Left: Germans look on as Soviet soldiers begin building the Berlin Wall
Right: Russian forces near the Crimean town of Balaclava
Sam Tanenhaus delivers a blast from the past of a kind none of us wanted.
Suddently the specter of the Cold War is back. Prompted by the political crisis in Ukraine, some conservatives have called for President Obama to stand up to Vladimir V. Putin in the grand tradition of previous American presidents who stared eyeball to eyeball with Soviet leaders from Joseph Stalin to Mikhail S. Gorbachev.While Kennedy's speech came only months after the Cuban missile crisis, you could make a good argument that the position President Obama faces today is several notches tougher--something close to the decisions made at the time of the Berlin airlift. Then, just as now, the United States was war-weary, more interested in getting troops home than in risking new conflicts overseas. Support for getting into a fight with another massive army was very slim. In the case of the airlift, cleverness and persistence won the day, but that's a rare outcome.
Mr. Obama came close on Friday. Responding to reports of Russian mobilization, he said, “There will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
His critics acknowledge that times have changed. “No one wants a new Cold War,” a Wall Street Journal editorial put it, before going on to imply the opposite, that Mr. Obama could prevent a civil war in Eastern Europe “if he finally admits Vladimir Putin’s hostility to a free and democratic Europe and clearly tells protesting Ukrainians that we’re on their side.”
Such a sentiment inevitably conjures John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech before a crowd in West Berlin in 1963, or Ronald Reagan, on a visit there in 1987, urging the Soviets to “tear down this wall.”
In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected on a Republican platform that promised to replace the Communist containment strategy of President Harry S. Truman with a more aggressive “liberation” policy that would seize the initiative from the Soviet Union.Lyndon Johnson certainly didn't do any better at his turn to confront the Soviets. When the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. Johnson was heavily focused on Vietnam, and more interested in smoothing the path for the SALT arms control treaty than doing anything that would upset the Soviets. Vietnam also made it hard to gather support for an anti-Soviet position, as even the UN Secretary General said "if Russians were bombing and napalming the villages of Czechoslovakia" it might make the UN more inclined toward action.
Yet throughout his two terms, Eisenhower consistently opted for stability over conflict. ... A year later, when Moscow sent two Red Army tank divisions to quell anti-Communist protesters in Budapest, killing as many as 30,000 people, the cry went up for action. “What are the West and the United Nations going to do?” one despairing protester asked an American reporter.
The answer: nothing. Counteraction would only provoke Moscow to tighten its noose and perhaps “go back on de-Stalinization,” Eisenhower explained.
Or consider the most hallowed of Republican Cold War presidents, Ronald Reagan. Early in his first term, he too faced a Ukraine-like emergency when the Solidarity movement was crushed in Poland. Many expected a powerful response. Instead he showed restraint. He voiced sympathy for the movement, but the assistance he provided came quietly — and covertly, in part — through money and communications equipment funneled to anti-Communists. Eventually, Poland and other Soviet satellites were freed, but the change was partly made possible after Reagan realized he could negotiate with Mr. Gorbachev.
One thing was the same for all these presidents (yes, even Reagan). In every decade since the 1940s, there's been an outcry by conservatives for "a tough response" to
Soviet Russian actions in Eastern Europe. Though details of that tough response are rarely made available. It's no surprise that those same voices are being raised again.
It's not hard to be unhappy with what's happening in the Ukraine. (see former Bush official David Kramer in the Washington Post calling for a series of actions that include cutting off negotiations and sending US ships into the Black Sea). It's a whole lot harder to come up with a plan of action that doesn't end with a lot of people very dead.
That mess up in the title? That's "I am a Kievan," in Ukrainian, by way of Google Translate. And no, I don't know if Kievan is the name of a pastry.
Rachel Maddow wishes we could get rid of one Cold War holdover.
The Pentagon just announced plans to shrink the Army to a size smaller than at any point since World War II; the "sequester" cuts that Congress voted for in 2011 demanded an even smaller force, but the Defense Department and the Obama administration are pushing back on that. They also want a larger Marine Corps than the sequester dictates and to increase the number of Special Forces — but the overall direction is still a smaller force.I think you could stop with "do we really think he feels his decisions are constrained by our nuclear weapons." Clearly the answer is no. Nuclear weapons make a miserable deterrent, and they always have.
This is no surprise: As we wind down the longest war in American history — fought alongside another of our longest wars — no one reasonably expects that the U.S. military would stay, indefinitely, on the same footing. The Pentagon’s requested cuts would mean no more A-10 Warthogs, saying goodbye to our U-2 spy planes in favor of Global Hawk drones and 20 fewer Littoral Combat Ships for the Navy. And as for the Ground Combat Vehicle, the tank of the future — that future will have to wait.
