Defining “Victory” in Ukraine

In his latest Wall Street Journal column Walter Russell Mead is flailing around, seeking a plan to secure victory for Ukraine in its war against Russian aggression:

Having failed to deter Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine in the first place, the Biden administration badly overestimated the effect of Western sanctions on Russia. Once it was clear that sanctions wouldn’t force Russia to end the war, and after several failed efforts to tempt Russia with “off ramps,” Team Biden cooked up Plan Stalemate. The West would dribble out enough aid to help Ukraine survive, but not enough to help it win. Ultimately, the Ukrainians would lose hope of victory and offer Mr. Putin a compromise peace. The White House would spin this as a glorious triumph for democracy and the rule of law.

Some will criticize this as a cynical strategy, but the real problem is that it is naive. Mr. Biden seems to be clinging to the idea that Mr. Putin can be appeased—parked, if you prefer—by reasonable concessions. And so, the White House thinks, if Ukraine offers reasonable terms, Russia will gladly accept them.

Here’s the kernel of the piece:

But what if, when Mr. Putin senses weakness, he doubles down? What if a few thousand square miles of Ukrainian territory matter less to him than inflicting a humiliating defeat on the Biden administration and demonstrating the weakness of the West?

Mr. Putin has recovered from his early stumbles in Ukraine. Russia has more than doubled its forces there since the war began. Despite early setbacks, Russia has developed capabilities and tactics that have improved its troops’ effectiveness on the battlefield. The unconventional (if morally repugnant) decision to send released prisoners to fight in such places as Bakhmut and Avdiivka means that Russia was able to degrade some of Ukraine’s best combat units while preserving its own best units for battle elsewhere.

Russia has increased weapons production and is now manufacturing ammunition an estimated seven times faster than the West. It has mitigated the effect of Western sanctions. It is strengthening military and strategic links with Iran, and thanks to Iranian protégé Hamas, Western attention has shifted from Ukraine toward the Middle East.

We have more than one problem in ensuring a victory for Ukraine. The first is that we are unable to produce munitions as fast as Ukraine needs it. Here’s an illustration of why that might be:

The short version is that U. S. industrial production has been flat for the last 25 years. Given the time, investment, and commitment we could reserve that. It won’t happen overnight. A question for the interested student: can we dramatically increase industrial production and “go green” simultaneously?

The second problem is that Europe can’t supply Ukraine fast enough, either. From the editors of the Wall Street Journal:

Ukraine fires some 6,000 to 8,000 shells a day. Its soldiers need large quantities of the 155mm artillery shells that are a NATO standard and can be used in howitzers from the U.S., France, Poland, Germany and Slovakia. Yet foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell said on Nov. 14 that the EU had reached only “30% of the overall objective” for ammo deliveries.

As of mid-November the EU had provided Ukraine with some 300,000 rounds of ammunition, but that supply came from existing stocks, according to a recent brief by the European Parliamentary Research Service. The European Defense Agency has also signed at least eight contracts with defense firms to procure an additional 180,000 155mm rounds, but these haven’t yet been delivered.

Regardless of political will, Europe’s ammunition promise is “unlikely to be fulfilled” because of the “lamentable state of the defense industry,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said this month, according to the newspaper Ukrainska Pravda. European military spending declined sharply after the Cold War. Rebuilding capacity will require investment in new facilities, machines, and worker recruitment and training.

The third matter is even more grim. Our efforts to date have not brought Russia to its knees. If anything Russia is stronger than it was a year ago. That sounds like we’re going in the wrong direction to me.

Ukraine’s definition of victory, repeated frequently, is a return to the pre-2014 borders and security assurances against future Russian attacks. Is there any level of effort on our or the EU’s part that will produce that? I don’t believe so. IMO control of Crimea is a vital national interest for Russia which they won’t abandon as long as they are able.


The WaPo’s Plan

The editors of the Washington Post have a plan for regulating the chaos at our southern border:

Republicans have one thing right about the border: The Biden administration’s strategy to keep asylum seekers from flocking to the United States is not working.

Many, including us, had high hopes. But last fiscal year’s 3.2 million “encounters” with migrants — occurring either at official entry points or, more often, when the Border Patrol nabbed migrants entering illegally elsewhere — were the highest on record, by a very long shot. Chances are this fiscal year, they will be higher.

