‐ Maybe the president should visit Alaska: He can’t quite see a credible Russia policy from his house.
‐ Following the path of least resistance, Republicans have decided on a 2014 strategy of trying to avoid mistakes and hoping that the unpopularity of Obamacare delivers them election victories. What they miss is that loss of confidence in Democrats does not signify an increase in confidence in Republicans. Of course Republicans should continue to prosecute the case against Obamacare. But they must also run against the federal impulse to micromanage Americans, pervasive within liberalism, that Obamacare typifies. And part of that case has to be that there are better ways of addressing Americans’ concerns about health care, energy, and so on: that there are policies that address those concerns by freeing markets and limiting and reforming government. That’s the way to make the most of the opportunity 2014 presents to start moving our country rightward.
‐ If you believed the media, Arizona tried to institute a system of Jim Crow for gays and straights, until Governor Jan Brewer swooped in to save the day with a veto. The legislature had passed clarifications to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, establishing that the protections of the law extend to businesses and apply in proceedings where the government isn’t directly a party. The law has been on the books for 15 years in Arizona and was modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act championed by Ted Kennedy and signed by Bill Clinton. These laws say that the government can’t substantially burden someone’s exercise of religion unless there is a compelling governmental interest at stake and no less burdensome way to achieve it. By clarifying the law, Arizona lawmakers hoped to provide a more reliable safe harbor for small-business people who prefer not to bake cakes or take photos at gay weddings for religious reasons and who then get fined or sanctioned for it. But the bill was doomed by a smear campaign abetted by business interests and craven Republicans. The episode bodes ill for the potential for reasonable debate about anything touching on gay rights, and for the future of religious liberty.
‐ Attorney General Eric Holder urged state attorneys general to emulate his practice of politicizing law enforcement on behalf of left-wing constituencies. He exhorted the AGs to ignore state laws defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. During his confirmation hearings, Holder piously told senators that an attorney general owed fidelity to the law and was not there to rubber-stamp executive policy preferences. But Holder has conveniently “evolved” on same-sex marriage in line with his boss: ostensibly defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act — but quietly sabotaging the pro-DOMA legal arguments — while Obama was still feigning opposition to it; then abandoning DOMA when Obama dropped the pretense; and now — with Obama facing no more elections — leading an aggressive campaign to impose same-sex marriage nationally, by judicial fiat. The administration’s view of its constitutional duties has been evolving apace with its view of marriage, and just as conveniently.
‐ The new Pentagon budget is Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement of American retreat. The budgets Congress and the president have written deeply cut funding for the military, and a leaner, not meaner, military is what we get: an army with just 450,000 troops, a navy with fewer than 300 ships, and an air force with just 425 of the fighters it will rely on for the next 50 years. Defense drawdowns are sometimes justified — when threats have diminished, enemies have left the stage, allies have grown stronger, or weapons have gotten cheaper. None of these has happened. The only justification for this Pentagon budget is . . . the budget. Voters are understandably worried about high levels of debt and conservatives are rightly concerned by the size of our federal government. But the past couple of years and Hagel’s announcement reflect what we have maintained all along: The sequester brought welcome spending discipline at home but deals a devastating blow to the federal government’s capacity to carry out its most fundamental responsibility. One problem with this peace dividend is that it will be spent on domestic entitlements, which is very far from the federal government’s first priority. Another is that there isn’t any peace to pay for it.
‐ Dave Camp (R., Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has done a brave thing: introduce a comprehensive tax-reform plan. Much of it is good: It’s hard to object, for instance, to the 89 sections of the bill devoted just to removing “deadwood” (provisions that no longer affect taxes paid) from the tax code. It would cut the top corporate tax rate, one of the highest in the world, to 25 percent, while the top individual-income rate would fall to 35 percent. It would reduce the complexity of the code significantly and improve incentives while maintaining revenue levels. Proposals like capping the mortgage-interest tax deduction and eliminating the exemption for state and local taxes paid are quite welcome. Not all of it is good, though: It fails to eliminate marriage penalties in the tax code, increases the child credit only modestly, and probably raises taxes on new business investment. But his proposal is better than the status quo — and an apt complement to the wave of new policy ideas coming from congressional Republicans of late. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, under Camp’s proposal the U.S. economy would be $400 billion bigger in 2024, with 2 million more jobs. Camp deserves credit for being the man in the arena.
