Syria, Russia, and Trump

 

I’m not sure how much news about Aleppo is filtering through the non-stop election coverage. Although my sense was that Gary Johnson did, indeed, know what Aleppo was (and just flubbed the question through some kind of inattention), that kind of inattention is only possible if the subject just isn’t something you think about all that much.

I don’t know whether he’s typical of American voters. It’s not something the next president will be able to ignore, though, that’s for sure. Aleppo’s now a hellscape reminiscent of the Battle of Stalingrad. Even by the horrifying standards of the Syrian war, the past week’s events Aleppo represent a new level of depravity. Russian and Syrian government airstrikes killed more than 300 people, most of them civilians and many of them children; more than 250,000 civilians are trapped. They’re under attack by the Syrian military and by thousands of foreign militiamen commanded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah fighters, and Russian ground troops; and they’re under bombardment by heavy Russian and Syrian air power — the most sustained and intense bombardment since the beginning of the war. A genuine Axis of Evil, if anything ever was, has emerged from this. Most of the civilians are, according to the Violations Documentation Center in Syria, being killed by Russians. I don’t know how reliable they are, so take this with the usual caveats:

Screen Shot 2016-09-28 at 09.28.02

Meanwhile, Putin has formally resurrected the KGB itself:

According to the Russian daily Kommersant, a major new reshuffle of Russia’s security agencies is under way that will unite the FSB (the main successor agency to the KGB) with Russia’s foreign intelligence service into a new super-agency called the Ministry of State Security — a report that, significantly, wasn’t denied by the Kremlin or the FSB itself.

The new agency, which revives the name of Stalin’s secret police between 1943 and 1953, will be as large and powerful as the old Soviet KGB, employing as many as 250,000 people.

The creation of the new Ministry of State Security represents a “victory for the party of the Chekists,” said Moscow security analyst Tatyana Stanovaya, referring to the first Bolshevik secret police. The important difference is that, at its core, the reshuffle marks Putin’s asserting his own personal authority over Russia’s security apparatus. …

“On the night of September 18 to 19 … the country went from authoritarian to totalitarian,” wrote former liberal Duma deputy Gennady Gudkov on his Facebook page.

And the Ukrainian military is reporting the heaviest day of fighting since the latest attempt at a ceasefire came into effect on September 15.

Richard Cohen at the Washington Post, not exactly known as a Trump booster, is absolutely scathing about the Administration’s role in this:

This is not Kerry’s failure. It is Obama’s. He takes overweening pride in being the anti-George W. Bush. Obama is the president who did not get us into any nonessential wars of the Iraq variety. The consequences for Syria have been dire — perhaps 500,000 dead, 7 million internal refugees, with millions more surging toward Europe like a tsunami of the desperate.

European politics has been upended — Germany’s Angela Merkel is in trouble, Britain has bolted from the European Union, and Hungary and Poland are embracing their shameful pasts — but there is yet another casualty of this war, the once-universal perception that the United States would never abide the slaughter of innocents on this scale. Yet, we have. Obama has proclaimed doing nothing as doing something — lives saved, a quagmire avoided. But doing nothing is not nothing. It is a policy of its own, in this case allowing the creation of a true axis of evil: a gleeful, high-kicking chorus line of Russia, Iran and Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. They stomp on everything in their path.

Aleppo then is like Guernica, a place of carnage. It’s also a symbol of American weakness. The same Putin who mucks around in Syria has filched U.S. emails and barged into the U.S. election. He has kept Crimea and a hunk of Ukraine and may decide tomorrow that the Baltics, once Soviet, need liberating from liberation. He long ago sized up Obama: all brain, no muscle.

All over the world, U.S. power is dismissed. The Philippine president, a volcanic vulgarian, called the president a “son of a whore” and, instead of doing an update of sending in the fleet, Obama canceled a meeting. China constructs synthetic islands in the Pacific Ocean, claiming shipping lanes that no one should own, and every once in a while a U.S. warship cruises close — but not too close. We pretend to have made a point. The Chinese wave and continue building. The North Koreans are developing a nuclear missile to reach Rodeo Drive, and God only knows what the Iranians are up to deep in their tunnels.

Does all this stem from Uncle Sam’s bended knee in Syria? Who knows? But U.S. reluctance to act has almost certainly given others resolve.

