Thursday, July 30, 2009

Russian Ambassador Stigniy on some of our subjects

The above interview was written by Lily Galili and posted on Haaretz Magazine on 24 July 2009. Lily Galili interviewed Piotr Stegniy, the Russian ambassador to Israel at. I’m going to quote the few sections that have been of interest here in the past and then comment:

“. . . [Galili writes] ‘This connection between his personal biography and the historian within him leads the conversation to the resolution passed about three weeks ago by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which likens Stalin to Hitler and imputes to both of them responsibility for the outbreak of World War II. For Stigniy this is not only a resolution which offends him as a Russian diplomat, but also a personal affront to the son of a Soviet pilot.’

"’That comparison is not even worthy of comment, Stigniy says. ‘Any attempt to rewrite history is dangerous. After all, if we do not learn the lessons of history, we will repeat the same mistakes. The attempt to compare Stalin and Hitler is particularly dangerous, because we thereby blur the line between good and bad.’ When I point out that many people will find it difficult to think of Stalin as ‘good,’ he replies, ‘We Russians have our own story with Stalinism, and I will not justify it. But at the same time, the comparison of the Nazis with the Soviet Union is a strategic error that will lead to unexpected consequences in the future.’”
. . .

[Galili says] “I agree there is something of a double standard toward Russia, but Russia invites that. There are countries, such as Israel, that want very much to be loved. Russia wants to be feared.”

[Stigniy’s response] "You are resorting to stereotypes and cliches that were coined in a different era. We are now in a transition era and we are still hostages to our past. We are not making any effort to appear better than we really are. We have no desire to prettify our image, but in truth to improve it. What Russia wants most is to be treated decently. That means we are serious in our efforts to be part of the family of nations. We are open to criticism and to self-criticism."

[Galili again] “Self-criticism? In Russia journalists are killed.”

[Stigniy’s responds] "That is true. It is a dangerous profession. That is a big problem for us and we are investigating every such incident. Still, you have to remember that freedom of the press is not only a right, it is a profession that also imposes a type of obligation."
. . .

[In response to Galili’s asking whether Stigniy defines Russia as a democratic country, Stigniy says] "Russia is a young democracy in a period of transition. We have assumed criteria of democratic values. That is a free and conscious choice by my nation. The transition period will be long and we are still in its midst. Even after the process is completed, we will be a democracy that will not necessarily resemble any of the existing democracies. The basic principles are the same, but Russia will take into account its historic distinctiveness, its social structure and its geopolitical situation. Russia's main conclusion from recent years is to place individual rights above the state. Is that perfect? No. For a fully functioning democracy a middle class is needed, and we do not yet have one. But one thing is clear: Forget about all this talk of Russia's desire to return to being an empire, a superpower. We have neither the will nor the ability to go back to that. Even the foundation does not exist: realization of such ambitions requires a centralized economy, and ours is privatized. It is precisely because we want to focus on these internal matters that we want to reduce and resolve external conflicts. In the 1990s we held extensive discussions in the Foreign Ministry about the possibility of maintaining a low profile in foreign policy, something like Britain's 'splendid isolation' in the 19th century. We reached the conclusion that we cannot and do not want that, but we definitely have an interest in minimizing the number of conflicts."

. . .

[Galili compares Israel’s retention of land captured in her wars with Arab countries to Russia’s retention of the Kuril Islands. Stigniy responds] "It is different. Our role was to set in motion large-scale processes. Did we fight only for territorial expansion? Yes and no. The Baltic states, for example, now describe the period after 1940 as Russian occupation and are demanding compensation of fantastic amounts of money. But the Soviet Union extended the borders of Lithuania and restored its capital, Vilna, which until the war was part of Poland. After 1991 we liberated all the republics and encouraged them to become independent. Maybe this will anger the readers, but we have to ask whether all these states would exist within their borders had it not been for our former policy. We helped those states in their weakness. I know our neighbors are trying to create other versions of their struggle for liberation. Today people tend to remember only Stalin's concentration camps, but we must remember the whole picture."

[Galili continues] “And Stigniy does remember. His career is divided almost equally into about 20 years of service as a Soviet diplomat and 20 years as a Russian diplomat. He stayed on after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when many others abandoned the civil service and turned to business. In both eras he served his country, he says. Anyone who expects to hear hints of a rebellious soul always just below the surface has come to the wrong person. He notes that he joined the Communist Party of his own free will and believed in values which he thought resembled those of early Christianity. He says he does not like the people who are now pretending they opposed the regime all along, and is ready to say only that he too was repelled by the primitive propaganda about the end of Communism. ‘That is all I am willing to say about my life in connection with this subject,’ he says almost aggressively.”

. . .

[Galili says] “Surprisingly, you do not seem to be exploiting the current strained relations between Israel and the United States in order to offer yourselves as an alternative.”

[Stigniy responds] "You are again reverting to Cold War concepts. We will not use your problems with America to improve our relations with any of the parties. The Soviet era, in which we fought America over the heads of the region's nations, is over and done with. Every problem there created an opportunity for us. Now we are working together. In the meantime, the problem is not Russia, but the absence of a basis for resuming the negotiations. The situation with your new government is still foggy."

[Galili asks] “You have called the Middle East conflict ‘the mother of all conflicts.’ How will it end?”

[Stigniy responds] "One need not be a historian to know the history of the Middle East is a history of missed opportunities. I have no doubt there will be other opportunities, and the question is how many of them will be missed again. But this conflict, too, is approaching retirement age, and there is a prospect that it will be pensioned off."


There are more things in this interview of interest than I quote. For example, Signiy doesn’t respond to the question of giving the Kurile Islands back to Japan. For another, Galili considers Stigniy an Arabist. I recalled Robert Kaplan’s book, The Arabists, The Romance of an American Elite. American diplomatic Arabists tended to side with the Arab nations they lived in. An American Arabist was not to be trusted (by Israel) to be objective. But Galili, while touching upon that suspicion, does not treat Stigniy as pro-Arab.

I was struck by Stigniy’s defense of Stalin. Stigniy seems to represent the same position in that regard as Michael Kuznetsov did in earlier discussions on this blog; although I don’t recall anyone suggesting that Stalin started the Second World War, I can see how anti-Stalinists in Russia might suggest such a thing. Had Hitler not invaded Poland, Britain would not have declared war upon Germany; which was certainly a milestone in the beginning of World War II. So if Stalin had not joined in a pact with Hitler, Poland probably wouldn’t have been invaded at that time. Hitler planned to invade Russia eventually, and we see that the Hitler-Stalin pact didn’t delay that invasion very long, but Stalin was to some extent playing for time. Also he hoped that as a result of this pact, Hitler would turn his attention toward Britain and leave Russia alone. We notice that Britain declared war on Germany when it invaded Poland, but not on Russia.

I understand what Stigniy means to some extent when he says that “We Russians have our own story with Stalinism,” and understand why he shuts off further discussion by adding “and I will not justify it.” Pro-Stalinist arguments are very hard to justify to the West. But I have no idea what Stigniy means when he further adds, “But at the same time, the comparison of the Nazis with the Soviet Union is a strategic error that will lead to unexpected consequences in the future.” I gather that Galili doesn’t understand this statement either. Perhaps Michael Kuznetsov can explain it to us if he should chance to read this.

It was almost amusing to read Stigniy saying “We are open to criticism and to self-criticism,” and the Galili response of, “Self-criticism? In Russia journalists are killed.”

But Stigniy responds with a comment that justifies his belief. In terms of principle and the position of Moscow, modern Russia is open to criticism and self-criticism,” but not all in Russia share this position. And it isn’t unreasonable to see the modern Russian situation as a work in progress – if only he hadn’t added “Still, you have to remember that freedom of the press is not only a right, it is a profession that also imposes a type of obligation.” What on earth does he mean by that? It is either free or it isn’t. I wish our American press was more objective and less partisan, but I don’t see how anyone could impose that viewpoint without inhibiting freedom. For those of us who want more objectivity, our only recourse is the “market place.” Americans are “buying” bad journalism; so the people who run the Media have no reason to quit selling it. I gather that Stegniy doesn’t have the “market place” in mind to enforce the view that the journalistic profession imposes “a type of obligation.”

