What Putin learned from Lincoln

“They say we have violated international law. At least they remember about international law – better late than never.”

- Vladimir Putin talking about the US and the West.

Once again, world politics, or foreign affairs, dominates the news. The Crimea drama is over, finished, kaput. The Russians did what you would expect. So did the Crimeans.

Crimea has voted overwhelmingly to join Russia. And the markets seem to be celebrating. Stocks, as measured by the Dow, rose 88 points yesterday. Gold – the antidote to crises of all sorts – dropped $13.

We promised a second foray into the time that land forgot – that dark future where things that couldn’t go on forever finally stop. The question on the table yesterday was ‘when’. We had no answer to it.

The question today is ‘how’, about which we have more to say – so much that we will have to leave it until tomorrow. Instead, we will riff on world politics, about which we know even less than we know about economics.

The people of Crimea have spoken. And naturally, the defenders of democracy are appalled. The LA Times:

WASHINGTON — In the most direct East-West confrontation since the Cold War, the White House and the European Union imposed sanctions against more than two dozen Russian and Ukrainian officials Monday and threatened more penalties if Moscow does not back down in Crimea.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree that recognized Crimea as “sovereign and independent” after Sunday’s overwhelming vote there in favor of secession from Ukraine.

CNN continues:

Vice President Joe Biden, meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk Tuesday, accused Russia’s leaders of “a brazen, brazen military incursion” and said NATO would “emerge from this crisis stronger and more unified than ever.”

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking in the British House of Commons Tuesday, said Russia was “choosing the route of isolation, denying the citizens of his own country and of Crimea partnership with the international community.”

Hague also warned of “a grave danger of a provocation elsewhere in Ukraine that becomes a pretext for further military escalation.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the “so-called referendum” and the acceptance of Crimea to the Russian Federation was in violation of international law.


Bill Bonner on markets, economics & the madness of crowds

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Why are folks in the West so animated? Isn’t the principle of self-determination enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, and wasn’t it repeated in the set-up documents for the League of Nations, as well as the United Nations? Isn’t the right of people to decide for themselves by whom they will be misgoverned the sacred foundation stone of democracy?

‘Self-determination’ has always been useful, convenient, BS. It is only handy when you have the guns to back it up. Otherwise, it is just air.

America’s greatest and bloodiest war – the ‘war between the states’ – proved it. You can talk about democracy all you want; but when push comes to shove, the pushers always shove you around.

Compare Putin with Lincoln. Putin invaded Crimea, where people overwhelmingly wanted him to come. Lincoln invaded Virginia, where no one wanted him.

As far as we know, Putin’s men didn’t fire a shot. Lincoln’s troops shot at everything that moved. By the time they were finished, one out of four white men of fighting age in the south was dead.

And then, after the troops were firmly in control of their prize, do you remember Lincoln offering the southerners a chance to vote on whether they wanted to re-join the north?
And where was the declaration that the south was sovereign and independent? We must have missed it.

Nobody really gives a damn about democracy or self-determination. And perhaps for good reason. Alexander Boot writes:

According to Freedom House the world didn’t boast a single democracy in 1900. However, in 2007 there were supposed to be 123 democracies out of 192 existing countries…

As the shift from zero to 123 occurred in the 20th century, then, according to democracy worshippers, it ought to be regarded as the sunniest period ever. Instead, somewhere between 400 and 500 million people died violent deaths at the time – more than in all the other centuries of recorded history combined. Moreover, some of the most horrific massacres ensued after failed attempts to implant the saplings of one-man-one-vote democracy into a soil all too ready to reject them. Russia and Germany spring to mind, but then you can name your own examples from just about every continent.

Woodrow Wilson, one of the neocons’ icons, dragged America into the First World War under the slogan of “making the world safe for democracy”. The principal warring parties were perplexed, considering that France was already a republic, Britain a constitutional democracy with a fine parliamentary tradition, while Germany, Austria and even Russia had functioning parliaments, even though the last had been struggling to come to terms with it. And all those parliaments craved war.

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3 Responses

  1. 19/03/2014, dogdays wrote

    Bill
    I find your attitude to Mr Putin’s antics slightly naive. Claiming to be saviour of ethnic peoples who speak the same language, taking over weaker countries lands and being welcomed by the inhabitants, saying to the world that there will be no further territorial claims in future.
    All this was said by Herr Hitler over the Sudetenland, and just look where it all ended up. Would be dictators have to be nipped in the bud before the become flushed with their success, as they move on to bigger things. I speak as a man who played in the bombed ruins of London as a small boy.

  2. 20/03/2014, Kris Armani wrote

    “Isn’t the right of people to decide for themselves by whom they will be misgoverned the sacred foundation stone of democracy?”

    “You can talk about democracy all you want; but when push comes to shove, the pushers always shove you around.”

    After losing my shirt betting on an imminent stock market crash for the past two years, I sometimes wonder why I continue to follow your newsletter. Not that I blame you. After all, it was not your hand that kept clicking maniacally on the sell button day after day. But when I read your trademark gems like the above, I realize why I read you each morning. There is more to life than winning or losing in the market place. People take life too seriously. You alleviate this affliction.

    As for Crimea, Putin did what he had to. He captured it all in his, “If you press a spring too hard, it will recoil.” It is amusing to see American and European politicians wringing their hands, running around in panic, getting apoplectic about democracy and rule of law, and issuing threat after empty threat. What a spectacle! It has been a long time since I enjoyed politics this much.

  3. 20/03/2014, osprey wrote

    excellent article bill… well said… the analogy drawn (by dogdays) with hitler’s antics has only a tenuous validity in this instance. IMHO the west has both miscalculated and overreacted badly and as a consequence has been visibly outdone by putin.

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