A question for those of you who plan to vote for Donald Trump. Your logic (I assume) is that Hillary Clinton is associated with Obama’s disastrous foreign policy, and should pay the price for this at the ballot box. If this were a normal election, who could disagree? But don’t you think that it isn’t a normal election? Unlike hapless Gary Johnson, Donald Trump almost certainly has no idea what Aleppo is, and he’s shown no desire or ability to learn. You saw it: He arrived at the debate as unprepared to discuss foreign policy as he was at the start of his campaign. And to the extent he has any coherent policy, it’s explicitly to make the Obama Administration’s foreign policy look interventionist by comparison.

Vladimir Putin not only supports Trump, but is almost certainly actively interfering with an American election with the aim of ushering him into office. Trump, as we saw in the debate, either doesn’t know this, or denies it, or doesn’t even understand what the relevant words mean:

As far as the cyber, I agree to parts of what Secretary Clinton said. We should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we’re not. I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?

You don’t know who broke in to DNC.

But what did we learn with DNC? We learned that Bernie Sanders was taken advantage of by your people, by Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Look what happened to her. But Bernie Sanders was taken advantage of. That’s what we learned.

Now, whether that was Russia, whether that was China, whether it was another country, we don’t know, because the truth is, under President Obama we’ve lost control of things that we used to have control over.

We came in with the Internet, we came up with the Internet, and I think Secretary Clinton and myself would agree very much, when you look at what [the Islamic State] is doing with the Internet, they’re beating us at our own game. ISIS.

So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is — it is a huge problem. I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.

Did that garbled speech make Trump-supporters here hesitate at all? “I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers?” We all know elderly, disoriented people who talk like that. In my experience people who talk like that can’t understand these things — it’s not that they don’t want to, it’s that they don’t have the cognitive ability. How could Donald Trump possibly understand what people tell him about Russia and Syria, even if he did surround himself with “the best” advisors?

Do you see any sign that “the best” advisors are helping him to understand what he’d confront from his first minute in office? If so, what sign do you see that I don’t?

There are 165 comments.

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  1. Jason Turner Member

    Stalin’s secret police between 1943 & 1953, that would be the NKVD I presume?

    • #1
    • September 28, 2016, at 1:50 AM PDT
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  2. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Hey, let’s add an AMERICA! column to that chart of who kills civilians in Syria.

    • #2
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:17 AM PDT
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  3. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Jason Turner:Stalin’s secret police between 1943 & 1953, that would be the NKVD I presume?

    I believe, but don’t quote me on this, that in 1946 the NKVD became the MVD and the NKGB became the MGB — and that when Stalin died they were merged into the MVD. Let’s ask an expert, though; I’m just trying to refresh my memory from Wikipedia, and it’s been decades since I studied this.

    It’s all the Cheka, in terms of institutional continuity. About that I’m confident.

    • #3
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:17 AM PDT
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  4. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    If you think that standing up to Russia is a good idea, Hillary is not the person to do it, and Syria is not the place.

    • #4
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:19 AM PDT
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  5. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    On the other hand, if you think that American blood and bullets are just what is needed to make things better in Syria, well, I don’t know what to tell you.

    No.

    • #5
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:21 AM PDT
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  6. Jason Turner Member

    Just read the politico article, did the investigative committee ever discover Anna Politkovskaya’s killer? Perhaps a little too close to Vlad himself?

    • #6
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:22 AM PDT
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  7. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Ball Diamond Ball:Hey, let’s add an AMERICA! column to that chart of who kills civilians in Syria.

    Go ahead. It’s honest to do so. I think you’ll find the numbers to be small by comparison. I’m sure their families don’t think the numbers are “small,” and there’s no question but that those deaths are a tragedy and an embarrassment and painful. But really, BDB: Do you think it’s US policy to wipe out Syrian civilians en masse? If so, we’re doing a poor job of it, considering how quickly we could get that job done.

    • #7
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:22 AM PDT
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  8. Jason Turner Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Jason Turner:Stalin’s secret police between 1943 & 1953, that would be the NKVD I presume?

    I believe, but don’t quote me on this, that in 1946 the NKVD became the MVD and the NKGB became the MGB — and that when Stalin died they were merged into the MVD. Let’s ask an expert, though; I’m just trying to refresh my memory from Wikipedia, and it’s been decades since I studied this.

    It’s all the Cheka, in terms of institutional continuity. About that I’m confident.

    Just checked wikapedia myself, I think you’re right on the names, although they were changing so often in those days it’s hard to keep track.