I sympathize with Stigniy saying “Forget about all this talk of Russia’s desire to return to being an empire, a superpower. We have neither the will nor the ability to go back to that.” He is doing little more than stating the obvious here. Stalin wished to export Communism, but with the loss of that ideal, there is nothing to export and no desire to combat Liberal Democracy in any serious sense. So the remaining question is whether Russia wants to resume where Tsarist Russia left of, i.e., in pursuit of a nationalistic empire. I don’t believe that Russia intends to expand as the Tsar or Stalin hoped, but the Tsarist-Stalinist pattern is still there in regard to the “near-abroad” nations. Russia doesn’t seem to want to give up having oversight responsibility in regard to these nations.

Will Russia fall apart if North Caucasus' problems aren't solved?

The above article was written by Paul Goble on 7-21 and entitled, “If Problems of North Caucasus Aren’t Solved, Russia will Fall Apart, North Ossetian Deputy Warns.” I’ll quote a few lines from Goble’s article and then comment:

“. . . Unless Moscow comes up with and implements a carefully thought out set of policies for the North Caucasus, something it has signally failed to do up to now, a member of the North Ossetian parliament says, then there is a very real risk that Russia itself will ‘fall apart into ‘separate principalities.’”

“. . . According to Gizoyev, the problems of the North Caucasus and of Moscow’s inability to cope with them so far include . . . Moscow officials act as if once violence is stopped, the conflicts are at an end, and the center can ignore providing a legal assessment of who was to blame and bringing them to justice. Such an approach may simplify the lives of officials, Gizoyev says, but it ignores the reality that failure to provide closure simply sets the stage for new conflicts.”

“. . . Gizoyev suggests, one cannot ignore the influence of foreign governments, analysts and communities, some of whom talk about independence for this region and who actively support those in the region itself who, with this encouragement, continue to fight against the existing order of things.”


Sometimes in such notes as these I feel I’ve captured the essence of an article with a few quotes, but not this time. Valery Gizoyev has a long list of grievances, and one should read Goble’s article to take in the entire list, but where is the evidence that Russia will fall apart if these grievances aren’t met?

I have had to guess what Gizoyev’s argument is. To put it in equivalent American terms, suppose Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, demanded that unless the central government in Washington D.C. solved all of California’s problems, the United States was in danger of splitting up into individual states. The States would no longer be “united.” The Union the American Civil War fought over would be lost.

Since I live in California, I know how preposterous that idea is. California is an integral part of the United States and while there are people who would like to see it broken up into two states, no one I know of suggests that it should break away from the rest of the U.S., even if it could. No one is suggesting that California “become independent,” because it is probably as independent as it would ever want to be right now.

But over in the former Soviet Union, there is a history of Socialism where the Central Government “took care” of the individual members of its “Union.” Some of the less well-integrated members of the Soviet Union have become independent, but many opted to become part of the Russian Federation which maintained a certain continuity with the now defunct USSR. Some of the same patterns of thought seem to have survived: We in North Ossetia have a long list of problems and grievances. If you in Moscow can’t solve them for us, then what do we need you for? We may as well become independent. Lots of foreign nations are urging us to become independent. We could do it; so you’d better watch out, Moscow. You’d better get your act together. If we go independent, we will probably be just the first domino. If you can’t solve our problems, then the other elements of the Russian Federation will see that you can’t solve theirs either and want to be independent like us.

If Governor Schwarzenegger were to say something like that to Washington, the answer would come back almost immediately, “solve your own problems.” Nothing on Gizoyev’s list, that I can see, is something that an individual American state couldn’t solve on its own.

There are many national elements in the world, usually distinct ethnicities, that wish to become independent. We could put them on a spectrum. Perhaps Quebec is on or near the mild-end of the spectrum. They debate the subject, but when it comes time to vote, they choose to remain part of Canada. Kurds in Turkey are situated toward the violent end of the spectrum. They fought a separatist wars against Turkey and lost. Is the Turkish border so important that it can’t let the Kurds go, also the Armenians? Obviously the Turks would say that it is.

It is one thing if people like the North Ossetians don’t want to leave the larger governmental entity that controls them, but what of ethnicities that do want to leave. How important is it to Mother Russia, for example to keep these leftovers from imperial times?

And in an absolute sense – an absolutely “democratic” sense, don’t all ethnicities deserve a long list of freedoms that may include independence? “You haven’t treated me lovingly enough,” the North Ossetian wife complains. “Now I want a divorce.”

Wait,” her Russian husband says, “Can’t we talk this over?”

“I’ve had enough of your empty promises,” she sobs. I’d better see some action or I’m moving out.”

What’s the Russian husband going to do. Stalin would pull a gun, point it at her and say, “Get back in the kitchen and shut up.”

How about Putin? What will he do?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lady Snowblood and Beatrix Kiddo (of Kill Bill)

Quentin Tarantino patterned Beatrix Kiddo (played by Uma Thurman) after the Japanese Comic-book (manga) heroine, Lady Snowblood. Lady Snowblood’s quest, as an assassin, is similar to that of Beatrix Kiddo’s in Kill Bill. Lady Snowblood is out to get those who killed her family. Beatrix Kiddo is out to get those who killed her prospective family.

Lady Snowblood is a tragic figure whereas Beatrix Kiddo never is. Lady Snowblood’s enemies are mean and nasty. The same is true of Kiddo’s enemies, but the latter are also funny. Daryl Hannah as Elle Drive, the California Mountain Snake; Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii, Cottonmouth; Michael Madsen as Budd, the Sidewinder, as well as a host of other amusing characters are defeated by Beatrix Kiddo, the Black Mamba on her way to kill Bill.

Both Lady Snowblood and Beatrix Kiddo, with superhuman energy, kill countless attackers. Lady Snowblood is slightly more human in that she becomes attached to people. Bill prevents Beatrix from becoming attached to anyone until she finally kills him; then she has an attachment – with B.B., the daughter she didn’t know she had.

Tarantino’s two films are fun to watch. We are used to his switching back and forth in time from having gotten used to Pulp Fiction. And perhaps he does it better in Kill Bill. In Pulp Fiction, we end up back at the beginning seeing the irony of it, but in Kill Bill we go beyond the beginning. True, we return to the massacre of the “bride” (Beatrix) and her entourage, learning more and more each time we go back, but eventually we get past that. She kills other members of Bill’s assassin squad, individuals who seem comic-book super-heroes in their own right, until there is only Bill left, and then she learns that her daughter B.B. is alive. Bill (played by David Carradine) inspires sympathy at the end. He has cared for their daughter and told her only good things about her mother, Beatrix, as though he knows she will defeat him in the end and doesn’t want to spoil B.B.’s future relationship with her, but that is not enough to save him – and by this time he doesn’t want to be saved unless he can defeat Beatrix, fair and square according to his assassin’s code.

And Beatrix, though seemingly sensitive to the good things Bill has done while she was in a coma, is past being able to forgive him. And even if Tarantino wanted an alternate ending where Bill survives, he could hardly do that given the title he established in the first film. Beatrix goes ahead and Kill’s Bill – right after Bill describes her as a comic-book superhero like superman.


Why are we interested in female super-heroines in these modern times? Is this interest a product of the 19th Amendment (1920) which gave women the right to vote, and the automobile; which allowed women to go any place they liked by themselves in relative safety? The Wonder Woman character first appeared in All Star Comics in December 1941, a time when American women were rolling up their sleeves to help the American war effort. Since then, the female superheroes have proliferated – with very little interest in making them realistic.

And if there is an attempt at realism, as in the French Nikita (played by Anne Parillaud), or the America remake with Bridget Fonda, we discover we aren’t as interested in the them as we are in the comic-book superhero played by Peta Wilson in the TV series. Anne and Bridget are sort of whiny and though they seem on the way to superhero status, they give it up in order to be normal, which they have had little experience in being. Peta, on the other hand, settles into it. She masters it, and becomes better than everyone else – to the point that in the last episode she is the one in charge. Well, that was a disappointment: giving up her superhero status to be the boss.

