Commentary Magazine


Topic: Germany

Why Is Germany Undermining NATO?

The war between Russia and Ukraine does not involve NATO. But it may decide its future.

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The war between Russia and Ukraine does not involve NATO. But it may decide its future.

The central question surrounding Russia’s behavior of late is this: Would Vladimir Putin order the invasion of a NATO country? One of the main arguments for NATO’s continued importance is the fact that when Putin wants to make trouble and consolidate his influence in Russia’s near-abroad, he tends only to send the Russian army into countries that are not part of NATO.

In the case of Georgia, it was done explicitly to try to prevent Georgia’s accession to NATO, though it wasn’t imminent. The invasion of Ukraine was also at least in part an attempt to punish Ukraine for moving toward the West, spook it into further compliance with Putin’s will, and serve as an example to other states in the neighborhood that when you go out on that limb there is no one–not Europe, certainly not Russia–to catch you if you fall.

That is not to say Russia doesn’t come awfully close to crossing those lines. It kidnapped an Estonian officer last year from Estonian territory, for example, and had in the past hit Estonia with cyber attacks. And it freely assassinates critics of the Kremlin even in Western countries, with relative impunity. But the Russian tanks have yet to roll in to a NATO nation, which would have the right to invoke mutual defense obligations from other NATO nations–the U.S. military, in other words. And what would happen if it did?

Some think the mutual defense clause is, at this point, a relic and a bluff. Which is why the West’s unwillingness to give Ukraine any serious help is a bad sign for NATO’s command. If NATO is going to bluff, it doesn’t need the Germans announcing that it’s bluffing to the world. Which is what has been happening over the last week as the NATO-Germany rift is opening in public:

For months, [NATO Europe commander General Philip] Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove’s numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America’s NATO allies in Europe. As such, he is playing directly into the hands of the hardliners in the US Congress and in NATO.

The German government is alarmed. Are the Americans trying to thwart European efforts at mediation led by Chancellor Angela Merkel? Sources in the Chancellery have referred to Breedlove’s comments as “dangerous propaganda.” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even found it necessary recently to bring up Breedlove’s comments with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.

Having the Germans accuse NATO of “propaganda” because the latter is alarmed by Russia’s repeated invasions of Ukraine is among the surest signs yet that Western Europe is far more afraid of the Russian bear than the Ukrainians are. And of course the Germans are upset with the U.S. as well. That comment about “Americans trying to thwart” Europe’s peace efforts sound less like Berlin’s finest than Sputnik media script writers.

Speaking of Sputnik, the Kremlin propagandists are quite enjoying the Germans trying to scold NATO into not making trouble with Moscow:

Describing the conflict as a “surprise”, the publication points to the EU’s “growing resentment of Washington’s anti-Russian strategy”, adding that the “escalation against Russia is being fueled by ‘hawks’ in the US,” including former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.” …

General Breedlove’s statements prompted harsh criticism from Berlin, which blames NATO for hampering a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Yuk it up, fellas.

What’s happening here is very simple. Russia is running out of non-NATO countries in its neighborhood to invade. NATO can’t save Ukraine, but it’s pledged to save its member countries, which could be Putin’s next targets.

There are two ways the Ukraine endgame can protect NATO countries from having to find out if the alliance’s mutual defense provisions are just a pretty lie. The first is that whatever happens in Ukraine, if Europe appears serious about drawing lines in the sand then Russia might believe it cannot attack a NATO country without risking war with NATO–war with Europe and the U.S., that is. The second is if the cost of Russia’s adventure in Ukraine is made high enough, Moscow will have neither the will nor the resources to keep invading European countries.

The Germans think NATO is being too belligerent with regard to Ukraine, because they’re merely assuming that Ukraine is the end of it. That is both naïve and dangerous. And it signals to Moscow that Berlin doesn’t have the stomach for a fight. Considering Germany’s history, it would be a sad irony if the Germans were the ones to finally sink NATO’s credibility. Either way, if NATO’s credibility remains intact it’ll be no thanks to Chancellor Merkel.

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If European Jews Must Live in Fear, Why Was Netanyahu Wrong?

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu took a pasting from pundits and even some Jewish leaders when he reacted to the attack on Copenhagen synagogue by repeating his call for European Jews to “come home” to Israel. Many people were uncomfortable with the prime minister’s open advocacy for Zionism. But the problem goes deeper than that. Despite the recent violence against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen, denial about what even the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism still exists. But yesterday’s comments by a German Jewish leader advising fellow Jews not to identify themselves by wearing yarmulkes while walking in certain sections of the country is yet more confirmation that what Europe is experiencing is a revival of Jew hatred that can’t be ignored. If Jews must live in fear even in a country that supposedly has learned the lessons of the Holocaust, then what hope is there for Jews on the Continent other than to seek protection elsewhere.

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Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu took a pasting from pundits and even some Jewish leaders when he reacted to the attack on Copenhagen synagogue by repeating his call for European Jews to “come home” to Israel. Many people were uncomfortable with the prime minister’s open advocacy for Zionism. But the problem goes deeper than that. Despite the recent violence against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen, denial about what even the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism still exists. But yesterday’s comments by a German Jewish leader advising fellow Jews not to identify themselves by wearing yarmulkes while walking in certain sections of the country is yet more confirmation that what Europe is experiencing is a revival of Jew hatred that can’t be ignored. If Jews must live in fear even in a country that supposedly has learned the lessons of the Holocaust, then what hope is there for Jews on the Continent other than to seek protection elsewhere.

A new Pew Research Center study shows that Jews were harassed or oppressed by their governments in 77 of the 198 countries covered by the survey. That includes a frightening total of 34 out of 45 countries in Europe. Yet the problem with accepting the reality of European anti-Semitism arises from a reluctance to place the blame for this prejudice on the haters rather than the victims.

One example came this week from “Science Guy” Bill Nye, the popular science educator and television star. On Bill Maher’s HBO show Real TimeNye said that the problems of European Jews stem from their reluctance to make friends with those who hated them. Attacking Netanyahu’s Zionist stand, Nye said the answer was that Jews should do more “to get to know their neighbors,” as if the roots of centuries of European anti-Semitism was the unwillingness of the victims to undertake outreach to anti-Semites.

That was offensive enough, but an even better example of the mentality that tolerates this new wave of anti-Semitism came from a British Jews. Harry Potter Actress Miriam Margolyes told the Guardian, “I don’t think people like Jews” but blamed the current outbreak on Israel since it gave Britons an excuse to vent their true feelings because of anger about the Gaza war. Like most British artists Margolyes blamed Israel for defending itself against Hamas terrorism and said the backlash against Jews was therefore somehow understandable, if deplorable. Her stance was both uninformed and illogical but it reflects the attitudes of English and other European elites who have, in a strange confluence of opinion, come to share the prejudices of Muslim immigrants who have helped revive traditional Jew hatred on the continent.

Blaming the Jews for being clannish (the conceit of Nye’s bizarre comments) sounds more like 19th century anti-Semitism, but even if we only focus on the way anti-Zionism has allowed traditional hatred to undergo a revival, there is no longer much doubt about the fact that it is becoming open season on Jews on the streets of Europe. A viral video of a Jewish journalist strolling through Paris wearing a kippah being abused by passersby is one more confirmation of a trend that can only be denied by those with ulterior motives.

European Jews may still prefer to think of themselves as safe, free, and prosperous and the political leaders of their countries may often say the right thing about anti-Semitism. But if Jews can no longer walk the streets of Europe’s capitals while identifying themselves with their faith or fear to speak out in defense of Israel lest they face opprobrium, then they cannot pretend to be truly free. The choice whether to stay or to go is personal, and it is difficult for anyone to pick up and leave their homes even under duress. But, as it did throughout the 20th century, history continues to vindicate the cause of Zionism. The Jews of Europe cannot pretend to be secure or to be confident that worse is not in store for them. Netanyahu was right to speak up about them having a haven where they will be able to defend themselves. Those inclined to denigrate his remarks should stroll about Europe’s streets while identifying themselves as Jews before they speak.

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Ukraine Deal: Keeping Russia In, U.S. Out

It is easy to look at the ceasefire agreement struck between Ukraine, Russian-backed forces, and their European interlocutors and wonder whether it really is an agreement at all, let a lone a successful conclusion to the all-night talks in Minsk. But it may have been successful by the key metric set by German and French leaders heading into the negotiations: foreclosing the possibility of serious American military aid to Ukraine.

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It is easy to look at the ceasefire agreement struck between Ukraine, Russian-backed forces, and their European interlocutors and wonder whether it really is an agreement at all, let a lone a successful conclusion to the all-night talks in Minsk. But it may have been successful by the key metric set by German and French leaders heading into the negotiations: foreclosing the possibility of serious American military aid to Ukraine.

The deal itself inspires mostly pessimism, despite French President Hollande’s grandiose declaration that the talks “consisted of a long night and a long morning, but we arrived at an accord on the cease-fire and the global end to the conflict,” according to the New York Times. In fact, that is a generous reading of events. The ceasefire is scheduled to go into effect this weekend, which means the next few days could see an escalation. The ceasefire was also imprecise, to say the least, about where the two (three?) sides would end up, so we can expect a scramble to create facts on the ground before the ceasefire technically begins.

Indeed, just three paragraphs before Hollande’s peace-for-our-time announcement, the Times had already explained why that’s almost surely not the case:

The cease-fire is scheduled to begin at midnight on Saturday, but the 13-point compact appeared fragile, with crucial issues like the location of the truce line and control of the border with Russia left unresolved. Over all, there seemed to be no guarantee that the problems that marred the cease-fire agreement reached here in September had been ironed out.

The very fact that it took more than 16 hours of intensive negotiations to reach an agreement, and that the leaders announced the accord in three separate news conferences, seemed to highlight the differences that remained.

So there’s a truce without a truce line and a border up for grabs while the fighting is permitted to continue until late night Saturday, after which the fighting might not stop anyway since the same kind of ceasefire was reached in September and, well, here we are.

That article is by Neil MacFarquhar. In a companion piece, the Times’s Andrew Roth published a “Q&A” on the details of the agreement. It does not add too much, but mostly serves as a useful reference point for the key areas of conflict. It contains three questions and their answers. The three questions are: “Can the cease-fire hold?” “Where will the new dividing lines be?” and “What about Ukraine’s border with Russia?”

The answer to the question about “dividing lines” really says it all:

The situation on the ground favors the separatists.

