The West, the East, History, and Energy
And more than enough blunders to go around.
Michael Walsh’s Monday column is always a must read, but especially so this week. Mr. Walsh cuts through the propaganda and lays out the history of the region — and the West’s missteps there — from the fall of the Soviet Union through today.
The seeds of the conflict in the Ukraine, now the subject of both a shooting war and a ferocious propaganda barrage on both sides—and by "both sides" I mean Russia vs. the West, using Ukraine as its proxy—were sown more than 30 years ago, in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union on Boxing Day in 1991. At what seemed almost a single stroke, the goal of American foreign policy for the previous four decades had been achieved. The mother church of Marxism-Leninism had fallen, the Evil Empire destroyed, and the brave new world of "the end of history and the last man" was dawning.
Although Ronald "we win, they lose" Reagan was out of office, this was the Gipper's triumph. Playing poker against the Soviets' aging and disillusioned chess masters, Reagan bet the house on the Strategic Defense Initiative—widely opposed and even mocked by the pro-Russian Leftist press, led by the New York Times (who else?), as "Star Wars"—and essentially bankrupted the Kremlin. Unfamiliar with the concept of a bluff, Mikhail Gorbachev turned over his king and walked away from the board….
With the U.S.S.R. prostrate and the former Warsaw Pact nations spinning away into freedom and autonomy, the largest fire sale in history was underway. Canny operators, such as George Soros instantly saw an opportunity, moving quickly into the economic and diplomatic vacuum with such aplomb that he overnight became a powerful figure among the ruins.
All the United States had to do was be magnanimous in victory. The Germans under Helmut Kohl had already provided a model; Germany was reunited less than a year after the Wall fell and the East German government crumbled…. Magnanimity, however, proved too heavy a lift for the clueless and vengeful George Herbert Walker Bush administration. Widely seen in European capitals at the time as a "safe pair of hands" Bush I immediately squandered the greatest economic, diplomatic and intelligence community success of the modern era. The one-time Director of Central Intelligence could not or would not grasp that the game had changed, that Russia no longer had to be a mortal enemy of capitalism and the West, and that the overthrow of communism would usher in a prolonged period both of disruption and revanchism that could have been properly managed without triumphalism…
Rather than extending the hand of friendship to the defeated but still proud Russians and the other "captive peoples," succeeding administrations under Clinton and Bush II added insult to injury by bringing the Central and Eastern European countries into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) starting in 1999—a deliberate provocation and a world-historical blunder of epic proportions matched only by George W. Bush's incomprehensible invasion of Iraq after 9/11.
Meanwhile, post-Gorbachev, Russia descended into a gangster-driven oligarchy under the drunken Boris Yeltsin. I left the collapsing U.S.S.R. for the last time during the summer of 1991, just before the coup attempt against Gorbachev, and already the gangsters (Armenian, Georgian, Jewish, Azerbaijani—everybody but the Slavs) had the run of the place. The Americans who were preaching the virtues of capitalism in a land that had only known empty shelves for 70 years were regarded as thieves out to fleece Russia (and many of them were), but regulated capitalism wasn't going to cut it at a time when it was every man for himself. "Joint venture" was one English phrase that every Russian knew, and Swiss bank accounts were the place to be. It took the firm, bloody hand of Vladimir Putin to restore some semblance of order.
And so the opportunity was lost to turn Russia from an enemy to, if not a friend, at least an adversary with whom we could live and do business. America does have an enemy today, but it's China, not Russia.
Our Founding Editor, John O’Sullivan, wrote about the divide between the “dignified” and “efficient” sectors of our government — a distinction he borrowed from the 19th century essayist Walter Bagehot — over the Ukraine crisis. Whereas in Bagehot’s day the “dignified” area of government was exemplified by, for instance, the British Monarchy, in our time it increasingly includes elected officials (formerly on the “efficient” side), whose job nowadays is mainly to posture. Our “efficient” government, on the other hand, is dominated by the permanent bureaucracy, who are most insulated from the American public comes to appreciate that the utopianism of the Green Movement has led to the West’s addiction to Russian oil & gas.
To see how it works and why it’s a bad system, neither dignified nor efficient, consider what is now the most important issue of the day—how energy policy can be intelligently designed to enable us to provide cheap and reliable energy to the populations of Western countries while reducing our reliance on oil and gas from Russia in the aftermath of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
That’s a very big deal.
But look at how the “dignified” side of government has handled this challenge. Former Democrat presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry, now President Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate, expressed his serious concern about the crisis, the people of Ukraine, democracy, the principles of international law at stake, and so on. He then went on:
But it [the war in Ukraine] could have a profound negative impact on the climate obviously. You have a war and obviously you’re going to have massive emissions consequences to the war. But equally importantly, you're going to lose people's focus, you're going to lose certainly big country attention because they will be diverted and I think it could have a damaging impact.
