“Russia is worse than ISIS. Full stop.”
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister
This past weekend we witnessed two significant events surrounding Russia’s war on Ukraine. The Russians withdrew from the towns and suburbs around the capital Kyiv, and the resulting discoveries were horrendous. Besides the utter destruction of homes and buildings, it was clear to the most impartial observers that the Russians had conducted untold atrocities on the civilian population including murder, rape and looting. To date, over four hundred civilian Ukrainians are known to have been murdered in one town alone. Some were buried in mass graves, some were left where they were shot in the street. Dozens were shot execution style with their hands tied behind their backs. The pictures are horrifying. The stories from the survivors are worse. The town of Bucha was the first to uncover the breadth of the atrocities but it will not be the last. Many observers believe that similar war crimes are being committed in other occupied cities and towns. The only difference so far is that those areas have yet to be freed of Russian forces, their accomplices from Chechnya and the mercenaries sent to bail out the Russian military.
These two developments together may mark a turning point in Putin’s War. Analysts believe that the Russians are in the process of concentrating their remaining forces in eastern Ukraine to dominate the separatist areas of Luhansk and Donetsk. This is why the battle for Kharkiv is so essential. Additionally, they will concentrate on completing a Russian land bridge from Crimea to Russia along the coast of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. This is the importance of the battle for Mariupol and efforts by the Russians to capture Odessa. So far, the Russians have failed to achieve all of their strategic and operational goals. The Ukrainian resistance is unbelievable and is to be commended. Unfortunately, the war is not over and time is on the Russian’s side. At the current rate, the Ukrainians cannot hold out for ever, perhaps only a few more months. Meantime, the loss of Ukrainian lives, military and civilian, continues during heavy fighting and deliberate and random Russian attacks on cities and civilians. Russian president Vladimir Putin seems to be taking the approach that if he cannot have Ukraine, then he will make sure that there is nothing left for the Ukrainians that survive his brutal attacks.
This should come as no surprise to anyone that studies eastern European history. It is certainly no surprise to the Ukrainians. For a hundred years or more, the Russian way of fighting includes destroying civilian infrastructure and killing as many civilians as possible. While leading the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin killed millions of Ukrainians, Poles, Russians and others in war and in peace. Mr. Putin has used scorched earth tactics in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria and elsewhere. It is what they do. It is what they are doing now. Make no mistake, the war crimes ongoing in Ukraine are not the result of poorly trained, undisciplined individual units going berserk. This is a strategy. It is meant to terrorize the civilian population into giving up. Even as the Russians deny their atrocities and call it “fake news” they are glad it is publicized. It gets the message out to those watching that the terror is real and it is personal. It is an integral element of their conduct of war and crucial to the PSYOPS (Psychological Operations) they are conducting to demoralize the Ukrainian population.
Now is the time for NATO to act with ever greater urgency. The Russians are temporarily disorganized, demoralized and lacking in unit cohesion, supplies and the essentials of war. That will not last forever. While they are regrouping in Russia and Belarus, the NATO allies and other supporters should be pouring weapons and materiel into Ukraine to give them the chance to go on the offensive and push the Russians back. Apparently, there is a debate among the allies as to supplying “defensive” arms to Ukraine as opposed to “offensive” arms. It is past time to forget about such niceties. For the Ukrainians, this is a fight to the finish. For the rest of the world, this is a fight for freedom and democracy. Ukraine is on the front lines. What happens there will have great geo-political consequences for the West and much of the rest of the world. Give them what they need. They are doing an incredible job defending themselves. They are not asking for NATO troops or forces from anywhere else — only the weapons they need to fight the Russian war machine. As important in warfare as weapons is the will to fight. The Ukrainians have proved their determination to fight for every inch of their nation. But they don’t have the weapons. Most military men and women will tell you that when the shooting starts, they don’t know or care whether the bullets and shells coming at them are from “defensive” or “offensive” weapons. They just know that they are getting shot at. Of course, let’s not forget that the Russians went on the offensive to start the war and continue to be offensive in their operations and actions in every sense of the word.
Primarily, the U.S. is under pressure to supply more sophisticated weapons to Ukraine. Without going into a litany of particular weapon systems, U.S. sophisticated weapons are not of much use at this point because the Ukrainian Armed Forces do not have the training to use them. The U.S. should continue to supply massive amounts of effective, but less sophisticated weapons such as MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems such as Stinger missiles) and NLAWS (Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon Systems such as British and Swedish shoulder fired systems or the larger U.S. Javelin). Such weapons are easy to learn to use in a short period of time and are quite effective in the right circumstances. Just ask the Russian armored columns.
More sophisticated weapons such as mid or high-altitude air defense systems, or coastal missile systems, or tanks or airplanes should come from our NATO allies that were formerly part of the USSR or Warsaw Pact. These Soviet era weapons are of the same types that Ukraine primarily has in their military so there is no ramp up in training. They can be used immediately. Poland in particular could be quite effective in this way.
As much as can be provided now, not a month from now or later, would be most effective in saving Ukrainian lives and in giving the Ukrainian military the opportunity to take advantage of the Russian disarray. Let’s face it. The Ukrainians are not going to march to Moscow. They will not retake Crimea through force. Whether “offensive” or “defensive” they need the equipment now to save lives and to push Russia to meaningful negotiations.
At the same time NATO needs to decide which “red lines” must be drawn. War crimes are taking place daily. Russia must be held responsible. It is too far-fetched to believe that Mr. Putin will ever stand trial in person for his war crimes. However, significant destruction of his conventional military power is not beyond the realm of possibility if he continues to pursue the war in Ukraine. They have been proved to be ill-equipped, poorly trained, lacking in leadership and short on logistic support. But there is still the preponderance of force on their side both in manpower and in numbers of weapons. They can still over-run Ukraine if they go all in, which it seems Mr. Putin is willing to do. He is not personally suffering from sanctions or the war. As I mentioned above, the Russian mentality is to crush everything in their path. If that means losing thousands (or in World War II, millions) of their own troops, so be it. They are ruthless in every way, including the treatment of their own fighting forces. To date, no number of casualties is too high.
The Butcher of Bucha will not stop the atrocities. We need to make them pay the highest price we can.
As we approach the end of four weeks of fighting in Ukraine (or more accurately, 8 years, three weeks and three days since the first Russian invasion), pundits, analysts and government officials from around the world are surprised at the continued and valiant resistance from the Ukrainian military and the resilience of its civilian population. It is genuinely inspiring.
Most of those observers are equally surprised (including me) at the utter incompetence of the Russian military. Make no mistake, the Russians can overwhelm the Ukrainians with sheer numbers of troops and weapons, but they have shown a shocking lack of understanding about combined arms attack (integrating combat air, sea, and land forces in a concentrated and mutually supportive way), basic tactical operations, logistics and combat leadership. They are not the modern, effective military machine that Russian President Vladimir Putin thought he spent the last twenty years and billions of dollars building. It appears that they have a limited number of “smart” weapons to precisely hit military targets and have thus used ballistic missiles and “dumb” bombs to terrorize the civilian populations of major cities. Likewise, their tactical aircraft are mostly grounded since the early days of the invasion because they have not gained air supremacy (Ukrainian air defenses have destroyed a large number of low flying aircraft) and the Russians are afraid of losing aircraft and pilots in unsuccessful attacks. Without low level tactical aircraft coordinating with armored columns, the tanks and personnel carriers are left in the open to be ambushed by Ukrainians armed with anti-tank missiles and other weapons.
All of this means between 7,000 (US estimates) and 14,000 (Ukrainian estimates) dead Russian soldiers. Probably there are at least twice that number wounded or captured. That is a lot given the preponderance of force the Russians should have and that the war is only about four weeks old. The Russian military is not the mighty twenty-first century fighting machine that they pretended to be.
That is of only small consolation to the Ukrainians under attack. In fact, it may actually be to their detriment. As the battle lines become more static and Mr. Putin more frustrated, he may increase the attacks on non-military targets to terrorize civilians and break the will of the government to continue to resist. It could lead to more casualties over the long run than a quick, effective strike might have caused.
