When Keeping Predictions Real Goes Wrong

I had to eat some shit last night for blowing my first big foreign prediction. I thought that Russian troop build ups were all for leverage at the negotiation table. I thought it would be too risky to launch a full assault when one could, theoretically, get a neutral Ukraine over the bargaining table. We don’t yet know if this was a realistic possibility or not. If Blinken and co sabotaged such a deal or if Putin did. I hate that Putin resorted to this in response either way. Fuck Vlad.

So yesterday I was getting ready to go to bed when suddenly some cursed impulse made me check my phone one last time. Only to be immediately jolted awake by The Great Gopnik War and cries of ‘Anuuuuuuuu cheeki breeki iv damke.’ I really wish I hadn’t looked. I wish I had a full night’s sleep and only got rudely awakened the next morning.

For now its too early to make super serious comments. But I will say this: If Putin’s goals are limited, he will likely scoop out either a diplomatic neutrality concession by Kiev or, more grossly, a new territorial swathe from the Donbass to Crimea, connecting them in a kind of Slavic Northern Ireland facsimile. He could get away with this and, in time, things might settle down. But if his ambitions are as stated and he wishes to go full American-style regime change…well, get ready for full insurgency, poisoned relations with neighbors in Europe, and a simmering guerilla war that will indirectly suck in other countries and hold the potential to directly involve more as it goes on. Russia’s inferiority complex to America, it seems, has caused it to flirt with repeating its mistakes too. I distinctly remember being a teenager in the Iraq invasion and having those first months seem a euphoric victory ride for most of the population. We know now how that turned out. Moscow has a choice, and choosing wisely involves recognizing your limits.

But I am not done eating shit, though I do wish to put it in context that makes it less bad. I never said Russia would ‘never’ attack Ukraine. I always quantified the prediction with ‘probably not’ and then went on to say ‘and here’s how they would do it if they did,’ which-so far-is still somewhat accurate from what I can tell. I do feel in taking this path Russia has burned a lot of diplomatic bridges it once could have crossed. This is precisely why I didn’t think they would go ahead.

For what its worth, Biden so far seems to be handling this better than any other President of my conscious lifetime would have. Ukraine is not a NATO nation, and we are under no obligation to defend them. Additionally, its location, political situation, and other factors mean it never was a likely inductee to NATO (another reason I thought Putin would refrain from attacking). It is truly baffling to me that no one in NATO could have admitted this publicly, and I wonder if they had if the current situation would be different now. Knowing this, Biden seems to be owning, much like he owned the issue on Afghanistan, the reality that war in Ukraine directly does not suit U.S. interest. Obama said the exact same thing in 2014, but now, due to Russiagate, his partisans seem to forget this. For now anyway. It is too close to Russia and all advantages go to team Moscow. Even in the event of a decisive U.S. victory that would mean permanent stationing of U.S. troops near Russia’s core area for decades. In a country with no core shared interest with the North Atlantic? Ridiculous. The cost would not be justifiable, especially considering how far east that would be. If Ice Cream Joe keeps it up, I might just vote for his reelection. And I haven’t voted for a major party candidate at the national level since 2012…including Joe himself. Granted, I suspect many of the others who yelled at me for not doing so in 2020 might jump ship by that point. Well, there’s little point to life without some contrarianism.

As I said already, its too early to go too much into detail on the war itself. If Kiev was wise they must have prepared interior defenses in depth to compensate for their numerical and firepower disadvantages and won’t contest every inch of ground but rather fight like hell in a core defensible area. If they didn’t prepare at all than their actor-president (who once played an actor-president on tv, peak clown world) is even more cavalier than I feared. Let us leave it at that for now.

What I can do, and what I will do right now, is examine why I got this one wrong by comparing it with my other bogus prediction: the 2016 Presidential election. Both are outliers in an largely on point predictive career, so maybe if smashed together they can be elucidating.

