State of the Union

Missing Lunch with Marine Le Pen, as Euroskeptics Triumph

Blandine Le Cain /  cc

Oddly enough, I have few large professional regrets, things I really wish I had done differently. But there are many small ones. Here’s one. Sometime in TAC‘s first year, perhaps even before we published our first issue, I don’t recall exactly, I got a call from an associate of Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean Marie, leader of the French Front National. She would be in Washington in a day or two—was I free for lunch? As it happened, I wasn’t really. There were some complicated personal matters at home, I was commuting back and forth to New York, and hadn’t planned to be in DC that day.

But I also wasn’t that eager. I thought that Jean Marie Le Pen was getting a bit of bad rap by being labeled an anti-Semite, if not a fascist, all of the time. But I was aware of some of the things he had said which could well give that impression, and was also aware that I wasn’t paying much attention to France in those days, and that if I was, I might agree with the charge.

So did I want to have lunch? Not really. There might be some requests for favorable coverage, or overtures towards linking TAC to the general European populist (or far) right. I didn’t feel TAC was far right, and didn’t want to give anyone that impression. Much as I was curious to meet Marine Le Pen, there were good reasons (besides my personal ones) for not rearranging my schedule. I replied that regrettably, I would be out of town.

Marine Le Pen has for years now succeeded her father as head of the National Front, the party which has—in the limited but far from unimportant elections for the European Parliaments, scored higher than any party in France, besting the ruling socialists, besting the center-right parties. Marine Le Pen has changed the FN’s image, modernized it, softened it, without repudiating her garrulous father, whom she always refers to publicly as “Jean Marie Le Pen.” Generally speaking the Front National is the French anti-immigrant party—the one that worries about whether a multicultural society with an expanding and pious Muslim minority is really possible or desirable. I think this is a reasonable argument to make, though difficult to carry off without attracting racists and bigots and turning the party into something potentially worse than the perceived problem. I suspect that vast majorities of Frenchmen would agree with the FN’s premise: De Gaulle, who once said that trying to hold on to French Algeria would ensure that his village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises would become Colombey-les-Deux-Mosques, almost certainly would.

Marine Le Pen’s argument is buttressed by the fact that none of the “mainstream” French parties showed the slightest desire to protect the values and interests of the French who were troubled by mass immigration. The center-right of Sarkozy campaigned on a fierce law and order line, but failed to stem France’s rising crime rate. And mass immigration—if it produced some discomfiture about public prayer, or rising crime, or complicated governmental services—also was a symbol of the larger issue, loss of nationhood, loss of sovereignty over the French space. The steady rise in power of the Brussels bureaucracy and the European Union gave the FN another issue to campaign about—though it might have been essentially the same thing: globalization. The FN and Marine Le Pen were opposed. For France’s elites, membership in “Europe”, even at the expense of France’s currency and control of borders, was considered a closed question and certainly not one to be put before the French people. Read More…

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Nationalism Buoys Europe’s Populist Right

Memorial Day will likely bring alarmist headlines in the elite media about a populist fever raging in Europe, and manifest in the shocking returns from the elections for the European Parliament. Marine Le Pen’s National Front may run first in France, and Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party first in Britain. What is happening in Europe?

In his unpublished Leviathan and Its Enemies, my late friend Sam Francis wrote of the coming crisis of the “soft managerial state,” of which the European Union is a textbook example. Oswald Spengler used the word “Civilization” to describe “the terminal phase of a cultural organism,” wrote Francis. In 1941, Pitirim Sorokin described the characteristics of a Spenglerian “Civilization”:

[C]osmopolitanism and the megalopolis vs. ‘home,’ ‘race,’ ‘blood group’ and ‘fatherland’; scientific irreligion or abstract dead metaphysics instead of the religion of the heart; ‘cold matter-of-factness’ vs. reverence and tradition and respect for age; internationalist ‘society’ instead of ‘my country’ and state (nation); money and abstract values in lieu of earth and real (living) values; ‘mass’ instead of ‘folk’; sex in lieu of motherhood … and so on.