The scenes are heartbreaking and the cry to help the Ukrainians is getting louder and more insistent. So what should the West do?
Just as nearly everyone overestimated the Russians’ strength, nearly as many people underestimated the ability of NATO to stand together. After the “former guy” nearly destroyed NATO, Mr. Putin calculated that the alliance would not band together against him. He was wrong. The Biden Administration has done a remarkable job in bringing all thirty member countries into a united front to work to isolate Russia and inhibit their ability to fight Putin’s War. Beyond NATO, the Biden Administration has lined up most of our friends and allies around the world to impose sanctions on Russia and to put their economy in extremis. No one thought it possible even three months ago. It is the result of basic hard work, diplomacy and the world’s desire to see the United States as the strong leader needed to bring others into the fold.
Is it enough? Only time and patience will tell. Most likely it will make Russia a pariah for years, if not generations, to come. Except for its nuclear weapons (admittedly, a major element), Russia is a third rate country. Its fate as such will be sealed for a long time to come. Unfortunately, none of that helps the Ukrainians today,
President Biden has the unenviable task of walking the fine line of keeping NATO together, giving lethal and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and not instigating World War III. His Republican critics in Congress and the Senate have criticized his efforts. While legitimate policy discussions are warranted, many Republicans are pushing to “do more” without much specification as to what. And, oh yeah, the recent omnibus spending bill that President Biden signed into law last week had $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine. Thirty-one Republican Senators voted against it, including many of those most vociferous about the president needing to do more. In addition, other Republicans are from the Putin Wing of the party and are saying unbelievable things. The words spewing from their lips continue to support Mr. Putin and they refer to the Ukrainian president as a “thug.” They and their propaganda wing of a certain cable channel use Putin talking points verbatim in their commentary and are despicable (as a result, they are a part of daily news broadcasts in Russia showing that the “American people” support the Russian “Special Military Operation”).
Talk of a “no fly zone” is just that, talk. Not every American understands what a no fly zone means, but most of those in the Senate pushing for one do know. It would mean declaring war on Belarus and Russia. This is not Iraq. When they talk of a no fly zone they mean stopping aircraft, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. To do that would mean destroying the bases ashore and the ships at sea that are launching the weapons, eliminating Russian anti-air defense missile launchers and shooting down Russian aircraft. Most of those are on Russian soil. The ships at sea fly Russian flags. It would be a direct attack on Russia itself. That would be World War III. If the Senate wants to do that, they should use their Constitutional powers and declare war on Russia. They won’t do that, of course. The Congress long ago abdicated their responsibilities regarding war. Their real purpose is to use the continued suffering of the Ukrainian people as a domestic political weapon against the president.
Everyone should also remember that the the leader of the Republican Party was impeached for withholding military aid to Ukraine for his own political gain. All Republican Senators voted not to remove him from office save one (Senator Mitt Romney of Utah). He also threatened to withdraw from NATO and did everything in his power to weaken the alliance — to Mr. Putin’s advantage. Please do not tell me that you now really care.
There are some additional actions that the president can take that should be done quickly. So far, Mr. Putin is setting all of the “red lines.” Those are the actions he says will escalate the conflict and he even cavalierly reminds the world of his nuclear arsenal. President Biden should be setting red lines for the Russians, something that has not yet really happened. Put Mr. Putin on notice that we are not afraid of his hollow Army and will not allow him to continue to act recklessly.
First on the list should be chemical weapons. Mr. Putin and a major personality on a Fox cable channel are spreading the false narrative that the U.S. has secretly been helping Ukraine build chemical and biological weapons. This is a bald face lie. Unfortunately, it is entirely possible that Mr. Putin will conduct a chemical or biological attack on a major Ukrainian city as he gets ever more frustrated by Ukrainian military resistance. He will then blame the attack on the U.S. and Ukraine. The Biden Administration has been working overtime to debunk this abominable lie. They should go further and make it clear (not vague statements) that any use of chemical weapons will be met with a harsh military response. The what and where are our choice, but their will be a military response.
Likewise, Mr. Biden and our NATO allies have repeatedly assured the world that they will not give up a single square inch of NATO territory to a Russian attack. This also needs to be clarified. Mr. Putin has repeatedly stated that the resupply of Ukrainian forces with weapons killing Russians is an act of war. He stated that resupply lines and bases are legitimate military targets. It is easy to envision a scenario where Mr. Putin tests NATO resolve. A single cruise missile, for instance, that hits a supply warehouse just across the border in Poland. No territory taken, but it was clearly an attack on NATO. Would we go to war over a single missile or bomb, especially if no one was killed? It should be clearly stated that the West will not tolerate any kind of attack, regardless of scope. It is easy to sense that Mr. Putin might try to pull something to embarrass the West or to test the “how much is too much” theory of tolerance.
It is hard to imagine a modern European city under attack by the Russians. It is even harder to watch the gut wrenching videos on TV and to hear the horrible stories from survivors. Most of us want to do something concrete to help them out, especially with a superior force represented by NATO that is not coming to their aid to stop the bombing. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy argues that those worried in the West that current events may lead to World War III are naive. He and others believe World War III has already begun. It is only a matter of time before NATO is involved and meanwhile many hundreds or thousands of people are losing their lives waiting for the West to act. He may be right.
As we all know, we cannot predict the future even if some things seem inevitable. Putin’s War is going to become a long drawn out affair with many, many casualties on both sides and the resultant destruction of a modern European country. The impact will be felt world-wide as oil and agricultural prices increase because of the loss of Russian and Ukrainian exports. It will get even more ugly.
Our leaders need to do everything in their power to end this needless slaughter. If it was easy, we would have ended it already. The western democracies need to lead the way and to keep up the pressure.
Ukraine has not yet perished, nor its glory and freedom,
Luck will still smile on us brother Ukrainians.
Our enemies will die, as the dew does on the sunshine,
and we too, brothers, will live happily in our land.
We’ll not spare either our souls or bodies to get freedom
and we’ll prove that we are brothers of Kozak kin.
— English translation of the Ukrainian National Anthem adopted in 1992.
Roughly seventy-two hours ago, the Russian military attacked and invaded Ukraine from the air, land and sea. It was expected that the Russians would swiftly roll over the Ukrainian countryside and capture key cities, especially the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. So far, that is not happening. The Ukrainian military is fighting hard and inflicting severe casualties on the Russian invaders. Although accurate information is difficult to come by, especially since Russia has released no casualty figures, the Ukrainians are believed to have captured, killed or wounded thousands of Russians. At the same time, the Ukrainian government is mobilizing the population, arming them — over 18,000 weapons were issued to civilians in Kyiv alone — and teaching them how to make Molotov cocktails (gas filled bottles with a fuse thrown at vehicles — ironically named after a Soviet era Foreign Minister) and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs). None-the-less, the world does not expect Ukraine to defeat Russia or even to hold them off forever. Ukraine is getting moral support and supplies, but under the current conditions, there is no expectation that outside forces will come to their support by fighting inside Ukraine. Instead, countries around the world are imposing the “Mother of All Sanctions” on Russia. Realistically, this will not stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from destroying Ukraine, but it will make it much more painful for his country’s citizens than they may be prepared to experience.
The biggest concern to the rest of Europe and to the United States is that purposefully, or through an accident, the war will spread outside of Ukraine. In particular, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are worried that Mr. Putin will take the opportunity to reimpose the outlines of the former Soviet Union. Likewise, Romania is concerned about the integrity of its border. All are NATO countries. (Norway is also a member of NATO and borders Russia, but has fewer concerns about an attack.) I am neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist but the speeches that Mr. Putin has given the last few days are bordering on the psychopathic. He sounds delusional, fundamentally unsound, and oblivious to any criticism inside or outside of his inner circle. In short, he sounds like a madman, even insinuating that anyone that thwarts his plans could be subject to a nuclear attack. Last Thursday he referred to the fact that “Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states” and went on to say that “there should be no doubt for anyone that any potential aggressor will face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack our country.”
