The Pause Before the Storm? Ukraine is not doing well, despite the propaganda, and domestically, the U.S. is on the brink of dysfunction, if not Civil War.

Image from Dreamstime.com

Dear Citizens of the Republic:

It’s been some time, mid-April, since my last posting. I haven’t been on furlough, but wanted to pick my next posting time to match the flows inside the War on Ukraine and the intensifying, foul political mood in the United States.

There has been a flurry of pieces on the war in the New York Times: from its Editorial board; historian Timothy Snyder; and Senator Mitt Romney. Over at Project Syndicate, there have been posts by Yanis Varoufakis and then a long piece by George Soros. On the more distant horizon, Henry Kissinger has been sounding close to the Times; as always, smaller nations beware the squeeze. The immediate trigger to get me writing again, however, was coverage in the Times of the growing world food crisis triggered by the Russian blockade of shipments of stored Ukrainian grain by boat, and the attacks on eastern rail yard heads near the present Donbas battle lines. This was the signal which I read as signifying that Russia is willing to wage a much wider war to crush Ukraine , and if that means starvation for millions of people, thousands of miles away from the theatre of war, but dependent on Ukrainian agriculture and its export, so be it implies Putin. The butcher of Syria and Chechnya is not going to be moved on humanitarian grounds.

The West has counted on squeezing Russia economically; it is not clear to me though, given the tools in Russian hands and its willingness to use them – critical fossil fuels and food grains – that the squeeze isn’t going to end up with Russia causing more economic pain in the word, and the West, than vice versa.

Putin’s the man then, that the NY Times is urging President Zelensky to come to terms with, and not very subtly: the man who has ordered the shelling and destruction of 300 medical facilities, killed thousands of civilians directly , and has deported reportedly hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians against their wills to Russia and an unknow fate. And the fate of about 2,000 soldiers and civilians who surrendered at the Azoustal Steel Plant between May 16-18th… any bettors that they will be well treated amidst cries from some Russian governmental quarters to put the soldiers on trial for war crimes? Or that they will not suffer the fate of those who surrendered to the Nazis in the Warsaw uprising, August-October, 1944, the fate the West would rather not recall – nor Russians? “Just couldn’t get to them.” (For the full, but perhaps not final story, see historian Norman Davies 2003 work, “Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw.” It’s a great but painful read, and good background for all the not very noble politics that went on in Britain and in Moscow over aid to the revolt. I would say definitive always pending revision by discovery of new archives or memoirs. And Davies is a superb writer. Perhaps time to get to his history of Poland, since Poland is slowly moving back into the center of European politics as the Putin threat looms larger and larger. The dedication at the opening of Rising ’44 reads: “To Warsaw – and to all who fight tyranny regardless.“)

Ironically, on the very day that the NY Times ran their caution flag urging that the war must eventually end with Ukraine giving ground, figuratively and literally, May 19th, saw Professor Snyder’s piece entitled “Russia is Fascist. We Should Say it.” Professor Snyder should know, even without an ironclad definition of the F word acceptable to all emerging; but he’s studied enough variations of the beast to recognize a new branch of the family when it emerges, ironically from the same “soil” as the ideological polar opposite which drove fascist Nazi Germany out of Russia between 1942-1945. Snyder’s piece starts slowly, builds its evidence and ends with the declarative voice of a sledgehammer, one I hope troubles the Biden administration and NATO equally: “Should Russia win, fascists around the world will be comforted…If Ukraine doe not win, we can expect decades of darkness.”

Compare that to the Times signal that American elites have had enough: “A decisive military victory for Ukraine over Russia in which Ukraine regains all the territory Russia has seized since 2014, is not a realistic goal.”

Let’s compare that to Mr. Soros’ own bluntness, his dissent :

“We must mobilize all our resources to bring the war to an early end. The best and perhaps only way to preserve our civilization is to defeat Putin. That’s the bottom line.”

Update June 1, 2022:

Editor’s Note: June 1, 2022: President Biden himself had a piece in yesterday’s NY Times which I did not try to answer in the public comments where I usually weigh in, weekly at least. Why, since this was intended as a major “policy” statement? Well, what you’re reading now in this current posting is my answer to the very grey and uncertain areas still left murky by Biden’s “clarifications.” And that is, if the stalemate or worse continues, will the U.S. still never send troops (especially if Ukrainian troops are on the verge of being surrounded) or supply air cover? Biden is still signaling what he will and won’t do to Putin in advance, something a leader never should do in situations as ambiguous and fluid as this one, as opposed to Churchill’s defiant speeches telling the Nazis that Britain would fight on – “alone” to the end, including against a German invasion of their island home.

I’ve been thinking even before Biden’s speech to propose this: what if the U.S. sends 3-5 military hospitals with big Red Crosses on them, staffed with our military medical personnel, which I understand is a pressing need due to the high but not enumerated (for morale reasons) casualty toll from the front in the Donbas. Putin can hardly view that as an invasion threat, and since he has attacked some 300 medical facilities prior to this, civilian even, it is an open question what he will do, and I mean it to be that way: put the burden on him to escalate. We would then have good cause to protect those hospitals in any way we thought necessary: boots on the ground and/or that fabled, dangerous No Fly Zone…

The dispatch of the rocket launchers is some clarification to a week or more of confusing press accounts, but in the speech it didn’t clear up the point I had raised: would the US be supplying thermobaric warheads for those rockets? And what if Russia switches to still more distant rocket and missile launches to attack troops and civilian areas, back in Russian or Belarus territory? What then…sit there and take it Ukraine? It seems to me in international law (with all its limitations) it’s pretty clear that the violated party in a territorial invasion has the right to attack the sources of the troops and supplies fueling that invasion. (and surely Putin’s military at least knows there will be no full scale ground attack on Russia). So, despite the President’s speech and everyone’s hopes, it still not clear that Ukraine can push the Russian out to either the status quo before Feb. 24, 2022, or the much better and sustainable boundaries of 1991.

Further update, June 1, 2022 The New York Times is reporting this morning that the rocket system greenlighted from the US to Ukraine includes a system that has a range of 200 miles. If true, that’s what’s needed to get at the source of a portion of the incoming, being launched at some distance from the Ukraine. That’s the strongest signal yet sent by the President within the other parameters he has announced on troops and air cover not being supplied.

The confusion continues into Wednesday afternoon, June 1st: Reuters is reporting that the Biden administration only agreed to send this rocket systems with the understanding that they would not be fired into Russia and the range given was 40 miles or so max, a whole another range than the 200 miles in the NYTimes. Maybe the reporters just don’t know how important that “detail” is. So the points I raised are still at issue and I haven’t changed my mind on what I wrote. Maybe citizens of the US and Western Europe should ask: what would Israel do if it were in Ukraine’s situation, as it was during the opening phases of the 1973 Yom Kippur War of October of 1973? I think we know the answer…

This map of agricultural Ukraine for wheat comes from the Canadian farm journal “The Western Producer,” I take it it’s a kind of Wall Street Journal for Canadian farmers, but the data came from our own USDA Foreign Ag. Service

Now I have once again jumped in to comment on these pieces in the NY Times, at Project Syndicate and at a BBC and CNN pieces at YouTube. Because this posting has grown larger than I anticipated, I’ll spare you from those published comments, but for now know my position has not changed based on the battlefield dispositions this last week in May, in the Donbas and along the Ukrainian coastline: the US is at war with Russia, and so is most of NATO, like it or not, and sooner or later, sooner given the Russia attack on world food supplies (isn’t that a crime in itself?) the US, Britain, France and Poland (notice I didn’t say Germany or NATO) will have to put boots on the ground and implement a campaign to clear the skies over Ukraine of Russian forces, which includes, by the structure of modern warfare, electronics, counter-measures and anti-aircraft missiles, striking Russian dispositions in Belarus and likely, miles into Russian territory itself. The troops could be used in a number of ways, to protect trains and railheads for the grain, of course, but most will be necessary first to install and protect the systems necessary to win the skies from Russia. And don’t be surprised, before we get to the end of this struggle if we see the ground support, anti-armor A-10 Warthogs in service and flown by the American pilots who known them best. This will unfold in steps, and “legally,” it proceeds with the basic humanitarian mission to feed the hungry world and leads to the most feared word in the hands of Foreign Policy magazine, the one which has frozen the West from taking any of the decisive steps that might rile up Putin even further; thus the Times editorial quotes Avril Haines, US Director of National Intelligence, fearing “a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory.” Which is where Joe Biden started out just before the invasion by sighing “don’t take too big a bite” and don’t worry, we’ll squeeze economically but not too hard, but no boots on the ground and no planes in the air. Unfortunately for the people and physical world of the Ukraine (hospitals and housing, bridges, schools, airports…) those boots have been Russian ones on their throats, and the aerial warfare which our Pentagon professionals keep saying isn’t decisive, is the theatre of warfare systematically taking apart hospitals, apartment complexes and now threatening starvation by attacking rail lines after demolishing the city next to the lost port of Mariupol, and raining, from time to time only, so far, down upon Odesa.

At this point, it is by no means clear that Ukraine is winning or will win a prolonged struggle.

Ukrainian wheat field in the summer growing season from Dreamstime site.

Update from Friday, May 27, 2022. I saw two videos on U-tube, the first here, suggesting that Russia is using thermobaric weapons to destroy well entrenched Ukrainian troops holding the Donbas Eastern Front. These weapons come in a variety of sizes from artillery shells and mobile rocket systems to one ton bombs dropped from aircraft (or larger); whether they have been used by long range Russian ballistic missiles or in their new hypersonic missiles has not been talked about. Adding credibility to the alleged use by Russia via mobile rocket launchers (The Tos-1 system) was a follow up story at Sky News the same day discussing the debate of two weeks standing: the US has been considering sending our own mobile rocket launchers to Ukraine.

At the website Crux with the note that the footage came from Ukrainian military sources at Twitter/a DefenceU.

And here is the video with a retired British military officer who now is a CEO in the private sector, surfacing the US debate which I had not picked up elsewhere:

The take-away from this brief flash of information about debates inside our own government is that once again, if the Ukrainian accounts are true of thermobaric bomb use, and I just saw the allegation repeated today, Friday, May 27the in the NY Times, then the US and the West (a subset of NATO) are reacting once again to what Putin does, always fearful of the “escalatory” staircase where Putin draws the red lines from the higher steps.

Readers can take a quick 9 minute online course from a MD on the nature of thermobaric weapons here, as I did before this post, and what it tells me is that if Putin choses to use this weapon systematically to break up defenses holding him off in Donbas, and elsewhere, then there is little chance for Ukraine to win. And so, once again, the US and Joe Biden will face the crucial fact: we are at war with Russia, and they will win by gaining such a strategic hold of Ukraine without having to conquer all of the country, that it will be an economic boa-constrictor grip of that nation, and much of the nation will be in ruins.

You know what I think is our only recourse to that. Professor Snyder and George Soros have stated it pretty clearly in generic terms and emotions – and left me in a way, to fill in the details of what that means. I don’t find too many voices, certainly none on the left, declaring that we are already at war.

This presentation is from March of this year, 2022 when there were allegations that Russia had already used these weapons early in the invasion on selected military targets. The video is just 8:10 long. Pretty clear that the weapon approaches “nuclear” in its three-stage waves of impact, without radiation: 5,000 degrees heat at impact site; then shock waves so strong they can destroy people and their organs even inside shelters, and finally, the loss of all oxygen in the surrounding area, gobbled up by the non-nuclear type fire ball consuming it. The range of impacts from each of these depends on the size of the ordinance delivering it…I would suspect that some of that info is classified. Russia has used these before in Chechnya and the US in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

As I continue to work on this posting, confirmation of the use of thermobaric weapons, via rocket launched systems by the Russians in the Donbas, and the Ukrainian reverse use of Russian systems they have captured, is in the NY Times here on Saturday, May 28, 2022: https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/05/28/world/russia-ukraine-war#it-destroys-bunkers-russia-systematically-uses-thermobaric-warheads-in-ukraine

Sources:

Here are the major articles I referred to:

From the Atlantic Council, July 13, 2022; “The World Cannot Ignore Putin’s Ukraine Obsession.”

Yanis Varoufakis:

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/no-final-victory-for-ukraine-only-negotiated-peace-by-yanis-varoufakis-2022-05

George Soros: “The Fight of Our Lives”

https://www.project-syndicate.org/onpoint/davos-address-open-society-against-russia-china-by-george-soros-2022-05

Let me close this section of the posting, the part on the war in Ukraine, war on Ukraine, with three final signal flares for failed policy. I’ll do that chronologically.

First, I’ve seen many references to a major 5,000 word essay published by Putin in July of 2021 (just about the time Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Joe Manchin were playing ring-around-the-Manchin-Memo with Joe Biden, early on the road to futility for US domestic policy) but I was reluctant to download or link to it for you since the source is the Russian state site itself. However, over at the Atlantic Council think tank, Peter Dickinson, the Ukraine policy lead did have a post I can link to safely and it was entitled “The World Cannot Ignore Putin’s Ukraine’s obsession.” https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/the-world-cannot-ignore-putins-ukraine-obsession/

Dickinson is quite blunt, given his dual role in policy – and economics – in Ukraine as well – and he’s worth quoting with more than one line:

“Far from seeking to promote understanding and reconciliation between the two nation’s, the Russian leader’s article reads like a justification for an even larger war…

This unambiguously imperialistic approach to Ukraine shines through in this his latest essay, which is as close as we are ever likely to get to a declaration of war against the entire notion of Ukrainian statehood… His menacing essay is a reminder of the need for strong messages of deterrence from Western leaders.

This summer’s thirtieth anniversary of Ukrainian independence presents the democratic world with the ideal opportunity to answer Putin’s recent treatise.”

So five months later, in December of 2021, but still more than two and a half months before Russian troops plunged across the borders again this is what we got from President Biden:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/08/russia-talks-of-rapid-ukraine-discussions-after-biden-putin-summit

Here are the first two paragraphs of the article, the day after the phone summit with Putin concluded:

“Joe Biden has said that he is not considering sending US troops to defend Ukraine in response to a Russian military buildup on the country’s borders.

‘That is not on the table,’ he told reporters on Wednesday, one day after speaking directly with Vladimir Putin in an effort to avert a military crisis.”

And then in the last public dissent from Biden Administration policy on “boots and air,” here in March, 2022, 27 Foreign Policy experts called for a “No Fly Zone” to relive the siege of Mariupol:

https://www.stripes.com/theaters/europe/2022-03-09/retired-top-commanders-in-europe-call-for-no-fly-zone-in-Ukraine-5279356.html

According to the Stars and Stripes article, these were not all “civilians,” they included two former senior military commanders in Europe:

“Retired Gen. Phil Breedlove, who oversaw U.S. European Command from 2013 to 2016, and retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, U.S. Army Europe commander from 2014 to 2017, signed the undated letter along with 25 other foreign policy experts.

‘NATO leaders should convey to Russian officials that they do not seek direct confrontation with Russian forces, but they must also make clear that they will not countenance Russian attacks on civilian areas,’ the letter says. ‘What we seek is the deployment of American and NATO aircraft not in search of confrontation with Russia but to avert and deter Russian bombardment that would result in massive loss of Ukrainian lives.'”

Well, here I am writing over the Memorial Day weekend, Saturday, May 28th, 2022 and the casualties in the Donbas for the Ukrainian forces are so severe they are not being mentioned other than to convey a sense of unsustainability, as the government pleads for more Western arms to match the pounding coming from Russian thermobaric weapons and massed conventional artillery – the later being Russian specialty which helped defeat the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front in WWII. Unmentioned in the acknowledgement which said we’re going to be sending longer range rockets, and still not clear, is whether the systems will be supplied with the US’s own thermobaric warheads. I assume they will, and thus, like it or not for the Biden administration, we’ll be climbing the escalation ladder unless we’re going to countenance a Ukrainian rout. (on Memorial Day itself, Monday, May 30th, there are NY Times accounts of President Zelensky visiting the troops at the Donbas front, a visit which reinforces the gravity of the situation I’ve highlighted in this posting.)

My conclusion at the end of this May, 2022 is this: for all the hoopla and self-congratulations U.S. officialdom is heaping on itself for “deterring Russia” and “defending Ukraine,” and re-vitalizing if not expanding NATO, (all of which contains some truth) it was the failure to expand NATO before the invasion to include Ukraine that was so damaging given the history of Ukraine’s previous approaches and the US’s greenlighting… And it was the failure to send selected Western nation troops to Ukraine before the Feb. 24th invasion (with or without NATO approval), and indeed, what is perhaps worse, the telegraphing of a clear private and then public signal that we would not do so, nor use Western air power to rebel the invasion – that has proven nearly catastrophic for Ukraine. What else did Putin need to see to flash “green light” in his calculations whether to invade or not.