Ukrainian officials have said that the rebels gained control over more than 500 square kilometers, or almost 200 square miles, of additional territory since the September cease-fire deal. Under the new agreement, both sides are required to withdraw heavy artillery to create a 30-mile demilitarized buffer zone. But the agreement does not explicitly demarcate the line. Ukraine is required to withdraw from the “current front lines,” which may change by Saturday. Separatist forces are supposed to withdraw behind the September line.

Sure–because when you’re trying to stop an ongoing ground war in Europe by setting borders and boundaries, it’s usually enough just to let each side eyeball it and see where everybody ends up.

Although Putin has not yet abided by ceasefire directives, maybe this time he will. It’s possible. But this ceasefire agreement may in the end succeed only in preventing American military aid to Ukraine. That’s because the terms of the deal represent an acknowledgement by all sides that Ukraine has lost each round of Russia’s invasions, and that there won’t be any help from Europe on the way. That means it might just be too late for the U.S. to accomplish very much by getting involved now.

“Now,” in this context, actually means “in a few months.” As the Wall Street Journal reported, the weapons we’d give Ukraine would probably have to be ordered, and their recipients would need training. Russia, then, has some time now to take free shots and move that border some more. Right now, the area the pro-Russian “rebels” are operating in crosses the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Russian side will likely seek to carve out as secure a territory as possible before the ceasefire goes into effect.

And then what? Over at Foreign Policy, Mark Galeotti doesn’t rule out American arms for Kiev. But the real question is whether there is anything left to fight for. The agreement essentially ensures that eastern Ukraine will be either a frozen conflict or a breakaway Russian client. Ukrainian President Poroshenko will have to see to that for the full peace to take effect. That means Ukraine goes into this ceasefire conceding the areas under conflict to Moscow.

The message given to Poroshenko from his European “friends” was obviously: Get the best deal you can from Putin; no one has your back here. Even if they haven’t succeeded in bringing real peace to Europe, they may have succeeded in keeping America out.

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Will Ukraine Ceasefire Hold? Unlikely.

That was very exciting news from Minsk. In the words of the New York Times: “Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels reached a ceasefire agreement… the first step toward ending fighting in eastern Ukraine that has caused the worst standoff between Moscow and the West since the Cold War ended.”

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That was very exciting news from Minsk. In the words of the New York Times: “Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels reached a ceasefire agreement… the first step toward ending fighting in eastern Ukraine that has caused the worst standoff between Moscow and the West since the Cold War ended.”

You might be mistaken for thinking that’s a new story from today but actually it’s from September 5, 2014. Immediately after the signing of this previous ceasefire, the pro-Russian rebels violated it and fighting resumed over control of eastern Ukraine. With the battles escalating, representatives of Ukraine, France, Germany, and Russia once again convened in Minsk a few days ago and now have reached yet another ceasefire agreement.

Is there any reason to think that this agreement will hold any more than the last one did? Of course not. There are in fact holes big enough in the agreement to drive a Russian T-90 tank through it. The deal is to be implemented in stages with the most important and difficult bits coming many months from now.

As the Times notes, the accord “states that the process of restoring ‘full control of the state border by the government of Ukraine throughout the conflict area’ is to happen by the end of 2015. And it is only to happen then if constitutional reforms that will decentralize authority to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are first carried out and local elections held.” Naturally the pro-Russian rebels will never admit that any reforms carried out by Kiev are sufficient for them to give up control of “their” areas.

Moreover: “The accord calls for disarming illegal groups. But the separatists may maintain that their militias are not illegal and that therefore the provision does not apply to them.” The accord does not even address the issue of when, if ever, Russian forces and equipment are to withdraw from Ukraine.

In short, this is yet another meaningless piece of paper. Why has Putin signed it at all? Because he is cleverly zig-zagging from force to diplomacy to achieve his objectives. With credible threats coming from Washington that the Obama administration might finally rethink its stubborn refusal to arm Ukraine, Putin has found it expedient to pretend that peace is taking hold. He no doubt reckons this will dissuade Obama from sending arms, which the president has made clear he doesn’t really want to do anyway.

So Putin can then use the lull to further arm and train his puppet forces before they launch another big offensive. The Obama administration would be well advised to use the lull, if any, to train and arm the legitimate army of the democratically elected government of Ukraine–but odds are it won’t, because France and Germany don’t want us to do that and Obama has no stomach for a confrontation with the ruthless Putin.

It will would be a good thing if this ceasefire were really the first step toward the establishment of peace in Ukraine and the reestablishment of its territorial integrity. But that is highly doubtful. More likely it is just one more step toward the dismemberment of Ukraine and the triumph of the autocrat of the Kremlin.

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European Anti-Semitism Starts from the Top

The Obama administration’s inexplicable denial that last month’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris could possibly be anti-Semitic overshadowed yesterday’s other interesting tidbit from the anti-Semitism front: German Jewish organizations are furious because a blue-ribbon panel set up by the German government to advise it on fighting anti-Semitism doesn’t include a single Jew. It’s hard to imagine that a panel on, say, prejudice against Muslims or blacks would exclude representatives of the targeted community. But the more serious concern is that a panel without Jews will ignore one of the main manifestations of modern anti-Semitism, as exemplified by another German decision just last week: a judicial ruling that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about torching a synagogue to protest Israeli actions in Gaza.

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The Obama administration’s inexplicable denial that last month’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris could possibly be anti-Semitic overshadowed yesterday’s other interesting tidbit from the anti-Semitism front: German Jewish organizations are furious because a blue-ribbon panel set up by the German government to advise it on fighting anti-Semitism doesn’t include a single Jew. It’s hard to imagine that a panel on, say, prejudice against Muslims or blacks would exclude representatives of the targeted community. But the more serious concern is that a panel without Jews will ignore one of the main manifestations of modern anti-Semitism, as exemplified by another German decision just last week: a judicial ruling that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about torching a synagogue to protest Israeli actions in Gaza.

The case involved two German-Palestinian adults who threw Molotov cocktails at the Wuppertal synagogue in July, causing 800 euros worth of damage. The court decided the attack wasn’t anti-Semitic and therefore let them off with suspended jail sentences and community service. And why wasn’t it anti-Semitic? Because, said the court, the perpetrators were simply trying to bring “attention to the Gaza conflict” then raging between Hamas and Israel. And of course there’s nothing anti-Semitic about attacking Jews in one country to “bring attention” to acts by other Jews in another country; they’re all Jews, aren’t they? Doubtless the court would be equally understanding if Israelis torched a German church to “bring attention to” this abhorrent ruling.

Nor is the ruling an aberration; it’s quite representative of elite German thought. Last year, Prof. Monika Schwarz-Friesel of the Technical University of Berlin published a study that analyzed 10 years’ worth of hate mail sent to the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israeli embassy in Berlin. To her surprise, only 3 percent came from right-wing extremists, while over 60 percent came from educated members of “the social mainstream.” And these letters weren’t mere “Israel criticism”; they contained classic anti-Semitic statements like “It is possible that the murder of innocent children suits your long tradition” or “For the last 2,000 years, you’ve been stealing land and committing genocide.”

Needless to say, educated elites in other European countries aren’t much better. Last month, for instance, a BCC reporter drew fire for implying that the kosher supermarket attack in Paris was somehow justified because “Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.” And just last week, Britain’s Sky News “apologized” for showing footage from the Gaza war above a strip saying “Auschwitz remembered” during a Holocaust Memorial Day interview with Britain’s chief rabbi; the “apology” defended the original decision as “logical” even while admitting that in retrospect, it was “unfortunate.” After all, what could be more logical than implicitly comparing a war that killed some 2,100 Palestinians (and 72 Israelis) to the deliberate extermination of six million Jews?

Indeed, this comparison is so “logical” to many educated Westerners that during the Gaza war, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum felt the need to publish a special FAQs section on its website explaining why the war wasn’t comparable to the Holocaust, why Palestinians aren’t victims of genocide, and why Gaza isn’t a ghetto. You’d think this would be self-evident, but in a world where 35 percent of Germans say Israel treats Palestinians just like the Nazis treated Jews, and where Britons loathe Israel more than any other country except North Korea, it clearly isn’t.

In short, modern anti-Semitism can’t be fought without addressing a problem that too many members of Europe’s educated elites refuse to see: The propagators of today’s anti-Semitism come primarily from their own Israel-obsessed ranks, not from the far-right fringes. And one can’t help wondering whether Jews were left off Germany’s blue-ribbon panel precisely because they might have the temerity to point this out.

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The Obama-Merkel Press Conference: What Were They Thinking?

There were several worthy nominees for the oddest thing about today’s joint press conference conducted by President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel. One was when Obama suggested the Israeli prime minister ought to be more like the German leader, who surely wouldn’t have even asked for an invitation to Washington before an election. Another was Merkel’s decision to use Ronald Reagan’s Brandenburg Gate speech as a source of hope for peace in Ukraine–with Obama, the un-Reagan, standing right there. But despite those and others, the oddest thing about the presser is still the fact that it happened at all.

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There were several worthy nominees for the oddest thing about today’s joint press conference conducted by President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel. One was when Obama suggested the Israeli prime minister ought to be more like the German leader, who surely wouldn’t have even asked for an invitation to Washington before an election. Another was Merkel’s decision to use Ronald Reagan’s Brandenburg Gate speech as a source of hope for peace in Ukraine–with Obama, the un-Reagan, standing right there. But despite those and others, the oddest thing about the presser is still the fact that it happened at all.

The press conference was a mess. And its lack of purpose contributed mightily to that fact. The president and the chancellor are indeed two very important Western leaders–at certain times, and on certain issues, the two most important Western leaders. Ukraine is one such issue. The problem today was not that Merkel and Obama are meeting or that they’re talking to the press about it. The problem was that they called a press conference to say absolutely nothing.

The question that seemed to put this most into stark relief was when a German reporter asked Obama the following:

You said that you have not yet made a decision as to whether weapons ought to be delivered to Ukraine. What would be your red line? What would be the red line that needs to be crossed for you to decide [to arm the Ukrainians] and what do you think this will hold by way of a promise, because the chancellor said it will make matters worse? And what can the Nobel laureate Obama do to defuse this conflict?

Obama’s response could basically be broken down into three parts. The first was to push back on the idea that the Ukrainian military is being left to fend completely for itself:

It’s important to point out that we have been providing assistance to the Ukrainian military generally. That’s been part of a longstanding relationship between NATO and Ukraine. And our goal has not been for Ukraine to be equipped to carry on offensive operations, but to simply defend itself. And President Poroshenko has been very clear. He’s not interested in escalating violence; he is interested in having his country’s boundaries respected by its neighbor.

