In the last stanza of “The Battle of Blenheim,” Robert Southey writes:
‘But what good came of it at last?’ Quoth little Peterkin.
‘Why, that I cannot tell,’ said he; ‘But ’twas a famous victory.’
What did it really matter? The poet was asking of the triumph of the Duke of Marlborough—“Who this great fight did win.” What brings back this poem about the transience of glory and folly of war—during this week’s struggle over whose flag will fly over Crimea—is a wall chart that just arrived from the UN.
“World Population 2012” projects the population growth, or decline, of every country and continent, between now and 2050. Most deeply involved in Crimea’s crisis are Russia and Ukraine. Yet, looking at the UN numbers, there seems an element of absurdity in this confrontation that could lead to a shooting war.
Between 2012 and 2050, Ukraine, war or no war, will lose one-fourth of its population. Eleven to twelve million Ukrainians will vanish from the earth, a figure far higher than the highest estimate of the death toll of the horrific Holodomor of 1932-33. Russia will lose 22 million people, with her population falling below 121 million. Every month between now and 2050, close to 50,000 Russians will disappear. Some demographers believe the UN numbers to be optimistic. Indeed, this writer has seen projections far more dire.
Those who warn that Vladimir Putin is trying to reconstitute the Soviet Union might explain how this is going to be done as Russia loses 22 million people, while the former Soviet republics of Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan—together add 22 million people.
How often in history do nations with shrinking populations invade and annex those with surging populations?
When the UN was set up in 1945, Stalin wanted each of 15 Soviet republics given a seat in the General Assembly. He settled for three seats—for Russia, Ukraine and Byelorussia, now Belarus. That was the core of the old Soviet Union. Yet, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine will lose together 35 million people by mid-century, a figure comparable to the human losses from four years of the Hitler-Stalin war and seven decades of Bolshevik rule.
Our War Party is demanding that we send military assistance and possibly troops to Poland, the Baltic republics and Rumania, and bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. This would mean America would fight Russia to defend them all, should another clash occur as in 2008 in Georgia and today in Crimea. Does this make sense—for any of us? Read More…
Chaos erupted on Saturday afternoon at a Kunming railway station, in the Yunnan province of southwestern China. Ten men and women carrying scimitars and meat cleavers descended on unsuspecting passengers, slicing and stabbing at random. Unreleased photos depict multiple victims lying in pools of their own blood. All told, 130 people were injured and 30 were killed. Four suspects were shot and killed at the scene; one is currently detained while recovering from injuries. It is believed that there are currently five suspects are still at large. There was a heightened security presence at both the Kunming railway station and in Beijing on Monday. President Xi Jinping harshly condemned these acts, which have been classified as acts of terrorism. A vigil was held on Sunday to honor the dead and wounded.
The attack was linked to Uighur separatists, who hail from the Xinjiang province in northwest China, directly north of Tibet. Tensions have flared between the Han Chinese and the Turkic Muslim ethnic groups in the region for the last several years, each conflict bringing severe government crackdowns. Because of tight restrictions on reporting, there is speculation as to whether the government has exaggerated the Uighur terrorism in order to justify the use of violence. But there does seem to be legitimate unrest that is swept under the rug.
As recently as last October, Uighur separatists claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Tiananmen Square. The square represents both the heart of Chinese power and dissidence—25 years ago the square was the site of mass student demonstrations advocating for democracy. A photo of the suicide bombing features a single pillar of smoke stretching in front of Tiananmen tower, where the portrait of Mao Zedong looks impassively on. It is not yet known if one or several groups carry out these acts of violence, or if these groups coordinate their efforts.
The Xinjiang region consists of 45 percent Uighurs, most of whom are Muslim, and 40 percent Han Chinese. The Han Chinese are the dominant ethnic group in China, making up 94 percent of the population. As China’s population rises, the Chinese government has facilitated moving some of the Han population further West, to the consternation of the local Uighur population. The inhabitants of Xinjiang, a part of China heretofore known as an “autonomous region” consider the resettlement both a political and cultural imposition, and fear the loss of their culture by an ethnic hegemon.
