The Hinge of Fate
Ukraine captures the imagination of the world
The Motherland Monument also known as Rodina-Mat', a monumental statue in Kiev, Ukraine devoted to the Great Patriotic War (Composite by Hannah Yoest / Photos: Shutterstock)
"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them." — William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
Caveats are in order. Things change, wars are unpredictable. The Russians have not yet thrown their full weight against Ukraine, and their response to their setbacks could be horrific. The situation remains fluid. (Putin has just activated Russia’s nuclear forces, even as Ukraine announces diplomatic talks.)
But we wake up this morning to several bits of encouraging news: the brave Ukrainians still resist and the evidence suggests that they are holding back the vastly superior Russian forces. Kyiv is still free.
And the Ukrainians have captured the admiration of the world.
The Kyiv Independent’s intrepid Illia Ponomarenko reports:
More than 72 hours after the start of the all-out invasion on Feb. 24, Russia has failed to inflict a quick defeat to Ukraine’s armed forces…
If Russia aimed to take the Ukrainian capital in a shock and awe operation, it failed.
The situation tends towards hard, dragged-out war rather than a demoralizing blitz run the Kremlin likely counted on, judging from their immediate rush toward Kyiv.
The enemy has made a series of moderate advancements in Ukraine’s north, northeast, south, and in Donbas beyond the largest urban areas.
Fierce and effective Ukrainian resistance seen elsewhere has seriously slowed the Russian military down, and in many locations engaged its main axes in exhausting confined space warfare.
Putin is also decisively losing the propaganda war and our European allies have rallied in unexpected ways, from imposing new muscular sanctions (including partially cutting Russia off from SWIFT), to agreeing to deliver new weapons to the Ukrainian defenders. The LA Times’s Eli Stokols sums up the consequences of Putin’s war so far:
Writes Stokols:”Maybe Kyiv eventually falls. But occupation will be even more fraught than the assault. Putin’s dreams of empire likely will leave Russia more stretched & more isolated, as long as the West’s resolve holds. Seems those lauding his savvy in recent days might wanna rethink.”
And then there is Zelensky, the man that Donald Trump thought he could intimidate and extort. As JVL wrote yesterday:
Zelensky’s conduct over the last few weeks—which has been utterly extraordinary—has substantially buttressed Ukraine’s resolve. He has become more than a man. More than a leader. He has become a symbol.
What we are witnessing is the emergence of a figure who will become a key part of Ukrainian history for the next century. There will be statues of him all over the country. Ukrainians will name their children after him. This is like watching another country’s Washington or Churchill emerge in real time.
Watching Zelensky’s conduct over the last few weeks makes Donald Trump’s attempt to use the power of the United States government to blackmail him even more obscene. Trump is not fit to shine Zelensky’s boots. That Trump’s actions were taken not as a private citizen, but as the American head of state should make all of us deeply ashamed.
This seems like a BFD:
And then there was Trump…
Even as the world rallied to condemn Putin (and many of his supporters trued to pivot), TFG doubled down on his praise of Putin in a speech at CPAC last night:
Trump defended labeling Putin as “smart” during his Saturday night speech.
“The problem is not that Putin is smart — which, of course he’s smart — but the real problem is that our leaders are dumb,” Trump said to applause. “Dumb. So dumb.”
No, The GOP won’t break with him
For a brief moment this week, it seemed as if the ashes of an older GOP had been rekindled.
In the wake of Vladimir Putin’s all-out assault on Ukraine, we saw a resurgence of GOP hawkery. Sabers were rattled, Cold War rhetoric dusted off and deployed.
A casual observer might have heard echoes of the party of Reagan, a party that used to stand firmly against autocracy and Russian imperialism..
Both in tone and substance the GOP reaction was in sharp contrast to Donald Trump’s lavish praise of Putin as a savvy “genius.” Even as the invasion unfolded, Trump lauded the Russian autocrat as “smart” because he’s “taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions.”
To the unwary, this could look like the Big One — an issue that would finally split the GOP from Trump.
But there are reasons for skepticism.
