Thursday, March 27, 2014

Putin's Rules

As the days go by, more and more of the world – those who can be shaken from their self-imposed lethargy to notice the news clips between their 'reality' shows – will notice that Putin's Russia has seized a significant portion of territory from a neighboring state (to some it may even sound familiar).  Most of the news in that regard is spun around the pronouncements of how we will retaliate with sanctions on a few Kremlin officials, who laugh at our puny attempts to hold them accountable.  The only point that Obama has made perfectly clear (and for once when uttering that cliché, he was) is that a military response is completely off the table.

Putin already knew that, otherwise he wouldn't have followed through with his annexation of the Crimea through a military seizure and faux plebiscite.  And it wasn't a decision that he made off the cuff.  Sources close to Putin claim that he was outraged about American tacit support of the 2004 Ukrainian Orange Revolution that ousted pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych the first time, declaring that he would never trust the Americans again.  This is on top of the Russian outrage at the seizure of Kosovo from Serbia by NATO in 1999, with Kosovo formally declaring independence in 2008 just months before Russia threw its troops into Georgia to break off the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  With the advent of the Obama administration, he had every reason to believe that the bumbled American "reset" policy would allow him free rein within the traditional Russian sphere of influence.

Putin has set out to exploit every opportunity that we present him, and why do we now have to be so accommodating?  Bill Kristol explains it in The Weekly Standard:
He thinks he will [win in Ukraine].  He’s dealing with the Obama administration, after all.  He looks at the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, he witnesses the failure to enforce the red line in Syria and the subsequent successes of his friend Assad, he chortles at the relaxation of the sanctions on Iran and the desperate desire to cut a nuclear deal, and he sees Obama’s defense cuts.  And he reads the New York Times, where David Sanger reports, “Mr. Obama acknowledges, at least in private, that he is managing an era of American retrenchment.”
It is a retrenchment not of our own making entirely, no matter how much Obama works toward that end.  Our allies enjoyed the American military umbrella for decades, which allowed them to shrift their security in exchange for spending themselves into the hole to finance nanny-state economies, feeding their voters on the seed corn of their culture.  Reagan led the development of the finest military in the world, supported by a strong and unified diplomacy and economic power in order to beat the Soviets at their own game, demonstrating once and for all the internal contradictions of Communism.  But Putin, who stated that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century, plays the long game.  He has seen us scramble for "peace dividends" that are ephemeral in their advantage but all too real for their weakening of America's power, and as goes America, so goes the rest of the Free World which simply cannot respond in any meaningful way, distracted as they are with their own socialist, slow, downward spirals.

The sclerotic Soviet system could not respond to the dynamic American challenge, but over a longer period of time, Putin knows that he can reverse the trend by using the same rules.  He doesn't have to beat the Americans outright so much as he has to outmaneuver them; demonstrate the will to go where the Americans no longer have the ability or will to respond.  And Obama, after more than three weeks of pulpit-wringing bloviating when pressed on the issue, finally came out with his version of a response, and it started with "We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine."

Of course not.  We may still have the most capable military in the world – comparatively – but we simply don't have the capability for an overt military response in support of the Ukrainians, even if the geography weren't so formidable, or if the new regime in Kiev didn't still carry the whiff of corruption so endemic to that region, or if we weren't so weary from fighting Islamic Supremacists since 2001, or if the stakes actually added up to the risk.  I fully agree – a repeat of the Crimean War would be mad.

The response from the West is being ratcheted up through economic reprisals, as demonstrated by the backbone shown at a joint news conference of Germany's Angela Merkel and Canada's Stephen Harper.  Prime Minister Harper allowed that we should proceed "cautiously", but we should move at a pace that shows that we have learned the lessons from our indulgent escalations in the Viet Nam War which allowed Hanoi and its mentors to adjust, nor should we telegraph our next moves so openly as we did in that war as well.

Putin still has responses as I'm sure he has already carefully calculated, and trade sanctions can hurt the EU just as they hurt Russia.  Europe, after all, is still dependent on some 40 percent of its natural gas from Russian pipelines, to use just one example.

Obama can declare in a press conference yesterday, which concluded with an echoing silence from the audience, that the US can conclude new and far-reaching agreements with Europe in the area of energy – real energy, not the alternative "maybe someday" sources that the Europeans are rapidly abandoning.  Poland, with far more direct experience of living with the Russians, has been building a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on the Baltic in order to diversify its sources, but it won't be in operation until the end of the year at the earliest.  But on our side, it is doubtful to say the least that Obama will have the political courage to buck his environmentalists in order to open up the federal lands and offshore to augment the recent American energy surge (done on state and private land in spite of – not because of – the administration energy 'policy') in order to properly supply Europe, or to finally stop the obvious stalling and build the XL Keystone pipeline.

And even if he did completely reverse himself and start a Manhattan Project of self-sufficient energy, with known reserves far outstripping Russia and Saudi Arabia, how long would it take to bring that fully on line?  Five years?  Ten years?  What mischief and compromises could Putin impose in the time being?  Just one possibility to ponder: a recent political maxim is that "only Nixon could go to China", but the Russians can play that card too.

As to military maneuvers still ongoing on the Russian/Ukrainian border – while we are fixated on that area, with pundits worried about Russian troops dashing across southern Ukraine to build a land bridge to connect the pro-Russian sliver of Transnistria (or Pridnestrovie in some Russian accounts), consider another scenario.  While the Russians are playing three card monte with its troops coming and going off of ships in the Crimean naval bases, what is to stop them from dashing a landing force less than 200 miles to seize the small Southern Bessarabia (or Budjak) or even the major port of Odessa close by, and then link up with the ex-Moldovan enclave?  (The Russians captured these areas from the Turks at about the same time that Crimea was wrestled from the Ottomans and Tatars by Catherine the Great, folding into one of Putin's reasons for "restoring" Crimea to Russia.)  The area of operations would include a population that is some 20 to 30 percent ethnic Russian, but that belies the fact that more than 70 percent speak Russian fluently.  There must be a significant amount of that population that would opt for a future with a Russia that is resurgent, instead of holding with Moldova – the poorest country in Europe – or sticking with a Ukraine already humbled.  There would be enough for Putin to declare justification, however contrived, for the action.

Is the US military entirely unable to help the remaining areas of an increasingly distilled Ukraine, with Russian enclaves being steadily broken off in a form of reverse ethnic cleansing?  In the realm of covert support, or even hinted at to provide some 'plausible deniability' to take a page from Putin, consider sending in some Operational Detachments of the 10th Special Forces Group.  The Ukrainian military has for all intents and purposes collapsed through years of inattention and draconian budgets (some have claimed that the former President Yanukovych and his cronies did so deliberately in an effort to sabotage a Ukrainian response), and the government is throwing together the beginnings of a peoples' militia to start anew and try to purge Russian fifth column elements.  Special Forces were begun in Europe after the dust settled from World War II and we focused on the Soviet threat of the Cold War.  SF was to be the stay-behind force that would train partisans and guerillas to fight a rear-guard action against the Red Army in case the Soviets came roaring through the Fulda Gap.  Slipping into western Ukraine to train up a new army is the exact mission for which Special Forces was created, and they would be amply supported by the very capable Polish special units just across the border.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Destruction of the Ukrainian Peasantry: Kapuściński

Ryszard Kapuściński was a Polish author and journalist of some renown, and remains one of the most translated of Polish writers.  He is known in the West primarily for his remarkable expanse of travels beginning in 1956 and his commentary thereon, and his talent lay in his ability to find arcane snippets of life in the variety of cultures and draw from them social commentary subtly recognizable to his audience.  He was fluent in several languages and learned English while living in India, starting with reading Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls with the aid of a dictionary.

