Sunday, November 27, 2022
Speaking of Which
Early in the week, I thought: maybe I won't have to do one of
these this week. Later, I thought: well, if either of two weekly
pieces I've been linking to -- Connor Echols' "Diplomacy Watch"
and Jeffrey St Clair's "Roaming Charges" -- appear, I should at
least include them. But it looks like they had the good sense to
take the week off, even if the world didn't. Still, I have a few
more pieces in tabs that I figured I should note now rather than
save for next week. Then a quick round of the usual sources, and
I'm close to a typical week's work.
Ukraine: The war grinds on. Connor Echols skipped his
usual "Diplomacy Watch" this week, but I'm not aware that he had
much to write about.
Yehonatan Abramson/Dean Dulay/Anil Menon/Pauline Jones: [11-25]
Why are Germans losing enthusiasm for helping Ukraine? It's not
just about energy costs, our research finds. Germans have a deep cultural
aversion toward military intervention."
Fred Kaplan: [11-21]
Where Realpolitik Went Wrong: This is a devastating critique of
several interviews John Mearsheimer has given about the Ukraine War.
Just this week, I looked over
the latest and decided it wasn't worth citing here. I've long
given Mearsheimer credit for being one of the few foreign policy
mandarins to recognize the corrosive effects of The Israel Lobby,
but I've mostly followed his "realist" stance through his co-author,
Stephen Walt, and found it lacking even if not nearly as bad as the
neocon ideologues both usefully criticize. Still, Mearsheimer seems
so committed to the inevitabilities of great power rivalry that he
thinks the US should drop Ukraine to cultivate Russia as a potential
ally for an inevitable war with China. That's not just dangerous and
immoral, it's down right stupid.
Eric Levitz: [11-22]
Should Ukraine Give Peace Talks a Chance? Raises six questions,
which he doesn't have very good answers to:
- What are Ukraine's odds of making further territorial gains?
- How interested is Putin in peace?
- How large are the humanitarian costs of appeasing Putin?
- How can Ukraine's future security be preserved?
- How much more economic damage will Ukraine suffer from a prolonged war?
- How likely is Putin to respond to total defeat by deploying nuclear weapons?
Come to think of it, the questions aren't very good either. The only
tangible one is territory, but as long as neither side is able to dictate
peace, it's hard to see much value in the possible exchanges of territory:
Ukraine might still gain a bit, but nowhere near enough to satisfy their
victory goals; similarly, Russia could mount a new offensive, but recent
losses suggest they are already overextended. At this point, the only
possible agreement on territory is to let the people who live there (or
used to live there before the war) vote, and trust the vote to decide.
The third point is poisoned by "appeasing," especially with no account
of the human costs of continued war.
The answer to number four is: when
Russia no longer sees Ukraine and its alliances, which are significantly
deeper now than they were before the March invasion, as a threat. That
may require a "leap of faith" Putin is incapable of, but it certainly
won't be achieved by integrating Ukraine into NATO. Nor does it seem
likely that the US and its allies are going to be making any "leaps of
faith" either. One paradox of the war is that it seems to validate the
core assumptions of NATO (that Russia is a threat to neighboring parts
of Europe) while at the same time proving that the logic of deterrence
is itself destabilizing and perilous.
Nicolai Petro: [11-25]
The tragedy of Crimea: "A history of the region's difficult relationship
with Ukrainian rule before 2014 shows why Kyiv's attempt to retake it
would be difficult. There are a few things here even I wasn't
aware of, helping explain why Crimea revolted in 2014 even before
Robert Wright: [11-23]
What was Zelensky thinking? "Last week's false claim about a
missile strike in Poland carries two important lessons." Unfortunately,
the article cuts off before getting to the meat of the argument, but
the two lessons are: "interests can differ among allies" and "the
picture we're getting of this war isn't wholly unreliable." It may
be possible to portray Zelensky's initial claim that missiles landing
on Poland was a Russian escalation to directly attack a NATO member,
and more generally that Zelensky's statements that no negotiation is
possible until Russia withdraws from all Ukrainian territory (even
Crimea) reveal him to be a fanatical warmonger. But it makes more
sense to accept that, as Wright puts it, he "was just doing his job."
