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Worried about Russia? Then Keep an Eye on Germany’s Former Chancellor

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (right) and German former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (center) greet Vladimir Putin, who is sworn as Russian President during an inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia May 7, 2018. (Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why those concerned about Russia should be paying a lot more attention to former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder; the Eastern European NATO members’ baffling and self-destructive decision to skimp on defense spending; why Judge Kavanaugh’s clerks loved him; and the United States approaches a new threshold of energy power.

Why Is Germany’s Former Chancellor Now Putin’s Chief Lobbyist in Europe?

A lot of folks in the United States will scream furiously about this statement from President Trump at the NATO Summit:

“I have to say, I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia,” Trump said at a breakfast with NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg. “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that’s very inappropriate . . . Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia.”

As usual, Trump is down the street and around the corner from a legitimate point. Well, perhaps he’s a bit closer this time. If you think Trump’s past business connections to Russian figures are troubling, you probably ought to be livid about how former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s has decided to become the chief lobbyist for Vladimir Putin in Europe.

One of Schroeder’s last acts in office in 2005 was authorizing “Nord Stream,” a pipeline bypassing key territories and controlled by Russia’s Gazprom energy company. Shortly after leaving office, Vladimir Putin arranged for Schroeder to chair the project, and then he started pushing for a second pipeline, Nord Stream 2. Instead of diversifying Europe’s energy supply, Schroeder’s pushed policies that make the continent more dependent upon Russia, not less. In September 2017, Putin arranged for Schroeder to become chairman of Rosneft, the state-owned Russian oil giant.

The Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins wrote earlier this year that Schroeder is exactly the kind of wealthy, well-connected, influential figure acting on behalf of Russia that U.S. sanctions are supposed to target:

Germany’s allies and its European Union partners, including the quietly frantic Poles and Balts, can’t quite refer to Mr. Schroeder as a Putin agent nestled in the heart of Germany’s political and business elite. His name doesn’t appear on any U.S. government list. Section 241 of last summer’s sanctions law required the U.S. Treasury to identify the ‘most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs’ behind the Putin regime. These descriptors would seem to apply to Mr. Schroeder but it remains diplomatically impermissible to say so.

Lately, Schroeder has been hanging out with Putin at the World Cup. How is it, in an era when U.S. politics is suddenly deeply concerned — some would say paranoid — about Russian influence, that Schroeder’s cheerful embrace of lobbying for Russia has barely made a ripple on this side of the pond? The cynical answer is that most of those screaming the loudest about Russia today don’t think of Putin as sinister because of his lack of criticism of Trump; they think of Trump as sinister because of his lack of criticism of Putin. Indeed, Russia shot down a passenger airliner over Ukraine in 2014, and it was out of the news within a week.

But their cynicism doesn’t change the fact that Russia is generally hostile to American policies under presidents of either party, and Vladimir Putin would love to see the NATO alliance collapse. Their military actions in Georgia and Crimea demonstrate that when the Russians think they can get away with naked aggression, they’ll try it.

In that light, the reluctance of some NATO members to honor their agreements and spend the required 2 percent of GDP on military spending is baffling. In 2017, just four member states hit that 2 percent threshold — the United States (3.57 percent), Greece (2.36 percent), the United Kingdom (2.12 percent), and Estonia (2.08 percent), and we’ll give Poland the benefit of the doubt because it hit 1.99 percent.

Tiny Luxembourg ranked last, spending less than one-half of 1 percent on their military. Perhaps Luxembourg’s leaders figure that because they’re nestled between France, Germany, and Belgium, they can count on their neighbors to slow down any invading Russians.

But the NATO members in Eastern Europe have no excuse.

Look, Hungary, you’re just beyond Ukraine. If the Russian army rolls through the breadbasket of Europe, they might want some goulash to go with it, and in 2017, you spent just 1.06 percent of your GDP on your military. Dear friends in the Czech Republic, you’re just past Poland, and you’re at 1.05 percent. Maybe Slovenia is spending less than 1 percent of GDP on defense because they’re certain Melania Trump would never allow the nation of her birth to be invaded.

Guys, you’re the ones facing the biggest risk. If Russia’s military starts acting out its expansionist fantasies, we’re not going to see them begin with Russian ships advancing up the Potomac River. What’s really baffling is that these countries are reluctant to finance a military buildup with an American president who talks about the NATO alliance as if it’s a giant scam and who talks about European nations as if they’re delinquent on the rent. If there was ever a time for these countries to start spending on their own defense, this is it.

Lithuania figured out the score. They share a border with Russia and just got it up to 2 percent. NATO thinks that eight member countries will meet the 2 percent threshold in 2018, which is an improvement — but there are 29 members!

The Norwegian drama series Occupied offers the painfully funny lesson that if the United States ever decides that the NATO alliance isn’t worth it, it more or less ceases to exist. Sure, Trump has a crude, ahistorical perspective on the value of the alliance, but less than half of NATO member states are putting much effort into dispelling the notion that they’re a bunch of freeloaders who won’t take responsibility for the safety and security of their own citizens.

‘Judge Kavanaugh Has Been a Role Model to Us Personally as well as Professionally’

We would expect Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s former clerks to like him and endorse him . . . but it is reassuring to see 34 of them writing a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee touting his exceptional qualities as a legal mind and as a human being:

During his time on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Kavanaugh has come to work every day dedicated to engaging in the hard work of judging. We never once saw him take a shortcut, treat a case as unimportant, or search for an easy answer. Instead, in each case, large or small, he masters every detail and rereads every precedent. He listens carefully to the views of his colleagues and clerks, even – indeed, especially – when they differ from his own. He drafts opinions painstakingly, writing and rewriting until he is satisfied each opinion is clear and well-reasoned, and can be understood not only by lawyers but by the parties and the public. We saw time and again that this work ethic flows from a fundamental humility. Judge Kavanaugh never assumes he knows the answers in advance and never takes for granted that his view of the law will prevail. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Judge Kavanaugh has been a role model to us personally as well as professionally. He is unfailingly warm and gracious with his colleagues no matter how strongly they disagree about a case, and he is well-liked and respected by judges and lawyers across the ideological spectrum as a result.

It’s rather fascinating to watch lefty voices complain about news coverage of Kavanaugh being too focused on him as “a carpool dad” and focused on humanizing personality traits . . . when there’s an entire line of merchandise about “the notorious RBG” and gobs of glowing coverage of tough grandma Ruth Bader Ginsburg in places such as Glamour magazine, and she’s been invited to do her workout routine on Stephen Colbert’s comedy show. Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we were only allowed to have lighter, humanizing, personality-based coverage of Supreme Court justices appointed by Democrats.

Put Crudely, We’re Pretty Awesome, America

Remember when we were worried that America’s future would be one of crippling weakness and dependence on foreign oil? Yeah, never mind.

“In 2019, [the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA)] forecasts that the United States will average nearly 12 million barrels of crude oil production per day,” said Linda Capuano, Administrator of the EIA. “If the forecast holds, that would make the U.S. the world’s leading producer of crude.”

We’ve been producing more than 10 million barrels a day in 2018.

ADDENDA: Our Charlie Cooke lays out why the press earns its distrust. Elsewhere, I point out a frustrating, deeply misleading headline that suggests that some copy editors at major newspapers simply don’t know much about the places that their outlets are covering.

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