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Paul Singer’s EMP Fetish

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The 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls making the rounds of potential campaign moneymen are treating hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer as a major kingmaker, along with his fellow Republican Jewish Coalition director, casino magnate Sheldon AdelsonThe New York Times reported over the weekend that Singer was holding dinners with aspiring candidates, while Buzzfeed reported that Marco Rubio was the featured guest at an event “attended by Republican foreign policy hawks” held at Singer’s New York residence on Monday. But some of Singer’s policy views put him at odds with not only the mainstream but many Republicans as well.

Singer has emerged as one of the GOP’s key donors, and he’s particularly generous with candidates and think tanks opposed to the P5+1’s diplomacy with Iran. On Tuesday, I wrote about Singer’s role in bankrolling Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), as well as his heavy investments in such hawkish, pro-Likud organizations as the American Enterprise Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (He also helped raise money for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) who just promised that a military campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities would only take “several days” of bombing.”)

Singer is clearly invested in promoting a hawkish Iran policy, but he’s less well-known for his advocacy of one of the far-right’s fringe issues: warning about the dangers of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, which he regards as the greatest threat facing the world.

According to CNBC, Singer warned clients of his hedge fund, Elliott Management, in an investment letter update last year, that a natural EMP event

today would cause a massive disruption to the electric grid, possibly shutting it down entirely for months or longer, with unimaginable consequences. Only two years ago, the sun let loose with a Carrington-magnitude burst, but the position of the earth at the time prevented the burst from hitting it. The chances of additional events of such magnitude may be far greater than most people think.

And, like any good EMP-scaremonger, Singer stressed that a man-made EMP attack would be even worse:

It would not cause any blast or radiation damage, but such an attack would have consequences even more catastrophic than a severe solar storm. It could not only bring down the grid, but also lay down a very intense, very fast pulse across the continent, damaging or destroying electronic switches, devices, computers and transformers across America.

Singer called for greater protection of the power grid and electronic devices to combat the EMP threat.

But here’s the thing: the technological skillset to build an ICBM or mid-range missile capable of delivering a power-grid-paralyzing EMP nuclear detonation is far beyond the capabilities of most countries. It’s also a completely irrational and suicidal strategic choice by a hypothetical rogue nation. If deployed against the United States, even with our cars and microwaves presumably rendered inoperable, Washington would almost assuredly launch a devastating military retaliation. Arms-control specialist Jeffrey Lewis has described the cult of EMP as the “conservative fetish that just won’t die.”

So why is Paul Singer, a man who, along with Adelson and the Koch Brothers, appears poised to play a critical role in choosing the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidate, pushing the threat?

CNBC tried to get to the bottom of that question last summer, but Elliott Management declined to comment.

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Bret Stephens is a columnist for the New York Times who previously worked at the Wall Street Journal and the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary.


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