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Criminals, Cold Warriors, Cowards

Lemme’ see. Putin dissolves the Russian Parliament ahead of national elections and prepares for a trip to meet with Iranian leaders… Israel bombs Syria looking for nuke material reportedly provided by the North Koreans… MoveOn.Org slanders one of our senior military commanders and none of the Democratic leadership condemns it… all in all a pretty full week wouldn’t you say?

Which, of course, leads me to our most important question:

How does one go about getting an invitation to be on O.J. Simpson’s Vegas Heist Crew?

There you are, one minute drinking at the open bar and dancing the Electric Slide, the next minute O.J.’s all up in your grill asking you to help him plan his next big caper. Apparently, and I say apparently because I haven’t devoted any time to researching this story, O.J. was the best man at the wedding. At some point, he recruited a few of the guests to join his Hole in the Wall gang, and the next thing you know, it’s Ocean’s Eleven but without the sophistication and really cool threads.

In all honesty, I gotta’ admit I’ve been to a number of weddings where skipping out to join O.J. in a crazy memorabilia crime spree would’ve been a welcome alternative to staying at the ceremony. If you’re a guy, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re a woman, you’re probably mumbling the words “what a pig” right about now.

But it’s true. Unless it’s your own wedding, or your best buddy’s event where you’re basically given a free pass to behave poorly, most of the time you’re just praying that O.J. will come along and give you an excuse to skip out.

"Honey, honestly, I’d love to dance the Macarena and talk to some more people I don’t know, but O.J. needs me… I promised… honnneeey… the other guys are going…. it’ll only take a few minutes… pleeeease?”

I’d like to think I could’ve added a little organizational skill to the heist. Clearly, O.J. hadn’t thought through the plan particularly well. His checklist was probably along the lines of:

a) Recruit some muscle from wedding party

b) Storm the hotel room

c) Demand my s**t back

d) Repeat c) above

e) Sober up in jail cell

f) Apologize to bride for upstaging her wedding

You don’t have to be a Heisman Trophy winner to know that this was not a plan that Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin would’ve signed off on. There was no mastermind drawing up an incredibly clever scheme… no glamorous woman to distract the mark… no funny and talented sidekicks providing comic relief.

Just O.J. still in his wedding tux with some possibly drunk guests watching his back. At least, I’m hoping they were drunk. There’s got to be some logical explanation for their participation.

O.J. says he was running a sting to get his own sports memorabilia back. Now, when I was little, I must have watched The Sting a dozen times. Believe me when I say, this was no sting. Paul Newman, Robert Redford and that old guy from "My Favorite Martian," now that was a sting.

In terms of sophistication, O.J.’s effort was one step up from toilet papering someone’s house.

But, if nothing else, we should all raise our glasses and offer a big post-wedding toast to O.J. for taking our minds off the more important events of the day. Once again, I find myself unable to focus on just one hot topic… there’s just so much crap happening out there that it seems narrow-minded to concentrate on only one issue.

So as part of our ongoing effort at the Peoples Weekly Brief to cater to our well rounded readers, I’m introducing a new feature that we call;

“Look At All the Crap Out There”…

Item 1: Comrade Putin and His Amazing Time Machine

Honestly, can you ever get enough of President Putin? We haven’t had a Russian leader as happy and self satisfied as Putin since the days of Lenin. It’s time to turn back the clocks as the screen goes all wavy and we relive the excitement and comfort of the Cold War.

Make no mistake about his intentions. Putin bit by bit is engineering the expansion of Russia’s sphere of influence. While he can’t reconstruct the former Soviet Union (although I suspect he’s toyed with the possibility), he has been busy using available means to pressure strategic neighbors into compliance with long term goals.

And he’s decidedly ticked about what he sees as U.S. intervention in his sandbox, primarily NATO expansion, involvement in Georgia and possible placement of missile defense systems in Russia’s old stomping grounds (regardless that they’re designed to counter possible Iranian missile technology).

Speaking of Iran… O.J.’s nutty Vegas adventure-- not to mention Britney’s unfortunate display at some awards event and a host of other stories with major global implications-- has kept press coverage to a minimum on the budding romance developing between Russia and Iran. Okay, romance is too strong a word. It’s more like old school Cold War courting.

Here’s all you need to know about Russia’s dealings with Iran… neither trusts the other and they’re using each other to score points against America. OhmyGod, it’s just like high school. Only the cattiness, backstabbing and endless analysis of a relationship gone bad comes with the threat of nuclear missiles.

Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, were just in Moscow for a series of economic meetings. Mottaki also managed to meet with Russia’s chief nuke dude (official title Atomic Energy Chief) Sergei Kiriyenko to talk about nuclear cooperation, particularly the issue of Russia’s often delayed further cooperation on the Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr.

In mid October, Putin and his posse will visit Tehran to attend a regional conference and meet with Iranian leaders. Naturally, all of this flirting and tentative hand holding causes the West to rise up in a jealous snit.