Between the managerial state and the civilization and culture that preceded it, the polarities are stark. Yet they mirror the clashes of today as the European Union of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman’s vision exhibits unmistakable symptoms of disintegration and decay. In a way, this is remarkable. For undeniably the rise of the EU has coincided with an unprecedented rise in the standard of living for the hundreds of millions from the Atlantic to the Baltic and from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. Still, though Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Parliament of man” and “Federation of the world” captured the imagination of 19th-and 20th-century one-worlders, the dream has proven incapable of capturing the hearts of European peoples. Who would die for the Brussels bureaucracy?

What are the identifying marks of these populist parties that have sprouted up now in almost every European country? There is first the rejection of universalism and transnationalism, and a reversion to patriotism and its songs, symbols, holidays, history, myths, and legends. To peoples such as these, the preservation of the separate and unique ethnic and cultural identity of the nation supersedes all claims of supranational organizations, be it the EU or UN. This sentiment is reflected not only in fierce resistance to further integration within the EU, but in visceral hostility to further immigration from the Third World, Islamic world, or Eastern Europe. These people want to remain who and what they are. Even the Swiss last winter voted for an initiative of the People’s Party calling for reintroduction of quotas for immigrants from the EU.

A second telltale sign of the new populism is traditionalism and cultural conservatism, reverence for the religious and cultural history and heritage of the nation and its indigenous people. That victory in the recent Eurovision contest of Conchita, the bearded transvestite drag queen who performed in a gown, though celebrated by much of the European press, sent a message to millions of traditionalists that this is no longer their culture. Read More…

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Iran: Six Months Negotiating Time Will Be Up Soon

European External Action Service
European External Action Service

A self-provoked crisis in Ukraine (if the United States hadn’t sponsored a coup there, there wouldn’t be a crisis), a horrific civil war in Syria with no sign of ending soon, kidnapped girls in Nigeria, anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam. These all falling within a span of glorious late spring days on eastern Long Island, where bright sunlight begins to peep under and around the shades at 5:30 in the morning. It feels almost ominous, this contrast between the almost unspeakable natural beauty here and horrors abroad.

The Iran negotiations, a critical subject of the late fall and early winter, are reaching a pivotal point. The Obama administration won a major victory in January, with an assist from grassroots peace and arms-control groups, gaining the right to negotiate with Iran on terms which could conceivably succeed—i.e. terms which acknowledged that some part of Iran’s nuclear enrichment cycle would be retained. AIPAC backed off from legislation designed to scuttle the negotiations.

But of course the negotiations themselves, even without pro-Israel senators trying to ensure their failure, are fraught with difficulties. Iran may not want to have a nuclear weapon, but it pretty clearly wants to be a nuclear threshold state, with the ability to build a nuclear weapon if it felt seriously threatened. It has been invaded by Iraq and is constantly menaced by Israel and America, and it is hard to see why any Iranian foreign policy analyst would think that the potential for building a bomb wouldn’t give it a deterrence it might someday need. On the other hand, Obama and John Kerry would surely find it easier to sell to Congress and the American people a deal where Iran has no more than a symbolic uranium enrichment capacity. I suspect that a common ground can be found, but it is difficult. Iran has its own hardliners, reluctant to negotiate away any of Iran’s nuclear program. It also has vested interests who would welcome intensified confrontation with the West, which would help them domestically. The latest round of talks in Geneva, where some hoped that progress towards drafting a comprehensive agreement would begin, showed very large gaps remaining.

