‐ President Obama says the United States will not tolerate Russia’s “brazen assault” on Ukraine. A discrete, tactful assault, on the other hand . . .
‐ That was quick. In the last week of August, the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., was held to be “just like” the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (Professor Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law School); the demonstrations and looting that followed portended “a new civil-rights movement” (Gwen Ifill, PBS). The summer ended and . . . what? We are left with a bereaved family; with a policeman who shot a young man, why and in what circumstances being questions not for street justice but for the slow, tenacious processes of the law; with a community whose QuikTrip gas station will not be rebuilt (the company said the franchise was barely breaking even before it was burned out); and with race hustlers and Democratic get-out-the-vote operatives (similar when not identical) pondering how to keep the spirit of Ferguson going for two more months. A local incident, whether it was a crime, a tragedy, or action in the line of duty, was blown up by anxiety, ill will, and media (both legacy and social) into a storm. We speak of Shark Week; Ferguson was Race Week, which in America seems to be every week.
‐ Having spent much of the summer signaling that President Obama would provide an administrative amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, the administration has begun to suggest it has cold feet. Doubtless its caution has something to do with the fact that Democrats in competitive Senate races have near-unanimously criticized the idea. An executive amnesty would be an extraordinary move, the presidential imposition of a policy that has heretofore been considered a decision for Congress. If it could be justified at all, it would be as a response to a national emergency. The administration’s apparent backing off demonstrates what critics of this order have been saying, which is that there is no such emergency, and the administration is trifling with our constitutional order for momentary political advantage.
‐ “If you want to see a transformational election,” Senator Rand Paul told Meet the Press, “let the Democrats put forward a war hawk like Hillary Clinton. . . . Were I to run,” he went on, “a lot of independents and even some Democrats [would] say, ‘You know what? We are tired of war.’” So Rand Paul is a make-war-no-more libertarian, a housebroken version of his father. But then Paul told the AP that if he were president, he would “call a joint session of Congress . . . lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security, and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.” Which sounds kind of war-hawkish. There should be an election in Rand Paul’s mind. Whichever way it goes, it could be transformational.
‐ In a recent interview, Ron Paul said that the U.S. government was covering up the truth about 9/11. “I believe that if we ever get the full truth, we’ll find out that our government had it in the records exactly what the plans were, or at least close to it.” He allowed, however, that Bush and Cheney did not commit the atrocities themselves: “Does that prove the fact that our president and others actually sat down and laid the plans and did this? I don’t think it does.” So, Mr. Paul has a moderate streak: Bush & Co. merely knew about al-Qaeda’s plans and allowed the 19 jihadists to carry them out. The former congressman went on to say, “Our own government did more harm to the liberties of the American people than bin Laden did.” Ron Paul is not just a lone eccentric on a street corner; he is a leader with a large following. That is a problem that straight-thinking people need to find ways of addressing.
‐ The campaigns are talking about Obamacare less and less. That’s not because it’s becoming more popular. It isn’t. It’s because it’s becoming more entrenched, and Republicans aren’t sure what to say about it. They have resisted coming up with specific health-care plans of their own, or even rough outlines of plans, for mostly bad reasons. They fear that an alternative plan will become a target; but so is the absence of a plan. The failure to say anything about Obamacare is of a piece with the party’s general silence about its agenda, which is based on the theory that to prevail, Republicans need only avoid mistakes and count on Obama’s unpopularity. The trouble is that this strategy does nothing to dispel the public’s many doubts and concerns about the Republican party. The GOP instinctively inverts Napoleon: Toujours la complaisance.
‐ The Obama administration retreated a little in its quest to coerce religious groups and religious business owners into providing contraceptives and abortifacients to their employees. It had been insisting that these objectors tell third-party administrators to cover these drugs; now it says that they need only notify the Department of Health and Human Services of their objections, and the department will then work with those administrators. The new regulation is a belated step in the right direction, but it would still force the Little Sisters of the Poor to facilitate the use of abortifacients when it hires someone. From the very beginning, the administration has allowed houses of worship to refuse to cover contraceptives and abortifacients and let their employees get them, if they choose, on their own. That’s the right policy for everyone, and especially for employers with moral scruples about these drugs: complete freedom from this regulation.
