Monday Reads: Competent Adults in the Room and the previous guyPosted: April 11, 2022
Good Day Sky Dancers!
I find myself keeping the TV off these days. I never watch any shows or things but I do indulge in the nightly news a habit long practiced in my home. This dates back to the Huntley-Brinkly Report. We also had morning and evening newspapers. My Nana ensured the arrival of the National Geographic and The Christian Science Monitor. Dad always got the big weekly magazines which eventually wound up in the waiting room of the service shop in our little eastern Iowa town. That’s where someone dropped off the John Birch Society’s newsletter one time and I became aware of those right-wing conspiracy theories so prevalent today. My Dad was a Goldwater/Reagan Republican and immediately told me to trash it. I never had to be told again.
That’s one of the reasons I was really sad when my dad got addicted to Fox News and my sister and I had to find ways to keep him away from the TV. My trick was to call him up during football season or baseball season and have him call the game for me which is also something he did when I was a kid. I’m glad my parents never had to live those horrid 4 years of the previous guy. The TV news has become an hourly horror show of human atrocities and crimes.
It impacted sentiment against the Vietnam War and eventually the Afghanistan/Iraq Invasions. What are we to make of what’s going on in Ukraine? What did and can we do?
The New York Times Magazine has a podcast by Robert Draper up today with the transcript that’s got me realizing how important it is to have professional diplomats that stay out of the political arena once again. Here’s the headline: “‘This Was Trump Pulling a Putin’. Amid the current crisis, Fiona Hill and other former advisers are connecting President Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine to Jan. 6. And they’re ready to talk.”
In the Oval Office, Hill recalls, describing a scene that has not been previously reported, she told Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney that offering a membership path to Ukraine and Georgia could be problematic. While Bush’s appetite for promoting the spread of democracy had not been dampened by the Iraq war, President Vladimir Putin of Russia viewed NATO with suspicion and was vehemently opposed to neighboring countries joining its ranks. He would regard it as a provocation, which was one reason the United States’ key NATO allies opposed the idea. Cheney took umbrage at Hill’s assessment. “So, you’re telling me you’re opposed to freedom and democracy,” she says he snapped. According to Hill, he abruptly gathered his materials and walked out of the Oval Office.
“He’s just yanking your chain,” she remembers Bush telling her. “Go on with what you were saying.” But the president seemed confident that he could win over the other NATO leaders, saying, “I like it when diplomacy is tough.” Ignoring the advice of Hill and the U.S. intelligence community, Bush announced in Bucharest that “NATO should welcome Georgia and Ukraine into the Membership Action Plan.” Hill’s prediction came true: Several other leaders at the summit objected to Bush’s recommendation. NATO ultimately issued a compromise declaration that would prove unsatisfying to nearly everyone, stating that the two countries “will become members” without specifying how and when they would do so — and still in defiance of Putin’s wishes. (They still have not become members.)
“It was the worst of all possible worlds,” Hill said to me in her austere English accent as she recalled the episode over lunch this March. As one of the foremost experts on Putin and a current unofficial adviser to the Biden administration on the Russia-Ukraine war, Hill, 56, has already made a specialty of issuing warnings about the Russian leader that have gone unheeded by American presidents. As she feared, the carrot dangled by Bush to two countries — each of which gained independence in the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and afterward espoused democratic ambitions — did not sit well with Putin. Four months after the 2008 NATO summit, Russian troops crossed the border and launched an attack on the South Ossetia region of Georgia. Though the war lasted only five days, a Russian military presence would continue in nearly 20 percent of Georgia’s territory. And after the West’s weak pushback against his aggression, Putin then set his sights on Ukraine — a sovereign nation that, Putin claimed to Bush at the Bucharest summit, “is not a country.”
You may continue to read more of Hill’s recollections as she served in the next two administrations before Trump came after her.
Her assessment of the former president has new resonance in the current moment: “In the course of his presidency, indeed, Trump would come more to resemble Putin in political practice and predilection than he resembled any of his recent American presidential predecessors.”
Raw Story has summed up the contribution of Charles Kupperman contribution to the above podcast today with this headline: “Trump flew into a rage after someone mentioned Ukraine – according to his former deputy national security adviser.” This is reported by Travis Gettys.
Charles Kupperman told the New York Times Magazine that the former president, who was impeached over his alleged 2019 extortion scheme against Ukraine, flew into a rage on May 23 of that year at the mention of the country’s name.
“He just let loose,” Kupperman recalled. “‘They’re [expletive] corrupt. They [expletive] tried to screw me.’”
Kupperman knew there was no chance that Trump understood the value of a good relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine after seeing the way he treated other allies, including France, Britain and South Korea, and he said the former president basically was not capable of making foreign policy because he didn’t even understand the concept on the most basic level.
“He felt like our allies were screwing us, and he had no sense as to why these alliances benefited us or why you need a global footprint for military and strategic capabilities,” Kupperman said. “If one were to ask him to define ‘balance of power,’ he wouldn’t know what that concept was. He’d have no idea about the history of Ukraine and why it’s in the front pages today. He wouldn’t know that Stalin starved that country. Those are the contextual points one has to take into account in the making of foreign policy.”
I’ve had a lot to say about Joe Biden starting with what he did while I was in high school and the Supreme Court decision’ to integrate schools included bussing. Most of it is not all that complimentary. He lost me completely during the Anita Hill testimony during the Thomas hearings. Thomas’ tenure on the court has been thorny at best. President Biden has foreign policy chops. Obama’s treatment of Putin does not fare well in the podcast above. Alexander Vindman and John Bolton had this to say about Trump’s treatment of Ukraine also from the New York Times Magazine podcast..
