When the Russian tanks roll westward, what defence for you and me?
Colonel Sloman’s Essex Rifles? The Light Horse of the L.S.E.?
Philip Larkin wrote this little couplet in a letter to a friend in May 1969, not long after seeing those very tanks roll into Czechoslovakia, decrying the fact that the British expenditure on education had surpassed the budget for national defense. It is perhaps less well known than “Homage to a Government,” which you may have read before, in which the government’s argument for bringing troops home is reduced to: “We want the money for ourselves at home/Instead of working.” Larkin made a distinction about the point of that poem that is important in context:
That poem [“Homage to a Government”] has been quoted in several books as a kind of symbol of the British withdrawal from a world role. I don’t mind troops being brought home if we’d decided this was the best thing all around, but to bring them home simply because we couldn’t afford to keep them there seemed a dreadful humiliation.
What is happening in Ukraine is indeed humiliating, and humiliating for a host of reasons and parties involved, but it is at the moment most humiliating for the L.S.E. school of foreign affairs represented by the likes of Jake Sullivan and the J.V. team of policy handlers who seemed to learn nothing from the red line experience in Syria. Their policy of deterrence seemed based on the idea that one can wait and wait and wait, without understanding the lesson that deterrence must come in advance of such movement, before the goal is obtained.
The timing of this move — coming as it does after the Olympics, and with the tacit approval of China — was also obvious. So steps should have been taken, in advance, to project strong deterrence if we as a nation and our allies in Europe didn’t want to see this happen.
Harold Ford and I got into it a bit on last night’s Special Report on this very point, after which Fred Fleitz did some cleanup.
Waiving sanctions on Nord Stream 2 allowed Putin to return to his original effort, one he’s held in his mind since long before 2014. His speech yesterday was impressive for how much it told us about his mindset — this was his supervillain monologue, declaring his intentions and explaining why he is doing what he is doing.
The narrative that as president, Biden represented a strong response to Putin was always ridiculous, but it was most ridiculous coming from the foreign policy elite who have been so wrong about so many things for so long. Donald Trump was a Russian patsy, in their frame, not just because of a story that now appears to be a totally invented tissue of lies involving high level Clinton cronies and the misuse of the most powerful tools of our government, but because his policies worked, and Biden’s failed. The foolishness of this commentariat which argued Biden’s mere presence would put fear in Putin’s heart is total, and yet they still occupy positions of relevance to directing our policies.
A large part of the case for Biden made by those “moderates” or “centrist” minded liberals was that he represented a return to healthy normalcy — a downgrade of the culture war at home, a return to traditional foreign policy relationships, an adult in the room after years of unqualified people being in charge. This was always a fiction.
But in allowing Putin to go down this road, the Biden administration is turning out to be much worse than almost anyone could have believed: they could very well be the administration that lost the post-Cold War world order that had been maintained, carefully and not without error, for more than thirty years.
This is how dangerous Joe Biden and his team have turned out to be when given the reins of power. They’ve managed to do all this in just over a year. And they’re just getting started.