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Dispatches from the front
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
In Vienna the government provides free wifi for refugees. In Indiana, we have Governor Pence, and Donald Trump.
Most of we Hoosiers are the descendants of political or economic refugees. My relatives came from Oberfranken in Germany where war constantly raged around them, and the English industrial revolution had made German cottage industry uncompetitive. So, they made their way to South Bend, Ligonier and then Fort Wayne for safety and prosperity. Most Americans have a similar story to tell.
With that in mind we watched as Governor Pence slammed the door on Syrian families who had been bombed out of their homes, had witnessed murderers, were attacked by barrel bombs, Russian missiles, Al Qa’eda and Da’esh, were starved, trudged hundreds of miles, braved vulturistic human traffickers, the Aegean and winter snows to find their way to safety. Some of them dreamed of that shining city on the hill, but our governor, playing to his party’s xenophobic, islamophobic, isolationist base, told a handful of families that there was no room for them in all of Indiana. If deeds speak louder than words Govern Pence has put shame to the phrase Hoosier Hospitality. I wonder how his ancestors would feel.
I am in Budapest watching politics here in our number one trading partner, Europe. The health and security of Europe mean lots to our economy and families.
The Allied victory over the Nazi regime was recently commemorated. In most of Eastern Europe it is a time for the Russians, whether invited or not, to hold parades, give concerts, symposia, speeches and provocations. A few days ago in Vienna a Russian motorcycle club, the equivalent of the Hell’s Angels, roared through the city doing a variety of disrespectful things, such as driving the wrong way, plowing through grassy areas, blaring marshal music, getting boisterously drunk, commandeering sidewalks, etc. En route to Berlin, Putin’s favorite bikers, the Night Wolves, did about the same.
German Chancellor Merkel was the target. She has lead the imposition of sanctions on the Russians in the aftermath of Putin’s invasion of Crimea, for his part in the destruction of the Malaysian airliner, and his support with money, troops, equipment and intelligence to the Donbass rebels. Dr. Merkel leads Europe, so to undermine her undermines European unity…and our relationships with the continent.
Putin would like to drive wedges into the European Union, then between the US and the EU. Supported by US arms, the EU has effectively tamped down the lethal imperialism and nationalism of the previous 200 years and fostered 70 years of European peace.
US arms have been the guarantor of that peace and Putin wants us out. So, he has incited old nationalistic animosities, practiced economic extortion, and cyber warfare, while blaming the world’s woes on the US. His allies are the far right in France, England, and Germany, plus Serbian nationalists, populist movements in Greece and Spain, the revanchist president of Hungary, and, surprisingly enough, Donald Trump. You may remember that the presumptive Republican nominee lauded Putin, thus sending shivers down spines among Europeans who have seen the way the Russian works, the re-education camps, the iron-fisted control of the media and businesses, military aggression and human rights violations.
Europeans look to the east and see Russia, they look to the west and worry that Trump would toss them to the Night Wolves.
Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Romania all feel threatened and are among our most loyal and staunchest allies, for good reason; Russia and Putin are just over the hill. From a rather slow response to Putin’s aggression, President Obama has positioned Warthogs, tanks, APCs, artillery, missiles, and troops on the Eastern Front. Yup, the Eastern Front. US forces are flanked by Latvians, Germans, French, Poles, English, and Romanians to meet Putin’s threat. Putin, of course, is howling loudly, but his anticipated offensives in southern Ukraine and Moldova have not materialized. Ours has been a judicious use of both hard power and soft power, the latter applied in the form of sanctions have constricted Putin’s economy and his power.
A year ago a former Bosnian soldier in Sarajevo told me what he thought made the American army special: “Americans don’t leave dead or wounded behind.” He said he could be more assertive in battle in Afghanistan because the “Americans had (his) back.” Same with Europe, if leaders are sure of our support and protection they can continue as our partners in trade and democracy. Trump endorsement of Putin has only damaged our collective security and reminded them of Putin’s wolves.
If the Brits vote to exit the European Union, Brexit as it is called, the doors will be flung wide open for Putin’s wedge driving mischief. While the bureaucracy in Brussels can be a bit much, it has helped keep the Hungarians away from the Romanians’ throats, the French and the Germans in harmony, the Czechs respectful of the Slovaks and has balanced the power of the Russians. The joke has long been that war is no longer possible between Europeans because it would require too much paperwork, plus a two-thirds vote of the European parliament followed by mandatory votes in 27 national parliaments. Without the European Union the continent reverts to a collection of nationalistic leaders, closed borders, protectionism and shifting alliances. Mr. Trump’s encouragement of Brexit not only undermines Europe, but undermines our economy, our security and world peace just as much as his embrace of Putin.