Skip to content

Not a Riddle: Reading Russia - and Responding Resolutely

Putin's strategy is to intimidate, confuse and divide the West. He wants us to worry about his next steps. He appears stronger than he is, if Western decision-makers and opinion leaders consider Russia "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

Churchill's famous description from October 1939 has made a comeback in the last fifteen months, but unfortunately not as the full quote:

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest. It cannot be in accordance with the interest of the safety of Russia that Germany should plant itself upon the shores of the Black Sea, or that it should overrun the Balkan States and subjugate the Slavonic peoples of south eastern Europe.  That would be contrary to the historic life-interests of Russia.

Churchill's reference to the "riddle", I believe, was mainly about forecasting Russia's actions, which is similar to the weather forecast. The next few days can be forecasted with quite some authority, but not the next weeks. Yet, we all know the not too distant future: Winter is coming. (Only stupid bureaucrats in charge of our public transport systems get surprised by the first heavy snow fall.) Russia's future looks bleak as current policies are not sustainable.

Continue reading "Not a Riddle: Reading Russia - and Responding Resolutely"


While I lack the time for regular blogging, I have been very active on Twitter, reaching now more than a 1,000 follower. Below and on Storify are are some of my favorite recent quotes on NATO, European Defense, Germany, Syria and the book about "Sound Diplomacy: Music and Emotions in Transatlantic Relations, 1850-1920"
Continue reading "Quotes"

French Conservative: "Union of the West" will Sustain Western Dominance

Édouard Balladur, the right-wing former French Prime Minister (1993-1995), envisions the creation of a "Union of the West" that will help the US and Europe maintain global primacy. The International Herald Tribune summarizes Balladur's argument:
Europe and the United States acting in concert can best deal with China and Russia's advance, and the instability brought by radical Islam. Reality insists that alone, the Americans and Europeans have growing disadvantages in a world where the rule of law and democracy are not serving as controls over newly distributed economic and political power.

The practicalities: a permanent Union secretariat to prepare common positions for international meetings; gradual creation of a common trans-Atlantic market; linkage between the dollar and euro; converging policies on energy supply and its security; and the creation of a trans-Atlantic executive council of leaders that would convene every three months
The article also quotes Balladur's 120 page essay titled, "Pour une Union occidentale entre l'Europe et les États-Unis” (available at Amazon, in French):
History is starting to be made without the West, and perhaps one day it will be made against it. There's a simple method for avoiding this. The people of the West must become aware of the risk and convince themselves that the greatest possible solidarity between them is the only means for dealing with it.

Pat Buchanan on Rising Nationalism in the United States

Not only President Bush, but the entire Washington establishment has sustained a major humiliation, when the immigration bill was defeated, writes Pat Buchanan in RealClearPolitics. Our loyal reader Don recommends this article: "Admittedly Buchanan is a bit of a fruitcake - but even fruitcakes can be right once in a while." Here's a quote:
Eighteen months before Bush departs, it is clear that his open-borders, free-trade globalism is no longer unchallenged dogma in the GOP. Three of every four Senate Republicans rejected amnesty. And fast track, by which Congress surrenders its right to amend Bush trade bills, expired Saturday. The Doha Round of global trade negotiations is as dead as the immigration bill.
If there is a rising sentiment in America today, it is nationalism. Americans are growing weary of seeing their sons die in wars to bring democracy to people who do not seem all that appreciative. They are tired of reading of factories going to China and jobs going to India, while illegal aliens march in their cities under foreign flags to demand their "civil rights." They are tired of reading about new billionaires as their wages fail to rise to compensate for soaring gas prices and the falling value of their homes. The establishment is losing the trust of the people, who are coming to believe that establishment is looking out for its own interests, not theirs -- and the two are no longer the same.
This was Pat Buchanan. Now over to you. Has the "national mood" changed on the above issues fundamentally in the last two years? Do you see any tectonic shifts in US politics? Mainly positive or negative changes?
To quote Carl Schurz, who was a German revolutionary, American statesman, and Union Army general in the American Civil War: "My country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."
In this sense: Happy Independence Day!