Democrats might flinch at the proposition, but the Republican idea that it should be tougher for asylum seekers to enter the United States makes some sense. Hundreds of thousands of people who reach the southern border every year hope to leave a dismal existence behind, but most are not fleeing persecution, in fear for life or limb. They seek asylum because the U.S. asylum system is the only door available to knock on.

Their plan consists of the following bullet points:

  • Raise the standard of proof required for asylum
  • Increase the number of immigration court judges significantly
  • Increase the number of slots available for legal immigration

which you might recognize as having some resemblance to what I’ve been advocating around here for most of the last decade. I would add the following:

  • Anyone who has fled their home country, entering a country in between their home country and the United States is definitionally not seeking asylum
  • Anyone not seeking asylum who wishes to enter the U. S., presumably to work, must speak, read, and write English
  • Anyone not seeking asylum must have an actual job offer in the United States or some documentable skill to confirm the likelihood of their securing a job
  • There should be some absolute ceiling on the number of migrants we accept in a year.

It should be noted that in addition to those with appointments and those apprehended (3.2 million) last year there were at least 300,000 “got-aways”, individuals who were observed but not apprehended.

As to my last bullet point consider the following:

More than 900 million people want to migrate permanently to another country and the U. S. is a top destination although not the only destination. At least in the United States most migrants who will never rise above an entry level income due to limited English will always be an economic liability. Someone has got to pay for their safety, health, and educating their children. That “someone” is you and me.


In Defense of Disney (Sort of)

With the criticism and attendant declining stock value the company has been receiving, I want to speak in defense of the Disney Co. Sort of.

As its most recent animated cartoon, Wish becomes its fifth bona fide flop this year and its losses mount into the billions, you may well wonder what’s going on. I think that what Disney has been trying to do is expand its audience beyond its core audience but is has failed to do that.

Disney’s animated material and related merchandise have long had a target audience of little girls. For each new feature there is a “princess”, dolls, etc. Marvel, on the other hand, has largely had a target audience of teenage and pre-teenage boys. Features with lots of action, fights, explosions, and handsome men and beautiful women largely clad in spandex (in the case of Marvel). The same is true of Lucasfilms (with the exception of the spandex).

Although I stood in line to watch the original three George Lucas Star Wars movies and the first two Indiana Jones pictures on the days they opened, I don’t think I’ve seen any Marvel or Lucasfilms movie in the theater since. But I’m not the target audience for them.

I think Disney is trying to expand the audience for its own products by appealing more to little girls who aren’t primarily of European descent and to expand the audiences for Marvel and Lucasfilms products by appealing more to girls and women. It can’t seem to accomplish any of those objectives and hold onto to its original target audience at the same time.

Contrast that with Warner Bros. astonishing success with the Barbie movie. Its audience was women and girls under the age of 75 and it knew it. Clearly, it provided the content that audience wanted.

When you combine Disney’s inability to expand its audience while retaining its previous fanbase with the cost-cutting and price increases that have been the companies preferred strategies for staunching the losses it has been seeing from all of its segments, it has been a formula for disaster. I don’t think they’ll make more money by making the parks so expensive no one can visit them or producing fewer live action or animated productions or cheapening those it does produce.

It’s created a vicious cycle for itself from which I don’t see a clear way to recover.



In his brief Washington Post column David Ignatius characterizes the imminent return of hostilities following the end of the ceasefire as “fraught”:

Israel faces an agonizing and probably controversial dilemma ahead: After pausing the Gaza war for humanitarian reasons, how will the Israel Defense Forces start it up again to complete its objective of destroying Hamas’s political power?

Friday’s celebrations of the release of 13 Israeli women and children didn’t mask the concern among senior Israeli officials about what’s ahead in this stop-start war as Israel seeks to recover all 240 hostages and also crush the Hamas forces that hold most of them. “It’s bittersweet,” said one senior Israeli official in an interview on the eve of the hostage release. “I’m thinking of those who will not come out tomorrow.”

“Fraught” is an understatement. Agonizing, more like it.

