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Archive for November, 2006

Sunday, November 26th, 2006


The assassination of ex-KGB spy and Putin critic, Alexander Litvinenko by a lethal dose of radioactive polonium 210 ( not it seems, irradiated thallium, a nasty KGB trademark going back to at least the 1950’s) sparked Curzon of Coming Anarchy to draw comparisons with the death of Leon Trotskii. Curzon’s timely post has opened up a number of further historical and contemporary angles. But first, an excerpt:

Trotsky’s Shadow

Deathbed accusations shouldn’t be taken at face value, but Litvinenko’s horrible poisoning, probably designed to 1.) make him suffer a painful death, and 2.) terrify other potential critics into silence, conjure up images of Trotsky’s assassination during World War II. The Stalinist dissident survived several attempts on his life before he was finally killed with an ice pick in Mexico City (Stalin was so delighted at the method that he gave all agents involved medals.)

The Trotsky assassination had been a priority for Stalin and, despite a stable of NKVD killers with experience icing White generals in Paris and Spanish anarchists in Barcelona, it proved to be an operation that successive Soviet secret police chiefs had difficulty pulling off. Beria succeeded after having assigned it to Pavel Sudoplatov and Leonid Eitington. (Sudoplatov, who died a boastful and unapologetic Stalinist spymaster, published his colorful memoirs Special Tasks in the mid 1990’s with the help of scholar/journalists, Jerrold and Leona Schecter. The memoirs are revealing and entertaining, yet must also be parsed with considerable care). Ramon Mercader was the actual assassin who killed Trotskii with an icepick during a private visit, after previous attempts at armed frontal assault on Trotskii’s Mexican compound failed.

Medals notwithstanding, none of the assassins got off scott-free. Mercader suffered at the ungentle hands of Mexican police and penal authorities until his Soviet connection was revealed. Sudoplatov and Eitington were eventually purged as “Beria-ites” and were fortunate to escape execution, merely undergoing disgrace and imprisonment.

Curzon continued:

And Litvinenko isn’t alone. Recall the recent attempts on the lives of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the former being barely unsuccessful and the later being gruesomely successful. While it might seem absurd to murder these individuals because it has made their causes known far and wide, it undoubtedly has a chilling effect on other potential agents who are scared silent by the the consequences of turning their back on Mother Russia. And that should terrify all of us.”

Less the mores of the old KGB than of Al Capone. Which raises interesting questions about Putin and his siloviki regime.

The first thing to understand about internal politics in modern Russia and most of the post-Soviet states is that “good guy -bad guy” can be thrown out the window. Or at least be conceived in very relative terms. Corruption and gangsterism are pandemic and the actual liberals and democrats are unpopular and without real influence. Litvinenko was a brave man but certainly shady. The oligarch opponents of Putin are ” mobbed up” billionaires. Think George Soros crossbred with Tony Soprano. Ex-KGB are on all sides and available for hire to boot.

Putin is ruthless and authoritarian but his professional appreciation for well-executed tradecraft must be slipping if he signed off on this assassination. The Russians have quieter poisons. And his political timing as well, considering Litvinenko’s high profile death coincided with Russia’s arms deal with Iran. Not a great image juxtaposition for Russia. Perhaps Putin was going for the double middle finger toward the West or perhaps Litvinenko was simply played by some of his dangerous friends, knowing the political effect of a splashy poisoning. Putin issued an angrily denial, but who would give that any credence? The Russian president could hardly announce to the press ” We got the bastard!” while jumping in the air and kicking his heels.

I’m not excusing Putin’s government. It is entirely possible, even likely, that they bear the responsibility for Mr. Litvinenko’s assassination and the institutional legacy of wet affairs and of sinister killers like Bogdan Stashinskii in Russia is a very long one. One that makes the CIA’s history in this regard pale by comparison, so they are not boy scouts. On the other hand, with all the consideration of 5GW in the past year in this section of the blogosphere, we might pause to at least ask ” Who benefits?”.


Kent’s Imperative -“Mokrie Dela

Jamie Glazov – “Symposium: To Kill a Russian Journalist

Saturday, November 25th, 2006


I recently had lunch with Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye and Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz, and during the course of the conversation, Dave and Lex spoke animatedly about science fiction author Philip K. Dick and his novel, The Man in the High Castle. Outside of Russian lit, I haven’t read much fiction since my teens and early twenties ( my last sojurn was re-reading The Catcher in the Rye and Babbitt in Jamaica last year) and I had not heard of the book that had made such an impression on them.

Lex was kind enough to lend me a copy, which I finished reading the other day. The Man in The High Castle is a fabulous read, and if you like science fiction or counterfactual history and have not read it, you might wish to pick it up.

