Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 12, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BLUSTER WATCH....Dan Drezner is right. I don't know how Robert Gates is going to turn out in the long term, but his response to Vladimir Putin's criticisms was pretty deft. As Dan says, "It's been so long since an American official reacted so correctly to empty bluster that I'd almost forgotten how it should be done."

On the other hand, was the bluster really as empty as all that? Be honest, Dan: don't you hate it that George Bush has run such a disastrous foreign policy that even a guy like Putin manages to score a few telling points now and again?

Kevin Drum 2:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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The bluster bugged the Europeans quite a bit though. More of the threat part than the actual substance, I think.

Posted by: Buck on February 12, 2007 at 2:32 AM | PERMALINK

What a wimp Gates is! Bush knows we don't need diplomacy anymore. Now we are the sole superpower in the world, obviously our job is to push everyone else to the limit, act as the world's bully, get our own way in any way possible.

Might makes right! Isn't that the new US motto?

Posted by: notthere on February 12, 2007 at 2:50 AM | PERMALINK


BUCK: The bluster bugged the Europeans quite a bit though. More of the threat part than the actual substance, I think.

Where is the "threat part?" I didn't see it in Kevin's introduction nor in Drezner's post. Neither could I find it in the Financial Times article Drezner linked to, nor even when I skimmed through a translation of Putin's very long speech. I could have missed it there, I suppose.

I realize that "threat" is sort of implied in "bluster," but that's seems to be just a characterization regarding his strong criticism of U.S. foreign policy (which, given our utter failure on that front, would make his bluster anything but empty). But where in Putin's words does he actually threaten anyone with anything? What is he threatening to do to whom?


Posted by: jayarbee on February 12, 2007 at 3:24 AM | PERMALINK

Are we reading different responses? Or maybe Drezner left out the really impressive part of Gates' speech. Perhaps "deft" is some code to describe a somewhat pompous sidestep of the entire issue. Gates' condescension may have impressed the diplomats, but it doesn't negate the fact that Putin is absolutely right in his observations.

Posted by: Billy on February 12, 2007 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

The "deft" may be referring to the cocktail quality banter and one-line zingers that Gates used. That's all it takes to impress some pundits, I suppose, especially to be taken seriously among the Heathers.

Posted by: Nads on February 12, 2007 at 3:40 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting article in Le Monde diplomatique that ends with this:

The EU is capable of weakening Russia. But in tomorrow’s world, dominated by US power and the emergence of China, partnership with Russia could be one of its best cards.
Posted by: JS on February 12, 2007 at 3:55 AM | PERMALINK

Dan Drezner is right. I don't know how Robert Gates is going to turn out in the long term, but his response to Vladimir Putin's criticisms was pretty deft.

Dan didn't say that Gates' comments were a deft *response* to Putin, but that it was a deft *deflection* of Putin.

Response and deflection are two very different beasts. Deflection is nothing to be proud of.

Posted by: Disputo on February 12, 2007 at 4:05 AM | PERMALINK


BILLY: Are we reading different responses? Or maybe Drezner left out the really impressive part of Gates' speech. Perhaps "deft" is some code to describe a somewhat pompous sidestep of the entire issue.

Well, to Kevin's (and Drezner's) credit, they didn't say "impressive" or "admirable" or "appropriate." Rather, as you've noted, they said "deft," which does carry something of a sleight-of-hand or deceptive connotation. Not so far from "pompous sidestep."


Posted by: jayarbee on February 12, 2007 at 4:07 AM | PERMALINK

Where is the "threat part?"

Just from the FT article, Putin directly threatened to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (ie, rearm), and indirectly threatened the deployment of more Topol M missiles by linking their current deployment to the US ABMs in the EU.

Oh, and by underscoring his policy of carrots over sticks wrt Iran, he was threatening to deflate GWB's Iran war hard-on.

Posted by: Disputo on February 12, 2007 at 4:19 AM | PERMALINK

The war on terrorism having failed to do the job, the military industrial complexes in both countries do indeed want a second cold war to sustain current levels of funding.