As the fighting continues, for the first time in NATO history in response to war on the European continent, the NATO Response Force (NRF) is being activated. The NRF includes 40,000 military personnel from countries throughout NATO, and in past exercises included forces from non-NATO members Finland and Sweden — both of which border Russia. Their governments are now considering joining NATO in response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. The force includes aircraft and naval forces in addition to land troops. The president order the deployment of about 7,000 more troops from the United States for the NRF, which is in addition to the thousands already deployed from home in response to Russia’s attack.
What are the chances of war spilling over into other areas of Europe? As I often do, let’s take a look at history to see if there are any parallels. There are two that jump out in my mind. One is the events leading up to World War II. The other is the Cuban Missile Crisis. (I am of the generation that in elementary school, we practiced hiding under our desks or assembling in the hallways should there be a nuclear attack. No joke. When we assembled in the hallways, we would press up against the walls in two rows. I always wondered about the kids in the outer row who in my mind would take the majority of the blow from an explosion. Of course, we were too young to appreciate that none of us had a chance in the case of an actual attack.)
The Cuban Missile Crisis reflects the dangers of miscalculation and sheer brinksmanship between two nuclear powers. We are not there, but a chance encounter could put us into this category.
So far, this is a conventional war so let’s use the run-up to World War II.
- Following the end of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 formally ended hostilities and completely reshaped the geographic boundaries of many central and eastern European nations, in some cases creating or recreating nations that had “disappeared.” CHECK. Following the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, newly independent countries emerged such as the Baltic States and Ukraine. Mr. Putin calls this the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” and is the basis for his claim that Ukraine does not exist as an independent country.
- In 1938 Germany annexed the Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia) as a result of the Munich Agreement between Germany, United Kingdom, France and Italy to bring “peace in our time.” CHECK. In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea, part of the territory of Ukraine. The world scolded Russia but made no meaningful effort to stop or reverse the first such annexation in Europe of one country’s territory by another using force since World War II.
- Throughout the spring and summer of 1939 Germany annexed parts of countries throughout central and eastern Europe claiming that that they were ethnically, culturally, and traditionally a part of Germany. CHECK. Mr. Putin claims that Ukraine is actually part of Russia and points to the large number of ethnic, cultural and linguistic similarities between the two countries. He claims that he must move into Ukraine to protect Russians.
- On 23 August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty providing for a secret plan for the two countries to divide Poland and “giving” the Baltic States and Finland to the Soviet Union. CHECK. Prior to the Beijing Olympics this year, Mr. Putin and China’s President XI Jinping met. Although the details of any agreement is not known publicly, it is assumed that some sort of deal was reached that at a minimum, China would not interfere with Russia’s ambitions in Europe.
- On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland. France and the United Kingdom had promised to protect the territorial integrity of Poland. World War II began. CHECK? No guarantees were given to Ukraine that its territorial integrity would be protected by NATO or any country. However, NATO is implementing the NRF to protect NATO states from Russian aggression. NATO and non-NATO nations are supplying Ukraine with significant weapons and materiel to fight the Russians. To keep those supply lines open under the current conditions could easily result in a Russian attack on the supply lines into Ukraine.
- In September 1940 the America First Committee was formed to pressure Congress to keep the United States out of foreign wars. Although its aim was to promote American isolationism, it was also antisemitic and largely pro-fascist. Charles Lindbergh (yes, that Charles Lindbergh) was the face of the organization that eventually reached about 800,000 dues paying members in 450 chapters around the country. The goal was to put, surprise, America First by not getting involved in World War II and by protecting “American” culture, which did not, in their view, include taking in immigrant Jews from Europe. The committee disbanded on 10 December 1941. CHECK. Our own American useful idiots for Russian propaganda want to put America First and raise many of the same questions that the original brand raised. DJ Trump, M. Pompeo, T. Carlson, and many others in the MAGA crowd question why we don’t support Russia (after all, they are just protecting their borders) or openly admire Mr. Putin (“genius”, “savvy”, “talented”, “enormous respect”, “capable statesman”, etc.) Indeed, Russian state television is running verbatim clips of a certain Fox evening celebrity defending Mr. Putin and asking “Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? So why does permanent Washington hate him so much?” (There’s more but I can’t stomach any more of this unpatriotic nonsense.)
There are many parallels. There are areas where there are no parallels. The point is that history often has serious lessons to be learned. I have no idea if the war in Ukraine will spread, but I think that every American should be paying attention to it because there are indications and warnings that it could, in fact, spread to a NATO country and then the world is at war. Even without war, there will be hardship in the United States. Nowhere near the hardship the Ukrainians are going through, or even the families of those young Russians sent out to die for Putin, but the American populace should be ready for economic sacrifice as the world’s economy is impacted by sanctions on Russia and their reciprocal actions. We in the United States have not really had to sacrifice in any real way in a long time. The “Greatest Generation” knew sacrifice. We do not. Shoot. We as a nation could not even be bothered to wear a mask during the greatest pandemic in the world in a hundred years without whining about it and claiming that health professionals were fascists and dictators. No wonder Mr. Putin and those like him think he can get away with an unprovoked attack on a neighbor.
I hope that President Biden and his administration do a better job explaining to our fellow citizens why it is important to help Ukraine defeat Russian aggression. We have seen time and time again that ruthless dictators are never satisfied. Mr. Putin’s stated objective is to restore the Russian empire and to regroup those nations that were once Soviet Republics. Like so many despots and autocrats, he is telling us what he plans to do. Believe him.
I am gobsmacked that many Americans do not know that Russia is a dictatorship and Ukraine is a real, no kidding, democracy. The Ukrainians have some problems. They are working on those issues. So, when did we stop supporting democracy in order to cheer on a dictator? A dictator that works aggressively to undermine everything that we stand for in this country? I really do not get it.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainians hunker down in a real fight to the death. The very survival of their country is at stake.
“Ukraine has not yet perished.”
As I write this piece, the world is on the brink of the biggest combat operations in Europe since World War II. Approximately 190,000 Russian troops threaten Ukraine’s borders on three sides supported by air and naval units in position to attack targets inside Ukraine. In military intelligence terms, all of the Indicators and Warnings (I&W) point to an invasion within days or even hours. Most telling is that the Russians have moved perishables, such as blood and plasma supplies, to positions near the border. Those types of logistics cannot sit in storage at the front for long.
Yesterday President Biden made a rare revelation in a speech to the nation addressing the impending crisis. When asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided on his course of action, the president responded, “As of this moment, I am convinced he’s made the decision.” By that, he meant that Mr. Putin had decided to invade. When asked how he could know, he responded that the U.S. has a “significant intelligence capability.” This is important on several levels. One is that he is telling the world that the full weight of American capabilities indicates that the attack will happen and we should be prepared. On another level he is giving Mr. Putin an indication of our skill and capability in using our intelligence assets to keep a much closer eye on him and his activities than he might know. Finally, if we have this level of granularity into the Kremlin’s thinking, we may yet deter him from taking military action.
Personally, I have thought for quite awhile that the Russians would attack Ukraine. The only questions were when, and how strongly. He is going to do it. Mr. Putin clearly stated on numerous occasions that he considers Ukraine to be part of Russia. He will not be deterred. How far he goes depends on the Ukrainians. Mr. Putin’s goal is to depose the current Ukrainian government and to replace them with one that is more “friendly” to Russia. How far he goes militarily most likely will depend on the depth and degree of resistance from the Ukrainians and whether the current government stays in place.
This afternoon the artillery and Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) attacks from the separatist regions of Ukraine have dramatically increased. At the same time, they are evacuating civilians from cities in the Donbas region, specifically the Donetsk People’s Republic — one of the break away regions in southeastern Ukraine — to Russia. The Russians and their proxies in the occupied region are trying to provoke a response from the Ukrainians as a pretext to attack. So far, the Ukrainian military has exercised remarkable restraint by not taking the bait. As the Biden Administration has warned over the last several weeks, there is likely to be a major “false flag” incident (Russian agents attack their own people, or buildings or otherwise make it look like an atrocity occurred) to further the lie that Ukraine is the instigator of hostilities. There are numerous misinformation campaigns underway on the internet claiming that the Ukrainians are conducting genocide against the separatists or that chemical weapons attacks have occurred there. It is likely that some major manufactured incident will give the Russians their excuse to invade.
