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:

    1. What are Ukraine's odds of making further territorial gains?
    2. How interested is Putin in peace?
    3. How large are the humanitarian costs of appeasing Putin?
    4. How can Ukraine's future security be preserved?
    5. How much more economic damage will Ukraine suffer from a prolonged war?
    6. 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 Russia intervened.

  • 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 political attack.

  • 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:

  1. Kabul failed to recognize the U.S. would actually leave;
  2. the decision to exclude the Afghan government from US-Taliban talks undermined it;
  3. Kabul insisted that the Taliban be integrated into the Republic rather than create a new model altogether;
  4. the Taliban wouldn't compromise;
  5. former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani "governed through a highly selective, narrow circle of loyalists" (read: yes men) which destabilized the government;
  6. Kabul was afflicted by centralization, corruption, and a legitimacy crisis.

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, briefly explained.

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, [11-24] 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.

Ask a question, or send a comment.