Thursday, May 22, 2014

Russia's Latest Way to Check Washington

When Russia was threatening to first take over Crimea, President Obama and his administration mistook the troop movements as the southern front of a larger military exercise.  The miscalculation left the United States unable to counter the Russians even if Washington had wanted to send troops.  Time, distance and space were all in Russia's favor.  They were closer, with more troops and knew what they wanted to do and when they were going to do it.

Being out maneuvered, President Obama then falls back to the old, but largely unsuccessful, method of economic sanctions.  He would isolate Russia from the rest of the world economically.  But that tactic takes time and has had a remarkably low success rate.  Iran and Iraq have faced years of economic sanctions.  Iran remains prosperous and had the Bushes not invaded Iraq, the Iraqi people would equally be prosperous.

Sanctions are tricky things.  Too harsh and you risk starving the very people you want to pressure their leaders.  Too little and the citizens aren't compelled to seek change.  And sometimes those that you are imposing sanctions on have ways of making your life difficult.

The Atlas V rockets that the US and NASA depend on for launching heavy payloads into orbit are powered by Russian RD-180 engines.  With Atlas slated to assume 56% of the launches through 2020, an RD-180 shortage would cause payload delivery delays despite options existing today to mitigate them (Aviation Week).  The immediate thorny issue is that Altas V has 38 launches on the manifest with only 16 RD-180s in the U.S. inventory, and supply is in question.  A shift of 22 missions would call for an increase in Delta IV production and even in doing so the backlog for this rocket would not be met until fiscal 2019, according to the Aviation Week article.

But Russia's real trump card is energy.  Europe needs Russian gas and oil.  Enforcing too restrictive of a sanction against Russia means a very cold Europe.  Russia needs to sell its energy and Putin is a far better statesman than Obama, especially when it comes to protecting national interests.  It should come as no surprised that Reuters is reporting the following;  " China and Russia signed a $400-billion gas supply deal on Wednesday, securing the world's top energy user a major source of cleaner fuel and opening up a new market for Moscow as it risks losing European customers over the Ukraine crisis."

Russia isn't cutting off Europe but the deal with China insures and departures by European countries will not have a great an impact on the Russian economy.  Europe will be hard-pressed to find alternative sources for gas and oil at the same price point as Russia.  We all love cheap energy.

China may have entered into a this deal in part to further complicate matters for the US.  Attorney General Holder has decided to indict five officers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on cyber-warfare charges.  It is doubtful that the officers will ever stand trial but Holder's actions have the US Navy more than a little concerned.  The Navy feels this will lead to a backlash from China that may be expressed on the waters of the Pacific.    Another potential miscalculation by Holder and his boss the President.

The lack of synchronization between the DOJ and DOD is jus the latest example of riffs between Obama and his administration.  In 2012, the Obama administration produced a draft National Intelligence Estimate that reached a surprising conclusion: al Qaeda was no longer a direct threat to America (The Daily Beast).  Senior intelligence officials would not go along with that assessment.  Obama used this assassination of bin Laden and the al Qaeda assessment to run on in 2012.  The White House continues to use these talking despite the information showing al Qaeda has increased operations, notably Libya (Benghazi), Nigeria (Boko Haram) and very likely Mali.

Not having access to those assessments, it's hard to know how much is fact and how much is bluster.  What is distressing is how the intelligence community and military under the Obama administration lack a focus.  They are being spread to thin with their attention diverted from everything including drawing down in Afghanistan to searching for the kidnapped girls in Nigeria.  All the while Russia and China continue to move forward with their agenda.

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