The Biden Administration has put steel into the spine of our NATO and EU allies. After weeks of diligent diplomatic efforts, the vast majority of the world’s leaders are condemning the impending attack and are onboard with sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian economy and going after Mr. Putin and his pals directly. Questions remain as to whether those sanctions should be used before or after the invasion. Many diplomats argue that invoking sanctions now may give Mr. Putin an excuse to attack. Others, such as Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky argue that they should be put in play immediately. At a security summit in Munich today, Mr. Zelensky addressed the assembled diplomats, including Vice President Kamala Harris, and bitterly chastised the western powers for waiting. He argued that sanctions need to be implemented now, not after the attack when Ukraine’s economy will have collapsed and “parts of our country will be occupied.”
Further, Mr. Zelensky decried the absence of support promised in a 1994 agreement known as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Put together by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation, the Memorandum gave security assurances to Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan against threats or use of force to change the territorial integrity or political independence of those states in return for their relinquishing all nuclear weapons. Following the break up of the Soviet Union, those three countries had large stockpiles of former Soviet nuclear weapons. Indeed, in 1994 Ukraine had the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal. While the Russians retained operational control of the weapons due to controls required to utilize them, the Ukrainians had physical control of them. Arms control experts around the world worried about those three states’ ability to protect the weapons from falling into the wrong hands, especially terrorist hands. Mr. Zelensky today pointed out that in 2014 Ukraine got no help from anyone when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. He wants it now.
Post World War II history teaches us that our enemies, competitors and adversaries often grossly under estimate American resolve. They view our very public domestic political fights as signs that we are distracted or weak. Currently, the incorrect view that we “ran away” in Afghanistan solidified the narrative that the U.S. was no longer a player on the world stage. Wrong. Over the last year, the Biden Administration worked hard to repair the damage done by the former guy to our relationships with our allies and especially within NATO. In my view, Mr. Putin did not expect the strong, and most importantly, unified stand that the West is taking to support Ukraine. He miscalculated. The effort to deter him permanently will probably fail, but it appears he is at least thinking twice before proceeding. In the end he probably will calculate that he can survive the sanctions and other non-military measures from the West. He is on a vision quest to restore the Russian Empire and Ukraine is the key to his ambitions. At this point, he cannot totally turn away. Deflect, delay, or otherwise play games with the timing or methods of attack, but in the end he will not leave Ukraine as it is.
The U.S. deployed about 5,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division to Poland. Accompanying them is a headquarters element from the XVIII Airborne Corps to form Joint Task Force (JTF) Dragon. Their deployment is designed to strengthen our ties to NATO and probably to help with the influx of refugees into Poland when the fighting starts. Additionally, about 2,000 troops are redeploying from Germany to Romania for the same reasons. Both Poland and Romania border Ukraine. There are about 80,000 members of the U.S. military in Europe including forces from every branch. Some of those are rotating forces that come in and out of various countries based on the threat and/or exercises. Less well known is the fact that the U.S. has elements of the U.S. Navy ashore in Poland and Romania. The Navy’s Aegis Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) System that is the main battery on our cruisers and destroyers is now in ground based installations in those two countries. Known as Aegis Ashore they are placed there to protect our NATO allies from “rogue” ballistic missiles — most likely from Iran or North Korea. They are purely defensive in nature, but you will sometimes hear Mr. Putin reference them when he talks about Russian security threats from NATO.
When the invasion begins, it is unlikely to start with Russian troops blasting their way across the border. The fighting will come in stages, perhaps with operational pauses to negotiate before the next attack. Cyber attacks will be followed by an onslaught from the air from the Russian air forces and from cruise missiles from Russian ships in the Black Sea. Ukraine has little in the way of air forces or air defense capabilities. The Russians will own the air space which will allow them to move forces with impunity and attack at will. Russia does not have to occupy the entire country. Decapitating the government and holding key positions in key cities will give them the “victory” that they need to control Ukraine’s future. Russia has been fighting in Syria for years. They made a point of rotating all of their key combat units through that battle space so that they are now all battle tested. Both in terms of individual units, and in terms of command and control of combat forces spread over a wide area — two things that they did not previously possess or do well. They have learned a lot of lessons and have applied them.
The Ukrainians have the will to resist but little in the way of organized military forces once they have been decimated from the air. Their plan is to conduct a guerilla war and to inflict as many Russian casualties as possible to undermine the will of the Russian people when their sons and daughters are killed or maimed.
Make no mistake about it. This is going to be ugly. Barring a Ukrainian surrender or collapse at the start, there will be tens of thousands of casualties and as many as a million refugees fleeing the country. This will have world impact, economically and politically. We will all suffer. As is often the case, once war begins, no one can predict whether it will spread or how it will play out in the end. A few “mistakes” could lead Europe into another war. Kyiv is a modern city with about 2.5 million residents. Once electricity is knocked out and water is unavailable living conditions in the city will deteriorate rapidly. In addition to war casualties, it will be a humanitarian disaster.
As President Biden and his cabinet have been warning us, events in Ukraine will not be about some far off place nobody has ever heard of or people we do not care about. Even if one thinks that now, a war in eastern Europe will impact all of us.
The United States Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, commonly referred to as the 1/6 Committee, was formed via a House resolution on 30 June 2020. Its membership was finalized on 25 July after the Speaker of the House added Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-ILL) to the committee. It consists of seven Democrats and two Republicans (there are only two after Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA) refused Republican participation over a dispute as to membership), and is chaired by Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS). We do not know the full extent of the information that they have collected to date, but it is known that they have interviewed over 300 witnesses and collected well over 35,000 documents. They are known to have subpoenaed 78 people, some of whom have testified, others are fighting it and some are under investigation or indictment for contempt of Congress. While the final report is not expected until late this coming summer, the committee has shared some information through carefully crafted subpoena letters and through media interviews. A lot of what we know now we instinctively or intuitively knew around the time of the events. What is coming out of the committee’s investigation is an understanding of the depth and breadth of the ex-president’s efforts to execute a coup to keep himself in office. It was a carefully thought out effort and not the disjointed and seemingly spurious or spontaneous collection of individual events that it at first appeared to be.
Think about that for a minute. A President of the United States tried to execute a coup to keep himself in office after what his own Attorney General and administration officials called the most secure and fair election in the history of the United States.
Not content to merely attempt a coup that failed at the time — mostly by luck it appears, as key people decided to uphold the Constitution rather than swear allegiance to one man — the ex-president continues to try to create the conditions to overthrow the current president. With the support of the majority of his party, an ex-president is purposely undermining our democratic ideals a year after leaving office and he continues to claim that he is the real president.
Apparently, the bulk of the Republican Party is okay with that.
Some of what they planned to do to retain Trump in power was obvious and heavy handed. Some of it was more subtle, with behind the scenes maneuvers to manipulate the certification process in the Congress. Here is some of what we have learned so far about the coup that may not be so obvious to casual observers:
- Professor and Trump adviser John Eastman put together a memo (now called the Eastman Memo) that uses unprecedented interpretations of the 12th Amendment and Electoral Count Act to convince Vice President Mike Pence to decide in favor of Trump electors from key states and to disregard the official certified electors from states that President-elect Biden won.
- This memo was the basis for electors in key swing states to put together an “alternative” slate of electors to substitute for, or at least to compete with, those submitted to certify Mr. Biden’s election. The Select Committee subpoenaed representatives from seven states that submitted alternate slates (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin). Not surprisingly, all of the documents have identical wording, font, paper and format — as though it was formulated elsewhere and sent to those “electors.” These forged documents were sent to the Senate and to the National Archives.
- Key Republican members of Congress were coached on raising concerns over electors in those key states and were encouraged to substitute the Trump slates, or to have the official slates for Mr. Biden thrown out. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) self-identified himself as one of those encouraging the Vice President to call the votes for Mr. Biden “unconstitutional” and have them thrown out.
