Putin is remorseful; his Bay of Pigs

Poroshenko says, “Peace depends upon Putin’s mood.”

To a limited extent, and with a complete admission of fallibility, I think I understand the guy. In this context, at least. I’ve given it more than casual consideration; a couple years ago, I wrote a paper on Putin’s character.

I think Putin is, in a sense, remorseful, in that he is genuinely worried about the potential for loss of human life. Whether this extends beyond ethnic Russians is yet to be seen. But among the lives at risk, there are Russians. Besides the broader Russian population of Ukraine, there are the proxies, who, as with the Bay of Pigs, were put there as the result of a faulty calculation. The conditions on the ground did not move in the direction that would favor success. And now, he must be thinking, “How do I get them out of there?”

The appearance of  Putin as a cold, calculating individual is at least partly a put-on.  It works to his advantage. It does not appear that he rises to the sensitivity of leaders of the E.U., but that may be as good as it gets in human history. Compared to our own record, Putin is probably not impressed with our argument based on defense of freedom. We, on the other hand, are less than impressed by Putin’s comparatively small sacrifices because of the motive, grabbing land. The one subject both sides seem to tacitly avoid are the Chechen wars. Some things are worth not talking about, and defense of Western civilization is one of them.

But at this moment, Poroshenko has provided us with an absolutely stunning insight: Putin can lose his cool. If Putin is playing Hitler yelling at Chamberlain (see Munich Agreement) for what purpose is the theatricality?  Whatever the intelligence view, the White House is justifiably concerned about whatever possibility remains of invasion. But on the other hand, Putin must know it would wake up the Germans.

Meta analysis example; a Reuters opinion piece

The sample piece, dated 4/24/2014,  is “The revolution in Putin’s head.”

1. DIscount the title. The purpose is to get you to read it.

2. “Former Kremlin operatives, serving officials, diplomats and dissidents that I recently spoke to in Moscow all agreed that Putin, who is a pragmatic leader, has been reborn as a true revolutionary who will challenge the West in the following ways.”

The phrase “all agreed”, indicates a sampling bias. Couldn’t the author find anyone to disagree? Even if you have to look a little bit, dissenters are valuable sources.

If you are reading this, you probably live in a country where politicians frequently redefine themselves. Are they constantly being reborn? That’s a heck of a lot of nativity.  “Reborn” refers to the Christian religious doctrine of “spiritual rebirth.” The writer is motivated by the desire to excite the reader’s interest, rather than inform. Good writing does both, but  the balance here is wrong.

3. This contains a  fallacious piece of logic: “Putin was drawn to the potential of ethnic nationalism in Crimea. He knew its power and he feared that if he did not tap into it, someone else would. ” It’s a defective syllogism:

a. “potential of ethnic nationism” OK.

b. “knew its power”   OK.

c. “feared that if he did not tap into it, someone else would.”  Not OK; it is not derived from the two “premises.”

Was the writer prescient?   “Putin will do all that he can to ensure that Ukraine’s elections on May 25th are seen as illegitimate.” Apparently, the writer was not prescient.

So the piece is a bucket of loose bolts, but there is some precious metal content that interests the scrap yard. There is a direct source quote, “Expect to see the spirit of the Maidan in the East”, which, in that time frame, I would have put in my “possibly useful” pile. But the gem is this:

“Putin has made domestic politics equally uncertain. An academic who was tapped to write a speech for Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last year was — in an unconnected event — interrogated by the Public Security Bureau. “In the old days,” he said, “you knew where you were. Either you were in with the regime or you were interrogated. No one knows where they are any more.””

Confusion is much harder to fake than fact. This goes into my pile called “psychology of the inner circle”.  The inner circle  circled the wagons. It is compatible with the idea that the regime, anticipating absorption of Ukraine, armored itself against heightened internal tensions. The crackdown on social media adds to the picture.

The best part of the quote’s appearance is the lack of interpretation. It is left as a diamond in the rough. Now it’s in my pocket.





Questions/discussions wanted; media reflections

This blog is actually about process, not results. The predictions made here are to pique your interest in the techniques, which many readers can pick up.  The game is largely defined by the IARPA/CIA experiments in crowd-sourcing open source intelligence, in which people without expert qualifications, some working as teams, others as individuals, beat the experts.

A typical Reuters or CNN opinion piece mushes info, hope, faith, aspiration, more info, aspiration, faith, and hope, into a calzone-like object, decorated with stock photos vaguely related to the subject. These are confections, not intelligence. Open source intelligence is partly a salvage operation, because you do not have a free plane ticket to Tehran or Baghdad to get your own “ground knowledge”. Opinion pieces often have useful information. Simply discard the opinions.

