Filed under: Europe, Foreign Policy, National Security, Politics, Progressivism, Russia, The United States | Tags: Foreign Policy Failure, Putin Is Not Our Friend, Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin just pitched the post Cold War rule-book out the window, and the European countries are understandably nervous. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement that he wants to downsize the military to the size it was before World War II, may go down in history as the most inappropriate announcement ever made by a cabinet member.
The White House spin machine is telling friendly reporters that Vladimir Putin has fallen into a trap, which may be carrying the idea of “spin” a little too far. Walter Russell Mead said “Putin is increasingly likely to go down in history as a failed state builder, a man who took Russia down the wrong path and who added to the burden of Russian history.”
But those are long term considerations that, unfortunately for the diligent White House staffers working to spin the next news cycle, won’t help the President now. In the short term President Putin has put President Obama in an ugly spot. President Obama’s foreign policy depends on three big ideas: that a working relationship with Russia can help the United States stabilize the Middle East, that a number of American adversaries are willing to settle their differences with us on the basis of compromises that we can accept, and that President Obama has the smarts to know who we can trust.
Putin’s attack on Ukraine calls all three propositions into question. What Obama’s belief in the possibility of deals with countries like Russia and Iran leaves out is that some countries around the world may count the reduction of American power and prestige among their vital interests. They may not be hampering and thwarting us because we are unnecessarily and arbitrarily blocking their path toward a reasonable goal; they may be hampering and frustrating us because curbing our power is one of their central objectives. This is not necessarily irrational behavior from their point of view; American power is not a good thing if you hate the post-Cold War status quo, and it can make sense to sacrifice the advantages of a particular compromise with the United States if as a result you can reduce America’s ability to interfere with your broader goals.
Washington’s flat-footed, deer-in-the-headlights incomprehension about Russia’s Crimean adventure undermines President Obama’s broader credibility in a deeply damaging way. If he could be this blind and misguided about Vladimir Putin, how smart is he about the Ayatollah Khameni, a much more difficult figure to read? President Obama is about to have a difficult meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he will tell Netanyahu essentially that Israel should ground its national security policy on the wisdom of President Obama and his profound grasp of the forces of history. The effect will be somewhat undermined by President Obama’s failure to understand the most elementary things about Vladimir Putin.
Foreign policy is harder than it looks, and Mr. Obama’s foreign policy team is not an impressive bunch. Will the American public see this as just another case of difficult foreigners doing bad things in some little-known country, or will they see this as clear evidence that this president is too naive and too passive and he is endangering the country?
Secretary Kerry said huffily on Face the Nation: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country. That’s not the act of somebody who’s strong, Putin is acting out of “weakness” and “desperation.”
It’s easier to threaten friends. They probably won’t do anything. Obama said essentially that if Israel wouldn’t agree to the U.S. idea of a peace deal with the Palestinians, then the U.S. won’t be able to defend Israel if the peace talks fail. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which began last July, have made no visible progress. Palestine refuses to recognize the right of the Israeli state to exist, won’t stop shooting rockets into Israel, continues to teach its small children that martyrdom in the interest of killing Jews is a holy aim, and insists of the ‘right of return.’ Obama’s ideas about Israel were likely formed by his friendship with the radical Palestinian professor Rashid Khalidi. He does not change his mind.
Filed under: Democrat Corruption, Europe, Foreign Policy, Intelligence, National Security, Russia, The United States | Tags: Obama Draws Another Line, Putin's Russia, Ukraine
The Ukrainian government’s assault on protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square has shocked the world. The European Union is being forced to reexamine some of their assumptions about foreign policy. After the horrendous killings of protesters, President Obama, backed by his sterling foreign policy team, Chuck Hagel, Susan Rice and Joe Biden, said “There will be consequences if people step over the line.”
No one took that warning seriously. There is a fundamental shift we are witnessing in the national-security strategy of the United States, and this one means big repercussions for the world. Government snipers kept right on shooting protesters, and Obama’s passive statement merely reminded the world of all his previous red lines.
Talks mediated by three EU foreign ministers and a Russian envoy, got Viktor Yanukovych to agree to stop the violence, share power and hold early elections. Later on Friday, the Ukrainian parliament unanimously restored the 2004 constitution which curtails presidential powers. Mr. Yanukovych has lost control over the chamber, which also voted to release his predecessor, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed on trumped-up charges in 2011. Government riot police which had used live ammunition against civilians, withdrew from the capital’s center.
A new “national unity” government is to be created within 10 days to work out other constitutional changes to strengthen Ukraine’s democracy. Presidential elections will be held before the end of the year.
Yanukovych has fled Kiev for the city of Kharkiv. The protesters want Yanukovych to resign. He says he is not resigning, and may just be attempting to shore up support. Russia is reportedly prepared to fight a war over the Ukrainian territory of Crimea to protect the ethnic Russian population and the military base there. Russian officials say in private that Ukraine falls inside Russia’s sphere of influence.
“We will not allow Europe and the US to take Ukraine from us. The states of the former Soviet Union, we are one family,” said a foreign policy official. “They think Russia is still as weak as in the early 1990s but we are not.”
There is no scenario where Yanukovych resigns and the opposition takes over. Putin does not intend to lose the Ukraine. Yanukovych has enriched himself and his family since taking power in 2010, but his popularity has declined as the corruption has gone up. The people want a clear path into the EU and NATO, the clubs of a free Europe. They have experienced Russian domination, and don’t like it. And the Holodomor may have been long ago, but it is not forgotten. For Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, the possibility that a united Ukraine might desert Russia and join Europe is completely unacceptable. The situation is — fluid.
