Why War?

As the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, it looked as if a near century of poisonous ideologies had come to an end. The people of the world could breathe easier since no force would be trying to control their lives. International politics would be more a matter of diligent tinkering by leaders of limited ambition sharing a rather similar outlook. They would look out for themselves and their countries without demanding the rest of the world conform to their views – something perhaps like 19th century Europe which managed to avoid a general war or the best years of the Roman Empire when a general peace prevailed. People had finally learned suitable lessons from their violent past.

How wrong we were. It goes to show that much neglected Sigmund Freud was right when he said the violence in man will always out. It can emerge for all kinds of reasons or none at all – a permanent condition in need of constant attention. It’s astounding that relatively minor issues involving the U.S., China, Russia, Iran and many others can be considered worthy of outright war, even a nuclear one. Have people or their leaders taken leave of their senses or are they clinging to atavistic habits dating back to the stone age from which they cannot escape?

The form of government doesn’t seem to matter. Autocratic rule is expected to be cold and calculating. Its interests come first; others are an afterthought. But what about democracies? Since 9/11 the U.S. has engaged in one war after another without declaring war or having a clear goal in mind. It’s as if democratic rule alonejustifies these actions. Who can find fault with democracy?

Under autocratic rule, a strong man’s word, likePutin’s – is law. Other opinions need not be considered. Invade Ukraine, he says. It’s done.No such power exists in democracy. The will of the people prevails but which people under which circumstances? Democracy is open to all with money a factor above all. Use money as freely as words, say various U.S. Supreme Court decisions. That has been done to the damage of democracy. Billionaire currency trader George Soros has used his wealth to undermine a crucial part of U.S. law enforcement. It’s hard to imagine a Putin allowing that along with his suppression of more salutary ventures.

Advocates of an exceptional nation say the U.S. should set an example for the rest of the world. Indeed. One example might be the use of restraint in crises or simulated ones. Skillful negotiation is more to be prized than the blunderbuss of war. Yes, Putin invaded Ukraine, but who has shown more skill In the aftermath –Putin or Biden, who defying all  geopolitical advice against a two-front war, is now facing wars on several fronts with a U.S. record of notbringing a single war to a satisfactory conclusion since 9/11. Democracy can do better than this and has to.

Poland in the Middle – Again

Poland is situated in one of the toughest places on earth – right in the middle of Europe with assertive, even aggressive neighbors on all sides, some of whom may want it to disappear altogether. It did just that for 123 years until, shockingly, it was reborn after World War One thanks to steadfast Polish efforts. It survived the brutal post-World War Two Soviet occupation and even contributed to its collapse. Today it stands free, independent, the largest nation in Eastern Europe with the strongest economy.

And as usual, with problem neighbors. To the east, Russia, which invaded Ukraine, tells Poland to stop supplying U.S. weapons to Ukraine or else. To the west, the European Union, of which Poland is a member, threatens to cut off funds to the country unless it stops backsliding on democracy. Both powers say do as you’re told or suffer the consequences. Poland replies that it has heard all that before. 

Russian leader Putin is no Stalin, who slaughtered more Poles than any other ruler in history. His war aims, he says, are limited: independence of the Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine and no further NATO advance toward Russian borders. But a more prolonged war, he warns, could eventually involve Poland which borders Ukraine, thereby triggering a U.S. military response, and then who knows what? 

Russian rhetoric is in keeping with policy. A top Russian official says Poland has been infected with “Russophobia” by Western “puppeteers.” Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a Putin ally, boasts that he will attack Poland if it keeps giving weapons to Ukraine. “In six seconds, we’ll show you what we’re capable of.” A Russian TV host insists – you guessed it – Poland should disappear. 

Poles reply that if anything, they will increase their aid to Ukraine. They have already accepted half of the five million Ukrainian refugees and many Poles go to the border with offers of food and shelter.

At the same time, they have built a fence along the border with Belarus,  another Putin ally, to keep out refugees from that direction, mostly Muslims as compared to Christians from Ukraine.

Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarity union that triumphed over the Soviet Union, says Russia should be dismembered with its population reduced from 145 million to fifty million. He doesn’t say it should disappear altogether. 

