James Baker At The NY Times: ‘3 Presidents and a Riddle Named Putin’

Full piece here.

“He’s not delusional, but he’s inhabiting a Russia of the past — a version of the past that he has created,” said Fiona Hill, the top intelligence officer on Russia during Mr. Bush’s presidency and co-author of “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.” “His present is defined by it and there is no coherent vision of the future. Where exactly does he go from here beyond reasserting and regaining influence over territories and people? Then what?”

Maybe he’s got his own future, and doesn’t need ours. Maybe he hasn’t thought that far ahead. Maybe some people in China’s military see outside interests reflexively as threats and calculate accordingly.  Maybe Al Qaeda’s Islamist radicalism is messianic and delusional, as are a lot of people in the Muslim Brotherhood, as are some people out there who would hijack nuclear material and kill millions of innocent people if they could.

Do we take Somali pirates aside and give them a good talking-to?

But as to Russia and Putin, I suppose the country’s too big and its leader too important to ignore for many strategic reasons.

I suppose we’ll keep looking inside those nesting dolls for a man we can do business with.

Kasparov, Kerry, Putin & Obama?-Some Links On Ukraine

Well, not to look like too much of a dupe (me), but chess great Garry Kasparov, who has spoken-out at great personal risk for his birthplace of Azerbaijan as well as for the freedoms of all against autocracy and tyranny, has been very vocal on Twitter as to just what we’re likely dealing with in Putin:

Addition: Kasparov is a human-rights advocate having a tough time finding support against the actual force used by Putin against those supporting an independent Ukraine.  Some human-rights advocates are as close to foreign policy decisions as they’ve been in a while in the current U.S. administration.

Is there any merit in applying rational motives to Putin’s behavior?

Perhaps, if you’re in Kasparov’s shoes, no, there isn’t.  Putin’s actions should be clear enough.

Hopefully, I’m aware that many Western media outlets occupy a kind of secular-bubble within which everyone’s a potential convert to a shared set of assumptions about liberal democracy.  The spread of human-rights through international institutions is often presumed to be the natural course of events.  Apparently even Putin, China, the mullahs in Iran, and Islamic terrorists might be welcome to join as long as they agree to some basic conditions.

It’s ain’t what you know…

Moving along, here’s liberal strategist and thinker Zbigniew Brzezinski at WaPo, born in Poland, who served under Jimmy Carter (yes, Obama’s further out there than Carter, in many respects).

Putin’s actions can’t go unpunished:

‘This does not mean that the West, or the United States, should threaten war. But in the first instance, Russia’s unilateral and menacing acts mean the West should promptly recognize the current government of Ukraine as legitimate. Uncertainty regarding its legal status could tempt Putin to repeat his Crimean charade. Second, the West should convey — privately at this stage, so as not to humiliate Russia — that the Ukrainian army can count on immediate and direct Western aid so as to enhance its defensive capabilities. There should be no doubt left in Putin’s mind that an attack on Ukraine would precipitate a prolonged and costly engagement, and Ukrainians should not fear that they would be left in the lurch’

WaPo’s editorial board wakes up to Obama’s foreign policy assumptions, at least before potentially nodding-off again.

I think it’s reasonable to expect more redlines and deadlines from the President. Economic sanctions and scrambling behind the 8-ball are par-for-the-course these days. Check out Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic’s interview with Obama.  It’s quite insightful.

My take:  This administration is deeply invested in a kind of everyone-come-to-the-table peace activism and idealism, as well as Obama’s ability to read the intentions of others using this roadmap.  I suspect he’ll likely redouble efforts for an Israel/Palestine peace process and a tentative peace-deal with the leadership in Iran, evidence to the contrary, history, strategy, peace through strength notwithstanding.  The liberal internationalists are grounding him in realpolitik to some extent, bolstering this worldview which I suspect Obama sees as quite pragmatic and middle-of-the-road.

Yes, he’ll use drones, take out Bin-Laden, and keep our security in mind, but his default position is towards an ideal of peace, not necessarily peace through strength.  His political and ideological interests are similarly aligned.

Addition: Is Putin acting to undermine his own interests quickly, more slowly?

Important to note:  American withdrawal supply lines out of Afghanistan run through Russian territory, and any possible negotiations with the Iranian leadership depends upon some Russian cooperation.