Posted by: Boronx on February 12, 2007 at 5:36 AM | PERMALINK


DISPUTO: Putin directly threatened to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (ie, rearm)
FINANCIAL TIMES: Under the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty agreed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the US and Soviet Union agreed to eliminate and renounce nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500km.
The Russian president said the treaty was outdated because it prohibited the US and Russia from possessing such weapons while other countries were not restricted in developing them.
I didn't interpret Putin's remarks about the treaty to be at all threatening. Rather, it seems a reasonable view to urge revisiting the terms of the treaty so as to include more signatories. He was talking not about "pulling out," but about pulling in other nations. And he made no mention of re-arming with weapons of this type.
DISPUTO: [Putin] indirectly threatened the deployment of more Topol M missiles by linking their current deployment to the US ABMs in the EU.
The FT doesn't report that Putin threatened to deploy more Topol M's, but that they are deploying them. In any case, with a more careful (but still cursory) reading of Putin's speech, I could find no mention of this matter whatsoever. Likewise, employing Firefox's page search, I could not find this quote that the FT attributes to Putin: "We are forced to think about guarantees of our security." In fact, none of the FT's Putin quotes could be found in his actual speech.
DISPUTO: Oh, and by underscoring his policy of carrots over sticks wrt Iran, he was threatening to deflate GWB's Iran war hard-on.
Well and good!


Posted by: jayarbee on February 12, 2007 at 5:47 AM | PERMALINK

Bingo! So, we got to see an updated version of a cold war "pissing contest" between two old spooks.

But it does nothing to address how FUBAR both US and Soviet, er, RUSSIAN foreign policy have both been.

Posted by: Brat on February 12, 2007 at 7:26 AM | PERMALINK

"...even a guy like Putin manages to score a few telling points now and again?"

Don't underestimate Vladimir Putin! He is considerably smarter than his predecessor and understands Europe very well - esp. Germany where he ran the KGB. He also speaks Germany fluently without any accent - this stands in sharp contrast to President Bush, who acts aggrieved whenever somebody speaks anything other than English around him.

I think Gates' response was appropriate, but part of the problem with putting an idiot in charge of the Executive Branch is that all of the competitors of the US have an excellent chance to gain ground in the eyes of the international community simply by being a normal, ruthless bastard (as opposed to an idiotic, incompetent ruthless bastard).

Posted by: RickD on February 12, 2007 at 7:41 AM | PERMALINK

Beautiful rejoinder. I say Gates wins.

King Arthur: Look, you stupid bastard, you've got no arms left!
Black Knight: Yes I have.
King Arthur: Look!!!
Black Knight: Just a flesh wound. [Continues to kick and taunt Arthur]
King Arthur: Stop that!
Black Knight: Chicken! Chicken!
King Arthur: Look, I'll have your leg.

Posted by: B on February 12, 2007 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

The EU is capable of weakening Russia. But in tomorrow’s world, dominated by US power and the emergence of China, partnership with Russia could be one of its best cards.

The EU is NOT capable of doing a thing to Russia because they are far from unified and they depend on Russian energy supplies. Eastern Europe has completely different goals and aspirations and much clooser commercial relations.

In fact is the EU will partner with Russia on many things because they have little choice. Both fear dominance from the emerging leadership of the worlds greatest democracies; the USA, Japan, India, Australia, Israel, South Korea and a few others. These are the most rapidly growing, economically and culturally freest, as well as most optimistic of the large Democracies.
Meaning they have a culture based on liberty they intend to defend.

The EU by contrast has been weakening economically for over two decades as the rot of socialism sets in and it's impacted all elements of their society. They are dying demographically and have surrendered culturally. The UK announced a major reduction in their Naval facilities continuing the pattern of increasing military weakness throughout Old Europe.

The fact is both the EU and Russia only have old glory. They are natural allies. Neither is a leading power.

Posted by: rdw on February 12, 2007 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

What I heard was a Sec of Defence of the US who is so poorly taught and ignorant that he cannot speak correct English, blustering ineptly. This is the man who has a record of twisting and manufacturing intelligence and who is now following the Goebbels Plan at the instruction of his masters ---- dress a German up as a Pole and create an incident........ Look at what those awful Iranians are doing to support their friends and colleagues whom we put in charge of the cookie jar!

Amazing isn't it: we illegally invade Iraq and wreck it, kill God knows how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and 3100 American soldiers, and not one of our members of Congress is prepared to draw a line in the sand. Gutless, posturing, spiritless, lying sacks of shit, all of them, members of the Best Congress Money Can Buy; thank you Haim Sabin.

Posted by: maunga on February 12, 2007 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

rdw, give it a rest: you were shot down last time. Ask Jack Welch and Gates what they think of EU power?

Posted by: maunga on February 12, 2007 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

Speaking of a deft response to bluster, this in the IHT today:

Obama, in Iowa a day after formally announcing his candidacy, responded to Howard's initial comments by saying he was flattered that one of Bush's close allies had chosen to single him out for attack. He then challenged Howard on his commitment to the Iraq conflict, noting the United States has nearly 140,000 troops in Iraq compared with Australia's about 1,400 forces in the region.

