Hey Boss, a Little Help Here?

In Putin's Russia, strategy drives you!

FROM: Russian Strategic Planner
TO: President Vladimir Putin
SUBJECT: Request for Guidance

1. Mr. President, we are doing very well in executing your strategic direction. After humiliating the West in 2008 by seizing two valuable regions of annoying and tiny Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), we have consolidated our diplomatic triumph by achieving recognition of them as independent nations by four other countries around the world. True, they are costing us a great deal of hard cash to prop them up, but they are happily independent and will no doubt vote consistently with us in the U.N. General Assembly if they are ever granted membership (perhaps in late 2080).

2. I am even happier with our work in regaining Crimea for Russia! Despite the imposition of some trivial sanctions, our actions were approved by a total of 10 stalwart friends and allies in the U.N. General Assembly (Belarus, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and several others). A fine group of partners. The remaining countries that either condemned us or abstained will no doubt over time see the wisdom in our actions.

3. Clearly our campaign to subvert Ukraine is working well. The Little Green Men of Russia are having enormous impact and will mount a lethal campaign that will at the least create real havoc in Ukraine. NATO slumbers and we move out. What could be better?

4. My request for guidance hinges on the simple question of "what next?"

a) Europe and the West. Though we are essentially a European nation, our rightful annexation of Crimea (along with possible continuing moves to destabilize Ukraine) has turned all of Europe against us (excepting loyal Belarus, of course). So we have not much leverage to the West. Even the French seem inclined to cancel our order of two large warships. When the French will not work with us, it is clear we have trouble in Europe.

b) Looking south to Central Asia. To the south, we have some support from the CSTO nations (some of the "Stans" as they are called in the West), but, frankly, they have little to offer us beyond exporting large numbers of violent extremists and huge quantities of opium. (With over 2 million heroin addicts here in Russia already, this does constitute a slight problem for us.) Not much to attract us there.

c) China. While we continue to court our Chinese colleagues, they seem wary of us these days. They are totally consumed with events in East Asia anyway and do not seem to regard us as particularly important one way or another. So while we will probably not see open hostility, there is not a great deal of support either. And, over time, I am a bit concerned that our tiny population east of the Ural Mountains and the vast empty, hydrocarbon-rich Russian territory there might be tempting to them. Better keep an eye on it and not count on much from China.

d) India. Despite some traditional friendship from the glorious days of the Cold War and lingering military-to-military cooperation (mostly sales), the long-term trend looks west -- language, democracy, economics, and cultural heritage all seem to favor other partners over Russia.

e) Arctic.
With four of the five nations on the "front porch" of the high north being NATO members, I doubt we are going to see much up that way that is promising. Also, it is cold.

f) Africa and Latin America. A long, long way away.

5. All of which brings me to my request for guidance. Having burned our bridges to the West with Europe (well done, of course, and the prizes of Crimea, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia are clearly worth it), where shall we focus ourselves as we create the New Russia of the 21st century? We have a strong base to build on with Belarus, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela, of course, but, frankly, most of them are unfortunately international pariahs and offer little in the way of trade and growth. So where should we be focused?

6. I know that Karl Marx said that history always repeats itself, "first as tragedy, then as farce." I am sorry to say that some in the West seem to think that our new geopolitical moves to control nations like South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea, Moldova/Transnistria, and parts of Ukraine are hardly the Warsaw Pact of old; but they are a brave group of satellites that cannot be dismissed as a farce.

7. Hopefully the price of oil will stay high, your PSA will stay low, and we will continue to dominate the news cycle!

8. We anxiously await your guidance!

Photo by ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images


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"Death and Anger on Everest," Jon Krakauer, the New Yorker.

"It was the worst climbing accident in the history of Everest, twice as deadly as the infamous storm in May, 1996, that killed eight people, the subject of my book "Into Thin Air" (four of my teammates accounted for half of that grim tally). But dying on Everest has been an occupational hazard for Sherpas ever since a team led by George Leigh Mallory to attempt the Tibetan side of the peak, in 1922, became the first mountaineers to ascend higher than the lower flanks of the mountain. In the final days of that expedition, seven Sherpas from Darjeeling, India, were swept to their deaths in an avalanche. Sad to say, the job hasn't gotten any safer for Sherpas with the passage of time. According to a piece by Jonah Ogles posted on outsideonline.com, the death rate for climbing Sherpas on Everest from 2004 until now was twelve times higher than the death rate for U.S. military personnel deployed in Iraq from 2003-07."