‐ Harry Reid said that “all” of the “horror stories” being told about Obamacare “are untrue.” He must be relying on the same sources that told him Mitt Romney had not paid taxes for ten years. President Obama himself acknowledged that his law was causing some hardship by leading to the cancellation of some plans. The New York Times, not to our knowledge owned by the Koch brothers, has reported on the premium increases many people have experienced. Liberal journalists have reported (happily) that Obamacare will cause patients to have less choice of doctors. Either Reid is disconnected from reality or he is lying. Sadly, the press won’t call him on either.
‐ The world of academic critical theory got a little smaller in February when the Federal Communications Commission, facing a backlash over its plan to subject journalists to invasive questioning, canceled its $900,000 “Critical Information Needs” study. The CIN study sought to determine “what barriers exist in our media ecologies,” in order to make sure “underserved communities” were not starving for necessary news. But its plan for “voluntary” interrogations of media professionals (including print and online journos not under FCC jurisdiction) stalled, especially after FCC commissioner Ajit Pai criticized it on First Amendment grounds in the Wall Street Journal. The FCC eventually pulled the plug, but we did learn something: The agency is looking around for things to do, and is willing to find them in goofy pomo theories about disfranchisement and microaggressions.
#page#‐ “The five pillars of aristocracy,” wrote John Adams, “are beauty, wealth, birth, genius, and virtues.” These advantages, he argued, elevated certain people over their nominal peers even in democracies. John Dingell Jr. stood on the third pillar. His father was a congressman from the Detroit area from 1933 to 1955. When he died, John Jr. won the special election to fill the seat. Old-line liberalism then kept the younger Dingell in it for the next 59 years. He supported gun rights and opposed busing — Neanderthal positions for Democrats today. But he was a lifelong backer of national health insurance, which Obamacare has finally given us. The man who clung to office even longer than Robert Byrd has announced that he will not run again in 2014. But aristocracy abides: Dingell’s wife, Debbie (who was born the year before he was first elected), is said to be interested in occupying his seat.
‐ My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative announced by President Obama at the end of February, looks beyond the clash of ordinary politics to ask: What can be done for young black men? Reciting the doleful statistics on education and crime, Obama said, “It’s like a cultural backdrop for us in movies, in television. We just assume, of course it’s going to be like that.” He contemplates government action, but also leadership from business, churches, and celebrities. And from young black men themselves. “It will take courage,” Obama said, “but you will have to tune out the naysayers who say if the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up or settle into the stereotype.” Obama also drew attention to the epidemic of absent fathers, though without mentioning its roots in the collapse of marriage. Obama has made use (sometimes cunning, sometimes powerful) of his life story, which includes dark pages: a vanished father, a peripatetic childhood. Encouraging young men in the same boat is a noble cause.
‐ When Fusion TV’s Jorge Ramos, in a recent interview, asked Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards when life begins, she equivocated. “I feel it’s not something that’s part of this conversation,” she said uncomfortably, and then tried to divert the conversation to the “options for health care” Planned Parenthood provides. But Ramos wouldn’t be diverted. “Why would it be so controversial . . . for you to say when you think life starts?” he asked. It wouldn’t, Richards said, it just isn’t “really relevant to the conversation.” She then concluded that “I’m a mother of three. Um, for me, life began when I delivered them.” This answer was perhaps a slight improvement over the one Senator Barbara Boxer gave in legislative debate some years back, that life begins “when you bring your baby home.” You can see why advocates of unlimited abortion would prefer not to ponder this question too deeply.