The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser was struck by how much of the born-again hawkishness among Republicans was “gaslighting,” after “literally enabling a pro-Putin president for four years and refusing to stop him even when he literally blackmailed Ukraine with millions in security aid to help Ukraine fight Russia.”
Attorney George Conway noted Stefanik had risen to GOP leadership and “made herself famous for her mendacity in opposing the impeachment of the guy who attempted to extort Ukraine by illegally withholding security assistance funds that Congress had appropriated for that country.”
Even as congressional Republicans accuse Biden of being insufficiently harsh toward Putin, Trumpist figures in the entertainment wing of the GOP came to Putin’s defense. And where it is not overtly pro-Putin, it is aggressively anti-anti-Putin….
So how will this play out?
Noah Rothman makes a convincing case in Commentary magazine that pro-Putin sentiments represent only an isolated fringe of the GOP.
[But this] t ignores this fundamental dynamic: Conservative politics today is dominated not by elected leaders, but by the entertainers. Tucker Carlson is exponentially more influential than Mitch McConnell; Steve Bannon has far greater clout than Elise Stefanik.
And the influence of that entertainment wing is magnified by the ascendency of the America First isolationism championed by Donald Trump, whose dominance in the GOP has meant the virtual eclipse of the party’s once robust internationalist wing.
The reality is that, despite Tom Cotton’s saber-rattling, there is really no longer any appetite among Republicans for a Reagan-esque tear-down-that wall approach to foreign policy. For the most part, the old Cold Warriors have been purged from the party. In their place have risen Trump-inspired acolytes like J.D. Vance, the Ukraine-indifferent Ohio Senate candidate whose border obsessions are entirely domestic and whose rallying cry is “Build that wall.”
The animus of the right has been turned inward.
So, the Putin-is-a-savvy-genius wing of the party may be small at the moment, but as we have seen over and over, the MAGA voices are the Republican id these days.
And if history (and bitter experience) is any guide, Republican politicians sooner or later fall in line. In this case, however, they don’t have to become either pro-Putin or anti-anti-Putin. All that is required is that they be anti-Biden.
In part, that explains the weird flex that ignores Trump’s long record of Putin appeasement to argue that it was only his departure that emboldened Russian aggression. National Review editor Rich Lowry — a harsh critic of Putin — nevertheless tweeted that “The sheer unpredictably of Trump, his anger at being defied or disrespected, his willingness to take the occasional big risk (the Soleimani strike), all had to make Putin frightened or wary of him in a way that he simply isn’t of Joe Biden.”
This is a genuinely bizarre take, given Trump’s fawning admiration for Putin and his praise of the invasion. But that view has already gotten considerable traction on the right. The latest POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found that 50 percent of voters said that Biden would be “very” or “somewhat” responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while 34 percent said he was “not too” or “not” responsible. The same poll found that 82 percent of Republicans disapprove of Biden’s handling of foreign policy.
So, whatever happens, Republicans will be united in their opposition to whatever Joe Biden does or fails to do.
Beyond that, don’t look for much coherence.
Republicans will rip Biden for being too belligerent. They will rip him for being too weak. They will accuse him of being too aggressive, and too passive. At the same time. Without blinking.
Think of it as hawkish isolationism; or bellicose appeasement. That’s because the GOP’s foreign policy is now less a coherent set of principles than it is a single slogan.
And the slogan is: “Let’s Go Brandon.”
MTG Goes Full White Nationalist
Spoiler alert: Nothing will happen. Via CNN:
Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming called out two members of her conference who spoke at an event organized by White nationalist Nick Fuentes.
"As Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep Paul Gosar speak at this white supremacist, anti-Semitic, pro-Putin event, silence by Republican Party leaders is deafening and enabling,"
We Get Mail
Keep your rants, raves, laurels, and darts coming email@example.com. And, remember that all Bulwark + members can comment on any Morning Shots.
Hi JVL and Charlie,
I agree that Zelensky has shown amazing bravery.
I wonder if the US truckers, who are on their way to Washington to protest their lack of “freedom,” have any awareness of how infantile they look in comparison to the bravery of so many Ukrainians, who are on the brink of actually losing their freedom, if not their lives.