The EU threat to Poland is not a military one. It doesn’t have any troops. Its power is only political but no less formidable for that. Its headquarters in Brussels keeps close tabs on 27 member nations to make sure they adhere to EU norms for European benefit. Violations are not accepted as we see in the case of Poland along with Hungary. The official complaint is that the Law and Justice Party, which has governed Poland since 2015, is compromising democracy by abridging the role of the judiciary among other actions. 

Yet there’s a deeper reason for the rift. Increasingly, Brussels has appeared to be moving in a more global direction as opposed to the populism of Law and Justice, which combines liberal economic policies with traditional social values regarding gender, abortion, and the like. One size does not fit all, say dissenting Poles. who don’t want to leave the EU but change it from within. 

Paradoxically, that may prove more difficult in the long run than militaristic Russia. Once the Ukraine war is over with a substantial Russian win, as seems likely, borders will be clear. Putin doesn’t care what happens on the other side of the Polish border so long as it doesn’t threaten Russia. The Poles can do as they please. But that’s exactly what concerns the EU. Poland must conform to EU guidance if it expects to have EU help and funds. It looks as if Poland will continue to live in a troublesome neighborhood. 

Drug Cartel Invasion

Say you’re hiking in one of seventy-two national forests in twenty-one states. It’s exhilarating, and you venture off the beaten path into the beguiling woods. Suddenly, you come upon a white canopied structure from which an occupant emerges with a gun and orders: “Leave or die.” Startled and a little rattled, you do as you’re told and quickly depart a spot in the U.S. no longer controlled by the U.S.

There are now tens of thousands of such spots in national forests, a U.S. treasure also treasured by the Mexican drug cartels, where they can farm marijuana in considerable isolation. It beats having to lug their product across thepartially guarded border, and unlike legal American growers they don’t have to pay taxes and can sell the marijuana out of state.

They do this with impunity in the national forests and elsewhere in suitable terrain. Local law enforcement is out manned and outgunned.When I was in Twentynine Palms in California’sMohave desert a year ago, the town manager said he was doing his best to cope but was ill equipped for a fight with the all-powerfulcartels, while the outraged manager of a local inn noted how the farms were encroaching on nearby land as if they had nothing to fear. Californians in the area have plenty to fear as violence typical of Mexico is on the increase with dead bodies appearing in the vicinity of the farms. Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall told the Louisville Courier Journal: “We’re a very short time away from seeing heads in the square as they do down In Mexico.

USA Today reports that residents in Mendocinowere offered half a million dollars in cash to lease their property for a year. At year’s end they would get a million more so long as they had kept off their own land and had not interfered with ongoing activity. It was an offer hard to refuse, and it’s not certain how many did, considering the consequences.  

The farms are especially damaging to the environment with lavish use of pesticides that can poison humans and wildlife and wasteful use of water in a drought-stricken area. Theyalso contribute to the wildfires plaguing the state. Equally damaged are workers, mainly illegal migrants brought from the border, wholive in squalid conditions with no running water and scant food. A sixteen- year- old girl was discovered who had no idea where she was or what she was supposed to do other than servicethe workers in a sex trafficking arrangement. According to Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel, “These people are narco-slaves. They are afraid that the cartels will kill them or their families back home. So they don’t talk.”

The U.S. Government has spent $54 billion onaid to Ukraine to weaken the invading Russians who have not invaded the U.S. In fact, it’s said that Russian ruler Putin seeks better relations with the U.S, which could be useful at a time of robust Chinese global expansion. Billions are also spent on other wars, open and secret, that seem light years removed from the national interest.

Yet here we have a well organized and well armed criminal enterprise, posing as a nation, setting up shop in various parts of the U.S. and making no bones about it. Some cartel chiefs even say they would like to recover the half of Mexico lost in the 1840s war to the U.S. The U.S. indifference to a genuine national threat is truly baffling, giving rise to theories about the power of drug money in our society. All the cartel farms could be eliminated at a sliver of the cost of the Ukrainian war. But take comfort.The government has posted signs in the national forests warning visitors not to get too close to the foreign invaders.