    • #8
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:25 AM PDT
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  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Jason Turner: Anna Politkovskaya’s killer

    Two Chechens were convicted of the hit, but we don’t know who ordered it. Litvinenko publicly said it was on Putin’s direct orders — and we know what happened to Litvinenko. But Putin had many other reasons to want Litvinenko dead, so that’s not dispositive.

    • #9
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:28 AM PDT
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  10. Marion Evans Inactive

    The problem is not Putin but the troubled empire called Russia. A very weak economy, a shrinking population and an immense territory. Insecurity is very high for a Russian patriot.

    Not clear what Obama could have done in Syria, other than create some safe zones which could have made a big difference.

    • #10
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:46 AM PDT
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  11. Jason Turner Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Jason Turner: Anna Politkovskaya’s killer

    Two Chechens were convicted of the hit, but we don’t know who ordered it. Litvinenko publicly said it was on Putin’s direct orders — and we know what happened to Litvinenko. But Putin had many other reasons to want Litvinenko dead, so that’s not dispositive.

    Thanks Claire, I’m glad they convicted the killers, but I doubt will ever know the full truth. On another note I recently started reading Menace in Europe and There is no Alternative, really enjoyimg both books so far, you have a gift that I think only the best authors have, it’s hard to describe but you talk through your words it’s like having an actual conversation.

    • #11
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:48 AM PDT
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  12. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Ball Diamond Ball:If you think that standing up to Russia is a good idea, Hillary is not the person to do it, and Syria is not the place.

    Do you think it’s a good idea? Do you think Trump would be better qualified either to do that or make the informed decision that we shouldn’t? If we should, why wouldn’t we stand up to the Russians in Syria — that is where they’re massacring people, not Costa Rica. I’m not saying this to be flippant. I’d like to understand how you’re thinking about this.

    One argument that I think makes sense is, “Yes, we’re gravely threatened by Putin, particularly given his partnership with Iran and the other revisionist threat we face in China. But our military is too depleted and our civic fabric too frayed for us to stand up” to Russia. We need to bargain for time.” Many historians now look more sympathetically on Chamberlain’s March 1938 position, given Britain’s military capabilities at the time — by 1939 the British military had more confidence. Do you think Trump is able to understand and execute that strategy? What would make you think so?

    • #12
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:51 AM PDT
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  13. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Jason Turner:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Jason Turner: Anna Politkovskaya’s killer

    Two Chechens were convicted of the hit, but we don’t know who ordered it. Litvinenko publicly said it was on Putin’s direct orders — and we know what happened to Litvinenko. But Putin had many other reasons to want Litvinenko dead, so that’s not dispositive.

    Thanks Claire, I’m glad they convicted the killers, but I doubt will ever know the full truth. On another note I recently started reading Menace in Europe and There is no Alternative, really enjoyimg both books so far, you have a gift that I think only the best authors have, it’s hard to describe but you talk through your words it’s like having an actual conversation.

    That’s so kind of you. I really appreciate hearing that, especially because I’ve been feeling at a loss for words lately. I keep thinking we live in times so strange that a talent much greater than mine is required to describe them.

    • #13
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:53 AM PDT
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  14. Marion Evans Inactive

    Ball Diamond Ball:If you think that standing up to Russia is a good idea, Hillary is not the person to do it, and Syria is not the place.

    She may not be the person you would choose out of 20 candidates. But out of these two, she is the person.

    • #14
    • September 28, 2016, at 2:58 AM PDT
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  15. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Ball Diamond Ball:Hey, let’s add an AMERICA! column to that chart of who kills civilians in Syria.

    Go ahead. It’s honest to do so. I think you’ll find the numbers to be small by comparison. I’m sure their families don’t think the numbers are “small,” and there’s no question but that those deaths are a tragedy and an embarrassment and painful. But really, BDB: Do you think it’s US policy to wipe out Syrian civilians en masse? If so, we’re doing a poor job of it, considering how quickly we could get that job done.

    You have misapprehended me twice in one comment.

    I lost track. Is this a Syria article or a Trump article?

    • #15
    • September 28, 2016, at 3:08 AM PDT
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  16. Jason Turner Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Jason Turner:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Jason Turner: Anna Politkovskaya’s killer

    Two Chechens were convicted of the hit, but we don’t know who ordered it. Litvinenko publicly said it was on Putin’s direct orders — and we know what happened to Litvinenko. But Putin had many other reasons to want Litvinenko dead, so that’s not dispositive.