Ryszard Kapuściński (Billewicz)

I became aware of him many years ago through his writings from Africa, within which he moved about and returned to several times, primarily through his reportage of the early savage cataclysm of the civil war in the Congo (which has never really ended).  He said that he felt comfortable in Africa, with its hungry and discalced people, because the poverty reminded him of his childhood in what is now Belarus and Poland under Communism.  He was also one of the translators of Ché Guevara's Diary of his time in Bolivia.

I appreciated Kapuściński for his artful turn of phrase and the lens he used to view others, though I often disagreed with him politically, e.g., in 9/11 he said that we have missed an opportunity for meaningful dialogue (with whom? and for how long? and to what end? and with fanatics?) on a subject too complex to contemplate (yet we should still talk while they kill and continue their social genocide, concerning a subject on which they refuse to budge).  True, it is a complex subject which we should strive to understand, but on our terms and not strictly through their accommodation.

But Kapuściński was an equal-opportunity critic, comfortable in taking on both sides of the former bi-polar world, and I found his writing thought-provoking and challenging.

Yet his observations have returned to me with the turn of events in the near abroad of Russia, with the incursions into Ukraine and the annexation (or re-taking to the mind of the Russians) of Crimea, while they passively threaten other areas nearby.  His writings on the massive famine throughout Ukraine on the 1930s under Stalin, the Holomodor, have come again to light for me, from his famous chronicle of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Imperium, which speaks of Stalin's exquisite strategy:
To break that spirit, Stalin must destroy the peasantry.  At the time, there were around thirty million Ukrainian peasants.  Technically, one could have annihilated a significant portion of them by building a network of gas chambers.  But that is an error Stalin did not commit.  He who builds gas chambers bears all the blame, brings the disgrace of being a murderer down upon himself.  Instead, Stalin saddled the victims of the crime with all the guilt for it:  You are dying of hunger because you do not want to work, because you do not see the advantages of the kolkhoz.  Furthermore, he complained, because of you the inhabitants of the cities are going hungry, women cannot nurse because they have no milk, children cannot go to school because they are too weak.
The Ukrainian countryside died in silence, isolated from the world, gnawing on the bark of trees and on the leather laces of its own shoes, looked upon with contempt by people from the cities, who stood in the streets in unending lines for bread.
A cadaver draws the curiosity of a group in Kharkiv, Ukraine, 1933 (Weinerberger)

(H/T to Gerard van der Leun, for bringing him back to mind.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

RIP: Colonel Ola 'Lee' Mize, US Army, Medal of Honor

I just learned through the site WeaponsMan, an excellent web log with a focus on (though not limited to) weapons and related topics from the perspective of a retired Special Forces 18B, that a legend in the Army SF community has passed on – retired Colonel Ola 'Lee' Mize of Alabama, at the age of 82.

I had thought, if it had occurred to me, that he would have already passed away.  The colonel was before my time and from a different neighborhood (I was of the Naval Service though I often crossed paths with SF and Fort Bragg) but I was aware of his story and his lingering influence, noted professionally as a former chief of the Advanced Training Committee (HALO, Scuba, and the extinct Skyhook) in what is now the JFK Special Warfare Center and School (I suppose they still call it the 'Swick'), and was the father of the Army Combat Divers Qual Course at Key West.

The fame of Colonel Mize peaked yet plateaued early in his career.  Son of an Alabama scratch farmer, he joined the Army as soon as he could, though it took several attempts (too small, re-created birth certificate).  With World War II over by then, he did the best he could, considering the times, by joining the 82nd Airborne Division.  He was about to leave the Army at the end of his enlistment to attempt higher education when he heard of the outbreak of the Korean War.  He re-enlisted instead in order to have a chance at combat, and soon found himself on the evening of 10 June 1953 in the 15th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division at Surang-ni, Korea as a 21-year-old sergeant.

SGT Mize's squad was assigned an outpost on high ground some 320 yards from the Chinese lines.  As he relates it, he questioned his superiors about the large amounts of vehicular activity on the Chinese side that he could hear at night.  They replied (as if he didn't already know) that the trucks were standard re-supply for the Chinese troops, but Mize protested that the numbers were high – 50 to 100 a night.  He strongly suggested some artillery interdiction fire but that wasn't acted upon by that night.

Late that night, as he was checking on his unit's dug-in positions, one of his soldiers told him that the bushes to his immediate front seemed to have increased in number.  The two carefully studied them in the darkness and prudently opened fire, which kicked off a huge Chinese assault on his position that lasted throughout the night.

The entire unit was immediately engaged in close-quarters combat between the rolling artillery rounds that the Chinese rained down on the position.  Moving throughout his squad's coverage, Mize and his troops fought and repelled successive Chinese assaults.  He rescued one his wounded men from a fighting hole with the help of his Medic.  Later in the battle, he turned to see that Medic attacked by six Chinese soldiers.  Before he could reach the spot, the Chinese killed the soldier and Mize, as he says, "returned the same favor".

Mize and his men had to move from bunker to bunker, giving the impression to the Chinese that there were more soldiers and to evade the artillery that kept coming in waves.  Throughout the night, when not repelling assaults, they were clearing out the bunkers of Chinese stay-behinds.  Artillery and grenade rounds continued to land close, and three times Mize was so blasted that he thought he was dead.

Soon into the battle, he came upon one of his BAR men swinging his weapon like a club, with bandoleers of ammunition around his neck.  After shooting the attackers, Mize yelled at the man to load his weapon and use it "the way it was intended".  That was when he was told that the position had been supplied with the wrong ammunition – plenty of .30 caliber rounds for Mize's carbine, but none of the .30-06 rounds for the BARs and M-1s for the troops.  Mize, who had lost count of the Chinese soldiers he had killed up to that point, said that was when he really became "hostile".  Proper attention to the needs of his troops became his major calling for all his career thereafter.  He chose a commanding position and had a few troops continually loading his magazines with his unfortunately unique surplus ammunition so that he could pour constant fire into the enemy.

By the early light of the next morning, the Americans were slowly pushed off the hill but Mize organized a counterattack that retook the position with the assistance of an ample supply of grenades.  Once reinforced and the attack broken off, his position consolidated, Mize was finally able to shuffle back to report to the company HQ.  His face burnt, his uniform shredded from the artillery barrage, with a smoking flak jacket, he reported to one of the officers, who asked who he was.  When Mize replied, the officer said, "You're not Mize.  He's dead."

His actions that night were indicative of his qualities, and he was quickly promoted to master sergeant.  That was the rank he held when he received the Medal of Honor some fifteen months after the battle.

That would be enough action to last a lifetime for some men, but it just re-confirmed Mize's calling.  He entered the new Special Forces soon thereafter and received a commission.  He later spent three tours in Viet Nam with 5th Special Forces Group, his last being as a commander of a Cambodian Mobile Strike Force that earned him a Silver Star.  By the time that he retired in 1981 as a colonel, he had also earned two Legions of Merit, five Bronze Stars, and a Purple Heart.