- An alternative plan was briefed in the Oval Office and to several Republican members of Congress that was outlined in a 38 page power point presentation by Colonel Phil Waldron USA (ret) that would have the sitting president declare a national security emergency prior to 6 January. That declaration would preclude the counting of the Electoral College ballots. They would then reject all machine counted ballots from November and mobilize the National Guard to seize all of the machines and paper ballots. The National Guard would be tasked to recount the ballots or to hold new elections in certain key states.
- Among other documents, there is a draft 17 December 2020 Executive Order to seize all election related materials for “national security” reasons. A similar letter outlined plans for all Republican elected officials at the state and federal levels to ignore the “fraudulent” vote count and to “certify the duly-elected President Trump.”
- The entire effort leading up to the 6 January insurrection was intended to either delay the certification of Mr. Biden, or to prevent it from happening through Trump allies in Congress. This is the reason for the 147 members of the Sedition Caucus in Congress to vote against certifying Mr. Biden’s election.
- The insurrection itself was one of several steps aimed at stopping or delaying the certification process in order to at least keep Trump in office beyond 20 January, if not to keep him in office for a second term.
There is more. Much more. You get the idea. There was a vast, organized effort to keep Trump in office. A coup.
And now, this.
In his usual unhinged style, this past weekend Trump held a rally in Texas where he continued to rant and rave over the “stolen election.” Only this time it was worse.
Trump called for the “biggest protest” the country has ever seen in New York, Atlanta, and Washington DC. These are the very places where Attorneys General are investigating his coup attempt and his shady business practices from before 2016. He called the AGs “racist” — they all happen to be African-American and two are African-American women. For good measure he called them “mentally sick.” He also wondered aloud why the Supreme Court and other courts are not giving him “protection.” He lost every court case so far concerning the election and the release of his tax returns.
Ominously, he opined that the 6 January insurrectionists are being treated “unfairly” and that if necessary to be fair, he would pardon them all when he takes office in 2024.
So let’s put this all together. He has called for protesters to take to the streets in his support over a “rigged” election, given an undisguised dog whistle to white supremacist groups by calling black AGs racist, and said that he would pardon insurrectionists. If you need a green light from an ex-president to further incite violence and undertake a forceful coup, you just got it.
We cannot in good faith allow his blatant attempts to undermine our democracy to continue unchallenged. Where are all the “good” Republicans? How can people, as Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) did recently, as have other Republicans in Congress, say that if he is their candidate in 2024 they will vote for him? When does it stop?
There is no “both sides.” There is no “this is just politics.” This is not “what about Biden and taxes.” This is about nothing more fundamental than whether or not one supports the Constitution of the United States. If an elected official takes the oath to defend the Constitution and supports Trump, then they lied in saying “I do” and are unfaithful to their oath.
Let’s get to the bottom line.
Last night Trump released an “official” statement commenting on attempts to refine and update the Electoral Count Act where he denigrates the effort. It read in part:
“Actually, they are saying that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!”
Any doubt about his intentions a year ago? Or now?
Any elected official that swore an oath to defend the Constitution and still supports Trump is un-American, un-patriotic and aiding and abetting sedition. They must choose between their oath and their allegiance to one man.
We can no longer pretend that he is irrelevant or just crazy and can be ignored. He is a maniac intent on overthrowing our democratic values and installing himself in office. It was an attempted coup and the effort continues. Wake up America!
There is no longer a question and it is no longer hypothetical. Trump is a threat and he and his accomplices are accountable under the law — ex-president or not.
As we are all undoubtedly aware, over the last two months Russia has increased the size, lethality, and capability of its combat and logistics forces along its border with Ukraine. Ukraine is now surrounded by Russian troops in Crimea (stolen from Ukraine), Russia, and Belarus, placing them under threat from the North, East and South.
There is much speculation as to what will unfold and as to Russia’s intent. There is only one person who knows whether Russia will attack and that is Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is entirely possible that even he does not know at this moment in time as to what he will do, but he has himself in a position of strength that gives him many plausible opportunities to achieve his goals.
We are at a moment in time where Mr. Putin sees his opportunity. The leading nations within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are facing domestic issues that help him with his plans. The United States is facing Congressional mid-term elections, France has national elections coming up, there is a new government in Germany that is still trying to find its way, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom is under considerable political pressure at home.
Negotiations are under way in Europe, with the US taking a leading role, to try and defuse the situation without abandoning Ukraine. To date, the Russians are making outrageous claims and are putting forward proposals that they must know are totally unacceptable to the West. Foremost among Mr. Putin’s demands is that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO — a condition that cannot be accepted if nations are to be sovereign, independent and allowed to find their own destinies. He is also demanding that NATO revert to its 1997 boundaries. This means withdrawing all troops and weapons in Eastern Europe deployed since then which leaves Eastern European and Baltic States dangling as current members of NATO. On its face this is totally unacceptable, which Mr. Putin must know.
Mr. Putin does not want any western or western leaning countries on his border. In his public pronouncements he likens it to our reaction if Russian forces were in Cuba or Venezuela — which he made vague threats to do if he does not get his way. He believes that all former Soviet Socialist Republics as a minimum should be in his sphere of influence and that no former member of the Warsaw Pact should be in NATO. The world has moved on, but he has not.
What motivates his undivided attention on Ukraine? Traditionally and culturally the area of Eastern Europe that is now known as Ukraine was part of Russia. Kyiv was the first capital of the Rus people in the 10th to 12th centuries. Following WWI a Republic was born which resulted in civil unrest and battles with the Red Army. These continued until the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was established in 1922, making it one of the three original members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Ukraine reclaimed its independence in August, 1991. Their independence became official when Ukraine, Belarus and Russia (the original founders) officially dissolved the USSR in December.
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine stayed closely aligned with Russia. Starting in 2014, with considerable internal unrest, Ukraine began to move more towards western Europe. In that same year, Russia invaded Crimea (with stealth forces and special operations forces — the infamous “little green men” that Russia claimed were not theirs) and subsequently annexed it into Russia. Meddling in Ukraine continued as Russian operatives supported a civil war in southeastern Ukraine in a region known as Donbass. Fighting there continues to this day and has claimed about 15,000 lives.
Understanding the ethnicity and culture of Ukraine helps to explain some of the developments and may indicate where fighting could erupt, at least in the opening stages of military operations. Crimea is mostly populated with ethnic Russians, and large portions of eastern Ukraine (such as the Donbass) are heavily ethnic Russian. Central, northern and western Ukraine, including around its capital in Kyiv, are predominantly ethnic Ukrainians. There is a smattering of other nationalities throughout the country, especially Poles.
It is impossible for me to know his intentions but it would seem that Mr. Putin’s aim is to replace the current western leaning government with one within his sphere of influence. It would be a de facto puppet government, or at least one totally aligned with Russian interests. He is looking to dominate Ukraine as he does Belarus. Although Belarus is independent, their government makes no moves without at least tacit Russian approval.
Why do we care here in the United States? After all, we have plenty to worry about with the state of the pandemic and thwarting attempted coups. One reason is that there is the potential for the largest land war in Europe since WWII. Our lesson learned from the twentieth century is that our political and economic interests in Europe will inevitably pull us in to the conflict. NATO was formed as a deterrent to the USSR but also to bring together the fractious nations of Europe into a common cause. Further, we claim to honor the rule of law, the right for each nation to determine its own destiny, courses of action and affiliations, and to protect democracy.
It is unlikely that Mr. Putin will stop with Ukraine should he be successful. He has similar claims for the need to “protect” ethnic Russians in the Baltic States, Poland, and parts of other Eastern European nations. If successful in Ukraine, he will meddle elsewhere. If one thinks that a Putinesque leader is satisfied with “only” Ukraine, take a look at the developments in Europe in the 1930s leading up to WWII. Adolf Hitler was “just” protecting ethnic Germans in Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. There is no end.
