Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Russia Gets Pucked

I won't pretend that I wasn't quietly satisfied at the hockey "Winter War" when I got up this morning.

The 2014 Sochi Olympic Games as Putin's pet project always irked me. I know, I konw, the guy is no worse than many another politician, just another grifting thug, but he's a grifting thug in charge of a hell of a big country with pretensions of global power and seeing the Finns piss in his morning kvass was as satisfying as watching a Gingrich marriage fail or a Wall Street CEO perp-walked.

No matter how painful the failure, if the object of the pain is really loathsome you just can't help smiling when they get booted in the nuts.

I don't pretend that my country is a treasure. But Russia is, by all accounts, a goddamn mess.

That made me think about how many of the world's nations and governments are similarly completely screwed, at least for the people who have to live with them.

My friend Labrys mentions a couple of the more visible of these sorts of screw-jobs this morning: Ukraine. Syria. North Korea.

The amazing thing I come across is the number of people - largely on the Right but extending across the political spectrum to the "liberal interventionists" - who seem to think that the United States should use its Green Lantern powers of armed force to "straighten out" these fucked-up places.

In most of these people it seems to me that their "analysis" completely elides why these places are so damn fucked up right now. Which is, simply put, that they were always fucked up for one reason or another (or a cascade of multiple reasons..!) and are just showing the latest symptoms of that total fuckedupitude.

I mean, how the hell was, short of a massive sociopolitical and economic makeover, Ukraine every going to be a haven of social peace, economic dynamism, and political good-government? Ukraine is an internally divided pseudostate suffering from the usual post-Soviet hangover of thugokleptocracy and economic malaise. The conflict between the West-leaning “Ukranian” western part and the Soviet-leaning, “Russian” eastern and southern parts was almost inevitable and almost equally doomed to messy political breakdown.

How the fuck is anyone, let alone some helicopter foreign power, going to change that without an investment of blood and treasure that would make the Roman or British Empires look as brief and shallow as a Hollywood marriage?

Syria? Gee…autocratic rule by a Shiite minority over a Sunni majority in a part of the world where the lagacies of Ottoman and colonial rule range from dysfunctional to toxic and are constantly rubbed raw by the irritant of Israeli and U.S. (and Soviet) fucking-around? Who’d have thought that THAT would end up being fucked up and difficult to fix?

North Korea? What sane person even wants to stick a fist in THAT tar-baby? The best possible outcome from intervention – nearly immediate collapse of the Kim regime – still leaves the neighbors China and South Korea with an impoverished and desperate mess on their hands that makes the unification of Germany look like child’s play by comparison.

The worst possible outcome is so nightmarish to make anyone but a complete idiot shudder.

My Bride, lovely woman that she is, is perhaps a great example of this. She has recently become fascinated with North Korea, and was glued to her tablet as the U.N. laid out its case against the North Korean government. And what a case it is: Murders, judicial and otherwise. Rape, torture, infanticide, starvation, confinements that make the Cell of Little Ease look like a chaise lounge...

She was, as any decent person should be, appalled. But what appalled her more was my cynical response to her report of the U.N.'s call to action.

"Yeah. Sure." I said. "And who the hell is going to do that?" She asked what I meant.

"The Norks won't do anything, the people are beat-down and the Kimistas like things how they are. There's almost no economic or political leverage strong enough to make the Kim regime people chance making reforms that will end with them getting Ceaușescued.

The Chinese don't want to prod them in case the place falls apart and they get overrun with a gajillion starving Norks. The South Koreans want that even less plus with the possibility of nerve gas sauce on the side?


We, the U.S., already have too damn much on our plate to want a potential geopolitical disaster on the Pacific Rim. Nobody else has either the give-a-shit, the muscle, or both."

"Plus, frankly, what the hell could you do?

North Korea is a fucking black hole of bad governance and economic disaster that has intentionally cut itself off from the sane world. It's never had a moment of civil society or modern democracy, not a scintilla of economic sanity, or social normality since some time before the Japanese invaded a-way the fuck back near the turn of the 20th Century. North Korea is a complete fuckstory, and simply arriving with an M203 in one hand and an Ipad in the other? Ain't gonna change that."

"Regardless of what happens to the Kim regime, North Korea is destined to be fucked up for generations unless the North Korean people can manage a miracle AND some combination of foreign powers can help them and not fuck up somehow, which is more likely than not."

She desperately wanted to believe that there was something that the Good People of the World could do to change that. And in that she's no different than the other good people of my country who want the U.S. to "help" Syria, or Ukraine, or Egypt, or Nigeria, or Venezuela.

Or the assholes that just want to nuke 'em until they glow and then pick off the survivors in the dark.

Neither approach is an actual sane foreign policy.

Which needs to accept that a whole lot of the world is utterly screwed, politically, and pretty much all those of us in the relatively-unscrewed portions can do is stay the fuck out of their nuthouse and learn from them that good government is precious and not to be taken - or thrown away - lightly.

By, for example, electing idiots, grifters, and morons who will reject things like science and rationality in favor of religious nonsense and economic snake-oil. By pretending that economies are magic and not created by humans with human failings and, thus, liable to reward thieves and charlatans if not judiciously managed. By blundering about the globe expending blood and treasure trying to unfuck places that can only be unfucked by those living there with a critical stake in accomplishing and preserving the unfucking.

By ignoring that social and political divisions are far easier to create than repair, and that once the social, political, and economic cohesion of a polity is wrecked it may be impossible to reassemble.

Once we've figured that out then we might simply be able to sit back and just enjoy watching a gang of plucky Finns take an axe to their asshole neighbor's motti.

That and enjoy watching the Russian autocrat forced to listen to the organ in his hockey palace play him a sad, sad song.


Big Daddy said...

To add to your schadenfreude, the Russians also got shut out of gold medals in cross country skiing and biathlon where the French got 2 gold medals.
Back to politics, I agree that we have no business getting involved in anymore tinpot dictatorships, as much as the sight of Assad hanging from a lamp post would gladden my heart. In places like Venezuela we do better by standing well back and letting Maduro shoot himself in the foot repeatedly.

Ael said...

The North Korean literacy rate is 99% (which is much less than the South Korean rate of 99.9, so it suggests that the figure is likely to be somewhat honest). Communists need bureaucrats, therefore they need an educated populace. An educated population is not passive.

The North Korean regime will not last another generation.

Syrbal/Labrys said...

I loved it that the Finns handed Russia their hockey-knock down. I know the Finns, endlessly bitter over Karelia, enjoyed it with total commitment!

And yes, the world is full of shit-holes, most of them because someone on top of the steaming pile is enjoying the view. If we don't watch it, that could too soon describe America as it becomes governed by the likes of the Koch brothers and their ilk. (Ok, yes, the word "ilk" needs much more use!)

And Putin? That rat-bastard wants to be crowned Tsar…all the oh-so-imperial trappings around Sochi, say "Please, please make me Vladimir, Tsar of the Russia(s)"

FDChief said...

BD: Someone (ESPN?) wrote recently that as of the moment Russia's winter athletes are definately not getting the "home ice" sort of boost that host nations have typically received at these games. And, yes, I'm just small enough to enjoy that, too.

And speaking of the "Winter War", isn't biathalon sort of the definition of Finnish infantry training?

Ael: 1) That assumes that the Norks aren't bullshitting about their literacy rate which, given the reported misery and destitution of rural DPRK, I would assume is more likely to be the case, and

2) Italy and Germany were highly literate countries in the Thirties. Russia and Ukraine are probably no less literate than the DPRK. Much of Russia in 1917 was NOT literate, nor was France in 1789, or the U.S. in 1775. Historical example suggests literacy and learning are not a good indicator of the willingness of a population to rebel against despotism.

While I tend to agree that the Kim regime is doomed in the long run, I don not think it is because the Korean populace will not allow themselves to be bullied.

Labrys: That was sort of the point of this post. The U.S. and Western Europe have been extraordinarily fortunate in their history in many ways, and I think we overestimate how much of that fortune was just that - good fortune - instead of some sort of "natural gift" for democracy or some such shit. The real lesson of places like Russia and Syria is that real self-rule is hard, DAMN hard, and our present slide into more-open oligarchy has a hell of a lot to do with our willingness to take easy lies and easy evasions rather than make ourselves face hard choices.

That and forgetting that the Oligarchs - whether they're Bourbons, Russian mafiosi, or Koch Suckers - are never to be trusted. They will always act in their own greedy, selfish, short-term interests and if we don't act we will suffer for that...

Ael said...

If the Norks were BSing about their literacy, I would have predicted a number much closer to South Koreas, there is a vast difference between 99% (NK) and 99.9% (SK). Education is traditionally a strong point of Communist dictatorships. I suspect that the education may have backslid in the last few years, but I really don't know.

The dictatorships in Italy and Germany did not last 3 generations.
Every country which has gotten to universal education has gone democratic within a few generations.

The countries that got educated first went democratic first (for sufficiently loose definition of democracy).

I eagerly await China going democratic, it should happen within the next decade or two (they are running about 30 years behind Russia). North Korea as we know it won't outlast the existing Chinese regime by very long.

Finally, to give you an impression of what I mean by loose democracy, Russia and Ukraine are currently democracies. So is India and Turkey. Pakistan is also probably a democracy. Revolutionary France was not a democracy (or at least it could not stay one for many interesting reasons). Afghanistan is not a democracy. I am unsure if Iraq is one, but I lean toward the no side right now - for much the same reasons as revolutionary France.

FDChief said...

I'd like to believe this is so, and perhaps if you're willing to stretch the definition of "democracy" to the degree so as to include the current Russia and Egypt then you're right.

However...I think that the real take-home lesson here is how fragile the political, social, and economic conditions are for genuine liberal democracy. There's a hell of a lot of things that can screw you, and the U.S. and northwestern Europe have been extraordinarily lucky in that we've managed to avoid them, by and large.

OF course, being the colonial powers and not the colonized helped a buttload.

Still, I have little optimism for overall conditions in the short- and medium-term for much of Africa, South America, and large parts of Asia. The negatives are just so damn huge...

Ael said...

Huh, South America? Are there any South American dictators left? (and no, Maduro is not a dictator)

Lisa said...

SISU! [There is no substitute:)]

FDChief said...

Ael: Wait a couple of decades or three and I pretty much promise you that Argentine, Chile, Peru, Brasil, Colombia, Venezuela...SOMEbody in South America will throw out a caudillo. Like I said; the negatives (economic inequality, political instability, weakness of the rule of law, social stratification) are pretty huge. Chavez was a throwback, but not because of some sort of special weakness in Venezuela. The conditions that produced the generals in Argentina, Pinochet in Chile, the Branco dictatorship in Brazil in the Seventies...all those underlying conditions are still there.

What's sad for me to see is the U.S. trying to emulate those conditions.

Lisa: I love the heck of of those little bastards. As soldiers they're seriously mean and that's in a good way.

Lisa said...

I'm proud to be 1/4 Finn ... they're very plucky, somewhat peculiar (in a good way), and prideful.

FDChief said...

Not to mention sexy, Lisa. I got this little tidbit from researching and writing up the Battle of Ilomantsi, 1944:

"The Finnish cavalry was known for the delightful foppery of their dress [their dark red uniform pants were known to the ladies of Helsinki as "ecstasy trousers"]"

Ah, those rascals...

Lisa said...

Love it ;)