The second part is to concede that he’s basically given up on issuing red lines since he doesn’t mean them anyway:

So there’s not going to be any specific point at which I say, “Ah, clearly lethal defensive weapons would be appropriate here.” It is our ongoing analysis of what can we do to dissuade Russia from encroaching further and further on Ukrainian territory? Our hope is that is done through diplomatic means.

And finally, his indication that despite everything that’s happened, he hasn’t really adjusted his approach to Russia:

And I just want to emphasize here once again, for the benefit not just of the American people but for the German people, we are not looking for Russia to fail. We are not looking for Russia to be surrounded and contained and weakened. Our preference is for a strong, prosperous, vibrant, confident Russia, that can be a partner with us on a whole host of global challenges. And that’s how I operated throughout my first term in office.

What viewers saw here was a complete lack of urgency on the part of the two most important Western leaders with regard to Russia. That was the theme. And Merkel joined in later in the presser, with a plea for patience and hope that quickly devolved into a rambling, longwinded version of one of Obama’s favorite quotes about the arc of history bending toward justice.

Merkel was asked: “Can you understand the impatience of the Americans when they say we ought to now deliver weapons? And what makes you feel confident that diplomacy will carry the day?” She responded by counseling even more patience:

Whenever you have political conflicts such as the one that we have now between Russia and Ukraine, but also in many other conflicts around the world, it has always proved to be right to try again and again to solve such a conflict. We’ve spoken at some length about the Iranian conflict. Here, too, we are expected to try time and again. There’s always a point where you say well all of the options are on the table, we’ve gone back and forth. But then one has to think again.

It kept going downhill from there. Merkel brought in “the Middle East conflict” (presumably the Arab-Israeli conflict), which is certainly not the comparison you’re looking for if you live in eastern Ukraine. She then jumped to the division of Germany–a nearly five-decade split finally resolved near the end of the Cold War. Again, not remotely encouraging for anyone seeking to end the bloodshed in Ukraine.

It all brings the viewer back to the original question: What on earth was the point of this? All the press conference succeeded in doing was to tell Russia there was no red line and to tell Ukraine that the West was willing to wait half a century to see how this all shakes out. To those in Ukraine watching that press conference, it was probably terrifying. To our allies elsewhere, it was probably horrifying. But for those of us watching here in the States, it was simply mystifying.

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U.S., Germany, and France to Putin: The World Is Too Weak to Stop You

Vladimir Putin may be reckless, but he seems to be guided by one valuable strategic rule when picking fights in Europe: divide the west to conquer the east. And dividing the west doesn’t just mean dividing Western Europe among itself; it also means dividing Western Europe from the rest of the West. It broadens the (likely apocryphal) Kissinger quote about calling Europe, and updates it for modern times. If you want to talk to “the West,” whom do you call?

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Vladimir Putin may be reckless, but he seems to be guided by one valuable strategic rule when picking fights in Europe: divide the west to conquer the east. And dividing the west doesn’t just mean dividing Western Europe among itself; it also means dividing Western Europe from the rest of the West. It broadens the (likely apocryphal) Kissinger quote about calling Europe, and updates it for modern times. If you want to talk to “the West,” whom do you call?

The sudden rush of new peace conferences to solve the conflict in Ukraine prove this point. This New York Times rundown of the various meetings and pressers and conferences is thorough but also thoroughly maddening. It is headlined “U.S. Joins Europe in Efforts to End Fighting in Ukraine,” but good luck finding any semblance of a workable solution in any of the proposals and declarations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande met in Kiev with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. No progress seems to have been made in halting or turning back the Russian invasion in Ukraine’s east. But that’s not surprising when you consider what the aim of the Franco-German trip was in the first place. As the Wall Street Journal noted today:

The trip also comes as political momentum grows in the U.S. to deliver weapons to Ukrainian forces—a step that the German and French leaders oppose because they say it would only lead to more violence.

So the purpose of German and French diplomatic intervention was to stop the U.S. from helping Ukraine too much. Mission accomplished.

Not that the U.S. is ready to take that step anyway. There continue to be Obama administration figures who support arming Ukraine, but until that group includes President Obama, this is all they’re going to get, as the Times reported:

Mr. Kerry, who announced $16.4 million in humanitarian assistance for eastern Ukraine, plans to press for a new cease-fire.

In a joint appearance with Mr. Poroshenko, Mr. Kerry said that France, Germany and the United States were united in supporting a peaceful resolution to the conflict. And he called for Russia to agree to a cease-fire.

“Our choice is a peaceful solution, but Russia needs to make its choices,” Mr. Kerry said.

Russia, in fact, has made its choice–repeatedly. That choice has been a relatively easy one for Putin because no one is willing to defend Ukraine. What would possibly give American officials the idea that Putin would retreat without real resistance? That’s where what is possibly the most damning line in the Times story comes in:

The Obama administration’s hope is that its widely reported deliberations over whether to send defensive weapons to Ukraine and about additional economic sanctions will induce Russia to agree to a halt in the fighting and, ultimately, to a political agreement within the framework of the Minsk accord.

This is strategic ineptitude of the first order. Obama’s defenders like to scoff at the notion of “credibility”–that Obama retreating on a red line in, say, Syria would enter the calculus of someone like Putin when considering American opposition to his invasions of Ukraine. We are told that “credibility” is overrated, but it’s more accurate to say it’s simply unquantifiable.

But you have to ask yourself: why would Vladimir Putin believe Obama’s threats when he doesn’t follow through? You have to make a rational calculation, and right now the smart money will always be on Obama bluffing. It’s just who he is; he says things but doesn’t mean them. The sound of his own voice is pleasing to him, but the content is irrelevant.

Additionally, Obama keeps undercutting any such threat. One way he does this is in the implied threat itself: Obama thinks leaking that the administration is debating arming Ukraine will spook Putin, but that very leak is based on the fact that Obama is personally opposed to arming Ukraine, so it’s toothless.

More importantly, the administration keeps undercutting the idea that the aid would help anyway. On Tuesday, CBS’s Mark Knoller tweeted the administration’s justification for not giving Ukraine military aid. He wrote: “On Ukraine, WH says its (sic) not possible for US to put Ukraine on par militarily with Russia. Stands by objective of diplomatic resolution.”

So here’s Obama’s opinion: Ukraine should not get military aid from the West because even with American help, Russia would still mop the floor with them. And this, according to the Times, is what Obama thinks will intimidate Putin into signing a peace treaty. I’ll offer the president some free advice: telling Putin the world is too weak to stop him isn’t very intimidating.

Yet even if the West got Putin to sign on to a new agreement, nothing will have been accomplished. Putin has been violating the last ceasefire agreement, because there’s no one to enforce it. What Obama, Merkel, and Hollande are working for, then, is a non-solution–an agreement that would allow everyone involved to pretend it’s more than it is, and which would implicitly (if not explicitly) accept Putin’s previous land grabs in Ukraine while asking him nicely–on the honor system–to stop taking more land.

You can see what bothers the Ukrainians about this. They are at war, and high-level delegations from France, Germany, and the United States all flew in to tell them, personally, that they’re a lost cause. They either don’t realize it or don’t seem to care, but three major Western powers just went out of their way to ostentatiously humiliate their besieged ally on the world stage.

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On Muhammad Cartoons, History Already Repeating Itself

Over the weekend, while much of the world was busy being “Charlie,” something terrible happened at one of the very few publications that actually followed Charlie Hebdo’s lead and published the Muhammad cartoons. It drew little comment, as the international media was mostly preoccupied with feel-good reporting from the Paris unity march, but in the early hours of Sunday morning the offices of the Hamburger Morgenpost were firebombed in an apparent reprisal for the paper having dared to republish some of the cartoons. Back in 2011 the offices of Charlie Hebdo were similarly firebombed for having published Muhammad cartoons, and there was little outcry then too. For all the talk of “Je suis Charlie” one fears little has been learned.

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Over the weekend, while much of the world was busy being “Charlie,” something terrible happened at one of the very few publications that actually followed Charlie Hebdo’s lead and published the Muhammad cartoons. It drew little comment, as the international media was mostly preoccupied with feel-good reporting from the Paris unity march, but in the early hours of Sunday morning the offices of the Hamburger Morgenpost were firebombed in an apparent reprisal for the paper having dared to republish some of the cartoons. Back in 2011 the offices of Charlie Hebdo were similarly firebombed for having published Muhammad cartoons, and there was little outcry then too. For all the talk of “Je suis Charlie” one fears little has been learned.

Following the Paris attacks and the murder by Islamists of journalists who had dared to satirize Islam—among other faiths—huge numbers took to declaring themselves “Charlie” and held up the pen in a sign of solidarity and defiance. Many publications echoed these sentiments on their front covers the morning after the attack. Yet, very few were actually willing to reprint the offending cartoons, either in defiance or in simple illustration of the news story, and for good reason. Among those who did were the Danish newspaper Berlingske, a few of the Montreal based French language magazines, and several German publications, including Berliner Zeitung, the Berliner Kurier, and the Hamburger Morgenpost. Now the latter of those has been attacked already, and to remarkably little condemnation.

Of course, the best way to overcome the terror threat to freedom of the press would be, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has suggested, to spread the risk around. This would require all the media outlets who wished to resist the imposition of Islamic blasphemy laws to simultaneously publish the drawings. Otherwise it is left to just one or two lonely publications to hold the line for the entire free world. That of course was what happened to Charlie Hebdo.

Back in 2005 when the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten first published some images of Muhammad, all hell broke loose. Danish embassies were attacked and it has been estimated that as many as 200 people were killed in the riots that ensued globally. While the Danish government came under diplomatic pressure to apologize, Charlie Hebdo was one of the few publications to support the Danish newspaper and in 2006 the French magazine republished the Muhammad cartoons. Along with death threats and legal action, in 2011 the office of Charlie Hebdo was firebombed. Not only did the world pay little attention but many commentators condemned the magazine for having been irresponsibly provocative. It seems that not until the staff of Charlie Hebdo lost their lives were people prepared to give this subject serious attention.

So now that the Hamburger Morgenpost is where Charlie Hebdo was in 2011–firebombed after having taken a stand of solidarity with a fellow publication–wouldn’t it be the time to take note and act before the staff of the German publication find themselves in the same situation the French journalists encountered in 2015?

