Llewellyn King: Trump swims in a cesspool of vengeance

Treating the products of the Trump administration.

Treating the products of the Trump administration.


Just when you think President Trump couldn’t sink any lower, he astounds. He’s bewildering in his ability to sink and then sink further -- and all the while to claim success, rectitude and leadership.

This week’s plumbing of the sewers of conduct came in two Trump specials.

First, there was the unbecoming amount of presidential time spent on denigrating Omarosa Manigault Newman. He knew her well -- knew her propensity for infighting, exaggerating and lying -- when he hired her on at the White House.

The question is, what was a reality show contestant of no particular ability doing in the White House to begin with?

Whether the president fired her, or his chief of staff did, doesn’t matter. Clearly, there was merit in getting her out of there. That’s now more than clear, when we learn that she was taping conversations in the Situation Room, the sacred heart of the White House.

After a firing, there’s a kind of protocol: You don’t litigate the issue ex post facto, especially in public. You let it rest; those who have been fired anywhere are usually aggrieved and angry.

The executive who did the deed doesn’t then sink into verbal mud wrestling with the dismissed person. One doesn’t do that. But Donald Trump does do that -- with relish.

More egregious was his yanking the security clearance of former CIA chief John Brennan. This is vicious, petty, vengeful and strikes at the very basis of civil respect in America.

Security clearances are, at the least, a kind of badge, a medal, a recognition that you have served the country at the highest level of trust.

I’ve known four secretaries of defense, five secretaries of energy, three CIA directors and 12 national laboratory heads. I’ve seen how those now carrying the burden of office have consulted with those who had carried it.

Those who have security clearance, even if they aren’t called upon to use their knowledge often, are a kind of national reserve of expertise in sensitive matters, ready when needed. Others may need security clearance in defense contracting jobs when they leave their government service.

We don’t have civil honors as in Britain. Those with security clearances carry a little honor, a little recognition — and a lot of pride.

While Trump was bearing his teeth against the defenseless, like a hyaena afraid of losing its prey, big stuff at home and abroad was what one would’ve thought might have been of commanding interest to the president, including:

·       A red tide was damaging the ocean life of Florida while hurting its tourism.

·       California was burning up with the worst fires in history.

·       The mayhem was continuing in Yemen.

·       Turkey, a NATO member, was being driven into the arms of Russia, while its failing currency was roiling world markets.

·       Russia was believed to be preparing to knock out the U.S. electric grid; and it was legitimizing its grasp on Crimea.

·       China was seizing the South China Sea.

Against these, and other domestic and world crises, Trump was lost to bile and spite.

A friend, a lifetime Republican (small government, fiscal restraint, free trade, strong defense) suggested in conversation this week that the Trump legacy would cost us a generation of lost opportunity in the world. He said it would take that long to get back to old alliances and to the position of respect we have enjoyed in the world.

I disagreed. I think it could take 100 years, perhaps. The rub is one never returns to the status quo ante after upheaval. The earth moves, so to speak.

Consider two historical events with 100-year legacies. The first is the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, which mapped a peace in Europe that lasted nearly a century. The second is the ill-conceived Treaty of Versailles,  in 1919, the peace document signed at the end of World War I. It led to World War II; and, to this day, it’s at the root of much of the trouble in the Middle East.

Tweeting isn’t communicating, settling scores isn’t governing, handing the world over to Russia and China isn’t what we expect of any president, even a petty one awash in bile.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His email is He's based in Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.


David Warsh: The two NATOs

“Disastrous,” was how the Financial Times yesterday described Donald Trump’s visit to Europe. Were you to extend Trump’s influence indefinitely into the future, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the bedrock of U.S. foreign policy for the past 70 years, would be finished.

If, on the other hand, Trump is repudiated in 2020 – my guess is that he will be – the future of NATO depends on what happens in the congressional elections of 2018 and 2020, and the presidential elections of 2020 and 2024.

That means the discussion of NATO can go forward, at least tentatively, pretty much without reference to Trump’s boorish behavior in Belgium and Britain last week. That future has relatively little to do with whether member nations will spend more of their gross domestic product on defense.

There are, in fact, two NATOs.  The first was cobbled together in a hurry in 1948 in response to a Soviet-sponsored coup in Czechoslovakia and the blockade of Berlin.  The second emerged, starting in 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The first was shepherded into existence by Harry Truman.  The second was created by Bill Clinton.

When the Berlin Wall was dismantled, in 1989, the reunification of Germany, a key U.S. foreign policy objective in the years since the end of World War II, was suddenly within reach.  First, however, the question of the possibility of a unified Germany’s status within NATO had to be resolved. In exchange for assurances by the administration of George H. W. Bush that NATO would stop there, “would not move an inch” farther east, Russian leaders assented and the armed forces of the former Soviet satellite switched sides.

President Bill Clinton didn’t feel bound by any such promise.. Clinton had visited the Soviet Union in 1970 as a graduate student and had formed his own ideas.  He named as Deputy Secretary of State his roommate from those days, former Time Magazine Moscow correspondent Strobe Talbott, and quietly prepared to offer membership to Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which by then were actively seeking it.

As Clinton’s intention became more widely known, senior figures in his administration, including Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and his deputy William Perry, warned privately of a “train wreck” if NATO enlargement proceeded.  Foreign policy intellectuals of both parties, led by Cold War strategist George Kennan, and including Senate Armed Services Committee head Sam Nunn, arms control negotiator Paul Nitze, and Senator Bill Bradley, went public with their opposition in 1996, on the eve of the formal vote.

Clinton and Talbott were undeterred. After the re-election of Russian president Boris Yeltsin, planning began to offer NATO membership to seven more former Soviet satellites: the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, plus Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia (now separated from the Czech Republic), Macedonia and Slovenia.

George W. Bush replaced Clinton in 2001 and, after 9/11, proceeded with the expansion that the Clinton team had planned, while also invading Afghanistan and Iraq. After the Bush administration quietly supported the “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine, and, the Russians believed, withheld key information about separatist terrorist activity out of sympathy with Chechen independence aims, Russian president Vladimir Putin protested strongly against American’s “unipolar” ambitions in a speech to an international security meeting in Munich in 2007. The next year, Russia briefly went to war against Georgia to make his point.

The Obama administration carried on with NATO enlargement after 2009, overseeing the admission of Croatia and Albania that the Bush administration had planned, adding Montenegro to the list, and bruiting the possibility of membership for Georgia and Ukraine. In 2012 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Putin’s reelection to a third term as president, enraging him. In 2013, her successor, John Kerry, supported a second “color revolution” in Ukraine. Those events then led in March 2014 to the Russian occupation of Crimea.

This second version of NATO is often lumped together with the first. Enough time has passed that veterans of the Cold War are aged; the policy-makers who would have succeeded them had George H.  W. Bush been re-elected in 1992 have been mostly on the sidelines for twenty-five years. Architects of the second NATO dominate the mainstream news. Thus talk show host Rachel Maddow last week introduced Victoria Nuland as “one of the most experienced American diplomats walking the earth.”

In fact Nuland began her governmental career by as Strobe Talbott’s State Department chief of staff for several years. She became Vice President Dick Cheney’s adviser in the Iraq War, served for four years as NATO ambassador, before becoming State Department spokesperson for Hillary Clinton and, eventually, Assistant Secretary for Europeans and Eurasian Affairs. It was Nuland who, while passing out cookies to demonstrators in Kiev’s Maidan Square, was taped by Russian operatives declaiming to the American ambassador “F- the EU's” wishes with respect to the resolution of the crisis. Today she is chief executive of the Center for a New American Security.

