By Charlie Johnston
My next talk will be on Saturday, Feb. 26 from 1 – 5 p.m. It will be at the Renaissance Montessori School at 12625 Fitzwater Dr., Nokesville, Virginia – near Manassas, site of the first battle of the American Civil War. For information or to RSVP, go here. At the First Battle of Bull Run (or the Battle of First Manassas, as the Confederates called it) many northerners from nearby Washington, D.C. made a picnic on a hillside to watch, expecting the rebellion to be quickly suppressed. Before the day was over, those picnickers were fleeing in panic along with routed Union troops. Before this battle, southern soldiers were quick to brag that one southerner could rout 10 Yankees. Meantime, much of the northern establishment expected the rebellion to evaporate like morning mist as soon as force was applied. Both sides got their first glimpse of how difficult and grueling this war was truly going to be.
If you haven’t checked out this week’s podcast with Pam Popper, founder of Make Americans Free Again, you should get over there. Popper’s group is similar to CORAC in many ways, doing very practical things to fight back against government mandates – and hold petty officials personally accountable, while also helping small businesses survive and grow again AND helping families to get their kids out of failing public schools. Their work is magnificent. I heartily endorse it. I think it is an organization many of you will want to get involved with – and Pam is one feisty, no-nonsense lady. About the only thing I disagreed with her about is the value of public protests. She is focused on getting specific things done, but I believe that public protests help hearten and give courage to the faithful and other ordinary citizens being oppressed, which I think is tremendously valuable. It was a great interview.
Of all the commentary I have read on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, only one so far has struck me as being grounded in hard geo-political facts. Interestingly, it largely relies on the analysis of the late Aleksander Solzhenitzyn – one of the most astute historical and political observers of the last century. Most of the rest of the commentary, even by the best pundits, has seemed to me to be hair on fire reactions that don’t even skim the surface of this flash point or what its potential consequences are. So I’ll give it a go for all you Next Right Steppers. I am going to go step by step through some significant issues that have to be considered before making any sort of coherent analysis.
- Historical Aspects: It has been a troubled encounter between Russia and Ukraine for over three centuries. Most of the offenses have been the fault of Russia – but not all. The Russian Empire took over Ukraine in the late 1700’s and held it tightly until the dissolution of the Soviet Empire in 1991. Unfortunately, Soviet rule seriously warped the definition of what is actual Russian and what is Ukrainian territory. In 1954, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev “gifted” Crimea to Ukraine. This was peculiar because Crimea had never been part of Ukraine. It was part of the Khanate when Russia took it over in the late 1700’s and drove most of the Muslims out, replacing them with ethnic Russians. And yet, it was kind of an honorary thing because both Crimea and Ukraine were firmly under the rule of Russia, so it changed nothing then about who ruled – just made it part of a particular Soviet Province. Many suspected it was a tacit apology by Khrushchev for the Holodomor, the forced starvation of millions of Ukrainians by Josef Stalin. These redefinitions of boundaries of Soviet Regions had no consequences then but are having many now. When the Soviet Union broke up and Ukraine declared its independence after three centuries of Russian rule, big chunks of Eastern Ukraine considered themselves Russian – and believed they were now governed by a “foreign” power. Data from public surveys in the 90’s showed that nearly 70 percent of people in Eastern Ukraine considered themselves Russian – and wanted to be repatriated with Russia. Had Soviet rule not deformed traditional national boundaries, many of the ongoing troubles in that region would never have been sparked. Kiev is not only an historical Russian city: it is the city where Russia was founded in 988 A.D.
- Cultural Aspects: About a third of modern-day Ukraine is overwhelmingly Russian Orthodox. This is all in the east. The rest is Eastern-rite Catholic. The shallow thinkers in the media and modern foreign policy establishments don’t think culture and religion mean much of anything. They are wrong. The border between Russian Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholic in Ukraine is almost as sharply defined as the border between the north and the south was in the American Civil War. Most Russian Orthodox consider themselves Russian. Most Eastern-rite Catholics consider themselves Ukrainian. That is a problem that has been festering since the Soviet break-up over 30 years ago. Eastern Ukrainians have repeatedly reported that the Ukrainian government has treated them as second-class citizens since independence. This animosity is understandable, as Ukraine has been oppressed by Russia worse than any country except, perhaps, Poland. But I have known since the 90’s that this could not last. I had hoped that Russia and Ukraine would, through diplomatic means, work out the borders so that ethnic Ukrainians were fully in independent Ukraine and places with majority ethnic Russians could peacefully re-unite with Russia if they so chose.