Biden’s performance has been, then, an amazing and contradictory set of measures, too little and tool late to prevent, and perhaps now even to stop the Russian advances, shying away from – as “escalatory” – the very tools necessary to stop, then evict Russian forces and restore Ukrainian borders. Combined with this failure of tactical and strategic decisiveness comes the bizarre and ill-disciplined verbal personal level belligerence from the President – “brutal thug, war criminal, genocidal” hurled at Putin – as if we were committed to the full missing steps needed at the beginning to prevent the invasion, but now were determined to getting rid of Putin…by what means? (Apparently a military and economic war of attrition which never risks US/NATO lives). It’s been far too timid when bravery and risk taking were called for, in December-January of 2021-2022 if not earlier (going back to Putin’s essay in July of 2021) and over-the-top amateurish belligerence after, insuring that Putin would continue if not expand his brutal tactics and territorial goals.

All the worst publicly stated by Biden about Putin was true, very true, but no wartime leader should utter those characterizations unless they meant to go all the way home to victory, and Biden looks to me to be stranded far from military home…with the soldiers and citizens of Ukraine paying a price which will shock the West when finally tallied.

Image from Ivan Alvarado/Reuters; in the NY Times war summary for May 28th, 2022; solar field damage near Merefa, SW of Kharkiv, in Eastern Ukraine.

Part II: The U.S. on the verge… the exact shape and form of it unknowable for now….”No longer ‘Unthinkable,’ the odds for ‘The Next Civil War’ continue to grow.

I had intended to write about this enormous and fraught topic very early in 2022, but two things came to slow me down: the difficulty in coming to grips with Representative Jamie Raskin’s book “Unthinkable,” and its optimism about salvaging and restoring our constitutional republic, and the case laid out by Stephen Marche in his book “The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future,” where the outcome is certain and grim, only the exact shape and timing for the American descent is uncertain. They represent in a pretty clear sense the two opposite psychological poles of the issue. They do agree however, that the “cult” of the Constitution formulated at the end of the 18th century and its structural progeny, especially the Electoral College and Senate, are ill suited to serve the march of modernity represented by modern globalized capitalism and the problems it spawns. The American Right would heartily (and more) disagree.

Editor’s Note: I was going to publish this second essay at the same time as the above post on the war on Ukraine, but I want to pay due tribute to the seriousness and difficulty of this topic, so I will do so after some more work. To say the least about it.

To the “Eastern Front” via two Russian movies, a brief tour of culture under Putin & flashbacks triggered by the siege of Mariupol…and my own displacements.

“A hallucinatory netherworld,” – Rita Kempley, the Washington Post.
“The Brest Fortress has become one of the great symbols of Soviet Resistance in World War II.”

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

I thought it was time to break the pattern of coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and share some personal stories with you, stories which led, in a roundabout way, to the two movies I have highlighted above. These are Russian movies both coming from what I judge to be the best of Russian historical memory and cinematic skill: the monumental struggle on the “Eastern Front” as it is known in the West, and the “Great Patriotic War” as it known in Russia: June 22, 1941- May 8, 1945. It was a compound, complex route to these films, which strangely had its origin in American domestic politics, and my own downsizing and move to – shall I put it politely? – tighter quarters, a smaller library, and no garden.

I was not a refugee, to be sure, but as with so many people before me, especially thinking of those in Belarus and Ukraine, from 1917-1945 (and beyond), Ukraine today, I was told to move in September of 2019. It’s no big deal when one is 20, 30, or 40…much tougher when one is 70. And much tougher when a modern army is shooting at you. Here’s what helped me to survive.

The years of Bernie Sanders’ first run for President, in 2016, and the broaching of the Green New Deal in the early winter of 2019, by Senator Markey of Massachusetts, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx & Queens, New York City, District 14, were high points in a long political life – and hopes for my country.

For the first time in my memory, elected Democrats talked about FDR’s Second Bill of Rights of 1944, of linking environmental justice with economic justice, and openly pummeled a system that had become “rigged” against the bottom 60-65% of our citizens. Green New Dealers, more than a hundred strong in the House and fourteen strong in the Senate, stood up all too briefly for a genuine alternative to the Centrist Democratic policies which had meshed, on and off, with the hard Republican Right, symbolized by the deal making of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich – if you can stomach the matter being put that way.

The dreams of social democracy and the slowing of global warming in domestic policy were crushed by conservative and centrist Democrats (and the business community which backs them) in March of 2020, before the South Carolina primary, when all the candidates, serious and it seemed to me, not so serious, repudiated Sanders and turned to Joe Biden, including many who had signed on to the Green New Deal.

The American left has not recovered yet from this recent historic high water mark, and no where displays itself as more fragmented than in its response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which began on February 24, 2022. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The ebb tide in progressive politics following upon the shockingly quick turnabout inside the party in March of 2020, gave me pause and time to prepare for the move, as well as to probe deeper questions about how this all was unfolding under Trump, how someone like him could be possible in American politics. I had taken a serious stab at answering how, here, published in a collection of essays clumsily entitled “Trumponomics,” appearing in 2017 via the World Economics Association. My essay, entitled “Major miscalculations: globalization, economic pain, social dislocation and the rise of Trump,” appears just after Dean Baker’s and can be found online: http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue79/Neil79.pdf

Especially in the wake of the insurrection of January 6th, 2021, I began to wonder about nations producing totalitarian leaders, and authoritarian ones partly down that road, and whether the great tensions between Western “modernization” and those “left behind” – economically, religiously, culturally, (and regionally) -did not contribute to the horrors in a way yet to be fully appreciated.

I’m sure this line of possibility has been shaped by my eight year’s (2014-2022) residence in the heart of Trump country in Western Maryland, near the West Virginia border; it was a place where Republican elected officials courted secession from Maryland and “transfer” to West Virginia in the fall of 2021, to the horror of many and amusement of a few. And a region where, when strangers approach you at majestic overlooks, like Dan’s Rock, 2900 feet up and looking south to West Virginia’s hazy skies, or ring your doorbell, they are 100:1 going to get around to saving your soul, not your health or the environment.

But my path “to the Eastern Front” and Russian culture under Putin has been guided also by my reading of Eastern European and Russian history, my mother having been born in the far eastern portions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1910, near the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, and just south of a not quite famous but ferocious battle in World War II, the one for the Dukla Pass in September-October, 1944, which coincides in chronology with the worst of the siege of Warsaw, when the uprising there was crushed by Allied indifference (Russian and British) and the Nazi desire to wipe Poles and Poland from the face of the earth.

My mother and her family emigrated in 1913, on the Hamburg line, German, and the largest in Europe, a fateful year before the Great War broke out, and left behind a region suspended in village agriculture. It was one of the most “backward” regions of the entire Central-Eastern European civilization, which itself was torn by ethnic and national uprisings against the aging Emperor Franz Joseph, it all coming apart in the defeat of the Central Powers in 1918. The newly created nations enjoyed a brief but troubled period of authoritarian leaning freedom before being consumed between the two great totalitarian systems of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

My readings have taken me through histories of Slovakia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and more generically, Eastern Europe, to add to my long standing interest in Russia history, something expected of someone who has been on the left politically his entire adult life – along with a closer and closer reading of the fate of the Weimar Republic in Germany (1919-1933), also de rigueur for those on the left.

But what has especially caught my attention during this “pause” in American politics and my recession from the Sanders/Green New Deal highwater mark, was the theme I first recall in Theodore Von Laue’s “The World Revolution of Westernization: The Twentieth Century in Global Perspective” (1987) where he wondered how much of the Third World could make the transition successfully, since Germany and Russia, and especially the later, caught between the advanced West (culturally and industrially) and the laggard, agriculturally dominated East had been so driven, if not haunted by “catching up.” (And each nation fostering its own special mission in civilization, it’s own version of the “exceptional nation.”)

It was the sad fate of Ukraine under Stalin to bear the human and economic cost of catching up, where the breadbasket of Russia was made to turn over its agricultural harvest to fund the foreign currency and domestic capital shortages which were blocking rapid industrialization. The fiercely independent small farmers dubbed “kulaks,” who had escaped serfdom and land tenancy, unlike much of old Eastern Europe, were purposely starved and killed, along with the bulk of the rural population, a grim crime described with precision in Timothy Snyder’s 2010 book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

It could have been further subtitled, the fate of Belarus and Ukraine, 1917-1945 (and beyond in the case of the nationalists in Ukraine who fought Stalin after the Nazi surrender.) American leftists who naively look for a strong democratic socialist or social democratic tradition in Eastern Europe are bound to be disappointed, whether in Ukraine, Poland, Rumania or Hungary. Royalists, Peasant parties, Catholic parties abound in the inter-war period, the socialists and social democrats playing a secondary note. If one wonders today where the Right wing Ukrainian impulses come from, read Bloodlands and you will know.

Feeling that I had some serious cultural catching up to do on my own part, I used part of my political pause to tackle some fine literature, namely Janos Szekely’s “Temptation” (1946) which is a boyhood memoir of a rural Hungarian “orphan” raised by a cruel Slovakian boarding house mother (quite unlike my mother, to be sure), who later escapes to Budapest and a sexual romance with an aristocratic woman close to the Hungarian Right, already killing and torturing socialists between the world wars. Given my deeper theme here – societies torn between modernity and rural cultures – the fact that the author of this tale later migrated to the US and wrote movie scripts in Hollywood (before being blacklisted), it was pure luck finding a work with those themes deeply embedded by someone’s lived experience. And the descriptions of rural life in Hungary resonated strongly with what I know about life in far eastern Slovakia, a land which came to be dominated by the Hungarian language and local authority extracted from the Hapsburgs in the twilight of their Empire. Slovaks who wanted their own language taught in the schools weren’t too happy about that. (And ironically, I’ve had some tussles with Hungarians in my own life which I never sought out, but which managed to find me).

And who should approach Russian cultural and political matters without reading Vasily Grossman’s two volume epic, the “War and Peace” of the 20th century: Stalingrad and Life and Fate. It covers, from an actual war correspondent’s ground level view, the war between 1941-1943 under the great sacrifices for the Motherland, to the price everyone paid under the ever present eyes of Stalin’s secret police, from the corporals in the trenches, to the scientists designing weapons to the generals themselves, always shadowed by the political thought police. One of the protagonists can’t stop worrying and wondering when and what he said, and to whom, which got him sent to the camps. And which of his friends was the informer. Despite its being a novel, it was excellent historical background for me as I slowly encountered Putin’s new cultural imprint on Russia, the best of which, in my judgement, resulted in The Brest Fortress movie in 2009-2010, a veritable inverse universe with the current siege of Mariupol, down to the mixed civilian and military units living in cellars, starving, no water, no medical supplies, and constantly shelled by the Nazis – now Russians. It’s enough shape-shifting to bewilder even students of “Game of Thrones.”

(Editor’s Note: Grossman’s majestic two volume work covers a vast array of Soviet Society, going back to the Civil War, 1918-1921, a huge geographic and cultural panorama of the terrain as well as the peoples of the vast land, and perhaps one of the last great attempts to portray a entire “semi-modern” society and many of its occupations, from scientists to engineers and miners. Plus the superb war reporting of an Ernie Pyle type reporter with more depth and greater vision. He was there at Stalingrad, and it shows. Does he make up for Tolstoy’s treatment of women? You’ll have to ask feminists. Moral vision? Perhaps the best way to summarize it is the account of a Russian soldier taken prisoner by the Germans and forced marched to the West without food or water for hundreds of miles. He collapses on the verge of death and the German guards, certain of his death, don’t even want to waste a bullet on him. His is taken in by an elderly widow, bathed, clothed and nursed back to health at great risk to herself. If that sounds like the New Testament, I’ll leave it at that.)

And from the late Soviet Empire days, the incomparable Come and See, 1985, almost but not quite produced by the time of the triumph, briefly, of Gorbachev. It’s the story of rural Russia, Belarus, but it might have been Ukraine for shared chambers of horror in the rural villages, the civil war between collaborators and partisans under the Nazi occupation, cited in the film’s opening in 1943. From all the accounts I’ve read, its portrayal of the awful history is accurate, since the script writer lived through the same as a child there himself. And filmed in Belarus.

As one commentator on YouTube noted: “This isn’t a horror movie, but it’s scarier than any movie I’ve ever seen.” I concur with that, as well as with the famous film critic Roger Ebert’s observation that “I have rarely seen a film more ruthless in its depiction of human evil.”

And that’s the drift of the hundreds, if not thousands of contemporary Russian films about the Great Patriotic War, part of the Putin effort to revive Russian nationalism and recall its greatest triumph – and the Eastern Front was a great, costly and bloody triumph vastly underappreciated in the Western views of WWII. And the pure evil of the Nazis invaders. You Tube is loaded with them, from the soap opera quality which reminded me of the 1950’s American domestic daytime “soaps” (usually with better acting than “As the World Turns” but equally poor or repetitious plots) the best of which venture out into the slowly clearing cultural thin-ice zone: showing young men in peasant villages turning to collaborate with the Nazis – their fathers having been disappeared into Stalin’s camps or just plain disappeared, no notice given, never to be seen or heard from again. The fate of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.

This triumph of Soviet arms and the industrial might behind the tanks and artillery and aircraft, on a scale which far eclipses the Western front in terms of numbers committed and slaughtered, is marred at nearly every point by horrific dealings behind the lines, after Soviet “liberation”: the betrayal of partisans who are not communists, the mistrust of anyone, even the bravest of soldiers who has seen life in the West, even as a prisoner of war, or happens to be of an ethnic group which Stalin doesn’t want in “this” particular area, usually for reasons of cultural and political and ethnic stability – so off they go, hundreds of thousands packed off to destinations thousands of miles away, usually to the far East and coldest and driest of climates. The scale and efficiency of the Soviet security services is frightening beyond belief, competing neck and neck with Hitler’s machinery for total evil, but dwarfing it in scale and efficiency.

And the You Tube universe of today’s Russia is also flooded with Eastern Front “archeology”: men and women using metal detectors to dig up weapons, outposts and yes, frequently bones – and Russian and German “dogtags” (the Russian’s being a metal cylinder encasing a scribbled paper bio and hung around the neck; the German being a double crescent-moon shaped metal tag with the key data punched in, so that half can be removed and the remaining half left with the body). Since millions perished in the vast battlefield that extended more than a thousand miles East and West and North and South, leaving trenches and bunkers everywhere, there is no shortage of wartime archeology to keep thousands busy, whatever their motivation. The frustrating thing is that almost none of the footage gives one a map of where they are digging (metal detectors of all nationalities are notoriously secretive about that), the year of the war they are excavating, or heaven forbid, the significance of the fighting in that area. One would think that a generalized radius of 50 miles or so would protect their interests, whatever they are, but no, we get no orientation unless you are a Russian geographer who can decipher soil and vegetative clues.

All this Great Patriotic War memory trail eventually led me to these two movies, and I’ll close with some impressions of “The Brest Fortress,” more and more its footage eerily tracking the history of Mariupol today, the cruel irony being the villains have switched roles, Russians now acting the Nazi ones starving and pulverizing soldiers and civilians alike. The acting here is superb, built around young love stories and good marriages, and opening with the recollection of one of the young ‘lovers,’ no more than 10 or 12 in the movie, who tells his grandson, and the viewer, looking back from old age that “I remember everything.” (I think that Ukrainians will be uttering those words for many years as well.)

The setting for the Brest Fortress is an early 19th century outpost of Tsarist Russia, now the Western most settlement for the USSR after the notorious forced 1918 treaty with the Kaiser’s Germany, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and the Nazi-Stalin Pact of 1939 which sheared Poland in half between the Nazis and Stalin. There are intimations of coming war, the shattering of that 1939 pact, and one of the realist officers in the military in Brest is of course accused of “pessimism” and hurting morale by the young political commissar – who is forced to give ground to age and wisdom and soon, the brutal reality of the attack on June 22, 1941. The German attack is complete with a false flag operation, just as in the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, 2022.

The movie closes in the modern world of the late USSR with the child survivor of the siege telling his grandson while visiting the commemorative park, that all his family and his friends, and his young love – “They are all alive, somewhere…”

It sounds perhaps too “religious,” but I hope you’ll agree, as we live through Mariupol, with the worst yet to be discovered about its long siege, that many Ukrainians will console themselves with similar thoughts, and go on to build the nation that they have for so long deserved and been denied by the savages of the left and right.

PS As if to continue the haunting, beautiful tale of the defenders of the Brest Fortress, the young woman who plays the girl in the opening scenes, Veronika Nikonova, died on her honeymoon in July of 2019, trying to ford a swift river in Alaska.

Best to all my readers,

More importantly than “enjoying” these two movies, come and see and be moved by them, to “remember everything.” So that it doesn’t happen – yet again.

Mariupol in ruins, sacrificed as a Ukrainian “Alamo,” thousands packed off to Russian “filtration” camps; may I ask: Just what are Pres. Biden’s and NATO’s war goals in Ukraine now?

Bomb shelter in Mariupol from AP News, March 6, 2022. AP Photo by Evgeniy Maloletka

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

The situation in Ukraine has been in a rapid state of flux since my last posting on March 23rd. Of course, President Biden did not visit the Ukraine, as I urged him to do. My check in the press on April 6th, seemed to hold open the possibility of a Pope Francis visit, though.

