Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Gray Lady blinks

I love the New York Times online, because it covers the world in a single page--and also because of the occasional unintended hilarity of its editorials and op-eds. (I generally only read the front-page précis, to stay under the limit for freeloaders.) Today's lead editorial is priceless:

It is time to hold President Vladimir Putin to his words of support in getting to the bottom of the tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
It's time? Really, it's time?

And who in this administration is going to get tough with Mr. Putin? John Kerry, I suppose, the man who was defeated when he ran for president but who now seems to be the only president we've got when it comes to dealing with the outside world.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What a world without a policeman looks like

"America is not the world's policeman," said Barack Obama last year, closing out a sixty-year run when America served just that role, from Harry Truman in Berlin to George Dubya in Baghdad. On Friday, we saw what a world without a policeman looks like, with Dutch and other bodies scattered across the soil of eastern Ukraine. The immediate cause was probably the so-called "separatists" who followed Vladimir Putin's seizure of Crimea by occupying government buildings and declaring a People's Republic.

But the necessary cause was their lawless inspiration in the Kremlin. If Vladimir Putin hadn't invaded Crimea, none of this would have happened. If Putin hadn't destabilized Ukraine by sending mercenaries, military equipment, and special operatives into the country, none of this would have happened. And this is true even if the surface-to-air missile that brought down the Malaysian airliner turns out to be a Soviet-era SAM captured from the Ukrainian army, as the separatists boasted last month but now deny.

And behind Putin sits the Nobel Prize winner who declared that the United States no longer carries a badge. The result was predictable: we live in the most dangerous world since the late 1970s, and arguably since August 1945.

'Why are we talking about Harry Truman?'

Peggy Noonan, who writes a "Declarations" blog / op-ed for the Wall Street Journal every Saturday, is always interesting and sometimes marvelous. This Saturday's essay (WSJ kindly posts them on Friday) is one of the marvelous ones: http://online.wsj.com/articles/politics-in-the-modest-age-1405639110

After explaining that Mr Truman left office dead broke -- actually dead broke, except for an Army pension of $112 a month; he took out a bank loan to get himself home to Missouri -- Noonan sweetly says:

"Why are we talking about Harry Truman? You know."
Yes! We know!

American presidents in the 21st Century aren't humble, decent people. If they aren't rich to begin with, they become rich in the act of being president, like any self-enriching "president" of any third-world kleptocracy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

'Nice bank ya got there. Be a pity if anything should happen to it.'

No wonder American corporations are fleeing the country as fast as they can buy an Irish competitor. The Obama administration has just extorted $7 billion -- billion! -- from Citibank for some misfeasance that has never really been charged, let alone proven. Basically, Citi is just ponying up the money to make the Feds go away.

This Godfather style of financing the federal government began when Mr Obama announced that BP should put $10 billion -- billion! -- into a pot from which shrimp fisherman and brothel keepers could claim recompense for business lost the big blowout of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The US Constitution explicitly forbids the government from enacting a bill of attainder, or legislated punishment, but here was a bill that wasn't even legislated! It was just announced from the presidential podium.

Ever since, Mr Obama's Justice Department has been ginning up legal actions against American corporations, then settling for some figure between one and ten billion dollars -- billion! The victims pay up to avoid the cost of defending themselves in court, and also of course to avoid a hit to their reputations. This is, after all, a president who routinely uses the bully pulpit to demonize his opponents, from the justices of the US Supreme Court to the Koch Brothers. Not since the Nixon administration have we seen such nastiness from the White House -- and Mr Nixon usually left the character assassination to his vice president.

This is no longer a nation of laws, but a nation of Executive Department fiats. And we have two and one-half years to go before a saner administration can take its place.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Ukraine advances

No thanks to the United States, NATO, or western European heads of government, the Ukrainian army actually seems to be cleaning the clock of Putin's surrogates in eastern Ukraine. To be sure, some of this is being done by ad hoc militaries financed by "oligarchs," in a manner reminiscent of the messy wars of the 1920s in the same part of the world. But still! With no American help but a long-ago shipment of Meals Ready to Eat, the government in Kiev seems to have reconstituted an army in a matter of weeks, and that army is actually fighting. Kiev now claims to have gained control of its border with Russia, so as to stop or anyhow slow the influx of mercenaries, war materiel, and probably Russian special forces operatives.

Still, even the best outcome will have been a victory for Vladimir Putin in his attempt to recreate the Russian Empire that was lost in 1917 (and again in 1991!). Nobody in Washington, Brussels, or Berlin is now going to invest any of the west's much-diminished moral force in trying to get the Russians out of Crimea. That train has left the station, and probably even the government in Kiev will be willing to let Crimea go, rather than risk further confrontation with the bully in the Kremlin.

Then too, Putin has succeeded in destabilizing and radicalizing a good chunk of the country. Civil wars always radicalize the population. From now on, Kiev will live in fear of what the Russian bear can do, and the same is true of other countries (Estonia being a prime example) unfortunate enough to share a frontier with Russian, and to contain large numbers of people who not only claim Russian as their mother tongue, but hold Russian passports. The mere threat of proximity is what enabled the Soviet Union to control the foreign policy of Finland for the better part of half a century, 1940-1990.

And in a wider sense, Putin has the rest of Europe by the short hairs. NATO famously was formed to "keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down." Well, the Germans are no longer down, and the Americans under Barack Obama are no longer in, so what's to keep the Russians out as long as they are the ones providing natural gas to western Europe?

Friday, July 04, 2014

the worst president since the Second World War!

I'm not accustomed to being in the mainstream. Indeed, it makes me nervous! So imagine my astonishment when a Quinnipiac poll shows that Americans regard Barack Obama as our worst president since the Second World War.

The worst in seventy years --  the worst in two generations!

Worse than Jimmy Carter!

Worse than Richard Nixon!

To be sure, most Americans don't actually remember Messrs Carter and Nixon, and most of those who have an image of Mr. Carter are actually thinking of the amiable dunce who swung a hammer for Habitat for Humanity and who went off to endorse elections for Latin American dictators.

But still ... worse than George Dubya! And we still have nearly three years to run.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Everything old is new again

I spent three years earning a degree in War in the Modern World, but it looks as if Vladimir Putin has made that skill set obsolete.

 Mr. Putin is not a modern man. He’s working straight out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook of 1938-39. Our fellow Germans (Russians) are being mistreated by cruel governments in Prague and Warsaw (Kiev)! The unrest is all your fault! Resist, and “serious consequences” will follow! Even the tricks with uniforms are similar (dressing dead men in German uniforms, in 1939; taking national insignia off Russian troops, in 2014).

And the west, traumatized by the last great war, sits on its hands. In 1939, the British and French astonished Hitler by honoring their pledges to Poland and declaring war. What are the chances of Cameron, Hollande, Merkel, and Obama doing that today on behalf of Ukraine? On behalf of Lithuania?

On behalf of Poland?

The Polish foreign minister is under fire for saying the obvious: "This Polish-American union is worthless.” But of course it's worthless! The United States is the country that showed its support for Ukraine by sending--meals ready to eat! And those were delivered by civilian contractors, for fear that the sight of military aircraft flying into Kiev might upset Mr. Putin.