WeaponsMan has thoughtfully found and posted an interview with Mize in his later years, recounting his experiences.  It is worth listening to, not the least for the down-home modesty of the man.  When he was initially informed of the Medal of Honor, he first turned it down, saying that it should go instead to his platoon.  It is a refreshing humility and draws me to him as a leader even more.  I have no doubt that he was exacting (he had that reputation) but he gives you that desire to live up to his expectations.

I never had the privilege of meeting the colonel, but I knew him by reputation, hearing some of my Army compatriots speak quite well of him.  Hearing his testimony above, now, brings back a faded memory that involved him, and clarifies and sharpens my reaction to it.  I was perplexed and vexed one night when I heard a small coterie of the older members of the community, relaxing with some adult beverages at the Rathskeller at the Fort Bragg O Club, only slightly aware that they were speaking blasphemy, nevertheless deride him as a "cowboy", a hick who succeeded through sheer determination because he couldn't have been real smart, not like ('you know') a college graduate or someone from the northeast.

That has stuck in my craw ever since, that and many other examples but this is the one that typically comes to mind, and not so much because I'm from Texas and rode fence for a brief time in my younger years.  The arrogant effrontery of the Anointed gnaws away, those who extol how enlightened they are with their appeal to toleration but only for the right people, like their own, but not so much for Asians, and all those Germans are militaristic, and everybody in the South is a racist.  All Southern characters on television must be played by an actor or actress (it's still a word) from Connecticut, with an atrocious imitation of a drawl, a sure-fire sign that they can't be too bright.  These pop critics don't have a chip on their shoulder so much as they have a plank in their eye.

But for the good colonel, he fought the good fight and has gone to his deservéd reward.  God rest him.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Putin Defiant, Annexes Crimea, Mocks the West

Vladimir Putin has taken Theodore Roosevelt's advice a step further: speak softly and beat us with a big stick.  Fortunately he has only applied that axiom metaphorically, so far.  Yet he has almost gleefully, or at least as close to glee as Putin may approach, done precisely what he has wanted to do with the crisis with Ukraine and his daring seizure of Crimea.  Over and above the historic claim that Russia has to Crimea, holding that Ukraine's possession of the peninsula was an aberration of the Soviet era, the quiet occupation has been another example of the Putin Doctrine of intervening in what the Russians call the 'near abroad' to protect the interests of ethnic Russians or Russian citizens.  Giving credit where credit is due, Hillary Clinton has it right when she compared the move to Hitler's seizure of the Czech Sudetenland in 1938.

"Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia"

The West's version of our nomenklatura does so desperately want Putin to play nice, and they have reflexively praised Putin's restraint at each step of the way in the Ukrainian crisis – 'Russian troops in Crimea?  That's just a Slavic version of some guys out for walk one night who decided to go knock over an autonomous republic.'  Kipling's Gods of the Copybook Headings must be exhausted from limping up to explain it time and time again.

And now the latest example: barely two weeks ago, The Independent (among others) reported that Putin had said that "Russia has no intention of 'annexing' Crimea."  It doesn't take a lawyer to parse that phrasing – Putin didn't feel like it at the moment.  But like Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, he could "put it by" only long enough until it was thrust upon him.

Two snippets of video show the punch line as of yesterday.  The first is an example of his rousing speech to the assembled Duma in the Kremlin, interrupted some thirty times with standing ovations and enthusiastic applause, the first when he introduced the delegation from Crimea as "citizens of Russia".  He spoke at length of the historic ties of Crimea to Russia – "In the hearts and minds of the people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia!"  Note that when he speaks of the Bolsheviks and Khrushchev adjusting the borders of Ukraine ("may God judge them"), he doesn't limit his remarks to only Crimea: "large areas of the historical South of Russia ... today these areas form the southeast of Ukraine."  He warned the West of its hypocrisy by repeating the oft-heard comparison to the seizure of Kosovo from Serbia, and that he would not tolerate NATO "next to our home or on our historic boundaries", a direct reference, if not by name, to the former Soviet occupied Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, now members of NATO, all with sizeable remnants of ethnic Russians.   He is making it clear that he is keeping his options open in regard to further expansion.  He then sat down with the Crimean delegation to sign the instruments of annexation.

As if to punctuate it, they then stepped outside the Kremlin to an assembled throng filling Red Square where Putin gave a stem-winder, complete with a Russian men's chorus and fireworks.

Throughout the day, various Russian politicians delighted in mocking the warnings of severe consequences: Vladislav Surkov, a top Putin aide, said that the only things about America in which he was interested were Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsburg, and Jackson Pollock, and he didn't have to leave Russia for them anyway.  Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted to Obama, "What should [you do to] those who have neither accounts nor property abroad?  Or U didn't think about it?"  "I think some prankster prepared the draft of this Act of the US President."  Others laughed and asked to be put on the pathetically short list of the eleven (count 'em) eleven Russian high rollers (but still no one who really matters) who are subject to seizures of bank accounts and property in the West, joking as if their invitation had been lost in the mail.  The Daily Telegraph had earlier lamented that the prospective list was to only include some 18 to 21 targets, but it was reduced again to the 11 who dismissed the action as a trifling annoyance.

As if to cap off the farce, Joe Biden showed up in Poland and stumbled through his note cards about supporting the stand against the action, and falsely claiming to have ushered Poland into NATO.  This is the same Poland where the same Biden announced at the beginning of the Obama reign that we were cutting the legs out from under the agreement to station missile defense shield systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, for which the Czechs and Poles had stuck their neck out, lest we upset the Russians in our bumbling overcharge 'reset' policy.

Putin has out-maneuvered us at every turn on this.  We can only pray that this administration doesn't make it any worse.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Germany's Merkel Puts a Shot Across the Russian Bow on Ukraine

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany weighed into the issue of Ukraine with the most significant Western political development since the beginning of the crisis, while Russian forces are massing on the eastern border of Ukraine in what could be just a show of force, or preparations for further incursions. 

"eine Katastrophe für die Ukraine"

Originally thought to be politically out-maneuvered by Russia due to Germany's close economic ties, she instead delivered a strong speech in the Bundestag yesterday  in which she not only condemns Russia's occupation of the Crimea, but now threatens a Ukrainian "catastrophe" unless Russia changes course and "massive damage to Russia, both politically and economically," if the Russians do not enter into "negotiations that achieve results".  (Such stalling tactics to gain advantage are quite familiar to us, or should be, as a result of our experience with Iran, North Korea and even Saddam Hussein's Iraq up until the point that we finally called his bluff.)

She specified such results as freezing bank accounts and strict travel restrictions.  She knows that this will hit the Russian financial oligarchs where it hurts, as they have been channeling their money into foreign accounts as a hedge against the fragile and still-building Russian financial system. 

She also ruled out a military response, but the Russians as well as anyone else with a pulse already know that that was off the table from the very beginning.  The Western military systems have been steadily and deliberately deteriorating for decades and no viable military response was ever possible, even assuming the will to use them.  As with the old British political aphorism, one should always grant gracefully that which one has no power to withhold. 

The reason that Merkel's statement arises beyond the level of mere pontificating is that Germany is the economic hub of the European Union.  I expect that Putin, with a military response off the table, knew that an economic retaliation was the only problem that he had to fear, but he gambled that it was unlikely due to Europe (again, read 'Germany') being already mired in trying to rescue the 'hangers-on' economies of Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland.  Indeed, it was Russia that principally stepped in to shore up the Cypriot banking system (incidentally one of the favorite off-shore repositories of large Russian bank accounts), so it saw what it expected to be the limits of European economic capability.  With Merkel's determination, Russia thought wrong.

