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Belmont Club

Outpost in the East

April 18th, 2014 - 5:11 pm

A Washington Post report that the US has decided to deploy ground forces to Poland, ostensibly to act as a tripwire to deter further Russian threats, raises some interesting issues.

Poland and the United States will announce next week the deployment of U.S. ground forces to Poland as part of an expansion of NATO presence in Central and Eastern Europe in response to events in Ukraine. That was the word from Poland’s defense minister, Tomasz Siemoniak, who visited The Post Friday after meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon on Thursday.

Siemoniak said the decision has been made on a political level and that military planners are working out details. There will also be intensified cooperation in air defense, special forces, cyberdefense and other areas. Poland will play a leading regional role, “under U.S. patronage,” he said.

The first is why the story was leaked from a Polish source in an administration that almost always rushes to announce moves it wants to depict as decisive. It is almost as if Warsaw wanted to pre-empt Obama before he could have second thoughts.

The second issue is that Poland will be taking the lead “under US patronage”. Obama, as usual, will be leading from behind.  The Washington Post story quotes the Poles as confessing that “US patronage” will be a hollow unless America re-arms. Here is how the WaPo put it:

But the defense minister also said that any immediate NATO response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, while important, matter less than a long-term shift in the defense postures of Europe and America. The United States, having announced a “pivot” to Asia, needs to “re-pivot” to Europe, he said, and European countries that have cut back on defense spending need to reverse the trends.

“The idea until recently was that there were no more threats in Europe and no need for a U.S. presence in Europe any more,” Siemoniak said, speaking through an interpreter. “Events show that what is needed is a re-pivot, and that Europe was safe and secure because America was in Europe.”

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Geneva

April 18th, 2014 - 2:16 am

The BBC reports that pro-Russian separatists are already violating the Four Party Geneva agreement before the ink is dry on the paper.

Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk say they will not leave the government building there, defying the Kiev authorities and threatening a new international deal on Ukraine.

The separatists’ spokesman told the BBC that the Kiev government was “illegal”, so they would not go until the Kiev government stepped down.

Russia, Ukraine, the EU and US earlier agreed that illegal military groups in Ukraine must leave official buildings.

They reached the deal in Geneva.

What’s a deal if nobody respects it? Barack Obama himself seemed to know the deal he reposed such hope in wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. USA Today reports:

President Obama expressed skepticism Thursday over a possible diplomatic deal over Ukraine and indicated that he remains ready to impose new sanctions on Russia if necessary.

“My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days, but I don’t think — given past performance — that we can count on that,” Obama said during a White House news conference.

But he authorized it anyway and went straight to the press declaring he didn’t even believe in his own deal.  To paraphrase Groucho Marx, Obama should warn everybody to stay clear of a deal negotiated by himself.

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The Louder They Come, the Harder …

April 17th, 2014 - 5:18 pm

A surprise deal has been reached at the Four Party talks in Geneva, which the president touted as his diplomatic option. Nothing had been expected to come of the talks and the standoff had been predicted to continue. The Daily Telegraph reports that a decisive movement occurred instead.  ”Vladimir Putin has secured key concessions from Ukraine and its Western supporters as the Kremlin was offered a central role in determining the future of its neighbour and former client state.”

In return the West gets to send observers who can watch as Russian agents relinquish their hold on public buildings. The price: Russian say-so over the future of Ukraine.

Well, not really such a surprising deal.

If the agreement holds, a monitoring mission of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe would oversee the handover of occupied government buildings by protesters in return for an amnesty for anyone not facing capital crimes.

Ukraine’s interim government in turn agreed to accept future talks on far-reaching constitutional reform that would grant the Russian-speaking east the extensive autonomy demanded by the Kremlin. …

There was little detail however on how the parties could meet the challenge of persuading the pro-Russian protest movement to withdraw from public buildings as well as convince the anti-Russian militia groups in western Ukraine to accept Russia demands for all armed groups to disband.

The administration is selling the agreement as an Obama victory. The LA Times says Russia has avoided sanctions for now, as if Putin had just dodged the wrath of Obama. But the Times admits Russia gets to keep troops inside Ukraine.

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Complete Fiasco

April 16th, 2014 - 2:16 pm

Only a day after the White House grandly declared its support for the Ukrainian offensive to quash separatists on its eastern border, “a defense expert said that the government bid to push back the separatists was ‘already a disaster, bordering on a complete fiasco’” according to the Los Angeles Times.

gunmen seized a column of six armored vehicles from Ukrainian soldiers and narrowly failed to grab three more.

Ukrainian media reported that 30 armed men captured another building, municipal headquarters, in Donetsk, the main city of eastern Ukraine. Unconfirmed Russian news reports said about 300 Ukrainian soldiers deployed in the area had laid down their arms. …

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry confirmed that the armored vehicles has been lost to the armed separatists in the town of Kramatorsk.

The Wall Street Journal put it less jarringly. “Ukraine’s Efforts to Regain Control of East Sputter”. But a retired US general office speaking to NBC News said it all. Putin’s winning without even having to invade.