Filed under: Environment, History, Movies, News, United Kingdom | Tags: Historic Icebreaker Photos, Sir Ernest Shackleton, The Endurance Expedition
The Week has assembled a group of historic photographs of icebreakers here, from a much longer historical photography collection from the U.S.Coast Guard, showing icebreaking since the mid 1800s. You start getting interested in the Arctic and Antarctic, and explorations and rescues, and first thing you know, you’re collecting every book you can find about Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton’s Antarctic explorations and the Endurance, and then you get the 2002 Kenneth Branagh film (excellent) and books about the incredible expedition and examples of leadership, survival and courage, and you’re hooked. You’ll be ordering up the whiskey reproduced from the Scotch Whiskey buried for a hundred years, in Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition Hut. There’s even a book about that.
Filed under: Entertainment, Humor, Pop Culture, Television, United Kingdom | Tags: How Can He Be Alive?, Mystery Upon Mystery, Sherlock Holmes
O.K. So how can he be still alive? You saw him fall off the building. You saw him dead. A major tease from the BBC.
Filed under: Entertainment, Movies, United Kingdom | Tags: Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O'Toole, The Lion in Winter
Consummate actor Peter O’Toole has died in London at the age of 81.
From Lawrence of Arabia which brought him to stardom, he brought much pleasure to world audiences over the years. And there was Becket, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye Mr. Chips, My Favorite Year, and even the Pixar animated Ratatouille. So many memories. His movies will live on.
Filed under: Australia, Canada, Freedom, History, The United States, United Kingdom | Tags: Free Markets / Free People, Individual Liberty, The Anglosphere
In “Inventing Freedom”, Daniel Hannan reflects on the historical origin and spread of the principles that have made America great, and their role in creating a sphere of economic and political liberty that is as crucial as it is imperiled. Hannan argues that the ideas and institutions we consider essential to maintaining and preserving our freedoms — individual rights, private property, the rule of law, and the institutions of representative government — are the legacy of a very specific tradition that was born in England and that we Americans, along with other former British colonies, inherited.
Filed under: Europe, Intelligence, Iran, National Security, Politics, The United States | Tags: American Intelligence, Foreign Policy, The NSA Flap
How do governments find out what other countries are thinking, what they really plan, what they are talking about behind the scenes? Read the papers? Listen to the speeches? Hang around people who might know something? Yes, and much more. Nations need intelligence about what other nations may do. Nations have interests, and nations have allies, but we still need to know what’s going on behind the facade. So do they. Nations spy. So what? When a spy infiltrates the government of another nation, they try to root it out, and may send him to prison or shoot him.
For some real insight into the current flap about the revelations of whashis name Edward Snowden, please read this piece by a career diplomat who has served in many parts of the world. Actually, add him to your blog list while you’re at it. He is invaluable.
Hardly necessary to emphasize the absurdity of Germany, France, and other nations getting so huffy about American taps on their communications. American outrage about communication monitoring has given other nations room to pose. Their citizens will act as if the United States has treated them with intolerable suspicion, and believe that the American president may have lost control of his own intelligence services and they have become victims. Germany and other nations have shown no commitment to hard power or in taking sides. Europe has long settled comfortably under the umbrella of American power. With Mr. Obama trying hard to diminish American power, other nations are getting nervous. It’s easier to feel put upon by the Americans.
Will Mrs. Merkel say again, as she did in 2007, “For me, as German chancellor, Israel’s security is never negotiable. Protecting Israel is part of my country’s reason of state. I believe that an hour of truth has now arrived when we must show we stand by our word.
Funny how the chancellor of the world’s third-largest arms-dealing country, in her reluctance to talk of any use of force anywhere, is looking like Mr. Obama’s doppelgänger. Yet she says America needs friends—although surely not ones thinking Washington will want to spy less effectively.
This excerpt from Walter Russell Mead writing on U.S. Negotiations with Iran explains a lot.
Judging from what we see from the outside, the White House does not appear to have a clear strategy in mind at this point, but the trajectory of its internal drift suggests that many there (perhaps including the President) would be ready to sell the Crescent to Iran in exchange for a face-saving, war-avoiding nuclear deal. This is probably how Jerusalem, Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Riyadh are all reading the President’s deep reluctance to take decisive action against Assad. In Jerusalem, this belief leads people to want to engage closely with the Americans in an effort to make sure that any deal addresses Israel’s red lines on nukes and Hezbollah. In Tehran it strengthens the hands of those who favor the course of negotiations; Obama appears willing to pay a substantial price for the nuclear deal and the very act of engaging weakens American power and promotes the Shi’a cause. In Riyadh this perception heightens the rage and fear that people there feel and has led to what, by Saudi standards, is a public tantrum of epic proportions. In Moscow this is seen as both a satisfying symbolic setback for the United States and a substantial victory over the Sunni jihadi threat the Kremlin sees as a major threat. In Beijing it is read as another chapter in the story of American decline.
Filed under: Movies, News of the Weird, United Kingdom | Tags: Emergency Landing, Trite Story Plot, True Life Adventure
It’s a favorite plot, so overused that it has become trite: something happens to the pilot and a passenger, a stewardess, someone who is not a pilot has to be coached into bringing the plane in for a landing. Heard it all too many times, right? Tiresome.
Except it just happened, in England. Officials at Humberside Airport in northwest England put emergency plans into place and called in flight instructors when the pilot of a small Cessna 172 collapsed in the cockpit and his passenger, 77 year-old John Wildey took the controls and began his first landing with help from flight instructors. Soon after he landed, his friend, the pilot, died.
It has always been a possible scenario, as so many scary situations are — and sometimes they turn real. Here’s the full story;