Potpourri 8/22/18

1

As a means of exposing those who insist of seeing Russian President Vladimir Putin as a reincarnation of Josef Stalin, it would be good to look at Putin’s relationship with the great Soviet dissident and anti-communist hero, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose centenary we celebrate this year.

Discussing the cooling of relations between Russia and the West, Solzhenitsyn’s analysis of the history of the previous fifteen years highlighted the sharpness with which he viewed contemporary events. When he had returned to Russia he discovered that the West was “practically being worshipped.” This was caused “not so much by real knowledge or a conscious choice, but by the natural disgust with the Bolshevik regime and its anti-Western propaganda.” The positive view of many Russians towards the West began to sour following “the cruel NATO bombings of Serbia”: “It’s fair to say that all layers of Russian society were deeply and indelibly shocked by those bombings.” The situation worsened as NATO sought to widen its influence to the former Soviet republics. “So, the perception of the West as mostly a ‘knight of democracy’ has been replaced with the disappointed belief that pragmatism, often cynical and selfish, lies at the core of Western policies. For many Russians it was a grave disillusionment, a crushing of ideals.”

As for the West, it was “enjoying its victory after the exhausting Cold War” and was observing the anarchy in Russian under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. It seemed as though Russia was becoming “almost a Third World country and would remain so forever.” In consequence, the re-emergence of Russia as a political power caused unease in the West, a panic “based on erstwhile fears.” It was “too bad” that the West was unable to distinguish between Russia and the Soviet Union.

What more need be said? In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the greatest classic of anti-communist literature is now compulsory reading in all high schools. If the same could be said of the high schools of the United States, we would not have the endemic historical and political ignorance that has led to the widespread sympathy for communism among young Americans. In light of this, and in light of Mr. Putin’s evident admiration for Solzhenitsyn, let’s not try to pretend that Russia is a communist nation. We don’t need to like Vladimir Putin. We don’t need to admire him. But we do need to acknowledge that Russia has moved on from evils of socialism, even as we are in danger of embracing those very same evils.

Joseph Pearce. Can there be any doubt that Putin 2018 is an improvement over Stalin 1948, or the whole sorry history of Russian Communism from the Revolution until collapse?

2

The great flaw in anti-sacramental thinking is its abstracted notion of “spiritual.” It is presumed that for something to be “spiritual,” it must have nothing to do with the material world. That “talking to Jesus” only consists in words spoken in our heads. In truth, it is a preference for the imaginary over the real. The Word did not become flesh only to get our attention so that we would no longer have anything to do with the material world. It is the Word who became flesh Who gives us His Body and His Blood, the waters of Baptism, the marriage bed, the Apostolic ministry, the oil of healing, the laying on of hands, the lifting of the voice and all such things.

Non-sacramental Christianity has a long history of delusional teaching and practices. If the encounter with God is primarily the stuff going on in my head, then the strange results are fairly predictable. Nothing is more subject to manipulation and delusion than our subjectivity ….

Fr. Stephen Freeman, A Mediated Presence – Thank God.

3

I was away from home this afternoon, but caught All Things Considered breaking the news that Michael Cohen would plead guilty and the jury had a Paul Manafort verdict.

(Fade to modest restaurant dinner.)

The silent TV is playing talking heads, claiming (via close captioning) that Cohen fingered Trump in his guilty plea.

Home again at 9:45 pm. Wall Street Journal (Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty, Says Trump Told Him to Pay Off Women) and New York Times (Michael Cohen Says He Arranged Payments to Women at Trump’s Direction) agree that Cohen fingered Trump. Meaning no respect to news on TV — no, actually, I do mean disrespect — only now do I believe the fact or the interpretation.

This should be huge, possibly leading to impeachment. But I have given up political prognosticating because I don’t understand the Vichy Republicans. And I’m not convinced that the cure of impeachment wouldn’t be worse than the disease of Trump anyway.

That’s all I have to say for now. If a gypsy cursed me with “May you live in interesting times,” I do believe the curse “took.”

4

On a brighter and unexpected note, Congress apparently is forgoing August recess to take up budget matters, passing non-controversial spending piecemeal, and doing so in bipartisan fashion.

It’s almost as if someone exercised forethought: “What if Trump ‘shut down’ government because we can’t agree on ‘the wall,’ but the shutdown was entirely harmless mostly because all the no-brainers were passed in August, before the President’s confected crisis of September?”