‐ What does it take for Paul Krugman to deem a government program a “miracle”? Not much: Try the gradual reduction of a program’s unfunded liabilities from the 13-figure range to the 13-figure range. “The Medicare Miracle,” as Krugman called it, is the finding by government actuaries that much slower growth in health-care costs over the past decade has substantially improved the outlook on Medicare’s finances. The slowdown is real, and helpful: The program is spending about $1,000 less per patient right now than the Congressional Budget Office had projected in 2010 that it would. But there’s little reason to think this will last, as the Medicare Miracle was actually the Great Recession Miracle, which has held down health spending across insurance systems and around the world. The program is still unsustainable: As Chris Conover points out in Forbes, its future shortfall is twice the size of its projected revenues, running to tens of trillions of dollars. As the program’s actuaries write: “It is necessary to expend every effort” to bring “costs more in line with society’s ability to afford them.” A few more miracles will be needed.
#page#‐ Facing formidable resistance, the Obama administration has abandoned its pursuit of a legally binding climate-change treaty. It will work instead to broker a non-binding agreement at the United Nations climate-change conference in Paris in October of next year. Nations that fail to comply with the agreement would be “named and shamed,” a strategy that has been tried and proven to be as ineffectual as it sounds, as Japan demonstrated last year when it simply ignored the Copenhagen Accord of 2009 and announced that it would increase, not cut, its emissions. No treaty was ever likely to get the necessary two-thirds majority of the Senate. And China, India, and other developing nations do not seem likely to make real economic sacrifices to comply with the desires of First World environmentalists. Hence the retreat into fantasy.
‐National Review has been joined in its legal defense against the climate scientist Michael Mann by a number of groups supportive of freedom of speech. Among those that have either filed or co-filed complementary amicus briefs are the ACLU, NBCUniversal, Reuters, Bloomberg News, the Chicago Tribune, McClatchy Company, the Los Angeles Times, Time Inc., the Washington Post, the National Press Club, the National Press Photographers Association, National Public Radio, Dow Jones & Company, the Seattle Times, the Arizona Republic, Politico LLC, the Detroit Free Press, the publishers of USA Today, The New Criterion, the Cato Institute, the Daily Caller, the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Society of News Editors, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, and — remarkably — the District of Columbia itself. “A participant in the ‘rough-and-tumble’ of public debate” such as Mann, the ACLU’s brief explained, “should not be able to use a lawsuit like this to silence his critics. . . . Because the statements are quintessential opinions about the validity of Mann’s scientific methods and conclusions, they are entitled to full constitutional protection.” This vital and uncontroversial principle — a bedrock of American liberty — evidently enjoys widespread and heartfelt support across the political and literary spectrums. It must be upheld in the courts, too.
‐ The College Board, the private nonprofit that manages the SAT and Advanced Placement exams, has come out with a new framework for U.S. history courses, one heavily influenced by a group of scholars committed to “internationalizing” the study of American history. The motive here is explicitly political rather than scholarly: Historians connected to the effort, including New York University’s David Bender, link the traditional approach to U.S. history to a “hegemonic” and “unilateralist” view of world affairs, the “acceptance of the nation as the dominant form of human solidarity,” etc., leaving Americans, in their view, more willing to support military campaigns such as the Iraq War. The Republican National Committee has denounced the new standards, and Republicans in Tennessee have registered their opposition to the “revisionist” approach. The College Board says this is all a big misunderstanding, a result of its encouragement of conceptual thinking. Given that the typical U.S. high-schooler thinks that the French and Indian War was a feud between Napoleon Dynamite and Apu from the Kwik-E-Mart, a more concrete approach might be in order. We would prefer a history curriculum that invests students with a measure of pride in the unique achievements of this country; for that, the facts are sufficient.
‐ Abortion clinics in Texas and Louisiana won cases in federal district courts, at least temporarily voiding laws that required them to take more precautions for their patients’ safety. Liberals say these laws do not improve patient safety but merely add onerous costs that can shut down clinics: a view of regulation that they sadly fail to extend to any enterprise other than feticide. The courts ruled that these regulations impose an “undue burden” on the right to abortion, which the Supreme Court has said is impermissible. Since it is entirely unclear which burdens are “undue,” the high court should step in — and offer the constitutional answer, which is that all the courts should step out and let the rules be set democratically.
