At the TLS: Stephen Kotkin reviews four books on the former Soviet Union, and Russia.

Rootless Cosmopolitan comments.

In the March 11, 2022 TLS Stephen Kotkin reviews four books:


The making of a statesman
Translated by John Heath
512pp. I. B. Tauris. £30.

Susanne Schattenberg



The fall of the Soviet Union
560pp. Yale University Press. £25 (US $35).

Vladislav M. Zubok



America, Russia, and the making of post-Cold War stalemate
568pp. Yale University Press. £25 (US $35).

M. E. Sarotte



Inside the Cold War mind
592pp. Wellcome Collection. £25.

Martin Sixsmith


The first paragraph of Mr. Kotkin’s review begins :

At Munich in 1938, Adolf Hitler succeeded in his extortion. He had menaced Czechoslovakia with subversion, border provocations and imminent invasion, charging that the Czechoslovak state was a sham, in violation of the principle of self-determination, and accusing its mild-mannered president of plotting to exterminate the ethnic German minority. Neville Chamberlain for the United Kingdom and Edouard Daladier for France, with Benito Mussolini presiding as dishonest broker, handed the predominately ethnic German Sudetenland territory of sovereign Czechoslovakia to the Reich. Germany gained possession of some 70 per cent of the industrialized country’s iron and steel production, as well as the famed Škoda Works, among Europe’s top defence plants, without having to pay compensation. Nonetheless, the Führer went home furious – the British and the French had cheated him of the victorious war he craved. He soon invaded the rest of democratic Czechoslovakia.

And in is his next paragraph:

Vladimir Putin is no Hitler. True, he forcibly annexed his Sudetenland equivalent, the predominantly ethnic Russian Crimea, and depicted this action as an exercise in self-determination. And he continued to rail against Ukraine as an artificial state, asserting that Russians and Ukrainians were “one people”, even as he baselessly charged Ukraine with genocide against ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s Donbas, where he sponsored armed separatists. He backed cyberattacks and other subversion and, beginning in late 2021, surrounded Ukraine with an immense invasion force, stationing troops in Belarus, and consolidating his hold over that country, too. He had his foreign ministry publish two draft treaties – ultimatums, for Washington and for NATO – to codify his demands, beginning with his most important one – “no more NATO expansion eastwards and especially not for Ukraine” – and extending to a total rollback of NATO deployments to all members admitted after 1997. He also called for a ban on certain weapons in Europe that he deemed a threat to Russia’s heartland. Unlike Hitler, however, Putin does not aim for conquest of the continent, and he would have been over the moon if the West had granted his demands without him having to wage war.

As a Reader, I would note, that rhetorical proximity reveals, that the Hitler reference and his denial ‘that Putin is no Hitler’ is central to Prof. Kotkin’s front page propaganda, in the TLS. That he is a Senior Fellow at The Hoover Institution should alert The Reader to Prof. Kotkin’s politics. Not to ignore this review, in Jacobin, of Prof. Kotkin’s ‘Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928’ by John Marot that is instructive as to Kotkin’s politics.

Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928, is the first of a projected three-volume biography of the Soviet despot written by Stephen Kotkin, John P. Birkelund Professor of History and International Studies at Princeton University, and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Kotkin dedicates his Stalin to John P. Birkelund — “businessman, benefactor, fellow historian.” I had never heard of Mr Birkelund before, so I looked him up.

A Princeton ’52 graduate, Mr Birkelund was Chairman of the Wall Street investment firm Dillon, Read & Co. between 1986 and 1998; sat on more than a dozen Company Boards, including Barings Bank and the New York Stock Exchange; and was a trustee for a similar number of public organizations, notably the Frick Collection and the New York Public Library.

A standard-bearer of free-market politics, Birkelund was active in the Republican Party, contributing financially to the Senate electoral campaign of Pete Coors (the beer tycoon) in 2004 and the presidential runs of Bush/Cheney in 2004 and McCain/Palin in 2008. Mr Birkelund is a class act.

Prof. Kotkin again employs the proximity to Hitler:

Western leaders – this time – refused to capitulate to the extortion. And Putin rolled the iron dice. Somehow, the Russian president’s extensively telegraphed invasion stunned almost all Western capitals, Asian capitals, much of the American political establishment, and many members of Russia’s loyalist establishment. He did not shock US and UK intelligence, however.

Prof. Kotkin then writes a History Made To Measure:

Before the Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev was out of the Kremlin, Russian president Boris Yeltsin was demanding the return of Crimea from Ukraine to the Russian republic, and throughout the 1990s Russian officials bitterly complained about the new international arrangements following the Soviet collapse. A Russia flat on its back could not prevent the United States and its allies from doggedly enlarging the West’s voluntary sphere of influence to former Warsaw Pact countries and some Soviet republics that requested inclusion, but Putin openly, methodically rebuilt the wherewithal to push back. He made it clear that he wanted a deal for spheres of influence whereby Ukraine was in a non-voluntary Russian sphere, or he would act. Again and again he said: this is about Ukraine and NATO. “We have nowhere to retreat”, he announced on state television on January 22. “They have taken it to the point where we simply must tell them: ‘Stop!’” Were there alternatives that were missed, and that even now could be reclaimed?

What escapes Prof . Kotkin’s attention, in thrall to his academic arrogance, on the Post- Soviet Russia: Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin. The link below from the National Security Archive is an antidote to Prof. Kotkin’s propaganda.

Headline: Weekend Read: Critical Resources on Russia’s War in Ukraine: Documents on NATO Expansion, Putin’s Rise to Power, and Russian Cyber Tactics

Also this essay is essential reading, which is linked to, in the above collection , but deserves The Readers special attention;

Headline: NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard

Sub-headline: Declassified documents show security assurances against NATO expansion to Soviet leaders from Baker, Bush, Genscher, Kohl, Gates, Mitterrand, Thatcher, Hurd, Major, and Woerner… Slavic Studies Panel Addresses “Who Promised What to Whom on NATO Expansion?”

Prof. Kotkin and The Times are political fellow travelers, not to forget The Hoover Institution, as another well established, indeed sclerotic, member of that coterie. But the moment has come for the actual book reviews, still framed in that History Made to Measure:

This Susanne Schattenberg quote is the purest kind of political kitsch:

“I expected to be working on a Stalinist, a hardliner, an architect of domestic and foreign policies of repression”, she confesses. “To my surprise, I quickly realized that this was too simplistic a picture. Brezhnev left the dissidents to the KGB chiefs, [Alexander] Dubček was his protégé, not his enemy.” She adds: “Instead of a dogmatic ideologue, a heart-throb who loved fast cars and liked to crack jokes. I will not escape accusations of being something of a Brezhnev apologist”.

