Why Putin Knows Europe Loves It Rough

Timothy Snyder’s recent Kiev presentation on the contending civilizational processes clashing in Ukraine is terrific. He notes today is in many ways a re-litigation of World War I and the contending integrationist agendas in the East. Snyder is concise and lucid.

Snyder is mistaken, however, asserting that EU integration is attributable to military defeats in 1945. European fears about American influence before WW I are the real precursor. European dread then of looming American power before 1914 lead many to ask how Europe could contend with such continental scale market and civilization. They mirrored today’s Russian nationalist and fascist anti-American obsession. To misunderstand this genesis is to miss why Putin’s anti-American assault gains traction so widely in Europe beyond just Moscow funded neo-fascists.

Before WW I European business and governments alike felt compelled to ponder countering American affluence, economies of scale and corrosive ‘leveling’ though mass consumption. American intervention in 1917 confirmed its actual power, underscored by American wealth subsidizing both Weimar and Allied war debt from 1923’s Dawes Paris Conference on. Only England, relying on India, could reasonably think of future, potential near-peer scenarios. Continental European pre-war national rivalries continued to prevent post-war active collaboration.

The Corporal’s continental empire was one answer. Speer and his Ministry of Armaments initiated actual industrial integration only after 1942. Speer found willing partners in France, Scandinavia and elsewhere. Speer enrolled French partners in an effort to scale Luftwaffe production using French components. Baby steps, to be sure. Yet possible because Europe by the 1940s had spent almost half a century looking for an answer to “the American power of scale” and popular culture penetration.

The Soviets had their own answers. The first Five Year Plan began in 1929 (originally proposed in less colossal grandiosity by Trotsky in 1923).

Formal European integration restarted in 1950 building on a Speer-based concept – the European Coal & Steel Community. And so on to Maastricht in 1992, creating today’s EU. The newly born EU represented many new political strands and goals, naturally. One, however, remained. Behind the European ritual of equality and endless meetings and receptions, the EU also finally enabled more than a passively anti-American critique.

In policy terms, the most obvious manifestations immediately began with trade and regulation. The Euro was intended to supplant the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The French quite openly called for the EU (as led by France) to stand up to the “US hyperpower” and so on. The EU’s feeble response to genocide in the Balkans dialed back some hubris. Libya was even worse. EU weakness over Ukraine revealed a unique moral betrayal.

The benefits of Atlantic integration and common cultural ties seemingly transcend these geo-strategic impulses. Most assume “the West” is and always has been “the Allies” (post 1945). Few Americans could explain the differences among the EU, “the Allies”, NATO or a Eurasian Customs Union. Yet still today, the EU regularly and eagerly seeks to curb or cripple American technology companies and promote and subsidize competitors. Co-dependent competition as rational policy choices does not explain the pervasive low-level anti-Americanism in Europe today. That political/psycho-emotional reality taps into something deeper than Iraq/Bush, the crushing aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis or the environment. European fixation on alleged NSA/intelligence community abuses (ignoring European practices) ostentatiously turns a blind eye to Russian penetration of their governments, parties and industry leadership for a reason.

Snyder’s excellent analysis of the European-Russian crisis is actually too constrained. Civilizational questions invoke far more than just 1914. Putin’s anti-Americanism is not just a potent Russian gambit. The ploy ignites a century of European resentments and fears, even if submerged by Cold War expediency until 1991.

Putin would be delighted if observers mistook his anti-American offensive as fuel for the ghetto of Kremlin supported anti-democratic figures such as France’s Le Pen and now Hungary’s Orban. Or for separatist groups such as UKIP in Great Britain. “Russia Today” recently began broadcasting in Germany. It blasts anti-Americanism using both the Left and Right. Political consistency is irrelevant. The goal is de-legitimation and fostering pervasive cynicism. Yes, as Snyder notes, to pull the EU down and apart. But that’s just a step to the ultimate prize.