‐ Cynthia and Robert Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke, N.Y., decided to stop renting their property as a wedding venue after a judge ruled that they must accommodate weddings for same-sex couples. In addition, he fined them $13,000 for refusing to host the wedding of two women, who were, however, welcome to rent the property for their reception. The Giffords have hosted other events for same-sex couples and have employed gay staffers. This track record should be enough to establish that the owners’ objection to the wedding itself was not motivated by animus. Through their attorney, the Giffords explain that they are Christians who cannot in good conscience facilitate ceremonies that directly contradict their religiously informed conviction about the nature of marriage. The movement for same-sex marriage is now well into its punitive phase.
#page#Cutting Fat from the Budget
Over my lifetime, the advice of nutritionists has varied greatly. For a while, I was supposed to shun butter and replace it with margarine; then it was the reverse. Diets with lots of whole-grain carbohydrates were great, but high-protein regimens, like the Atkins diet, were dangerous. Through it all, the only lesson I have been able to draw from nutritionists is that they should be studiously ignored.
Yet anecdotally, many of my friends in recent years have reduced their carbohydrate consumption and raved about both the weight loss and the general feeling of well-being that resulted. Now a new study suggests that nutritional advice may finally have converged, and that high-protein diets that are low in carbs may be the key to a healthy life.
The new evidence appears in an article in Annals of Internal Medicine that reports the results of a randomized trial that assigned obese individuals to two groups. One spent a year on a low-fat diet, the other on a low-carb diet. The lead authors were Lydia A. Bazzano and Tian Hu of Tulane University.
The results were dramatic. Both groups lost weight, but the low-carb group radically outperformed the low-fat group. On average, the 75 people in the low-carb group lost about twelve pounds over twelve months, compared with four pounds for the low-fat group. Just about every other metric associated with health, from cholesterol levels to blood pressure, improved as well.
Of course, we live in an obese society. According to the CDC, more than a third of U.S. adults are currently obese. The extra weight carries with it large health risks that cost real money. A CBO report estimates that being obese increases the average person’s annual health expenditures by $1,530.
This suggests a thought experiment. What if every overweight or obese American went on an Atkins diet and stayed on it for a year? The benefit would spread out into the future if they adopted practices that locked in the weight loss. The nearby chart, based on the study, and my own calculations reveal what would happen to health spending in the U.S. between 2015 and 2024 if the obese population stayed on Atkins for varying lengths of time.
To estimate the bars, we took data from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey on the weight distribution of Americans, and assumed that everyone in that distribution would have the mean response in the study. This resulted in a large reduction in the percentage of Americans who are obese, and for each of these, we recorded a savings of $1,530. The totals over ten years are amazing: $423 billion if all obese Americans diet for one year, and almost a trillion dollars if they diet for three.
Results like these have led some, such as Michael Bloomberg, to propose taxes on sugar and other carbohydrates, with the argument that we all foot the medical bills for the obese. That analysis begins with the presumption that medicine is socialized. If it were privatized, there would be a much higher chance of seeing the results in the chart. After all, saving an abstract $1,530 in health spending as a society is hardly a motivation to diet. But if someone’s insurance company could share some of that $1,530 with him, then we might find ourselves receiving thousand-dollar bribes from private insurers to take up the Atkins diet. A thousand dollars, one might presume, would be incentive enough for most Americans to stop ignoring the advice of nutritionists.
#page#‐ In August, at a public shooting range in Arizona, a nine-year-old girl killed her instructor with an Uzi. Having allowed his young student to try the weapon in single-shot mode, the trainer put the gun into full-auto. When the girl pulled the trigger, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, she “lost control” and the weapon “drifted left” toward the instructor. Hit by an unknown number of 9-millimeter rounds, he died instantly. There is no kind way to put this but to observe that putting such a powerful weapon in the hands of a small and unprepared child represents gross negligence, and that the range, the deceased instructor, and the girl’s parents should all be ashamed of themselves. Typically, young students are limited to weaker calibers such as .22LR, and to firearms that feature solid long-stocks and are thus easier for them to control. Handing a firearm to someone untrained or unable to use it is akin to handing the keys to an 18-wheeler to a student driver. America’s gun laws reasonably presume that adults will use their liberty responsibly. In Arizona, tragically, they did not.
