THE COLUMN: 'Not Worth the Bones of a Single Grenadier'

Otto von Bismarck, Germany's Iron Chancellor and the man who united most of the German states into a unified Second Reich in the second half of the 19th century, once famously observed that Der ganze Balkan ist nicht die gesunden Knochen eines einzigen pommerschen Grenadiers wert. "The entire Balkans aren't worth the sound bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier." The joke being that a) the Balkans had always been an intractable mess and always would be, b) Pomerania itself had a long history of being conquered and reconquered by Prussians, Poles, Lithuanians, and Swedes, and Pomeranians were regarded as lousy soldiers, and c) a Pomeranian is a breed of small yipping dog. 

Bismarck was right about the Balkans, but he might as well have been speaking of the Ukraine, a troubled land (its name means "borderland"), oft-conquered, rarely independent, generally restive, and almost always miserable. Like the Kurds, the Ukrainians are for reasons of geography basically a people without a country, long dominated by Russia both in its czarist and Soviet incarnations; indeed, Russians regard the Ukrainian capital of Kiev as an essential part of the Motherland, celebrated in both architecture and music by Viktor Hartmann and Modest Mussorgsky: 

The Ukraine won its independence after the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991. As part of the deal, the Ukrainians were persuaded/coerced by Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, among other signatories to the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, to surrender the nuclear weapons stationed on their soil. The key point for Russia was that the Ukraine, as a buffer state between itself and the West, should never be allowed to threaten the Russian homeland. The Russians, with their tenuous hold on a vast continental empire, the biggest nation on Earth, have long memories of foreign (particularly Teutonic) invasions that stretch well before Napoleon won his pyrrhic victory at Borodino and then had to retreat from a burning Moscow, destroying the Grande Armée. The idea was that Russia wouldn't threaten its former Warsaw Pact states and in return NATO wouldn't edge up to Russia's borders.

You say Kyiv, they say Kiev.

The West, of course, welshed on the deal, and has gradually been impressing other satellite countries near Russia's western border into the service of a now-explicitly anti-Russian (as opposed to anti-Soviet, as it was formerly). North Atlantic Treaty Organization: Albania and Croatia in 2009 and, more recently, the military powerhouses of Montenegro and North Macedonia. More are likely on their way, including Finland and Sweden, historically both enemies of Russia. The Ukraine clearly wishes to join NATO as well, especially latterly, under its president Vladimir Zelensky—but at the moment is prevented from doing so by among other things a law passed under its own former government in 2010. 

The biggest cheerleaders for the Ukraine in the current war have turned out to be, surprise, Joe Biden and his always-wrong, America Last foreign policy establishment, headed by secretary of state Anthony Blinken, a retread from both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Biden and his noxious family have long used the Ukraine—the most corrupt country in Europe—as their personal piggybank and money laundromat, and in the recent past he has openly boasted about his ability to legally blackmail Ukrainian officials into doing his bidding. His word as a Biden!

But then, why wouldn't he? As a bloviating senator of nearly half a century, Biden is thoroughly accustomed to never being held responsible for a single thing he says. He's dined out on the death of his wife and daughter in a car accident for 50 years, blithely accusing the other driver of being drunk, which he wasn't, among the many, many other malicious lies he's told. He casually slandered good men like Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas and never lost a moment of sleep over his scurrilous remarks. Biden is emblematic of our parlous politics, the worm in the rotten apple who has finally made his journey from the calyx to the pedicel and emerged into the sunlight, a doddering old fool, vacant-eyed (except when animated by hatred), slack-jawed, wandering aimlessly in search of another hand to shake or another pocket to pick, which as a lifelong politician is all he knows how to do. 

Now, however, he's actually dangerous; presidential pronouncements have consequences. The definition of Irish Alzheimer's—you only remember the grudges—fits him to a T. In his Fredo brain, never very impressive to begin with, he's focusing his animus on Russia because that's the country that most threatens to bring the whole Biden house of cards down around his head. He knows that even the Praetorian Media, which throttles bad news (especially about the louche Hunter, of which there is a seemingly endless supply) in its cradle, won't be able to protect him forever, that he's got two years before his improbable and wholly regrettable presidency is over, and that his choleric chickens will eventually come home to roost. 