Instead, Vindman said, the opposite occurred: “Ukraine became radioactive for the duration of the Trump administration. There wasn’t serious engagement. Putin had been wanting to reclaim Ukraine for eight years, but he was trying to gauge when was the right time to do it. Starting just months after Jan. 6, Putin began building up forces on the border. He saw the discord here. He saw the huge opportunity presented by Donald Trump and his Republican lackeys. I’m not pulling any punches here. I’m not using diplomatic niceties. These folks sent the signal Putin was waiting for.”
Bolton, a renowned foreign-policy hawk who also served in the administrations of Reagan and George W. Bush, also told me that Trump’s behavior had dealt damage to both Ukraine and America. The refusal to lend aid to Ukraine, the subsequent disclosure of the heavy-handed conversation with Zelensky and then the impeachment hearing all served to undermine Ukraine’s new president, Bolton told me. “It made it impossible for Zelensky to establish any kind of relationship with the president of the United States — who, faced with a Russian Army on his eastern border, any Ukrainian president would have as his highest priority. So basically that means Ukraine loses a year and a half of contact with the president.”
You may listen to or read more at the link above.
There are still many useful fools in the Republican Party and Right-Wing Media that make it hard to believe that the John Birch society was once fiercely anti-communist. They have to be ignoring the fact that Putin really wants a renewed Soviet Union with its former satellite states in place. John Mearsheimer is a political science professor at the University of Chicago who blames the Western intervention for Putin’s hostilities. He argues the Russians see us as Nation-building in their backyard.
The New Yorker’s Issac Chotiner interviewed him a month ago. “Why John Mearsheimer Blames the U.S. for the Crisis in Ukraine. For years, the political scientist has claimed that Putin’s aggression toward Ukraine is caused by Western intervention. Have recent events changed his mind?”
I think all the trouble in this case really started in April, 2008, at the nato Summit in Bucharest, where afterward nato issued a statement that said Ukraine and Georgia would become part of nato. The Russians made it unequivocally clear at the time that they viewed this as an existential threat, and they drew a line in the sand. Nevertheless, what has happened with the passage of time is that we have moved forward to include Ukraine in the West to make Ukraine a Western bulwark on Russia’s border. Of course, this includes more than just nato expansion. nato expansion is the heart of the strategy, but it includes E.U. expansion as well, and it includes turning Ukraine into a pro-American liberal democracy, and, from a Russian perspective, this is an existential threat.
You said that it’s about “turning Ukraine into a pro-American liberal democracy.” I don’t put much trust or much faith in America “turning” places into liberal democracies. What if Ukraine, the people of Ukraine, want to live in a pro-American liberal democracy?
If Ukraine becomes a pro-American liberal democracy, and a member of nato, and a member of the E.U., the Russians will consider that categorically unacceptable. If there were no nato expansion and no E.U. expansion, and Ukraine just became a liberal democracy and was friendly with the United States and the West more generally, it could probably get away with that. You want to understand that there is a three-prong strategy at play here: E.U. expansion, nato expansion, and turning Ukraine into a pro-American liberal democracy.
You keep saying “turning Ukraine into a liberal democracy,” and it seems like that’s an issue for the Ukrainians to decide. nato can decide whom it admits, but we saw in 2014 that it appeared as if many Ukrainians wanted to be considered part of Europe. It would seem like almost some sort of imperialism to tell them that they can’t be a liberal democracy.
It’s not imperialism; this is great-power politics. When you’re a country like Ukraine and you live next door to a great power like Russia, you have to pay careful attention to what the Russians think, because if you take a stick and you poke them in the eye, they’re going to retaliate. States in the Western hemisphere understand this full well with regard to the United States.
The Monroe Doctrine, essentially.
Of course. There’s no country in the Western hemisphere that we will allow to invite a distant, great power to bring military forces into that country.
Meanwhile, huge military operations in the Donetsk Oblast by the Russians prove that they still seriously want Ukraine.
From the AP link in the Twitter shown above.
The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol tells The Associated Press that more than 10,000 civilians have died in the southeastern city since the Russian invasion in February.
Mayor Vadym Boychenko told The Associated Press by telephone Monday that corpses were “carpeted through the streets of our city” and that the death toll could be more than 20,000.
Boychenko also said Russian forces have brought mobile crematoria to the city to dispose of the bodies and accused Russian forces of refusing to allow humanitarian convoys into the city in an attempt to disguise the carnage.
So, as foretold, the Russians regrouped. They will have some new NATO allies and they are already harping about it. This is from the BBC. “Ukraine War: Russia warns Sweden and Finland against Nato membership.” Mother Russia appears to be frightened by its neighbors.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “the alliance remains a tool geared towards confrontation”.
It comes as US defence officials said Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has been a “massive strategic blunder” which is likely to bring Nato enlargement.
US officials expect the Nordic neighbours to bid for membership of the alliance, potentially as early as June.
Washington is believed to support the move which would see the Western alliance grow to 32 members. US State Department officials said last week that discussions had taken place between Nato leaders and foreign ministers from Helsinki and Stockholm.
Before it launched its invasion, Russia demanded that the alliance agree to halt any future enlargement, but the war has led to the deployment of more Nato troops on its eastern flank and a rise in public support for Swedish and Finnish membership.
All is not quiet on the Western Front.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?