"Restore(s) a little sanity into current political debate" - Kenneth Minogue, TLS "Projects a more expansive and optimistic future for Americans than (the analysis of) Huntington" - James R. Kurth, National Interest "One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years" - Lexington Green
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“Thank you for writing a piece that is thoughtful, rational and calm. How difficult it has been to find a calm voice.
The hysteria surrounding this tragic incident and the rush to politicize the incident by various stakeholders on all sides-Russian, Ukrainian, American, various militaries and NATO–is dishonest and dangerous.
I met someone who was on the Lockerbie flight, if only briefly. A favorite novelist of mine once wrote that a character who had just lost a child was “living the curious aftermath of a life.” What pain for the families, what they must be suffering.
Some days ago, I posted an article from June discussing the poor equipping and training of the Ukrainian border forces and how material was crossing the border. I had asked, “if this is a crisis of sovereignty, why is everyone so silent about this and discussing everything else?” And now I find this article:
From May 7:
The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine used Pentagon money to go shopping in Kiev for supplies, including concertina wire for Ukraine’s ill-equipped border guards, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.
The Defense Department funds also bought fuel pumps, car batteries, spare parts, binoculars and communications gear for the guards, who would be the first line of defense if the 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders invaded.
Embassy personnel bought the goods locally in Kiev, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
Warren did not have an initial cost estimate for the supplies, but Evelyn Farkas, a deputy assistant defense secretary, told Congress that the Defense Department has given Ukraine’s military and border guards a total of $18 million in non-lethal aid to date.
In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Farkas said that Ukraine’s requests for additional aid “vastly outstrips our abilities to meet them.”
We spent how many BILLIONS on”democracy promotion” in Ukraine already? And now Americans struggling with a flat economy and uncertain economic prospects have to scrape together nickels and dimes for more when Ukraine is awash with wealthy oligarchs and Europe has a collective GDP that parallels the US?
So this is the great crisis that requires a new Cold War? I don’t buy any of it.
1. I don’t believe NATO – a bureaucracy fishing for funds and increased prominence after the Afghanistan drawdown.
2. I don’t believe hawkish Senators that are grandstanding for votes or who have emotional problems with buckling down and doing the nation’s work and prefer strange pseudo-ideologic crusades.
3. I don’t believe a President that is looking for a foreign policy win.
4. I don’t believe a Pentagon–or an Army–still looking to milk the American people for their own needs. Missiles in Poland! Oh, please.
5. I don’t believe ‘independent’ analysts–or their contractor and arms selling friends–bought and paid for.
6. I don’t buy the Michael McFaul, retired military Cold Warriors that look at the world through ideological lenses and think the world is a playground for regime change and democracy promotion.
7. I don’t buy the Special Forces hype that see everything as an unconventional war to be countered by training troops, regardless of the strategic wisdom of doing so.
8. I don’t buy the British Chatham House crew, the Polish right, the American transatlanticists and the NATOists that are only concerned with harnessing American power for their own personal or national or ideological or money-making reasons.
9. I don’t buy the middle aged nostalgics for the Cold War and the armchair warriors that view war as a game, an entertainment for boring everyday lives.
10. I don’t buy the neoconservatives who are trying to derail an Iran deal with the Ukraine crisis.
11. I don’t buy the State Department line. State has never gotten over the Cold War and thus its attitudes toward Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and Eastern European nations that it hasn’t helped on any level because they are still so dependent on outside funds.
Elements within Russia, the US, Ukraine, the EU/NATO “axis” are all grandstanding and maneuvering for their own selfish interests.
If anyone in the vaunted West really cared, the borders would have been the first thing worked on decades ago. And I don’t buy that it’s all just lack of funding. Oligarchs have money. They also like to bring in outside money from Russia and the West and pocket a bit of it and some people might not mind porous borders, if you get my drift. Which no one will because no one really cares.
I don’t trust people that talk about unconventional warfare and can’t even be bothered to vet the experts they cite, experts like Michael McFaul or Anne Applebaum. I don’t know if people are stupid, dishonest, ideologues, unwilling to think new thoughts, or what. But I don’t have to buy any of it.
Don’t start World War III, Washington Consensus, NATO, Russian hawks, and the rest of you. How will you be able to spend all those ill-gotten gains if you aren’t around for it to be spent?
If Ukraine is a crisis of sovereignty, then how did the conversation switch to Putin-as-devil? Taking land is the worst of it, arms from outside the second worst of it, but early on, did our advice help or hurt the Ukrainians in asserting their sovereignty and creating a healthy state?
In the Council, a commenter from Estonia I believe, said something along the lines of, “we told them to control the borders and grab Russian passports.”
Ukrainian border patrol asked for help early on. Did they get it? The oligarchs that are in control raided the state and isn’t that partly why the border control doesn’t have the resources it needs? How did this issue of border control–and including ethnic Russians into the larger state order–become all about the US/NATO/EU and its battles with Russia?
I worry about the Ukrainians–look what internationalizing the issue did to the Kashmiris. Just because outsiders want to help, doesn’t mean that their help will actually work.