"Two Degrees," Brad Plumer, Vox.

How the world failed on climate change.

"It was the early 1990s. Climate scientists had long known that humans were warming up the planet. But politicians were just beginning to grasp that it would take a huge coordinated effort to get nations to burn fewer fossil fuels and avoid sharp temperature increases in the decades ahead. Those policymakers needed a common goal -- a way to say: ‘Here's how bad things will get and this is what we need to do to stop it.' And that posed a dilemma. No one could really agree on how much global warming was unacceptable. How high did the seas need to rise before we had a serious problem? How much heat was too much?"


"Who Will Watch the Watchers?," Nate Blakeslee, Texas Monthly.

In an increasingly militarized zone along the Rio Grande, there are more border patrol agents than ever before, and more violent clashes between agents and Mexican citizens.

"Border patrol shootings, especially those that involve agents shooting across the border into Mexico, used to be quite rare. Such incidents have become more common, however. Since the beginning of 2005, Customs and Border Protection officers, who work at ports of entry, and Border Patrol agents, who police the vast areas between ports, have killed at least 42 people. Some of these shootings were clearly justified, but in many instances, as in Arévalo's case, accounts offered by agents and eyewitnesses differ. The best known of these incidents was the June 2010 shooting of a fifteen-year-old Mexican boy under a railroad trestle connecting El Paso and Juárez. Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca was among a group of boys and men who had crossed the mostly dry, concrete-covered bed of the Rio Grande, only to be surprised by a Border Patrol agent on a bicycle. A cellphone video shot from the sidewalk on the nearby international bridge captured what happened next. In the video, the agent manages to collar one of the fleeing young men, and then, holding his captive down with one hand, he points his pistol across the river and fires. A figure falls dead, shot in the head." 


"What We Left Behind," Dexter Filkins, the New Yorker.

An increasingly authoritarian leader, a return of sectarian violence, and a nation worried for its future.

"On Christmas Day last year, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared on Iraqi television to wish his country's Christian minority-which has been fleeing by the thousand since the American invasion, in 2003-a happy holiday. Maliki, who is sixty-three, wore a dark-blue suit and a purple tie, and stood almost perfectly still at a lectern flanked by Iraqi flags. His long face conveyed, as it almost always does, a look of utter joylessness. Having spent much of his life hunted by assassins, Maliki gives the impression of a man who learned long ago to ruthlessly suppress his feelings. 'He never smiles, he never says thank you, and I've never seen him say, I'm sorry, ' a longtime associate of Maliki's told me. For Maliki, the holiday greetings were a pretext. What he really wanted to talk about was protests unfolding in Anbar Province, west of Baghdad. 'Thank God, the truth has been revealed,' he said.

When the last American soldiers left Iraq, at the end of 2011, the bloody civil war between the country's Sunni and Shiite sects had been stifled but not resolved. Now the sectarian violence had returned, with terrifying intensity. For more than a year, thousands of Iraqis, nearly all of them members of the Sunni Arab minority, had been gathering to rail against Maliki's Shiite-dominated government. Although the protests were mostly peaceful, security forces responded harshly, detaining thousands of Sunni men without charges and, in one encampment, touching off a spasm of violence that left hundreds of civilians dead. Across the Sunni heartland, north and west of Baghdad, the town squares filled with angry crowds, and the rhetoric grew more extreme. In Ramadi, protesters raised black jihadi flags, representing the extremist Al Qaeda offshoot that had dominated the city during the American occupation. 'We are a group called Al Qaeda!' a man shouted from a stage in the protesters' camp. 'We will cut off heads and bring justice!' The crowd cheered."


"The Blue Screen of Death at 30,000 Feet," Shane Harris, Foreign Policy.

The government has new plan to ensure that your seat belts are fastened, seats are in the upright position -- and no one is hacking your plane.

"America's security and intelligence agencies are teaming up with airline manufacturers to defend against a catastrophic cyberattack that could cripple the air traffic control system, interfere with the computer systems used by modern aircraft, and potentially even bring down a plane.

As part of a new program, which will be run from a federal facility outside Washington, U.S. government personnel will work alongside private-sector aviation employees to share information about computer security threats, government and corporate officials said. Their goal is to spot malicious hacker activity on computer networks and to improve the security of airline manufacturing, during which complex software programs that could create entry points for hackers are installed on passenger aircraft."

PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images; David McNew/Getty Images; John Moore/Getty Images; -/AFP/Getty Images; MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images