Reports of armed attacks from Xinjiang began in 2008, when a woman detonated a bomb in protest of a prominent local businessman who died while in police custody. In 2009, multiple reports emerged of stabbings via hypodermic needles. Protesters took to the streets to display their disapproval with the ensuing investigation. Three years ago, 18 men took over a police station, shouting religious slogans and taking several hostages with knives and bombs. Fourteen of them were killed in a police confrontation.
The inherent opaqueness of such unrest is either incomplete or partially confirmed. In the midst of all the incomplete information, one fact remains clear: the unrest is no longer contained to a remote corner of China. The people responsible for committing this violence have brought the battle to the front and center of Chinese—and international—politics.
Yesterday I outlined what I still think is Russia’s preferred outcome in Crimea, one in which the strongly pro-Russian peninsula remains part of a Ukraine that is effectively subservient to Russia’s interests, no matter who is in charge in Kiev. That’s one path for Putin, and it hardly means avoiding military force—the key point is what result Russia’s aiming at.
There are two other scenarios, however, in which a Crimea more or less formally connected with Russia would make sense from Moscow’s perspective. The first is a variation on what’s already been suggested, only instead of using a Ukrainian Crimea as leverage over Ukraine as a whole, Putin uses the example of a Crimea severed from Ukraine to warn the Ukrainians that unless they play ball the Russian way, Putin will do to eastern Ukraine what he has already done to the Crimean south. A Ukraine without Crimea would have less love of Moscow, but that might be compensated, in Putin’s eyes, by greater fear.
The other possibility is that Putin is acting from weakness—that is, he’s calculated that there’s no plausible outcome in Ukraine as a whole that favors Russian interests, so he’s going to detach Crimea to salvage what he can. In this case, it doesn’t matter if removing Crimea from Ukraine makes Ukraine as a whole less cooperative with Russia because there is no chance for cooperation in any event.
And what if Russia just takes all of Ukraine? That’s basically the original scenario without the subtlety, and it comes with a great many headaches, not only in terms of the effort necessary to subdue Ukraine and the penalties the West would impose, but administering a territory as economically enfeebled and politically unstable as Ukraine isn’t an attractive prospect. An independent but subservient Ukraine looks to be what fits Russia’s interests best. The question is how Crimea fits into that—and if the best outcome, from Moscow’s perspective, is impossible, then a separated Crimea might be what Putin settles for.
(Putin also has to contend with the possibility that events will get away from him, of course—that the Crimeans may be more Catholic than the pope, so to speak, and be more eager to leave Ukraine than Putin himself would desire. And escalations of violence can throw this calculating style of politics completely out the window. But when thinking about Russia’s objectives, it’s worth keeping the big picture in mind.)
p.s. Here’s what the Russian foreign ministry is saying. Ignore the framing about far-right dangers in Ukraine and note the general political demand Russia is making:
We are surprised that several European politicians have already sprung to support the announcement of presidential elections in Ukraine this May, although the agreement of the 21 February envisages that these elections should take place only after the completion of the constitutional reform. It is clear that for this reform to succeed all the Ukrainian political forces and all regions of the country must become its part, but its results should be approved by a nationwide referendum. We are convinced that it is necessary to fully take into account concerns of deputies of eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, the Crimea and Sevastopol, which were expressed at the conference in Kharkov on the 22 February.
Some TV and Twitter commentators have begun to suggest an independent Crimea as a solution for the region’s troubles. That may or may not be what a majority of Crimeans would like to see—some prefer union with Russia; others are content to remain with Ukraine—but from Russia’s point of view an independent or Russian-annexed Crimea is hardly the most desirable thing. Russia’s primary interest in Crimea, basing rights, is already secure even with the peninsula as part of Ukraine. An independent Crimea gives Russia nothing that Russia doesn’t already have. And it would deprive Russia of an invaluable asset: a large bloc of ethnic Russians within the Ukrainian electorate.