After this Prof. Kotkin spends 424 words on Schattenberg’s book e. g. :

The prose in Brezhnev: The making of a statesman doesn’t sparkle, but its protagonist does.

Vladislav M. Zubok’s book garners 1,038 words of praise, the first paragraph:

Vladislav M. Zubok, author of Collapse: The fall of the Soviet Union, positions himself as a still more ambitious revisionist, arguing not only that the Soviet Union was nowhere near breakdown under Brezhnev, but that almost to the very end it could have been preserved. He offers an excruciatingly paced yet remarkably reliable narrative, effectively covering two years, 1990 and 1991. His exactitude punctures many a myth, especially on the economy, as he sifts an immense body of research to discover, among other things, that egregious financial mismanagement, not excessive defence outlays, proved fatal. He also slices through the prattle about the ineluctable forces of nationalism, showing that it was not Ukraine but Yeltsin’s Russia which opportunistically drove the stake through the Soviet Union’s heart. “A former Russian peasant from the village of Butka in the Urals had just disbanded the realm that Peter the Great and Catherine the Great had built, and which Lenin and Stalin had resurrected”, Zubok writes. “It was the Soviet Union that had defeated Hitler’s armies, the country with which Yeltsin had identified until only very recently. And how would those tens of millions of people, who had voted for him and for Russia’s sovereignty, feel when they learnt that their common home had been taken away from them?” Zubok grew up there. It’s personal.

Freedom at stake

After the the unrelenting propaganda Prof. Kotkin’s essay comes alive. In the next paragraph Kotkin mentions Alexander Zinoviev’s Katastroika –I had readThe Yawing Heights in the 1980’s, but can’t seem to find an English language copy of Katastroika!

The Reader can explore this 1, 038 word excerpt of his review, for herself. Yet ‘Voices of Glasnost: Gorbachev’s Reformers Speak’, by Stephen F. Cohn and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, offer something quite valuable to The Reader, a set of interviews with the very architects of Glasnost!

The next review is of M. E. Sarotte’s ‘Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the making of post-Cold War stalemate’:

Enter M. E. Sarotte. Her engaging book, Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the making of post-Cold War stalemate, draws its title from a conversation between Baker and Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, about German unification, and superficially appears to corroborate Putin’s case. “Baker uttered the words as a hypothetical bargain”, Sarotte recounts. “What if you let your part of Germany go, and we agree that NATO will ‘not shift one inch eastward from its present position?’” Gorbachev did not fix the verbal offer in a signed agreement, and, in his meeting the next day with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, he bestowed an unconditional commitment to the Germans to decide their fate. Later, writes Sarotte, Gorbachev lied about these episodes because he had messed up, while Baker falsified his own memoir, drafted by his aide Andrew Carpendale, who objected to the rewriting of the record. Sarotte, along with the private National Security Archive in Washington, helped declassify many of the key documents that show a parade of Western officials suggesting, for a brief moment, limits on NATO enlargement. Despite its title, however, these vague vows are not the book’s subject. Sarotte reminds us that, in 1997, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act, fixing in writing the absence of restrictions on NATO expansion to former Warsaw Pact countries or former Soviet republics. Yeltsin had tried to secure a Russian veto over expansion but failed, although he announced at a press conference that he had succeeded.

Here is a link to an essay by Mary Sarotte, adapted from her book, published in The Financial Times of February 24, 2022. Which can give The Reader a version, that is a more easily accessible sample of her thesis:

Headline: Russia, Ukraine and the 30-year quest for a post-Soviet order

Sub-headline: Historian Mary Elise Sarotte tells the inside story of the west’s efforts to secure a post-cold-war settlement — and how Putin seized on missteps and Russian grievances to destroy it

I have read and commented on this essay.

New York Times March 1, 2022, by Mary Elise Sarotte

Headline: I’m a Cold War Historian. We’re in a Frightening New Era.

I have not read the whole of this essay, but it seems germane to the issues, and is an even more brief, and accessible version of Mary Sarotte thesis.

Next in this parade is Martin Sixsmith book:

Martin Martin Sixsmith, a lifelong Russia hand and a BBC correspondent in Moscow, Brussels and Warsaw during the fateful years (1980–97), admits to having been convinced that 1991 meant “autocracy was dead in Russia, that centuries of repression would be thrown off and replaced with freedom and democracy. But I was wrong”. Like Sarotte, albeit without her sophistication, he partly blames the West, and, to underscore the point, offers a psychological take in The War of Nerves: Inside the Cold War mind. Sixsmith observes, in his characteristic style of marshalling opinions rather than evidence, that “Vladimir Pechatnov, the head of the State Institute of International Relations of the Russian Foreign Ministry, says conflict might have been avoided if the West had paid more attention to Soviet sensitivities”.

Prof. Kotkin attacks Mr. Sixsmith: ‘Like Sarotte, albeit without her sophistication, he partly blames the West, and, to underscore the point, offers a psychological take in The War of Nerves: Inside the Cold War mind. Sixsmith observes, in his characteristic style of marshalling opinions rather than evidence,’ The Reader must look at Mr. Sixsmith as a Deviationist, to borrow a term!

There is more: ‘American leaders had their own psychological needs, Sixsmith avers, and “the bogeyman of a fearsome enemy can unite people as effectively as an inspirational leader”. Yes, it can.’

It is time to insert John Mearsheimer’s video on the Ukraine Question :

Here is Prof. Kotkin’s final paragraph, steeped in the bathos of Munich1938Hitler’s aggressiongangster kleptocracy in Russia, and ‘the fate of the international order’: the place holder for American Hegemony, that given recent History…

Failing to understand the history of how the West defended freedom goes hand in hand with all too many analysts being willing to give away other peoples’ freedom now. At Munich in 1938, the alternative to appeasement was war or genuine deterrence, meaning the credible threat of a military response and other strong measures to inhibit and, if necessary, punish and reverse Hitler’s aggression. Even as rogue leaders of powerful states are being dealt with resolutely, whether in the case of genocidal or today’s gangster kleptocracy in Russia, their wider elites need to feel they have a stake in the international order, which means engaging in concerted, realistic diplomacy, too.

Rootless Cosmopolitan

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Is Martin Wolf the voice of ‘political reason’ at The Financial Times?

Political Cynic comments.

Headline: There are no good choices for the west on Ukraine

Sub-headline: It should strengthen sanctions, though they may ruin Russia’s economy without changing its policy or regime

Note that the cartoon, that tops the essay by Wolf , is awash in the current vogue for Stan Lee’s Marvel Comic World that has infected even the staid Financial Times.

Wolf offers a Moral Melodrama in an almost Theological Frame, featuring Putin The Terrible. It could be an improbable hybrid of Jonathan Edwards and Joseph Alsop?