Citizens around the world, but especially in the US and Europe, are being whipsawed between graphic images of civilian bodies found in the recently liberated suburbs of Kyiv and the continuing accounts of the desperation growing in Mariupol, the large city on the southern coast. Whipsawed, that is, between the growing horrors being uncovered and the courage and skill of the Ukrainian military, pushing the Russians out from around Kyiv, and preparing for further battle in the South and East of the country. It’s quite a clash of messages: military success beyond anyone’s expectations, yet unable to protect the people of the country from pillage, beatings, rape, executions and now involuntary deportations to Russia – all war crimes in themselves. (Editor’s note of caution: we don’t have the details or ironclad confirmation yet of the deportations, but I’ve read enough to raise the issue. The same for allegations of mobile crematoriums being used by Russian forces to eliminate the corpses of the dead civilians in Mariupol, which emerged shortly after the international exposure given to the war crimes in the liberated suburbs outside of Kyiv.)

Even the usually even tempered CNN host Don Lemon, back from an on-the-ground stint in the country, seemed to grow impatient with official American analysis last night, asking when we would do more militarily to prevent the destruction and bloodbaths. He got no answer. And then there’s the write-off of Mariupol, being called a sacrificial “Alamo” when even the scales of the “sacrifice” don’t work: hundreds in 1836 at the Alamo in today’s San Antonio versus potentially hundreds of thousands in 2022 in Mariupol. Resignation on such a scale is a damning condemnation, in my way of viewing this whole conflict, of our terrible American strategy to not deter the invasion before it took place, given our accurate predictions and the months long build up of Russian forces threatening on the immediate border areas.

It seems like a long time ago that I wrote calling for a humanitarian air “drop” to get food, water and medical supplies into Mariupol, but its’ only been since March 12th. I also suggested that such a tactic would be a good way to invoke a humanitarian “No Fly Zone” (NFZ) to get planes/helicopters into the city, or at least protected “drops” – fully recognizing that the NFZ has become a trip wire fear that neither Biden nor NATO will cross, not even for the best of Western humanitarian values, recalling in my memory at least, the Berlin Airlift in 1948-1948. And not even after President Biden has publicly called Mr. Putin a war criminal, a thug, a murderer…did I miss any of the new and accurate titles, which nonetheless true as they are, only push the possibility of a “settlement” out of reach. As did the President’s unscripted (supposedly) comment made in Warsaw, Poland on March 26the, his closing sentence of an important speech – “‘For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.'” Officials in his administration immediately “walked it back” (they certainly get a lot of exercise with Joe Biden doing that) but surely it registered with Mr. Putin, who doesn’t need any more excuses, much less personal reasons, to dial up his cruelty. So much that is unfolding then is working to push both sides away from compromise outcomes. Wait until Ukraine is able to comb Mariupol’s rubble: then there will be no compromise possible; even now, before the full scope of horrors is known, Ukrainian officials of various ranks – local, parliamentary, and Presidential – are voicing their growing frustration with the West’s failure to do more. NATO is even hesitating to send tanks for the more conventional warfare likely to begin in the stalemated eastern battle areas. (Now being shipped by rail from the Czech and Slovak Republics…) The West – President Biden and NATO, are slow to escape from the mental traps the cunning Putin has thrown up from the very beginning.

Has that been the West’s strategy all along: to give the Ukrainians only enough weapons to fight Russia to a stalemate, but not drive them out of the country in all their newly entered corridors, much less to push them out of the territory the Russians seized in 2013-2014? At times it seems that way, and I think that the Ukrainians sense this, the accusation being just beneath the surface, if that, in President Zelensky’s barnstorming speaking tours, the most energetic chief executive the West has seen since Teddy Roosevelt, FDR – or Winston Churchill.

But war unleashes many unforeseen vectors, physical and moral, and the dynamics set in motion here are forcing all parties to change their initial calculations. Putin couldn’t take Kyiv or install a puppet government. The Ukrainian military has proven not just courageous but very adaptable, and technologically savvy. It wasn’t afraid to hit Russian facilities on Russian territory, which is legally permissible under International Law to protect itself. Perhaps this quote from Serhii Plokhy’s book, “The Gates of Europe,” helps explain why:

“Ukraine, which possesses 33 percent of the world’s rich black soil, is also the world’s second-largest exporter of grain. But even more impressive is its intellectual potential. Ukraine’s literacy rate now stands at a staggering 99.7%. It is arguably the fourth best-educated nation in the world. Every year, its universities and colleges produce 640,00 graduates. Of these, 130,000 major in engineering, 16,000 in IT, and 5,000 in aerospace, making Ukraine the software engineering capital of eastern and central Europe.” (Page 345 in the Chapter entitled “The Price of Freedom.”)

Indeed, I’ve heard accounts of model-airplane enthusiasts teaming up with drone flying hobbyists and some of this aerospace talent to brainstorm new methods of delivering lethal payloads with the technologies they are altering/inventing. (Even as US aerospace scrambles to catch up the the Russian advances in hypersonic missiles, capable of speeds 4 or 5 times the speed of sound, making them, after launched, untouchable.)

Given all this admirable bravery, heroism of the military and civilians too, there is still a bittersweet cloud hanging over the nation and the ongoing war – and its outcome. Let me be clear, in online comments published in the NY Times, I have said that now “Victory” is the only course open to the US and NATO, and by that I mean the total eviction of Russian forces from all the currently occupied Ukrainian land and a return to that nation’s borders in 2012, before the seizures in Crimea and the Donbas eastern regions. The major Tsarist-Soviet-Russian concern with a warm water port in the South would seem to have some room for compromise but maybe not if Putin or his successor insists on military rights of passage/usage. Putin has made major miscalculations in going for the Capital kill in Kyiv and a Vichy regime; but he won the opening psychological maneuvering with the West as President Biden has signaled, in the order I heard them, that it was OK if Putin took a little further bite of Ukraine than the 2013-2014 portions, quickly corrected by aides; then openly signaling that we would not put boots on the ground or wings in the air, the reason being fear of an escalation between the two nuclear powered giants (or former giants: Uncle Sam and the Russian Bear). That has stood as a line the US/NATO will not cross, although I do believe events are going to force a Rubicon upon us: either cross it with boots on the ground and all that is implied in a No Fly Zone – or watch the Ukraine destroyed, its civilians and physical infrastructure, if not by Russian troops close by then by means well over the horizon and even back in Russia itself.

I think that was all Putin needed to tip the scale towards invasion, hearing the lines Biden set up himself, the limits, and it didn’t matter how many weapons we poured into the Ukraine after that. Had the US/NATO sent troops, even token brigade sized forces to the Ukraine itself, not its borders with Russia, and/or declared a No Fly Zone in December or January, all this might have been avoided, but those possibilities seemed to have already been pushed off the table.

Biden has, it seems to me, a habit of constructing boxes of possibility, or rather, impossibility, for flexible adaption, as he did in negotiations with Senator Joe Manchin, from July, 2021 until December…where he assigned equal Presidential veto powers to each senator in the evenly split US Senate, and that became the conventional wisdom among all Centrist Democrats, and the Democratic Party cheerleaders at the Daily Kos, where I have been banned after my posting in October that “President Biden was single- handedly destroying the Democratic Party,” an intentionally polemical assertion with some degree of exaggeration – but later born out by the tremendous drop in his polling numbers.

I can’t speak to what went on in President Biden’s and NATO’s high level security meetings between the fall of 2021 and early 2022, but it seems whatever messages Putin was sending the one that registered most was his nuclear blustering, which did go very public. On this, the fear of nuclear war burst into public view in repeated comments by Joe Biden and was the deciding factor in not sending troops or enforcing a NO FLY ZONE, not even a humanitarian one for Mariupol. Thus, that city of 500,000 suffers the fate of Warsaw in WWII, in the summer and fall of 1944, where Stalin and the West failed to support the second great uprising in that city, as so poignantly and indignantly described in historian Norman Davies “‘Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw.” (The Russians stopped about 30 miles east of Warsaw, and sat and watched, refusing even air cover as the British Air Force gamely tried to get food and weapons to the Polish fighters. As a result, the Germans crushed the revolt and happily destroyed the city.)

As with the negotiations with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin over his key domestic policies, it was some type of fear that seemed to corner President Biden’s imagination and prevent alternative tactics. Was it the loss of friendship with Manchin, to the point that a great nation’s domestic vision and future in the 21st century was outweighed by keeping “faith” with his Catholic friend? Or was Biden really closer to Manchin’s domestic vision than the public ever knew, with the President never really challenging Manchin’s objections, voiced in September of 2021 that “I cannot accept our economy or basically our society, moving towards an entitlement mentality.” That was an opening, if Biden had the vision and temerity to take Manchin on publicly, to give a national address to counter that statement, in spades, and lay out his own philosophy (sic) for something less than FDR’s Second Bill of Rights or Green New Deal, but still pretty expansive even in the scaled down fall versions.

Do serious foreign policy types think that “student” Putin, former KGB head, whom no one has accused of being stupid, was not watching the Biden persona and deportment on domestic matters in this past fall’s charade of negotiations, looking perhaps for signs of backbone, tenacity and vision? It’s hard for me to be reading Professor Plokhy’s 2021 book, “Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” now 150 or so pages in, and not be focused on how much “sizing up” Russian leaders like Nikita Khrushchev did of their opponents – Eisenhower, Nixon, Kennedy – looking for fear and weaknesses, and Kennedy was read, initially, as being afraid, very afraid, of setting off a nuclear confrontation, then war. The sense I have so far – up to mid-October, 1962, is that both leaders feared nuclear war, but Khrushchev was far more willing to take risks, bluster even about weapons he didn’t have yet, ICBM’s (he couldn’t yet reach the US key targets), was far more a brinkman than Kennedy in that fall of 1962, but nonetheless was not willing to go all the way, even for Cuba’s defense in an another US invasion attempt. The Soviet Premier was hoping to protect Castro, bridge his missile gap and achieve a stand-off with US missiles in Turkey and Greece – without a full confrontation, much less nuclear war. And his memoirs tell us how much attention he paid to the persona and psychology of the young US President. And his willingness to bluster the nuclear weapons he had, short and medium range ones. Does that remind readers of recent threats and blusters?

I would be short changing my readers if I didn’t share a deeper perspective on my own outlook, visible I hope, at least a bit, in my previous postings on the war in Ukraine, Russia’s invasion. I have indicated that I think the clear responsibility for the invasion rests with Mr. Putin and his desire to make Russia great again by winning back, by any means necessary, key portions of the geography of former eras of greatness, Tsarist and Soviet. In that sense there is a linkage, not absolute, but clear enough, between the rise of Donald Trump, who wants a US restoration of greatness, pouring it on in his Inaugural Address about the American “carnage” he sees across the land, that he will repair, based chiefly on de-industrial horror stories, the rise of China via naive western “globalization” and its terrible trade deals, and the arrogance and perhaps decadence of the coastal elites. It’s full of exaggerations, distortions, and often, vast oversimplifications if not lies, yet it captured a mood in a good part of the country, fanning the resentments built upon the disparities in regional economic success, but also this sense that the American college and graduate school educated elites look down their noses at the heartland, and rural Americans in general.

In Russia, Trump’s soulmate Putin, in power for an incredible 2001-2022 stretch, has developed his own deep resentments about the way Western free-market geniuses tried to administer “shock therapy” Neoliberal economic assumptions on a centralized economy, an economy which was far better suited to a gradual dose of social democracy, a mixed economy transition slowly engaged, which was the perspective of Russian historian “Stephen F. Cohen” in his 2001 book “Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia.” Putin has built his rise upon the anger generated by this failed crusade, with the Russian people and economy, hitting their nadir in 1998-1999, in the greatest plunge in a nation’s GDP ever recorded. It was the closest historical experience I am aware of to Germany’s experience of its loss in World War I, the humiliating terms of the Versailles Treaty, the Great Inflation of 1922-1923, and then the catastrophic implications of the Great Depression from 1929-1932.

Putin feels his attempts to compromise with the West in terms of nuclear agreements – abrogated unilaterally by the Americans twice – and betrayed by broken promises to keep NATO away from Russian doorsteps – his not being allowed a version of Russia’s “Monroe Doctrine” has justified him in fanning intense nationalistic feelings buttressed by his embrace of Russian religious orthodoxy to wield as a weapon against Western cultural decadence. I think that these dynamics have built to the point where it is the angry Putin which has appeared in full fury in public, eclipsing the controlled, cunning, calculating Putin of Western diplomatic lore.

In future writings I’ll explore the shared terrain of three former great powers – the US, Russia and Weimar Germany, the dangers which arise as they try to regain the memory of times past, and the tools which all three – Trump, Putin and the Austrian Corporal have wielded to break the fall and restore former glory. Each nation had their version of America’s exceptionalism, Germany the custodian of great music, literature and nature feeling, Russian the custodian of the Slavic soul, all spiritual, spurning the material…and all three nations, it seems to me, have had their struggles with the contradictions of modernity’s science, secularism and materialism.

But for now, please set some time aside to understand the case presented by Professor John Mearsheimer who has taught for decades at an obscure little junior college in the Mid-West, the University of Chicago, but who has been spurned by the American Foreign Policy elites, perhaps even more than the late Stephen F. Cohen of Princeton and NYU. Mearsheimer represents, by his own proclamations, an old school of balance of power politics on the world stage, and spheres of influence thinking, which one can grasp quite readily if one thinks of the American Monroe Doctrine, which we declared early on in the 19th century for “our” hemisphere, but which we have had a lot of difficulty in accepting when asserted by other nations – especially Russia. That being said, and no matter how much it illuminates Putin’s mindset from the fall of the Soviet Union, 1989-2001, Putin’s conduct as the head of Russia – internally, against domestic dissent, in crushing the breakaway Chechen region, and its conduct in Syria, all have worked against most all of the former Soviet “satellite” nations in Central and Eastern Europe from wanting any close relationship to a revived Russian bear. Even with Mearsheimer’s powerful insights, he still got the call wrong on Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. And as he himself admits, “sphere’s of influence” asserted by large nations can be entirely at odds with other nation’s sense of nationalism, independence and democracy itself – if its citizen’s chose to shelter in another large “planet’s” orbit.

Here is one of the clearest foreign policy talks you will ever hear as Mearsheimer lays out what Russia/Putin view as “existential threats” to their interests, how ignoring their view would lead to wrecking the Ukraine, and drive Russia to an alliance with China. His lack of influence upon America’s foreign policy trajectory vis-a-vis Russia since 1989-1991 ought to trouble any citizen worried about a healthy democracy’s avoidance of serious alternative views. His laying out of the dynamics of US-Ukraine-Russia entanglement led me to an interventionist stance on behalf of Ukraine, based on the US’s moral responsibility in leading that nation to a NATO vision that was bound to provoke the Russian Bear. Once those hundred thousand plus Russian troops were deployed where they were in the late fall, early winter of 2021-2022, the legalistic distinction to being covered, or not, by the NATO paragraph five pledge became morally irrelevant: the moral duty was to block the invasion in the first place with US troops on the ground, and/or a declaration of a NO FLY ZONE – before the invasion.

And thus, dispute sharing much of the perspective of Mearsheimer’s historical narrative between the U.S., NATO and Russia from 1991 on, our clear leanings and active interventions in Ukrainian politics created a deep moral obligation not to let the Ukrainian nation (and if it was not fully a nation cohered in 2004, it is becoming so now in a dramatic and startling way, in the pressure cooker of war and its all out mobilization recalling the efforts of England standing alone in 1940) fight Russia by itself.

This lecture, given in the fall of 2015 to alums of the University of Chicago, has had an astounding 24, 583,073 viewers since then. Talk about the gaps between citizens and their elites…I’ve never seen him on CNN.