And how much of the NATO stuff is various constituencies using the crisis to get particular things, increasing budgets, directing the course of the EU. Some Eastern European nations are going to get big subsidies. What does this do to sovereignty and the ability to resist outside interference?
I’ve been looking up articles on Border control and its hard because after a certain time period it’s all either US/NATO/EU propaganda, Russian propaganda, or Ukrainian propaganda fed to journalists that seem to dutifully pass it on….
It appears that the downing of Malaysia Air flight MH17 is Russian Federation President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s version of Iran Air 655. The accidental downing of a civilian airliner blundering into a combat situation and got knocked down by a surface to air missile. However, instead of the Aegis Cruiser USS Vincennes (CG-49), in a Persian Gulf firefight with Iranian Revolutionary Guards small boats, we have “Russian Seperatists” equipped with Russian Federation supplied NATO Reporting name SA-11 “Gadfly” medium range surface to air missiles in the Ukraine.
See also this AP report that placed an SA-11 launcher, the likely murder instrument and know locally as “Buk,” in the area of the shoot down –
A launcher similar to the Buk missile system was seen by Associated Press journalists near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne earlier Thursday.
On Wednesday evening, a Ukrainian fighter jet was shot down by an air-to-air missile from a Russian plane, Ukrainian authorities said Thursday, adding to what Kiev says is mounting evidence that Moscow is directly supporting the separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine. Security Council spokesman Andrei Lysenko said the pilot of the Sukhoi-25 jet hit by the air-to-air missile was forced to bail after his jet was shot down.
Pro-Russia rebels, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for strikes Wednesday on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said the second jet was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile, but added the pilot was unscathed and managed to land his plane safely
Moscow denies Western charges that it is supporting the separatists or sowing unrest in its neighbor. The Russian Defense Ministry couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday about the Ukrainian jet and Russia’s foreign ministry didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Debris field is seven miles (11.2 KM) long, consistant with a airliner at 33,000 feet being destroyed by a medium range radar guided surface to air missile (SAM).
The West dropped a new round of sanctions on “Czar Putin De Santa Anna” (in honor of Putin’s continuing destruction of the Russian economy through foreign agression a’la General Lopez Santa Anna of Mexico) yesterday.
Russian leaders acting agressive after a new round of Western economic sanctions are an old Cold War theme that Putin loves to indulges in. That is what makes a “USS Vincennes scenario” type shoot down the most likely cause of this disaster…and it also helps that CNN’s Barbara Starr is reporting that the Pentagon believes Russian side also fired a Buk type missile that took out separate Ukrainian cargo plane on Monday.
It appears things are going to be getting much worse in the Ukraine.
When President Bush convened a meeting of his National Security Council on May 22, 2003, his special envoy in Iraq made a statement that caught many of the participants by surprise. In a video presentation from Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III informed the president and his aides that he was about to issue an order formally dissolving Iraq’s Army.
I think that decision probably lost the post-invasion war. The other puzzle that was not explained until the recent book, Days of Fire explained it, was why Bremer was put in place of Jay Garner, who had done well with the Kurds.
Garner began reconstruction efforts in March 2003 with plans aiming for Iraqis to hold elections within 90 days and for the U.S. to quickly pull troops out of the cities to a desert base. Talabani, a member of Jay Garner’s staff in Kuwait before the war, was consulted on several occasions to help the U.S. select a liberal Iraqi government; this would be the first liberal Government to exist in Iraq. In an interview with Time magazine, Garner stated that “as in any totalitarian regime, there were many people who needed to join the Baath Party in order to get ahead in their careers. We don’t have a problem with most of them. But we do have a problem with those who were part of the thug mechanism under Saddam. Once the U.S. identifies those in the second group, we will get rid of them.
Had Garner continued with that policy, we might have been out of the cities in a few months instead of years, as was the case with Bremer.
As someone who has studied WW2 history for over 40 years (on an amateur basis), as soon as the Crimean situation occurred I went over to my bookshelf and pulled out my favorite book that covered the Crimean campaign – “Stopped at Stalingrad” by Hayward. The book is highly recommended and covers air / ground coordination in that era and has an excellent overview of the ground campaign in the crucial 1942-3 time period.
The scale of today’s troop movements and activities is so small relative to that era. Only a few thousand troops can decide an entire campaign. The days of millions of soldiers on all sides of the wire have been relegated to the past.
While this volume focuses on the military aspects of the campaign in WW2, many other books talk about ideological motivations and logistics, notably the horrifying “The Wages of Destruction” by Tooze.
The contrast between today’s situation and the “total warfare” that existed really from the end of WW1 and through the civil war in Russia as well as the horrors in the Ukraine in the 1930′s and then on both the German advance and Russian re-capturing of the various regions is very instructive on one key dimension – as Putin takes over Crimea, he actually intends to FEED the population.
It is important to realize how poorly civilians have always been treated in these Eastern campaigns by all sides. To say that people were viewed as an afterthought is a giant understatement. Civilians were second to territory, resources (oil), or ideological objectives.