One cheer out of three.

5

Data point: Reader Matt in VA, a Rod Dreher reader who is non-celibate gay, agrees in substance with Daniel Mattson that, as Mattson put it, “men with homosexual tendencies find it particularly difficult to live out the demands of chastity.” Reader Matt’s version is:

I think it’s absolutely to be expected that a clergy full of gay men will find chastity harder than a clergy full of straight men. Again, it’s so much easier to have quick, furtive sex with another man than it is with a woman.

We’re still in a state of denial that make this controversial enough that only a gay man can say it with minimal blow-back. (Well, gay men and Camille Paglia.)

I shouldn’t say it even apart from political correctness because I can’t back it up except by citing Reader Matt, Mr. Mattson (which I have now done), and Ms. Paglia (who surely has said this somewhere or other). I have neither personal experience nor data nor scholarly literature.

I’m not sure how this relates to Eve Tushnet’s focus on the closet versus the orientation, but it seems to undermine her.

* * * * *

 

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Trimmer callout

Daniel Henninger at the Wall Street Journal accurately describes the Donald Trump foreign policy modus operandi:

The controversy overflowing the banks of the press conference between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is a moment to step back and assess the nonstop maelstrom called the Trump presidency.

Mr. Trump’s famous modus operandi is the art of the deal. Keep everyone guessing and off balance. Decision first, details later. Drive events, stay on offense, force everyone to react. In this, Mr. Trump has succeeded.

No one—from the individuals who work daily in the White House to friends and enemies in foreign capitals—knows what he may do next. A high-ranking official from an Asian ally who visited the Journal’s offices recently was asked if his government has a clear idea of what Mr. Trump wants them to do on trade. “No,” he said, “we do not.”

The whole world is back on its heels, which is where, according to theory, the art-of-the-deal master wants them.

As I read, I thought “This is true, and it describes an autocracy because nobody, including his White House staff, knows what he will do next and nobody is stopping him.”

Frank Bruni of the New York Times observes that “when it comes to babysitting this president, the Republican Party is a lost cause.” Bruni’s remark would have come across as a fairly anodyne liberal New York Times talking point had I not been mulling over Trump as autocrat (setting aside all other attributes).

That observation ramifies. Stay tuned.

Although one might make the case that this level of autocracy is impeachable, it would be a mere academic exercise at this point. If his own party won’t buck him, this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man, in control of the imperial Presidency we’ve built, has it in his tiny hands, guided by his cribbed mind, to cause untold damage in the world — that is, in foreign policy.

Henninger gives Trump much credit for the booming economy and for his judicial nominees.

When Mr. Trump entered office amid a generalized panic among political elites, the first thing some of us noticed was that he was filling his government with first-rate people. To revive the economy, they included economic advisers Gary Cohn and Kevin Hassett, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. On taxes, Paul Ryan and Kevin Brady provided a detailed template. The economy raced to full employment. The stock market boomed.

On the Supreme Court, the most astute minds in the conservative legal movement gave Mr. Trump a list of stellar options. He picked Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. More wins.

Mr. Trump has said that in Mike Pompeo, Jim Mattis and John Bolton he has the foreign-policy team he always wanted. He also said he wanted to do one-on-ones with Messrs. Xi, Kim and Putin. He has done that. The moment has arrived to start listening less to America’s adversaries and more to his own good people. That, in his first year, was the art of the win.

On foreign policy, his competent people are themselves in the dark, and our Narcissist-in-Chief doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Mr. Trump’s supporters say he deserves more time to negotiate wins on these big foreign-policy bets. It’s not going to get better.

(Henninger) Thus, it’s time for “show us the money.”

Trump’s ascendancy has highlighted the warranted discontent of those who’ve been left behind economically. Average is Not Over, and average America does not intend to go off to its Bantustan while the new plutocrats grow ever wealthier.

I think that message has been received. I hope it has been received, anyway, and I’m certainly trying to digest it. Our future is more populist. Restoration of the status quo ante will do average America few favors. This generally fits at least a few of my long-lived notions about course correction for America.

Moreover, the time probably has come (I’m ready at least, and have been ready since the anomalies came to my attention from reading smarter people) to re-examine NATO and our other trans-Atlantic alliances in light of nearly 30 years since the end of the Cold War. But I don’t want Trump-as-autocrat doing it by humiliating our historic allies and engaging in secretive tête-a-tête meetings with Vladimir Putin — and I say that as a Russophile. Rearranging treaties in light of changed facts on the ground needs to be an orderly process.