Will Trump figure in the future of this narrative?  Not much, as long as he isn’t re-elected to a second term. With respect to the future of NATO, there is no alternative to waiting to see how his presidency turns out – and re-examining the history of U.S.-Russia relationswhile we do. Sonorous stories about the Berlin blockade, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union are no substitute for well-informed debate about the second NATO.

David Warsh, a longtime columnist and an economic historian, is proprietor of, where this first ran. He's based in Somerville, Mass.


David Warsh: On Russia, Trump hoisted on the Democrats' petard

A few months after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, in 2014, Foreign Affairs conducted an illuminating exchange of views. It is as good a place as any to begin to retrace the steps that brought us to the present day “Russia crisis.” It is always a good idea to go back to the beginning when you are lost.

John Mearsheimer, of the University of Chicago, wrote “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions that Provoked Putin.  Michael McFaul, advisor to President Barack Obama, back at Stanford after a two-year stint as ambassador to Moscow, argued that the takeover had been “Moscow’s Choice: Who Started the Ukraine Crisis.”  Alexander Lukin, vice president of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described “What the Kremlin Is Thinking: Putin’s Vision for Eurasia.” (Foreign Affairs allows non-subscribers only one free article a month, so choose your link carefully.)

Mearsheimer, 69, the leading expositor (after Henry Kissinger, 94) of what is commonly called the realist view in international affairs, described a triple package of encroachment:  NATO enlargement, European Union expansion, and aggressive democracy promotion.  Of these, NATO was the “taproot” of the trouble. Putin’s actions should be easy to comprehend, he wrote, especially for those who remembered Russian experiences with Napoleonic France (in 1812), imperial Germany (in World War I) and Nazi Germany (in World War II). He continued,

No Russian leader would tolerate [NATO], a military alliance that was Moscow’s mortal enemy until recently, moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government there that was determined to integrate Ukraine into the West…. After all, the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western hemisphere, much less on its borders. Imagine the outrage in Washington if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it.''

McFaul, 53, an expositor of the liberal view of foreign affairs, responded in the next issue. If Russia was really opposed to NATO expansion, why didn’t it raise  a stink after 1999, when NATO expansion began?  Hadn’t Russian president Dimitri Mededev permitted the U.S. to continue to operate its airbase in Kyrgyzstan?  Hadn’t he tacitly acquiesced to NATO intervention in Libya?

"In the five years that I served in the Obama administration, I attended almost every meeting Obama held with Putin and Medvedev, and, for three of those years, while working at the While House, I listened in on every phone conversation, and I cannot remember NATO expansion ever coming up.''

The real reason for the annexation, McFaul wrote, had to do with internal Russian politics. Putin needed to cast the US as an enemy in order to discredit those who opposed his election to a third presidential term.  He feared a “color revolution,” like the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2004, might force him from power.

Mearsheimer wasn’t impressed:  And to argue that Russian opposition was based on “resentment,” as had former Bill Clinton adviser Stephen Sestanovich, 67, in a companion piece, “How the West Has Won,”  was to miss the point.  Russia was worried about its border.

"Great powers always worry about the balance of power in their neighborhoods and push back when other great powers march up to their doorstep. This is why the United States adopted the Monroe Doctrine in the early nineteenth century and why it has repeatedly used military force and covert action to shape political events in the Western Hemisphere.''

Meanwhile, Lukin, the Kremlin insider, had already reminded readers of the gauzy view of Russia that had taken hold in America after 1993.  Gradually Russia would embrace Western-style democracy at home and cease to pose a threat to the security of its former satellites. It would accept Western leadership in economic affairs.  And it would recognize that various tough treatment of its one-time allies – Serbia, Libya, Iraq, and Iran – was the legitimate exercise of Western leadership in global affairs. Lukin wrote:

"The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has finally put an end to this fantasy.   In annexing Crimea, Moscow decisively rejected the West’s rules and in the process shattered many flawed Western assumptions about its motivations.  US and European officials need a new paradigm for how to think about Russian foreign policy – and if they want to resolve the Ukraine crisis and prevent similar ones from occurring in the future, they need to get better at putting themselves in Moscow’s shoes.''

What Putin had in mind, Lukin wrote, was the formation of a Eurasian Union, similar to the European Union but not particularly a rival to it, linking the economies of Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine.

"The concept of a Eurasian space or identity first arose among Russian philosophers and historians who emigrated from communist Russia to Western Europe in  the 1920s. Like Russian Slavophiles before them, advocates of Eurasianism spoke of the special nature of Russian civilization and its differences from European society; but they gazed in a different direction. Whereas earlier Slavophiles emphasized Slavic unity and contrasted European individualism with the collectivism of Russian peasant communities, the Eurasians linked the Russian people to the Turkic-speaking people, or 'Turanians,' of the Central Asian Steppe.''

The differences of opinion had been clearly set out.

That was three years ago. You know the rest. Escalating sanctions on Russia from the West, especially the US.  From Russia, increasing bellicosity.

Since he was elected, Donald Trump has been hoist on a petard largely of the Democratic Party’s making, going back to Bill Clinton’s decision to press for NATO expansion in 1994. Enlargement was forcefully opposed by other Democrats in 1996, but to no avail.  Clinton went ahead. George W. Bush and Obama continued in the same groove.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to say a kind word about Trump.  He first came by his views of Russia from well-heeled Russian customers for his real estate developments.  And I am only mildly sympathetic to Putin’s problems.  We have enough of our own.

The good news is that Trump has appointed two sensible realists who know a thing or two about Russia:  Rex Tillerson Secretary of State and, the other week, Jon Huntsman as ambassador to Russia.  It is the beginning of a long journey back to common sense.

David Warsh is proprietor of, where this first ran. He is a long-time columnist and economic historian.

Llewellyn King: Trump further weakens the West


The love affairs between nations have some of the same dynamics as those between people: When they are sundered, they do not return to where they were before one of the partners betrayed the other. Trust, once lost, is not easily restored and when it is, it is changed; it is less complete, more suspicious.

That change, that loss of trust, was on display the week of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, and President Trump’s second trip to Europe. It was not restored, the doubts not assuaged by the clumsy speech Trump delivered in Poland. His speechwriter got Poland’s historical role in Europe right, but he did not get its controversial authoritarian role today right at all.

It was the wrong place for that speech; a wrong reading of the crisis in Europe today. It is not only a crisis about its survivability, but also a crisis about its relationship with the United States; what has happened to the United States, where is it going and can it be trusted?

We have lost much of the trust of our friends and allies and we have done so by our own hand. This has been greeted by those who wish us harm with a kind of diplomatic smirk.

American steadfastness in the world, once as solid as the Rockies, has crumbled; it has been traded away for a kind of desire to shock. We have abandoned friends tested by time not because we should but because we could.

The trashing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was the first act of infidelity in the steady betrayal of allies. To the 11 other potential signatories, it was a simple statement: America does not care anymore. Its abandonment also diminished U.S. leadership in Asia. The result: a distrust of our consistency that will not easily be restored, and a vacuum waiting for China to fill.

After the communist triumph, Henry Luce, the proprietor of Time Inc., bellowed, “Who lost China?” Today’s question: “Who is empowering China?”

In Europe, the Trump administration has strung together a series of small offenses and insults, calculated to exacerbate not to heal. Trump has chosen to be the enfant terrible of the West. Why, oh why?

Every U.S. administration since Eisenhower has supported the integration of Europe. Bit by bit, as Europe struggled to become something bigger than the sum of its parts, the United States has been its cheerleader — even when it was feared (wrongly) that a kind of Fortress Europe might result from integration.