- Feckless U.S. Diplomacy: The last U.S. President who had both a coherent understanding of the Russia issue and the political capital to carry out coherent diplomacy was Ronald Reagan. Everything since has been wishful thinking or thwarted efforts. The Soviet Union fell under the first George Bush’s watch, but that result was entirely the culmination of events initiated by Reagan, Pope St. John Paul II, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Bush Sr. was too busy celebrating the illusory end of history and American status as the world sole superpower to deal effectively with the turbulent transition in world affairs. Bill Clinton continued the policy begun by Bush of inviting near every country in the world to join NATO, thus diluting it and ensuring that it would become a dead man walking at the next truly global crisis – when he wasn’t ignoring the growing threat of radical Jihadists and giving satellite-targeting technology to the Chinese. The second George Bush handled the specific immediate crisis of 9-11 well but had little feel for geo-political realities otherwise. Hurricane Katrina sapped Bush junior’s mojo and he staggered ineffectively to the end of his second term, both in foreign affairs and domestically. Barack Obama put the feck in feckless. One of his first acts was to unilaterally stop the missile defense radars being built in Poland. Russia had complained of them, because of course they would. Actually, Russia would have benefitted from them as an early warning against Chinese mischief, but it was a good opportunity to get something in exchange from the U.S. in trade. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not stupid. This was a routine diplomatic ploy by Russia. The first rule of international diplomacy is that the only thing you give away for nothing is…nothing. I remember watching in 2010, I think, an early meeting between Obama and Putin after the latter had cancelled the missile defense program. Putin could barely hide his disdain for the American president. A serious global leader is not much interested in shows of how much a colleague loves them: they want to know you are a competent dance partner. Putin’s visage reflected the late Casey Stengel’s lament about the pitiful 1963 New York Mets: “Doesn’t anybody here know how to play this game?” Any idiot could see the growing threat of China – and the ultimate conflict that must come between China and Russia because of simple geography. Putin was looking for a competent ally to deal with that threat – and we could have gotten a lot in return, but Obama was too busy looking for a pat on the head to be a serious ally, so Putin made a deal with China in hopes of forestalling the inevitable confrontation between those two states. Donald Trump provided the first serious opportunity since Reagan to forge mutually beneficial ties. It is not so much that Trump is a geo-political genius, but he is a brilliantly shrewd negotiator whose gut instincts are as fine as any around. Alas, the Democrats and Republican establishmentarians hated Trump so much they were glad to use Russia as a bugaboo for purely political reasons to mount a false narrative in hopes of taking Trump down. They squandered our last serious chance to forge a diplomatic alliance that could have preserved peace and provided a diplomatic means to resolve conflicts in the region. Then came Joe Biden who took fecklessness to a whole new level. Since Bush junior, Putin has had to deal with incompetent American dance partners or a competent one who was barred from forging any serious alliance with Russia. Putin realized that, for the foreseeable future, he is on his own. So he forged an alliance with the Chinese, hoping to forestall the inevitable conflict they would have if he is not willing to become a vassal client state to China. For a decade and a half, he has practically been screaming for someone of stature in the American foreign policy establishment to notice that China is a huge and growing threat to both America and Russia – and everything in between. But the America foreign policy establishment hasn’t gotten anything right in decades – and is too busy grappling with the “crises” of climate change, gay rights, critical race theory and transgenderism to pay attention to anything real. Some of these guys are smart but, sadly, in these times, smart often just means you are better able to convince yourself of your own fantasies than that you can deal effectively with the reality in front of you. When the history of these times is written 50 years from now, it will be a history of constantly squandered opportunities spanning decades.
- Haven for U.S. Officials Corruption: It is often noted that corruption is rife in Ukraine. That is true BUT powerful American politicians have used that poor country as an ATM and an effective money-laundering operation for the proceeds of their influence peddling and rank corruption. Shoot, when he was vice-president, Biden actually bragged about getting the prosecutor who was investigating Burisma, the company from which his son Hunter was getting tens of thousands a month, fired. When Ukraine tried to root out corruption, powerful establishment American officials stepped in to keep it corrupt so as not to disturb their honeypot. I have read various establishment media outlets supposedly “debunking” these stories – but all the debunking consists of technical issues rather than the raw substance of the allegations of corruption. They say that, for example, it is not Mitt Romney’s son who is making big money from Ukraine, but a close crony…or that Nancy Pelosi’s son does not work for a Ukrainian energy company, he just has a sweetheart deal to import Ukrainian oil. The establishment is so desperate to hide these ties that they impeached (but did not convict) Trump when he tried to get to the bottom of it. It did stop the investigation which would have led to their massive corruption, though. Ukraine was victimized by powerful American establishment politicians to keep their own honeypot flowing. Now it is victimized by Russia’s invasion. But when Biden and company so ruthlessly exploited Ukraine for profit, I have to wonder whether the dogs of war they want to unleash are to defend Ukraine or to keep the Russians from getting hard evidence of their own corruption. There is no doubt that Ukraine has been badly victimized for a long time – but I have yet to see a “good guy” in this situation…and I am not eager to commit American lives to protect the dirty secrets of establishment politicians.