‐ In New York City, the number of black children being aborted now exceeds the number being born; in Mississippi, a predominantly white state, three out of four abortions are of black children. Life can be dangerous and difficult for black Americans, especially for young black men, but statistically speaking the most dangerous place for a black American in 2014 is the womb. New York City and Mississippi may be poles apart culturally, but the landscape between them does not look much better: Blacks make up about 12 percent of the population but the number of black children aborted comes to nearly the same total as in the much larger white population. Economics explains only a little of that: According to the Guttmacher Institute, the majority of women seeking abortions are not living in poverty. But black, white, or other, the mortality rate associated with abortion is always the same: one per person.
‐ Mayor Bill de Blasio treats children in charter schools the same as the horses that pull tourist carriages around Central Park: He wants to get rid of them. De Blasio shut down three charter schools that used classrooms in city school buildings, and cut back the space available to a fourth. (Two of the schools are run by a former city councilwoman and current de Blasio target, Eva Moskowitz, so there is also a game of Gotham inside baseball being played here.) The success of charter schools is a rebuke to regular city schools and to the teachers’ unions that serve them so poorly. De Blasio, beholden to the latter, must defend the former. And the kids who are cast back to substandard schools because of his actions? In de Blasio’s New York that is an extra-credit question, purely optional. Liberal Democrats who say they are in favor of charter schools, including his patrons Bill and Hillary Clinton, should be asked what they think.
#page#East Is Least
The dramatic events in Ukraine the past few weeks were ignited when Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian ally, said he would suspend efforts to bring Ukraine closer to the EU and thousands took to the streets to protest. Clearly, the threat of Russian political oppression was in the minds of the protesters, but the economic stakes were enormous as well. Indeed, a look at the data suggests that Yanukovych’s act was against the economic interests of his own people.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, former Soviet and Eastern Bloc countries chose between two distinct paths. Ten Central and Eastern European nations (the so-called CEE-10) made integration with the European Union a top priority. The rest, like Ukraine, moved much more slowly toward Western standards, and some even settled under a new Russian umbrella.
Prior to the breakup, Eastern Europe was underdeveloped relative to the West, mostly because of the failure created by central planning. When a market economy is unleashed in such a setting, “convergence” of the standard of living to that of the developed world can be quite rapid. If the U.S. wants to grow sharply, it needs to push the very frontier of what is possible farther out. A former Soviet or Eastern Bloc country, on the other hand, could grow rapidly simply by copying the developed world. Some did.
A large academic literature has emerged analyzing the impact of “going west.” The literature documents that those nations that assimilated into the EU saw dramatic economic growth. A recent EU study co-authored by Ryszard Rapacki and Mariusz Prochniak of the Warsaw School of Economics, for example, concluded that full convergence of the CCE-10 is so far along that it might be complete in as little as eight years.
NOTE: The Former East Germany is not included in the Eastern Bloc Category.
Former Soviet Countries outside Europe are not included in the Former-Soviet Category.
The countries, like Ukraine, that failed to take that path have stagnated. The nearby chart documents how radically different their experience has been. The chart plots real per capita GDP (in 2005 dollars) for former Soviet and Eastern Bloc countries other than Russia. The purple and dark blue lines on the top illustrate the findings of the study just mentioned. Income per capita has grown sharply since the mid 1990s, more than doubling for the former Soviet countries, and increasing about 50 percent for the Eastern Bloc countries (such as the Czech Republic) that have joined the EU.
The three lines on the bottom of the chart depict what has happened to those nations that have not joined the EU. Each of these countries has stagnated, seeing a standard of living that has barely budged since the fall of the USSR. The experiences have been so different that the increase in welfare for citizens in former Soviet countries that have joined the EU is larger than today’s level of welfare for countries that have not.