Israel has the choice of either accepting a return to the status quo ante which unquestionably would mean a return of October 7-style attacks or, effectively, leveling Gaza. That appears to be what they’ve done in the north part of the territory and are preparing to do in the south Either way is a distaster: a humanitarian disaster for the Gazans and a public relations disaster for the Israelis.

Over the weekend I watched an interview with the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in which he hemmed and hawed about what why so many UN employees had been killed in the conflict so far. Eventually, it came out that UNRWA facilities were being used as ammo dumps by Hamas. Left unanswered is how that could happen without UNRWA being aware of it. Is there an explanation other than recklessness or indifference?

BTW in case you’re wondering who’s paying for Hamas’s attacks the short answer is we are. Since money is fungible and Hamas has been the legal government of Gaza for more than ten years, part of every dollar paid in humanitarian aid to Gaza ends up in Hamas’s hands. Since we’re the biggest contributor to UNRWA that means we’re paying to keep Hamas in operation. Next up is Qatar, also a major donor. And, of course, Iran is openly on the side of Hamas.

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Should Schools Have Cellphone Jammers?

The editors of the Washington Post argue for banning smartphones in schools:

Social media, the U.S. surgeon general wrote in an advisory this year, might be linked to the growing mental health crisis among teens. And even if this link turns out to be weaker than some recent research suggests, smartphones are undoubtedly a classroom distraction.

Understandably, individual schools and school districts — in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and elsewhere — are trying to crack down on smartphones. Students are required to store the devices in backpacks or lockers during classes, or to place them in magnetic locking pouches. In 2024, these efforts should go even further: Impose an outright ban on bringing cellphones to school, which parents should welcome and support.

In educational settings, smartphones have an almost entirely negative impact: Educators and students alike note they can fuel cyberbullying and stifle meaningful in-person interaction. A 14-country study cited by UNESCO found that the mere presence of a mobile phone nearby was enough to distract students from learning. It can take up to 20 minutes for students to refocus.

Wouldn’t an easier and more complete solution be for schools to have cellphone jammers? I would add that unless you also advocate banning smartpads and laptops in educational settings banning smartphones would be futile—there is very little that can be done with a smartphone that cannot also be done with a laptop.

I would also add that IMO the real problem is one of attention span and banning devices in educational settings will do nothing about that. It’s a problem that has been predicted for more than 50 years.


Mister, We Could Use a Man Like Herbert Hoover Again

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal former British Prime Minister Liz Truss calls for American leadership:

For as long as most of us can recall, the U.S. has led the free world. During the Cold War, for example, it was American power that successfully held off the communist threat from the Soviet Union. Working in tandem with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, President Ronald Reagan was unflinching, calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

The world would benefit from more of that kind of American leadership today. I hope that a Republican will be returned to the White House in 2024. There must be conservative leadership in the U.S. that is once again bold enough to call out hostile regimes as evil and a threat.

Too many of us in the Western world became complacent about the defeat of our communist enemies and believed that victory was everlasting for freedom and democracy. In reality no such victories are permanent.

The West allowed China to join the World Trade Organization as a developing nation—on beneficial terms it enjoys to this day—as President Xi Jinping proceeded to make himself president for life, clamped down on democracy and freedom of speech in Hong Kong and presided over human-rights abuses in Xinjiang province.

Meantime Iran is backing terrorists such as Hamas and developing its own nuclear capability—all while the U.S. waits in vain for Tehran to sign the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal. And Vladimir Putin’s territorial ambitions are ever more hostile.

Is it any wonder these regimes have proceeded with impunity when their actions haven’t properly been called out by others? The failure to enforce, for example, the red line in Syria, and America’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, emboldened these regimes further.

IMO PM Truss is painfully confused. In many of the examples she cites American leadership was indispensable in making the mistakes she criticizes. The United States promoted the idea of WTO membership for China under the misapprehension that economic liberalization would naturally be followed by political liberalization. That has rather apparently proved incorrect. It was an American president who refused to cross the red line he had set in Syria.

In other cases American leadership was not followed by our alleged allies. Iran developed its nuclear program with the enthusiastic support of German companies, delighted to sell them dual-use materials they were unable to produce internally. That was important in China’s astonishing economic growth as well. Germany maintained a trade surplus with China long after many other countries were running deficits by selling China factories and modern industrial equipment.