My experience with the “Forecasting World Events” project was very positive. Reading the opinion pieces always gave me a dull feeling, but a gift of the FWE project was  license to feel that I could do better. No longer did I feel hostage to the opinion pieces. My analysis could be more incisive without being fallacious.

If you are content to be a follower, this is not for you. If you are an ideologue, or an emphatically political animal, this is not for you. If you are genuinely curious about open source intelligence, pick an intelligence problem, and post about it here. We’ll both learn something.




Zen exercise for predictors

Practice and encourage holding contradictory notions in your mind at the same time. Examples:

1. An individual who, you think, simultaneously, (a) should be admired for personal sacrifice in defense of constitutional liberties and, (b) should be sentenced to a long prison term for disclosure of classified information.

2. Someone like Philippe Pétain of France, who lead France to victory in World War I, and, as Prime Minister of Vichy France, collaborated with Germany in World War II.

It is a natural human inclination to judge situations such as these to a final conclusion, even when one is completely out of the loop.  It takes much effort to have a public voice, and it is admirable when one chooses to, but most of the time, one’s judgment is a silent grumble.

Holding contradictory views is a mind-expanding process, far more rewarding than deciding what to do to whom. If you practice long enough, you will become a mind-juggling adept. In an enlarged space of consciousness, your decisions will be better when they really count.

Iraq commentary

Since Iraq seems topical right now, here’s some additional commentary. The nightly news seems fixated in the viewpoint of, “this is what the other parties are doing, and what we should we do about it.” This is more about viewing it as a game, and watching the play.

The main actors in the region are the U.S., Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the non-state element. The non-state element is an asymmetrical threat, with a strategy that rises little above tactics: take, terrorize, and live off the land. But the state actors have the opportunities to engage in complex strategies.

The second tier actors are the Kurds,  the Shiites of southern Iraq, and the Sunnis of the middle region. With their quasi-nation, the Kurds verge on being the swing player of the moment.  The Shiites have Iran to watch their backs. The Sunnis, with nothing of value save a barren territory, have no better weapon than passive-aggression.

Now photocopy a map from a book, or print one from the web and draw lines between every actor who hates another actor. If you do this correctly, you will have connected every actor to every other actor, with two exceptions:

U.S. <– >Saudi Arabia should be a “love line”

Shiites of Southern Iraq <–> Iran should be a “love line.”

The reason the U.S. is connected to Kurdistan by a “hate line” is that it is a matter of U.S. policy, influenced by Turkey, to oppose a Kurdish state. As for lines connecting the U.S. to other Iraqi factions, we probably all agree that they are all a pita. Perhaps there should be a special line for this.

That the line connecting the Shiites of southern Iraq with Iran is a “love line” is glossed over in all the diplomatic verbiage that’s slinging around right now. The state religion of Iran was born in Iraq. The most holy Shiite shrines are located there.

The only natural force that by extremely tortured argument could compete with this is Pan-Arabism.  Have you heard much of that lately? It was big in the day of Gamal Abdel Nasser, and later revived, without success, by Saddam Hussein. If not dead, Pan-Arabism is very stale.

Part of the appeal of a tie-up between Iraq’s Shiite community, and Iran, solemnized in appropriate documents with the appropriate amount of territory-creep, is the novelty of it. Being a new idea, the follies are not yet known. And, who knows? Maybe the absolute congruence of religion is enough to overcome differences in table manners.

To the Saudis, this would be an Iranian dagger thrust into the heart of the Arab World. Besides their old-man conservatism, which brooks no change, they have a legitimate fear. Every nation in the area has at one point been the heart of an empire, and a caliphate now gleams in the eyes of the mullahs, just as it did in the eye of Saddam Hussein.

Occasionally an idea whose time has come can be stopped by tanks. The Soviets succeeded in Hungary in 1956. The Saudis have the tanks, and the means to get them there, but they have the oil disease.  The U.S. has, oddly enough, the generations of young men anxious to test themselves in battle, and in which they always acquit themselves well, but their parents are wiser.

But Iran is unique, consisting of two societies in unequal coexistence. One society is civil, secretly tending towards the secular, and very similar to the West. The other is the religious state. It might be tempting to call it a state-within-a-state, but it really is more than that. It is the uber-state. And, there is within that state, an individual who one might liken to a Robespierre , who you may know as “Mr. Guillotine.” But unlike Robespierre, he is still kicking,  the modern author of tyranny in Iran, and he is not Khamenei, with whom he may be co-equal in power. Do you know his name?