And so, with Vladimir Putin calling up the reserves to bolster his faltering invasion (or reclamation) of at least parts of the Ukraine, Biden and his brain trust are turning the conflict into a proxy war between the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R. Never mind that the American military has finally reached the limits of its tolerance, and is cracking under the stress of wokism being imposed upon it from above. It's in no position to fight even a proxy war, much less engage in a nuclear exchange with Russia, but that's exactly where this is heading if the president doesn't stop recklessly shooting off his mouth:

It would help if the castrati in Congress would at least pretend to try and rein Biden in, but under the "leadership" of a malign Chuck Schumer and a rapacious minority leader, Mitch McConnell, not to mention the superannuated, bibulous speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, the first branch of government has taken its lead from the second branch under Biden and is only in it for the money, of which it plans to take all it can get. Declare war? Restrain the powers of the presidency? Stop the march of the spending bills? Surely you jest: don't you know there's still a Covid emergency on, no matter what the man behind the prompter says?

In the meantime, billions and billions of freshly printed greenbacks flow to the Ukraine, where Zelensky conducts a photo-op war that, strangely, never includes any first-hand footage from the front by the American news media. Then again, media mopes are even lazier than Congresscritters, so if they don't see it on Twitter or TikTok, it's not news. They're all Taylor Lorenz now, and they don't care who knows it, as long as their bosses don't find out.

Live! From Kyiv! It's World War III.

Putin is a man who has watched his country shot out from underneath him, the Soviet sphere of influence dramatically reduced, NATO encroaching across his western frontier, his country's birth rate falling, and the once-vaunted Red Army apparently taking a licking from Ukrainians armed by a consort of nations that includes Great Britain and the old "principal enemy,: the U.S.A. So it's well to remember that Russians are used to being pushed to the last extremity before ferociously snapping back and eviscerating their tormentors, whatever the cost to them.

In 1410 the Teutonic Knights were annihilated by a combined Polish-Lithuanian force at the battle of Tannenberg, in the same part of Prussia as Pomerania. In 1943, the Wehrmacht's frozen Sixth Army surrendered to the Soviets at Stalingrad. And in the awful winter of 1812, Napoleon's dreams of total European conquest died in the snows of Eastern Europe as well. It's a bad neighborhood filled with guys a lot tougher than Joe Biden and Tony Blinken. The Ukraine-Russia war is not our fight, and isn't worth the strong bones of a single American soldier or civilian. Let's hope they—and we—don't have to learn that the hard way. Just ask Napoleon.

THE COLUMN: How We Got Here

The seeds of the conflict in the Ukraine, now the subject of both a shooting war and a ferocious propaganda barrage on both sides—and by "both sides" I mean Russia vs. the West, using Ukraine as its proxy—were sown more than 30 years ago, in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union on Boxing Day in 1991. At what seemed almost a single stroke, the goal of American foreign policy for the previous four decades had been achieved. The mother church of Marxism-Leninism had fallen, the Evil Empire destroyed, and the brave new world of "the end of history and the last man" was dawning.

Although Ronald "we win, they lose" Reagan was out of office, this was the Gipper's triumph. Playing poker against the Soviets' aging and disillusioned chess masters, Reagan bet the house on the Strategic Defense Initiative—widely opposed and even mocked by the pro-Russian Leftist press, led by the New York Times (who else?), as "Star Wars"—and essentially bankrupted the Kremlin. Unfamiliar with the concept of a bluff, Mikhail Gorbachev turned over his king and walked away from the board. 

I vividly recall standing outside in the freezing cold of a mid-February day in Dresden, on the 40th anniversary of the firebombing of the city by British and American bombers in 1945. Standing in front of the newly restored Semper Opera House, Erich Honecker, the East German party boss, gave a stemwinder of a speech, inveighing against the very "Star Wars" (that was the term he used: Sternkriege) the Times was mocking stateside. "I think Star Wars is bullshit," whispered a German-speaking American colleague of mine, "but it sure has these guys scared." Within six years, both the German Democratic Republic and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were gone.

Fooled ya.

It took both the Times and the communists (but I repeat myself) to realize the truth of Reagan's game and by then it was too late. The Cold War was over, without a shot being fired. We won, they lost.

Officials in the "Star Wars" project rigged a crucial 1984 test and faked other data in a program of deception that misled Congress as well as the intended target, the Soviet Union, four former Reagan Administration officials said.

The deception program was designed to feed the Kremlin half-truths and lies about the project, the former Administration officials said. It helped persuade the Soviets to spend tens of billions of dollars to counter the American effort to develop a space-based shield against nuclear attack proposed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1983, they said. The test also deceived news organizations, which reported it widely.

Ha ha ha. With the U.S.S.R. prostrate and the former Warsaw Pact nations spinning away into freedom and autonomy, the largest fire sale in history was underway. Canny operators, such as George Soros instantly saw an opportunity, moving quickly into the economic and diplomatic vacuum with such aplomb that he overnight became a powerful figure among the ruins.