When Putin speaks of a “united Europe whole and free from Lisbon to Vladivostok” it’s code for Russian revanchist, imperial terms: a continental answer to American (and now Chinese) scale dominated by Moscow. Few in Europe understand this or are motivated to see the difference. The game – and stakes – are much bigger than just the EU and its petty wrangling.

Russia, Ukraine, Europe, France, Germany, Mistral

2014 And Limits Of New Romanticism

2014 And The New Romantics

We’re witnessing another New Romantic historical moment end. We see it wind down in domestic American politics, including L’Affaire Snowden. And in Kiev’s Streets. We turn our gaze from Syrian killing fields. Spontaneous, unorganized mass sentiment failed to create real change anywhere.

1848 Europe’s revolutionary, democratic moment and its lessons come to mind. Europe saw its widest ever democratic revolutionary wave quickly collapse into a Continental reactionary resurgence. Historical analogies should always be suspect, especially here. Yet, we can’t help but ask, “What comes next, now?”


The New Romantics Aren’t A Pop Group

Our last 15 years constitute a Romantic Moment. First it flourished with the Colored Revolutions’ early promise. Even elements of Americans’ manipulated arc in Iraq and Afghanistan floated on misguided sentiment. Mass sentiment erupted in Tehran, ignited the Arab Spring, Syria, rock both Thailand and now Ukraine, again. Obama’s improbable 2008 presidency and aftermath are part of the tableau, too.

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NSA, Obama & Digital Vandals Shaping American Power

One of NSA Director Keith Alexander’s cruelest feats? Forcing some of his fiercest critics (us) again to defend American self-interest and the role and purpose of intelligence. Despite NSA’s (and the Community’s) wanton, flagrant contempt for both. If Neocons were America’s malignant Id at her moment of apogee, then as Nemesis follows Hubris, they ushered in her over soon decline. NSA and the Community, engorged on national security self-entitlement, scuttled behind as ever-present shadow.

We get no pleasure writing that. Nor seeing so much needless and perhaps irretrievable ruin in Snowden’s aftermath. Much of it gleefully celebrated by those who care nothing for American interests, privacy or otherwise. It takes a big man to bring down an epoch in American and global history, they say. So why are Alexander and Snowden perfectly, coevally so small?

Crushed Like A Spent Can Of Diet Coke

The seemingly ancient preceding post here about Obama’s first NSA-focused press conference reads quaintly now. We see in stark relief the cost of this Administration’s (typical) passivity. That’s not to excuse or diminish NSA’s stunning, profoundly stupid (and so totally unnecessary) transgressive acts. But we all should be clear about one distinction – intolerance for NSA’s transgressions is not embracing others’ attempt to exploit political fallout to see America diminished.

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Why Liberals And Non-Rightists Lose The Deficit Hawk War

Striking how today’s Washington deficit and debt debates echo Continental arguments and policies in the 1920s and 1930s. As before, Malthusian linear extrapolation of today’s circumstances leads to a cataclysmic future. Ideology and epistemology fuel and derive sustenance from that apocalypse.

While E.J. Dionne is not often cited here in the bunker, he did sum up the Malthus Cheerleaders well:

The moment’s highest priority should be speeding economic growth and ending the waste, human and economic, left by the Great Recession. But you would never know this because the conversation in our nation’s capital is being held hostage by a ludicrous cycle of phony fiscal deadlines driven by a misplaced belief that the only thing we have to fear is the budget deficit.

A major reason Malthus walks among us again is so few American policy makers are economically literate. And shrink from basic maths. Economists aren’t much better. Consider how ideology as ‘free trade’ ignored mercantilist manipulation from Tokyo, Taipei, Singapore, Seoul and Beijing because ‘consumer welfare’ was the immutable barometer. (Lawyers, too – remember the Chicago School (law and economics) influenced decision that Japan couldn’t dump TVs in America because Japan was a capitalist country and firms don’t do unprofitable things).

