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Stalin’s Partisans in Ukraine

Alexander Gogun’s excellent study, Stalin’s Commandos: Ukrainian Partisan Forces on the Eastern Front, sometimes reads like an analysis of Putin’s commandos in the eastern Donbas. In both cases, the official Moscow line was and is that they’re a popular movement generated by discontent from below. In fact, Stalin’s commandos, like Putin’s, were largely creatures of the Kremlin—a point Gogun, a Russian scholar currently based at the Free University in Berlin, makes forcefully, repeatedly, and convincingly.

Hezbollah Devours Lebanon

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared victory last week in Lebanon.

He has made plenty of empty bombastic victory boasts in the past, most notoriously after the Israelis served his own ass to him on a kabob skewer during the 2006 war, but this time, thanks to the now-unchecked rise of Iranian power, Hezbollah really is winning.

“Iran can do anything it wants in Lebanon without any political opposition or challenges,” Hanin Ghaddar writes in NOW Lebanon. “And now Iran can focus to win what it needs in Syria, while everyone is busy making business deals with the ‘new Iran.’ Lebanon, on the other hand, is going to pay a very high price for all these deals and compromises, more so as Iran, Russia and the Assad regime are scoring more gains in Syria.”

Before Osama bin Laden destroyed the World Trade Center in 2001, Hezbollah killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization in the world. Its killing spree began, not long after the Iranian hostage crisis, in 1983 with the destruction of the US Embassy in Beirut and the Marine barracks near the international airport with suicide truck bombers.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps created Hezbollah from scratch during the chaos of Lebanon’s civil war in 1982, and the so-called Party of God has been the most successful export of the Iranian revolution ever since. Hezbollah is, in effect, the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. It answers to “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei and their flags are almost identical.

Iran spent roughly 100 million dollars a year on Hezbollah before the war in Syria started. Now that the nuclear deal between Washington and Tehran is going into effect, the Iranian government has 100 billion dollars worth of previously frozen assets to play with. That’s a thousand times as much as its baseline Hezbollah budget.

And that 100 billion only includes previously frozen assets the United States returned a little more than a week ago. It doesn’t take into account all the additional wealth the Iranian government will be able to produce now that the sanctions are gone.

Hezbollah is already the most advanced terrorist army in the world. ISIS is larger and holds more territory at the moment, but ISIS doesn’t have a terrifying arsenal of missiles that can turn an entire nation into a kill zone. Hezbollah does. And if the Iranian regime decides to pull out all the stops, there’s no telling how much of a menace Hezbollah could become in the future.

The Syrian and Iranian governments have never stopped backing these guys to the hilt, and Hezbollah is repaying the favor by fighting in Syria on behalf of its beleaguered co-patron Bashar al-Assad, who is supported now not only by Iran but also by Russia.

So Hezbollah is part of an extremely powerful geopolitical bloc while leaders of Lebanon’s anti-Hezbollah “March 14” coalition have seen every single one of their friends shrug and say, you’re on your own.

Lebanon has been politically deadlocked and without a president for almost two years now, but the anti-Hezbollah coalition can’t hold the line anymore. They’ve completely surrendered. In late January, two of March 14’s most prominent leaders finally threw in the towel and nominated pro-Assad and pro-Hezbollah figures to fill the vacancy.

Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces—a former Christian militia that was allied with Israel during the 1975-1990 civil war—made amends of sorts with his old nemesis, Michel Aoun, who has been angling for the presidency and backed by Assad and Hezbollah for a little more than a decade.

At the same time, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri whom the Syrians and Hezbollah assassinated with a truck bomb in 2005, nominated Marada movement leader Suleiman Franjieh for the presidency. Franjieh, like his father and grandfather before him, is so close to the House of Assad he may as well be a blood relative. He spent his teenage years in Syria as the protégé of Bassel al-Assad.

“Within March 14,” Hezbollah leader Nasrallah said last week and smiled, “one essential member supports Aoun, while another essential member supports Franjieh. Is this a loss for us, or a gain?”

Hariri and Geagea aren’t throwing their support behind their old foes because they suddenly think Assad, Hezbollah, the Iranian regime and Vladimir Putin are awesome. They don’t have much of a choice. The West doesn’t have their back anymore, so what else are they supposed to do? They can’t possibly take on the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah-Russian axis all by themselves. They tried for a while and got nowhere, and it’s finally over.