The favorite denouement involves giving up life as an assassin or superhero to become normal – as though this is the directors’ reward to these characters for not being completely evil – at least in the West. Lady Snowblood in Japan never becomes completely normal, but Beatrix Kiddo, and at least the first two Nikitas do. So does Charly Baltimore in The Long Kiss Goodnight. Charly (played by Geena Davis) is shot in the head and loses her memory, believing she really is her cover identity, the school-teacher, Samantha Caine. By the end of the movie, after she has defeated all her enemies with Charly’s super-hero abilities, she chooses to become the “normal” Samantha – giving up the exciting life of a CIA assassin for the mundane normal life of a small-town school teacher with a boring husband, a child a house, etc. which is the American dream.

Perhaps this is the final explanation: she can do it. She can be a super-hero. She can fight as well as anyone, but after she has proved herself, she deserves her reward; which is to settle down to a quiet existence as wife and mother. The men who write these stories can’t think of anything better to reward them with. Back in Japan they fancy the noble death, but here in America we fancy the American dream. Don’t try and talk us out of it – it is what we want for the women we admire.

Musings: a British-American Amalgamation

In the 8-13-09 issue of the New York Review of Books is an review of an Andrew Roberts book by Max Hastings entitled. The review is entitled “A Very Chilly Victory,” and the book reviewed is Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945. Unfortunately the review is not available on line unless you subscribe to the electronic version of the NYROB. I subscribe only to the hard copy.


Max Hastings is a British military historian whom I appreciate. I know more about him than about Roberts (who is 30 years Hastings’ junior); so I’m inclined to accept his criticisms at face value. The most prominent of his criticisms is that Andrews doesn’t put the Second World War in its proper perspective. Roberts says he is going to write about winning the “war in the west,” but Hastings rightly emphasizes that this victory would not have been possible without Russia’s holding down the bulk of the German Wehrmacht in the east. Hastings observes that historians (Andrews included) still write too often from “national perspectives.”

Two of the “titans” Roberts writes about are Churchill and Roosevelt, which Hastings himself writes about in his Retribution, the Battle for Japan, 1944-1945. Hastings praises Roberts research, his dredging up documentation that hasn’t been written about before, but Hastings doesn’t think it changes anything. By that I take him to mean that his own view of these matters hasn’t been altered by anything that Andrews has produced.

Neither Hastings nor Roberts provides any evidence to support my inclination to see an inherent unity in British and American relations. On March 5, 2009 I described Britain as a “Superpower”: . I am inclined to see Hastings as being guilty of what he accuses Andrews of, not providing the proper perspective for his subject. Andrews focuses upon the British and American efforts against the Wehrmacht in the West. Hastings wants to take in the entire war and give proper credit to the Soviet Union. While I agree with Hastings in regard to the war, I don’t agree with his evaluation (his agreement with Andrews) regarding the relations between the US and Britain.

Yes there were conflicts between British and American leaders and Generals. Hastings and probably Andrews attempt to tell us which viewpoints were correct and which incorrect. But there is nothing I see here that militates against the common interest that Britain and America share. There was something, Britain’s empire, but that has been abandoned, not without regret on the part of Churchill and some others, but with that impediment removed; what are the other disagreements? Yes, there are political disagreements, but these disagreements strike me as no more severe than those between the Democrats and Republicans in the US.

There are other differences. Britain, being European is used to having its common citizens disarmed. In the movie, A Mind for Murder, Roy Marsden’s Adam Dalgliesh is a bit shocked that DS Sarah Hillier (played by Mairead Carty) thinks the British police should be armed. “All the time?” Dalgliesh asks. Well, yes, at least over here in the US, we have our policemen armed all the time. We (many of us) would even like our citizens to be armed “all the time” if they feel it necessary. Our nation was based upon a “bottoms up” view of government. The citizen has every right to everything unless there is a contrary law. There are contrary laws in abundance, but we still have the idea of our constitution in mind; whereas in Britain, they have top-down view of government. The citizens there have gained more and more rights.

While we have different perspectives, we aren’t so very far apart, and none of the differences I can think or are intransigent. Some positions have seemed so, but then there is a new administration (whether in Britain or in the US) and we see that they aren’t. And if someone finds some part of the US that is implacably opposed to some political position of Britain, I believe that you can find that same disagreement within the US and within Britain.

Is there an advantage to thinking in these terms, of a closer alliance between Britain and American? I think so. Probably more thought has been given to this idea in Britain than in the US. There is a term for it: Atlanticism. The Atlanticists seek closer ties to the US whereas the rest look more toward the EU.

I don’t believe the EU is an effective governmental entity, nor that NATO is an effective military arm of it. But we can see that despite the bickering the US and Britain did during WWII, they did work together to win “the war in the West.” Yes, there have been conflicts, but Britain and the US worked well together during the Cold War, and in the aftermath against the Islamists and rogue states.

Of course the biggest seeming impediment has to do with who would run it. Bah, I say. Let no one run it. Who “runs” the UN? Recognize the common interests and build upon those; then when next there is a military conflict see if we do not share an interest in confronting it together. If it is a war, split the objectives up the way we did in Iraq. That worked well enough and could be something to build upon. Let there be joint war-games.

We see that the UN hasn’t worked in regard to dealing with major conflicts. The differences between the members of the Security Council are too great. But the differences between Britain and the US are not that great. We have and could again work together.

If we believe in “Globalization” as a fulfillment of Fukuyama’s End of History, we must at least acknowledge that we are not progressing well toward it at the present time. The “end” is not as near as some of us hoped. In the meantime we must content ourselves with Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. A British-American amalgamation wouldn’t impede progress toward a Liberal-Democratic “End of History,” and it would present a certain confident stance against the “Civilizations” that would contemplate clashing with us. Look, we could say, we are not just Britain, and we are not just America, nor are we merely Australia, Canada or New Zealand. We are an English speaking people with common interests, 460,000,000 people strong. We are somewhat pacifistic, but shrewdly interested in trade and the promotion of all sorts of business interests. We aren’t interested in dominating the rest of the world, but neither are we interested in being dominated. Think of us, any of you other civilizations that are feeling belligerent and looking for a casus belli, as getting along well enough to confront the worst that any of the other civilizations can bring against us.


Some of what I wrote is going to come across as sounding belligerent, but I don’t intend that. I have been reading quite a bit about World War II lately and every discussion describes how ill prepared we (Britain and America) were to confront to the challenges of the Germany and Japan. Britain and America did eventually work together to win their part of the war, but it was a struggle, as Hastings and Roberts describe. We have learned quite a lot from that lesson and from other lessons subsequent to World War Two, but why not take the further step that I recommend and create something, call it an English-speaking amalgamation? Let it consist of Britain, America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

No one with the perspective of Hastings or Roberts would see this English-speaking amalgamation as being a threat to others, but of course some nations would. Why seek to become more powerful if you don’t intend to exert that power, Russia will be sure to think, but note, Russia that the only time you have anything to fear from the US, let alone from my hypothetical amalgamation, is when you invade one of your “near abroad” neighbors. The US, and any such amalgamation I envision, wouldn’t go looking for trouble, but it may very well defend nations it has good relations with.

And yes it would be a “threat” to rogue states wishing to conquer their neighbors. No nation will go to war with another anyplace in the world without wondering how the US is going to view their aggressive act and whether the US will interfere.

Some in the US would read what I have written and wonder why we “need” anyone else. We can do it by ourselves; so what need do we have of Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia? I am not thinking in terms of “need” in that regard, but of prudence. Why did Hitler invade Poland? Because he believed Britain wouldn’t interfere. We would be saying we have a close relationship with Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and no nation should invade them and not expect us to sit as idly by as we did at the beginning of World War II.