Today by most accounts Putin realizes that he needs to actually administer the region and needs to take steps to build up morale, keep the economy functioning (on some level), and that this will be a financial burden on Russia. The days of just stripping off assets, turning locals into slave labor, and siphoning off any agricultural products (I am not just talking about “surplus”, I am talking about everything) are apparently past us. I am no fan of Putin and in no way want to appear to be in favor of his activities, but feel that this is a fact worth mentioning.
By the abysmally low standards of twentieth century Eastern warfare, the Crimea incident likely had the least impact on civilians.
Unfortunately the situation in Western Ukraine has the potential to be closer to a “typical” historical Eastern event with mass bloodshed, significant disruption to the economy and population, with civilians caught in the middle and having their needs ignored.
Many will remember Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, in which she said:
Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed….You have to stay at the seat at the table of democracy with a man like Barack Obama not just on Tuesday but in a year from now, in four years from now, in eight years from now, you will have to be engaged.
We are going to have to change our conversation; we’re going to have to change our traditions, our history; we’re going to have to move into a different place as a nation.
…which is, of course, entirely consistent with the assertion made by Barack Obama himself, shortly before his first inauguration: ”We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
It should be clear by now that all aspects of American life and society are rapidly becoming politicized. Obama has greatly accelerated this movement, but he didn’t initiate it. The “progressive” political movement, which now controls the Democratic Party, has for a long time been driving the politicization of anything and everything. The assertion “the personal is political” originated in the late 1960s…and, if the personal is political, then everything is political.
Some people, of course, like the politicization of everything–for some individuals, indeed, their lives would be meaningless without it. In his important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars, Sebastian Haffner noted divergent reactions from people when the political and economic situation stabilized (temporarily, as we now know) during the Stresemann chancellorship:
The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.
But this return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:
A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.
To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.
I’m afraid we have quite a few people in America today who like having “the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions.” But for most people, especially for creative and emotionally-healthy people, the politicization of everything leads to a dreary and airless existence.
I didn’t find Robert Kagan persuasive when he said that what Vladimir Putin, now Russian’s prime minister, has to fear from NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia is only democracy, not a military threat ["Ideology's Rude Return," op-ed, May 2]. Mr. Kagan echoed President Bush on the subject in writing, “NATO is less provocative and threatening toward Moscow today than it was in [Mikhail] Gorbachev’s time.”
Both columnist and president are wrong. Mr. Putin sees the world around his immediate frontiers in a strategic sense of military options. NATO forces are in his face from Murmansk to the Baltic states, Romania and Turkey. Kyrgyzstan, while not in NATO, is certainly an American client with its large U.S. military airfield and staging area at Manas, near the capital. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have pledged to the U.S. various forms of direct military cooperation.
Think about Mr. Putin’s reduced military options in backing up Russian policy if Ukraine and Georgia join NATO. Mr. Putin could not be clearer on this point: Russia will not tolerate further NATO expansion eastward. He has stated that to any media outlet that will listen. He has shown his seriousness on this point with stepped-up Cold War-style flights by his Tu-95 Bear bombers over our ships at sea and near Alaska and Great Britain.
We risk a major confrontation by disregarding Mr. Putin’s “red line” on this subject.
– Jack Broadbent
I’ve been digging through Congressional testimony, op-eds, letters to the editors and so on from the ’90s to the present. The number of warnings is amazing. Everyone from Phyllis Schafly to the late Senator Wellstone.
Note, recognizing the complicated multifactorial nature of the current Ukraine crisis is not the same as being an apologist. We have a form of unconventional warfare being practiced on the Ukraine by Russia; and we have a complicated form of political warfare being practiced in the Ukraine by the US, UK, EU and so on. The whole-of-it matters for understanding.
Barack Obama and John Kerry have been ceaselessly lecturing Vlad Putin to the effect that: grabbing territory from other countries just isn’t the sort of thing one does in this twenty-first century, old boy.
For example, here’s Obama: “…because you’re bigger and stronger taking a piece of the country – that is not how international law and international norms are observed in the 21st century.”
And John Kerry: ”It’s really 19th century behavior in the twenty-first century. You just don’t invade another country on phony pretexts in order to assert your interests.”
The idea that the mere passage of time has some automatic magical effect on national behavior…on human behavior…is simplistic, and more than a little odd. I don’t know how much history Obama and Kerry actually studied during their college years, but 100 years ago..in early 1914…there were many, many people convinced that a major war could not happen…because we were now in the twentieth century, with international trade and with railroads and steamships and telegraph networks and electric lights and all. And just 25 years after that, quite a few people refused to believe that concentration camps devoted to systematic murder could exist in the advanced mid-20th century, in the heart of Europe.
Especially simplistic is the idea that, because there had been no military territory-grabs by first-rank powers for a long time, that the era of such territory-grabs was over. George Eliot neatly disposed of this idea many years ago, in a passage in her novel Silas Marner:
The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.
Or, as Mark Steyn put it much more recently:
‘Stability’ is a surface illusion, like a frozen river: underneath, the currents are moving, and to the casual observer the ice looks equally ‘stable’ whether there’s a foot of it or just two inches. There is no status quo in world affairs: ‘stability’ is a fancy term to dignify laziness and complacency as sophistication.