Vladimir Putin’s desire to maintain a zone of influence has had a dramatically negative effect on the economic well-being of citizens of the affected countries. It is hard to imagine how anyone could look at such data and not conclude that Putin supporters outside Russia are traitors, if not to their nations at the very least to their compatriots’ prospects of economic security and prosperity.
#page#‐ De Blasio recently marched in the St. Pat’s for All parade, a gay-friendly pre–St. Patrick’s Day parade in Queens. “This is a parade that celebrates inclusion,” he said. But de Blasio celebrates seclusion of those who do not share his views. He will not march in New York’s actual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the carnival of green that dates back to 1762, because, for reasons of religion and tradition, it bans gay groups. Yet his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, who was strongly pro–gay rights, did. Strange to think that the Boston-born billionaire should have been a better mayor of all the people than the self-styled populist activist. But the politics of sex drives its votaries to strange positions.
‐ Marco Rubio has just reminded everyone what the fuss was about when he burst onto the national scene a few years ago. On the Senate floor last month, Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) held forth on the blessings that Cubans are supposed to enjoy from their Communist government. Rubio, who has some well-formed opinions on the subject, rose up to take down Harkin’s hoary leftist truisms by contrasting them with the truth — about health care, infant mortality, government censorship, and the general misery that Cubans suffer under the Castros. For good measure, the Florida senator reminded his audience of the dictatorship’s alliance with the regimes in North Korea and Venezuela. He said he would pursue a measure to impose sanctions on the latter. His remarks were cogent and passionate, and made all the better by the knowledge that his career is still in its early chapters.
‐ At the end of February, a senator, Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), and a House member, Jim McGovern (D., Mass.), hosted six “religious leaders” from Cuba. They are official types, approved and sent by the dictatorship, “religious leaders” who denounce and bedevil the independently religious. They are also the kind to sign petitions denouncing human-rights activists and political prisoners. Every totalitarian dictatorship has had stooges of this sort. The Russian Jews who staffed the old Soviet Anti-Zionist Committee come to mind. The recent mission of the Cuban officials is to spread the lie that Cuba is a place of religious freedom, not religious (and other) persecution. The same week Flake and McGovern were hosting the Castroite stooges, Oscar Biscet, the Afro-Cuban physician and democracy leader, who draws his inspiration from the Bible, was being rearrested and savagely beaten. No hearing for him.
‐ Half a world away from Ukraine, but inspired partly by events there, protests against the poverty and oppression of Venezuela’s Chavista regime have led to battles in the streets, deaths, and arrests. The image of Génesis Carmona, a 22-year-old beauty queen, being carried to a hospital on a motorcycle after being shot in the head was particularly poignant (she died of her wound). But more than a dozen other protesters have shared her fate. Opposition leader Leopoldo López was merely arrested. Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s uncharismatic successor, has turned for help to Cuban enforcers. Not a peep from America’s lefty amen chorus (Sean Penn et al.), though Jared Leto to his credit praised Venezuelan (and Ukrainian) protesters in his Academy Award acceptance speech. Rightly so: It’s a drama, in real time, with no script, and no body doubles.
‐ Our old friend Moazzam Begg is back in the news. Remember him? He is probably Britain’s most famous jihadist. Trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, he was a Guantanamo prisoner for three years. He sued the British government, receiving a reported 1 million pounds in compensation. He founded a group called Cageprisoners, whose claim was that Guantanamo inmates are really human-rights victims. Amnesty International embraced this group, causing an uproar among AI’s friends. The other day, Begg was arrested, and he is facing a charge of instruction in terrorism, plus funding it. He certainly has the knowledge to do the one and the dough to do the other.