MPHG

Adding to difficulties? The federal budget’s opacity and arcana induces a particularly sudden coma. Only the most fanatical (masochistic) dive in. Thus, Paul Ryan’s outsized public presence. And David Walker’s. Who, you ask? A previously obscure U.S. Controller General, he launched his Comeback America Initiative to sound the alarm of budgetary doom without massive and immediate cuts. Omnipresent in D.C. and its Acela Mid Town adjunct, Walker comes perilously close to demanding an emergency government of national deficit reduction act. If you wonder where Joe Scarborough got his talking points (and Mika, too) look no further.

What Ryan and Walker (and les autres) provide are essentially crib sheets for how to sound informed while not really understanding the math, economics or actual budget mechanics. They dodge questions by barraging arcane factoids and posing existential act or die false binaries. They’s also spent years building to this moment. Even if their public notoriety seems overnight. It’s that trifecta – seeming expertise, simple solutions (draconian budget cuts) that people can analogize to their home cheque book, and relentless Malthus meme promotion.

There’re no corresponding figures promoting growth engaged across this full spectrum engagement. Who can and will feed the sound bite news entertainment machines. And walk the halls of Congress, lobbying with hard simplicities. Or taking years to build national grass roots movements.

Bruce Bartlett, for example, as a Republican budget and fiscal analyst long argued for spending restraints under Bush. And was fired for his troubles. He also understands that growth is the solution to debt and deficit constraints. Still, he’s an outlier in most Movement/Republican circles and by temperament and training more wonky than meme political. (Meant as a compliment, Bruce). Krugman has similar but even more profound limits. And so on.

To see E.J. Dionne above write a column is nice. Or the Daily Beast writing that E.J. Dionne wrote that column (albeit showing pretty shoddy understanding of macro-economics 101). This highlights our point. When columns are themselves noteworthy, it underscores the vacancy on the actual political playing field.

Are we wrong? Who’s the champion for a growth-led strategy?

Why Political Alternatives in 2012 Don’t Exist

We’ve been talking to alienated political professionals lately. They’re either no longer welcome by their hyper-meme-soaked bases or alienated by them. Either way, they’re largely watching the football game from the stands. Their more practical (cynical?) colleagues join a team and bury their cognitive dissonance.

Politicians Must Stop Hiding Behind Process And Practice Politics

Why do marginalized political figures in the stands choose to sit there? The obvious excuse? Contemporary politics makes rational, empirical choice impossible. It’s true. But outcome determinative. A politician’s task is to change circumstances as much as adapt to them.

Goldwater, Republican, Ike

Alienated ‘moderate’ political figures and operatives, like Obama, elect to abandon actual politics. Thus no organized political activity to reclaim the Republican Party from the Movement. (Obama as incumbent has his party in a bind). Instead, the alienated political figures embrace the pose of process reform. Easier to appear on Morning Joe and blame congressional failure on needed rule changes or deficit reduction. Reasonable people like Mika after all prefer process. And process leads to the Avalon of compromise.

It’s sophistry, of course. And a convenient posture to be a victim. It’s also the perfect political analog for the intellectually bankrupt TED environment which peddles meaningless sloganeering and Newt-isms as knowledge. Unconnected factoids strung together to sound ‘wise’ in 140 characters.

What would actual politics look like? Let’s stipulate the Movement various strands’ are virulent, vindictive and irrational. Taking them on a daunting personal and professional challenge. Yet it’s not excuse. It’s been done successfully before. And we don’t mean post-1964.

American History Shows How Intellectual Movements Gain Influence

Before the Scopes trial, before The Organization Man, there was the Brandeis Brief. That Brief, which introduced science and empiricism into American law, itself rode the crest of a societal immersion in the scientific method, and Taylorism in manufacturing from the 1880s and 1890s. The sociology for how empirical thought gained widespread embrace is rich and detailed.

The Movement’s multiple successes infiltrating the Republican Party, mainstreaming itself and eventually devouring its institutional host yet another instructive model. Whether empiricism’s rise post-Civil War or the Movement today, neither advanced their cause by claiming process as the answer. Process served the political truth. To argue otherwise is to be another Wilkerson claiming if only the NSC had better paper flow he and General Jello could have beaten Cheney.