Evil exists. It sits in the Kremlin consumed by resentment and lust for power. It marches into a country whose crime was to dream of freedom and democracy. How is such evil to be defeated? Might economic sanctions, combined with the resistance of the Ukrainian people, force Vladimir Putin into retreat? Or might they even lead to his overthrow? Alternatively, might he risk escalation up to use of nuclear weapons?

After his obligatory theology Mr. Wolf then resorts to a kind of political realism?

Beyond doubt, the sanctions the west has used are powerful. Putin has even called them “akin to an act of war”. Russia has been largely cut out of the global financial system and more than half of its foreign reserves have been rendered useless. Western businesses are frightened of continuing to engage with Russia, for reputational and prudential reasons. Neil Shearing, chief economist of Capital Economics, forecasts a peak-to-trough fall in gross domestic product of 8 per cent, followed by a lengthy period of stagnation. The jump in the central bank’s interest rate to 20 per cent will on its own be costly. Shearing may well be too optimistic. (See charts.)

Restrictions on energy exports are an obvious next step, as the Biden administration argues, against German opposition. It is, to say the least, objectionable that the high energy prices caused by Putin’s crimes also finance them. The Ukrainian economist Oleg Ustenko has argued strongly for such a boycott. Harvard’s Ricardo Hausmann proposes a neat alternative: a tax of 90 per cent on Russia’s exports of oil and gas. Since supply elasticity is low, he argues, the costs would fall on Russian producers, not western consumers, and so scarcity rents would also be transferred to the latter.

Mr. Wolf moralizing gives way, in this portion of his essay, with Neil Shearing, Oleg Ustenko and Ricardo Hausmann, two Capitalists and a notorious Neo-Liberal. The cast of characters grows, awash in charts and graphs that Mr. Wolf and his employers find to be so evocative to their readership.

McWilliams, B., Sgaravatti, G., Tagliapietra, S. and G. Zachmann (2022) ‘Preparing for the first winter without Russian gas’, Bruegel Blog, 28 February

Inserted into this section is this section is this propaganda, the obedient apologist for the political present, and its imperatives he just mentions Putin, what to name it ‘political paranoia’?

Against this, one can point to the fact that Putin has not mobilised the Russian people for a long war against Ukraine and the west. He even euphemistically called it a “special military operation” against “neo-Nazis”.

The fact that Right Sector, Svoboda and The Azov Battalion are active political agents in Ukraine is irrelevant to Mr. Wolf. They were participants in the 2014 Coup and are still active!

Sergei Guriev and Markus Brunnermeier are next in line of his well credentialed Economic Technocrats.

This followed by this …

Broad sanctions of this kind are a double-edged weapon, since they work by imposing significant costs on ordinary people. Among the biggest losers will be the aspiring middle classes. The regime might find it easy to convince the victims that their pain merely proves western hostility. So, yes, some Russians might blame Putin. But, especially given Putin’s control over the media, a huge number might blame the west, instead.

The Russian ‘aspiring middle classes’ suffering from the effects of the sanctions betrays a creeping doubt in the Wolf encyclical?

Appearing next in Mr. Wolf’s Parade of Technos is Dursun Peksen that Wolf paraphrases:

offers these conclusions: aim for major and immediate damage to the target economy; seek international co-operation; expect autocracies to be more resistant to sanctions than democracies; expect allies to be more responsive than enemies; and, finally, expect sanctions to be less effective in achieving large objectives than modest ones.

The concluding paragraphs of Mr. Wolf’s essay are instructive as to the quandaries, of Western Meddlers on the periphery of Russia, even interference in the political life of Ukraine: Victoria Nuland and Joe Biden among the army of New Cold Warriors. Who are the vanguard that manufactured provocations, in sum their bating of Putin, that led to catastrophe for the Ukrainian People!

In retrospect, there should probably have been less ambiguity over western support for Ukrainian independence. Now, we must do everything we can to support Ukraine’s fight for survival, short of taking what seems the excessive and possibly futile risk of direct injection of Nato air forces into the war. We should strengthen sanctions, though they may ruin Russia’s economy without changing its policy or its regime. We should state that our war is not with Russian people, though they may not forgive us for the pain we are inflicting upon them. We should ask China and India to persuade Putin to end his war, though we must recognise that such an effort is highly likely to fail.

Only bad choices exist. Yet Ukraine cannot be abandoned. We must go on.

Political Cynic


A record of my attempts to construct a reply to Mr. Wolf’s essay. And the reply I posted at The Financial Times:

Notice Wolf’s sources on the boycott : ‘Neil Shearing, chief economist of Capital Economics’:

Mr. Shearing’s very impressive resume here:

‘Ukrainian economist Oleg Ustenko:

Ricardo Hausmann:

Ricardo Hausmann’s ‘Morning After’ for Venezuela: The Neoliberal Brain Behind Juan Guaido’s Economic Agenda


Following Grayzone exposé, top Venezuelan coup official Ricardo Hausmann is forced to resign


Mr. Wolf presents two Capitalists and a Neo-Liberal/Neo-Con, Harvard’s Ricardo Hausman, as his Experts.


Post March 9, 2022 Wolf essay

With Experts like Neil Shearing, Oleg Ustenko and Ricardo Hausmann, that gives way to more Experts…

The Reader confronts the last two paragraphs, as if she hadn’t even moved from the moralizing first paragraph of Mr. Wolf utterly unenlightened essay … except that ‘we’ must remain steadfast!

‘In retrospect, there should probably have been less ambiguity over western support for Ukrainian independence. Now, we must do everything we can to support Ukraine’s fight for survival, short of taking what seems the excessive and possibly futile risk of direct injection of Nato air forces into the war. We should strengthen sanctions, though they may ruin Russia’s economy without changing its policy or its regime. We should state that our war is not with Russian people, though they may not forgive us for the pain we are inflicting upon them. We should ask China and India to persuade Putin to end his war, though we must recognise that such an effort is highly likely to fail.

Only bad choices exist. Yet Ukraine cannot be abandoned. We must go on.’

Call this essay the bludgeoning of political cliché!


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Janan Ganesh on ‘populism’ as the problem of ‘the liberal center’ & its complicity with that amorphous enemy!

Political Reporter comments.

Here is the central conceit of Mr. Ganesh’s essay: its political actor/actors is ‘populism’ , so suggestive, yet so tantalizingly amorphous. Mr. Ganesh’s gift for the telling apercu, is repurposed into this World Historical Fiction: the diagnosis of ‘the liberal center’. Using as his tool, the resort to the rhetorical trickery, of the diminishment of small caps.

Over the course of this young century, the liberal centre has borne out its reputation for softheadedness. Stunning, then, that populism comes out of the present crisis in yet worse shape. Obama’s naiveties about the Kremlin are awkward for Democrats; Donald Trump’s active flirtation with it is much tougher for Republicans to live down. As polls favour Macron for re-election, his wilder rivals have to explain away past flattery of Vladimir Putin. Even online, an entire class of bumptious contrarians, apt to wonder if the US would put up with a communist Mexico and so on, has become tongue-tied of late.