In 2016, Trump out-performed the polls. People lied or hid their true leanings (because supporting Trump would get you added to The Deplorables by the bien pensants). Having elected their secret favorite, a new tribe has tacitly enacted it own set of smelly tribal orthodoxies, starting with, in effect, “touch not God’s annointed autocrat.”

I’m hoping the current polls’ insane levels of support for Trump among Republicans are again off-base — that people are giving the approved tribal answers while secretly harboring doubts, deep doubts.

I see no reason to believe this except a disorderly and ever-weakening reflex that, under their tribal bluster, my countrymen are sane.

Bruni is calling for a blue wave in November if only to show quisling Republicans that not bucking Trump when appropriate is as dangerous as bucking him. I’m receptive to the idea that having rushed the cockpit of Flight 93 in 2016, wresting the controls from the establishment and putting them in Trump’s tiny hands, it’s time to rush it again and reverse our course.

No, make that “correct our course.” I don’t think there’s any simple going back. But I’m hoping for the emergence of tens of millions of Trimmers.

The ‘trimmer’ is one who disposes his weight so as to keep the ship upon an even keel. And our inspection of his conduct reveals certain general ideas at work … Being concerned to prevent politics from running to extremes, he believes that there is a time for everything and that everything has its time — not providentially, but empirically. He will be found facing in whatever direction the occasion seems to require if the boat is to go even.

May this tribe increase.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Zombie Reaganism lives

Everyone I’ve read has been conceding that Trump was right about the need for NATO Countries in Europe to spend more on their own defense. It sure made sense to me.

But have we thought this through, especially those of us who appreciate that the Cold War is over?

The president’s antagonism at last week’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit was similarly destructive. Mr. Trump called out German Chancellor Angela Merkel for free-riding on the U.S. military. But NATO was formed to defend the West from the Soviets, and Mr. Trump currently is trying to make Russia an ally. While our rapproachement with Russia is long overdue, if Russia is going to become an ally somehow why should NATO increase its military spending? Shouldn’t we be talking about a peace dividend instead?

Germany spends about 1.2% of gross domestic product on defense, less than the 2% target NATO adopted in 2006 and far below the 4% Mr. Trump wants. But Germany’s puny spending level is owing in part to its self-conscious decision after World War II to keep its armed forces small. Does the U.S. really want to change that? NATO’s first secretary general described the purpose of the alliance as keeping the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down. Mr. Trump and his supporters should seek to uphold that mission.

F.H. Buckley. Shouldn’t that be on the table, especially since part of the growning populist/nationalist dissatisfaction with the EU is the perception of growing German hegemony in Europe?

I’ve noted under Trump a reduction of what I (following others) call Zombie Reaganism in economics. But the reflex for a robust, heavily-armed NATO qualifies, too.

Reagan was right for his historic moment. He’s not right for all ages.

Mr. Buckley’s larger point, reformatted:

  • Mr. Trump’s statements and actions often are not admirable.
  • Honest commentary is especially needed now on the right.

Honest commentary on the right might include something stronger than “not admirable,” but Mr. Buckley, author of the forthcoming The Republican Workers Party: How the Trump Victory Drove Everyone Crazy, and Why It Was Just What We Needed, got a lot right. (The telltale colon in the middle of that title marks the author as a lawyer.)

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

For the record

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you may have noted that I’m a bit of a Russophile. Of course, I’m also an Anglophile and increasingly a Francophile, all for various reasons.

But back to Russia.

I’m rooting for Russia to shake off the bad habits of 70 years of Communist tyranny. I’m rooting for its Orthodox Churches, being built at a prodigious rate, to cease being, shall we say, “Potemkin,” but to be full not just on Sunday morning (in contrast to the present religious laxity of nominally Orthodox Russia), but at other services of the liturgical cycle as well. And I’m not rooting for it to become just like us because I think it has potential to do better than that.

I think Russia has again become a scapegoat in our politics. Until the fall of the Soviet Union, opposing the Communists was, understandably, an American obsession, and to an extent became the raison d’être of the Republican party. Now again it’s an obsession, more for the Democrats than for the Republicans, imputed superhuman powers and cunning.