And the Republican frontrunner at present is not a conservative. I’m not sure what Donald Trump’s political philosophy is if anything. I think he’s an egoist.

I think that Ms. Truss’s piece is a nostalgic plaint for American hegemony. I repeat what I have said before: American military might is downstream from American economic might. At this point China’s industrial economy is significantly larger than ours. What does she have in mind? Airlifting American MBAs to China to screw things up there?

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A Sad Commentary

In her Wall Street Journal column Peggy Noonan names her pick for person of the year:

Miss Taylor Swift is the Person of the Year. She is the best thing that has happened in America in all of 2023. This fact makes her a suitably international choice because when something good happens in America, boy is it worldwide news.

I just saw a NYT column saying pretty much the same thing.

They may be right. That’s what I find sad. I’m not singling Ms. Swift out. In the past Time Persons of the Year have been political, business, scientific, and religious leaders. They have been protesters, groups, things, and abstract concepts. To the best of my knowledge a popular entertainer has never been named person of the year.


It’s Not Our Circus

I’m glad that hostages are being exchanged in the Israel-Hamas war and that there’s a ceasefire but I want to repeat some themes I’ve touched on before. Let’s start with this report by Alyssa Donovan at WGN:

CHICAGO — Protesters marched down the Magnificent Mile on Friday to draw attention to the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters rallied on Michigan Avenue as they looked to catch the attention of Black Friday shoppers. Some of those who participated in the march said it is important to keep the focus on the war in the Middle East as many people’s attention now turns to the holidays.

Israel and Hamas agreed to a four-day-long ceasefire on Wednesday, but protesters on Michigan Avenue said it was not enough and called for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and an end to the occupation

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Any occupations by Israel of Gaza now are a direct consequence of Hamas’s attack on Israel and Israeli civilians.

Friday’s crowd grew to about 1,000 protesters by noon, and briefly caused a portion of Michigan Avenue to shut down to traffic.

It’s unclear to me how that promotes the Palestinian viewpoint. It is, however, clear to me how that contributes to the decline of Michigan Avenue as a destination.

I’ve checked British, French, and German news sources. I found no reports of demonstrations there. Indeed, there was relatively little about the Israel-Hamas conflict in their news.

Why is the U. S. paying so much attention while our European allies devote so little? Raising the U. S. profile, as President Biden is doing by repeatedly emphasizing how much attention we’re paying and how hard he, personally is working on it, is puzzling to me: the Europeans have a lot more stake in peace in the Middle East than we do but you would never know it based on their news coverage. My conclusion is that they think that maintaining a low profile is in their interests..

Why isn’t similarly maintaining a low profile in U. S. interest? I honestly don’t see any net political advantage for the president in it. It will be interesting to see what the polling information after the weekend tells us. Perhaps President Biden is focusing on it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. Just to make my views clear, I think it’s very rare for politicians in the upper echelons to do anything for any reason other than domestic political gain.

Meanwhile, at Outside the Beltway James Joyner muses over what will happen in the conflict after the ceasefire:

The destruction is likely to get even worse once the fight moves to the south. And, given a perfectly reasonable and just war aim of destroying Hamas, I believe the killing is proportionate to the military advantage, as required by international humanitarian law.

The problem, though, is tying the military strategy to the political one. Aside from “Hamas won’t be able to kill Israeli citizens any time soon”—a goal I certainly share—it’s not obvious what the ultimate war aim is. What is the better state of peace?

It continues to appear to me that the Netanyahu government has not figured that out. Not so much because they’ve given it no thought but that there are no acceptable answers.

The “two-state solution,” while logically the only end state that can possibly lead to long-term peace, is a fantasy. Israelis have maintained a Zionist state since 1948 and intend to keep it. Even if we could somehow persuade the Palestinians to abandon a goal of a state from the river to the sea,” it’s inconceivable that they’d settle for one that didn’t include Jerusalem. A single state where Arabs and Jews live together in perfect harmony, presumably while having a Coke and a smile, is even more absurd.

Let’s consider some outcomes. First, there’s the “two-state” solution. Any notion of two liberal democratic countries co-existing side by side, one the present Israel and the other composed of the West Bank and Gaza, is a fantasy. What would exist is an Islamist state composed of the West Bank and Gaza, engaging in episodic (at the very least) attacks on Israel from within its borders on the one hand and an imperfectly liberal democratic state in the present Israel, pressed to continue to support and defend Israeli settlers within the Islamic state. In other words the best case scenario is one of mutual tension just short of war, occasionally spilling over into actual conflict. That doesn’t sound like a benign outcome to me. How about you?