‐ Assuming the GOP retains the House in November, House Republicans will have, among other things, to select a new chairman for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The current chairman, California representative Darrell Issa, is completing a six-year term. The Republicans should choose Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz. Since his election to Congress in 2008, Chaffetz has made the work of the committee his first priority. The next chairman needs to be someone willing to leverage the powers of the position fearlessly but judiciously, and we believe Chaffetz has the right judgment for striking this balance. He is a regular guest on radio and television, and he has reliably made his arguments, not himself, the issue. Given the predilections of this president, the committee is sure to have a very busy two years.
‐ Shortly after leaving office in 2011, Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan, joined the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, her alma mater. This semester she’s leading a seminar on “creating jobs through better government policies for innovation and education.” It’s a curious teaching assignment when you consider that Michigan lost 576,900 jobs during her eight years as governor. For 45 consecutive months during that period, Michigan led the nation in unemployment. Granholm presided over annual deficits of $1.5 billion and supported tax hikes that just might have had something to do with Michigan’s loss of businesses and population under her watch. Berkeley seems to have taken too much to heart the saying that those who can’t, teach.
‐ Pakistani men sexually exploited at least 1,400 children in Rotherham, England, from 1997 to 2013. The abuse was facilitated by local government leaders, social-services workers, and law-enforcement personnel who, for reasons of cultural sensitivity, refused to investigate. The “Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham” details the stomach-turning abuse Rotherham-area children suffered for nearly two decades: rape, beating, mock execution, trafficking. Victims’ families were terrorized. One victim reported that “‘gang rape’ was a usual part of growing up” in her part of Rotherham. But when a Home Office researcher reported this to local authorities in 2002, she was assigned to a “diversity and ethnicity” class. Even when a teenage victim identified — by name — 250 men who had raped her, police refused to pursue the case. So devoted were they to their multicultural ideals, officials kept silent and perpetuated a very real “rape culture,” doubly victimizing Rotherham’s young.
‐ David Cameron and the Tory party were jolted by the defection of Douglas Carswell, MP for Clacton, to the anti-EU party UKIP. Carswell also announced that he would resign his seat and run again in a by-election this fall, which would be an early test of UKIP’s strength (one quickie poll showed him with a huge lead). For years UKIP, led by the suavely bumptious Nigel Farage, was able to win seats only (ironically enough) in the European Parliament in Brussels. The Carswell gambit represents a psychological breakthrough. After years in the wilderness, Cameron and the Tories calculated that they could return to power only by edging left. But Cameron has by now alienated much of the Tory base. Cameron will have to show considerable savvy to keep his party in line, and Labour at bay.
#page#‐ Millions of Scots live all around the world, but on September 18 only the residents of Scotland will have the right to vote in a referendum to determine whether that country stays in the 300-year-old union with England or chooses independence. In the polls, No-to-independence has so far been in the lead, but now by only six points — 53 percent to 47 percent, closing and apparently becoming too close to call. Campaigning for Yes-to-independence, the Scottish Nationalist party for a long while seemed a tartan pastime for cranks. Alex Salmond, the SNP’s current leader and the smoothest of demagogues, has persuaded many fellow Scots that they’d be better off without the English. Speaking for No is Alistair Darling, former chancellor of the Exchequer and rather a rigid character. In a couple of television debates, Darling and Salmond went for each other on all fronts: the economy, the currency, defense, the health service. What to the former is unacceptable gambling that carries too high a price is, to the latter, a sure step toward equality and justice. Division and resentment are on the rise. Twitter insults pour in to celebrities supporting the No campaign, such as Dame Judi Dench, Beatle Paul McCartney, and J. K. Rowling, who contributed a million pounds; and thugs break up meetings and throw eggs at No speakers. There’ll always be an England, but Alex Salmond has managed to put the future of Great Britain at risk.
‐ Gao Zhisheng is one of the best people in all of China. He is a human-rights lawyer and Christian who has stuck up for Falun Gong practitioners and other persecuted minorities in China. He has, of course, been repeatedly imprisoned and tortured. He was released from his latest incarceration in early August. For three years, he had been kept in a small cell without access to reading material, television, or human beings. Guards were instructed not to speak to him. They fed him a single slice of bread and a single piece of cabbage once a day. And they or other agents of the government tortured him in further ways. He has lost his teeth. He can barely talk. He can only mutter, unintelligibly. They have turned him into a zombie. Such is the fate of the best in China.
