Twenty years on: a tale of two wars

Heat signatures/fires probably related to fighting near Kherson, Ukraine.

During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I was able to post commentary and analysis from what many seemed to think was a fairly neutral position, pointing out how and where US policy was right and wrong in how we got there, and the mechanics and flow of the invasion. I posted links to various sources, both pro and con, as well as original analysis based on satellite imagery. It got a fair amount of praise from those who opposed the war (who thought it was a little “pro war” but fair) and those against (who implied I had “anti war” sentiments but provided a good service). It even broke a couple of stories well before the popular media. Although there were of course the occasional trolls, rarely did any of the critics resort to insults or wild accusations. Most people asked civil questions and the discussions were interesting.

What a difference 20 years makes! The Internet was a much smaller place back then, and society was less angry. When I pointed out that Saddam Hussein had started as a US ally and reformer, and that the evolution from that to despotic dictator and enemy was in part (maybe significant part) due to US policy miss-steps, no one ever accused me of being his supporter. Yet, if I point out that from his perspective, Russia and Putin have valid reasons for doing what they are doing in Ukraine, and that we bear significant responsibility for this tragedy, I am accused of being a Putin Lover and purveyor/victim of misinformation.

The biggest problem is the media environment. The US media was hijacked by the government and corporate interests a long time ago. The Pentagon and CIA spent a lot of money and resources studying how they lost control of the narrative over Vietnam. Those ideas were put in to practice by one of the (then) young officers involved in those studies who had risen to the highest levels by the time of the first Gulf War – Colin Powell. They were a spectacular success; the news media was totally co-opted through the use of tactics like embedding, selective background briefings and leaks, providing “warheads” (“former” military officers and intel agents) who have taken over expert commentary and even reporting in some cases, and so forth. The consolidation of the media and, with the advent of CNN, the change of news divisions from prestige, public service loss leaders into profitable business units dependent on engaging viewers and advertising revenues completed the transition from journalism to stenographers for the US Government or large corporate viewpoints on most subjects.

Now with Fox News and the proliferation of internet sources, you can easily find a source that matches your worldview without challenge. Fox in particular helped blur the line between news and commentary, and the advent of advocacy journalism on the left means neutral news reporting – always at risk – is now firmly a thing of the past. So today the vast majority of people who are engaged in online discussions are far too secure in their own information bubbles. Rather than think through and consider their possible preconceptions and try to understand the other side, they lash out and assume the worst about anything and anyone that contradicts their worldview in the slightest way. Rather than present reasoned arguments, ad hominum attacks and dismissal based on personality or source rule the day. Humility in the face of a complex situation with decades, even centuries of convoluted history is totally absent. As is self awareness, and considering critically actions by all actors in context.

Functioning as an independent part time commentator in that environment is almost impossible. So I’m going to scale back public analysis and comment on the subject of Ukraine and other geopolitical issues. It’s not that I’m thin skinned – I relish a good, fact based discussion of contrary views since it helps sharpen arguments and we all learn from it and evolve our positions. I’ve certainly changed positions on some subjects based on feedback. The problem is that in today’s environment it has become just too stressful and time consuming to try to moderate, respond, and keep discussions on a civil and rational level. Even with the support of my honored Patreons I just can’t keep up (I still have a “real” job, which as noted funding has declined so I no longer have as much flexibility as I used to anyway). So I’ll do what so many have asked, stick to natural disasters, with occasional commentary on the information/news dynamics and misinformation/propaganda problem (but no longer suggest sources – it seems you aren’t supposed to even *look* at anything that might contradict your worldview, even for the purpose of criticizing it!).

The biggest threat and problem is this: information dynamics, geopolitical stresses, resource limitations, and other issues have overwhelmed our systems of governance. It is clear our leaders are no longer capable of guiding our society – and society is so fragmented and delusional it is rapidly becoming dysfunctional. Democracy simply isn’t possible without some kind of shared values and basis for decision making. These have eroded to the point of collapse. I fear hard times are coming, and our leaders and the societies that select/support them are incapable of dealing with the difficult circumstances to come.

18 thoughts on “Twenty years on: a tale of two wars

  1. I have enjoyed your posts and information even when they didn’t directly overlap with what I already thought. It’s amazing how much more you learn when you read something that isn’t just repeating what you already know 😉 I will miss your weighing in but I totally understand. Can you not just disable comments on any entry that dives into politics in a way that you know will generate such a stream of vitriol? Then they can go off and tweet about how mad they are but it doesn’t have to involve you at that point. I would not be upset about having commenting disabled for such things.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I have to admit I’m not as social media savvy as I should be. I was hoping that the patreon support would be enough to hire some help, but while it did offset a lot of the expenses of keeping the public web site running it wasn’t quite enough to cover that. I really hate to disable comments – the feedback is so helpful, and important. But this is an option to consider … the blog has been so much more civil, but obviously doesn’t get the feedback Facebook does (which is a cesspool, but so many people use it). Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m very sad that your balanced, thoughtful, researched comments on many subject are going away. You are right on about the media, and I’m embarrassed to say I used to be a part of it.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your sources on both sides. Take care.

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll still be commenting, just not echoing to FB or Twitter. I think things here on the blog won’t change too much, other than focusing more on the “meta” issue rather than the specifics (aside from natural disasters/climate, which will still be very specific).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As a student of history, I appreciate your balanced views on current geopolitical events. I only hope that time passes and things go from a full boil to hopefully more of a simmer, you will be willing to make some further commentary. Thank you for working to present rational views. We need much more of this.