Over the course of this young century, the liberal centre has borne out its reputation for softheadedness. Stunning, then, that populism comes out of the present crisis in yet worse shape. Obama’s naiveties about the Kremlin are awkward for Democrats; Donald Trump’s active flirtation with it is much tougher for Republicans to live down. As polls favour Macron for re-election, his wilder rivals have to explain away past flattery of Vladimir Putin. Even online, an entire class of bumptious contrarians, apt to wonder if the US would put up with a communist Mexico and so on, has become tongue-tied of late.

Mr. Ganesh presents a partial list of the political actor/actors of this ‘populism’:

The Trump presidency, Brexit, the French far-right’s entry into the last round of the 2017 presidential race: all happened after the show of force in Aleppo and Crimea.

The Reader has to piece together the fragments of an argument, that begins with the above sentence. Just tracing the progression of his argument, in fragments, might be almost as self-serving, as Mr. Ganesh resort to rhetorical collectivism, but is instructive as to motive?

Central to the appeal of populism is the idea of the effective strongman.

…the autocrat supposedly cuts through (“I alone can fix it,” said Trump of the US).

…Benito Mussolini had a way with commuter-rail logistics.

…Il Duce, then Napoleon, Ataturk and the Chinese Communist party

… had the Ukraine invasion gone to plan…

…A Russian gas-dependent Europe…

… “Autocracy works” …

Mr. Ganesh then turns to an actual argument:

But if that mode of government has structural advantages, the past few weeks have brought into clearer definition its corresponding liabilities. The hubris born of unaccountability, the advisers who are unheeded or cowed into silence, the tendency to coerce what might be better solicited or charmed out of another country over time: the demonstration of classic errors has at times almost risked cliché.

The mention of Robert Conquest on the Soviet Crimes ignores this:

Headline: Stalin Denounced by Nikita Khrushchev

Sub-headline: The Soviet leader gave his famous speech on ‘The Personality Cult and its Consequences’ in a closed session on 25 February 1956.

The twentieth congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union assembled in Moscow in the Great Hall of the Kremlin on February 14th, 1956. It was the first since the death of Josef Stalin in 1953, but almost nothing was said about the dead leader until, in closed session on the 25th, 1,500 delegates and many invited visitors listened to an amazing speech by Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the party, on ‘The Personality Cult and its Consequences’.

Khrushchev denounced Stalin, the cult of personality he had fostered and the crimes he had perpetrated, including the execution, torture and imprisonment of loyal party members on false charges. He blamed Stalin for foreign policy errors, for the failings of Soviet agriculture, for ordering mass terror and for mistakes that had led to appalling loss of life in the Second World War and the German occupation of huge areas of Soviet territory.

Khrushchev’s audience heard him in almost complete silence, broken only by astonished murmurs. The delegates did not dare even to look at each other as the party secretary piled one horrifying accusation on another for four solid hours. At the end there was no applause and the audience left in a state of shock.

One of those who heard the speech was the young Alexander Yakovlev, later a leading architect of perestroika, who recalled that it shook him to his roots. He sensed Khrushchev was telling the truth, but it was a truth that frightened him. Generations in the Soviet Union had revered Stalin and linked their lives and hopes with him. Now the past was being shattered and what they had all lived by was being destroyed. ‘Everything crumbled, never to be made whole again.’

It was an extraordinarily dangerous and daring thing for Khrushchev to do. Solzhenitsyn believed that he spoke out of ‘a movement of the heart’, a genuine impulse to do good. Others have pointed out, more cynically, that it tarred other party leaders with the Stalinist brush, to the ostentatiously repentant Khrushchev’s advantage. It deflected blame from the party and the system on to Stalin’s shoulders. A few months later it was announced that the congress had called for measures ‘for removing wholly and entirely the cult of the individual, foreign to Marxism-Leninism… in every aspect of party, governmental and ideological activity.’

Or this:

Headline: Labour, the Left, and the Stalinist Purges of the Late 1930s by Paul Corthorn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’, first published in November 1962, in the Soviet literary magazine Novy Mir, has escaped Mr. Ganesh attention ? The other examples cited are all retrospective, yet the Medvedev brothers , Andrey Sakharov and Yelena Bonner, Boris Pasternak, Akhmatova: I recall from that time, of following the fate of so many in the Soviet period: from the death of Stalin in 1953, The Hungarian revolution in 1956, The Prague Spring of 1968, the assassination of Georgi Markov in 1978or Solidarity of the early 1980’s. The majority of my reading was in Left/Liberal publications, like The New York Review of Books, that was the key promoter of Isaiah Berlin, and one of his most important books of Intellectual History was Russian Thinkers published in 1978!

Political Reporter

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On the Political Self-rehabilitation of The Neo-Conservatives: Francis Fukuyama on Putin, in The Financial Times

Political Observer comments.

I woke up last night, several times, to the sound of thunder overhead and the fact that it was raining in San Diego , after days of near summer temperatures …

It is Friday March 4, 2022, and usually a time when all those ‘pundits’ of Corporate Media, give way to their seconds . To my amazement The Financial Times has posted on Thursday this essay by Francis Fukuyama in it’s ‘Life and Arts’ section…

Headline: Francis Fukuyama: Putin’s war on the liberal order

Sub-headline: Democratic values were already under threat around the world before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now we need to rekindle the spirit of 1989

This is the first time that I can recall when a ‘Guest Writer’ has won headline status!

The Reader confronts the ‘Fukuyama Method’ in his first bloated paragraph:

‘The horrific Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 has been seen as a critical turning point in world history. Many have said that it definitively marks the end of the post-cold war era, a rollback of the “Europe whole and free” that we thought emerged after 1991, or indeed, the end of The End of History.’

The Reader might recall the images of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, if she were to inconveniently recall the propaganda of the Corporate Media. The Images of Abu Ghraib torture, and the psychologists that practiced that regime of torture, the use of White Phosphorus on Fallujah … The list of American Crimes in its ‘War on Terror’ have been subject to the exercise of self-forgetting:

Headline: At Least 37 Million People Have Been Displaced by America’s War on Terror

Sub-headline: A new report calculates the number of people who fled because of wars fought by the United States since Sept. 11, 2001.

This, as the in order too of blame placing onto Putin, as the current Enemy of Humanity. Putin acts like an American President has acted in the Post-War World – this time using the Cold War antique of NATO as its, what to name it? Biden has declared that the U.S. nor NATO will take part in a ‘defence of Ukraine’ but will use ‘Sanctions’ as its weapon.