‐ Oriella Cazzanello, 85, of Arzignano, in northern Italy, went missing last month. Her relatives told the police. Eventually they were sent her ashes and a death certificate from Dignitas, a euthanasia clinic in Basel, Switzerland, where Cazzanello, who was in good health, had gone to end her life, paying 10,000 euros for the service. Sixteen percent of people who visit such facilities in Switzerland have no serious medical issues, according to a recent study from the University of Bern. Cazzanello is reported to have been sad about growing old and losing her looks. The principle of individual autonomy is an important value, but not the only one, and it has limits. The loved ones of those who have died from suicide tend to have strong opinions on the issue.
‐ To nary a squeak of regret or complaint, CNN announced in February that it would be putting Piers Morgan’s disastrous prime-time show out of its misery. Conservatives, especially, were cheered, relieved that Morgan’s crusade for expanded gun control, a subject on which he offered a heady mixture of unchecked passion and unbridled ignorance, would be coming to an end. But they were not alone. As the likes of Alistair Cooke and Craig Ferguson have shown, it is generally preferable for the recently arrived to admire the people that they have joined, and for them to attempt to comprehend where their political opponents are coming from. Morgan, whose mercurial career in British tabloid journalism did not prepare him well to be the successor to Larry King, did neither, exhibiting a reflexive disdain for his audience that alienated even his ideological allies. He was already disliked in Britain, and his American experiment appears to have served only to extend the territory in which he has thus far rendered himself unpopular. Good night, and good luck.
#page#‐ In February, climate scientist Michael Mann discovered that two could play at his game. Having accused Australian journalist Andrew Bolt of being a “threat to the planet” who was paid by Rupert Murdoch to “lie” to the general public, Mann was threatened with legal action. “Normally,” Bolt explained, “I do not sue.” In this case, though, he saw fit to make an exception, demanding that Mann rescind his allegations and apologize publicly — or “risk facing from me what you’ve done to Steyn.” Bolt’s irritation was well founded. As he noted, not only had Mann failed to identify a single lie in the course of his charge, but he had got basic details wrong to boot. Bolt isn’t paid by Rupert Murdoch, is one of the most popular commentators in Australia, and has nothing to do with the parody website to which Mann had linked. Recognizing his error, Mann backed down, removing the offending tweets and half-apologizing. “These are not necessarily lies,” he wrote, ungraciously. Not a great day’s work from a man who considers himself to be an arbiter of truth.
‐ Global warming is seemingly responsible for everything from the Cubs’ failure to win the World Series to the lousy second season of House of Cards. Now a study says it will increase crime, too — an extra “22,000 murders, 180,000 cases of rape, 1.2 million aggravated assaults, 2.3 million simple assaults, 260,000 robberies, 1.3 million burglaries, 2.2 million cases of larceny, and 580,000 cases of vehicle theft” in what’s left of the 21st century. The idea seems to be that, as one scholar explains, “to the extent that climate change causes people to be out and interacting more, there will be more crime.” Ah, that pesky human interaction — find a way to get rid of that and we’ll all be better off. To be sure, colder weather causes problems of its own (accidents, reduced agricultural yields, tongues stuck to lampposts), Alaska ranks third in per capita violent crime, and the national crime rate has dropped with the population shift to the Sunbelt. No matter; this is science, and every bit as rigorous as the climate-change projections on which the study was based.
‐ Last September, Robert van Tuinen, a student at Modesto Junior College in California, was passing out copies of the Constitution on campus in honor of national Constitution Day. But because he was standing outside the college’s designated free-speech zone and was distributing unapproved materials, van Tuinen was told by a campus police officer and a college administrator to stop his illicit activity. Supported by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, van Tuinen settled a lawsuit with the school, winning $50,000 in damages and forcing the school to repeal its restrictive policies. Sometimes a college administration’s best efforts cannot keep something educational from transpiring.
