Obama, Romney, And The Reset

Latest contribution to the US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel on the question of which US Presidential candidate is best able to meet the challenges ahead:

When predicting election outcomes, I prefer to listen to those who put their money where their mouths are. As of the time of writing, the Intrade predictions market gives a 66% implied probability of an Obama win. The major betting websites are even more optimistic about Obama’s chances, with most of them giving him implied odds of about 80%. He is even considered more likely than not to win the popular vote, though because of the peculiarities of the US electoral system, it is also quite possible for him to lose the popular vote but still win the Presidency (about a 25% chance of this, according to Intrade). I will now most likely lose the symbolic $10 I placed on a Republican candidate win back in May 2010, when a sharp but unsustainable spike in favor of Obama accruing from Osama bin Laden’s assassination created very good odds for the contrarian gambler. Still, I don’t regret the investment. Always bet against your preferred candidate – that way, you will never be wholly disappointed.

We know that Obama is phlegmatic on the ill-thought out Magnitsky Act, and is likewise lukewarm about missile defense in East-Central Europe – to the extent that he pledged “more flexibility” on this issue to Medvedev in an unfortunate open mic moment that the Republicans later spun for all it was worth. (The Poles seem to have come to terms with this, and are now preparing to spend $4 billion of their own money to modernize their AA systems in the next decade). This is probably driven not so much by a desire to enlist Russia as an ally, as to give the US room to deal with the more pressing issues that will dominate Obama’s second term: The withdrawal from Afghanistan; the military pivot to Asia; a sluggish economy plagued by chronically high budget deficits; the accelerating climate crisis. Another alternative is that Obama’s people take seriously the CIA/Stratfor theory, hinted at by Biden in 2009, that Russia’s “shrinking population base” will nullify it as a Great Power in a couple of decades; hence, it is no longer worth aggressively confronting it as natural trends will doom it to eventual irrelevance anyway. But whatever the true motivations, we can reasonably expect the Reset to survive under a new Obama Presidency.

The GOP position is rather less compromising:

… we urge the leaders of their [Russia] to reconsider the path they have been following: suppression of opposition parties, the press, and institutions of civil society; unprovoked invasion of the Republic of Georgia, alignment with tyrants in the Middle East; and bullying their neighbors while protecting the last Stalinist regime in Belarus. The Russian people deserve better, as we look to their full participation in the ranks of modern democracies.

Needless to say, the only part of “the Russian people” who would look on these urgings with sympathy are the small gaggle of pro-Western liberals like Lilia Shevtsova (who brought this to my attention). They slavishly side with America against their own country on every issue they disagree on, so long as it helps undermine Putin. While she is right that such policies would “send a strong signal of support to Russian liberals that America does care about the values and principles it preaches”, it would also likewise alienate not only the Russian government but ordinary Russians too (41% of whom prefer Obama to 8% for Romney in a recent Levada poll). Coupled with his equally confrontational attitudes to China, and the aggressive neocon foreign policy advisers he has surrounded himself with, Romney would appear to be dead-set on provoking into existence that nightmare of Cold War planners – a Russian-Chinese alliance. This would be first and foremost a disaster for America itself.

Then again, as many have already pointed out, Romney is a flip flopper, and his bellicose rhetoric may well dissipate should he somehow find himself in the White House. Though Romney might describe Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe”, that did not prevent his son Matt from recently flying to the evil empire to promote his real-estate company and purportedly assure influential Kremlin advisers that his dad does want good relations between their two countries. If money and the practical exigencies of Presidential office trump his campaign rhetoric, there is good reason to hope that the Reset can survive even under a Romney Presidency.

Why Obama Will Sooner Win

Ten months ago I bet a symbolic $10 on a Republican win. According to elections models and the bookies, it’s more likely than not that I’ve lost it.

Not that I’m saddened by this development of course. (That said, if the economy slumps sharply in Q3, then a Romney win becomes entirely possible).

Why Obama Will Almost Certainly Lose

And ironically, despite my blog’s focus, to date my US predictions have been more accurate than my Russian ones. Obama to become President? Check. Republicans to win 2010 mid-terms? Check. The emergence of “a new party, a new politics”, with “the feds [facing] challenges from the far-left and the far-right”? Check (Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street). Dammit, even the prediction about falling fertility rates is panning out (to Mark Steyn’s presumed chagrin, it now equals “decadent” France’s) – though that wasn’t a particularly hard one to make, given the recession and looming economic collapse and all. Perhaps I should give up on this Russia-watching thing and just analyze the US? 😉

Anyhow, back to Obama’s impending loss. To be fair, the title is a bit of a misnomer. I’d actually put his odds at 35% (Republicans – 65%). There really isn’t much to explain, is there? The economy sucks and is almost guaranteed to get better than worse. Output remains below peak 2007 levels. The deficit remains stubbornly high and the budget crisis will rear its head again in January 2012. Lord knows what it will become if there is another recession on the scale of the last one. Unemployment remains stuck at over 9%. Obama’s net approval rating is -12%. By the metrics I used to predict McCain’s defeat in 2008, Obama looks like he’s in deep trouble.