Meanwhile, there are outside actors, both positive and negative. On the negative side, Washington-based foes of any Iran deal were only provisionally set back in January. Israel continues to oppose any deal that will give Iran enrichment capacity, and Republicans will oppose any deal that gives Obama a meaningful foreign affairs accomplishment. That’s a potent combination on Capitol Hill, which is why the progress of the Corker amendment—originally attached to the kind of pro-Israel legislation that Congress passes without debate—bears watching. If it is brought to the Senate floor and voted on (which by some accounts may happen this week), it will give Congress the right to hold a “vote of disapproval” within days of any signed agreement with Iran. The purpose, it would seem, is to give the Israeli government power to weigh in on the negotiations, which it has always strongly disapproved of. A snap vote that the combined forces of the Israel lobby and the GOP would certainly win, generating national headlines like “Iran deal DOA in Congress” and the like, even though the amendment is constructed to not give Congress the power to block the deal formally. Read More…

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Can Left and Right Unite Once More?

Last summer, in this capital of gridlock, a miracle occurred.

The American people rose as one and told the government of the United States not to drag us into another Middle East war in Syria. Barack Obama was ready to launch air and missile strikes when a national uproar forced him to go to Congress for authorization. Congress seemed receptive until some Hill offices were swarmed by phone calls and emails coming in at a rate of 100-1 against war. Middle America stopped the government from taking us into what even the president now concedes is “somebody else’s civil war.” This triumphal coming together of left and right was a rarity in national politics. But Ralph Nader, in Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, believes that ad hoc alliances of left and right to achieve common goals can, should, and, indeed, shall be our political future.

To call this an optimistic book is serious understatement. Certainly, left and right have come together before. In Those Angry Days, Lynne Olson writes of how future presidents from opposing parties, Gerald Ford and John F. Kennedy, backed the America First Committee to keep us out of war in 1941, and how they were supported by the far-left Nation magazine as well as Col. Robert McCormick’s right-wing Chicago Tribune. Two decades ago, Ross Perot and this writer joined Ralph and the head of the AFL-CIO to stop NAFTA, a trade deal backed by America’s corporate elite and its army of mercenaries on Capitol Hill. Congress voted with corporate America—against the country. Result: 20 years of the largest trade deficits in U.S. history. Transnational corporations have prospered beyond the dreams of avarice, as Middle America has seen its wages frozen for a generation.

In 2002, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry joined John McCain and George W. Bush in backing war on Iraq. Teddy Kennedy and Bernie Sanders stood with Ron Paul and the populist and libertarian right in opposing the war. The Mises Institute and The American Conservative were as one with The Nation in opposing this unprovoked and unnecessary war. The left-right coalition failed to stop the war, and we are living with the consequences in the Middle East, and in our veterans hospitals. As America’s most indefatigable political activist since he wrote Unsafe at Any Speed in 1965, Ralph is calling for “convergences” of populist and libertarian conservatives and the left—for 25 goals.

Among these are many with an appeal to the traditionalist and libertarian right: Read More…

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The Myth of America’s Global Peacekeeping Past

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Apparently recognizing that the American Unipolar Moment may be over, and that the international system is gradually taking a multipolar form, some pundits have been warning us that the day will soon come in which we will all be experiencing American Empire nostalgia. “If and when American power declines, the institutions and norms American power has supported will decline, too,” or “they may collapse altogether as we transition into another kind of world order, or into disorder,” wrote leading neoconservative thinker Robert Kagan. “Or we may discover then that the United States was essential to keeping the present world order together and that the alternative to American power was not peace and harmony but chaos and catastrophe—which was what the world looked like right before the American order came into being,” Kagan warned.

More recently, Kagan and others have blasted the Obama administration’s foreign policy at home and abroad for its alleged failure to stand up to U.S. adversaries in Damascus, Moscow, and Beijing. They sound even more agitated as they raise the specter of global disorder that would supposedly follow the deterioration of American power. “Some will celebrate the decline of America’s ability to deter. But wherever they live, they may find that whatever replaces the old order is much worse,” concluded The Economist magazine in a long essay which warned that “America is no longer as alarming to its foes or reassuring to its friends,” maintaining that “American power is not half as scary as its absence would be.”