Resolve, Doubt and Flip-Flopping

One of John F. Kerry's better one-liners during his presidential campaign in 2004 was: "It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and wrong." On December 24, 2006 he picked up on this issue in his Washington Post op-ed "When Resolve Turns Reckless":
There's something much worse than being accused of "flip-flopping": refusing to flip when it's obvious that your course of action is a flop. I say this to President Bush as someone who learned the hard way how embracing the world's complexity can be twisted into a crude political shorthand.
Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute calls for flip-flopping as well ("dramatic change"), but his suggestions are very different from Kerry's: "Send more troops to Baghdad and we'll have a fighting chance" is the headline in his Sunday Times commentary.
Bertrand Russell's famous quote "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt" seems to be appropriate for the discussions about what to do in Iraq and for both liberal and conservative politicians and journalists.

Historical Comparisons: Fritz Stern Publishes "Five Germanys I Have Known"

"Can It Happen Here?" is the headline of the NY Times review of the Fritz Stern's memoir:
In November 2005, Fritz Stern received an award for his life's work on Germans, Jews and the roots of National Socialism, presented to him by Joschka Fischer, then the German foreign minister. With a frankness that startled some in the audience, Stern, an emeritus professor of European history at Columbia University, peppered his acceptance speech with the similarities he saw between the path taken by Germany in the years leading up to Hitler and the path being taken by the United States today. He talked about a group of 1920's intellectuals known as the "conservative revolutionaries," who "denounced liberalism as the greatest, most invidious threat, and attacked it for its tolerance, rationality and cosmopolitan culture," and about how Hitler had used religion to appeal to the German public. In Hitler's first radio address after becoming chancellor, Stern noted, he declared that the Nazis regarded "Christianity as the foundation of our national morality and the family as the basis of national life."
Stern was of course not suggesting an equivalence between President Bush and Hitler but rather making a more subtle critique, extending his idea that contemporary American politics exhibited "something like the strident militancy and political ineptitude of the Kaiser's pre-1914 imperial Germany." At 80, Stern has just published a sprawling memoir, "Five Germanys I Have Known," (, and as with that speech, he does not file away his experiences of Nazism in a geographical or temporal box.
About the frequent Nazi comparisons:
Outraged by the facile interpretations of Nazism floating around in the 1950's — "all the tomes and slogans about Germany’s inevitable path 'from Luther to Hitler'" — he charts his own, more subtle interpretation of what caused the Third Reich. Over the years Stern protests the ways radicals abuse the memory of Nazism to support their present-day political agendas, whether the 1960's students who called authority figures fascists and Nazis, or those today who compare foreign leaders they dislike to Hitler and cry "Munich" at every diplomatic gesture.
Yet the value of Stern's work is precisely that it has refused to keep Nazism safely on the other side of a historical and geographic chasm. His first book, "The Politics of Cultural Despair" (1961), is one of the durable masterpieces of 20th-century history because it seems to locate the roots of a peculiarly modern malaise. As he explained in a later edition of the work, "I attempted to show the importance of this new type of cultural malcontent, and to show how he facilitated the intrusion into politics of essentially unpolitical grievances."
Hitler comparisions are still very popular:
•  Secretary Rumsfeld has German roots, used to visit his relatives in Germany in the 80s, and should know German history.
Continue reading "Historical Comparisons: Fritz Stern Publishes "Five Germanys I Have Known""