Also, what many Americans may have missed during the last election:

We need a grander strategy, from the Middle-East through Asia, though how this strategy would look, exactly, is up for debate.

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Charles Hill suggests that if America doesn’t lead with a new set of challenges that face the West, then Europe surely isn’t capable of leading either.  If we don’t strike out on our own as Truman did with bold leadership after World War II, we will end a generations long experiment in American exceptionalism.  If we don’t lead, someone who doesn’t share our values, probably will.

The world can easily destabilize and get quite violent, quite quickly.

This seems to be where we are.

Any thoughts and comments are welcome

(*As for liberal democracy, my understanding is that there are many strains within it that are highly illiberal, and threaten it from within, obviously, while claiming high ideals and insisting upon utopian and big solutions to persistent problems).

James Panero At The New Criterion: ‘The Widening Gulf’

Full piece here.

Oil and gas money can buy Qatar lots of art (and help it import cheap labor), but other tribal, autocratic ways haven’t changed much:

‘On the one hand, Qatar’s art initiatives can be seen as a modernizing force, one that could liberalize the tribal attitudes of the country’s native population and pave the way for further political reform. On the other hand, contemporary art may merely serve as a cover for further repressive policies.’

Related On This SiteJames Panero At The New Criterion: ‘Time to Free NY’s Museums: The Met Responds’

MOMA is private, so perhaps it’s not as decadent if they display Tilda Swinton in a box:

Tilda Swinton At MOMA-From Arma Virumque: ‘Nightmare In A Box’

From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus.  A very good Goya page here.

Joan Miro: Woman… Goethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersSome Quotes From Kant And A Visual Exercise

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

From CATO: ‘Venezuela Is Spiraling Out Of Control’

Full post here.

This is just sad.

The post-Chavez Maduro government is trying to control whatever in order to keep power and presumably still claim the high moral ground of its unrealizable socialist-populist ideals, having taken over a series of electronics stores:

‘As the economic situation rapidly worsens in Venezuela, the government is growing increasingly authoritarian and is now actively undermining the foundations of the country’s already deteriorated social fabric’

A timeline and a discussion of how soaring inflation is being caused by political factors.

Take it from a bright Venezuelan:

‘Chavez is actually not an orthodox Marxist in the sense that Marx would have recognized (which was why I linked to the sort of Marxist ‘prophecy’ of people like Chavez from the ‘Eighteenth Brumaire’). Chavez is more along the lines of what traditional Marxists referred to as ‘Bonapartist’ (borrowing from the figure of Napoleon Bonaparte). The whole theory on which Chavez based his political life was that the working class (or what passed for it, in a country like Venezuela) *could not* make a revolution on its own, and that someone else (the military and the Socialist Party, led by him) needed to make the revolution for them. ‘

Christopher Hitchens at Slate-Hugo Boss:

‘The boss loves to talk and has clocked up speeches of Castro-like length. Bolívar is the theme of which he never tires. His early uniformed movement of mutineers—which failed to bring off a military coup in 1992—was named for Bolívar.’

Maybe people shouldn’t be getting their political advice from Sean Penn:

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Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxOn Mario Vargas Llosa-Adam Kirsch At The City Journal: ‘The Dream Of The Peruvian’

Some Links On Hugo Chavez-His Death And His Legacy

William Dobson at Slate:

‘What does it stand for? Populism, socialism, militarism, xenophobia, nationalism, Marxism, anti-Americanism, class warfare, Bolivarian revolution, lawlessness, corruption, financial collapse—it depends on where you stand.’

Christopher Hitchens at Slate-Hugo Boss:

‘The boss loves to talk and has clocked up speeches of Castro-like length. Bolívar is the theme of which he never tires. His early uniformed movement of mutineers—which failed to bring off a military coup in 1992—was named for Bolívar.’

A video at The Economist-What’s Next For Chavismo?’

Do the Chavistas go on?

There are a loyal group of followers crying in the autocratic populist’s wake, as he directed the spigot of oil wealth somewhat in their direction.  There are also some other anti-American, anti-capitalist types who hold him up as a model.

Addition:  From the comments at this Foreign Policy piece:

‘I like to think of Hugo Chavez as the result of what would happen if a politician of the limited intellect, naiveté and fiery populism of a Jesse Jackson on the left or Sarah Palin on the right were to win the presidency in our country, or better yet, if a reality TV star became president.’

He found a useful friend in Sean Penn: