Biden On The World Stage Makes America Proud As He Pushes Democracy

The autocratic moves and tendencies of the previous White House administration, along with the kindred moves in nations from Hungary to Brazil have left many worldwide rightly concerned about the condition of democracy. Illiberal democracy has long been a theme on this blog.

Thy most important message that President Joe Biden pushed as a candidate was his desire to return to normalcy with our domestic politics, and a turn towards the proper role our nation has long played on the world stage. International alliances and working friendships among nations are at the heart of our diplomatic efforts. As he urged in the race for election we must address a very serious worldwide battle of democracy versus dictatorship, freedom versus authoritarianism, and human rights versus oppression.

There was no way not to be pleased and reassured over the past days as Biden has proved to be a truly powerful and passionate champion of democracy. While China tries to put forth a message that democracy is not the way for nations to grow and prosper, and Russia looks backward with wistful memories of an empire that fell, the economic powerhouses of the world understand that they are at a better place now with Biden being a strong advocate for democracy.

Russian President Putin well understands his grasp at the past is futile when not having the economic means to affect change. With both the United States and Europe, combined, having $40 trillion of GDP as opposed to Russia eking out just over $1 trillion in GDP underscores the power of working democracies.

As a teenager I was very taken by the human rights component of President Jimmy Carter’s international policy. With the same focus, Biden understands the role that human rights and human dignity plays as a part of what constitutes a democracy. I cringed and was embarrassed for our nation when Trump proved to be nothing more than an enabler or apologist for thugs. How the entire brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was handled was a very dark period for our country as the world watched.

It offended me to high heaven to have Trump and his administration have no more than a flippant attitude with foreign policy. It was continuously conducted in a transactional manner. Great for the tyrants and autocrats who have favors to trade, and deals to strike for their own ends. But woe are the ones sitting in jails in Saudi Arabia and China and Turkey. Human rights never were going to fare well in that administration, one dominated by a transactional view of foreign policy.

While watching and reading the news coverage of the Biden trip, and the conversations with world leaders, I see the larger mission that is taking place. By adding to the vaccine shots that our nation will make available to a world needing them, and giving the embrace to alliances and underscoring renewed collaboration in working on pressing problems, Biden is demonstrating what a healthy democracy looks like. And acts like!

We can all thrill to the success of the mission to press forward as to why democracy is alive and vital to the world. Once again all are seeing, friend and foe alike, that the United States is again taking its role in the world seriously. Once again, the world is taking note that America wants to do good for others.

And so it goes.

President Biden To Again Assert American Leadership On World Stage

There are few presidents in our history with the resume of international experience that President Biden can rely on when conducting international affairs. That places him in good stead as he starts his first world travel with diplomatic meetings with dozens of world leaders.

While most of the encounters will be with friendly nations, the weighty nature of world problems means the meetings are of consequence. Overlaying all the specific issues is the need to separate the past four years under a deranged American leader, with what must be the mature and proper role of the United States on the world stage. The Group of Seven democracies, the European Union, and our NATO alliance all will be closely watching for not only words but also body language for signals and confirmation that normalcy can again be brought to international affairs.

The headline maker on this trip will be, of course, the June 16th summit with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. That is where the tire will meet the road, where Biden’s decades of cumulated experience from being a senator and vice-president will allow for a gritty understanding that the United States now has a leader at the helm.

While the G7 leaders will obviously be concerned about COVID and the availability of the needed vaccines they will be needing assurances that they will not be left abandoned in the large causes and efforts which otherwise unite the organization. Memories of Donald Trump who pulled Washington out of several multilateral institutions and threatened to quit NATO have left nations wondering if they need to seek new ways of advancing their concerns, perhaps by asserting their own national efforts. France has been taking note of the lack of needed leadership, as an example.

I strongly suspect that Biden, who has actual working relationships with many leaders and nations, will showcase why the world’s democracies are not to fear being minimized by China or Russia. He will assert the role the US is to play on the world stage and most likely will place something on the table to demonstrate that resolve to a world that is waiting.

Talking face-to-face with Putin is the best way to underscore that there can be areas of agreement should the Russian leader seek to engage the US in that fashion. Climate change can be a topic where cooperation could prove meaningful. But the ransomware attacks, the attempts to undermine our democratic institutions along with our elections will be met with steely deterrence.

Putin will get his time on the world stage with the leader of the free world. That image of an American president has been dimmed due to Trump, but the light is being hoisted up again, and with it comes the awareness to the Russian leader. Biden is a man who knows himself and his values. He is not needing to find his way about the world, and as such, there is a high degree of predictability about the toughness that will result should Russia not abide with international norms.

