Edward Snowden spoke today via video feed to an audience at this year’s South by Southwest. Here is the full discussion:
When news hit last week that China’s defense spending will increase by 12.2 percent this year to $132 billion, pundits and politicians told us to be scared. I’m not:
Note that this is using a conservative estimate of U.S. military and national security spending. There is much in the black budget that would add to the gap.
Last week, I argued in a piece at Reason that Russia did not decide to intervene militarily in Ukraine because of alleged “weakness” on the part of U.S. foreign policy, despite what hawks would have us believe. The talking point, especially but not exclusively from Republicans, is that Putin saw the Obama administration’s reluctance to use military force in, for example, Syria, and therefore calculated that he could get away with it, without risking a harsh U.S. reaction.
One counter argument that I pointed to is the fact that Russia took comparable actions in Georgia in 2008, when George W. Bush was president. No conservatives ever suggested that Bush’s reluctance to go to war drove Moscow to take military action in that case.
On Sunday, my argument was repeated by an unlikely source: former secretary of defense under Bush and Obama, Robert Gates.
“Putin invaded Georgia, I didn’t hear anybody accusing Bush of being weak or unwilling to use force,” Gates said. “Putin is very opportunistic in these arenas. Even if we had launched attacks in Syria, even if we weren’t cutting our defense budget — Putin saw an opportunity here in Crimea, and he has seized it.”
Plenty of informed voices have slipped in to dispel this myth, but it lingers on. At the National Interest, Paul Pillar critiques the “toughness” argument “that Russia’s moves in Ukraine should be attributed to a supposed pusillanimous ‘retreat’ of American power and to adversaries responding by becoming more aggressive.” If anything, Pillar points out (as do I in the Reason piece), Washington’s lawlessness and aggression on the world stage give regimes like the one in Moscow license to act out. The “act of U.S. aggression [in Iraq],” Pillar notes, “is recent enough that it still is a prominent detriment to U.S. credibility whenever the United States tries to complain about someone else’s use of military force against another sovereign state, including Putin’s use of force in Crimea.”
I am just back from the National Summit to Re-Assess the U.S.-Israel Special Relationship and will file reports of compelling remarks from speakers in days to come.
But I want to convey the importance of the conference here. The crowds were impressive. There were close to 300 people inside the National Press Club to hear a wide range of speakers denounce the role of the Israel lobby in our politics.
The speakers were largely from a US national-interest point of view. Many of them were conservative. When I say wide range, it did not include Palestinians– though a couple spoke from the floor.
But a concern for Palestinian human rights ran through many speakers’ remarks. Cynthia McKinney said she was standing up for “dignity and human liberty.” Steve Walt repeatedly cited the “moral” weakness of the Israel lobby’s argument for a state that privileges one group over another. Justin Raimondo spoke of the power of reading They Were Human Too, a book on Palestinian refugees published by the conservative publisher Regnery in the 50s (a point I have made myself). These pictures could be from Gaza today, Raimondo said.
And Lt. Col., retired, Karen Kwiatkowski told a gripping story about going to work in the Pentagon in a room that was the birthplace of the Office of Special Plans, the secret neoconservative unit that stovepiped bad intelligence on Iraq to the Bush administration to push the war. Early on, a colleague gave her a warning, “If you have anything nice to say about Palestinians, don’t say it here.”
Kwiatkowski identified herself as a libertarian-leaning Republican, very typical of the military. Yet when I met her next to a table filled with leftwing books about Palestinian human rights, she said that many in the Pentagon were actually concerned with Palestinian freedom. A point that was underlined by Paul Pillar and Mark Perry.
Henry Kissinger, architect of the destruction of Indochina and secretary of state to one of America’s most corrupt leaders, wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post yesterday making arguments that, if uttered on any of the cable news shows, would be condemned as anti-American.
Kissinger’s analysis is a balanced one, in contrast to much of what we’ve seen. “Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation,” he laments. “Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.”
The West’s approach to Ukraine has been characterized much like the Russian approach: zero-sum. But, Kissinger advises, “We should seek reconciliation, not the domination of a faction” inside Ukraine.
Kissinger also seems to criticize the superficial and trivial nature of the commentary from pundits and politicians. He says “the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.” Furthermore, “the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington.”
Kissinger then proposes four suggestions for how to settle the issue in a responsible (not belligerent) manner that prioritizes “how it ends, not how it begins.”
1. Ukraine should have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations, including with Europe.
2. Ukraine should not join NATO, a position I took seven years ago, when it last came up.
3. Ukraine should be free to create any government compatible with the expressed will of its people. Wise Ukrainian leaders would then opt for a policy of reconciliation between the various parts of their country. Internationally, they should pursue a posture comparable to that of Finland. That nation leaves no doubt about its fierce independence and cooperates with the West in most fields but carefully avoids institutional hostility toward Russia.
4. It is incompatible with the rules of the existing world order for Russia to annex Crimea. But it should be possible to put Crimea’s relationship to Ukraine on a less fraught basis. To that end, Russia would recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea. Ukraine should reinforce Crimea’s autonomy in elections held in the presence of international observers. The process would include removing any ambiguities about the status of the Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol.
It’s hard to know if Kissinger has become more reasonable in his old age, or if his tempered approach to the Ukraine crisis is merely an illustration of how degenerate and juvenile our politics has become in the generation that has followed his. For a man that has committed and been complicit in war crimes, it’s troubling that this is the voice of moderation. Either way, his suggestions are the most reasonable yet articulated in the mainstream: leave Ukraine’s future up to Ukrainians, don’t make it a choke point for feckless geo-political competition between the U.S. and Russia.
I’m so glad we have a brand new columnist in the fabulous Lucy Steigerwald!
She’s a columnist for VICE.com, previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine, and blogs at www.thestagblog.com. She is most angry, she tells us, "about police, prisons, and wars." Well, that’s a start!
Today is her first weekly column, which has as its theme "The War At Home." Her beat: all the manifold ways our militarized culture impacts our everyday lives. Yes, we’ve given her a wide berth – because we’re damn sure she’ll more than live up to it!