- What Putin Wants Now: Putin is often quoted as saying the breakup of the Soviet Union was the worst catastrophe of the 20th century. The implication is that he is a closet communist, yearning for the old days. Even when he was a KGB officer, Putin had no great love for communism. He did, however, and still does have a yearning for a great and powerful Russian Empire. If people say that Putin is a modern equivalent of a Russian Czar, I have no quibble with that. He has no desire I have ever fathomed to be a Communist First Secretary. Given the realities that he wants Russian greatness, fears Chinese hegemony, and knows he is on his own to fend as best he can, what is his endgame? Here it gets tricky, for several are possible. What is certain is that Putin wants to expose NATO as the toothless paper tiger it is and utterly destroy it. Thanks to German intransigence and dependence on Russia, he will probably succeed on that. NATO was the greatest collective security coalition in the history of the world – but its sell-by date expired three decades ago. It has been a shuffling zombie ever since. You might think that is no big deal, but it is. The maintenance of a now-useless security alliance retards the creation of new security alliances that match the threats of our time. What we need is a collective security alliance along the lines of NATO in East Asia and with Eastern European and Middle Eastern states that border China. Even if Putin can’t hope to get such a collective started under this feckless administration, the destruction of NATO will force officials to think with fresh eyes about such things. I have doubts that Putin wants to absorb all of Ukraine. To take Western Ukraine would just create a constant center of resentment and rebellion. When he invaded Georgia in 2008, after those responsible for violent incursions into Russia were brought to heel, Putin withdrew his forces and returned full sovereignty to the nation of Georgia. He has not shown a history of wanting to buy vexing problems for show. If he goes into Ukraine just to the intrinsic border between the Russian Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholics, for all the storm and fury of the moment, this will ultimately die down and both nations will have more stable borders. If that breaks NATO, I doubt he will go any further. If it does not, I would not be surprised if he does go further or even invades other countries on his border such as Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia or Belarus. He needs to break NATO and get other western nations focused on the threat of China. If he has to ultimately go it alone against China, in his mind, better to do it from Empire. If the backlash that seems certain in American politics takes solid shape this fall, he only has two more years before once again having the potential for a potent western alliance. As a bonus, he would have a host of bargaining chips in his pocket to sweeten any deal. I cannot speak to what Putin’s moral character is. Certainly, he is a determined autocrat, for which Americans denounce him regularly – without noting that the only Russian rulers who have survived very long for over a thousand years in Russian politics of whatever stripe have been strongman autocrats. Faculty lounge fantasists need not apply – and if they do, they will be toppled very quickly. If you doubt it, see Georgi Malenkov. What I do know is that, up to this point in his tenure, the moves Putin has made have made geo-political sense from the standpoint of someone who puts Russian interests first. The great tragedy is that we have been too blind to exploit opportunities where mutual interests could have made us allies and shaved off some very rough edges, while genuinely confronting China.
- Consequences and…China: If America and NATO do somehow mount a vigorous defense of Ukraine, I expect to see cyber-attacks like we have never seen before. I already know that Putin is shrewd. If he is very shrewd, he will target his cyber attacks against critical government infrastructure such as federal police forces, military communications, the IRS and other bureaucracies while making as few attacks on services ordinary Americans rely on as possible. He still wants an ultimate American alliance, for that would be a much stronger starting point in any conflict with China than any Empire he could realistically mount. Better even a frail gesture of good will to the American people than no such gesture to facilitate cooperation in the future. The bottom line is that whatever happens in Ukraine is most unlikely to start World War III BUT…China is watching closely. If America and NATO are as feeble and aimless as I think they are, I expect China to invade Taiwan while we are all pre-occupied with Ukraine. That does have the strong potential of setting off World War III. Even so, it advances Putin’s aims. The time has not yet come for China to abrogate its treaties with Russia and attack – and the very act of China beginning its Hitlerian drive for world dominance will force the west to get serious about collective security arrangements to stop China. That is the best chance for Russia to survive the current geopolitical currents.
I was amused to see that Justin Trudeau ended the Emergency Act, under pressure from the Canadian Senate, and very real fears that his precipitous actions might collapse the Canadian banking system. Leftists can rarely foresee the logical consequences of their actions. If you are 20 feet from them, they will eagerly toss a grenade at you and always be shocked that it cripples them, too. They are very mouthy and arrogant, but not very bright.
It may not help very much. The run on Canadian banks by normal people and by international corporations has already begun. Now all those banking customers know that Canada is willing and able to steal people’s money for simply disagreeing with the government and the media. It will be hard to get that toothpaste back into the tube. For all the fearful events in the world, when ordinary people unite, they are the most powerful force on earth.
My friend, Desmond Birch, made an insightful post on his Facebook page on the end of tyrants and how we should look at them.
Find me on Gab at Charliej373 or at the CORAC group.
The Corps of Renewal and Charity (CORAC)
18208 Preston Rd., Ste. D9-552
Dallas, Texas 75252