Editor’s Note added on Sunday, April 10th: I’ve just finished watching a panel hosted by the Nation magazine’s editor and wife of the late Stephen F. Cohen, dated April 7th, so pretty much up to date. I’ve very disappointed in what I heard from Professor Mearsheimer, not on the history of the runup to this conflict and NATO’s obliviousness to historical Russian sensitivities, but to his handling, failing to address adequately Russian atrocities not just in Ukraine, but their predictors from internal conduct of Putin towards adversaries (including poisonings abroad), and especially military conduct in Syria and Chechnya. Here’ the link

And here’s my comment:

“Well, I’m pretty shocked by this whole proceeding. I’ve been touting Professor Mearsheimer, whose work over the past 20 years ought to have been given wider circulation among the public but most of all, with American foreign policy elites. But he did get prediction of the actual invasion wrong, and it’s hard to believe his handling of the Russian targeting of civilians, unless all I see in the missile and air attacks is bogus or distorted info, as justified by the fact the US has supported arming of civilians inside Ukraine to fight; really? That looks spontaneous to me, the Molotov Cocktail factories – are they using Southern Comfort in the fuel? You’re losing me here John, and I’ve plugged your work as necessary to understand what there is fair about the Russian perceptions of the advance of NATO. But the last two weeks of missile and air strikes hitting purely civilian targets: hospitals, schools., nurseries and shelters you seemingly can’t handle, nor did anyone else on this panel, unless I missed Professor Laruelle’s comments, no one mentioning, giving us a sense that Putin’s military tactics here in Ukraine are consistent with Russian methods in Syria and the Chechen wars. No mention of suppression of dissent in Putin’s Russia, poisoning of dissidents, killing or jailing of journalists…I mean, whatever case Putin might have made by pausing the massive threatened invasion before actually plunging in on the 24th of Feb and demanding forums to resolve the issues is now thrown away…and what former Soviet satellite nation looking at Russian/Putin conduct over the years he has been in power (2001…?) would want to remain in the Russian orbit? I think the American left has suddenly become shockingly amoral in many of their very fragmented positions, including the totally unsubstantiated premise that Biden wants this war as the explanation of his terrible public signals greenlighting Putin first to take a little bite, ok, then pledging no boots on the ground and no wings in the air – shocking. Rather, it just looks like the incompetence he displayed all summer and fall in 2021 in having Senator Joe Manchin “run the table on him.” If Putin needed the signals of weakness and over-caution before deciding to launch on Feb 24th, then Biden’s conduct in office has sent nothing but I’ll cave every time I might lose a friend…and everybody is my friend. If the left critics are right, that this is a Biden and American hawk ploy to bleed Russia as in Afghanistan, then they are equally cruel in making the civilian population of Ukraine pay their butcher’s bill for them. They’re forging a new nation and they’ll be damned – the current Ukrainian mood – to come to any table now that doesn’t result in evicting Russian forces from all parts of the Ukraine as it stood in the plebiscite for Independence in Dec. of 1991 when all parts of the Ukraine, including Crimea and the Donbas currently under Russian rule (really Independent John?) voted with the rest of the nation, although not with the same overwhelming percentages (still over 50%). So I’ve been with the late Stephen F. Cohen in his writing and Professor Mearsheimer up to a point, but I fail to see how Putin’s conduct, despite NATO gross mistakes and arrogance even, can win any hearing for his complaints. Unless most of what I see on CNN is a Ukrainian fabrication – as Putin says – and I’m a constant critic of CNN’s ideological biases against Sanders, against MMT in economics and keeping Professor Mearsheimer offscreen…then the left is shockingly underestimating the moral dimensions of the horrors Putin’s army has unleashed. And based on the history I know from “Bloodlands” and Vasily Grossman’s two volumes “Stalingrad” and “Life and Fate I wouldn’t expect a vigorous “left” to emerge in Ukraine, the Right has had the most bitter experience of all things Russian under Stalin…and now it doesn’t look much different under Putin, it’s just that Putin doesn’t possess the awful machinery of deporting millions, burying tens of thousands and putting bullets in the heads of frightened Russian troops… My positions in detail are public and online here: https://wordpress.com/posts/gracchibros.wordpress.com

I’ll close with a brief posting from one of my comments online in the NY Times, a recent one, just to keep my perspective clear, and to offer readers one public sample of the type of attacks I’ve gotten by Email since I’ve taken my “interventionist” stance on behalf of Ukraine. This one accusing me of being a Trump supporter, but the private one questioning my right to offer opinions about whom Joe Biden should visit since I’m not a foreign policy expert. I’ll spare readers for now the full biography of reasons, especially over the past year or so, after the defeat of Sanders and the Green New Deal, why I feel comfortable writing the way I do, and challenging some of the cherished “gospel” from the Democratic Centrists. They don’t seem to realize the threat to democratic discourse posed by their insistence that only specialists and professionals can have “sound” views.

I was responding to the New York Times article “Up-Close: Ukraine Atrocity Photographs touch a Global Nerve” by Rick Gladstone which appeared on Tuesday, April 5th. Here’s the link: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/05/world/europe/russia-ukraine-war-atrocities.html

And here is the photo which led the piece:

Tatyana Petrovna, 72, in the garden of a Bucha home where the bodies of three civilians lay on Monday. Photo by Daniel Berehulak for the New York Times.

William Neil

MarylandApril 5

Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands,” makes this is all too familiar to the region, brought forth by the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin, from the 1930’s and 1940’s, and now an authoritarian oligarchy under Putin. It’s hard for me to fathom the paralysis of President Biden (primarily) and NATO (dependently) in this whole tragedy since early December of 2021 when, whether Putin actually invaded or not, 120,000 troops on Ukraine’s border called for action: sending NATO troops into a region of Ukraine that would be protective and give a clear signal – but not be as provocative as putting them right on the Russian/Ukraine border. Or, as a former NATO commander said last night on CNN, putting up a No Fly Zone in December, before any invasion. But no, the unimaginative, plodding Joe Biden instead signaled no troops and no wings in the air. Now to Mariupol, where the West should brace itself for even worse revelations of abuse of civilians, the whole gamut of horrors that the Eastern Front previewed from 1941-1945. Clearly, Biden and the West had the chance to take the initiative away from Mr. Putin, on the high moral ground of protecting civilians; at least feeding them and getting some of them out of the already demolished city which looks like Stalingrad in 1943. But again, no risk taking for a humanitarian No Fly Zone to deliver supplies or stop the bombardment, or US Special Forces to guide a convoy in. For me, all telegraphed by the failures with Joe Manchin.Reply10 RecommendShareFlag

3 REPLIES

Treetop commented April 5

T

Treetop

UsApril 5

@William Neil Yes I agree the West’s response in general has been so reactionary, just waiting to see what Putin will do, while we have the greater military might. My older relatives lived through the horrors of Russian invasion and occupation in the Baltics and always spoke of the cruelty of the Russians – would do anything to get away from them – and now it’s clear why.Reply10 RecommendedShareFlag

jack sherman commented April 5

J

jack sherman

MaineApril 5

@William Neil Your post is absurd—and would trigger WW3. Ukraine IS winning–and Biden has done a lot to help. you trump voters love to invent “the truth.” as if Biden is NOT doing all he can! Billions in aid (which many republicans voted against BTW)–his trip to Poland and strengthening NATO–which trump greatly weakened. but you seem to forget that Trump called Putin “a genius” on the day he invaded! Trump called Putin a “great leader–better than Obama” in the debates! so picture THAT nightmare–if trump was president now? he would be doing less than nothing. get your facts right. You “trump” republicans make me ill. like Tucker Carlson–who was so confused about why we are supporting Ukraine and NOT Russia—you have suddenly changed your tune–when you see a few pictures of murdered civilians. I’m surprised you are not calling this “fake news.”Reply2 RecommendShareFlag

William Neil commented April 5

W

William Neil

MarylandApril 5

@jack sherman Dearest Jack: I invite you to scour my postings over ten years at the Daily Kos for a good word about Trump, or any Republicans https://www.dailykos.com/history/user/billofrights and then in your next scouring exercise, check my voter registrations in NJ, RI MA and MD since 1972 …for signs of what you have hugely and wrongly assumed. Sorry to disappoint you. Daily Kos banned me in late October 2021 and I’ve never been reinstated because I headlined a polemic with the title “Joe Biden is single handedly destroying the Democratic Party” – that was two months before the Russian build up began to assume startling proportions and based on his incompetent handling of the Manchin matters. I hope in a forthcoming essay – I now post here and feel free to “scour” there as well https://wordpress.com/posts/gracchibros.wordpress.com to work on the theme of “Trump, Putin and the Lessons of Weimar Germany.” What else can I say but that my entire American civics education taught me to reject the whole persona of Trump, tactics, lies, and yes, being a man of the democratic left, his policies as well. Good luck in your search!Reply1 RecommendShare

Why Pres. Biden should visit Ukraine, his moral debt…and why it probably will never happen…

President John F. Kennedy is cheered by crowds in front of Berlin’s City Hall in this June 26, 1963 visit. Photo by: AP. From the Guardian, 27th June, 2009, article by Norm Crossland.

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:  

May I share a brief dialogue with you, one that actually happened in the NY Times, and then was taken down, with the notation that “the comment you are looking for is not currently available”? (And is still unavailable as of noon, Wed. March 23rd).

I happened to save it all before the Times apparently changed its mind, or someone else outside the Times intervened – and pasted it into my Word Perfect for future use.  That future is now. 

It started with my comment on the Times’ article by Sabrina Tavernise from March 20th,  about women’s suffering – and valor – in the Ukrainian war: “I don’t have the Right to Cry: Ukrainian Women Share their stories of Escape.” 

Here  at : https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/20/world/europe/ukraine-women-escape-stories.html

It fits the main media currents rather well: continual heart rending accounts and images of civilians valiantly  suffering and dying, as if the story line won’t change until the Ukraine is physically destroyed – and perhaps, as yet unproven, its captives – perhaps even children stripped of their parents – sent off to who knows what in Putin’s Russian “homeland.”

Readers, I’m getting tired of going along with all this.  I like to focus on the leaders in this conflict for the responsibility for the growing tragedy.  And when I learned (hard to miss this story) that President Biden would be in Europe this week for a number of high level meetings with NATO and EURO leaders, the opportunity that presents for a quick,  dramatic side visit to Ukraine by Biden was also hard to miss. 

It’s my burdening of Biden and the West in general for their moral responsibility now to stand by Ukraine more forcefully (I’ve been calling for “boots on the ground” since December) and air cover for as long as President Zelensky of Ukraine has.  Because Biden and NATO are adamant they won’t risk this to directly challenge Putin’s stipulations, some  of them wild and some specific, but all wielding the nuclear blackmail threat quite openly – here was a great opportunity for Biden to help himself politically and Ukraine morally and boost it’s citizens’ morale at the same time.

It also would, for the first time, put the onus on Putin to make some difficult counter move…so there is obvious risk and we don’t have to know the how, where and exact when, but if we can still get weapons and food in, we can get a President in – one who failed the test of heading off the invasion by not sending troops in the late fall – December or even January in a way that clearly was not an invasion threat for Russia, but a symbol that we would directly confront  a Russian invasion. Instead, we got the Biden pledge to Putin: no wings in the air, no boots on the ground. 

Well Mr. President, you have some moral ground to make up to us all, but especially the people of the Ukraine.  And Mr. Putin, for once, the next move will be yours.

By the way, it’s impossible not to bring in related examples of Presidential visits with some risk in comparable situations: Eisenhower to Korea in December of 1952; Kennedy to Berlin for that famous speech in June of 1963…and as a reminder of how close we have come previously  to possible “escalation,” the tank to  tank face off at Checkpoint Charlie in West Berlin, from October 26-28th, 1961, the opposing U.S. and Soviet armor being 100 yards apart.  The Russians backed down.  And directly related to my previous posting about an airlift to help civilians in besieged and crumbling Mariupol, I don’t recall anyone in American positions of authority bringing up the Berlin Airlift, which unfolded between June, 1948 and May 1949, involving hundreds of thousands of flights by American and British transports to bring in all the vital supplies that West Berliners needed to overcome the Soviet blockade of the city.  Chance for escalation?  Of course, with the world’s greatest military ground force – the Red Army – which had driven the Wehrmacht from the gates of Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad  to Berlin itself between 1942-1945, stationed all around to the East.   

From history.com, “Berlin Airlift, Feb. 3 2020”; photo from Bettman Archive/Getty Images

Here is the dialogue which the New York Times published, and then took away, reason undisclosed.  Two readers are very indignant at such an outrageous request…a presidential display of courage and  solidarity with the Ukraine. 

William Neil

MarylandMarch 20

My thoughts are that Joe Biden should visit the Ukraine this coming week, no matter the risks.  It would be both sound political advice to his sinking fortunes, and a temptation to Mr. Putin to do  something which would backfire on him.  But Biden won’t do it:  here’s why:

https://wordpress.com/post/gracchibros.wordpress.com/205

Reply5 RecommendShareFlag

4 REPLIES

Carlton commented 2 hours ago

C

Carlton

Brooklyn, N.Y.2h ago

@William Neil “My thoughts are that Joe Biden should visit the Ukraine this coming week, no matter the risks. “

That’s unreal, not to mention preposterous.

ReplyRecommendShareFlag

Heather Bowers commented 2 hours ago

H

Heather Bowers

Indianapolis2h ago

Ridiculous. Absolutely absurd and unhelpful.

ReplyRecommendShareFlag

William Neil commented 2 minutes ago

W

William Neil

Maryland2m ago

@Carlton

Joe Biden has been politically “inert” for a long time, no more shockingly demonstrated than during his July-December 2021 fumbling negotiations with  Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who, in my words, “ran the table on a bewildered Joe Biden.”

When President Biden finally threw some genuine emotion into the neglected battle to protect voting rights, it was a one-off performance in Atlanta, too little and so late he alienated Mrs. Expand the Base herself – Stacey Abrams, who boycotted the event. 

Let me up the ante with you, since you’re so outraged: Joe Biden and other leaders of NATO countries, having run the risk of humiliating a former great power by stating that Russia had no claims to anything like our Monroe doctrine ran NATO up to Russia’s borders when Russia, in the middle of the 1990’s was no threat at all and devasted economically.  Now an ugly authoritarian leader, Putin has capitalized and he’s willing to physically wreck a nation to bring it back into Russian orbit.  The burden for this fiasco does rest ultimately with Putin’s actions but there is heavy, demonstrable blame and culpability on Democratic and Republican leaders, including Biden personally, for their misjudgments over 30 years.  Will Russians shoot at Joe?  He ought to be willing at his age to give it up, which I doubt will happen, and if he is attacked in any way, Putin will have sealed his fate and Ukraine will get its air cover from US and boots on the ground too.

ReplyRecommendShareFlag

William Neil commented 2 minutes ago

W

William Neil

Maryland2m ago

@Heather Bowers

What do you tell yourself, Ms. Bowers, as you watch the emotional coverage of blasted buildings, shrapnel shredded mothers and children, and a clear Russian game plan to destroy a nation physically if they can’t get it to surrender on its terms?  I tell myself that the West now bears the responsibility for this outcome which is day by day eroding the base for negotiations and settlement, because there will be no nation left by the time the bargaining table arrives in a month or two.  Biden sealed Ukraine’s fate when he told Putin before he invaded that there will be no boots on the ground or wings in the air. Putin took him up on it at a time I recommended sending Western troops to a point South and East of Kyiv – back in December.

Biden won’t take risks domestically and won’t on behalf of a  nation the US has put at risk: the least he could do is put his old neck on the line – and I think it would have – not that he deserves it personally – a beneficial effect for him politically and a real morale boost for Ukraine; that will dissipate though if the people there realize there is no air cover or boots on the ground coming.

Putin has defined Biden’s allowable moves just as Senator Manchin did – and I’m sick of his lack of imagination to get out of boxes he needn’t  be trapped in.

Biden’s no hero, and millions of Ukrainians are going to have to pay for it again, while the West wrings its hands and sends indecisive weapons.

ReplyRecommendShare

Best to you all in tough times,

Berlin: U.S. Army Tanks face off against Soviet Tanks, Berlin 1961. From the Texas National Security Review online.
Ike in Korea: “President Dwight D. Eisenhower eating food outside with the troops during the Korean inspection tour – Dec. 1952. From Life Magazine by Horace Bristol.

Brave Ukraine, Cities Buried in Rubble, with Less and Less of a Nation to Bring to the Proverbial “Bargaining Table.”

Civilians evacuated across the remnant of a destroyed bridge in Irpin, a northwest suburb (of Kyiv); NY Times article by Andrew Kramer, March 19, 2022: “The Battle for Kyiv looms as a long and Bloody Conflict”; photos by Lynsey Addario.

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

It was amazing to watch Fareed Zakaria on CNN interview President Zelensky this Sunday morning, especially his turning the tables on 30 years of  post Cold War history (since 1991) – the expansion of NATO up to Russian borders – and put the burden on the defiant Ukrainian leader:  “Why didn’t you withdraw the NATO request for membership to head off Russia’s attack?”  As if US and NATO elites hadn’t been encouraging expectations which were bound to lead to troubles with a defensive, edgy Russia, with Putin announcing repeatedly, in words and deeds, that there would be real trouble. And then, as the troops and tanks assembled like huge thunderclouds on the Ukrainian borders, over many months, not only did the West leave Ukraine outside the NATO legal pledge, President Biden also ruled out the very measures which could have deterred an invasion as late as December-January, 2021-2022: there would no boots on the ground, no wings in the air. 

Now it’s very hard for me to swallow that table-turning by Zakaria having just re-read Stephen F. Cohen’s “Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia” (2001). The book builds the case, even citing the fate of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) in the wake of the oppressive Versailles Treaty, that defeated, desperate former Great Powers become dangerous political terrain, ripe for demagogues. 

Let me fill  in the blanks a bit more, the way a 2001 book could not (but came close enough): the budding dictators wanted to build A Strong and United Germany, Deserving of  new Living Space in the East; To Make Russia the Spiritual Radiant, the two-headed eagle looking East and West; To “Make America Great Again.” 

