A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma: Two Important Articles on Russia vs. US and NATO

America is preoccupied, understandably, with its deep internal divisions, roiled by the riots and killing in Charlottesville and Pres. Trump’s reaction.

But major world events don’t stop while we are preoccupied, whether it is with race relations at home or Kim Jong Un abroad.

Russian expansion and NATO’s response to it remains one of America’s most important–and dangerous–security challenges.

Here are two probing articles on US-NATO-Russian relations, one from a leading US strategist, the other from a country Russia invaded a decade ago, Georgia.

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Michael Mandelbaum is one of America’s leading thinkers on international relations and US foreign policy. A centrist and a Realist, he writes here about NATO’s role:

“Pay Up, Europe: What Trump Gets Right About NATO” (Foreign Affairs, subscription)

European leaders may find [Trump’s] demands grating, especially given Trump’s unpopularity among their constituents, but they should heed them. In recent years, Europe has become a dangerous place. In search of domestic support, Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned to aggression abroad, invading Ukraine and intervening in Syria….

Putin will always need new victims. That makes him an ongoing threat. Just when NATO has once again become necessary for Europe’s security, however, Trump’s election has thrown the future of the U.S. role in the alliance into doubt.

For these reasons, Trump is right: to strengthen NATO and encourage the United States to continue its commitment to European security, the alliance’s European members should contribute more. Just as important for European and Western security, however, is for the United States to lead other multilateral initiatives to defend the interests and values that North America and Europe have in common. Without that leadership, Europe—and the rest of the world—will be a harsher place. –Michael Mandelbaum in Foreign Affairs mag.

Mandelbaum’s conclusion:

For Western responses to expansive Chinese and Russian conduct to succeed, the United States must lead the way. Only it has the power and the standing to launch global initiatives of this kind, as it did, for example, in 1990, when President George H. W. Bush assembled the worldwide coalition that evicted Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Unfortunately, Trump has shown neither the inclination nor the ability to exercise such leadership.

Forming a global coalition to resist Chinese economic bullying and Russian aggression will also require a broad sense of community among democracies, based not only on shared interests but also on common values. –Michael Mandelbaum in Foreign Affairs mag.

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The same issues is examined by one of Israel’s top think tanks, BESA (the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University).

The author, Emil Avdaliani, observes these issues from a sensitive location, Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

Russia invaded a portion of Georgia in 2008 and still holds territory there.

Russia Feels American Pressure, writes Avdaliani.

Russian-US relations have reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. President Donald Trump has signed a new package of anti-Russian sanctions into law and increased the US military presence across former Soviet territory and eastern Europe. He also sent VP Mike Pence on a tour of Estonia, Montenegro, and Georgia – a trip viewed by Moscow as western encroachment on an area it considers a buffer zone.

This standoff does not mean the two superpowers will not be able to find common ground in other areas, but the potential for cooperation is limited. Former Soviet territory will likely remain a major confrontation line between the US and Russia. –Emil Avdaliani for BESA

Russia’s economy is too weak to impose serious counter-sanctions, says Avdaliani.

There are some areas for US-Russian cooperation, he thinks, but they are sharply limited.

There are reasons for Moscow to be worried. American politicians openly state how supportive the US will be towards eastern European countries and Georgia in the event that Russia increases its military capabilities in the region…..

A steady US/NATO military and security buildup is underway in eastern Europe and the South Caucasus.

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ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, August 16

Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
Linked articles in bold purple

Trump doubles down on moral equivalence, blaming all sides for violence in Charlottesville. 

Comment: Not just a tactical mistake, IMO–an ethical travesty.

It is a tactical mistake, of course, because it keeps this dreadful, wrenching story alive for several more days and will undoubtedly animate the crazies on the left.

It is also true that some on the far left came to fight; so did some anarchists, who sided with them.

But the main points are these:

  • The whole event occurred because the neo-Nazis and KKK came to town to “defend” the statue of Robert E. Lee
  • It was one of their number who actually killed somebody, and
  • In such times, the President’s first responsibility is to rise about partisanship and speak for the country as a whole, to act as a stabilizing presence.