The US government saw this coming, of course, even while trying to downplay it, so Congress struck preemptively with the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, which will impose sanctions on any foreign banks that do business with Hezbollah.

Iran can do business with Hezbollah without using banks, of course, first and foremost by continuing to transfer an unlimited amount of sophisticated weapons as it has been doing all along anyway. Even if Iran were to use the international banking system, you can bet your bottom dollar that the US will pretend it’s not happening, at least for a while, to prevent the painstakingly negotiated nuclear deal from unraveling.

Lebanon may not be the most crucial country according to narrowly defined American interests, but like Tunisia, it’s one of the few Arab countries that has had a real shot at building something resembling a democratic system during the last couple of years. Lebanon is divided against itself, though, as it always has been, and Syria and Iran are aggressively and even violently backing the anti-Western and anti-democratic side. With no one supporting Lebanon’s pro-Western and pro-democratic side, there was ever only one possible outcome.

The West’s current mood of conflict avoidance is perfectly understandable, and it’s all-too human, but it’s no more effective than conflict avoidance in interpersonal relationships. The problem is not being resolved. It’s left to fester and worsen instead.

Weak states like Qatar have no choice but to engage in perennial conflict avoidance, but since ancient times Foreign Policy 101 has demanded that great powers reward their friends and punish their enemies. Leaders who cleverly attempt to defy gravity will deserve everything they’re going to get.

Where Is China’s Central Bank Chief?

In China and elsewhere, there is increasingly intense speculation as to why Zhou Xiaochuan, the highly acclaimed governor of the People’s Bank of China, has for months been silent about the renminbi, the ailing Chinese currency. His silence and absence is most unusual and apparently prompted IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde to chide Beijing at Davos last month for the government’s inadequate communication with financial markets.

Zhou, notably, stayed away from the central bank’s August 13 press conference, held just two days after the shock devaluation of the yuan, as the Chinese currency is informally known. Though he appeared at a G-20 finance meeting in Ankara in early September, he has since vanished. That he skipped Davos, raised eyebrows.

At Last, Military Reform Makes Headway in Ukraine

When a close observer and frequent critic of Ukraine’s military establishment has something good to say about it, we may want to listen.

Yuri Butusov, military analyst and editor of the censor.net website, describes a January 21 roundtable on defense reform he attended at the Ministry of Defense. He lists a number of firsts:

Dismantling Nukes is Good, But How To Safely Bury Them?

Who knows what one might find in London in 10,000 years’ time? Or New York or Berlin? The town of Carlsbad, by contrast, has a clear future ahead. For the next 10,000 years, a facility nearby will store clothing, lab equipment, rags, and other everyday items contaminated by atomic bombs.

At the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located in the desert 26 miles (42 kilometres) from Carlsbad, New Mexico, toxic material is stored 2,150 feet (655 meters) below the surface in plastic-lined steel drums in rooms carved out of a 250-million-year-old salt bed. “Bedded salt is free of fresh flowing water, easily mined, impermeable and geologically stable; an ideal medium for permanently isolating long-lived radioactive wastes from the environment. However, its most important quality in this application is the way salt rock seals all fractures and naturally closes all openings,” informs the US Department of Energy, which is in charge of storing the United States’ nuclear arsenal.

Iran Gets its Blackmail Money

The Iranian sanctions are over. The United States has now officially returned 100 billion dollars in frozen assets to the Iranian government as required by last year’s nuclear deal between Tehran and Washington.

“These assets…have fully been released and we can use them,” said government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht.

If you’re negotiating a deal with a hostile party, it behooves you to ask who’s having who for breakfast.

The United States, as the world’s sole remaining superpower, should have had the Iranian rulers for breakfast. We should have eaten their lunch, too, while we were at it, but nope. Iran gets 100 billion dollars and we get…nothing.

Oh, sure, we get “promises” from the Iranian government that it won’t build nuclear weapons, and inspectors get limited access to old nuclear facilities, but even if Iran never cheats and never builds a bomb, the best we can say is that we paid Iran off so it wouldn’t do something horrible.

The word for that is blackmail. Blackmail is a crime for a reason—because the blackmailed person or party gets robbed.

