“Crimea has always been a part of Russia.”

Holy crap. When Walter Russell Mead wrote that Vladimir Putin has been working right out of the Hitler playbook, I found the point provocative but perhaps overstated. Although I have been cynical about diplomatic efforts to get Putin to back off Ukraine, because I don’t think Putin cares what anyone thinks of him, I didn’t expect him to be this bold and this blatant this quickly. He has declared that Crimea has always been a part of Russia and has just decided to annex it.

To quote Mead’s prescient essay:

Putin is no Hitler, and from the standpoint of power he isn’t even a Brezhnev.  Still, his actions in Ukraine have been following Adolf’s playbook pretty closely. Adolf wanted to tear up the Treaty of Versailles. Putin is attempting to rip up the post-Cold War settlement in Europe and Central Asia. Like Hitler’s Germany, Putin’s Russia is much weaker than its opponents, so it can’t achieve its goal through a direct military challenge against its primary enemies. Like Hitler’s Germany, Putin’s Russia must be clever until it grows strong, and it must play on its enemies’ hesitations, divisions and weaknesses until and unless it is ready to take them on head to head.

“Keep them guessing” is rule number one. Nobody was better than Hitler at playing with his enemies’ minds. For every warlike speech, there was an invitation to a peace conference. For every uncompromising demand, there was a promise of lasting tranquillity once that last little troublesome problem had been negotiated safely away. He was so successful at it (and Stalin, too was good at this game) in part because his opponents so desperately wanted peace.

Furthermore, as Mead notes:

Putin is using another one of Hitler’s favorite methods in Ukraine: turn your ethnic minorities in other countries into a Trojan horse— whether or not that is what those people actually want. Hitler did this with the Sudeten Germans in what is now the Czech Republic. The FT again:

  • Russia said on Saturday it was looking at requests for help from civilians in Ukraine, a statement which appeared to resemble those made two weeks ago in justification of its military incursion into Crimea.

“Russia is receiving numerous requests for protecting civilians. These requests will be given consideration,” the foreign ministry said. It added a string of claims that Ukrainian militants and mercenaries were threatening civilians, which could not immediately be verified.

There is nothing here that couldn’t have been taken directly out of Adolf’s Guide for Aspiring Hegemons.

Indeed, there is nothing here that couldn’t have been taken out of the old KGB playbook, for that matter.

In the post Cold war era, Putin has been working hard to cement his power and get Russia to a place of stability. Now that he has it, there is every reason to believe he will want to, slowly but surely, reconstruct the old Soviet Empire, minus the Communist ideology. And if that’s what he wants to do, who’s to stop him? The rich oil and natural gas reserves of Kazakhstan are right there, and while Dr. Galymzhan Kirbassov may think Kazakhstan leaders have little reason to lose sleep, he may be overoptimistic; his views seem predicated on the assumption that because Kazakhstan has remained neutral in the balance of power between Russia, NATO, and the European Union, and has stayed friendly with Russia, this means Putin will not seize on any pretext to take full control of their country he has.

Putin is a patient man who has spent many years building his power base, and yet now is still a fairly young man; at age 61, he is in the prime of life for a political leader and if he stays in good health has another 10 years at least to stay vibrant and ready.

Obama got my support in 2012 mostly for foreign policiy reasons, although not for the dovish reasons of naifs. It was because of his handling of the wind-down in Iraq and his refusal to do a rush job bugging out of that place. And for his relatively strong stance against Ghadafi (although it could have been stronger in my opinion). That said, I believe he and his current Secretary of State to be naively working as if, because they want peace and the Europeans want peace, everyone wants peace.

Doves tend to think “everyone wants peace” and therefore everyone will work in good faith for peace. But dictators, by and large, will only work for peace when they feel they are in personal danger, and even when they’re in danger they generally don’t care about peace, they care about whatever it takes to save their own power. They otherwise have no particular interest in peace at all.

Putin honestly answers to no one but Putin, and this is one of many reasons why I want to tear my hair out when people draw moral equivalencies between the likes of him and the President of the United States; whatever you think of the current temporary occupant of the White House, he DOES have people he answers to, including ultimately the voters. Dictators are under no such obligation.

Which is a big part of why democracy is not a joke, and should not be shrugged off as just a philosophical difference. It is, in fact, a firm empirical difference that matters a lot.

Are we looking at World War 3? Possibly not. But we are increasingly looking like a world where Russia is once again a military and economic rival to the democratic world.


Cost of War with North Korea

It may cost less in monetary terms to go to war than not, depending on how you calculate it, according to Daniel Altman, who looks at it from multiple points of view, and comes to the conclusion that, arguably, it may well be much less costly to go to war with them in the near future than it is to continue with the status quo and wait for them to start it themselves.