Along comes Trump like a loud reveler in a funny hat, outdoing European fears about The Ugly American.

Trump has ruffled European feathers in all the ways imaginable, from his initial refusal to assert that the United States would honor NATO’s Article 5 and come to the aid of members if attacked.

Trump’s renunciation of the Paris climate accord stung Europe. But so too did his endorsement of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and his cozying up to Nigel Farage, the British nationalist, and Marine Le Pen, the French anti-EU politician. These things rankle, so why do them?

This week in Europe, I found a resignation about Trump. People who, when I last visited or spoke to them, were expressing deep concern are now shrugging and considering the president as a dancing bear, amusing and dangerous. Europe, they tell me, is looking at a new uncertain future, but one that depends less on U.S. leadership than it has at any time since 1945.

An inadvertent gift may be that Trump has forced Europe to look again to itself and to what is right about its union: Its dream of being a bulwark against future internecine wars, with or without U.S. backing. And, of course, the “shared values” that Trump trotted out de rigueur in Warsaw.

Europe is shrinking in size with Britain’s exit and the United States is shrinking in world influence with Trump’s ascent.

Dark shadows are passing over the Western alliance and the liberal values it has promoted like free trade, human rights and accessible justice — long the best hope of the world.

Trump’s Polish speech has not reassured.

Llewellyn King (llewellynking1@gmail,com),  a frequent contributor to New England Diary, is a veteran publisher, editor and columnist and executive editor and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. This piece first ran on Inside Sources.


Jim Hightower: Donald Trump's relentless Twitter attacks on --- our allies



Donald Trump missed his opportunity to become a General Patton-style military commander and glorious war hero back in the Vietnam era. He surely would’ve been the greatest in history, to hear him tell it.

But, alas, he says some unspecified foot problem (or something or other) kept him from the privilege of actually getting to go fight in that war. Bad luck, I’m sure. But now that The Donald is the commander-in-chief for real, his inner warrior has been given a second chance to bloom, and this time he’s fully enlisted.

In recent weeks, President Trump has (1) escalated a running war of words against Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, (2) bombed the European leaders of NATO with explosive charges that they’re unworthy of his support, (3) launched a fierce new barrage of tough rhetoric in his extralegal offensive to ban all travel to the U.S. by anyone from six Muslim nations, and (4) opened an entirely new battlefront by attacking the mayor of London with one of his Twitter missiles.

In last year’s presidential campaign, Trump declared with typical modesty that “No one is bigger or better at the military than I am.”

Well, I’m certainly no expert on war, but if a president is going to pick a mess of foreign fights, wouldn’t it be better, strategically speaking, to pick on actual enemies, rather than on America’s allies? After all, there might come a time when we need friends to stand with us.

In a twist of historic irony, it looks like Boss Trump and his military team might need those European allies sooner than they figured. His national security chief and the Pentagon are pushing a new strategy for America’s long, horribly messy war in Afghanistan — but it depends on our NATO allies sending some of their troops into the fight.

Oops, how awkward for the impetuous tweeter-in-chief.

 Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also the editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. 


David Warsh: Invasion of Iraq was America's 21st Century original sin

U.S. soldiers at the Hands of Victory monument in Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq in  2003.

U.S. soldiers at the Hands of Victory monument in Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq in  2003.


Fourteen years ago today, a U.S.-dominated coalition of forces began bombing Baghdad.  The U.S. had demanded that Saddam Hussein leave Iraq within 48 hours.  When he didn’t, coalition forces attempted to kill him and his sons in the first hour of their “shock and awe” bombing campaign, beginning the morning of March 19, 2003.  George W. Bush went on television that evening to describe the purpose the war to follow: “to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.”

The invasion of Iraq was the fulcrum on which much has shifted since.  Vladimir Putin’s speech in February 2007 to the Munich Conference on Security Policy dissented sharply from Washington’s vision of a unipolar world and warned against further NATO expansion along Russia’s southern borders.

The “Arab Spring,” beginning in Tunisia in late 2010 (“gripped by the narrative of a young generation peacefully rising up against oppressive authoritarianism to secure a more democratic political system and a brighter economic future,” in one interpretation), swept through Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria with profoundly mixed results.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) found its footing in the villages and towns along upper Euphrates and Tigris rivers, accelerating the European refugee crisis and contributing to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. The fall of a friendly government in Kiev in 2013 led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and civil war in Ukraine. The financial crisis of 2008-09 proceeded separately, contributing greatly to the strain.

The disaster in Iraq is well understood. The best book I know on the war itself is Overreach: Delusions of Regime Change in Iraq (Harvard, 2014), by Michael MacDonald.  The broader context is well covered in America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (Random House, 2016), by Andrew Bacevich. Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (Viking, 2004), by James Mann, traces its origins to the experience of America’s defeat in Vietnam.

Yet like a repressed bad dream, the decision to invade Iraq is routinely overlooked as a landmark event.  George W. recanted only in joking. Solidarity with his brother helped cost Jeb Bush a primary campaign he was expected to win. Hillary Clinton’s slippery views on Iraq counted against her in the recent election and almost certainly cost her the 2008 Democratic nomination. And Donald Trump, skewered when he claimed he had opposed the war before it started, has scarcely mentioned it since.

As for the newspapers, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal still thinks that the war was a great idea.  The Washington Post has renounced its zest for the war only a little.  Even The New York Times has trouble remembering the role its coverage played in fomenting the war., my Web site, still burns with shame.

The U.S. made various mistakes in the 1990s, when it stood alone as the as the world’s dominant power, but there is a sense in which invasion of Iraq was the 21st Century's original sin, costing credibility around the world – never mind the lives of 5,000 of its soldiers, those of at least half a million Iraqis, and some $3 trillion so far. Until the U.S. comes to terms with its miscalculation, it can expect to misunderstand and be misunderstood

The aftermath of the war is central to today’s controversy with Russia. And with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warning of a much harder line against North Korea, it could hardly be more relevant.  Let March 19 become a national day of reflection.

David Warsh, a longtime columnist on economic, political and media affairs, is proprietor of, where this first ran.

David Warsh; Trump is no Putin



One thing you should know about Vladimir Putin:  He gives a good speech.  Probably you don’t know that he does. Here are three brief excerpts, from occasions that presumably most Russians remembers, more vividly than snippets in translation can convey.


In September 2004, after the Beslan massacre, in which 334 hostages were killed by Chechen terrorists, 186 of them children:


“Today we are living in conditions formed after the disintegration of a huge great country, the country which unfortunately turned out to be nonviable in the conditions of a rapidly changing world…. [D]espite all the difficulties,  we managed to preserve the nucleus of that giant, the Soviet Union. We called the new country the Russian Federation.  We all expected changes, changes for the better, but found ourselves absolutely unprepared for much that changed in our lives.… We live in conditions of aggravated internal conflicts and ethnic conflicts that before were harshly suppressed by the governing ideology.  We stopped paying attention to issues of defense and security…. [O]ur country which once had one of the mightiest systems of protecting its borders, suddenly found itself unprotected from either West or East.’’


In February 2007, at the Munich Security Conference, after the American invasion of Iraq (which he, the Germans, and French had opposed) erupted in sectarian violence, sending an estimated 2 million Iraqis out of the country:


“The unipolar world that had been proposed after the Cold War did not take place…However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day it refers to one type of situation, namely one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making.  It is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within….’’


‘’Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. … [I]ndependent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly close to one state’s legal system….First and foremost, the United State has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural, and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes that?’’


