Good guys:
In line with my recent tendency to posts that are less than sinewy from a scientific standpoint (and you surely have a lot of that; write if you have questions let me tell you one thing I miss.

I miss it when Americans were the good guys.

Sure we made mistakes.  But we had high ideals. 

I heard as a child the story of a German platoon in the closing days of WW II.  I cannot vouch for its absolute truth, but it was told and well represented our national self image.

The platoon’s position had been overrun by the advancing American forces, but that night they managed to slip through the lines.  They were unable to link up with their own retreating forces so for a very few days they played sort of leapfrog with the Americans, hiding by day and slipping through the lines by night.  Of course their supplies were exhausted.  At last they could not even reach the lines, so they would have to give it up.

Now Germany had a serious military culture.  Surrender was an important event.  They weren’t going to stagger out of the woods like a bunch of bums so they took a day off and washed and mended their uniforms, washed and shaved themselves and got their appearance right.  On the day they were finally presentable they went to the nearest road and marched to the first village. 

As they passed through the town an American GI eating a sandwich stepped out of a shop.  He heard the sound of a voice ordering, “Halt,” and a column coming to a stop.  He looked around at a bunch of Germans razor sharp, armed to the teeth and battle ready.  As he stood frozen, the German officer came forward and said, in passable English, “As the first American we have found, would you accept my sword and our surrender.”  He nodded and took the weapon, and then his first words were, “Would you fellows like something to eat?”

Nowadays it is different.  We killed, some say lynched and some say murdered, bin Laden, who once said, “We must win the hearts and minds of people, not crush them.”  His al Qaeda has been superseded by ISIS, which does crush them. 

The Crimean peninsula, through some flight of idiocy, became a part of the Ukraine when the Soviet Union fell apart.  Trouble is, it contains Russia’s only serious naval port.  That was not so much of a problem until the Ukrainian government collapsed about four times in two years.  Russia had to act to stabilize the Crimea, which they duly annexed.  They had no choice, really, it was their vital interest.  We responded by placing sanctions on them.  We had no choice, really, it was quite illegal.  Pretty much the local people were happy with the change so it was sort of a stalemate.

Then, alas, some people of Russian decent in the eastern Ukraine started kicking up a fuss, rebelled and made it look like they would secede and join Russia.  And Russia moved troops to the border.  No choice there.  If you have a military and there is a battle going on at your border you should move troops into the area on general principles.  Now things were looking rather ugly with no clear way out for either side.  We made noises as if Russia had plans to grab all the land wither the Soviet Union had moved Russians.  That was not going to happen; those nations are part of NATO, and there is an old Hyperborean motto, “Don’t screw with NATO.” 

Then we got a break in our favor.  American roughnecks and their bosses figured out how to get gas and oil out of previously unpromising geological formations by “fracking.”  You can look that up, but it involves injecting water into the shale or whatever and drilling for the displaced hydrocarbons.  You may not like fracking.  I have one friend who says that the injected fluid is industrial waste that it would be costly to purify for release but can be injected because the composition of the fracking fluid is guarded intellectual property.  I dunno. 

So price of oil and gas goes down.  Russia depends on selling those things  so our sanctions bit harder than they bit at first.  At that point we can 1) maintain the sanctions.   The message the world gets from that is, “We have hurt you as much as we can.  If we could hurt you more we would.”  Or we can 2) ease back a bit on the sanctions.  The message the world, including me, will get will be, “Our initial response was proportionate to our concern.  We are giving you a break because now it is becoming disproportional.  We don’t really mean to hurt the Russian people.  But behave yourselves or we put them right back to full implementation, and now you know we can and how it will affect you.”  Which is the choice of the strong, confident, good government?  I think that is as clear as how you treat starving captives. 

Russia or Red China or both have penetrated our government’s cyber defenses to the point of reading the president’s email and schedule.  Big deal.  Emails I receive are not highly protected.  If he would answer (as he should) my letters to him, I’m sure it would take little effort to intercept those messages, and it would be quite trivial for them to fall into anybody’s hands.  In fact I’d make them as widely known as I am capable of.  In other words, what Russia and China are doing is harmless.  Moreover it is a warning.  The message I and the rest of the world get is, “Your fly is down.  People can see what they should not see.  Now tighten your security so we can’t do that sort of thing; there are bad people out there who would dearly love to have control of you nuclear missiles.  Don’t give it to them.”  And indeed there is a due flap. 

On the other hand we, with or without Israel, introduced a virus called “Stuxnet” into the Iranian nuclear program.  The program was intended to interfere with the functionality of their centrifuges for processing uranium.  The futility of the gesture is evident in the fact that the Iranians soon fixed it.  The down side is that we might have caused a disaster.  People might have died.  Radioactive gas might have been dumped on the world.  That is not harmless.  Who is the good guy and who the bad, now? 

We are locked in a life-or-death struggle with ISIS – their life our death, of course, not ours.  Eventually we shall crush them.  But what is really going on is that there is no Sunni homeland in that area.   It is a commonplace that   they are only effective where there is Sunni population without a country.  Are we talking about the creation of one?  Not to my knowledge.  A good country should.

So how might a good country with unmatched power and the best of intentions go from good to mezzo-mezzo?  I explain that in the movie “Babies Triumph over Evil.”  Have a look.  Watch it from start to finish.  It is not clear that this cannot be turned around.

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