This conflict is about Ukraine, not Crimea. Russia has far-reaching interests in its neighbor—everything from pipelines to a strategic and ideological buffer zone—that are complicated by the fall of Yanukovich and the coming to power of anti-Russian leaders in Kiev. The circumstances of Yanukovich’s fall (and practically speaking, he has fallen, even if he refuses to admit it) further loosen Russia’s grip. Thus the upheaval in Crimea is a bargaining chip, not an end in itself: it’s a way for Putin to make sure that Russian interests in Ukraine as a whole are accommodated as the country’s political future is worked out.
Keeping Ukraine intact serves Russian interests better than splitting the country into separate states, but obviously Russia wants Ukraine’s integrity to be preserved on Russia’s terms. So this is the space within which negotiations can be expected to take place. What settlement is possible that will give pro-Russian Ukrainians a strong hand, and perhaps disproportionate one, within a united Ukraine, while satisfying a critical mass of the forces that toppled Yanukovich? Russia and the EU both have considerable economic stakes in Ukraine as a stable thoroughfare, so as difficult as the situation certainly is, there’s plenty of weight on the side of a grand bargain. And given how corrupt Ukrainian politics is on all sides, one suspects that money will talk louder even than nationalism—though that’s never an absolutely sure bet.
Whether saber rattling or not, word is out that the White House is “rethinking its options” on intervening in the Syrian war. The collapse of John Kerry’s Geneva II talks between the rebels and regime, the lengthening casualty lists from barrel-bomb attacks, and a death toll approaching 150,000, are apparently causing second thoughts. All the usual suspects are prodding Obama to plunge in, if not with troops, at least with a no-fly zone to prevent Bashar al-Assad from using his air power.
Our frustration is understandable. Yet it does not change the reality. This is not America’s war. Never was. As Obama said, it is “somebody else’s civil war.”
Still, the case against intervention needs to be restated. First and foremost, Obama has no authority to go to war in Syria, for Congress has never voted to authorize such a war. An unprovoked attack on Syria would be an impeachable act. Last August, the American people were almost unanimously opposed to intervention. The firestorm they created was why Congress ran away from the Obama-Kerry plan for missile strikes. So if Obama has no authority to attack Syria, and America does not want a war, why, after Iraq and Afghanistan, would Obama divide his nation and plunge his country into that civil war?
What are the arguments for intervention? Same old, same old. America has a moral obligation to end the barbarism. At the time of Rwanda we said, “Never again!” Yet it is happening again. And we have a “Responsibility to Protect” Syrians from a dictator slaughtering his own people. But while what is happening in Syria is horrible, all Middle East ethnic-civil-sectarian wars tend to unfold this way. And if there is a “moral” obligation to intervene, why does it not apply to Israel and Turkey, Syria’s nearest neighbors? Why does that moral duty not apply to the European Union, upon whose doorstep Syria sits? Why is it America’s moral obligation, 5,000 miles away? It is not. The Turks, Israelis, EU and Gulf Arabs who hate Assad would simply like for us to come and fight their war for them.
The Washington Post says we must address not only the moral “nightmare,” but also the “growing threat … to vital U.S. interests.” Exactly what “vital interests” is the Post talking about? Syria has been ruled by the Assads for 40 years. And how have our vital interests been imperiled? And if our vital interests are imperiled, how much more so are those of Israel and Turkey? Yet neither has chosen to invest the blood of their sons in bringing Assad down.
If we have an enemy in this fight, it is al-Qaeda, the al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, all of which are terrorist and implacably anti-American. And who is keeping these enemies of ours out of Damascus? Assad, Hezbollah, Iran and our old friend Vladimir Putin. And who has been supplying the terrorists? Our friends in the Gulf, with weapons funneled through Turkey, our NATO ally. Read More…
It will be difficult returning to the daily grind of American partisan politics, after observing Ukrainians give everything just so that one day their country’s system of government would be mature enough for the only fights to be petty partisan games akin to the charade between Democrats and Republicans.
The collapse of the despotic regime of President Viktor Yanukovych—some are calling this the Maidan Revolution, named after where it started in Independence Square—should cause everyone to pause and appreciate the fundamental freedoms and liberties that enable the partisan bluster and, at times, extreme ideological rhetoric that plague America’s body politic today.