‐ Democracy-minded people in Hong Kong wanted to elect their own chief executive freely in 2017. The Chinese Communist Party has said no: The CCP, not the citizens of Hong Kong, will control the process by, essentially, vetting candidates before they may appear on a ballot. The CCP has not been shy about showing who’s boss: Its agents raided the home of Jimmy Lai, the media entrepreneur who is one of the most prominent faces of Chinese democracy. One can understand the CCP’s position entirely: If Chinese people in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and elsewhere feel they have the right to govern themselves, other Chinese might get the idea that they have the same right.
‐ The most common male name in Oslo is not “Per,” “Bjørn,” or “Knut.” It’s “Mohammed.” A Norwegian statistician was quoted as saying, “It is very exciting.” That is one way to put it. If Norway’s Muslim population integrates — if all those little Mohammeds become Norwegians — then life will proceed peacefully. If such integration does not occur, the statistician may find the demographics more exciting than he desires.
‐ After the wrecking-ball thing and the twerking thing, Miley Cyrus decided to do a little of the serious thing. She brought Jesse Helt, a 22-year-old homeless man, to the MTV Video Music Awards to accept her trophy and talk about the plight of America’s 1.6 million homeless kids. Then came the details. Helt turned out to be wanted for jumping probation in Oregon (for breaking into the apartment of a pot dealer). Cyrus had been steered to him by Trevor Neilson, a good-works impresario in L.A. (the New York Times calls him “charity fixer to the stars”). Accurate figures for homeless youth are hard to come by, but 1.6 million seems to be too high. Helt has turned himself in to Oregon authorities; Cyrus has promised to keep helping him; those who work with the lost, the crazy, and the criminal will work on. Vanity has long been a motive for charity (patrons who subsidized churches or hospitals in the Middle Ages depicted themselves in the dedicatory art, kneeling before Christ or the Virgin). If the results are good, may goodwill follow.
‐ In Winooski, Vt., the owners of Sneakers Bistro took down a sign advertising their bacon, after a Muslim woman complained that it was insensitive to people who don’t eat pork. On Facebook, the owners wrote, “We removed the sign that was located on public property as a gesture of respect for our diverse community.” No such respect had been extended to Vermont’s vegetarians, for some reason.
‐ Seattle residents see fit to keep among them a statue of Lenin. Every once in a while, someone paints the old monster’s hands red, as happened recently. Normally, we object to vandalism, but a statue of Lenin is not normal, at least in America. What’s the difference between Lenin and Stalin? Lenin didn’t live as long to kill as many as Stalin, and has enjoyed much better PR. By the way, do you remember the classic limerick by Robert Conquest? “There was an old bastard named Lenin / Who did two or three million men in. / That’s a lot to have done in / But where he did one in / That old bastard Stalin did ten in.”
‐ A South Carolina high-school student was handcuffed and arrested in a dispute that began when he wrote, as part of a creative-writing assignment, that he had shot his neighbors’ pet dinosaur. Students had been told to compose a creative Facebook status update, and the student, with the appropriately Flintstonian name of Alex Stone, gave a whimsical response, never imagining that it would be taken seriously. In a rational world, he might have been asked to tone the piece down a bit. Instead, his locker and book bag were searched, he was suspended for several days, and when he protested irately, the police were called and Alex was charged with disturbing the peace. Dinosaurs can now rest safely.
The ISIS Strategy
When President Obama said that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with ISIS, that was not precisely true. We have had a strategy throughout his administration: a bad one that has fostered the growth of ISIS, among other problems.
Obama wanted to get the United States out of Iraq. That he did, leaving, as Prospero put it, not a rack behind. When the Assad regime in next-door Syria first began to tremble, the president was determined to keep hands off. Both game plans — facets of the same one — were pursued with some rhetorical deviations (Obama spoke briefly of red lines in Syria) but practical consistency.
The results are before us. The anti-Assad rebellion in Syria has fallen almost entirely into the hands of Islamist terrorists; they then capitalized on Sunni discontent with a Shiite administration no longer beholden to us to seize the northwest corner of Iraq. The cleansing of Christians and Yazidis and the attacks on Kurdistan are the battlefield markers of the new binational terror state.
The proximate threat to the West is the legions of disaffected young Muslims rallying to the black flag, in the hope of returning home to spread carnage — funded by masters enriched by the spoils of conquest. Think of it as al-Qaeda 2.0, in an oil-rich environment a short hop from Europe.