Could the current band of sidelined ‘moderate’ politicians and operatives carry a renewed empirical torch through a meme-drenched world? As the current process pose suggests, their political skills may be out of phase. Second, oligarchy collectively may prefer to withhold money, gaming further unravelling until a future, rump stabilization. Recent unsuccessful primary candidates do point to their failures as proof no one wants the message.

Yet it’s a duty to at least try. American history shows political movements culminate after decades of investment. It’s more than 1 or 2 election cycles. Or individual personalities.

To remain on the Acela to MSNBC, sigh, and lament the lack of procedural reform is cowardice.

Election 2012: Tyranny Of The Synthetic

We know no one energized by either campaign. We doubt you do, either.

Our simulacrum of ostensible politics doesn’t conceal any truths. The truth is that there isn’t any. We are stupefied by the brutal collage of jittering, meaningless sensation. That’s the truth. All of which we’ve discussed together here at length before.

That’s not embracing moral or even situational relativism. Our professional conservative friends echo what you, Dear Reader, noted long ago: a Romney ‘victory’ would be a poisoned chalice in any event. Few believe his capacity to govern or control an emboldened Movement.

In the end we happen to be optimists in one narrow sense. We believe a significant number of people yearn for — even if unrecognized — the return of actual Meaning to our culture, our politics and our lives. That we collectively both reject and embrace those rejecting substitution of the false, the symbology, the AutoTuned, the ‘meme’.

Existing politics, however diffuse, can not lead. And may not be able to follow, focus groups and micro-targeted opinion research aside. People craving granular truth are similar to what Apple once said about its customers and market research: they didn’t do any. Because people often don’t know what they want until they see it.

That choice doesn’t exist now. Whatever happens in the Fall of 2012, the synthetic will still be entrenched. Readers here noted that change may not necessarily (or even likely) arrive as a democratic one. The real question is whether anyone would notice.

P.S. Jaime at Blood & Treasure concisely deconstructs Romney, foreign policy, Israel, Palestine, imperialism, China, Thomas Kinkade paintings and the Corporal.

No Longer Rome, Not Yet Greece. Andora?

In a press conference today the president vented his frustration at the latest example: partisan cliffhanging about lifting the country’s debt ceiling. The obstacles lie both in Washington, where the heart of the problem is the supermajority hurdle in the Senate, and in many individual states. A magnificent constitutional framework of checks and balances, designed to prevent the return of British tyranny, has atrophied into a system that makes reform almost more difficult than revolution.

And this, too, is familiar from history. Over time, superpowers acquire dysfunctionalities which they can carry because of their sheer plenitude of wealth and power, rather as a super-strong athlete can carry deficiencies in technique. When your strength wanes you suddenly need the technique; but it may be too late to get it back. Beside technique, there is the all-important confidence. But the old American can-do optimism is shaken. Even those who most loudly proclaim American exceptionalism strike a note of cultural pessimism. “It’s breaking my heart,” emotes Glenn Beck, “to see this nation basically going down the tubes.”

One has to be tolerant of Continental Schadenfreude. History’s perverse humor is revealed by Dominique de Villepin and Chirac as our Greek chorus. Timothy Garton Ash actually thinks there’s a way out of the American cul de sac. But he wonders if political dysfunction will win out.

Obama and the Democrats will go to the polls on the message ‘we suck less.’ That was the Peanut Farmer’s, too.

Bob Gates’ Sacrificial Lambs: Thrown Aside To Preserve Perpetual Pentagon Overspending

We should reject Bob Gates’s pre-emptive effort to lock in future defense budget growth with his PR statement declaring $100 billion in DoD out year budget cuts. Don’t fall for the flare off the back of the jet. He’s throwing Congress and the public a few meaningless sacrifices. His admitted long term goal? It’s not to cut costs per se but justify permanent 1% increases from this year’s already record defense outlays. This stunt is political kabuki intended to head off real defense cuts by offering a Potemkin facade of budget discipline.