The very idea that Ukrainians would give their life for something that most Americans take for granted was inspiring to say the least.
I will never forget watching a husband console his weeping wife as they learned their son had become a martyr for freedom. The image of her wrapped in the arms of her husband—his eyes revealing his true emotion despite attempting to maintain composure.
Then there is the Greek Catholic priest, who confessed to me that his own faith was challenged as he performed last rites for 15 freedom fighters murdered by regime snipers.
“Seeing the eyes of these fathers and kids was the hardest,” the Rev. Theodos Iveshkiv told me before he prayed at a vigil in the scorched and bloodied no man’s land between the opposition and government barricades during a ceasefire early Friday.
I was embedded for three days with Self-Defense, a volunteer force that is part militia and part constabulary.
Armed mostly with baseball bats and homemade wooden clubs, and wearing everything from surplus military garb to motorcycle and snowmobile helmets with flak jackets, the volunteers of Self-Defense were often little older than high school or college age. Some in the press portrayed Self-Defense and the other activists, who spent much of the last three months in Independence Square, as militant and nationalistic, as if that’s a bad thing. Predictably, Moscow and its surrogates called them fascists leading a “brown revolution,” a not-so-vague reference to Adolf Hitler.
In reality, I found those on the front lines to be the complete opposite.
Sure, there were hard-right elements, but there were also leftists as well as an assortment of liberals (in the classical sense), conservatives and non-ideological everyday Ukrainians. I met management consultants with firms such as Bain & Company, doctors, university graduates and others. Together, they wanted the freedoms and liberties they thought they were promised first with the demise of the Soviet Union and then with Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004.
Simply put: This was no Marxist revolution. Rather, it was probably something closer to the Glorious Revolution in Britain, which was the fuel for the Founding Fathers of our own American Revolution. Read More…
Writing in Tablet, Weekly Standard editor and neoconservative Lee Smith sounds an alarm about the rising influence of realism in Obama’s foreign policy. He goes about this rather creatively. He claims, with literary-historical license but no grounding in actual fact, that Harvard Professor Stephen Walt has become this generation’s Mr. X, the George Kennan figure who can produce a strategy that makes sense of the chaos of international events and provides a guide for how the United States should act. Many have aspired to be the new Kennan—Richard Haas, Fareed Zakaria, Anne Marie Slaughter he mentions—but Walt has somehow succeeded.
One must note here that Walt, along with his co-author John Mearsheimer, plays a unique role in neoconservative demonology. They are the top professors who produced a beautifully researched and written argument claiming that the United States’ Mideast policy was tilted askew by the Israel lobby, to the detriment of American interests. When I wrote an essay praising The Israel Lobby, one neoconservative intellectual—an author who had been a friend for 20 years (and who was relatively tolerant of my opposition to the Iraq War) asked me how I could “praise such filth.” For this man who had fought every ideological battle imaginable both as a communist and an anti-communist, America’s special relationship with Israel merited its own special pedestal, beyond the politics of Right and Left. It couldn’t be questioned.
So perhaps by invoking Walt, Lee Smith may be using a kind of code, warning a pro-Israel Jewish audience—Tablet, I’m sure, has readers of many faiths and tendencies who find it interesting, as I do, but it is a Jewish interest webzine—that Obama may sound pro-Israel but his real views are tinged by hostility. (During the 2008 campaign, Obama took pains to denounce the argument of The Israel Lobby, while making clear he had not and would not read the scary book.)
What is the evidence, if any, for Smith’s claim about Walt’s influence? First he summarizes some of Walt’s ideas, mainly that the United States would do better to be an offshore balancer in the Mideast (rather as it was during the Cold War) than to maintain an visible and intrusive presence tied to its “special relationship” with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Walt also favors diplomacy to ramp down the hostility with Iran. And lo and behold, Smith discovers, citing an interview Obama gave to David Remnick in the New Yorker, Obama believes the same thing! Obama tells Remnick he favors a kind of equilibrium in the Persian Gulf, where the Sunni and Shi’ite countries balance each other out. Surely, Smith reasons, that’s more than a coincidence.