Mind you, Putin is very, very intelligent. It’s not that he has any interest in furthering Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. Putting a nuke in the hands of Ahmadinejad and his Fundamentalist Ragtime Band is bad with a capital Duh. It’s just that he’s taking advantage of the current state of the world to further Russia’s self interest. Between the turmoil of Iraq and Middle East regional concerns, and the current bloated feeling Putin has from all those petro-dollars, Russia’s got an opportunity to regain some lost glory.

Iran is just a player in an old Cold War dance that allows Putin to further his advantage.

Oh, and did I mention that he dissolved the Russian Parliament and appointed a new prime minister ahead of national Spring elections next year? Putin was quoted as saying that he “… installed Viktor Zubkov as prime minister because Zubkov is a strong willed, independent thinking man who will dance to his own drummer. I like the cut of his jibski.” (PWB disclaimer: The previous quote was made up and in no way reflects the thinking of the Russian president.)

Item 2: Wait, I thought the Iranians had the Nukes

While we were spending our time handwringing about Iran’s nuclear program, it turns out that Israel was busy tracking concerns over nuclear cooperation between Syria and North Korea. And here we thought the Syrians were too busy assassinating Lebanese politicians and dignitaries to think about developing nuclear ambitions.

Now the details are sketchy, kind of like the O.J. situation, but reportedly North Korean technicians have been present in Syria for some time. The recent arrival and offloading of a North Korean container ship reportedly prompted the Israelis to take action, in the form of an air attack in early September on an underground site inside Syria not too far from the Iraqi border. Neither the Israelis nor Syrians have been talking about the incident in detail which leads us to admire their ability to not leak information.

North Korea has denied that they are providing any nuclear assistance to Syria, so there you go. Case closed.

Item 3: By golly, if I had principles, I’d stand on ‘em.

By now I’m sure you’re all familiar with the incredibly juvenile advertisement that MoveOn.org placed in The New York Times ahead of General David Petraeus’ report to Capitol Hill the other day. Now mudslinging and less than honorable tactics have been used in the past by Democrats and Republicans alike, no one has a solid claim to the high ground here. But the MoveOn ad implying that General Petraeus is a traitor takes the award for most disgusting political smear tactic.

It’s hard to figure out which group is the most cowardly here… let’s review the nominees:

a) The gang at MoveOn that dreamt up the ad and didn’t have the guts, brains or ethics to understand it was wrong

b) The executives at the hallowed New York Times who decided it was fine to run the ad, especially after MoveOn’s check cleared (newspapers don’t have an obligation to run every ad, they do so at their own discretion)

c) The Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill that failed to stand up and say, “Um, I know MoveOn has contributed well over $50 million to Democratic candidates in the past few years, and that’s a lot of jack, but the ad is just plain wrong.”

Instead, it was the sound of crickets with the occasional tumbleweed tumblin’ by in the Democratic hallways.

To his credit, Joe Biden was the only Democratic presidential candidate who stated out loud that the ad was a mistake and he thought it was wrong. Good for him. Once again, the guy with the most experience shows strength of character. Too bad he can’t raise dough like the leading contenders.

We could of course say the same thing on the Republican side about John McCain. Anyway, I’m sure someone at MoveOn now has their knickers in a knot over Biden, how dare he step out like that.

My favorite comments on the ad from Democratic contenders have included Barak Obama’s remarks, who mentioned that he thought the ad was a mistake in the sense that it caused a distraction and gave the Republicans something to rally around.

Oh. In other words, he doesn’t disagree with the ad (although he won’t say he agrees with it), he just wishes it hadn’t caused the party so much flak. Nice presidential timber.

Here’s what I think. I would’ve respected the Democratic leadership more if they had dug down deep, found some secret reserve of intestinal fortitude, and stated that they actually agree with the MoveOn ad. Was it really that difficult? Well, yes, at least during a campaign cycle.

If they stood up and denounced the ad, they would tick off the MoveOn gang, possibly losing access to a pretty efficient ATM machine. If they stood up and said they agree with the ad, they risked upsetting an unknown number of voters who reside in the middle of the spectrum. What’s an erstwhile politician to do? Silence probably seemed like a pretty good option.

And now, time to announce the winner for the most cowardly performance in the MoveOn advertisement extravaganza. The envelope please… and the winner is… it’s a three-way tie. (Crowd gasps) Well, congratulations to the winners, in addition to the little bronze statuette of a poo-flinging monkey, each will be receiving a brand spankin’ new moral compass.

Next week we’ll look at the new mantra being chanted all around Congress these days regarding Iraq… (repeat often with glassy stare) “troop drawdown to focus on counterterrorism, training and force protection”. We’ll talk about the logistics of reducing the numbers of troops to 60,000 or so, pulling them back to the borders and trying to accomplish anything.

And we’ll answer the obvious question that plan raises… “Huh?”

Unless of course there are new developments in the O.J. case.

Till next week, stay safe.

Respond to the Writer

Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures. In addition, Baker is a writer for a BBC drama to begin production in July 2007.