Saleh Blesses Russian Intervention, Confirms Russia’s Lack of Strategy


I like what this Putin guy is doing. He’s got the right ideas! 


A big argument, popular among the right, but also among serious foreign policy thinkers, is how effective Russia’s effective new foreign policy is. After all, they seem to be doing very well in Syria, bending the civil war to their will, and have all of Europe on high alert after annexing Crimea. Military exercises near the border are making people tense about the possibility of further assaults on Ukranian sovereignty. An alliance with Iran makes for a powerful new axis.

While it is clear there is serious danger in a belligerent and over-confident Russia, I argued last week that this was more a sign of weakness, a desperate attempt to project strength, because in international relations, if you’re perceived as strong, in a way you actually are strong. I argued, as have many others, that “(i)t’s a series of moves, not a coherent strategy to make the country stronger in the long term. It’ll catch up.” Here’s a few data points to back that up.

  1. Iran is already angry at Russia for announcing their use of Iranian air force bases, and now that privilege has been revoked. Russia is like the high schooler who brags about getting to second base with Suzy Cheerleader, the confusingly-named captain of the volleyball team, and so never gets to get near her again.
  2. Crimeans aren’t exactly happy with the lack of resources that Russia is putting into the region, as they are plagued with blackouts and a lack of infrastructure. Russia was more interested in taking it over to get that victory that in doing anything with it. This is how discontent forms. Russia “saved” the people of Crimea from a government that neglected them (which was a legitimate complaint), only to neglect them even more. This isn’t how a country that has its act together actually does things.

But the most telling sign comes from Yemen, where former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who hasn’t quite left the scene, and it still maneuvering, has said that he’d welcome Russian help in “fighting terrorism.”

A newly-formed governing council in Yemen could work with Russia to “fight terrorism” by allowing Moscow use of the war-torn country’s military bases, Yemen’s former president said on Sunday.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, a former counter-terrorism ally of the U.S. who was toppled by mass protests in 2011, told state-owned channel Russia 24 that Yemen was ready to grant Moscow access to air and naval bases.

“In the fight against terrorism we reach out and offer all facilities. Our airports, our ports… We are ready to provide this to the Russian Federation,” Saleh said in an interview in Sanaa.

The ex-strongman may lack the clout to implement such an offer. But officials from the party he heads now run a political council that controls much of the country along with the Houthi movement allied to Iran.

This is actually pretty perfect. It’s a scary thought– that would put Russia directly against the Saudis, and in turn, the US– but it is a perfect wedding of like-minds. Saleh is the king of short-term strategy, playing sides to buy time, making a series of desperate moves to stave off the nearest enemy, kicking the can down the road and hoping to make things better then. By necessity, and by temperament, he’s always been a “live today no matter what, and deal with the ramifications of today’s actions some other time.” He’s a genius at it, and is genuinely talented at survival, but not at solving any problems except the ones immediately in front of him. He never seemed to grasp that doing so creates even bigger monsters.

So his seeming approval of Russian strategy and desire for their help kind of confirms that they are playing the same game.


A Quick Followup on Unskewing


Not pictured: a lot of human voters. 


So, last post was mostly talking about Trump’s own brand of imagined reality, but there are also a lot of people who clearly believe that the polls can’t be right, because: rallies and signs, man. Ceca, in his Salon article, points out how this can take place, in the doughy form of Eric Bolling at FOX.

Interrupting a discussion about the hiring of Breitbart overlord Steve Bannon to run the Trump campaign, Bolling complained, “These polls, Dana, honestly, we have to stop with these polls.” Bolling continued, “They’re insane with these polls. Just look at what’s going on. You look at a Trump rally, and there’s 12, 15, 10,000 people.” In addition to demanding that “we have to stop with these polls,” Bolling compared his inflated estimates of Trump’s crowd sizes to Hillary’s lesser-than crowd sizes, insisting that rally attendance is an accurate predictor of election outcomes. It’s not.

He’s right! It really, really, isn’t. We went through this with Mitt Romney in 2012. Don’t forget– don’t ever forget– Peggy Noonan’s list of yard signs and vibrations for why all the polls were wrong. When people are vested in an outcome, they will believe anything.

But it is easy to believe, honestly, and very tempting. It’s especially easy for some reporters who often have to drive long distances, because when you do so, you spend a lot of time on the highway. An example: last week, when my bride and I were driving home from the Adirondacks, we went through upper New York, near the Canadian border and rounding around Fort Drum before heading south to 90 near Rochester. Coming out of the highlands, we pavered off into flat country, flat and poor country, where each little town, dotted sparsely with ramshackle houses, broke-down cars, and dying businesses, blended together.

We saw dozens, if not more, Trump signs. In one town there was an (at least) 15-foot-high sign blaring “TRUMP” in enormous, hand-painted letters. One upholstery place had two signs. The first was a two parter, in which the proclimation of “Jesus is Lord” was above  the nature of the business, and next to it was a “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” sign. This was real Trump country. Hundreds of miles of Trump’s America.

We also went through the Lake Erie tip of Pennsylvania, as well as across Ohio. Most of that was interstate, but not all (we took a few detours). Throughout that, we saw exactly 1 Hillary sign that I can remember, and that was in Erie, PA. I would conservatively put the estimate of total Trump-to-Hillary signs at 100-1.

Donald Trump is not going to win New York, nor Pennsylvania, and probably not Ohio. So when people are tallying up signs, remember, it is meaningless. The vast stretches where not many people live, but those who do live difficult lives, can be distorting.

The important thing, for Democrats, and the media, is to remember these places exist between elections.

“Unskewed Polls” and the Violent Endgame of Trump’s Unreality

 Musical accompainment.

In Salon yesterday, Bob Cesca reminded us of Dean Chambers, the non-entity whose candle burned brightly but briefly by making Republicans think that Mitt Romney was going to win. He did this by “unskewing” the polls, which, he believed were tilted unfairly in the direction of Barack Obama. The scientific method with which he managed this unskewing was to say “eh, I’ll just subtract seven, I guess.” In doing so, a 4-point Obama lead magically became a 3-point Romney lead. It was based on essentially nothing except feelings, but for the people who wanted to listen to him, that was a feature, not a bug.

This was very different from normal spin and cheerleading. Every pro says that the polls may say one thing, but we think as our message gets out, as we get closer to the election day, as our terribly unfair coverage changes, etc, we’re for sure going to win. Saying so keeps money flowing in and keeps supporters from getting too demoralized. It’s normal.

But this is a different beast. It’s not saying that the polls would be wrong, or that they will turn eventually: it’s saying that they are deliberately tilting the field. Chambers’s main target was media sweetheart Nate Silver, but the real target was, essentially, reality. It was saying that this new Democratic/progressive coalition couldn’t possibly be real, and that Americans couldn’t possibly like this hated Kenyan Muslim autocratic weak and feckless usurper. After all, we don’t like him, and no one we listen to on the radio or read on the internet likes him, so any media that says differently is clearly lying. They just want to protect Obama and trick Americans into voting for him.

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