While not close, the two leaders have an understanding of each other.  Merkel speaks Russian, having been raised in Communist East Germany.  Putin speaks German, having been assigned there as a KGB major.

Merkel also buried some significant references in her speech, which Russia nevertheless should read quite clearly: "In a period of enormous uncertainty in the Ukraine, Russia has not proven to be a partner for stability for neighboring countries which it has close links to, but it uses their inherent weaknesses."  Translation: beware of doing anything with the Baltic republics, which also still contain significant Russian populations, or others.  The fact that these other countries have joined NATO should prove to be hedge to Russian aspirations, but Putin has already shown his optimistic attitude about his use of power.  Georgia, for example, into which Russia thrust itself in late 2008 by seizing (or freeing, to use the Russian term) the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, could still be available for further demonstrations of Russian re-imposition of its manifest destiny.  The fact that he is most meddlesome in Georgia and Ukraine, which both openly aspired to NATO membership, is telling. 

I also like the use of her declarative tense: "Let me be absolutely clear so that there is no misunderstanding, the territorial integrity of Ukraine is not up for discussion", a reference to the upcoming plebiscite in Crimea about becoming part of the Russian Federation – again.  I expect that she is using that phraseology (the "absolutely clear" part) in a manner that is historically much different than its use by Obama.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Forced Mutilation As a Family Value (Update)

One of my prospective daughters-in-law (and that phrase alone indicates the major family orientation for the next year or so) sent along to her world of digital correspondents an article that caught her eye and shocked her conscience, not that she wasn't already aware of this barbaric practice.

The Guardian of Great Britain has published an article on the subject of female genital mutilation (FGM), otherwise known euphemistically – and incorrectly – as female circumcision.  (Note: the article can be quite disturbing due to its graphic nature, but it is trying to make a point.)

This is a practice found predominantly in Africa and the Middle East, and its adherents are far and away Islamic.  Immigrants of that faith ('culture' would be more accurate) constitute some 5% of the UK, with 97% of them in England, and again disproportionately high in large cities.  That population is growing at a rate ten times higher than the non-Muslim British.  The name Mohammed, for example, in its various spellings is now the third most popular name for boys in England and Wales.

That trend goes hand-in-hand with the obsequious multicultural pandering found in British political and social culture and elsewhere, with generous attention to the Muslim culture and Sharia, its law code.  The term 'racist' is flung about with kneejerk, gleeful abandon there as much as here, which by now has become an argument that increasingly is having a dull and deadening impact (an argumentum ad taedio, a term resurrected) except among the Professional Indignant industry.  (Anjem Choudary is an English equivalent of Al Sharpton.)  Sharia courts and councils function there with the British courts shrugging off their judgments that often are counter to English law: "The previous government gave up on its attempt to investigate Sharia councils when they could not get proper access to them."

The subject of FGM in the UK falls within this context.  The Guardian article estimates that some 2000 British schoolgirls will have the procedure over the summer holidays, either when the family returns to its ancestral homeland for a visit or when it is performed in a secure place in England.

The idea is perplexing and revolting to Western ideas, even more so because it is the women who are the staunchest proponents of the age-old practice.  It is typically the girl's mother and other female relatives who hold her down and perform the procedure, and the entire idea is that it is somehow ennobling to ensure chastity and to avoid the debasing thought of sexual pleasure.  There is no mention of it in the Bible or Quran, though Muhammad is supposed to mention in the hadith that it is noble but not required.  Those who claim a religious obligation for the practice are in error (to put it politely), just like the excuse that women must wear a hijab or head covering.

The Guardian also calls out the feckless British legal system on the topic: 
The UK Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 makes it an offence to carry out FGM or to aid, abet or procure the service of another person.  The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, makes it against the law for FGM to be performed anywhere in the world on UK permanent residents of any age and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.  To date, no prosecutions have been made under UK legislation. [emphasis mine]
(The habit of proclaiming consequences under the law or through moral imperative to correct a wrong, and then failing to follow through on that declaration, has become a tradition with our State Department and our current president.)

General Sir Charles James Napier, GCB

In stark contrast, subjects such as this remind of the quite effectual response of General Sir Charles James Napier in India in the mid-19th century.  Sir Charles, already famous for his actions in the Peninsular War in Spain, was assigned at the age of 60 to the British-led Indian Army of the East India Company in 1842 as a Major General.  He was dispatched with his army to Sindh (Scinde) province (now southern Pakistan) to take on the Muslim insurrection that had been encouraged by the result of the dismal First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842).  His army crossed over into Sindh and in a fit of professional zeal, not only put down the insurrection but went on to quickly conquer the province.  The message that he sent to inform his superiors, probably apocryphal but a good indicator of his personality nonetheless, was a one word dispatch that read "Peccavi", Latin for "I have sinned", which could be both a modest admission that he exceeded orders and also a play on "I have Sindh." 

The reference I have in mind, though, is some years later, when Hindu priests were complaining to him of the interference of the British in the local customs and mores of the Indian tradition of suttee (or sati), wherein a living widow was burned alive on the funeral pyre of her dead husband.  Sir Charles replied that if that was such an honored custom, then by all means continue, but the English also have a strong custom: "When men burn women alive, we hang chaps like that."  As the funeral pyre was assembled, so too would he have the gallows built nearby, so as to be ready to hang all concerned after the body of the widow was fully consumed, to accommodate both cultures.  The Hindu priests quickly demurred. 

Left-wing apologists have lamented the withering of native cultures, yet I am not bothered in the least with the Spanish destruction of the Aztec civilization and its custom of throwing girls into pools to drown, or the wholesale slaughter of young males, both captives and natives, by cutting out their hearts, nor am I put off by the efforts of the US Army to eradicate the appalling atrocities of the Comanche and others.  It was William Wilberforce and the guns of the Royal Navy that did the most to eradicate the slave trade, adversely affecting stronger African tribes, Arab traders, and the slave ships sailing from Boston, Providence, and New York. 

Yet there are still those who defend the horrible practice of FGM, and not just those within the Muslim community.  The French Society of Anthropologists, for example, criticized the "moralistic arrogance" of the campaign against the practice: "Let's stop making the Africans look like savages, let's stop imposing on them our models for living…. Isn't the barbarian the one who believes in barbarism?" 

This morbid tolerance extends beyond FGM – the Sharia councils advise wives, by the judge or by the female counselors, that a beating that leaves no visible marks is an indicator that the wife has to try harder to please her husband.  Then, of course, the "honor killings"… 

But the emasculated political culture looks the other way, frightened by Islamic threats, real or implied.  Scathing remarks are frequently made about Christians that would never be considered if applied to Muslims. 

Edmund Burke said that "There is a point at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue."  We are well past that mark.

Update: Another step in the British acquiescence to Sharia law, in the Daily Telegraph, "Islamic law is adopted by British legal chiefs".
Under ground-breaking guidance, produced from The Law Society, High Street solicitors will be able to write Islamic wills that deny women an equal share of inheritances and exclude unbelievers altogether.
The article goes into some detail about the far-reaching implications of the "quietly published" guidance on how to skirt English law.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lavrov and Kerry: Game, Set, Match

Another input to the one picture/thousand words category: a snapshot that is elemental to the state of the current American foreign policy.

Does one really need a caption? Sergei Lavrov is the picture of confidence, clearly in charge as the body language portrays, right hand palm down clenching Kerry's, caught in a moment of bewilderment.

