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EU Greatly Offended - Again
The F-Bomb Heard Around the World

Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State whose intemperate remarks about the European Union were secretly recorded and released on YouTube (allegedly by the Russians), probably wouldn’t have received high marks from Emily Post. But if Nuland’s wording is crude, her analysis is essentially correct, as yet another secretly recorded conversation reveals—this one between Helga Schmid, a representative of EU High Commissioner Catherine Ashton, and the EU Ambassador in Ukraine:

HS: “I just wanted to tell you one more thing in confidence. The Americans are going around and saying we’re too soft, while they’re moving more firmly toward sanctions. […] Well, we’re not soft! We’re about to issue a very strongly worded statement about Bulatov!

Newsflash to the EU: A very strongly worded statement rarely accomplishes much in the realm of international diplomacy, and it certainly is not going to persuade Russia to abandon its quest to become a great power. Baguettes are no good in knife fights, as we’re fond of saying.

One can, however, hardly blame the Europeans for being a little offended by Ms Nuland. We all have our moments of frustration, but in this world of phone taps and leaks diplomats must watch what they say. A good rule for all of us: if you don’t want it repeated on the front page of the newspaper, don’t say it in the first place.

More substantively, the Obama administration must carry a lot of the blame for the mess in Ukraine. This problem has been brewing for some time; if the EU brought a baguette to a knife fight, the US until very recently wasn’t even at the party. The western powers needed to do much more to coordinate their approach to Ukraine, and there are no signs that the Obama administration was any more prescient or thoughtful than the Europeans Ms Nuland dismissed. Instead, the administration has been sending out signals that likely strengthened Putin’s belief that he could press Ukraine hard without a strong western response.

But regrets belong to the past. If the US and the EU want to snipe at each other about who screwed up in Ukraine, both sides have all the material they could possibly want. It would be much more useful to talk about what happens next—and about how the US and the EU can work together for the outcome they both seek.

They will need to move fast. Putin is in a hurry and Ukraine means the world to him. In the past, Russia has managed to overcome its economic and military inferiority by acting quickly and decisively while its opponents dither and edit position papers. Both the EU and the US have more power than the Russian Federation, but Putin has been running rings around the slow moving, fuzzy thinking behemoths of the west. Both the US and the EU are being tested here; so far, neither has much to brag about.

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  • B-Sabre

    Whenever I hear about this story I keep thinking about Robin Williams’ skit involving two drunk Scotsmen inventing golf: “F**** croquet!”

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    From all the failures of the incompetent Obama Administration, I think expecting them to suddenly show a shred of competence is unlikely. So for the #2 American diplomat to get caught being undiplomatic is just the new normal. As far as the problem of Ukraine, we better hope Putin makes a mistake, like over-reach, or Ukraine will be lost for decades.

    • Andrew Allison

      We should hope that the Ukraine will be lost.

  • Andrew Allison

    The fundamental misconception here is that the Ukraine is worth having. Not only has it been been a Slavic country since the Middle Ages but, in it’s present incarnation, it is a bankrupt failed State. Putin deserves it.
    More to the point, the fact that we have an Assistant Secretary of State for European and Affairs who is too stupid to refrain from insulting our allies over the phone is a sad commentary on the state of the State Department. The fact that she is still employed is an even worse one.

  • Pete

    Why is it the U.S. responsibility to ‘save’ the Ukraine?


    • Andrew Allison

      Our track record in “saving” Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, et al., is so good that we clearly owe it to the Ukrainian people to “save” them too!!

      • Atanu Maulik

        Actually US record in saving others is not as bad as you think. In the past one century US saved Europe from itself, twice. Then it saved the world from being swallowed up by USSR. I think the world owes US a big thank you.

        • Andrew Allison

          No argument, but that’s ancient history. What have we done for the countries I listed?