We know that elections have consequences. The world has seen the absolute truism of that fact and is now ready to embrace reasoning and logic, after having experienced the exact opposite for years. The welcoming to the stage of President Biden is needed for them and us.

And so it goes.

Jason Matthews Dead At 69, Loved in My Reading Nooks

The newspaper obituary of Jason Matthews caught me unawares. The news is really most sad.

When Jason Matthews retired after more than three decades as a CIA operative, writing fiction proved a form of therapy. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Jason Matthews, who after 33 years as a C.I.A. officer in Istanbul, Athens, Belgrade, Rome, Budapest and Hong Kong became a best-selling author of three spy thrillers, died on Wednesday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 69.

I headlined a post in 2019 about one of his books this way.

Russian Intrigue In Book-Form That Will Melt A Wisconsin Snow Pack

Today I started a new Russian spy thriller.  For decades I have loved the genre and just a week ago stumbled–behind everyone else I admit–Jason Matthews.

I can not say in words how well constructed, plotted, and deeply factually driven this book is–what a stunning read!

Matthews is a former CIA officer–so the book has a feel that separates it from some others of this type I have read.  Matthews handles the tone differently–and the reason is he knows the score of what he writes.

The cast is intense.  Perhaps the most troubling and memorable is the sadistic Spetsnaz “mechanic” who carries out President Putin’s murderous schemes.  A CIA Station Chief who resists Washington is one of my favorites of a long cast of intense personalities.

If you are fond of reading about espionage, counterintelligence, surveillance tradecraft, spy recruitment, cyber-warfare, the Russian use of “spy dust,” and covert communications then there is only one thing to do.  GET this book.

Five stars out of four!  That is not a typo! This is a brilliant offering for book lovers who thrill to the world of spies and Russian intrigue.

So, yes Matthews had a special place among the reading nooks in our home.

“Red Sparrow” introduced the main characters of Mr. Matthews’s three novels: Dominika Egorova, a beautiful Russian intelligence officer trained (against her wishes) in seduction, and Nate Nash, the ambitious young C.I.A. agent she targets to uncover a mole in the SVR, the successor to the KGB. They become lovers, and she becomes a double agent.

Later in 2019, I posted about this writer again.

I would caution that if one is not already tuned into the real world of spies, and the deadly and all-too-real nature of intelligence gathering operations used by superpowers, the books might be a bit gritty.  That they are so real is what makes them a powerhouse of a read.  If one is easily rattled perhaps another author should be selected.

Mathews knew the need for a perfectly created protagonist and used the vile ways of Russia’s leader for maximum impact. The New York Times included this paragraph in their obituary.

“I wake up every morning and I think, ‘Thank heavens for Vladimir Putin,’ ” Mr. Matthews told The Associated Press in 2017. “He’s a great character, and his national goals are the stuff for spy novels: weaken NATO, dissolve the Atlantic alliance, break up the European Union.”

This man will be missed. I can say, however, after having consumed these gems that he never will truly be gone as well-stocked bookstores will keep the pages turning.

Thanks for the hours within these pages, Jason Matthews.

This Is What Happens When Putin’s Puppet Is No Longer In Oval Office

The combative and punchy nature of President Biden’s remark about Russian President Putin was greeted with approval by many who wish for a more balanced and truthful exchange between the superpowers. The weaselly and limp-handed stylings of the previous occupant of the White House have ended. Those who watch international relations have a reason for hope moving forward.

For Russia to engage appropriately on the world stage they need to know there are consequences for actions taken. So they are to learn, as no one missed the foundation from which Washington now stands and will operate.

In the ABC News interview, when asked whether he thought Mr. Putin was a “killer,” Biden responded: “Mmm hmm, I do.” He further pledged that Putin is “going to pay” for Russian interference in the 2020 election.

Putin has not heard that type of straightforward dialogue from this nation for too long, and as such the Kremlin did take notice. While any autocrat or despot will use such an opening to further his country’s internal rants against America, those who suffer the economic stagnation under Putin are not soon to be lulled away from the obvious. Putin may bloviate about Biden but the people under his control know what actual corruption and brutality look like.

What rankles Putin and the oligarchs is not the killer comment, though they know the comment is true. They do not care about being labeled as such. They are that brazen, after all. No, that is not what deeply concerns them.