My reactions to Lee Smith’s claim are twofold: “Would that it were true!” and then, “Maybe, there’s something to this.” Steve Walt has no connection to the Obama White House, but he does have a blog at Foreign Policy and writes fairly incisive pieces about foreign policy on at least a weekly basis. I doubt the gap between Walt’s clarity of thought and persuasiveness of prose and that of his peers is as marked as that between George Kennan’s voice in 1946 and ’47 and others trying to make sense of American foreign policy at that time. But Walt is pretty compelling. Perhaps people in the White House read him. I hope so. Read More…
In one region of Germany, Muslim students can now be taught their faith in state-run schools, just as Catholic and Protestant students are. Germany has a tradition of teaching religion not just as history, but as a system of ethics, starting as early as first grade.
According to the New York Times, the courses are intended to salve concerns about exclusion and to try to influence their assimilation in the style of Henry Ford’s English School:
By offering young Muslims a basic introduction to Islam as early as first grade, emphasizing its teachings on tolerance and acceptance, the authorities hope to inoculate young people against more extreme religious views while also signaling state acceptance of their faith.
After another holiday season filled with lawsuits and news stories about the place of Christmas in public schools and in government business, Germany’s Islam classes might be a cautionary tale for religious conservatives who want to see their faith more closely woven into state education.
When running classes in Islam, generally, the German schools run into the same conflicts that must come up when they give students classes in generic Protestantism. Already, in one community, a group of Sunni parents are trying to keep members of the Ahmadiyya reformist sect from influencing the curriculum. When schools teach religion as a matter of ethics, not history, school administrators must either run ecumenical councils or, more likely, just set a curriculum more in line with the school’s goals than the faith’s.
What would a Christian ethics course in this mode look like? Perhaps the story of the loaves and fishes would be retold, as has become popular, as a miracle of sharing. After all, that’s a salutary lesson for first graders!
The separation between church and state is there for the protection of both institutions. The state has enormous power to shape culture, and it’s natural for religious communities to want that power deployed molding the culture in their own image.
But the state’s power will serve the state’s ends. So state-sponsored religious education will still, ultimately, be designed to raise good citizens, not good Christians. The two categories aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but if muddled together in an attempt to gain advantage in the culture war, it will be a lot harder for a religious tradition to untangle its identity should another Becket moment ever arrive.
Social inequality is not just a problem in America. Income gap weaves cultural divides throughout nations across the globe—but how we deal with such problems reveals much about our national character. In a Wednesday Atlantic story, Michelle Sutherland shares insights from Moroccan private college L’Ecole de Gouvernance et d’Economie, where students undertake an internship that confronts this social divide:
The summer after the first year, students undergo a month-long internship that endeavors to introduce them to people who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. This is supposed to teach students about the needs of others as well as give them a fundamental understanding of how leadership is structured in companies. Internships such as this are not unique to L’Ecole de Gouvernance et d’Economie, and are common among economics students.
Student Sawsene Nejjar spent her internship at NIKEA (“think French IKEA”), and told Sutherland she felt “foreign” and distant from the other workers. Their religious and cultural tastes were almost completely different. But when writing her mandatory 10-page reflection paper after the internship, Nejjar “said she realized how much she learned.”
In America, the wealthy of prior generations (think Rockefeller) often became a sort of patron class to local communities (Robert Nisbet wrote about this in Quest for Community, an excellent book). Bill Gates often attempts to fulfill this patronage role, albeit on a more global scale. In my home state of Idaho, J.R. Simplot and his family, whose wealth grew from their potato business, supplied money to local arts and philanthropic foundations.
But as income inequality grows more common and schismatic, today’s younger generations do not always share such empathy for outside classes. The children of the elite are implanted with lofty aspirations from a young age—aspirations often fixated on personal advancement and a successful career. Money and attention goes toward such enterprises—an Ivy League education, law degree, Ph.D., and all the material trappings that ought to accompany such titles. These individuals nestle in bubbles of elite culture and community—within the power-driven enclaves of D.C., the career-fixated streets of New York City, the intellectual selectivity of university towns. They mingle with a specific group of friends who share similar taste in philosophy, culture, music, and books.