Trump failed.

Speaking of failure…The American Bar Association wants undocumented/illegal immigrants to practice law (Law Newz)

On Monday, The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates passed a resolution demanding that Congress let undocumented immigrants practice law…..

A few states allow undocumented people to become lawyers. California started allowing some people to practice law thanks to a bill passed in 2013. –Law Newz

Comment: There is zero chance a Republican Congress will pass, or Pres. Trump will sign, this proposed law.

Still, the ABA’s vote is shocking, even as virtue signalling (which is what it is).

Why? Because, whatever you call these immigrants (undocumented or illegal), their first act on American soil was to break the law. They entered the country illegally. They are still here illegally. To entrust them to serve as “officers of the court,” which all lawyers are, makes a mockery of that term.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair says U.S. “Is Not the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” (CNS News)

Comment: Part of their new outreach to Middle America?

Provo, Utah, mayor John Curtis declares victory in race to success Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Salt Lake City Tribune)

He ran as a conservative Republican (though he had been a Democrat in 2000). One opponent ran to his right; the other was a relative newcomer and less well-known.

Attitudes toward Trump did not play a large role in the race, according to the Salt Lake City paper.

Alabama: Primary for US Senate to replace Jeff Sessions: Runoff next month between Republicans, winner to face Democrat (Al.com)

Roy Moore will face Luther Strange in a runoff for the Republican nomination on Sept. 26. The winner will face former U.S. attorney Doug Jones in December. –Al.com

Luther Strange is currently sitting in the Senate, appointed by the Governor. He was endorsed by Mitch McConnell (who got Trump to endorse him) and had establishment money. But he underperformed badly in the primary.

Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, who had support from conservative talk radio hosts, came in third–a major setback for them. Brooks will remain in the House and says he plans to run for reelection in 2018.

Roy Moore, who led the field, is a very controversial figure, best known for his refusal to remove the Ten Commandments from the state Judicial Building, despite a Federal Court order to do so. That refusal (in 2001) led to his removal from the bench; he had been Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. In 2016, when he was again Chief Justice, he was suspended (and later resigned) for ordering lower-court judges to continue enforcing the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, even though the ban had been overturned by Federal Courts.

Comment: Moore praised Brooks on election night–a smart strategic move–and is now in a strong position to garner his votes as the most anti-establishment candidate.

Because Moore is so controversial, expect this race to receive national attention.

 

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It’s the Chicago “Safe Summer” sports league, so what could possibly go wrong?

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“The whole idea behind it was to keep kids safe.

And then it evolved into what it did,” said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. (Chicago Tribune story here.)

According to the Tribune:

Police finally canceled the event after fighting broke out. At least one video circulating on social media showed two girls brawling with each other as some people in the crowd jumped in, striking the women. –Chicago Tribune

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Kudos to a Chicago DA fighting FOR a prisoner’s rights

Normally, the prosecutor gives a big “thumbs up” when a judge keeps a suspect in jail.

Not this time.

The second-ranking prosecutor in Cook County (Chicago) not only gave a thumbs down, he risked contempt of court by arguing so vociferously against the judge.

  • The judge: Nicholas Ford, known for his tough sentences.
  • The prosecutor: Eric Sussman. (Full disclosure: I have known Eric all his life.)
  • The defendant: Karen Padilla, held on several charges and mother of a new baby, born in jail

The Chicago Tribune reports (link here):

A longtime Cook County judge and a top prosecutor repeatedly shouted at each other Monday at a tense hearing over whether a pregnant woman should have been jailed without bail for more than a month this summer.

“I have every right to hold her,” said Judge Nicholas Ford, a former prosecutor known for imposing tough sentences.

“You do not!” countered First Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Sussman, his voice raised.