In 2008, Russia briefly went to war with Georgia, in order to discourage Georgian ambitions to join the NATO alliance. In 2011, NATO launched airstrikes in Libya to prevent Muammar Qaddafi from attacking insurgents in eastern Libya, greatly irritating the Russian government. In 2013, the U.S. nearly went to war with Syria, before Putin persuaded Bashar al-Assad to surrender some ofSyria’s stocks of chemical weapons. 


And in March 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea, not long after the flight to Moscow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, following three months of demonstrations joined by, among others, U.S.S Assistant Secretary of State for Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland and Sen. John McCain:


“They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner because we have an independent position, because we maintain it and because we call things like they are and do not engage in hypocrisy. But there is a limit to everything. And with Ukraine, our western partners have crossed the line, playing the bear and acting irresponsibly and unprofessionally.


“After all, they were fully aware that there are millions of Russians living in Ukraine and in Crimea. They must have really lacked political instinct and common sense not to foresee all the consequences of their actions. Russia found itself in a position it could not retreat from. If you compress the spring all the way to its limit, it will snap back hard.’’

I spent

week re-reading The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin (Knopf, 2015), by Steven Lee Myers, New York Times correspondent in Moscow for seven years during the period that the Russian president consolidated his power.  It is a superb book, knowledgeable, thorough, candid, readable, and well-organized. It provides an incisive account of Putin’s youth in Leningrad; his years as a young officer in the KGB, the Soviet security service; his riseto power as a junior member of reform clique that Boris Yeltsin recruited from the re-christened St. Petersburg. 


It treats all the familiar domestic stories of the Putin years: his fierce conduct of the second Chechen War; his surprising elevation by Yeltsin; his gradual suppression of private media; the loss of the nuclear submarine Kursk; the Khodorkovsky trials; the Orange and Rose Revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia; the Alexandr Litvinenko, Anna Politkovskaya, and Boris Nemtsov murders; the Sochi Olympics and the trial of the Pussy Riot punk rock band. It gives a brief but even-handed account of Putin’s successful economic reforms.  Like all good books, it has a narrative structure and a point of view, and that view is conveyed by the cover photograph, Putin looking haughty, powerful and sinister. 


As Putin prepares to run for afourth term next year, Myers concludes: 


“After returning to power in 2012 with no clear purpose other than the exercise of power for its own sake, Putin now found the unifying factor for a large, diverse nation still in search of one.  He found a millenarian purpose for the power that he held one that shaped his country greater than any other leader had thus far in the twenty-first century. He had restored neither the Soviet Union nor the tsarist empire, but a new Russia with the characteristics and instincts of both, with himself as secretary general and sovereign, as indispensable as the country was exceptional. … He had unified the country behind the only leader anyone could now imagine because he was, as in 2008 and 2012, unwilling to allow any alternative to emerge. ‘’ 


There is only a fleeting examination of the fundamental issue that has shaped Putin’s view of the U.S. over the past twenty-five years – not American interventions abroad, not its arms placements, not even its enthusiasm for regime change in Russia, but rather the enlargement of NATO over increasingly strong Russian objections, undertaken by the Clinton administration in 1993, and pursued under presidents George W. Bush and Obama. Myers writes, axiomatically, “Most American and European officials accepted as an article of faith that NATO’s expansion would strengthen the security of the continent by forging a defensive collective of democracies, just as the European Union had buried many of the nationalistic urges that had caused so much conflict in previous centuries.” 


Why is this The New Tsar’s default view?  The Times has habitually viewed itself as an extension of the U.S.  State Department in matters large and small, and in this case, the logic of NATO enlargement has been asserted by three presidents whose service has spanned 24 years. Of course, U.S. foreign policy hasn’t always worked out well. TheTimes editorial page supported U.S. intervention in South Vietnam in the early 1960s, and, with aggressive reporting, the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In each case, subsequent events provoked editors to undertake an extensive retracing of their steps. No such soul-searching has yet begun in the matter of NATO enlargement.


Which brings us to the current situation. The Trump-Putin equivalence that is currently all the rage –it was the cover story in The Economist earlier this month – is profoundly misleading.  Putin, with consistently high approval ratings, is headed for a fourth term as president. Despite having overplayed his hand in the hacking business, he has a case to make: the US has treated Russia much too casually in the years since the Soviet empire collapsed.  Like it or not, we live in a multi-polar world.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail, hoping to salvage his first term. He has a case for better relations to make, too, but, for reasons of temperament, intellect, and his business interests, he is profoundly unsuited to make it.  The U.S. debate about U.S.-Russian relations should go forward without equating the leaders of the two countries.

David Warsh is a veteran  business and political columnist and economic historian. He is proprietor of, where this first ran.


Why Trump sucks up to Putin?

Donald Trump, unlike other presidents is the past 40 years, refuses to release his tax returns or other data related to his conflicts of interest, The information below suggests some reasons why:

Why did Putin order hacking to help Trump get elected?   Stacey W. Porter posted to Facebook as follows:

1) Trump owes Blackstone/ Bayrock group $560 million (one of his largest debtors and the primary reason he won't reveal his tax returns)

2) Blackstone is owned wholly by Russian billionaires, who owe their position to Putin and have made billions from their work with the Russian government.

3) Other companies that have borrowed from Blackstone have claimed that owing money to them is like owing to the Russian mob and while you owe them, they own you for many favors.

4) The Russian economy is badly faltering under the weight of its over-dependence on raw materials which as you know have plummeted in the last 2 years leaving the Russian economy scrambling to pay its debts.

5) Russia has an impetus to influence our election to ensure the per barrel oil prices are above $65 ( they are currently hovering around $50)

6) Russia can't affordably get at 80% of its oil reserves and reduce its per barrel cost to compete with America at $45 or Saudi Arabia at $39. With Iranian sanctions being lifted Russia will find another inexpensive competitor increasing production and pushing Russia further down the list of suppliers.
As for Iranian sanctions, the 6 countries lifting them allowing Iran to collect on the billions it is owed for pumping oil but not being paid for it. These billions Iran can only get if the Iranian nuclear deal is signed. Trump spoke of ending the deals which would cause oil sales sanctions to be reimposed, which would make Russian oil more competitive.

7) Rex Tillerson (Trump's pick for Secretary of State) is the head of ExxonMobil, which is in possession of patented technology that could help Putin extract 45% more oil at a significant cost savings to Russia, helping Putin put money in the Russian coffers to help reconstitute its military and finally afford to mass produce the new and improved systems that it had invented before the Russian economy had slowed so much.

8) Putin cannot get access to these new cost saving technologies OR outside oil field development money, due to US sanctions on Russia, because of its involvement in Ukrainian civil war.

9) Look for Trump to end sanctions on Russia and to back out of the Iranian nuclear deal, to help Russia rebuild its economy, strengthen Putin and make Tillerson and Trump even richer, thus allowing Trump to satisfy his creditors at Blackstone.

10) With Trump's fabricated hatred of NATO and the U.N., the Russian military reconstituted, the threat to the Baltic states is real. Russia retaking their access to the Baltic Sea from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and threatening the shipping of millions of cubic feet of natural gas to lower Europe from Scandinavia, would allow Russia to make a good case for its oil and gas being piped into eastern Europe.

Sources: Time Magazine, NY Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian UK.

Sent from my iPhone




Germany said to plan big military buildup to counter Russian aggression

Diane Francis, a Canadian journalist, a member of the Hudson Institute and a former speaker at the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations, reports that Germany plans a huge increase in its military strength to be able to confront an expansionist Russia and terrorists.

She writes that Germany's  new "civil defense'' initiative would:

·      Give the government the right “to reintroduce military conscription (stopped in 2011) in case of a ‘national emergency,’  but with a major difference. Its armed forces (currently 178,000) could swell by another 600,000, and be deployed internally to help police for the first time since the Second World War, and, significantly, to guard NATO’s borders which extend to Turkey.