          • johnwerneken

            Any destruction of indigenous ideology in the above countries was a great benefit to the people there and to the world, as was any damage done to those in power there. Bombing the Hell out of a Hellhole is an improvement!

          • Atanu Maulik

            No one can save those who can’t save themselves. As for the countries you listed: Vietnam has finally decided it is time to join the right side of history. It warmly embraced US and capitalism. The economy is growing fast and I believe they have a bright future. US spent a lot of money and blood on Afghanistan. There is a semblance of order there now. More girls are going to school, more roads being built and more investments coming and that hapless place is now in better shape than at any point in its miserable history. In Iraq, oil production is at record highs. The country is effectively partitioned into three pieces along ethnic lines (more logical, I think). Hopefully the parts will learn to live with each other. US never tried saving Syria and Libya. Overall not a bad report card.

          • Andrew Allison

            It we might return to the topic:
            What was the cost to the Vietnamese and American people of the lost war and what does what the winners are doing 40 years later have to do with it?
            Ditto for Afghanistan. Civilian casualties increased 14% last year, the number of children killed of injured by 34% (, and poppy plant reached a record. Ditto for Iraq:
            You also apparently failed to notice our intervention in Libya and its dreadful results throughout the region. The on coherent thing you’ve written is “No one can save those who can’t save themselves.” Why then does the US keep trying, with catastrophic results for those it’s supposedly helping?

          • Nagpuri


            You are partially right. Afghanistan was most progressive and advanced country in Asia in terms of women rights pre 1970. It was destroyed subsequently as it sits at big faultiness of Asia. A sobering reminder of how things can change so fast and rights you take for granted can be lost in 1 generation.

          • mc

            Nonsense–I spent a lot of time in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion. It was by any 20th century standard backward and corrupt, though inhabited by cheerful, confident, and optimistic people. Very few Afghan women were ever let out of the eyesight and supervision of their men.

          • Nagpuri

            Compared to which country in Asia? There were women doctors, engineers, etc. No burqa etc.

    • S.C. Schwarz

      It is not our responsibility to “save” anybody. It is in our interest that Russia be weaker, not stronger. They are most certainly not our friends.

    • free_agent

      You write, “Why is it the U.S. responsibility to ‘save’ the Ukraine?”

      It’s certainly a question that needs to be answered. It’s hard to see any profit that we could obtain from doing so. Economically, it’s useless. Politically, the cost of keeping it out of Russia’s hands will be to enable the current corrupt system (which has brought it to bankruptcy) to continue.

  • Fat_Man

    More Smart Diplomacy®.

  • Fat_Man

    How did this get recorded? Don’t our “diplomats” use secure encrypted lines?

    • Andrew Allison

      Good question. If the call was on a “secure” line, there’s clearly no such thing, but I suspect that it wasn’t. And if that’s the case, she should have been fired immediately.

    • bigfire

      A correlation to the Rumsfeld Rules: Always speak as if your statement will appear in the frontpage of Washington Post. I guess she didn’t read the book.

  • avery12

    There is an interesting video floating about online of ms. Nuland handing out bread to protesters and police in Kiev in late January.

    She certainly seems to want everyone to know she is there.

  • Boritz

    The EU is misguided to think a strongly worded statement is a solution. The american model of draw a red line and dare the strongman, in this case Putin, to cross it has worked well as we know.

  • PKCasimir

    Ukraine, as presently constituted, is an artificial state and not a cohesive entity with a long tradition of independence and government. There is nothing to “save”. There are two distinct cultures – one “European” and one “Russian” and there is a natural tension between the two that cannot be reconciled. The practical solution is a division into two states – one pro-European and one pro-Russian.

  • Alexander Scipio

    Obama was no more thoughtful than the europeans because obama has their same ignorant, naive worldview. The ENTIRE Left – european and american – is a bunch of pre-adolescent whiners with ZERO grasp of history, logic, economics or geography. The Left is a danger to liberty globally and must be recognized as such. And destroyed.

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