World Must Not Cede Russia ‘Sphere Of Interest’

I have long self-described as an internationalist when it comes to my views about the role the United States needs to undertake around the globe in conjunction with other nations. I strongly view the footprint of the United States as a needed tool to further not only our interests but equally important the needs and desires of other people.

One of the deeper reasons for my rejection of Donald Trump was the result of his not being aware of, or showing any interest in our legitimate and needed role on the world stage. Not having been in any way engaged with international affairs as it relates to governing left him prattling nationalistic rhetoric and doing substantial damage to our national image and policy aims.

That came to mind, again, when reading the latest from Robert Kagan, someone I try to follow when new columns are published. He is an American neoconservative scholar and a leading advocate of liberal interventionism. His The Price of Hegemony in Foreign Affairs was illuminating and thought-provoking. These lines below summed up my views from 2017-until Jan 20th, 2021, relating as it did to what Trump did not know, or care to learn.

For the 70-plus years since World War II, the United States has actively worked to keep revisionists at bay. But many Americans hoped that with the end of the Cold War, this task would be finished and that their country could become a “normal” nation with normal—which was to say, limited—global interests. But the global hegemon cannot tiptoe off the stage, as much as it might wish to. It especially cannot retreat when there are still major powers that, because of their history and sense of self, cannot give up old geopolitical ambitions—unless Americans are prepared to live in a world shaped and defined by those ambitions, as it was in the 1930s.

One of the complaints I have with those who shy away from grasping the role the U.S. must continue to play around the world, is the way they lament how ‘rough’ the West was on the defeated remnant of the old U.S.S.R. The facts prove, of course, that the West did not bluster or threaten, provoke or prod Russia. Instead, the various peoples of the former Soviet Union, when given a chance to make their own way in the world, looked West.

Kagan demolishes the idea that Russia should be allowed to think they have been granted a sphere of interest, based on history. A flawed notion President Putin tries to stand upon.

The problem for Putin—and for those in the West who want to cede to both China and Russia their traditional spheres of interest—is that such spheres are not granted to one great power by other great powers; they are not inherited, nor are they created by geography or history or “tradition.” They are acquired by economic, political, and military power. They come and go as the distribution of power in the international system fluctuates. The United Kingdom’s sphere of interest once covered much of the globe, and France once enjoyed spheres of interest in Southeast Asia and much of Africa and the Middle East. Both lost them, partly due to an unfavorable shift of power at the beginning of the twentieth century, partly because their imperial subjects rebelled, and partly because they willingly traded in their spheres of interest for a stable and prosperous U.S.-dominated peace. Germany’s sphere of interest once extended far to the east. Before World War I, some Germans envisioned a vast economic Mitteleuropa, where the people of central and eastern Europe would provide the labor, resources, and markets for German industry. But this German sphere of interest overlapped with Russia’s sphere of interest in southeastern Europe, where Slavic populations looked to Moscow for protection against Teutonic expansion. These contested spheres helped produce both world wars, just as the contested spheres in East Asia had helped bring Japan and Russia to blows in 1904. 

Russians may believe they have a natural, geographic, and historical claim to a sphere of interest in eastern Europe because they had it throughout much of the past four centuries. And many Chinese feel the same way about East Asia, which they once dominated. But even the Americans learned that claiming a sphere of interest is different from having one. For the first century of the United States’ existence, the Monroe Doctrine was a mere assertion—as hollow as it was brazen. It was only toward the end of the nineteenth century, when the country was able to enforce its claim, that the other great powers were grudgingly forced to accept it. After the Cold War, Putin and other Russians may have wanted the West to grant Moscow a sphere of interest in Europe, but such a sphere simply did not reflect the true balance of power after the Soviet Union fell. China may claim the “nine-dash line”—enclosing most of the South China Sea—as marking its sphere of interest, but until Beijing can enforce it, other powers are unlikely to acquiesce. 

A most worthy article that deserves to be read in full.

French Voters Reject Fascist Presidential Candidate, Third National Defeat For Marine Le Pen As Emmanuel Macron Scores Wide Margin Of Victory

As one of the walkers on the Madison isthmus reminded me this afternoon as I planted roses, and we talked of the French presidential election, there were still four in 10 voters who cast a ballot for a fascist candidate. As one who worries about democracy not only in our nation but in countries around the globe, she did not need to remind me. I told her it was the older voters in France who well recall their history and then correctly cast their ballot for Emmanuel Macron.