·      "{E}ncourage the public to stockpile 10 days’ supply of food and five days’ of water in case of national emergencies or “existential” (i.e. terrorist) attacks.

"This represents a potentially dramatic extension of German military presence with a mandate to be deployed as domestic police as well as beyond its borders.

"The initiative is due to three unstated reasons: Russia’s occupation of part of Ukraine and  {threats to} other countries on its eastern flank; America’s growing weariness of military costs; and terrorist threats to its other European and NATO members.’’

To read her essay, please hit this link.

Lan Anh: Building a foundation for close U.S.-Vietnamese relations


By Lan Anh

On the night of May 22, President Obama landed at Noi Bai International Airport to start his official visit to Vietnam. U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had also visited Vietnam while in office.

The American War in Vietnam was a long and sad chapter but that conflict ended 41 years ago.

President Obama’s visit to Vietnam  was a dramatic turning point as the two countries establish stronger ties  to promote the development, peace and security of the both countries, the Asia/Pacific region and the wider world.

Vietnam has spent  much blood,  wealth and time defending itself from invadersto regain and preserve its independence.  The country  has constantly faced threats to its freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

But, overcoming the sorrow of historical events, and some missteps in its economic-development strategy, Vietnam has  today achieved remarkable improvements in the economic and other aspects of its development. It has great potential strengths from its location and its population of 100 million, (making Vietnam the 13th most populous nation) including its large number of young people who are very receptive to new technology. It is also playing an increasingly important role in global economic development.

Meanwhile, Vietnam preserves many of its ancient traditions while it stays open to learning and accepting the best aspects of cultures and values all over the world.  

Vietnam has become an inspiring story of a country in transition.  A nation that suffered the sorrow of  a long war with the U.S., Vietnam has since normalized the relationship with America and is taking steps to improve it further.  Vietnamese-U.S. relations are now a world-recognized symbol of reconciliation and of progress toward a peaceful, more secure and developed world.

America has the  world’s largest economy and is the global military superpower.  Thus,  the U.S. plays a crucial role in preserving stability around the Earth. American military power can be deployed quickly to any place in the world.  Further, America is the innovation hub of the planet. It’s where leading technologies are constantly being invented and refined with great international impact.

Since World War II, the U.S.  has led the establishment of a network of multilateral organizations  -- most notably the World Bank, the  International Monetary Fund (IMF) and such regional  security organizations as NATO. In part becase of these organizations, the U.S. has strong allies around the world.

These factors are crucial parts of the foundation for stronger Vietnamese-U.S. relations.

Prof. Thomas Patterson, a leading Harvard scholar on politics, press and public policy,  and a co-founder and director of The Boston Global Forum (, said that the bases for a strong and sustainable relationship between  the U.S. and Vietnam are trust and respect for each other and mutual understanding of each other’s needs and values. Despite some inevitable differences, the two countries have many shared goals, which include building their own and each other’s prosperity, friendly cultural exchanges and peace and security in the South China Sea (called in Vietnam the East Sea). Strong andfriendly U.S.-Vietnamese relations will foster the strong growth of the two countries in the Pacific Era.

The U.S. can help Vietnam with capital and advanced technology so that Vietnam can continue growing its knowledge and innovation economy via such technology solutions as  artificial intelligence (AI) and network security.

After the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TTP) comes into effect, Vietnam’s GDP is projected to increase to $23.5 billion in 2020 and $33.5 billion in 2025. Its exports are projected to rise by  $68 billion by 2026.  Under the TPP, big markets,  such as the U.S., Japan and Canada, willeliminate tariffs for goods imported from Vietnam, which will obviously give its exporting activity a big boost..

Meanwhile Fulbright University Vietnam has officially been granted approval to open. This  is a milestone  in the journey of  cooperation between U.S. and Vietnam in education. Further, the University of California at Los Angeles ( UCLA ) will soon work with Vietnam to carry out new initiatives in global citizenship education.

To establish itself as a major global player, Vietnam needs to be independent  of bigger countries so that it can strategize its  path ahead while following universal standards and values. Vietnam will raise its visibility in  the world with a loving,  tolerant and generous attitude.

Vietnam has overcome sorrow and loss to make peace with other countries that caused it pain. Hence, Vietnam has become a symbol of reconciliation and can play an important role in preserving  international peace and security in the Asia/Pacific region and around the world.  

For example, Vietnam can contribute to the effort to resolve conflicts between the U.S.  and Russia,  between Europe and Russia,  between China and Russia,  between the U.S.,  Japan and North Korea,  and between the U.S. and China. Vietnam could also become a centerfor finding solutions to conflicts in the Middle East and forhelping North Korea integrate with the rest of the world (as when Vietnam helped Myanmar reintegrate). And it can be a pioneer in building harmony and security in online space in South East Asia and around the world. This can include educating people  to be responsible online citizens in Internet era; teaching them to respect each other’s culture, knowledge and morality, and  promoting initiatives for global citizenship education.

Building strong Vietnamese-U.S. relations, as well as the other initiatives cited above, can’t be completed overnight but the path to a brighter future is opened. Tomorrow has started today.

Lan Anh is a journalist for VietNamNet.

David Warsh: 'The Putin Show' is scarier than you think


The confrontation with Russia is becoming more alarming. Kathrin Hille, reporting from Moscow for the Financial Times, describes how cellphone operators are offering free ringtones of patriotic war songs, intended to evoke the defense of Moscow in 1941.

"The government-led drive, named Hurray for Victory!, comes as Moscow enters the homestretch in an impassioned and increasingly shrill campaign to commemorate the end of the Second World War.''

Meanwhile, The New York Times, as part of the rollout of its redesigned magazine, commissioned Soviet-born Russian novelist Gary Shteyngart to hole up for seven days at the Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street in Manhattan with the main Russian television networks on three screens. In “‘Out of My Mouth Comes Unimpeachable Manly Truth:’ What I learned from watching a week of Russian TV ‘” Shteyngart concludes,

''When you watch the Putin Show, you live in a superpower. You are a rebel in Ukraine bravely leveling the once-state-of-the-art Donetsk airport with Russian-supplied weaponry. You are a Russian-speaking grandmother standing by her destroyed home in Lugansk shouting at the fascist Nazis, much as her mother probably did when the Germans invaded more than 70 years ago. You are a priest sprinkling blessings on a photogenic convoy of Russian humanitarian aid headed for the front line. To suffer and to survive: This must be the meaning of being Russian. It was in the past and will be forever. This is the fantasy being served up each night on Channel 1, on Rossiya 1, on NTV.''

And The Wall Street Journal has an essay by Andrew S. Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, an aide in various capacities in the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Weiss writes,

''[T]he Ukraine showdown is even scarier than you think: Mr. Putin is making it up as he goes along….  Almost single-handedly, [he] seems to be dragging much of the West into a New Cold War.  He’s winging it, and when things get difficult, he tends to double down.''

Weiss describes an “extreme personalization of power” following Putin’s return as president, in 2012. As the Ukraine crisis intensified in late 2013 and 2014, Putin narrowed his circle of advisers and placed them on a war-footing, valuing loyalty over worldliness.

Blindsided when events in Kiev spun out of control last February and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Moscow, Weiss says, Putin had only himself to blame for having backed a leader who simply panicked when the going got tough.”  So, on the “spur-of-the-moment,” Putin annexed Crimea.

