Does Putin Back Hillary?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Democrat standard-bearer Hillary Clinton in happier times. [Credit: thepoliticalcarnival.net]

Perhaps because I’m in Italy, I’ve not been infected by the contagion that has spread more rapidly than the Zika virus: the febrile notion that Russian president Vladimir Putin is subverting our electoral process in an effort to elect Donald J. Trump as president.

Never has such conspiratorial speculation mutated so quickly into received wisdom. Continue reading

Hope And (Regime) Change

Our drive-by intervention accomplished regime change in Libya, but the country has still not recovered from its liberation. [Credit: National Post]

Our drive-by intervention accomplished regime change in Libya, but the country has still not recovered from its liberation. [Credit: National Post]

The Constitution requires President Obama to leave office in 700 days.  If he has his way, Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu will precede him into private life.

It should not be surprising that a President who prides himself on refusing to negotiate with elected representatives has so little patience with some of his fellow national leaders.  Or that regime change has become a leading characteristic of the President’s foreign policy.   Continue reading

Have We Bungled Our Way To Success In Iraq?

A radical Islamist group called ISIS made major advances this week in Iraq. President Obama is reviewing his options. Is the best bet to let Sunni and Shiite radicals fight it out? [Credit: AP]

A radical Islamist group called ISIS made major advances this week in Iraq. President Obama is reviewing his options. Is the best bet to let Sunni and Shiite radicals fight it out? [Credit: AP]

“We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.” — President Obama, December 15, 2011

The President’s illusion that we accomplished our mission in Iraq evaporated this past week, when Sunni militants calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and flying the black flag of Islamism overran Mosul and Tikrit. The embattled Iraqi government still holds Baghdad, but its sovereignty, stability and self-reliance have been exposed for the artifice they long have been.

The truth is that things began to unravel in Iraq two and a half years ago, when we declared victory and withdrew our troops. “This is the start of the Iraqi civil war that was so obviously going to break out after we washed our hands of it,” Kenneth M. Pollack of the Brookings Institution told the Washington Post.

Yet this latest in a series of foreign policy failures may actually work to our advantage.  Having Sunni and Shiite militants and the Iranian Army crossing swords in Iraq may not be the worst thing from the perspective of US interests.

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Can President Obama See The World As It Is?

President Obama this week urged graduating West Point cadets to "see the world as it is." But does he see it all that clearly? [Credit: NY Daily News]

President Obama this week urged graduating West Point cadets to “see the world as it is.” But how clearly does he see it? [Credit: NY Daily News]

President Obama’s mastery of the obvious was on display this week during his lengthy address at West Point.

“Isolationism,” he declared, “is not an option.” There’s a bold statement.  But that’s “not to say that every problem has a military solution.”  Has anyone ever said that?  “War rarely conforms to slogans.”  Rarely?  “U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance.”  Has that ever been suggested?  “America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland, or our way of life.” That’s a relief.  “The most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.”  Really.  But “a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.” That would require an awful lot of invasions.  “We must uphold standards that reflect our values.”  Upholding standards that don’t reflect our values would seem wrong.  “We should not expect change to happen overnight.”

Change, nevertheless, is occurring – but not the sort of change the President has been advocating. Continue reading

Ukraine And The Echoes of Ravenna

Ravenna's magnificent mosaics were realized during a time of upheaval that echoes today in Ukraine.

Ravenna’s magnificent mosaics were realized during a time of upheaval that echoes today in Ukraine.

There is something odd about how the ancient mosaicist of Ravenna’s church of San Vitale tells the story of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments.  When God presents him with the law, Moses turns away.  His gaze is fixed on the mosaic below, in which God prevents Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac, instructing him to offer a ram instead, thus fulfilling the patriarch’s expectation that God himself would provide an atoning sacrifice.

San Vitale’s mosaics are sixth century masterpieces of light and color.  They convey the Christian gospel with ineffable eloquence.  They also express political aspirations, long-forgotten visions of what Europe might be.  Their disappointments reverberate today in the streets of Kiev, Odessa and Donetsk. Continue reading

Why Europe Hasn’t Joined Our Ukraine Crusade

It typically costs $100 to fill a 12-gallon tank in Italy today.  The country imports much of its oil from Russia.  Which is why its government is reluctant to sign on to President Obama's anti-Putin campaign.  [Credit: NWA online]

It typically costs $100 to fill a 12-gallon tank in Italy today. The country imports much of its oil from Russia. Which is why its government is reluctant to sign on to President Obama’s anti-Putin campaign. [Credit: NWA online]

A gallon of unleaded gas costs nearly $9 here in Todi, a tranquil Italian town whose roots stretch back millennia to pre-Etruscan times.  Diesel is a bit cheaper at $8.50 per gallon, meaning that it costs $100 to fill a 12-gallon tank.