If we (the US) did not commit to defending our allies and were not militarily prepared to do so, that could tempt certain rogue nations to want to take advantage of them. We should know from the lessons we have learned in the past that we are going to defend them eventually. We don’t save money and lives by staying out of a conflict early on if we know in advance that we are not going to allow a friendly nation to be conquered.

Monday, July 27, 2009

High Level talks between China and US

“. . . The Obama administration is going out of its way to praise Beijing for the help it has already provided on pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. . . . Clinton . . . praised China on Sunday for being ‘positive and productive’ in dealing with North Korea.

"’We've been extremely gratified by their forward-leaning commitment to sanctions and the private messages that they have conveyed to the North Koreans,’ Clinton said . . .."

“. . . Both sides are emphasizing the importance of the meetings. The Chinese are bringing 150 diplomats — one of the largest delegations it has ever assembled for discussions in Washington — and the administration will start the discussions with remarks Monday by President Barack Obama.

‘With the global economy mired in recession, the United States and China have enormous stakes in resolving tensions in such areas as America's huge trade deficit with China and the Chinese government's unease over America's soaring budget deficits.”

“. . . Three years ago, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson used the initial U.S.-China talks to press Beijing to let its currency, the yuan, rise in value against the dollar to make it cheaper for Chinese to buy U.S. goods. U.S. manufacturers blame an undervalued yuan for record U.S. trade deficits with China — and, in part, for a decline in U.S. jobs.

“The U.S. efforts have yielded mixed results. The yuan, after rising in value about 22 percent since 2005, has scarcely budged in the past year. Beijing had begun to fear that a stronger yuan could threaten its exports. Chinese exports already were under pressure from the global recession.

“But the Obama administration intends to remain focused on the trade gap, telling Beijing that it can't rely on U.S. consumers to pull the global economy out of recession this time. In part, that's because U.S. household savings rates are rising, shrinking consumer spending in this country.

“For the United States, suffering from a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, the ultimate goal is to help put more Americans to work.

“While the U.S. trade deficit with China has narrowed slightly this year, it is still the largest imbalance with any country. Critics in Congress say unless China does much more in the currency area, they will seek to pass legislation to impose economic sanctions on China, a move that could spark a trade war between the two nations.

“. . . For their part, Chinese officials are making clear they want further explanations of what the administration plans to do about the soaring U.S. budget deficits. China, the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury debt — $801.5 billion — wants to know that those holdings are safe and won't be jeopardized in case of future inflation.

"The Chinese delegation, especially Vice Premier Wang, will make the request that the U.S. side should adopt responsible policies to ensure the basic stability of the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar and protect the safety of Chinese assets in the United States," Zhu Guangyao, an assistant Chinese finance minister, told reporters in Beijing last week.

“The Chinese are likely to hear a repeat of the assurances Geithner gave them when he visited China last month. He said then that the administration is committed to cutting the U.S. budget deficit — expected to hit $1.84 trillion this year — in half once the emergency spending to ease the recession and the financial crisis are no longer needed.”


This report speaks well for the Obama administrations diplomatic efforts with China. Solutions for two problems with need to be pursued with China. The first has to do with the pressure they are willing to exert upon North Korea in getting them to behave. The second has to do with the trade deficit. We have a large trade-deficit, but much of it, as the article explains, is the fault of China. They need to let their Yuan float in relation to the dollar so the Chinese people can better purchase America goods. If they do, and the Chinese begin purchasing American goods in large quantities as is expected, then we can expect our trade deficit to decline. China has a vested interest in America’s improving its economy; so the Obama administration should be able to make some progress here.

For China, the North Korean issue will probably seem of secondary importance, and perhaps it should for the US as well. North Korea keeps trying to get the US to speak one-on-one with them, but the US during the Bush administration wanted all talks to be part of the six-party concept. The Obama administration is continuing this policy. China, Japan and South Korea have a vital interest in a friendly North Korea – more so than America does; although many in the US will not agree with this. North Korea has been maintaining that America intends to invade it; thus necessitating the need for their nuclear weapons. This is nonsense, and I’m sure they are hearing that from China and perhaps from South Korea as well; so we can afford to let this play out slowly – as long as North Korea doesn’t sell any of their nuclear weapons to terrorists or rogue states.

But many of us want the same sort of assurances from the Obama administration that Zhu Guangyao is asking for: that the US adopt responsible polices to assure the basic stability of the exchange rate. Letting the Yuan float won’t solve the whole thing. The US has to quit spending money like a drunken sailor (to use an expression from my Marine Corps past).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Biden's comments anger Kremlin

The Press-Enterprise, the local paper I subscribe to, has a section called “In Brief.” The say the information the various brief articles contained are from “News Services.”

I’ll further abbreviate what it says and comment bellow:

“. . . Vice President Joe Biden made blistering criticism of Russia’s failing economy, loss of face and a leadership that is ‘clinging to something in the past’. . .”

“Biden said flatly that the Obama administration would make no deals and accept no compromises with the Kremlin in exchange for better relations. Russia itself, he said, should find it in its own interest to repair relations.

“The Kremlin immediately demanded a clarification of the administration’s intentions toward Russia.”


Peter Spiegel, working in Moscow for The Wall Street Journal seems to be referring to the same Biden speech the “In Brief” article is: ( ) However, if this is indeed the occasion of the “In Brief” article, Spiegel puts a different spin on it. He entitles his article “Biden says Weakened Russia will bend to U.S.” Spiegel presents Biden as speaking reflectively about the state of Russia. Russia could still take offense at the idea that it will bend to the U.S., but the “In Brief” article has Biden speaking directly to Russia – at least that’s the way I would read it – almost an ultimatum: leave Ukraine and Georgia alone or else! Of course the words are ambiguous and can be clarified should Biden, or more probably Obama, want to -- in such a way that the ultimatum is removed. That is, if “In Brief” has the correct interpretation and not Spiegel – and if the writers heard the same thing . . .

Biden "tough" on Ukraine, Georgia & Russia?

The above BBC article was written by Jonathan Beale and entitled, “Joe Biden, Tough Love Diplomacy.” I’ll quote a few passages and comment below them:

“. . . Teddy Roosevelt famously defined American diplomacy as "speak softly and carry a big stick". Mr Biden has his own doctrine: smile broadly and give them a prod.

“In Ukraine and Georgia he was among friends not enemies. So there was no need to prod too hard.

“Ukraine's President, Viktor Yushchenko, helped bring about the Orange Revolution. Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili was instrumental in his country's "Rose Revolution".

“Both men were at the vanguard of breaking from the bonds of communism and old-style Soviet corruption.

“The US vice-president smiled as he reminisced about the strides his friends had made. He was full of admiration for the way they had inspired the world (they love their technicolour revolutions in America).

“And after he had heaped on the praise, old Joe stuck one in the ribs. He made clear that both countries were in danger of losing their way.

“Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko is now a deeply unpopular president. His enthusiasm to join Nato is not shared by his people. The country's economy has taken a dive.

“Mr Yushchenko may have once been poisoned by his enemies - his face still bears the scars - but now he is part of the poison that is damaging his own political system.

“In a speech in Kiev, Mr Biden accused his friends of posturing. He told them in no uncertain terms that they were behaving like children. . . “

“Tblisi, Georgia, would provide an even greater challenge. . .”

“In a speech to the Georgian parliament, Mr Biden listed Georgia's remarkable achievements - but . . . The government must be transparent, he urged, before stressing the importance of a free press and issuing a warning that no military option will re-unite Georgia with its separated territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“But the toughest message of all was for America's old adversary Russia. . .”

“Vice President Biden rejected outright Russia's claim to a "sphere of influence" over its neighbours.

“Better ties with Moscow would not come at Georgia or Ukraine's expense, the vice president repeated time and again.

“And the US would support both countries' bids for Nato membership, if that was what they wanted.

“This trip was an attempt to prod some allies in the right direction. But more importantly it set out a few red lines for Russia.”


If Biden does indeed represent the views of the Obama administration; then this would represent maybe semi-tough diplomacy. There is a saying in America, but perhaps it originally came from Europe: “My family right or wrong.” At the family level, this meant that you were going to stick up for members of your family regardless of what they had done. This has been extended to the nation as well: “my country right or wrong.”

