Putin Presides over a Slide into Poverty


Article in Newsweek today: Putin Presides over a Slide into Poverty

Nothing new here (if you have been reading the blog), but a few highlights:

  1. “Russian officials project that the economy will contract 1 percent to 1.5 percent this year…”

2. “Currency devaluation (in 1998), generous state bailouts (in 2008) and a commodity prices rebound (in 2012) allowed the economy to bounce back quickly. None of these fixes are available now….to save the day.”

Oil today is at $39 a barrel for crude (Russia needs at least $50). I don’t think it is going significantly higher anytime soon, and some people are thinking that it is going to slide down some more.


Quote from America’s Modern Wars

On Amazon.com

On Amazon.com

Just to reinforce Shawn Woodford’s point below, let me quote from Chapter Twenty-Four, pages 294-295, of my book America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam:

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of having a series of meetings with Professor Ivo Feierabend. I was taking a graduate course in Econometrics at San Diego State University (SDSU). I decided that for my class paper, I would do something on the causes of revolution. The two leading efforts on this, both done in the 1960s, were by Ted Gurr and the husband and wife team of Feierabend and Feierabend. I reviewed their work, and for a variety of reasons, got interested in the measurements and analyses done by the Feierabends, vice the more known work by Ted Gurr. This eventually led me to Dr. Feierabend, who still happened to be at San Diego State University much to my surprise. This was some 20 years after he had done what I consider to be ground-breaking work on revolutions. I looked him up and had several useful and productive meetings with him.

In the 1960s, he had an entire team doing this work. Several professors were involved, and he had a large number of graduate students coding events of political violence. In addition, he had access to mainframe computers, offices, etc. The entire effort was shut down in the 1960s, and he had not done anything further on this in almost 20 years. I eventually asked him why he didn’t continue his work. His answer, short and succinct was, “I had no budget.”

This was a difficult answer for a college student to understand. But, it is entirely understood by me now. To do these types of analytical projects requires staff, resources, facilities, etc. They cannot be done by one person, and even if they could, that one person usually needs a paycheck. So, the only way one could conduct one of these large analytical projects is to be funded. In the case of the Feierabends, that funding came from the government, as did ours. Their funding ended after a few years, as has ours. Their work could be described as a good start, but there was so much more that needed to be done. Intellectually, one is mystified why someone would not make sure that this work was continued. Yet, in the cases of Ted Gurr and the Feierabends, it did not.

The problem lies in that the government (or at least the parts that I dealt with) sometimes has the attention span of a two-year-old. Not only that, it also has the need for instant gratification, very much like a two-year-old. Practically, what that means is that projects that can answer an immediate question get funding (like the Bosnia and Iraq casualty estimates). Larger research efforts that will produce an answer or a product in two to three years can also get funding. On the other hand, projects that produce a preliminary answer in two to three years and then need several more years of funding to refine, check, correct and develop that work, tend to die. This has happened repeatedly. The analytical community is littered with many clever, well thought-out reports that look to be good starts. What is missing is a complete body of analysis on a subject.

Why Are We Still Wondering Why Men (And Women) Rebel?

Gurr, Why Men RebelThe New York Times published a very interesting article addressing the inability of government-sponsored scholars and researchers to provide policymakers with an analytical basis for identifying potential terrorists. For anyone who has worked with U.S. government patrons on basic research, much of this will sound familiar.

“After all this funding and this flurry of publications, with each new terrorist incident we realize that we are no closer to answering our original question about what leads people to turn to political violence,” Marc Sageman, a psychologist and a longtime government consultant, wrote in the journal Terrorism and Political Violence in 2014. “The same worn-out questions are raised over and over again, and we still have no compelling answers.”

Ample government resourcing and plenty of research attention appears to yield little in advanced knowledge and insight. Why is this? For some, the way the government responds to research findings is the problem.

When researchers do come up with possible answers, the government often disregards them. Not long after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, for instance, Alan B. Krueger, the Princeton economist, tested the widespread assumption that poverty was a key factor in the making of a terrorist. Mr. Krueger’s analysis of economic figures, polls, and data on suicide bombers and hate groups found no link between economic distress and terrorism.