"So if he is ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq," Obama said. "Otherwise it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric."

Posted by: bucky20816 on February 12, 2007 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder that no one has thought to point out what a nerve Putin has talking about "unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions" given his own government's record in Chechnya, let alone with respect to Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltic states. And where does he think all the AK-47s with which the former Third World is awash came from, the sky?

Under the circumstances Gates responded to Putin's outburst appropriately. That doesn't mean the rest of us should forget where Putin came from or what this man stands for.

Posted by: Zathras on February 12, 2007 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not persuaded that Gates won, but I do think the more important problem is that Bush has put us into such a position that Putin, Ahmadinejad, Castro and Chavez can actually score points off this administration's low standards of morality. When Malaysia can hold show trials of Bush and Blair, then our government has clearly made a disaster of foreign policy.

Posted by: freelunch on February 12, 2007 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Putin was completely right.

Kevin Drum, establishment Neo-Cold Warrior?

Posted by: Gaius Sempronius Gracchus on February 12, 2007 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

If you are praising Gates for his "One cold war is enough" response, I would counter with "One hot war in Iraq is enough"

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on February 12, 2007 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

You don't have to be a Putin to see America's game plan --it's empire, whether your're Democrat or Republican, it's still a big empire run by a big military.

And, like Rome's problem with Imperial Overstrech, we're heading down the tubes...

Posted by: Dr Wu -I'm just an ordinary guy on February 12, 2007 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

I think you're confused, mhr, Putin is nearly identical to Bush, a waterboy for corporate interests who will do anything, legal or illegal, to destroy those who refuse to bend to their will.

There's a reason that Bush could look into Putin's soul and see nothing that he would object to -- civilized humans disagree.

Posted by: freelunch on February 12, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

remind me, wasn't Gates a Bush appointee?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on February 12, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Just curious mhr - where on earth do you get some of this crap you peddle? I have actually, you know, been to some of these places you seem so comfortable expounding on, and I can say unequivocally, that you are fully, completely and totally full of shit.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on February 12, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Nobody wants to mention the fact that Putin's central point is exactly right: the militarism and unilateralism of the United States has made the world less secure and heightened the fears of smaller countries (N. Korea, Iran) and hastened them in their desire to obtain nukes so they can keep the United States at bay.

Ten years from now we are still going to be dealing with the fallout from these witless morons. It turns out that adding North Korea and Iran to the "Axis of Evil" in moron-boy's SOTU speech was entirely rhetorical to take the focus off Iraq totally. And the result was the North Koreans redoubled their nuclear efforts and the reformists in Iran were marginalized just at the point where they could have had serious effect.

Gates is a fuckheaded CIA crook who lied his way to the top and who should be up against the wall for all his crimes committed in his "Cold War" career. Why does anyone think this gang of criminals would appoint a "good guy" to the position of authority in the cabinet???

Posted by: TCinLA on February 12, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

MRM: Bush-41 named Gates as his Director or Central Intelligence. He was an anti-Soviet hawk who failed to foresee the demise of the USSR, and George Schultz accused him of being the original facts fixer.

Gates is a career spook, and he was up to his eyeballs in Iran Contra. Just because Lawrence Walsh never charged him with a crime does not equate to innocence. Absence of evidence is not the same thing as absence of guilt. He was just better at covering his tracks than those who got caught.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on February 12, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Gates may have shown a deft touch, but his assertion that he believed that most of the world still views the US as a force "for good" is either a bald lie or breathtakingly out of touch with reality. Scores of polls taken over the past few years clearly indicate that most of the world sees America as a dangerous rogue nation.

Posted by: Mickey Finn on February 12, 2007 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK
.....EU and Russia only have old glory. ...rightistdimwit at 8:35 AM
They have economic clout and the EU has a better trade balance and bigger economy than the US. Putin scored big time in rest of the world; Gates sounded like a petulant bushista.
Putin...is still put out about what the US, under President Reagan... mhr at 2:01 PM
I think that Putin has made Russia a stronger economy than the old USSR and a strong leader for the anti-Bush nations. Regun had less to do with the fall of the USSR than Gorbachev who deserves a Nobel. Posted by: Mike on February 12, 2007 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

mhr--
I can assure you that Putin does not give one shit about President Reagan.
When on earth are people (both left and right) going to learn that other countries have lives of their own and that not everything world leaders say and do should be ranked according to whether it shows how much they like or dislike the US. Honestly, Russia right now is much less concerned with the US than the US is concerned with Russia. Under Putin, Russia is the strongest it has been for quite some time, and in the past few years Moscow has seen pretty much nothing but victories in its foreign policy, from the collapse into absurdity of the Orange Revolution (hey guys, remember that? That was supposed to be Putin's gravestone...uh, yeah, what happened there?) to the recent slapping of Belarus, etc.