Rather, it is what has been noted often in The Economist and over-time in newspapers about the club that Biden will use concerning Putin. (And it needs to be noted Biden has the size of hands able to wield the club. Trump did not.)

Addressing another flash point between Moscow and Washington, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Thursday said the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, between Russia and Germany, was a “bad deal,” echoing Mr. Biden’s resistance to the project.

The pipeline would reroute Russian natural gas exports to Europe under the Baltic Sea and bypass Ukraine. The project has been opposed by U.S. lawmakers on the grounds that it gives Moscow a stronger hold on Europe’s energy sector and stands to deny Kyiv billions of dollars in revenue from transit fees. The Trump administration also opposed the $11 billion project, which is led by Russia’s Gazprom.

Mr. Blinken said the United States, which has already placed sanctions on companies involved in building the pipeline, is monitoring which entities are still involved, and indicated they may be punished.

“The Department is tracking efforts to complete the Nord Stream 2 pipeline,” Mr. Blinken said, “and is evaluating information regarding entities that appear to be involved.”

My approval for the Biden tone and language concerning Putin is based on a basic construct for international relations. If one is dealing with a truly bad person who acts continuously with duplicity then it is necessary to approach the issue directly. It is essential that such people fully grasp the fact their behavior and actions from here going forward are unworkable. Anyone who reads or hears Biden’s statement knows fully that the clear, concise, and entirely appropriate discourse was what Putin needed to have heard over the past four years. Not hearing that clarion bell did the world no good.

Just another reason to be confident in our new president.

And so it goes.

Death Of George Schultz Underscores What GOP Has Lost

With the death of George Schultz this week we all think back to the days when James Baker and Jean Kirkpatrick formulated policy and wise political minds such as Ed Meese, Mike Deaver, and other notables made the gears of a Republican White House turn (at most times) like a well-oiled machine. Watching the Republicans operate in the past five years, as opposed to what watchers of politics know to be possible, makes current events even stranger. And very sad.

I looked back on the photos of the former long-serving secretary of state, but as I flipped among the many offerings on Google it became more and more clear that the death of Schultz was not the main story. Instead for me, the fall of a once-proud party was what stood out, as there is no way to compare only recent decades with current events and not feel and see the truth.

Schultz was an intelligent man. One did not need to agree with each policy move or pronouncement to know this guy had what I like to term gravitas. It has become a far rarer commodity among the recent top names who have captured the GOP. That caliber of leadership and effort to aim for the greater outcomes made him stand out from the mere partisan rabble.

He was, in many ways, a thinker about policy and the future needs of the nation. Not for the next mid-terms but the long term. The reason President Reagan had a chance to move the dime with Russian relations was due to Schultz’s adroit handling of issues–and people. He played a cerebral game.

So as I spent some time on a mighty cold Sunday looking at old pictures it just seemed hard to not also linger over the recent splits, cliques, and nearing implosion of what once was rightly termed the Grand Ole Party.  What I am most interested in following over the recent years—-even though the raging lunatics are hard to take my eyes away from—is that Republicans are seeming not to care at all, or elevate their thinking, so to register what the party needs to be focused on ‘after tomorrow’.

The think tanks of the past which generated ideas or the lofty minds such as Jack Kemp, for example, who pondered housing for inner-city low-income earners are just not working for the party. There is nothing akin to that in today’s GOP. There is no calibrating the party to consider anything other than the partisan red-meat moments in which they willingly wallow.

So as I looked at the photographs of Schultz, Reagan, Baker, and the many others who once dominated the GOP the headlines in the newspapers are of Greene, Trump, Graham, and McCarthy.

How far adrift the Republican Party is from its storied history. That is what just confounds me when thinking about this moment and that party.

Russian History At Its Best With Robert Massie–Catherine The Great Lives Again

Consider the audacity, enormity, and power of the following sentences from Robert Massie’s masterpiece, Catherine The Great.

The final sequence in the ceremony was the acknowledgment the coronation represented a pact between God and herself. 

She kneeled and, with her own hand, took the communion bread from the plate and administered the sacrament to herself. 

Now consider the way you or I might feel when inviting a guest to our home.  Perhaps we try to push them off until the blooms are perfect in the gardens or a house project is complete.  We, therefore, can see the logic, and even humor, when Voltaire wishes to visit Russia.  Empress Catherine is nervous about exposing her country and its rustic nature to his analytical eye and writes a friend the following.

“For God’s sake, try to persuade the octogenarian to stay at home.  What should he do here? He would either die here or on the road from cold, weariness, and bad roads.