How is it, though, that we’re cutting all those things yet keeping the full complement of 1970s-era nuclear missiles in silos in Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana?
Like the drunk general said, those intercontinental missiles are an operationally deployed nuclear force. They’re not in silos for storage; they are ready to fly. But do we really believe the general’s drunken boast that those hair-trigger missiles are saving the world from war every day? Even if there is a scenario in which a threat to the United States is best handled by us firing off hundreds of nuclear weapons, B-2 bombers and Trident submarines could handily launch such weapons at any attacker on the planet who is kind enough to provide us with a return address. As Vladimir Putin considers his options in Crimea, do we really think he feels his decisions are constrained by our nuclear weapons . . . but not the ones on U.S. military planes or submarines, only the ones underground in Montana?
The New York Times says they don't make them like they used to. And by them, they mean laws.
Nearly half of the current House members were not yet alive when John Dingell first walked onto the floor in 1955. Though he became one of the era’s most consequential legislators over six decades, he endured his share of setbacks, including being ousted as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in 2008. But not until this year did he decide the atmosphere was so toxic, so “obnoxious,” that he could not continue serving.Which is, of course, music to the ears of those who pay the Tea Party to fill the halls of Congress with nonsense. And if you think you won't miss these guys next season...
“This is not the Congress I know and love,” he told The Detroit News last week, announcing his retirement at the end of 29 terms, the longest House tenure ever. “It’s hard for me to accept, but it’s time to cash it in.”
Mr. Dingell is one of many distinguished lawmakers who are walking away in disgust from the 113th Congress, which may be the least productive in history. George Miller of California is leaving after 20 terms, fuming about the malign influence of unlimited secret money on American politics. Henry Waxman, another 20-term liberal from California, is retiring, too, fed up with battling the right-wing radicalism that often dominates the House.
“It’s been frustrating because of the extremism of Tea Party Republicans,” Mr. Waxman told The Times in January. “Nothing seems to be happening.”
Among the problems they tackled was the rising threat to the environment, which required a new generation of federal laws. Mr. Dingell was instrumental in passing the 1964 Wilderness Act and the 1972 Clean Water Act. Mr. Waxman was crucial to the overhaul of the Clean Air Act in 1990. Mr. Miller fought off coastal oil drilling and helped protect the Endangered Species Act from Republican efforts to gut it.Remember that when the House passes the CO2 is good for Plants, Solar Energy is a Communist Plot, Frack You, America Bill of 2015.
Ross Douthat admits that it's all done but the shouting... and the self-righteousness.
It now seems certain that before too many years elapse, the Supreme Court will be forced to acknowledge the logic of its own jurisprudence on same-sex marriage and redefine marriage to include gay couples in all 50 states.You could end the piece right there, and Douthat would be, what's that term? Right for once. But of course...
Once this happens, the national debate essentially will be finished, but the country will remain divided, with a substantial minority of Americans, most of them religious, still committed to the older view of marriage.
So what then? One possibility is that this division will recede into the cultural background, with marriage joining the long list of topics on which Americans disagree without making a political issue out of it.
But there’s another possibility, in which the oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion. ... this constant-pressure scenario has seemed the less-likely one, since Americans are better at agreeing to disagree than the culture war would suggest. But it feels a little bit more likely after last week’s “debate” in Arizona, over a bill that was designed to clarify whether existing religious freedom protections can be invoked by defendants like the florist or the photographer.Wait, Ross is right again -- you bigots don't get to negotiate anymore.
If you don’t recognize my description of the bill, then you probably followed the press coverage, which was mendacious and hysterical — evincing no familiarity with the legal issues, and endlessly parroting the line that the bill would institute “Jim Crow” for gays. (Never mind that in Arizona it’s currently legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation — and mass discrimination isn't exactly breaking out.) Allegedly sensible centrists compared the bill’s supporters to segregationist politicians, liberals invoked the Bob Jones precedent to dismiss religious-liberty concerns, and Republican politicians behaved as though the law had been written by David Duke.
What makes this response particularly instructive is that such bills have been seen, in the past, as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender — to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent. But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.
Maureen Dowd says we should all get ready for familiar names.
By the time the Bushes and Clintons are finished, they are going to make the Tudors and the Plantagenets look like pikers.See, Maureen can't get excited over the prospect of the first woman president because she's already used all her Clinton jokes. She doesn't even have a super-casual dis name like "Barry" on hand. But she'll think of one... yes, she will.