My main problem with his analysis is he assumes both the South Korean government and the US government are rational actors looking at this economically. From my own point of view, he also forgets to calculation the opportunity cost of a non-free versus a free (or at least free-er) North Korea, which I wouldn’t know how to calculate but is probably a significant factor that also ought to be put into this sort of calculation–which would be a cold way of looking at the cost of the unimaginable suffering and oppression of the North Korean people caused by the existence of that vile regime.

But as I said, that assumes those with the decision-making power on war are rational actors who are taking things like this into consideration. I no longer believe they do. As a good old-fashioned neocon (you know, back when that word actually had a specific meaning: “a liberal with hawkish foreign policy views”) I have fundamentally soured on much advocacy for more than extremely limited military action, because I believe most or all democracies, except in unusual circumstances, work under the “war is the most unthinkably horrible thing you can ever do unless you’re directly attacked and have absolutely no other choice” line of thinking. Mass torture, mass mutilation, genocide, democide, these are nowhere near as bad as war–so many people have come to believe anyway. Thus it is nearly impossible to summon sustained effort for any long-term military conduct–although I will grant that with a Democrat in the White House, support for such an effort would likely be greater than with a Republican there.

Personally, even outside the economic costs, I believe the humane thing is, and has been for some time now, to launch an unannounced pre-emptive strike in which we precision bomb every known artillery, missile launcher, and communication facility, take out Kim and the leadership, then start aerial runs of food and medical supply drops with messages that the war is over and people are now free to come to South Korea if they want, while also broadcasting that same message via speaker and on all radio and TV signals currently used by the North Korean government in order to make sure it’s all heard.

It may sound audacious, but I really don’t think the North Koreans would under those circumstances be able to pose a credible threat, and the far greater likelihood is that their military more or less disintegrates and people just start wandering over to South Korea.

But see, that requires the belief that the initiation of force is not always and in all ways immoral, and that standing by and passively watching people be put through what North Koreans are put through is morally preferable to swift and decisive action. And most people just don’t think like I do. Most people either figure war is too awful to contemplate, or shrug and think “not our problem.” We’re not our brothers’ keeper, right?

It almost seems like pointless speculation; it’s pretty much a given in my view that nothing is going to happen here until Kim launches an actual nuclear strike. He’ll be able to continue to do anything he wants otherwise, and this will drag on for decades more.

All I can say to the North Korean people is, I’m sorry that my country, and that the world’s democracies, failed you. I know that’ll be cold comfort as you contemplate your starved and dead children and your mutilated and enslaved loved ones, but it’s the best I have to offer; not enough people in my country, which has the power to end the Kim regime in days any time it wants to, has the will to do it. To our shame.

(Thanks for the interesting link, Aziz.)

What if Kim is serious?

Michael Totten ponders:

Kim almost certainly isn’t serious, but what if he is? How would we know? His attention-seeking theatrics are identical to the behavior of a lunatic hell-bent on blowing the region apart. If war breaks out next month, everyone who has been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the Korean Peninsula will slap their forehead and see, with the clarity of hindsight, that every warning we could possibly need, want, and expect was right there in front of us.

The North Korean military is nothing like Saddam Hussein’s or Moammar Qaddafi’s. Pyongyang has such an enormous array of artillery batteries targeting South Korea (the capital, Seoul, is only 30 or so miles away from the border) that hundreds of thousands of people could be killed over the weekend. North Korea would eventually lose at the hands of South Korea and the United States. It would be finished forever as a state. But the cost in lives would be unspeakable.

He has more to say right here, and I recommend reading the whole thing, but I will say this: we probably have a very good idea whether he’s serious, because we are almost certainly listening in on almost all the regime’s communications. It is plausible I suppose that the Obama administration is receiving warnings from people at the listening posts and is just not listening, but unlike those with Presidential Deranagement Syndrome (my new term for people with an unhinged hatred for whoever happens to be President at the moment, as there appears to always be a subset of such people in American politics no matter what) I am not inclined to think that even the slightly dovish Obama is likely to just ignore warnings that a lunatic is about to launch an all-out attack.

Of course I’ve made plain for some time now what I think the solution is to this; it is pretty much a given in my estimation that our intelligence services know with pinpoint precision where most of the North Korean artillery and missile launchers are and we probably have the ability to take most of it out very very quickly, and furthermore, we will probably be able to hear any communications they have making any such plans. I suppose we could get caught with our pants down but probably not, and frankly, as bloody-minded as it may make me sound, I honestly hope Kim III really is that insane and really does try it; something and someone needs to destroy that regime, and I’d like an excuse to see it done in my lifetime. Mass jamming their communications and taking out most of their weaponry capable of hitting Seoul, then just sitting on the border and waiting and inviting them to come over peacefully any time they want seems like the best option to me. But I remain cynical that anything like it will really happen.