Mr. Fukuyama then quotes Ivan Krastev, who is part of the George Soros funded Open Societies Foundation. Mr. Soros was one of the funders of the 2014 Ukrainian Coup. Should The Reader exercises her critical faculties to make note of Mr. Fukuyama’s sources?

The Reader might consider thinking about two important questions before proceeding: that in the almost or near Post-Trump era, wishful thinking or no. The Neo-Conservatives have experienced, or more frankly are conducting their own political rehabilitation, as the not so potent toxin, they once were in relation to the Trump antipolitical politics.

The Impeachment of Trump ex post facto, rehearsed by the hysterical Adam Schiff, presented two new Neo-Conservative personalities to American audiences: Alexander Vindman and Fiona Hill. Such was the beginning of the project of political rehabilitation of The Neo-Conservatives. The Impeachment Trail, after the fact was failed political theatre, but Hill and eventually Vindman have added a bit of life to the shopworn Kristol, The Kagans, and the New York Times’ David Brooks and Bret Stephens. Stephen Hayes hired by NBC, and David Frum at CNN now add Neo-Conservative voices to Corporate Media, a signal that that political rehabilitation is in process? Not to forget that Liz Cheney has become the ‘voice’ of the Anti-Trump Republicans. Is my rhetorical framing near to the mark? Mr. Fukuyama’s essay awaits!

From this sentence : ‘ There is no question that the Russian assault has implications that reach way beyond the borders of Ukraine.’ to this sentence ‘There is no question that the Russian assault has implications that reach way beyond the borders of Ukraine.’ Mr. Fukuyama considers Putin. The remainder of his essay considers the fate of The Liberal World Order . All of this accomplished in a brief 2507 words! Note that Mr. Fukuyama’s source used in his essay is Freedom House:

Primary funding for Freedom House’s programs comes in the form of grants from USAID and U.S. State Department, as well as from other democratic governments—Canada, the EU, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden—and from private foundations, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Mr. Fukuyama provides sub-headings for his essay:

What is Liberalism?

After reading Mr. Fukuyama’s definition, I would suggest that The Reader should consult ‘Liberalism A Counter-History’by Domenico Losurdo:

How Liberalism evolved into something illiberal:

The body of this topic is about The Neo-Liberals, Fukuyama opines ‘On the right, the economic liberalism of the early postwar years morphed during the 1980s and 1990s into what is sometimes labelled “neoliberalism”.’ Having dismissed the notion/practice of Neo-Liberalism, he then praises ‘Liberals’:

Liberals understand the importance of free markets — but under the influence of economists such as Milton Friedman and the “Chicago School”, the market was worshipped and the state increasingly demonised as the enemy of economic growth and individual freedom. Advanced democracies under the spell of neoliberal ideas began trimming back welfare states and regulation, and advised developing countries to do the same under the “Washington Consensus”. Cuts to social spending and state sectors removed the buffers that protected individuals from market vagaries, leading to large increases in inequality over the past two generations.

The questions that Fukuyama avoids at all costs: The Neo-Liberals believe in The Strong State as the Protector/Guardian of the hallowed ‘Free Market’. The Straussians believe in The Strong State as the guarantee that they retain power over the lesser beings of the polity, whom they think they govern by fiat, or in reductivist terms, example. Fukuyama thinks himself one of these Self-Elected Platonic Guardians: his status as the political temperature taker of the Post-Soviet World, in sixteen pages cemented in his mind his status as one of those Guardians. The use of Hegel was inspired. Hegel, next to Heidegger as a kind of Seer, that appealed to the intellectual vanity of the American Provincials, who tasted the toxin of The World Historical as presented by one of their own! Fukuyama adopts the role of The Voice of Political Reason, in the contest of the ideas in The Political Present:

On both the right and the left, foundational liberal ideas were pushed to extremes that then eroded the perceived value of liberalism itself. Economic freedom evolved into an anti-state ideology, and personal autonomy evolved into a “woke” progressive worldview that celebrated diversity over a shared culture. These shifts then produced their own backlash, where the left blamed growing inequality on capitalism itself, and the right saw liberalism as an attack on all traditional values.

The global context:

Liberalism is valued the most when people experience life in an illiberal world. The doctrine itself arose in Europe after the 150 years of unremitting religious warfare that followed the Protestant Reformation. It was reborn in the wake of Europe’s destructive nationalistic wars of the early 20th century. A liberal order was institutionalised in the form of the European Union, and the broader global order of open trade and investment created by US power. It received a big shot in the arm between 1989 and 1991 when communism collapsed and the peoples living under it were freed to shape their own futures.

What follows this is a list of The Villains of The American National Security State:

Russia, China, Syria, Venezuela, Iran and Nicaragua with special attention to Nicolás Maduro!

The spirit of 1989 isn’t dead

Mr. Fukuyama does not know the value of brevity, so he rambles on, an old Straussian gambit, to exhaust The Reader’s patience and resolve!

The travails of liberalism will not end even if Putin loses. China will be waiting in the wings, as well as Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and the populists in western countries. But the world will have learnt what the value of a liberal world order is, and that it will not survive unless people struggle for it and show each other mutual support. The Ukrainians, more than any other people, have shown what true bravery is, and that the spirit of 1989 remains alive in their corner of the world. For the rest of us, it has been slumbering and is being reawakened.

Are ‘The travails of liberalism’ or ‘true bravery’ a substitute for ‘the Spirit of 1989’ ? Look to Andre Voznesensky’s book of 1978, Nostalgia for the Present :

Nostalgia for the present

I don’t know about the rest of you,
but I feel the cruelest
nostalgia -not for the past-
but nostalgia for the present.

A novice desires to approach the Lord
but is permitted to do so only by her Superior.
I beg to be joined, without intermediary,
to the present.

It’s as if I had done something wrong,
Not I even –but others.
I fall down in a field and feel
nostalgia for the living earth.

No one can ever tear you away,
and yet when I embrace you again
I feel overcome by terrible pain
as if you were being stolen from me.

When I hear the nasty tirades
of a friend who has taken a false step,
I don’t look for what he seems to be,
I grieve for what he really is.

A window opening on a garden
will not redeem loneliness.
I long not for art –I choke
on my craving for reality.

And when the Mafia laughs in my face
idiotically, I say:
“Idiots are all in the past. The present
calls for fuller understanding.”

Black water spurts from the tap,
Brackish water, stale water,
rusty water flows from the tap – I’ll wait
for the real water to come.

Whatever is past is past. So much the better.
But I bite at it as at a mystery,
nostalgia for the impending
And I’ll never catch hold of it.

Political Observer

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On The New York Times Public Intellectual: Ross Douthat on Ukraine.

Political Observer comments.