A good deal with Iran would have required the government—at minimum—to cease and desist all funding of international terrorist organizations. Instead, this deal enables the regime to dramatically increase its support for international terrorist organizations.

But okay, let’s be super optimistic here and assume Iran will use 99 percent of its treasure chest for peaceful purposes and economic development. Only one percent goes to terrorists.

Iran’s baseline funding for Hezbollah, its most powerful terrorist proxy in Lebanon and Syria, is at most 200 million dollars a year. If it earmarks just one percent of its 100 billion dollars to Hezbollah—just one billion dollars—that would boost Hezbollah’s cash infusion by a factor of five.

If Iran earmarks ten percent of its treasure chest to terrorism, it could send fifty times as much money and weapons to Hezbollah or its other murderous playthings as it has in the past.

Let me say that again. If Iran uses 90 percent of its releases assets peacefully, it could still spend fifty times as much money on terrorism as it used to.

A lot of people were worried about this, not just in the United States, but also in Israel, the Arab world and even in Europe. Secretary of State John Kerry tried to downplay it.

“Sanctions relief will pour lots of money into Iran,” James Robbins said to him during an interview with the BBC last summer. “There must be a considerable risk they’ll spend at least some of that money supporting extremist terrorist groups who they’ve supported in the past.”

“What Iran has done for years with Hizballah does not depend on money,” Kerry said.

Let’s stop right there for a second. Can any serious person actually believe that? Iran isn’t giving Hezbollah moral support the way, say, the United States used to give moral support to Cubans languishing under the Castro regime. No. Iran gives Hezbollah sophisticated weapons and money. Obviously that depends on Iran having money. There is no way around this. Kerry would be right if Iran simply grandstanded impotently on the sidelines, but Iran not only supports Hezbollah, it created Hezbollah with money, weapons and training. All of which costs money.

“What Iran is doing,” Kerry continued, “and by the way, they’re fighting ISIL and helping Iraq in many ways, but that has not depended on money. So sure, something may go additionally somewhere. But if President Rouhani and his administration do not take care of the people of Iran, they will have an enormous problem.”

Fighting ISIS costs money. “Helping” Iraq with Shia militias costs extraordinary amounts of money.

It’s true, of course, that the Iranian government will have an enormous problem if no money goes into the Iranian economy. But Iran could pour 90 percent of its sanctions relief into the Iranian economy and still have an amount left over that’s 50 times greater than the baseline Hezbollah budget. The government is not facing an either-or proposition here. Not even close. It’s easy to do lots of different things if you suddenly find yourself 100 billion dollars richer.

John Kerry is more honest about this today. He might as well be. The deal is done. No point obfuscating the obvious anymore.

“I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] or other entities,” he said during a recent interview in Davos, Switzerland, “some of which are labeled terrorists. You know, to some degree, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented.”

The United States won’t be able to prevent any “component of that,” as Kerry put it, not even by breaking the deal and reimposing sanctions all over again, because Iran already has its assets back.

One could make the case that this is nevertheless an improvement over the status quo ante, that it’s better to have a powerful terrorist-supporting Iran than an Iran with nuclear weapons, and it’s better than the cost of a huge war to cripple of remove the Iranian government.  

And maybe that’s true. But where does that leave us?

The Iranian government has been a malignant force since the day it seized power in 1979. It has taken diplomats hostage, destabilized one neighboring state after another—beginning with Lebanon, then moving to Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen—and created terrorist armies that have killed Americans, Israelis, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians and—yes—even Argentines.

The Iranian government has done all this without nuclear weapons. The only reason it wasn’t able to wreak even more havoc is because it was crippled by sanctions.

That’s over now. 

Even if this nuclear deal “works,” if Iran never develops nuclear weapons, the Iranian government will be able to a far more destructive role in the Middle East than it ever has in the past. And it’s already by far the most troublesome.

“Right now,” Kerry said, trying to make everyone feel better, “we are not seeing the early delivery of funds going to that kind of endeavor at this point in time.”

Of course not. Iran is only just now getting the 100 billion. Iran hadn’t even received it yet when he said that. We can’t track every dollar it spends anyway, and it wouldn’t make any difference if we could. The Iranian government can allocate funds however it wants. It doesn’t matter if Iran uses the 100 billion in sanctions relief to fund terrorism directly or indirectly. Iran is going to do it one way or another.

