Ivan Ilyin

Medea Benjamin was manhandled in Cairo today. “Help,” she Tweeted. “They Broke My Arm. Egypt Police”. They didn’t know who Medea Benjamin was or they didn’t care. Democracy Now reports:


U.S. peace activist Medea Benjamin was detained Monday at Cairo’s airport by Egyptian police without explanation. She says she was questioned, held overnight in an airport prison cell and then violently handcuffed by Egyptian officials, who dislocated her shoulder and broke her arm. She was then put on a plane and deported to Turkey, where she is now seeking medical treatment. We speak to her by telephone from the airport medical facility. Benjamin had intended to meet up with international delegates before traveling to Gaza for a women’s conference.

Whatever happened to that long ago line “you can’t do this to me. I’m an American”?  Maybe times have changed. The day after Putin decided to pull his troops back from Ukraine’s eastern border, “Russia said it had successfully test-fired an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) on Tuesday, with tensions running high over its military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimea region.” True it was a scheduled test. But in July last year the US canceled a similar ICBM test in order not to offend North Korea. America cared about the sensibilities of North Korea. Apparently Putin doesn’t give a hang about Barack Obama.

I was on talk radio today and a kind of sadness seemed to hang in the air;  a realization that something has gone missing — perhaps forever. It was overlaid by an angry shame that the president — whatever or how little you thought of him — could be shrunk to such a size, and by extension the country he represented.


It’s an atmospheric thing. Suddenly, without any warning, Washington no longer seems so much like the center of the universe. Those who inhabit it, who understand status even if they know nothing else, feel the demotion. Now it’s as if people got up this morning determined to understand why the world seems so much bigger and their offices so much smaller.  Paul Bonicelli at Foreign Policy tried to figure out where it all went wrong.

The pundits and experts have been scrambling to explain how their predictions of a non-interventionist Putin were so wrong. Is it because Putin is just extra-mean and aggressive and caught everyone by surprise? …

How is it that the president, a smart man, and his advisors, also smart, have been so wrong about Putin, the Iranian mullahs, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian dictator, and others? Because they want to believe that the realist view where power and anarchy reign is wrong and that the idealist view of cooperation and international law is right. No amount of facts on the ground has dissuaded them of this belief until, one hopes, now.

Henry Kissinger famously notes that those powers that seek peace above all else are at the mercy of those powers that are willing to deny it to fulfill their interests.

Obama and his advisors, from grad school until now, have apparently seen the entire world as a single collection of nation-states just waiting to cooperate if the right people came into power in the United States to midwife it through dialogue and nice-making. Surely that belief has evaporated. It is time for the Obama administration to embrace reality and do what Putin did long ago and the rest of Russia’s reluctant neighbors are doing: Make two lists, one of your friends and the other of your enemies; support the first and torment the second. It might be distasteful to some, but it is the real world.


David Brooks had another introspective piece in the NYT. He wants to know why Putin Can’t Stop; or rather he wants to know when Washington couldn’t make him stop. Brooks thinks it began when Putin repatriated the corpse of a long-dead Russian author Ivan Ilyin, who wasn’t even a Bolshevik.

Putin was personally involved in getting Ilyin’s remains re-buried back in Russian soil. In 2009, Putin went to consecrate the grave himself. The event sent him into a nationalistic fervor. “It’s a crime when someone only begins talking about the separation of Russia and the Ukraine,” he said on that day.

To enter into the world of Putin’s favorite philosophers is to enter a world full of melodrama, mysticism and grandiose eschatological visions. “We trust and are confident that the hour will come when Russia will rise from disintegration and humiliation and begin an epoch of new development and greatness,” Ilyin wrote…

Up until now, we have not been in a Huntingtonian conflict of civilizations with Russia. But with passions aroused and philosophic zealotry at full boil, it may temporarily appear that we are.

The implication for Western policymakers is that we may not be dealing with a “normal” regime, which can be manipulated by economic and diplomatic carrots and sticks. Threatening to take away inclusion in the Group of 8 or freeze some assets may become irrelevant because the Russian regime will have moved up to a different level. The Russian nation may be motivated by a deep, creedal ideology that has been wafting through the culture for centuries and has now found an unlikely, cynical and cold-eyed host.


But I think the true explanation is rather simpler. Too many people frittered away the Design Margin. It was spent and squandered by those both who felt it was immoral to be so rich and while simultaneously convinced these riches were inexhaustible. It happened because too many worked tirelessly to take America down a peg or two, out of spite; and from a sense of unassailable superiority. People who thought it was OK to blow the stash; open the borders; downsize the armed forces. Guys who believed you could churn out paper dollars and issue empty threats ad infinitum.  Because like Paul Krugman once said: we can invent an alien invasion from outer space if we need to.

And now they find their arms being broken by Cairo police.  When and how did Medea Benjamin become a nobody? Maybe it happened this way: when  those who dreamed of a weaker, helpless America forgot that in so doing they would also be bringing down themselves.

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