40th Anniversary of Senator Fulbright's "Arrogance of Power" Speech

The Arrogance of Power by J. William Fulbright
The liberal American Prospect wrote about an anniversary in April 2006, which the Atlantic Review missed:
Forty years ago this week, Senator J. William Fulbright delivered a speech at Johns Hopkins University on "the arrogance of power." Talk about a time bomb. "The question I find intriguing is whether a nation so extraordinarily endowed as the United States can overcome that arrogance of power which has afflicted, weakened, and, in some cases, destroyed great nations in the past," Fulbright said. "Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God's favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations -- to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image."
Many people believe the Bush administration's foreign policy is misguided, arrogant, and headed for disaster. But few were making that argument back when George W. Bush was still in college. Of course, the context of Fulbright's speech was not Bush's virtuous unilateralism or the divine summons to Iraq; it was President Lyndon Johnson's deepening engagement in Vietnam. But it's doubtful anyone in Congress today has delivered a more thoughtful critique of Bush’s foreign policy. What's even more striking from this vantage point, however, is that Fulbright delivered his broadside against a sitting president of his own party. Johnson was still a commanding and fairly popular figure in 1966 -- the Vietnam War, remember, did not lose majority support until spring 1968 -- when Fulbright rose to fulfill what he called "the patriot’s duty of dissent." The White House, Senate, and House were all controlled by one party, as they are today.
In August 2005, the Atlantic Review recommeded an article about Senator Hagel walking in Senator Fulbright's footsteps. The American Prospect writer Francis Wilkinson would like Senators Hagel and McCain to take note: "Do today what William Fulbright did 40 years ago this week, and then we'll talk":
Senator John McCain used to be good for an honest slap at the White House every now and then. But ever since he made up his mind to do whatever is necessary to win the Republican nomination in 2008, he's been a pussycat. Republican Senator Richard Lugar has been known to raise a paternal eyebrow and murmur something -- darned if I can recall what -- on a Sunday morning talk show. Senator Chuck Hagel occasionally strays from party, which is to say, White House, talking points. Arlen Specter held hearings on the NSA spying scandal -- and then refused to swear in administration witnesses. But faced with a situation not unlike Fulbright's in 1966, very few on the Republican side have dared to offer a critical public analysis of White House policy.
Mr. Wilkinson, however, does not outline what criticism and what constructive proposals regarding Iraq he expects from those Republican Senators. There seems to be a shortage of suggestions to improve the Bush administration's Iraq policy, while there certainly isn't a shortage of criticism.

Michigan State University presents a copy of Senator Fulbright's 1966 speech (HT: Phronesisaical). and sell Senator Fulbright's book The Arrogance of Power that followed after the speech.

Joschka Fischer on Terrorism: "To Defeat the Beast, Don't Feed the Beast."

Germany's former Foreign Minister Fischer started teaching at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. The cause of the 9/11 attacks was not U.S. foreign policy, but the lack of modernisation in the Arab world, he explained at a discussion to mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Prof. Fischer, however, is concerned that U.S. mistakes increase the conflicts. His candid advice according to the German Der Tagesspiegel was: "To defeat the beast, don't feed the beast." He said more or less the same, but less outspoken in the NYT, as Dialog International reports.

"Stop blaming America for terrorism," demands
says Washington Post columnist and Pulitzer Price winning author Anne Applebaum in a British Telegraph op-ed (HT: Don). She criticizes that many Europeans started blaming the United States already right after 9/11:
While not entirely incorrect, the notion that President Bush has wasted international post-9/11 sympathy is not entirely accurate either. As I say, at the time of the attacks, influential Europeans, and influential Britons, were already disinclined for their own reasons to sympathise with any American tragedy. Instead of pointing fingers, the fifth anniversary of 9/11 might be a good time to reverse course. If "war on terrorism" has become an unpopular term, then call it something else. Call it a "war on fanaticism". Or – as we used to say in the Cold War – call it a "struggle for hearts and minds" in the Islamic communities of Europe and the Middle East. For whatever it's called, it won't succeed without both American and European support, without American and European mutual sympathy.
I don't think the term "war on terrorism" is a significant problem that stands in the way of more cooperation, but rather it is the strategies and policies and their implementation that matter. Besides, what is often ignored is that American and European intelligence and law enforcement agencies have increased their cooperation significantly and successfully.
Doyle McManus discusses in The Los Angeles Times, whether the U.S. is winning this war:
In a series of recent speeches to mark the anniversary of the attacks, Bush has declared: "America is winning the war on terror" and cited a list of achievements: "We've removed terrorist sanctuaries, disrupted their finances, killed and captured key operatives, broken up terrorist cells in America and other nations, and stopped new attacks before they're carried out." But terrorism experts worry that those successes have been mostly tactical, short-term gains -- the equivalent of winning the first few battles in a long war. On longer-term strategic issues, they warn, the U.S. may have lost ground since 2001:
Continue reading "Joschka Fischer on Terrorism: "To Defeat the Beast, Don't Feed the Beast.""