It’s not even controversial anymore. Kerry himself says it’s going to happen.

“If we catch them funding terrorism,” he said, “they are going to have a problem with the United States Congress and other people, obviously.”

Why should we have to catch them? We already know it’s going to happen. Iran has been funding terrorism for decades. Iran hasn’t stopped funding terrorism for even five seconds since the day it started.

We can safely assume that since Iran funded terrorism yesterday, and that since the sun came up this morning, Iran is still funding terrorism today. And unless the government is overthrown before midnight tonight, it’s safe to assume that Iran will continue funding terrorism tomorrow.

Iran’s rulers haven’t even pretended to stop, so let’s just cut through the b.s. and assume we’ve already “caught” them so we can figure out what we’re going to do about it.

China-Iran Upgrade Their 'Comprehensive Strategic Relationship’

Chinese President Xi Jinping just wrapped up his three-nation tour to the Middle East with a visit to Iran.  

The global narrative is that Beijing and Tehran are strengthening relations and for good reason: during the visit the two sides inked 17 accords, treaties, and letters of intent.

The two republics—one “People’s” and the other “Islamic”—also declared they had agreed, in the words of the official Xinhua News Agency, “to elevate their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership.” And they appear to have meant it. As Xi’s Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday, “Today we discussed the strategic relationship between both countries, setting up a comprehensive 25-year plan and also promoting bilateral relations of up to $600 billion over the next 10 years.”

Ukraine Expands Trade Routes, Bypasses Russia

Ukraine is taking two important steps toward expanding its ties with the global economy.

The Beskyd-Skotarske train tunnel in the Carpathians is being widened from one track to two, thanks to funding provided by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank. The project will more than double the speeds at which trains can travel through the tunnel as well as double the number of trains undertaking the journey. Since 60 percent of Ukraine’s current trade with countries to its west goes through the tunnel (originally built in 1886), the result will be a vastly enlarged capacity for imports and exports with the European Union, which already is Ukraine’s largest trading partner and with which Ukraine now shares a free trade zone. The work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2017; trains will start using it by mid-2018.

Life on the Bottom

(Photo by Eric Pouhier)

A few months I spent a month researching and writing about a problem much closer to home than usual—chronic long-term homelessness in America. For a variety of reasons, my hometown of Portland, Oregon, like other cities on the West Coast has a bigger homelessness problem than most of the country.  

I wrote a long feature essay about it for City Journal, which is available now in the Winter issue, though the piece isn’t online yet. The LA Times adapted a shorter version of the essay and published it on the op-ed page.

Here’s the first part:

My hometown, Portland, Ore., has a serious homelessness problem. Portland is often called the City of Bridges — more than a dozen cross the Willamette and Columbia rivers — and beneath almost all, at one time or another, one sees miserable-looking camps constructed of tents, plastic tarps, and shopping carts. It's impossible to avoid running into homeless people downtown, where ragged people sleep on park benches and in doorways.

Some activists believe there's an easy solution: All the city needs to do is fund social services generously enough to treat the root causes — such as addiction and mental illness, get the homeless some job training and move them into affordable housing. But what if a significant portion of Portland's homeless people won't accept that kind of assistance? One local charity, Union Gospel Mission, offers a program that includes addiction treatment, counseling, work therapy and free room and board for up to two years, but it recently had 10 spaces available that nobody wanted.

“They don't want to stop using drugs,” explains Doug, a formerly homeless young man in the program who will be soon starting college and majoring in psychology. “It's hard for some of them to deal with other people and structure.”

“What they want is to live the way they've been living, only inside and for free,” says David Willis, the program's homeless services director. “Most of them don't want to change.”

If this argument is right, then Portland should strive to mitigate, rather than eradicate its homelessness problem; and it may have inadvertently hit upon an ingenious way to do just that.

Back in 2000, a group of homeless people, tired of getting rousted from doorways downtown, pushed their shopping carts together under a bridge, pitched some tents and called the place home. The city chased them from that spot, so they moved to another bridge and got tossed out again. Realizing that these people weren't going away, the city finally relented and allowed them to pitch their tents on a city-owned lot near a drainage canal — across from the Columbia River Correctional Institution, a state-run prison, and on the other side of the fence from Portland International Airport. From Portland officials' point of view, the location was perfect. They wouldn't hear complaints from the neighbors because there weren't any neighbors.