That job entails not only rallying his troops to fight the Russians
but also lobbying America and anyone else who'll listen to send him
arms and support to carry on that fight. Sometimes that involves
shameless flattery, as when he quoted Churchill to the UK Parliament,
and sometimes the distortions aren't exactly true. Sometimes he feels
the need to stand up as a tough guy, and sometimes he he stresses how
vulnerable Ukraine is. And sometimes what he says in public isn't the
same thing he's saying in private, although even there it probably
depends on who he's saying it to. It's a difficult balancing act, and
actually he's proven remarkably skillful at it, but you do need to
keep several things in mind: his interests aren't necessarily the same
as those of his countrymen, and neither are more than incidentally
aligned with the US and/or NATO; because his interests aren't exactly
the same, he's not really a proxy (although the US could probably
guide him if it's somewhere he's willing to go -- one worries that
the Americans don't really know where they want to go, which makes
them that much easier to take them for a ride). One should always
remember that the news coming out of Ukraine is mostly filtered
through the war machine, selected to make Ukrainians appear heroic
and sympathetic [see examples below], and thus to rally support for
them and opposition
to Russia. They've been pretty successful so far, but I worry the
distortions will make it harder to actually settle the war.
Example stories, these from the
Washington Post (I'm not saying that these are untrue, but there
aren't many counterexamples):
Jacqueline Alemany/Josh Dawsey/Carol D Leonnig: [11-23]
Jan. 6 panel staffers angry at Cheney for focusing so much of report
on Trump: "15 former and current staffers expressed concern that
important findings unrelated to Trump will not become available to
the American public."
Kate Aronoff: [11-18]
Effective Altruism Is Bunk, Crypto Is Bad for the Planet, and Other
Basic Truths of the FTX Crash: "The overarching lesson of sam
Bankman-Fried's downfall is that the gauzy philosophical natterings
of CEOs are just meant to distract us from their real goal: accumulating
cash without interference."
Zack Beauchamp: [11-22]
How the right's radical thinkers are coping with the midterms:
"The New Right emerged to theorize Trumpism's rise. Can they explain
its defeat?" They mostly seem to be doubling down on the idea that
the "left" secretly controls many critical institutions in America,
making it all but impossible to "save America" by through democratic
processes. One even urges the American right to emulate the Taliban:
"The Mujahideen fighters who brought the Soviets to their knees in
Afghanistan were outmanned and outgunned. And yet they removed the
godless occupiers from their land." This is wrong on more levels
than I can count, but illustrates the growing paranoia and attendant
recklessness of what passes for thought on the far right.
Geoffrey A Fowler: [11-23]
It's not your imagination: Shopping on Amazon has gotten worse:
"Everything on Amazon is becoming an ad."
Graham Gallagher: [11-25]
Elite Conservatives Have Taken an Awfully Weird Turn.
Forrest Hylton: [11-25]
A Historian in History: Staughton Lynd (1929-2022).
Eric Levitz: [11-25]
One Worrying Sign for Democrats in the Midterm Results: "The
gubernatorial elections in Georgia and Ohio suggest that a right-wing
Republican could win moderate voters in 2024 merely by not being
Trump." A big part of the problem is that Democrats tend to focus
on the "MAGA fringe" and ignore the fundamental truth: that virtually
all Republicans share the same set of far-right policy preferences.
Dylan Matthews: [11-22]
How one man quietly stitched the American safety net over four
decades: On Robert Greenstein, who founded the Center on Budget
and Policy Priorities in 1981. The safety net they came up with is
a hodge-podge of often unclear and inadequate programs which
nonetheless add up to significant help against poverty. This is
part of a Vox Highlight series on
The world to come, which also includes:
Kevin Carey: [11-21]
The incredible shrinking future of college: This starts with a
demographic decline in "college-aged" Americans, but isn't the more
significant problem that we've given up on higher education as
anything more than credentialism for job training? The notion that
adults might wish to learn more for their own gratification, and
that society might benefit from a more knowledgeable citizenry, has
fallen by the wayside, and in some cases succumbed to deliberate
Kelsey Piper: [11-28]
AI experts are increasingly afraid of what they're creating.
Yasmin Tayag: [11-22]
Will America continue to turn away from vaccines?
Bryan Walsh: [11-21]
Are 8 billion people too many -- or too few? I read Paul Ehrlich's
The Population Bomb shortly after it came out in 1968, so this
is a question that has long haunted me, even as history has shown the
need for a more nuanced view. The alarm raised by Ehrlich, like that
of Malthus in the early 19th century, faded not because population
growth was throttled -- although countries that did so have seen their
average wealth increase more than elsewhere -- but because it's been
possible to find and utilize resources more efficiently. Still, no
one (other than mad men and economists) think this trend can continue
indefinitely. This continues to interest me because the Earth's
carrying capacity depends a lot on social and economic organization,
and because hitting resource limits can stress and even break those
institutions. Many of the problems we've encountered over the last
couple years -- climate disasters, supply chain issues, inflation,
even the pandemic itself -- are tied to resource limits, even if
only very loosely to population.
