It’s harder to analyze events than to paste labels on them. Events come thick and fast, and pundits have to say something. It’s mostly pundits I’m talking about, but not entirely. History may not repeat, but it does rhyme, they say, and then they reach for one of these tropes. When the tropes are repeated again and again, they can influence policymakers. They flatten everyone’s thinking.
Here are five that I find particularly irritating.
Red Lines. Although they frequently appear in op-eds, nobody has identified these precious markers. Party A has a red line that Party B must not cross, or package of responses C will ensue. War doesn’t work this way. Most diplomacy doesn’t work this way. Each side has a number of options to choose from that depend on the situation in which a decision is made: timing, balance of interests, balance of power. The New York Times has an excellent explainer on red lines, although they couldn’t resist writing the headline as if the trope was worth considering.
Now that we are out of Afghanistan and have declared the Forever Wars over, a number of people are eagerly pushing their favorites for the next war.
Alexander Lukashenka, who lost Belarus’s election for president but doesn’t want to go, is causing trouble on his borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia by forcing refugees from the Middle East across those borders. Belarus has restricted the flow of oil to Poland.
Lukashenka’s neighbor to the east, Vladimir Putin, backs him warily because Belarus is one of Russia’s few allies. On the other hand, Lukashenka has defied Putin in the past. His latest move to restrict the flow of oil to Poland may or may not be backed by the Kremlin. Putin has been increasing troop strength near the eastern part of Ukraine, where he has kept a shooting war going since 2014. It’s unlikely that he is preparing for a broader invasion – that would require holding additional territory and thus more military resources. But it’s not clear what he’s about.
Fidel Castro, who ruled through eleven American presidencies, is dead. The Miami Herald has the definitive (long) obituary. I think it’s a fair assessment; I recall Castro depicted in the United States as a freedom fighter against the landed overlords, and then his turn to Communism and the Soviet Union. As the obit says, we’ll never know if he was a communist all along. All that is vivid to me because my high school hosted a talk on Castro’s 1956 victory, one of my first understandings of international events. Read More
Russia complains that the United States broke a promise not to expand NATO to the east, made when the reunification of Germany was negotiated in 1990. Recent scholarship agrees that the United States promised at that time not to expand NATO, although the promise was not formalized. (Shorter podcast version here.) Read More