You get the drift here.  And so I responded to the New York Times article from March 19th, “The Battle for Kyiv looms as a long and Bloody Conflict” by Andrew Kramer with my own online comment. You can read the article here:  https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/19/world/europe/kyiv-ukraine-russia-war.html 

That article and a very useful map-oriented article here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/world/europe/ukraine-maps.html  – countered the dominant narrative of Ukraine holding its own, wearing the Russians down.  That may happen yet, but it is equally likely that the combination of Russian air superiority – 300-400 daily sorties vs 5-10 Ukrainian – and relentless artillery and ballistic missile bombardment can physically destroy so much military and civilian infrastructure that the results hollow out any sense of a surviving nation.  I could hear the frustration building in former NATO commander and US general Wesley Clarke’s voice Friday night on CNN:  essentially, “Putin draws all the lines about what we can and cannot do…that has to stop. “

And here is the full dialogue that resulted from my initial NY Times’ comment to the story about the battle for Kyiv, a total of ten responses, including two more of mine; this was one of the highest responses I’ve received for a posting; does it represent a change in sentiment from Times’ readers, who had earlier sided with the American establishment, Biden’s and NATO’s decision to limit our aid to the current forms, leaving the Ukrainians without the air cover, and indeed superiority that it will probably take to salvage the situation? I don’t know, but I do know that right now, Putin is winning the “define the parameters” of the conflict psychological battle, and there is little chance of reversing it unless we can find ways to answer his air power, his air defense system, and the impunity with which he rains down ballistic missiles from as far as 200 miles away – meaning – to stop him, we will have to make air incursions into Russian air space and destroy Russian military assets on Russian soil.

Sorry folks, that’s the reality I see, with only a faint hope that the bloody conflict, projected out a month or two later, might lead to a Russian generated coup against Putin and a withdrawal of Russian forces.

To make readers feel a little better, since I’m writing this on the day of the Vernal Equinox, March 20, 2022, there may be many steps short of the ultimate fear, Russia’s use of a tactical nuke, in what is already essentially WWIII…

Battlefields often contain shocking surprises, and I think we are witnessing the emergence of some new forms of combat centered around the displacement of tank warfare’s effectiveness because of hand-held missile technology and weapons – and tactics. Why the Russians haven’t used infantry support more effectively is a mystery, perhaps answered by the fact they can’t move heavy armor across soggy fields and have to stick to easily ambushed main roads.

That being said, I don’t see any signs that despite all the Ukrainian heroism and endurance, they have been able to reverse the growing Russian territorial gains, much less to evict the Russians from the growing swaths of Ukraine they are seizing – and/or destroying.

“There’s no talk of capitulation for Kyiv,” said Lt. Tetiana Churnovol, the commander of an anti-tank missile unit operating on the outskirts of Kyviv. From the same article as cited in the first picture.

Now here’s the dialogue:

William Neil (aka gracchibros)

MarylandMarch 19

There is a lot we are not seeing, despite all the reporters on the ground.  Three days after the attack on the shelter in Mariupol, we still don’t have a casualty figure.  So predictions are difficult, but I’ll wager one and hope that I am wrong: that the West’s reluctance to risk more of itself to turn the tide – boots on the ground, wings in the air – under the sturdy and flexible nuclear threat wielded so effectively by Putin (and just when will he stop using it after its proven so effective in “freezing the West”?) means that Russia is slowly winning the positional war of expansion in the East and South along the coast, so that the prospects at a bargaining table if we ever get there means that Ukraine will lose much more territory than where the boundaries were on Feb. 23, 2022…and, just as awful, even if they can retain Kyiv and other major cities, they will be in substantial ruin.

So we readers not in the seat of conflict, elite and affluent American and European West, are presented  nightly here in the Times and CNN with the suffering, destruction and Russian indifference to civilian life, while they also side decisively with the leadership which took Ukraine to the brink of NATO membership, and then would not put its boots and wings on the line to save it. 

It does help me to understand this in the US, the wealthiest nation in human history, not having universal health care, child care paid leave, or a decent minimum wage. 

We know a lot about cruelty, don’t we?

150 RecommendShareFlag

10 REPLIES

Mitch Gitman commented March 19

Mitch Gitman

Mitch Gitman

SeattleMarch 19

@William Neil Thank you. As Rep. Adam Kinzinger said, “We’re allowing Vladimir Putin to set the battle terms. We’re doing a better job of deterring ourselves than we are Russia.”

Somehow we think that by sacrificing Ukraine we will satiate the beast and keep Putin from going after us. But aside from the moral shame of that position, it is strategically shortsighted. Putin would gladly see Ukraine left a charred, depopulated wasteland so long as he controls it. And so long as he controls it, he can consolidate his gains and wait for the West to tire of its sanctions and boycotts. He knows he control vast reserves of natural resources the world needs. He knows the Russian appetite for suffering far exceeds the Western appetite for inconvenience.

And so he, or his successor, will regroup, and the nuclear-armed Russian empire will emerge that much stronger, ready to devour the next sovereign state it feels it has a right to. That sovereign state could well be a NATO member, and the nuclear threat will be raised there just as it is now with Ukraine. And why should we take our NATO Article 5 obligations any more seriously than we have taken the Budapest Memorandum we signed in 1994 when Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal?

43 RecommendedShareFlag

Greg commented March 19

G

Greg

Lyon, FranceMarch 19

@William Neil

Should we not ask ourselves how this all came about?

A look at some history since 1990 reveals that the same people that brought you the Iraq war now bring you the war in Ukraine. 

It is now clear that the eastward expansion of NATO is what triggered Putin to attack Ukraine. The BBC reported that Putin has made several demands, the very first demand being that Ukraine remains a neutral country and does not become a member of NATO.

It has been the U.S. neocons that pushed the Clinton and Bush Administrations to promote(read demand) the eastward expansion of NATO and push Putin into a corner.

The deaths and destruction in Ukraine are the direct result of the U.S. neocons relentlessly pushing Putin into a corner, against the opposition of U.S. foreign policy experts and major EU allies.

8 RecommendShareFlag

Robert David South commented March 19

R

Robert David South

Watertown NYMarch 19

@Greg Your argument relies on the assumption that sovereign nations have a right to dictate the foreign policy of other sovereign nations.  Or does that only apply in some preferred cases?   The cause of the problem is not the failure of Ukraine to obey Russian orders, the cause of the problem is that Russia is presuming to give Ukraine orders and responding violently to rejection of its authority.  NATO is a defensive alliance, doing what the UN was set up for but unable to execute.  Aggression should have consequences, and that should prevent aggression.  Only an aggressor would object.

45 RecommendedShareFlag

Greg commented March 19

G

Greg

Lyon, FranceMarch 19

@Robert David South

It WAS a defensive alliance, from 1949 to 1991. After that it became a tool of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. neocons saw Glasnost as a threat to their program of domination, so they set out to drive a wedge into the new friendly East-West relationship using NATO       ……. and here we are today, with another war in someone else’s backyard, 8000 kms from Washington.

2 RecommendShareFlag

chichimax commented March 19

C

chichimax

Albany, NYMarch 19

@Greg

Russia and the Russian people are not personified in Putin. See my above comment. Putin took away the rights of the Russian people to self-determination and it hangs in his craw that the Ukrainians did not go along with it. Why would NATO be a threat to Russia if they have never encroached on his territories? They have not. Only countries who have been democratic republics have been able to join NATO, at their own request and after long review. How would that be a threat to Russia, but for the fact that Putin had designs to exert his own power over countries other than Russia.

8 RecommendShareFlag

Mitch Gitman commented March 19

Mitch Gitman

Mitch Gitman

SeattleMarch 19

@Greg “It is now clear that the eastward expansion of NATO is what triggered Putin to attack Ukraine.”

Excellent point. I would add that I don’t see what the problem is with letting the fox guard the chicken coop. Or maybe we’re talking a bear guarding the chicken coop in this case.

3 RecommendShareFlag

Bar1 commented March 19

B

Bar1

CAMarch 19

@Greg   Putin has pushed himself into a corner by invading Ukraine. He did the invasion, not Biden, left himself no way out, and will suffer the ensuing disaster, along with the Russian people. Actions have consequences, like always.

7 RecommendShareFlag

William Neil commented March 19

W

William Neil

MarylandMarch 19

@Greg:

 certainly John Mearsheimer of U. of Chicago and the late Russian specialist Stephen F. Cohen of NYU and Princeton  laid out a convincing case that the West, not just the US pursued an unwise policy with Russia since 1989-1991: on the expansion of NATO to Russian borders (no one else allowed their own Monroe Doctrine); in the bi-partisan forcing of former communist Russia to adapt disastrous cold turkey market economics turning the Russian public against the US  based on economic pain – the greatest drop in GDP and life span in economic history; unilaterally  overturning ballistic missile treaties – both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (what kind of signal did that send?) Not since the Versailles Treaty has the West handed a potential dictator such grievances to build a hyper-nationalistic response out of (left out Serbia-Balkans end of 1990’s…)…that having been said – and both Mearsheimer  and Cohen were denied the policy forums to present their effective cases…Yet the conduct and nature of Putin’s Russia has destroyed  any case he might have made to remedy the West’s errors of policy…and now the  caution flag comes out as Putin bullies his way to defining all the terms. I even think that what Biden fears the most – attacking air defenses based in Belarus and Russia, and the ballistic missile launching sites too – ought to be  fair  game based on the illegal invasion – morally and legally.   Risks  that must be run to save Ukraine from our policy errors.

1 RecommendShareFlag

Greg commented March 19

G

Greg

Lyon, FranceMarch 19

@chichimax

“Only countries who have been democratic republics have been able to join NATO, at their own request and after long review. How would that be a threat to Russia,”

In 2021 NATO declared that Ukraine would go thru the MAP process and become a NATO member. To help Ukraine qualify NATO intensified the provision of arms and training to the Ukraine military.

2 RecommendShareFlag

Greg commented March 19

G

Greg

Lyon, FranceMarch 19

@William Neil

Let’s remember the illegal invasion of Iraq, perhaps paving a path for Putin. His false claims of WMD in Ukraine also rings a bell. 2 RecommendS

And now a final reply to Greg of Lyon, which I did not post at the NY Times because you can see how rapidly reader interest falls off as the “volleying” goes on from the initial comment and early replies.

But here’s what I would have said:

There’s almost a sadistic twist to Putin’s physical responses in Ukraine echoing what he feels has been 30 years of Russian honor and dignity being trampled by the West’s responses to the USSR’s collapse between 1989-1991 – and what the West has a hard time acknowledging but that no Russian who lived through it is likely to forget: the “cold turkey-shock therapy” market transition to Neoliberal Capitalism recommended strongly if not imposed by links to Western financial aid, all of which resulted in the greatest economic collapse in history in terms of GDP drop – 50% – and drop in lifespan (1991-1999)…in his creation of Western fears of nuclear brandishings to fend off a no fly zone and boots on the ground, Putin is recreating the sense of helplessness, of Russian futility influencing events in Serbia-Balkans in the late 1990’s…and in Russian pleas and then threats not to take NATO up to the remaining Russian borders. Let me be very clear: the memory of life under the USSR, and Putin’s own domestic tyranny towards critics, Russian conduct in two wars to keep Chechnya inside the old orbit, and then invading Georgia and grabbing key parts of Ukraine in 2014-2015 – means he has undercut his own ability to further evoke “sympathy.” Not that the West would have responded to a very different Russia and Putin, 1991-2004 in the way he hoped…in that sense Cohen’s book “Failed Crusade” seems a bit – or more -Utopian, because Western elites were deeply into the mindset of “the End of History” – ending in the triumph of liberal (Sic) capitalism, and not especially attuned to the dangers of a collapsed Soviet Empire feeding a new form of tyranny. Cohen’s view, and that of Professor John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago, just didn’t obtain much traction. And I’m not sure how much Mearsheimer grasped the fact that Putin had gone off the charts in his methods and Russian Messianism, those features not really registering in the intellectual framework of a “spheres of influence, balance of power” thinker like him. That’s Cold historical realism underestimating the force of moral outlooks, kind of baked in to the way it looks at the world, and the dystopian formulations which end up driving the successors to failed empires: from the failures of Weimar and Versailles, from a revival of Russian nationalism, 1991-2021, and from Trump’s not entirely wrong view of “American carnage,” a carnage not apparent to the elite think tank world I saw in Washington, DC from 2005-2014. But resentment was building in rural and de-industrialized America; for democracy’s sake, we could either believe that our fellow citizen’s had some legitimate “falling behind” grievances, or that they are no longer rationale, spurning any material remediations such as a Green New Deal, and turning in blind fury to someone willing to “own the libs” and their coastal indifference to those who had fallen behind. Does anyone else see a connection between foreign policy attitudes towards Russia, 1991-2021, and American elites inability to appreciate the rising resentments inside their own country? Is it not perhaps another example that Western history has not escaped the full effects of “modernization,” with its fault lines of those who became modern, like Great Britain and United States and those who did so only partially, like Germany 1971-1918, and Russia, which has never ceased to harbor a sense of being behind, or falling behind the West…

More on these themes to come…

Best for the Vernal Equinox…

An Air Drop to Save the Citizens of Mariupol, Ukraine, from starving, freezing…and surrender?

An Air Force C-130J Super Hercules aircraft drops heavy cargo on landing zone Kristen in Baumholder, Germany, May 8, 2020. Photo by Ismael Ortega, Air Force.

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

I wanted to wait until the results of the three-way talks between the German Chancellor, French Prime Minister and Mr. Putin were announced, hoping like everyone else in the West that it would result in a cease fire.  But it did not.  And indeed, would it have been anything more than a way for Russian troops to catch their breath, re-supply and then continue the “slow annihilation” of the civilian population of the Ukraine – especially if the terms did not allow for safe evacuations or humanitarian aid to reach those trapped for weeks now.  As in Mariupol.

Therefore, what I propose is something I hope that our Pentagon and NATO planners are already working on, and not requiring military genius to think it up.  The proposal is to have an airborne drop of humanitarian supplies into Mariupol where it is most needed.  And wherever those in command of the terrain feel it is necessary to keep civilians alive. 

We know that US forces train with their large cargo jets for this type of emergency and are probably best suited for it, with US logos on their wings or not, ditto for NATO.  I’ve personally seen Air Force or West Virginian Air National Guard cargo jets fly low – 500-1,000 – feet over Frostburg in Western Maryland.

Of course, this modest proposal will make the political elites in the US, in both parties, and in Western Europe as well, and maybe their own financial oligarchs too, very nervous, as has the bolder No Fly Zone proposal.

That’s despite a recent Reuters Poll telling us that 74% of the US public support it, and despite 27 former/current foreign policy leaders broaching an open letter calling for a humanitarian corridor protected by a “No Fly Zone.” (https://www.reuters.com/world/us/exclusive-americans-broadly-support-ukraine-no-fly-zone-russia-oil-ban-poll-2022-03-04/); the Open Letter appears below in Editor’s Notes:

That letter was correct, historically, and morally, to resurface the cry “Never Again.” (Even as Yanis Varoufakis has recently reminded us how unevenly we treat refugees and their plight.)

There are other ways to carry out this airlift of essentials: perhaps it could be done by recognized commercial cargo aircraft, although it is a question if they could do it by parachuting supplies in…Or it could be done by the military of neutral parties – there may even be a few left.

Now the crunch, the inescapable reality: that Mr. Putin might consider this an act of war, as he has already done with the economic sanctions, and today, Saturday, saying that further supply of military equipment from the West will be considered “legitimate targets.” And those threats, red lines even, to go along with that earlier rant-warning about any type of Western assistance to the Ukrainians, that it will “unleash forces the likes of which have never been seen” – so reminiscent of Hitler’s tirades.  (And of Trump’s rant directed towards North Korean?)

Let us begin with this proposal, a humanitarian air drop, and let us not consult with Mr. Putin in advance.  Do it – and let the next move be his, for once,  reacting to an absolutely defensible, legal, and moral response to his war crimes and war of “annihilation” on civilians.

If Mr. Putin and the Russian military are willing to risk an open clash with the US and NATO,  starting first in a battle for control of the skies, I can’t think of a more honorable way to reluctantly, but with full honor, take them up on it.  

And keep in mind there are many steps in a conflict like this short of what our leaders fear more than defending a nation of 40 million with our own lives – one that they have been encouraging by “Poking the Russian Bear” for decades now. 

What Mr. Putin is saying is that if he can’t have Ukraine back in the Mother Rus of his historical imagination, then no one, including the millions living there, its citizens, will have anything like a civilization to defend – or come home to.

Sooner or later, our leaders will realize that’s the nature of his stance, and the risk we will sooner or later have to face – escalation to save a nation outside of NATO’s legal boundaries.  But not its moral ones.  

PS: Dear President Biden: There are any number of steps in a shooting “escalation” between Russia and the US/NATO starting with what I wrote above – an airdrop….how about air flight right to airports if they still exist…Russians shot down a cargo plane, we send in US/NATO jets to escort next, then the Russians shoot one down with an SAM…we attack the SAM site if it’s in Ukraine or even lower Belarus…and I may have left out another step: an effective Electromagnetic Jam to prevent their missiles working…then Russia shoots ballistic missiles at convoy routes, military and civilian between Poland and Russia…and we shoot down the Ballistic Missiles with SAM’s (Patriot System) of our own…and then we decide to herd the convoys with US special forces of which we have tens of thousands ready to go…as you can see from just the top of my head, lots of steps short of “World War III”…unless Putin wants to get there in a hurry. And even if he does, it’s more likely given his sense of the wayward Ukrainians and willingness to do a Grozny on them, he would use a small tactical nuke on its troops if they cluster…or even on the cities, now a mixture of armed troops, armed civilians and non-combatants who chose to stay. So Mr. President you’re waving World War III a bit loosely, don’t you think?

