November 27, 2018

Russia-Ukraine Conflict Escalates

Following the Russian seizure of three Ukrainian vessels over the weekend, “Ukraine on Monday imposed martial law for 30 days in parts of the country most vulnerable to an attack from Russia after President Petro Poroshenko warned of the ‘extremely serious’ threat of a land invasion.”


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that “The United States condemns this aggressive Russian action. We call on Russia to return to Ukraine its vessels and detained crew members, and to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters.”

US Department of State

President Trump told reporters, “We do not like what’s happening either way. And hopefully it will get straightened out.”


Both sides are alarmed by Russia’s aggressive behavior:

“The Kremlin can shout all it wants about a provocation, about an attempt by the Ukrainian president to create a political diversion or about anything else, but none of that changes the fact that Russia had no legal justification for firing on three Ukrainian boats and seizing them.”

New York Times

“The incident had the hallmarks of a pre-planned, escalatory move by the Kremlin, experts say, raising concerns that the de facto stalemate in the ongoing ground war in the Donbas—which has contained the conflict to a static front line since February 2015—may be irreparably broken, and the war could metastasize into a much bigger, deadlier conflict.”

Daily Signal

“The diversion of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict into the Sea of Azov is precisely the kind of escalation that has preceded Europe’s past cataclysms. A great power treats a little one with contempt. A little one responds with violence, expecting friends to come to its aid, diplomatically, economically, then militarily.”

The Guardian

“The danger of military escalation between Russia and Ukraine, with all of its unforeseeable consequences, is real and rising.”

National Interest

See past issues

From the Left

The left is worried that the lack of a strong, unified rebuke from the Trump administration will further embolden Putin.

“On issues as disparate as North Korea, Iran, Qatar, and nato, Haley; Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state; Rex Tillerson, his predecessor; and James Mattis, the defense secretary, have taken positions that are at odds with Trump’s remarks, confusing American allies about what the U.S. position actually is. Nowhere has this inconsistency been more apparent than with Russia."

The Atlantic

“Despite Trump’s desire to improve relations with Russia and his seemingly cozy personal relationship with Putin, his administration has sanctioned Russia many times... But if the Trump administration decides to let Russia slide on this latest move, experts warn that Sunday’s skirmish may be the beginning of a whole new phase in the Russia-Ukraine war — and perhaps an even bigger one."


“The United States and its Western allies can impose stronger economic sanctions, bar their ships from entering Russian ports in the Black or Azov Seas or increase military support for Ukraine. These actions all carry risk, but so does doing nothing."

New York Times

Counterpoint: “Ukraine and Russia probably aren’t going to war... Crimea, and conflict with the West, have been winning issues for the Russian president in the past. But Russia won’t have another presidential election until 2024, and in the meantime, Russia’s posture is likely to be self-defeating. The confrontation will probably result in more Western sanctions and will do little to improve Russia’s position in Ukraine."


The political calendar and Trump's approach could give grounds for optimism. Kim, who has presided over a limited form of economic development inside North Korea, is under pressure to deliver improvements in the lives of his people… So he has an incentive to try to seek economic benefits or aid from the United States and wants punishing economic sanctions lifted — a potential opening for US negotiators… Kim must realize that his chances of basking in this kind of legitimacy with a US President other than Trump are slim. So if he fears Trump could lose in 2020, he may reason the time may be ripe for a deal. And Trump wants nothing more than a big diplomatic breakthrough months before the election.”
Stephen Collinson, CNN

Regarding the Cadillac tax, “high-premium employer-based plans raise the cost of health care for everyone by encouraging the overconsumption of expensive services. This means that even Medicare and Medicaid face higher prices. Quite aside from its benefits for the health-care market, the Cadillac tax would also have the effect of expanding the tax base and making the tax code more efficient. It would raise revenues by about $15 billion a year… Rather than killing or delaying the Cadillac tax, Democrats should be trying to make it operational. The tax would raise revenue, lower costs, increase the efficiency of the tax code and give the Obamacare individual market its best chance at success.”
Karl W. Smith, Bloomberg

“The two issues with which he is most often associated, support for a balanced budget and opposition to free trade, put him at odds with both of our major political parties. An old-fashioned, soft-spoken Southerner, he nevertheless held views on so-called ‘social issues’ that would be to the left of the mainstream of the Republican Party, both then and now. He was a fervent supporter of the Vietnam POW/MIA movement in the late '80s and early '90s, but he was not in any sense a hawk. Never mind 2003. Perot opposed the first war in Iraq in 1990… Perot's death should be mourned by all Americans who regret the fact that it is no longer possible to make reasoned, non-ideological arguments about questions of public import, and by the devolution of our political life into mindless partisan squabbling.”
Matthew Walther, The Week

From the Right

The right condemns Putin’s actions, but worries about the risk of military escalation.