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All the United States had to do was be magnanimous in victory. The Germans under Helmut Kohl had already provided a model; Germany was reunited less than a year after the Wall fell and the East German government crumbled. Kohl's boldest decision was to exchange the worthless Ostmark (East mark) for the sound Deutsche mark at a one-for-one rate. While this was expensive for the West Germans, it turned out to be well worth it. There was little or no lingering resentment about the ways things had turned out, and while the Ossis were regarded as poorly dressed bumpkins, there was no trouble.

Magnanimity, however, proved too heavy a lift for the clueless and vengeful George Herbert Walker Bush administration. Widely seen in European capitals at the time as a "safe pair of hands" Bush I immediately squandered the greatest economic, diplomatic and intelligence community success of the modern era. The one-time Director of Central Intelligence could not or would not grasp that the game had changed, that Russia no longer had to be a mortal enemy of capitalism and the West, and that the overthrow of communism would usher in a prolonged period both of disruption and revanchism that could have been properly managed without triumphalism.

Your Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party, always wrong.

But the U.S. did... nothing. As Soros knew instinctively, all of eastern Europe and western Russia was now up for grabs. I can attest to the bewilderment and anger of friends and acquaintances in Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere at the silence radiating from Washington at the time. 

Rather than extending the hand of friendship to the defeated but still proud Russians and the other "captive peoples," succeeding administrations under Clinton and Bush II added insult to injury by bringing the Central and Eastern European countries into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) starting in 1999—a deliberate provocation and a world-historical blunder of epic proportions matched only by George W. Bush's incomprehensible invasion of Iraq after 9/11. 

Meanwhile, post-Gorbachev, Russia descended into a gangster-driven oligarchy under the drunken Boris Yeltsin. I left the collapsing U.S.S.R. for the last time during the summer of 1991, just before the coup attempt against Gorbachev, and already the gangsters (Armenian, Georgian, Jewish, Azerbaijani—everybody but the Slavs) had the run of the place. The Americans who were preaching the virtues of capitalism in a land that had only known empty shelves for 70 years were regarded as thieves out to fleece Russia (and many of them were), but regulated capitalism wasn't going to cut it at a time when it was every man for himself. "Joint venture" was one English phrase that every Russian knew, and Swiss bank accounts were the place to be. It took the firm, bloody hand of Vladimir Putin to restore some semblance of order.

And so the opportunity was lost to turn Russia from an enemy to, if not a friend, at least an adversary with whom we could live and do business. America does have an enemy today, but it's China, not Russia.

Putin, who was a KGB operative based in Dresden during my time in the former DDR (among the Stasi, he had a reputation for ruthlessness and cunning even back then), is not the kind of man into whose eyes you can look and see his soul. The moody Slavic temperament is very poorly understood by sunny Americans, alternating between pride and despair, all laced with centuries of grievance against a West it both passionately wants to belong to and equally passionately wants to reject.

No American has ever had the experience of watching his country vanish before his eyes, and those who think that Putin operates by the same set of "values" as the international atheists who currently populate the upper reaches of the American government, foreign-policy establishment, and bureaucracy have never met a Russian, read a single word of Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy, or heard a note of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, based on Pushkin. As Aristotle intimates in the Poetics, culture and politics are the same thing, and it's only Americans who don't seem to be able to understand that. 

The current American fixation on "diversity" (itself the partial result of decades of KGB meddling in the civil-rights movement and inflaming black sensibilities) has no purchase in the rest of the world, which regards it as inexplicable and the very antithesis of social cohesion and the nation-state. The last thing the Ukrainians want right now is diversity: they want a Ukraine for Ukrainians. Meanwhile, for the Russians, the notion of admitting the Ukraine to NATO has proven to be the last straw; the closest American analogy might be turning Texas into an "independent" extension of Mexican hegemony in the southwest. The differences are irreconcilable. 

Bush II's second inaugural address has proven to be spectacularly wrong in its central observations, a woolly wish list of platitudes and bromides that has only worsened America's position on the global stage. After all, a country that doesn't try very hard to maintain its cultural and territorial integrity isn't much of a country and certainly won't last very long. 

We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. 

As the war in the breadbasket of Europe rages on, freedom is only secondarily the issue now. It's the hunger in the dark places that we have to worry about. “The state of peace among men living side by side is not the natural state," wrote the Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant in 1795the natural state is one of war." Just 123 years after Kant wrote those words, once-formidable Prussia disappeared from the map. Putin is determined not to let that happen to the Russia of his imagination, the Russia of Peter the Great and of Tsar Alexander I, who saved the Motherland from the existential threat of Napoleon. He may not succeed, but he's willing to die trying—and to kill as many people in the process as he has to.