And saved their country from the ruinous racism, white nationalism, and xenophobia of Marine Le Pen.

There was no way to successfully soft-pedal or sell Le Pen’s blows against Muslims or her tirades against Algerians. One can not rift about inflation one minute and then next pour scalding rhetoric upon Muslim women and their headscarves and not have reasoned voters go what the hell is wrong with her?

There was no hairstyle or consultant-driven outfits that could wash away Le Pens’ overt and constant racism.

Or her admiration for Russian President Putin.

French voters did not forget that Le Pen repeated her support for Putin’s assault on Crimea and her opposition to the EU sanctions at that time in response to the annexation. It was a mere 38 days after Russia invaded Ukraine that Le Pen stated, that Putin “could become an ally of France again” if the war ends.

If the hate-mongering from Le Pen was not enough to deeply draw concern, the threats she posed to NATO policy and the unity of the European Union surely would have done so. Why the far-right finds it a natural fit to cozy with Putin is one reason they must be viewed with suspicion when on the ballot. As voters proved today in France.

The close ties that Macron has established between France and the rest of Western Europe and the United States are the hallmark of what constitutes a solid working relationship. Now consider the angry populism and white nationalistic bombast from Le Pen, and ask yourself what would have befallen France and Europe had she operated from the presidential office? Putin would have won a second war without even needing to have fired one missile westward.

Macron has five years to now focus on a leadership role in the EU, with the absence of Germany’s outsized role of Angela Merkel. He can now press forward with his “More Europe” perspective and agenda.

As the woman who talked with me in the sunshine said of today’s election, Le Pen may have plenty of supporters, but the collective wisdom of the majority of mainstream French voters simply would not allow for a fascist to become the next French president.

Thank you to the majority of French voters for your concern for democracy.

And so it goes.

NATO Proves Why Intelligent Leadership In White House Matters

One of the driving reasons for my support of Joe Biden for president in 2020 was the requirement of our nation to again lead the world community. I was alarmed at the willful undermining of international alliances during the Donald Trump administration. Decades of work and cooperation that buttressed America’s needs and created working relationships for international order were at stake.

It has almost been a whiplash period between the narcissistic threat from Trump in 2018 about the United States withdrawing from NATO to the recent barbaric atrocities being committed by Russian President Putin in Ukraine. From Trump telling his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, to the news this past week that Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, is “highly likely” to join NATO.

Clearly, even Trump can now see the value and purpose of the military alliance. Even if it is being used with a high degree of success against the one person he can never say a cross word about.

It is hard not to smile about Russia’s disdain for having NATO members on its borders. If they thought they were being hemmed in prior to the genocide in Ukraine, they will really feel the squeeze should Finland and Sweden pursue the option of membership in the alliance.

Given the rash actions from Russia, and utter disregard for international law and norms there is every reason to consider that Sweden’s famous political neutrality could end up being, well, not so neutral. Today, neither Finland nor Sweden is considered to be in immediate military danger. But one does not make alliances for the present conditions, but rather bonds together and looks ahead to the potential dangers of the future.

Russia has a history of addiction to conquest and savagery. The Ukraine invasion, however, has proved thus far, the limits concerning the whims of an autocrat. Putin has made a colossal mistake. Instead of weakening NATO, Putin has actually strengthened his foe.

Autocrats prattle about how democracy is not the way for nations to grow and prosper. Actions from Hungary to Brazil have left many worldwide rightly concerned about the condition of democracy. China has challenged democratic tendencies in places like Hong Kong, while we know all too well that Russia will do anything for wistful memories of an empire.

Meanwhile, many others in the world are finding a new resolve to adhere to alliances and the values of freedom. Those matters are not relics. The fact that only a few years ago some were even willing to let NATO drift and flounder is proof why having a delusional and populist-nationalist in the White House is not only bad for America, but also the world.

And so it goes.

Donald Trump Refused To Condemn Putin In Fox News Interview–Ronald Reagan Would Not Recognize Today’s GOP

During a call-in interview on Fox News Wednesday night, Donald Trump would not condemn Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine. Simply disgusting and morally vacuous. This is just the latest example of the fusion between Putin’s backside and Trump’s face.

