The alternative to NATO

Apologists for Putin’s Ukraine atrocity point to NATO’s eastward expansion as the original sin that provoked Russian aggression. Proponents of Western innocence argue that this is a matter of autonomy of independent states whose need for the protection of the NATO alliance has been confirmed by Russian aggression not only against Ukraine, but also against Georgia and Moldova. Realism wouldn’t allow expansion to include former Soviet republics (except the Baltic states), they argue, but Western Europe had an obligation to go as far as it could to defend newly aspiring democracies.

In this telling, NATO has done as much as it could, taking on the burden of defending Poland, Hungary, etc. It explicitly decided not to make a commitment to Ukraine, and so has no moral obligation there — though it has gratuitously chosen to go beyond any obligation in assisting in the current crisis. But I’ve just been wondering… I haven’t heard any discussion of the alternative to NATO expansion. I don’t know what was realistic at the time, but I could imagine that following a rejection for inclusion in Western defense arrangements, the non-Russia former Warsaw Pact might have formed some kind of defensive alliance of their own, aimed at deterring Russian aggression, but sufficiently separate from NATO as to be recognised as a neutral buffer. These countries collectively have comparable population to Russia, and significantly higher GDP.

In this telling, NATO would bear significant responsibility for the current plight of Ukraine, not because it provoked Russia, but precisely because it couldn’t afford to provoke Russia too much. This led it to absorb Ukraine’s natural allies into an alliance that could never plausibly include Ukraine. It is then plausibly the fault of NATO expansion that Ukraine seemed to Putin a tempting target, defenceless and alone.

Brexit: The slacker romantic-comedy allegory

People have been comparing Brexit to a messy divorce since before Brexit was Brexit, but I suspect we may be in the wrong movie. The Tory Eurosceptic claim is, effectively, that they were never really married. And that means that we need to draw our clichés from a whole different realm of romantic fiction.

Think of Bull Johnson, an emotionally immature man with a steady but not sensational income. He’s been involved with a woman (let’s call her Europa) who lives nearby, and they get along pretty well. But he has this dynamic and very successful friend, Merry, who he used to be close to, but who now has her own life on a distant continent. They still talk often, share secrets (ahem), and occasionally lean on each other in hard times. Merry thinks that Bull should finally commit to Europa and settle down. (Europa has some reservations as well, having had some unfortunate encounters with Bulls in the past, but thinks this relationship can work.) And he does, sort of. Then one day Bull calls up Merry and says, I’m thinking of leaving Europa. I hate feeling tied down. I want my old “buccaneering” life. What does that even mean? asks Merry. He can’t say, but he insists he misses his old life. Merry says to think about the good life he and Europa have built together. Bull agrees that he’ll give it some more thought, and have a talk with Europa about what he’s dissatisfied about.

Next scene, Bull is ringing the doorbell at Merry’s flat at 3 am. “I’ve done it. I’ve left Europa. I finally realised, you and I should be together.” And Merry says, “Uhhh…”

To be continued…

His master’s voice

Embed from Getty Images

 

So yesterday I was reading about the White House position on the nerve-agent poisoning  of Sergei Skripal et al.:

White House declines to back UK’s assertion that Russia is behind poisonings of ex-spies

Not what you would expect if you believed that the US would stand up for its number-one lapdog ally, but obviously someone in the White House is concerned about not upsetting the Kremlin. But then there was a report that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said

Russia is ‘clearly’ behind spy poisoning and ‘must face serious consequences’

This seemed like a significant disagreement. And I thought, either this reflects a change of position — perhaps with more information implicating the Russians — or Rex is freestyling. Presumably Tillerson is speaking for the state department professionals and the White House is speaking for… Well, let’s just say that Vlad would want to see some evidence that Donald hasn’t forgotten who he’s working for. I was expecting there to be some sort of demeaning tweet about Tillerson’s height or his body odour, or something.

And today we have this:

Rex Tillerson Out as Trump’s Secretary of State, Replaced by Mike Pompeo

Weird coincidence. Even if Tillerson’s ouster actually had been planned long in advance, it’s pretty obvious that a small delay would have prevented this appearance of truckling to the Kremlin’s interests. Which means that, whatever else may have motivated this step, that appearance was almost certainly desired.