Mike McIntire: [11-26]
At Protests, Guns Are Doing the Talking: "Armed Americans, often
pushing a right-wing agenda, are increasingly using open-carry laws
to intimidate opponents and shut down debate."
Ian Millhiser: [11-27]
A Trump judge seized control of ICE, and the Supreme Court will decide
whether to stop him: "Judge Drew Tipton's order in United States
v. Texas is completely lawless. Thus far, the Supreme Court has given
him a pass."
Prem Thakker: [11-23]
Glenn Youngkin, Who Supports No Gun Control, Is Heartbroken Over
Virginia Walmart Shoting; and
Tori Otten: [11-23]
Glenn Youngkin Blames Virginia Walmart Shooting on "Mental Health Crisis." So What's His Plan?.
Adam Weinstein: [11-23]
Six reasons the Afghan government utterly collapsed during US
withdrawal: "A new official watchdog report sheds light on
what led to the Taliban's rapid takeover last year and implications
for America's future foreign policy." The list:
- Kabul failed to recognize the U.S. would actually leave;
- the decision to exclude the Afghan government from US-Taliban
talks undermined it;
- Kabul insisted that the Taliban be integrated into the Republic
rather than create a new model altogether;
- the Taliban wouldn't compromise;
- former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani "governed through a highly
selective, narrow circle of loyalists" (read: yes men) which
destabilized the government;
- Kabul was afflicted by centralization, corruption, and a legitimacy
Given time I don't have, I could nitpick my way around these points.
I suspect number 4 has less to do with inflexibility than with the fact
that neither the US nor Ghani had any real popular support that needed
to be recognized much less compromised with. The other points should
be studied by Ukraine, lest they find themselves in a position where
the US wants out and that could leave them high and dry. (That doesn't
seem to be the case now, but see the Wright comment above.)
Li Zhou: [11-25]
The high stakes and unique weirdness of the Georgia Senate runoff,
Found this on Twitter:
The Colorado shooter's dad on finding out his son murdered people: "They
started telling me about the incident a shooting . . . And then I go on
to find out it's a gay bar. I got scared, 'Shit, is he gay?' And he's
not gay, so I said, phew . . . I am a conservative Republican."
For more, here's an article: Kelly McClure: [11-23]
"I'm just glad he's not gay," says father of alleged Club Q shooter:
article includes Twitter link. Also quotes the father as saying: "I
praised him for violent behavior really early. I told him it works.
It is instant and you'll get immediate results." It also notes that
the shooter legally changed his name to distance himself from this
asshole. Steve M. wrote two more pieces about this (more than
the story needs, but they observe the political spin): [11-23]
National Review: Don't politicize the Colorado Springs shooting.
The rest of the right: Well, actually . . . and, more importantly,
Bad parents are the original stochastic terrorists.
[PS: He's been riffing on "stochastic terrorists" lately. For another
example, see: [11-21]
Republicans sound like stochastic terrorists even when they're
(apparently) not trying to. The occasion here is Mike Pompeo
declaring that "the most dangerous person in the world" is Randi
Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers.]
Also note that Steve M. continues to have his finger on the pulse
of elite Republican thinking: see [11-27]
Maureen Dowd's brother recites the approved GOP establishment talking
opoints. Notice what's not included. In particular, he points out:
If you ever ask yourself, "What does the GOP stand for?," the answer
is "The GOP stands for GOP winning elections."
I've been saying for some time now that Richard Nixon was the
godfather of the Republican Party, because he taught the party that
winning is the only thing that matters, and no scruples should get
in your way. The reason many prominent Republicans didn't like Trump
when he was running in 2016 is because they didn't think he could
win. But they voted for him anyway, and when he did win, he was not
only forgiven; he was their hero. That should have lasted only until
he lost in 2020, but thanks to the Big Lie, his popular support kept
them in check until the 2022 loss gave them an excuse to brand him
a loser -- which is really the only thing that they care about, and
the one thing they think might work.
However, the polls haven't caught up, in large part because
rank-and-file Republicans care much less about winning than about
hating the Dems and being hated in turn, which Trump still has a
knack for. See:
That pro-DeSantis right-wing consent won't manufacture itself.
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