‐ “We, the Concerned Asian, Black, Latin@ [sic], Native, Undocumented, Queer, and Differently-Abled students at Dartmouth College, seek to eradicate systems of oppression as they affect marginalized communities on this campus.” So began an eight-page list of demands sent to Dartmouth faculty members by an unknown number of anonymous students. High on their list of over 100 demands was the immediate institution of racial quotas lifting the black, Latino, and Native American populations each to 10 percent of the student body. (Apparently, the quota was considered unnecessary for their Asian, undocumented, queer, and disabled peers.) Students should have to take multiple classes to challenge their “understanding of institutionalized justice around issues of race, class, gender, [and] sexuality,” and the term “illegal immigrant” must be henceforth banned. If their demands are not met by March 24, the students threaten “physical action.” Dartmouth’s response should be simple: Physical action will be met with expulsion.
‐ Speaking in favor of new food labels, first lady Michelle Obama presented shopping for groceries as a nearly unbearable ordeal. “So you marched into the supermarket, you picked up a can or a box of something, you squinted at that little tiny label, and you were totally and utterly lost. So there you stood, alone in some aisle in a store, the clock ticking away at the precious little time remaining to complete your weekly grocery shopping, and all you could do was scratch your head, confused and bewildered, and wonder, Is there too much sugar in this product? . . . So you felt defeated, and you just gave up and went back to buying the same stuff you always buy.” Ladies and gentlemen: This is how your rulers view you.
#page#‐Son of God, the new feature film about Jesus’ life that grew out of last year’s hit History Channel miniseries The Bible, has so far been a box-office success. Produced by actress Roma Downey, herself a believing Christian, and her reality-TV-producer husband Mark Burnett, the movie brings high production values to what is a mostly faithful retelling of the Gospels. There are a few cringeworthy embellishments — Jesus tells Peter at the outset that together they’re going to “change the world” — and Diogo Morgado, the Portuguese model turned telenovela star who plays Jesus, and who inspired the Twitter hashtag #hotjesus, looks more like a bearded Adonis than a Jewish carpenter. But while the first half of the film, which glides over the main events of Jesus’ public ministry, can feel schmaltzy, the depiction of the Passion does not. In any attempt to dramatize the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ life, there is the challenge not just of presenting the historical narrative of his incarnation, ministry, and death but of pointing toward their significance. The film falls short of the latter, admittedly difficult, aim, but that’s what the book’s for.
‐ It doesn’t happen every day, it only seems like it: a janitor throwing away a piece of modern art. Famously, it happened in 2001, when a janitor at a London art gallery threw away an opus by Damien Hirst — quite understandably. It has happened several times since. Most recently, it happened in Bari, Italy, when the cleaning lady threw away not one piece of modern art, but two. One of these creations included bits of cookie scattered on the floor. The lady’s boss said, “She was just doing her job.” And the janitorial service actually has insurance that covers this sort of thing. The two artworks are, or were, worth about $14,000. Question: To whom?
‐ A tractor-trailer overturned on U.S. 129 in Gainesville, Ga., “the poultry capital of the world,” back in January. None of the drivers involved in the accident were hurt, but avian passengers in the trailer were killed, and Sarah Segal has asked the Georgia Department of Transportation for permission to a build a ten-foot-tall tombstone in their honor. The monument would read, “In memory of the dozens of terrified chickens who died as a result of a truck crash. Go Vegan.” It would include an image of a chicken. PETA supports her initiative. Monty Python could not be reached for comment.
‐ You might say that Mike Parker was a man of letters. As director of typographic development at Mergenthaler Linotype Co. from 1959 to 1981, he oversaw the design of well over a thousand typefaces, many of which became industry standards in the days when type consisted of physical bits of metal and remain ubiquitous today, when everyone has a superabundance of fonts at his fingertips. Most notably, Parker was the guiding spirit behind Helvetica, the most famous and, to many, the most beautiful sans-serif typeface. Parker, a British native, graduated from Yale a year after Bill Buckley and served with the Corps of Engineers in Korea. Dead at 84. R.I.P.