    Thanks Claire, I’m glad they convicted the killers, but I doubt will ever know the full truth. On another note I recently started reading Menace in Europe and There is no Alternative, really enjoyimg both books so far, you have a gift that I think only the best authors have, it’s hard to describe but you talk through your words it’s like having an actual conversation.

    That’s so kind of you. I really appreciate hearing that, especially because I’ve been feeling at a loss for words lately. I keep thinking we live in times so strange that a talent much greater than mine is required to describe them.

    I think you do a good job, I certainly disagree on some things, but I always find your posts to be informative and well written. I actually discovered Ricochet because your article on Charlie Hebdo had been put on Tim Blair’s blog (along with your non COC tweet). That was to me the perfect article at a very difficult time.

    • #16
    • September 28, 2016, at 3:12 AM PDT
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  17. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Show me the President you feel comfortable with wielding American power. Iraq and Afghanistan are being transformed into my generation’s Vietnam, thankfully with far fewer Ametican dead, but the betrayal doesn’t go away.

    Show me the President worthy of calling the troops out for somebody else’s craphill country, while we are invaded and displaced at home.

    Screw Syria. Screw Putin. Screw Europe too.

    • #17
    • September 28, 2016, at 3:17 AM PDT
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  18. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed. Post author

    Ball Diamond Ball: Screw Syria. Screw Putin. Screw Europe too.

    Do you see an echo of the runup to the Second World War in this? In some ways it’s a similar story, though history never exactly repeats itself. The First World War had left so many people so embittered, and had engendered such a loss of confidence in elites, that the gathering threat was dismissed and discounted. “Screw Czechoslovakia” is, I think, exactly what people thought. I’m worried this tragedy will repeat itself. I’m also worried that this might not be the right historical analogy, and could be misapplied. I don’t know.

    Of course the betrayal and the bitterness doesn’t go away. No one would expect it to. But things can, actually, get worse.

    Show you a president with whom I’d feel comfortable? Honestly, I wouldn’t feel “comfortable” with anyone who wasn’t a combat veteran, at the least. I’m not looking for comfortable at this point; it’s an unrealistic expectation, but I think if Trump is elected all hell will break out immediately. I don’t think we’re prepared to cope with that.

    • #18
    • September 28, 2016, at 3:33 AM PDT
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  19. Valiuth Member

    Well clearly not screw Putin because you would just let him do whatever he wants. So maybe you should ammend your statement to screw anyone but the guys that deserve to be screwed.

    • #19
    • September 28, 2016, at 3:41 AM PDT
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  20. genferei Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Did that garbled speech make Trump-supporters here hesitate at all?

    I’m not a Trump supporter, but, no. It is of a piece with his statements on military preparedness, for example:

    In addition, we will improve the Department of Defense’s cyber capabilities. Hillary Clinton has taught us all how vulnerable we are to cyber hacking.

    Which is why one of the first things we must do is to enforce all classification rules, and enforce all laws relating to the handling of classified information.

    Hillary Clinton put her emails on a secret server to cover-up her pay-for-play scandals at the State Department. Nothing threatens the integrity of our Democracy more than when government officials put their public office up for sale.

    We will also make it a priority to develop defensive and offensive cyber capabilities at our U.S. Cyber Command, and recruit the best and brightest Americans.

    One of my first directives after taking office will be asking the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and all relevant federal departments, to conduct a thorough review of United States cyber defenses and identify all vulnerabilities – in our power grid, our communications systems, and all vital infrastructure. I will then ask for a plan to immediately protect those vulnerabilities. At the same time, we will invest heavily in offensive cyber capabilities to disrupt our enemies, including terrorists who rely heavily on internet communications.

    • #20
    • September 28, 2016, at 3:56 AM PDT
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  21. Scott Wilmot Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: But our military is too depleted and our civic fabric too frayed for us to stand up” to Russia. We need to bargain for time.

    This argument made me think of this article by Fred Reed.

    Fred argues that we have an upgraded WWII military designed to fight similar militaries – yet those militaries no longer exist. Is military power independent or is it useful only in relation to specific circumstances. We bomb enemies today (ISIS for instance) yet we can’t defeat them. We have crazed regimes (North Korea and Iran) and our military seems to be useless to stop them in their pursuit of nukes. China fights us economically and Islam fights us with the Grand Jihad from within (in conjunction with the progressives seeking radical transformation of our constitutional order).

    Sorry, this doesn’t get to the question of your OP. I don’t think either Trump or Clinton has an answer to any of this. Clinton has been in on the mess since 2008 – she has proved herself incompetent and dangerous to our interests. Trump is still a wild card.