He ended by hoping that President Putin would “help us to stay on track with respect to what we need to do for the climate."
It’s not hard to poke fun at this as if Senator Kerry had made a foolish gaffe—which is probably what most people think. In reality Kerry’s words perfectly express what the West’s political elites have believed until recently and may still believe—that the long-term and uncertain risks of a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees above that of the early industrial period are an urgent threat to the West and the world at least as dangerous (and maybe more so) than Putin’s brutal murder of Ukraine and his assault on peace and international law. We therefore need to continue working with him, however distasteful or strategically unwise that may be. That belief now goes very deep into our societies—particularly among the higher-educated, both intelligentsia and lumpenintelligentsia.
That said, there are signs that Putin’s actions have provoked a greater realism among government leaders in the dignified ranks on both sides of the Atlantic. There will at least be serious debates about energy policy, the climate, Western defense, and the links between them in the next few months. If the announcement of massive hikes in defense spending and severe economic sanctions on Russia by German chancellor Olaf Scholz to the Bundestag—described by British prime minister Boris Johnson as a speech of "world-historical' importance—is any guide, realistic changes may be attempted in policy too.
But what effect will those debates or policy changes have on the “efficient” sector of government as it interprets and applies the broad general principles of Kerry’s climate and energy policies in practice? I have a feeling that he has little to fear from their interpretations. The threat of Vladimir Putin will pass smoothly over their heads.
Tom Finnerty blogged about Putin’s conscious decision to take advantage of delusional Western energy policies.
We've said before that America likes to buy green, fuzzy feelings from China when we purchase the solar panels they've built using energy generated by coal power plants. Russia has done much the same for Europe. They enjoyed being on Team Thunberg and having the adulation of right-thinking people all over the world. But they also liked charging their iPhones and having heat in the winter. Crazy old Uncle Vlad let them have both.
Christopher Horner evaluated President Biden’s State of the Union address.
Imagine being a Biden White House aide tasked with writing this week’s State of the Union address. Having spent weeks crafting an opus of appeals to Congress over Biden’s “climate” agenda, reality barges in and scrambles the planned approach. After all, squandering the inheritance of energy dominance, and ushering in a U.S. equivalent of Germany’s disastrous energy policies here — with a reliance on China for rare earth-mineral dependent "renewables" and increased reliance on Russian oil — has gone from being weirdly out-of-touch with Americans to utterly disconnected from reality. What to do?
Unfortunately, adjusting to events and scrapping old plans until better times hopefully return was not the option chosen. Acknowledging how policy mistakes have brought the world to this week’s deadly and further-perilous point was therefore plainly out of the question. Instead, Tuesday night’s speech, after opening with supportive words for Ukraine itself, was otherwise oblivious to the fact of Western Europe now lying prostrate — cornered by its own obsession with Green New Deal policies (called “Net-Zero” over there) into near-total reliance on intermittent energy and unreliable foreign sources of traditional hydrocarbons.
Here’s Peter Smith writing on ESG and the nature of capitalism.
A recent tweet from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “In a modern, moral, & wealthy society, no American should be too poor to live.” There is nothing remarkable about this empty trope. Scratch any leftist. Out it comes. Even those on the right of the political spectrum might nod along in unthinking moments. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope would nod along in their thinking moments.
Christian religious leaders are prone to flights of fancy. Justin Welby and Francis are keen on so-called inclusive capitalism to solve the ills of the world. Utopia in the here and now. Heaven can wait. Call it also stakeholder capitalism, if you prefer the nomenclature of Klaus Schwab’s great reset of capitalism.
A first thing to say is that this surreal transfiguration of capitalism has no correspondence with reality. It’s made up. A chimera. It cannot be brought to sustained life. At least not the life envisaged. It could morph into something which can be brought to life; albeit a dissolute life. It’s called socialism….
Capitalism is “free-market capitalism,” or else it isn’t capitalism at all. Yes, I know, capitalism is always accompanied by cronyism and never more so since global-warming boondoggles took off, but that in itself speaks to its power to survive sleazy deals.
Schwab sets "stakeholder capitalism" against what he calls shareholder capitalism, which he associates with (scary) Milton Freidman. But shareholder capitalism is, in fact, another name for free-market capitalism. Owners looking primarily to increase their profits is the way shareholder capitalism, aka free-market capitalism, works to make everybody better off. It’s the reason why poverty in the industrialised world has continually trended down since the mid-eighteenth century.
Best to remember too that the term shareholder capitalism gives a distorted picture of capitalism. Capitalism isn’t just a collection of giant corporations. For example, businesses with from one to 999 employees, account for almost 60 percent all U.S. private sector jobs. Those wielding influence at Davos should put themselves into perspective. Private jets tend to beget arrogance.
And finally, here is Rich Trzupek writing on the changing definition of pollution.
That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading, and keep an eye on The Pipeline.