She will write about Diderot and the way she first observed him.

“…a high brow receding on a half-bald head; large rustic ears and a big bent nose, firm mouth…brown eyes, heavy and sad, as if recalling unrecallable errors, or realizing the indestructibility of superstition, or noting the high birth rate of simpletons.”

Pages and pages and more pages of coming almost face-to-face with the main character is what makes this book so meaningful.

I am most interested in how Catherine reads about the Enlightenment and tries to channel thoughts about how her society should be constructed. How  the populace and her government might interact to the betterment of all. There was so much potential because Catherine had the willingness to grow intellectually and had the desire at times to remedy the fundamental ills that inflicted her people. I am struck, time and again, with how Catherine almost becomes a teacher rather than just the head of state. How she aspires to greatness both in terms of  being empress, and also with the power of intellectual thought.

Many years ago a long-time friend and Madison artist David Burkard recommended Robert Massie’s book.  Russian history is always bold, brassy, and leaves one wanting more.  Massie has the knack for dropping us in the world and time of his subjects.  So thorough is his knowledge of Russia that this series of books from Peter The Great (which received the Pulitzer Prize and this fall or winter will be my next Russia deep-dive) to Nicholas and Alexandria are recommended to better understand the Russian people and their fascinating history.

I strongly concur with the critical praise that was heaped on the book about Catherine and kick myself for not turning the pages before now.  The pandemic has certainly allowed for more reading time, and finding my way back over the years of book recommendations has provided fond memories of friends and events.

If anyone reading this post wants to step far aside of the frenzy over the current national election, or the bombast of our nation, and instead be immersed in drama and intrigue that is nuanced and presented from the hands of an erudite historian then please consider the following.

This book is brilliant and totally captivating.

10414941

 

American Leadership Missing Over Belarus, Another Reason To Vote For Biden

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When it comes to the many reasons I am voting for Joe Biden as the next president the top tier has to do with international relations.  Over the past week, the lack of verbal commitment from Donald Trump regarding the yearning of the Belarus people to be unshackled from the authoritarian regime of President Lukashenko’s regime has been most troubling.  The lack of leadership from the White House, at the time when “Europe’s last dictator” is being pressed severely by his own people, underscores what is wrong in our nation.

Trump today said he would talk to Russia “at the appropriate time” in the wake of protests against Belarus’ leader.  That statement alone provides all one needs to know about which person on the world stage is calling the shots.  We well understand that Trump likes autocratic images and strongmen.  He fashions himself to be one.

But the people of Belarus need to have a President of the United States who can stand on the world stage and state (without first needing to consult with his puppet master) that the official election results this month in Belarus were flagrantly fraudulent.  Then he needs to call for the unconditional release of all detained demonstrators followed by new elections.  

There is no need to equivocate or consult with Putin.  American leadership needs to be restored on the world stage.  And it must be done with strength and conviction as showing weakness and timidity in these geopolitical confrontations only allows for more of the same from the world’s rouge leaders.  We can assist the forces for change without engaging Russia.  

Russia is hell-bound to have Belarus under their thumb in some fashion but the call for freedom from the people connects with our ideals.  We must not abandon them as they are seeking what we claim we desire for others.

American leadership has been missing on the world stage for the past four years, and we must again align ourselves with the international community which understands democratic forces are the way forward.  Autocratic regimes and illiberal democracy are undermining the progress of the past.

That must come to an end.

Facts Trump Can Never Run From In Russia Investigation

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With the dismal nature of the Trump White House again on full display with the commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence comes the need to remind my readers of the dirt we know about with the Russian investigation.  We can only imagine what further dirt historians will find in the years to come.

Here are the indisputable facts:

  1. Trump and his campaign asked for Russia’s help in the 2016 presidential race. (“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing”; “If it’s what you say, I love it.“)
  1. Trump and his campaign got that help – in a contest decided by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states. (“Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.”)
  1. Roger Stone lied about his contacts with Russian intelligence and WikiLeaks. (“He lied about the identity of his intermediary to WikiLeaks. He lied about the existence of written communications with his intermediary. He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of WikiLeaks’ releases,” Mueller wrote in his op-ed.)
  1. The president commuted Stone’s prison sentence, despite White House aides disagreeing with the move. (“Roger Stone is a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency,” the White House said on Friday.)
  1. And Stone admitted his objective was protecting Trump. (“[Trump] knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t,” Stone told journalist Howard Fineman before his sentence was commuted.)