Obama also frequently refers to the Cold War, and argues that it is in the past. But the pursuit of force-based territorial gain by nations long predates the Cold War, and it has not always had much to do with economic rationality. The medieval baron with designs on his neighbor’s land didn’t necessarily care about improving his own standard of living, let alone that of his peasants–what he was after, in many cases, was mainly the ego charge of being top dog.
Human nature was not repealed by the existence of steam engines and electricity in 1914…nor even by the broad Western acceptance of Christianity in that year…nor is it repealed in 2014 by computers and the Internet or by sermons about “multiculturalism” and bumper stickers calling for “coexistence.”
American Digest just linked a very interesting analysis of the famous “long telegram” sent by George Kennan in 1947: George Kennan, Vladimir Putin, and the Appetites of Men. In this document, Kennan argued that Soviet behavior must be understood not only through the prism of Communist ideology, but also in terms of the desire of leaders to establish and maintain personal power.
Regarding the current Russian/Crimean situation, the author of the linked article (Tod Worner) says:
In the current crisis, many will quibble about the historical, geopolitical complexities surrounding the relationship between Russia, Ukraine and Crimea. They will debate whether Crimea’s former inclusion in the Russian Empire or Crimea’s restive Russian population justifies secession especially with a strong Russian hand involved. Papers will be written. Conferences will be convened. Experts will be consulted. Perhaps these are all prudent and thoughtful notions to consider and actions to undertake. Perhaps.
But perhaps we should, like George Kennan, return to the same questions we have been asking about human nature since the beginning of time. Maybe we are, at times, overthinking things. Perhaps we would do well to step back and consider something more fundamental, something more base, something more reliable than the calculus of geopolitics and ideology…Perhaps we ignore the simple math that is often before our very eyes. May we open our eyes to the appetites of men.
“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9 
Over the last few weeks the sections of the blogosphere which I frequent have been filled with predictions, advice, summaries of, and idle chatter about the situation in Ukraine and Crimea. I have refrained from commenting on these events for a fairly simple reason: I am no expert in Russian or Eastern European affairs. Any expertise that my personal experiences or formal studies allows me to claim is on the opposite side of Eurasia. Thus I am generally content to let those who, in John Schindler’s words, “actually know something” take the lead in picking apart statements from the Kiev or the Kremlin.  My knowledge of the peoples and regions involved is limited to broad historical strokes. But sometimes broad historical strokes breed their own special sort of insights. I have before suggested that one of the benefits of studying history is that it allows a unique opportunity to understand reality from the “Long View.” From this perspective the daily headlines do not simply record the decisions of a day, the instant reactions of one statesmen to crises caused by another, but the outcome of hundreds of choices accumulated over centuries. It allows you to rip your gaze away from the eddies swirling on the top of the water to focus on the seismic changes happening deep below.
To keep the Long View in mind, I often stop and ask myself a simple question as I read the news: “What will a historian say about this event in 60 years? How will it fit into the narrative that the historians of the future will share?” With these questions are considered contemporary events take on an entirely new significance.
Expansion of Russia, 1533-1894. Credit: Wikimedia.
As I have watched affairs in Crimea from afar, my thoughts turn to one such ‘Long View’ narrative written by historian S.C.M. Paine. In Dr. Paine’speerlessThe Wars for Asia, 1911-1949 she spares a few paragraphs to explain the broad historical context in which Soviet statesmen made their decisions. She calls this traditional course of Russian statecraft the Russian “strategy for empire”:
“The Communists not only held together all of the tsarist empire but greatly expanded it in World War II. They did so in part by relying on Russia’s traditional and highly successful strategy for empire, which sought security through creeping buffer zones combined with astutely coordinated diplomacy and military operations against weak neighbors to ingest their territory at opportune moments. Russia surrounded itself with buffer zones and failing states. During the tsarist period, the former were called governor-generalships, jurisdictions under military authority for a period of initial colonization and stabilization. Such areas generally contained non-Russian populations and bordered on foreign lands. Russia repeatedly applied the Polish model to its neighbors. Under Catherine the Great, Russia had partitioned Poland three times in the late eighteenth century, crating a country ever less capable of administering its affairs as Russia in combination with Prussia and Austria gradually ate it alive. Great and even middling power on the borders were dangerous. So they must be divided, a fate shared by Poland, the Ottoman Empire, Persia, China, and post World War II, Germany and Korea. It is no coincidence that so many divided states border on Russia. Nor is it coincidence that so many unstable states sit on its periphery” (emphasis added). 
It is difficult to read this description and not see parallels with what is happening in Ukraine now (or what happened in Georgia in 2008). Dr. Paine’s description of Russian foreign policy stretches from the 18th century to the middle of the 20th. Perhaps historians writing 60 years hence will use this same narrative–but extend it well into the 21st.
What self-described realists misunderstand when they pursue their cost-benefit analysis without emotion or regard for principle is that friendship and trust have value. In one chapter of Dancing with the Devil, I explore the history of intelligence politicization. Iraq may now be the marquee example upon which many progressives seize, but intelligence politicization occurred under every president dating back at least to Lyndon Johnson, if not before (the scope of my book was just the past half-century or so). Iraq intelligence was flawed, but the world will get over it, especially since it was consistent with the intelligence gathered by almost every other country and the United Nations. The betrayal of allies, however, is a permanent wound on America’s reputation that will not be easy to overcome.
