange is a different matter. Making and adhering to deals is far more promising for Kran given what Iran could do given their current capabilities. In a multipolar world, being reliable is more important than its been in a long time. Remember “sound as a pound”. That matters in the long term.

      The US can likely stop massed forward assets or Riyadh or Tel Aviv from getting nuked by Iran, not the Russians or Chinse but we can’t stop Iran from closing the Persian Gulf these days.

      The rumor was Obama made the deal because he was worried of a separate European deal. It’s the same with his Cuban deal. He was worried about the Pope making statements, hence an oddly timed flight by Kerry to see the Pope.

      1. TimmyB

        Some points on Iran. I do not believe Iran wishes to acquire nuclear weapons. But, when Trump violated the nuclear agreement the Obama Administration made with Iran, Iran had no choice but to proceed with further enriching uranium. Simply put, if the US and other signatories were going to violate the agreement, then Iran needed to take actions that would show the other signatories that there would be consequences. Those consequences are further enrichment of Uranium.

        Iran is not going to limit its conventional weapons, aka missile production, as part of any nuclear or other agreement. After Libya, only complete fool could believe that unilaterally disarming does anything other than make your country a target. It is Iran’s missile force that keeps Israel and the US at bay. There is no way Iran will give that up, no matter what China, Russia, the US or Israel demand. It’s a nonstarter.

        Concerning nukes in general, they certainly seem to deter US attacks, which makes them appealing. But Iran doesn’t need them now that it has a large conventional missile force. Those missiles are a huge deterrent. There is little doubt that Iran can end all oil production from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States in less than 20 minutes. That’s a better deterrent than a dozen nukes.

        Plus, Iran has repeatedly said it does not want to make nuclear weapons. I believe them.

        Finally, the true “problem” the US government has with Iran is that it refuses to obey orders from DC. This is the problem we have with many countries, including Russia, China, Cuba, and Venezuela. Our empire does not like shows of independence.

    3. JohnnyGL

      “Regarding Iran, the biggest and most pro war/anti peace decision Iran made was not to acquire nuclear weapons as quickly as possible. Everyone who made that call in Iran should never be allowed to assume leadership again. I’d say almost all Iran’s problems today flow from that mistake more than anything else.”

      I think you may be misreading the situation a bit. There’s two factors to consider.

      There’s a larger geo-political context where all the big players in the region agree that they don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons. That includes Russia and China, with whom Iran has enjoyed closer relations. Openly or clandestinely developing and testing nuclear weapons would put those ties at risk.

      The Iranians may not have nuclear weapons, but they’ve got a ‘nuclear’ option, and that’s closing the straights of Hormuz. They’ve focused their defense strategy in the last couple of decades on surface-to-surface ballistic missiles. They’ve got some pretty good ones and I think they know that they don’t have to ‘win’ a war against the US, they just need to make sure they can dish out a level of pain that’s intolerable. Shutting down oil shipments would hurt Saudi Arabia more than it would hurt Iran (who’s already learned to cope with sanctions for years on end). Plus, the US would have a hard time getting its aircraft carriers close enough to provide needed air support in the event of a ground invasion because of the threat of anti-ship missiles. Insufficient air support means high US casualties, and getting carriers close enough means the risk of seeing an aircraft carrier get sunk.

      Please do try to imagine the shock and horror that would result from an aircraft carrier on the bottom of the ocean. We haven’t lost one since Yorktown back in 1942, and we got 4 Japanese carriers out of the Battle of Midway, so it’s hard to argue it wasn’t a price worth paying.

      1. timbers

        “I think you may be misreading the situation a bit. There’s two factors to consider. There’s a larger geo-political context where all the big players in the region agree that they don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons.”

        And how it that different than the U.S. and Israel not wanting Iran to be able to defend herself, and why should that matter to Iran? After all, it’s not as her past policy of not have nukes has served her well. Quite the opposite. What would Russia and China do that the US and Israel haven’t already done? It would not be in either Russia or China’s interests to punish Iran for having nukes.

        1. David

          Oh, that’s easy enough. Russia and China are both members of the P5 nuclear-weapon states club, with the US, UK and France. Whatever other differences they have, these states are keen to retain their oligopoly status, and avoid nuclear weapons becoming banalised. There were transfers of nuclear technology in the past (notably from France to Israel and from China to Pakistan) but the first, at least, is now accepted to have been a mistake, and the second was largely to counter India (some of whose technology came from Russia). But all that was in the days when nuclear proliferation was expected to happen on a large scale anyway. In recent decades none of the P5 has been keen to see nuclear technology proliferated, and, as Johnny says, irrespective of the abstract merits of the case, none of Iran’s neighbours want it to be a nuclear power.