If people living in modern-day Europe, and liberal democracies the world over, decide they do not wish to live under Islamic blasphemy laws as imposed by a fanatical minority, then they must understand that hashtag trends and unity rallies will not be enough. Clearly, free and democratic societies are not the natural way of things and basic rights such as free speech do not happen automatically. They require work from a committed citizenry and civil society that is ready to guard its freedoms jealously. The Hamburger Morgenpost has come under attack for doing nothing more than exercising its freedom of expression. Instead of looking the other way, now is the time for other publications and public figures to rally to their defense, lest their staff go the same way as that of Charlie Hebdo’s.

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How Many Snowden Documents Are Fake?

The 2014 Pulitzers gave supporters of NSA leaker and defector Edward Snowden an opportunity to spike the football. And they would do so. “The Pulitzer Prizes Just Demolished The Idea That Edward Snowden Is A Traitor,” crowed the Huffington Post. The Pulitzer is indeed a prestigious award, though I would doubt that the Huffington Post would claim that the 1932 Pulitzer Prizes demolished the idea that Stalin was a murderous tyrant. Even after the award, Snowden’s actions have given his critics more reason to doubt him. And now we have another.

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The 2014 Pulitzers gave supporters of NSA leaker and defector Edward Snowden an opportunity to spike the football. And they would do so. “The Pulitzer Prizes Just Demolished The Idea That Edward Snowden Is A Traitor,” crowed the Huffington Post. The Pulitzer is indeed a prestigious award, though I would doubt that the Huffington Post would claim that the 1932 Pulitzer Prizes demolished the idea that Stalin was a murderous tyrant. Even after the award, Snowden’s actions have given his critics more reason to doubt him. And now we have another.

Last year, the German publication Spiegel, which had been publishing some of the leaked Snowden documents, alleged that the NSA was bugging Angela Merkel’s phone. I say “alleged” rather than “revealed” because the credibility of that story just took a major hit. The story caused ripples of consternation throughout Europe and threatened to rupture U.S.-German relations, and President Obama apologized, though he denied knowing anything about it. The denial seemed implausible at the time; it turns out the president was probably telling the truth.

The German government began an investigation into the allegations this year, and they have come to some preliminary findings, as Reuters reported:

Germany’s top public prosecutor said an investigation into suspected tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone by U.S. spies had so far failed to find any concrete evidence.

Revelations by former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden that Washington carried out large-scale electronic espionage in Germany provoked widespread outrage — particularly the allegation that the NSA had bugged Merkel’s phone.

Harald Range launched an official investigation in June, believing there was enough preliminary evidence to show unknown U.S. intelligence officers had tapped the phone, although there was not enough clarity on the issue to bring charges.

On Wednesday he said however, “the document presented in public as proof of an actual tapping of the mobile phone is not an authentic surveillance order by the NSA. It does not come from the NSA database.

“Not an authentic surveillance order by the NSA” is an extremely important detail. If that’s true, here’s what appears to have happened: an American defector to Russia (Snowden had been granted asylum in Russia just a couple months before the Spiegel story was published) passed along a fake document designed to throw a wrench in U.S.-German (and U.S.-European) relations.

But we don’t know that either. In fact, this episode raises more questions than it answers. We already know Snowden isn’t trustworthy, and we know his story has changed. We know he has embraced a role as a Putin propagandist. We know that, according to Snowden himself, he doesn’t know everything that’s included in the trove of documents he stole and released on his way to Russia.

So there’s much we already know about Snowden. But if this document is fake, there’s a lot we don’t know about the leaks. First and foremost, we don’t know how much is fake. This is important, because careers were made and Pulitzers were won on the backs of this document trove. NSA reform efforts took shape based on the supposed revelations (many of them surely actual revelations; no one should think all the documents are false).

And it’s also why Snowden’s credibility is so crucial to sorting all this out. The debate that raged in the aftermath of the first disclosures and the news that Snowden had taken much more, which would amount to a steady drip-drip of American secrets, took for granted that the United States government did what Snowden said it did.

In this, Snowden was aided by two things: first and foremost, the journalists who essentially worked as his secretaries. And second, the overwhelming amount of documents he took.

If it’s true that the NSA order regarding Merkel was a fake, why didn’t the NSA show it to be at the time? One possibility is that the size of the bureaucracy of America’s intelligence apparatus makes such a denial a bit like proving a negative: how could the entire organization be sure it never came from NSA? The president’s initial denial suggests the top leaders at the organization truly didn’t recognize the order. But if you redact names and other essential information from such a document, it’s not so easy to trace it.

And who has the resources to conduct such an investigation? Remember, the documents were not handed back to the government. Clearly some of the information released by Snowden’s secretaries was accurate, the rest believable. Snowden seems to have been relying on this.

And he also seems to have been relying on the media. The public doesn’t have access to Snowden’s haul. They trust reporters to sift through them and present them accurately. This is not exactly the golden age of ethics in media, but the public doesn’t really have a choice. They now know that their faith in the media was misplaced. The press isn’t qualified to interpret massive amounts of national-security documents. That doesn’t mean there’s another option; there isn’t. The press still does a great service when correctly reporting on government malfeasance. It would just be nice if the press got the story right far more often than it does.

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The Fallout from Europe’s Failing Economy

The economic situation in Europe is bleak. The continent that represents almost one-fifth of the world’s total economic output is now looking squarely at the prospect of its third recession in just six years. But the consequences, including the political instability that could result, would be felt far beyond the European continent itself.

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The economic situation in Europe is bleak. The continent that represents almost one-fifth of the world’s total economic output is now looking squarely at the prospect of its third recession in just six years. But the consequences, including the political instability that could result, would be felt far beyond the European continent itself.

To see just how stark the problems are, one only has to look at the predicament of the eurozone’s two largest economies: France and Germany. Having grown by 0.7 percent in the first months of 2014, the German economy then shrank by 0.2 percent between April and June. German industrial output is down by 4 percent, exports are down 5.8 percent. And France too is in trouble. Since 2008 France’s economy has grown by just 0.3 percent and no great increase is predicted for the coming year. This is a poor performance from both economies when one looks across the channel to Britain where—free from the Euro and the constraints set by Brussels—economic growth is expected to stand at 3.2 percent by the end of the year. And while the eurozone struggles to shake off its stubborn unemployment rate of 11.5 percent, unemployment in the UK is currently at 6 percent.

The situation in France and Germany may be bad, but the eurozone harbors other horror stories. Most infamous of course is Greece. There the economy is burdened by a debt equivalent to 175 percent of GDP. Then there are countries such as Spain and Italy where youth unemployment languishes at 40 percent. In Portugal the situation is only a little better, although there at least the imposition of greater fiscal responsibility has seen a slight reduction in unemployment and some forecasts for better growth next year. There has been no such fiscal responsibility in France, however. In that country, where the state already accounts for 56 percent of GDP, high government spending is going to see France yet again flout EU regulations on the budget deficit.

The violent riots that rocked Athens in 2011 were only the most immediately visible consequence of the ongoing economic hardships afflicting many European societies. While Europe’s political class appears to have pursued a business-as-usual attitude, beneath the surface there have been the stirrings of extremist forces that will not tolerate the status quo for a great deal longer.

Concrete evidence of the kind of radical movements that are afoot came with the elections to Europe’s parliament last May. Parties vocally hostile to the entire European project topped the polls in several countries, but more alarming was the fact that a number of these parties espouse the kind of extreme views that once would have banished them from the realms of acceptability for most voters. In France Marine le Penn’s Front Nationale came in first place; this is a party that many believe is still be mired in its racist and neo-fascist past. Similarly, Austria’s right-wing Freedom party saw a doubling in the number of seats it won, whereas Spain and Portugal saw gains for the far left. And in Greece there was a rush to both ends of the political extremes, with the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) winning first place and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn coming third, taking 10 percent of the vote and 3 of the 21 seats allotted to Greece in the European parliament.

The kind of sinister resentments with which these parties are associated were most overtly evidenced by the anti-Jewish riots witnessed in Paris over the summer. Not that the resurgence of European anti-Semitism can be explained away as a primarily economic phenomenon–the culture of hostility toward Israel has been brewing for some decades now. Yet it also seems quite conceivable that the conspiratorial messages pushed by those such as the anti-Semitic French comedian Dieudonne will have an added resonance with a population that is experiencing the kind of deep frustrations that are now common among many young people in France.

Finally, if Europe’s economic situation does continue to worsen, and does so over a sustained period, this will inevitably begin to impact Europe’s influence on the world stage. Long unwilling to employ military intervention, European diplomats seem to believe that economic sanctions are their secret weapon. Sanctions were what Europe instinctively reached for during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And there have of course been increasing murmurings of Brussels setting Israel red lines which if crossed would incur sanctions. Yet European business has already been kicking back against the sanctions disrupting their trade with Iran as it is.

Should the eurozone economies continue to founder, then the constant recourse to sanctions may become an increasingly unpalatable option for Europe’s politicians. Besides, with stirrings of unrest and extremism at home, European statesmen may soon find they have their own more pressing concerns. Still, the temptation to find distractions and scapegoats will likely only increase if the European economies continue to stagnate.

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Connecting the Dots Between Euro Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a strong stand against the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe when she appeared at a Berlin rally against Jew hatred. Lamenting the attacks on Jews throughout Europe but especially in the country that had supposedly done the most to learn the lessons of the Holocaust, she vowed that her government would do everything in its power to fight against the revival of Jew hatred. But the question is not so much her undoubted commitment to this task but whether other European leaders and opinion leaders will draw the proper conclusions from the connection between the anti-Israel invective they have encouraged and the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

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Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a strong stand against the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe when she appeared at a Berlin rally against Jew hatred. Lamenting the attacks on Jews throughout Europe but especially in the country that had supposedly done the most to learn the lessons of the Holocaust, she vowed that her government would do everything in its power to fight against the revival of Jew hatred. But the question is not so much her undoubted commitment to this task but whether other European leaders and opinion leaders will draw the proper conclusions from the connection between the anti-Israel invective they have encouraged and the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

Speaking at the rally Merkel said the following:

It is a monstrous scandal that people in Germany today are being abused if they are somehow recognizable as Jews or if they stand up for the state of Israel. I will not accept that and we will not accept that. … It’s our national and civic duty to fight anti-Semitism. … Anyone who hits someone wearing a skullcap is hitting us all. Anyone who damages a Jewish gravestone is disgracing our culture. Anyone who attacks a synagogue is attacking the foundations of our free society.