If the religious establishment commits the IRG to “struggle”, it may be found an instrument of enormous compressed power, the measured complements of strategy and martyrdom.

Following the 1991 Gulf War, one Indian official was quoted to say, “Don’t fight the United States unless you have nuclear weapons.”  The IRG has no such opponent in the region. But is Iran willing to endure the privation that would result? A mere speculation follows. The Russians make a huge distinction between Sunni and Shiite as threats. The Sunnis are the wellspring of terrorism. The Shiites, they argue, are not, even though Iran’s state-sponsored assassination program was prolific into the 90’s, and is still active today. If U.S. efforts to reconstitute Iraq fail, and the ISIS is not obliterated, a congruence of Russian and Iranian interests could bypass Iran’s isolation.


Precogs ?

Instead of trying to figure things out, which can only result in probabities, why not hire a precog (one who can “see the future”) instead?

Is it beneficial to prediction to think one’s self gifted with precognition?

Ukraine prediction; an Austrian solution

This is for you meat and potato guys, impatient with meta-thoughts. You’re asking, “Where’s the beef?”

Invasion of Ukraine is no longer likely. In contrast to the previous Russian build-up, this is not a prelude to invasion. It has to do with the history of that part of the world, which includes many massacres and pogroms. It is a visible warning to all Ukranians, including the undeniable Fascist component, not to go in that direction.

In Putin’s ever-shifting calculation, an achievable goal is an Austria-type neutrality. In the Cold War, the Russians actually withdrew from Austria in 1955, because they could not make it work for them economically. The current problem is similar. Although Ukraine has a healthy steel trade with Europe, and exports grain, it cannot pay the Russian gas bill.

Ukraine is going to have a very cold, hard winter. Putin will have a second chance.

Quiz answers

Answer to 1:

c. Turn on a dime, willfully contradicting your previous prediction, thereby undermining your standing with yourself and others.

Answer to 2:

Yes, cognitive dissonance is very important.

Animal behaviorists have observed apparent delight, even in phlegmatic creatures  like cows, when they understand something.  Even in this scientific age, one may reasonably suspect that humans share the joy. In fact, it appears that humans, regardless of how smart they may really be, have a core need to think they understand how the world works.  For a detailed analysis of how humans furnish their head spaces have a look at Vilfredo Pareto’s Trattato di sociologia generale.

The root of cognitive dissonance is the reluctance to throw out mental furniture. Just as you get comfortable in your chair, some rude fact-o-tum (wrong word, but the pun is irresistible) yanks it out from under you. To be wrong, over and over, is one of the humiliations of the predictor. Get used to it.

At any moment, all we  have is a picture painted by the facts. The picture changes unexpectedly as a result of our ignorance, which, relying on open sources, is completely excusable. Two of my posts demonstrate this. Which ones were they?

All this is in the context of the predictor. The product of the predictor incorporates the costs of failure and benefits of success in a linear fashion. For the decision maker (of a course of action), the costs and benefits are not symmetrical.  It is wise to keep the processes of decision, and of action, separate, because the cost structures are so different. Both the predictor and decision maker must be diligent, but the decision maker’s course of action has consequences that unfold over time, while the product of the predictor is an instantaneous value.



Iran rejects U.S. military intervention

Reuters headline: Iran rejects U.S. action.

Previously, Iran suggested joint Iran/U.S. intervention in Iran, which the U.S. rejected. Without outright rejection, the U.S. has proceeded alone. Now Iran rejects U.S. action. The time scale of all this is about as close as you can get to a tense chess match, providing a refreshing break from reading IAEA reports. It even has the physicality of a heavyweight bout:

Ladies and Gentlemen, In this corner, the Heavy Weight Champion of the World, Uncle Sam, with unmatched throw-weight and brainpower, out of retirement to defend his title.

In the other corner, the Iranian Theocracy Pugilist Society’s unknown contender, IRG. Known for their sucker punch, they’ve brought a lot of supporters, who are chanting, I think, if I can make it out over all the hubbub, “Back to the future.” The prize is the bones of Iraq. Rumor has it Uncle Sam has some secret reanimation ritual he wants to try on those bones, if he can get them. Iran apparently thinks they have nutritive value.

Can our intellectual and military assets overcome the mullahs’ native cunning? Iran’s sudden truculence about centrifuges suggests a confidence they cannot walk away with nothing.




Intel9's world view

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