The first four paragraphs of Mr. Douthat’s essay of March 2, 2022: Note that Mr. Douthat has ‘graduated’ from being that moralizing Catholic Scold, to being an expert in Foreign Policy, and in this case War. Yet Mr. Douthat has no military experience, like so many other would be Technocrats!

Headline: Looking for an Endgame in Ukraine

Let’s start with a very cold-sounding observation. The first week of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been the best week for American grand strategy in a very long time.

Before the invasion, the United States faced the following set of challenges: First, we had in Ukraine a tacit client state but not a formal ally, to which we had committed just enough support to make it a tempting target for Russian aggression but not enough — for sound strategic reasons — to actually protect it. Then we had a set of formal allies, our friends in Western and Central Europe, that were economically dependent on Russian resources and less-than-eager to shoulder new military burdens. And we faced a near-superpower rival, China, whose growing Pacific ambitions require American resources and attention, both of which were tied up by our inability to hand off our responsibilities in Europe.

Now everything has changed. Instead of just continuing to prod at Western weak points, Putin has committed himself fully and earned not a victorious coup de main that let him immediately menace Vilnius or Warsaw but the possibility of a long war of attrition if he sticks to his ambitions. At the same time, Europe isn’t just leading the economic and financial response; it’s promising the crucial steps that a succession of American presidents have sought — starting with German rearmament, the keystone of any effort to rebalance our own resources to Asia. And while China no doubt sees advantage in all the turmoil, the staggering start to Putin’s war and the unified and unexpectedly punitive Western response have to slightly dampen its own Taiwanese ambitions.

Unfortunately all these gains in realpolitik terms have come at an immense and increasing price: the suffering and brutalization of Ukrainians (and unwilling Russian conscripts), the economic suffering of ordinary Russians and the small but clearly increased risk of a more existential kind of conflict — the return of the nuclear shadow that lifted with the Cold War’s end.

Here are the ending paragraphs to Mr. Douthat’s ‘analysis’ :

But who actually has the upper hand? Putin offers to trade the territory he’s taken for some of his war aims — recognition of Russian rule over Crimea, neutral status for Ukraine, a repudiation of NATO membership. The Ukrainians and their outraged Western supporters offer to end the war on Russia’s economy in exchange for an unconditional Russian retreat and dismiss the idea of rewarding a criminal invasion in any way.

Between those incommensurate views of the situation, is there a deal to be made? Or is the likely result only stalemate, a new frozen conflict, Russia isolated and wounded and dangerous, and preparations for the next war in both Moscow and Kyiv? And out of the varying options, which is the best outcome for the United States — the one that banks our strategic gains at the lowest cost in human lives and long-term dangers?

So far the Biden administration has met the test of this war’s outbreak quite impressively, both in rallying support for Ukraine and in letting events unfold to our benefit organically without taking outsize risks. But those benefits are provisional, contingent on how the war ends and what kind of peace follows — and those tests are yet to come.

The last paragraph regarding the Biden Administration’s handling of this crises, as ‘quite impressively’ follows the Party Line, from the American Exceptionalism Handbook. The whole essay is too long, and larded with political clichés rather than actual thought.

Political Observer

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@FT Janan Ganesh on ‘The West’s Enemies’

The Reader of Mr. Ganesh’s impersonations of the world weary flaneur, searching for that something, that will address the void -his one true calling, recording for his readership, his thoughts on the surfaces of the World, not its deeper meanings, but those surfaces, that hold his wrapped attention. Sometimes glittering, sometimes utterly mundane. He combines the self-promoting skill of Beau Brummel and the burning literary/political ambition of Benjamin Disraeli of ‘Vivian Grey’. (Disraeli’s book lost my interest when Vivian went on his European travels.) All this accented by his admiration for Tom Wolfe, of the utterly vacuous exercise, of an American version of the The Silver Fork Novel: The Bonfire of The Vanities!

The first paragraph of his latest enunciation:

An oligarch-free London and Côte d’Azur, a more militarised Germany, a Finnish public with eyes for Nato: these are the novelties that have been set in motion over the past week. The ethical rigour of Fifa, which has barred Russia from a World Cup four years after it hosted one, nearly tops the list of surprises.

‘The List of surprises’ !

That comes to nearly journalistic life. Let me take the liberty of reducing portions of this ‘essay’ to its most compelling literary/political apercus, almost:

But not quite. For real exotica, consider the spectacle of a united Washington. No world event since the attacks of September 11 has rallied the west’s most divided capital more than the invasion of Ukraine.

A DC-to-Berlin show of unity and resolve is not the same thing as ultimate victory. There is no guarantee it will even last. But it does expose the central glitch in so much anti-western thought.

Just at the telling moment Mr. Ganesh presents his ‘would be thesis’ featuring ‘Napoleon crossing the Alps and it is Jane Fonda in Hanoi.’

In the telling of its most devoted enemies, the west is an all-powerful oppressor, and a decadent pushover. It foists its values on other parts of the world with violent certitude, and fails to stand up for its way of life due to a fog of post-Christian self-doubt. It is a monolith — the west — and a paper tiger that will come apart at the folds any minute now. It is arrogantly universalist and cringing in its relativism. It is Napoleon crossing the Alps and it is Jane Fonda in Hanoi.

Mr. Ganesh returns to his ‘thesis’ :

True, the US made commitments in Syria a decade ago that it didn’t keep. Europe was weak and incoherent over the Balkans in the 1990s. But the main follies of the west since the second world war — Suez, Vietnam, Iraq — were examples of too much zeal, not too much timidity.

The west “contained” the Soviet Union so tenaciously as to alarm the author of that policy, George Kennan.

Not that this misapprehension is new. In 2004’s Occidentalism, one of those rare works of nonfiction that should be longer, Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit trace the history of the idea that a westerner is a “timid, soft bourgeois”. It was there in Imperial Japan and in al-Qaeda. It simmers away on the wilder edges of American and French conservatism. It is an argument that would almost be worth entertaining if it wasn’t so often paired with its exact inverse: a gripe that the west rides roughshod over the interests of non-liberal powers.

The Reader notes that Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’ is the strategically disappeared political quantity, in the World re-described by Mr. Ganesh: his political place holders Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit, both of these political operatives of ‘Liberalism’ , in its state of agonizing slow motion fissuring.

The Patient Reader is treated to more ‘History Made to Measure’ that ends with this paragraph featuring ‘the wests’ enemies’ – The Reader feels the presence of the etiolated remainder of Samuel P. Huntington’s xenophobia in its World Historical paranoia, that has been Ganeshed!

The latest version of this self-blame is the idea that Ukraine would have been safe had Donald Trump still occupied the White House. It is a notion both perverse (he was impeached, in part, for not making free with armed support for Ukraine) and weirdly messianic. The west’s enemies need no help in misunderstanding it.