Merkel deserves credit for putting herself and her government on the line on this issue at a time when this issue is becoming more of a concern. The atmosphere of hate that she references is the result of a combination of factors in which the influence of immigrants from the Arab and Islamic worlds has combined with traditional Jew hatred as well as the willingness of many European academic and political elites to countenance verbal assaults on Jews and Israel in a way that would have been inconceivable in the first decades after the Holocaust.

But the key phrase in her speech was not so much the much-needed statement that attacks on Jews are attacks on all Germans and German democracy. It was that the people who are being targeted aren’t just those whose clothing indicates Jewish faith but the targeting of anyone who would stand up for Israel.

Over the course of the last several years as anti-Semitism has moved from the margins of European society back to its mainstream, Israel has become the focus of anti-Semites. Seeking to veil their hate with the guise of legitimate political commentary, they have sought to draw a distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, a difference that even many Jews continue to accept. But Merkel’s pointed remark including support for Israel in her recitation of those under threat should alert her listeners to the fact that the line between hatred of Israel and that for Jews in general has long since been erased.

The idea that anti-Zionism is legitimate in a way that anti-Semitism is not has long been more a matter of nuance and semantics than reality. Those who would deny to the Jews the same rights—to a state in their ancient homeland and its right of self-defense—that they deny to virtually no other people on the planet is, by definition, an act of bias and acts of bias against Jews are anti-Semitism, pure and simple.

While it is perfectly acceptable to criticize the policies of any government of Israel—Israelis do it every day—those who are dedicated to the destruction of Israel and opposed to any means of self-defense on its part, as opposed to just wishing to change its borders or government, are not engaging in legitimate political argument. They are, whether they initially intend it or not, actively supporting those who wish to commit ethnic cleansing and/or genocide against the six million Jews of Israel, as Hamas has openly stated as its goal.

What we have witnessed this year is that anger over Israel’s refusal to allow itself to be attacked with impunity by Islamist terrorists is blurring any distinctions between socially unacceptable anti-Semitism and anger at Israel that has been deemed mere politics rather than hate speech. The violent rhetoric against Jews and Israel that has spilled over into the attacks on Jews Merkel referenced is no accident. Nor is it a surprise that those who would delegitimize Israeli Jews and demonize their actions would extend this to the Jews in their own midst, whether or not they are Zionists or religious. While theoretically one can oppose Israel without wishing to kill all Jews, it is no coincidence that those who espouse the former slip so easily into the rhetoric aiming at the latter.

In order for this scourge to be effectively halted, it will thus require more than admonitions for Europeans to mind their manners and to treat others as they would themselves like to be treated. What it will take is an understanding that so long as Israel is considered a fair target for extermination, it is impossible to pretend that every other Jew on the planet will not be considered fair game by Islamists or more traditional varieties of bigots.

Chancellor Merkel has made a start in this respect, but unless Europe’s leaders make it clear to their people that Jewish genocide is unacceptable wherever it might occur, the rising tide of Jew hatred will not abate.

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Europe’s Jews: Unwanted, Dead or Alive

When the historian and founding president of Brandeis Abram Sachar wrote a history of the Jewish journey from the death camps to the establishment of the State of Israel, he called it The Redemption of the Unwanted. I’ve always found the term to be depressingly appropriate, both as a profound statement on the flipside of the Jews being the “chosen people” and as an insight into postwar Jewry.

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When the historian and founding president of Brandeis Abram Sachar wrote a history of the Jewish journey from the death camps to the establishment of the State of Israel, he called it The Redemption of the Unwanted. I’ve always found the term to be depressingly appropriate, both as a profound statement on the flipside of the Jews being the “chosen people” and as an insight into postwar Jewry.

Though the Holocaust was over, anti-Semitism was not. And while some Jews bravely chose to rebuild from the rubble–they were rebuilding not just European Jewry but Europe itself, though their European brethren would never concede as much–the Jewish people had understood their status. They were not fleeting victims or convenient scapegoats (or at least not only those things); they were unwanted, dead or alive.

That’s how it must have felt in the days, months, and years after the war. But now that decades have come and gone, should they still feel that way? Europe’s answer, repeated over the weekend, seems to be a clear yes. The main story of Sunday’s bubbling over of European anti-Semitism was the anti-Jewish rioting–perhaps attempted pogrom is a better term–at a Paris synagogue, in which Jews were trapped until evening by anti-Semitic protesters who “tried to force their way into a Paris synagogue Sunday with bats and chairs, then fought with security officers who blocked their way, according to police and a witness.”

The worst part is the sense of inevitability of the violence. Business Insider’s report on the incident has to include one of the most absurd qualifiers you’ll ever read in such a case. Here’s their opening sentence: “French interior minister Manuel Valls condemned ‘with the greatest force’ attacks on two Paris synagogues Sunday by pro-Palestinian protesters who broke away from an otherwise peaceful demonstration.”

It was an “otherwise peaceful demonstration”–you know, besides the attempted pogrom. (Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln….) And surely it is to be appreciated that the French government condemns pogroms. But is it ungrateful to point out that condemning the regular violence against Jews in France is just maybe not enough–not nearly? French Jews are voting with their feet because they feel unwanted, and they feel unwanted because the French state either can’t do anything about France’s horrendous anti-Semitism–a second synagogue was firebombed in Paris yesterday–or it won’t. Either way, the message is clear.

France was not the only location of European anti-Semitism yesterday. And though it may have been minor in comparison–and though there were anti-Semitic outbursts outside Europe too–the symbolism of one of the other incidents must have been truly terrifying. It was in Germany, and here is what happened, according to the AP:

German police allowed an anti-Israel protester to climb inside a police car and shout slogans including “child murderer Israel” and “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is Great!” — through a police megaphone, a spokeswoman for Frankfurt’s police said Sunday.

Police let the protester use the megaphone during a Free Gaza demonstration Saturday because he had offered to calm down a protest that had turned violent, spokeswoman Virginie Wegner told The Associated Press.

“We as police had come up spontaneously with this unusual method and he abused it — we didn’t expect that,” Wegner said, adding that police were investigating the incident. “Police are neutral during protests.”

Instead of calming things down, the protester — whose identity was not revealed — shouted anti-Israel slogans in German and Arabic in downtown Frankfurt. A video that went viral shows a crowd following the police car, cheering and repeating the chants.

I doubt the Jews of Germany will soon forget hearing anti-Jewish slogans shouted from a police megaphone–in 2014. There are a couple of things wrong with the Frankfurt police’s response. Obviously, letting a protester into the police car to access the megaphone was a boneheaded mistake. But then Wegner defends the police by saying, first, “we didn’t expect that,” and then saying “Police are neutral during protests.”

Well, maybe they should have expected it, and hopefully will from now on. As for their neutrality, it is clearly neutrality in theory not in practice, and it is not doing law and order any favors.

Pogroms in Paris, thuggish intimidation in Germany: does European Jewry have a future? It’s a question we keep asking, though I suspect we keep asking it because we don’t like the apparent answer–like the kid who keeps shaking and re-shaking the magic eight ball until the right prediction comes up. Clarity might be more helpful, which the anti-Semitic incidents do provide. Europe’s anti-Semites could not be clearer: their hatred of Jews has nothing to do with Israeli self-defense. It’s just a convenient excuse to target the unwanted.

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What’s Chuck Hagel’s Problem with Germany?

Once upon a time, then-senator and Democratic nominee for president Barack Obama came to Germany to seek his coronation as an internationalist after what he—and many Germans—considered the dark years of Bush unilateralism.

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Once upon a time, then-senator and Democratic nominee for president Barack Obama came to Germany to seek his coronation as an internationalist after what he—and many Germans—considered the dark years of Bush unilateralism.

Fast-forward six years, and relations between Washington and Berlin have reached their post-World War II nadir. German Chancellor Angela Merkel resents greatly revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on her personal telephone. To be fair, that is not President Obama’s fault, but a practice which precedes him. And, also to be fair, the Germans hardly have their noses clean when it comes to spying. If that episode had only just begun to heal, new revelations of American spying in Germany threaten to re-open the scar.

It could get worse. If the Germans chose to dig deeper, they might be surprised at the training which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requires of all Defense Department employees who visit or even transit Germany. Hagel, in his wisdom, mandates that all Defense Department employees undergo an extensive, if often irrelevant, nine-hour “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE)” training course to receive online instruction on how to evade hostile locals and their police forces and administer creative first aid remedies to avoid having to go to local hospitals or even pharmacies. Now, those in the military who have had to do the real course rather than the online, computer version understand what a joke it is to believe you can learn how to deal with captivity, torture, and extreme duress from a typical Pentagon online training unit, especially one that most computers ironically can’t handle because of the extensive bandwidth required. Taking online SERE training is sort of like taking weaponry training with a water pistol. But, Hagel nonetheless requires it. Perhaps he wants his employees to be able to learn how to forage while in Germany because he does not trust the sandwich shops at the Frankfurt Airport.

The reason why Hagel continues to require such training which he admittedly inherited from his predecessors is probably poor management, but that’s no excuse for the defense secretary seemingly not recognizing that World War II is over and that there is no reason why he and the bureaucracy over which he presides should treat Germany, Canada, Norway, and Japan in the same manner as Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Nigeria. Still, given what the Defense Department bureaucracy requires ahead of travel to Germany, it should come as no surprise should relations between Berlin and Washington fall further. Perhaps, though, simply replacing mindless training with a dose of common sense could do both relations and Pentagon productivity some good.

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The Great War at 100

The 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, has come and gone, prompting a lot of reflections on the significance and implications of World War I. Even if Gavrilo Princip’s shots were only the excuse, not the real cause, of the Great War, it is hard to exaggerate their significance.

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The 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, has come and gone, prompting a lot of reflections on the significance and implications of World War I. Even if Gavrilo Princip’s shots were only the excuse, not the real cause, of the Great War, it is hard to exaggerate their significance.

The conflict swept away the entire Ottoman and Habsburg empires along with the governments of Germany, Austria, Turkey, Russia, and other states. It led to the creation of the modern Balkans and the modern Middle East. Nazism, fascism, and Communism–all the great ideological ills of the 20th century–would never have become as virulent as they did absent the devastation wrought by the 1914-1918 conflict. There would have been no Stalin in power, no Hitler, and there would have been no World War II–and hence no Korean War or Vietnam War. It is impossible to imagine how history would have gone otherwise but it would have been incomparably different–and probably for the better.