Will Americans be deceived by his PR sleight of hand? Probably.

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Zbig’s Big Alright

Ego, more than mere testosterone, may account for much human striving beyond our reptilian brains. Some say it could be a draw — Onasis claimed if it weren’t for women, what was the point of his money?

And Zbig, Zbigniew to the ticker crawl, is, if anything, a towering example of ego. We bear him no personal animus. That is the entry ticket into D.C. Christ, bloggers have giant egos now. But this came to mind after we crossed paths yet again tonight with the single most reviled Realist in the Neocon nightmares. A retiring, genteel soul yet capable of great intellectual clarity and force.

Always The Bridesmaid, Never The Bride

So we ponder all that is Zbig Mk II. We’ve crossed paths a few times after he was out of office in the ’80s and ’90s. No real fireworks either way. We agreed mostly with him in the 1970s re ACDA and State. He had a few pre-sound bite phrases — ‘buried in the sands of the Ogaden’ and all that. But Zbig was what you saw — a Polish Catholic with an intuitive understanding of the Russian bear. He lacked the dark twisted complications of Kissinger, the diabolic neurosis. In 1977, contra Vance, Zbig was the right man to deal with Ivan. But he was no master geopolitician (Yes we know he backed the Deng Tsaio Ping tilt in the war).

Zbig was out his league otherwise. He lacked any understanding of finance and economics (we knew the man he hired to teach him at the NSC econ 101, God rest his soul). We lost track of him until his 2002-2007 and improbable “come back tour”. Largely fueled by his opposition to the war, sushi-attuned master marketers at a few thank tanks and allies, et al. set the table for his rebirth. Originally he was part of the chattering class herd that the Administration tried to sell their Kool Aid 2002-2004. Zbig was never big on Kool Aid because it implied someone else’s ideas. And far more a prima donna, Zbig would not never tolerate effectively mass briefings that did not accord him craved true insider status.

Geopolitical Celebutante
BOOM! as Madden would say, he’s back in commission as an Oppositionist. Recently, over the last couple of years, we’ve had the odd sandwich listening to him while he peddled some of his thin books. (We won’t review them here but can if there is sufficient reader masochism).
Nothing new. Nothing fresh.

Slight snark aside, Zbig is riding a crest. The professional tribulations of his award-winning daughter give him TMZ buzz, and his young son’s felicitous right wing networking keeps him relevant in the Ruling Class. All the right time to strike and opine on presidential candidates.

Zbig’s Obama’s play is smart. He’s largely faded from view. It’s his last chance to land on a historical perch anywhere near status wise akin to his arch rival and nemesis Henry. He can’t do it by analysis alone — like Cher Condi, he was and always is just a Russophile Europeanist. His book on Japan, “Fragile Blossom” or something — we forget — was so laughably bad it was not even worthy of a grad student.

But by embracing Obama, Zbig is relevant again. Obama was wobbling on foreign policy. He needed heft. And Zbig’s competitive insecurity is infamous. Talk to Bill Odom about Zbig’s manic tennis games and pathological need to win. Others in the Carter era who played him can can back it up. Trust us. So what if Henry in 2006 is still strolling into the Oval Office monthly with Cheney replaying 1974 and setting grand strategy? Do you honestly think this nettles Zbig not a bit? With an Obama play, he gains status to press home all his slights and status issues. Of course it would be secretly pleasing if Hitch would just call him a war criminal — even in a footnote. Just for cachet.

Everyone wins. And no other campaign would give Zbig a better deal. In truth, some knowledge of the Russian Near Abroad and Central Asia is actually relevant again; so it’s not a total air ball. Plus, the think tank kids will also ride the train and fill a few more brown bag lunches.

But if anyone is expecting Zbig to offer any “new thinking” to Obama’s ward-based view of our looming foreign policy and geopolitical conflagration, they took the wrong pill. “Second Chances” or not. Zbig once rode an outsider with painfully little foreign policy experience all the way before. Less clear is what Americans will get out of a re-run.