At times, the argument grew so heated that the two talked over each other, making their comments nearly unintelligible, as Karen Padilla stood nearby with her 3-week-old daughter strapped on her chest in a carrier. –Chicago Tribune

The defendant, Padilla, had several significant charges pending, none violent. Her current problems began when she was pulled over for a traffic violation, admitted that she had no driving license, and, when her records were checked, was found to have an outstanding arrest warrant (she was charged with pocketing customers’ payments at a restaurant where she worked).

So, she was taken to jail and was scheduled for a hearing, where she might be released, pending a trial date.

Because her hearing was delayed (no judge was available, apparently), the 25-year-old mother stayed in jail and gave birth there.

“Mr. Sussman, this is simple,” [Judge] Ford said.

“No, it’s not,” Sussman interjected, his voice raised, and the two again began to shout over each other.

“She had to give birth to her daughter in jail!” said Sussman, noting that Padilla couldn’t afford to pay restitution or fees as she was ordered. “This is not a debtor’s prison you’re running, your honor … and you illegally sentenced her to jail.”

“I didn’t sentence her to anything,” Ford shot back. –Chicago Tribune

Padilla was ultimately released on her on own recognizance.

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Comment: I couldn’t be prouder of Eric Sussman for his conduct in this case.

I know his family shares that pride.

I only wish his father, Art (himself a very distinguished attorney), were here with mom Rita to smile at the work Eric is doing and the values he is fighting for.

ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, August 15

Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
Linked articles in bold purple

The aftershocks of Charlottesville continue

The main story is the fallout from Pres. Trump’s initial failure to single out the instigators of the fatal attack. He has since issued a full-throated condemnation of the white nationalists, but not until he incurred serious political damage.

The Washington Post makes an important point: “Turmoil in Virginia touches a nerve across the country

 Kim Jong Un backs down from his threat to Guam.  (Story here)

Comment: The Chinese probably told him he went too far, but we don’t know the next shoe to fall. Kim has not been seen recently, which may indicate another test is near. In any case, the main problem remains, and there is no indication yet that China intends to resolve it.

Henry Kissinger, writing an op-ed in the WSJ over the weekend, says the only solution lies in the US and China working out a joint plan to deal with North Korea. The incentive for China is that North Korea’s provocative behavior could lead to nuclear proliferation in the region, which would be very bad for China. (Op-ed in WSJ, subscription)

Iran announces that it could restart its nuclear program within hours if the US pulls out of the agreement (BBC)

Comment: Another problem with pulling out: Obama front-loaded all the benefits–ace negotiators, eh?–so the Iranians have already received them.

Democratic Party flailing: Four-state tour to reconnect with workers (New York Times)

The need for the Democratic Party and the labor movement to take stock of their historically close alliance became clear after November’s election when Hillary Clinton’s support among union voters declined by 7 percentage points from 2012 when former President Barack Obama was re-elected.

For months, Democrats have been grappling with how to reconnect with the union and working class vote they once considered their base, prompting former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to lament after the election that “my party did not talk about what it always stood for.” –New York Times

Comment: For the party of Nancy Pelosi, Tom Steyer, and Keith Ellison to connect with workers, they will need to hire an anthropologist.

China’s economy continues to cool as Trump Administration looks into its unfair trade practices (US News and World Report)

Comment: The investigation could lead to tariffs or other punishment. As for Chinese economic performance, it is hard to assess because no serious economist trusts Beijing’s official data.

Today in teaching

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Suddenly, North Korean rockets are much better. Why? NYT says they bought engines from a Russian-linked firm in Ukraine

The New York Times is reporting important news: “North Korea’s Missile Success is Linked to Ukrainian Plant

That plant, which has historic ties to the Russian missile program, sold North Korea the equipment on the black market, according to classified assessments by the US intelligence community.

Such a degree of aid to North Korea from afar would be notable because President Trump has singled out only China as the North’s main source of economic and technological support. He has never blamed Ukraine or Russia, though his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, made an oblique reference to both China and Russia as the nation’s “principal economic enablers” after the North’s most recent ICBM launch last month.

Analysts who studied photographs of the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, inspecting the new rocket motors concluded that they derive from designs that once powered the Soviet Union’s missile fleet. The engines were so powerful that a single missile could hurl 10 thermonuclear warheads between continents.