Even now, with those terrible “isms” having all but disappeared (mercifully!) and with some of the post-World War I states either gone (Yugoslavia) or on the verge of extinction (Syria, Iraq), the legacy of the war lives on. It can be seen not just in the long, depressing rows of crosses to be found in military cemeteries from the Somme to Verdun, nor in the statues of Franz Ferdinand and Gavrilo Pricip now to be found in Sarajevo. It can be found, still, in the map of Europe and the Middle East which, for all of the recent turmoil, largely reflects the legacy of World War I. And it can be found in the way that warfare is waged, running the spectrum from terrorism (of the kind perpetrated by Princip and his comrades in the Black Hand) to the use of tanks and airplanes and fast-moving mechanized infantry maneuvered by radio–all technologies introduced during the First World War.

How did this cataclysm come about? The most popular interpretation, advanced by the most popular account of the war’s origins (The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman) claims it was an accident that no one wanted. That outlook, while still held by some, has been convincingly refuted by a host of historians including many influential German scholars who refused to accept a whitewash of their country’s responsibility for starting the First World War as well as the Second. The excellent British historian Max Hastings marshaled much of the evidence in his recent book “Catastrophe 1914″ (which I reviewed here).

He writes: “The case still seems overwhelmingly strong that Germany bore principal blame. Even if it did not conspire to bring war about, it declined to exercise its power to prevent the outbreak by restraining Austria. Even if Berlin did not seek to contrive a general European conflagration, it was willing for one, because it believed that it could win.”

There is an important implication to this conclusion: namely that wars are not generally the result of “arms races” or “misunderstandings” that can be prevented with international mediation. Rather they are usually the result of deliberate policies by capricious regimes which may not want to fight but are willing to risk conflict in order to achieve their power-hungry aims. It stands to reason that the best bet for preventing future conflict is not in sponsoring more diplomatic negotiations but rather in the forces of freedom keeping their powder dry.

That is something that Great Britain, the guardian of international order in the pre-1914 world, singularly failed to do: London was willing to maintain the greatest fleet in the world but its army was so small that it was not reckoned to be a serious factor in continental calculations and its willingness to stand up to German aggression was in doubt. This hesitancy and unpreparedness on the part of London gave Imperial Germany the opening it was seeking to launch a preemptive campaign of conquest against both France and Russia–something that even the German General Staff, arrogant as they were, might not have dared had they been certain of massive and timely British intervention.

Alas, today, the enemies of freedom, from Moscow to Tehran to Pyongyang, can no longer be certain in the readiness and resolve of the greatest champion of freedom in today’s world–the United States. Our president has allowed red lines to be crossed with impunity and our defense capabilities are deteriorating because of mindless budget cuts. That is a dangerous situation. We are unlikely, thank goodness, to see another conflict on the scale of World War I, but we are courting lesser conflicts that can still prove deadly and dangerous–like the wars now engulfing Iraq and Syria, those progeny of World War I.

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Violent Anti-Semitism Is Back in Germany

Amidst the stream of hate directed against Israel it is easy to become desensitized to the daily incidents of bigotry, particularly the many that emanate from Europe. But when an elderly Jewish man and his daughter are attacked and hospitalized while attending a pro-Israel vigil in Hamburg one can’t help but feel a shiver. The rally in question was being held in solidarity with the three Israeli teenagers that have been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. But apparently even that was too much for some to tolerate and before long an aggressive counter-demonstration had gathered. What was it that they were seeking to counter exactly–the rescue of the boys?

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Amidst the stream of hate directed against Israel it is easy to become desensitized to the daily incidents of bigotry, particularly the many that emanate from Europe. But when an elderly Jewish man and his daughter are attacked and hospitalized while attending a pro-Israel vigil in Hamburg one can’t help but feel a shiver. The rally in question was being held in solidarity with the three Israeli teenagers that have been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. But apparently even that was too much for some to tolerate and before long an aggressive counter-demonstration had gathered. What was it that they were seeking to counter exactly–the rescue of the boys?

One of the organizers of the vigil—who I will avoid naming here as he has previously had to receive police protection—recounted how the demonstrators knocked the 83-year-old man to the ground before then beginning to kick his daughter who was attempting to protect her father. A press release from the Hamburg for Israel network tells how the victim of the assault had to receive surgery and is still recovering in Hospital. Reportedly the attackers came from the somewhat appropriately named anti-globalization group ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions and Aid to Citizens), but what does any of that have to do with three Jewish boys kidnapped by Hamas?

Perhaps some of those on the demonstration would say that they oppose the IDF’s “heavy handed” efforts to rescue the boys, for some days now such agenda-driven complaints have been coming from the international NGO scene (the German ones among them included). Yet when Syria and Iraq are engulfed in one of the most brutal civil wars imaginable, when Egypt is locking away journalists and executing opponents of the military government en masse, it is simply grotesque that Europeans would point an accusatory finger at Israel, the one place where a stable liberal democracy is being held together, no thanks to the NGOs that seek to undermine it relentlessly.

In the case of Germany it seems memories must fade fast—or perhaps not. Given the prevalence of anti-Israel feeling in Germany one can’t help but wonder if this is part of some perverse attempt to turn the tables back on the Jews. After all in a survey from 2011 47 percent of Germans said that Israel is carrying out a war of extermination against the Palestinians. Can they actually believe this, or is it just convenient for some Germans to believe such things?

In recent years there have been a no shortage of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incidents in Germany. It was only back in April that an Israeli man was set upon by a group of youths in Berlin, and in January the German newspaper Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung published an editorial claiming that Israel’s definition as a specifically Jewish state rendered it akin to “apartheid” and a “theocracy.” Then in February the president of the European Parliament, Martin Shulz, chose to not only address the Knesset in German but to harangue MKs on the preposterous charge that Israel restricts how much water it allows Palestinians; this at the same time that Assad was starving out Palestinians rebelling in Syria’s refugee camps. And it hardly seems worth dwelling on the ravings of Gunter Grass, formerly the left-wing conscience of Germany, now widely discredited by the revelations of his own Nazi past.

But what can hardly be ignored is that when traveling through the West Bank, so many projects have German sponsorship, and many of these have an activist or political agenda. Nor can one miss the German NGOs and staff members who are all too ready to pass judgment on Israel. With so few Jews left in Germany, it can almost seem as if some Germans have felt the need to follow the Jews all the way to the Middle East.

Reading about incidents like the violent attack in Hamburg it is difficult not to wonder whether many Germans still have an unhealthy relationship with Jewish matters. Europeans in general, and Germans in particular, have been all too quick to rush to condemn the Jewish state. Perhaps there really is no better way for distracting from past guilt than framing your victims for a similar crime.

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The Business of Statecraft and the Abandonment of Ukraine

The news in Ukraine gets bleaker, but a Rubicon of sorts has been crossed. What has turned into a civil war in eastern Ukraine cannot go back to its designation as a series of “protests,” nor can Vladimir Putin’s Russia plausibly go back to feigning nonintervention. Pro-Russian forces have reportedly shot down two Ukrainian government helicopters, at least one of them with shoulder-fired missiles.

The Ukrainian intelligence service is claiming that those “separatists” probably didn’t have shoulder-fired missile launchers stocked away in the linen closet for a rainy day, a sentiment based on some pretty sound logic. This is not Occupy Slavyansk. And yet, the West–especially Europe, quelle surprise–is acting as if it were. As Angela Merkel meets today with President Obama in Washington to discuss the next steps in the synchronized frowning that has characterized the response to Russian aggression thus far, the Wall Street Journal reports she is delivering some bad news for Kiev, with a predictable explanation.

“Angela Merkel is carrying a clear message from Germany’s business lobby to the White House: No more sanctions,” according to the Journal. “Several of the biggest names in German business,” including Siemens, Adidas, Volkswagen, and Deutsche Bank, “have made their opposition to broader economic sanctions against Russia clear in recent weeks, both in public and in private.” The Journal goes on to explain that, essentially, we have a new answer to Henry Kissinger’s famous question. If you want to talk to Europe, call the CEO of Adidas:

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The news in Ukraine gets bleaker, but a Rubicon of sorts has been crossed. What has turned into a civil war in eastern Ukraine cannot go back to its designation as a series of “protests,” nor can Vladimir Putin’s Russia plausibly go back to feigning nonintervention. Pro-Russian forces have reportedly shot down two Ukrainian government helicopters, at least one of them with shoulder-fired missiles.

The Ukrainian intelligence service is claiming that those “separatists” probably didn’t have shoulder-fired missile launchers stocked away in the linen closet for a rainy day, a sentiment based on some pretty sound logic. This is not Occupy Slavyansk. And yet, the West–especially Europe, quelle surprise–is acting as if it were. As Angela Merkel meets today with President Obama in Washington to discuss the next steps in the synchronized frowning that has characterized the response to Russian aggression thus far, the Wall Street Journal reports she is delivering some bad news for Kiev, with a predictable explanation.

“Angela Merkel is carrying a clear message from Germany’s business lobby to the White House: No more sanctions,” according to the Journal. “Several of the biggest names in German business,” including Siemens, Adidas, Volkswagen, and Deutsche Bank, “have made their opposition to broader economic sanctions against Russia clear in recent weeks, both in public and in private.” The Journal goes on to explain that, essentially, we have a new answer to Henry Kissinger’s famous question. If you want to talk to Europe, call the CEO of Adidas:

In most countries, it would be highly unusual for corporate executives to inject themselves into geopolitics and matters of national security with the forcefulness that a number of German business leaders have. But many of Germany’s largest companies have substantial Russian operations, built in some cases over decades, and worry that tough economic sanctions would rob them of a key growth market when their home market—Europe—is stagnant.

That has led to intense pressure on Berlin. Germany’s chancellor has repeatedly criticized Russia for its actions in Ukraine and warned the Kremlin it would face serious consequences if it doesn’t change course. Yet Ms. Merkel has stopped short of endorsing broader economic sanctions, opting instead to impose travel bans and asset freezes on individuals with close ties to the Kremlin.

It’s easy to begin, at least, with some sympathy for Merkel. Thanks to the EU’s fiscal troubles, Germany has taken the role of Europe’s financial backstop. It’s a mostly thankless job that earns the German government, when they try to fix the messes caused by other reckless European countries, obnoxious and offensive Nazi comparisons. This resistance to German hegemony is, for obvious reasons, coded into the continent’s DNA. Germany’s response has often been resignation to the role: to simply sign the checks while letting France command Europe’s military decisions.