This picture may be somewhat extreme. But it reflects a large portion of today’s university students. After graduation, young people often procure jobs in the city. Many work in executive, law, and political offices—even while interning. Their interactions with those of a lower class or education grow increasingly rare. This lack of integration results in a sad lack of empathy for the pleasures and pains of other social classes.
Youth who grew up in rural America rarely return home after leaving for college—resulting in a “brain drain” that has greatly affected commerce and culture in Middle America. When rising up the social ladder, few youth continue to mingle with the class they grew up around.
Sutherland’s story strongly illustrates this. “Wealthy college kids” have increasingly become a class of their own. She points to Charles Murray’s recent book, Coming Apart: the State of White America, to illustrate the divide further:
[Murray’s] research, based on the General Social Survey, shows that the upper class has become culturally sealed off from the rest of the country. They buy different kinds of cars, care about the environment and body weight, raise their children differently, want different vacations, and don’t care about professional sports like many other Americans do.
How many wealthy young Americans have ever held a minimum-wage job, or had an internship that placed them amongst America’s poorer classes? Would such involvement change their attitudes toward lower-class families? Would their discrepant cultural tastes rub off on each other, perhaps: the upper class obtaining a greater appreciation for pro sports, the blue-collar worker deciding to give classic literature a try?
L’Ecole de Gouvernance et d’Economie’s internship model, if instituted in the United States, would present interesting opportunities for bridging class divides. The Yale student could work at Chik-fil-A, the Harvard student in a local Wal-Mart. One wonders what application their education might have in daily interactions with customers, fellow employees, and supervisors. One wonders what they might learn of a class people that they’ve rarely encountered—at least not for a long time.
Education is not meant to isolate: rather, knowledge is meant to help us bridge divides of every kind. How should we put our educations to use? Do we use them to distance ourselves from the “unwashed masses,” or do we use them to connect with people unable or unwilling to obtain higher education?
Perhaps the greatest lesson learned through such interactions is how little we really know. Like Nejjar, we are forced to confront biases and stereotypes we weren’t even aware existed. Through everyday conversations, work done alongside each other, we begin to see life through wider eyes.
Steve Walt wonders when Hillary is going to let us in on her opinion on Iran diplomacy:
Amazing, isn’t it? The former chief diplomat of the United States is supposedly an expert on foreign policy and may still harbor a desire to be leader of the free world. Yet she’s been completely silent on the whole question of the negotiations with Iran, even though I’ll bet the Obama administration would love to get her to endorse its efforts. Does she support it? Damned if I know. Does she think it’s naïve, foolish, or not bold enough? Your guess is as good as mine. No doubt we will find out HRC’s true convictions just as soon as her focus groups report in or her major donors tell her what to think. –
Another leading prospective candidate whom we’ve yet to hear from is Rand Paul. I’m slightly more sympathetic to Paul than Clinton, in part because he’s already gotten slammed by the neocons on Iran without having really said anything. For him to endorse the administration’s efforts at Iran diplomacy, when the grassroots of his party would learn to hate ice cream if Obama were associated with it, might qualify him for a chapter in the next edition of Profiles in Courage. I don’t really expect it, but if it happened it would be pretty impressive.
On second thought, doesn’t that set the bar kind of low? Is it too much to expect that a leading Republican senator would remind people of Reagan and his “trust but verify,” and that Richard Nixon started talking to China, while noting that we actually have serious national interests in ramping down the blind hostility with Teheran? You know, actually lead, instead of arguing that he is well qualified to do so.
Let’s have a contest: which would-be leader of the Free World will be the first to tell us what they actually think about Iran diplomacy, including of course the deal inked in Geneva in late November? Who will be the first to break silence, Rand or Hillary?
(For those wondering, I am well aware that even this preliminary Geneva deal is running into difficulties with a new Iranian insistence on modernizing centrifuges, as well as the Iranian Parliament proposing legislation that would bar Rouhani from negotiating. This group should caucus with Schumer, Menendez, and Kirk. None of this will be easy.)