''Why on earth would Moscow want to take over a money pit like Crimea at a time of slowing economic growth and plunging oil prices?  On the fly, Kremlin propagandists came up with a mantra that they invoke to this day: the new authorities who replaced Mr. Yanukovych in Kiev were illegitimate because they had staged a coup d’état with Western backing,''

Putin followed his invasion – “the most audacious land-grab since World War II” – with a “sham popular referendum” and formal annexation. Then came more “damn-the-consequences, trial-and-error improvisation” to sow unrest in  southeastern Ukraine: seizures of government buildings by Russian-speaking separatists, led by Russian “facilitators.” And after the situation escalated to outright war, Putin sought a ceasefire, obtained it on advantageous terms, and then violated it with an unexpected surge of fighting around Donetsk and Lugansk.

''Mr. Putin’s highly personalized, profoundly erratic approach to government tmay be even more dangerous than most Western governments are comfortable admitting.  How can the Ukrainians or dogged western leaders such as {German Chancellor Angela} Merkel possibly search for a diplomatic solution if they are dealing with a leader who is making it all up on the fly?  … Kiev doesn’t know what Mr. Putin wants; even Mr. Putin doesn’t know what he wants.''

Notice anything funny about this narrative? Putin is always the impulsive actor, never the one who is acted upon.  He is never reacting to anything that NATO or the Americans do.

There is nothing here about NATO expansion. Nothing about the brief 2008 war with Georgia. Nothing about the continuing controversy about who fired the shots on Kiev’s  Maidan Square, nothing about the phone call by U.S.  Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, taped by the Russians at the height of the crisis; nothing about the Russian naval base at Sevastopol on the Black Sea.  Nothing about the sanctions imposed on the Russians since the crisis began. Nothing about the Ukrainian army offensives in the southeast. Nothing about the Ukrainian vote to join NATO that may have triggered the January offensive. Nothing to note that all this is happening on Russia’s doorstep.  Is it any wonder Putin is “doubling down”?

The scariest thing of all is that it may be Putin who has been telling the fundamental truth all along:  NATO expansion in Georgia Ukraine is unacceptable to him and Russia is willing to go to war to rule it out. He’s been improvising, all right, but often in response to probes – Ukrainian, European, U.S.  For a fuller argument along these lines, see Gordon Hahn’s illuminating commentary on ''The American Education of Vladimir Putin, ''by Clifford Gaddy and Fiona Hill, which appears in The Atlantic for February.

Meanwhile, a friend, who knows the territory well, writes,

''I think it was Napoleon who said your adversary gets a vote in all battles. Putin is a complex, dangerous, possibly paranoid man. We in the West act in ways consciously or unconsciously that can affect his actions. Could he still be winging it? At times, he could.  I agree with Weiss that Yanukovich surprised, possibly astounded, Putin when he caved. I also think the oil price collapse and ruble meltdown caught him completely unaware. His finance people were not prepared and he fired them. Same for many of his agricultural  folks. Was that winging it or just having to react to tough times? We in the US did not have to fire Bernanke to right the ship in 2009.  There seems to be a purge mentality in Putin that comes from “Soviet man.”

Whoever started it, Putin is now thoroughly buttoned-up in a defensive posture. What’s more dangerous than a Russian bear?  A wounded Russian bear.


David Warsh, a long-time economic historian and business columnist, is proprietor of

David Warsh: Ukraine and 'Planning Armageddon'


So German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande succeeded.   They traveled to Moscow and persuaded Vladimir Putin to pledge to pause and perhaps eventually end Russia’s military support for the Russian-speakers in the Ukrainian civil war – more than 5,000 dead and 1 million refugees so far.

So the pressure on President Obama from U.S.  hawks to begin a proxy war with Russia by supplying weapons to the Ukrainians will ease, at least not now. For a sensible opinion, see Bloomberg View in the days before the bargain

''[T[he law that president Petro Poroshenko signed in December  to end Ukraine’s neutral status and set a course for membership in NATO has created a diplomatic obstacle to peace.  The US and its allies should make clear to Ukraine that its NATO ambitions are unrealistic.  Right or wrong, the alliance doesn’t want Ukraine, and Russia sees its membership in NATO as a red line.''

The Washington Post afterwards took a more pugnacious view

''[T]he deal brokered by German and French leaders with Russia’s Vladimir Putin does little to restrain his ambition to create a puppet state in eastern Ukraine that could be used to sabotage the rest of the country…. By going along with the Europeans’ desperate diplomatic gambit, [Mr. Putin] ensured that not even minor sanctions would be adopted at a European Union summit Thursday. He also provided President Obama with reason to overrule those in his administration seeking to supply arms to Ukraine. Mr. Putin can resume military aggression at will, while the push for new sanctions or weapons could take weeks or months to regain momentum.''

So did the The Wall Street Journal:

''[W]hat better time for Vladimir Putin to agree to another cease-fire that consolidates his military gains, extracts additional political concessions from Kiev, puts off further Western sanctions, and gives President Obama another diplomatic alibi not to supply Ukraine’s demoralized and ill-equipped military with desperately needed defensive weapons?… Mr. Putin will consolidate his latest victory, survey the European landscape for weak spots, and make another move before America gets a new President who might do more to resist his conquests.''

But it was The Economist, in its first major outing under new editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, that went over the top. On the cover, a sinister Putin manipulates strings attached to gullible European marionettes, figures who are not shown. Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande?  No, only Europe’s emergent populist parties, including Syriza in Greece, at least if you believe the sidebar. The editorial, “The View from the Kremlin: Russia’s War on the West,” begins:

''He is ridiculed for his mendacity and ostracized by his peers. He presides over a free-falling currency and a rapidly shrinking economy. International sanctions stop his kleptocratic friends from holidaying in their ill-gotten Mediterranean villas. Judged against the objectives Vladimir Putin purported to set on inheriting Russia’s presidency 15 years ago – prosperity, the rule of law, westward integration – regarding him as a success might seem bleakly comical.  But those are no longer his goals, if they ever really were. Look at the world from his perspective, and Mr. Putin is winning….His overarching aim is to divide and neuter that alliance [NATO], fracture its collective approach to security, and resist and roll back its advances.''

Then in a long essay, “What Russia Wants:  From Cold War to Hot War.”

''Nearly a quarter-century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West faces a greater threat from the East than at any point during the cold war. Even during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, Soviet leaders were constrained by the Politburo and memories of the Second World War. Now, according to Russia’s chief propagandist, Dmitry Kiselev, even a decision about the use of nuclear arms 'will be taken personally by Mr Putin, who has the undoubted support of the Russian people'. Bluff or not, this reflects the Russian elite’s perception of the West as a threat to the very existence of the Russian state

''In this view Russia did not start the war in Ukraine, but responded to Western aggression. The Maiden uprising and ousting of Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine’s president were engineered by American special services to move NATO closer to Russia’s borders. Once Mr Yanukovych had gone, American envoys offered Ukraine’s interim government $25 billion to place missile defenses on the Russian border, in order to shift the balance of nuclear power towards America. Russia had no choice but to accept.''

In fact, many sophisticated Europeans and Americans share the basic Russian view of the situation.  They see the campaign to expand NATO to Russia’s southern borders as the fundamental cause of Ukrainian civil war.  Essentially this seems to be the Bloomberg View. Subsequent editorials (you have to know where to look)  here, here, and here take a sterner but still sensible view. )

Whence the dissonance between Bloomberg and The Economist?

As it happens, I have been reading Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War, by Nicholas A Lambert (Harvard, 2012). Towards the end of the book, an idea tumbled out.

Planning Armageddon has been making the rounds in national security circles since it appeared, for obvious reasons:  If plans for an economic blitzkrieg were first developed a hundred years ago, based on British recognition that that international trade had become so important it might be possible to cripple and collapse as rival’s financial system by a series of swift moves in the event off war, how much greater must be the field for mischief in the present age?