          1. timbers

            I understand.

            Yet speaking from Iran’s point of view….so what? Presumably Iran is still on Iran’s side. Why should Iran care if (fill in the blank) wants to deny them a right to self-defence? It’s her decision, not Russia or China or US or Israel. And It’s not like that policy hasn’t been tried before. It has been tried, and IMO has failed.

            Russia/China/fill in the blank may not like it but what can they do about it?

            For example Russia benefits from the US blocking Iranian energy. Should Iran refrain from energy production so as not to step on Russia? Or does Iran have a right to sell it’s energy regardless what Russia or anyone else thinks?

          2. TimmyB

            I doubt that much technology needs to be “transferred” for a state to acquire nuclear weapons. The US built nuclear weapons from scratch in the 1940s using 1940s technology. It’s now 2023. The phone I’m typing this on has more computing power than the entire world had in the 1940s.

            Designing a nuclear weapon is easy. It’s acquiring the necessary fissile material, highly enriched uranium or plutonium, that is difficult.

            And if a country can create 20% pure uranium, as Iran has, it can make easily make weapons grade uranium. Think of it as having the technical ability and equipment to distill alcohol to 80 proof also means you have the ability to make 180 proof alcohol. Just run the slightly enriched uranium through the centrifuge again and again until it’s weapons grade. It’s easy.

            Simply put, it Iran really wanted nukes, it would have made them already, same as India, Pakistan, South Africa and Israel. (South Africa gave up its nukes). Instead, Iran wants to trade its nuclear program for the removal of US sanctions. That’s the deal Obama made, Trump reneged on, and Biden refuses to return to. So Iran keeps its nuclear program going. If the US doesn’t want to see Iran with nukes, then it should go back to the Obama agreement.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Building a nuclear device is relatively easy. Its building one that is militarily useable (i.e. small and compact and stable enough to fit in a ballistic missile) that is still very hard. You need access to highly specialised machining and electronic capacitors and explosives that are not widely available.

              1. TimmyB

                As the US proved in WWII, one does not need a missile to deliver an atomic weapon to its intended target. Moreover, we don’t give admittance to the nuclear weapons club based upon the ability to manufacture small nuclear warheads. Instead, it’s based upon the ability to make one, no matter the size.

            2. David

              Building something that can go bang is relatively easy, and the technology for enriching uranium to weapons-grade has been known for some time. That’s not the problem. Turning it into a workable weapon is the problem, and that involves a host of complex technologies using conventional explosives in exactly the right way at the right time under very difficult conditions of stress and speed. Or you don’t get a bang. And even then you need highly sophisticated guidance technology to have any effect, because the explosive power of a nuclear weapon falls off roughly with the cube root of distance. And there are lots more problems like that.

              It’s probably for that reason that few countries have actually developed nuclear weapons all by themselves. The Russians helped the Chinese, the US helped the French, the Chinese helped the Indians, the French helped the Israelis, the Chinese helped the Pakistanis, the Israelis helped the South Africans, and so on.

      2. deleter

        Minor quibble-after the loss of Lexington at Coral Sea and Yorktown at
        Midway the US also lost Hornet at the Santa Cruz islands and Wasp to
        a Japanese submarine by November of 1942.
        The light carrier Princeton was sunk at Leyte Gulf in 1944.

        1. JohnnyGL

          That’s fair, much appreciated.

          It’s been awhile since i’ve brushed up on my WWII history.

    4. JTMcPhee

      Yeah, that mistake (not going full tilt to build a nuclear deterrent) was not made by that little apartheid state that is one tail that wags the Imperial dog… https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2021/08/10/why-has-israel-got-arsenal-nuclear-weapons/ Note that other sources believe the Israel ites have more than 200 nukes, maybe a lot more, and lots of ways to deliver them: https://media.defense.gov/2019/Apr/11/2002115467/-1/-1/0/02ISRAELSNUCLEARWEAPONS.PDF note the 200 estimate in this article was as of 1999.