There are many, many scenarios for Mr. Putin to achieve his ends. He does not necessarily have to invade with ground troops to achieve his goal, although the roughly 130,000 Russian troops from all over Russia that now nearly surround Ukraine certainly raises that possibility. His goal is simple, topple the current government and replace it. In recent days, public US and UK intelligence reports indicate that there are Russian operatives in Ukraine prepared to carry out “false flag” operations and other sabotage and that there are individuals in Ukraine or nearby that are set to take the reins of government. One scenario is that Mr. Putin gradually ups the ante. First comes crippling cyber attacks. Next, or simultaneously, take out energy and water supplies. If those actions are not sufficient to bring Ukraine to heel, then selected or even massive aerial attacks could ensue that take out culturally significant buildings and monuments and also aims to decapitate the existing government. These might be similar to the US “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq prior to the ground war. Sending troops across the border could be the last resort. As part of his plan Mr. Putin may even threaten Estonia, Latvia and/or Lithuanian or parts of Poland in order to take assets away from NATO that might otherwise provide support to Ukraine.
I do not envision that NATO will fight in Ukraine, but the member states can provide significant support. NATO is preparing to activate the NRF (NATO Response Force) designed to respond to threats to NATO members under the auspices of Article Five of the NATO charter where an “attack on one is an attack on all.”
The US and Europe are threatening very strong sanctions against Russia. However, there is little agreement as to exactly what those sanctions should be and should they apply before or after an attack? Does NATO deter or respond to Russian aggression? The biggest threat to Russia would be to cut off their petroleum exports. Unfortunately, the main source of heat in much of Europe is Russian natural gas and it is, after all, winter. To cut off those exports would devastate the Russian economy but it would also severely impact Europe’s economy and it would have a real impact on the rest of the world as well. No politician going into elections (which are coming up in the US, UK, and France) wants gas prices to go up just before an election.
One proposal is to block Russia from SWIFT. (The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications — the Belgian based intermediary for all bank transactions world wide.) This would essentially cut off Russia from any international commerce — they would be unable to sell or buy on the international market. Economically, it is a “nuclear option” with unknown consequences.
The US already has about 70,000 military personnel in Europe with about 6,000 of those in Poland and the Baltic states on short term unit rotations. Yesterday, the US announced that an additional 8,500 troops were put on heightened alert (meaning able to deploy within five days of getting the word to go) in order to bolster the NRF or to respond to other NATO nation’s requests for additional forces. In military terms, 8,500 troops in Europe is a symbolic gesture, but in strategic terms, it sends a clear signal to Mr. Putin that the US is serious about protecting our allies and that we would respond, thus upping the ante for Mr. Putin. There are not significant troops (roughly less than a hundred for training of Ukrainian forces) in Ukraine and there is no intent to put any combat troops in Ukraine.
Mr. Putin holds all the cards. He does not care much about sanctions as it will not impact him personally. To be honest, he probably thinks that any severe sanctions would be temporary and he would still have been successful in Ukraine. He probably feels that he has already raised his stature in Russia by making it appear that Russia is a great power that all the other countries in the world must respect and come to him to meet on his terms. In military terms, because of the common border, he has internal lines of communication and can quickly move forces as needed. Additionally, he already occupies some of their territory.
It is possible that he is waiting for the right time to strike, including waiting for the right weather conditions. There is a window fast approaching where the ground will be frozen hard enough to support large tracked vehicles such as tanks and mobile missile launchers. If he waits too long, the spring thaw will make much of the ground too marshy to effectively use until late spring or summer.
I am out of the prediction game, but at this point, I do not see Mr. Putin backing off. The only thing that will change his mind about attacking Ukraine, in whatever form, is the total capitulation of the Ukrainian government. To date, the Ukrainians swear that they will not fold. As a result, some sort of physical action will be required on Russia’s part to subjugate the Ukrainians.
It is equally unclear how far the US and Europe are willing to go to help Ukraine. Particularly weak in the knees right now are the French and German governments, the heart of any coordinated European response to Russian aggression. A secondary Putin goal is to weaken NATO and if possible, to create the conditions to render it meaningless as a toothless organization. To that end he may have already failed as both Finland and Sweden, not currently members of NATO, have expressed interest in exploring the chance to join. Both border Russia.
The coming weeks will be tough ones for Europe and the world. History tells us that to unleash the hounds of war often leads to perverse and unintended consequences and hostilities can easily spread. In the end, Mr. Putin may decide that in his risk/benefit calculation a direct assault on Ukraine will be counterproductive. History also shows that once nations mobilize for war, they are hard pressed to back down. There is a certain “use it or lose it” mentality. Let’s hope that clearer heads prevail.
Regardless, the next several weeks are fraught with danger.
President Joe Biden gave a speech yesterday on the first anniversary of the assault on the U.S. Capitol building where he clearly and unequivocally laid the blame of the attack on our democracy at the feet of the ex-president. It was the first time since taking office that he directly addressed the issue in depth. Never invoking his name, President Biden made it clear that “the defeated former president” was, and continues to be, a grave threat to our nation. There were no “patriots” attacking the Capitol that day, they were a mob “literally defecating in the hallways.” If you did not have a chance to see the speech, I recommend that you read it here.
In his speech, he addressed many of the lies being told by the ex-president and his radical supporters. To me, this was one of the key sections of his speech:
“The Big Lie being told by the former president and many Republicans who fear his wrath is that the insurrection in this country actually took place on Election Day. November 3, 2020. Think about that. Is that what you thought? Is that what you thought when you voted that day? Taking part in an insurrection, is that what you thought you were doing, or did you think you were carrying out your highest duty as a citizen and voting?
The former president’s supporters are trying to rewrite history. They want you to see Election Day as the day of insurrection. And the riot that took place there on January 6th as a true expression of the will of the people. Can you think of a more twisted way to look at this country, to look at America?“
President Biden, was, of course, immediately attacked by his predecessor in a series of unhinged “press releases” that mostly made no sense and were echoed by his lackeys in the House and Senate. No surprise there.
The saddest parts of the day were the moment of silence in the House chamber for those that died that day and in the following days and the candle light vigil on the steps of the Capitol. Only two Republicans attended. Representative Liz Cheney (WY) and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney were the only two from either the House or the Senate Republican caucus to attend. What a sad day for the Republican Party. What a sad day for America.
“And so at this moment, we must decide, what kind of nation are we going to be? Are we to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people? Are we going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but under the shadow of lies? We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation. The way forward is to recognize the truth and to live by it.“
“I think the country needs a strong Republican Party going forward, but our party has to choose. We can either be loyal to Donald Trump or we can be loyal to the Constitution, but we cannot do both.”
—Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) on CBS “Face the Nation” on 2 January 2022
Welcome to 2022! Most of us are optimistic at the start of each new year that the coming year will be better than the year before. It is a time of hope, good will and enthusiasm. By nature, I am an optimistic person that believes when given a chance, the average person will do the right thing. Looking ahead to the coming year, I do not have that feeling.
We thought we had the pandemic under control in the summer and fall of 2021 and we didn’t. We now set new records daily thanks to the omicron variant. As we pass 825,000 dead Americans, we still have about 100 million of us that refuse to get vaccinated, swamping our hospitals with cases that squeeze out others with life-threatening illnesses or injuries. Indeed, many of those hospitalized with Covid-19 still refuse to believe that it is a thing. Republican politicians around the country encourage irresponsible actions in the name of “freedom,” even as they themselves are vaccinated. I did not imagine such abominable behavior when the true import of the pandemic first hit home. There are now new ethical decisions that none of us are prepared to address. Do we turn people away from the use of limited medical care after they chose to act irresponsibly in favor of those that have done everything right and still end up in the hospital? Do all of our insurance premiums go up to take care of those that deliberately choose to disregard all prudent actions? Tough questions that none of us thought much about before.