It turns out such plans were developed – and even put into action.  Historians have long known that all sides expected a war in 1914 to end quickly.  Lambert shows why.  The Germans had their Schlieffen Plan, led off by a quick march through the neutral Low Countries to capture Paris, based on Prussia’s earlier triumph in the Franco-Prussian War, in 1870.  The Brits, it turns out, had the Desart Committee’s plan for all-out economic war.

Worked out in considerable detail by the Admiralty between 1905 and 1908, the British plan involved using all possible means to disrupt Germany’s trade, chiefly its  food supply, including instigating a banking panic.  A Committee on Imperial Defense refined the plan.  In 1913, the government approved it.  And on Aug. 4,  1914, two weeks after Austrian government  made  an unprecedented threat to government of Serbia, it was put into action.

Immediately the economic war plan began to crumble, The panic touched off by the news that was imminent was worse than had been expected.  The ban on trading with the enemy affected not just but neutral nations, especially the United States, but powerful groups in Britain, too.  The British Board of Trade and the Foreign Office turned immediately against the government’s plan.

By the end of August the British cabinet had begun to dilute it in favor of a very different policy they called “blockade” – and sent an expeditionary force to the Continent instead.

Protected by wartime censorship and secrecy until official histories could render it all but invisibility, the aborted economic blitzkrieg disappeared from view – until Lambert, with access to previously secret archival materials, brought it to modern attention.    Here are three expert reviews of his book, and a response from the author.  It’s as good a story as Erskine Childers’s 1903 classic novel, The Riddle of the Sands, with the added virtue that it’s true.  .

One thing I took away from Planning Armageddon is that military strategists in capitals around the world can be counted on to be doing with computers and present-day financial communication systems what their Edwardian counterparts were doing a hundred years ago – laying plans to disrupt their foes’ economies as thoroughly as possible if it comes to war,.  When Russia’s Kiselev says Putin  will use nuclear weapons if the existence of the Russian state is threatened, economic Armageddon is the kind of thing he’s got in mind – an all-out attempt to starve the Russian government into submission.

The other thing I took away is that, just as market interests swamped the British plan for all-out economic war in 1914, probably they will disrupt the clamor for U.S.  proxy war with Russia in 2015.  There’s a reason that Bloomberg View takes a calmer stance towards the Russian bullying of Ukraine than does The Economist. Its subscribers have more skin in the game.

David Warsh, a long-time financial journalist and economic historian, is proprietor of

A morning on this and that

A few Boxing Day observations:  

New Englanders are always complaining about their high electricity  rates even as they let frenzied and often well financed  and affluent not-in-my-backyard folks keep out the additional natural-gas pipelines, hydro-power, wind power, nuclear and even solar power that would bring down those rates and diversify their power sources so they aren't so vulnerable to one power source's price and supply gyrations.


As a nifty series in The Wall Street Journal implies,  you could expand healthcare if you really went after the physicians and other providers who are defrauding Medicare by many billions of dollars a year.



Donald Hall's latest book, Essays After Eighty, is well worth buying. The New Hampshire-based poet/essayist's take on aging is good medicine for all of us rapidly heading toward, or already in, old age.

As for me, I'll repeat the observation of other old people that the best thing about being  elderly is being able to easily say no to requests to do something you really don't want to do but may have felt compelled  to do by a sense of duty or the desire to be liked, or at least not disliked. Those concerns fall off like a snake shedding its skin.

And both those who liked you and disliked you disappear from the scene at an accelerating rate.




It's sad to know that  Turkish  President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now a  kleptocratic, narcissistic, bigoted and anti-women dictator who is installing a police state. Turkey is a member of NATO but it's hard to know how long that can continue, since, in principle anyway, NATO members are supposed to be democracies. Erdogan is also cozying up to fellow dictator Vladimir Putin.

Erdogan, increasingly pathological in his lies, will presumably continue to use state apparatus to squelch dissent, and, like, Putin play the xenophobia card, as would any good demagogue.


--- R0bert Whitcomb



David Warsh: The 'pie-giver' and the 'liberal' vs. 'realist' view of Russia

Perhaps the single most intriguing mystery of the Ukrainian crisis has to do with how the Foreign Service officer who served as deputy national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney for two years, starting on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, became the Obama administration’s point person on Russia in 2014. Victoria Nuland took office as assistant secretary of  state for European and Eurasian affairs a year ago this week.
It was Nuland who in February was secretly taped, probably by the Russians, saying “F--- the E.U.” for dragging its feet in supporting Ukrainian demonstrators seeking to displace its democratically elected pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, two months after he rejected a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of one with Russia. She made a well-publicized trip to pass out food in the rebels’ encampment on Kiev’s Maidan Square in the days before Yanukovych fled to Moscow.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin said the other day, “Our Western partners, with the support of fairly radically inclined and nationalist-leaning groups, carried out a coup d'état [in Ukraine]. No matter what anyone says, we all understand what happened. There are no fools among us. We all saw the symbolic pies handed out on the Maidan,” Nuland is the pie-giver he had in mind.
Before she was nominated to her current job, Nuland was State Department spokesperson under Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton during the congressional firestorm over the attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.
So how did the Obama administration manage to get her confirmed – on a voice vote with no debate?  The short answer is that she was stoutly defended by New York Times columnist David Brooks and warmly endorsed by two prominent Republican senators, Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and John McCain, of Arizona.
Clearly Nuland stands on one side of a major fault-line in the shifting, often-confusing tectonic plates of U.S. politics.
A good deal of light was shed on that divide by John Mearsheimer, of the University of Chicago, in an essay earlier this month in Foreign Affairs.  In “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault,” Mearsheimer described the U.S.  ambitions to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit via expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as the taproot of the crisis.  Only after Yanukovych fled Ukraine did Putin move to annex the Crimean peninsula, with its longstanding Russian naval base.
Mearsheimer writes:
Putin’s actions should be easy to comprehend. A huge expanse of flat land that Napoleonic France, imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany all crossed to strike at Russia itself, Ukraine serves as a buffer state of enormous strategic importance to Russia. No Russian leader would tolerate a military alliance that was Moscow’s mortal enemy until recently moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government there that was determined to integrate Ukraine into the West.
Washington may not like Moscow’s position, but it should understand the logic behind it. This is Geopolitics 101: great powers are always sensitive to potential threats near their home territory. After all, the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, much less on its borders. Imagine the outrage in Washington if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it. Logic aside, Russian leaders have told their Western counterparts on many occasions that they consider NATO expansion into Georgia and Ukraine unacceptable, along with any effort to turn those countries against Russia -- a message that the 2008 Russian-Georgian war also made crystal clear.
Why does official Washington think any different? (It’s not just the Obama administration, but much of Congress as well.)  Mearsheimer delineates a “liberal” view of geopolitics that emerged at the end of the Cold War, as opposed to a more traditional “realist” stance.  He writes,
As the Cold War came to a close, Soviet leaders preferred that U.S. forces remain in Europe and NATO stay intact, an arrangement they thought would keep a reunified Germany pacified. But they and their Russian successors did not want NATO to grow any larger and assumed that Western diplomats understood their concerns. The Clinton administration evidently thought otherwise, and in the mid-1990s, it began pushing for NATO to expand.
The first round of NATO expansion took place in 1999, and brought the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland into the treaty. A second round in 2004 incorporated Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.  None but the tiny Baltic Republics shared a border with Russia. But in 2008, in a meeting in Bucharest, the Bush administration proposed adding Georgia and Ukraine.  France and Germany demurred, but the communique in the end flatly declared, “These countries will become members of NATO.”  This time Putin issued a clear rejoinder – a five-day war in 2008 which short-circuited Georgia’s application (though Georgia apparently continues to hope).
The program of enlargement originated with key members of the Clinton  administration, according to Mearsheimer. He writes:
They believed that the end of the Cold War had fundamentally transformed international politics and that a new, post-national order had replaced the realist logic that used to govern Europe. The United States was not only the “indispensable nation,” as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it; it was also a benign hegemon and thus unlikely to be viewed as a threat in Moscow. The aim, in essence, was to make the entire continent look like Western Europe.
In contrast, the realists who opposed expansion did so in the belief that Russia had voluntarily joined the world trading system and was no longer much of a threat to European peace. A declining great power with an aging population and a one-dimensional economy did not, they felt, need to be contained.
 Mearsheimer writes:
And they feared that enlargement would only give Moscow an incentive to cause trouble in Eastern Europe. The U.S. diplomat George Kennan articulated this perspective in a 1998 interview, shortly after the U.S. Senate approved the first round of NATO expansion. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies,” he said. “I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anyone else.”
Policies devised in one administration have a way of hardening into boilerplate when embraced by the next. So thoroughly have liberals come to dominate discourse about European security that even the short war with Georgia has done little to bring realists back into the conversation. The February ouster of Yanukovych is either cited as the will of a sovereign people yearning to be free or, more frequently, simply ignored altogether.
  Mearsheimer writes:
The liberal worldview is now accepted dogma among U.S. officials. In March, for example, President Barack Obama delivered a speech about Ukraine in which he talked repeatedly about “the ideals” that motivate Western policy and how those ideals “have often been threatened by an older, more traditional view of power.” Secretary of State John Kerry’s response to the Crimea crisis reflected this same perspective: “You just don’t in the twenty-first century behave in nineteenth-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.”
Nuland was present at the creation of the liberal view. She served for two years in the Moscow embassy, starting in 1991; by 1993 she was chief of staff to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. She directed a study on NATO enlargement for the Council on Foreign Relations in 1996, and spent three more years at State as deputy director for Former Soviet Union Affairs.
After a couple of years  of Nuland being on the beach at the Council on Foreign Relations, President George W. Bush named her deputy ambassador to NATO, in 2001. She returned to Brussels in the top job after her service to Cheney. When Obama was elected, she cooled her heels as special envoy to the Talks on Conventional Forces in Europe for two years until Clinton elevated her to spokesperson. Secretary of State John Kerry promoted her last year.
It seems fair to say that Putin has trumped Obama at every turn in the maneuvering over Ukraine – including last week, when the Russian president concluded a truce with the humbled Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko while leaders of the NATO nations fumed ineffectively at their biennial summit, this year in Wales. Never mind the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; China; Israel. Even in Europe, the president’s foreign policy is in tatters.
Backing away from the liberal view is clearly going to be costly for some future presidential aspirant. The alternative is to maintain the expensive fiction of a new Cold War.
David Warsh is a longtime financial journalist and economic historian. He is proprietor of