      And given the Israeli military’s demonstrated bloody-mindedness and the long-ago death of that “purity of arms” smokescreen, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20140127-purity-of-arms/, there’s plenty of reason to understand that the Israel ites would have no compunction about blowing the sh!t out of a whole range of targets, including European capitals where “anti-antisemitism” is a state religion… https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/critique-anti-antisemitism-elad-lapdiot

  9. Pate


    1 Lambert suggested a less-family-blog-friendly depiction.

    You are a brave man, Lambert, and I’m praying for you.

  10. Susan the other

    What if you got together some good friends and developed massive NG field and then realized you had no market? Freelance forensics is so fun, and warning here, this could be as incorrect as the nightly news. But here goes: If the world market for oil/NG is being divided up, the thing that makes the most sense (and therefore never spoken) is that certain interests, maybe the UK, France, Israel, KSA, the USA, etc, have come together to develop an eastern Mediterranean petroleum industry big enough to rival both Russia and Iran? If so then it only makes sense that this new consortium of old neoliberals wants both Russia and Iran out of the market they are targeting – which was always southern EU and now seems to be including the northern countries as well because Nordstream2 has been shut down – how did that happen? Even when Russian NG is the most logical source for the EU? This nefarious activity, including the latest war in the ME, Syria, Georgia, Ukraine, Turkey, Poland and Iran troubles, all points to a territorial war for the oil market. How it gets dressed up in a diplomacy costume without ever mentioning what the real bone is I’ll never know. So when Putin says the US is trying to start a war, which is true, he never says it’s because Russian oil/NG is putting the West out of business. The real reasons are avoided. And naturally Joe Burisma Biden was put into office precisely to avoid this discussion altogether. Never a mention of a pipeline across Ukraine to the EU. So we are all totally confused. We are just sitting here, brain dead, watching the US military prepare for war – and we don’t have a clue. We are all captives to the myth of the Free Market to the degree that we can no longer digest reality. And so it’s that much easier to create a war. How does a country like the USA ever stop a war for profit? One that uses mercenaries for all the dirty work?

    1. VietnamVet

      This seems true. Basically, there are no longer national wars over resources. Now it is mercenaries fighting for multi-national cartels. Western governments have been so emasculated they have ceased to function. “Let’s go Brandon”.

      I am no expert. But the deregulated natural gas spot market was pioneered by Enron. There are comments that Texas Frackers are holding back supply. Russia will only sell gas with long term contracts. Israel needs an Eastern Mediterranean pipeline to Europe tap its offshore field. The Qatar field is still isolated from Europe relying on LNG carriers through the Strait of Hormuz. Iraq and Syria were never pacified enough to build a pipeline for Europe to access Gulf NG. Twenty natural gas carriers are said at sea in the North Atlantic.

      Right now, it is 61° F in Maryland and the windows are open. But Western USA weather has gone wild. If polar vortexes hit North America or Europe this Winter natural gas prices will skyrocket. Nord Stream II is filled with Russian natural gas but is not flowing to Germany until the contracts are signed and apparently the Ukraine situation resolved.

      It seems unlikely the current exploitative feudal economic system will be able the survive the chaos of a pandemic collapsed healthcare system and frozen homes at the same time. Unrest is certain if civilization is allowed to collapse.

  11. ChrisPacific

    Bottom line for Ignatius is pessimistic, that Russia will make cyberattacks on Ukraine that lead to people freezing this winter

    Perhaps I’m too cynical, but I think Rosser might be premature in dismissing this idea. If Ignatius says this then it would seem reasonably likely that cyberattacks of just this kind will occur, and that they will be blamed on Russia (without evidence, since accusations against Russia never require evidence nowadays).

  12. Tom Stone

    It is nearly impossible to overestimate the stupidity and arrogance of the US establishment.
    For decades I have been trying to stop reflexively thinking that NO ONE could possibly be THAT stupid, someone IS that stupid.

  13. Roland

    Is anyone here willing to entertain a “non-idiot” hypothesis for US power-political strategy?

    Looking at a world map and changes over time, one can certainly argue that US leaders have been playing the long game. The US has more protectorates and satellites today than 40 years ago.

    Also look at the decades of bipartisan development of BMD–a persistent, undeviating, undistracted drive for strategic nuclear supremacy. Now the US leads the way to militarize outer space, again with full cross-party approval.

    Then I look at the abrogated ABM and INF treaties. Again, full bipartisanship and long term policy.