President Biden today: “We will not start World War III over Ukraine” (me: 40 million) but implicitly he will over Estonia: 1.3 million. The most emphatic I’ve ever seen Joe Biden. However, when your first response to Putin is fear, you’re in his hip pocket.

Editor’s Note: Text of full Open Letter on a Humanitarian “No Fly Zone.”

Open Letter Calling for Limited No-Fly Zone
We, the undersigned, urge the Biden administration, together with NATO allies, to impose a limited No-Fly Zone over Ukraine starting with protection for humanitarian corridors that were agreed upon in talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials on
Thursday. NATO leaders should convey to Russian officials that they do not seek direct confrontation with Russian forces, but they must also make clear that they will not countenance Russian attacks on civilian areas. Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has caused massive devastation and loss of
life for Ukrainians. His premeditated, unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression has created the greatest crisis on the European continent since the end of World War II.
Despite the truly heroic efforts by Ukrainian soldiers and average citizens to resist the marauding Russian forces, Putin’s military is poised for further attacks on major cities, including the capital Kyiv. Targeting residential buildings, hospitals and government
complexes, as well as nuclear power plants, Russian forces will be responsible for an even higher death toll.
The international community has responded swiftly through an unprecedented array of sanctions and a significant increase in lethal military assistance to help Ukraine defend
itself. But more must be done to prevent more widescale casualties and a potential bloodbath. President Biden and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg have stated that neither the
United States nor NATO will engage Russian forces on the ground in Ukraine. What we seek is the deployment of American and NATO aircraft not in search of confrontation
with Russia but to avert and deter Russian bombardment that would result in massive loss of Ukrainian lives. This is in addition to the request from Ukrainian leaders for A-10
and MIG-29 aircraft to help Ukrainians defend themselves, which we also strongly support. Already more than a million Ukrainians have fled their country to escape the brutality Putin has unleashed. Estimates suggest that that number could reach 5 million, more than 10 percent of the population. Several thousand Ukrainians have already died from Putin’s latest aggression, on top of the more than 14,000 killed following Putin’s first
invasion of Ukraine starting in 2014. Ukraine is facing a severe humanitarian disaster, and the effects are being felt across the European continent and beyond.

The refrain “never again” emerged in the wake of the Holocaust, and Ukrainians are wondering whether that pledge applies to them. It is time for the United States and NATO to step up their help for Ukrainians before more innocent civilians fall victim to
Putin’s murderous madness. Ukrainians are courageously defending their country and their freedom, but they need more help from the international community. A U.S.- NATO enforced No-Fly Zone to protect humanitarian corridors and additional military means for Ukrainian self-defense are desperately needed, and needed now. (Note: Affiliations are for identification purposes only; individuals are signing in their
personal capacity.)

  1. Anders Aslund, Senior Fellow, Stockholm Free World Forum
  2. Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow/Foreign Policy Research Institute
  3. Gen. (Ret.) Philip Breedlove, Former Supreme Allied Commander Europe
  4. Paula Dobriansky, Former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
  5. Eric S. Edelman, Former Under Secretary of Defense
  6. Evelyn Farkas, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia,
    Ukraine, Eurasia
  7. Daniel Fried, Former Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to
    Poland
  8. Andrew J. Futey, President, Ukrainian Congress Committee of America
  9. Melinda Haring, Deputy Director, Atlantic Council Eurasia Center
  10. John Herbst, Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine
  11. LtG (Ret.) Ben Hodges, Former Commanding General, United States Army
    Europe
  12. Glen Howard, President, Jamestown Foundation
  13. Donald Jensen, Johns Hopkins University
  14. Ian Kelly, Former U.S. Ambassador to Georgia and OSCE
  15. John Kornblum, Former Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to
    Germany
  16. Shelby Magid, Associate Director, Atlantic Council Eurasia Center
  17. Robert McConnell, Co-Founder, U.S.-Ukraine Foundation
  18. Claire Sechler Merkel, Senior Director, McCain Institute for International
    Leadership
  19. David A. Merkel, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and
    Director, National Security Council
    20.Barry Pavel, Senior Vice President and Director, Atlantic Council Scowcroft
    Center for Strategy and Security
  20. Herman Pirchner, President, American Foreign Policy Council
    22.Michael Sawkiw, Jr., Director, Ukrainian National Information Service
    23.Leah Scheunemann, Deputy Director, Atlantic Council Transatlantic Security
    Initiative
    24.Benjamin L. Schmitt, Former European Energy Security Advisor, U.S.
    Department of State
    25.William Taylor, Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine
    26.Alexander Vershbow, Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and NATO
  21. Ian Brzezinski, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
  22. Orest Deychakiwsky, Former Policy Adviser, U.S. Helsinki Commission
  23. Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution and Freeman Spogli
    Institute for International Studies, Stanford University
  24. Kurt Volker, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and Special Representative for
    Ukraine Negotiations

The People vs the Parties: Reuters Poll shows 74% of Americans favor a No Fly Zone over Ukraine, stopping Russian oil imports….

A woman holds a placard as people watch Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on a screen addressing anti-war demonstrations in several European cities including Frankfurt, Vienna, Lyon, Tbilisi, Vilnius and Prague, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, at the famous city centre Roemerberg, in Frankfurt, Germany, March 4, 2022. REUTERS/Tim Reichert

Dear Citizens, Opinion Leaders, Elected Officials:  

I trust my initial reaction from the last post (https://wordpress.com/post/gracchibros.wordpress.com/159) : I’ve never seen reference to this poll on CNN or NY Times…why not?  

https://www.reuters.com/world/us/exclusive-americans-broadly-support-ukraine-no-fly-zone-russia-oil-ban-poll-2022-03-04/

Now the interesting dynamic on CNN is the courageous coverage by reporters in the field, day by day building the moral compunction for “intervention” especially via a No Fly Zone, with the NATO, European and American establishments desperately scrambling not to confront Putin’s forces directly. Instead,  let’s get those Polish (old USSR) jets transferred (now scratched as too risky, first being too clunky administratively).

And to counter that, all the “official” spokespeople” appearing on CNN throwing cold water, the risks, of a No Fly Zone at odds with the whole sympathetic current of the actual reporting. Retired Generals who initially were raising the issue, very cautiously, now take the political line: too risky, and look how well the Ukrainians are doing in the field.

After reading the rather detailed account of the two Chechen wars at Wikipedia today, and seeing how many Russian generals resigned over the slaughter, the brutal tactics…without altering the war, I’m not optimistic that we can count on an internal coup.  I hope I’m wrong. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Chechen_War

Gracchi Bros

Frostburg, MD 

The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, attacks NATO’s (and Biden’s, by inference) decision against a No-Fly Zone and putting Boots on the Ground, as “Weak and Insecure.”

Ukrainians crowd under a destroyed bridge as they try to flee crossing the Irpin river in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti); in TImes of Israel, March 5, 2022.

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

That’s right, the hero of the West, President Zelensky of Ukraine, has just said that NATO (and by implication Biden too) are “‘Weak and Insecure.’”  Thus President Zelensky has already learned the bitter lesson we already absorbed as Joe Manchin “ran the table” on President Biden’s Domestic Agenda.

The full statement I wrote down from CNN was this: “‘We believe NATO countries have created a narrative that closing the skies over the Ukraine would provoke Russia’s direct aggression against NATO. This is the self-hypnosis of those who are weak, insecure inside, despite the fact they possess weapons many times stronger than we have,’ he said.” (https://www.cnn.com/europe/live-news/ukraine-russia-putin-news-03-04-22/index.html)

And here is an even fuller set of quotes from his speech, which I saw at Axios after this posting:

  • His tone turning darker, he paused and said: “Unfortunately, today there is a complete impression that it is time to give a funeral repast for something else: security guarantees and promises, determination of alliances, values that seem to be dead for someone.”
  • “The NATO summit took place today — weak summit, confused summit, summit which shows that not everyone considers the struggle for freedom to be Europe’s No. 1 goal.”

Accusing NATO countries of turning a blind eye to atrocities while having intelligence on Russia’s intent to destroy Ukraine, Zelensky called the “narrative” that a no-fly zone would provoke Russia’s direct aggression “self-hypnosis of those who are weak, under-confident inside.”

  • “All the people who will die starting from this day will also die because of you. Because of your weakness, because of your disunity,” a furious Zelensky said.
  • “Is this the NATO we wanted? Is this the alliance you were building? … You will not be able to buy us off with liters of fuel for liters of our blood, shed for our common Europe, for our common freedom, for our common future,” he added, referring to supplies NATO has delivered to Ukraine.
  • https://www.axios.com/ukraine-nato-no-fly-zone-zelensky-video-00a61061-d45b-4e64-859a-2d462526254b.html

It’s been a brutal and depressing day, most of all for President Zelensky of the Ukraine, who had to listen to NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg state this morning that “We are not part of this conflict” as a way of justifying refusing to set up a No-Fly Zone over Ukraine and also,  placing no NATO boots on the ground.  (https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_192739.htm)

(As opposed to President Biden’s ferocious “No Fly Zone” over the US domestic airspace  – banning Russian aircraft.  That’ll teach  ‘em Joe.)

This is no way to negotiate with Putin, or anyone else, in foreign or domestic policy.  It’s been a stumbling path for Biden on Ukraine, right out of the gate when he suggested in a long press conference on January 19th that if Putin took just a little new bite out of the nation, via a “minor incursion,” it might not set off alarm bells.   

More than a month later, as Biden was solemnly informing the nation and the world that Russia would invade, he said we would not send troops to defend Ukraine.  And this past week as the buildings fell and civilian casualties mounted, Putin issued his nuclear alert and Hitlerian threat of “horrors never before seen” if the West dared to interfere in any way.  Of course the West has, doing what globalizing bankers do, started squeezing the bad guys financially, though not cutting off their purchase of the villains’ energy products. That would be too much of a sacrifice for the West, as compared too…I guess, what the Ukrainians are going through.

I can’t speak for Biden, but I’m willing to bet he’ll pledge a hug to each and every one of the one million and counting refugees who didn’t benefit from the risks not taken,  of a No Fly Zone imposed,  and boots on the ground, even if they had to be stealth boots, the way Putin inserted out-of-uniform Russian Special Forces into the Crimean and Eastern Ukrainian provinces in 2014-2015. 

Now I’m not a professional diplomat, but I don’t think it’s wise in matters of national security, after the other side has drawn all the lines, done all the dares, to say what your next response is going to be, especially if it is to withdraw your two best hands in advance: boots on the ground and wings in the air.

 As a matter of fact, my advice way back in early December as the evidence of massive Russian forces mounted on Ukrainian borders, was to send one American division, one British, one French and one Polish, just south and east of Kyiv to broadcast the clear signal: this isn’t an invasion of Russia, it’s a defense of Ukraine before even more serious trouble starts.  Then the next move would have been up to Putin, exactly the reverse of NATO’s and U.S. Sec. of State Antony Blinken’s excuses in today’s press conference: that the measures President Zelensky and members of the Ukrainian Parliament are asking for, like Kira Rudik (repeatedly on CNN) might lead to an escalation involving NATO, the US and Russian forces, in a shooting war.  Better, I guess, that all the shooting is onto Ukrainians.  Now that’s a “containment policy” if I ever saw one.

Biden and NATO would have been well advised to say today, Friday, March 4th,  that all options were on the table as Russia continued to violate human rights norms by using cluster munitions, and has apparently used at least one thermobaric weapon, allegedly on a Ukrainian air base, killing 70 soldiers. 

There are not going to be polite expressions of dissent tossed towards Biden and NATO as the refugees soar into the millions and the casualties mount into the tens of thousands.  Day by day, week by week, the missing air cover and boots on the ground are going to haunt the West and embitter Ukrainians.

That’s the Russian-Putin play book meant to either drive Ukraine to surrender, vast territorial capitulation, or, as our own Pentagon described his tactics, he works towards “slow annihilation.”

One feisty Democrat from Pennsylvania, Chrissy Houlahan (D-6), who has come from a military family, and served in the Air Force, has called for the transfer of  the famous but aging A-10 Warthog attack planes to Ukraine – to be flown by their own pilots (should have been silent on who will do the flying).  It’s my understanding that there are A-10’s in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, and some greens have accused them of buzzing wildlife areas.  They should stop that and go hunt down the hundreds of Russian tanks lined up in a grand shooting gallery: that 40 mile long convoy north and west of Kyiv. 

From the Website “Task and Purpose,” May 16, 2017 in an article by Jared Keller entitled “Will one of these Experimental Aircraft Replace the Legendary A-10 Warthog?”

Editor’s Note and Update, March 5: In an exchange with a very bright Washington policy insider after my Email version of this posting went out late Friday night, I was reminded that the A-10 Warthog goes in to the battlefield after our side has control of the skies; that’s because they are relatively slow by design, and not designed to fight with enemy fighter aircraft. Here’s my full response:

thanks _______ and you are absolutely right: they are the last element of air to go in, after you’ve won air superiority; and I’ve been open in saying you don’t get it by “fiat,” No Russian Planes over Ukraine (and of course, lower Belarus, a problem in itself) you have to win it by shooting down Russians and we’ll lose quite of few planes in doing so…that’s why I put Warthogs last, after stressing the No Fly Option.  No Fly Zone is a confrontation, open with Putin’s declaration.  I wouldn’t call it an act of war, and we should  not announce it, do a three wave air campaign because we just don’t know what the first wave is going to meet in the ongoing evolution between defense and counter measures.  I’m sure massive US NATO jamming would happen first…I think it ought to come out of the blue when the ground campaign is going very ugly…then it’s Putin’s move.  That’s the  best I can do and its clear right now the American people do not want to take that risk, although my opening in the NY Times dialogue got 79 likes versus “you’re courting nuclear war” at 105, not bad given where we are…like FDR in 1939…

Two further notes:  I have a “personal” experience with A-10’s, because during my conservation days in NJ the National Guard Air Wing flew them over the NJ Pinelands where they had a firing range; I used to climb up on a little mound of asphalt on the side of Rt. 539, in the Pigmy Forest where you could see miles around even from just 150 ft elevation and watch the hogs come in for strafing runs…pretty scary just by the noise…they look like trouble…and they found some when they shot up a school bus (!) in a school parking lot near the range.  No one around, nobody hurt but it must have been quite a scene in the “de-briefing.” 

Depending on events, I hope the next posting can be: “Trump, Putin and the Lessons of Weimar: Recreating the ‘Heroic’ Past.”

I invite readers now to share in my Online Comment Section dialogue on these issues conducted in the NY Times on Feb. 28th and March 1st.   It was in response to a Michelle Goldberg’s column run on the 28th, entitled “Why the Ukrainians Believe They Can Win.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/28/opinion/ukraine-victory.html)

My Dialogue in the New York Times:

Graccibros (William Neil)

MarylandFeb. 28

With more Russian troops pouring in, and the use of cluster bombs on civilians confirmed, it is clear that Putin is willing to destroy major cities if he cannot bring Ukraine back into “Mother Rus.” Therefore the U.S. and NATO must prepare a No-Fly Zone over at least the Ukraine, and maybe lower Belarus, which is not just a “declaration,” it will involve air combat with losses; no other choice, frankly. Second, for Americans who have been told we can’t afford national health insurance, forgiveness of student debt, a national minimum wage of $15 per hour, decent child care, family leave or pro-union organizing legislation, we have been able to afford 70,000 very well trained Special Forces (triggered by 9/11 and the war against terrorism). As Madeleine Albright once said on the Balkan situation: “we have this magnificent military – so we never can use it?” Use them; if all these arms from the West, even from Sweden and Germany now, are getting in, then start infiltrating the small units of our Special Forces because the nature of the ground combat so far is very suited to their skills. If we have to dress them like Mrs. Doubtfires, so be it. That’s where we are headed after signaling again and again to Putin we wouldn’t send in our troops, which we should have done in December: one US division, one Brit, one French and one Polish, just south and east of Kyiv…not on the Russian or Belarus border, just to be clear. So far, we react to Putin, time to change that.

79 RecommendShareFlag

13 REPLIES

JerryV commented February 28

J

JerryV

NYCFeb. 28

@William Neil, Emotionally, I feel the same way but it would lead to a disaster. A deadly clash between Russian and American soldiers could well be the first stepping stone towards nuclear war. I support Biden’s plan of bleeding dry the financial system of Russia. The subsequent hardships on the Russian people, coupled with the return of large numbers of Russian soldiers in body bags may well spur the overthrow of Putin and his government by the Russian people.

105 RecommendShareFlag

William Neil commented February 28

MarylandFeb. 28

@JerryV Yes perhaps you are right JerryV; I have no doubt that the American establishment which denied all that list of programs for the American people I specified can keep a nice dry eye and cold blooded distance from watching people we led on get slaughtered. Nice and safe to use the financial tools…will they work in time? After all, that’s the crew that transferred $53 trillion to themselves between 1975 and 2018 according to that Rand study from September of 2020 which nobody in the campaign mentioned.