Sean Hannity simply asked Trump “If the Russian attacks on Ukraine amount to evil in our time?”. What followed was a most tortured, absurd, illogical, and bone-headed response. Take a look at this transcript of the interview if you can bear to do it. It is seriously painful.

“Morning in America,” was the theme of the Republican Party under the leadership of Ronald Reagan. Today conservatives wallow with Trump in their muddy twilight while too many of them have no sense of history, facts, or sadly, even common sense. Proof of that is the lack of Trump’s fellow Republicans who will not respond today because they don’t want to antagonize his angry white male constituency.

But, then, this is also the same party where more sitting GOP congressmen voted not to certify the 2020 election than those who voted for a resolution to support NATO.

On Morning Joe, the panel weighed into Trump’s “grotesque” behavior last night. It is worthy of a listen.

And so it goes.

President Biden Said What World Knows To Be True: Democracy Matters

President Biden addressed the 800-pond gorilla sitting in the international living room this weekend. While he was talking about Russian aggression against Ukraine, and spoke most candidly (and correctly) about the future of President Putin, it was his clarion call for democracy that rightly stirred people worldwide.

The last point is one I have persistently addressed over the years. The United States must reassert itself not only with our military and economic might, but also with our ideals.

(Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

We sometimes take for granted the role of a president, regardless of which party holds the office. It seems old-fashioned, perhaps, for younger generations to see our leader stand on the world stage and preach the values of democracy. But this weekend, on every television screen around the globe our President was seen speaking about the serious worldwide battle of democracy versus dictatorship, freedom versus authoritarianism, and human rights versus oppression.

(Somewhere Allen Drury is surely smiling.)

There was no way not to be pleased and reassured over the past days as Biden traveled to Europe and proved the value of again having a truly powerful and passionate champion of democracy speaking for the global community. It does feel good, even in these truly horrible weeks as Ukraine has been invaded, to see our nation in a leadership role.

Biden made the point learned from history.

….Ten years later, the Soviet Union collapsed and Poland and Central and Eastern Europe would soon be free. Nothing about that battle for freedom was simple or easy. It was a long, painful slog. Fought over not days and months but years and decades. But we emerged anew in the great battle for freedom. A battle between democracy and autocracy. Between liberty and repression. Between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force. In this battle, we need to be clear-eyed. This battle will not be won in days or months either. We need to steel ourselves of a long fight ahead.

Autocrats prattle about how democracy is not the way for nations to grow and prosper. Actions from Hungary to Brazil have left many worldwide rightly concerned about the condition of democracy. China has challenged democratic tendencies in places like Hong Kong, while we know all too well that Russia will do anything for wistful memories of an empire.

Meanwhile, many others in the world are finding a new resolve to adhere to alliances and the values of freedom. So those matters are not relics, to be left gathering dust? Was it not only a few years ago some were even willing to let NATO drift and flounder?

The world looks at the bottom line and knows the value of free markets where the United States and Europe, combined, have $40 trillion of GDP as opposed to Russia eking out just over $1 trillion in GDP. The data shows the power of working democracies.

When watching Biden on Saturday, I will readily admit, to some goosebumps as his words struck historic themes and also again demonstrated the role I have so long wanted my country to take. I firmly believe in an internationalist mindset where we connect with other countries to foster united solutions. The firming up of our international institutions is imperative. And our resolve to demonstrate an ability to be the leader of the world is without question the first priority.

I have continually stated our nation can meet the test of democracy around the world if we meet the challenges with leadership and intellect.  We did that very thing this weekend.

In my own country, a former president named Abraham Lincoln voiced the opposing spirit to save our union in the midst of the Civil War. He said let us have faith that right makes might. Right makes might. Today, let us have that faith again. [Applause] Let us resolve to put the strength of democracies into action to thwart the designs of autocracy.

And finally, most urgently, we maintain absolute unity, we must, among the world’s democracies. It’s not enough to speak with rhetorical flourish of ennobling words of democracy, of freedom, of quality, and liberty. All of us, including here in Poland, must do the hard work of democracy each and every day — my country as well. That’s why [applause], that’s why I came to Europe again this week with a clear and determined message for NATO, for the G7, for the European Union, for all freedom-loving nations — we must commit now to be in this fight for the long haul. We must remain unified today and tomorrow and the day after. And for the years and decades to come. It will not be easy. There will be costs. But it is a price we have to pay because the darkness that drives autocracy is ultimately no match for the flame of liberty that lights the souls of free people everywhere.