I doubt that Russian trolls influenced the 2016 election. I doubt that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to that or any other end. But I’ll grant you that Vladimir Putin may actually be playing the 12-dimensional chess that Trumpistas impute to President Chaos, and that he and his aides may have noted Russian-exploitable financial vulnerabilities of Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner.(Notably, the U.S. has rarely been competitive with Russia in chess.)

But I do not doubt that Russia, and Putin, were behind the nerve gas poisoning of a former Soviet spy in Great Britain, that it was appalling, and that sanctions are appropriate.

I’ll leave it for another day, perhaps, to lament anything equally appalling that we’ve done.

UPDATE:

It’s not directly relevant to what I wrote above, but the chess nexus made it irresistible. Garry Kasparov, writing of Putin:

When I retired from professional chess in 2005 to join the Russian pro-democracy movement against Putin, I was frequently asked how my chess experience might help me in politics. My answer was that it wouldn’t help much at all, because in chess we had fixed rules and uncertain results, while in Russian politics it was exactly the opposite.

* * * * *

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.

A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.

(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Troll farming

“Have we ever tried to meddle in other countries’ elections?” Laura Ingraham asked former CIA Director James Woolsey this weekend.

With a grin, Woolsey replied, “Oh, probably.”

“We don’t do that anymore though?” Ingraham interrupted. “We don’t mess around in other people’s elections, Jim?”

“Well,” Woolsey said with a smile, “only for a very good cause.”

(Pat Buchanan, who, for the record, I’m aware has gotten “pretty far out there”)

[I]f Putin’s mischief-making constituted an act of war against the United States, then the U.S. has committed acts of war against an astonishingly long list of countries since the end of World War II. One study estimates that we interfered with no fewer than 81 elections in 45 nations from 1946 to 2000. Such efforts have been so brazen and uncontroversial that former CIA Director James Woolsey recently felt comfortable laughing about them with Laura Ingraham on Fox News.

This doesn’t mean that we should respond to Putin’s program of manipulation with indifference. Far from it. But it does mean that a response of self-righteous indignation is risible. To treat such meddling as an act of war on the part of Russia is either to invoke a blatant double standard that permits the U.S. to do things we stridently denounce in others — or it’s to admit that our own actions have been far more pernicious than we like to think. We definitely need to protect the integrity of our elections, but we should do so without placing ourselves unconvincingly on the moral high ground.

(Damon Linker)

If our meddling in other nations’ elections comes as a surprise to you, you really need to get out more.

The indignation and exaggeration about Russian election meddling disgusts me for reasons too numerous to list (well, some of them are at the sub-articulate level, too), but hypocrisy tops the list. Damon Linker is exactly right that we need to respond, but we make ourselves absurd by feigning clean hands. STFU and do what must be done.

Much as I detest 45, trying to portray him as a Manchurian Candidate is absurd. He serves no master save his own massive ego. Even mammon and mistresses are just means to stoke that fire.

UPDATE:

The astonishing thing about Donald Trump’s response to Robert Mueller’s recent indictments is his inability to recognize that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is about something bigger than him. Look closely at Trump’s tweets.

February 16: “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

February 17: “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”

February 18: “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said “it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.” The Russian “hoax” was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!”

Each tweet makes basically the same point: “Sure, Russia may have tried to undermine American democracy. But what really matters is that I never colluded with Putin and won the presidency fair and square.” Even if you believe that Trump is right—that his campaign never assisted Russia’s efforts to swing the election in his favor and that Russia’s efforts had no material effect on its outcome—the narcissism is breathtaking.

(Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, who then goes off the rails by implying that what Russia did was the equivalent of Pearl Harbor or 9/11)

Also, don’t forget the Time magazine story alluded to here.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Game, set, match

Donald J. Trump presumably needs no introduction.

Jim Sciutto is, incredibly enough, CNN Chief National Security Correspondent.

John Cardillo is a Trump and #MAGA buff who has a talk show or something analogous on the net.

David Harsanyi is a Reactionary (his term) who writes for @FDRLST and @NRO.