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Gideon Rachman’s premature Triumphalism , after only four days of ‘combat’ in Ukraine!

Political Observer comments.

The Reader of Mr. Rachman latest essay has to marvel at his essay, it should be more rightly named War Propaganda, aimed the ‘home front’, that is, its privileged readership.

Mr. Rachman can’t seem to contain his expression of Triumphalism, even after just four days into the conflict. The utter failure of Biden to commit American or NATO troops, to defend Ukraine in is ‘dark hour’ , demonstrates what? Not mentioned is the American/EU 2014 Coup, or the broken promises to Gorbachev. Mr. Rachman is moored in the eternal Political Present, where History is the servant of the Neo-Liberal/Neo-Conservative political alliance, that now commands the loyalty of Corporate Mass-Media!

To complete this is the long analysis of Putin, as political actor in the Post-Soviet governing system. Should The Reader recall that the amiable drunkard and American Puppet Yeltsin appointed Putin? Here is a link to a review of Boris Yel’tsin: Ot Rassveta do Zakata (Boris Yeltsin: From Dawn to Dusk) by Aleksandr Korzhakov, by Yeltsin’s bodyguard.

How Russia Is Ruled

What ends Mr. Rachman’s essay reeks of the black and white World of 1952, and its political monster Stalin, not quite in small caps, though it draws on this political hysteria of another time. Its Putin through the Old Cold War lens, in all its …

Political Observer

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On the political redemption of Ross Douthat ?

Political Cynic speculates.

Has that time spent writing for The New Statesman, as short as his tenure has been, led to Mr. Douthat to reappraise his once obsession with the sexual lives, practices of American Women? That subject will have to wait, on the urgent questions of the political present.

In his latest essay at The New York Times Mr. Douthat takes on the vexing question of Vladimir Putin. Here are the first paragraphs of his February 26, 2022 essay titled ‘Vladimir Putin’s Clash of Civilizations’:

When the United States, in its hour of hubris, went to war to remake the Middle East in 2003, Vladimir Putin was a critic of American ambition, a defender of international institutions and multilateralism and national sovereignty.

This posture was cynical and self-interested in the extreme. But it was also vindicated by events, as our failures in Iraq and then Afghanistan demonstrated the challenges of conquest, the perils of occupation, the laws of unintended consequences in war. And Putin’s Russia, which benefited immensely from our follies, proceeded with its own resurgence on a path of cunning gradualism, small-scale land grabs amid “frozen conflicts,” the expansion of influence in careful, manageable bites.

But now it’s Putin making the world-historical gamble, embracing a more sinister version of the unconstrained vision that once led George W. Bush astray. And it’s worth asking why a leader who once seemed attuned to the perils of hubris would take this gamble now.

I assume that Putin is being sincere when he rails against Russia’s encirclement by NATO and insists that Western influence threatens the historic link between Ukraine and Russia. And he clearly sees a window of opportunity in the pandemic’s chaos, America’s imperial overstretch and an internally divided West.

It’s hard to escape that Mr. Douthat riffs on the themes of Adam Smith’s ‘The Impartial Spectator’ in the most self-serving way. These sentences and sentence fragments inform The Reader of Mr. Douthat’s gambit:

‘When the United States, in its hour of hubris, went to war to remake the Middle East in 2003,…’ , ‘This posture was cynical and self-interested in the extreme. But it was also vindicated by events, as our failures in Iraq and then Afghanistan demonstrated the challenges of conquest, the perils of occupation, the laws of unintended consequences in war.’ , ‘But now it’s Putin making the world-historical gamble, …’ ‘I assume that Putin is being sincere when he rails against Russia’s encirclement by NATO…’

Who can rescue Mr. Douthat from his false modesty, and his attempt to seem what he is not, clever in the art of the exercise of self-serving political rhetoric.

In this vision the future is neither liberal world-empire nor a renewed Cold War between competing universalisms. Rather it’s a world divided into some version of what Bruno Maçães has called “civilization-states,” culturally-cohesive great powers that aspire, not to world domination, but to become universes unto themselves — each, perhaps, under its own nuclear umbrella.

This idea, redolent of Samuel P. Huntington’s arguments in “The Clash of Civilizations” a generation ago, clearly influences many of the world’s rising powers — from the Hindutva ideology of India’s Narendra Modi to the turn against cultural exchange and Western influence in Xi Jinping’s China. Maçães himself hopes a version of civilizationism will reanimate Europe, perhaps with Putin’s adventurism as a catalyst for stronger continental cohesion. And even within the United States you can see the resurgence of economic nationalism and the wars over national identity as a turn toward these kind of civilizational concerns.

*Bruno Maçães leads the way with “civilization-states,” that leads to the racist xenophobe Samuel P. Huntington, and his bloated essay that led his even more inflated best selling book. Read Edward Said’s review here:

Headline: The Clash of Ignorance

Sub-headline: Labels like “Islam” and “the West” serve only to confuse us about a disorderly reality.

With the bit between his teeth, Mr. Douthat proceeds at a gallop, with his Anti-Putin propaganda. The last two paragraphs are not revelatory of his demonstrated ‘political modesty’ but that he follows The Party Line on Putin The Terrible, in his own idiosyncratic way. Mr. Douthat doesn’t just miss the blatant fact that Putin behaves just like an American President e.g. on a Crusade against The Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the Invasion of that state, and the eventual desertion after twenty years, The crimes of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Obama backed Ukrainian Coup of 2014, that legitimized fascists Right Sector, Svoboda, The Azov Battalion! But note that Mr. Douthat can’t quite escape from his penchant for self-serving public moralizing.

But if your civilization-state can’t attract its separated children with persuasion, can they really be kept inside with force? Even if the invasion succeeds, won’t much of Ukraine’s human capital — the young and talented and ambitious — find ways to flee or emigrate, leaving Putin to inherit a poor, wrecked country filled with pensioners? And to the extent that the nationalist vision of Russian self-sufficiency is fundamentally fanciful, might not Putin’s supposedly-greater-Russia end up instead as a Chinese client or vassal, pulled by Beijing’s stronger gravity into a more subordinate relationship the more its ties to Europe break?

These are the long-term challenges even for a Putinism that accepts autarky and isolation as the price of pan-Russian consolidation. But for today, and for as many days as Ukrainians still fight, the hope should be that he never gets a chance to deal with long-term problems — that the history that he imagines himself making is made instead in his defeat.

*senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Political Cynic

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Mary Sarotte’s regret on the collapse of ‘the post-cold-war order’, in The Financial Times!

Old Socialist comments on her melodrama, as political temperature taking!

There is nothing quite like The Financial Times placing an essay about the end of ‘the post-cold-war order’ in the ‘Life And Arts’ section of this newspaper! And that this ‘essay’ began as a book ‘Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate’, from which parts of this essay have been adapted .’ So this 2, 781 word ‘essay’ is an exercise of a cobbled together ‘journalism made to measure’?