  4. Well I certainly enjoy your ukraine analysis though I cant get my head around Putin invading a country not being the bad guy. But since I respect your weather analysis so much it forces me to think about the conflict in not black and white ways. I say keep it coming at least in here. To heck with facebook

    Liked by 2 people

    • Even leaving Iraq or Afghanistan aside, every President in my lifetime has invaded a foreign country, often under the same rationale/pretext as the Russian invasion. All bad guys? Like most things it’s complicated…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Don’t stop w your information feed. I find it refreshing and informative w zero bias or slant. Have you thought about hosting a podcast?


  6. So, here’s my frustration with some of your commentary. You have, rightly, pointed out the hypocrisy of the US and our role in destabilizing the Middle East and other parts of the world. We don’t have a lot of room to wag our fingers.

    But, all that said, none of that is an excuse for what Putin is doing. He’s the one dropping bombs in this situation. You can blame the US and NATO for maybe pushing their boundaries, but at the end of the day, Putin is the one invading a sovereign nation at this moment.

    It might even be rational from Putin’s point of view. But all too often your commentary basically comes off saying “Putin is acting kinda crappy here, but have you considered America bad?”

    Believe me, I get that things are complicated on the world stage and I’m well aware of the US’s history of meddling in other countries.

    But right now Putin is the one actually killing innocent people, and all the complexities in the world nor America’s history is a valid excuse for that.


    • I have repeatedly asked, point to a specific honest proposal we made to deal with this, one that would have been acceptable to all of the parties, or even a rational basis for negotiation, that Russia turned down? Flawed as they were, EVERYBODY signed on to the Minsk agreements. Ukraine didn’t even bother to do the easy stuff like pass some laws to implement what they already agreed to (protect the rights of people in Donbas to language, religion), or even meet with the DPR/LPR representatives to talk.

      So, again, what choice did we give Russia (and, as I constantly harp, Putin has a lot of power but he doesn’t operate in isolation, and has some serious internal forces he has to deal with – he has faced a lot of internal pressure to do something long before now)? It’s a bit disingenuous to be concerned about “innocent people” at this point, when the US has been arming the UAF, who have (according to independent OSCE observers) been using heavy weapons against civilian targets in Donbas for years and were the ones “actually killing innocent people.” Yes, the LDPR returned fire and also caused civilian casualties, and there has been back and forth, but it was the UAF that seems to be the source of most of the provocations, especially in the last month or so – I posted a map a week or so. That was unbelievably stupid, given the Russian buildup. Why would they do that?

      People have been killed every day since 2014 there and it didn’t seem to bother anybody. This at least is giving the people there a bit of a break, albeit at the expense of the rest of Ukraine. And it might just force a solution to a problem that has been festering for much longer than 8 years. Russia is more that just acting crappy – this is a terrible event that is likely to spawn worse. I think they might have had other options rather than this invasion – and have so argued in other forums.

      Finally, I hope it is clear that I don’t hold to moral relativism – sometimes you have to do bad things, but you shouldn’t if there is any other reasonable way. There is right and wrong, and under international law, legal and not. I’m not going to get outraged about Russian actions unless our actions that led to them were at least somewhat honest, sincere, and legal. They haven’t been, not even close. We gave up the moral high ground after the Cold War, and it pisses me off because I expect better in memory of those who sacrificed so much. So whatever Russia does, it’s just jingoism to complain about it if we aren’t any better or – as in this specific case – have been worse.

      Bottom line: I strongly feel that in dealing with the former Soviet Republics we did not apply or live up to the standards we claim to adhere to. So unless you can say for sure this would have happened anyway, from a practical standpoint it’s our fault. (and, for the record, Russia says if we had done what we said we would do things would have been different. You may not believe that, but from talking to Russian officials over the last 15 years, I do. They were sincerely disappointed the way the US took advantage of the situation in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.)


      • Thank you for your commentary. I take you point on Ukraineian actions towards civilians in the breakaway regions and wonder why Russia did not emphasize this point. Maybe I missed it but but in reading Putin’s speeches prior to the invasion I get more that he thinks Russia should control Ukraine based on historical assocations and NATO is a danger to Russia. I it is hard to see this as modivation when it is not prominently mentioned. It seems that it would play a lot better if that had been mentioned as a central reason and they had attacked Ukrainian positions shelling the regions first and then invading the country if the behavior continued. However I am no student of Russian politics and there are likely modivations I don’t understand. Do you have insight on why he did not seem to play on this?


  7. Please don’t stop your commentary on geopolitics. All to often we in the west hear nothing but jingoism and cheerleading by the MSM for whatever the powers that be are pushing(and usually that’s a pro U.S. position). Yours is a beacon of clarity and fair analysis that should have greater publication. I thank you for that. Just disable comments (many blogs do).


  8. I truly respect and enjoy reading your commentary. It is reasonable and well balanced. I rarely watch,listen to, or read anything on MSM due to the partisan, biased opinion giving that passes as reporting these days. Thank you for your efforts.


  9. I have learned more from your commentary and recommended reading links than from any news agency. Thank you for being a voice of reason. Totally understand your frustrations but please know there are many who do appreciate your insights and experience. Alas we are undoubtedly not nearly as vocal as we should be.


  10. I, too, am saddened by the potential loss of your commentary. I may not always agree but I find it refreshing to see both sides of a story and I have been educated by you. If we are to ever regain our democracy, we need this kind of reporting. Please don’t let the bullies silence you.


    • Thank you – I’m trying to figure out a way to do this that protects my time and allows commentary. Probably blocking FB comments is the way to go.


  11. Will miss your insight. You have always been my go to source for thoughtful analysis. Totally understand how demoralizing all the toxic comments can be. Hopefully, after you get to breathe deeply for a while, your political commentary will be back.


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