Belmont Club

This Time, I Mean It

President Obama has announced he will punish Russia for interfering in the US elections, according to the New York Times. Rachel Maddow says “expect the president to be making a ton of news tomorrow.”

President Obama said on Thursday that the United States would retaliate for Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential election, asserting that “we need to take action,” and “we will.”

The comments, in an interview with NPR, indicate that Mr. Obama, in his remaining weeks in office, will pursue either economic sanctions against Russia or perhaps some kind of response in cyberspace.

By publicly announcing his intention to punish Russia Obama will probably compel Putin to react. It is not a case of secretly retaliating in return for an earlier secret offense.  This is public punishment. Obama chose to declare his intentions on the front page.

What will work against him now is his record.  The president has so far failed to inspire fear or even respect in his foes. Obama’s a guy who abandoned his proxy rebels to die in Aleppo and is even now begging Putin for their lives. He was unable to save his ambassador from death in Benghazi. He drew a Red Line before Assad and withdrew it.

Yet here he is issuing yet another don’t-dare-me to Vladimir Putin.  Given his record of abject backtracking and few remaining days in office Putin may dare him. It is in the Russian’s character. Then what?

How will he make good on his threat?  If the punishment is shambolic it will only underscore his helplessness.  If the punishment is serious, is Obama prepared for the consequences?  It is axiomatic that if you draw your gun, shoot. If you draw your gun and don’t shoot, don’t draw your gun in the first place, not in the least because the other guy will react without knowing whether you mean it or not.

Drawing your gun starts a cascade. Announcing you will draw your gun in the New York Times with details to follow is almost as bad.

If the president really thinks that Russia has committed a hostile act, he should go before Congress and get the authority to punish that country to a proportional extent. That will bolster his credibility — a key element when bluffing or making threats — which is pretty thin at this point. If the president can convince the public then a united act by the entire government will carry much more weight than an executive order.

He should do this now in case Putin escalates, because no one can say what the other player will do.  If he can’t do this and just intends to “be making a ton of news tomorrow” then Obama is playing a most dangerous game.

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Books:

Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors from Antiquity to the Present, by Erin Thompson. Whether it’s the discovery of $1.6 billion in Nazi-looted art or the news that Syrian rebels are looting UNESCO archaeological sites to buy arms, art crime commands headlines. Erin Thompson, America’s only professor of art crime, explores the dark history of looting, smuggling, and forgery that lies at the heart of many private art collections and many of the world’s most renowned museums.

The Leadership Genius of Julius Caesar: Modern Lessons from the Man Who Built an Empire, Author Philip Barlag shows us that Julius Caesar is one of the most compelling leaders of the past to study — a man whose approach was surprisingly modern and extraordinarily effective.

American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant, by Ronald C. White. A major new biography of one of America’s greatest generals — and most misunderstood presidents.

Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat–Not a Sour Puss, by Pam Johnson Bennett. A comprehensive guide to cat care and training, by America’s favorite cat behavior expert.

Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story, by John Bloom. This is the story of Iridium, the revolutionary satellite system developed by Motorola in the 1990s, and how it was saved from destruction by Dan Colussy, a former president of Pan Am, in one of the greatest business deals of all time.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, by Michael Lewis. This new book from the author of The Big Short, The Blind Side, etc. tells the story of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, whose Nobel Prize–winning theory of the mind altered our perception of reality, created the field of behavioral economics, revolutionized Big Data studies, and advanced evidence-based medicine.

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Bloxels: Build Your Own Video Game


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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