And so it goes.

GOP Senators Correct: MiG-29 Fighter Jets Required For Ukraine

Wednesday night while driving home NPR reported one of those ominous news stories, which sadly, is the kind we are coming to expect multiple times a day since Ukraine was attacked. In a throw-everything-at-the-wall moment, the Kremlin had accused Ukraine of planning to use chemical weapons. It did not take many rotations of my fast-moving car before I knew what this meant.

Russia is plotting their PR move, so to have a false claim to justify their own perverse use of these weapons which are banned under international law. Not that Russian President Putin, mind you, is at this point worried about international law.

It is due to the next steps that Putin is obviously considering that require Western governments to reevaluate the steps which need to be taken to stop Putin.

As akin to many of my readers, I thought the pandemic was the worst thing to befall the world in a very long time. With it ebbing globally there was a collective hope there might be a reprieve of sorts. For everyone. But I sit in front of the television with tears filling my eyes due to what is happening to children in Ukraine. Or the grandmother who was crying as she lost sight of the child she was helping flee their country.

Many arguments have been presented as to why a military reaction from NATO–overt or covert–needs to be measured or limited or not taken at all. Funneling anti-tank weapons to Ukraine is not a secret to anyone. That is acceptable by Western leaders. But the use of Polish jets in the hands of Ukraine, who have pleaded for the aircraft, is deemed a step too far.

There are analysts describing Putin as in a corner, and it now is the requirement of the West to find a way to let him see a way out of the carnage he created. That sounds nice if this were all some theoretical scenario being played out at a war college. But this is reality, and tough responses are required. After all, we are not dealing with fostering dialogue and a working compromise with a rational person. Putin is a madman wedded to delusional visions of conquest.

I have not been reticent about the need for taking a tougher stance following the first missile launched into Ukraine or the first tank that invaded that sovereign nation. As such, I align with professionals who work in international relations such as former United States Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, and experts in foreign affairs within our government.

As such, I watched and listened today as Senate Republicans urged President Biden to support Poland’s proposal to transfer MiG fighter jets to Ukraine to defend against Russia. And I fully concur with their reasoning and logic. (This also is a good lesson as to how our country should work. We need not be of the same party to find common ground.)

“The administration claims the reason they blocked this transfer is a concern about escalation. Really? Vladimir Putin is aware that American-provided stingers are killing Russians today. And our president knows that, too.” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said.
 
“America should be doing everything we can, short of boots on the ground or in the air, to protect Ukraine. Our message today to the president: Send the MiGs, arm our Ukrainian friends right now.”

The senator I truly gravitated towards today was Mitt Romney as his argument is where I have been from the start of this crisis.
 
“We’re not going to stop the killing in Ukraine until we in NATO fear Putin less than he fears us,” added Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT).
 
“It’s time for him to fear what we might do because, frankly, his military is bogged down in Ukraine, and if NATO were to get activated in some way by his provocation, obviously, he’d be in a very weak position.”
 
Strength is not a provocation,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said. “They need this assistance and they need it right now.”

In no way am I being light or flippant about the risks associated with action, but without a doubt taking anything softer than a full-out resolve to stop Putin will only increase the deaths in Ukraine, and add more possible threats to Western Europe.

The world is watching. And history will judge us. I can argue why letting Putin’s army grind deeper into a hole it can not win while Ukrainian lives are lost and depravity is let loose by Russians must not be allowed to continue. The threat of an expansion of the war with chemical agents by Russia must never be allowed to begin.

It simply has to end…and that will only be achieved if Putin is stopped.

And so it goes.

President Zelensky Mirrors Winston Churchill, Leads Crusade Against Tyranny

News stories from Eastern Europe detailing the horrific actions of Russians against Ukrainians are enough to almost crush the spirit of anyone following the news. The photos and videos of the relentless depravity of firing missiles into civilian areas, causing deaths and severe injuries, hit the soul of anyone learning of the events.

As the international community ponders how best to respond to Moscow’s Madman, Russian President Putin, there is one person who has stood erect and remains sure-footed about saying what needs to happen.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy did not slip out of his country when the bombs started to fall. He does not mince words about the thug from Moscow who is on a war of conquest. Instead with resolve, conviction, and utter determination Zelenskyy is providing the world something not seen in such quantity in a very long time.