As serious a threat as the pandemic is to our well-being, a bigger threat looms ever closer to destroying our democracy. As we approach the first anniversary of the assault on the Constitution through the 6 January insurrection, we still have no one held accountable that was “in charge.” Roughly 750 insurgents that attacked the Capitol have been indicted or tried for the assault. The foot soldiers are being tracked down and punished, but the ersatz colonels and wanna-be generals that sent them to create havoc have not. We are now in another election year and the perpetrators of the studied attempt to overturn our democracy have not been held accountable. Indeed, those in and out of government, including the 147 members of the Republican Sedition Caucus are free to roam the country demanding faux audits (several are ongoing or about to begin in Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and elsewhere) over a year after all states certified the actual results. Countless court cases have been dismissed for a lack of evidence. Not one scintilla of evidence that anything harmful was done anywhere that would change the election results has been produced. And yet, it continues. I do not think that any of those perpetrating the Big Lie through court cases and audits truly believe that the election was stolen. Their goal is to continue to undermine election integrity and to create the conditions that if their preferred candidate does not win, then it is by definition a bogus election and must be overturned.
Thus, our great experiment in democracy comes to an end.
The safeguards that were in place in November 2020 will not be there this time around as extremist Republicans are systematically replacing bipartisan or nonpartisan election officials with their own hardcore believers at the county and state levels. Next time when a presidential candidate calls a state Secretary of State in charge of the election and says “So look. I just want to find 11,780 votes” he will get them. Numerous states passed new election laws that aim to suppress the vote. That arguably can be overcome with a concerted effort to get out the vote and by educating voters on how to cast a ballot in spite of those efforts. More troubling are the laws like that proposed in House Bill 2720 by the Arizona state legislature that allows the Republican controlled legislature to override the popular vote count and send their own chosen electors to the Electoral College — for any reason.
As I have written in this space before, there are Bills passed by the House and sent to the Senate that would standardize national elections across all fifty states. Currently, they are stalled in the Senate by the filibuster and the reluctance of numerous Senators to create a “cut-out” of the filibuster to allow for a simple majority to pass election laws — something, by the way, that since the mid 1960s used to enjoy a bipartisan consensus to protect the vote. No longer. Lost in the discussion is the practical logic that the numerous state voter suppression and cancellation laws passed in Republican legislatures pass on the basis of a simple majority. So by the Senate’s logic, states can restrict the vote at their discretion, even if it is by only one vote, but the mighty Senate of the United States cannot protect it with an elected simple majority. Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently announced that he will hold a vote no later than 17 January (Martin Luther King Day) to pass voting rights legislation — and will include a measure to override the filibuster if so needed. It is unclear if the votes are there. My feeling is that they are not. I hope that Leader Schumer forces the vote in order to put on the record those Senators that oppose voting rights.
Meanwhile, Donald J. Trump and his minions continue to bray about the “rigged” election that he lost fair and square — as attested to by many in his own administration including his personal attorney who also happened to be the Attorney General of the United States at the time. While they are making what is professionally called “a ton of money” pushing this scheme, it is also clear that they were serious in their intentions. The House Select Committee investigating the 6 January assault has unearthed a treasure trove of information about the days leading up to the insurrection. At that, they have only publicly talked about a fraction of the information that they have gained from interviewing 300 witnesses and collecting over 30,000 documents. They are putting together the case that most of us knew instinctively — Trump and his sedition bound cohorts had a plan to deny Joe Biden the White House to keep Trump in power. We now know that the wheels of that plan began to turn as early as the day after the election and was based on numerous simultaneous and complimentary efforts to throw out Electoral College votes from key swing states — or better yet, replace the certified votes with new ones picked by Trump’s cronies. Their ultimate goal was either a revised Electoral College count, or to throw it to the House of Representatives where under the terms of the Electoral Act of 1887 and the 12th Amendment to the Constitution Trump would win as each state has only one vote, regardless of the number of Representatives from that state. The purpose of the actions by Trump, the Sedition Caucus, pressure on Vice President Pence, his “War Room” in the Willard Hotel and other Trump efforts was to delay the certification of the Electoral College vote so that the rest of the plan could come to fruition.
The attack on the Capitol was the last effort to delay that vote. In my view, it was intended (and I mean intended — it was no spontaneous eruption) to further aid in delaying the certification of the election in order to buy more time to complete the plan. If members of Congress were killed, injured, or kidnapped, in the process, too bad, but so much the better as that would certainly slow things down. I further think that when all of the evidence is assembled, that a secondary element of the plan was the expectation that counter-protesters would attack the Trump supporters creating a general melee and chaos, allowing Trump to declare martial law and delay the certification proceedings for an indefinite period of time. The then Commander-in-Chief watched the assault on TV for 187 minutes before calling it off. What was he waiting for? Clearly, at worst he was hoping that they would succeed. At best, he was derelict in his duty as the Commander-in-Chief. Either way, he needs to be held accountable.
(A side note: I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist. I am not falling prey to that with my comments above. I think that the evidence will show that there were multiple avenues of obstruction to their plan and the belief that counter-protesters would attack is the reason that the National Guard was not quickly deployed. They were being held in reserve to “rescue” the Trump supporters.)
They had a plan. It had branches and sequels. It failed. They are now putting into place the mechanisms to succeed next time around. That scares me greatly.
As Representative Cheney said, it is time for Republicans to choose to follow their oath to the Constitution or to continue to actively undermine our country in the support of one man — as if in a cult — who clearly wants to be an autocrat for life. Just this week, he “endorsed” Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban for reelection. Mr. Orban is a hero of the American right-wing and held up as an example for our own leaders to emulate. To the rest of the world, Mr. Orban is an autocrat who eroded all of the rights of a former post-Soviet democracy, turning the country into a democracy in name only. As the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is said to have proclaimed, “I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how?”
There is one final consideration. Should we or should we not hold a former president criminally liable for his actions and take him to trial and possibly incarcerate him along with his accomplices? Following Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974 over the Watergate scandal, President Gerald Ford chose to pardon him in order to relieve the nation of the ordeal of a possible trial and the chaos that may ensue. Further, in the United States we have no tradition of incoming administrations of another party prosecuting former political enemies. Indeed, we scoff at other nations that do so and label them “Banana Republics.” Impeachment by the House and conviction in the Senate is our preferred method of holding presidents accountable. To take one to trial would be unheard of and perhaps set a horrible precedent for the future. But…..
We have never had a president in our long history try to overthrow a duly elected successor in order to keep himself in power. Even after such a failed attempt, we have never had another ex-president continue to claim that he is the “true” president and to incite others to overthrow the government. Even a year later. Those actions are unprecedented and therefore the remedy needs to be unprecedented. I hope that the Department of Justice puts together a case against all of those that were involved, including the ex-president. Although I am out of the prediction business, my sense is that once again, Trump will walk away without consequences. Perhaps that may be best for our country in the long run, as a trial and conviction of the ex-president would, I fear, lead to widespread violence across our country. It may be a lose-lose proposition.
So, my optimism for 2022 is subdued, at best. We are in for some tough times as a country. Not the toughest — the Civil War comes to mind — but a dangerous time for certain.
Stay healthy and may good fortune find you this year.
Our country passed an unfathomable milestone as we recorded over 800,000 deaths in the United States from Covid-19. The most in the world. Many experts believe that the real number is much higher. Ironically, we are passing this horrendous marker just about exactly one year after the first American got the first dose of a vaccine that can prevent, or at least significantly reduce the impact of, the disease.
On 2 April 2020 I wrote about the pandemic in depth for the first time. At that point, the President’s Covid Task Force under the direction of Dr. Deborah Birx was projecting 240,000 deaths (total!) from Covid, if we did everything perfectly. Her projection was that if we did not, then we could lose over 1.2 million Americans. The shrieks and cries and accusations of scare tactics, hoaxes, and socialism (yes, socialism) surrounding these projections and the steps needed to protect ourselves were unleashed far and wide. It was thought to be a gross exaggeration meant to hoodwink us all into becoming “sheep.”
And yet, here we are. The combination of the delta and omicron variants of the coronavirus could easily leave between 837,000 and 845,000 dead by 8 January 2022 according to the CDC ensemble forecast (a combination of multiple models). Many fear that by spring, we will have lost over a million Americans.
For comparison, our last big pandemic, the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu, caused about 675,000 deaths in the U.S. In those days, there was no vaccine, and scientific understanding of the disease was woefully inadequate compared to today.