A “one-state” solution in which Israel occupies the entirety of the area of traditional Palestine from the west bank of the Jordan River to the Mediterranean would be even worse. Israel could not grant voting rights to the populations of the West Bank and Gaza and continue to exist.

Worst of all would be a one-state solution in which the present state of Israel ceased to exist and the Palestinians held control of the entire area. Whatever else it would be, it would not be either liberal or democratic.

On that basis it’s clear why the Biden Administration support Israel as consistently as it does. Every even remotely benign outcome includes the continued existence of the state of Israel.

I think it would be even better if the U. S. to pressure Israel not to provide financial support or defense to Israeli settlements in the West Bank but that seems to be unworthy of consideration.

The comments at OTB are interesting. The first comment completely takes the Palestinian side. Later on there’s reasonably good comment that completely refutes it. There are several questions that go unanswered:

  1. Why are we as involved as we are?
  2. Why aren’t Egypt and Jordan taking any flak? Egypt is signatory to the same international conventions on refugees as we are but has not accepted a single Gazan refugee since the conflict began.
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Thanksgiving 2023

This year’s Thanksgiving was intimate—just my wife and myself and a dear old friend. Our regular Thanksgiving custom is for all of those present, starting with the youngest, expressing what they were thankful for in the past year. Our guest, as she led off our expressions of thanks, quipped that she is unaccustomed to being the youngest member of any group these days.

I made our customary Thanksgiving meal. I smoked the turkey, made something resembling my wife’s family’s traditional stuffing (as dressing), my wife’s cranberry chiffon, my spicy cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts braised with chestnuts, and pumpkin chiffon pie. I didn’t make rolls this year—my yeast was dead.

I have now been making Thanksgiving dinners since I was a kid. I took over from my mom the better part of a century ago. I think I have a few more Thanksgiving dinners in me but at the end of the day I can definitely feel it these days and I spend the better part of the next day recovering.

I’ll take this opportunity to give thanks for my regular readers and commenters. I hope in these troubled times you have had a happy and restful Thanksgiving.


Maybe There’s a Different Threat

I was a bit amused by the editors’ of the Washington Post’s concern over the adverse effect that extreme political polarization has on marriage:

The problem with polarization, though, is that it has effects well beyond the political realm, and these can be difficult to anticipate. One example is the collapse of American marriage. A growing number of young women are discovering that they can’t find suitable male partners. As a whole, men are increasingly struggling with, or suffering from, higher unemployment, lower rates of educational attainment, more drug addiction and deaths of despair, and generally less purpose and direction in their lives. But it’s not just that. There’s a growing ideological divide, too. Since Mr. Trump’s election in 2016, the percentage of single women ages 18-30 who identify as liberal has shot up from slightly over 20 percent to 32 percent. Young men have not followed suit. If anything, they have grown more conservative.

This ideology gap is particularly pronounced among Gen Z Whites. According to a major new American Enterprise Institute survey, 46 percent of White Gen Z women are liberal, compared to only 28 percent of White Gen Z men, more of whom (36 percent) now identify as conservative. Norms around sexuality and gender are diverging, too. Where 61 percent of Gen Z women see themselves as feminist, only 43 percent of Gen Z men do.

The first part that struck me was that the risk isn’t to marriage but to the family. That has been a problem for some time.

The second thing that struck me was that when a woman marries she is no longer in the demographic they’re concerned about (“single women 18-30”). How much of the problem is definitional?

The next thing I thought of was that there is plenty of evidence suggesting that women are more hypergamic than men, i.e. more predisposed to “marry up”. That becomes a problem increasingly as women’s incomes are the same as those of men. When you’re a woman in the top 10% of income earners and the only men who are “husband material” are in the top 3% of income earners, guess what? There are more of you than there are of them.

Yet another factor is that ideology is not immutable, indeed, there is substantial evidence suggesting that your views change throughout life based on your experiences. How worried should we actually be about ideological differences that will change with age and experience?

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