Which may help explain why President Obama’s crusade to impose systematic economic sanctions on Russia has so far fizzled.  Europeans are unwilling to pay the costs that disruptions in trade with Russia would impose on them.

One can hardly blame them. Continue reading

What the President Can Learn From Ukraine

Ukrainian army personnel dispatched to reclaim a city from pro-Russian forces decided instead to defect to the Russian side.  [Credit: AFP/Getty]

Ukrainian army personnel dispatched to reclaim a city from pro-Russian forces reportedly defected to the pro-Russian side. Last night’s tentative agreement will put an international organization — including Russian, American and European monitors — at the lead in returning the cities to Kiev’s control. [Credit: AFP/Getty]

Earlier this week, four armored troop carriers headed toward the eastern Ukraine city of Sloviansk, which had been occupied by pro-Russian forces.  The paratroopers from Ukraine’s 25th brigade were dispatched by the government in Kiev to spearhead its “anti-terrorist” offensive, designed to reclaim the city for the central government.  But after talking with the demonstrators who met them outside the city, the troops reportedly defected to the pro-Russian side, replaced the Ukraine flag with a Russian one, and drove their vehicle into Lenin Square.

Shortly after Russia invaded Crimea, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The people of Ukraine will not sit still for this.  They know how to fight.”

Evidently not. Continue reading

The Next Ukraine Crisis

Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrate referendum results. Putin won this round of the Ukraine crisis. How should the West prepare for the next one?  [Credit: China Daily]

Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrate referendum results. Putin won this round of the Ukraine crisis. How should the West prepare for the next one? [Credit: China Daily]

President Obama and his Administration have been proclaiming for weeks that the Russians would suffer if they didn’t withdraw from Crimea.

They haven’t withdrawn.  They’re not suffering.  Now what?

Vladimir Putin seems once again to have prevailed, annexing Crimea without military or economic reprisals of consequence.  Our government’s veiled threats of military action and explicit warnings of deep economic pain have thus far proven empty, though both the US and Europe are expected to add to the list of Russians on whom it will impose travel and financial restrictions. The crisis may soon wind down, but we can expect another in a few months when new elections are to be held and bills come due for a Kiev government on the edge of bankruptcy.  The Administration should handle this next crisis differently.

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Ukraine Economic Woes Could Hold Key To Peace

Uniformed troops believed to be Russian stand guard outside a Ukrainian military base in Crimea. Is there a peaceful resolution to this crisis? [Credit: Business Insider]

Uniformed troops believed to be Russian stand guard outside a Ukrainian military base in Crimea. Is there a peaceful resolution to this crisis? [Credit: Business Insider]

Ukraine’s interim government, whose part the Administration has taken in the Crimea crisis, includes a prominent political leader who has in the past urged his countrymen to fight the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” and called on his government to halt the “criminal activities” of “organized Jewry.”

The author of this calumny, Oleh Tyahnybok, is a leader of Ukraine’s Svoboda (“freedom”) party, who in December 2012 was named Person of the Year by readers of the country’s leading news magazine, Korrespondent.

Such are the complexities that lurk not far beneath the surface in the ongoing crisis over Russia’s incursion into Crimea. Continue reading

On Ukraine, President Obama Should Heed Merkel

Russia has seized control of Crimea, the southernmost portion of Ukraine. Resolving the crisis peacefully requires adult leadership. [Credit: Washington Post]

Russia has seized control of Crimea, the southernmost portion of Ukraine. Resolving the crisis peacefully requires adult leadership. [Credit: Washington Post]

In dealing with the Russian incursion into Ukraine, President Obama will hear no better advice than this: listen to Angela Merkel.

A week ago, it appeared that Ukraine would prove an embarrassment for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Demonstrators in Kiev demanded the resignation of the country’s Russian-backed President, Viktor Yanukovych, rejecting a tentative settlement with protest leaders that would have allowed him to retain power temporarily. Yanukovych fled to Russia and a transition government was formed in Kiev, which promptly charged him with mass murder. Continue reading