Headline: Russia, Ukraine and the 30-year quest for a post-Soviet order

Sub-headline: Historian Mary Elise Sarotte tells the inside story of the west’s efforts to secure a post-cold-war settlement — and how Putin seized on missteps and Russian grievances to destroy it

The Sarotte Melodrama opens:

Why has the post-cold-war order broken apart in a violent fight over Ukraine? It is now beyond question that that order has crumbled, and that Europe will once again, as in 1989, bear a line of division between Moscow-centric and Washington-centric blocs.

It is also beyond question that the source of this tragedy is Vladimir Putin’s insistence on eliminating Ukraine’s independence — because that independence, representing Ukraine’s intolerable freedom (in the Russian president’s eyes) to choose between Russia and the west, is the ultimate reason why violence has come.

As someone who witnessed the dissolution of the old cold-war dividing line while studying abroad in West Berlin in 1989, it is hard to fathom that a latter-day version of it will now return, only further to the east, and with the Baltic states playing the role of West Berlin. I certainly did not expect to see the return of this division in my lifetime.

She sets the stage for the appearance of Vladimir Putin, as she speculates on her proximity, to this political actor in 1989. This has all the faded power, of the black and white world of television spy dramas, of the early Cold War. That were syndicated to independent TV stations in America.

Nor did I have any way of knowing that the person who would recreate it was, back in 1989, not that far away from me in my student flat in divided Berlin, namely a younger Putin as a KGB officer in the East German city of Dresden. Decades later, as president of Russia, Putin became unwilling to tolerate Ukraine’s sovereignty because of that country’s special role in what he views as the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century: the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Here is the central thesis ?

But there is another, lesser-used way to uncover why Ukraine has mattered so much — focusing not on Ukraine itself, but on the way that dispute between the US and Russia over its post-Soviet fate exacerbated tensions between Moscow and Kyiv, leading to today’s conflict. To understand how this fateful conflict evolved, it is necessary to go back to the 1990s. It is apparent from evidence that I, now a history professor, have had declassified (along with other archive materials) that western leaders knew that creating a berth for the newly independent Ukraine was the key to enduring European peace. Yet they could not devise a policy to accomplish that goal. 

Thus begins Sarotte’s version of ‘History Made To Measure’, or at least the Financial Times adaptation? That is the vexing question, that will remain unanswered?

But The Reader has another source not only on Ukraine, but of the NATO question that is central to the Russian/Putin concern:

Headline: NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard

Sub-headline: Declassified documents show security assurances against NATO expansion to Soviet leaders from Baker, Bush, Genscher, Kohl, Gates, Mitterrand, Thatcher, Hurd, Major, and Woerner Slavic Studies Panel Addresses “Who Promised What to Whom on NATO Expansion?”

Washington D.C., December 12, 2017 – U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (

The documents show that multiple national leaders were considering and rejecting Central and Eastern European membership in NATO as of early 1990 and through 1991, that discussions of NATO in the context of German unification negotiations in 1990 were not at all narrowly limited to the status of East German territory, and that subsequent Soviet and Russian complaints about being misled about NATO expansion were founded in written contemporaneous memcons and telcons at the highest levels. 

The documents reinforce former CIA Director Robert Gates’s criticism of “pressing ahead with expansion of NATO eastward [in the 1990s], when Gorbachev and others were led to believe that wouldn’t happen.”[1] The key phrase, buttressed by the documents, is “led to believe.”

Without this key piece, of the vexing Ukrainian catastrophe, Mary Sarotte political intervention, remains an ungainly hybrid: political melodrama/thought experiment. That only functions as Anti-Putin propaganda, a comfortable fit with The Financial Times’ Ideology!

Old Socialist

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Neo-Conservative Bret Stephens on the power of ‘self-belief’!

Political Observer comments.

Bret Stephens has something in common, with another Oil Man’s brat Wm. F. Buckley Jr. ! Both offered themselves as ‘the answer’ to American Decadence, and a loss of faith in American Exceptionalism’s Mission. Mr. Stephens hasn’t yet written his ‘God and Man at Yale’, because his father purchased a sinecure at The Jerusalem Post as his point of entry, into the rhetorical thickets, of an utterly corrupt Political Present. To use the notion of ‘Manifest Destiny’ outside its historical frame , is to engage in a reductivism with a point, as descriptive metaphor. The opening of his essay is awash in bumptious public moralizing, couched in a pastiche of critical evaluations of American arrogance:

Headline: This Is a Moment for America to Believe In Itself Again

Central to much of the skepticism regarding America’s involvement in the crisis in Ukraine is the question, “Who are we?”

Who are we, with our long history of invasions and interventions, to lecture Vladimir Putin about respecting national sovereignty and international law? Who are we, with our domestic record of slavery and discrimination, our foreign record of supporting friendly dictators, and the ongoing injustices of American life, to hold ourselves up as paragons of freedom and human rights? Who are we, after 198 years of the Monroe Doctrine, to try to stop Russia from delineating its own sphere of influence? Who are we, with our habitual ignorance, to meddle in faraway disputes about which we know so little?

The Patient Reader will eventually reach Mr. Stephens’ summing up. It reminds This Reader of the arrogant, self-righteous, not to speak of the hysterical tone of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’. A Sermon Preached at Enfield, July 8th, 1741, although milder. Expressed in the tone of an ersatz regretful responsibility assumed by a superior being, himself, yet none the less … Which leads this writer to the question ‘what is self-belief’ but the careful wrapping of arrogance, expressed in World Historical terms?

The United States used to have self-belief. Our civilization, multiple generations of Americans believed, represented human progress. Our political ideals — about the rule of law, human rights, individual liberties, democratic governance — were ideals for all people, including those beyond our borders. Our literature spoke to the universal human experience; our music to the universal soul. When we fought wars, it was for grand moral purposes, not avaricious aims. Even our worst blunders, as in Vietnam, stemmed from defensible principles. Our sins were real and numerous, but they were correctable flaws, not systemic features.

It goes without saying that this self-belief — like all belief — was a mixture of truth and conceit, idealism and hubris, vision and blindness. It led us to make all sorts of errors, the acute awareness of which has become the dominant strain of our intellectual life. But it also led us to our great triumphs: Yorktown and Appomattox; the 13th and 19th Amendments; the Berlin Airlift and the fall of the Berlin Wall; the Marshall Plan and PEPFAR.

These victories were not the result of asking, “Who are we?” They came about by asking, “Who but us?” In the crisis of Ukraine, which is really a crisis of the West, we might start asking the second question a little more often than the first.

Here in something Mr. Stephens has missed, as reported in his own newspaper!

Political Observer

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