7 RecommendShareFlag

Jdrider commented February 28

J

Jdrider

VirginiaFeb. 28

@William Neil I dream of all freedom-loving people coming to the aid of the heroic Ukrainian military and civilians fighting for their country and their lives. I imagine hordes of freedom-fighters decimating Russian invaders. My favorite video from Ukraine so far was narrated by a soldier who swore he would never speak Russian again after he and his country won this war. But I fear that some of us cannot take part in a physically active way. Putin, already unhinged, might take the insult as reason to unleash the ultimate destruction upon Ukraine and the world.

1 RecommendShareFlag

William Neil commented February 28

William Neil

MarylandFeb. 28

@JerryV And the Ukrainian people will bear your burdens of fear? Former General Wesley Clark tonight said among other things that this will be Putin’s strategy going forward: use the nuclear fear to handcuff you; for you and your 17 supporters here, when would that stop working? Wouldn’t it apply to our base in Poland 100 miles away: you wouldn’t risk a block to Putin over that? It sounds to me like Joe Biden’s box in dealing with Joe Manchin…Putin will run the table on us…

3 RecommendShareFlag

R. Dent commented February 28

R

R. Dent

ConnecticutFeb. 28

@William Neil Great recipe for bringing on a nuclear war.

1 RecommendShareFlag

TS. commented February 28

TS.

TS.

Hudson ValleyFeb. 28

@William Neil The U.S. must have more aid/defense going to Ukraine than is being publicly discussed. Hopefully U.S. special forces are being deployed to Ukraine. I am ok with Washington stating a public non-engagement policy while sending covert ops to aid a brave & inspiring population that is being invaded and is in danger of being overpowered in an unprovoked attack.

2 RecommendShareFlag

John commented March 1

J

John

San FranciscoMarch 1

@William Neil What is it with No Fly Zones that makes every armchair general so ecstatic? If the US plays any direct role in enforcing any No Fly Zone, it is directly at war with Russia. Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons aimed as US cities, as the US has thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at Russian cities. Do you really believe Putin is sane enough not to engage in total war once the US engages?RecommendShareFlag

rwc commented March 1

R

rwc

Boston, MAMarch 1

@JerryV Exactly jerry. The fools spouting off here haven’t a clue about the danger of sparking another world war to end all wars for real this time, since the world would be destroyed.RecommendShareFlag

Mike S. commented March 1

M

Mike S.

Eugene, ORMarch 1

@William Neil Our magnificent military had a lot of trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan. Don’t get me wrong–the long convoy is a tempting target, and so is a cruise missile to Putin’s Palace from out in the Black Sea. But all that puts up against Russia directly, and it is good by Earth. I’m just hoping that somebody doesn’t deliberately or accidentally drop a bomb in the sarcophagus at Chernobyl.RecommendShareFlag

JerryV commented March 1

J

JerryV

NYCMarch 1

@William Neil, I am afraid that things (for the Ukrainians) will get a lot worse before it gets better. Huge columns of Russian soldiers are moving into Ukraine. They will use the same strategy that they used in Chechnya. They will indiscriminately attack cities with bombs, heavy artilliary and missiles to drive out frightened civilians. Then they will go house to house. I haven idea how to stop this. Putin is going crazy and does not want to appear being humiliated.

2 RecommendShareFlag

Ferg commented March 1

F

Ferg

Boulder, coMarch 1

@JerryV oh i dont know which of you two i love most. Married Jerry, but man I wanna party with Bill.RecommendShareFlag

Someone commented March 1

S

Someone

RealityMarch 1

Ugh! While I don’t disagree that US military action may further escalate a bad situation, I find America’s temptation to wage war on oppressed people, through economic starvation, immoral. Either put up or shut up. If economic sanctions fail in the short term, then failing to put boots on the ground is without a doubt the same as turning our backs on the Ukrainian

.2 RecommendShareFlag

William Neil commented March 1

W

William Neil

MarylandMarch 1

@JerryV that’s the correct trajectory of events; are you familiar with the fate of the Warsaw uprising in August of 1944, with the Russian army paused within 30 miles, watching, as the Nazis sent in armor and infantry and air to pulverize an uprising which had far fewer weapons than the Ukraine? The cruel fate as the world stood by (the Brits tried dropping air supplies but the Russians wouldn’t give them a No-Fly Zone…prompted historian Norman Davies to write a 700 page book in 2003 to set the cruel record straight, in contained rage at the uprisings fate…and betrayal…all the maneuvering between the Polish gov’t in exile and the Allies, and pleading with Stalin to intervene..I read it exactly a year ago to better understand Central European history…by the way, more than a by the way: when would you exit your “he’s off the rocker and he’s got nukes “box”: would you make it a permanent bar to stopping him with military means short of exchanging tactical nukes…what if the finance angle doesn’t work? Under your “box,” we would have allowed missiles in Cuba in 1962, and the Russians to have forced us out of West Berlin in 1961…both dances of nuclear fears…

1 RecommendShare

Background to the Current Invasion:

I sent this to some friends in Western Maryland who have family backgrounds in the Ukraine and Belarus:

“Traditional balance of power, based on regional spheres of influence, like our Monroe Doctrine, and the  Russian version based on two or three previous invasions (Napoleon, 1812, 600 hundred thousand; 1917-1921 Allied -20,000-30,000  – more when you count White Russians, Poles, Czechs);  and Nazis, 1941, 3.5 million)…have some moral content, even for the Soviet version, but I hardly think that those nations under the Soviet Monroe doctrine from 1945-1989/1991 look at it that way.  That  experience alone was enough to propel them towards NATO, even when the old Soviet Union, not yet new Russia was a basket case among nations and couldn’t threaten them much less enforce its will.  It would have taken incredible statesmanship to have taken that situation, East and West, in 1991-2004, to come up with a new security arrangement and or economic sharing block to incorporate Russia into a system which included its former “satellites.”  As Putin and his Russia grew stronger militarily and weaker morally/democratically, the likelihood that Poland or Ukraine would see Russia’s “sphere of influence” as anything like an old moral claim to protect it from invasion from the West were going “Gone with the Wind.” 

 So Mearsheimer can reconstruct all the ways that NATO and West ignored Russian  sensitivities, and in the end, very few if any of the old dominated nations were anxious to go back under the protective wings of the old double headed eagle or the Soviet “republics” trope. 

I don’t think there is any way to go back now, and I was formerly sympathetic to the way Stephen Cohen presented “offended Russia.”  Putin’s governing style, behavior in Syria and Chechnya and now towards Ukraine have thrown away any moral weight his case possessed.  What he has done now makes any type of “real-politic” compromise even more unlikely from Ukraine’s point of view, although our “realists” hold it forth as Putin’s “way out.”  

I think the left had a case sometime in the 1990’s…it’s gone and their reflexive pacifism looks Utopian and dangerous if Putin should somehow salvage something out of this.  Best for everyone if the Russian people, military, oligarchs decide he’s not worth it.

Even if history proves, which I suspect it will, that the US, Brits, NATO intelligence services were deeply behind the Orange Revolution and all sorts of dissident activities inside Russia under Putin…(after all, they had a great cover story if not motive: bringing democracy to new regions) I’m not sure it would change, no it wouldn’t, what I’ve written above about the wishes of the former satellites to back away from the West and into the old embraces.” 

Editors Notes: Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, came to my attention a couple of months ago as I was doing some research on the Russian view of things. He comes from the center-right school of foreign policy realism/sphere of interest, quite out of favor amidst the Western globalizing elites riding the victory in the Cold War, 1989-1991. The late Stephen F. Cohen of NYU and Princeton presented a similar view from the center-left, that NATO and US foreign policy bore some of the responsibility for the attacks on the Ukraine. (See his 2000-2001 book, “Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia” for the earlier background to today’s troubles).

Here’s Mearsheimer, the core case for Russia’s fears are the first 25 or so minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nbj1AR_aAcE&t=2186s

       Here’s Chris Hedges: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I6ZkPi6NSI&t=1469s

Whatever the merits of their earlier arguments, the Russia Putin has shaped, and its conduct towards Ukraine, has cancelled out any sympathy towards the long history of Russian fears of the West; in my summary of previous ones, based on the invasions of 1812, 1917-9121, 1941, I left out – how could I have – the saga of Alexsandr Nevesky, “whom the Russian Orthodox Church later recognized as a saint for his role in defending the Rus’ lands from western aggressors, the Swedes and the Teutonic Knights,” especially the Battle on the Ice in April of 1242. I’m currently reading Serhii Plokhy’s “The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine.” I believe that the famous filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein did a classic of this battle, here at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Nevsky_(film), 1938.

The Ukrainian People are showing more courage than Economic “Sanctioning” American Officialdom and NATO combined…time for a No-Fly Zone over Ukraine.

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

I’ve been calling the Congressional Switchboard tonight, 202-224-3121,  after hearing Rep. Adam Kinzinger (and a former general yesterday on CNN) call for a “No-fly Zone” over the Ukraine, which would be carried out by NATO and American aircraft. 

Risks, yes, about the same as run during  the tank face off in West Berlin under Kennedy (October, 1961) and later the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962.  Both involved putting US lives on the line to physically call a halt to the Soviet shoves.  

I believe it has to be done now or in other month, we’ll be in the same situation in eastern Poland or the Baltic states.  

(Ukrainian Coat of Arms available online at the Right.)

Putin’s language and demeanor have gone off the deep end, unhinged, and the US has its moral authority on the line, and its honor, after leading Ukraine down this dangerous path and then declaring we can’t intervene: you’re on your own.  Ugly abandonment, once again.   

I’ve called our Senators, Cardin and Van Hollen (Maryland), Speaker Pelosi,  House Majority Leader Hoyer and House Dem. Whip James Clyburn.  There is not much time; if Ukraine falls the entire energy project to stop global warming will be postponed for at least three years as we scramble to send natural gas to Western Europe.   

That’s where things are.  The World has changed overnight. 

I’ll be the first to make the analogy with the Warsaw uprising in 1944, where the Russians cruelly halted their advance allowing the Nazis to crush the revolt, and the British could not successfully fly in arms and food.  The Russians could have provided the air cover, or flown in the supplies themselves; they had no interest in helping independent and rebellious minded Poles. The Poles fought Nazi tanks with Molotov cocktails. 

Over the next week, if things unfold the way I’m reading them now, there will be ugly street fighting, massacres, atrocities and round-ups from the specters of Putin’s imagination, “Nazis and Drug Addicts,” (just a sample of Putin off the deep end) not to mention the official lists drawn up in advance of the government, military and civil service leadership of Ukraine – all slated for execution or prison.

Enough: for a people purged (and starved) by both Stalin in Hitler in the 1930’s and 1940’s, (see Timothy Synder’s book “Bloodlands” for how these types of struggles go…) we cannot allow them to undergo this again, especially with our naïve foreign policies of the past  decades. 

I don’t think the American people will stand by when this happens, and I agree with the assessment that the only way to head it off is  to win control of the skies over the Ukraine…and flying in the A-10 Warthogs to take care of the Russian armor.  

Big risks and even bigger stakes.

Yours against tyrants, at home and abroad.

Why the Voting Rights Bills Miss the Mark, Badly; Part II: An Exchange of Views on Biden, Manchin and the state of the Democratic Party, Jan. 1, 2022

Image of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates is from the Financial Times, June 23, 2021, “Buffett Resigns from Gates Foundation,” by Joshua Chaffin and Andrew Edgecliffe.

Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:

Introduction:

I hadn’t planned on continuing the dialogue on Joe Biden, the Democratic Party and the obstructionism of Senator Joe Manchin , right out of the gate in 2022,  but an early morning Email from a citizen of standing in Western Maryland helped me change my mind.  This citizen, while sympathetic to my take on the power of corporate democrats, sided with Professor Nancy MacLean’s recent criticism/attack of my view of the party and the Biden presidency, essentially saying I was bad for morale.   Therefore, below, you will find my expanded response, “An Exchange of Views on Biden, Manchin, and the State of the Democratic Party, Part II.”

What I had intended to write about first in this New Year, though, is the apparent shift in winds among those in the Democratic Party whose first priority has been the three bills about Democracy and Voting Rights and thwarting Republican Right attempts to subvert if not outright overthrow them.  I do agree with the assessment of Carl Bernstein, of Woodward and Bernstein fame, who said on a CNN segment from Dec. 23rd that the Republican game plan, and Trump himself, were engaged in “seditious activities” and intent.

I’ve spent some time looking at the three bills that are on the table, those mentioned in a letter sent first to the Democratic Senate Leadership and then the whole Senate, signed by some 800 religious and civil rights leaders, demanding that voting legislation, not Build Back Better, be made the party’s immediate priority in 2022.  And of course, that also means taking on the issue of the filibuster.

It is interesting to note that the language contained in the letter, as covered by CNN on Dec. 23rd, sounds very familiar: the Democratic base, or key parts of that base, is very frustrated by the lack of party “deliverance.”  The text of the letter was just two pages; the next 20 pages were the list of signatories, and the striking thing about those who signed was the large number who were Rabbi’s and Cantors, including Michael Lerner of Tikkun.  The heart of the message is that equality in voting is the secular equivalent of “equal in the eyes of God” (my words) and “‘that is why, this Martin Luther King Day {January 17th} we will not accept empty promises.’”

Here is  the article: https://www.cnn.com/2021/12/23/politics/faith-leaders-voting-rights-letter-biden/index.html   The headline being “Hundreds of Faith Leaders demand more from Biden and other Democrats on voting rights legislation.”

I support the findings of the letter, and the passions expressed, which are just and righteous.  Now I have to fit them into my head’s understanding on what is going on, and Bernstein’s take on sedition.

The Republican Right’s Long March back into the 19th Century (if not earlier)

The Republican Right has a long tradition in our politics, and in its modern form that tradition goes back at least to William F. Buckley’s founding of the National Review  magazine in 1955 and highlighted by his reading the John Birch Society’s leader Robert Welch out of the movement in Feb. of 1962.  (see Rick Perlstein’s account in “Before the Storm,” pages 153-156).   No such effective action however, has happened within the Republican Party of Donald Trump today, and if Trump somehow doesn’t run, you can see the logic of Goldwater’s strategy (tough on Welch, softer on his party members)  intimated in Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race in November of 2021: a less toxic candidate who keeps the Trumpian based “stoked,” which I suppose rhymes with “woke.”

Indeed, I don’t know how Buckley, were he alive,  would react to the clear shift of the Republican Right to a form of Constitutional Fundamentalism, Original Intent, which brings us to the heart of the matter of voting rights, addressed in several places.  One of which, the older, a book from 2003, gets very little citation, and the other, hot off the press, impressed me with its  comprehensive take on the Republican Right strategy in  2020, on Jan. 6th and heading into 2022 & 2024:  Barton Gellman’s essay in the Atlantic, January 6 was Practice, here https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/01/january-6-insurrection-trump-coup-2024-election/620843/

Here’s the core of the Republican Strategy, and judge for yourself whether it is or isn’t faithful to the logic of the party in legal matters, and policy matters too, decade after decade: take the Republic back to a form close to imagined dreams of the founders, remarkably, pre-Civil War (without the slavery) and well before the perniciousness of FDR and the New Deal and later Great Society.  (I might add, sorry for the digression  – a wonderful way for President Biden to have gone after Joe Manchin’s statement that “‘I cannot accept our economy, or basically our society moving towards an entitlement mentality.’” (quoted by David Leonhardt, NY Times from Manchin in September; opening up the full Monty philosophical debate that might educate or heaven forbid, passionately engage those who work two jobs, or work in a candle factory in Kentucky alongside prison labor).

 I quote now from Gellman on the keystone Republican constitutional attack angle:

Electors are the currency in a presidential contest and, under the Constitution, state legislators control the rules for choosing them.  Article II provides that each state shall appoint electors ‘in such a Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.’ Since the 19th century, every state has ceded the choice to its voters, automatically certifying electors who support the victor at the polls, but in Bush v. Gore the Supreme Court affirmed that a state ‘can take back the power to appoint electors.’ No court has ever said that a state could do that after its citizens have already voted, but that was the heart of Trump’s plan.

Now here is Representative Jamie Raskin’s (D, MD-8th) take in his 2003 book, Overruling Democracy:  The Supreme Court vs. The American People, agreeing with Barton Gellman’s constitutional reading in the third chapter of his book:

The key sentence in Bush v. Gore makes an early and ominous cameo appearance early on in the decision…Almost in passing, the majority writes: ‘The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States.’…the current Court reads the Constitution as establishing the state legislatures’ absolute power to choose presidential electors without public participation if they so desire.  Although the states currently hold popular elections to choose the electors, the Court was emphatic that any legislature could decide to bypass the voters and appoint electors of its choosing: ‘the State legislature’s power to select the manner for appointing electors is plenary; it may, if it so chooses, select the electors itself…’ (Pages 31-32.)

I might add that however strained this interpretation sounds, I would think the present court, that of 2022, would be just as emphatic as the 2000 one was in this strange reading.  Yet it is a reading consistent with the drift of so much Republican Right policy, to return to a states’ right stance, diminishing federal power wherever it can manage it, even to the manner of what we once all naively thought was settled practice, even in the Electoral College: a citizen’s right to vote. 