For what it’s worth, the InTrade prediction market is coming to the same conclusion. The latest figures created by gamblers who put their money where their mouths are give Obama a 48% chance, but as you can see since the market became high-volume in around April this year he has been trending down. (PS. Note the spike in early May, that was the Osama bin Laden assassination).

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Shifting Winds: The End Of Pax Americana

Every once in a while, there occurs a major shift in the international arena. The First World War and its consequences were the seminal change of the last century, collapsing ancient empires and ushering in a new era of ethno-nationalist clashes, political radicalism and emerging powers challenging the established order of Versailles, forces that were fully unleashed in the aftermath of the Great Depression. From the middle of the Second World War, it became clear that the new world order would be defined by a bipolar competition between the USSR and the US. The next major shift occurred with the oil shocks of the 1970’s, when growth throughout the industrialized world, capitalist and socialist alike, declined, and they were beset with increasing social problems, while the beginning of the rise of China and the economic re-emergence of Western Europe and Japan heralded a new, globalizing multipolarity that was confirmed by the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR.

The next two decades saw the triumph of “Western liberal democracy as the final form of government” and the spread of the neoliberal consensus, all underwritten by American military dominance and the new resources unlocked by the opening of formerly autarkic economies. Generally speaking, this was a rather peaceful and prosperous time. Though wars continued and there was the occasional genocide in Rwanda or Darfur, the overall incidence of violence declined sharply in all categories, the sole exception being terrorism. Similarly, the opening up of world trade sharply increased consumer power in the US and Europe as China’s reserve armies of labor set about producing cheap goods, a process lubricated by cheap oil, gargantuan freighters and developments in supply-chain management. And though its flowers still bloom and the politicians smile and exude the air that nothing’s much amiss, the winds of time are shifting, the sun is already setting on this world, and darkness is about to creep in.

Quite literally. The cheap oil that underpins industrial civilization is ending, as the world approaches peak oil production – the point when about half of recoverable reserves have been taken out of the ground. The remaining half lies in remoter places and will be much harder to extract, especially taking into account that the resources for doing so will be significantly more limited due to the collapse of the world credit system, a system that should have died a free-market death in late 2008, but which limps on, zombie-like, sustained by governments whose solvency now hangs by a thread only maintained by investors still naive enough to believe in their credibility.

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Congratulations, America!

But will Obama really bring change?

As I predicted he would, Obama has won overwhelmingly. As I argued, this was the best possible outcome for America – Obama understands the importance of investing heavily in renewable energy and new infrastructure, and would withdraw from the financially ruinous Iraq adventure. Just by his election, he has bolstered America’s battered image around the world.

The margin of his victory also gives him latitude to decisively sway the course of American policy, domestically and internationally – although in practice this latitude is greatly constrained by financial and institutional realities.

But do not expect change on all fronts. His two main Russia advisors are Russophobes – McFaul, champion of the Russian “authoritarianism” dogma, and Brzezinski, high priest of the Promethean Project to weaken, encircle and break up Russia. A tough Russia policy will deflect conservative attention from his domestic ambitions.

So it’s important to look at things realistically – do not expect too much change from Obama on Russia. Though it’s OK to hope otherwise. 🙂

Russia’s Soft WMD

Watching the US presidential candidate debate this Friday has only further confirmed my belief an American would have to be either a moron or a traitor to vote for him.

What he would do as President:

1) Stay on in Iraq

And leave Russia (and every other competitor) a free hand. Even the success of the Iraqi campaign depends on the continued quiescence of the Sunni tribes that were bribed into becoming America’s friends. If relations further deteriorate, it would not be unimaginable to envisage Russia selling Iran S-300’s, which in turn could escalate anti-US attrition in Iraq from under that umbrella.

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Why Obama Will Almost Certainly Win

Read these two posts by Krugman at Conscience of a Liberal, here and here.

1. A looming recession, after seven years of stagnation in the US median wage, means that the likelihood of positive income growth this year is very small. Even assuming it’s 0% would mean that the incumbent party’s nominee, McCain, can be expected to lose by an 8% margin in the straight line fit below. To break even income needs to grow by around 2%, which looks more unlikely with every new financial breaking story.

More likely, it will be around 0% or worse and McCain would be facing a landslide defeat, as in 1980.

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The People Speak: Poll #1 Results, US Presidential Candidates

These are the results of our first poll (running from January 11 to March 19).

I am pleased to see that the number of people thinking it’s brilliant decisively outnumber those who think it should be deleted. (So I’ll remain on the blogosphere.) Otherwise, don’t bother with digressions, aesthetics or more features, but concentrate more on regular news and editorials. Well, I’ll try. I’m not really the kind of person who loves pumping out stuff at constant intervals, but I’ll have a go at making updates more frequent (and posts smaller). As for Core Articles – well, we have a juicy one coming up tomorrow – Top 10 Russophobe Myths, as well as a finished News 19 March.

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