    I sure don’t have any answers.

    • #21
    • September 28, 2016, at 4:01 AM PDT
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  22. genferei Member

    And don’t forget this ad:

    • #22
    • September 28, 2016, at 4:02 AM PDT
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  23. Crazy Horse Inactive

    https://youtu.be/9mTlnrXFAXE?t=90

    • #23
    • September 28, 2016, at 4:16 AM PDT
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  24. Jason Turner Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Ball Diamond Ball: Screw Syria. Screw Putin. Screw Europe too.

    Do you see an echo of the runup to the Second World War in this? In some ways it’s a similar story, though history never exactly repeats itself. The First World War had left so many people so embittered, and had engendered such a loss of confidence in elites, that the gathering threat was dismissed and discounted. “Screw Czechoslovakia” is, I think, exactly what people thought. I’m worried this tragedy will repeat itself. I’m also worried that this might not be the right historical analogy, and could be misapplied. I don’t know.

    Of course the betrayal and the bitterness doesn’t go away. No one would expect it to. But things can, actually, get worse.

    Show you a president with whom I’d feel comfortable? Honestly, I wouldn’t feel “comfortable” with anyone who wasn’t a combat veteran, at the least. I’m not looking for comfortable at this point; it’s an unrealistic expectation, but I think if Trump is elected all hell will break out immediately. I don’t think we’re prepared to cope with that.

    I think you are right that there are many similarities between now and the years before the second world war.

    • #24
    • September 28, 2016, at 4:39 AM PDT
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  25. Crazy Horse Inactive

    With the exception of Brexit sticking Germany with the bill, I fail to see “many” similarities that aren’t part of ongoing conflicts. Where you need to watch is Serbia and Croatia, that is if you are hoping for a WW!II replay. Likely, a Russian, China, NK alliance would move forward to recapture Laos, Myanmar, and other parts of SE Asia until US was pulled in to defend either Japan or the Philippines.

    • #25
    • September 28, 2016, at 4:46 AM PDT
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  26. Jason Turner Member

    I also think that we are facing a similair failing of both leadership and democracy. Both Trump and Clinton are perfect examples of this failure of leadership, the people are also responsible for supporting these type of leaders, where are today’s Churchill’s, Thatcher’s & Reagan’s and would people actually vote for them if they had the chance. I believe that it was Churchill who said that the biggest argument against democracy was to speak to the average voter, that saying is even truer today.

    • #26
    • September 28, 2016, at 4:47 AM PDT
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  27. Crazy Horse Inactive

    Pshh. None of those Politicians kept you safe. Montgomery, MacArthur, and Patton kept both theaters in check.

    • #27
    • September 28, 2016, at 4:51 AM PDT
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  28. Percival Thatcher

    Ball Diamond Ball: I lost track. Is this a Syria article or a Trump article?

    Yes.

    • #28
    • September 28, 2016, at 4:52 AM PDT
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  29. Jason Turner Member

    JLocked:With the exception of Brexit sticking Germany with the bill, I fail to see “many” similarities that aren’t part of ongoing conflicts. Where you need to watch is Serbia and Croatia, that is if you are hoping for a WW!II replay. Likely, a Russian, China, NK alliance would move forward to recapture Laos, Myanmar, and other parts of SE Asia until US was pulled in to defend either Japan or the Philippines.

    I think the similarities are more in relation to the period prior to the second world war where there existed in my view a failure of leadership among the major powers but also a populace so fearful of conflict that through inaction they made conflict inevitable.

    • #29
    • September 28, 2016, at 4:53 AM PDT
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  30. Crazy Horse Inactive

    Jason Turner:

    JLocked:With the exception of Brexit sticking Germany with the bill, I fail to see “many” similarities that aren’t part of ongoing conflicts. Where you need to watch is Serbia and Croatia, that is if you are hoping for a WW!II replay. Likely, a Russian, China, NK alliance would move forward to recapture Laos, Myanmar, and other parts of SE Asia until US was pulled in to defend either Japan or the Philippines.

    I think the similarities are more in relation to the period prior to the second world war where there existed in my view a failure of leadership among the major powers but also a populace so fearful of conflict that through inaction they made conflict inevitable.

    Are any of the Teutonic people using Wheelbarrows of Printed Money to get a Loaf of Bread?

    • #30
    • September 28, 2016, at 4:54 AM PDT
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