I see brave Russians risking everything -- everything! -- to protest a war in Ukraine. I see brace Ukrainians vowing, and returning from other countries, to fight to defend their homeland. Meanwhile, here at home, we the people seem prepared to surrender our democracy with little more than a collective shrug. And perhaps ready to turn our backs on Ukrainian people fighting and dying in the streets if our lives are (even mildly) impacted/inconvenienced. Where is our fighting spirit? Where is our generosity of spirit?
This is from our comment section from Bulwark + member, Shawn. It is very much worth your time:
There are two problems, neither of which you address. So let me point them out.
1. You vastly misunderstand what 'America First' means. To the modern American right, America as it currently exists is the enemy. This is because the right is not simply against Democrats, but against pop culture itself in all its forms. It's why despite the fact that not one police organization was defunded, they still scream about it. Why despite there being no vast transgender conspiracy, they are openly trying to turn the clock back to the past. In this vein, there's a logical reason why America First is so anti-American.
The project of the American right is to bond itself closer to Putin or Orban-like figures; to destroy America as it is in order to make the America they want. In this viewing, nothing would help their chances of instituting the policies they want than causing chaos at home and abroad. We think of them as reactionaries, but we might better think of them as would be revolutionaries, looking for the right moment to seize control of everything and going to war not just with their political rivals but with the culture they despise and detest. Thus, America First, as they see it, is best suited by the destruction of America.
2. We meet this moment of Putin's invasion with a stark reality: Americans do not actually want to fight for the Ukrainians. I detest the structuring of 'elites' vs 'normal people' because it is lazy and so rarely are the elites defined, but in this case we can define them. The 'elites' of the foreign policy establishment have vastly overestimated their political capital and vastly overestimated the trust people have in them. For twenty years they were given free reign in the middle east, and for twenty years they achieved nothing. For twenty years, Americans were told to trust them, and they repaid that trust with failure.
We can debate what that failure really means. But in the end, what was promised by them, an impossible lift of a democratic and western style middle east, was not brought to fruition. But beyond that, they destroyed the trust that the public had in them. And nothing has been done to fix this.
They have not argued publicly about WHY the public should support actions in Ukraine. They have not explained, in PLAIN ENGLISH, why Americans should care. They have talked a lot about freedom and democracy and systems and morals and ideals, and none of it matters one bit because they are not speaking the language people care about. They are not talking in the lingua franca of the people.
The security establishment likes to talk like it's 1960; they like to talk in euphemisms and with grand gestures of freedom and liberty. But Americans don't speak that language. They need to be open and direct: Putin's invasion is an attack on Americans. Why? Because it will drive up prices of gas, it will destabilize the global social order that allows Americans to have cheap goods and services. You hate inflation now? You'll really hate it when Putin makes it worse. The national security establishment is very, VERY reluctant to talk like this, because it makes them feel like they're the same as their enemies. And in many ways, they are. But if you want Americans to support your cause, you need to talk to them in the language they understand.
Most Americans cannot find Ukraine on a map. You want them to fight for it, you need to explain that the system we built needs to be reinforced if they want to keep reaping the benefits of that system. You want cheap goods? You want cheap gas? Then you gotta be willing to fight against the people who would threaten that.
As events move quickly, I think it worth the time to acknowledge how smart the Biden administration was in publicly releasing intelligence about Putin's plans. This killed Putin's propaganda plans in the cradle.
Also great to see our intelligence agencies get so much right after some terrible failures in recent decades.
I was 5 when Soviet tanks appeared in the city of Gyor, Hungary, in 1956. Seeing them in a town square as I walked with my mother makes an impression. That sight led my parents to walk with a 5-yr-old and a 1.5yr-old (who had started crying) across a no man's land literally between 2 unmanned (Thank God!) watchtowers into Austria. I'm having flashbacks to the memory of hearing dogs barking and what had to be machine gun fire miles away from us as I see Ukrainians doing the same thing running from the very same invaders. The reaction of Trump and his "PETS" makes me want to puke. They would be the first ones to greet the invaders with cheers. God help the Ukraine. And US!