I quote this Twitter series (to be read in reverse order if you don’t know what’s going on) because, much as I dislike Donald Trump being president, I think Harsanyi has captured the gist of what’s going on:

 

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Not without friction

This afternoon, Migranyan was lecturing on Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Conference on Security Policy, a speech that seems to be Russia’s sole post-Soviet ideological document—and key to understanding how the relationship between Russia and the U.S. reached today’s nadir. Putin, still a painfully awkward speaker at the time, was seven years into his now nearly two-decade reign. Eighteen years prior, in 1989, he had been a KGB officer stationed in Dresden, East Germany, shoveling sensitive documents into a furnace as protesters gathered outside and the Berlin Wall crumbled. Not long after that, the Soviet Union was dead and buried, and the world seemed to have come to a consensus: The Soviet approach to politics—violent, undemocratic—was wrong, even evil. The Western liberal order was a better and more moral form of government.

For a while, Putin had tried to find a role for Russia within that Western order. When Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Soviet president, named him his successor in 1999, Russia was waging war against Islamist separatists in Chechnya. On 9/11, Putin was the first foreign leader to call President George W. Bush, hoping to impress on him that they were now allies in the struggle against terrorism. He tried to be helpful in Afghanistan. But in 2003, Bush ignored his objections to the invasion of Iraq, going around the United Nations Security Council, where Russia has veto power. It was a humiliating reminder that in the eyes of the West, Russia was irrelevant, that “Russian objections carried no weight,” as Migranyan told his students. But to Putin, it was something more: Under the guise of promoting democracy and human rights, Washington had returned to its Cold War–era policy of deposing and installing foreign leaders. Even the open use of military force was now fair game.

In 2007, speaking to the representatives and defenders of the Western order, Putin officially registered his dissent. “Only two decades ago, the world was ideologically and economically split, and its security was provided by the massive strategic potential of two superpowers,” Putin declaimed sullenly. But that order had been replaced by a “unipolar world” dominated only by America. “It is the world of one master, one sovereign.”

A world order controlled by a single country “has nothing in common with democracy,” he noted pointedly. The current order was both “unacceptable” and ineffective. “Unilateral, illegitimate action” only created “new human tragedies and centers of conflict.” He was referring to Iraq, which by that point had descended into sectarian warfare. The time had come, he said, “to rethink the entire architecture of global security.”

This was the protest of a losing side that wanted to renegotiate the terms of surrender, 16 years after the fact. Nonetheless, Putin has spent the decade since that speech making sure that the United States can never again unilaterally maneuver without encountering friction—and, most important, that it can never, ever depose him.

“You should have seen the faces of [John] McCain and [Joe] Lieberman,” a delighted Migranyan told his students, who appeared to be barely listening. The hawkish American senators who attended Putin’s speech “were gobsmacked. Russia had been written off! And Putin committed a mortal sin in Munich: He told the truth.”

The year that followed, Migranyan said, “was the year of deed and action.” Russia went to war with neighboring Georgia in 2008, a move that Migranyan described as a sort of comeuppance for NATO, which had expanded to include other former Soviet republics. But Western encroachment on Russia’s periphery was not the Kremlin’s central grievance.

The U.S., Migranyan complained, had also been meddling directly in Russian politics. American consultants had engineered painful post-Soviet market reforms, enriching themselves all the while, and had helped elect the enfeebled and unpopular Yeltsin to a second term in 1996. The U.S. government directly funded both Russian and American nongovernmental organizations, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, to promote democracy and civil society in Russia. Some of those same NGOs had ties to the so-called color revolutions, which toppled governments in former Soviet republics and replaced them with democratic regimes friendly to the West.

Putin’s Munich doctrine has a corollary: Americans may think they’re promoting democracy, but they’re really spreading chaos. “Look at what happened in Egypt,” Migranyan said, beginning a litany of failed American-backed revolutions. In 2011, the Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak stepped down following protests the U.S. had supported, Migranyan contended. But after “radical Islamists” won power democratically, the U.S. turned a blind eye to a military coup that deposed the new leaders. Then there was Libya. “You toppled the most successful government in North Africa,” Migranyan said, looking in my direction. “In the end, we got a ruined government, a brutally murdered American ambassador, chaos, and Islamic radicals.”

“If we count all the American failures, maybe it’s time you start listening to Russia?,” Migranyan said, growing increasingly agitated. “If [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] has to go, then who comes in, in place of Assad? … Don’t destroy regimes if you don’t know what comes after!”

(Julia Ioffe, What Putin Really Wants, Atlantic)

This is a very long article, in which I was watching for what Putin really wants according to Ioffe. I have a somewhat biased eye, but this was the best I could come up with (although there are echoes of it as well):

Putin has spent the decade since that speech making sure that the United States can never again unilaterally maneuver without encountering friction—and, most important, that it can never, ever depose him.