The homeless campers dubbed their site Dignity Village, with the motto, “Out of the Doorways.”

When I drove out to visit, I expected Dignity Village to look like a cross between a refugee camp and a slum — but it doesn't. After the residents found themselves with a permanent location, they upgraded their accommodations by scrounging together as much money as they could — from donations and panhandling to odd jobs and recycling bottles and cans — to purchase cast-off and recycled materials for the construction of what Portlanders call “tiny houses.” Although the houses aren't fancy, many sport some style — Victorian spindles and moldings on the front porches, properly pitched roofs, decorative paint jobs, and climbing ivy growing up the exterior walls.

Read the rest in the LA Times.

 

Russia's FSB Reportedly Screens Refugees Entering Finland

One can debate the degree to which Russia’s pro-Assad bombing campaign has ramped up Europe’s refugee crisis. But several days ago, a Russian border guard at the Finnish border lifted the veil on an ominous kind of involvement: the FSB, he said, decides which refugees are allowed to approach the Finnish border.

China's Economy Slides, Stocks Tumble, Capital Takes Flight 

Stocks around the world have generally tumbled this month, but last Tuesday was a bright spot as equity markets surged. Then, Beijing's National Bureau of Statistics reported its first estimate of China's gross domestic product for 2015.

The official agency pegged last year's growth at 6.9 percent. The percentage increase, roughly in line with analyst expectations, was the lowest in 25 years.

So why does a dour report trigger optimism among stock investors? Investors now believe the Chinese central government will step up stimulus to restart growth, which has been falling since 2011. Furthermore, there is a hope that state entities and government-backed funds in China—the so-called “National Team”—will begin a new round of buying in China’s two share markets. Both developments are considered good for Chinese stocks.

And what is good for stocks in China is often thought to be good for stocks everywhere else.

With Eyes on Russia, Nordic Countries Share Defense

“Why can’t friendly countries share defense equipment?” a friend asked me the other day. “It would be much cheaper and more efficient.” Dream on, I thought. As every dorm kitchen shows, pooling resources ends with some taking advantage of others’ possessions.

But on January 14, Denmark and Sweden took a small step towards military burden-sharing. The two neighbors signed a military cooperation treaty that will allow them to share information as well as military infrastructure such as airports. While that may not seem like a lot of sharing, it’s a significant step for Sweden in particular. “The treaty is more important for Sweden than for Denmark, since Sweden has maintained its neutrality policy for such a long time,” Johannes Riber Nordby, deputy director of the Institute for Strategy at the Danish Defense College, told me.

Iran’s Hostage Victory

During Sunday’s Democratic primary debate, Senator Bernie Sanders argued that it’s time to bring Iran in from the cold. “I think what we’ve got to do is move as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran,” he said.

If Iran had a representative government, if it wasn’t ruled by Ayatollah Khamenei, his dark theocratic Guardian Council and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the United States and Iran would restore normal relations almost as a matter of course.

Iran would, in all likelihood, take its proper place as one of America’s premier allies in the Middle East alongside the Kurds and the Israelis. The extreme and often fantastical anti-Americanism so endemic in the Arab world is far weaker among the Persians, Azeris and Kurds who make up the Iranian nation.

Iran right now is like Poland under the Warsaw Pact—a would-be friendly nation occupied and ruled by a hostile regime. Good and proper relations will have to wait until the government is overthrown or reformed out of all recognition like Vietnam's current communist-in-name-only government.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes a harder line than Sanders, naturally. “We’ve had one good day over 36 years, and I think we need more good days before we move more rapidly toward any kind of normalization.”

She was referring to the release of three American citizens—journalist Jason Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and former Marine Amir Hekmati—whom the Iranians held hostage until a couple of days ago.

It’s not at all clear that their release counts as a good day. It’s terrific for the freed prisoners, obviously, and it’s almost as terrific for their friends, family and colleagues, but the ransom was insanely steep.

First the United States had to release seven Iranian criminals who were convicted of sanctions violations in a properly functioning judicial system. Second, Washington had to scrub the names of 14 Iranians from an Interpol watch list. And third, the United States is kicking 100 billion dollars in frozen assets back to the Iranian government.