While Biden is saying the U.S. will stick up for Georgia and Ukraine, he isn’t quite saying “Georgia and Ukraine, right or wrong.” He is leaving some “wiggle room.” He is critical of both governments and both leaders; so while he says the U.S. will stick up for Georgia and Ukraine in joining NATO for example, he notes, if I read the Beale article correctly words to the effect that “Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko is now a deeply unpopular president. His enthusiasm to join Nato is not shared by his people.” It is hard to tell where Biden leaves off and the Beale begins, but if Biden did say something to that effect, it has to soften Biden’s other statement that the U.S. will stick up for these two nations. Just who are they? Are they the people or the leaders and government whom Biden criticized?

What Biden said would not prevent Obama from moving in either direction later on. That is, if Russia were to invade either of these nations militarily, Obama could say to Russia, “we warned you not to,” and supply military aid to Ukraine or Georgia. On the other hand, Obama could say that Biden was speaking without Obama’s approval (Obama has disavowed other things Biden has said), or say that the leadership in the nation Russia is invading is not representative of the people. Obama could then express verbal rather than military disapproval.

This could be another case of Biden “speaking out of school.” But it could be clever diplomacy. In either case I didn’t find it as “tough” as Jonathan Beale does.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ridgebacks in the heat of the night

The temperature has been high here in San Jacinto. We can’t take pleasant walks; but we’ve been managing “ordeal”-walks every other night -- usually. I’ve been reading about warriors; and even though it’s been many years since I graduated from boot camp, surely I can still manage a little heat.

Last night at 22:30 with the temperature down to 82 degrees and the humidity I don’t know how high, but high, we went out. I picked a route where the fields were open around us to take advantage of any breeze, but there wasn’t much.

We weren’t too far down a farm road when I heard sirens. We stopped to look back and saw two police vehicles, lights flashing, heading north on Lyon, the street we had crossed just moments earlier. A moment later a helicopter appeared above Lyon, its search light shining down and moving about as the helicopter flew back and forth.

We continued west, but I kept looking back to make sure the helicopter wasn’t heading toward us. If it had appeared above us, I planned to shine my own light on my girls, to show that I was a dog-walker and not whatever malefactor they were searching for. Unless, of course, they were searching for me as a result of another call to the Anti-Terrorist Task Force by the unknown Ridgeback breeder who sent them after me the last time. That didn’t seem likely, but it crossed my mind. After a few moments the helicopter headed off toward the east, away from us. But soon it returned and shined its light down into a partially completed housing project. The farm road we had taken was just south of that project. It is private property, but we’ve walked that road for ten years without anyone challenging us. Still, I’d rather not have to explain my presence to the helicopter people or the people with flashing lights; so we headed north until we were out on a legal sidewalk. I decided to abbreviate our walk and head home. The girls didn’t object. There were cinder-block walls on each side of the street which seemed to increase the temperature and humidity. The girls were panting. Ginger slowed way down and Sage complained of having something in her paw, holding it up for me to check out. Ginger will do that on occasion, but that was the first time Sage did it.

And it was all an illusion. Once we were out on the legal, but hot, sidewalk, the helicopter disappeared and we never heard another siren --all the way back to our house.

Up in our air-conditioned study, the girls collapsed, giving good imitations of being comatose. Unless the temperature drops down at least into the low 70s, we are staying in tonight – probably -- although I expect the girls to start bugging me at around 22:00, Ginger especially. They are completely recovered from our ordeal of last night. Sage talked Ginger into going into the back yard for a game of chase. The temperature is 100 degrees so they didn’t stay out long – but long enough to inspire them both to take another nap.

That’s one of the many nice things about the Rhodesian Ridgeback. They aren’t napping every minute they are in the house, but nearly so. I hear that other dogs will be like that, at least that is what breeders of other breeds have told me, but they aren’t familiar with the Ridgeback; so they can’t really know. I do still think of downsizing, but each time I do I weigh the tradeoffs. At my age do I really want to learn the peculiarities of a new breed? How badly do I need something smaller? Maybe it will be smaller, but noisier which I won’t like. Maybe it will bug me when I want to study.

Last night we stood beneath a sky full of stars hearing a helicopter and watching its light. And then we listened to the night. Might it not be that whoever it is that they were after is heading this way. I didn’t think so, and the girls confirmed it. We were by ourselves in the heat of the night and at the deepest level, enjoyed being there.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

First Class Soldiers, Japanese, American, etc

I’ve been reading Max Hastings’ Retribution, The Battle for Japan, 1944-45, copyrighted 2007. I expressed admiration for the Japanese warrior, but Hastings paints the Military dictatorship of the Japanese who went to war in World War II, in somber tones. We can see through Hastings eyes why they were caught off guard at the battle of Midway and why they ran out of supplies so readily. They disdained “intelligence,” thinking the will to win was all important. Also, the idea of protecting the ships that brought in needed supplies was beneath the dignity of a Japanese Warrior. Hastings quotes one individual with approval who called the Japanese a first class warrior in a third-class army.

The Japanese did surprisingly well economically prior to World War II. Also, their battles against the Chinese went smoothly. They made the mistake of thinking that all enemies could be defeated as easily as the Chinese were. It turned out that their army and navy were as inferior to the American Army and Navy as the Chinese were to the Japanese – not because the Japanese soldier was inferior to the American, but because the Japanese military and governmental structures were.

As I read about the training of the Japanese soldier, I was reminded of Marine Corps Boot Camp. By the time I graduated I was perhaps not quite willing to leap off a cliff if ordered to do so by my drill instructor, but I would have thought about it. I have had occasion to compare Marine Corps Training with French Foreign Legion Training as well as with Gurkha and Russian Training – also German training prior to 1945. Lest my Russian friend Michael question my bona fides, let me admit at once that they aren’t very good. I went through Marine Corps training and only read about training in the other forces, but I have read enough to respect these other forces. I don’t approve of the blind obedience that Hastings describes as being instilled in the Japanese soldier (also in the Russian and German through World War II). It is better from my standpoint to believe in what you are asked to do. You don’t just jump off a cliff because you are asked to do so. You need a good reason.

I was watching a “B” movie the other night – one of the many that seems derived from Herbert’s Dune novels. Gigantic worms are eating up the Taliban and the American soldiers who are trying to escape. At last the two Americans seem to be getting away – the main hero, a female officer, and also a young Afghan girl. The Helicopter rises, but here comes a worm. The hero, who happens to have a Taliban suicide-bomber vest on, leaps out of the helicopter into the mouth of the worm and detonates the vest. The choice was clear. The hero could have let the worm get the helicopter, in which case they would have all been killed. Or, he could have done what he did – sacrifice his life for the others. He jumped off the ‘cliff’ for a good reason. This was science fiction, but we know that soldiers in first class fighting units have fallen on grenades to save their comrades.

At Dien Bien Phu, the French and the French Foreign Legion “stood”. They were eventually defeated, but they fought well. There were some colonial forces however, who didn’t fight well. They didn’t believe in fighting for the French, fighting so that the French could regain a colony.

Some people, perhaps people who haven’t been through Marine Corps Boot Camp, have become overawed by the Japanese fighting spirit. I am mildly interested in learning more about what motivates George Friedman in this regard. He wrote a book in 1991 called The Coming War with Japan. He has written a recent book predicting the future of the next 100 years -- a war occurs in which Japan and Turkey fight against the US and its allies. I know Friedman has a civilian intelligence organization and has access to information denied the rest of us, but I can’t see Japan, or Turkey either, embarking on such a course. Friedman is obviously at odds with Fukuyama who saw Liberal Democracies like the Japanese remaining at peace with other Liberal Democracies (like the American). Friedman may be more intrigued with Samuel Huntington who saw the “Civilizations’ clashing with each other – and the Japanese, in Huntington’s presuppositions, are their own Civilization. Even so . . .

Friday, July 17, 2009

Russia's new arms race?