An anti-ISIS strategy calls for America to bomb in both Iraq and Syria. We should also put Special Forces on the ground, for spotting and for vetting what potential local allies there may be. (The Sunni tribes of Iraq were bought once before; they could be again.) It will require a firm hand on the Iraqi prime minister–to–be, Haider al-Abadi, to restrain him from following the counterproductively bullying ways of his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.
We have allies already. The Kurds can stay afloat only with our help. Jordan surely knows that ISIS may target it next. The Saudis must be induced to see the light. We have ill-wishers too. Qatar and Turkey are fickle mischief-makers. The Iranians would be happy to use us indirectly to prop up Assad, and to embroil us in conflict with anyone but themselves.
We cleared the board of the Middle East of one dangerous piece: Saddam Hussein. At great cost we then kept al-Qaeda from taking over a swath of Iraq. We should not shirk from guarding that anti-terrorist achievement.
David Cameron, announcing Britain’s determination to confront ISIS, spoke soberly and well: “We are in the middle of a generational struggle against a poisonous and extremist ideology, which I believe we will be fighting for the rest of my political lifetime.” We must “be patient and resolute.” Nota bene, Mr. President.
At the Brink
In mid August the Ukraine crisis seemed to be moving toward a diplomatic solution in talks scheduled in Minsk between Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, with European Union officials hovering in the background offering advice and incentives for a peaceful settlement. On the battlefield the Ukrainian army was advancing steadily and regaining territory from the “pro-Russian” forces (i.e., Ukrainian separatists, Russian regulars, and mercenaries hired by Russia to strengthen the separatist side). It seemed that the peace talks would ratify a Ukrainian victory.
Only a few days before the two presidents met, however, well-equipped Russian regular forces crossed the border into eastern Ukraine in large numbers and began to reverse the earlier gains made by the Ukrainians. At the same time other Russian regulars invaded southern Ukraine and seemed likely to capture the port of Mariupol and, if they were to succeed, to create a corridor linking Mariupol and the seacoast to other rebel-held areas. The fighting has intensified on both sides; refugees from it are arguably numbered in the hundreds of thousands; it has included apparent war crimes such as the massacre of almost 200 Ukrainian troops who were offered a safe passage and then ambushed by “pro-Russians”; and the screws are tightening in Russia on those civil-society organizations that publicize the secret funerals of Russian soldiers killed in battle.
Surely only very substantial gains could justify this stepped-up Russian aggression? What might they be? As Peter Pomerantsev has argued in his study (for the Legatum Institute) of Putin’s postmodern, media-driven dictatorship, knowing the Russian president’s real intentions is extremely difficult. His aggressive war-making is as likely to be a fraud as his diplomatic offers. In this case, however, he seems to have two objectives. The first is to ensure that the talks in Minsk ratify Russian gains on the battlefield rather than the Ukrainian recovery of almost all its territory outside Crimea. Successful negotiations in Minsk would have earlier ratified a clear Ukrainian victory, which would have been a massive setback for Russia and an unmitigated defeat for Putin personally. The second objective — as statements by Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, make clear — is to secure an “autonomous” region of eastern Ukraine that would . . . well, do what?
Poroshenko has already offered a decentralized political system for Ukraine that would allow local autonomy and protect the culture and rights of ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers. Before this crisis started almost a year ago, incidentally, Crimea was already an autonomous region. But what would be the rights of the inhabitants of the autonomous parts of eastern Ukraine? Would they be able to reject in elections the “pro-Russian” thugs and mercenaries who now rule them? Or would they find themselves in exactly the sort of authoritarian slum ruled by a political mafia that was the reason ordinary Ukrainians wanted to choose “Europe” over Russia’s Eurasian Union in the first place? And would the political representatives of the eastern autonomous region, whether sent to Kiev by election or by appointment, enjoy a blocking veto over the decisions of Kiev’s central government? If so, that would give the Kremlin indirect control of the political decisions of a sovereign government and a license to destabilize Ukraine indefinitely. Kiev will not agree to autonomy if it comes accompanied by such arrangements — and it would be right to reject them.