Blame Russia for Russian aggression


Some denounce the United States for Russia’s reversion to brutal expansionism into its “Near Abroad” because we encouraged certain Central and Eastern European countries to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The argument is that NATO’s expansion led “Holy Russia” to fear that it was being “encircled.” (A brief look at a map of Eurasia would suggest the imprecision of that word.)

In other words, it’s all our fault. If we had just kept the aforementioned victims of past Russian and Soviet expansionism out of the Western Alliance, Russia wouldn’t have, for example, attacked Georgia and Ukraine. If only everyone had looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and decided to trust him.

Really? Russia has had authoritarian or totalitarian expansionist regimes for hundreds of years, with only a few years’ break. How could we have necessarily done anything to end this tradition for all time after the collapse of the Soviet iteration of Russian imperialism? And should we blame Russia’s closest European neighbors for trying to protect themselves from being menaced again by their gigantic and traditionally aggressive neighbor to the east? Russia, an oriental despotism, is the author of current Russian imperialism.

Some of the Blame America rhetoric in the U.S. in the Ukraine crisis can be attributed to U.S. narcissism: the idea that everything that happens in the world is because of us. But Earth is a big, messy place with nations and cultures whose actions stem from deep history and habits that have little or nothing to do with big, self-absorbed, inward-looking America and its 5 percent of the world population. Americans' ignorance about the rest of the planet -- even about Canada! -- is staggering, especially for a "developed nation''.

And we tend to think that “personal diplomacy” and American enthusiasm and friendliness can persuade foreign leaders to be nice. Thus Franklin Roosevelt thought that he could handle “Joe Stalin” and George W. Bush could be pals with another dictator (albeit much milder) Vladimir Putin. They would, our leaders thought, be brought around by our goodwill (real or feigned).

But as a friend used to say when friends told him to “have a nice day”: “I have other plans.”

With the fall of the Soviet Empire, there was wishful thinking that the Russian Empire (of which the Soviet Empire was a version with more globalist aims) would not reappear. But Russian xenophobia, autocracy, anger and aggressiveness never went away.

Other than occupying Russia, as we did Japan and Western Germany after World War II, there wasn’t much we could do to make Russia overcome its worst impulses. (And Germany, and even Japan, had far more experience with parliamentary democracy than Russia had.) The empire ruled from the Kremlin is too big, too old, too culturally reactionary and too insular to be changed quickly into a peaceable and permanent democracy. (Yes, America is insular, too, but in different ways.)

There’s also that old American “can-do” impatience — the idea that every problem is amenable to a quick solution. For some reason, I well remember that two days after Hurricane Andrew blew through Dade County, Fla., in 1992, complaints rose to a chorus that President George H.W. Bush had not yet cleaned up most of the mess. How American!

And of course, we’re all in the centers of our own universes. Consider public speaking, which terrifies many people. We can bring to it extreme self-consciousness. But as a TV colleague once reminded me, most of the people in the audience are not fixated on you the speaker but on their own thoughts, such as on what to have for dinner that night. “And the only thing they might remember about you is the color of the tie you’re wearing.”

We Americans could use a little more fatalism about other countries.


James V. Wyman, a retired executive editor of The Providence Journal, was, except for his relentless devotion to getting good stories into the newspaper, the opposite of the hard-bitten newspaper editor portrayed in movies, usually barking out orders to terrified young reporters. Rather he was a kindly, thoughtful and soft-spoken (except for a booming laugh) gentleman with a capacious work ethic and powerful memory.

He died Friday at 90, another loss for the "legacy news media.''


My friend and former colleague George Borts died last weekend. He was a model professor — intellectually rigorous, kindly and accessible. As an economist at Brown University for 63 years (!) and as managing editor of the American Economic Review, he brought memorable scholarship and an often entertaining skepticism to his work. And he was a droll expert on the law of unintended consequences.

George wasn’t a cosseted citizen of an ivory tower. He did a lot of consulting for businesses, especially using his huge knowledge of, among other things, transportation and regulatory economics, and wrote widely for a general audience through frequent op-ed pieces. He was the sort of (unpretentious) “public intellectual” that we could use a lot more of.


I just read Philip K. Howard’s “The Rule of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government.” I urge all citizens to read this mortifying, entertaining and prescriptive book about how our extreme legalism and bureaucracy imperil our future. I’ll write more about the book in this space.

Robert Whitcomb (, a former editor of The Providence Journal's editorial pages, is a Providence-based writer and editor, former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune and a partner and senior adviser at Cambridge Management Group (, a consultancy for health systems, and a fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy.

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