Because of all that, Germany’s economic policy does not exist in a vacuum. Whether as penance for past sins or a paternal responsibility to Europe’s wayward sons, Germany must consider others when setting policy, ever mindful that Berlin can absorb losses others cannot.

However: there’s a limit to such excuses, and it’s not clear that long-term this would even be the right economic approach, let alone the right moral approach, which it plainly is not. After all, is constant political and military turmoil in major energy producers good for global markets and trade in the long run? And how will it affect European markets for expansionist powers to continue encroaching on Europe’s borders? (There are concerns Russia could target Moldova next, which is west of Ukraine.)

The state system in place is far from perfect, but allowing it to be undermined is unlikely to be good for business. After all, Merkel surely remembers how Germany came to be economically successful and the EU common market broadly integrated, and it began with throwing off the yoke of Russian tyranny and imperialism.

Merkel knows this not only because she is the head of government of the country that has basically become Europe’s central banker. She knows this because she grew up in East Germany. And here is where the moral and the material meet. It can’t be good for Europe’s economic future to yawn at Europe’s steady destabilization. But it certainly isn’t right. Merkel is where she is because there is no more East Germany, no more suffocating control by Moscow. Other independent states with sovereign borders deserve the same, no matter what the management at Adidas thinks.

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Ronald Asmus’s Extraordinary Legacy

Three years ago today, Ronald Asmus died at the very young age of 53 from cancer-related illnesses. Asmus was NATO’s champion in the Clinton administration, where his ideas about expanding NATO to eventually include a broad array of European countries but especially, as soon as was feasible, the trio of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, were heterodox. The story of how he accomplished it holds immediate relevance to the current conflict in Ukraine and lessons for American officials debating our role in fostering European stability.

Perhaps most of all, it’s worth recalling simply because history has vindicated Asmus. It is easy to forget just how unthinkable Asmus’s ideas were less than a decade before they came to fruition. Asmus was undeterred in part because his ideas about European unity and Western alliances had been pooh-poohed before. As he wrote in his book, Opening NATO’s Door:

I was part of a generation of Western academics raised with the conventional wisdom that a divided Germany and continent was a more or less permanent feature of Europe’s geopolitical landscape. When I opted to write my doctoral dissertation on overcoming the division of Germany in the mid-1980s, several colleagues suggested that I consider a less esoteric and more topical issue. No one imagined that by the time I had completed my thesis that division would be no more. Conventional wisdom not only underestimated Moscow’s willingness to let go of its satellites. It also misjudged the strong desire among the people of what was then still called Eastern Europe to liberate themselves and become part of the West. It was a lesson I would remember in the years ahead as the NATO enlargement debate raged and cautious diplomats argued that fulfilling Central and East European aspirations to join the Alliance was simply not politically or strategically feasible.

Asmus’s crucial insight into NATO enlargement was that independent states should be treated as just that–independent. It’s common to think of the postwar order as consisting, at a simplified level, of large states and small states. That’s certainly how the great powers spoke when drawing lines after the Second World War. But it would be more helpful to think of them as power states and peripheral states. Asmus thought the peripheral states–though he doesn’t use that term–deserved the right to chart their own path.

After the Cold War, the very reasonable desire on behalf of first the Bush administration then the Clinton administration was to maintain stability in Europe. But the system that underpinned that stability was outdated and, in some respects, unjust. Asmus realized that. In Central and Eastern Europe, he noted, “Yalta” was a watchword not only for Western abandonment of Poland but the relegation of peripheral states to second-class status. He even writes of working with allies at one point to formulate “a strategy to overcome Yalta.” That chapter is titled “Dismantling Yalta.” It’s an indication of just how much conventional wisdom Asmus was seeking to subvert.

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Three years ago today, Ronald Asmus died at the very young age of 53 from cancer-related illnesses. Asmus was NATO’s champion in the Clinton administration, where his ideas about expanding NATO to eventually include a broad array of European countries but especially, as soon as was feasible, the trio of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, were heterodox. The story of how he accomplished it holds immediate relevance to the current conflict in Ukraine and lessons for American officials debating our role in fostering European stability.

Perhaps most of all, it’s worth recalling simply because history has vindicated Asmus. It is easy to forget just how unthinkable Asmus’s ideas were less than a decade before they came to fruition. Asmus was undeterred in part because his ideas about European unity and Western alliances had been pooh-poohed before. As he wrote in his book, Opening NATO’s Door:

I was part of a generation of Western academics raised with the conventional wisdom that a divided Germany and continent was a more or less permanent feature of Europe’s geopolitical landscape. When I opted to write my doctoral dissertation on overcoming the division of Germany in the mid-1980s, several colleagues suggested that I consider a less esoteric and more topical issue. No one imagined that by the time I had completed my thesis that division would be no more. Conventional wisdom not only underestimated Moscow’s willingness to let go of its satellites. It also misjudged the strong desire among the people of what was then still called Eastern Europe to liberate themselves and become part of the West. It was a lesson I would remember in the years ahead as the NATO enlargement debate raged and cautious diplomats argued that fulfilling Central and East European aspirations to join the Alliance was simply not politically or strategically feasible.

Asmus’s crucial insight into NATO enlargement was that independent states should be treated as just that–independent. It’s common to think of the postwar order as consisting, at a simplified level, of large states and small states. That’s certainly how the great powers spoke when drawing lines after the Second World War. But it would be more helpful to think of them as power states and peripheral states. Asmus thought the peripheral states–though he doesn’t use that term–deserved the right to chart their own path.

After the Cold War, the very reasonable desire on behalf of first the Bush administration then the Clinton administration was to maintain stability in Europe. But the system that underpinned that stability was outdated and, in some respects, unjust. Asmus realized that. In Central and Eastern Europe, he noted, “Yalta” was a watchword not only for Western abandonment of Poland but the relegation of peripheral states to second-class status. He even writes of working with allies at one point to formulate “a strategy to overcome Yalta.” That chapter is titled “Dismantling Yalta.” It’s an indication of just how much conventional wisdom Asmus was seeking to subvert.

Part of the reason NATO was an option at all in the early days was that the existing European structures were simply not up to the task of integrating and protecting the post-Soviet states. Initial hopes were that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could take stewardship of such an integration. But it was heavy on the cooperation and light on the security. Then there was the European Union, but France was opposed to opening its doors to full membership. “That left NATO,” Asmus writes.

There were a few turning points in NATO’s favor, some more famous than others. For Asmus, it was the Foreign Affairs article he authored along with two other colleagues at RAND in 1993 making the case for NATO enlargement. Another was a speech given around that time by Volker Ruehe, an up-and-coming German politician who had taken the defense portfolio in the German governing coalition. Ruehe, apparently without even telling the country’s foreign minister, gave a speech calling for NATO and the EU to put Central and Eastern European countries on the path to full membership. Asmus writes:

On the plane during the flight back to Cologne, one of Ruehe’s top military advisors remarked that it had been a mistake to give the speech and it would take Germany years to recover from the damage caused by the Minister’s comments. He was mistaken. Within several years every one of Ruehe’s core ideas would be embraced by the U.S. and would become official Alliance policy.

It was one of many examples that showed support for the alliance was always higher than it appeared, but also that the West (especially Europe) needed a good shove in the right direction every so often. The rest is, as they say, history.

Bill Clinton, too, deserves a fair amount of credit. Not only was he receptive to the ideas that led to NATO expansion, but he was a compelling spokesman for the cause. As the events in Ukraine this year and Georgia a few years ago showed, the countries most likely to be attacked by Russia are those without security guarantees from the West. Clinton made this point repeatedly. In 1997, Asmus notes, Clinton gave a speech to West Point graduates and declared that he wanted to expand NATO “to make it less likely that you will ever be called to fight in another war across the Atlantic.” Later that year Clinton met privately with a group of senators to gauge their support. “Extending a security guarantee is important,” Clinton told them. “No NATO member has ever been attacked.”

Joe Biden, too, made a powerful argument, telling skeptics like Jack Matlock and Michael Mandelbaum that not to enlarge NATO simply because there was no immediate threat from Russia was “a prescription for paralysis.” As we’ve seen in recent years, such complacency does indeed set in and grind progress to a halt.

And that is key to truly grasping the significance of what Asmus accomplished. Letting opportunities slip by, when it comes to European integration, often means there will be no second chance. Asmus saw an opportunity, made his case, and accomplished something historic before it was buried in bureaucratic inertia.

After the Senate overwhelmingly approved the expansion, Jan Nowak, the famed courier between the Polish underground resistance and Allied governments who was 84 years old at the time of the vote, approached Asmus from the Senate’s visitor’s galley. “I never thought,” he said with broad smile, “that I would live to see the day when Poland is not only free—but safe.” That was Asmus’s monumental achievement, and thanks to his determination it is America’s legacy.

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Putin to Ukraine: Pay Up

Having annexed the Crimea and destabilized much of eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems intent not on de-escalating the conflict, but rather exacerbating it, with exposing European Union impotence as a bonus. After all, faced with a crisis to European identity, the European Union has fallen on the sword of short-term economic interests in order to justify turning their collective back (short of ineffective rhetoric and weak symbolic action) on Ukraine.

In a way it’s understandable: London’s real-estate bubble is a direct result of Russian investment. France has always put France first before any collective security responsibility. That is why it has only delayed rather than scrapped a multibillion dollar deal to sell Russia helicopter carriers. German officials have long prioritized receiving a share of Russia’s oil wealth over any action which might undercut their ability to do so. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder famously went to work for the Russian energy giant Gazprom after leaving office. While he reportedly infuriated his successor Angela Merkel by backing Putin, Merkel’s own foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was Schröder’s chief-of-staff. Hire a Russia apologist as foreign minister and the crocodile tears about his former boss shilling for the Russians falls a bit flat.

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Having annexed the Crimea and destabilized much of eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems intent not on de-escalating the conflict, but rather exacerbating it, with exposing European Union impotence as a bonus. After all, faced with a crisis to European identity, the European Union has fallen on the sword of short-term economic interests in order to justify turning their collective back (short of ineffective rhetoric and weak symbolic action) on Ukraine.

