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.

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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.

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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:

 

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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.

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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?

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Thursday, 9/21/17

I try not to let my adversity toward Trump to cloud my vision and make me credulous. Bad as he is, there are some things he hasn’t done. Which brings us to this.

The problem with the word “collusion” is that when Russia stirs up U.S. politics in its own interest, its actions can be convenient for different parties. That includes a U.S. intelligence community with its own ideas about what needs to happen. More than ever, the story line that Kremlin efforts were aimed with winsome simplicity at helping Mr. Trump seems largely a fabrication of the U.S. intelligence agencies.

If so, the moment of true political corruption may have come with Mr. Trump’s improbable, unexpected victory, when the agencies suddenly switched their diagnosis of Vladimir Putin’s motives. On Oct. 31, voters hadn’t yet gone to the polls. The New York Times summarized the Obama administration view that Russia’s effort “was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”

Then came Mr. Trump’s unanticipated triumph, and the administration quickly revised its judgment from “Putin meddled” to “Putin meddled to elect Trump.” …

Now ask yourself: Were the evolving claims about Russia’s motives based on any more solid intelligence than were the Trump dossier or Russia’s fake Loretta Lynch email? Or is the picture here of our intelligence officials serially grabbing after whatever flotsam serves their immediate needs?

(Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.)

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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.