These and similar arguments forecasting the End-of-the-World-as-We-Know-It unless the United States takes steps to depose Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and to force Russia’s Vladimir Putin to end Russian intervention in Ukraine, to defend American allies in East Asia in their territorial disputes with China and to end Iran’s nuclear program, to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace and to… (the list is long), are based on intellectually contradictory, if not dishonest assumptions.

When they refer to the good old days of a global stability guaranteed by American hegemony, the critics are presumably not referring to the Cold War era, but the period following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and what was celebrated as the defeat of the Soviet Union. That golden age of American military supremacy securing global peace is supposedly coming to an end because President Barack Obama was “pondering the limits of American power, out loud,” and projecting “the perception of growing American timidity” to use American military power in the Middle East and elsewhere,” as The Economist put it. This “timidity,” in turn, sends the wrong message to bad guys around the world and encourages them to challenge the power of America and its regional allies (Saudi Arabia and Israel in the Middle East; Poland and the Baltic states in Eastern Europe; Japan and Korea in East Asia), eventually leading to new military conflicts. It might leave the Americas no other choice but to distance themselves from the United States and take unilateral steps to protect themselves, or in the worst case scenario, make deals with the Assads and the Putins of the world. The Economist even warns that in a post-American world, Israel could end up gravitating to India and China.

Yet consider the following application of such thinking back to the supposed period of the Pax Americana: The United States emerged as the victorious and undisputed global power in the aftermath of the Cold War, and yet a tin-pot dictator by the name of Saddam Hussein was willing to invade Kuwait and defy the only remaining superpower and its freshly established new world order. So the United States had no choice but to come to the aid of its allies in the Persian Gulf and use its military power to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. It followed the first Gulf War with the enunciation of a “dual containment” strategy vis-à-vis both Iraq and Iran that included the deployment of U.S. troops in the region. Read More…

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Six Questions for Tara McKelvey on Torture

Tara McKelvey is a features writer at BBC News in Washington. She is the author of Monstering: Inside America’s Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War. We asked her a few questions about the Senate torture report, Donald Rumsfeld, and her book 10 years after the Abu Ghraib scandal.

1) Have you been following the leaks from the Senate inquiry into CIA
torture of detainees’ post-9/11? What do you make of reports that the CIA lied to the government and the public about the scope and effectiveness of the torture program?

Yes. I’m not sure if I would say “lied.” I don’t think we know enough to say they’ve done that. They have kept a lot of things hidden, and people on the Hill are trying to convince them to say more.

If enough of it is declassified, what will the Senate report tell us?

Who knows. But one thing I’ve wondered about is the interrogation methods that didn’t get approved. The former top lawyer of the CIA said in his memoir, Company Man, that they vetoed one method. Given all that they did, I am wondering what they decided was beyond the pale.

2) We recently marked the ten-year anniversary of the Abu Ghraib scandal. Your goal was to get beyond the frame of the Abu Ghraib photographs, and Monstering provides an account of extreme disarray there: interpreters who weren’t tested on language proficiency, private contractors with sectarian allegiances, a prisoner to guard ratio of 75 to one, soldiers who were told that they could “do whatever they wanted” to the detainees. What was the most surprising thing you learned while reporting the book?

How hard it was to give everyone their due. There is a German writer, Friedrich Hebbel, who once said: “In a good play…. everyone is right.” But when I interviewed Lynndie England, I had to keep reminding myself to give her the benefit of the doubt. A lot of people saw her as a monster, and I didn’t want to do that. Otherwise, I kept telling myself, I would be just like the people at the prison–the ones who didn’t see the detainees as fully human. But she was difficult to talk to–and she was at the prison when terrible things happened, and, anyway, I was surprised how hard that interview was.

3) What is the legacy of the scandal today as the U.S. winds down the War on Terror?

Obama outlawed torture. But years after he promised to close Guantanamo, it is still open. There is a place on the island called Camp 7 that is off-limits to virtually everyone, including journalists. That is where the people are who were once kept in the CIA’s black sites. That is one legacy of the scandal.