This is a chronic problem. We were able to get away with being a fickle ally when we acted like a superpower. Our allies had no choice but to deal with us; our adversaries had to be cautious lest they provoke us. We betrayed Kurds, Iraqi Shiites and other groups without paying much of a long-term price. It was easy to be casual about our alliances. We could afford to see one-dimensional cynical calculations of national interest as realism.
But now that we behave like just another country we are beginning to pay more of a cost for our unreliability. Our design margin, in Wretchard’s phrase, has eroded. It is increasingly difficult for us to protect our remaining interests. The Obama foreign policy is an inverse force-multiplier.
Our geopolitical situation is going to deteriorate faster than most Americans expect.
One of the more curious implicit assumptions about the crisis in Ukraine is that the subsequent occupation of the Crimea by Russia represents some kind of triumph for President Vladimir Putin and a defeat for the United States. It is a weird, strategic myopia that comes from an unrealistic belief that the United States should be expected to have a granular level of political control over and responsibility for events on the entire planet. We don’t and never can but this kind of political megalomania leads first to poor analysis and then worse policies. Read the rest of this entry »
Over and over President Zero bungles things that are to me, supposed to be slam dunks. I have blogged about this before but it is now getting to the point where it is driving me crazy.
Yesterday on the way home from work, Bloomberg radio broke in on this hastily arranged presser:
Lets just step outside of the fact that I am sure that Putin and the other principals of the situation are laughing (or cringing, as the case may be), knowing that our administration literally has no clue what to do right now.
My main point is that if you are arranging a presser on a matter of importance, I imagine you may want to understand who the major players are in the scenario. At the 2.21 mark, Obama boots the name of the Ukrainian prime minister. As I was sitting in my car I wondered aloud if he was reading off of a teleprompter, or was going off the cuff. I am glad I found the video above, but it doesn’t really answer my question completely.
After looking at it a few times, I am not sure if he was unable to pronounce the name, or if it wasn’t on the cue cards he was reading off of. Either way, he looks like a dunce, and once again, America looks to be a laughingstock to the rest of the world.
Whether or not Obama’s handlers didn’t have the name on the card or he was unable to pronounce it (at least make a stab at it, Barack!) isn’t really that important in the big picture. What is more important to me is the following.
Are Obama’s handlers this dumb, or is he just blowing them off, or a combination of both? These things like state dinners, quick pressers, and the like that Obama constantly bungles should be no-brainers, and the work should be 100% correct each and every time. No excuses.
The ongoing Ukraine crisis and the poor reporting of same have pretty much killed this week’s History Friday column for me, so I will yield to my muse and go with it in providing this background information to the Ukraine Crisis.
1. President Viktor Yanukovych was a tyrant in the pocket of President Putin of Russia. His election in 2010 saw Ukraine turn increasingly into a police state with on-going death squad actions against protestors. Political opponents like Yulia Tymoshenko have been imprisoned and beaten. American National Public Radio has reported for some months on the activities of these Yanukovych aligned death squads going into Ukrainian hospitals to “disappear” wounded protestors getting medical treatment. Tortured bodies of some of them are found days or weeks later. President Viktor Yanukovych utterly honked off the entire non-Russian speaking Ukrainian population through these actions.
2. The Euromaidan movement is not just a grass roots movement. It is a political coalition that is in part a tool of Ukrainian oligarchs that don’t want to go extinct like the Russian oligarchs did under Putin. This means they play rough. And by rough I mean they are forming road blocks and threatening anyone with high end autos on the theory they are Yanukovych supporters.
Likely a good part of the reason that Ukraine police melted away from Yanukovych involved threats to police families and property. There were not enough Eastern and Crimean Ukrainians in the Kiev police units supporting the Berkut to keep it all from melting away
3. The timing of this Euromaidan takeover was no accident. The key development in this crisis was the Ukrainian Military refusing to come out of its barracks to shoot protestors with heavy weapons a la Tiananmen Square. Without the ultimate force sanction of military heavy weapons, President Viktor Yanukovych could not win a forceful confrontation without outside Russian military action. He had to hold on through the Olympics to get it, but he and his inner circle of supporters suffered a classic case of elite collapse of will. Euromaidan and its outside supporters knew that from the get-go. Which brings us to…
4. Euromaidan had outside European help. That help was Polish. See this text and the link below it for the full article:
The Polish government has been funding civil society projects in ex-Soviet countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova, with much of the aid channeled through a fund controlled by Mr Sikorski’s ministry.
Recipients of Polish government money include opposition television stations operating in exile from Belarus, giving Poland influence in a country that, after Ukraine, could be the scene of the next confrontation between Russia and the West.
Such Polish activism arouses suspicion in Moscow, where centuries of rivalry between the two big Slavic powers, Roman Catholic Poland in the West and Orthodox Russia in the East, were marked by repeated wars and invasions in either direction.