“I think Putin’s smarter than to have an invasion,” Gen. Montgomery Meigs told NBC News, referring to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. “He has the whip hand with all his special-ops guys running around firing up the Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.

It’s time to recall how the White House supported Kiev. Time Magazine said:

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Retreat Hell Yeah

April 15th, 2014 - 9:16 pm

Don’t write a check your a** can’t cash. Never draw a Red Line that you’re not prepared to enforce. Don’t threaten consequences you’re not prepared to impose.  Never make as if you’re drawing a weapon against an armed man and come up pointing your finger. Some people learn life’s lessons after a while.

Some people never learn. Time magazine  reports that the White House has backed the Ukrainian government’s efforts to suppress separatism on its eastern border with an expression of support. As for tangible help, nada.

White House Backs Ukraine’s Eastern Offensive.

The White House says it supports the offensive against separatists in the country’s eastern provinces, which began Tuesday 25 miles north of Slovyansk and could expand to 10 cities throughout the region

The White House said Tuesday it supports military action taken on Tuesday by the interim government of Ukraine against separatist militants across the eastern part of the country. …

U.S. officials say there are no current plans to provide weapons to Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reports. Officials estimate there are roughly 50,000 Russian forces deployed to the country’s border with eastern Ukraine.

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Sadist Versus Narcissist

April 15th, 2014 - 3:16 pm

The danger in the Ukraine crisis was always that the Ukrainians — or some faction therein — would fight the Russians, escalating the crisis.  Resistance from Obama was not in the cards. CNN quoted David Frum as saying that Obama had in effect gave Putin the “green light” to carve up Ukraine.

Obama’s admirers think so too, though they put it differently. Ronan Farrow has advised the president to do nothing as Russia advances. “So, President Obama waiting and exercising caution isn’t necessarily sitting on his hands. It may be the caution that we need right now.”

Farrow’s right. Obama’s not sitting on his hands. He’s waving Putin through. The effect is the same.

Even Obama’s former diplomatic appointees can see what’s happening. James Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq in the Obama administration, implored NATO to send troops to the Ukraine because nothing else would be believed. He said, “The best way to send Putin a tough message and possibly deflect a Russian campaign against more vulnerable NATO states is to back up our commitment to the sanctity of NATO territory with ground troops, the only military deployment that can make such commitments unequivocal.”

Interestingly Jeffrey doesn’t see Ukraine as an end-point of Putin’s plots but a way station to other “more vulnerable NATO states”. And he is anxious to prevent the action from shifting Westwards, may because he knows the stuff Brussels is made of.

The “fragile” EU, having expanded its remit East, now claims it is too fragile to resist Putin now that he’s on the counteroffensive. An article in Bloomberg says, “the U.S. readiness to impose new economic sanctions on Russia over Ukraine is offset by the European Union’s reluctance to introduce stronger measures that could threaten its already fragile economic recovery.”

Translation. They won’t even back serious sanctions. The soft-power superpower that is the EU has looked into its arsenal of diplomatic demarches and human rights declarations and found — nothing. So now they want Obama to ante up the lead in stopping Vlad.  They’ll bring up the rear, maybe tomorrow. But Obama needs the EU in the van, with its greater market share of Russian goods.  We have the classic tableau.

Alphonse: After you monsieur.

Gaston: No, no. After you.

Alphonse: But I insist. After you.

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The Book of Numbers

April 14th, 2014 - 1:56 pm

George Will calls them the Fivers. “From the Goldwater Institute, the fertile frontal lobe of the conservative movement’s brain, comes an innovative idea that is gaining traction in Alaska, Arizona and Georgia, and its advocates may bring it to at least 35 other state legislatures. It would use the Constitution’s Article V to move the nation back toward the limited government the Constitution’s Framers thought their document guaranteed.” “Members of this nascent movement to use Article V have a name: Fivers.”

Then there’s Rand Paul’s Four-men.  The Senator is actually going “to file a class action lawsuit Wednesday against President Obama, the National Security Agency and a host of others involved in a U.S. surveillance program that collections information on millions of U.S citizens.”

“I am filing a lawsuit against President Barack Obama because he has publicly refused to stop a clear and continuing violation of the 4th Amendment,” Paul said in a statement from his political action committee. “The Bill of Rights protects all citizens from general warrants.”

Let’s not forget the Firsters. A First Amendment Zone declared by the Bureau of Land Management in order to channel objections by the Bundy Ranch supporters after the agency deployed 200 agents to push ranchers off the disputed area.  The incident also featured the Seconders, as many ranchers were seen with their Second Amendment firearms on display.

And spare a thought for the One Tenners:

Representative James Lankford (R-OK), Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, today introduced the House Joint Resolution legislative proposal for the Health Care Compact, a breakthrough governance reform that allows states to clean up the health care mess created by the federal government….

To date, eight states have joined the Health Care Compact (Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah), [perhaps 9 now as Kansas has passed it in both houses] and legislation has either passed the state legislature or is being considered in 12 additional states.