Admittedly, the camera catches an instant that doesn't necessarily portray the truth of the moment, and it may have been Richard Nixon who quipped, "The press always takes two photos in case the first one looked good."

But really, doesn't this just say it all?

Vladimir Putin: Nobel Peace Prize?

You knew it had to happen.  Vladimir Putin has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize – again.  (Yes, last year was the first time.)

A peaceful settlement can be found in a dead troublemaker

This nomination for the author of the invasion of Crimea (or the re-establishing of 'proper borders', if you are on that side of the equation) reinforces the farce that is the Nobel Peace Prize committee, a group of five Norwegian politicians from one of the most left-wing countries of the world.  (One member is from the Norwegian Conservative Party [Høyre], fiscally conservative but socially liberal.)

The committee was most recently discredited by the award of the prize to Barack Obama, "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," with a nomination coming only a matter of two weeks into his presidency, when he had accomplished exactly nothing.  The ensuing seven months up to the time when he had the chutzpah to actually accept the prize saw him make an equal contribution to the claim.

Some of the more enlightened examples of recipients include Al Gore for the increasingly discredited claim of the global warming industry, and Yasser Arafat for his efforts toward "peace in the Middle East."  Last year's recipient is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which has overseen the stalled Syrian transfer of its chemical weapons stockpile.

The nomination process has seen some far worse, including Joseph Stalin – twice.  One of the worst for Americans in recent history was for Stanley "Tookie" Williams, founder of the Crips and convicted murderer (which only introduces the number and variety of his capital offenses), because he "co-wrote" children's books and proclaimed that he was reformed, although he refused to give evidence against gang members.

Whenever one hears someone praised because he is nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, consider the nomination criteria, that he be nominated by someone in the following categories:
Members of national assemblies and governments of states

Members of international courts

University rectors; professors of social sciences, history, philosophy, law, and theology; directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes

Persons who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

Board members of organisations that have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

Active and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee

Former advisors to the Norwegian Nobel Committee
Did you catch that (emphasis mine)?  Out of that purportedly august collection, any social science professor can nominate anyone.  It was Cicero who perhaps first observed, as many others after him, that "there is nothing so absurd that it has not been said by some philosopher."

Somewhat deflating, wouldn't you think?

The nomination for Putin in this case comes from the International Academy of Spiritual Unity and Cooperation Among the Nations of the World for his role in the "averting of an air strike on Syria after the gas attacks in August 2013." The academy, not surprisingly, is headed by a Russian member of parliament and singer named Iosof Kobzon.
Being the leader of one of the leading nations of the world, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin makes efforts to maintain peace and tranquility not only on the territory of his own country but also actively promotes settlement of all conflicts arising on the planet.
Yes, the nomination actually says that.  So Putin saved Syria's Assad, one of the major customers of Putin's arms shipments, after the use of chemical warfare agents against his own people, based on a CW system set up for them by the Russians, and prevented an air strike so as to permit Assad to continue to slaughter the Syrian people.

Putin joins fellow nominees Edward Snowden and Bradley ("call me Chelsea") Manning.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Real Smart Watch

I have always been a sucker for watches, even though they may be fading into obscurity or relegated to a mere fashion statement.  I read some years ago that the number of watches sold worldwide had dropped some 30% because so many people, typically the younger ones, simply consult their cell phone instead.

But this concept - a design only, unfortunately, and not a finished product - should re-invigorate the idea.  Gábor Balogh, a freelance designer from Hungary, took the Swedish Triwa watch design and adapted it to the concept of a truly smart watch.  Below are only two examples of choice of presentation.  There's more.

Before the advent of the Information Age, people (well, Americans at least) would anxiously predict the invention of the Dick Tracy watch, a Skype-like device contained in a watch, and we're much further along on that proposition than those flying cars.  I believe that the video-phone idea is starting to be dismissed as a universal part of communications, since frankly a good number of people aren't that interested in what the other party looks like at the moment, and the other party (other than many women and most metrosexuals, anxious about their looks) would rather not be seen, particularly since they are probably engaged in doing something else while they're on the phone and don't really want you to know that they aren't giving you the rapt attention that you feel you deserve.   ("Uh-huh...really?...interesting...yep...mmm...uh-huh.")

I can imagine a watch of this type as a third leg on the stool of personal communications, rather than a stand-alone item.  It would connect through a Bluetooth connection to the smartphone that you would still carry, in your pocket, purse, or in a carrier attached to your belt.  You would then hear the music, listen to videos and communicate through a Bluetooth device such as an earbud/speaker such as Jawbone, or more likely something like the LG stereo headset.  You could access phone calls and other standard functions with greater ease by merely using your watch, but still use the smartphone in more convenient circumstances for detailed video; reading articles, books, or your favorite web log; web searches; or actually using that video-phone capability.

Faster, please.

(H/T to Donald Sensing at Sense of Events.)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Is Rick Perry Back?

Did he ever really go away?  Governor Perry returned to Texas after his presidential campaign to continue to preside over the most successful state economy in the country, and due in good part to his efforts, it's still humming along.

His presidential campaign ground to a halt after his lackluster performances in the interminable number of Republican "debates" in 2011 (marked often by pontificating and innuendo from the moderators of the Establishment Press).  The media and the Democrats (but I repeat myself) dropped into the ridicule mode that comes so naturally to them, but that doesn't gloss over the fact that Rick Perry suffered in his presentation.

He did miscalculate, true enough, but what the public typically doesn't know is the error centered around his optimism about how quickly he would recover from back surgery less than a month before the first debate.  Complications from the surgery (the contorted way he would stand, or his shifting his balance in particular contrast to the ramrod-straight posture of Mitt Romney standing next to him) was a hindsight clue, and the occasional slight befuddlement ("oops"), probably assisted by pain medication, must have been an impediment to his delivery.

All this during the presidential debates, a showcase not so much of the contenders but the media talking heads who are striving to make an impression.  It is the MSM who continuously tout the importance of the debates to a public who have little time to analyze or even recognize the important issues, and this claim always reminds me of one of my father's many axioms: "Never ask a barber if you need a haircut."

He campaigned exceptionally well in Texas (he is the longest serving governor in that state's history, no mean feat for Texas), with a delivery and style that works well there and in other areas of "fly-over" territory.  The Sophisticati are contemptuous of that sort of style, which makes those outside the Acela corridor (and Chicago, and the mega-cities groupings along I-5) all the more attracted to him.  But those same Sophisticati are the ones who swoon about the oratory of Obama, and how well has that worked out for the country?