It seems that Jesus Christ returned to earth, sometime during the sixteenth century…at least, this is the premise of the parable that Ivan relates to Alyosha, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. The city to which Christ came was Seville, where on the previous day before almost a hundred heretics had been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, “in a magnificent auto da fe, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville. He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognised Him.”
But the Grand Inquisitor observes the way in which people are being irresistibly drawn to Jesus, and causes him to be arrested and taken away.
The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on. The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy Inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, ‘breathless’ night of Seville. The air is ‘fragrant with laurel and lemon.’ In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.
“‘Is it Thou? Thou?’ but receiving no answer, he adds at once. ‘Don’t answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us?
Both the Iranian democracy activists then and the Ukrainian protesters today demonstrated through their actions that they do not seek the mere overthrow of unrepresentative, repressive governments. They seek freedom, and are willing to work for it. All the Iranians needed then, and all the Ukrainians ask for today, is assistance from foreign powers, just as George Washington’s Continental Army required French assistance to defeat the British Empire.
While those are easy cases to understand, the lesson of Putin’s Russia and of post-Saddam Iraq is that freedom doesn’t sprout from thin air. The only way to plant democracy in nations unfamiliar with the habits of liberty is to cultivate them, relentlessly and unapologetically, over time.
A recent documentary on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia is titled “Putin’s Games” and is summarized here. The movie has not been released yet but I intend to see it as soon as it becomes available. According to the web, the movie discusses the 1) bribes that Russia paid to win the games 2) the vast corruption occurring during construction 3) other ill effects of citing siting the games in a sub-tropical climate.
The documentary interviews a billionaire Russian who fled to the UK after refusing to pay immense bribes during construction:
“We received explicit threats: ‘You’ll be soaked with blood; drowned in blood,’” he said. “It was very straightforward. We know the history. Russia generally does not care much for human life.”
As far as bribing Olympic officials to beat Austria in order to get the games originally…
The money thrown around by the Kremlin to ensure that Russia was awarded the games is also revealed in the film. Karl Schranz, a former Austrian Olympic skiing champion and personal adviser to Mr Putin on bringing the Olympics to Sochi, talks about the big-money lobbying that went into the games – cash that Leonid Tyagetschev, the former head of Russia’s Olympic Committee, said was “practically unlimited.” The money was used to lobby for Sochi and against Salzburg, which was also in the running before, in 2007, the International Olympic Committee to give the games to Russia.
The Olympic Committees are against the release of this documentary and per the article:
Such was the displeasure of the International Olympic Committee when it heard of it that it refused to allow the use of the word “Olympic” in the title, or the use of any archived Olympic footage. They also wrote accusing the producers of making a “politically motivated” hatchet-job.
After rewarding the games to serial human rights violators in China and Russia, how can the Olympics even pretend to have a shred of credibility? It is astounding that they would call a documentary filmmaker who explains how Putin’s Russia is a hotbed of corruption a “hatchet-job”. What did they think would happen when you chose Russia for the winter Olympics? They need to read the biography of Putin by Judah, since this fiasco was all preordained.
(This is a rerun, with minor edits, of a post from 2012)
This month marks the 51st anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.
Last year I read Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I’m still hoping to get around to reviewing one of these days.
Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.
At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.
Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”
Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 14th September 2013 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
I read left wing blogs most days to see what the other side thinks. I used to comment but the comments were usually deleted, often without notice, so the nasty responses to my comments would be there the next day but the offending comments would not appear.
The Huffington Post has become a very successful left wing site that advertises itself as moderate. I skim it most days and occasionally comment although my comments are all moderated and I can’t tell if they are deleted or not. I have a few followers so some must appear. Today I went there to see what the left thinks of the Syrian fiasco. The headline was not reassuring. That may change soon but it says “We Have a Deal !” The story follows with a rather naive heading.
The story has over 14 thousand comments, double the number when I read the story earlier this morning. The story is bad enough.
A diplomatic breakthrough Saturday on securing and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile averted the threat of U.S. military action for the moment and could swing momentum toward ending a horrific civil war.
Marathon negotiations between U.S. and Russian diplomats at a Geneva hotel produced a sweeping agreement that will require one of the most ambitious arms-control efforts in history.
The deal involves making an inventory and seizing all components of Syria’s chemical weapons program and imposing penalties if President Bashar Assad’s government fails to comply will the terms.
After days of intense day-and-night negotiations between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and their teams, the two powers announced they had a framework for ridding the world of Syria’s chemicals weapons.
By showing that Obama’s America is unable and unwilling to keep its promises, Putin has widened the leadership void in the Middle East—as a prelude to filling it himself. By helping to clear Iran’s path to a bomb, Putin positions himself as Iran’s most powerful ally—while paradoxically gaining greater leverage with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States, who would much rather negotiate with Russia than with Iran, their sworn enemy. While the Americans were heading out of the Middle East, and the Chinese were too busy with their own internal debates about the future of their economy and society, Putin saw that something valuable had been abandoned on the world stage, and he took it. For the price of 1,000 dead civilians in Damascus, he has gained great power status in the oil-rich Middle East. Iran, for its part, gets the bomb, which isn’t great news for anyone, but was probably going to happen anyway.