In a way it’s understandable: London’s real-estate bubble is a direct result of Russian investment. France has always put France first before any collective security responsibility. That is why it has only delayed rather than scrapped a multibillion dollar deal to sell Russia helicopter carriers. German officials have long prioritized receiving a share of Russia’s oil wealth over any action which might undercut their ability to do so. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder famously went to work for the Russian energy giant Gazprom after leaving office. While he reportedly infuriated his successor Angela Merkel by backing Putin, Merkel’s own foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was Schröder’s chief-of-staff. Hire a Russia apologist as foreign minister and the crocodile tears about his former boss shilling for the Russians falls a bit flat.

Putin understands that for European Union leaders, economics trumps principle. Perhaps this is why, in an episode of the talk show “Vesti v Subbotu” (Vesti on Saturday) aired on Saturday, April 19, Putin ignored the fact that he had invaded the country and complained that the new Ukrainian government had fallen behind on their payments for Russian gas:

[Interviewer]: Today you threw in one very interesting calculation. In one month’s time, you will revisit the Ukrainian gas payment issue. In one month’s time, it will be 17 May, with eight days to go before the planned [presidential] election in Ukraine. Does it mean that you will recognize the May 25 election or are you…

[Putin]: This has nothing to do with the election. We are not linking the economy with the political process in Ukraine. We simply had to receive money, on 7 April this year, for the gas delivered in March. We did not receive it. I repeat, this is 525m dollars. Zero [was received].

So, there you go: Putin effectively has issued an ultimatum to Ukrainians that they must pay their gas bill eight days before Ukrainians go to the polls. Finance is finance and principle is principle, but finance trumps principle. Ukraine may be the sacrificial lamb, but how comforting it must be for Angela Merkel that Putin is finally acting European.

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The Debate We Should Be Having About Rand Paul and Sanctions

Rand Paul was put on the defensive this week over criticism stemming from comments he made last year, posted on Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post blog, on Iran sanctions: “There are times when sanctions have made it worse. There are times–leading up to World War II, we cut off trade with Japan. That probably caused Japan to react angrily. We also had a blockade on Germany after World War I, which may have encouraged some of their anger.”

As with a great many conversations involving Hitler, the debate went off course almost immediately in ways that were unfair to Paul. The senator’s senior advisor told the Post in response: “World War II was a necessary war, a just war, a fully declared war, and an entirely victorious war; the megalomaniac Hitler was to blame for the war and the Holocaust.” So some of the sympathy for Paul is warranted: his recorded statements didn’t suggest that the United States was at fault for Hitler’s rise and the subsequent consequences.

“There’s a debate to be had on foreign policy,” David Harsanyi argues, reasonably. “This isn’t it.” Harsanyi goes on to make the following point:

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Rand Paul was put on the defensive this week over criticism stemming from comments he made last year, posted on Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post blog, on Iran sanctions: “There are times when sanctions have made it worse. There are times–leading up to World War II, we cut off trade with Japan. That probably caused Japan to react angrily. We also had a blockade on Germany after World War I, which may have encouraged some of their anger.”

As with a great many conversations involving Hitler, the debate went off course almost immediately in ways that were unfair to Paul. The senator’s senior advisor told the Post in response: “World War II was a necessary war, a just war, a fully declared war, and an entirely victorious war; the megalomaniac Hitler was to blame for the war and the Holocaust.” So some of the sympathy for Paul is warranted: his recorded statements didn’t suggest that the United States was at fault for Hitler’s rise and the subsequent consequences.

“There’s a debate to be had on foreign policy,” David Harsanyi argues, reasonably. “This isn’t it.” Harsanyi goes on to make the following point:

What Paul never contends is that Hitler’s ideology hinged on the idea of opposing Versailles. He was talking about Germany and Germans. In front of me is Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, where the author basically makes the same case and Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, in which she writes that though Versailles’ impact had likely been exaggerated by German governments, it allowed political parties like the Nazis to tap into widespread “anger” and resentment. Sounds like that’s what Rand was saying.

True enough, though it’s worth noting that in Modern Times, Johnson has much more to say about the grievances unleashed by Versailles, and they center on the ethnic strife sparked by transferring Europe to the individual nation-state model from the age of empires–“self-determination,” in Johnson’s writing, which created more restive minority populations because there were more states. Where economic factors played a role, Johnson seems to put emphasis on the fact that more states also meant more poor states, especially in the immediate postwar period, and he notes that Germany was considered to have defaulted on its postwar obligations as well. If any aspect of Versailles encouraged German expansionism, Johnson appears to blame the fact that “under the Treaty it was forbidden to seek union with Germany, which made the Anschluss seem more attractive than it actually was.”

But I think Paul’s defenders here are on less steady ground in dismissing Paul’s comments as they relate to Pearl Harbor. He prefaced his sanctions comments–at least on Pearl Harbor–by saying sometimes sanctions “have made it worse.” Taken individually, sanctions on a nation can be treated this way. But it doesn’t always apply, and it applies perhaps less to Japan than almost any other scenario (Germany, Iraq, Iran, etc.).

As some have said since Paul’s comments, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was a sort of preemptive strike to at least temporarily avert an American response to simultaneous Japanese aggression throughout the region, including on Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. But another important facet of this is that the sanctions weren’t a surprise to Japan, because they were in response to Japanese action. As the historian Ian Toll writes, Japan took action its leaders–reminded by Admiral Yamamoto, who initially wanted to avoid an unwinnable war–knew would precipitate sanctions, and the whole process would bring them toward war:

From his flagship, Nagato, usually anchored in Hiroshima Bay, Yamamoto continued to warn against joining with the Nazis. He reminded his government that Japan imported around four-fifths of its oil and steel from areas controlled by the Allies. To risk conflict, he wrote, was foolhardy, because “there is no chance of winning a war with the United States for some time to come.”

But Japan’s confused and divided government drifted toward war while refusing to face the strategic problems it posed. It signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in Berlin in September 1940. As Yamamoto had predicted, the American government quickly restricted and finally cut off exports of oil and other vital materials. The sanctions brought events to a head, because Japan had no domestic oil production to speak of, and would exhaust its stockpiles in about a year.

Yamamoto realized he had lost the fight to keep Japan out of war, and he fell in line with the planning process.

Yamamoto warned against the process because he wrongly thought his leaders wanted to avoid war, when in fact they provoked it. This doesn’t mean Paul is “blaming” the U.S. for the attack on Pearl Harbor (and by extension, American entry into World War II). But it raises questions about Paul’s selective use of history–and bad history does not usually inform good policy.

I have raised this issue with Paul before. When he made his major foreign-policy address a year ago, he advocated a greater emphasis on containment. But he conflated the Kennanite version of containment with the strategy that ultimately won the Cold War, which was far from the truth. In reality, Kennan’s ideas were central to the Truman administration’s decision to embrace containment, but his version of containment was so different that Kennan adamantly refused to take credit for it.

It is far from clear that a nuclear Iran would be containable the way the Soviet Union was–in fact, it’s unlikely. But Paul’s version of containment would not have even contained the Soviet Union. Paul’s habit of cherry-picking history to create precedents for his own preferred strategy seems to be present with his comments on Japanese sanctions and Pearl Harbor as well. It certainly doesn’t make him a blame-America-firster. But it does suggest unsound strategic judgment.

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Siemens CEO’s Craven Photo-Op with Putin

The giant German engineering firm Siemens AG has, in common with other large German companies that have been around a long time, a deplorable history of having cooperated with the Nazi regime. The Anti-Defamation League notes:

Siemens ran factories at Ravensbrück and in the Auschwitz subcamp of Bobrek, among others, and the company supplied electrical parts to other concentration and death camps. In the camp factories, abysmal living and working conditions were ubiquitous: malnutrition and death were not uncommon. Recent scholarship has established how, despite German industry’s repeated denials, these camp factories were created, run, and supplied by the SS in conjunction with company officials — sometimes high-level employees.

So one would think that the current management of Siemens would have some sensitivity about embracing a modern-day dictator whose aggression has been compared to that of 1930s Germany. Apparently not. Even as the leaders of the West are struggling to isolate and punish Vladimir Putin for his illegal declaration of Anschluss with Crimea, the CEO of Siemens AG, Joe Kaeser, was meeting with Putin at his official residence outside Moscow.

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The giant German engineering firm Siemens AG has, in common with other large German companies that have been around a long time, a deplorable history of having cooperated with the Nazi regime. The Anti-Defamation League notes:

Siemens ran factories at Ravensbrück and in the Auschwitz subcamp of Bobrek, among others, and the company supplied electrical parts to other concentration and death camps. In the camp factories, abysmal living and working conditions were ubiquitous: malnutrition and death were not uncommon. Recent scholarship has established how, despite German industry’s repeated denials, these camp factories were created, run, and supplied by the SS in conjunction with company officials — sometimes high-level employees.

So one would think that the current management of Siemens would have some sensitivity about embracing a modern-day dictator whose aggression has been compared to that of 1930s Germany. Apparently not. Even as the leaders of the West are struggling to isolate and punish Vladimir Putin for his illegal declaration of Anschluss with Crimea, the CEO of Siemens AG, Joe Kaeser, was meeting with Putin at his official residence outside Moscow.

In a visit that was billed by newspapers as a “vote of confidence” in Putin, Kaeser posed alongside Putin and declared: “Siemens has been present in Russia since 1853—a presence that has survived many highs and low. We want to maintain the conversation even in today’s politically difficult times. For us, dialogue is a crucial part of a long-term relationship.”

It’s obvious what Kaeser is up to: He is trying to protect $2.99 billion in sales that his company had in Russia last year. Yet it is hard to make the case that Russia is a make-or-break market for this industrial giant since it accounts for only 2.9 percent of Siemens’ revenues. In short, Kaeser’s reprehensible embrace of an international outlaw who has violated Ukrainian sovereignty and routinely violates the civil liberties of his own people is not even compelled by the bottom line. It is completely craven toadying of the kind that Siemens may well regret some day–just as so many companies, including his own, came to regret the public-relations damage of having done business with Hitler or, in more recent times, with despots like Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein.

Alas, the fact that Kaeser feels so free to almost literally embrace Putin shows how little will Europe has to confront the predator on its doorstep. Instead of reprimanding Kaeser, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who as a former citizen of East Germany should be more sensitive to dealing with ex-KGB thugs, simply said: “Business contacts are still taking place and I am not interested in seeing the situation escalate, but rather among towards a de-escalation.”

With such cravenness being displayed by the most powerful state in Europe, Putin must be getting the message loud and clear that his aggression is essentially cost-free.

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