First, lets establish that I am actually on the whole good with predictions in politics. I am not going to go through everything I ever wrote for hyperlinks, but you can search this site and my external publications are largely linked to on the publications tab. Feel free to see for yourself. But I made many big calls successfully before. Nation building in Iraq would be a disaster (2002-still in high school!), proved true in 2004 onwards. NATO expansion being a mistake that could lead to further conflict in Europe (2005), proven true from 2014-present. That the U.S. and company should avoid the Syrian Civil War like the plague (2012), proven true 2013-present. Most on point, I predicted a Karabakh re-match (2016) where advantage would be strongly in Azerbaijan’s camp…this of course came true in 2020. Additionally, and more domestically, I predicted with a one state margin of error, every U.S. presidential election from 2000-2020 with the sole exception of 2016. 2004 and 2012 I got with not a single state in error. I also had one big but very mixed prediction made in 2020, that Afghanistan’s government would collapse post-U.S. pullout (yes) but not until at least 6 or so months had passed (no).

I am not listing this to brag or fellate my ego to compensate for messing the two I fumbled up. It is important to establish the overall record to investigate the flops. Furthermore, it is important when rating a geopolitical analyst to see the overall picture. Someone like Thomas ‘lets ally with ISIS’ Friedman is remarkable for his near total failure rate, while someone like George Kennan, who predicted both the overall course of the Cold War in the 40s, and, in the 90s, the current post Cold War mess, had a proper record that showed he was paying attention. Few if any get everything right, and some room for failure must be allotted, but proportionality remains a key attribute. And should I ever tip the balance near 50/50 or…even worse, under that, I promise to do something terrible and humiliating. Like drawing Uncle Klunk erotica, signing it, and sending it to whoever asks to adorn their wall of shame (as it will not be going on the blog).

So, what do my two big failures have in common? A domestic political call that thought the election would be close (correct) but totally misread several key states vs a tale of brinksmanship vs hard power deployment in a foreign country that came out on the wrong side of that equation?

I think, placed in binary, a common theme emerges. I am…and this pains me to say…far too trusting in the long term planning abilities of powerful people. Yes, me who dunks on lanyards all the time. But I thought ‘Hillary has the money and the connections, she’ll leverage them correctly.’ And I thought ‘Putin won’t burn most of his European bridges/NATO surely wouldn’t dangle out membership to Ukraine as an actual possibility.’

So clearly, I, who gets criticized for being too cynical, need to becomes more cynical. Because I am not yet cynical enough. Challenge accepted.

P.S.:

U.S. intelligence, possibly for the first time in my adult life, got something right out the gate and told us the truth of what was going to happen. This is a good thing actually (though last week it furthered my doubts as to Russian action given the general record of those-who-glow). I would like to see more of this. HOWEVER…so far this is one big public call for U.S. intelligence out of…what, dozens of failed or intentionally doctored calls? WMDs? Gadhafi’s Viagra rape army? Moderate rebels? Russiagate? Havana Syndrome? Kuwaiti baby incubators? Tonkin Gulf? The rise of ISIS? You get my point. They are going to use this one case as a ‘trust us’ pass in the future. Do not. The odds still do not bear out their claims on most issues. It is up to them, not to us, to earn the public’s trust again.

And Now, a Word From the President on Ukraine

We interrupt this MetaVerse NewsBeam for a direct broadcast from President Lemur:

Greetings citizens of the United BrEntered AngloStates.

Today, our military forces, supported by the 5th Juggalo Militia and the STALKER scouts, finally achieved the ultimate goal of the past twenty-two years of war…the final defeat of Belarussian Eurasia.

What began  as a dispute over the Donetsk region in Ukraine long ago spiraled into something much greater. Millions, if not billions, have perished. A situation made worse by the merger of the Covid virus with AIDS and the Bubonic Plague. Prior Administrations stumbled from defeat to defeat, culminating in near total global collapse under former President Incel_Sniper1488. But I am glad to say that today, under the capable leadership of General Foxbussy420, the tide has decisively shifted. TsarKhan Nikolai Lukashenko has abandoned his capitol and is now on the run. His chief advisor, the Warlock RasputiDugin, is dead, along with most of the snorks, bloodsuckers, and burers he summoned to the battlefield. As of last night, the PawPride Maple Stars and Jack flag flies proudly over the enemy capitol of Neo-Chernobyl. Soon, Secretary of State Chillhop_Raccoon and Vice President Cub_Destroyer will arrive in the city to begin the final surrender negotiations.

 This event will be called SlavCon, and there will be an extra hour in the ball pit for all paying attendees.

Reports of destabilizing attacks by the Krokodil Insurgency have been greatly exaggerated by misinformation sites such as The Gayzone and the New Zealand Agricultural Landbird Herald, who will subsequently be acquired by Verrit Verified Public Streaming as a matter of national security. The world is now safe for everyfur, though talk of equal rights for scalies is pushing too far, too fast. Right now we must take stock and rebuild.

I now head to the UN headquarters in Harajuku to meet with Secretary General Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Chinese President Warcraft_OrcStud_Appreciator1368 to begin planning a new and most glorious world order. The one Meta CEO Chuck Todd assures me will bring about the End of History.

Thank you, and may God Bless the United BrEntered Anglostates.

The Washington Treaty of 1871 and Sovereignty Today

kearsarge vs alabama

USS Kearsarge sinks CSS Alabama off the coast of Cherbourg, France in 1864

There is the temptation among American Civil War buffs to view that conflict as a purely American affair. Brother fought brother and everyone was American, etc. But this assumption is just as wrong as if you to assume that the Syrian or Congolese Civil Wars have little outside involvement.

From the beginning, the governments of Britain and France pulled heavily for the Confederacy. They saw the emerging industrial and commercial might of the United States as a grave threat to their Atlantic supremacy and the order they had barely established after the Crimean War with Russia. With the US distracted by what would become the bloodiest conflict in all of its history, France seized the opportunity to install a puppet regime in Mexico. After the Trent Affair in 1861 (when British ships were boarded and Confederate agents on them arrested in international waters) Britain upped the ante, sending threatening noises of war and violating neutrality by building blockade runners stocked with weapons shipments which would slip into Gulf ports such as Mobile Bay and New Orleans. This in turn would shape the Union naval strategy for the rest of the war, with David Farragut’s famous battles being the actions to close those ports.

Despite Gladstone’s and Queen Victoria’s southern sympathies, once the Emancipation Proclamation was declared after the Union victory at Antietam in 1862, general British public opinion turned against the south. But the rich business of economically and logistically aiding the Confederacy continued among the entrepreneurs of the Liverpool dockyards. Confederate agents remained extremely active in Canada, and even planned (though did not execute) a biological warfare attack by infecting New York City army hospitals with Yellow Fever.

In light of this dangerous situation, only one power expressed open support for the Union cause. The navy of the Russian Empire sent squadrons of warships to dock in both east and west coast ports of the United States should Britain or France get any ideas about attacking the strung out Union blockade. Sealed orders on board the Russian flagship contained instructions that should any outside power attack the United States during the war against secession, the Russian fleet was to sail and engage said power’s naval forces. Tsar Alexander II was not about to let Anglo-French meddling deprive him of potential allies all around the world.

After Gettysburg and Vicksburg the attractiveness of supporting the Confederate cause abroad dried up. And yet those British built commerce raiders with their British cannons continued to wreak havoc on the US whaling and trading ships. The CSS Alabama-the most effective commerce raider in all of history to this day-was a particular sensation in the press. It was finally sunk, as pictured above, by the sloop of war USS Kearsarge after an intensive hunt throughout Europe.

But the end of the war in 1865 did not bring an end to the international repercussions of that conflict. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was ready for another war against Britain on the charges of the immense damage its ships and weapons had done-even if in Confederate hands. He considered the war to have been effectively over more than a year before it finished-and its prolongation a direct result of British interference. Britain, therefore, should pay the costs of the Union for late 1864 and 1865.