    There is more to this than mere vulgar corruption. The well-connected could finagle a lot of well-padded contracts without taking so much trouble. No, the sweet lucre is just a bonus: stuff picked up along the way. Cheney didn’t lay waste Iraq for the benefit of Halliburton; he actually wanted to go make some history happen. For many who wish to make a mark, the rightness or goodness is incidental. The mark itself is the main thing.

    This is not a picture of a weak, muddled, incompetent leadership. This is a portrait of a ruling class possessed of enormous ambitions, relentlessly pursued.

    Factional rivalries within a ruling class can be rancorous, even murderous, with relatively little prejudice to power-political success. The rulers of the Roman Republic slandered and murdered each other for generations while the whole time consolidating their world dominance. But for Gauls or Phrygians or Egyptians, did it matter much which particular clique of Mars-worshipping, slave-driving, genocidal Roman warlords happened to prevail in their latest round of factional struggle?

    Life has gotten worse for most Americans during the past 30 years. That doesn’t mean America’s rulers are incompetent at empire. It just means that imperialism is not primarily concerned with human welfare. The majority of Roman citizens were rendered destitute by the success of the Roman empire.

    1. TimmyB

      One thing I can say with confidence about the US government is this:

      The fact that a government policy has strong bipartisan support is a strong indication that the policy is idiotic.

      As a result, I cannot entertain your non idiot hypothesis.

      Having enormous ambitions and perusing them relentlessly in the manner in which our political leaders do is idiotic. We are squandering our wealth and the well being of most Americans on the pipe dream of dominating everyone everywhere.

  14. Thomas P

    The pessimistic version of 2022 is that talks with Iran breaks down, USA decides to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities in the hope that Iran won’t dare to strike back. This turns out to be a miscalculation and Iran launches missiles at US bases around the Gulf and the conflict escalate and disrupt oil supplies.

    Russia then use this as an opportunity to settle Ukraine once and for all, same way as the Soviet Union invaded Hungary during the Suez crisis. Their supply of oil and gas will be a strong negotiation card in this situation.

    If the situation gets sufficiently chaotic, China might even start moving on Taiwan, not a full scale invasion but putting pressure to force them into some kind of agreement.

    1. Christopher Horne

      IMHO, If there ‘needs’ to be such a response, haven’t we paid for an
      ‘attack dog’ in the region who hates Iran anyway, a rabid one at that?
      Or is this another classic case of ‘the tail wagging the dog?
      Inquiring minds want to know!

  15. Ames Gilbert

    Of course, I’m just another armchair theorist, but I’m sure someone in Iran has passed this thought amongst his peers; Iran has the capacity to infuse its main enemy, Israel, with something even more effective than an outright nuclear weapon—a “dirty bomb”. They can control the dirtiness, and keep it low (rather than having a mushroom cloud 40,000 feet high that disperses radiation widely and outside Israel’s borders. A dirty bomb can be as small or large as deemed necessary. All it has to do is empty the largest half dozen cities, whose inhabitants will likely never return, at least not soon, bringing the economy to a screeching halt.
    The same applies to U.S. military bases and local ‘decision centers’. Or KSA or UAE cities if necessary.
    This in retaliation for the U.S. or Israel or KSA nuking Iranian targets with regular nuclear bombs or biological or chemical weapons. We know for certain that the Iranians have the means for precise delivery, and because the payload would be so much smaller than ‘normal’, the range would be far greater, possibly reaching European ‘decision centers’ as well.

    1. David

      A “dirty bomb” as common understood is a payload of radioactive waste, dispersed by high explosive. It’s almost totally useless as a weapon, because the particles tend to be heavy and don’t carry very far, and because a good wash-down will prevent any long-term damage. I saw some calculations once suggesting that such a device, exploded in the middle of a major city, would probably result in 1-2% more cancers over the lifetime of those within the blast range. Not exactly the end of the world.

      1. Science Officer Smirnoff

        There is an old question here. What does a radioactive environment due to people’s confidence to continue as if nothing’s changed?

        As thoughts of vaccination can cloud the minds of a size-able portion of the world’s population, so does a radioactive uncertainty enmesh a suggestible one. Even others.

        The spent fuel rods stored at nuclear power plants around the world are often conveniently located near power consuming hubs (cities). Putting those radioactive (un-)spent rods in the air by exploding their “swimming pool” depositories might do harm to real estate values at least downwind, for a time (?)

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