4) Monstering also addresses the elite policymakers (John Yoo, et al) who contributed to a climate of systemic abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. You conclude that instead of asking “how could this happen?” the question is really “how could this not have happened?” Several soldiers involved in the scandal, including Lynndie England, were sentenced to time in prison, but so many haven’t been held accountable. What do you make of this?

That it’s not completely surprising, but it still seems wrong. Putting soldiers on trial when they have committed crimes is not a slight against the military, but unfortunately some people think of it that way.

What policy measures have been put in place (by the army if not the CIA) to prevent future abuse?

Most people in the army were horrified by the abuses. They had rules in place before the Iraq war, and they are now making sure that the rules are followed more carefully. The worst abuse was carried out not by people in the military, though, but by people who worked for the CIA. They may have done tons of things to prevent future abuse, but they haven’t really talked about it.

5) Any thoughts on Errol Morris’s new Donald Rumsfeld documentary? Read More…

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Reagan’s Man at VOA: Kenneth Tomlinson, RIP

Ken Tomlinson, who died last week, was one of Ronald Reagan’s key lieutenants in bringing about the collapse of Soviet communism. It’s much forgotten nowadays how vital the battle to disseminate information behind the Iron Curtain was to the cause of defeating communism. The Voice of America, which Ken ran early in Reagan’s term, and Radio Free Europe were the window for millions of East Europeans into the outside world. No young person today can conceive of the dearth of information inside Russia when millions listened to short wave radio for knowledge about the world.

When I first visited Moscow with a delegation of journalists in 1987, I brought along a radio and scanned for programs. In all of Moscow there was no FM at all, and only four AM stations. TV news was scarce and always pure propaganda. VOA and the BBC broadcast news about America and the world; Radio Free Europe broadcast news about what was happening inside the Eastern Bloc nations.

Tomlinson had hired me to debate leftists on a VOA program at the end of 1984. Only subsequently came the vast expansion of information as photocopy machines and VCRs were smuggled into Russia and East Europe by the thousands. Nearly every Russian diplomat would then take back 2 VCRs, one for himself and one to sell on the black market. The VCRs, whose tapes could be dubbed with translations, created havoc for the communists as more and more of their citizens citizens learned about the outside world, and their deprivation in the Soviet prison lands.

We met, and Tomlinson hired me, after I was quoted in a 1984 poll of conservative leaders in Richard Viguerie’s Conservative Digest. Asked about the best things Reagan had done, I replied, “His speeches and vitalizing the Voice of America.” Ken’s main assistant in his work was Ed Warner, a former Time editor, hired to oversee all the special programs. He was my direct boss. Tomlinson and Warner hired me and others who really understood communists’ psychology; we knew how to get inside their minds. I had been a long-time journalist in Latin America, and grew up the son of Freda Utley, who wrote several of the first books explaining Russian and Chinese communism.

Before Tomlinson, VOA had been pretty namby-pamby, mainly known for its Willis Conover jazz programs. Turning the Voice into a real weapon of information was not easy at all for Tomlinson and Warner. It had always been a prime target of infiltration for the Soviets, second only to the CIA. Over and over again Warner would tell me of some broadcaster who was surely procommunist, putting out the straight Soviet line as if it were also Washington’s. When I’d say, “can’t you remove him?” Ed would reply, “I can’t, his boss is a good guy, thinks like we do, but says he’s ok and protects him.” Later they would finally get rid of the man only to find the boss again sponsoring the same kind of programming. The boss, too, had been a communist supporter. That was how the communists protected their agents; it was done the same way in the CIA. To this day we still don’t know just how infiltrated the VOA had been.

In any case, the VOA under Tomlinson began to broadcast hard-hitting, real information and criticism. Reagan spoke about how private property owners cared for their land to produce profitably and for the long term, unlike government. After that, I hammered away at explaining why Americans were rich and Russians were poor, for this reason. Tomlinson also unleashed the East European refugees to broadcast. A Polish friend of mine even started a talk show for listeners inside Poland to call into.