This article describes Russia’s latest attempt to improve their nuclear capability – a Bulava test that didn’t go well. Perhaps I can now see why Michael Kuznetsov and I seemed to have a verbal disconnect. Living in the enlightened age of Obama as I do, I had given up thinking about nuclear weapons as anything more than a relic of the cold war. Obama wants to get rid of them, and they do seem to be rather impractical in terms of the wars we are likely to have to fight.

But Russia, perhaps after some paranoid war-games, has concluded it needs to get back in the war-race-game with some new nuclear capability. But they don’t seem to be managing very well. Their latest Bulava exploded in midair during a test yesterday. This means that six of their “missile runs” have ended in failure.

One of the disconnects I thought I saw in the exchange with Michael is that I spoke of the Russian draft as being obsolete. He then responded with a 2006 article that referred to the US nuclear “first strike” capability. Maybe Russia is using some of its draftees on their Bulava missile program. That would explain everything.

Russian Wilsonianism and US "First Strike" capability

Michael Kuznetsov left the following comment in response to my "Russia's Wilsonianism": I’ll comment below his response:


You must be kidding, yet I appreciate your grim humor.

You conclude with this phrase:
"Save yourself some money, Russia: abolish your draft."
Oh, do you really mean this, Lawrence?!

You assert that there is no more threat to us?
How about this detailed plan how to smash Russia.

See this:

The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy

By Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press

From Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006

Summary: For four decades, relations among the major nuclear powers have been shaped by their common vulnerability, a condition known as mutual assured destruction. But with the U.S. arsenal growing rapidly while Russia's decays and China's stays small, the era of MAD is ending -- and the era of U.S. nuclear primacy has begun.

An excerpt from the article:

The current and future U.S. nuclear force, in other words, seems designed to carry out a preemptive disarming strike against Russia or China.
The intentional pursuit of nuclear primacy is, moreover, entirely consistent with the United States' declared policy of expanding its global dominance. The Bush administration's 2002 National Security Strategy explicitly states that the United States aims to establish military primacy: "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States." To this end, the United States is openly seeking primacy in every dimension of modern military technology, both in its conventional arsenal and in its nuclear forces.


If you have any problems with the reading directly from the Foreign Affairs website, I could willingly provide you with the full text of the article.

Michael Kuznetsov



To begin with, while Foreign Affairs is a highly respected journal, but it does not represent official U.S. policy. Pravda used to represent the official policies of the Soviet Union, but the US has never had a publication that did that. Furthermore, the writers of the articles in Foreign Affairs are not all affiliated with the US government. The article you refer to was by Keir Lieber, who is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and Daryl Press, associated Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Typically, in American academia, Associate Professors aspire to become full professors. One of the paths to advancement is through writing. These two Associate Professors have written one book each (at least at the time of their 2006 article), and at least one provocative article. While some who write articles for Foreign Affairs do have some standing in the US government, that is not true of the two authors that have so alarmed you.

The Lieber-Press article garnered interest in Russia and elsewhere. The Defense Department was offended by it and issued a response. If you have access to Foreign Affairs archives, you will find the response to this article on page 149. It is by Peter Flory of the US Defense Department. Flory who does (or “did” in 2006) have some standing in the U.S. government. His response begins, “The essay by Keir Lieber and Daryl Press (‘The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy,’ March/April 2006) contains so many errors, on a topic of such gravity, that a Department of Defense response is required to correct the record”; which Flory then proceeds to do.

Also, see page 167 of Olga Oliker’s Russian Foreign Policy, Sources and Implications, published April 2009. She wrote, “Russia’s concern about relative parity was highlighted in the country’s response to a 2006 Foreign Affairs article by U.S.-based analysts Keir Lieber and Daryl Press. Leiber and Press asserted that the combination of a U.S. preventive nuclear strike and NMD could destroy Russia’s ability to retaliate against an attack by the United States. The authors’ calculations were based on what they themselves said was a highly unlikely ‘bolt from the blue’ surprise attack that in no way reflected U.S. policy or planning. The article’s scenario, assumptions, and conclusions were heavily criticized by U.S. and Russian officials and security analysts. . . .”

I take it that the comment of mine that your are responding to was, “. . .can you honestly say that there are any Western nations today that are ‘aggressive’ in the sense that Germany was in the late 19th and early 20th century? Surely not.” You then referred to the Lieber-Press article as indication that the US was an “aggressive” western nation, and therefore necessitated the continuation of the “draft” in Russia. But that doesn’t make sense to me on any level. If you were worried about a nuclear “first strike” from the U.S.; then surely your Russian Army, however large it has become through the “draft’ would be no deterrent.

I can understand why there may have been some cause for Russian concern during the Bush administration. Bush showed a willingness to use military force much as the Russians do on along their borders. But, since the U.S. has no draft, it pretty much used up all its available land forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It had none left over for the invasion of Russia; which is a preposterous consideration which no one outside of Lieber, Press, and some paranoid Russians seems to have had.

Leiber and Press say that back in the 50s the US was seriously considering a first strike against Russia, but I don’t believe that is true. A first strike may have been “war-gamed” much as Russia war-games such matters but a war-game doesn’t represent official policy. War-games are necessary to evaluate one’s military capability. They are in a sense “neutral.” War games in Germany prior to World Wars One and Two were put into effect by aggressive military regimes, but if a government is not aggressive, a given “war game” may represent fear or paranoia. In the 1950s, we had Dwight Eisenhower as our president, and he was not an “aggressive” president. He was criticized during World War Two by some British generals as not even being an aggressive general; so the idea that he was seriously considering a first strike against Russia strikes me as preposterous. Eisenhower didn’t have the will for anything like that.

If anyone was going to do it, it was Truman. He did after all authorize the nuclear bombing of Japan, but Truman didn’t intend the use of nuclear weapons to be normal policy. When General MacArthur wanted to use them against the Chinese during the Korean War, Truman refused him permission, and, ultimately, fired him.

Also, this is no longer 2006. Maybe you had something to worry about when Bush was president (although I don’t think you did), but now we have Obama and Obama just signed an agreement with Medvedev, I believe, that schedules the reduction of nuclear weapons. The announced plane is to get down to zero eventually. If the US has a “first strike” capability and wants to retain it, why would the US agree to reducing their nuclear weapons arsenal?

The US concern is that some nuclear weapons from the former USSR or Pakistan might get into the hands of the Islamists. A reduction to zero makes sense from that standpoint. There would then be no “nuclear club” for the nuclear wannabes to aspire to. But it would make no sense if the Lieber-Press scenario had any basis in reality.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Turkish Ethnicities - a "threat" to Russia

The above article by Paul Goble was posted on his website, Window on Eurasia, and entitled Urumchi Events Suggest Turkic Identities May be Greater Threat to Russia than Islamic Ones, Moscow Expert Says.” I’ll quote a few passages from the article and comment below:

“ . . . Clashes between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Urumchi suggest that pan-Turkic identities may turn out to be a more significant threat to the Russian Federation and its interest in stability than the spread of radical Islam because ‘Turkic language peoples live not only in Central Asia but in Russia as well’ . . .”

“. . . Yakov Berger, a senior Chinese specialist at the Institute of the Far East of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that ‘ethnic, social and political stability” in Xinjiang is’. . . important [to Russian stability].” (

“. . . ‘the problem of Xinjiang Pan-Turkism can turn out to be more important than the threat of the distribution of radical Islam’ because there are Turkic minorities on both sides of the border and what happens in one place can affect others.’”

“ . . . ‘if [as the Chinese foreign ministry now insists] disorders are possible in Chinese Xinjiang as a result of support from the outside, then why could they not break out in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan?’”

“ . . .’If China adopts too tough an approach to ethnic minorities like the Uyghurs, then there could be a repetition of the situation in the early 1960s when in response to Mao’s harsh crackdown non-Han refugees fled Xinjiang into the USSR.’”

“. . . ‘A few days ago, Turkish Prime Minister Redjep Taiip Erdogan said that Chinese actions against the Turkic Uyghurs were “a genocide” and promised to raise the issue at the UN Security Council.’”