Gates' response could be read as a deft defusing of heated rhetoric...but I'm not sure why it's being feted as such a coup de grace. Gates does not seem to touch on the substance of Putin's charges. Worse, he seems to be trying to tell lame jokes in response to Putin. Guess what? Someone like Putin does not care about hearing lame jokes about American faculty parties. And he certainly doesn't care about an old cold-warrior reminiscing about the past. If there's one thing Russians could give one shit about, it's the past. Unless they're 60 or above and you're talking about WW2.

To me, the Gates response was a bit silly, kind of like Yasser Arafat blowing kisses and exclaiming "I love ev-e-re-bo-dy!" Or like that movie "Russkies" from the 80s. I mean, it's harmless and all, and certainly better than Condoleezza Rice's bitchy glares and pouts about "freedom" and the think-tank right's long history of tacitly supporting Chechen "freedom-fighters" in their struggle against Moscow (which after Beslan really could have made Putin wonder whether it might be a good idea to just nuke DC or at least a couple of those "foundations"), but it's no defining moment.

It just shows how low the bar is these days when it comes to US policy towards Russia.

Posted by: kokblok on February 12, 2007 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

They have economic clout and the EU has a better trade balance and bigger economy than the
US. Putin scored big time in rest of the world;

The EU is not a coherent diplomatic or military entity. Economically it is nothing more than a free trade union. It has little economic power aside from trade deals. It was able to scuttle to WTO deal much to the advantage of the USA which long before began serious negotiations all over the world outside the framework of the WTO to secure Free Trade agreements with dozens of nations.

That's why exports from the USA have been surging over 12% and USA GDP has been growing at 2x's the rates of Old Europe for almost two decades. That's why the USA share of Global GDP remains stable as Old Europe's continues to shrink at an accelerated rate. That's why the UK cutting it's Navy almost 50% and the USA is working with the Japanese and Indian Navies.

The EU has little military power and even less experience aside from the UK. 80% of global military R%D is spent by USA with some partnering on joint projects with Japan, India, Israel and Australia.

The EU is yesterdays news. It will always be a trade block but never a major diplomatic power. China, Japan and India are far more important to USA interests. You'll want to also note North America Inc. becomes more of a reality each year especially regarding the USA and Canada. Thanks to massive Tar Sands and natural gas investments Canada will soon supply over 30% of total USA imports directly reducing OPEC imports. What is interesting is that as the USA becomes less dependent on non-North American suppliers Europe becomes vastly more dependent on Russia. Of course they've becoming closer. They're also becoming smaller. Russia is shrinking faster than Germany. Not too worry. The USA has refocused. They dont't matter much.

Posted by: rdw on February 12, 2007 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

rdw--

That "rot of socialism" sure is taking its time. It's a great thing our population is growing (due largely to immigration), while Europe's is "stagnant" (although a low positive growth rate correlates all over the world to higher income and life expectancy). But you'll be surprised to find that very few Europeans take your point of view about the "decline" of the continent.

The reason why Europeans have scrapped their military is not because they can't "afford" to have large militaries. France keeps its stuff up good enough standards that they can intervene all over Africa with little trouble. Perhaps the European politicians just don't really see who their military enemy is supposed to be.

Can you, rdw, explain to me what conventional military threat is targeting European states at this time? Isn't it just possible that the Europeans are smart enough to pass the buck on the real expensive military missions that are still needed (naval protection of shipping and acute humanitarian intervention being top of the list) onto the Americans while distancing themselves from the US military adventures that amount to stirring up bee's nests? If you were in their position, wouldn't you do the same?

It's fine to "be tough", but it only makes sense if there really is an enemy to whom "being tough" matters. If you have to invent this enemy, then its just nonsense. Turkey is not going to invade Germany. Algeria is not going to invade France. Russia is not going to invade anybody except for Georgia and no one gives a shit about Georgia.

Western European states might not have much in common, but one thing they do all have in common is that none of them have natural enemies. This is the reason for their low defense spending and dislike of offensive wars. It's the same way that Austria-Hungary was able to survive and prosper so long without much in the way of military glory. Keep a low profile, don't squawk and sabre-rattle, marry and wheedle your way to peace and prosperity. Who cares if you're not the greatest power in the world? Who cares if your cities are not as vibrant as they once were? You got a fair amount of money, an enviable standard of life, your population is steady, and you don't have to worry so much about getting blown up in some adventure.