‐ When Huber Matos was a 40-year-old schoolteacher, he made a mistake for which he paid for the rest of his life: He helped Fidel Castro come to power. Matos joined Castro’s rebellion against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, a tin-pot kleptocrat, then realized, shortly after Castro conquered Cuba in 1959, that he intended to hold on to it himself in the name of Communism. Dissent in the new Cuba was impossible; Castro shut Matos in prison for two decades, subject to savage beatings and years-long stretches of solitary confinement. Released in 1979, he moved to Venezuela, then Miami, where he tirelessly criticized Castro. “The system failed completely,” he said in 2009. At the end of February, as he lay prostrate from a heart attack, his last words were: “The struggle continues, long live a free Cuba.” Dead at 95. R.I.P. How long will the despots he helped, then scorned, continue to sit on their thrones?
‐ Trite as it may sound, a piece of history has died. Maria von Trapp was the last of the children — the last of the seven siblings portrayed in The Sound of Music. She was the third eldest. In the musical and movie, her name was changed to Louisa, so as not to cause confusion with the governess, also named Maria. The younger Maria spent most of her life in Stowe, Vt. She also worked as a lay missionary in Papua New Guinea, adopting a boy she met there. She did not ask to be famous, but she handled it well, living by all accounts a good and humble and useful life. Maria, born in 1914, as World War I was beginning, and made a refugee in World War II, has died at 99, in our own free and glorious country. R.I.P. — or rather, “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night.”
A Manufactured Crisis
The first and last thing to be said about the Ukraine crisis is that it was made in Moscow. Ukraine would today be enjoying the shabby peace of economic stagnation if Vladimir Putin had not coerced President Viktor Yanukovych into abandoning a modest free-trade deal with the European Union and joining a Moscow-led Zollverein. Ukrainians occupied the main square to protest this sale of their country, and when Yanukovych fired on the crowd repeatedly, he lost whatever democratic credentials he had enjoyed. But he fired the shots as Putin’s lieutenant.
When Yanukovych fled, Putin lost the first round of the crisis. He immediately set about winning the second. After Eastern Ukraine failed to rally to Yanukovych, thugs seized a few government buildings; in Crimea, Moscow simply occupied the province. It may seem that Putin is winning this round, but he has overreached twice, and the second gamble is still undecided. In most of Ukraine he is hated. To intervene further risks getting bogged down in a prolonged guerrilla war; to sit tight in Crimea could degenerate into an endless crisis; to withdraw would be a humiliation.
Some have tried to excuse Putin’s seizure of Crimea: Its population is majority Russian, and it was part of Russia as recently as 1954. But the world is full of disputed boundaries, and the general view is that they can be adjusted only by agreement among the nations concerned. Putin’s seizure of Crimea also violates the Budapest declaration of 1994, in which Russia and other nations guaranteed the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine in return for Kiev’s surrender of nuclear weapons. Putin’s violation of this agreement reveals his intentions to challenge the 1989 and 1991 velvet revolutions and claim Russian suzerainty wherever Russian interests are under threat.
This violation poses a special problem for the U.S. and Britain, because in the Budapest declaration they guaranteed Crimea’s status as part of Ukraine. They can’t simply shuffle off this crisis onto the U.N.; it is their responsibility. And all Western nations need to ensure that this episode ends in failure for Putin. While they must respect Russia’s legitimate security and geopolitical rights, Russia must accept that these do not include prohibiting other nations (as Russia has done in Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, and elsewhere) from exercising their own rights.
What all this implies is a two-sided policy. On one hand, the West should raise the costs — diplomatic, economic, financial, military — to Moscow of its adventure, while giving Ukraine the trade and financial help it needs. On the other hand, we must make clear, in public and private, that we would be happy to see a democratic Russia take its place as a senior partner in the Euro-Atlantic institutions that provide the world with its main leadership. The condition for Russia’s entry is that it must surrender the neo-imperial mindset that still shapes Russian foreign policy. If the West can quietly assist Putin to withdraw without losing face, we should do so. But we are more likely to be assisting his successor when that moment comes.