The Problem with Permitting Putin’s “Sphere of Influence”
Plus, the illiberals of the left and right.
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BRIAN STEWART on The Problem with Permitting Putin’s “Sphere of Influence.”
The alleged prudence of catering to Putin’s designs in Ukraine is not evident to those who recall that Russia’s historical sphere of influence does not end with Ukraine, but begins there. Since the Russian empire has penetrated deep into the heart of Central Europe, it’s worth asking what possible concessions the West could offer that would quell Russians’ sense of grievance or satisfy Putin’s ambitions. When an American general at the Potsdam Conference tried to flatter Stalin by observing how agreeable it was to see the Red Army in Berlin, Stalin replied bitterly, “Tsar Alexander I reached Paris.”
Nor are the “bloodlands” on the eastern reaches of Europe, to purloin historian Timothy Snyder’s apt description, the only possible theater of irredentism: Russia has historically made claims to the entire South Caucasus, Moldova, Finland, enormous swaths of Central Asia, and chunks of Northeast Asia. A predictable consequence of granting Moscow a “sphere of influence” is that the Kremlin will endeavor to make it as voluminous as possible. By undermining the security of Russia’s neighbors, and driving them to reinforce their own defense, this policy would stimulate the very insecurity that it seeks to stifle.
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THOMAS J. MAIN argues: Both the Right and Left Have Illiberal Factions. Which Is More Dangerous?
In terms of audience size, Hard Core Right illiberal sites averaged about 186 million visits monthly. That’s about 31 percent the size of the audience for sites representing the mainstream Right and 19 percent the size of the audience of mainstream Left sites.
Not to put too fine a point on it: That’s a lot.
As I said, third-party web traffic numbers are not perfectly accurate. But consider a poll conducted in 2017 by Reuters/Ipsos in conjunction with the University of Virginia Center for Politics: It found that “6 percent of respondents said they strongly or somewhat supported the alt-right . . . 8 percent expressed support for white nationalism [and] . . . 4 percent expressed support for neo-Nazism.”
Given that America has roughly 250 million adults, if at least 4 percent of them support neo-Nazism, then our nation has at least 10 million proponents of one form of radical right-wing illiberalism. That would be larger than the number of adult Jews in America (of whom there are about 4.2 million). Or, if you prefer: larger than the populations of 43 states.
BENJAMIN PARKER makes The Case Against Concessions.
It is possible—it may even be overwhelmingly likely—that granting Russia the concessions it wants will prevent mass violence in Ukraine in the short term. Large-scale operations would be difficult and bloody for the Russian army; holding territory while fighting a guerrilla resistance potentially even more so. It’s conceivable that a difficult campaign against fellow Slavs in which the conscription-based Russian army suffers heavy casualties might threaten Putin’s hold on power. Having squeezed concessions out of NATO, therefore, Putin might be satisfied and stand down.
But just because that scenario is possible—and even if it is overwhelmingly likely—does not make it a certainty. Besides, that scenario presumes that Putin is a rational, risk-averse actor with generally the same information as Western observers. It’s possible that he’s not a rational actor—or, at least, not rational in the relevant way. It’s possible that, in line with his 2008 comments to President George W. Bush that Ukraine “is not a country” and his 7,000-word essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” published last July, the aging, increasingly isolated autocrat is determined to restore his country to what he considers its rightful glory, no matter the costs.
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Another parent in Katy, a Houston suburb, asked the district to remove a children’s biography of Michelle Obama, arguing that it promotes “reverse racism” against white people, according to the records obtained by NBC News. A parent in the Dallas suburb of Prosper wanted the school district to ban a children’s picture book about the life of Black Olympian Wilma Rudolph, because it mentions racism that Rudolph faced growing up in Tennessee in the 1940s. In the affluent Eanes Independent School District in Austin, a parent proposed replacing four books about racism, including “How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi, with copies of the Bible.
Of course, this is the intent of Republicans who have campaigned on parental choice, and Texas is showing us what could be coming to a legislature near you.
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