From the Right

The right condemns Putin’s actions, but worries about the risk of military escalation.

The U.S. should provide tangible diplomatic and military support to Ukraine. But it would be very ill-advised for the U.S. Navy to challenge Russia for access control over the Sea of Azov. Russia's seizure of 23 Ukrainian sailors and 3 naval vessels is without moral or reasonable political justification... [but] it is manifestly not in the American interest to conduct military operations for control of the Sea of Azov."

Washington Examiner

“The White House should not even entertain a military intervention on behalf of Ukraine. Instead, Washington should reiterate its commitment to the freedom of navigation while at the same time pressing ahead with creating a lasting stability between Russia and the West in Ukraine. As the crisis mounts, the hawks must be ignored. We’ve never been closer to great power conflict than right now. Yet, it can still be avoided (and it must be).”

The American Spectator

Some note that “Russian stocks and currency slid on Monday morning as the possibility of new sanctions loomed. Some analysts speculated Putin wants to provoke more sanctions so he can blame Russia’s economic woes on foreign interference."


Others emphasize that “there must be no question of where the U.S. stands when it comes to the blatant violation of international laws and norms. Allowing such aggression to pass unchecked and unmet with at least a rebuke would signal to authoritarian leaders... that they are free to do as they like as long as it doesn't immediately and directly threaten U.S. interests."

Washington Examiner

“Not only did [Trump] attack the ‘squad,’ he managed to do it in a way in which no other prominent Democrat can continue to criticize them publicly, lest they be perceived as echoing the president’s contention that they should go back where they came from. At the exact moment the accusations and counter-accusations were set to do lasting damage, Trump just had to jump in and give them an attack that would unify them all. It often seems like Trump would rather have a bad news cycle that focuses on him than a beneficial news cycle that focuses on someone else… Everyone around the president can read a poll and knows that his rage-tweeting is a liability; it is perhaps the biggest liability in a presidency that, with prosperity and a perception of peace, ought to be comfortably cruising to reelection.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If Joe Biden can win his way through the primaries, he’s almost lab-engineered to beat Trump. He doesn’t cause Republican panic, he has the potential to connect with white working-class voters in a way that Hillary couldn’t in 2016, and he has a potential to connect better with black voters than Hillary did… if Biden emerges from [this] crucible, Trump will face a very different challenge than he faced in 2016.”
David French, National Review

“NBC and MSNBC embraced Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the first debate of Democratic presidential candidates Wednesday night, treating her like the star of the show. The debate led off with Warren, who had a huge popularity advantage from the start… NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie started it off sounding more like Warren’s press secretary. ‘You have many plans – free college, free child care, government health care, cancelation of student debt, new taxes, new regulations, the breakup of major corporations,’ Guthrie said, before teeing up an economy question. Guthrie even used Warren’s plan to break up tech companies as the foundation for a question for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey… the round-robin final comments also ended with Warren, as Maddow asked her for the ‘final, final statement.’ That let NBC bookend the entire debate with Warren and Warren.”
Dan Gainor, Fox News

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“The fans who avidly followed the men’s tournament certainly weren’t doing anything wrong. And it’s hard to argue that each of them had a moral obligation to be exactly as interested in women’s soccer. Even if we could stop them from watching the men more than the women, should we?…

“It’s tempting to answer that the fan choices aren’t innocent, they’re sexist. But since we can’t peek into their hearts, to say that definitively, we’d have to assume that men’s greater speed, strength and endurance definitely make nodifference to the sport’s quality. Fair enough, but then why do fans prefer to watch Megan Rapinoe play instead of the sedentary elderly who could presumably use some exercise? Alternatively, maybe pay should be equalized precisely because biology is unfair. But that seems to be an argument for curbing the pay of all top-level athletes, who have to hit the genetic lottery just to get on the field. It might be easier to focus on the distributions across society at large, rather than every individual industry, especially when fundamental biology is in play.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

On the bright side...

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