His New York Times obituary doesn’t mention how Tomlinson reformed the VOA and made it into a dynamic force for freedom. Nor, of course, does it explain that Ken Tomlinson was one of the architects of the collapse of communism. Rather, it almost completely dwells on infighting and criticism of him in later years about his disputes with PBS and public television.

Ken had reported for Reader’s Digest as a foreign correspondent before becoming editor. He was one of the rare conservatives who knew and understood the outside world, having reported from Vietnam, Somalia, and Europe. That experience was what made him so effective, and so successful.

Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.

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Walter Jones Repels a War Party Attack

The GOP Beltway establishment is celebrating the victory of Thom Tillis, Speaker of the North Carolina House, over his Tea Party and Evangelical rivals in Tuesday’s primary for the U.S. Senate. But the story ended less happily for the Beltway elite in the Tar Heel State’s 3rd Congressional District. There, the planned purge of Rep. Walter Jones was repulsed by his loyal Republican base.

Yet, this massively funded effort, to kill the career of a 20-year House veteran, whose father held the seat for decades before him, testifies eloquently to the intolerance of the ideological and monied elite of the party to which conservatives give allegiance. Reportedly, a million dollars of super PAC money poured into the 3rd, from Republicans, in support of a brazen Big Lie campaign to paint Walter Jones as a liberal. But what is the Congressman’s real record?

In the Bush I era, he voted against No Child Left Behind. In the Obama years, he voted against Obamacare and the bailouts of the big banks, Wall Street, and Detroit. He voted against cap and trade, and TARP, the trillion-dollar stimulus package. Jones voted against every increase in the debt ceiling in 10 years and refuses to vote for any U.S. budget not in balance. He stands against same-sex marriage, has a 100 percent rating from National Right to Life, and receives a consistent A from the NRA. A national organization opposing illegal immigration gives Jones an A+ for battling to secure America’s borders and block amnesty. Camp Lejeune is in Jones’ district, and he has received awards from every veterans organization from the American Legion to the Disabled American Veterans. FreedomWorks cited Jones last year as the most conservative member of the North Carolina delegation and one of the 10 most conservative members of the House. And he had the endorsement of Dot Helms, widow of conservative legend Jesse Helms.

Why, then, was the Beltway elite so determined to destroy Jones that they spent a million dollars backing a Bush II apparatchik-turned K Street lobbyist who moved only last year to the district? Why was the War Party determined to kill Walter Jones?

First, Jones has voted for years to end foreign aid, a capital crime to the Israeli lobby AIPAC. Second, though Jones was so pro-war in 2003 that when France opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq he had the House dining room rename French fries “freedom fries,” when the caskets began to come home he starting having second thoughts. Walter Jones came to believe that voting to send Americans to fight and die in Iraq was the worst mistake of his career. So now Rep. Jones spends hours each weekend writing personal letters to every family that lost a son or daughter in a war he wrongly supported. And he has resolved to oppose every idiotic war into which his country is being stampeded. Walter Jones is a pro-peace conservative, a principled patriot who votes his convictions, puts his country first, and refuses to take dictation from the War Party. Read More…

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Americans Want No Part of Beltway Belligerence

Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga
Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga

“What Would America Fight For?” That question shouts from the cover of this week’s Economist. It is, asserts the magazine, “the question haunting its allies.” While most agree that America would fight to defend her treaty allies and to protect vital interests if imperiled, the question is raised by President Obama’s reticence in Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria.

Asked in Manila how he answers critics who say his foreign policy appears to be one of “weakness,” the president, stung, replied:

Typically, criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force. And the question … I would have is, why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget?

[M]ost of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests.

[M]any who were proponents of … a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven’t really learned the lesson of the last decade, and they keep on just playing the same note over and over again.