“. . . ‘One Muslim rights activist in Russia, Kamilzhan Kalandarov, says that nationalism rather than Islamism is the primary motive force in Eastern Turkestan. In fact, he argues, “in the Chinese-Uyghur conflict, the religious factor plays [only] the role of one of the identifiers of national self-consciousness’ ( . . . he points out that ‘the ideas of political Islam were never popular among Uyghurs and that the local branch of Al Qaeda – the ‘Front for the Liberation of Eastern Turkestan’ – occupies an extremely insignificant segment within the national movement” in that region to this day.

“Instead, he continues, what is behind the conflict there is ‘an entire complex of ethno-political and economic problems,’ reflecting the Uyghur’s lack of their own statehood and the divisions of that community “among various now independent states,” a situation that has created ‘a psychological complex which actively promotes radical nationalism.’”

“ . . .But regardless of which side of this argument is correct . . . the Russian government has joined its Shanghai Cooperation Organization in calling for the Chinese authorities to use all available means to maintain order. . . Next week, the Russian and Chinese militaries will take part in a joint “anti-terrorist” exercise “Peace Mission 2009, five days of maneuvers that will involve approximately 3,000 soldiers and officers on the ground in northeastern China (”


Two things strike me as interesting in this article. The first is this is the sort of problem that occurs in autocratic nations. Europe, both east and west, has not been free of autocratic regimes for so long that they can welcome all ethnicities as equals. The problems caused by immigrants from North Africa and elsewhere in Europe are well known. Officially, Europe is egalitarian, but unofficial, that is, at the common-citizen level, egalitarianism does not rate very high. The same things is even more true in Russia and China, two nations which retain autocratic forms of government.

In a real sense we can trace all such problems back to Woodrow Wilson who stipulated in point 14 of his “14 points” “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”

Also, Wilson’s Point 5 reads, “A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.”

These points aren’t crystal clear, but what was clear was that the U.S. opposed Imperialism and thought all former colonies should be freed. Wilson and the Presidents after him had such Colonies as India in mind, but other ethnicities, ethnicities Wilson had probably never heard of, thought these guarantees should apply to them as well. The former colonies of Britain and France are now independent. The Tsarist and Stalinist colonies are also independent – more or less. But there are left over ethnicities in such places as Turkey, and China that want the same rights that other ethnicities and nationalities enjoy.

If a nation that has multiple ethnicities becomes democratic, the further need to be independent seems to be ameliorated. I think of Scotland and Wales in this regard. They seem to be contented with the amount of freedom they possess without the need to be utterly free of England. Also, whenever there has been a vote in Quebec to obtain independence from the rest of Canada, the “sovereignty” cause has been defeated. Yes, Canada has passed some laws to make it even harder for Quebec to obtain independence in the future, but the Canadian “struggle” is a long way from what we see today in China with their Uyghur minority.

The second point I find interesting is that the Chinese, possibly abetted by the Russians may wish to submerge the Turkic ethnic struggles under the more recognizable Al-Qaeda-type terrorist rubric. We don’t know that much in the west about the Turkish minorities in China and Russia, but we do know about Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda would like to recruit Turkish Muslims in China and Russia, but their successes have been insignificant according to Yakov Berger. So if China and Russia engage in what they call a “peace mission” against “terrorism” which turns out to be against Turkish minorities in China, who is going to know?

Truman, Eisenhower and their Presidential Rankings

Whenever I read an historian who impresses me, I make note of which authors impressed him and usually make several orders through or before I finish his book. Just yesterday I finished Fromkin’s In the Time of the Americans, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur, The Generation that Changed the World. This is the sixth of Fromkin’s books that I’ve read and may be the most impressive. I didn’t think he could surpass his A Peace to End all Peace, The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, but he may have done it with this book.

Fromkin is an excellent example of what Collingwood urged in his The Idea of History. An historian must understand his prejudices and do his best to set them aside. Also, he must strive to understand history as though he were living it at the time. We all have a tendency to superimpose our own prejudices over earlier times and peoples, but a good historian resists that tendency – and Fromkin is an excellent historian – although I would have preferred proper references in his text.

One of the books I ordered from Fromkin’s bibliography is Where the Buck Stops, the personal and Private Writings of Harry S. Truman. I admire Truman and have often described myself as a “Truman liberal.” I didn’t switch from Liberalism to Conservatism. Liberalism became Leftism and Conservatism moved in Truman’s direction.

Back in 2000 I read Man of the People, a Life of Harry S. Truman by Alonzo L. Hamby; which was being touted as possibly the best biography on Truman. His life didn’t seem all that interesting, and his struggles in business and in his personal life would depress most people, but he had an inflexible resolve to do the right thing as he saw it. He always thought of himself as a common man and as such he was willing to listen to the advice of experts and people with more experience than he had, but he always made the final decision. The title of his book is indicative of his presidency. He would make the decision when the “buck” stopped at his desk.

Truman wasn’t much of a speaker and he was an even worse writer but he had some things to say after he was out of office and began working on his book with the help of some people, the last of whom was his daughter Margaret Truman. She did know how to write, but she left her father’s style as she found it. She did, thankfully, reduce his “book” from about 1000 pages down to the present 374.

One of Truman’s interesting prejudices was against Generals becoming President. He discusses the various Generals who became President and the only one who impressed him was Washington. The rest, especially Eisenhower, he accused of treating the presidency as though it were soft retirement duty. Fromkin wouldn’t agree with Truman’s assessment. He said that Eisenhower liked to give the impression that he spent all his time golfing, but he was very much in charge of his administration. Fromkin suspected that Eisenhower may have tried to give that impression of doing nothing so that when things went wrong, he could plausibly blame someone else. That seems a rather harsh assessment, but he wasn’t as harsh as Truman was.

Truman’s opinion of Eisenhower was rather shocking. My impression was rather different from his; so I sought out the following rankings of presidents: I think the current 2009 CSPAN rankings would surprise both Truman and Eisenhower. It ranks Truman 5th and Eisenhower 8th. Eisenhower had a low opinion of Truman; so he would be surprised that all the rankings rate him lower than Truman. On the other hand, Truman would probably have given Eisenhower no higher ranking than 30.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

If Dewey had won in 1948

Fromkin interestingly speculates that had Dewey won the 1948 election, we would have been “spared some of the more ugly by-products of the cold war . . . .” On page 650 of In the Time of the Americans, Fromkin writes, “Much of the anticommunist hysteria whipped up by the frustrated Republican losers of the 1948 elections in an effort to discredit the Truman administration – and, on the other hand, indulged in defensively by the administration to prove itself more anti-Red than its critics – might have been avoided had the Republicans won. The height of the Red-baiting era in the middle of the century corresponds almost exactly with the presidential term that Truman took away from Dewey: 1949-53.”

Fromkin, at least in 1995 when he wrote this book, didn’t take a position in agreement with Arthur Herman (Joseph McCarthy, Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator, 2000) or Haynes and Klehr (In Denial, Historians, Communism & Espionage, 2003). Haynes, Klehr and a few others got a look at the KGB archives which established what McCarthy and other “red-baiters” had been saying, namely that our government and American Industry were rife with soviet spies. Some people have reviled McCarthy for so long that the effort it would take to reexamine what he said and did seems beyond them. I don’t know if Fromkin is in this mold or not.

Fromkin seems to think that there would have been no anti-Communism, no searching for spies, if Dewey had been elected, if I understand him correctly on this point. If I do understand him, I would hope he would have been proved wrong. Even if Dewey had been elected, there really were soviet spies in American government and industry, and the idea that these spies might have gotten a free pass if Dewey had been elected seems hard to believe. But perhaps he is merely suggesting that Dewey’s administration would have gone about the spy-hunting business with less drama than we actually experienced. If that is what he is saying, I wouldn’t disagree.