More than a decade later, law enforcement officials and government-funded community groups still regard money problems as an indicator of radicalization.

There is also the demand for simple, definitive answers to immediately pressing questions (also known as The Church of What’s Happening Now).

Researchers, too, say they have been frustrated by both the Bush and Obama administrations because of what they say is a preoccupation with research that can be distilled into simple checklists… “They want to be able to do things right now,” said Clark R. McCauley Jr., a professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College who has conducted government-funded terrorism research for years. “Anybody who offers them something right now, like to go around with a checklist — right now — is going to have their attention.

“It’s demand driven,” he continued. “The people with guns and badges are so eager to have something. The fact that they could actually do harm? This doesn’t deter them.”

There is also the problem of research that leads to conclusions that are at odds with the prevailing political sentiment or run contrary to institutional interests.

Mr. McCauley said many of his colleagues and peers conducted smart research and drew narrow conclusions. The problem, he said, is that studies get the most attention when they suggest warning signs. Research linking terrorism to American policies, meanwhile, is ignored.

However, the more honest researchers also admit that their inability to develop effective modes of inquiry into what are certainly complicated problems plays a role as well.

In 2005, Jeff Victoroff, a University of Southern California psychologist, concluded that the leading terrorism research was mostly just political theory and anecdotes. “A lack of systematic scholarly investigation has left policy makers to design counterterrorism strategies without the benefit of facts,” he wrote in The Journal of Conflict Resolution.

This state of affairs would be problematic enough considering it has been a decade-and-a-half since the events of 11 September 2001 made understanding political violence a national imperative. But it is even more perplexing given that the U.S. government began sponsoring basic research on this topic in the 1950s and 60s. The pioneering work of scholars Ted Gurr and Ivo and Rosalind Feierabend started with U.S. government funding. Gurr published his seminal work Why Men Rebel in 1970. Nearly a half century later, why are we still asking the same questions?

Kursk Book Availability


Amazon.com is now charging $275 for my Kursk book. For some reason, they had always discounted it to below list price. Last week, the discounted ended and it now cost well above list price. We have no say in what Amazon.com does or does not do. We have watched the odd price fluctuations on the book prices there with considerable bemusement.

It is available from Aberdeen Bookstore at the list price of $195. If you click on the image of the book to the right of this post then it will lead you there.

The link is: Aberdeen Bookstore



Greater Economic Backwardness and Revolution

An article in the History News Network got my attention

Greater economic backwardness

A few lines caught my attention:

  1. “For the first time the researchers found that the greater the development gap….the more likely a country has experienced non-violent and violent mass demonstrations for regime change…”
  2. “Events in the Arab Spring and in the Euro-Maidan demonstrations in the Ukraine, show that the frustrated desire to catch up with the frontier era can extend to the political sphere, particularly with repressive regimes.”

Well, this is probably very interesting work and I probably need to scare up a copy. The “for the first time” claim caught my attention in light of the work by Ted Gurr and Feierabend & Feierabend in the 1960s, which I am familiar with. I have posted on their work before. Of course, what Gurr and the Feierabends’ work showed was that (and this is paraphrasing from my memory):

  1. Poorer countries had more political violence that richer countries.
  2. Really poor countries had less political violence than developing countries (poor countries that are getting richer).
  3. Political violence went up when the economy went down.

The sense I have from the Gurr and Feierabend’s work is that the least stable countries are those that were developing economically and then stalled or went into recession. This, of course, is the scenario with Russia (and others like Venezuela) and possibly may become the scenario in China.