Nevertheless, Rick Perry, still with ten months to go on his final term as governor, had a star turn at the CPAC conference this morning with a stem-winding performance that had the audience on its feet cheering.  He reminded the audience of what conservatism in a state government can look like:
We have created almost 30 percent of the nation’s jobs while keeping taxes among the nation’s lowest. We have presided over not only an energy boom but the nation’s largest population boom and an economic boom of monumental proportions.  We have demonstrated that no state can tax and spend its way to prosperity but with the right policies you can grow your way there.
True enough, he was preaching to the choir, but this crowd has proven contentious about what conservatism looks like when applied to the Byzantine hallways of Washington DC.  Some tidbits:
The vision that wins out – either this big government, protectionist nanny state version offered by liberal leaders – or the limited government, unsubsidized, freedom state offered by conservative leaders – will determine the future of our nation…. 
How can the greatest nation on earth continue to spend its way to astounding debt without the bill ever coming due?  How can explode federal and state budgets with unreformed entitlement programs without the bill ever coming due?  How can we appease a Syrian tyrant and embolden his Russian ally without the bill ever coming due?... 
Nowhere does the Constitution say we should federalize classrooms.  Nowhere does it give federal officials primary responsibility over the air we breathe, the land we farm, the water we drink.  And nowhere does it say Congress has the right to federalize health care.  See, it is inherent in human nature, once given power, to never give it back.  Now let me tell you something, this human tendency is a bipartisan offense…. 
You have the power to change America!  You have the power to speak to our newest hopes in addition to our age-old dreams!  You are the path to the future, a light on a distant shore, and you represent the renewed hope that America can be great again! 
In an effort at full disclosure, Dear Readers will remember that my focus on Rick Perry is not new found but started many years ago as a classmate, in the Cadet Corps at Texas A&M.  (Rick was as genuine then as he is now, and certainly knows how to pronounce the word 'corps'.)  I stumped for him during his last campaign and would gladly do so again.  If nothing else, this country needs his proven results in Texas.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ukraine, Russia, Crimea: Background and the Future

The situation in Ukraine has continued to deteriorate to the point that it is simply simmering, Cassandra-like, in a morass of political and cultural dread as Russia slowly moves its pieces around the geopolitical chessboard, backing into a corner the feeble Ukrainian pro-European faction that toppled a notoriously pro-Russian president for a second time.  Putin's Russia seems determined that this will be the last time that Ukraine resists the idea that it is wholly within the Russian sphere of influence. 

Maidan in Kiev, before and after

A wider shot for perspective

Scenes early in the growing crisis centered principally on the spectacular demonstrations in the large Maidan Nezaleshnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev, and the terms Maidan and Euromaidan have been used to designate the protests since, even those far from Kiev.  The pro-European demonstrators compelled the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych to seek an accord with the growing unrest and he announced a compromise, but the inertia of the demonstrations compelled him to flee, with the opposition in the parliament announcing a new government.  Russia has refused to recognize the new government, calling it a coup, and Yanukovych eventually surfaced in Moscow, then Rostov, calling on Russian support.

One of my Army sons surfaced just long enough to send me an excellent example of the atmosphere of these demonstrations in Kiev, scenes that place you in the middle of the turmoil and sounds and convey a real feel for the nearness of the Line of Departure as it were, showing the grim determination and anxiety of the demonstrators.

Very few commentators and journalists have contributed anything worthwhile toward an explanation of how the situation has come to this. A brief explanation of what the Ukraine is may help to explain a large part of the contention.

The political fight in Ukraine, an independent country for the first time after the collapse of the Soviet Empire (how I love that phrase) in 1991, is between the citizens of the native Ukrainian culture and the sizable Russian population in the country. There was a brief period after the country was established (along with the other fourteen ex-Soviet countries), when there was little time to do anything other than to adapt to the enormous change and try to work within the sudden and overwhelming complexities of the situation.

Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, Yanukovych

There were glimmers of a move to a European-style sense of democracy that slowly began to be starved for oxygen. Pro-European politicians came to power after the Orange Revolution in 2004 that deposed the same Yanukovych after his election was found to have been subject to massive fraud. New President Viktor Yushchenko was elected but not before he was poisoned with a strong dose of dioxin that temporarily left him disfigured. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, of another pro-European party, is very popular within her bloc, but both she and Yushchenko were swept out again by the same Yanukovych in 2010, in an election that wasn't as flagrantly corrupt as before. Yushchenko was seen as politically ineffective and his popularity has plummeted, and Tymoshenko was imprisoned on corruption charges in what was widely seen as a kangaroo court. Imprisonment was not kind to her – she was released by the coup and addressed the protestors in the Maidan from a wheelchair, her face swollen.

It is fitting that the protests began and escalated in the capital city of Kiev (or Kyiv, in Ukrainian). It is considered the 'mother of all Russian cities', centered in the ancient, almost near pre-historic times that saw a Slavic people living in a dominion of Varangian Vikings. This spawned the Russian culture, which eventually divided into the three subsets of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, earlier described even in my lifetime as Great Russia, Little Russia, and White Russia. Glancing at a map, the terms 'Great' and 'Little' carry an obvious explanation; 'White' derives either – or both – from the Slavic tradition of referring to cardinal directions by color – 'white' meaning 'north', and the observation that the population had a preponderance of blond-haired people. Ukraine is little compared only to Russia, but then anything would be, although it is larger than France as a comparison, and other than Russia is the largest country by area in Europe.

The Ukrainian people developed as a result of a separate yet related history to Russia, dominated in the west by the Polish and Lithuanian empire for several hundred years. (I became intrigued by this history many years ago as a young man after seeing the movie Taras Bulba, adapted from the story by Nikolai Gogol, a pre-eminent Ukrainian author.) To the east, the border between Ukraine and present-day Russia is the one established over time with Cossacks and Khanates surviving from the early days of the Tatars. Russians moved from the north down along the mostly 'left bank' of the huge Dnieper River which divides the country, and some of the most populous areas of Ukraine (other than Kiev) are along the heavily industrialized east that grew during the days of the Soviet Union.

The Crimean Peninsula, or simply Crimea, has a history of its own that belies its geography. Again glancing at a map, it would appear that Crimea is just as much a part of Ukraine geographically as anywhere else within its borders, but after its succession of Scythian and Greek settlements in ancient times, it came to be dominated by the Crimean Khanate, established by descendents of Genghis Khan, who came under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire far more easily than the Russians. Catherine the Great was responsible for taking it from the Turks and Tatars finally in 1783, an action that involved the Ukrainian people not at all, and it has remained staunchly Russian ever since, the more so after Stalin removed the remnants of the Crimean Tatars and moved them east at the end of World War II. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, some have come drifting back but not in enough numbers to seriously upset the demographics – Crimea remains some 60% Russian and 25% Ukrainian and only about 12% Crimean Tatars, and is classified as a distinct autonomous republic within Ukraine. It was these Crimean Tatars that first clashed with Russians in demonstrations in the Crimean capital of Simferopol.

 An indication of distribution between ethic Ukrainians and Russians (Washington Post)

The main dispute over Crimea exists because of the fact that Nikita Khrushchev, an ethnic Russian raised in the Ukrainian culture, granted Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 when all was still safely contained within the Soviet Union, for the reason of solidarity and proletarian friendship. The gesture was realistically meaningless at the time as simply administrative streamlining – no one predicted the collapse of the Soviet empire only a few decades later – but it has come to haunt the current dilemma.

The argument took on further significance with the large and historic Russian naval base at Sevastopol which headquarters the Black Sea Fleet. Russia retained the base after splitting off a few ships to comprise the small and rather insignificant Ukrainian Navy (their flagship is an emasculated Krivak-class frigate, and they have one Foxtrot submarine; the navy is little more than a Ukrainian version of the maritime arm of the KGB Border Guards from Soviet days, an attenuated Coast Guard). Though both fleets use the base, it is not without a comparison to the status of the US naval base at Guantánamo in Cuba.

There was also a brief political struggle with Moldova over the large Russian port city of Odessa between Crimea and Romania, but that city and its environs, also populated by a large percentage of Russians, were retained by Ukraine in a Hobson's Choice.

