William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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WELL SAID – OVERNIGHT:  Occasionally we come across a piece that explains a moment in time, or at least directs us toward answers.   The historian Niall Ferguson has written such a piece, and I urge you to read it.  It contains the line, "Joe Biden must ditch the backseat diplomacy of the Obama era, which is part of what got us into this mess to begin with." Can't be more correct than that.  From Daily Mail:

There was once another loathsome Russian dictator called Vladimir – in this case Lenin – who is popularly believed to have said: 'There are decades where nothing happens; there are weeks where decades happen.'

He didn't. The real quote is from a letter Karl Marx wrote to Friedrich Engels in 1863, in which the founder of Communism argued that 20 years were 'no more than a day where major developments […] are concerned, though these may be again succeeded by days into which 20 years are compressed'.

Since Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine just over three weeks ago, it does feel as if decades have been compressed into days. A great many commentators have rushed to declare this is one of history's great turning points – the end of one epoch, the beginning of another. 

Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz referred to a 'Zeitenwende' (a 'turning of the times'). 'The world after this,' he declared, 'is no longer the same as the world before.' And in some obvious ways he is undeniably right.

With its 'policy for the East' (Ostpolitik), Germany has pursued closer economic links with Russia since the late 1960s. Scholz's predecessor, Angela Merkel, even believed it made sense to make Europe dependent on Russian natural gas and oil. 

All that is over. So, too, are Germany's post-war days of pacifism, as defence spending is due to increase to at least two per cent of GDP, belatedly catching up with the ten NATO members (including the UK) who fulfil their burden-sharing obligations.

And why is this? After all, Putin has long been a murderer and warmonger: this is his fourth invasion of a sovereign state since 2008. Yet somehow the smaller scale of his previous wars allowed the delusion to persist that he was still someone with whom the West could do business. 

But now, with mass graves in besieged Mariupol, with much of Kharkiv reduced to rubble, and with millions of refugees fleeing West, there is no longer any denying it.

The scenes are too familiar. Turn off the colour and they could be photographs from Eastern Europe in the Second World War. So, yes, it certainly feels like the end of an interwar period. And now, you might think, only the details of this turning point need to be finalised.

Namely, how quickly can Europe's defence spending be cranked up? And how quickly can we find alternatives to Russian gas and oil?

In neither case is the answer measurable in weeks, but clearly there is an impetus for these things to happen, and irreversibly.

The return of the brutal Russian bear has shattered the illusion that peace in Europe was a free lunch paid for by the Americans and cooked on Russian gas.

COMMENT:  Please read the rest. Ferguson is setting out the various ways the current crisis can either end, or melt into a larger one. He actually knows what he's talking about, and comes down hard on American leadership, or lack of it.

I think Americans sensed, right from the first day of battle, that Ukraine is different. It does remind us of the battles of World War II that we first saw in black-in-white. It is not that the world will now be different.  It will be. But in what ways?  And where will this weakly led countries of ours stand?  At the top, or as a relic of history to be gently pushed aside?

March 21, 2022