The entire Trump-Russia collusion narrative was always implausible.
One, the Washington swamp of fixers such as Paul Manafort and John and Tony Podesta was mostly bipartisan and predated Trump.
Two, the Trump administration’s Russia policies were far tougher on Vladimir Putin than were those of Barack Obama. Trump confronted Russia in Syria, upped defense spending, increased sanctions and kept the price of oil down through massive new U.S. energy production. He did not engineer a Russian “reset” or get caught on a hot mic offering a self-interested hiatus in tensions with Russia in order to help his own re-election bid.
Three, Russia has a long history of trying to warp U.S. elections that both predated Trump and earned only prior lukewarm pushback from the Obama administration.
One of the more depressing things in watching Vladimir Putin is the manner in which Russian “experts” at home have for years now all but cheered him on. In the latest Nation magazine, Stephen Cohen has written one of the most embarrassing apologies of Putin’s imperialistic misadventures imaginable. A Russian state public-relations official could not have offered a shakier contextualization of Russian expansionism.
In the last few years someone named Mark Adomanis (who identifies himself as “I specialize in Russian economics and demographics”) has perhaps offered the most unfortunate apologies for Putin’s Russia and the serially excused reset as proof of a strong Obama foreign policy (“Perhaps I am a deeply unserious person, but I think it is not only possible to ‘seriously’ argue that 2012 Russia is more reasonable towards the United States but that it is quite easy to do so”.) He routinely chastised skeptics (me in particular in often ad hominem style) for suggesting that reset with Russia would only empower Putin’s authoritarianism, weaken our Eastern European allies, and project a dangerous sense of U.S. indecision and vulnerability. At the time (2012) Adomanis ridiculed any suggestion that reset was counterproductive. In a 2012 piece that unfortunately bragged “One does not need to be a proselytizer for “the reset” to note that American-Russian relations are better now than they were when Obama first took office,” he argued,
Our elites often diagnose Vladimir Putin as acting from “weakness” in his many aggressions.
A list of Russia’s symptoms of feebleness follows: demographic crises, alcoholism, declining longevity, a one-dimensional economy, corruption, environmental damage, etc. But weakness is a relative concept in matters of high-stakes aggression.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a disaster of a declining population, corruption, authoritarianism, a warped economy, and a high rate of alcoholism.
Why, then, would Putin want to ruin additional territory in Crimea and Ukraine the way that he has wrecked most of Russia?
Doesn’t Russia have enough land for its diminishing population? Are there not enough minerals, timber, gas, and oil for Putin’s kleptocrats?
In the modern age, especially since Karl Marx, we rationalize the causes of wars as understandable fights over real things, like access to ports, oil fields, good farmland, and the like. Yet in the last 2,500 years of Western history, nations have just as often invaded and attacked each other for intangibles. The historian Thucydides wrote that the classical Athenians had won and kept their empire mostly out of “fear, honor, and self-interest.”
Maybe that was why most battles in ancient Greece broke out over rocky and mountainous borderlands. Possession of these largely worthless corridors did not add to the material riches of the Spartans, Thebans, or Athenians. But dying for such victories did wonders for their national pride and collective sense of self.
Why did the Argentine dictatorship invade the British Falkland Islands in 1982? The great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges dismissed the entire Argentine–British dispute over the isolated, windswept rocks as a pathetic fight between “two bald men over a comb.”
Taking the “Malvinas” apparently was critical to restoring the Argentine dictatorship’s lost pride. In contrast, the descendants of Lord Nelson were not about to allow a few peacock generals to insult the honor of the British Royal Navy.
Doesn’t China have enough land without starting a beef with Japan over the uninhabited Senkaku Islands? While there may be some oil in the vicinity, apparently both sides see these desolate mountainous islets as symbols of more important issues of national prestige and will. Lose the Senkaku Islands and what larger island goes next? Continue reading “What Drives Vladimir Putin?”→
President Obama talks about Vladimir Putin as if he were a Pennsylvania “clinger” who operates on outdated principles, who is driven by fear, and whom unfortunately the post-Enlightenment mind of even Barack Obama
cannot always reach. Deconstruct a recent CBS News interview with President Obama, and the limitations of his now-routine psychoanalyses are all too clear. Consider the following presidential assertions:
Obama said in the CBS interview that Vladimir Putin was “willing to show a deeply held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union.”