Interstate compacts are governing tools that have been used on more than 200 occasions to establish agreements between and among states. Mentioned in Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution, compacts are constitutional instruments that provide authority and flexibility to the states for administering government programs without federal interference. Congressional consent is required for states to enter into a legally binding compact.

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Beyond Reproach

April 12th, 2014 - 5:07 pm

Manuel Roig-Franzia at the Washington Post described the perils facing Samantha Power: dictators, third world warlords, terrorist. None of them inspired in her the slightest fear.  There was only one thing on earth that gave her pause.  Hillary.

Power’s ascent was interrupted when she resigned as a senior foreign policy adviser on Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign after calling his opponent, Hillary Clinton, “a monster” during an interview with the Scotsman newspaper. Power, who thought her comment was off the record, was referring to Clinton’s campaign tactics. …

If Power had not said that single word — “monster” — she might have started in a much more public role in the first Obama administration. Instead, she was tucked away for four years on the National Security Council staff. She learned the rites of silence.

Silence is golden. Especially in the rarefied air of polite society. Polite society — now there’s a phrase.

Recently the British press has been rocked by a series of revelations that beloved Leftist leaders  were actually pedophiles whose crimes were covered up, time and again by instructions from on high.  The secret lives of the famous were shrouded in decorous silence: those of  ’pop stars, a bishop and top politicians’ was how one publication put it.

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Father Knows Best

April 11th, 2014 - 7:38 pm

When the US spotted signs of a Russian buildup on the Ukraine border, the Obama administration decided not to share the information with Kiev. Rep. Michael Turner, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee confessed himself nonplussed. “This is not an issue of means and methods and techniques. This is straight up, almost Google Earth-type analysis. Even giving Ukraine (intelligence) about how best to utilize its forces against Russia would be beneficial.”

It wouldn’t be the first time someone decided it was best for others not to know. “Senate insiders say that senior Treasury Department officials have been lying for years about their backroom efforts to oppose and dismantle Iran sanctions legislation that ultimately forced Tehran to the bargaining table over its illicit nuclear program.”  Because if they admitted the goal was to surrender to the Ayatollahs then how could they pretend they were containing them?

Bad news has a way of forcing politicians to face up to it. In order to avoid this problem the solution is to shoot the messenger. Foreign Affairs notes that Russia is probably cheating on arms controls agreements. If this knowledge became general, then it would undermine the goal of reaching more such beneficial agreements.

At the moment, Russia’s march on Crimea tops the United States’ list of issues with its onetime foe. But it is hardly the whole list. Rather, as The New York Times reported in January, Washington apparently believes that Moscow has also been busy violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a pact between the two banning the use of both nuclear and conventionally armed ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles within a certain range. This is no minor matter. When the treaty was signed in 1987, it was taken as a signal that the Cold War was finally thawing and, since then, it has been a been a defining element in U.S.-Russian relations, the United States and NATO’s deterrent posture, and the broader architecture of global arms control.

Wouldn’t it be better to lie for the sake up peace? Admitting Russia is dishonest would also make it politically difficult to cut defense spending. So the pretense agreements are in effect continues, so that at least half of the parties can live up to them, because admit it, a partial disarmament is better than none at all. “The Pentagon will shrink the number of its nuclear weapon-carrying bomber aircraft and reduce the number of submarine ballistic missile launch tubes as it modifies its force posture to meet the limits of the New START treaty with Russia, the US Defense Department announced Tuesday.”

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The Indefinite Man

April 9th, 2014 - 4:22 pm

The first time I saw Hirsi Ali it brought back memories of Oriana Fallaci speaking in a small room at Harvard 30 years before. Fallaci had the habit of leaning forward and jabbing at the air with a lighted cigarette to make points.  The ash of her cigarette end once grew so alarmingly long I suppressed an urge to rush up and catch it before it broke off and hit the carpet.  A half dozen others in the audience would have probably tried the same thing.  She had that effect — on me at least.  Hirsi Ali never smoked on the Sydney stage but she had the same kind of compulsive attractiveness, a quality which conjured up a line of men stretching to the back of the Sydney auditorium waiting for her autograph.

The real attractiveness of both women always lay in the projection of a kind of desperate bravery; the sort which made Fallaci a teenage guerilla in World War 2 and compelled Ali into becoming perhaps the most hated Muslim apostate in the world.  And nothing attracts so much as a damsel in danger. They both had the kind of unreasonable stubbornness, the sort of uncompromising character that in the end, proved too much for Brandeis University, at least as far as Ali was concerned. The university withdrew the honorary degree it had prepared to grant her, citing “past statements”.

Facing growing criticism, Brandeis University said Tuesday that it had reversed course and would not award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a campaigner for women’s rights and a fierce critic of Islam, who has called the religion “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”

“We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” the university said in a statement released eight days after it had announced that Ms. Hirsi Ali and four other people would be honored at its commencement on May 18.

One such “past statement” was an interview she gave with Reason Magazine in 2007 stating her views on Islam. She said of it: “once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace”.  In it there was no nuance, no hedging or ambiguity. Just an uncompromising awareness of being at war with an entity that also regarded her as a foe.

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