[. . .]
Only time will tell whose evil is worse—Putin’s or Obama’s. While Putin delights in using the old-school KGB playbook to consolidate his one-man rule, and to expose the empty moral posturing of the West, Obama believes that he can talk his way into a workable accommodation between his own sense of morality and global reality. But the lesson of Obama’s fig leaf is that it is better to be honest about what we are doing in the world and why. If Putin baited a trap for the United States in Damascus, it was Obama who walked right into it. If Obama had stood up and declared that the United States had no vital interest in Syria but would stop Iran from getting nukes—and would prosecute the authors of the nerve-gas attack at The Hague—then Putin would have been trapped. The same would have been true if Obama had said nothing and blown up two or three of Assad’s palaces. But he did neither. Sometimes, well-meaning lies and political spin can be just as deadly, in the end, as nerve gas.
Max von Oppenheim was a German ancient historian, and archaeologist who also worked as a diplomat and spy for the German Empire during the First World War. In those latter two capacities, he basically tried to incite Jihad against the Entente powers. From Wikipedia:
During World War I, Oppenheim led the Intelligence Bureau for the East and was closely associated with German plans to initiate and support a rebellion in India and in Egypt. In 1915 Henry McMahon reported that Oppenheim had been encouraging the massacre of Armenians in Mosques.
Oppenheim had been called to the Wilhelmstrasse from his Kurfurstendamm flat on 2 August 1914 and given the rank of Minister of Residence. He began establishing Berlin as a centre for pan-Islamic propaganda publishing anti-Entente texts. On August 18 1914 he wrote to Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg to tell him that Germany must arm the Muslim brotherhoods of Libya, Sudan and Yemen and fund Arab exile pretenders like the deposed Egyptian Khedive, Abbas Hilmi. He believed Germany must incite anti-colonial rebellion in French North Africa and Russian Central Asia and incite Habibullah Khan, the Emir of Afghanistan, to invade British India at the head of an Islamic army. Oppenheim’s Exposé Concerning the Revolutionizing of the Islamic territories of our enemies contained holy war propaganda and ‘sketched out a blueprint for a global jihad engulfing hundreds of millions of people’. Armenians and Maronite Christians were dismissed as Entente sympathizers, quite useless to Germany nicht viel nutzen konnen. 
Because Germany was not an Islamic power the war on the Entente powers needed to be ‘endorsed with the seal of the Sultan-Caliph’ and on 14 November 1914 in a ceremony at Fatih Mosque the first ever global jihad had been inaugurated. The impetus for this move came from the German government, which subsidized distribution of the Ottoman holy war fetvas, and most of the accompanying commentaries from Muslim jurists, and Oppenheim’s jihad bureau played a significant role. By the end of November 1914 the jihad fetvas had been translated into French, Arabic, Persian and Urdu. Thousands of pamphlets emerged under Oppenheim’s direction in Berlin at this period and his Exposé declared that, “the blood of infidels in the Islamic lands may be shed with impunity”, the “killing of the infidels who rule over the Islamic lands” , meaning British, French, Russian, and possibly Dutch and Italian nationals, had become ” a sacred duty”. And Oppenheim’s instructions, distinct from traditional ‘jihad by campaign’ led by the Caliph, urged the use of ‘individual Jihad’, assassinations of Entente officials with ‘cutting, killing instruments’ and ‘Jihad by bands’,- secret formations in Egypt, India and Central Asia.
“During the First World War, he worked in the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, where he founded the so-called “message Centre for the Middle East”, as well as at the German Embassy in Istanbul. He sought to mobilize the Islamic population of the Middle East against England during the war and can be seen thus almost as a German counterpart to Lawrence of Arabia. The AA pursued a strategy of Islamic revolts in the colonial hinterland of the German enemy. The spiritual father of this double approach, the war first, by troops on the front line and secondly by people’s rebellion “in depth” was by Oppenheim.”
The German adventurer met with very little success in World War I. To this day, the British see him as a “master spy” because he founded the magazine El Jihad in 1914 in an effort to incite the Arabs to wage a holy war against the British and French occupiers in the Middle East. But his adversary Lawrence of Arabia, whom he knew personally, was far more successful at fomenting revolts.
Lawrence of Arabia, aka T. E. Lawrence was successful because he didn’t appeal to religious fervor, but rather to the far more basic sentiment of ethnic solidarity against an oppressor of different ethnic origin. In other words, the Arabs cared far more about their struggle against the Turkish Empire than they did about religion, leave alone jihad.
Re-reading Doctor Zhivago, I was struck by the following passage:
That’s just the point, Larisa Feodorovna. There are limits to everything. In all this time something definite should have been achieved. But it turns out that those who inspired the revolution aren’t at home in anything except change and turmoil, they aren’t happy with anything that’s on less than a world scale. For them transitional periods, worlds in the making, are an end in themselves. They aren’t trained for anything else, they don’t know anything except that. And do you know why these never-ending preparations are so futile? It’s because these men haven’t any real capacities, they are incompetent. Man is born to live, not to prepare for life. Life itself, the phenomenon of life, the gift of life, is so breath-takingly serious. So why substitute this childish harlequinade of immature fantasies, these schoolboy escapades?