Therefore, I began asking myself if there was anything in the three current bills being pushed in Congress to address voting rights, which might alter this stance of the Right wing dominated Supreme Court.  I sent a question to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School on Dec. 26th, to which I’ve received no reply, not surprising, given the holidays. In the silence since, I’ve come up with my own answer, trying to think logically: given the Court’s stance, no Democratic legislation could correct it unless it was a Constitutional Amendment; ordinary legislation would not work.

Still, I was curious to see how the bills did or did not approach the matter.  It’s a bit daunting even for a citizen used to long legal documents and policy initiatives, to see the scope of the task.  The original bill, “The For the People Act,”, HR 1, S-1, is between 820 and 888 pages, depending on the version.  That’s right, over 800 pages.  The “compromise” bill, once again driven by Senator Joe Manchin in his search for bi-partisan support, comes in at just 594 pages, “The Freedom to Vote Act,” S-2747.  The John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, S-4263  comes in at a mere smudge at 41 pages.

Well, I needed a method of searching for the answers to the question I posed, and fortunately the bills are laid out initially in broad Titles, Issues and Sections of what is covered, and they have PDF search engines.  And so I searched under the logical topics and came up with zero relevant attack angles on what the Republicans have set in motion.  The closest to approach the issue of state legislative constitutional authority was in Title III of the Freedom to Vote Act, “Preventing Election Subversion” on pages 255-265, where Section 3001 addresses the removal of local election administrators who are presiding over Federal elections (where the Constitution does give full authority to the Congress to regulate its own elections as opposed to the Presidential one…) The remedies in the bill for improper removal of “down the chain of command” election officials are to have the grounds for removal formally specified, notifying the US Attorney’s Office in writing and granting the removed the right of appeal to federal court.   All logical and worthwhile, but it seems to this non-constitutional scholar, insufficient to change the playing field for those acting with “seditious intent.”

That still leaves me with a major question: would any of the bills blunt the Trumpian intent to challenge the Presidential votes in swing states, or closely contested “surprise” ones (where Republicans have legislative majorities) so that a state legislature could  substitute  its own will and electors for those of the voters?

I don’t think so but I would defer to a  constitutional scholar who still believes in democracy to tell me – and the citizens about to throw their hearts, souls and bodies behind these bills – that they are not wasting their time on important but secondary features to the attack plan of the Republican Right.

I have asked myself whether all the enormous range and details in the cumulative 1,523 pages of the three bills could, by improving every sequence in the complex American voting practice, ancient and modern in the wake of Covid experience, add enough friction to thwart the Republican intent to shift sovereignty from the voter to state legislatures? I don’t have the answer, but I lean towards saying no, these 1500 pages don’t meet the nature of the challenge.

One last “loose end.” Given my take, the last resort to thwart a Supreme Court intent on repeating the direction of Gore v. Bush 2000 would be to alter the composition of the court by expanding it…under a Democratic President; makes sense, no?  Touchy subject that: “expand” or is it “pack”?  Better summon a commission, Bi-Partisan of course, of 34 constitutional scholars via a Biden Executive Order.  The Commission’s report, 288 pages, came in on Dec. 7th.  It voted 34-0 to state that it reached no consensus or recommendations.  Fitting for our troubled time, don’t you think?

Reflections on “Democracy, Ancient and Modern”

I can’t quite leave the emotional, visceral almost, terrain of the fate of American Democracy under the threat of Trump and the Republican Right without a few more thoughts. You can sense the painful history of the black church and its white religious allies from the heroic days of the Civil Rights movement in that letter sent to the Senate. How could this be happening in America? Maybe it helps to remember that William F. Buckley initially, early after the founding of National Review magazine, didn’t believe black people in the US were worthy, educated enough to have earned the right to vote. It was a view that harkened back, albeit in racial terms, to the long struggle of the working class in England and Germany to win the right to vote under the nervous eyes of the landed aristocracy, and how grudgingly given the ground was. And how long it took to enfranchise one half of the rest of humanity: women voters. And after those battles were won, the affluence of the West in the three “glorious decades, 1945-1975” caused a new problem: apathy and low turnout, worse in the US than in Europe, but bad enough there as well. The much honored classical scholar M.I. Finley’s “Democracy: Ancient and Modern” (1973 &1985) gives us a tour from the summit achievement in Athens in the mid-fifth century BC (I just sent a poster reminder of it, the Acropolis in gleaming early morning sunlight, to Representative Jamie Raskin, in honor of his new book and his crucial role in defending our own democracy), to the rise of “futility” in the working classes, 1970- present, the feeling that economic powers have, in ways voters can’t reach, already chosen the “options” for the parties, leaving little room to change direction, to alter the status quo. Recent American political science studies have grounded that feeling in data: policy initiatives favoring the 1-10% at the top do quite well negotiating the American Congressional minefield, those, like the Green New Deal or even Build Back Better…well, talk to Joe Manchin about that.

And let’s not forget a long and important qualifying view on the traditional workings of Western Democracy, that from the social democratic and democratic socialist parties, those who gave up revolutionary views for parliamentary evolutionary processes of change. That’s a whole couple of years of graduate school level work, the view from the historical left which in its own way said the system was always “rigged,” the power of class and money to keep the “market” and the central banks “out of politics.” And unions under control, if not crushed. Missing today from the writing about the American democratic crisis are two voices who should not be forgotten: William Greider and Kevin Phillips, the former now deceased, and the later dropped completely out of public life. Both kept their eyes on what was happening in the economy, and the rise of corporate political consciousness, expressed in Greider’s “Who Will Tell the People” (1992) and in 1997 by his critique of globalization and the rise of China: “One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism.” The number and range of Phillips books are in themselves a foreshadowing of what we are most worried about today, setting the climate crisis aside; just take a look here at the bottom of his Wikipedia biography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Phillips_(political_commentator)

Both writers were very worried about the fate of American democracy well in advance of the current Republican Right’s voter suppression tactics: they were focused more on the traditional worries of the left, how in a truly “political economy,” economic power’s revival since the 1970’s put lobbyists on behalf of that power between elected officials and distant voters. Corporate power in the Democratic Party is probably the greatest single factor in preventing the Democrats from coming up with a revised New Deal, Green or not, a national program to represent the interests of the bottom 65% or so of the electorate. The detailed fragmentation of the democratic constituencies or movements, aside from the corporate power, are also a huge obstacle to forming the missing “Movement,” that would transform the Party or break away and form a new one.

Part II: An Exchange of Views on Biden, Manchin and the State of the Democratic Party, January 1, 2022

Thanks “citizen of standing” …. for the thoughtful reply.  Bill Wolfe of Wolfenotes.com agrees with you, that the pressure point for Dems was campaigning for Biden’s policies in West Virginia – it’s a tactical question of nuance – how hard they should have gone after Manchin, as opposed to touting the needs of the state and what Build Back Better would deliver.    I don’t remember which group it was that I gave $7 to, might have been Move On – it was a major national “activist” one – for towed billboards putting pressure on Senator Manchin.   So far it hasn’t seemed to have worked.

Of course (a little sarcasm here) historian Nancy MacLean has the apparent right answer: increase turnout and voting for Dems.  However, as I tried to indicate earlier in my response of December 21st, that becomes, over the decades, a rather mechanical-logical answer and while that might drive some to the polls, I’m not sure that’s where the “mysteries of turnout” lie.  We do know where the non-voters, and episodic voters, “reside” in the national demographic: the bottom 30-40% of the electorate by income.  The swing and “undecideds” who garner so much attention, somewhat higher up in income.  And that’s why emotion is so important to politics – but greatly feared by the centrist/corporate Dems – that it will eventually be turned against them by a populist left movement.   Bernie had some of it, more than any other serious candidate that I can think of except George Wallace, who was populist right and racial, despite claims he was populist on economics.   And we know what happened to Bernie.    He couldn’t reach far enough, and despite sounding working class, his style was probably too mechanical for our age: the age of winging it on stage: and you know who is very good at that: “You’re Fired.”   Is it a comment on the Ukrainian situation that their current President is a former comic?   Yes, a tragic-comedy in formation.

It is a long-term project of mine to outline, at least, why it is that the willingness of the Republican Right to mobilize the ugliest side of human nature has been an arguably successful tactic for so long, runs like a dark thread through the four volumes of historian Rick Perlstein’s history of the Right, but is a forbidden force on the left.  I have my own thoughts, I hope a little better than guesses, and I named some of them in the parallels to the fate of the non-communist left in the Weimar Republic, the second of my two Dec. 21st responses to Nancy MacLean.

To be direct about it today, I can’t imagine a speech I might give that originated in equal parts from my heart and my head which could successfully  reach  even a majority of the major democratic party “movements.” The floundering of the Green New Deal being the prime exhibit. Floundered in the church pews of black congregations in South Carolina; floundered in rural progressive “back to the land”‘ remake agricultural enclaves…floundered among sophisticated upper middle class professional women in places like Montgomery County Maryland: oh Bernie, can’t you change the key, talk about your early home life more…why you could cut it with Vermont diversity but not with us…? And floundered in the halls of conservative AFL-CIO unions, where the proposed forms of a “Just Transition” weren’t enough, brokered properly, even though when I tried that gambit to offer to Manchin, New York times readers asked why only fossil fuel workers should get such a great deal (not in the official Dem document of 547 pages) when everyone else was “jettisoned” in society -all those middle class-middle managers shredded in the 1980’s and 1990’s who had to basically swim on their own?….

Watching the reaction of our progressive community in Western Maryland towards the Green New Deal, I wonder what, other than fear, will drive Nancy MacLean’s hoped for turnout surge.  In the past in American elections, it’s been major watershed elections: 1860, 1896, 1932, almost in 1980 (about 70% there)…but hardly even close in 2020.  How a party can produce that – and FDR’s 1932 election carried over into the congressional  elections of 1934 and the next presidential one, 1936…without a coherent philosophy and solid achievements and so badly divided within its own ranks over problems and solutions, I don’t know, fear of the Right/Trump being the only current answer. Or, if you think I am overstating the “coherence” of the New Deal’s experimentally driven policies, then perhaps only some as yet unknown “catastrophe,” ecological, economic or democratic breakdown (worse and more protracted than Jan. 6th) could trigger the “re-alignment” process. Perhaps that was what was missing from the Green New Deal “context.”

 Fear of Trumpism, the Republican Right may work at the upper reaches of the Democratic demographic, but down below…?  It works to an extent for me: it’s the bottom 30-40% who ought to be solidly in the Democratic camp who need convincing.  Has anyone done further follow-up on the workers of the candle factory in Kentucky destroyed earlier in December by the monster tornadoes?  $8.00 per hour pay,  plus required OT supplemented by prison labor really caught my attention.  I did not write about it out of courtesy for the dead; yet the regional press did the very next day.    It will take more than hugs to reach them, workers who can “thrive” on that and yet won’t revolt…

I can’t imagine ever not voting for the Democrat whomever that might be in 2024. I doubt Biden or Harris will be there, but I do know that you can only lure me with the Democratic “Two Step” so many times before I loose the enthusiasm you seek:  Carter in 1976 who de-regulated and de-labored;  Clinton the “populist” in 1992 vs 1996 the welfare reformer, balanced budget champion who could only offer the working class a chance to gain the tools to compete in a global system Clinton himself was all in for…China elevation included: we would “convert” them to democracy, no Greider or Mearsheimian voices to dissent.    Gore 2000 bragging how he downsized the govt which today can’t cope with pandemics, climate change or even claw back a little of the R & D risk taking public capital it supplies to a private sector “awash in cash”…a sector bored and labored with the question of where to place its surplus trillions;  the Obama of Hope and Change in 2008 and Caution and Austerity in 2010…and  at every turn in 2012…and so on…

I think the left critics over at Jacobin  magazine have a better analysis:  you can’t expect a party torn between the corporations of the 21st century and all the other reform camps (many of whose leading lights are dependent on those corporations for approval and financing)  to produce anything coherent or with sustained ideological momentum to match the Right; a Right which,  like their ideology or not, and I certainly don’t,  has, through Reagan and Trump, been consistent, even after a  very sinister turn towards barely disguised authoritarianism and if you prefer, “sedition.”

I so well recall my first visit to the Appalachian festival in Western MD, Fall of 2014, where I heard an union drum beater from West Virginia, published and rather polished, insist that organizing was all a local affair, “local, local, local,” roundly rejecting my counter that the reason the National Democrats couldn’t compete across the board with the Republican Right was the absence of a systematic, coherent national ideology. And how is West Virginia trending since then?

I wish I could say that Nancy MacLean’s rejoinder to me didn’t smack very much of “muzzling,” via heavy moral pressure, always for a good cause; sorry Nancy, I’ve heard the same line all my life, since 1972, and when the Dems win, they don’t produce very much to alter American life. Maybe because their leadership is solidly upper middle class or higher, in the top 10%, they don’t have the drive that financial desperation supplies.  I can’t imagine Montgomery County women, or men for that matter, Mark Elrich, county Ex., swooning over William Jennings Bryant’s 1896 Cross of Gold speech…to highlight maybe the last time, before FDR’s 1936 nomination acceptance speech at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, that a national dem so swam in emotionally charged ideological waters. Here is a good account of the 1936 event from a warm heart, the historian Jack Beatty:  https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2016/07/08/1936-democratic-convention-fdr

When a great nation no longer can produce convincing leaders it is a very strong signal that its time as hegemon is past, and it is a mighty struggle to overcome that with – and I’ll be very blunt:  Nancy MacLean’s prescription of cheerleading and ultimately, as you can see from the tone, issuing orders, as usual for the left to shut up and work like hell time and time again for those who don’t have either vision, ideas or programs that they will fight for as hard as the Right does for its morally much poorer causes.   Maybe for some that’s all they need, ordered enthusiasm, but I need a little conviction “guarantee” from those who will carry out the supposed policies to go with it. There are no guarantees of success in politics, understood, especially under the tiny margins in Congress today, and fanatical resistance, yet I do ask at least that my leaders in the Democratic Party go down fighting, with imagination and direct appeals to the electorate, over and above…you know who, that composite figure, half-coal miner, half-coal baron, from the Mountaineer state.

And how about those whom Professor MacLean tops it off against, the left protestor.    What I mean by that is that surely, based on her book “Democracy in Chains” she realizes the power in this society lies with the wealthy and the corporate and the blending of the two, true as well inside the Democratic Party as the Republican (with different demographics): and Biden’s whole career.  “They” have poured money into Manchin’s and Sinema’s coffers, like very much the resultant obstructionism and shrinking of scale; however, business is not monolithic: surely, if such an experienced judge of American life as Joe Biden has backed the corporate “moderation” inside the Democratic party for so many years, he would have a favor to ask, to call in, don’t you think?  That’s the way of the insider.  And surely some powerful corporate leaders must know that Trump again (or a Trump surrogate in disguise) would tear the country apart, so don’t you think a delegation consisting of Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, George Soros, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Bloomberg (pick your own delegation) sent to talk compromise with Manchin, with so much at stake, just as Nancy MacLean declares, would be a logical even compelling tactic?  No? So why not?  I’ve suggested as much in comments to the NY Times, to go along with the other three tactics you didn’t think would have much of a chance – but, let me be clear: these four would have been the advice I would have given if I were to be on Biden’s staff; an impossibility, of course, but it tells me a lot that he has been running into a brick wall since March of 2021 and never has tried other tactics.  Isn’t this a re-run, Nancy, of the Dems blaming Ralph Nader for the 2000 loss, a party so adrift it couldn’t withstand a “conscience candidate” polling in the low singe digits?  And which wouldn’t, couldn’t match the Republican “will to power” resting on far poorer legal and moral grounds given what we know about the Florida 2000 election today, as presented to us in detail and with “an edge,” in Representative Raskin’s 2003 coverage on that election: Overruling Democracy.

Why doesn’t Nancy MacLean criticize the real powers in the country, and she can pick the names herself if she doesn’t agree with my nominees, for not coming to Biden’s aid, for making clear that the country cannot still be a democracy (or good for business? By no means clear at all that tension, and Yanis Varouvakis’ challenge: “Can Democracy Survive Capitalism?”…given the longest historical run of no recession in the history of Western Capitalism, March of 2009 to April of 2020, according to the Economist magazine) if Trump or a cagier successor escalated the brewing Civil War, a war or civil conflict of unknown shape and dimensions?  Conducted it with more cunning and greater finesse than Trump can master? As in Virginia?

If there is no “Progressive national business community” that can step forward, in private, to turn Manchin Biden’s way, or to speak publicly to the country to blunt the undercurrent that helped elect Trump in 2016 (“a successful billionaire knows best”), then what is the Democratic Party doing in welcoming and nurturing  those who will not defend democracy against the greatest liar in our history, the chief “seditionist” for anyone with eyes to see?

Much safer bet to muzzle the Gracchi Bros. of the democratic discourse, such as it is. 

Best,

Written from the mid-fifties of late December and early January weather, in the Mountains of Western MD.

Editor’s Note: Image of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates is from the Financial Times, June 23, 2021, “Buffett Resigns from Gates Foundation,” by Joshua Chaffin and Andrew Edgecliffe.