The Islamic State is in Retreat

[Photo deleted at the request of AFP]

An interesting article today in the Washington Post (photo from Huffington Post):

The Islamic State is in Retreat

A few lines caught my attention:

  1. “The U.S. military estimated earlier this year that the Islamic State had lost 40 percent of the territory it controlled at its peak in 2014.”
  2. “Shadadi was going to be a major six-week operation….Instead, they completely collapsed.”
  3. “We could probably liberate Mosul tomorrow…”
  4. “…troops encountered little resistance, overrunning five mostly empty villages ahead of retreating militant fighters.”
  5. “…it is starting to become possible to foresee the group’s ultimate defeat, said Knights, who thinks that could come by the end of next year.”

Of course, by establishing an “Islamic State,” a guerilla movement has now developed a conventional mission to hold territory. This allows us to develop a more conventional war against them. There may still be a guerilla movement to deal with after the Islamic State has been reduced.





Well, they are finally going to re-take Mosul. I think we heard that before, but this time it is probably true.

Link: Mosul

They are saying they may take it by the end of 2016 or early 2017. That is a very long time, considering how close the Iraq Army is to it. They are 70 km (45 miles) away from Mosul! Mosul was taken by ISIL in early June 2014. So they are looking at 2 1/2 years before the second city of Iraq is reclaimed.

Just for comparison on 30 March 1972, the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong started their large spring offensive (the Easter Offensive). On 1 May 1972, the South Vietnamese Army gave up Quang Tri in the most northern province in Vietnam. This was the provincial capital of Quang Tri province. They withdrew from the capital and the province at that time. In mid-September 1972, the South Vietnamese Army had retaken Quang Tri. This was 4 1/2 months later. They held it until the 1975 offensive, which ended South Vietnam.


Influencing the Price of Oil and the War in Syria


Caption: Kurdish Cavalry, 1915


The real problem the Russian economy is suffering from is that oil has dropped from $100 a barrel to $30 a barrel. The Russian government budget was once based upon oil remaining at least $80 a barrel. The current Russian government budget is based upon oil remaining at least $50 a barrel. This is not happening. The end result has been two successive years of 10% budget cuts.

Right now the Russian ruble is moving back up into the range of 60 rubles for a dollar. It was in the 70s, it used to be in the 30s. This recent rise is mostly caused by an increase in the price of oil. Russia and Saudi Arabia have agreed to hold production stable, which is having some impact on the prices. But, this is still not recovery. The Russian economy is going to be declining or stagnant for the foreseeable future (for at least the next two years…which gets us close to their March 2018 presidential election).

So, the question is, what can Russia do to bring the price of oil back up? Obviously, reduce supply or increase demand. In fact, demand seems to be decreasing as the Chinese and some other economies slow. This is probably not something they can control. They could reduce their own supply, which would cause the price to go up. But, this does not solve Russia’s problem as it would be at the expense of less barrels sold, and oil is a major part of their economy and the government budget.

Therefore, their only real option is to reduce supply world-wide. This is really only possible if Saudi Arabia and OPEC decide to. But they have a problem in that Iran, which is also supporting Assad and is an OPEC member, is putting oil back into the marketplace. Iran is now joining the world order and able to sell oil. This was one of by-products of the agreement on nuclear development limitations. Whether or not you agree with the Iran nuclear deal, it is helping us at the gas pump. It is also probably making it impossible for Saudi Arabia to really significantly boost the price of oil.

Of course, they may not want to. Saudi Arabia and Russia are on different sides of the war in Syria. A Russia directly involved in a war in the Middle East is kind of a unique event. They have had multiple wars with Turkey, but their last war ended with World War I (1918). They did occupy the northern half of Iran during World War II, but withdrew after the end of the war. They provided considerable support to the Egyptians and Syrians during the 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars, but stay away from active intervention. But this Russian intervention in Syria provides an additional incentive for Saudi Arabia not to let oil prices rise much, as this only feeds the Russian military. We have seen Russian recently limit and curtail their invention in Syria.

I have known a lot of Russians. Not one has ever told me in private conversation how much they love Bashar Assad and how much Syria contributes to Russia’s economy and defense. In fact, from an economic and military point of view, Russia’s defense of the Assad regime makes little sense. If he was gone from power tomorrow, not sure many in Russia would miss him.

So, what does Russia gain from supporting Assad?