Before these two families release their death grip on the American electoral system, we’re going to have to watch Chelsea’s granddaughter try to knock off George P.’s grandson, Prescott Walker Bush II. Barack Obama, who once dreamed of being a transformational president, will turn out to be a mere hiccup in history, the interim guy who provided a tepid respite while Hillary and Jeb geared up to go at it.
Elections for president are supposed to make us feel young and excited, as if we’re getting a fresh start. That’s the way it was with J.F.K. and Obama and, even though he was turning 70 when he got inaugurated, Ronald Reagan.
But, as the Clinton library tardily disgorged 3,546 pages of official papers Friday — dredging up memories of a presidency that was eight years of turbulence held steady by a roaring economy and an incompetent opposition, a reign roiled by Hillarycare, Vince Foster, Whitewater, Webb Hubbell, Travelgate, Monica, impeachment, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Marc Rich — the looming prospect of another Clinton-Bush race makes us feel fatigued.
Leonard Pitts is also looking at brushing off a few old campaign signs.
President Clinton?While not of epic proportions, Pitt's article is of epic quality. Go read the rest.
Maybe, if Democratic voters have their way. While the Republican faithful are divided among a number of contenders and not particularly enthusiastic about any of them, a new poll finds Democrats overwhelmingly united behind a Hillary Clinton candidacy for 2016. A commanding 82 percent of the party, according to the CBS News/New York Times poll, wants to see her run.
It is, of course, way too early to be taking polls seriously. But perhaps an observer can nevertheless be forgiven for being heartened at the prospect of a Clinton campaign, much less a Clinton victory. Either would send a much-needed message to those who are still waiting for America to get back to normal.
You know the definition of “normal,” right? A world wherein straight, white Christian men still call all the shots. That world has been under assault for the last 50 years, and the pressure has only increased in the last 10 as gay people roll back restrictions of their human rights, as a black man with an exotic name makes an improbable ascent to the presidency, as a woman positions herself to make the same climb.
The political right has responded with apoplexy, a temper tantrum of epic proportions:
Timothy Egan looks at the Arizona veto from another angle.
The Arizona bill, in the eyes of some, was a religious version of the Stand Your Ground law, most recently associated with Florida but used in more than 20 states. You can kill someone, so the Florida statute states, if you “reasonably believe” that homicide is necessary to prevent great harm to yourself. But who says what’s reasonable? Or, in the case of Arizona, how do you judge the sincerity of beliefs? Gumby is less squishy than those standards.Kathleen Parker likes one of the president's new proposals.
A more apt comparison to Arizona is to the legal movement to expand the definition of corporations as people. Lawmakers in the Grand Canyon state would have allowed businesses to use religion as a shield against secular laws they don’t like. The same principle is behind the Supreme Court challenge to the birth control requirements of the new health care law. In one case, religion is an excuse for refusing service. In another, it’s a reason to oppose a package of medically recognized health care benefits. In both cases, the “sincerely held” belief, once the province of an individual citizen, now belongs to a moneymaking entity.
Even if you think a corporation has a conscience, this strain of thought can lead to protection for the patriarchs who control the cult’s business operations, or a company run on Shariah law.
So, yes — it’s good news that the last two Republican nominees for president, Mitt Romney and John McCain, urged the governor to veto. So did three Republicans who voted for the bill. “We feel very badly that the state reputation has been tarnished by our vote,” said State Senator Bob Worsley, eating his vote while begging Brewer to save him from himself. Even some of the usual enemies of common sense, Fox News and Newt Gingrich, raised objections.
But many of these same voices are on the opposite side of the Supreme Court case that would give corporations the right to withhold part of a standard health care package because of their religious beliefs. This road, once taken, is fraught with trouble for a country founded on the idea that church does not dictate to state.
President Obama’s new outreach initiative to help at-risk boys of color — “My Brother’s Keeper” — is cause for cheer.While Parker praises the president on this program, she doesn't miss the opportunity to go after Hollywood, music, or the horrors of welfare.
It isn't that we haven’t known for some time that minority boys are in trouble. Poor school performance, truancy, delinquency and, ultimately, high incarceration rates cannot be separated from the absence of fathers in many homes. Out-of-wedlock births are at 72 percent in the African American community and 53 percent among Latinos, compared with 29 percent among non-Hispanic whites.
But sometimes things can change only when the right messenger comes along. Obama is that man, though he seems to have realized it late in his game. Or perhaps he feared criticism for focusing on the black half of himself and waited for a second term.