Another interesting counterfactual pertains to the “loss of China.” The Communists defeated the Chiang Kai-shek forces in 1949. This occurred on the Democrat’s watch. Fromkin tells us that “The communist victory in the Chinese civil war in 1949 was confusing and troubling to Americans, and it was exploited by the McCarthy wing of the Republican party. [Gad! Was there a “McCarthy wing of the Republican Party”? I hadn’t thought so. He was pictured by Herman as being largely on his own.] Had Dewey been President, perhaps such partisan bitterness could have been avoided. It should have been evident that no matter which party held the White House, the United States could have done nothing to prevent Mao Tse-tung’s victory.

“It should have been clear, too, that whatever else might be said against him, Mao was not really Stalin’s man but an indigenous leader with an agenda of his own. The Kremlin in fact had supported Chiang Kai-shek, and Mao had won leadership of the Communist Party only by defeating the Moscow-anointed faction. Observers with a long view of history foresaw that China was potentially Russia’s most dangerous adversary.

“Yet the Democrats were blamed – successfully – for having let Nationalist China be driven from the mainland. Even in the absence of evidence (and there seems to be none), it is hard to believe that this did not affect Truman and Acheson in their decision the following year to take a stand in Korea.”

This is very interesting speculation – very impressive, and I am once again jealous of Fromkin, for I never thought of this before. No, there is no evidence, but it was out there: China’s agony. I have an uncle that was stationed in China during the Second World War. We had an affinity for China for quite a long time. We were supplying aid to Chiang Kai-shek, so how is it he was “permitted” to lose the civil war with Mao’s forces? I once read Vinegar Joe Stilwell’s difficulties (The Stilwell Papers, 1948) in trying to get the Chinese to effectively fight against the Japanese. He had more luck with Mao than he did with Chiang. Chiang fought against Mao as Mao fought against the Japanese. That is an over-simplification but that was the impression I retain from having read Stilwell in 1962; so I didn’t believe that the U.S. had “lost” China. Chiang Kai-shek lost it despite our trying to help him. I do recall that some argued that we (the Democrats) lost China and if their arguments were as intimidating as Fromkin suggests, perhaps Truman and Acheson were influenced in the direction of not wanting to lose South Korea, but I read no one before Fromkin who makes that connection.

Is Fromkin suggesting that Dewey may not have assisted South Korea against the North? Gad, Fromkin. I hate to think what our world would look like if Kim Jong-il were ruling the entire Korean Peninsula – unless you could come up with a counterfactual that suggested a less radical regime might have assumed power. . . hmmm. But short of a persuasive argument along those lines I believe we were right to support South Korea and hate to think that a Dewey administration would have done anything different in that regard than Truman’s administration did.

Russia's Wilsonianism

As World War II progressed, the US became stronger and stronger such that toward the end, the other allies saw it as the most powerful Western State. And indeed most nations in the West saw the US as wanting to “export” its brand of government. FDR constantly measured himself against Wilson, and one of those measurements had to do with the postwar process. FDR sought to improve upon what Wilson tried to do. In focusing upon Wilson, FDR, the League of Nations and the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, etc. We lose sight of the fact that another nation was just as ambitious in these regards as the US was. On page 607 of In the Time of the Americans Fromkin writes, “Western Leaders blinded themselves to the obvious: it was not just the United States that wanted to remake the world in its own image; so did the Soviet Union. Unlike a Woodrow Wilson – or a Leon Trotsky – Stalin was no believer in trying to change the world at once. He moved a step at a time. Victory in the Second World War would bring him control of neighboring countries. He would give priority in the years afterward to consolidating that control. In twenty years there might be another major war, in the chaotic aftermath of which he could annex an additional large portion of the globe. In the end his regime was destined to have it all; his version of Marxism told him that. So he could wait.”

But in the meantime, Stalin sought to take as much of Eastern Europe as he could, in his own brand of Wilsonianism. Like Hitler and the followers of Mohammed, he believed that land once conquered should never be relinquished. This was a foolish and impractical strategy. Denying the German Army the option of retreating, cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of German soldiers. We have only to think of Stalingrad to see the disastrousness of that philosophy as practiced by Hitler.

In the case of Islam we see that there are still Muslims who like troubled ghosts haunt Andalusia. Much of Spain had once been conquered by Islam and now, according to Islamist and perhaps even much traditional Islamic ideology, Spain has no right to it. One day, according to their version of Islam, Andalusia will be returned to them. They too believe they can wait.

In regard to Russia and its conquering of Eastern Europe, we see that those lands were a mixed blessing to them. On the one hand, they represented the advance of Communism as the USSR saw it. On the other hand, these conquered nations did not choose to be Communistic so they chafed under the Stalinist chains. The USSR had the largest land army by the end of World War II and needed to keep it large in order to keep the Eastern Europeans under control, ward off any threat from the US and Western Europe, and be in a position to expand in the next war when that opportunity arose.

Of course that opportunity never arose for the USSR. Communism turned out to be a failure. When the violent domination provided by the Red Army was removed, the Eastern European nations, one after the other, chose Western-style governments. But like the Muslims who long for the return of Andalusia, many Russians long for the return of their “buffer states.” They give the appearance of feeling insecure if their borders abut nations not under their direct control. They feel a need to keep a large army poised on any such borders to not only repel invaders but to invade any such threatening nation and exert such military influence as to render it more agreeable to Russian wishes.

From one standpoint, what Russia has done and seems to wish to do in the future, seems strategically wise, but this is 19th century wisdom – a time when nations were a constant threats to each other. That isn’t the situation on Russia’s borders in these modern times. The “trouble” Russia is faced with is not the threat of invasion, but the threat of independence. Russia’s former ‘buffer states” want to be buffer states no longer. They want to be independent nations. They want to be free to do whatever they like, and since they fear being dominated by Russia, perhaps more than Russia fears losing its buffer states, they choose to do whatever they can to prevent Russia from ever dominating them again. They strive to become members of the EU and NATO. They strive to gain the protection of the US.


Communism was an interesting experiment, but that’s all it was. And it turned out to be a failure. So I would inquire of Russia why it wishes to retain Stalin’s version of Wilsonianism. Is there anyone in Russia today that feels that “Sovereign Democracy” is exportable? And if so, must it be exported by military force as Stalin sought to export Communism? Perhaps, but my impression is that there is nothing so coherent in the works in Russia. Their foreign policy is in an inchoate state. Many of us when we don’t know what to do in a given circumstance, fall back on what our parents told us. I wonder if that isn’t what is occurring in Russia today. They don’t know what to do about the loss of their buffer states so they are falling back on what their political (Stalinist) parents taught them.

Imperialism has an aura of seeming lucrative. It was commonly believed that Britain remained rich because it had an empire. FDR found it hard to believe that Britain had gone broke fighting the Germans, but we know now that only 1 % of Britain’s GDP came from its Empire during WWII, and as it developed the British empire was much more trouble than it was worth. The same was even truer of the French Empire. And something like that seems to be true of Russia’s buffer states. They don’t provide direct income to Russia – not in the sense of a possession that can be mined. There are trade benefits, but surely these can better be maintained by peaceful traders than Russian generals.

The old Stalinist posture of having a huge army poised on every part of the Russian border seems to have had its day. Not only does it not seem necessary in 2009, but it seems rather paranoid. Do you have serious enemies at your gates today? If so, I don’t know who they are. China has a large army, but is more concerned about India and the Uyghur than you Russians. If they comprise a threat to you, surely it isn’t imminent. What else is there? Some border disputes and civil wars internal to some former buffer states? Hardly reason for a massive invasion by the Russian army, I would think.

But, you might say, there is the threat comprised by NATO. Cough, cough, wheeze [trying to keep a straight face but failing]. Well, if you find NATO any sort of threat, then you see things in it that I don’t. What sort of threat is comprised by a force where the various national elements must call home and get permission for acts before they take them?

NATO does have some sophisticated weapons, so I probably shouldn’t laugh at them too much, but they seem more of a club than an effective fighting force. NATO is good for building understanding between the various European nations, but it does not provide a truly effective fighting force. But even if it did, can you honestly say that there are any Western nations today that are “aggressive” in the sense that Germany was in the late 19th and early 20th century? Surely not.

Save yourself some money, Russia: abolish your draft