Meanwhile, in the now occupied south, US forces under General Sheridan began their own weapon smuggling operation to the forces of Benito Juarez who were fighting the French backed Hapsburg pretender in charge of the occupation of Mexico. The tide had already turned in Mexico’s favor, but the new weapons surely sped things up. Rather than overtly violating neutrality, US forces tended to simply leave weapons stockpiles at certain places on the border and then disappear, expecting that in the night Mexican agents would come, cross the border, and take them without anyone ‘knowing’ otherwise. Two could play at the cloaked interference game.

The French were eventually driven from Mexico. But the economic reparations demanded by the United States on Britain remained, poisoning relations between the two countries, who had remained steady rivals since 1775, with little to no respite even further.

But then came the Franco-Prussian War, the rise of an immensely powerful German state, a major economic and industrial boom in Russia, and several naval arms races between Britain and France. Britain could no longer blithely sit on the top of the world, uncaring as to its relations with other major powers. As the furthest away power, the US represented the safest option to begin a re-orientation of British policy. With the Americans agreeing to drop their more outlandish claims and also paying reparations for events like the Trent Affair, Britain agreed to pay damages and acknowledge guilt related to the neutrality violations of British built commerce raiders. Since then, the two countries have enjoyed quite amicable relations by and large, with the notable exception of a major breakdown in the 20s and early 30s in the aftermath of the failure of Wilsonian idealism.

So, what does the Washington Treaty of 1871 have to do with us today? Well, functionally, quite little. But I would like to float the idea that in the case of the Syrian Civil War the issues of outside backing of internal rebel movements is once again a major issue in great power diplomacy. Russia plays a much more direct role supporting the government, but remains committed to stopping its allies from being overwhelmed by foreign-supported forces. Meanwhile, in the United States and other countries, a backlash is growing in the general public to a policy which is increasingly clear should never interfered in the first place, and failing that, is backing the wrong side. Like the Union, the Syrian government is a flawed but multicultural organization, like the Confederacy the rebellion in Syria belongs overwhelmingly to a much narrower demographic. While the rebellion in Syria is much more justifiable than the southern rebellion was, it has come with time to be if anything even more scary and destabilizing for its region. Meanwhile, the US now plays the role of 19th Century Britain, its people increasingly coming to look with horror over who they are backing while the policy elites blithely continue on an expensive course of confirmed failure. Motivated as much by personal sympathies as strategic concerns, if not more so, as the recently declassified Hillary Clinton emails strongly imply.

In our extremely globalized world, upholding national sovereignty, particularly of small and weak states, seems almost an antiquated idea. But perhaps it is time to realize that quite often it can serve big power interests. I am not so naive to believe that strong countries will not interfere with the internal politics of smaller ones. There are in fact many instances where this serves vital strategic interests. But I do think it is time to make it something people think upon as a dangerous action one should only pursue in extremity-and this means there should be repercussions. Russia is doing to the Ukraine what America, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia do to Syria. It doesn’t like the government so it plays brinksmanship with rebel forces as its allies. Rwanda has decades of experience with similar actions in the Congo. These turn into frozen conflicts that simply drag out suffering on the ground, as per Secretary of War Stanton’s presumption of British actions in the 1860s.

My favorite aspect of Cold War history to study when it comes to diplomacy is the Non-Aligned League. I do wonder if there could be such a small-state-in-hotspot alliance in the future. A league of nations who might share little in the way of domestic structure or big power friends but remain committed to domestic sovereignty against outside interference. The fact remains that nations like Syria and Ukraine could make quite good cases for reparations from other nations for neutrality violations in internal conflicts. Even though the great powers could never be forced to pay, the mere PR of such a move might grant small states a bit of a reprieve in today’s world as journalists picked up on the story. It would certainly make them more sympathetic.

Plus, rather than pay it itself the United States could always split the difference between Saudi Arabia and the Clinton Foundation to get the money for its reparations to Syria.

Anyway, have a musical number. Maybe one day they will write one that replaces Georgia with Donetsk or Raqqa.