I won’t spoil the plot, but the setting is in a world where the Axis utterly won WWII. America is divided into an East coastal United States occupied by the Third Reich; a Pacific States of America on the West coast under Imperial Japanese hegemony; and a nominally independent, lightly populated Rocky mountains- Great Plains state. The South, with an indulgent nod from Berlin, has reinstituted slavery for African-Americans. As Lex and Dave had suggested, an intriguing aspect of the novel is the depiction of Americans with the mentality of a conquered people, inadvertantly admiring and aping their foreign rulers despite themselves. A psychology that is entirely outside the American historical experience, excepting of course, in the old South.

As I have mentioned previously, counterfactual thinking is useful as well as entertaining. It leads us to give old ideas a second look in a new light. The greater the “realism” of the counterfactual scenario, the more attractive it is to puzzle through. Philip K. Dick did his homework with his novel, obviously having dipped into Hitler’s infamous “ second book“, unpublished in the dictator’s lifetime, records of his table talk and perhaps some of the Nazi-Japanese diplomatic exchanges. His scenario follows what Axis leaders speculatively sketched out for ” the next war” in the 1930’s when they were still planning the “limited “wars that set off WWII and ended their quest for world domination.

I won’t give away the specifics of the plot for The Man in The High Castle but the counterfactual aspect is worth your time alone.

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006


Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) this week renewed his call for a reinstitution of conscription. Despite Rangel’s intent to tweak the admnistration on Iraq, and perhaps engage in a bit of personal nostalgia (Rangel is a Korean war vet), his legislation was immediately disavowed by Democratic Party leaders, including Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi(D-Ca.).

I’m reproducing some of my remarks here from a thread at The Small Wars Council. In 2003, prior to the invasion of Iraq, I took a look at the manpower needs of the U.S. military in an article for HNN:

Why we should consider bringing back the draft

Despite the headline ( which are selected by HNN editors, not authors), I’m ambivalent about conscription, as it will not be a magic bullet for our military and strategic problems but it is something that should be considered in combination with other approaches ( like simply raising new divisions of volunteers in the ground forces). The problem is that few solutions of any kind are being seriously considered at all by our politicians, despite urgent pleas from the military leadership like we saw yesterday. Washington is whistling in the dark.

Aside from the question of utility, as a serious infringement upon personal liberty, the American public will only accept a draft if they see a clear and direct need for one. I’m highly skeptical that there is sufficient trust in the government or a sense of urgency in the public mind today, to make conscription politically acceptable. Frankly, I do not trust the current administration to make wise strategic decisions regarding such a use of manpower that a draft would provide and I trust the Democrats even less. Only a military disaster of epic proportions will change the current dynamic.

Finally, many of the advantages to our current situation that would have accrued from a draft required implementation circa 2002, not in 2007. To an extent, the draft question is a debate among politicians about who can close the barn door with the most flourish. They need to move beyond cheap grandstanding and go to work on providing real support to our soldiers in the field.

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

NOVEMBER 22nd, 1963

“Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions, and where there is no vision the people perish”.” -Proverbs

The Kennedy assassination was the moment where the Boomer generation started to go off the rails.

Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, jr. and Robert Kennedy, rioting, the New Left, the 1968 Democratic Convention, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate – all these events left their psychological mark. We can hardly see the deserts of Iraq for all the rice paddies that permeate the mental landscape of the mainstream media and senior government officials. Our presidential elections re-argue the events of a war that ended before most younger voters were even born.

Would things though, have come out much differently for America, had Kennedy lived ?

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006


Victor Davis Hanson writes with muscular prose and has been a provocative and successful historian, comfortable in going against the academic grain. I confess to rather liking many of the things he has to say in his books about the ancient world, not that I am any kind of an expert in the classics. On the other hand, as a pundit, Hanson has a tendency to make rhetorical leaps based upon assumptions that I would argue he has not thought through very well.

VDH’s comments on new developments in military theory, for example, showed him to be poorly informed about 4GW and NCW, though it would have been simple enough to do some basic reading before going off on a tangent. Similarly, today’s pessimistic post “Will the West Stumble?” shows a certain analytical hastiness and factual sketchiness in Hanson’s rush to gloom. His heart is in the right place; Hanson worries about all the right things to be worried about in the Terror War but I’m not inclined to believe, even with the extent to which we have bungled Iraq, that everything is going to come out exactly wrong for us in the end.

Hanson reminds me a lot of Jean-Francois Revel, the brilliant, anti-communist, French intellectual who thumbed his nose at European opinion and fearlessly penned How Democracies Perish in 1983, a searing look at the West’s faltering confrontation with Soviet Communism. The only problem with Revel’s deeply thoughtful but despairing analysis was that he wrote it but two years before Gorbachev would introduce glasnost and perestroika, six years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and eight years before the USSR itself ceased to exist.

The Soviets were not ten feet tall. Our Islamist enemies today are even shorter. We will take knocks along the way but pessemism be damned, America is going to win.

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