The country of Ukraine is thus divided between the native Ukrainian people to the west and north and the predominantly Russian people of the east and south, and the two cultures have been overlain with Tatars, Mongols, Huns and Poles. If one can say that the Ukrainians are influenced by their Polish/Lithuanian past, dominated by them from the 15th through to the 18th centuries, then also one must heed the observation that "if you scratch a Russian you'll find a Tatar." This extends back to the famous Alexander Nevsky of the late 13th century, who was faced with an invasion from the west in the form of the Northern Crusade by Swedes and Germans (like the Teutonic Knights), and the Mongol/Turkic Golden Horde to the east. Nevsky (that's Saint Alexander Nevsky if you are Orthodox) reasoned that the nations of the west sought to conquer the territory and bring the Russians under the foreign Roman church, whereas the Mongols only wanted tribute. He resolved to fight the invasion from the west and stopped it at the famous Battle of the Neva (thus Nevsky) and the Battle of the Ice, while acceding to the tribute of the Horde, an uneasy relationship (Moscow was sacked in 1382) until the yoke was thrown off by Ivan III the Great in 1480. Peter the Great some 300 years later was still trying to reverse the trend of looking east and bring Russia more into the culture of Europe.

The religious orientation of Ukraine changed under the Polish domination, as the Poles, more successful in their crusading operations along with their Lithuanian allies, were staunchly Roman Catholic. The Uniate church developed with an agreement that the churches in what is now Ukraine would answer to the Pope in Rome rather than the Patriarch of Constantinople or Moscow, while retaining the ritual and liturgy of the Orthodox Church, and today is known as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. (I am acquainted with a devout convert to the Ukrainian church who lives just a few miles away, and the church of the Ukrainian diaspora is today gaining membership from Roman Catholics who are attracted to its liturgy as opposed to the modernized version in the Roman church after Vatican II.)

The Russians instead believed their Orthodox Church to be the Third Rome, after the fall of Rome to the Germanic tribes in AD 476 and the capture of Constantinople by the Seljuk Turks in 1453, and thus the Russian church inherited the mantle of the one true church. The split between Ukrainians and Russians is further riven by the contentious division between Catholic and Orthodox that has been so prevalent in Slavic Europe for centuries (cf Yugoslavia, disintegration of).

Language enters into the distinction between Ukrainians and Russians as a measure of their distance and as an element of their respective cultures. Both grew out of a standard root, and they remain quite similar but different enough to be immediately recognizable. Just as English has been strongly influenced by the Latin of the Roman occupiers under Hadrian and French since the Norman Conquest, so too has Ukrainian been influenced by Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Czech, German and even Latin. By the 17th century, there are accounts of translators being used during negotiations with Russians (themselves influenced by Mongol and Turkic and the evolving of their native language by their isolation). Both Russian and Ukrainian use the Cyrillic alphabet but with variations in some letters and their pronunciations.

Language, religion, separate ancient orientations – these are a few of the distinctions that lend themselves to the argument of a clash of civilizations (a perspective lately attributed to Samuel Huntington), despite their remaining similarities. But Ukrainians have also suffered under Russian suppression in the 19th century, and the excesses after the Bolshevik Revolution. It was a burned-over territory in the ensuing Civil War between the Communist Red Army and the Monarchist White Army under General Pyotr Wrangel as well as a home-grown Anarchist Black Army under its commander Nestor Makhno.

Woman strolls past dead bodies in Kharkov during the Great Famine

A later catastrophe brought on by Stalin was the Holodomor, or the Great Famine of 1932 and 1933, in his war against the Kulaks, or "rich peasants". Stalin had thousands of Ukrainian intellectuals, government leaders, and nationalists arrested and executed or deported to the Gulag Archipelago. The Communists then imposed forced collectivization of farm land with an aim to put all farming under state control, moving the peasants from their private holdings to large state-run farms. An effective means was through a plan of class warfare, already shown to be effective in the initial stages of the Bolshevik Revolution, by defining down the idea of what it meant to be "rich", casting the poorer peasants against the more established ones. The term 'Kulak' soon came to mean any peasant with two cows or five acres of land, and finally anyone who resisted the Communists. Louis Blanc's famous slogan of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" was quickly interpreted by the Communists to "We own everything you have, and we will give you what we think you need." Confiscated grain was sold to Europe to raise funds or to feed areas securely under the control of the Party. Public executions were staged and the disruption in the food supply led to massive starvation. It is likely from this genocide that Stalin derived his observation that "the death of one man is a tragedy, but the death of millions is only a statistic." It is difficult to arrive at anything resembling a precise accounting, particularly after deliberate Communist alteration of records, but the death toll was likely in the 7 to 10 million range. It is this famine that some American journalists, anxious to show the success of Soviet Communism (following Lincoln Steffens: "I have been over to the future, and it works."), were referencing with such lies as told by Louis Fischer ("There is no starvation in Russia.") and Walter Duranty of the New York Times ("Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.")

[It was Duranty, the toast of the contemporary Sophisticati, who won the Pulitzer Prize that inexplicably remains in his name to this day, despite two investigations of his work by the New York Times itself – by editor Karl Meyer (1990) and historian Mark von Hagen (2003) – that were scathing in their criticism. Books have been written that prove him to have been a flagrant shill for Stalin (e.g., Stalin's Apologist [S J Taylor], The Harvest of Sorrow [Robert Conquest]), and other correspondents have condemned him as well (e.g., Malcolm Muggeridge: "[Duranty] was the greatest liar I ever knew."; Joseph Alsop: "Lying was Duranty's stock in trade."), yet the Pulitzer board as late as 2004 refused to strip the prize from this charlatan, giving the Pulitzer the same moral equivalency as the modern Nobel Peace Prize. The trend continues in some corners with the likes of Jordan Eason of CNN.]

The sudden fall of a strict dictatorship is typically supplanted by the only remaining organizations available at that time: the black market and organized crime. This has been no less true in Ukraine than in Russia, and corruption, bribery and nepotism as a way of life are found everywhere. A thrust to work themselves out of this political swamp was for the Ukrainians to ally themselves with the European Union, but the price of admission is steep. The EU, in its turn, is not in a position to grant favors, burdened as it is with the staggering problems of its nanny-state economies of Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and even France to some extent draining what is left of the active economy of the EU (otherwise known as 'Germany'). If the EU has to tell Greece that the larder is empty and the Greeks will have to put their own house in order, however painful that may be, it can't then make a generous loan to Ukraine. The Ukrainian economy is down by some $30 billion, and the EU responded with the possibility of some €625 million ($868 million), along with the IMF demand for painful restructuring that simply isn't going to happen anytime soon, assuming the political will to overcome decades of the sclerotic Communist bureaucracy. Putin, on the other hand, offered an immediate $15 billion and cut rates on the plentiful Russian natural gas flowing through pipelines that connect Russian gas fields and anxious European customers. Despite our warnings to Europe some twenty years ago, Russia is in a place to make Europe freeze by cutting off the more than 40% of the natural gas on which Europe depends, and the Russians have already demonstrated that they have the will to do so by shutting down the supply to Ukraine a few years ago in a earlier dispute.

Nevertheless, the momentum in the Ukrainian parliament and certainly with the western Ukraine was to move into the European sphere somehow, yet it was Yanukovych who suddenly signed a sweetheart deal with Putin. It was this that caused the latest eruption in the Maidan.

It is no wonder, just based on this brief précis alone, that there are sharp distinctions between the two sides. The momentum of the issue, though, has now been driven by the response of Putin and promises to continue unabated.