One senator Obama surely had in mind was Lindsey Graham, who told “Face the Nation” this weekend, “I would sanction the energy economy of Russia, the banking sector of Russia, and try to drive the Russian economy into the ground.” But if you sanction her energy sector, Russia might retaliate by cutting off gas to Europe and Ukraine, causing a recession in the EU and a collapse in Kiev requiring a massive bailout. Some of those billions in U.S., EU, and IMF aid to Ukraine might have to be redirected to Vladimir Putin to keep the Ukrainians from freezing to death next winter.

Lest we forget, the International Monetary Fund ranks Russia as the 8th largest economy while the World Bank ranks Russia No. 5. And would driving “the Russian economy into the ground” cause the Russian people to rise up and overthrow Putin? Did such sanctions produce regime change in Cuba, North Korea, or Iran? Was Ronald Reagan a wimp for not imposing sanctions on Warsaw when Solidarity was crushed? Or was he a wise president who knew America would ultimately prevail in the Cold War? Read More…

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What Julia Ioffe Got Wrong About Stephen Cohen

The New Republic
The New Republic

The New Republic’s resident Russia hand Julia Ioffe has penned a pretty extraordinary piece on TNR’s website attacking NYU Professor emeritus and Nation contributor Stephen F. Cohen’s latest article on U.S.-Russia policy, which he co-authored with his wife Katrina vanden Heuvel. Cohen, perhaps the country’s foremost scholar of Russian studies, certainly doesn’t need my help in defending himself against what amounts to a scurrilous—and frankly hysterical—ad hominem attack on his work and character.

The premise of the Cohen/vanden Heuvel piece is pretty straightforward: the administration, via Peter Baker’s excellent piece of reporting in the April 19 edition of the New York Times, announced what amounts to a pretty major shift in U.S. policy toward Russia: it will aim to “isolate” Russia and make it a “pariah state.” Cohen and vanden Heuvel argue that such a shift—given its serious implications for U.S. foreign policy going forward—has been accompanied by disturbingly little public debate; and they correctly point out that what little debate there has been on the issue, it has been one-sided at best.

Now, whatever you think of the administration’s new policy—and as I wrote last week, I think very little of it—it is unarguable that 1) a policy which aims to make Russia a “pariah” state is indeed a significant departure from the previous policy of détente or reset, and 2) in the main, Cohen is correct in pointing out that the debate as being carried out on the major networks, cable outlets, and establishment press has been pretty stilted.

All in all, I have to say, as someone who has been following the debate fairly closely, the Cohen-vanden Heuvel thesis is pretty reasonable and was put forth in a similarly reasonable fashion. So what sort of confounds me is Ioffe’s virulent reaction to it. Was it triggered by the fact that Cohen cited The New Republic as one of the offending mainstream media outlets? That can’t be it. Was it the fact that he had previously criticized Ioffe’s TNR cover story of February 17th and this is payback time? Doubtful.

It’s useless to speculate, but, I must admit to being puzzled by the tenor of TNR’s coverage of Russia and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Ioffe, along with the lamentable Leon Wieseltier, has taken a pretty hard-line stand against what she views as Vladimir Putin’s revanchist foreign policy. And that’s fine, as far as it goes, but it leaves out a good deal, as when Ioffe writes:

It doesn’t seem to matter that NATO accession was not really on the table for Ukraine (just look at its military performance in recent weeks) and neither was EU accession because—warning: another meaningless detail!—Ukraine is a financial basket case, even worse than the basket cases the EU is already dealing with. It doesn’t matter to Cohen that both issues were matters of great debate inside that insignificant detail named Ukraine, and that the fact of their potential smuggling into this or that union might be something to be decided inside Ukraine, a sovereign and independent country trying in vain to regain its own territory captured by masked Russian gunmen.

Seems to me there are a few things to, as Ioffe would say, “unpack” here. It’s a bit disingenuous to claim that Ukrainian accession to NATO was never really in the cards. If that’s true, then what was the purpose of section 2.3 of the EU-Ukraine association agenda which, among other things would have required the signatories to: Read More…

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