The new Athens

Reports from Theresa May in Brussels

Speaking on Thursday night, the prime minister said both sides needed an “outcome that we can stand behind and defend to our people”, hinting at the political difficulty she would have in selling a deal that involves handing over a large sum to the EU.

Translation: We made unrealistic promises to our people. Now it’s up to you to fulfill our promises. In the name of democracy.

As I recall, another European leader recently tried to reject financial demands from international organisations by appealing to the spirit of democracy and the results of a popular referendum. I wonder how that one turned out?

Harold MacMillan famously compared postwar Britain to the Ancient Greeks:

These Americans represent the new Roman empire and we Britons, like the Greeks of old, must teach them how to make it go.

I guess, after the last dreams of empire fade, the British establishment can still grasp for the hope of becoming the new Athens.

Who’s on first?

I love Der Spiegel, I consider it one of the best sources for international news, in addition to (of course) news about Germany, and it has to some extent maintained the idiosyncratic playful and sophisticated language style of its founder. I’m not usually wild about its graphics, though, and find it dull and obvious, as well as straining to find a reason to associate an image of naked breasts with any article. 

That said, I find this cover amazing. Obviously I’d feel differently about the image if I felt differently about Donald Trump, but it’s not simply a feeling of gratification at an enemy being publicly insulted. Like the best graphics — like the best scientific plots — this image combines familiar iconography and space to give substance to the horror that so many of us feel, crystalising an idea that was elusive. The Statue of Liberty and the iconography of terrorist self-promotion decapitation videos. Yes. It’s a good thing Germany just eliminated its lèse majesté law…

The association with Daesh puts the “America First” slogan in a different light as well. It’s a slogan that the murderers of the self-proclaimed caliphate could share, in the same spirit as the terrorist narrator of Leonard Cohen’s song, First we take Manhattan, Then we take Berlin.

It’s not even inappropriate, given that Stephen Bannon and his cronies have been fairly open about their intention to use Trump as the point of the spear to destroy liberal democracy in Europe, in favour of white ethnonationalism.

They really mean it (a continuing series)

Once again, I am forced to revise my impression of the Trump White House. I assumed that their failure to mention Jews in their statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day was an oversight, sloppy drafting, which they then had to justify and insist was intentional because Trump. But no:

The State Department drafted its own statement last month marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day that explicitly included a mention of Jewish victims, according to people familiar with the matter, but President Donald Trump’s White House blocked its release.

Together with the Trump administration’s decision that they really don’t like Israeli settlements, I wonder if the right-wing orthodox Jews and Israelis who thought they had the measure of the man are beginning to feel like building contractors on a Trump hotel project.

Who are you calling illegal?

So this tweet came from the President of the United States:

The use of the term “illegal immigrants” has long been a point of contention between the right (who like the stigmatisation it implies) and the left (who don’t, and prefer terms like “undocumented immigrants”) in the US. The racist right likes to go further and simply call the people “illegals”.

Whatever the politics or the human considerations, at least it’s not entirely inaccurate when applied to people who crossed the border without proper clearance, or who overstayed their visas. How can anyone think it appropriate to call asylum seekers for whom an agreement has been negotiated by the US president to bring them legally into the country “illegal immigrants”? Except, of course, that for the racist right — of which DJ Trump is a charter member — illegal is not a legal description, but simply a term of aspersion against nonwhite people without large real estate portfolios who cross borders.

Massive success

An anonymous White House official has called the Muslim travel ban a “massive success story”. Assuming this reflects general feeling within the Trump administration, we have to assume that it has accomplished much of what it was intended to accomplish. Which presumably does not include having prevented terror attacks in the US, but does include provoking widespread protests; showing Trump untethered to considerations of custom, law, or humanity; and persuading perhaps wavering foreign governments, particularly in majority-Muslim nations, of the value of pursuing ongoing business relations with Trump, Inc.

National typography

jekyllandhyde

I noticed this sign the other day in the Ruhr city of Hagen. It’s an Irish pub whose sign uses a sort of Gothic script that otherwise is used in Germany as a marker of conservative German gastronomy (as on this restaurant in Munich, since 1800), and that is used on pubs and restaurants elsewhere simply to signify “German”, particularly beer. Here, it’s Irish for some reason.

And on top of that, this Irish pub is named for a quintessentially London character (or is it two characters?) in a novel by a Scottish author. At least they got the shamrock right.