Those engines were linked to only a few former Soviet sites.–New York Times

Comment: This assessment (assuming it is accurate and accurately reported) raises disturbing questions about Russia’s malign role in this crisis.

If the Ukrainian plant still has strong ties to Russia, then it would not transfer such lethal materials without political approval from Moscow.

The intelligence report could lead to even worse bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow, already at their post-Cold War low.

It also raises the possibility (discussed in previous ZipDialog posts) that if Beijing edges away from Pyongyang, then Moscow could step in as a diplomatic supporter.

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ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, August 14

Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
Linked articles in bold purple

◆ Quick Update on Charlottesville, which remains the top story.

  1. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are now facing a federal investigation for violating civil rights.
  2. The driver of the deadly car, to be arraigned today, will be looked at closely to see if he was part of a conspiracy
  3. Pres. Trump still being excoriated (across the political spectrum) for his failure to single out the neo-Nazis and supremacists in his statement condemning the violence
  4. National Security Adviser McMaster calls the act “terrorism,” and Ivanka Trump condemns the supremacists in clear language, at the outset
  5. More attention is now focusing on the failure of the police to intervene and stand between the opposing groups. They appear to have “stood down,” much like the police in Baltimore.
    • We need to know why
    • We need to have a clear set of “best practices” for police in these dangerous confrontations

Comment: It is shameful that the President did not speak out as clearly as his daughter. Yes, the left-wing and anarchist Antifada was there and did fight, but the main responsibility for violence belongs to the extreme right in this case. In other cases, when the responsibility belongs elsewhere, the President should condemn that, too, and do so in clear language.

Today in Islamic terror: 18 killed in attack in West African state of Burkino-Faso, at restaurant frequented by foreigners (CNN)

 As part of UN sanctions, China bans North Korea iron, lead, coal imports (Washington Post)

But China also warned the US:

In an editorial, the state-owned China Daily newspaper said Trump was asking too much of China over North Korea….

Trump’s “transactional approach to foreign affairs” was unhelpful, it said, while “politicizing trade will only exacerbate the country’s economic woes, and poison the overall China-U.S. relationship.” –Washington Post

Comment: China is doing the minimum to avoid becoming the focus of international pressure, but not enough to really change North Korean policy.

 Ooooops! Next shoe drops in Google’s controversy over women in tech, and that shoe is polished with irony:

Google’s international competition for computer coders–“Google Code Jam”–has all-male finalists for 14th year in row (Daily Caller)

Google uses the event to identify candidates for potential employment, recruiting tech wizards from all over the world—from the Philippines and Japan, all the way over to Russia, Sweden, and across the ocean to Latin America and the United States….

Every year, tens of thousands of would-be programming masters sign up for the competition—solving programming puzzles in record time. Only the best of the best make it to the final stage…..

Based on merit alone, the Code Jam does not make any considerations to contestants’ race, gender, political affiliation, or social status. It’s a test of pure skill. –Daily Caller

Comment: One of the great achievements of the Enlightenment was the shift in how people are selected for top jobs and prizes–away from status and caste (are you an aristocrat? a member of the dominant race or religion?) and toward merit-based selection.

That achievement is now being challenged without intellectual clarity. That is, some favor affirmative action because it will “level the playing field” and so allow true merit to shine. Others think of it as a benefit that is owed to groups formerly discriminated again; that approach is inherently opposed to merit-based selection. So is retaining preferences well into a person’s career, by which time merit should have already been apparent.

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More on receiving lots of news updates; ZipDialog and The Onion are on the same page

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Yesterday, as news about the Charlottesville killing and rioting was breaking, I recommended taking a break from the incessant nattering of cable TV.

The all-important ratio of agita/information is too high.

Instead, get your news updates from websites like Associated Press or the cable channels’ own web sites. (ZipDialog post here.)

The Onion has a related comment on the torrent of scary stories.

As regular ZD readers know, I consider the Onion to be America’s Most Trusted News Source.

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