Is that any surprise? Why would Putin not “show a deeply held grievance” — given that Russians enjoyed far more pride and influence when they had far more territory and power than they do now? Just because elites in the West might consider Denmark and Luxembourg model societies, given their per capita incomes, ample social services, high-speed mass transit, and climate-change sensitivities, does not necessarily mean that the grandchildren of Stalingrad and Leningrad would agree. Continue reading “Obama’s Enlightened Foolery”→
The Roosevelt administration once talked loudly of pivoting to Asia to thwart a rising Japan. As a token of its seriousness, in May 1940 it moved the home port of the Seventh Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor — but without beefing up the fleet’s strength.
The then-commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral James O. Richardson, an expert on the Japanese Imperial Navy, protested vehemently over such a reckless redeployment. He felt that the move might invite, but could not guard against, surprise attack.
Richardson was eventually relieved of his command and his career was ruined — even as he was later proved right when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Britain at the same time promoted a loud Singapore Strategy, trumpeting its Malaysian base as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific.” But London did not send out up-to-date planes, carriers, or gunnery to the Pacific.
Japan was not impressed. It surprise-attacked the base right after Pearl Harbor. The British surrendered Singapore in February 1942, in the most ignominious defeat in British military history.
By 1949, the U.S. was pledged to containing the expansion of Communism in Asia — even as Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson (who had been chief fundraiser for Truman’s 1948 campaign) declared that the Navy and Marines were obsolete. He began to slash both their budgets. Continue reading “Loud + Weak = War”→
Vladimir Putin thinks he has a winning formula to restore the global clout of the old Soviet Union. Contemporary Russia is a chaotic, shrinking, and petrodollar-fed kleptocracy. It certainly lacks the population, the vast resources, and territory of its former communist incarnation. For Putin, restoring a lot of the latter without necessarily the former failed communist state makes sense — especially if he can do it on the cheap with passive-aggressive diplomacy and not getting into a shooting war with the far more powerful U.S. If there is a downside for Putin annexing the Crimea in the short term, no one has yet to explain it. Continue reading “Of Pre- and Postmodern Poseurs”→
The crisis in Ukraine is just the latest in a long series of foreign policy failures brought about by the incoherence in our thinking about foreign relations. On the one hand, we have championed ethnic-national self-determination as the highest international good, while on the other we have assumed that all these various nations and peoples share the same ideals, principles, and goods, and so can comprise a transnational order that will eliminate war and conflict and create peace and prosperity. Over a hundred years of history reveal these ideals not just to be incompatible, but also to foment and worsen inter-state violence. Continue reading “The Incoherence of Western Foreign Policy”→
Vladimir Putin, playing geopolitical chess while our president plays tiddlywinks, has effectively taken over Crimea. Armed men, looking suspiciously like Russian military personnel, have seized both airports and established border checkpoints decorated with Kalashnikovs and Russian flags. This comes after other armed men seized two government buildings and raised Russian flags, as the legislature appointed a pro-Russian regional
leader. Meanwhile Russian military forces are gathering on the border, with Russia’s parliament unanimously voting to approve deploying troops in Ukraine.
This is just Putin’s latest revanchist expansion of Russian power throughout the region. He’s been at this for a while. Remember that during the Bush administration he stole chunks of Moldova and Georgia, using the same argument of ethnic self-determination that served Hitler so well in 1938, when he made the Sudeten Germans the pretext for gobbling up Czechoslovakia. Remember when in 2005 Putin said that after the collapse of the Soviet Union––the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century, as he put it–– “tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory”? And just as England and France did nothing except talk about Hitler’s aggression, so too the West has blustered Continue reading “Sacrificing the Military to Entitlements”→
Each step to the present Ukrainian predicament was in and of itself hardly earth-shattering and was sort of framed by Obama’s open-mic assurance to Medvedev to tell Vladimir that he would more flexible after the election.
Indeed, Obama, as is his wont, always had mellifluous and sophistic arguments for why we had to take every soldier out of Iraq after the successful surge; why we needed to drop missile defense with the Poles and Czechs; why we needed both a surge and simultaneous deadline to end the surge in Afghanistan; why we first issued serial deadlines to Iran to ask them to please stop proliferation, then just quit the sanctions altogether just as they started to work; why we needed to “lead from behind” in Libya; why the Muslim Brotherhood was largely secular and legitimate and then later not so much so; why we issued redlines and bragged about Putin’s “help” to eliminate WMD in Syria, and were going to bomb and then not bomb and then maybe bomb; why we kept pressuring Israel; why we cozied up to an increasingly dictatorial Turkey; why we reached out to Cuba and Venezuela; and why we sometimes embarrassed old allies like Britain, Canada, and Israel. Continue reading “The Stepping Stones to the Ukraine Crisis”→