It is a fact of international life that diplomatic settlements always require concessions from both sides. Kiev has already conceded — de facto if not yet de jure — the loss of Crimea and the extension of a reasonable degree of autonomy to eastern Ukraine. It would be unreasonable to demand more — and, further, additional demands would not be accepted by the Ukrainian political system. If Poroshenko were to concede them, he would fall from power. Putin cannot admit that he has already made a major concession by accepting the loss of four-fifths of Ukraine that he controlled by proxy a year ago (if indeed he has genuinely accepted it). He will therefore doubtless seek the unreasonable degree of autonomy sketched out above. If he fails in that, as seems likely, then he will seek guarantees from Kiev, Brussels, and Washington that Ukraine be kept permanently out of the European Union and/or that eastern Ukraine be admitted into his Eurasian Union. Those are likely to be limits of compromise on both sides.
If any such deal is to be possible, then the West will have to lean heavily on both sides to achieve it. What are the specific interests of the West, coldly considered, in this crisis? One important interest, as Anne Applebaum has harrowingly reminded us, is to avoid a major European war exactly a century after the civilizational suicide of 1914. Another is not to respond to Putin’s aggression in such a craven and short-sighted way as to invite a slightly different European war some years in the future. A third is to prevent the current crisis from slithering into a combination of smaller but endless war and deepening recession that harms everyone more or less equally and produces social disorders on the scale of 1919. It is not easy to combine all these interests, and it may prove impossible to do so. But the following blend of policies — not necessarily in the following order — seems to offer the prospect of a compromise that is neither a defeat nor appeasement.
First, tighten sanctions so that Russia suffers enough to make it reluctant to wage aggressive war again — and, not coincidentally, prop up both international rules and the post–Cold War settlement.
Second, quietly take Putin aside and tell him (a) that Washington will train and arm Ukrainian forces to enable Ukraine to resist Russia indefinitely and (b) that unless his policy changes soon, the Europeans will indict him in the International Criminal Court for waging aggressive war.
Third, persuade Poroshenko to accept an apparent balance in trade relationships between the EU and the Eurasian Union in return for a Western aid program to Kiev on the scale and generosity of the Marshall Plan.
Last, establish a commission under a respected European political leader — Janos Martonyi, Hungary’s former foreign minister, would be an excellent choice — to regulate and report on the exercise of powers between Kiev and Donetsk and to ensure that democratic rights are protected in the east.
And if something like this is to be done, it were well it were done quickly. With every additional death, with every new refugee, with every massacre that comes to light, the threat of a major war looms larger. After a while, as the 1914–18 war illustrates, the number of deaths in a war ceases to be an incentive for peace and comes to be seen as an obligation not to betray the fallen.
President Barack Obama has discovered patriotism. The man who once sneered at the wearing of flag lapel pins — “I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest” — has gone full jingo, though he remains slightly unclear on the concept: He is demanding that Brazilians pay unusually high U.S. corporate taxes in the name of “patriotism.”
At issue is the case of Burger King Worldwide, purveyor of flame-broiled hamburgers, a firm currently headquartered in Miami but owned by a Brazilian financial concern. Like a number of other large, complex, international firms, Burger King is planning an “inversion,” meaning that it will merge with a foreign company, in this case Canada’s Tim Hortons, and relocate its legal corporate domicile to Canada, where its non-U.S. operations will escape the ravening maw of the Internal Revenue Service.
The U.S. corporate-tax code is an ugly and unusual beast: It imposes the highest top rate in the developed world, but a swamp of political favoritism and exemptions ensures that many firms with friends in Washington pay relatively low corporate taxes — or none at all, in some years. Along with North Korea and Zimbabwe, the United States takes the highly unusual approach of taxing all of the non-U.S. operations of U.S.-based firms, meaning that American companies doing business in any given country abroad will always pay the higher tax rate as between that country and the United States. In addition to the taxes themselves, this imposes substantial compliance costs: A Canadian company’s operations in Poland need only comply with the Polish tax code, but a U.S. company’s operations in Poland must file both Polish and U.S. taxes and pay the higher rate. Thus countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom, which are not Cayman-style tax havens, are more attractive to some U.S.-based multinationals.
President Obama has denounced companies that have elected against imposing unnecessary tax burdens on themselves as “corporate deserters” and has demanded of them a show of “economic patriotism.” If such patriotism means acting in the best economic interests of the United States, then it requires us to engage in a deep and thoroughgoing reform of the U.S. tax code, which rewards political cronies and drives companies, capital, and jobs overseas. It takes a special kind of stupidity to create a tax regime under which a fast-food hamburger company decides that Ontario is preferable to Miami.