The Morning Jolt

Obama’s Stubborn Refusal to See Putin for What He Is

A reader asked, “What on earth is [John] Kerry thinking? We can’t work with Russia.”

Diplomats never want to admit they can’t work with someone, because then they’re admitting they’ve failed. So they pretend to get along, or that a workable compromise is within reach, just a few summits away:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a strained press conference alongside Russia’s Foreign Minister just hours after the country gave the U.S. an hour’s warning to remove its forces before beginning air strikes in Syria.

The two countries had faced off at the United Nations Security Council meeting over parallel air campaigns against Islamic State in Syria today — with Kerry telling the council Russia’s warning would be ignored.

Both sides claimed legitimacy for their actions, but differed over the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Afterwards, in a tense address to the press after the meeting, both sides insisted the meeting had been ‘constructive’, but did not answer any questions from reporters.

Kerry said that the U.S. and Russian militaries could hold talks as early as Thursday to ensure that they do not inadvertently come into conflict in their respective air strikes in Syria.

But Kerry told the Security Council that, while coalition operations would continue, Washington would welcome Russian strikes if they were genuinely aimed at Islamic State or other militant groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.

I know this will stun you, but Russia is not, in fact, hitting ISIS:

An analysis of the topography shown in the video by a team of Russian bloggers who honed their craft parsing social media evidence of the war in Ukraine suggested that the strikes had taken place in a part of Syria controlled not by the Islamic State but by rival insurgent groups that oppose both Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and the Islamic State.

The unwritten rules of diplomacy — at least as practiced by this administration — is that it’s considered rude to point out that another country is blatantly lying. We have to treat Russia’s intervention as if it might be a genuine effort to fight extremist forces, instead of a clumsy, deadly effort to prop up a client regime through brute force. To confront them with the contrary evidence might worsen “the relationship” — a supposition that implies there is a working relationship to salvage.

Liberals weren’t always like this. Adlai Stevenson wasn’t afraid to call out Soviet ambassador Valerian Zorin during the Cuban missile crisis with the whole world watching: “Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the U.S.S.R. has placed and is placing medium- and intermediate-range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no? Don’t wait for the translation, yes or no!?” After Zorin declined to answer, Stevenson unveiled aerial photography demonstrating that yes, Russia was doing exactly what they had just denied doing.

Russia lies all the time. They insisted the Malaysian jetliner was shot down by a fighter jet. They lied about Russian forces in Ukraine. Putin boasted about how people believed his lies about sending troops into Crimea.

It’s easy to forget Putin spent his entire early adult life in the service of a regime that was willing to relentlessly repeat the biggest lies imaginable about the most important issues. The old Soviet Union didn’t say anything at all about the Chornobyl nuclear meltdown for two days. Six days later, May Day parades and events went on as scheduled, including in Kiev, 90 miles from the still-burning, radioactive-cloud-emitting plant. No warnings to the local population were made until nearly two weeks later. Mikhail Gorbachev didn’t mention anything about it in public for nearly three weeks. The number of radiation-related cancer deaths in Eastern Europe may reach the tens of thousands.

To Putin, these were the good old days. He and the other men and women of the old KGB are ruthless liars who don’t care how many people get killed. The Obama administration has been in psychological denial about this since the “reset button” ceremony.

There is a longstanding American tradition of refusing to believe that hostile states and leaders are genuinely hostile, and insisting that they can be brought to reason if we just reach out to them correctly. There’s an oft-repeated anecdote of Senator William Borah saying, in September 1939, after Germany invaded Poland, “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler — all this might have been averted.”

What’s fascinating is that foreign-policy minds who have no problem seeing their country as the villain in the narrative — calling for “respect” and “empathy” for our enemies — somehow can’t believe that their opponents actually hate them.

Vladimir Putin hates us. I know, it isn’t fair. Most of us have never met the guy. But he thinks his country should be the biggest, baddest dog on the block, and up until recently, we held that title. He wants us taken down a peg at every possible opportunity.

Mitt Romney called it back in 2012, “This is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe. They fight for every cause for the world’s worst actors.” Obama scoffed at the assessment as outdated Cold War thinking.

Wednesday, the Daily Beast’s senior national-security correspondent, Nancy Youssef, tweeted, “Overheard at the Pentagon: ‘Right now, we are Putin’s prison bitch.’”

It’s not that hard to get a sense of what Russia’s trying to do once you stop insisting that Putin is just like us. Here’s Marco Rubio at the debate, two weeks ago:

It’s pretty straightforward: He wants to reposition Russia once again as a geopolitical force. He himself said that the destruction of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Soviet Union, was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. And now he’s trying to reverse that. He’s trying to destroy NATO. He is exploiting a vacuum that this administration has left in the Middle East. Here’s what you’re going to see in the next few weeks: The Russians will begin to fly combat missions in that region — not just targeting ISIS, but in order to prop up Assad.

An unnerving prediction from Ralph Peters:

You bet President Obama’s afraid of Putin. Physically, tangibly, change-the-diaper afraid.

And as I wrote in these pages on Monday, the odds are good that Putin will order the shootdown of a US drone or even a manned aircraft, anyway. Why? Because he can.

And he enjoys it.

Hillary’s Lie about Classified Material Just Keeps Getting Bigger and Bigger

Hillary in August: “I have said repeatedly that I did not send nor receive classified material, and I’m very confident that when this entire process plays out that will be understood by everyone.”

The news today: “At least 400 emails that Hillary Clinton sent or received through her private computer server while secretary of state contained classified material, according to the State Department’s latest update Wednesday from its ongoing review of more than 30,000 emails.”

You’ll never actually get Hillary to stop running until she’s defeated, but something like this really should end a campaign. The only two options are (1) she lied, and lied big, and lied emphatically, and lied repeatedly, and lied shamelessly about life-and-death issues of national security or (2) she simply has no idea what’s classified and what isn’t, and did so in the job of Secretary of State for four years.

Which is worse?

I Guess You Can’t Have a Unity Candidate If You Don’t Have Any Unity

Various conservative groups are already beginning a “Fire Kevin McCarthy” campaign (in an effort that looks like it’s mostly focused on collecting e-mail addresses).

I’m assured by certain readers that this is three-level chess, and the hostility to McCarthy will make him more likely to want to keep the conservatives happy.

In the meantime . . . no, not much unity behind any alternative.

“You had people on both sides, some saying ‘you’re bringing down rules, but you’re not offering your own candidate;’ and the other side saying ‘look, we have a legitimate right to exist just like the [moderate Republican] Tuesday Group does,’” House Homeland Security chairman Michael McCaul tells National Review. “I think it’s important that the next speaker and majority leader find a way to connect to the 40-or-so.” A series of speeches on the need for regular order in the legislative process — “motherhood and apple pie,” as another House Republican describes it – did not achieve that.

ADDENDA: Good news, Morning Jolt readers! I’ve been told by the Publishing Powers That Be to not harangue you about Heavy Lifting until we’re much closer to the October 26 release date! Even though you can get it for almost seven bucks off the cover price on Amazon right now!

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