Judge for yourself whether his fears are realistic. I’ve made my judgment.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

We have always been at war with Eastasia

I have alluded from time to time to America’s unclean hands in tensions with Russia and/or Vladimir Putin, and specifically to our expansion of NATO right up to Russian borders.

Wednesday, I learned that it’s worse than that. We weren’t acting obliviously. The first Bush administration specifically argued that it was in Russia’s interests that the reunited German be in the NATO orbit, but that NATO would expand no further:

When Gorbachev signaled that unlike his predecessors he had no intention of using force to maintain the Soviet Empire, it almost immediately disintegrated. With that, momentum for German reunification became all but irresistible.

By the end of 1989, the issue facing policymakers on both sides of the rapidly vanishing Iron Curtain was not whether reunification should occur, but where a reunited Germany would fit in a radically transformed political landscape … No one—including German Chancellor Helmut Kohl—thought it a good idea to allow this new Germany to become a free-floater, situated in the center of Europe but untethered from the sort of restraints that the Cold War had imposed.

For Washington, London, and Paris, the solution was obvious: keep the Germans in a warm but firm embrace. Ensuring that a united Germany remained part of NATO would reduce the likelihood of it choosing at some future date to strike an independent course.

The challenge facing the Western allies was to persuade Gorbachev to see the wisdom of this proposition …

To make that prospect palatable, the Bush administration assured the Soviets that they had nothing to fear from a Western alliance that included a united Germany. NATO no longer viewed the USSR as an adversary. Apart from incorporating the territory of the former East Germany, the alliance was going to stay put. Washington was sensitive to and would respect Russia’s own security interests. So at least U.S. officials claimed.

Thanks to newly declassified documents published by the National Security Archive, we now have a clearer appreciation of just how explicit those assurances were. Among the documents is the transcript of an especially revealing conversation between Gorbachev and Secretary of State James Baker in Moscow on February 9, 1990.

… [T]here was no need for Gorbachev to trouble himself about NATO …

“We understand,” Baker continued, “that not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction [emphasis added].” …

Gorbachev replied, remarking only that “it goes without saying that a broadening of the NATO zone is not acceptable.”

To which Baker responded: “We agree with that.

Later that very year German reunification became an accomplished fact. By the end of the following year, Gorbachev was out of a job and the Soviet Union had become defunct. Before another 12 months had passed, Baker’s boss lost his bid for a second term as Americans elected their first post-Cold War president. By this time, countries of the former Warsaw Pact were already clamoring to join NATO. The administration of Bill Clinton proved more than receptive to such appeals. As a consequence, the assurances given to Gorbachev were rendered inoperative.

NATO’s eastward march commenced, with the alliance eventually incorporating not only former Soviet satellites but even former Soviet republics … apparently assuming that Kremlin leaders had no recourse but to concede.

… Clinton’s successors even toyed with the idea of inviting Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO …

At that point, a Kremlin leader less trusting of the West than Gorbachev had been decided that enough was enough. Vladimir Putin, a very nasty piece of work but also arguably a Russian patriot, made it clear that NATO’s eastward expansion had ended. Putin’s 2008 armed intervention in Georgia, annexation of the Crimea in 2014, and multiple incursions into Ukraine beginning that same year elicited howls of protest from the Washington commentariat. Putin, they charged, was trampling on the “norms” of international conduct that were supposed to govern behavior in the post-Cold War world.

But Putin was not wrong to observe that the United States routinely exempted itself from any such norms when it perceived its own vital interests to be at stake

Today’s NATO consists of 29 nations, nearly double what its membership was when Secretary Baker promised Gorbachev that the alliance would not advance a single inch eastward …

In today’s Washington, where Russophobia runs rampant, it has become fashionable to speak of a New Cold War, provoked by Putin’s aggressive actions. Yet if we are indeed embarking upon a new age of brinksmanship, we can trace its origins to 1990 when Putin was merely a disgruntled KGB colonel and we were playing the Soviets for suckers.

In his meeting with Gorbachev, Baker expressed regret about the victorious allies mismanaging the opportunity for peace created by the end of World War II. A similar judgment applies to the opportunity for peace created by the end of the Cold War. Upon reflection, the United States might have been better served had it honored its 1990 commitment to Gorbachev.

(Andrew J. Bacevich, emphasis added)

But we have always been at war with Eastasia, haven’t we?

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.