Zhivago’s words here provide an interesting parallel to the observations of Sebasian Haffner from inter-war Germany…
Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin is a recent book on Russia and Putin, published by the author Ben Judah. This book has been recognized by sources such as Bloomberg as an important book on modern Russia. Here is the review I put up at Amazon.com (I bought the book on Kindle) and I strongly recommend this book and the author, as well.
I picked up this book based on positive reviews in Bloomberg and elsewhere and was very impressed. I have a reasonably good understanding of Russia based on military history and a decent understanding of the global energy business.
The first thing that comes to my mind is how brave the author must be to go around Russia asking questions about Putin. From my understanding and this book that is a very risky thing to do since the primary purpose of the security apparatus in Russia is to keep Putin in power.
The book follows Putin from the chaos in post-collapse St Petersburg where he worked for a local politician through his election to presidency, the Medvedev years (which were actually the Putin years), and then back into his current stint in charge.
The book is not all negative about Putin, which is what I find most interesting. The oligarchs that took control of the energy and media companies were extremely un popular and Putin brought them to heel. This was in fact popular among much of the population. He also took energy revenues and used them to pay some salaries and pensions and bring some modest amount of stability to the poor. And Moscow was substantially re built with sky scrapers and other elements. He also resolved (for the time being) the situation in Chechnya by allying with the current warlord and this momentarily resolved a horrible active war that was being fought in an embarrassing way for Russia.
It is very interesting to see how close associates of Putin, even those in his Judo club and KGB days, have become billionaires. They have taken control of the energy infrastructure and then a swiss trading function is another source of his supposed vast personal wealth (unproven).
Judah talks to Navalny, the activist against Putin’s latest election, and this is insightful because today Navalny is subject to a phantom prosecution designed to deter him from elective office. You can jump between the articles in the book and the latest news and this is very helpful.
There is a lot in this book. It covers an amazing amount of topics from coast to coast, including the border wars with China and the far, Far East. The author attempts nothing less than a comprehensive, border to border analysis of modern Russia.
I will be writing multiple blog posts out of the concepts in this book, including their relations with China, governance, and the links to the global energy industry. Once again, I cannot recommend this book highly enough and works such as this when the author dared to traverse all of Russia and ask people about a man who hates people asking questions, need to be supported.
I read Bloomberg every day. My WSJ online page is dusty to use an offline analogy compared to Bloomberg (although I skip over his gun control diatribes).
In this article titled “Putin Dividend Push Flops as Micex Discount at 4-year High” they discuss how the Russian stock index sports an extremely low price / earnings ratio of 5 and by other measures’ as well they are valued about half their “BRIC” peers. Putin was attempting to cajole Russian companies into paying larger dividends to increase this ratio but it largely has fallen on deaf ears. The final (cheeky) paragraph illustrates why Bloomberg knows how to write:
“The Russian corporate sector would do almost anything on earth to be seen as modern and transparent, Eric Kraus, a managing director at Nikitsky Capital in Moscow, where he manages about $200 million in assets, said by e-mail on May 28. “Anything but pay fair dividends, respect minority interests in corporate transactions, or allow truly independent directors. There is a disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality.”
The second part of the response is that an outsourced, privatized jihad will probably be increasingly met by privatized security regime based on reputation. With the government unwilling to profile in a increasingly vulnerable public space some entrepreneurs may create members-only events where attendance is limited to pre-cleared individuals who pay to have themselves vetted.
I think this has merit.
UPDATE: There have been three more arrests of young people with heavy Russian accents near U Mass. They had a car, a BMW, with the license plate “terrorista #1. Photos at the link.
One jihadist is dead and the other is in custody. The younger bomber’s wounds have not been described so it is impossible to say if he will survive. The emergency is over and now it is time to think about why this happened. It now appears that both young men were long time residents of this country and, at least the younger was a citizen. Both had registered to vote, according to Nexis. The older brother was married with a child. His wife had converted to Islam and, according to reports yesterday, was wearing a full chador when she was taken from their home protesting about a male FBI agent handling a Muslim woman. She was lucky, as one commenter observed, that she was not strip searched as Chechen women have been prominent in terrorism cases in Russia, sometimes as suicide bombers wearing bomb belts.
The majority [of suicide bombers] are male, but a huge fraction — over 40 percent — are women. Although foreign suicide attackers are not unheard of in Chechnya, of the 42 for whom we can determine place of birth, 38 were from the Caucasus. Something is driving Chechen suicide bombers, but it is hardly global jihad.
I doubt the Times’ insistence on the absence of Islamist motives although Chechens have been at war with Russians for centuries. The suicide bomb is a common weapon for jihadists. The Palestinian “Mother of Martyrs” comes to mind.
Mariam Farhat, who said she wished she had 100 sons to die while attacking Israelis, died in a Gaza city hospital of health complications including lung ailments and kidney failure, health official Ashraf Al-Kidra said. She was 64.