I bet you'll say something about how French and British muslims are going to rot out those societies from within and turn them into imamates or something. Well, I hope you don't say that because it would be idiotic. Homegrown terrorists in European countries are treated as what they are--criminal conspiracists with an ideological motive for murder. They are rooted out and arrested by European police on a regular basis, and there is no reason to suspect that they are any closer to "taking over" than they ever were. One may as well worry about MS-13 taking over the US Capitol. These kinds of things just don't happen.

Posted by: rdw on February 12, 2007 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

sorry, accidentally posted under your name rdw....

Posted by: kokblok on February 12, 2007 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: top choice on February 13, 2007 at 7:38 AM | PERMALINK

That "rot of socialism" sure is taking its time.

It takes time to ruin a culture. Look at the USSR. Look at Cuba. Look at Venezuela. The economic trends in Old Europe have been clear for quite some time and they are devastating.

It's a great thing our population is growing (due largely to immigration), while Europe's is "stagnant" (although a low positive growth rate correlates all over the world to higher income and life expectancy).

Europe's population isn't stagnant. The birth bubble of many more post-war boomers having fewer babies has been replaced by an era of many fewer Europeans of childbirth age having many fewer babies. The native polulations of most of
Europe, Russia and Japan are going to shrink quite quickly.


But you'll be surprised to find that very few Europeans take your point of view about the "decline" of the continent.

That's not true. Almost all 'well-being' polls show Europeans to be the most miserable and least optimistic people on the planet. They have chronically high unemployment and those with jobs have the highest job dissatisfaction.

The contintent is not in decline economically. It is stagnant economically. 10% unemployment isn't anything new. The average Frenchman isn't getting poorer. The average Frenchman IS watching Americans, Australians and most of the rest of the world get richer at a faster pace and will get used to it. The French share of global GDP drops every year and will continue to do so. THe result is Old Europe is in decline diplomatically and militarily. The old European powers were utterly useless against a small time thug in Milosovich and France in fact has a difficult time in Africa despite the massive corruption of African Governments.

If you look ahead to Europe in 2020 one can only shudder. Their share of global GDP will be less than 50% current levels and will have only domestic militaries with coast guards rather than navies save for a few subs.

Consider the staunch European support for Palestine as a market for waning diplomatic influence. Arafat was the toast of Paris and other European capitals. Arafat is now widely recognized as a turd. The Palestinains are now fully separated from Israel by the much hated fence which, as expected, has been extremely successful. Not just in terms of terror attacks but far more inportant, economic separation. The West Bank and Gaza have lost at least 30% of their economy while Israel has grown at least 30% since 9/11. Incredibly, Israels trade footprint is vastly wider as their security business is in great demand. The Palestinians in Israel have a per capita GDP > 25x's their cousins in the West Bank and as expected have become progressively more estranged. The separation required by the fence will ensure these populations continue to distance themselves not just economically but culturally. Europe of course fought against all of these changes. Despite massive support for Arafat they have no influence aside from bribery yet Israel continues to grow 3x's to 4x's more quickly than France and it just compounds every year.

Posted by: rdw on February 13, 2007 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Can you, rdw, explain to me what conventional military threat is targeting European states at this time?

None thanks to the USA defense umbrella and the conquest of the USSR. Europe is in far graver danger than the USA and has been since before we withdrew our defense umbrella. Europe's menace is from within. They have a huge population of radical islamics who will force change upon secular Europe and see that it is enforced.

As far as them leaving global security to the USA it's been that way since 1940. It isn't as if they have a choice. Western Europe is simply too weak economically and demographically. In a very short period very large percentages of draft age men will be Islamic with Islamic loyalties. They have little choice but to go the way of Switzerland. That's why GWB has refocused the USA from across the Atlantic to the Pacific. France is our enemy. Japan is our friend. It's not rocket science.

Posted by: rdw on February 13, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

there is no reason to suspect that they are any closer to "taking over" than they ever were.

Actually they're gaining all the time. Look at the Danish cartoon fiasco. Mohammad is already the most popular boys name in over a dozen large European cities. No one is predicting a violent revolution. It'll be a surrender. You just can't fight demographics. More than a dozen European nations have birth rates

Europe will be dramatically different in 2030 in ways we cannot predict but it's safe to suggest a very large number of cities will have kindergarden classes which are majority muslim maintaining the Islamic culture not the European culture.

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