A fair swap would have been three innocent prisoners for three innocent prisoners, but the United States doesn’t randomly grab foreign nationals off the streets to use as bargaining chips, so that was never an option.

If the Iranian government had released innocent people because they’re innocent like it’s supposed to—then we could say we had a good day. But that’s not what happened. That’s not even close to what happened.

It could have been worse, though. Secretary of State John Kerry said he thought he’d secured these peoples’ release months ago, but the deal fell apart because the Iranian government wanted the United States to release convicted murderers.

That demand shouldn’t surprise anyone. Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah convinced the Israelis to release convicted murderers like the notorious Samir Kuntar in exchange for  the bodies of kidnapped soldiers who weren’t even alive anymore, who had in fact been mutilated by Hezbollah.

That’s how Iran and its proxies roll, but the US doesn’t cave like the Israelis.

And at least the US got something out of the deal. At least our people are still among the living when they come home. Jason Rezaian is one of my colleagues. I don’t know him personally, but it will be good to have him back all the same. He holds dual Iranian-American citizenship, but he was born in the San Francisco Bay Area and was the Tehran bureau chief for the Washington Post when the Iranians grabbed him 18 months ago on trumped up espionage charges.

It was instantly obvious to almost everybody that he wasn’t snatched because he’s some kind of a spy. He was simply the latest hostage taken by the government that made a name for itself on the world stage by taking hostages. No doubt he’ll write some very interesting articles, and perhaps even a book, when he gets settled in and recovers.

Anthony Bourdain interviewed him in Tehran shortly before he and his wife were dispatched to Evin Prison. (She was later released.)

“I miss certain things about home,” he said. “I miss my buddies. I miss burritos.” He laughed and added, “I miss having certain beverages with my buddies and burritos in certain types of establishments.”

He missed booze and bars, in other words, both of which have been banned in Iran since the 1979 revolution. (Contrary to popular belief, Iran is one of only a small minority of Muslim countries that actually ban alcohol.)

“I love (Iran) and I hate it, but it’s home,” he said. “It’s become home.”

It’s not home for him anymore. That’s for damn sure. He’s on his way back to his real home in America where he was born.

Iran committed three criminal acts against American citizens and paid no price. We put kidnappers in prison for a very long time in this country, but the Iranian government was rewarded.

What’s to stop that government from doing it again?

Nothing.

Why should the Iranian government stop? Kidnapping and ransoming hostages works. And the regime is already gearing up to do it again.

In October of last year they grabbed Siamak Namazi, one of the founders of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). He’s still being held hostage despite the prisoner swap.

NIAC lobbied hard for the nuclear deal signed earlier by Washington and Tehran. Its principle founder and president Trita Parsi has been fighting even longer—since 1997—to have sanctions against Iran lifted.

One of those guys is Iran’s current hostage. Not some CIA spook. Not a wannabe revolutionary. Not even a crusading journalist. No. The regime’s current hostage is a man who worked for years to normalize relations with Iran.

Bernie Sanders wants to pick up where Namazi left off. He’ll fare no better.

The Negativists are Wrong on Ukraine

It was at the California Republican state convention in San Diego on September 11, 1970 that Vice President Spiro Agnew immortalized his speech writer, William Safire, by saying the following memorable words: “In the United States today, we have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H club—the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”

Too bad the witty and erudite Safire, who eventually went on to become a New York Times columnist, isn’t alive today. If he were, he might be tempted to direct his rhetoric at the nattering nabobs and hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs who comment on Ukraine.

The 2016 Santa-Putin Letters

These top-secret letters were brought to my attention by my deep-throat contact in the Kremlin. They appeared just after the Orthodox Christmas on January 7.

To: V. Putin

From: S. Claus

You’ve been decidedly naughty this year, and I’m not at all sure you deserve any presents. Unless some persuasive justification is forthcoming, the reindeer and I won’t be visiting you in the Kremlin.

***

To: So-called “Santa” Klaus

From: The President of Russia

Your lies disgust me. I’m not surprised, though, given your Turkish birthplace, German name, and American sexual orientation. If you were a real man, you’d get rid of that ridiculous costume and show the world your bare chest. What real man hides behind an army of midgets?

***

To: V. Putin

From: Santa Claus

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