Leadership.

In just 14 days Zelenskyy has been placed alongside another brave man from the pages of history. Winston Churchill was the essential leader in Britain when the bombs started to fall as a result of another madman. While it certainly takes a ruthless and evil person, Hitler then and Putin now, to create conditions that demand a strong reaction from a leader, let us not forget what else is essential to leadership.

Character. Perhaps I should add, character above all. Zelenskyy has in volumes what Churchill also possessed. It needs noting Putin never possessed character–not even a ruble’s worth.

Zelenskyy has become the most recognized man around the globe. Clearly slated to be Time magazine’s Person of the Year. With absolute courage, a forthright attitude, and seemingly endless energy he is marshaling his people to do all it takes to win. And he is asking, pleading, demanding, and in the end trusting that the world community will all do their part, too, in helping Ukraine not fall to a totalitarian monster.

This morning above the fold in The New York Times the story about Zelenskyy had a Churchillian feel. It made for shivers up my arm as I read the news story.

In a dramatic video address to Britain’s Parliament, clad in his now-famous military fatigue T-shirt, Mr. Zelensky echoed Winston Churchill’s famous words of no surrender to the same chamber at the dawn of World War II as Britain faced a looming onslaught from Nazi Germany.

“We will fight till the end, at sea, in the air,” Mr. Zelensky said with the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag draped behind him. “We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.”

The speech, the first-ever by a foreign leader to the House of Commons, was the climax of Mr. Zelensky’s darkest-hour messaging to fellow Ukrainians and the world in what has become a typical 20-hour day for him in Kyiv, the besieged capital.

There is a famous political cartoon from history that shows where Churchill was in the 1940s. We know in Ukraine Zelensky now leads in much the same way. With steely resolve.

All Behind You, Winston.” Created by David Low, Evening Standard, 14 May 1940. Front row: Churchill, Attlee, Bevin, Morrison, Amery. Visible behind them are Chamberlain, Halifax, Sinclair, Duff Cooper, and Eden. (British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent, http://www.cartoons.ac.uk)

Elsewhere there is no shortage of current political cartoons and front pages of newspapers that underscore the linkage between these two world leaders. While no one can write history until it plays out, I know who has almost the entire world praying for him and his people.

Zelenskyy.

And so it goes.

Stopping Putin Will Require Military Might From Europe, United States

From the start of the most recent Russian madness, I have taken a straightforward appraisal of the situation. For many of us, the Eastern European theatre has been long considered a potential tinderbox given Russian President Putin’s makeup and stated desires.

As the Russian military massed along the border I thought an invasion of Ukraine would occur, never thinking it would not. The dance of diplomacy had to be undertaken prior to the start of this phase of the violence, as that is an international nicety.

While I champion diplomacy, one has to keep in mind that there is a stark difference in sitting down with those one has disagreements with while hoping to foster dialogue and a working compromise, as opposed to talking with a madman who is wedded to delusional visions of conquest.

The war in Eastern Ukraine has been ongoing for years. Most of the world did not want to know about it. Thousands died prior to the latest invasion two weeks ago. That is the harsh reality.

So Putin has to be viewed in the totality of his past actions and declared threats for the future. As such, Putin can not reverse course and back down. There is nothing in his history to suggest that is an option for him to take. So the following news snippet this morning from Australia is worthy of posting.

Terry Barnes wrote the following for Spectator Australia.

A retired British general, Sir Chris Deverall, is arguing that a no-fly zone over Ukraine might yet be the only rational choice for NATO. Deverall says NATO will have to fight Vladimir Putin eventually, so should be prepared to do it now. Meanwhile, polling indicates 45 percent of Americans support a no-fly zone, 20 percent are against, and the rest presumably are undecided. Rightly or wrongly, the unthinkable is being thought. Putin’s war could yet become a European war.”

I again echo a theme on this blog that strength is what Putin understands, and weakness is what Putin uses for his own ends. If the world community can not accept that fact then Ukraine is doomed. And Europe is further threatened.

This morning Ukraine President Zelenskyy was termed by a news analysis on television as “Churchhill in the digital age”. With that phrasing comes to mind the weight of leadership that Winston Churchill would remind us of if he were here to gauge the current crisis. History will judge the international community harshly if we do not stand up to this test of our time.

Putin must be stopped.

And so it goes.