The good news is that we can protect ourselves. As everyone should know, a series of three vaccines significantly reduces the chances of serious illness. Wearing masks aids in stopping the spread of the disease. And on, and on. We know the routine, like it or not. We thought we had it beat, but we don’t and I am not sure that any responsible scientist or physician is willing to say when we return to pre-Covid days. Perhaps never.
To me, one of the two most inexplicable developments of the last two years is the politicization of efforts to control the spread of Covid and to protect individuals. Mind numbingly stupid. I am gobsmacked whenever I think about how many lives are lost through a stubborn refusal to comply with measures that in years past would be welcomed rather than vilified. Studies indicate that without the vaccines, an additional 1.1 million Americans would have died by the end of November 2021 and there would have been 10.3 million additional hospitalizations. As it is, about 300,000 Americans died from the pandemic before vaccines were available. That means that about 500,000 American deaths from Covid were largely preventable. Vaccines were made available to all adults on 19 April 2020 and yet the death toll continues to rise. An unvaccinated person is six times more likely to test positive than a vaccinated person, nine times more likely to be hospitalized, and fourteen times more likely to die.
The U.S. has over a sixty percent vaccination rate. But that still leaves over 100 million people unvaccinated. I do not get it.
Politicians and media pundits that push people to protect their “freedom” and fight against masks, vaccines, and common sense steps to protect themselves have blood on their hands. Even as they get themselves vaccinated. Shameful. Unfortunately, in one sector of today’s politics, shame no longer exists.
I will never understand it.
While many of us are focused on the internal threats created by actors within one of the two major parties in our country, developments overseas may create long and short term threats to our national interests. The chaos created by an ex-president ranting about stolen elections and defending insurrections, coupled with Members of Congress that threaten other Members with death, and the general unrest fomented by self-declared revolutionaries, draws attention away from other developments.
In the long term, China provides a real threat to many of our established interests. In the short term, Russia is under increasing internal pressure to improve the quality of life for its citizens, a challenge that President Vladimir Putin may not be able to meet. Thus, he increasingly turns his focus outward. In both cases, a tried and true tactic of autocrats is to quell internal unrest by creating outside enemies that focus citizens’ attention outward.
Looking long term first, China is vying to be the biggest economic, political, and military competitor to the U.S. Chinese legislators recently removed term limits for their presidency, making President Xi Jinping the de-facto President-for-Life. He has now amassed power on the scale of the late Mao Zedong. Indeed, in December 2019 the Chinese Politburo gave him the official title of the “People’s Leader.” That title was only used once before — for Mao. Since assuming power, President Xi has taken a hard line nationalist position on national security and foreign affairs. As part of this strengthened position, Xi has consolidated Chinese control of Macau and Hong Kong. Especially in the case of Hong Kong, this enhanced control led to the loss of most of the freedoms its residents previously took for granted. The Hong Kong of pre-2019 is no more.
All of which leads to the long term threat. China seems to be intent on gaining control of Taiwan, much as it did with Hong Kong. The U.S. walks a fine line in its relationship with Taiwan. In adhering to the “One China Policy” the U.S. recognizes the government in Beijing as the “true” government for China, rather than any government in Taiwan. The Chinese view is that Taiwan is a break-away province of China and must be reunited with the rest of the country. In order to have diplomatic relations with Beijing, there can be no official recognition or official relations with the Taiwanese government. Complicating the issue is that Taiwan considers itself to be the Republic of China — an independent country. The U.S. encourages the re-unification of the two, but only under peaceful, negotiated conditions and has vowed to support Taiwan against any coercion or military actions to force the situation.
The threat is one of war in the Pacific. Over the last few weeks, China has become increasingly bellicose in its statements concerning Taiwan and has sent ships and aircraft in the direction of the island nation — drills according to the Chinese, tests of Taiwanese defenses according to the view of those on the island. As many as 56 aircraft at a time have flown into Taiwan’s ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone — airspace controlled by a particular nation to enhance national security but outside its territorial boundaries). The United States and Australia in particular, but including other countries with interests in the Pacific, have warned China about its provocative actions and that they will respond to any Chinese military attack or other coercive measures against Taiwan.
Stay tuned as this crisis will continue to build. It is unlikely in the near term that China will directly attack Taiwan or any other forces in the region, but we can expect China to continue to ratchet up the pressure and to increase the level of provocations. There is always the danger in such conditions for an error or inadvertent action that results in shots fired. More ominously, it is likely that China is taking the long view — as in years. They will continue to enhance their economic and military strength to the point that their threats and provocations will have real teeth. They are probably not there yet, but under Xi, they clearly intend for Taiwan (formerly Formosa) to rejoin mainland China for the first time since 1949.
Russia is a different case. Since 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, an uneasy truce prevails along the border, even as active fighting occasionally occurs in some areas. In recent weeks, Russia moved 80-100,000 troops to the Ukraine border region. U.S. and NATO officials are worried that such movements may be a precursor to an invasion to reassert the Russian control that they lost with the 1991 break up of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part.
Western sanctions against Russia are having an economic impact, as well as the fact that Russia is experiencing a devastating fourth wave of COVID infections. Things are not good in Russia these days. Additionally, it is believed that President Putin believes the West is in disarray and that this may be his best opportunity to enact his vision of a “Greater Russia.” Mr. Putin never accepted the breakup of the Soviet Union and once said that “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century.” He sees that the U.S. is focused on internal dissent and domestic turmoil as well as China and Asia in general. Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany is stepping down. The French have elections in a few months. Ukraine appears weak and fractious. The U.S. is absent its ambassadors pretty much throughout the world, including to the E.U. and NATO and is missing high level political appointees in the Department of Defense (DOD) and State Department weakening our diplomatic clout. (Senator Ted Cruz (Tr-TX) primarily, with an assist from Senator Josh Hawley (Tr-MO) are holding the nominations hostage for their own purposes. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for some reason is not playing hard ball and is letting them get away with it. How about keeping the Senate in session day and night right through Thanksgiving until all nominations are approved? But I digress.)
The situation is ripe for Mr. Putin to take action. We may be seeing the early stages of the drama play out in Belarus and Poland. In brief, Belarus is “importing” “refugees” from the Middle East and Africa and sending them to the Lithuanian and Polish borders. The Belarus military is reported to be aiding the refugees in trying to enter those nations, and at the moment, particularly in Poland. Poland refuses to take them. Besides a looming humanitarian crisis, the aim of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (referred to as “Europe’s Last Dictator”) is to create a political crisis and to destabilize the western nations by overwhelming them with poor refugees. President Lukashenko is angry over western sanctions against his country following their imposition in response to a totally corrupt and illegal “election” last fall that allowed him to stay in power. Mr. Lukashenko never would do anything to upset the stability of the region without at least tacit permission from Mr. Putin. Many speculate that it is direct Russian permission and support.
There are two possible reasons to create this crisis. One is to take more attention away from activities along the Ukrainian border. The other is to provide an excuse for Russian western expansion.
Note Kaliningrad. Part of Russia. To get there, Russia needs to cross into Poland, and/or Lithuania. The Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) were once part of the Soviet Union and still have large ethnic Russian populations. As does Ukraine. If Mr. Putin is serious about his Greater Russia, there is no better place to begin his expansion. (I’m sure everyone remembers what happened in the Sudetenland with Germany in 1938.) As those familiar with European wars know, the terrain between Russia’s mainland and the Baltic is mostly flat, open space. In military terms, there is little defense in depth nor are there many geographic features to use to mount a strong defense against armor columns. Indeed, the U.S. keeps a military presence in the Baltic states in order to deter Russian meddling.
Am I predicting another theater-wide war in Europe? No. I do not predict much of anything anymore. It just seems that Mr. Putin may assess that if he is ever going to start building his vision of a restored Russian Empire, the time is now to start somewhere. “Reuniting” Kaliningrad and the Russians in northern Poland and the Baltics with the motherland may be on his mind. A crisis on the border with Ukraine or Belarus may give him the pretext.
The point is that these are dangerous times. There is a lot going on in the world outside of our obsession with an ex-president and his corrupt political party. We must be on guard against “all enemies foreign and domestic.” While we are focused inward, our enemies and competitors will take advantage of it.
These are, indeed, interesting times.