Each step in this process has been an attempt to return Ukraine to the control of Russia, with Russian despot Vladimir Putin slowly consolidating the Russian Empire again. It is Putin, after all, who said that the "demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [twentieth] century." It is blindingly obvious that he fully intends to re-unite the Russian Empire under his control to the maximum extent possible, while demonstrating to the world at large that he has the power to do practically anything he wants with relative impunity.

The Russians have moved within the last few days to secure Crimea. Troops in standard field gear, sanitized of rank insignia or distinguishing markings, began appearing in strategic places to secure the area. The Russians replied when asked that these couldn't be troops from the Russian armed forces – they must be local units of a peoples' militia, they said. Journalists at first would pass that canard along without comment (and some continue), but it is absurd to believe that so many of them (their movements make it difficult to pin down a number but a current estimate puts six thousand in Crimea), equipped with the same basic uniform and field gear, all armed with standard Russian weapons, could be anything but Russian troops. Consider also (for the journalists do not) that this supposed peoples' militia move around in trucks with Russian military plates and markings only barely obscured, along with armored vehicles and helicopters. That is certainly more than a neighborhood watch.

There are some uncorroborated reports of movements elsewhere but the action for the moment seems to be limited to securing Crimea. The land connection between Crimea and the Ukrainian mainland is a web of marshes, lakes, and bays, with the only two roads secured with those same nondescript troops and Cossack militia. Well-made signs have been erected telling Euromaidan protestors to turn around and go home. Ukrainian troops (what few there are) have been caught off guard, and appear to have copied the US Army weapons policy of Pearl Harbor prior to 7 December 1941, in that all weapons were secured in armories, now in possession of the Russians. A few small reserve bases are surrounded with Ukrainian troops inside, and the Russians around them seem content at the moment to wait them out, a quiet siege that avoids the tinder spark of shots fired.

 Unarmed Ukrainian troops march toward the Belbek airfield

Russian troops command the procession to halt, fire warning shots

A contentious disagreement (and a good look at the AK-74M rifles)

Ukrainian reserve troops behind the gate at Perevelnoye, Russian troops in foreground

The Ukrainian military is practically useless to address this incursion.  The Navy as I said above is a minor flotilla of gunboats, and its commander has already surrendered.  The Air Force has some few examples of somewhat modern equipment and aircraft but it has never been funded anywhere near an adequate level.  Upkeep has been done almost entirely through cannibalization, and less than ten percent of the aircraft can likely even launch.  Training has been practically at a standstill.  Likewise the Army – over the few years of Ukraine's independent existence, the Army has been reduced to some fifteen brigades and some ancillary regiments (air transport, artillery), communication equipment is antiquated and unreliable, soldiers are paid a pittance, and it is incapable of mounting anything like an adequate organized resistance.  The Russian Army trumps it at every turn.

Ukrainian (ex-)Rear Admiral Berezovsky surrendering the fleet in Sevastopol

Other governments demand answers about this incursion, but Putin ignores them.  The world is surprised, with the Western intelligence services caught off guard and our own CIA with another failure.  Putin saw no reason to engage in talks or even hint about his prospects beforehand – he didn't need to.  Putin doesn't talk – he acts, and even the few responses about the troops in Crimea, like they are some sort of upscale Blackwater, are obviously false and that is part of the joke.  He is laughing at the West's (and certainly our) inability to respond.  A key example of the dichotomy between us is that the Russians fired off an ICBM test just yesterday, likely to punctuate the fact that they are beholden to no one and don't care that they ramp up the anxieties of the West still further.  The US just recently cancelled such a test because we were concerned about the reaction of North Korea.  Obama is concerned about the sensitivities of Kim Jong Un; Putin doesn't give a damn about what Obama feels.

No one is going to be sending troops into Ukraine, the belly of the beast.  Even if that was a necessary response, the American military is the weakest it has been in decades, and part of the Russian joke is that the operation began within a day of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announcing the latest severe cut to the US military, downsized to its lowest level since before World War II, at a time when any historian worth his salt agrees that our feeble size then (Romania had a larger army) simply invited our enemies to grab power at our expense.  And of course the plan is to reduce our military still further each year out to 2024, with the Sequestration set to take half of each year's cost savings out of the military that constitutes only 19% of the federal budget.

European militaries are a shell of what they need to even defend their home ground.  Some contributions of mostly excellent troops in small numbers have aided in the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Operation Olympia against pirates in the western Indian Ocean, but they have done so with American aid and massive logistical support.  Even the French troops fighting Muslim insurgents in Mali, Chad, and the Central African Republic have done so only with the aid of air transport supplied by the US and UK.  A military option in Ukraine is completely off the table.  Likewise, talk of sending a warship or two into the Black Sea would be futile as well, sailing around under the watchful gaze of the Black Sea Fleet until its turn comes up to return stateside to be mothballed.

Yet again, our intelligence services are caught flat-footed, with no clue about the impending action.  One source said that the 'tell-tale movement of hospital units' wasn't seen, but I would expect that lame excuse from some transport battalion S-2, not the CIA.  Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken candidly admitted that he "hadn't a clue" about Putin's intentions.  Andrea Mitchell of CNN surprised John Kerry with the news that Putin denied that there were Russian troops in Crimea, several hours after the announcement.  I've always had a low opinion of State Department intelligence, but who is supposed to be keeping the Secretary of State up on the latest developments, much less news several hours old?

Our knee-jerk reaction is to threaten, but with what?  Sanctions are rattled rather than sabers, but we see time and again that sanctions, when they have any effect at all, can take years or decades to bring the parties to the table, and then have them talk us to death with no accomplishments(cf Iran, North Korea, now Syria, and Saddam's Iraq for a time before we finally called his bluff).  Administration pronouncements, echoed by the media of course as if they were factual, portrays a Putin who is somehow seeking an "off ramp" to the problem, with no evidence other than what they perceive as his tone of voice.  These same reports draw their conclusions based on the dip in world markets, as if the Russians hadn't already planned on that clear eventuality.  In all likelihood the market will rise again once the dust settles right where Putin wants it to be, and Europe incapable of being unified by the American "lead from behind" administration will go back to business as usual, if somewhat cautious.  Putin has already counted up the advantages and disadvantages of the action he has taken, and shows again the old observation that Americans play poker while Russians play chess.  John Kerry's meeting with Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov yesterday was a waste of time.  Hagel announced the dispatch of six F-15s and a tanker to reinforce the four F-15s already on rotation in Lithuania, but all that we are doing in the short run certainly is mere window dressing.  Mind you, I'm not condoning the Russian actions, just pointing out the reality of the situation.

The Russian attitude, in Russia and Crimea, is that Crimea has been staunchly Russian for well over 200 years, and other than the blithering administrative miscalculation of Khrushchev sixty years ago, it is unquestionably Russian again.  I don't anticipate that Putin will escalate the problem still further, but remember that he took the same action in the Transnistria of Moldova and with a limited invasion of Georgia to break off the pro-Russian enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  Putin has said that he has no plans to annex Crimea back into Russia, but we've seen that game played before too – just a few hours ago there were reports that Crimean Russians are petitioning to do just that, giving Putin a passive excuse for the same.

In each of those cases, the Putin doctrine seems to be the "protection of ethnic Russians".  Has anyone taken note that there are still sizable populations of Russians remaining in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania?  The Baltic states have been adamant about separation from the former Russian hegemon, and have taken the step of joining NATO, but who knows what encouragement Putin might have with them, or elsewhere?  And in case anyone hasn't noticed as well, Assad in Syria is well off the screen now with its Russian interlocutor being ostracized.